On being … worth trying or consciously taking a pass

 By Ingrid Sapona 

I enjoy cooking and I spend a few minutes looking at recipes on-line pretty much every day. I subscribe to some food newsletters (Food 52 and America’s Test Kitchen) and magazines, as well as NY Times Cooking. Though I don’t end up actually trying that many new recipes, they usually provide inspiration for dinner – and sometimes they provide unexpected comic relief. 

Some recipes remind me of a dish I’ve made before and loved, but that I’ve forgotten about. When this happens, I dig out my recipe and compare it to the recipe that jogged my memory. There’s almost always a slight difference so I then consider whether the variations make trying the new recipe worthwhile. 

More often than not I reject a recipe because of the cooking method used, not because of the ingredients or amount of prep work involved. Recipes that call for deep frying or grilling are always non-starters with me. (I don’t own a barbeque and grill pans just don’t give you the same flavour as actual grills.) As for deep frying… delicious but so bad for you and disposing of the used oil is a pain. (Yes, friends have raved about their air fryers, but I don’t have space for another special machine.) I’m also not keen on recipes that involve sheet pan roasting. Getting the oven temperature to 400+ and keeping it there for ¾ of an hour or more to cook things like vegetables seems a crazy waste of electricity. 

One thing most on-line recipes offer that cookbooks don’t is comments/suggestions from others who (one assumes) tried the recipe. Of course, not all comments are created equal. Every now and then there’s an especially helpful comment – like one about adjusting (downward) the amount of Wasabi used in this one chicken salad recipe. I ended up trying that recipe and, as the commentator suggested, I used about half the Wasabi called for. It was perfect and that recipe has become a favourite. I always find it funny when people comment about all the substitutions they made. Some people so make many changes they’ve basically created a whole new recipe. And I’ve noticed readers of the NY Times recipes can be rather pointed. One time, when a recipe called for 12 ounces of spaghetti, someone complained that the author should simply call for using a box of pasta because no one bothers weighing out spaghetti noodles! (Can you say oi?) 

The recipe sources I peruse often feature themes. For example, the start of summer often brings recipe ideas for picnics or camping (at least here in Canada), and at other times there are ideas for what to serve at kids’ birthday parties, and so on. And upcoming holidays always feature an outpouring of new takes on holiday classics (for example, turkey and pie recipes abound around Thanksgiving). 

My absolute favourite category of recipes are those revolving around ingredients coming into season. Though we can buy many types of fruits year around because they’re grown in different parts of the world and shipped all over, there’s no comparison between a locally grown field strawberry, for example, and one that’s been shipped from far away. Recipes featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables always prompt a visit local farmers’ markets where I can get produce picked literally the day before. Then, when I get home, I leaf though the recipes I recently printed out with a view toward making something with my local finds. 

That said, recipes often go by the wayside when local fruit is at its absolute peak because I’m just as happy to savour it au naturel. For example, I recently drooled over a watermelon and feta salad recipe. (That’s a combination my dad introduced me to when I was a kid.) But, when I contemplate using two pounds of my delicious local watermelon for a salad, I simply can’t do it, as the whole wouldn’t be better than the sum of its parts. I’ll enjoy the barrel feta on a lovely, crusty buttered toast for lunch sometime and I’ll savour the cold chunks of the sugar-sweet watermelon on its own for dessert. 

I’ll close with a reminder that summer’s fleeting and I hope you’re enjoying the fresh food that’s on offer in your area. Oh, and bon appétit! 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


On being … the gift of unselfconscious chat

 By Ingrid Sapona 

For more than a decade I’ve been part of what I call my electronic coffee klatch. As I type this, I realize some might not be familiar with the term. According to Merriam-webster.com, coffee klatch – a variation of “kaffeeklatsch” (from the German words for coffee and gossip) – is “an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation.” There are three of us in the group: me and a friend who lives on the west coast and one who lives in Europe. 

What distinguishes our coffee klatch is that the three of us correspond via email pretty faithfully every week. One of us usually starts it off with an email on Friday evening or Saturday and before the weekend is done the other two respond. (It helps that we’re in time zones 8 hours apart). We got to know each other (in person) when the European and west coast women were doing post-graduate work in Toronto. 

I don’t remember how the coffee klatch started, but I think it just seemed efficient to include the others in a single email, rather than trying to keep in touch separately. Of course, there are times when we two of us might correspond separately, for example, if we’re travelling and able to meet in person someplace. 

What makes these round-robin emails (another way I refer to them) so special is their conversation quality. Emails addressed just to one friend tend to be more of a volley and return – a back and forth exchange of information or ideas. In these round-robin emails, if I say something about how I felt about a project or something I’m working on or did that week, the others may respond but often they pick up on very different things. It’s always interesting to hear their different impressions. And, because these are emails (versus on-line meetings, for example) often the second person’s response might include a comment about what was originally said and about the other person’s response. And sometimes there’s a short additional round of emails to respond to the comments. It’s surprisingly conversation-like – but with more time to think before responding. 

A couple weeks ago, at the end of a shortish email my European friend wrote: “Sorry, I don’t have much chat tonight…”. In her reply, my west coast friend commented on how the notion of not having a lot of “chat” made her laugh because she was feeling the same. She went on to say that she likes hearing what we’re up to but doesn’t always have much of interest to report about what’s going on in her life. She also mentioned (I’m paraphrasing) she sometimes wonders if others in her life find her interesting only if she’s got something to complain about and – considering all that’s happening in the world – she has nothing to complain about right now and so she feels she has not much to chat about.   

To be honest, I didn’t even register my European friend’s comment about not having “much chat” until my other friend picked up on the idea. That’s when I realized there are many social interactions where I’ve felt self-conscious about not having much to say – or complain about – and I’ve worried that makes me seem boring to others. I was actually rather relieved to realize these feelings are probably more common than I think. Indeed, the feeling that I have nothing interesting to report about what’s going on in my life plays a role in my reluctance to initiate social interactions and sometimes even to participate when other’s have initiated. 

I guess that’s why the I love – and value – our coffee klatch so much. The habit of checking in with these girlfriends relieves the self consciousness (for me at least) of having little of substance to report because what matters is the connection. I care about what’s going on in these friends’ lives – whether it’s work successes or frustrations, family concerns or joys, whether they’ve had fun travelling, or even just whether they’ve had friends around for dinner.    

This is the only electronic coffee klatch I’m a part of and, as I mentioned, it started pretty organically. So, I don’t know if it’s reproduceable. But, if you have the chance to starts one, give it a try. I think you’ll find it rewarding and a good way of practicing sharing yourself. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona