Spice up your life!

I am one of those who do indeed like it hot. In fact, somewhere along the way I became a bit of a hot sauce addict. Well, not just hot sauce. Heat in general. 

I’ve already done a little poetic waxing about Sriracha on this blog. I also have a strong affinity for pickled peppers, and those amazing Italian chilis packed in oil. But when it comes to heat, I don’t discriminate - I like it across all domains, all food types and flavours. 

That said, I don’t seek the kind of heat that overwhelms, destroying your palate for meals to come. I’m not trying to prove a point by ordering the spiciest wings, for example. I’m not going to be entering into any hot sauce guzzling competitions anytime soon. (Is there such a thing? Probably.)

But I do love spice, for that extra bit of oomph it provides. The way it can add depth of flavour. A little surprise, a little edge; spice can be that something in a dish that keeps you engaged, keeps you on your toes. Just a little bit of interest, that little bite, that little - let’s face it - pain, that leaves you wanting more. 

Therefore I think it’s a shame when people tell me they can’t take spice. Everyone has their own threshold, of course, but if you’re in an opt-out situation, avoiding all kinds of ethnic foods and flavours, squirming as soon as a dish crosses over from the comfortable, the familiar or bland.. well, that’s just a bummer. 

Some people tell me their palate simply isn’t built for spice. Well, taste being so personal, how can I argue? But I’m willing to bet that spice, like many things, just requires a little bit of experience. You don’t run a marathon right out of the gate - you start by learning to run just a little, then walking, then running a little more. 

So, if you consider yourself a bit of a spice wimp, here are some tips to start getting a little more comfortable with the hot stuff. 

1. Get to know your enemy. 

If your pantry is totally spice-free, you’re really not giving spice much of a chance at all. And what’s more, you really don’t know what you’re missing. But if you start to introduce a few ingredients to your kitchen, then you can start to experiment in your own domain. Bit by bit, you can increase your familiarity with different spices - know their smells and tastes, and start adding them in small - maybe very small, maybe even teeny weeny - doses. 

I have a hunch that if you start to differentiate between spices you’ll be starting along a path of recognizing and understanding their flavours. You can start to move beyond lumping them altogether as ‘evil’ and knowing what each one brings to the table. 

So take the risk - next time you’re shopping for spices, add one or two new things to the mix. You can take your time integrating them - they’ll be there when you’re ready. 

*See my egg challenge at the end of this post for something fun to do with all those spices.*

2. Go slow. 

You want to build up your spice tolerance bit by bit but you don’t want to wreck every meal you eat trying to get there. Instead, look for opportunities to take on just a bit of spice at different stages of the meal. 

Say you’re eating pasta and completely ignoring the jar of dried chilies on the table. Okay, eat half your pasta as you normal would. Once you’re half way done, your palate’s probably getting a little bored anyway. Now’s the time to wake it up just a bit. Add a touch of chilies, a very small amount, to the rest of your dish. How does it taste? If you’ve added a small enough amount it shouldn’t overwhelm you. Might be a little uncomfortable, but let it be there. Pay attention to the feeling - look for the reaction in your mouth, in your body. This can seem disconcerting but it’s actually one of the delights of spice, because it can actually wake up more than just your palate. 

Small doses is key. If you burn your palate out every time you add spice of course you’re going to hate it. What you’re looking for is just a wee bit of burn. So use caution adding chilies or hot sauces to your food, and add more as you start to get comfortable. 

3. Look for balance. 

Get to know the types of foods that balance out spice. Basically, dairy is your saviour. Think yogurt or sour cream. You can try adding a little kick of spice to creamy dips, or keep a bowl on the side as a relieving condiment depending on what you’re eating. If you get desperate, drink a small glass of milk rather than water. 

Sweetness is also a great pairing, helping to balance the spice out. Try mixing a touch of Sriracha into ketchup, for example. Or a tiny dusting of cayenne pepper on sweet corn. 

Keep in mind that alcohol can intensify spice. If your’e drinking, look for a low-alcohol wine to pair with the food - possibly one on the sweeter side, too.

Okay… now it’s time to shake hands with the devil.

Really want to start to understand spice, but have some fun doing it? Take my devilled egg challenge.

Make a bunch of plain devilled eggs: you know the drill - hard cook the eggs, cut the peeled eggs in half, whip the yolks with a little mayo (nothing else except maybe a pinch of salt), and re-fill the eggs. Basic, right? Now, top each egg half with a different spice from the list below. Just a pinch of each - don’t overdo it, but aim to give yourself enough to actually taste. 

