Monday, November 14, 2016

The Only Roasted Pumpkin Seed Recipe You Will Ever Need

Last week I started a new part-time job. It's exactly the type of malleable job that I was hoping to get, that would allow me the flexibility to work on my creative pursuits, while still learning and growing in the food industry. I was so happy when I was offered the position, feeling like my steel-toe-shoe-covered-foot was finally in the door! That feeling lasted...hmmm...all of maybe three days before my self-doubts began to set in. It's so hard to get excited about starting a new experience when you're a natural self-doubter, never trusting yourself and your abilities. 
"What the hell am I doing here?"
I have to be honest, I feel totally out of my element. It feels just like the first few weeks of culinary school, where I kept asking myself "what the hell am I doing here?" telling myself that I didn't belong and I was going to fail. Culinary school was definitely a humbling experience for me, but also an incredibly rewarding one. When I look at how much I grew in just the several select courses that I attended, and more than that, how much my confidence blossomed, I can't help but feel proud of myself. 
As much as I know there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, and that it's going to take time to find my groove and get comfortable, this beginning stage is absolutely excruciating to get through. I'm clumsy, I'm slow, I'm messy, I second guess myself, I can be forgetful, and my anxiety can get the best of me and I can slip into panic mode. 

It was the same when I first started serving - clumsy, slow, messy, second guessing myself, being forgetful, and I most definitely slipped into panic mode more times than I care to recall. I remember the look on my managers face when I would mess up an order. The nicest guy would suddenly look terrifying. That look would be burned into my soul as I saw it again and again as I helplessly tried to find my feet. 
"It's so easy to be comfortable and stay in a safe space where you know you can't fail, but if you can't fail then you can't grow."
I saw that same look on our head chefs face at my new job when we thought I almost used up all the chives that were meant for another recipe...and then again when we thought I almost broke the $1000 Vitamix, because I forgot to tell my group to remove the sachet before blending the soup...and oh, so much more. So, so, so much more! It's so horrible, and challenging, and stressful right now, and I want to cry just thinking about it, but it's always the most difficult and challenging experiences that end up being the most rewarding for me. Though I was a horrible, spastic server at first, I eventually became one of our most reliable and respected in the restaurant, a place I never thought I would get to. It's so easy to be comfortable and stay in a safe space where you know you can't fail, but if you can't fail then you can't grow. 
I'm so damn scared of embarking on this new endeavour, but I'm also so insanely eager to meet the Danielle that comes out of this experience. I know she will come out stronger, tougher, wiser, faster, and so much more confident than the Danielle that walked in. 
"The spicy makes the sweet all the sweeter, and so is the same in life."
Without the spicy and bitter life experiences, we would never have the sweet, which brings me to one of my favourite autumn recipes, my take on Martha Stewart's Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds (recipe here!). As I mentioned in the title, this will be the only roasted pumpkin seed recipe you will ever need, because no other recipe will ever come close to being this delicious! This will be the fourth or fifth mention of this recipe on my blog, because it's just that good! I can't get away from it! What makes these seeds so addictive is the contrast between the sweet and spicy seasonings. The sweetness of the sugar is brought to life thanks to the addition of fragrant sesame oil, and spicy cinnamon, ginger, and cayenne pepper. If these were only seasoned with sweet flavours, they would fall flat. The sweet needs the spicy to keep everything in balance. The spicy makes the sweet all the sweeter, and so is the same in life. 

Check out my slightly adapted version of Martha's Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds here! And if you haven't started watching Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party, you need to start RIGHT NOW because it is amazing!!! 

Listening To:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Thanksgiving Leftover Lovin': Turkey & Dumplings

Leftovers, you love 'em, or you hate 'em. While I most definitely used to hate leftovers, I've found over the years, and after living on my own, eating leftovers is an essential part of reducing food waste and staying on budget. More than that, I've learned that I can actually have the power to become a leftover lover if the leftovers are transformed into something that doesn't resemble the original dish. It was this discovery that inspired my blog series Leftover Lovin', which has been terribly neglected over the past few years, but must be brought back thanks to my most recent outrageously delicious leftover transformation, inspired by my Thanksgiving dinner and a delicious birthday dinner out!

