Reflections

The world is a weird place. We usually accept it at face value, but the fact remains.

Take, for example, the fact that I'm currently in Whistler surrounded by the opulence of Cornucopia on the one day a year we reserve for acknowledging the myriad liberties we enjoy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people today are concerned with nothing other than the perfect food and wine pairing.

Daily life so rarely seems to be affected by the big stuff. Maybe it's resilience, or, more likely, our inability to cope with the gravity of it all. In the US there may have been uproar after the presidential election, but parties weren't cancelled and movie theatres remained full. Life went on.

I think it's our nature to create emotional distance as a coping mechanism, but is it at the expense of caring? Can we truly be engaged citizens if we don't engage?

I don't think there's anything wrong with parties (actually, very pro-party over here!) and this certainly isn't a call to have fewer of them. It is, however, an opportunity to think about what's going on in the world. Today, relish in your long weekend. Sleep in, walk the dog, hang out with friends. But take a real minute to consider why you're not at work today. Without paying lip service, be thankful and remember.

By engaging with every aspect of life, be it political, social, or emotional, there are more jarring highs and devastating lows. But only in that complete engagement can we live a full life.

I pressure canned!!!

And it was a big deal.

I'm not even slightly exaggerating when I say that I read the instructions 15 times for fear of blowing up my apartment. And then there was the fear of botulism; but that's more of "campfire scary story" fear, so I take precautions and don't let it keep me up at night. This particular adventure stemmed from the fact that we had wanted to try canning garlic and meat, both of which are unsafe if processed without pressure.

Interesting twist in the story? Despite my dire fears, it was so much fun. You know why? Because we had a canning party and I'm all about it. Never shalt thou can alone again.

First of all, fun fact: you can rent a pressure canner (and all sorts of other cool stuff) so if you live in a tiny place like me you don't need to find storage space. We were able to book online and picked one up at Homestead Junction just down the street. Word to the wise: they're not the most organized business, so give yourself a few minutes to do the pick up. It's not quite as efficient as you may want.

Canned garlic

And then invite over some friends. We had a full on beer-drinking canning party with Matthew's brother and sister-in-law who were vising from out of town. Dinner was, obviously, tacos: quick and allowed some people to prep garlic while others got food on the table. Bonus points if you can invite people over who grow their own garlic because O.M.G. I'm going to want to put that on everything so quantity is key. Quantity is actually key in anything you can... the prep is what takes the time, so you might as well fill the whole canner full of jars to make it worth while. Also a great gift idea if you don't think you need that much of anything.

Does and don'ts:

  • Everything takes longer than you expect (especially when you get distracted by beer drinking), so if you're going to have a canning party DO give yourself time so you're not stressed out about getting everything done. No one wants to be the person who leaves early and sticks the host with clean up.
  • DO clean as much as you can off your counters or dinner table and set up stations for prep and any cooking that has to happen, as well as sterilizing and filling jars. Dividing up tasks keeps everyone focused rather than wandering aimlessly.
  • You're likely going to produce quite a bit of organic waste from skins, pits, and cut-off bad bits so DO have big discard bowls out as well as plenty of damp towels to clean as you go.
  • Accidentally exploding a jar in the canner and not realizing it until everything is out and covered in goo is THE WORST so DON'T think that you can fill any jars more than an inch from the rim. To save your sanity that means using the largest size jars you can so that you don't have to do a million tiny ones.

Pressure canning is serious stuff so that you don't make anyone sick, so ALWAYS follow an approved recipe. But as long as you're not going off the cuff there's no reason why you can't have epic success. And honestly, the combination of practically free entertainment for a night and delicious things to eat all winter is a win in my books.

Spend a rainy fall evening with your kids or a group of friends turning your kitchen into a sauna and then let me know what you made!

A culinary tour of Provence

To say that we had a good time on the first Provence Tour would be an understatement. The guests were charming, the food and wine were plentiful, and the Provencal sun extended summer for us right to the end of September. I wore shorts; no joke.

This is only a snapshot of everything we did that week as listing it all would be tedious for everyone involved. If you think it looks like quite a bit of fun, you can sign up here to receive The Modern Pantry's newsletter, which will include the announcement of 2017 dates.