Then work your way through sampling the eggs. The eggs and mayo will temper the list, so it won’t be too intense, and you’ll be able to do a tasting across the board, so you’ll start to see what the spices actually taste like. 

Here’s your spice list. You can mix it up depending on your preferences. I recommend them in the following order.

- Fresh black pepper. Maybe this is a no brainer but some spice-haters even avoid this basic spice. Fresh ground pepper and kosher salt are the essential building blocks of flavour. Buy a grinder, and grind it fresh - just a little at a time, trying out different grinds, and see what a different it makes. 

- Mustard powder. Not a lot of spice to it, but actual mustard does have a bit of a kick. If you want to get a bit more daring, mix in a little hot mustard with the yolks for this particular egg.

- Hot smoked paprika. This is not a staple spice for most people but it’s packed with flavour and not too hot. And a natural for devilled eggs.

- Chili powder. Not actually pure chilies but a mix of spices, intended for, well, chill. Usually not too hot, and a more rounded, softer flavour than straight-up chili flakes.

- Dried chili flakes. This one is a staple but again do your best to get good quality, fresh spices because it will make them taste better. 

- Sriracha. Mix a little into the yolk. Juuust a little. Yes, you’ll have to buy a big bottle of the stuff, probably, but it will last a very long time and just maybe you’ll grow to love it. 

I could go on and on but by this point you’ve probably eaten a lot of eggs and you might be getting all spiced out. So we’ll end it there for now.

Hopefully, though, this given you a sense of the different flavours spice has - how it can add so much with so little. As always, keep trying; keep experimenting.

And enjoy the pain, people!

(Reblogged from withrowparkfarmersmarket)

Q&A with Cam: What to Do with Dandelion Greens?

Did you know dandelions have a purpose beyond screwing up your best attempts at a gorgeous green, weed-free lawn? 

They also make a great addition to your summer repertoire of healthy, delicious, dark green veggies. In the summer, you can find them at your local farmers’ market, the grocery store, or even your own lawn. (Yes, you can pick them - just make sure you pick from an area that hasn’t been contaminated by things like chemical sprays, exhaust fumes or dogs. Also, pick them when they’re small and tender for the best flavour.)

I recently wrote about cleaning greens such as dandelions for the Withrow Market blog. In response, I received this question from Roberta in Toronto:

"What do you recommend doing with dandelion greens? I like them in a salad - do you have a good dressing tip?"

My Answer: You can do lots with dandelion greens. Because of their slight bitterness, they tend to pair well with somewhat fatty, rich or robust foods. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a highlight of the plate. Here are a bunch of different ideas to get you started:

Breakfast:

- Add sautéed greens to an omelette

- Serve wilted greens with a poached egg, drizzled with a citrusy vinaigrette

- Mix chilled, pre-sautéed greens into cream cheese and serve on whole wheat toast, or on a bagel with smoked salmon, red onion, capers and a squeeze of lemon

- Add a few chopped greens (fresh or raw) into a fruit smoothie, along with avocado, mango and yogurt

Lunch:

- Include sautéed dandelions in a grilled panini with proscuitto, caramelized onions and some creamy brie cheese

- Make a wilted salad with dandelions, bacon and sautéed wild mushrooms

- Try a twist on a Nicoise salad by adding dandelions to salad greens (raw if small and fresh, otherwise they’re probably best wilted), with grilled tuna, olives and anchovies.

- Include in a tuna or egg salad sandwich or wrap with a spicy mayo (hello Sriracha)

- Include in a summery spinach salad with juicy berries, fresh figs and a light blue cheese dressing made with greek yogurt

Dinner:

- Serve alongside BBQ ribs or pulled pork; wilt greens in a cast iron pan placed on the barbecue, good with some garlic and lemon

- Mix into mac ‘n’ cheese - especially great if you’re adding in some creamy cheeses and bacon

- Make a simple pasta of sautéed dandelion greens, thick cut bacon, a drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan. I like whole wheat pasta for this; the grainy taste mixes well.

- Add to a soup of chicken stock, white beans, and sausage; or chop greens finely along with other fresh herbs and use as to garnish a soup such as minestrone.

I’m going to stop myself here, though I could go on. Are you wondering about dessert?? I have a hunch that you could use dandelion greens to make a simple syrup that could be a surprisingly good addition to cocktails (gin pairs well with herbs like rosemary, so why not dandelions?) or you could infuse it with lemon to add intrigue to a vanilla panna cotta, perhaps tossed with some fresh blackberries. I think I need to try this!

Now, onto the salad dressings! 

1) Dijon Vinaigrette

Mix together about a tablespoon of dijon mustard, a generous squeeze or two of lemon, a small diced clove of garlic, a dash of hot sauce, pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in enough olive oil to reach the consistency and amount you’re looking for. Adjust as needed. 

2) Sriracha-Bacon Dressing

This dressing assumes that you’re cooking up some bacon to go with your greens. When pouring off the fat from the pan, save a little - say about a tablespoon. Mix with fresh lemon juice, some healthy squirts of Sriracha (or your favourite hot sauce). Add a touch of dijon and a little olive oil (the mustard helps it emulsify), whisk well. As usual, taste and put your own spin on it. 

3) Lighter Blue Cheese Dressing

This is a lighter take on blue cheese dressing, which doesn’t usually appeal to me because it’s so heavy. But this one would be nice in the summertime with some black berries and juicy fresh figs, alongside the bitter greens. Combine a few tablespoons of greek yogurt, lemon juice (probably about half a lemon), a tablespoon of mayonnaise, some crumbled blue cheese, and some low-fat milk, starting with about a tablespoon and adding depending on consistency.

Please remember my amounts are just estimates and I’m assuming all you brilliant cooks out there will adjust based on what you find works best. 

Enjoy your greens - and don’t forget to clean them well first!

Q&A with Cam: Cooking New Foods

I’m officially launching a new series on my blog called “Q&A with Cam”. Here’s my first question, from Kim in Vancouver:

Q: “How do I incorporate new foods into my diet with limited time in the evening and very limited cooking skills?”

A: Without getting into too many specifics about what you want to incorporate (international ingredients, local ingredients, new food styles, etc) and why (e.g. the fun of diversity, health benefits, develop cooking skills, etc.) here’s my general answer:

When you say “very limited cooking skills” I’m guessing you have at least two or three things that you like to cook or feel reasonably confident about cooking. And perhaps your intention is to branch out a little bit and try new things but you’re not sure where to start. 

So, rather than loading up on a whole bunch of new ingredients at the grocery store, or buying some fancy new cookbooks, and then wondering what to do with them all, try adding one or two new things to your usual repertoire. This way you can keep cooking the things you are good at and experiment with some new foods as you go. 

For example - say spaghetti with meat sauce is a staple for you. But you want to try incorporating more greens into your diet - let’s say you want to try kale. In that case, cook the pasta as you normally would, but this time sauté a little kale (see some previous posts on washing and preparing greens - or google for more info) and add that into your sauce. See how you like it. If you wanted to get a wee bit fancier, you could try some sausage or pancetta instead of the ground beef, or some sautéed fresh tomatoes for a lighter, fresher sauce. 

See where I’m going with this? You’re not totally changing everything at once, but trying to add in some new ingredients as you go.

This approach also requires a little experimentation. If you don’t like what you make, don’t get disheartened - consider it simply more learning about that particular ingredient and your personal taste preferences.

Of course, doing a little research helps - I love finecooking.com. Search for an ingredient on their site and you’ll find lots of recipes. You don’t need to follow their recipes; you can simply use it as examples to get an idea of what ingredients go together well, or what cooking methods might work best.

Here’s another suggestion: buy a couple new ingredients with your weekly shopping and get them prepared so they’re on hand and ready to go. So on a Sunday, get that kale washed and trimmed. (As an aside, kale freezes very well and doing so even removes some bitterness.) Ingredients tend not to last as long once they’re washed and cut - but you’re also more likely to use them, and the benefit is you can try them in a bunch of different ways. 

For example, maybe you brought home some fiddleheads from the farmers’ market because they’re seasonal and looked pretty nifty, but now you have no idea what to do with them. Start by cleaning them and sautéing them with nothing but a little olive oil and maybe a touch of salt and pepper. Now store them in your fridge for a few days, and meanwhile, try them out in your usual dishes. For example - chop them up and add them to scrambled eggs for breakfast, or mix into a tuna or egg salad sandwich for lunch, or for dinner heat them up in a pan, toss with a little mustard and olive oil vinaigrette and serve with baked or bbq chicken. And for dessert, add them to some chocolate ice cream! (Just kidding about that last one.) :)

Get the idea? If it’s on hand you can try it out in a whole bunch of ways without getting too complicated. And by experimenting you’ll learn what you like, what you don’t like, and you’ll develop more of an understanding of how ingredients work together and different cooking techniques, but without any major kitchen overhauls. You can keep it simple.

