just a smidgen

“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then I just ate” Julia Child


I feel compelled to divulge that food hasn’t always been the most awesome, incredible, and peachy adventure that it has been in recent years. In fact, my earliest cooking attempts were quite wretched. I believe the first recipe I felt inspired to try was called “Flour Fudge” (don’t ask), batches and batches… and batches of FLOUR FUDGE… that I don’t think anyone ate… except me.

Then there were those frantic but crazy-fun university days when I survived on caffeine, Fruit Loops, nacho chips, jugs of beer, and a few hours of sleep. I think I did have a Monte Cristo specialty coffee every now and then (does whipped cream count as a food group?) I know I learned to make Puffed Wheat Squares, batches and batches… and batches of Puffed Wheat Squares. (Nutella on rice cakes are almost the same thing!)

When I became a School Teacher, I was rudely thrown back into the world of bag lunches and (wait for it) sandwiches. Fortunately there was always a snack in the staff room… someone’s left-over cookies or squares.

Enter my first few boyfriends and somehow they just assumed that I knew how to cook, after all their mothers had cooked for them (spoiled little prats, who are, according to the urban dictionary…

1. prat
Basically someone who’s a major idiot, or is delusional and dumb. Acts against logic and thinks he’s self-righteous. AKA: Major dumbass.

Didn’t all women innately and instinctively just “know how to cook”? Weren’t we all born with the “food cooking gene”? Apparently not…I was still rolling out the pie pastry dough when eight guests arrived at my first dinner party. Thankfully I had made a fairly nasty tasty beef stroganoff by following the recipe, step by agonizing step. Had I only read to the end of the recipe in advance, however, I would have known that the recipe only fed four… everyone politely ate, bid adieu, and rushed to the nearest drive-through!

Fast-forward several years – a real estate career, a marriage and two kids and I’d say that there were a few successful meals – on occasion. Except for the time I left the water running and it overflowed, flooding all of the kitchen drawers and the floor. Have I mentioned leaving the rotisserie chicken on the barbecue… on high. When I lifted the lid the flames soared a spectacular 2 feet… it was fantastic sight!  Yup, I torched that bird. Thankfully my parents were our guests that evening and they graciously drove me to pick up a chicken at Sunterra and acted the whole time as though nothing had happened.

Once the right cookbook fell into my hands, everything started to make sense. With Hugh Carpenter’s Fusion Food, I began to explore the world of new ingredients and, with his detailed instructions, I learned how to prep in advance and how to ensure that all the dishes were ready at the same time.

I love to look through my collection of old cookbooks. Food trends have certainly changed over the years… from basic casseroles and salads and the Best of Bridge Series… to fusion food and regional cooking (French, Italian, Japanese). Then came the “Cooking Light” trend and a myriad of ways to lose weight while eating a bowl of lettuce.

The latest cookbooks expound on the wonders of all natural ingredients, organic foods, gluten-free, vegan or paleo… it’s pretty incredible the selection out there and even more incredible is that most of these unusual ingredients can be found at the local grocers… or at the closest Natural Food store. I love that we’ve begun focusing on eating foods that are less processed, closer to home and better for our health. Can you ever eat too much of a healthy meal?  Maybe… but it’s still a far cry from the woeful days of vending machines, KFC, Big Macs, white bread, doughnuts, muffins and Kraft Dinner (well, let’s leave KD out of this, shall we?)

One of my stand-by sources of inspiration is found in the Swerve Magazine (Calgary Herald on Friday mornings). The food section has recipes that are just intriguing enough to tempt, but not so quirky that you want to toss it in the trash. On one such Friday, Julie Van Rosendaal wrote an article espousing the benefits of a grain called Wheat Berries. For some compelling reason, I thought that anything that could be both a grain and a fruit at the same time had to be an ingredient that I should meet. Turns out Wheat Berries are entirely intact kernels of wheat (Grade 7 science tip: remember the endosperm, bran, and germ?). They’re a healthy switch-up from rice.

A few phone calls later and some wheat berries were located at Community Natural Foods and Julie’s recipe quickly became one of our favorites. Then one idyllic, slow day at the lake (as I was hypnotically staring at a few ripe, sweet peaches) a new version of her salad was conceived.

So… that is the story of how a young Barb Barry Wheat Berry, Fig and Barley Salad grew up to become a dulcet Wheat Berry, Peaches, and Honey Salad… an amiable sweeter salad, luscious enough to have for breakfast!

Wheat Berry and Barley Salads

Wheat Berry and Barley Salads
  • ½ cup wheat berries
  • ½ cup pearl barley
  • Variation 1
  • ¼ - ½ cup chopped dried figs
  • 19 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ½ granny smith apple, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • ¼ cup canola or olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice (or red wine vinegar)
  • Variation 2
  • 19 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • ½ red bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped whole untoasted almonds
  • ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 fresh peach, chopped
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ¼ – ½ tsp cinnamon
Variation 1
  1. Put dried wheat berries (found at whole food supermarkets) into a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, take off the heat and let stand for an hour. Drain the wheat berries, add the dried barley to the pot and cover again with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes or until the barley and wheat berries are tender and cooked.
  2. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until the berries and barley are chilled. Add the figs, chickpeas, celery, apple, walnuts. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together and sprinkle to taste). Add the feta cheese and toss again.
Variation 2
  1. Cook the wheat berries and pearl barley as above.
  2. Add chickpeas, pepper, almonds, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and fresh peach. Mix the canola oil and lemon juice together and sprinkle to taste. Drizzle honey over to taste, sprinkle cinnamon to taste. Toss again to coat.


Love, Smidge 5

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