Monday, March 29, 2010

As Southern as Pecan Pie

"I just clipped 2 articles from a current magazine. One is a diet guaranteed to drop 5 pounds off my body in a weekend. The other is a recipe for a 6 minute pecan pie."

-- Erma Bombeck

About a decade ago, and just about this time of year, I spent some days having an adventure in the American South. Oklahoma, to be precise. I was there with a small group to attend a business conference. Well, unfortunately, the business never did pan out for any of us, I've completely lost contact with all but one of my fellow travellers, and I don't remember a single thing about the conference. But the rest of my springtime trip to Oklahoma is still a delightful memory.

And speaking of memories, the very first thing we did upon our arrival in Oklahoma City was to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial and pay our respects. It is a beautifully and sensitively created and well kept site - a very serene and elegant tribute. Although the Memorial was outdoors, as we approached it, it felt as though we were entering a majestic cathedral and it was impossible to speak above a soft whisper.

Next we took a bus trip to view the company's future building site. This was a little underwhelming as it was simply a chunk of land in the distant countryside. And, at least from my perspective, the 'rolling green hills of Oklahoma' were neither very green nor very rolling.

Well, after the 'viewing' we were all bussed to a large facility of some sort - like an enormous catering hall filled with simple tables and chairs. Along one wall was the bustling open kitchen with a long counter running across in front of it.

We all stood in line with thick paper plates and each server would ladle out a portion of the various food items. It will come as no surprise to you that the number one item on the menu was 'barbecue'. Great steaming mounds of saucy barbecued pork covered about three-quarters of each plate. That left a small space to be filled with creamy potato salad and bright green cole slaw, along with a soft plump bun slathered with butter.

I found myself suddenly at the end of the line, still with an empty plate in my hands. As a vegetarian, the barbecue was, of course, off limits to me. And as a perennial (although not wildly successful) weight watcher, I didn't fancy the potato salad or cole slaw with all that mayonnaise. And a white bun covered in butter? No, thanks.

A woman at the counter apparently noticed my plight and called over to me, "How're y'all doin' there, honey? Can I get y'all some barbecue?" I asked her if there were, by any chance, a vegetarian option? Well, quite clearly, this was a question she had never been asked before. She turned around to face the kitchen and called (very loudly): "Hey! Billy Bob! We all got us a veg-e-tar-i-an here!!" Suddenly about half a dozen kitchen workers dropped what they were doing and stepped a little closer in order to better eye up such a strange creature.

Some folks around me were chuckling, but my face was as red as the ubiquitous barbecue sauce. In my embarrassment at being centred out in this foreign environment, I found my decision-making skills being sharpened up quickly.

I immediately opted for the boring and horribly fattening meal of potato salad, cole slaw and an enormous white bun with its lashings of butter. And I can't say I enjoyed the cup of coffee in the styrofoam cup that came at the end of the meal.

However, I did rationalize that since my diet had been blown completely, and I was there to experience what I could of the Southern culture, I was jolly well going to have dessert. And it turned out to be a very good decision.

The kitchen ladies served up hearty slices of homemade pecan pie. Deliciously golden slices with the creamiest filling and freshly roasted pecans which had been picked from local trees. It was a little slice of pecan heaven right there in rural Oklahoma.

As far as I'm concerned, the "Okies" can keep their barbecued pork and their various side 'fixins' all to themselves. But I really would enjoy another slice of that wonderfully sinful pecan pie. I may never get back to Oklahoma but I'm hoping to visit South Carolina before too long. I will definitely have to keep my northern eyes open for a sighting of this truly decadent Southern treat. And then I'll be looking for a nap.



After reading this story, you may just have a craving to cook up a nice Southern pecan pie. But since it's the end of March here in Canada, why not add a little northern touch and make this luscious "Maple Pecan Pie". I hope you enjoy it!

Today's photo and recipe are courtesy of " southern food":

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

OPA! My Big Fat Greek Weekend

"In many ways we are all sons and daughters of ancient Greece."
-- Nia Vardalos (author and star of the wonderful film 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding')

Over the past weekend the weather was quite a bit cooler than the incredible May-like temperatures we enjoyed last week here in London. Perhaps it was a gentle reminder from Mother Nature that it is, after all, still March - and this is Canada. But I didn't care. I spent the weekend in Greece. Well, sort of.

On Saturday, my partner, Mark, and I enjoyed a delightful evening celebrating the 60th birthday of a colleague from my work. About two dozen of us - coworkers plus partners - met a a wonderful restaurant in the heart of London. It is a Greek restaurant. But please do not spend even a second imagining the typical 'Greek restaurant' that is ubiquitous in small town Ontario. My first job, in fact, was as a waitress at the age of 16 in such a restaurant. And when I remember this brief, hideous experience, a lot of colourful adjectives come to mind. But none of them, I confess, would be 'Greek'.

