Cooking Classes


Not Another Christmas Recipe

Paris street person's Christmas
My Christmas was enjoyed in essence as an onlooker, a bystander, a non-participant. This is partially because my only camera is in for repairs and without pictures of the meal, the cocktails, the tree, what is Christmas?

Christmas is the day you may begin with photos of sparkling mimosas or a good champagne straight-up with breakfast or brunch. Christmas is the day of 30-pound turkeys. The day of a myriad of hors d’oeuvres, side dishes and desserts. Oh, and did I forget? Gifts galore.

No pictures allows total freedom from pretty food. There is no need for a preplanned menu. There is no sharing of festive ideas on social media or on the blog.

Whether I had an 81-day aged rib steak or a 30-pound turkey really doesn’t matter to anyone, even me. How many sides did I serve with my main? Again, who cares? And if I listen to Sixpence None the Richer or Counting Crows, nobody knows, nobody cares. 

Jerry Seinfeld said it best. “This is the problem, there’s too many things,” Seinfeld began. “You have things, I have things, holiday time, there’s going to be a lot more things.” “All things on Earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage,” he pointed out.  “Your home is a garbage processing center...Garage seems to be a form of the word garbage”.

Christmas is the proof that the yearlong talk of restraint and avoiding conspicuous consumption is merely that, talk. Do you really believe that elaborate gifts are a measure of love and caring? No, I didn’t think so.

How much did Christmas cost you? How can I say this without sounding like I am bragging but I spent a total of $50 plus that $25 bottle of bubbly and a good steak. I sent six cards and delivered four handmade gifts. Does anyone feel left out? No, I didn’t think so.

What is it like to be alone Christmas morning? There is a deep silence as big fluffy snowflakes dust the firs like powdered sugar shaken from a sifter. It is like my house is in a big snow globe that has been gently shaken and set down carefully not to disturb. There is no frenzy of opening gifts and screams over spilt hot chocolate.

There is no rush to listen to a Queen, a Pope or a politician as he or she lays out the scene of last year and hopes for the next. I always cry anyway. There is no Facebooking my partner who is sitting on the other end of the sofa. I would rather have my vicarious Christmas dinner with Ricardo. Yum, celery soup. I have celery. Or pomegranates. I forgot I have one squirreled away in the crisper drawer.

I am not overly religious yet have enjoyed Christmases past with dramatic cantatas in century old cathedrals or the burning bush on the mountaintop overlooking the 13th century Cathedral of St. Andrew in Amalfi.

I have enjoyed a seafood Christmas Eve and 30 pound turkeys on Christmas Day. I have indulged in turkey leftovers, pies and cakes. As I ate a more reasonable amount of food this year I almost began counting the calories I was saving by eating alone away from the hysteria of the perfect Christmas day of food. One pear hand pie, half a steak, fiddleheads and of course, a handful of shortbread icebox cookies. I didn’t even break a sweat.

How was my day? (Do you really care? No? I didn’t think so but here it is anyhoo) One can never totally escape the drama of family, even if not with them in person. So I didn’t miss out on that, phew! But what I pined for most was my camera for I am also an obsessed documenter of food. There was nothing I could do today but be the critic. I amused myself by scanning the plethora of Christmas meals on Facebook. Sloppy place settings and silverware a kilter, white balance off by a mile, bad lighting and so many moments of pride as the meal was being staged for the camera before sitting down. I only hope it was still hot for the guests! Just saying.

Today is Boxing Day, that vestige of colonialism. Will I run out and grab up all those gifts I didn’t get? Works of art, meat slicers, a onesie pyjama? Buy up the candy-striped spatulas, Nutcracker gift boxes, all the on-sale wrapping paper and cards? Well, maybe. Look at all the money I will save? I have money leftover from Christmas, after all. You have no idea how much I would love to have a meat slicer!

Oh well, perhaps just this one time? 

Nah, I think I’ll just pick up a package of my Miss Sugar’s favourite Friskies treats.

Footnote: I had intended to write a real foodie piece but in keeping with my fuss free Christmas this seemed more appropriate. I don’t feel quite ready to indulge.


Korean Style Braised Short Rib Stew

In 3 days it will be Christmas Day and I know this isn't a very festive dish, at least in my small town. However, my camera is broken and I am looking back at pictures in my library. I prepared this recipe after my Chinatown tour in Victoria a few weeks back. It was fun to shop at the Chinese grocer with my newly acquired knowledge. 

Chef Heidi talked about regular soy sauce and dark soy but I was somehow distracted through that part of the lesson. Let me tell you now that dark is very strongly flavoured. Use it to add flavour and not by the cupful! This stew was still tasty and all the extra sauce was great as a marinade for more ribs and chicken wings.

Rather than buy regular short ribs I purchased the thinly sliced meat from Chinatown. It cooks in a minute but I also like it because it is much lower in fat. Taro is an ugly little root vegetable. It needs to be peeled. When you peel it you will find it is a tad slimy. Don't worry because with cooking that sliminess disappears. The flavour is mild and taro functions like potato. It thickens without changing flavour.

Korean-Style Braised-Short-Rib Stew
4 pounds short ribs 
1 small bunch scallions, trimmed and roughly chopped  
1 1/2 cups soy sauce 
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 
1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped 
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled (approximately 2 heads) 
1/2 cup sugar 
1/2 cup mirin 
1/2 cup fresh orange juice 
1/2 cup apple juice 
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for another use, halved or quartered if large
1 cup jarred water chestnuts 
1 cup taro, peeled and cut into large dice (about a 3-inch segment) 
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into large dice (about two carrots) 
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about half a squash)

Put the short ribs into a bowl, and cover with water. Drain, and discard water. Repeat twice. Remove short ribs from the bowl, and score them across the top of the meat in diagonal slashes. Return the ribs to the bowl, and rinse again. Remove, and pat dry with paper towel. 

In a blender or food processor, combine scallions, soy sauce, ginger, onion, garlic, sugar, mirin, orange juice and apple juice, then pulse to purée. Add a little water if you need to thin out the sauce so it combines. 

Put the puréed sauce in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with a cover, add 3 cups of water and stir to combine. Put the pot over high heat, and bring to a boil, then add the ribs to the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot.

Cook the ribs for a minimum of 2 hours over low heat, then add the vegetables, replace the cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until the meat is tender and the vegetables are cooked through.

Adapted from a recipe by Roy Choi that appeared in the New York Times.


Smoked Salmon Chowder

Christmas is just around the corner and mostly the focus is on the big day. The day we have a big turkey with all the trimmings. Thankfully this is a family event because no one family could possibly cater to all the celebrations.
Christmas Eve is traditionally a fish and seafood night for many families. This recipe may be something you serve that night or it might be a way to use up all those bits and pieces of leftover seafood. Either way it is very satisfying

Smoked Salmon Chowder

Any fresh or smoked fish would work in this recipe. You could also use all the bits and pieces of leftover fish and seafood in this chowder. Manitoba smoked goldeye would be delicious.

1 tbsp. olive oil
3 c. leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 c. vegetable broth
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. milk (any fat content)
8 oz. smoked salmon, flaked
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. chives, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add potato, celery, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and simmer until potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
Add tomato paste and milk, then the salmon, and bring the mixture back to a simmer for a few minutes but don't let it boil, or the milk will separate. As it simmers, stir in the cream.
Remove from heat, garnish with chives, and serve. Makes four to six servings. (From Epicurious)


To Victoria and Back Again

What is your first question when you talk to someone just returning from Victoria, Canada? Really, it took you more than two seconds? It's all about the weather. While the rest of the country is in the depths of cold and snow Victoria is the only green spot in the entire country. Therefore, I thought I would share my visit through the lens of weather. This is the view from one window of the home I was housesitting. The neighbouring property is a little old house perched far back on the lot leaving a sizeable front garden. I took a liking to these two flamingo pink lawn chairs.


One day this painting arrived on one of the chairs. Was it for me? Did my neighbour witness my voyeurism? 

At first blush I would discard this photograph. But look at the sunlight it reflects.

 This shows the normal November weather.

Eek! Snow! And it stayed for two or three days. I was wearing my fur lined jacket, Uggs, fur hat and ski mitts.

Dull days.

So there you have it. November in Victoria. Really, it isn't all about the weather. Honest.


Fritto Misto Amalfitano

Here is another idea for your Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. I am not a big fan of deep frying but I really like this recipe from Leite's Culinaria. There is no heavy batter. It is only a light dusting. Any oil with a high smokepoint would work. This is a great idea for bits and pieces of fish and seafood in the larder. Turn it out onto newspaper to absorb all the oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Fritto Misto Amalfitano
6 c. extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
2 c. canola oil, or more as needed
1 1/2 c.rice flour
1 c. cornstarch
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 cut into wedges
1 lb. squid, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 oz. shucked oysters
4 oz. bay scallops
1/2 lb. firm mild white fish, cut into 1 1/4-inch strips 
Combine oils in a Dutch oven or other wide, deep pot. It should be at least 8 inches deep. Add more oil, if necessary. Set the pot over a medium flame. Bring to 275 F and maintain that temperature.
While oil is heating, combine flour, cornstarch, sugar, cayenne and two teaspoons each of salt and pepper in a wide, shallow bowl. Dredge the lemon slices and the seafood in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. 
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, gently lower some of the dredged lemon slices into the hot oil, working with just four to six pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pot. The oil should bubble and sizzle but not spatter. Cook until golden brown and crisp, about five minutes. Keep an eye on the oil temperature. It will drop after the raw ingredients are added and climb as they are cooking. Do not let the oil temperature climb above 280 F. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the lemons to a baking sheet or platter lined with paper towels or a brown paper bag and season with salt and pepper while everything is still hot out of the oil.
Repeat with the seafood, reserving the squid. Increase the temperature of the oil to 325 F and repeat with the squid. Serve family style, on a platter or a newspaper covered table, along with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing.


Oven Roasted Rainbow Trout

There is something about whole fish that impresses dinner guests. Usually I like to grill over wood charcoal but sometimes, in the winter, I want to stay cozy in my kitchen.

Any whole fish can be used. Arctic char or salmon work well. Quickly grilling the orange slices in a dry hot pan before garnishing adds more interest to their appearance and caramelizes the sugars for a more complex flavour.

I make my wild rice pilaf with mostly wild rice and some white basmati rice. In a cast iron pan saute finely chopped shallots, wild mushrooms, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds before adding the rices. Lay the fish over and serve right in the cast iron pan.

This would be great on Christmas Eve for the feast of the seven fishes.
Roasted Rainbow Trout with Orange and Thyme

1 2-lb. whole rainbow trout, scaled, gutted, and cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1/2 orange, sliced into thin rounds
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
Heat oven to 450 F. Season the trout cavity with salt and pepper, and stuff it with thyme, parsley and orange slices. Using kitchen twine, tie the trout crosswise spacing two inches apart. Rub trout with one tablespoon of oil, and then transfer it to an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Bake trout, turning once with a metal spatula, until cooked through and golden brown on the outside, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining oil with the juice in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Remove twine from the trout and garnish with more orange slices. Drizzle with sauce before serving.


Culinary Tour in Canada's Oldest Chinatown

The earliest immigrants from China started arriving in 1858 and by 1880 Victoria had the largest settlement in Canada. Gold is what brought them but as more and more arrived many established businesses to serve this thriving community.

If you are like me you have walked up and down the aisles of the grocery stores and baffled at the array of dried, canned and fresh foods many of which have no English labels. Enter Chef Heidi who has assisted hundreds of curious cooks over the past 10 years leading this tour. The groups are limited to six people which allows lots of opportunity for questions and personal assistance. Her knowledge of ingredients and even recommending certain brands is impressive. After all, we are often faced with too many choices.

A couple of words we learned as it relates to produce are 'moo' and 'sum'. Moo means baby, as in baby bok choy. Sum refers to a flowering vegetable such as Chinese broccoli.
If you like sticky rice as much as I do you have probably wondered "What is in that?" These sausages add amazing flavour. They must be steamed or boiled for about 15 minutes before using to soften them and render out fat. And you should see the bacon! I wish I had taken a picture. They use it as we would use lardons.
Many people are cautious of produce coming from China. The good news is that most of these are grown in California and make a short trip up the coast. Most items are labelled with country of origin.
Prices in Chinatown are much better than the chain grocery store. One reason is that they have a much smaller space. The aisles are narrow and crammed with product. The sidewalk is an extension of the store. There is no space wasted. Another reason for better prices is that they often purchase the 'ugly' vegetables. This is called #2 grade produce. This is a good thing for the planet. Regular grocery stores throw out a lot of produce because it doesn't conform to certain physical standards.
I had to make a pictorial note of these fermented black beans. I love homemade black bean sauce and this is the key ingredient.
Our tour wound up with tea tasting at Silk Road Tea Store. Honestly, there are too many choices again. I became enamoured with the lapsang souchong black tea. It is a pine smoked black tea that could have all sorts of applications in your kitchen. Thank heaven for the 20% discount. They also sell online which will make it all too easy for me to try a few more.


Poached Cod with Pernod Saffron Broth

This picture perfect dish was my lunch today. I must confess that I am not the chef. Friends Meredith and Gary invited me to their Sooke acreage for lunch. The drive from Victoria is intoxicating as it winds through rocky mixed coniferous and deciduous forests and eventually exposing peek-a-boo views of harbours and inlets along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I always feel recharged when I visit. Their quaint home lies in a cozy clearing surrounded by forest and gardens providing complete privacy.  The Sooke River is the back boundary of their plot. Water is a calming feature and a reminder of life, Mother Nature and the seasons. Growing up on the farm one of my favourite summer vacation diversions was to bicycle to the creek about three miles down the road. By the end of harvest it was barely a trickle in contrast to the overflowing banks in spring.

I am envious of the bay tree and fresh plucked leaves anytime they are called for. Meredith and Gary have lived here for a very long time and together have created this respite from the world. Meredith asked for a bay leaf and Gary came back from the garden with fresh thyme. I was perplexed. After pulling the leaves from the stems and adding them to the poaching liquid Meredith added bay leaves. I pondered this throughout the leisurely meal and after until I realized that after many years of marriage, raising a family and lovingly maintaining their home, perhaps they sometimes work together as one. Obviously Gary knew she had bay leaves already but no thyme so, of course he picked thyme. Either that or I completely missed something.

Meredith carefully followed the recipe from the folded magazine and checked from time to time when I would have thrown it all together. The result was perfection. I had to find this recipe and save it. Although the fresh fish and seafood are not always available where I live I think that frozen cod would be acceptable. The clams not so much so but the dish would still be lovely even without clams.

An added bonus for me was to be able to take pictures with a fully set table. I rarely have that opportunity. It makes for an interesting photograph and allows for different shooting angles with background interest.

As an aside, if you are dreaming of visiting Vancouver Island this is a beautiful spot to spend a week. Gary and Meredith have a private totally equipped cottage on their property that they rent out. So if you would be romanced by a quaint cottage in the woods backing onto a river within a five minute drive to the beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and 40 minutes to the city, make a note of this.
Poached Cod with Pernod Saffron Broth       adapted from Fine Cooking

4 5-oz. cod fillets (preferably 1 inch thick) 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper  
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 
1 small fennel bulb (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed (leave core intact) and cut into 1/2-inch wedges, plus 1 tbsp. chopped fronds  
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1 medium-large shallot, chopped  
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice 
8 oz. small baby red or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick coins, ends discarded (about 6 potatoes)  
1 large tomato, cut into small dice (12 oz., about 1-1/2 cups) 
2 tbsp. anisette liqueur, such as Pernod or Sambuca  
1 bay leaf 
1 large sprig fresh thyme  
1/4 tsp. roughly chopped or coarsely ground fennel seed 
A generous pinch of saffron, crumbled (about 25 threads)  
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed 
1-1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Season the cod with salt and pepper. Let it sit at room temperature while you prepare the braising mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the fennel to a plate. Put the pan over low heat and add the garlic, shallot, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until just softened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the clam juice, potatoes, tomato, liqueur, bay leaf, thyme, fennel seed, and saffron to the skillet. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes to start the potatoes cooking. Nestle the cod pieces and clams into the sauce, piling the fennel on top of the fish and making sure all of the potatoes are submerged. Tightly cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and poach in the oven until the fish is almost cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness.

With a slotted spatula, transfer the cod to 4 shallow bowls. Bring the braising liquid, clams, and vegetables to a brisk simmer on top of the stove, cover the pan, and cook until the clams are opened and the vegetables are tender, 3 to 6 minutes more. Divide the opened clams (discard any unopened ones) and vegetables among the bowls. Add the fennel fronds and parsley to the braising liquid in the pan. Bring to a simmer and pour over the fish and vegetables.

Crusty garlic bread served alongside is perfect for soaking up the flavorful sauce.


Roasted Garlic and Shallot Potato Soup with Cheesy Croutons

One can never have too many ideas for soups. The obvious is that they are warming and hearty for winter weather. But they are also usually inexpensive. Any budget finds relief in a few meals of soup every week. What I love most about this potato soup is the cheesy crouton.

It is Cooking Light Virtual Supper Club time and this month is hosted by Val of More Than Burnt Toast with the theme Warm Up to Winter. And that is exactly what we have done. This is a treasure trove of satisfying winter recipes.
Visit everyone and see the wonderful food.

Susan selected this appetizer to share. And who doesn't love artichoke dip. Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip.
Shelby at Grumpy's Honeybunch brings  Haricots Vert with Bacon
Sandy Red Wine Marinated Beef Stew.
Jerry at A Life Lived made this favourite of all winter desserts, Warm Gingerbread with Lemon Glaze

Roasted Garlic and Shallot Potato Soup with Cheesy Croutons

  • 5 whole garlic heads, unpeeled
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 10 shallots, unpeeled (about 3/4 pound)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped onion 
  • 1 cup dry white wine 
  • 3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled baking potato (about 3/4 pound) 
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 
  • Croutons:
  • 16 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. To prepare soup, remove white papery skins from garlic heads (do not peel or separate cloves); cut off tops, leaving root ends intact. Place garlic in a shallow roasting pan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over garlic; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover with foil. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Add shallots to pan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil over shallots; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and bake for 25 minutes or until tender and browned. Cool. Squeeze garlic to extract pulp; peel shallots. Discard skins. Set garlic pulp and shallots aside.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion. Cover and cook 15 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add garlic pulp, peeled shallots, and wine. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in broth, potato, and thyme; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender. Cool slightly. Place half of potato mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining potato mixture.
  5. Return pureed mixture to pan; stir in milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into pureed mixture. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
  6. To prepare croutons, place bread slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Lightly coat tops of bread with cooking spray. Bake at 400 F for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Sprinkle cheeses evenly over bread slices, turning once. Bake 3 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm with soup.


Baked Potato with Smoked Salmon Sour Cream

Baked potatoes are generally reserved for the hot days of summer, not these icy winter days. But I have found a way to bring the simple baked potato into the season. This smoked salmon cream cheese baked potato can be lunch, brunch or dinner. I would ever consider it for breakfast. So simple and tasty.

Oven bake foil wrapped potatoes and served with a healthy spoonful of this sour cream mixture.

Smoked Salmon with Sour Cream
1 pound hot-smoked boneless salmon, divided
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Place half of salmon, sour cream, rind, juice and pepper in a food processor. Process until smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
Coarsely chop remaining salmon, and fold into salmon mixture. Gently fold in 1/4 cup chives. Cover and chill. Garnish with additional chopped chives, if desired.


Victoria's Chinatown

I have travelled to many cities around the world and often I have been averse to tours but when it comes to localized community tours it is always worth the time. Today's Chinatown tour in Victoria, Canada was no exception. Our tour guide with Discovery Walks was excellent. Not only does he recognize a few strategic Chinese language symbols and knows the history inside out, he is working on a book about Victoria's Chinatown. I will be watching for this book release.

I only snapped a few pictures. Most of the time I was rapt by the descriptions of life as the earliest Chinese immigrants, not ever planning to stay, unravelled into the story of their migration and new home in Canada.

Offerings of fresh fruit.
Yes, Chinese immigrants did not come with a plan to relocate. Rather it was an opportunity to earn money to send home and eventually return home to an improved life. With the changes in politics at home it became less desirable to return to the old country and as a result many stayed. And eventually they did bring some family.

It is most disappointing to hear of the inequities in life that these immigrants experienced. Chinese people were not allowed to be architects and as a result the buildings were designed by mainly British architects. As a result the style is not true but seen through the lens of another culture. Apartheid in the schools was declared and revoked. To maintain a sense of their heritage a Chinese School was built and attended after regular school hours and on weekends. Classes are still held here to teach language and culture.

Ancient gong and bell were brought from China for this temple.
There were very few women in the early days of the Chinese migration. It was a settlement of men, many lured by the gold rush, hoping to make money and return home. Most came from a farming background and as a result founded many market gardens that fed not only the Chinese but the locals. Until as late as the 1960's food was delivered in the traditional Chinese way with a bamboo pole over the shoulders carrying baskets of produce on each end.

The tour was filled with real historical facts from the migration, family and school life, gambling houses, opium dens and sadly the disintegration of Chinatown. The city of Victoria has recognized this special historical aspect and is now restoring and redeveloping with a sensitivity to the past.

I loved burrowing into the narrow alleyways to see behind the store fronts. Today's development is mirroring the old days by reconstructing a vibrant culture behind the store facades. I knew about Fan Tan Alley but there are many more alleyways.
This is a picture of new development in the back alleys of modern day Chinatown. There are residential condos and business spaces on the ground level.

We visited the first and oldest Hakku temple in Canada founded in 1905. The Hakku are from northern China. Once again our tour guide painted a vivid picture of life around the temple, in the past and in today's life. Although the temple is not as important now in the day to day life of the Chinese it is important for family celebrations and maintaining a sense of history for the young.
The exterior is very unassuming. The temple is on the top floor. Rental apartments and meeting rooms occupy the rest of the space.
After all this walking I was ready for dim sum. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures but it was delicious.


Has Table Etiquette Been Swept under the Rug? Brush Up for Christmas Parties.

The festive entertaining season is not far off and there is no time like the present to brush up on table etiquette and party manners. I remind students in Foods classes at school about their table manners and tell them they can eat however they choose at home but in public a few manners will go a long way to making good impressions.
The Dinner Party
Small or large dinner parties have a few rules for the host and guest. Casual parties can be arranged at the last minute but during a busy holiday season it is best to give three to six weeks notice. The type of invitation is determined by how formal the affair is. There is nothing wrong with a telephone call or an email for casual parties.
Have your home clean and tidy and rearrange furniture to accommodate the number of guests, if necessary. Adjust the room temperature and lighting and decide if you would like background music. Have plenty of clean towels or use disposable paper napkins in the bathroom.
Don’t begin clean up and washing dishes until guests have left, unless of course someone overstays their welcome.
As a guest, respond to the invitation as soon as possible. Don’t bring a friend unless invited to do so and never ask if you can. Arrive on time. A token hostess gift is a nice gesture. If place cards are set do not rearrange them. Turn off your cell phone ringer. Don’t be the last to leave and always thank the host for the evening.
How to Set a Table
The dinner plate is set in the centre and about one inch from the edge of the table and the salad plate to the left. Forks are placed to the left of the plate and spoons and knives to the right. The rule of thumb is to place the utensils in order of use from the outside toward the plate. If there is a salad before the main course then place a salad fork on the outside and a dinner fork next to the plate. If the salad is served with the meal there is no need for a salad fork.
The dinner knife is placed to the right of the plate with the blade toward the plate. Spoons are next to the knife. The soup spoon, if needed, is the outermost spoon.
If you are using a bread and butter plate place it directly above the forks with the butter knife resting on the plate at a diagonal. Water and other glasses are above the knife and outward from there ending with a coffee cup. The napkin can be placed on the dinner plate or to the left of the forks.
How to Hold Utensils
Next time you are in a restaurant look around and see how many people make a fist to hold their utensils. The fork or spoon should rest on the middle finger of the hand as the index finger and thumb grip the handle.
There are two different ways you can use your cutlery during a meal – the American or the Continental style. Both are proper and both may be used and interchanged in the same meal. In both styles the food is speared with the fork tines pointing down and in the left hand if you are right handed. The index finger presses down at the base of the handle. Use your right hand to hold the knife with the index finger where the handle meets the blade. Keep your elbows close to the body.
With the American style rest the knife on the side of the plate and move the fork to your right hand. With tines up spear the food and move it to your mouth.
If you use the Continental style you may rest the knife on the side of the plate or hold it in your right hand. Then with tines down move the food to your mouth.
Resting Utensils
Do you ever wonder if you should put your used cutlery on the tablecloth? Never. Don’t prop them on the edge of the plate either. Place them near the centre of the plate with the tips pointing toward each other or the knife can rest on the edge of the plate and the fork in the middle of the plate.
When the meal is finished place the fork and knife together diagonally on the right side of the plate with the knife blade facing inward. This indicates you are finished and the plate can be taken away.
During the Meal
Do you take your napkin and tuck it under your chin like a bib? I hope not. The napkin should be unfolded and placed across your lap as soon as you sit down.
When do you begin to eat? I served food to one of my kids’ cooking class groups and they were sitting there letting the food go cold. When I asked why they didn’t begin eating they reminded me of the rule I just taught them. Don’t begin until the host or hostess begins or you are invited to do so.
Are you shoveling your food with your fork or slouching over your plate? Wrong. Also resist the urge to fuss with utensils, rap your knuckles on the table or other fidgety habits. A good place for hands is on the lap.
Are you a chipmunk at the table? Don’t take large bites and store food in your cheek? Take a manageable bite and finish it before putting more food in your mouth. And don’t talk while chewing food or taking a drink.
Do you cut all your food like the baby’s plate? Cut only enough for four or five bites, lay down your knife and eat.
Do you have a boarding house reach? Reach only as far as your arm extends without crossing in front of another person. If you cannot reach simply ask, “Please pass the item” and say thank you.
Chasing a piece of food around your plate with your fork? If you are unable to pick up a piece of food with your fork don’t use your fingers to help it along. Use your knife or a piece of bread as a pusher.
Never push your plate away when you are finished eating and announce,  “I’m finished!”
Children’s Table Manners
By age six children should arrive at the table with clean hands and face. They begin to eat when everyone else does or are given permission. They will use a fork or spoon properly and begin to learn how to use a knife. They will ask for food rather than reaching and always say “please” and “thank you”. They know not to talk with food in their mouth and do not make negative comments about the food. They do not interrupt when someone is talking and they ask, “May I please be excused?” when they are finished.
By age 12 they leave plates and utensils alone until the meal begins. They watch the host and follow meal-starting rituals without comment. They sit with good posture and feet on the floor. They use all utensils correctly, take reasonable portions of food and ask for seconds, if necessary. They are polite and join in the table conversation, drink quietly with glass in one hand and try a bit of everything. Uneaten food is left on the plate and not hidden in a napkin. They offer to help at the end of the meal.