Finally - and this is my biggest piece of advice - don’t be too hard on yourself! You say you have very limited cooking skills but I’m willing to bet you’re better than you give yourself credit for. It’s okay to mess up in the kitchen! That’s what it’s there for. Ignore our moms’ advice and play with your food… it’s the best way to become a better cook.

Have fun!

What is Food Worth To You?

Last week, you may have seen some press about the latest RBC Canadian Consumer Outlook Indexwhich said Canadians believe their grocery bills have gone up, and are therefore aiming to spend their grocery dollars with greater frugality.

The RBC survey found the average Canadian spends $411 per month on groceries. One third (33 per cent) say rising food prices have had a significant impact on their budget.

In response, Canadians are changing their shopping habits - trying to spend less at the grocery store. Apparently more than half of Canadians (57 per cent) are comparison shopping for food more than before, and following a budget more than before. They are also doing less impulse-buying of food items (41 per cent).

Meanwhile, only 15 per cent said they are dealing with the issue by cutting down in other areas (such as using their vehicles less).

Here’s what I find most interesting: the assumption that our groceries should cost a set amount. If the bills go above that perceived baseline, the reaction is generally to cut back on groceries, not to save money elsewhere. 

Arguably, this is a logical reaction. But let’s think about it a minute. Why should we assume that the prices we are currently paying for groceries are reasonable? Why do we believe we should not have to pay more? Or that an increase in price naturally reflects what’s required to get those foods, or the value that we get from them?

Generally when talking food costs in Canada you typically hear either one of these arguments:

1) Food costs in Canada are among the lowest in the world. We should appreciate this - and be prepared to pay more for quality food. In fact, we should all start valuing food more and devote more of our budgets to purchasing quality food and supporting sustainable agriculture practices. 

2) Food is expensive. It can be very challenging to put food on the table and feed your family on a budget. Healthy food is even more costly. People who talk about paying more for food (like organics) are privileged, who don’t understand the economic realities of many Canadians. 

Do either of these sound familiar? If you ask me, both positions are valid and worth consideration. 

Regardless of how much you have to spend in your food budget, here are some ideas to help you get the most out of your meals - and the amount you pay for them:

- Track your spending. If you really want to improve where you’re spending your money at the grocery store, track your dollars. How much are you spending on meat, fruit and veggies? How much on grains? How much on snacks, treats, desserts? How much on pre-packaged items and processed goods? How much on drinks? Etc. If you think you can’t afford to spend more in the produce aisles you might be surprised by how much you’re spending on stuff that isn’t real food. You might be able to make more room for higher quality, healthy items that are worth paying more for. At the very least, you’ll gain insight into what you’re actually buying and how much it’s costing you. 

- Get closer to your garbage. Ah, this one’s got to hurt! But if you really want to know how much money you are throwing away on food you don’t eat, try this: for two weeks, write down every time you throw a food item away that would have/should have been edible. I’m not talking your peels and rinds - I’m talking about the cucumber that went soggy at the bottom of the crisper, the slices of bread that got stale, the milk that went sour. Make sure you do a thorough fridge clean-out before the two weeks is up so there’s nothing hiding in the recesses at the back. Use this exercise not as a way to add more guilt to your life, but to recognize what you’re actually capable of using up in an average two weeks. It might inform future purchases or incite you to get creative about using what you have. 

- Buy food from the people who make it. Try using up some of those precious food dollars at a farmers’ market. Depending on where you shop, the farmers’ market may cause those dollars to go quicker. But you’ll probably get a more robust experience out of it - your sense of value will grow. You’ll get to meet some farmers, learn about food production (ask questions!), and you’ll be more likely to use and enjoy the food you bring home (less likely to let it fall into the above category of food waste!). I suggest being selective about what you buy: get the stuff that’s really incredible, seasonal, and special. For example, a supermarket tomato will never, ever taste like the fresh ones you’ll get first-hand from a farmer. 