After picking everyone up in Avignon and settling in at the B&B, the first night kicked off with a welcome dinner at Oaks and Olives. While I tried to tell everyone what they could expect from the week, they talked and laughed over me. The champagne was flowing freely and I could tell I didn't stand a chance against this crew. An hour in and our perfect group of strangers had already settled into an easy banter. The sun was tucking behind the trees when we finally moved inside for our first meal.

Buying olives in Lourmarin
Grape harvest
Picking grapes in Provence
Riding the tractor
Stomping grapes
French snacks
Truffle hunting
Tasting truffles

Our first full day was also our longest. Mist still hung heavy in the fields as our trusty van took us up and over Bonnieux on the way to the Lourmarin market (a personal favourite for the stunning setting and exceptional producers). Getting to market days early is always well worth rolling out of bed.

This day also included picking and stomping grapes, learning about truffles and digging up our own, tasting olive oils, and sipping coffees beside a community étang (pond) full of koi.

Cheese tasting with an affineur
Chocolate tasting at Joel Durand
Hanging out in St-Remy-de-Provence
Wine tasting in Provence
Pork loin and baked figs

Saturday started as all good Saturdays should: tasting cheeses prepared by a local affineur (cheese ager) paired with her husband's wine. The skies opened on us in the first real rain Provence had seen in three months. Unfazed, we continued on to the charming town of St-Remy-de-Provence for a chocolate tasting and time to explore. There may have been occasion to stop into a winery that afternoon as well...

After some well deserved down-time, we reconvened for a cozy dinner.

L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Wine bar stop
Market day L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Cooking class
Dinner with friends

Sunday. Market day. The town of Coustellet - the closest large town to Oppede - has a stellar food market where we stocked up for our cooking class. Loaded down with fresh produce, we proceeded to France's best antique market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue (with a cheeky stop at an ulta-cool wine bar to escape a sudden downpour and an even cheekier stop at a favourite patisserie for treats). The picnic we had planned for the day was moved indoors: our only weather-related hiccup.

Refreshed by a few hours of down time, everyone got their hands dirty in a cooking class (fueled by wine and snacks, obviously). Everyone was pretty proud of their accomplishments as we sat down to a delicious three course dinner.

Abbey de Senanque
Gordes Provence
Coffee in Gordes
lunch at l'estellan
Rousillon
Rousillon hills

Monday we got our culture on with a visit to the Abbaye de Senanque and the picturesque village of Gordes. Awed by the beauty around us, it was all that some of us could do to sit in a square and take it all in with espresso in hand.

With the weather back to in our favour we lunched on the terrace of L'Estellan. It's a good problem to have when the sun is too bright to take any good photos of food (taken surreptitiously to start with for fear of being kicked out of France as a whole). Believe me when I say it was perfect. We worked off a bit lunch exploring the ocre hills of Rousillion. Some people followed up by climbing to the stunning vista at the top of town while others perused galleries.

Goats
Cheese making
Adding ash to cheese
Cheese making hat
Goat cheese
Chicken playing the piano
Cheese lunch

Our fifth, and final, full day was incredible. We rolled up to a goat farm and were greeted by 1) our delightful hostess/ cheese maker, Patricia 2) her charming son 3) the most friendly giant dog I've ever met and 4) fifty goats, in that order. Patricia walked us through every step of making her famous cheese from milking, to separating the curds, to forming the various shapes. Everyone got in on the fun, flipping cheeses like seasoned professionals by the end. We then reaped the rewards of our work with a cheese-heavy lunch, prepared by Patricia's 84 year old mother and eaten in the family's outdoor dining room. This is the real Provence. This is a person who wakes up every single morning to milk goats and make cheese to sell at the markets.

Sated and overwhelmed by their hospitality we finally headed off. This being our final night, we celebrated with dinner cooked in the outdoor pizza oven.

Pizza oven
Pissaladiere
Roasted chicken
Pool in Provence

No one was ready to go, but the next day we parted ways at the Avignon train station. There were still lots of adventures ahead for our group, but our time together was over. I thanked my lucky stars every day on the tour that I got such a wonderful group the first time around. Thinking back though, anyone who loves eating good food, meeting the people who work their butts off every day to make it happen, and creating new friendships are going to be good people to hang out with. I'm already excited to meet next year's guests...

Soup stocks to get you through the cold months

Regardless of whether you buy into the fact that it's happening (it is, all of you shorts and flip-flop wearers), fall is here with a vengeance. Cable knit sweaters, hot chocolate, and soup are all about to start playing leading roles in your life.

