On being ... out of touch

By Ingrid Sapona

What comes to mind when you read: goat butter? Do you think: “Maybe it’s a quirky invective or interjection – kind of like bollix or fiddle-faddle.” Or maybe you think: “Yum – gotta get me some of that!”

If you fall into the latter category, then perhaps you’ll be pleased to hear that Goat Butter Shortbread is the Number 4 recipe on Epicurious’ list of the "109 Best Cookie Recipes to Make Again and Again." Honestly – Epicurious’ editors think Goat Butter Shortbread “may be the star of your Christmas cookie platter.”

Mind you, if you’ve just used up the last of your goat butter for some other recipe, don’t worry. Of the 109 Best Cookie Recipes, there are other shortbread recipes you might be interested in. For example, Number 24: Blood Orange and Poppy Seed Polenta Shortbread. If you can’t find any fresh blood oranges, that’s ok. The editor’s say you can use bottled blood orange juice and the zest of a navel orange. What’s that? Your grocery store doesn’t have any blood orange juice? Damn – this Covid-thing is really screwing up supply chains, eh? 

But again, no worries: scroll on down to Number 102 for the Whole Grain Shortbread with Einkorn and Rye Flour recipe. Surely you have einkorn flour in your pantry. (And while you’re pulling that out – you’ll also need some rye flour and a bit of rice flour for that particular recipe.)

I’ve always found Epicurious’ lists ridiculous. How can 109 recipes all be “the best”? Heck, the editors couldn’t even agree on THE best shortbread recipe – there are seven on the list! I guess the idea is that with 109 recipes, there’s bound to be something any given reader would want to try. Indeed, the fact that I read through the list is testament to the reality that even absurdly titled lists draw readers in.

Of course, Epicurious’ editors aren’t the only ones who love list-based headlines. Just last week the New York Times’ Cooking newsletter featured “47 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers”. And Food 52 had one called “55 Crock-Pot Recipes to Set & Forget.” Other than being surprised at the sheer number of unique Thanksgiving leftover recipes and crock-pot recipes – I don’t find those headlines nearly as annoying as Epicurious’ 109 Best Cookie headline. Why? Because neither of the other two lists are pretending to be anything more than a cumulation of recipes of a certain type. The Times and Food 52 aren’t touting any of those recipes as being anything more than tried and considered decent enough to pass on – no claims to being “the best”.

As I noted, though I snickered at Epicurious’ absurd title, I figured it was worth a quick scroll through. But, I didn’t get very far into it before I got irritated. The goat butter shortbread recipe was the first that had me shaking my head. Trust me, it’s not because the idea of goat butter grosses me out – after all, how different could it be from chevre, which is also made of goat milk. No, I was annoyed because it seems wrong to feature recipes with obscure ingredients with a damned pandemic going on!

I’m all for trying new recipes – heck – that’s why I subscribe to such newsletters. And I get that many folks are feeling Covid-fatigue and so they’re looking for inspiration and maybe trying a new recipe will help. But showcasing recipes with esoteric ingredients is tantamount to sending folks out on a treasure hunt. Given how rampant the virus is in many places, the editors may as well have added corona virus to the ingredient list. After all, the more stores and places intrepid bakers visit in their search, the more they risk exposure to Covid. And why? To try a new Christmas cookie recipe?

If your thinking that a more appropriate title for this column would have been On being … over the top (given the goat butter and all), you’re right. But the very first thought I had when I saw multiple recipes with hard to find ingredients is that the editors are really out of touch. Out of touch with both the availability of such items and with the realities of the risks related to traipsing around for ingredients during a pandemic.

Post Script: After I finished this column, I decided to see whether any of the major Canadian grocery delivery services (Loblaws, Voila by Sobeys, and Longo’s Grocery Gateway) carry goat butter, blood orange juice, or einkorn flour. Well, it turns out they ALL carry goat butter – but not the juice or flour. So, I guess Canadian bakers interested in trying cookie Number 4 can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they can get out goat butter delivered to their door. Even so, this year I’ll stick to baking a batch of my Mom’s brown sugar shortbread. They’re delicious and comforting – the perfect antidote to Covid-fatigue – not to mention, I always have butter, brown sugar, and all-purpose flour on hand.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona 


On being ... on edge

By Ingrid Sapona

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada. It’s a day we honour Canadian forces, particularly those who have died in foreign wars. The date is significant because it marks the date fighting in World War I stopped. Canada lost over 66,000 servicemen and women in WWI – almost one third more than it lost in WWII.

