Oct 27, 2021

Spice of Life Part IX

It takes more than 225,000 stigmas from the crocus sativus to produce one pound of saffron. No wonder it’s considered the world’s most expensive spice. The stigmas, called styles, are collected and dried, and often ground into a fine powder before being sold.

Saffron is subtle and fragrant, and has a spicy, pungent, somewhat bitter flavor with a sharp and penetrating odor. A little goes a long way and it’s most often found in Spanish paella, Italian risotto, rice, chicken, seafood stews, and many Middle Eastern dishes.

Pigments made from saffron have been found in 50,000 year old prehistoric cave drawings. It is mentioned in Chinese medical texts dating back to 300 BC. Early uses include ritual offerings, a source of dyes, perfumes, and medicines, and was one of the sweet-smelling herbs mentioned in the Song of Solomon.

The saffron crocus was cultivated in Iran and Kashmir and was introduced into Cathy by the Mongol invasion. It was cultivated by the Arabs in the mid-900s. It was used in Roman cuisine and it was one of the spices they took with them when they settled in southern Gaul. It next appeared in the 14th century as a treatment for the Black Death. Europe imported large quantities of saffron from the Mediterranean. A fourteen-week-long war, called The Saffron War, was precipated when one of the shipments of saffron was stolen.

It was introduced to the Americas in the 1700s where it was cultivated by the Pennsylvanian Dutch. The Spanish occupying the Caribbean purchased large amounts of this saffron, creating a high demand for it and driving the price up. This lasted until the War of 1812 when so many saffron laden ships were destroyed it collapsed the trade. Today, saffron is usually imported from Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India.

Other uses:
Aside from its long history of use in traditional medicines, saffron has also been used as a fabric dye and to perfume bath water. In Asia saffron was a symbol of hospitality and in India people used it for caste marks to indicate wealth. Minoan women used it in cosmetics and Medieval monks added it to egg whites to create a yellow glaze that could be substituted for gold in their manuscripts.

Medicinal Uses:
Saffron is a source of compounds known to have antioxidant, antidepressant, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s effective in reducing inflammation, reducing appetite, and aiding in weight loss. It can help improve your mood, memory, and learning ability. It may aid in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and improve eyesight in adults with age-related macular degeneration. Research has shown it useful in the treatment of depression and tests have shown it to selectively kill colon cancer cells or suppress their growth.


Spiced Saffron Tea

4 cups water
2 teaspoons loose leaf tea, preferably white
¼ teaspoon saffron
1 pinch sugar
1 3 inch cinnamon stick
2 cardamon pods
1 tbsp fresh ginger slices
liquid honey

In a saucepan, boil water and add tea.
Add cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger. Turn off the heat and let steep for 5 minutes.
Grind up the saffron threads and sugar into a powder using a mortar and pestle. Add to tea steep for another 3 minutes.
Add honey to taste.

Saffron Rice

1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2 1/4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
5 cloves
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened

Rinse the rice until the water runs clear.
Place cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and saffron in a cheesecloth bag.
In a medium non-stick pot, add everything except the butter.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and let sit without removing the lid for 10 minutes.
Remove cheesecloth bag. With a fork, gentle stir in the butter and serve.

Oct 25, 2021

Putting the Garden to Bed

Two sounds of autumn are unmistakable…the hurrying rustle of crisp leaves blown along the street…by a gusty wind, and the gabble of a flock of migrating geese.
— Hal Borland

...I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air.
— Nathaniel Hawthorne

If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.
— Victoria Erickson

You know it’s autumn when . . . the temperature drops enough that we’re almost getting frost at night. And even on the sunny days we’re still needing to wear a sweater outside, if not a jacket. Yup, it’s my favorite time of year.

I even went down to the waterfront with a friend one day last week. We took our travel mugs of hot beverages and meandered along the boardwalk to the end, then sat in the sun on one of the benches. The wind coming off the lake was cool, but the sun was pretty warm so it kind of evened things out.

Then on the way back we watched a rather large flock of geese flying overhead and they began to circle in for a landing in a soccer field along the boardwalk. And then we noticed something we’d never seen before. The geese were flying sideways. I didn’t even know they could do that. And I really regretted that I didn’t have my phone with me because I would have taken a video of it, just to prove I’m not crazy.