We all know that soup is a versatile and ostensibly easy comfort food on cold, dark nights. We also know that on a busy weeknight simmering a pot for 2-3 hours isn't going to get dinner on the table at a reasonable time. I have a hunch that this is the point in the story where Campbell's Tomato usually makes an appearance.

It doesn't need to be this way. The reason soup takes so long to make is that you're trying to build flavour; the softening of the vegetables part takes hardly any time at all. So here's what I propose: build your flavour in bulk ahead of time and stick it in the freezer. Not a revolutionary idea, you say? Correct. I'm not going to pretend that I made this up, but I will wholeheartedly stick by how effective it is.

I'm into leftovers as a concept, but because I love food so much I often get bored by eating the same thing more than a couple of times. Which is why (in addition to the fact that I have a teeny-tiny apartment freezer) I don't make a lot of batch items for freezing. What I love about the idea of making stock ahead of time is that you can change up the flavours every time by adding in various meats, veggies, and spices.

So here's what I propose: the next time you have a chicken carcass lying around (don't look at me like I'm a weirdo, this is a totally normal Sunday night occurrence) make up a batch of stock. Ideally you would end up with a couple of different variations, like one Mediterranean and one South East Asian, but if you're only going to make one keep it simple. If you're lucky enough to live in a house with a full-sized freezer, go ahead and label them well and throw them in for future use. If not, pull out the canner.

Roast the carcass in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes so that it's nicely browned. Put the bones and any juices from the pan into a large stock pot. Cover with water.

Add celery, onion, carrot, garlic, parsley, and a bay leaf. You don't even need to peel the veggies! Just make sure they're clean and chop into large chunks (like quarter the onion). I don't usually season my stock with salt as I know I'll salt the finished soup.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Feel free to get creative with more exotic spices like ginger, orange peel, green onion, cinnamon, and star anise. Just make sure you label your jars well so you don't try using that stock for tomato soup.

Simmer the pot over medium heat for approximately 4 hours, skimming off any foam that comes to the top occasionally. Strain through a fine sieve and discard the solids.

The beauty of a basic stock is you can make a million different soups out of it with the simple combination of:

Aromatics - Sauteed garlic and onions are a good place to start. Bay leaf and rosemary go beautifully together. So do chili, ginger and lemongrass.

Vegetables - Root vegetables can be cut small and thrown in at the beginning so they have a chance to soften. Greens and finely sliced vegetables like peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini can be added just before serving so they stay crunchy.

Starch - If you're looking to make a full meal, adding in some kind of starch will stretch your soup. Small chunks of potato, barley cooked right in the broth, or rice noodles added at the last minute with the fresh veggies are all great variations.

Meat - Soup is an awesome vegetarian meal option (try lentils for protein), but it's also the perfect way to stretch leftovers. Thinly slice cold steak over a steaming bowl of aromatic Thai-spiced soup or shred leftover chicken into corn and potato chowder.

Let me know what your favourite combinations are! With this simple formula you can have nutritious and flavourful soup for dinner any night of the week in about 20 minutes. I think this fall is going to be delicious.

Cooking while camping: Things to keep in mind

I grew up cabin-ing, not camping. What I thought classified as cooking outdoors extended as far as hot dogs and marshmallows (toasted to perfection because that was the only skill I developed). Maybe there was birthday cake or the rare occurrence of fancy appetizers to have on the beach with drinks, but these were always prepared in a fully equipped kitchen and carried the 100 m to the beach so that they classified as ‘outdoor eating’.

Cascades roadtrip

Until last year my only experiences of real camping were Girl Guides (vanilla pudding cups and bannock) and a high school trip with friends where we had chips and sandwiches. Clearly both of these experiences made an impression and made me (justifiably) believe that food on a camping trip had to be kind of lacklustre. WRONG! I was wrong! I fully and completely admit it.

Enter: grown-up camping. The kind where bourbon is served over real ice cubes rather than chugged out of the bottle. The kind where fresh vegetables make more than a cursory veggie platter appearance. It’s delicious, and relaxing, and only requires following a few principles to make it your go-to vacation on a budget.

1) Pack only the essentials. By this I mean one pot will do. And you don’t need to bring your wine decanter. Why not over-pack if you're car camping and can fit it all in? Because if you have it you’ll use it, and just like at home, washing dishes is the worst part.

2) Do pack a good knife though. This is not an item to skimp out on, yet people always try to get by with a paring knife alone. “Cutting” a tomato with a knife which won’t puncture the skin or slicing steak by sawing at each piece until it rips off are not ways to make you enjoy camping. Bring one serrated and one chef’s knife for all of your cutting needs.

Camping at Kettle River

3) Make a few things ahead. You’re not attempting to cook every meal before you go, but if you can do a few things like make a marinade or even an aioli for sandwiches you won’t need a million tiny jars. Importantly here, you’re clearing up space in the cooler for the stuff that matters. Like beer.

4) Embrace the seasons. Purchase your main groceries as close to where you're camping as possible. That way they'll be fresh (rather than hot-car wilted) and full of flavour so you won't have to do much to them. Cooking while camping means keeping the flavours simple, but that doesn't mean small. Chopping a bunch of veggies and putting them on the grill with sausages takes practically zero effort and is oh-so-satisfying. Avoid herbs unless you're using them the first day because they always get crushed and become unpleasant.

5) Bring along a few extra mason jars. You know that horrible realization that the cheese in the cooler is sitting in melted ice water that's been contaminated with raw meat? I hate that moment. That's why I recommend packing a few extra wide-mouth mason jars; any package that gets opened can be popped inside one for serious protection. Ziplocs work well too, but they tend to have a short life span before being tossed out. 

Having just returned from a week-long camping road trip, I can say that putting these tips into practice makes all the difference. They won't, however, stop you from getting in trouble with the border guard when you accidentally (I SWEAR) try to take fresh fruit out of the country. Apparently the next time I make that mistake it's going to cost me $1200; so the final tip: eat all the fruit.

Breakfasts that actually keep you full

It's no secret that I'm always hungry. Whether it's because I'm taller than the average girl or because I get a lot of movement into my day, I couldn't tell you. I didn't even realize it was that weird until I went on a road trip across Spain and Portugal with my cousin in 2010 and she started making cracks about needing to keep granola bars in the car. Sidenote: that never happened because why would you eat granola bars when there are Portuguese custard tarts to compare against one and other?

Apart from traveling, when the primary objective is eat everything between walking everywhere, I've found a few breakfasts which are substantial enough to keep me full without feeling like the rest of the day will be spent in a food coma. Those people who just have a smoothie for breakfast... who are you?!?! Unless you're having second breakfast an hour later, I don't understand.

Healthy and filling breakfast basics:

1) Eggs are your friends. You're unlikely to see me eating eggs every day. Mostly because I spent 3 months living in Cuba and two eggs any way was breakfast every. single. morning. Never again, my friends! I'm really good at tricking myself though, and because I love baking will make egg-y ham and cheese tarts or oven pancakes served with a pile of fruit and yogurt.

2) Nuts! If you really only have enough time to make a smoothie in the morning, throw a big handful of raw nuts in there. They blend up beautifully into a thick and creamy smoothie and do wonders to keep you full for longer.

Apple baked oatmeal

3) All oats all the time. Other grains are also delicious, but there's a special place in my heart for oats in all of their forms. To keep things interesting, I rotate between steel-cut oatmeal, cold overnight oats with chia seeds, baked oatmeal, and breakfast cookies. Add spices, dried fruits, fresh fruits, yogurt... it's all good.

4) Rice bowl. This is the curve ball when the last three seemed so normal. I haven't historically been a savory breakfast person, so this one took a little getting used to, but I'm a total convert now. Leftover rice with any combination of: wilted spinach, kimchi, poached egg, mushrooms, or leftover meat is incredibly satisfying. On cold mornings it's a treat to start the day with a bowl of something warm and nutritious.

Currant bran muffins

5) Second breakfast. First thing in the morning I'm not always stoked on the idea of a big meal. But since I know I'll be hungry (and unfocused/ grumpy/ low energy) later, I plan on second breakfast around 9:30. Usually it just looks like a few nuts and some dried fruit or a banana with peanut butter - nothing fancy. Knowing I'll get that boost a few hours in means I don't stress so much about coffee and a piece of toast trying to tide me over until noon.

No one wants to think during the ungodly hours before work starts, so make sure you're organized the night before. That way the breakfast process is not only painless, but can actually be quite pleasant. Believe me? Maybe?

6 tips to nail your next dinner party

You know how there are some people who pull off dinner parties with grace and seemingly little effort? They're the ones who are wearing a cute outfit and their finest pearls when the doorbell rings. The table is breathtaking and custom cocktails flow until food magically appears from a spotless kitchen. That person could be you.