Thankfully, this place is nothing like that. It is 'Mykonos', a charming island of exotic Greek cuisine in the city of London. 'Mykonos' started off as a humble fish and chip restaurant, opened about three decades ago by Greek immigrants Heidi and Bill Vamvalis. Heidi has become a very visible persona to their many loyal patrons. She embodies such a warm, magnetic personality and she radiates such positive energy as she navigates through the restaurant shining her considerable light on all the fortunate diners.

How can I describe the atmosphere at 'Mykonos'? It is quaint and interesting with an almost completely blue and white decor. As soon as you walk through the door you can feel yourself being transported from a spot midway between Lake Huron and Lake Erie over to the fabulous Mediterranean Sea. You feel as though you've stumbled upon a charming family restaurant on a delightful Greek island where, although you are a tourist, you are made to feel completely at home.

Upon our arrival, we mingled and chatted with the others - reconnecting with those familiar and introducing ourselves to those previously only heard about and imagined. Very soon the time came for all of us to become seated at our very long table and await the entrance of the clearly surprised (and apparently delighted) guest of honour and his lovely lady.

Very soon the table filled with platters of assorted appetizers: feta cheese, olives, roasted red pepper dip as well as the famous tzatzkiki, a fabulous and delicious spread made from butter or lima beans called 'gigantes', along with a dazzling mashed potato and garlic spread served along with sliced of fresh baguette and pita triangles. Delicious!

And as if that weren't enough, later on several servers suddenly appeared with plates of saganaki cheese which they very dramatically doused with shots of Ouzo and immediately set aflame. Wow! That cheese was astonishingly good. Heaven! Oh, my.

For my main course I enjoyed Spanakopita with a Greek salad. Creamy, tangy, spicy deliciousness. Just imagine two dozen entrees coming out one just barely behind the next. My goodness, these people have it all together. Whereas a few minutes before I had been listening to the cacophony of animated conversation, suddenly and swiftly there was close to a zen-like silence as everyone began to dedicate themselves to their main courses. The many full plates became starkly white again, and the various wine bottles and carafes stood empty, leaving the celebrants relaxed, fulfilled, and happy. What a night!

The evening was so much fun that upon our arrival home, Mark and I were inspired to watch the movie 'Shirley Valentine' for about the hundredth time. Always a sheer delight.

And it didn't end there. Our connection with the spirit of Greece was still palpable on Sunday. So I created a Greek-inspired menu and Mark and I went shopping. Later on, Mark and I and Devin (my daughter Eliza's friend) cooked up a tasty dinner: lemon/garlic/herb/almond chicken breasts and vegetarian 'chick'n breasts', roasted lemon-dill potato cubes with chopped red and green peppers, orange ginger carrots, cucumbers and tzatziki sauce along with pita triangles. Yum! This delicious dinner prompted me to remember all things Greek stored in my memory, and I was happy to succomb.

Two summers ago I was visited by both a long-time Israeli friend, Orly, and a new-found Chilean friend, Alejandra. We three went to the cinema together to see "Mamma Mia" and enjoyed it so much that we made a pact to focus on the dream of vacationing together in Greece. What a dream!

Well, a couple of months ago I received a voice message from Orly in Israel. In her thick Israeli accent she said, "Diana. We talked about meeting one each other in Greece and I wonder if you are still planning this trip?" Orly is such an optimist! I love it.

Still planning? No. Not exactly. But still dreaming?? Absolutely! And I sincerely hope this dream will come true. But until it does, there is always 'Mykonos'. It has long been, and remains, a vibrant touch of Greece in Southwestern Ontario. 'Efaristo (thank you), Mykonos!!' Efaristo, indeed.



The recipe this week is for the wonderfully delicious appetizer, 'Gigantes'. Believe it or not, I heard several people say this was their favourite dish of all that night. Both the photo and recipe are courtesy of Food Network star, Rachel Ray.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Wonderfully Wide World of Blogging

"Blogging is using a new medium for what it is good for - connecting and interacting."
- George Siemens

"We bloggers live for comments."
- Shelley Long (

Everything is energy. Everything. Even us. And we are fed by, and thrive on, the positive energy given out to the world by the natural world, animals, plants, and other people. That's what quantum physics tells us. But you don't have to be a quantum physicist to intuitively understand, and feel, how true this is.

We recently had the exciting experience of watching the Olympic athletes perform the most exquisite physical feats. What a thill! Over and over, the athletes were saying how great the energy was just being around the other athletes and their boisterous fans as well. It would have been amazing to have been there in person, but the positive energy was so intense that it could easily and strongly be felt by even the TV audience.

Of course, this phenomenon doesn't just pertain to athletes; it is a reality for all of us. And bloggers are no exception. We are generally people who love to write and who get a real kick out of it. But, really, just sitting at home writing about this and that without anyone to read one's words would be terribly unsatisfying. It is our readers who give us feedback - either in person, by email, or in the form of cherished 'comments'. And this positive feedback is one of the things that feeds our creative energy.

Ever since I started blogging, I have found it so rewarding to connect with my readers. In the beginning they consisted of my family, my close friends, and certain work colleagues. But as a stone tossed into a pond will cause a series of outgoing ripples, the circle has been constantly expanding. My family, friends, and colleagues began to share my blog with their families, friends, and colleagues. And then, two weeks ago I received my first comment from a total stranger, a woman from New Mexico, and that was such a surprise. And it just keeps getting better.

I hope all of you read (and enjoyed) my post last week on rutabagas. I was happy to see that it inspired all kinds of rutabaga conversations at work and amongst friends. My sister in BC contacted me to say she was about to make 'hot cross bun muffins' last weekend and when she glanced at the ingredients on the container of chopped glazed fruit, she was astonished to find that the first ingredient was, incredibly, chopped rutabaga. HA! She thought the Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute (ARSI) would just love that.

I expect they would, indeed, but what I DO know is that they found out about my blog and took the time to send me a comment. And that was a very, very exciting moment for me. Here it is:

"Diane: You have a terrific blog -- I linked to your entry on rutabagas and made a comment (included here). Thanks for bringing the ARSI site to the attention of our local newspaper...
As Official Mouthpiece of the Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute here in Forest Grove, it pains me to admit that I grew up in a New England family that mistakenly referred to rutabagas as "turnips". So you're totally forgiven, and your eloquence in praising this humble root vegetable makes up for all past sins. Also, please visit our blog (where I'll be adding a link to your page) at I look forward to having you join our celebrations during this historic year. -- Michael J. O'Brien, Forest Grove, Oregon"

I hope you will all check out this very interesting site where you can see my name and link, and also see the link to The Oregonian newspaper which initially ran the piece. How cool is that, my friends??

I can feel the palpable energy coming my way from all of those Oregonian rutabaga-loving folk. My goodness, how I would love to travel to Oregon and meet them all. And join in all of the festivities. And eat rutabagas!!

And if I were to meet them, I would also tell them that about 20 years ago there was an annual Rutabaga Festival in Blyth, a small village in Southwestern Ontario. Apparently it was a lot of fun, but the festival eventually folded due to a lack of volunteers. Sigh. I wish I had known! I would have volunteered. (

So, many thanks to Michael O'Brien of the Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute for putting my name and my blog 'on the map' of Oregon. I feel both privileged and thoroughly delighted. And special thanks to all of my readers who have shared both their positive energy and their comments with me all this time. It's a great feeling! And I just never know when a new comment will 'turnip'. (Sorry, Michael!!)



PS: Unfortunately, this post does not come with a new recipe. So, just amuse yourselves by eating more rutabagas!

Instead of a photo this week, I have created a 'beautiful word cloud' through
"" (TM) which was developed by Jonathan Feinberg.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rutabaga! Rutabaga! Rah! Rah! Rah!

"So many people confuse rutabagas with turnips. They're not alike at all. Rutabagas have a pleasant yellow-orange color, large friendly-looking leaves, and a smooth dense texture. Turnips are fish-belly white and purple on top like a bad bruise and have hairy leaves and taste brackish, like swamp water. Rutabagas are the root crop that any sensible person would prefer."

arrison Keillor in "Prairie Home Companion" Radio Program

Wow! That's a whole lotta love for a common root vegetable. I bet not too many of you have ever felt such adoration for a rutabaga. Oh, I expect you've eaten your share of mashed rutabagas at any number of Thanksgiving dinners, but to most people the roast turkey is the star of the show whereas mashed rutabagas (even spruced up with melted butter, salt and pepper) remains an insignificant side dish.

But not to me! I have always loved rutabagas and was always excited to eat them at holiday dinners, even before I became vegetarian. I haven't eaten turkey for over 40 years now (although that figure is hard for me to believe!), but I have continued to relish the humble rutabaga.