At least I had witnesses though. My friend saw it too, and the artist who was weaving cloth into the chain link fence dropped what she was doing to take a video with her tablet.

The following day the hubby and I decided we should take advantage of the rain-free weather and clean out the vegetable gardens. There were actually a few beans left on the vines on the fence, and a lot of ones that had gone to seed and dried out. I already had enough seeds for next year so I didn’t feel bad at all pulling those vines. I noticed my neighbor on the other side of the fence had already pulled hers.

The yellow bean plants in my garden had already started to die off, and again there were still beans on them, mostly gone to seed and dried up. But believe it or not, there were still blossoms on some of them, meaning they were still producing beans. I didn’t care, I pulled them anyway.

My first crop of peppers had been lost to creatures unknown, and my second crop was so nice looking it was a shame to pick them, but I did. Better I get them than the frost. The same went for the tomatoes. We got a few of the larger tomatoes when they ripened on the vine, but none looked as good as the green ones I ended up picking. I think I’m going to try making a green tomato salsa with my bounty.

I knew the tomato plants were big this year, but it wasn’t until I started pulling them that I realized how insanely big they were. Most of them were doubled over their cages and when straightened up were taller than me. And most of them still had blossoms on them.

We had such a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes (I have about 15 bags of them in the freezer) that the hubby decided to not save any of the green ones, and the few red ones that were left (some of which were already on the ground) he left for the forest critters.

Now all that’s left of my vegetable gardens is the asparagus and the rhubarb. According to my neighbor (who gave them to me), I’m supposed to wait until the foliage dies off and then cut them back.

Looks like I’m ready – bring on the frost!

Oct 20, 2021

Spice of Life Part VIII

Paprika comes from the Capsicum annuum family, which includes sweet and hot peppers as well as chili peppers, but the peppers used for paprika tend to be milder and have thinner flesh. The striking red peppers are dried and powdered, and range in taste from sweet and mild to hot. American Paprika is the blandest, while Hungarian Paprika has the greatest range of flavor.

The version you find in the spice aisle of your average supermarket is very mild in flavor, with a sweet taste and subtle touch of heat and is best used to sprinkle on a finished dish, such as deviled eggs, and to add color to grilled meat like in a rib spice rub. The stronger Hungarian paprika is very versatile and is good in egg dishes, meat and poultry stews, game, rabbit, fish, soups, boiled or steamed vegetables, rice, and cream based sauces.

Historians believe the peppers used in paprika were first cultivated in the area of South America that is now part of Brazil and Bolivia. They were discovered by Columbus on one of his voyages to the New World at the end of the 15th century. Though at first the pepper plants were used as a decorative plant, they spread from Spain through Europe. The Turks introduced the pepper plants to Hungary (which was under Turkish rule) in the 16th century. It was at first used as a cure for fever and typhus in Hungary before it was used as a main spice for Hungarian cuisine.

The Turks introduced paprika as a spice to the Balkan Peninsula in the 18th century, and it was not used in the west until the mid-1900s. The paprika from Europe was somewhat hot, but through careful cultivation and grafting, growers were able to produce a sweeter, milder paprika.

Medicinal Uses:
Paprika is loaded with vitamins A, E, and B6 as well as iron. It also contains antioxidants which help fight cell damage due to chronic ailments such as cancer and heart disease, and may help protect against inflammatory conditions like arthritis. It also contains nutrients that promote better eye health and lowers the risk of cataracts. As well as improving cholesterol levels, it may also improve blood sugar levels and stave off anemia.


Tomato Cocktail

16 oz tomato Juice
1 oz red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cucumber - peeled and pureed
4 wedges lime - for garnish

Add all ingredients, except lime wedges, to a pitcher and stir well.
Chill for at least 2 hours.
Serve in highball glasses full of ice, garnished with a lime wedge each.