And before you argue, I don't care that you live in a one bedroom apartment with a closet-sized kitchen. The trick is in planning; this is a time when scheduling makes things more fun.

Here are 6 game-changing ways to get yourself to the point where you enjoy hosting so much you'll be coming up with fake holidays like "National Smoked Fish Appreciation Day" so that you can bust out that smoked trout spread you could make in your sleep.

1) Impressive doesn't mean finicky. It took me longer than I care to admit to come to terms with this. But there was one party I catered which finally tilted the scale, probably because after frantically assembling bite-sized appetizers for 5 hours I wasn't quite done when guests arrived. Never again will I wrap noodles around anything. 

Here's what's equally impressive: a build your own bruschetta platter. Make a few spreads, maybe a crunchy nut crumble, and cheesy yogurt sauce, and let people have fun assembling different combinations. It's great because all of the component parts can be made ahead of time and there's no risk of anything going soggy while you wait for guests to arrive.

2) Don't stress about things being matchy-matchy. Sometimes I go into home decor stores and get stressed out because the theme has been taken too literally and there's butter yellow or black and white pinstripe EVERYWHERE. Themes are better when it's barely obvious that they exist.

So embrace your mis-matched chairs and cutlery, and create the wow-factor by accentuating your favourite thing. Cool throw rug on the back of a bench? Bright purple stitching on your napkins? Stunning pink flowers blooming in the garden? Whatever you choose, pick that up with a few extra touches like napkin rings, a table runner, or a tiny bouquet at each seat.

What's important here is that you do any decorating well in advance. If you don't desperately need the space to live in, plan to set the table (making sure glasses are smudge free and you didn't lend someone a few dinner plates) at least 2 days before the party. And if you're ever in doubt, use white everything.

3) Cook it low and slow. Whether it's braising meat or warming a lasagna, if you can have something cooking in the oven when guests arrive you'll have the time and space to clean the kitchen and look ultra impressive. If you know you'll be busy during the week, some dishes cook up well from frozen and can be made a few weeks in advance - enchiladas, anyone?

Menu planning

4) Do it on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday... So you're planning a dinner party for Saturday night? There's absolutely no reason why you have to spend the whole day cooking and miss out on a fun day of other activities. You just have to think ahead a little.

Make a list of everything you want to serve. Then break that list down into all of its parts and when you can reasonably do each one. If you were making a roasted vegetable salad it might look like this:

  • Make dressing - Wednesday
  • Crumble cheese - Wednesday
  • Chop veggies - Thursday
  • Roast veggies - Friday
  • Toast nuts - Friday
  • Assemble - Saturday

I like to group types of activities together. Toasting nuts and roasting veggies will both require the oven to be on, so there's less time waiting around for it to preheat if I do them at the same time. Because those are hands-off activities I might do something like assemble dessert on Friday as well.

5) Make the mains a family affair. Serving family style is not only in fashion, but it will make your life delightfully easy. Rather than trying to plate up perfect individual plates in the kitchen (while everything gets cold and your guests incessantly ask if they can help while you holler out "Just a miiiiiiiinUTE!!") plate salads on big platters and cook your main in a funky pot which can be transported straight to the table. I'm a huge fan of the colours of Le Creuset, but if those dishes are out of the budget a trip to the thrift store will do you wonders.

Extra awesome because those bright, colourful dishes will liven up your table better than any decor you could possibly fuss over. Any dishes which aren't temperature sensitive can be put out before your guests even sit down. Gorgeous.

Berry Parfait

6) Stop stressing so much. Is there wine? It's going to be a great night. Everyone feels anxious when the host is anxious. And conversely, when the host is having a great time everyone else will relax too. I swear they won't care that dessert is served in mason jars rather than crystal bowls.

Make sure whatever drinks you're serving are put in the fridge in the morning and there's space in the fridge or a cooler in case anyone else brings over bottles. I like to set up a bar area that allows people to self-serve without standing in the middle of the kitchen. Consider a variety of glasses, an ice bucket, and some citrus. And don't forget the non-alcoholic option!

I'm not trying to down-play the fact that hosting can be overwhelming at the start, especially when you have a lot going on in your life already. What I am saying is that you've got this. If you're still wondering where to start, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to give you a list of tried and true dinner party recipes that will greatly reduce stress and impress absolutely anyone.