While going wild and partying has never really been my thing for celebrating my birthday, what I do look forward to the most, come my annual day of birth on September 30th, is going out for delicious meals with my loved ones. Lucky for me, this included three fantastic meals spread across my birthday weekend. 

The first dinner out was on the night of my birthday with my boyfriend Chris, where we checked out Omaw, Chef Matt Blondin's latest restaurant, doing Carolina classics with a gourmet twist. Having been to and enjoyed Blondin's previous restaurant Acadia, we were eager to see how his most recent menu would stack up. Though I have to say, the service definitely left something to be desired, the menu was thankfully lovely. Though the Shrimp & Grits (an Acadia favourite that Blondin reintroduced for Omaw) was spot on, the standout dish of the night had to be Blondin's aromatic bowl of Turkey & Dumplings with onion likkar and black truffle - SWOON! With a rich and complex turkey broth, big chunks of tender and moist roast turkey, gnocchi-like pillows of handmade dumplings, black truffle oil, and fried onion matchsticks for crunch (this would be the onion likkar), this dish blew both Chris and I away! So comforting, so well-balanced, and so not enough in one bowl to satisfy us both. It was so delicious, we should have each ordered a bowl to ourselves! 

With Canadian Thanksgiving only one week away from my birthday, all I could think about the week following my birthday was how I could recreate that incredible Turkey & Dumpling dish with my Thanksgiving leftovers. While, no, I don't have a clear recipe for you this time, with so much experimenting during the process to get just the right flavour and mouthfeel, I still wanted to share my photos of the final dish, and a little bit about my process. The response to the photo of my bowl of homemade Turkey & Dumplings that I posted on my various social media accounts was so overwhelmingly positive, that I think it's only fair to share as much as I can with you, and hopefully I can refine it soon enough so you can have the real thing!
The great thing about a recipe like this is that it is so forgiving, allowing you to forget about measuring your ingredients (it's all about eye-balling it here!), and play around with what you happen to have on hand. For this dish, I started out with a basic mirepoix of onion, carrot, and celery (diced small), and to that added in some minced garlic, fresh Ontario corn niblets leftover from Thanksgiving, dried bay leaves, and fresh thyme. I then stirred in a roux, and slowly poured in homemade turkey stock (thank you to Chris' mom Tracey for the tasty stock!) and some leftover ham from Thanksgiving (diced small). At this point, I brought the soup to a boil and allowed it to simmer for about 20-30 minutes to let the flavours develop and the broth to thicken.

After tasting I felt the soup still needed more flavour and more of a creamy and rich mouthfeel. Now this is where things get a little hazy, as I began to scour my kitchen for anything I could possibly find to turn my soup into something incredible. I then added a pinch of cayenne pepper, a few pinches of ancho chilli powder, a large Parmesan rind (I always save them in the freezer for soups and sauces!), grated parmesan cheese, a few tablespoons of sour cream, and lots of salt and pepper to season. To aid with the mouthfeel issue, I dropped in a beurre manié, which is like a roux, but kneaded, and added after you have added in liquid. So basically, if you messed up your roux at the start of your process and your soup or sauce isn't thickening, a beurre manié can save the day! Check out Saveur's guide on how to prepare a beurre manié to learn about your new favourite hero in the kitchen.

Once my soup was at the right consistency and flavour, I quickly whipped together Tyler Florence's recipe for dumplings, and spooned them in. Once my dumplings were lovely, plump, and cooked through, I stirred in my leftover shredded cooked turkey from Thanksgiving (dark meat will taste best here!), which was added at this point so it wouldn't dry out. After a short simmer to allow the turkey to reheat my turkey and dumplings were ready to devour! And oh did we ever devour it! Chris and I went nuts over this dish. It was, to put it simply, outrageously delicious. A true winner and a recipe I look forward to refining and sharing with you soon! Is it safe to admit that I'm now counting down the days to Christmas dinner leftovers? 