In the U.S., November 11th is Veteran’s Day, which is also to honour vets. As I first noted in an On being … in November 2010, Remembrance Day has a very different feel than Veteran’s Day. Here, for example, at 11a.m. that day most Canadians observe a moment of silence. As well, in the days leading up to the 11th you see a proliferation of red poppy lapel pins. Millions of people wear them on their coats and jackets to honour and support veterans. The pins represent the poppies that emerged from the undisturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders. Wearing a poppy is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes to Canadians and to those in other Commonwealth countries.

About a week before Remembrance Day a news story broke about Whole Foods employees not being allowed to wear Remembrance Day poppies at work. When asked by media outlets why, the company “explained” that it honours Remembrance Day in other ways, but its dress code prohibits any additions to the company’s standard uniform, other than for items required by law.

The day this story emerged I was running errands. When I heard it on the radio, I was enraged. Alone in my car, I yelled at the radio, railing about the ignorance of the U.S.-based company. How could they do business here and yet be so ignorant of what the poppy means to Canadians? The poppy doesn’t have any political significance, nor is it a symbol of protest. It’s simply a symbol of remembrance. Didn’t they get that? There aren’t many Whole Foods stores here in Canada (only 14 across the country), but from that moment on, I promised myself I’d never shop there again and I planned on urging friends to boycott the store as well.

As the story unfolded, it was clear I wasn’t the only person appalled by Whole Foods’ decision. The most vocal critic was Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – a bombastic Conservative who I almost never see eye-to-eye with. When Ford heard about Whole Foods’ position, he urged the company to apologize and reverse its decision. And then, when Whole Foods made it clear it would not reverse its policy, he vowed to introduce legislation prohibiting any company from banning the wearing of poppies at work during Remembrance week.

Hearing Ford’s comment I literally cheered him on. Not only that, I relished the thought of what he might name that bill. You see, the Ford government has a penchant for attaching absurd names to bills. Here are just a few examples: “Bill 100, Protecting What Matters Most Act (Budget Measures), 2019; Bill 224, No Time to Waste Act (Plan for Climate Action and Jobs), 2020; Bill 221, Exalting Our Veterans Act, 2020; Bill 171, Building Transit Faster Act, and so on. How about: The FU Whole Foods Act of 2020?

Later that day I mentioned the Whole Foods poppy story to a friend. He hadn’t heard about it. I explained Whole Foods’ tremendous cultural insensitivity, but gleefully noted that Ford would help them see the error of their ways. My friend – a Conservative – agreed that the store’s policy was ridiculous, but he didn’t think we need legislation about it. To be honest, what shocked him the most was my unequivocal support of Ford and his idea of passing a law about wearing poppies. I admitted it was unusual to be on the same side of an issue as Premier Ford, but it was a testament to how angry I was by Whole Foods’ attitude.

After speaking with my friend, I started thinking about why I had such a strong reaction. Was I over-reacting? Was my reaction really all about the poppies? I think it was … but still, perhaps it was stronger than it should have been.

A few days later (Nov. 7th), I got an email from a friend in Scotland. She sent a screen shot of a news alert she had just received on her phone that said the Associated Press called the presidential race in favour of Biden. In the email she commented that she was in the grocery store when the alert came in and that, as she read it, she found herself in tears. Then she added, “I hadn’t realised the fear I was feeling that Trump might win.”

Her words really rang a bell with me. Beyond agreeing with her joy that Biden had finally (albeit unofficially) been declared the winner, we both understood that her uncontrolled tears were a subconscious release of pressure that had been building up. That, in turn, made me wonder whether my (over)reaction to the Whole Foods story was like her tears – a way of venting fears and anxieties I’ve been harbouring about the election and the pandemic.

I decided to write about this because I’m sure there are others out there like me and my friend – folks who are generally coping ok, but who may be caught by surprise by the depth of their reactions. If you find yourself reacting to something in ways that seem unusual, perhaps you’re more on edge than you realize.

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona