Food for Thought, My Complicated Relationship with Food: Part 1 Childhood.

I often comment about how I have an over eating problem. I just really, really love food. You know that viral video where the girl cries about loving cats? That’s me – but with food.

I don’t think about it often but when I actually take the time to reflect on where it stems from, it can be perceived as a sad thing. Maybe that’s why I don’t really talk about this aspect often, I don’t want people to ever associate sadness with food.

Rather, I have always persevered to use food to send a message of love and value. Food is what brings people together. It can do what often words fail to do. Communicate emotions, bridge cultures, show love.

What I share now is to hopefully spread some awareness and bring about more respect to the thing many of us take for granted – FOOD.

I am going to share with you the stories, jokes and perceptions of my experiences with food and then where it originated from. Though many of these may be hard to read – remember there’s a lesson behind each experience. Appreciate the value of FOOD.

Baby Melba & “White Cheese Please!”

My extended family used to joke (and still do sometimes) about how when I was a kid I always asked for “White cheese!” Whenever I saw my cousins, my aunts and uncles – before I even greeted them I would say “Can I have some white cheese?”

For years they would bug me. From childhood, into my twenties and like I said sometimes even now. I guess they thought it was really cute. I mean a little girl just learning to form sentences and all I ever ask for is cheese? Priceless!

Where does that come from? Well. My dad would work all day and my biological mother, was supposed to take care of my brother and I. She suffered from extreme postpartum depression and would often leave the house. For hours. All day sometimes. Sometimes my dad would come home and there would be no one there but my brother and I. We were under 2 and 4.

This is the beginning of my resourcefulness. I learned to “hunt” at this age. Being under 2, you can only imagine my vertical limit. Couldn’t reach counters, cupboards, or cabinets. But I could reach the fridge handle and the lower fridge shelves. The shelves that contained the condiments, root vegetables… and Kraft Singles Cheese. The orange cheese.

This is what I ate. Day after day. Plastic cheese after plastic cheese. I remember – with a tightness in my chest writing this now. My father would often come home and ask “What did you eat today? What did your mom feed you?” Even at that age I knew it wasn’t cool to rat my mom out. Also because I knew that my answer would upset him. It got to the point where my dad would just see the sheepish look my face and instant subdued anger would swell in his.

He would then get to work in the kitchen, and though I knew he was angry. I always knew it wasn’t at us. I would be happy that dad was home and food was here. This was my earliest association with the power of food.

I learned that love is making food for someone even when you’re angry.

So, that’s why I always asked for white cheese, because when you eat 10 slices of Kraft Singles cheese a day… you get kind of sick of it.

Elementary Melba & “I’ll play with you if you give me a cookie.”

In elementary school I was always known to be the kid that you could buy company from. Yes, this is where I learned how to “work for food.” In grade 1 and 2 I would offer my recess company in exchange for your cookie, Fruit Roll Up, or Dunkaroos. Kids at that age didn’t care, didn’t think much of it and would either trade or not.

Most people would think “that’s pretty normal kids do that all time, trade snacks, whatever.” True, but the difference is the reasoning behind it. At this point I was still grateful for at least having a lunch.

My new step mom used to pack our lunches but within a week of trying to be a mom she learned if she taught us how to do it ourselves she wouldn’t have to. Which is fine, I’m all about learning things and teaching other people things. It’s important.

It’s only later in life I learned there’s a difference between someone who loves you and teaches you to pack your lunch versus someone who teaches you so they don’t have to do it. I witnessed this in several of my friends that though they packed their own lunches, their moms still would throw in a snack or on the occasion make something special.

My step mom always made sure to buy the cheapest, slimiest ham. We weren’t poor, she just didn’t think we deserved anything better. The god damn Kraft Singles cheese. Throw in an apple and a juice box and this was my lunch for the next 5 years. Sometimes she would buy the nice salami or deli meats, but we were only allowed to eat that when my step siblings were around and if we ate too many slices she would yell at us for days. She counted pieces, inventoried food and would discipline us if we opened anything without asking or even if we asked or took too much.

This is where I learned “how to hoard food,” and “how to always never take the last few pieces.”