Listening To:
Happier Podcast

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween 2016 - Another Owl Pumpkin Carving

Happy Halloween from me and my owl pumpkin to you and your family! I eagerly wait all year to be able to carve my Halloween pumpkin, and after having so much fun carving  my owl pumpkin last year, well I just had to do it all over again with a new wild-eyed owl. This is one of my favourite traditions all year! What's your favourite Halloween tradition that you've kept up?

Listening To:

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Habanero Peach Hot Sauce & Overcoming Fear

Years ago I was crazy about a boy, a boy who was crazy about someone else. Let's call this "someone else" The Girl with the Habanero Peach Hot Sauce. I call her this because, for whatever reason, one of the things that stands out in my mind the most after all these years was this little bottle of Habanero Peach Hot Sauce that she had given the boy from her travels. He loved the hot sauce just as he had the girl. Just like the hot sauce, the girl had a spicy and sweet personality, was somewhat exotic, and was not easy to obtain. In my eyes I was Franks Red Hot Sauce...or maybe even a generic, no-name brand pretending to be Franks. I was one note. I was boring, generic, and was always there. 

I was mad at myself. Mad for allowing myself to become this generic cookie-cutter of a human, because of what? Fear? Yup, that's exactly what it was - fear. Too afraid of the outcome or to be in the thick of the scary moment, I would push aside opportunities, wants, desires, needs, and so much more all in the name of fear. Too afraid to be rejected, I didn't fight for the guy, I didn't go after the job, I didn't make the tough decisions, I didn't do...well, much of anything. That summer I said "fuck it!" to fear. "Fuck you, fear!" I yelled in the ravine that connected to my backyard! "Fuck you for ruling my life!" I wasn't going to let that happen anymore. 
That summer I lived without fear. I put myself in positions I had never before been in. I had a summer fling with a stranger I thought was out of my league. I went to concerts with friends and acquaintances I rarely saw and some I hardly knew. I stayed up until the sun came up more than I can count. I spontaneously hopped a plane with a friend for a week of daiquiris and dancing. Hell, I even went skydiving! I kicked fear in the ass! 

I was so proud of myself at the end of that summer. Proud of all that I had accomplished. Proud of the stories I had to tell. Proud of the chances I took and the strength with which I approached them. It wasn't about the boy at all. It wasn't about proving to him that I too could be Habanero Peach Hot Sauce. It was about proving to myself that I was those things. They were always there, all I had to do was lift the heavy weight of fear to unearth them. 
It's been years and years now since that summer of saying "fuck you" to fear. I'm a different person now, in both good ways and bad. The good is that I've finally started to come into my own. I know who I am and what I'm not, and I'm not willing to sacrifice that for anything or anyone. I have a strong sense of self, that I wouldn't have been able to possess unless I had found myself in the gutter of fear. The bad? While I've changed in so many positive ways, there's always things to work on, and boy, have I got a lot of that. And that, in itself, is the bad. 

After going through a summer of transformation like that, it's easy to be overly critical of yourself when you find yourself falling into old habits. That's where I was at the beginning of this Spring, hating myself. Mad at myself for once again allowing fear to control my life. I was unhappy with where I was and felt stuck. I took a big scary leap and quit my job to allow myself to face the fears that I had been building up in my head. I forced myself to practice my craft every day. I forced myself to reach out to the people I admire and ask for assistance. I forced myself to talk to the people that intimidate me. With the lens of self-doubt, it would be easy to look at this summer as a waste. I could have done more, I could have said more, I could have been more, but look at all the things I did do! 
While I didn't make quite as much progress with my career as I had hoped (though I have to remember to still honour the development that I did make), I'm proud to say that I've come such a long way in terms of tackling my personal demons. I forced myself to own up to and work on the things that I didn't like about myself. I've started opening up to people about the anxiety that has plagued me since childhood. I've started seeing a therapist that will allow me to work through the things that I am so very ready to overcome. I forced myself to say "no more" to the people in my life who have continued to hurt me. I started exercising every day for my mind more than my body. I've looked deep within myself to understand what makes me happy and what fuels me, and also, what does the opposite. Though I know overcoming my fears will be a battle that I may have to work on for my entire life, each time I find myself in this cycle it feels a little easier. Because I've gone through this before it's so much easier to remember that yes, I do have Habanero Peach Hot Sauce within me, and it doesn't have to be so scary to let it out. 

Check out Fo Reals Life's recipe for Habanero Peach Hot Sauce here

Listening To:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Dîner en Blanc 2016

The guests wore all-white and danced under the light of the full moon. 
It sounds part of a fairytale, does it not? Fairytales are associated with beauty, mystery, romance, and happiness, all of which were present on the eve of August 18th, as myself and 2,600 guests made our way through chartered busses and organized public transportation, to arrive at our mystery destination to celebrate in the annual spectacle, Dîner en Blanc. 
Dîner en Blanc is a tradition that began in Paris in 1988 with only a handful of participants. It first began as simply an elegant dinner under the stars, amongst friends, with one rule - everyone must dress in all white. Over the past 28 years, Diner en Blanc has become a worldwide sensation, and is now celebrated in over 70 cities across the globe. 
As a leader in both the food and fashion industries, it's no surprise that Toronto has made Dîner en Blanc a celebrated summer ritual amongst foodies and fashionistas alike. Having always wanted to attend the coveted event, I was over-the-(full)-moon excited to be invited by Dîner en Blanc sponsor Metro Ontario to attend this years event as their guest. 
Dressed in our newly-purchased all-white outfits (no cream or off-white here!), my friend Amanda and I arrived at our pickup location to be transported to the top-secret destination (which was revealed to be the Canary District, formerly the Pan Am Games Athletes Village) with the rest of our table. The idea is to arrive "flash-mob style" to the freshly announced public venue, with white tables, chairs, and picnic baskets filled with gourmet delights in tow, to enjoy an elegant evening amongst friends new and old, and, come the nights end, leave without a trace left behind. 
As a Metro guest, I was lucky to be given the VIP treatment with our beautifully decorated table already set up. Each guest was given their own white picnic basket, filled to the brim with a selection of Metro goodies. True to the picnic theme, my basket featured an assortment of sandwiches; cheese, charcuterie, and crackers; quinoa and pasta salads; pizza; and sushi. Between the gorgeous floral arrangements were bottles of red, white, and sparkling wine that were constantly in flow. With a dessert tent presenting all-white cakes and cupcakes from Metro, it's needless to say, we were very well fed! 
Creativity played a large role in the success of the evening, as the all-white-everything theme inspired guests to think outside the colour wheel when selecting their outfits, table decor, and menus. It was truly a feast for the eyes getting to see all of the imaginative ways that the guests approached their wardrobe and table decor. Hats and headpieces were particularly striking, with lots of feathers, bows, and flowers present. As a creative myself, I almost got whiplash from constantly turning my head as each new stunning sight caught my eye. More than just the outfits, decor, and food, the venue itself is a challenge in resourcefulness. As the location changes every year to a new public space, Dîner en Blanc allows guests to experience some of Toronto's most stunning public spaces in a dazzling new way. 
Dîner en Blanc was such a fantastic way to bring like-minded individuals together to celebrate food, fashion, and our beautiful city in a unique, elegant, and classy way. I'd like to extend a big "thank you" to Metro Ontario for giving me the opportunity to experience this magical evening as their guest. It was a privilege to not only get to attend the event, but also get to engage with so many other creative industry leaders who I admire and respect. I can honestly say that I have never in my life experienced anything like Dîner en Blanc. Thank you for a night to remember!

Moment of Note:
When my mom emailed me after the event saying she saw my photo on Flare Was There! Pretty cool moment! 

Listening To: