baking, life transitions, Uncategorized

Cinnamon rolls, small towns and life lessons

My family has finally made our transition to our forever (we think) home, and our forever (we think) town in beautiful Pictou County, Nova Scotia and I recently had occasion to visit a local bakery. This bakery was Cakes and Things, on Provost Street in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Anyone who knows me knows that I will drive 100 km out of my way to visit a bakery, and this one was right beside me as I was walking on the street so how could I not go in? It was later in the day (3 pm, late by a baker’s standards as they normally get up at the crack of dawn to start their bake, what a glorious job that would be..but I digress). So it was later in the day and luckily for me there were still a few of the most amazing cinnamon rolls available for sale. I picked up an especially yummy looking one and took it to the cash. I then struck up a conversation with the baker. He told me that he started the bakery because he really loved to bake. He and his business partner (his mom; how blessed is she that her son is willing to go into business with her!) had been baking for the local markets but that wasn’t enough baking for him so they decided to open a storefront. As our conversation went on, I realized that there was no debit machine on the cash and I said, “are you a cash only business?” I never have any cash in my wallet, it’s a long term effect from raising teenagers. “Yes,” he answered, “but please take the cinnamon roll. I know after one taste you’ll be back.” I offered to run to the bank (there were like 3 in the immediate area) but he insisted, and although I was feeling just a tad uncomfortable, I felt even more uncomfortable abandoning the cinnamon roll and refusing his hospitality. It just felt, well, rude to do so, and I’ll be honest, the cinnamon roll looked delicious! So I took him up on his offer, and guess what? He was right, I will be back. I’m going to order my sister’s birthday cake from him, because that cinnamon roll was great.

My husband and I decided to move back to the Pictou County area of Nova Scotia after our retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces in order to slow our lives down a bit. We had moved our family all over Canada, had done some really exciting jobs, but we were always in a rush. We wanted, we needed, a slower pace, and we hoped that coming back to Nova Scotia would provide that for us. I think we are still finding our way a bit in terms of slowing down, but that one visit to Cakes and Things Bakery and accepting the offer of a cinnamon roll reminded me why we made this choice. The offer of a cinnamon roll from a person who makes his business from selling cinnamon rolls but who didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that he wasn’t getting immediate return from the exchange is an important life lesson. Life is a journey, success in life takes many forms, and return on investment isn’t always immediate. Sometimes true wealth comes from another source.

So now my next big decision is whether to order the chocolate or the vanilla cake.

Until next time,

Victoria

baking, Canada's Food Guide, food choice, life transitions

You’re worth it (laments of a baker whose batch size has been limited)

I’ve been living alone for the last three weeks while my spouse has gone to our retirement house to do some painting. Well, I’m not truly alone – my 21 year old is still here but he works lots of nights so we pass each other on his way to work and my return from work. I think of myself as a resilient person, happy to be with myself and enjoying my own company, and it certainly isn’t the only time I’ve been alone. I have deployed in my military job (well, arguably there were other soldiers with me), I have been on course in my military job (well, again, I had course mates), but this might be one of the few times in my life where I didn’t have a regular “posse” to take my meals with, and I have been a little alarmed of how lazy I have become with regard to meal preparation. Yesterday as I was coming back from a wonderful power walk, feeling fit and strong, I passed a local coffee shop, I felt an overwhelming urge to stop and pick up a sandwich for supper, just so I could avoid the task of cooking for myself. I was just about to stop when I realized this was about the 4th time this week that I had a similar urge. Thinking of the newly released Canada’s Food Guide mantras “cook more” and “be more mindful” of the influences around food choice, I thought to myself, “This is crazy!” and kept walking. I arrived home, defrosted some chicken breast, made myself a homemade chicken Caesar salad and settled in for a night of Netflix, happy to have avoided the temptation of an easy meal and happy to be in complete control of the remote control.

In the recently released Canada’s Food Guide, Health Canada has included the concepts of mindfulness, focusing on home food preparation and eating as a group for very good reason. Food is a social activity. Many of our cultural traditions, regardless of the origin of that culture, involve food and food preparation rituals. As humans, we are meant to eat together. I have always found the work surrounding the preparation of a family meal (festive or not) quite relaxing and certainly worth any effort I needed to put forth. So why is it so hard to muster that effort when I am cooking just for me? Not sure, but I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. In fact I was speaking with my elder son about this issue as I was typing this blog. My son’s partner until very recently has travelled a lot for work. My son’s reaction to the trials of cooking for himself? “Mom, it’s brutal!”

So why bother? Why not just grab something from the deli and be done with it? Cost is a limiting factor for most folks, but even without that factor, when we are not in control of the food preparation process, we are also not in control of the nutrient content. Portion sizes are generally larger (at least for me as I’m an aging short woman) and that means body weight becomes more difficult to control. Ready made items are generally higher in fat and sodium (check out the nutrient information on that frozen entree the next time you’re in the grocery store – you’ll be shocked!) And if you’re a foodie, the taste is normally substandard. Home made items for the win on all accounts – cost, nutrition, and taste – but how to muster the energy to cook for yourself?