The rutabaga is a cruciferous vegetable, believed to have evolved from a cross between a wild cabbage and a turnip. We know they existed in the 1600s in southern Europe, but because they grow so well in colder climates, they became extremely popular in Scandinavia - particularly in Sweden. This is why one of the early names for this vegetable was "swede'. They are called "neeps" in Scotland and I can remember my Granny telling us about one of her favourite dishes - "neeps and tatties" which was simply rutabagas and potatoes cooked and mashed together with butter, salt and pepper. They have often been called "turnips" as well, but (as we have learned) that is an egregious error.

It pains me to mention this (after reading the above quotation), but in our family we always called rutabagas 'turnips'. I didn't know any different. And even after I grew up and was in charge of my own grocery shopping, I continued to call them turnips even though the sign was clearly marked 'rutabagas'. I'm sure this piece of information wouldn't bother most of you at all. But it would no doubt seriously provoke the members of ARSI - The Advanced Rutabaga Studies Institute.

The ARSI is located in Forest Grove, Oregon, a town which has considered itself "The Rutabaga Capital of the World" since 1951. This will be an especially exciting year for the ARSI members as 2010 has been declared "The International Year of the Rutabaga." The good news is that it is only early March and we all have time to plan some appropriate activities to celebrate (as our friend, Garrison Keillor says) "America's most under-appreciated vegetable."

As I mentioned earlier, rutabagas were never under-appreciated by me. I tend to enjoy sharper tasting foods so was easily drawn to loving them. In fact, I preferred a dish of mashed rutabagas over the mashed potatoes! All my life I associated rutabagas with festive occasions and fun holidays because we never ate them at any other time.

I had an impression that their great expense was the reason they were reserved for only the most special dinners. Can you imagine my shock and surprise when, on my first grocery shopping trip, I saw a large bin of waxy rutabagas along with a sign saying, "15 cents each"? What??? How could this be?? It was clear that anyone could afford to eat rutabagas - every day if they liked. And I smiled to myself with the notion that I might do just that.

This notion lasted until, oh, when the time came to cook the rutabaga. I wasn't prepared for such a difficult task. I was a young and inexperienced cook, didn't have proper knives, and had no technique. I spent a good bit of time trying to chop away at the poor vegetable - hacking and sawing away like mad. After I got the thick waxy skin off and had sawed it into slices, it still had to be cut into cubes and boiled for a long time before mashing. Whew! It was then that I decided to forgive my mother for serving rutabagas only at festive meals.

Some of you will remember the sudden emergence of microwave ovens in the mid-eighties and all of the surrounding hoopla about how they were going to revolutionize cooking and baking and make our regular ovens obsolete. Well, quite clearly this did not happen and microwave oven cookery has been largely underwhelming. But when it comes to rutabaga preparation, the microwave is a brilliant device.

I was so excited when I learned this technique and I think it will make your rutabaga-eating life much easier. Simply hold your rutabaga firmly and stab it thoroughly on all sides with a fork. Then, wrap it up with several layers of paper towel - be generous. Put it on a plate, then pop it into the microwave for about 5 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetable and the power of your oven. It will be done when a sharp knife can pierce through the flesh with little resistance. Let it cool for a bit, then carefully peel off the paper towel. Now, it will be so easy to slide the thick skin off, to slice it, and chop it into cubes. Plus, it won't take as long to boil in a pot of salted water.

So there you are. You can enjoy delicious, nutritious (and inexpensive) rutabagas whenever you want and however you want. Here are some ideas from today's aficionado - Garrison Keillor: "Rutabaga - it's suitable for any occasion. Rutabagas' firm yet impetuous flavor goes well with Bordeaux, Chablis, or even Champagne. Use julienned rutabagas to clear the palate before dessert. Stir-fried rutabagas can bulk up any Chinese dish. Or how about rutabaga ratatouille? And instead of an olive in your Martini, why not try a rutabaga wedge?"

Well, perhaps some of you more adventurous souls may want to go to a bar and request a rutabaga wedge in your martini, but I expect it would be a small group. And since most of you have made, or at least eaten, plain mashed rutabagas with butter, salt and pepper, to give you such a recipe would be too boring.

And so, I've opted for the middle ground and today's recipe will be using rutabagas in a slightly adventurous, but also very cozy and comforting way. It is a "Rutabaga Spice Cake" and it may resemble the ubiquitous carrot cake in flavour, but it seems much less rich and sweet. And as you nibble on a piece of cake with your coffee or tea, or for dessert, you can tell yourself that you are eating your veggies and you will be able to just relax and enjoy. I hope you do!



"Rutabaga Spice Cake"

Today's photo and recipe are courtesy of "Foodland Ontario" - Thanks!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Maple Leaf (and Maple Syrup!) Forever!!