- Grow your own; cook your own. Not everyone has a green thumb but lettuces and herbs are very easy to grow, even in containers. They are also great to grow because you have them live, at the ready - and frankly I find those are two things that go bad quickly and can sadly wind up in the compost bin if I’m not careful. Of course, getting creative in the kitchen also helps. If you really want to cut down on food costs, don’t spend less in the grocery store… spend more. Cook and prepare meals so you eat out less, and buy fewer snacks and fancy coffees. I know, not a new tip, but maybe it’s worth saying one more time.

- Share. Maybe you’re single or in a small family, or you’re just part of a really busy family. Either way, you might want to re-consider the notion of “my” food. Think about sharing instead: take turns buying bulk and making large-batch dishes and share with your neighbours or close friends. Or arrange lunches with colleagues at the office - one person brings lunch for the group on Monday, another on Tuesday, and so on. Or, if you have lots to go around, consider giving to food banks or look into alternatives to share with those in need. Think of food as a group effort, and have some fun while you’re at it. 

- Find the savings elsewhere! Try walking to the grocery story - bring a backpack and some sturdy cloth bags and load ‘er up. You’ll save a little on gas, and get some exercise (maybe you’ll save on that gym membership, too.) My point here really is this - maybe food costs are on their way up. How will you respond? If you need to sacrifice somewhere, maybe food is not the place. Could be there’s another area of your life that needs to take one for the team. It might mean sacrificing some small luxuries, but food is not a luxury. It is an essential: essential to your health, well-being, happiness, and arguably integral to your sense of family and community, too. 

Bottom line: you get to choose your priorities. What is food worth in your life?

Healthy Eating Tips (For Realz!)

In the past several months, I have turned up the volume on the fitness in my life, including boxing, running, circuit training, etc. It’s been incredibly rewarding and allowed me to look at things in a new way - including food. 

You hear people talk about using “food as fuel” and let “food be your medicine” - which both have value. But as you know I also see food as a gateway to exploring the world, to connecting with people, to enjoying life, and so much more. 

Cooking in particular, for me, is part creativity, part physical labour, part craft, part science, part mindfulness… I could go on. This thing has a lot of parts!

But the fact is, eating is also about giving our bodies what they need. These days, because things like performance, muscle recovery, energy, and overall wellness, are on my mind, I find that I’m looking at food slightly differently. General health is usually a priority for me (with some splurges of course… I am definitely a pro at throwing caution well into the wind when the time is right) but lately I’ve been giving the healthiness of my food even more concerted attention. 

I’m no diet pro, but I have discovered a few tips that work for me, helping me to get as much good food into my body as I can, while still enjoying a multi-faceted, all around yummy eating lifestyle. So I thought I’d share.

1) Hunger is an opportunity, not a threat. I’ve gotten a bit hooked lately on fitness/health info and it dawned on me that hunger is often seen as an opponent. I can understand why hunger might be your foe if you have some serious weight to lose. But have you looked at the food guide lately? We are supposed to be eating a ridiculous amount of fruits and vegetables! Even if you love healthy food, it can be hard to get them all in. So if you keep healthy snacks at the ready, like cut up veggies, a hunger pang can be a chance to get in more of your daily quota. Admittedly you might be craving more than just some cut veggies, but for me, this change of mind-set encourages me to eat more of the good stuff first. And even if you incorporate a small amount of healthy foods into your snack, you’re still making progress.

2) Stock up on vegetables - d’uh. So obvious, right? But I discovered that, as a serial buy-what-I-need-for-dinner-tonight-only type of shopper, I was so often running out of healthy food. I realized that if I stock up and the veggies in my fridge I usually will find a way to eat them. Sometimes this scares me because I’m afraid of wasting food - but my health comes first, and more often than not, if they’re there, I’ll find a way to use them. 

3) Start with the morning. I’ll admit to being a chronic breakfast-skipper - or at least, I used to be. I know, I know, everyone tells you to eat breakfast but at my old agency job I would dash out of the house and grab a huge coffee on my way to the office and that was usually it. These days I know better. If I can find the time, having a small breakfast and coffee at home sets a far better tone for the day - it’s not just better for me physically, it’s better for me mentally! And as long as I’m eating, I think about how I can fit in some fruit and veggies. It may be as simple as adding fresh fruit to my yogurt and granola or, if I don’t have the fresh stuff, sometimes I make a warm compote of frozen fruit and maybe a dash of vanilla (you can make this days ahead by the way) to add to the yogurt. I personally love Ryvita with cream cheese topped with slices of cucumber, tomato, pepper, baby kale, carrot shavings…whatever I have in the fridge. A similar option - make your own veggie cream cheese by chopping up last night’s roasted or grilled veggies, spinach, whatever else you’ve got, really, and mixing it into plain cream cheese. Do this the night before and it won’t take you long to spread on, say, a whole grain English muffin in the morning. Admittedly, these are all small doses but every bit counts, right?

