Slow Down...

Allan Gardens Conservatory: Toronto

Allan Gardens Conservatory: Toronto

It was Valentine’s Day and my yoga class ended with a guided meditation about chocolate. Unorthodox you say! Actually, you can easily find chocolate meditation “scripts” online (example) – so maybe it really is a thing.

Bringing attention to the chocolate, to the look, the shape, the feel, and then moving on to taking a bite, the taste, the mouth feel… then taking another bite… 

Let me pause to say that every chocolate I eat gets at least two bites – it is important for me to “see” the filling inside. I happen to know someone who eats a chocolate in one bite. I have never approved.

I may as well add at this point that during the chocolate thing, I meditated on my water bottle. I was doing an Elimination Diet and chocolate was a “no no”. The Diet? Will tell you more about that one day.

Back to the chocolate. Some serious time elapsed before that "yoga chocolate" was consumed. And that’s how it should be for many reasons.

As empty-nesters, I am astonished at how quickly Mr. KB and I consume supper. Whether the meal has been slow cooking all day, or a 30-minute miracle – it tends to disappear in less than 10 minutes. We sort of laugh at that, and reflect on how we eat restaurant meals much more slowly.

There are a lot of good reasons to eat more slowly. Two that are most important are that slow eating preps our digestive system for optimal functioning, and makes us well-positioned to receive the message our brain will send us about being full. (Before I continue, I must declare that I have no expertise in nutrition or biology, so I'm counting on you to correct me if I’ve misunderstood any of this…)

Many will say that digestion begins in the mouth, but let’s not overlook the phrase “mouth-watering”. We all want to cook / eat mouth-watering meals. Food that looks so delicious – with or without fancy plating – that our mouths literally “water”, filling with saliva. And guess what! Saliva is important – containing enzymes important to the digestion process. Fortunately, we produce an average of 1.5 litres of saliva per day! [Source]

Restaurant meals often encourage salivation by presenting us with an amuse bouche, and we may also order an appetizer – habits not often replicated in home dining. As such we are trampling the science of the first stage of digestion – the “cephalic stage” (which is followed by the gastric phase, and intestinal phase – taking from 24-72 hours in total.)

In the cephalic stage – before food hits our stomachs - we can ramp up our production of saliva – and slow down a meal – by chewing each mouthful longer. Many of us have heard this since we were kids and it turns out there is some science to support this. How many chews per mouthful? Some say 20, 30 – or chewing until the food is totally minced. [Read more here or here.]

Slowing down mealtime not only sets the stage for optimal sensory experiences and pleasant conversation, it buys the time we need to realize when we’re full. It can take 15-20 minutes for our brains to get the signal that we are full – a signal we miss if we eat a mountain of food in 10 minutes! Mind you, even at the best of times, we don’t always listen to our brain. Sadly, much of our eating is routine, maybe even mindless, and triggered by context and time of day. In fact, the goal of some diets is to put us back in touch with the sensations of hunger and satiation.

I’ll take a pass on attempting to summarize all the (sometimes conflicting) tips on how to optimize digestive processes – other than to say “ginger tea”. [Source]

No piece on slow eating would be complete without mentioning the Slow Food Movement – which began in 1986 partly as a counter-balance to fast food, which (despite some criticisms) aims to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life… (and has evolved) to embrace a comprehensive approach to food that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture.” [Source]

There is an even broader Slow Movement with many facets of culture and human activity focusing on slowing down the pace of life and change - there's even slow schooling! Busy, working parents of young children may yearn for “slow” while suffering in the fast lane of life. One of my favourite books is “In Praise of Slow” – by Canadian journalist Carl Honoré. His “slow” epiphany was linked to a story about one of his children and he followed up his first book by a second on “slow parenting”.

Since first reading that 2004 book, I am now retired and can more easily embrace “slow” – though in this life chapter there can be negative connotations to being “slow”. No matter – I have lots of time to slowly chuckle at that.

Readers who are fellow bloggers, may be surprised to know that there is a “slow blogging” movement. Averaging only one “story blog” entry per month I suppose I am an honorary member. This NYT article refers to BC’s Todd Sieling’s “Slow Blogging Manifesto” which can still be found at this site - and he's not the only blogger who has taken a stand. [Example]. I’ll share snippets from Kristen Doyle (visit her to site to see more):

"The Slow Blogging Movement is to Me...
Less about ambition, more about balance.
Less about page views, more about connection...
Less about quantity, more about quality.
Less about the hustle, more about happiness.
Less about social media, more about a social life.
Less about climbing to the top, more about rocking the middle.
Less about following the path of other bloggers, more about creating your own path."

Odd that I am writing about “slow” at a time when the “Instant Pot” is all the rage. One by one, I see fellow bloggers cave in to the temptation to acquire one – mind you, since it’s a Canadian invention, perhaps it is one’s civic duty to do so. I keep resisting – mainly because I have absolutely no place to store it – and… I am in no hurry.

I link every blog story to a recipe. What should it be this time?

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The “slowest” recipe I have posted so far is for Almost No-Knead Bread which has an 8-18 hour first rise. That gives you lots of time to get that saliva working!

Or try Afternoon Tea Scones – they don’t take long to make – but if you sit down with a friend, and pour a cup of tea and savour the scone and the cream and the jam… and the friendship... well, that’s a great way to slow down. 

Would love to hear your thoughts about “slow”. Click on the word "Comments" below. No rush, take your time – I will wait to hear from you!

Irish in Another Life?


