Yesterday during some carol singing at a Christmas luncheon my husband Dave was part of a discussion with a woman at our table about the opening lyrics of The ChristmasSong by Nat King Cole. You’re probably familiar with them too.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
Some other people at our table wondered if anyone had ever actually seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Turns out my husband Dave and I had.
We lived in Hong Kong for six years and the short winter season there was ushered in by chestnut vendors who appeared on street corners and roasted chestnuts in big tilted woks in a mixture of glossy black sand and sugar. The vendors were constantly stirring the chestnuts so they didn’t burn. The chestnuts came from China’s Hebei or Shandong province. I loved the smell of them roasting.
The trick to roasting chestnuts is to cut an x into their top before you roast them and then their shells literally ‘pop’ open as they roast and make them easy to peel and eat.
We also saw chestnuts being roasted on the streets of Sienawhen we visited one January. Roasting chestnuts is a centuries old tradition in Italy where street vendors roast chestnuts over hot coals in a pan with a perforated bottom. They have a lovely smokey taste. The roasted chestnuts are placed in a large wooden barrel padded with a thick blanket to keep them warm for as long as possible.
Whenever I hear those lyrics at Christmas about chestnuts roasting on an open fire I think of Hong Kong and Italyand the chestnut roasters I saw there.
I don’t often blog about cooking or food because meal creation is not one of my talents. But sometimes the stars align and I make something that’s really good as was the case with this squash dish we enjoyed for supper recently. It was all thanks to two of my friends.
We were at a dinner party at my friend Shannon’s not long ago and she had squash from her garden placed by the front door for the guests to take home with them. I took one to be polite but wasn’t sure what I would do with it.
On Friday we had a marvelous meal made by our talented nephew Mike. Mike loves to cook and Dave decided to take advantage of that by asking him to make a dinner for the three couples in our cycling group. Mike was kind enough to agree.
The dinner was in the gorgeous backyard of the home Mike owns with his wife Stephanie.
Look at the beautiful table laid for our dinner in a pergola by the pool!
Our friendly great nieces served as our waitresses.
Jazz played in the background as we had our pre-dinner drinks on a perfect summer evening.
Stephanie, Mike’s wife had recommended some local wines to go with each of the four courses of our meal, and prior to the dinner while Dave and I were attending our great nephew’s baseball game the other two couples went out and purchased them.
The wines proved to be perfect pairings for each of the delicious dishes we were served. Each dish had been uniquely created by Mike.
Our first course was a crusted zucchini flower stuffed with mushrooms, shrimp, onions and spices on a bed of shaved zucchini.
Our second course was pork belly and scallops with a mango radish salsa.
Our third course was a braised short rib finished on an open fire with smoked ginger carrot puree and topped with pickled onions, roasted peanuts and cilantro.
And finally for dessert piping hot smoked peach crisp with homemade basil ice cream.
It was quite dark by the time we had dessert so Michael and Stephanie invited us into their charming home for our last course and we got more of a chance to visit with them.
What a fabulous dinner in a gorgeous setting! Thanks Mike for all your hard work and creativity in preparing it for us and thanks to Stephanie and our great nieces for warmly opening their home to us for the evening.
One of the stops on our winery/cycling tour yesterday was the Muscedere Vineyards.
We were warmly welcomed by Melissa Muscedere the assistant winemaker.
Muscedere is a family business with Melissa’s brothers, sisters-in-law and parents all involved.
We were interested in an unique flower we had seen as we drove on the yard and Melissa told us it was called Celosia Cristata also known as Rooster’s Comb and that her mother had brought the seeds to Canada from Italy.
The vines at Muscedere were heavy with grapes and we learned that the netting around them was to protect the grapes from crawling insects and birds. We could hear the recorded sounds of gunshots and shrieking hawks being broadcast out over the vineyard to chase away birds that might prey on the grapes.
We started our time at Muscedere with some wine tasting and I tried a flight of white wines. I liked the Sauvignon blanc the best.
Later we enjoyed some of Muscedere’s wood- fired pizzas.
This is the third time Dave and I have been to the Muscedere Winery. The first time was in 2011 when our family attended our niece’s wedding there. It was while we were taking this family photo in the vineyard that our older son and daughter-in-law informed us we were going to become grandparents for the first time.