Hungarian Goulash

1 3/4 lb of stewing beef, cubed
4 red peppers
2 tbsp of flour
1 3/4 oz of butter
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup beef stock
1 pkg egg noodles
1 cup sour cream
1 tbsp of chives, chopped
3 pinches of salt
1 pinch of pepper
2 tbsp of olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.
Peel the peppers, then cut them in half lengthways and de-seed. Lay in a roasting tray, cut-side down, then drizzle with a tablespoon of oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cook in the oven until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool, then cut into 1/2 in slices and set aside - leaving the oven on.
Combine a pinch of salt with the flour in a bowl. Lightly coat the diced beef in the seasoned flour and brown in batches in the butter in a frying pan. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the onions to the same pan and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden. Stir in the paprika and peppers and cook for another minute.
Place meat, onions, and peppers in a casserole dish and add the beef stock. Cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours until the beef is tender and cooked through.
Once the meat is almost tender, cook the noodles in salted boiling.
Remove the casserole dish from the oven, season (if necessary) and skim off any fat that has risen to the surface. Stir in the sour cream.
Divide noodles into bowls. Spoon the goulash on top and sprinkle with the chives. Serve immediately.

Oct 18, 2021

All Roads Lead to Chickens

Well, maybe not all roads, but the roads I had access to this past weekend.

In February 2020, I signed up for the Spring Thaw writing retreat. Then we had a pandemic lockdown so the retreat was changed to the fall of 2020. Then we had another lockdown and the retreat was moved to April 2021. And then, because things were still locked down, it was finally moved to October 2021, which is just as well because I was in the hospital having my cancer surgery in April.

The retreat was held at Elmhirst’s Resort on the north side of Rice Lake, a lake that lies north of Cobourg. While it’s not far as the crow flies, it’s kind of round about if you’re taking a car. Rice Lake is positioned at about a 45 degree angle from Lake Ontario, with Cobourg well below it but kind of at the halfway point between east and west. I had a choice of going east around the upper end of the lake, taking me further north and then south, or going much further west around the lower end of the lake and then turning north. According to Google, it would take me 53 minutes one way and 54 minutes the other. It would have only taken me half an hour if I could have driven across the lake. LOL

The retreat itself was amazing. Everyone was friendly (we’re Canadians, of course we’re friendly!) and supportive of each other’s work. There were group activities, but lots of opportunities to work on your own. I learned a lot, especially about myself as a writer. I would go again in a heartbeat.

We were in shared cabins, strung along the shoreline. Every cabin had view and a fireplace – a must for any writer. I was in a three bedroom cabin, which meant I had two roomies. We shared the kitchen:

And the living room:

And the view (yes, it was raining most of the time):

But we each had our own bedroom and there were two bathrooms. Lunch and supper was provided, but we could breakfast at our leisure as the kitchens were well stocked with juice, milk, coffee, bread, and eggs. Which brings us to the chickens.

Among other activities (fishing, boating, horse-back riding, visiting the spa) there are walking/hiking trails. One afternoon one of my cabin mates followed the road and stumbled across a large enclosure of chickens. Early yesterday morning I followed the path along the shoreline (below the cabins) and . . . ended up at the chicken coup as well. So we decided all roads lead to chickens.

Oct 13, 2021

Spice of Life Part VII

Cloves are the reddish brown flower buds of the clove tree [syzygium aromaticum], a tropical evergreen tree of the myrtle [myrtaceae] family. In stores it can be found in both whole and ground forms. The flavour is strong, hot, and pungent.

It goes well with allspice, bay, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, and nutmeg and is used in recipes around the world, particularly in Middle Eastern, Indian, and North American cooking. Because of its strong flavour a little goes a long way and should be used sparingly. It’s delicious in baked goods and pies, and also pairs well in savory foods, particularly rice dishes, spicy meat dishes, and curries.

Archaeological evidence has the first appearance of cloves dating back to 1721 BC, where cloves were found in a ceramic vessel from Syria. In 200 BC emissaries from Java are recorded having brought cloves to the courts of China, where it was used to freshen the breath of those seeking audience with the emperor. There is evidence that cloves were found in Rome in 1 AD, Egypt in 176 AD, and Sri Lanka in 900 AD.

Native to the Indonesian Spice Islands, during the Middle Ages cloves were traded by Arabs in the Indian Ocean trade. Late in the 15th century, Portugal took over the trade and brought cloves to Europe where it became a valuable commodity. The Dutch took over the spice trade in the 17th century and kept a tight control over the production of the spice to keep it rare and therefore profitable. In the 18th century the French managed to introduce the clove tree to Guiana, Brazil, the West Indies, and Zanzibar, thus breaking the Dutch monopoly. Today, Indonesia is still the world’s largest producer of cloves.

Medicinal Uses:
Like many of the warmer spices, cloves contain eugenol, which is a natural antioxidant. Antioxidants help prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. The eugenol found in oil of cloves is also a natural analgesic and antiseptic, and is used for relief from a toothache or as a remedy for colds coughs, fever, and sore throat. Topically, oil of cloves is used on acne, warts, and scars. It may can help lower blood sugar and supports liver health.

Other Uses:
Clove cigarettes, often to be considered more of a cigar, are smoked throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States. The bioactive chemicals of cloves make it an effective an ant repellent – my aunt used to scatter cloves throughout her trailer when she was winterizing it to keep pests away. The effective component of cloves, eugenol, is often used in germicides, perfumes, and mouthwashes. An orange, studded with cloves, was often given as a yuletide gift and even now is used as a seasonal decoration


Hot Toddy

1 ½ tsp honey
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar syrup
1 ½ ounces scotch whiskey
3 cloves
boiling water

Warm a mug or heatproof glass. Add the whisky, lemon juice, syrup, cloves and honey. Top up with boiling water and garnish with a lemon skewered with cloves and a cinnamon stick. Give it a quick stir and serve immediately.

You can also simmer whole cloves in boiling water for 5–10 minutes to make a soothing cup of clove tea.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin

1 1/2 pounds pok tenderloin
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cloves
Zest of one orange
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray, making sure that the dish is large enough to allow room around the tenderloin.
In a small bowl, combine sea salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves ,and orange zest. Rub all over pork tenderloin and place in the baking dish.
Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until thickest portion registers are 155-160 degrees. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing into 1-inch pieces.

Oct 11, 2021

Happy Turkey Day!

I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday centered around food and family, two things that are of utmost importance to me.
— Marcus Samuelsson

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.
— Cicero

The funny thing about Thanksgiving, or any big meal, is that you spend 12 hours shopping for it then go home and cook, chop, braise and blanch. Then it’s gone in 20 minutes and everybody lies around sort of in a sugar coma and then it takes 4 hours to clean it up.
— Ted Allen

If you live in Canada, today is Thanksgiving. If you live south of the border then today is named after that guy that didn’t really discover America. LOL But either way, today is a holiday.

We had our big turkey dinner yesterday, but the prep work started Saturday. I did the turnips, carrots, broccoli, and sweet potatoes, which were easy to store in the fridge in foil containers that could got into the oven when the turkey came out.

This year’s turkey was a Butterball, which I’ve never tried before. Normally I go for one of the cheaper utility turkeys, but I guess I waited too long or something (no room in the freezer for one) and it took me three stores before I found one. Walmart only had little ones (although I heard later they got some big ones in), No Frills had none! What kind of grocery store doesn’t have an abundance of turkeys at Thanskgiving? I finally found a large, unstuffed, turkey of considerable size at Metro. It was a little pricey, but worth the effort.

And instead of green beans (I’m still kind of beaned out from the explosion of them during the summer) I decided to try peas. Fresh peas. Which foamed when I cooked them, so I rinsed them before putting them in their designated container, and they smelled really off – how can fresh peas go off? So, not wanting anyone to be sick from my dinner, I sent the hubby off to the store for some frozen ones. LOL

Today I can bask in the glory of another holiday dinner done right. The house is clean, more or less, and the leftovers all fit in the fridge. All I have left to do today is the lemon cheesecake for the daughter’s birthday tomorrow.

Happy holidays, wherever you are!

Oct 6, 2021

Spice of Life Part VI
Pumpkin Spice

This fragrant spice blends together cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. In the beginning it was used pretty much exclusively to give flavor to the somewhat bland pumpkin being used in pies, but when McCormick’s began selling it commercially in the early 1950s the name got shortened to pumpkin spice and it began to see a wider range of uses.

With the blend made more convenient, people began to put it into other foods as well as beverages. As well as pies, you can use pumpkin spice in cookies, cakes, vegetables, stews, and fall soups, such as squash soup. It’s delicious sprinkled on oatmeal, or used in pancakes.

To make your own pumpkin spice, combine ¼ cup of ground cinnamon with 2 tablespoons of ground ginger, 2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg, 2 teaspoons of ground cloves, and 2 teaspoons of ground allspice.

Like the spices used in this blend, pumpkin spice got its start with the Dutch East India company when it was known simply as “mixed spice.” Cookbooks from the late 1700s included it as an ingredient for pumpkin pie.

In 1934, McComick introduced the blend as “pumpkin pie spice” since it was intended to enhance the flavour of pumpkin pie. In the 1960s the name was shortened to pumpkin spice. In the 1990s, other coffee companies began to experiment with adding pumpkin spice to their coffees, but it wasn’t until 2002, when Starbucks created their Pumpkin Spice Latte that pumpkin spice hit its stride.

By 2015 people had become obsessed with pumpkin spice and it began to dominate the fall season in everything from scented candles to take-out coffees. By 2018, pumpkin spice was a $600 million industry.

Medicinal Uses:
The spices that make up pumpkin spice have been shown to be beneficial to your health: cinnamon is excellent for balancing blood sugar levels; ginger is highly anti-inflammatory and supports immune health; nutmeg and cloves are rich in antioxidants, plus they have anti-viral and anti-microbial actions; and allspice has anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. However, when pumpkin spice is used as flavoring in lattes or processed foods there are often artificial flavors, sugars, and fats that are added.


Pumpkin Spice Latte


1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup (4oz / 115g) strong brewed coffee
1/2 cups (4oz / 115g) milk

Add all ingredients to a saucepan.
Stir and bring to a simmer.
Pour into a mug.
Decorate with freshly whipped cream and a sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon.

Libby’s Pumpkin Pie

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 ounces) LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell

Step 1 Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk.
Step 2
Pour into pie shell.
Step 3
Bake in preheated 425° F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° F; bake for 40 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
This is the recipe my family traditionally uses, taken right off the back of the can’s label.

Oct 4, 2021

Summer’s Over . . .

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye. — Unknown

Life and summer are fleeting,' sang the bird. Snow and dark, and the winter comes. Nothing remains the same.

— Elyne Mitchell

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I love this time of year. I love the cooler nights and the turning leaves, even though it’s a precursor to the coming darkness of winter. There’s just something in the fall air . . .

The impatiens in the front garden are still doing well, but the vegetable gardens are pretty much done, as are the beans on the fence. I was really annoyed that the peppers that looked so promising a couple of months ago have pretty much disappeared from the garden. Then last week I noticed a second crop of them starting. Whether they’ll be big enough to pick before the first frost is anyone’s guess.

The grackles disappeared. Someone told me they migrate in the fall, but they actually left several weeks ago. This was good news for the other birds in the neighbourhood because it meant I could fill my feeder again. Except . . . the first time I filled it the seeds lasted for a week. The next time, several days. The time after that it was empty by the end of the day.

At first I thought the squirrels were the culprits. After all, they were pretty much partners in crime with the grackles most of the summer. But no, it was not the squirrels. It was a chipmunk. That’s right, one of those cute little greedy so-in-sos! Actually, I think there’s two of them and I’m pretty sure they live under my deck.

Even though I’m pretty sure my pair of cardinals have given up on my feeder, I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I have a few other birds that are still faithful, and the chipmunks have to run out of space to store their stolen seeds sometime, right?

Yesterday the granddaughter and I were at the dining room table doing crafts when all of a sudden she said, “Grammy! There’s a duck in the pool!”

I didn’t believe her at first, but I looked out the deck door and sure enough there was a female mallard swimming in the water on the tarp covering the pool. She seemed so small and lonely.

Not wanting to scare her, I tried to take a couple of pictures through the screen door. Then we thought she looked hungry so we tore up a slice of multi-grain bread, but when we cautiously went out onto the deck, she was gone.

We thought we could hear her though, and the eagle eyed granddaughter spied her back in the pond. We snuck up as close as we dared to toss bread at her, but she was rather unimpressed. Let’s face it, bread is not exactly known for its aerodynamics.

I think I mentioned before that we haven’t seen any ducks since we replaced the pool, so it was nice to see her. You can be sure I’ll be keeping my eye peeled, and some bread handy, just in case she returns.