Am rounding out my bread-making streak with Irish Soda Bread, in honour of the day. Up until my recent forays into yeast breads, this was the only bread I ever attempted, using a (lost) recipe from the (sadly) now defunct Gourmet Magazine.  (Update - am happy to report that I found my original recipe from Gourmet and so have shared that also!) Still obsessed with the ATK / Cook’s Illustrated, All Time Best Bread Recipes publication, I decided to try theirs.

In a recent interview on CBC, America’s Test Kitchen’s Christopher Kimball acknowledged that they spend on average $12,000 testing each recipe – that represents hours of (hu)manpower and ingredients. End result, in my experience, has been that their recipes are reliable and almost foolproof. I say ‘almost’ because I can sometimes find some way of goofing things up a wee bit.

I began to make Irish Soda Bread after our first (of several) trips to Ireland. I have always been much more drawn to walking on cool windy beaches than hot southern ones. I can’t be the only person who has felt an inexplicable peaceful bond with a place they visited. Though I have no known Irish genes, I always felt at home there, and used to joke that I must have lived there in another life. (As a footnote, my brother loves green, celebrates St. Patrick's Day, and is always fêted by his family on this day. Maybe there are some Irish genes lurking in there somewhere. My daughter-in-law just reminded me that she is 40% Irish - too bad she's not here to break bread with me.)

Gap of Dunloe,   Source Tom Pulman

Gap of Dunloe, Source Tom Pulman

Once we had children, we took them there. As a child, son #2 had bright red hair and for the first time saw many other youngsters who “looked like him”. Hiking in the Gap of Dunloe we achieved five minutes of fame as we were featured on an Irish travel show. We were meant to be an Irish family and they felt it necessary to drag a few more kiddies into the shot – seemingly, at the time, an Irish family was unlikely to have only two children!

A “fresh bread” craving can be quickly satisfied by this bread. In Ireland, it appears at all meals – next to stew at supper time, and with breakfast. It is a slightly sweet bread, so I like it best with butter and jam – of course that can be eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks – yay! Happy St. Patrick's Day! Sláinte!

Here's the recipe. If you enjoyed this read or the recipe, please click on "Like". I invite you to Share and Comment!


Breaking the Bread Jinx

ATK (Almost) No Knead Bread 2.0

ATK (Almost) No Knead Bread 2.0

Apart from Irish Soda Bread, which uses no yeast and is easy, yeasted breads have for some reason challenged me. Yeast never did that bubbling thing. I could never get the dough to rise. For a long time I gave up. Perhaps not a big deal – except in a previous blog post I mentioned that in the “last supper game” – I’d be wanting bread – so one would think I should be able to make it. Before Christmas (2014) I announced to my sweet DIL that one New Year’s resolution was to successfully bake bread. She ensured that bread flour from a fab Kensington Market bakery – Blackbird – appeared under the Christmas tree. They say if you really want to achieve a goal announce it publicly. If you are feeling ambivalent – maybe best to tell no one – haha. Added to this, America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) published their “All Time Best Bread Recipes”. The planets were aligning – time for me to tackle bread-making and break the jinx.

The bread recipe that motivated me was ATK’s (Almost) No Knead Bread 2.0. Why “almost”? Why 2.0? 

"No knead bread" got a lot of publicity back in 2006, from an article by Mark Bittman who, among other things, writes for the New York Times. He interviewed and recorded for posterity a no knead bread recipe from Jim Lahey of NYC’s Sullivan Street Bakery. They debated whether a 4 year old could make it – and Bittman concluded it would have to be at least an 8 year old. Central to the recipe is that time replaces the work done by kneading – and we’re talking here of a long time – Lahey advises about 18 hours. I knew of this story – listened to a CBC Radio personality trying to master this bread - but did not take the plunge until ATK’s 2.0 version.

ATK is a “test” kitchen and they test, test, test to perfect recipe variables and outcomes.  Their changes to Lahey’s recipe are primarily: first rise can be 8-18 hours, they add beer to boost flavour, and they knead the dough after the first rise (only) 10-15 times. The dough requires a second rise. It is baked in a Dutch oven. I began this on an evening around 8:00 and dinner (supper) the next day was accompanied by a fabulous bread. ATK offers variations: olive / rosemary / Parmesan; cranberry / pecan; seeded rye; whole wheat.

I have since tried another bread recipe which will appear in a future blog – comparing the two, this one had a great (better) crust and great flavour. Click here for the ATK 2.0 recipe and my tips. (Click coming soon...)

If you want to read more about the Bittman / Lahey story here are some links. The original article; Lahey's recipe and the video.

This satisfying baking adventure is not likely to turn me into a regular bread maker. I still buy bread. Compared to decades ago, there seem to be a proliferation of bakeries these days. Locally there’s Pane Fresco, Cake and Loaf (they make the cheese bread used by the Gorilla Cheese Food Truck; follow Cake and Loaf on Instagram and you’ll be drooling every hour).

When it comes to bread, for me it has to compete with a food memory – bread eaten in Hungary decades ago. I am not sure why that was so good. The closest thing I have found here is the Potato bread from de la terre bakery.   If you visit their little storefront in Vineland, you may be disappointed by what’s left. Almost easier to find their bread at Goodness Me, Picone’s and the Hamilton Farmers' Market or these other locations.   See also Best Breads in Toronto. Would be a interesting project to check out each of those TO bread bakeries!

Might be fun to make this blog a bit interactive. Use the Comments tool below to share your favourite bread. Comments do not require you to leave your full name.

Last Supper Butter...

When I was a little girl, there was always butter on the counter.  I used to drag my finger through it, savouring the eating of it, never owning up to the resulting butter massacre.  These days, at some point in every visit to NYC, I can be found staring at the butter section in Dean and Deluca SOHO, drooling over the display of butters from all over the world – Ireland, France, the Netherlands... 

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