The second time we went to Muscedere was in July of 2018 when a whole bunch of family members met there for the afternoon. We were making a special visit to Ontario to see Dave’s brother John who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Dave drove a rented van that would accommodate John’s wheelchair out to the Muscedere Winery. We would return to Ontario in October for John’s funeral.
It was good to visit again yesterday and create a third Muscedere memory.
For decades we drove to southern Ontario every summer to visit my husband’s family and we routinely went home with our trunk full of canned produce made in my mother-in-law’s kitchen while we were there. This always included many jars of pickles.
So it was kind of nostalgic to be included in a pickle-making bee at my sister-in-law Shirley and brother-in-law Paul’s house on our current visit to Leamington.
Our niece Stephanie, her friend and friend’s daughter joined us.
Dave’s job was preparing all the garlic cloves that were going to be dropped into each jar of pickles.
Stephanie was busy washing all the cucumbers.
Shirley set out all the washed jars and then we got ready to put the various spices inside each jar- dill, pepper, salt, chilis and garlic.
My sister-in-law Shirley and brother-in-law Paul demonstrate how getting the maximum number of cucumbers into each jar is a bit of an art.
Brine was added to the jars.
They were put in very, very hot water in the bathtub to steam them.
We were gifted two jars of the final product to take home to Manitoba in thanks for helping with the pickling project.
It was great to visit with each other as we made the pickles. The conversation was interesting.
I hadn’t made pickles in years and it was lovely to take part in something that traditionally had been a feature of our Ontario visits.
I love this photo of my grandfather Diedrich Peters with a batch of the homemade farmers’ sausages he was famous for.
I remember attending hog butchering bees at my grandparent’s farm in Gnadenthal, as a child. We went home at the end of a long day with the trunk of our car full of roasts, pork chops, spare ribs, hams and smoked sausages.
I can still see my grandfather blowing into the casings for the sausage before attaching them to the spout on the machine that would fill them up with meat and using his finger to swipe up some of the raw sausage meat to check if he had spiced it just right.
My father once wrote a story about what butchering was like when he was a child in the 1930s and 40s.
Dad said butchering bees usually took place in late October or early November. People might be busy butchering for a couple of weeks if they were efficient and well-liked because they would be invited to help out at so many butchering bees.
His paternal grandparents Helena and Paul Peters and his own parents were always in high demand. Dad said your status on the social ladder of the village of Gnadenthal was at least partially determined by how many butchering bees you were invited to.
Each spring some hogs would be designated for butchering with a V cut in their ear. Often it was a sow with a poor litter record or one with bad mothering instincts. For the last few months of the pig’s life, it was given extra feed to ensure maximum size and weight.
Sunday afternoon visiting in the village between spring and fall often included a trip out to the pig pen to survey the doomed animals and guess how many pounds of meat, rings of farmers’ sausage and pails of lard they would produce.
Usually, five or six couples would attend a butchering bee. My Dad said in their family’s case it was something of a Peters Fest with a number of my grandfather’s six brothers in attendance.
The day before the butchering the pig pen was cleaned and fresh straw bedding was provided for the condemned sows. Knives had to be sharpened. Tables had to be set up in the barn as did cauldrons with their stove pipes attached.
One time my Grandma was helping Grandpa attach a stove pipe to a cauldron and one fell and cut her on the side of her face. Some soot got in the wound and Grandma carried a telltale mark of the incident till her dying day.
The woman of the household hosting the butchering had to prepare food for the dozen or more adults attending the bee as well as their children who usually joined their parents for the evening meal. The hostess was also in charge of the thorough cleaning of the pigs’ intestines which were used as casings for the sausages.
On butchering day the men arrived at the crack of dawn each carrying their own personal butchering knives and were served breakfast by the women of the house. Their wives would follow about an hour later.
Killing the pig with a dagger was considered an art in itself. A couple of my Dad’s uncles were particularly gifted at this.
Water was heated to a scalding temperature in the cauldrons to be used to clean off the pigs’ bristles from their skin. After the bristles were removed evisceration began. My grandfather would cleanly and smoothly slash the carcass in half and then the owners of the pig gave directions as to how many hams, farmers’ sausage rings, ribs and other cuts of meat they wanted.
