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A website - travel, cooking and memories

"Since this is a blog mainly about food there were many memories made in and out of the kitchen." Valerie Harrison - More Than Burnt Toast"

This is a photograph that I took back in 2005 on a trip to visit my son and his then partner, now wife, in Vancouver where they were living at the time. Whilst there we took a trip to British Columbia's wine growing region of Okanaga and the town of Kelowna beside Okanaga Lake, and on our last day we found a small exhibition of work by local quilt makers. This was one of them and shows the view from one of the many vineyards that dot the shores of the lake. We visited several, including the very sumptuous Mission Hill - a vineyard on which millions have been spent I am guessing. It was as lavish as Domaine Chandon here.

As you can see it's a very beautiful spot and the wine was pretty delicious too and often made from a whole lot of new grapes to me - Zweigelt, Petite Arvine, Auxerrois, Vidal as well as the more normal ones we all know about. I suspect there might well have been a German influence - well it's cold and ice wine was also a common thing. Maybe with global warming this is one of the world's wine areas that will flourish.

Now why am I writing about this? Well a few days ago I decided to deal with my list of foodie blogs and websites that have caught my fancy through the years I have been writing this blog. The next one on my list was More than Burnt Toast:

Which it turns out is written by a lady called Valerie Harrison who comes from the Okanaga region of British Columbia and who likes to take photos and travel. I thought that Okanaga rang a bell and so I checked my Photos library and there it was - that trip back in 2005 - which is about the time, coincidentally, that Valerie Harrison started her blog. It's difficult to pin down exactly when she began - maybe 2006 - I'm not sure. In her About section she says:

There’s something so evocative to me about pictures of food and the power they have to vividly remind me of mouth-watering meals and moments that I’ve had on my travels. I can look at my culinary photos and remember exactly where I was, the scent of the dish placed in front of me, and the way the flavours opened up on my palate. In many cases the taste or smell of something in my past is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in my photo album."

I'm not sure that I entirely agree with her there. I have photographs, in my huge collection, of food of various kinds - meals I have made, meals I have eaten, markets and shops that I have visited, restaurants in which I have dined, crops growing in fields, but I don't think they evoke memories of the food itself. I do not now remember how it tasted. No, for me, those pictures definitely bring back memories but, in my case it is a remembrance of the occasion, the people, the feelings I was experiencing at the time. In the case of the Okanaga trip some wonderful, and some sad, some amusing, some slightly worrying - bears are a worry in Canada - even suburban Vancouver where we saw one rummaging through my son's rubbish bin. As I trawled through the photos of that trip those memories flooded my brain and gave me reason to reflect on how lucky I am to have the family that I do. Now much larger than then of course. The grandchildren came later. And also how lucky I have been to be able to travel to such wonderful places

But I do not have memories of the food per se. I did take a couple of food associated pictures on that trip to Okanaga - one of a restaurant at one of the wineries where we dined one evening, and the other of monster sized sandwiches I must have seen somewhere:

I had forgotten about both of these. I have no memory of what we ate at that restaurant, although, looking at the other pictures I took after the meal, I do remember the vineyard. As to the sandwiches I had completely forgotten about them. So pictures do not evoke taste, although they may provoke memories of the occasion. Rather, for me, like Proust, actually eating food can evoke memories - like eating something you used to eat as a child.

But back to More Than Burnt Toast.

In lots of ways this blog is similar to my own, in that she isn't just providing recipes. Travel, both local and overseas - Italy and Greece - are the main destinations - is another major aspect of the site.

"Travel helps us to better understand and appreciate other people and their cultures. Nothing is more intimate, or more effective at breaking down cultural barriers, than cooking and sharing meals together. When you have 10 like-minded people from all parts of the world breaking bread at the same table magic happens." Valerie Harrison

Indeed the last post on this website - dated 1 October 2015 is about making a particular pasta in Italy. It's a lengthy and interesting post, but it does seem to have been the last. I do not know why. It's always strange to me that somebody should finish with a blog and not explain why or where they might be migrating to. For migrate she has. To Facebook - which seems reasonably up to date. However, it seems to me that most of the entries are not actually from her but are more links to other sites. Mind you I don't know how Facebook works, so it is completely possible that these are actually posts from other people. So why she has the Facebook page I do not know. I think it was set up as a link to her website - the link is promoted, but obviously at some point she just gave up.

She has a profile on LinkedIn which implies that the blog is still going - but no it isn't, and a job as Medical Office Assistant.

But she has a legacy - her website which is still there. The posts are interesting, there are no ads, and there are also some recipes which look doable, if not super, super exciting. Well that's not fair. They vary.

She describes an event that she attended, maybe still does, once a month at which:

"you are paired with a fellow blogger and browse through their blog. From the wide variety of choices you choose a post, prepare the recipe, photograph your creation and blog about it."

Which is an interesting idea. Maybe I should take it up - well not the pairing, but the recipe making bit. I should start with her and make one of hers. But then there are all my cookbooks too ...

The website she chose was called Whisks and Needles, also now dead and the dish was Goat's cheese and sun-dried tomato stuffed chicken breasts. Her partner made Valerie's Spiced chicken skewers with raita which, interestingly, she does not illustrate on her own website.

I feel a bit that she is a kindred soul. She likes quotes, like me, and rambles on about this and that, and not just recipes. Here is one of her quotes:

"In the classic movie Zorba the Greek the main character sums it up the best, "On the coast I felt for the first time what a pleasant thing it could be to have a meal. We started eating and drinking, the conversation became animated. I at last realized that eating was a spiritual function and the meat, bread, and wine were the raw materials from which the soul is made."

I don't think I entirely agree with that one either. The soul is made through experience and human connection I think - life. Indirectly the food inspiration for this post - a foodie blog - did bring back memories of a very wonderful trip back in 2005 - a time when we felt we might have lost our son to Canada. He loved Vancouver so much, but sadly for him, the Canadians would not have him permanently. Their loss, our gain. Because of the sadness - leaving him behind - the memories were not entirely happy, bitter-sweet perhaps. Like food I guess you could cornily say. Food on its own, can create memories, revive memories, promote cultural understanding, create bonds but I don't know that it makes the soul on its own.

She probably had days like me when she was less inspired, but she hung in there nevertheless for some 13 or so years. It is good to see from LinkedIn that she is still alive. One assumes she just got fed up. But wouldn't you think she would say goodbye?

Doubtless I shall give up some day, but I hope that, if I do, I shall be at least explaining why. Unless I drop dead at the computer of course.

"Every day we should be excited about what we are eating even if it just means making use of a wonderful find at our local farmers market."

Valerie Harrison

Burnt toast by the way can be very toxic, both in itself and in the fumes that it puts into the air. Personally I hate burnt toast and always scrape off the burnt bits. Thus provoking more fumes I guess.

And she doesn't really explain her title either.


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