"I think there's going to be a lot of maple syrup in's got medal written all over it."

-- Craig Buntin

(Craig Buntin of Vancouver and his partner, Meagan Duhamel, were the silver medalists at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in 2009.)

Craig Buntin uttered the above words back in 2006 and he couldn't have been more prophetic. What a fantastic couple of weeks it has been here in Canada!

What fun it has been to switch on the TV and always find some incredible Olympic event going on. Staggeringly brilliant performances across all events. Many were nail-biting experiences, many were breathtaking, many were heart-stopping and one in particular was heartbreaking.

I also really enjoyed the 'water cooler' conversation at work. I love it when there is such a common bond amongst people; it's such a great 'connector'. I especially noticed it today (Monday) when several times I found myself in an elevator or corridor or office with someone I did not know and it could have been an awkward situation. Not today, my friend, not today. All I had to say was, "Did you see The Game yesterday?" and the conversation was off and running. Sweet.

And speaking of sweet, what is sweeter to a Canadian than our very own maple syrup? Although my sisters in Saskatchewan and British Columbia have pointed out that they don't have maple trees (pity), I think they would have to agree that the maple tree and leaf and syrup are Canadian icons.

I know it's really springtime when our retired colleague, Ron, comes to campus with a box full of mason jars containing 'the real stuff' - maple syrup from his own maple bush. It is so wonderfully delicious and the supply is so limited that people are practically knocking each other over to lay claim to a jar. (Make sure I'm near the top of the list this year, OK, Ron?)

I remember so well a high school bus trip from Quebec City to a town further north when I was fifteen. Half-way to our goal the bus turned in to a quaint Quebecois farmhouse. It seemed rather odd to us at the time, until we realized these people ran a thriving business and were delighted to see us pull into their lane way.

My goodness, how I can still smell the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread which filled the country kitchen and swirled around us, pulling us in like a trawler's net. Big hearty slabs of soft, warm bread, the crusts perfectly chewy and slathered with golden hand-churned butter. Heaven! And as if that weren't a perfect treat for a band of hungry teens, there was hot maple syrup poured into trays of pure snow and rolled up with sticks into little morsels of maple ambrosia. Before we left the farmhouse, we had filled our pockets with a wide variety of maple candies in order to face the remainder of our journey with the security of a stash of sugar. HA. To be young again!

But, honestly, the young are always hungry but they are not always adventurous. I know this from experience. Back when my eldest son, Ben, was 13 his hockey team invited a Danish team over to Canada for some competition and camaraderie. We hosted two young men and it was really a great experience. Although it was often a challenge when it came to food.

One young fellow, who was staying with another family, became so excited when he realized that he could buy a case of 24 cans of Coke here in Canada for the same price as a 2 litre bottle back in Denmark, that he scooped one up and in his enthusiasm, he drank the entire case in one day! The poor lad had to be hospitalized because of the caffeine overdose, so it was probably a good thing that Coke was so expensive when he returned to Denmark.

"Our" boys didn't have any such traumas, although there were some funny incidents. I thought I was going to have to buy pickled herring for them as it is ubiquitous in Denmark, but fortunately for me, they despised it. Whew! They were also appalled at our Canadian cheese and refused to eat it. I never really understood why. I know I asked them, but maybe their English wasn't fluent enough, maybe they were just too young, or maybe they just weren't about to articulate their feelings in any language being 13-year old boys.

The most amusing thing I remember about these boys was the time I made them a very nice (if I do say so) Canadian breakfast of homemade pancakes and real maple syrup. I wanted so much to give them a taste of Canada - something that they wouldn't get in Denmark. I thought they would love them and gobble them right up. But, surprisingly, they would have none of it. They turned up their noses and crinkled their brows and, for whatever reason (who could know?) they refused to eat the pancakes. It's a mystery to me still. They didn't know what they were missing.

But, oh, we know. We know so well. Both as a decadent delight and as a metaphor. Craig Buntin couldn't have known how right he was in predicting that "there's going to be a lot of maple syrup in Vancouver", but he was right on the money. Our Canadian athletes surprised us, amazed us, delighted us, and thrilled us. Oh, yes, there was plenty of maple syrup at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. And we Canadians savoured every last drop.



Today's photo and recipe are courtesy of "" - a great site featuring terrific recipes from A-Z. I have chosen, of course, a recipe that features maple syrup. I know you can all make pancakes and maple syrup, so this is a nice twist: "Sweet Potato Mash with Cinnamon and Maple Syrup". It's a nutritious and delicious dish and it's oh so Canadian. Way to go Canada!! Woo hoo!!!