The timingwas crucial as much needed to be done- meat cut, lard rendered, sausage made and hung in the smokehouse and then everything cleaned up. Proper processing of the meat was essential since people did not have refrigerators to store the finished products.
The speed at which a butchering was completed was a matter of pride. Butchering bees that were poorly organized or inefficient were the subject of village gossip.
In the story he wrote, my Dad said the butchering bees were also a time for socializing. Stories were told and opinions were expressed while standing around the table cutting up the meat. Matters for discussion were the village school teacher, the minister, the neighbours, possible romances and farming methods.
In his story, Dad speaks nostalgically about the butchering days of his childhood. They were an important annual event.
*A huge thank you to my aunt Mary Fransen who had saved both the photo of my grandfather with his farmers’ sausage as well as the story my Dad had written.
I also like the welcoming statement on their website.
The Beer Can strives to create an inclusive, respectful, and accessible space that is welcoming to all.
Their location on the river beside the historic Granite Curling Club built in 1912 creates a unique ambience for The Beer Can.
We found a nice table under some treesand parked our bicycles nearby.
We were there at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and so it wasn’t terribly busy ….
But the fact that there are two fully equipped kiosks serving food and beverages on the site is evidence that at times The Beer Can is a very busy place indeed.
I enjoyed a strawberry-rhubarb cider
and Dave had a Hazy IPA.
I noticed on their events calendar that they offer musical entertainment on Wednesday evenings and local DJ Hunnicutt spins tunes for them on Sunday nights. I’d like to go back for that.
The pandemic certainly wasn’t a good thing for Winnipeg but the fact that it inspired cool places like The Beer Can to open as safe spots to gather for food, drink, friendship and fun is definitely a silver lining legacy of COVID.
Note: Proof that The Beer Can is the place to meet folks was that sitting at a table near us was Manitoba Moose Coach Mark Morrisonand we ended up having a nice chat with him and his table companion.
During the pandemic, my husband Dave decided our menus were getting too mundane. We tended to make the same things all the time. Before the pandemic, we ate out in restaurants a fair bit but now we were eating every meal at home and Dave thought we needed to spice things up…… so he signed us on to receive meals from Hello Fresh.
I have to say it has added lots of variety to our menus and it is kind of nice to have some days when we don’t have to think about what we are going to have for dinner. We get three meals every other week. All the ingredients you need to prepare the meal come in a paper bag and there is a colourful card with instructions about how to prepare the dish in under 30 minutes.
I do worry about all the packaging we throw out with each order- although the box itself is recyclable. But the price is more reasonable than ordering a meal in a restaurant and there is very little food waste because you get exact portions of ingredients. The instructions are easy to follow.
We never quite get the meal to look as lovely as it does on the recipe card. You can see the comparison in the photos above for the dish I made last night. But it was tasty.
Dave and I take turns preparing the Hello Fresh dishes and I have to admit they have made meal planning and preparation easier. Now that we are both back to our regular work and volunteer and leisure activities in the community it’s nice to have Hello Fresh on hand after we get home from a busy day.
Have any of my blog readers tried a similar service? What do you think?
“Don’t be a wine snob!” When Dave and I visited New Zealand we took a wine tour in Hawkes Bay with a zany and enthusiastic guide named Robert. He emphasized throughout our tour that everyone has individual tastes and personal preferences when it comes to wine. What one person thinks is a great wine another person might not like at all. Only wine snobs think they can definitively choose the best wines.
At one winery we visited on our tour the vintner asked us to describe the taste of their best selling wine. Interestingly different people on our tour said they tasted very different things. A woman from England said it tasted like rose petals. A man from Australia compared the wine to Turkish Delight candy. My husband thought it tasted like tomatoes. A woman from Finland said it reminded her of asparagus. The vintner said we all have certain taste memories stored in our brains. Different wines trigger different memories for us. That’s why different people drinking the same wine each taste something unique.
Robert our guide saidthere is nothing worse than a wine snob someone who thinks they have some kind of special advantage or knowledge that makes them an expert on what kind of wine is a good wine. He said we all have our own personal tastes and preferences, and our own ideas about what good wine is and that’s just fine. He urged us not to be wine snobs but expand our palette by trying all kinds of wines and continually adding to our list of personal favourites.
I think Robert’s advice can apply to many other things like art and film and literature and food and theatre and music. Don’t be a snob.