One of the best habits I’ve seen among my friends who are in the “live alone, eat alone” phase of their lives is preparation. Many of them devote a day or so to prepare larger portions of food and then portion it down to single servings. I’ve done this a lot as my husband and I entered the empty nester stage of our lives. I would cook a large lasagna (sometimes out of habit), serve it for dinner and then single portion the rest, freeze it and send it with him for work lunches. This would work well in my situation as I could cook one or two main entrees and single portion them and freeze them for later meals. However if you’re not careful, you’re going to be very tired of lasagna very fast. Another idea is to buy raw product such as fish, meat or poultry and single portion the items out before you freeze them. In this manner, you simply have to defrost one portion of meat and then pair it with a salad, veg or other healthy side to make your meal complete. My personal commitment over the next week is to treat myself as if I was a member of my family. Sounds silly, but why am I so hesitant to put the same effort into my single meal that I would very willingly put into the meals of my family? I need to walk the talk of this blog – I’m worth it – and I will set the table, garnish my plate, and turn off the tv and enjoy the meal. That is my promise to me for this coming week.

Finally there are a ton of blogs and websites dedicated to the single diner or the couple. I searched the web over the weekend looking for baking blogs dedicated to small batches as I really thought that if cooking for one is tough, baking for one would be tougher (and I was dying for a good cinnamon roll!) I was very happy to find an amazing website called http://www.dessertfortwo.com which caters to small batch cooking and baking. I made myself the cinnamon rolls this morning and they were amazing! So, that’s my thoughts for today. Cooking for myself falls under the category of necessary self-care and I will make a stronger effort to do it. I’m heading to Nova Scotia to the “big house” next week so I’ll have my hubby, pups and hopefully extended family to cook and bake for. Stay tuned for an amazing white cheesecake recipe just in time for Valentine’s Day!

I would be interested in hearing how everyone meets the challenge of cooking for themselves or for themselves and a partner. Please place your ideas in the comments below.

This week – cook yourself dinner – I’m going to!

Victoria

Cinnamon rolls for one! (I’ve saved the others for tomorrow) For my baker friends, the edges are a little ragged because I bake with gluten-free flour. As gluten provides the structure that holds the dough together, gluten-free products are a bit more delicate and don’t always hold their shape. For my friends with celiac, substitute the regular flour for gluten-free flour in the cinnamon roll recipe in a 1:1 ratio – you will not be disappointed!


baking, life transitions, wheat-free

Life, transitions and chocolate chips

I have had a momma chair for years. The momma chair in our family is that comfy chair with room for two people (or three if the occasion calls for it) to put their feet up, snuggle in, watch an episode or two of a favourite show, and forget about the world. These are comforting traditions that warm the soul. In the early years, the momma chair was a tan fabric lounger, put in the family room for kids to sit on and do homework while I made dinner in the adjoining kitchen. After the night’s activities were done and there was a bit of time for real relaxation before the next hectic day, one of my growing boys would yell out that a favourite show was on, and did I want to come and watch it with him? I’d say, “where do you want to sit?” The answer would invariably be “with you in the momma chair.”

Well over the years, boys grow up, leave home, and chairs need to be retired. The current momma chair is a grey two piece lounger with separate ottoman, with room enough for me and my hubby, or me and the pups. This momma chair was broken in by our beloved bulldog Helena, whose favourite activity on a Friday night would be to shuffle into the family room, wait for a crust of pizza (or a whole piece as she aged), and then jump up on the momma chair for a night of cuddling and movie watching. Helena has since passed, but this momma chair has become a favourite spot for our two young labs, one of whom sits on the ottoman, and the other curls up along my side. This momma chair is becoming a bit worn too, and it will be soon gifted to my son and his family, likely to take up a similar position of comfort in front of a wood stove. And life goes on, just on a slightly different path.

Family traditions, favourite recipes and comfort often go hand in hand. It’s sometimes too much of a shock to our system for things to change too much at once, so gradual changes seem to be easier to take and allow us to gather strength to face life’s next chapter. Food too can form part of the of our family comfort rituals, but sometimes as life goes on the changes that we face are ones in our diets.

The recipe featured today is my family’s absolute favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and one that I thought we’d have to abandon forever due to my husband’s wheat allergy that started to impact him in his late 40s. His symptoms include esophagitis, which often presents with chest pain, so it is a situation that we take seriously. Making good quality cookies that are wheat free is a challenge, as wheat free baking can be unforgiving if you do not take care in the mixing and baking process. (Wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity are two entirely different medical issues, but if you use non-wheat gluten free flour in your recipes, you are eliminating wheat, so making baked goods with gluten free flour is appropriate in my hubby’s case.) Use Robin Hood gluten free flour in a 1:1 substitution, and you can usually finish up with a good product. Unfortunately gluten provides the structure that our baked goods need, so the trick is blend gently, and make sure you don’t over bake. If you do, your products will taste like paper…very dry paper. These cookies should only be beaten for the minimum amount to blend the ingredients, and cooked just long enough for them to be chewy in the centre.

Here’s the recipe – thank you Chipits – I’ve been making this recipe since my boys were toddlers. Remember that if you want this recipe to be wheat free, check the ingredient listing on the other ingredients such as baking powder. I use Robin Hood gluten free flour as it allows a 1:1 substitution and you don’t need to add xanthan gum (xanthan gum is often added to gluten free flour to keep products from falling apart after baking). Also, in this recipe, if you want truly chewy cookies, use margarine, not butter. Butter will cause the ends of the cookies to thin and crisp. Margarine will allow the cookies to retain a nice rounded edge. For my hubby, milk is another allergen, so he enjoys these with a nice tall glass of rice milk. Sigh…so many changes as we go down life’s path. Maybe I won’t gift the momma chair just yet.

Yours in love and all things baked! XOX Victoria Sweet