How to make dinner when there's nothing in the fridge

I was reflecting today - on my first day of funemployment - that one of the things I'm most excited about in the coming months is having time to cook during the day. I'm going to be marinating, simmering, and meticulously chopping vegetables into matchsticks in a way that getting home after a long day absolutely ravenous doesn't afford.

That being said, I also reflected on the fact that I eat really frigging well (almost) every single day, despite employment. This is not the time to discuss the epic failures which punctuate any culinary experimentation...

While there's always something fresh in the fridge, it's unlikely that it falls into the category of "well-planned foundation of a meal". Most likely it's renegade vegetables leftover from the one well-thought-out meal of the week. How is it then possible to make something truly delicious? Here are a few tricks.

sauted spinach and bacon with pickled onion

1) Your pantry is a sacred thing. If you treat it right, by which I mean re-stock regularly, it will get you out of a bind 9 times out of 10. For those who believe in the organized life, a checklist in the inside of the cupboard will remind you to pick up replacements on your next shopping trip - just check things off when you use them and take that paper with you!

I go the "trust-my-gut" route in buying staples. This usually works out since I know approximately how long things last. Sometimes, however, it means I have 5 cans of stockpiled chickpeas. Those nights we have falafel for dinner. I call that 'inspiration'.

2) There's no argument that preserving food in the summer is a ton of work. Often on a hot, sunny summer afternoon it seems like the stupidest possible way to spend time. Trust me, it's not!

Roasted tomatoes packed in oil which you find at the back of the freezer are a lifesaver of flavour on nights when there's not much fresh in sight. If you live in a tiny apartment like me and possess and even tinier freezer, go crazy and can some stuff which can (attractively) line shelves - chutney is a great option! So are tomato sauce and pickled everything.

3) Speaking of pickles... if you're really feeling uninspired, start by pickling something. I know it sounds silly. When you walk in the kitchen and find that one fresh vegetable on the brink of health, chopping it finely and adding a warm mixture of vinegar, sugar, and whatever spices tickle your fancy it's a surefire way to make a nothing meal taste fresh and delicious.

Korean BBQ tacos

I love carrots with ginger and mustard seeds or bell peppers with bay leaf and garlic. One of my favourite ways to use pickled veggies is on grain bowls; whether it's rice or toasted barley, grains with a poached egg, pickles, nuts, and a yogurt sauce is a basic formula to make hundreds of delicious and satisfying dinners in no time. Added bonus for the fact that everything packs up well for lunch leftovers the next day.

4) Keep corn tortillas in the fridge at all times! Tacos are a god-send. "I have exactly half a cup of leftover meat to feed 3 people" isn't a problem when potato and onion are cubed, thrown in the oven, and used to bulk up you filling. Top that with some shredded cabbage and the aforementioned pickles and dinner just became delicious.

5) Sauces. Learn to love them. Whether you have time to roast meat and make a pan sauce or just want to add herbs, garlic, and mustard to Greek yogurt, sauces are an easy way to build flavour quickly. They're also one of the most effectively ways to transform leftovers into something new and exciting.

If you want to put some of these skills into practice, consider getting in touch for a hands-on weeknight meals class. Let me guide you through a handful of techniques which will give you confidence to throw together something awesome on Wednesday night, without all of the stress of planning 'the perfect meal'.

5 reasons Provence isn't just for romantic getaways and retirees

5 reasons Provence isn't just for romantic getaways and retirees

Speak of Provence and an awed hush will often descend on the group. For those who have been, they slip into a reverie of market stalls and long lunches. Those who have only heard stories conjure up images of lavender fields and long lunches. The long lunches part is usually a theme.

So why is it, then, that Provence is so often associated with romantic honeymoons or, at the other end of the spectrum, buses of seniors? Are those the only people who enjoy working up just enough of an appetite strolling under plane trees to spend two hours or more lingering over a few bottles of rose and a perfectly simple meal? I don't think so.

Here are 5 things people don't talk about when they talk about Provence. These are the things that make the region fun for the adventurous, and extra-fun for the adventurous foodie. If you want to do more than just read about fun things, join a 7 day tour of all things amazing and food September 29-October 5, 2016.

