The Cooking Badge

Brown Owl and Guide pins

Brown Owl and Guide pins

We have an automatic garage door opener. (More on that later.) Living in suburbia, I typically leave the house through the garage, open the door, back out and press a button in the car to close the door. This action, by the way, I must do with intense focus, concentration and mindfulness, otherwise - a half block away, filled with doubt – I turn back to check. Ok, the door is closed - and I drive away.

But this was early Monday morning – garbage day – and the blue bins had already been emptied, so leaving the car in the driveway, I returned the blue bins to the garage. Stepping back into the car I hear a bird call – “too wit, too wit, too woo”. I am not a birder, but I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide. No idea why we used to chant “too wit, too wit, too woo”, but we did – over and over and over.

What bird was this? Consult Google. Answer: the Tawny Owl – in fact two Tawny Owls! “Tawny owls make the familiar 'too-wit too-woo' call during the night and early hours but this is actually a male and female owl calling to each other - the female makes the 'too-wit' sound and the male answers with 'too-woo'.” [Source]

Several of my recent blog posts have been reminiscences – and this little bird call triggered another journey down memory lane - hope you don't mind.

For those who did not participate in “Guiding”, the leader of the Brownie pack was called Brown Owl, and second in command was Tawny Owl – there was even a Snowy Owl. The little girls were split into groups named for elves and fairies and we sat in a circle around a papier-mâché toadstool. I continued into Girl Guides – a transition that involved (for me) memorable pageantry. Walking from one group to the other along a silk carpet wearing fairy wings. “Hark who goes there? A Brownie. By what right do you come? By the right of my golden wings.” These days, I can’t remember why I walked into the next room, but I can remember that – good grief.

In Brownies and Guides, there were many areas in which one was encouraged to learn and demonstrate new skills for the reward of a badge. I had several badges, one of them being the cooking badge – not sure if that was at the Brownie or Girl Guide level – though I was quite young.

Here’s all I remember – I was told to go to a specified house of a family I did not know. In hindsight, it was probably a leader of a neighbouring pack who (bravely) volunteered for this trial. Arriving at the house, the lady told me what I had to make and then she closed the kitchen door and left me alone. I was told to make mashed potatoes and beef patties, and I think the vegetable was canned corn. There was no recipe that I recall. Corn and potatoes – easy-peasy. I have no idea what I mixed into the meat – then I fried the patties up in a fry pan. When ready, I served them and waited in the kitchen until they were done eating, and then had to tidy up. I honestly do not know how that family ate what I made. Maybe they didn’t. 

If you are thinking that they stashed away my food and ate a pizza instead, I must note that at the time there were few (if any) pizza take-out joints. If you grew up in Hamilton, you may have had your first pizza at P-Wee’s Pizzeria on Crockett St – opened from 1963-1994. If you could not afford that regularly, then you perhaps began to buy Kraft or Chef Boyardee Pizza Kits. I just Googled this and they still sell them! How can these still be a thing!!??

But I digress…


Shockingly, I got my Cooking Badge – though did not afterwards embrace cooking, and in the ensuing years had grumpy debates with my mother re whether one could ever catch a man without being able to cook – most notably, cabbage rolls. Once married, one of my “go to” cookbooks was “101 Ways to Use Hamburger” – and pan fried meat patties, served with yams from a can, were often on the menu. Bizarre!

It is only fitting that the recipe linked to this blog post be a meatball – but times have changed and I have changed with them. These little delicacies combine lean turkey and healthy lentils! With a choice of sauces you have a hit on your hands!

Permit me a few postscripts.

What about the garage door opener? These were not common when our house was built. For our 25th wedding anniversary, my parents and in-laws split the cost of automatic garage door openers. All my dad’s idea. I was a daddy’s girl through and through, but was so disappointed in that gift – what a crazy way to celebrate a marriage! I forced him to return the thing and used the money instead to frame prints of the passage of time in a relationship – a better memento. A few years later we caved in and bought the door openers. I still sometimes think of my dad as I enjoy that convenience. He meant well and I must have seemed so unappreciative.









Brownie badges. I cannot recall others I earned, but I just loved learning to do knots! I had a cute little booklet with all the basic knots which disappeared at some point. These days I get a kick out of the fact that there is a très cool app for learning knots called 3D Knots.

I never became involved in Guiding as a leader, but I do have a leader’s pin (pictured above along with my Guide pin - who knows what happened to the Brownie pin - a leaping elf!). In my past life, I was a post-secondary educator – mostly of mature students. The horrible part of that job was the grading. The best parts were the kind remarks and gestures from students. They sometimes claimed that I “changed their life”. I made sure the last truth they learned was that they changed their own lives through their dedicated study. Nonetheless, one memorable student was determined to offer me a tribute to my role in the tapestry of her life – she gifted me her Brown Owl pin - so sweet!

Here’s the recipe for Swedish Lentil Meatballs

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P.S. Were you a Brownie or Girl Guide? Any memories? badges? Love to hear your stories!

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Need an App for that?

Stuffed Creminis with watercress and balsamic reduction!

Stuffed Creminis with watercress and balsamic reduction!

As a techie, I have often been heard to utter the perhaps tiresome phrase - "There's an App for that".  In this case, we're talking about an Appetizer - Stuffed Mushrooms. I'm presenting them here as an appetizer, but they also work well as a side to a range of entrées - an omelette, roast pork, steak, fish - even next to a bean dish. Choose slightly smaller mushrooms and they become hors-d'oeuvres. Serve several and they can even be the main course! They work at all meals - a (posh) breakfast, or at lunch or dinner.

The brown-ish Cremini mushrooms lie on a continuum between white button mushrooms and larger Portobellos. They are older than the former and younger than the latter, and may be priced a bit higher than buttons, but chefs tend to prefer them to white buttons for their taste and texture. 

Mushrooms are loaded with nutrients and a low calorie food (though the stuffing ingredients are going to add a little bit to the calorie count). “Though neither meat nor vegetable, mushrooms are known as the "meat" of the vegetable world” (source) and are often a staple in a vegetarian diet – offering welcome texture and flavour.

There used to be a golden rule that mushrooms should be packaged / stored in a bag, but over the last few years many stores offer them pre-packaged and covered in plastic!? I have no idea why that became ok – but I always prefer to buy them loose and in a bag. (I suppose some people might be concerned about shoppers “touching” mushrooms that they don’t buy.) Mushrooms purchased in plastic should be stored in a paper bag once home. Check out Mushrooms Canada for tips and recipes.

The appetizer pictured here is served with greens. I was going to use arugula, but could not get them from my source, and instead used watercress. Turns out watercress is also loaded with nutrients, and hundreds of years ago was a “go to” remedy for scurvy. It must have been abundant at one time, whereas now it can be harder to source and more costly than other greens.

I’m not a big fan of “naked greens”, but did not want to interfere with the mushroom flavours. To a small bowl of watercress, I added less than a teaspoon of Canadian Maple Syrup. With a clean hand – in fact it helps if it is a touch wet – gently swish the cress and they quickly become covered with the maple syrup – enough for a gorgeous appearance / presentation and a subtle flavour that people will never guess. A balsamic reduction (which can be made, though is easier purchased) gussies it up – and further enhances the eating experience.

Click here for the recipe and enjoy this appetizer, side, main – whatever seem APPropriate :-)

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