4) Blend it yourself. Sometimes the Jamba Juices of the world come in handy, but I think we’ve all heard that these juices are usually ridiculously caloric and packed with sugar. I’m not a smoothie junkie but sometimes it is just the thing after a workout. My sister gave me a killer tip: buy frozen spinach (the kind that comes in nugget form) and add a few to your smoothie. It adds colour but doesn’t affect the taste. I’ve even added frozen kale (or fresh baby kale for that matter) and found it works well, too. Here’s my favourite smoothie. I like it because it’s got a mix of protein, healthy fats, fruit and even some greens. So I think it’s great post-workout food, and it’s super yummy, too. 

- Half an avocado

- 1 banana

- handful (or more) of frozen mango

- few tablespoons (or more, whatever makes sense) of non-fat, plain yogurt

- couple tablespoons of hemp seeds (protein!)

- few frozen spinach nuggets

- a couple healthy splashes of coconut water to help it blend together (can add more depending on the consistency you prefer). 

Oh, and make sure you blend really well - that’s the secret to avoiding any weird spinach taste, especially if you’re using the fresh stuff.

5) Start with the basics. Again, I’m not an expert in this. But a lot of people ask me about eating organic, gluten-free, or making other radical diet changes. It seems to me that there’s a desire to skip over the basics. My two cents would be this: put the core building blocks in place first. There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about the science of food, but I think common sense counts for a lot: Work on eating a diverse diet, with as many plants/veggies as possible, some fruit, lean protein, some whole grains, lots of water, as little alcohol, processed foods, and other ‘vices’ as possible… add in exercise, sleep and stress reduction… and try not to take it all too seriously while you’re at it… in my opinion, that’s already a pretty tall order. If you can manage even some of that, it’s going to serve you well. If you’re already doing those things and something still isn’t working, or you want to ‘level up’ and find what is optimal for you, then I get it. But I think a lot of the answer is already right in our faces, and if we start there, we’re going to have a pretty solid starting point to work from. 

And may I add, once again, my recurring piece of advice - enjoy your food. Appreciate it, celebrate it, taste it. That’s what it’s there for.

Does Negative Feedback Scare You?

Wow, it’s been so long since I’ve blogged (and not just re-blogged from the Withrow Market blog), but rather than bore you with the reasons, I’ll just launch into the subject that is the catalyst for this rant. 

Today I was watching Top Chef Canada and a contestant (who shall remain nameless to prevent any spoilers) was facing the firing squad for screwing up. Just as the judges had delivered a few blows and were really getting ready to lower the boom, this contestant spoke up and offered to go home - mainly (it appeared) to avoid hearing the judge’s feedback and being held responsible. It was more important for this person to save themselves from rejection, to avoid the pain of hearing the critique, than to deal with the reality that they failed, and learn from it.

Unfortunately this meant not only was this chef’s fate prematurely sealed, they also missed out on the most valuable prize of all: feedback.

Obviously this is just “reality” tv and I don’t know this person. But here’s what I do know: it can be very tempting to avoid rejection or criticism. The idea of failing can prevent us from even trying, or from acknowledging our mistakes when they do happen. Feedback is scary. 

Like most people, I know this first-hand. There have been times in my life where I’ve avoided hearing criticism, and times when I wish I did more with the criticism I was given. But we live and learn and I try my best to learn from every opportunity. It doesn’t mean the feedback is always accurate, or even fair, but there is almost always something to be gained from hearing it, and it’s worth applying some self-examination and effort to learn and improve.

I’ve written before on the topic of making mistakes. I think that listing my Top 5 Cooking Mistakes was the most popular post I’ve written. That’s probably because we can all relate to messing up in one way or another!

Remember this: If you want to learn how to cook, or you want to cook well, or you want to cook better, you can. But you have to be prepared to make some mistakes.

Unfortunately that means wasting food sometimes, because quite honestly, you’re probably going to make some stuff that sucks and has to be tossed. But then again if you learn to cook, you’ll waste less in the long run because you’ll know how to use up miscellaneous ingredients, how to get creative with leftovers, and you’ll rely less on purchased and processed items that contribute a lot in their own way to food waste and other environmental issues. 

On a personal level, though, you’ll gain lots more. If you release yourself from the pressure of perfection, the kitchen can be a place for experimentation. For trial and error. For creativity, and fun. It can empower you in unpredictable ways. It can be a place to make yourself happy; a way to care for yourself and nourish yourself with good, home-made food. It can also be a way to care for other people - although, honestly, sometimes you’re going to let them down, too - and hopefully the people lucky enough to receive your cooking are supportive as you learn. 

Hopefully as you go, you also find your own style - discovering what makes you happy and healthy and not trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. In my family, my Grandma has always been the pinnacle of a great home cook. Her cooking, and especially her baking, was The.Best.  As a result, I have memories from my younger years in which my mom tweaked certain recipes over and over again, as if to emulate ‘the pro’ version as much as possible, and never being quite satisfied with herself. The truth is, the dishes she cooked that I remember most fondly were simple ones - ones she cooked from the heart, just to feed us and make us happy, not to live up to any internal expectations.

I’ll add one more thing: try to cook, and grow as a home cook, with an open mind. Just because someone has a different approach to food doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Or if you get feedback on your dishes, look at it as an opportunity to keep tweaking or improving a dish. (But you might want to take it with the proverbial grain of salt…)

Finally, if you want to read a great, fun book for a little inspiration, try “How I Learned to Cook”. It’s packed with stories by famous chefs that show how their screw ups and other ridiculous experiences brought them to where they are today. 

(Reblogged from withrowparkfarmersmarket)

Why I want you to tell the world my sister’s work website sucks

Today I’m not writing about food - well, not directly, anyway. 

You may recall an interview with my sister, Megan, about the importance of nutrition and food for people who have HIV/AIDs. Well, the organization where she works, the AIDS Committee of Guelph, serves as an important resource for health information such as food and wellness - along with other support tools to help prevent the spread of HIV and reduce stigma and shame for those who have it. 

But their website is craptacular. 

The good news is - they can win a new one. They are currently working hard to win a new website in the Worst Charity Website competition and need votes! Will you help by voting?

Just go here: http://www.worstcharitywebsite.ca/ and choose AIDS Committee of Guelph. Even better - please share with your friends and fellow Tumblrs!!

The contest ends Friday, April 5 - but you can vote once a day until then!

Please read the story below - it gives you a sense of why a little competition like this is so important. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s the little things that make a big difference. :)

A letter from Megan DePutter

The AIDS Committee of Guelph is competing to win the title of Canada’s Worst Charity Website.  Yes, you read that correctly… we want to be the worst!  Why? Because this title comes with a website makeover worth $20,000!   http://www.worstcharitywebsite.ca/

Why this contest means so much to us

Because of stigma, most people access HIV & AIDS prevention information and support online. Few people feel comfortable walking in the doors of an AIDS Service Organization to have a face-to-face conversation about AIDS. This holds true for people who are at risk to HIV, and those who are living with HIV. Silence and shame are barriers to HIV prevention and support. Having information easily accessible online is a way of overcoming these barriers.

The AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County also serves a wide geographical and rural area, even including Bruce & Grey and Dufferin Counties. For many, our website is their only connection to our agency and their only way of accessing HIV & AIDS prevention and support.

We also would like to have a website that is responsive to mobile devices like smart phones. We want to make sure that the information is available to people when and where they need it. We even created an iphone app, but the app links back to information on the website, which is difficult to read on a smart phone.  Having information accessible on mobile devices is especially important for youth, who are often at risk to HIV, and are most likely to use mobile devices. 

We are not seeking an improved website as a vehicle to raise money. We are hoping to save lives through HIV prevention and also support those living with HIV & AIDS who are living in isolation and in shame.  Our funds go directly towards programming and although we believe that having a new website is a very important issue, we will not be able to afford a new website unless we win this contest.

You can vote once a day, every day, on every device you own, until April 5th. Because we need to expand our network of voters, we ask that in addition to voting, you share this information with your friends, family and colleagues! 

http://www.worstcharitywebsite.ca/

Thank you so much for your support!!

(Reblogged from withrowparkfarmersmarket)
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