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Reviving Food Culture through Games

Sometimes I - like most people working in undefined and undefinable industries - become disillusioned with my work. I know the end goal: revive forgotten food skills; make real food accessible; and create excitement about doing things from scratch as part of a sustainable lifestyle.  In my heart I know that these are huge cultural shifts that require personal 'ah-ha' moments to have any sticking power. In my head I know that the broad definitions and intangible objectives are what cause my personal struggle for meaning. Frustration mounts. My hands start involuntarily raising themselves, threatening to reach for the sky in the universal sign for 'I give up'.

Am I being melodramatic? Yeah, maybe a little. But it's not an exaggeration to say that I often wonder what the heck I've gotten myself into. And on days like that the most refreshing thing in the world is the perspective of a stranger. 

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Cheese makes the best Christmas present. Seriously.

Do you know anyone who doesn't like cheese? If the answer is yes, are they lactose intolerant? Because that doesn't count.

For that last-minute gift giver who wants to blow the socks off their favourite recipient, sign up your loved ones for a Cheese Making Class. That's right. You make cheese. You taste cheese. You take cheese home. Cheese, please! We'll be making mozzarella, burrata, and ricotta.

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The ultimate foodie gift in Vancouver has a story

All food has a story. Sometimes that story is that it is one of a million that flew off a conveyor belt into a box and was shipped every which way around the world. No human hands touched that food. No love went into its production. But it's still a story.

Here are some more interesting stories. The kind that slow you down on Christmas morning in the midst of ripping open packages. The kind that show how much you care and wanted to make sure you found the most-perfect-ever gift. These are stories of people that make real food that's really delicious. This is the kind of stuff you find at The Modern Pantry.

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Hunting and Gathering: A Fly Fishing Trip to Pennask Lake

I think I'm giving you all the wrong impression. That impression is that all I ever do is bum around traveling from one cool place to the next. It's not true. This blog is like life according to Facebook: much cooler online than in real life. In real life I spend a lot of time doing paperwork and washing dishes, but I have a sneaking suspicion you wouldn't want to read about that. Instead, let's talk about the last weekend of summer and how it lived up to all expectations...

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A Canadian in Portland

There seems to be a bit of an obsession with Portland amongst Vancouverites these days. Have you heard that Portland has a Distillery Passport? Yeah, that's pretty cool. Or that they have a series of concerts at the zoo? I know I want elephants to hang out with while listening to my favourite artists. The hype surrounding these very-cool, very-Portland things is well justified and would make any flannel-wearing northerner want to roadtrip south.

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A week in the life of a gastronome

Living in a house full of people with 'normal' jobs, who leave for work in the morning and show up again some time around 7, I've come to realize just how irregular my schedule is. For a while it seemed normal as my world was full of Gastronomes and we all had similarly strange lives. Why yes, I do sometimes start Monday morning with an olive oil tasting. Or yeah, it totally makes sense to be writing an article about edible insects on Saturday night. Turns out that's not what the rest of the world is doing

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You've been doing picnics all wrong: 5 reasons picnics aren't your favourite summer activity (yet)

Have I mentioned how much I love picnics? Have you spent more than 10 minutes with me? If so, then the answer is most definitely yes. If we base this whole post on the assumption that picnics are, indeed, awesome, then it follows that if you don't love them you must be doing something wrong. Rather than write a sonnet proclaiming my undying love, let's acknowledge five things that may be holding you back from your own love affair and how you can fix them.

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A culinary escape to the south of France

It’s early morning. I’m sitting in the kitchen with a ginormous mug of coffee which is doing nothing to warm my toes. I’m trying to keep them off the freezing tiles, but they’re at that awkward height just centimetres off the ground and keep touching down to jerk me awake. Looking outside I’m half greeted with the sun I’ve come to expect, but it’s only visible through the film of rain splattered over the windows from last night’s storm. Slowly, it’s breaking through. We both know how this is going to end up: sun beats rain in Provence.

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There's a plane in my future

It’s going to France. Specifically, the Luberon valley, where rosé is poured with abandon and lunches sprawl gregariously from noon to four – finishing, of course, in time for a poolside apero.

There’s more to life in Provence than food, though, if you insist on silly things like “diversifying interests” and “taking a break from all of that eating”. There are expansive antique markets which wind their way along river banks and through gnarled streets. There are stunning vistas granted to intrepid bikers and hikers that shun the beaten path. And there are seemingly zillions of wineries just waiting to pour samples and fill your trunk with a few cases to tide you over. What? Wine is technically not a food.

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