It’s funny how I sometimes get so mad at Adam for eating the last piece, but over the years I’ve learned that… when you love someone you don’t care when they take the last piece.

From these years I learned what it felt like to be fed by someone that didn’t love you.

Mid Elementary Melba & “You’re a Beggar.”

Around grade 3 I discovered my love for cooking. I would spend hours in the library looking for recipe books and try to make what I could at home with what I was allowed to use. I was already cooking instant noodles and Mac and cheese by then so I was ready to advance my skills. This was also the time when I started baking. I recall fondly of moments when my stepsister would teach me how to bake. She wants always the nicest to me but these moments were very special to me because I didn’t feel hated.

This is where I learned that food can bring people closer.

During this time I also progressed from trading play time for snacks to just asking for food. I was getting sick of three years of eating the same plastic cheese and slimy ham for lunch. Kids started to care about associations and image so my offers of being a playmate were no longer effective currency, and trust me… no one wanted to trade lunches with me.

I recall this one friend of mine, she used to always bring hot food for lunch. Soup! One time she gave me a little and then I started asking her every day for more. Eventually it got to the point where she would yell “NO!” And then one day she said “My mom told me you’re a beggar!” I didn’t quite understand what that meant at the time, but I knew it was hateful and hurtful. I think this was the first time I felt shame. I stopped asking her for soup. We stopped being friends.

This is when I learned that food had status. Some people deserved food and others were resented for it.

Late Elementary Melba & Eastern European Food.

Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, I had a lot of friends that were Eastern European. Ukrainian, German, Polish. By grade 4 I had transferred to a new school, closer to home, fancier, in a “good neighbourhood.” Several neighbour kids came along with me, as we all lived in an upper middle class neighbourhood and our community fed into the new school.

One of my oldest friend and first friends ever in life, Frannie, joined me in this exciting new move. From grade 1 to grade 12 we went to school together and lived a block away from each other. She was my new food friend. I discovered one day that she too, was getting sick of her lunches and she would actually THROW HER SANDWICHES AWAY! Imagine that.

This is when I learned the devastating feeling associated with wasting food.

Growing up with immigrant family members, you do NOT waste food. However it wasn’t until these moments where I saw a magical sandwich with wholesome bread, crisp lettuce, pates and German meats, did I fully grasp the meaning of wasting food. (I hope her mom doesn’t read this, I don’t know if she ever knew he daughter threw her sandwiches away). She used to tuck them under her shirt and ask to go to the washroom so the lunch lady wouldn’t report her to her mom.

Shortly after this confrontation, whenever she didn’t want her sandwich, Frannie would give it to me. No wonder she was my best friend. This was also very different from the soup girl. Frannie would often offer me her sandwich, I didn’t even have to ask. She also never made me feel bad or called me names because of it.

This is when I learned the difference between receiving food from a place of goodness versus contempt.

Junior High Melba & “Ew, what are you eating?”

These years were a game changer. By now I wouldn’t even be able to name the last meal my step mother cooked for us. Since grade 6 I had begun to cook entire meals for the family on the weekdays, split with custom Chinese take out from a local restaurant. My dad would usually cook amazing dishes on the weekends and let me help.

Now I had control over what I could pack for lunch. Now, I too, could pick hot meals for lunch! I could pack leftovers! I was also able to walk to the convenience store and use my birthday/ Chinese Lucky Money to buy snacks and junk food, potatoes wedges, chicken fingers, chips, slurpies! All the things that were normal for most kids, was suddenly a damn breaking experience for me. Trust me… I ate ALL the things.

Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood, kids weren’t used to seeing things like… rice. Seriously. Just rice weirded people out.

When I started bringing leftovers, I packed steamed seasoned pork, Chinese veggies, fish, salted black beans and salted meats. All on rice. People used to comment on how my food smelled and would make faces. I didn’t really care though. I mean you would think that it would be traumatizing and humiliating to be judged and discrimines against by your food as a pubescent teen but, due to my experiences with NOT having food… this was easy!

This is when I learned that my relationship food was empowering. I respected it for giving me love and sustenance and in return it gave me confidence.

Melba & “The Best Present Ever.”

Pretty much everyone in my life has received some kind of food from me, because food is how I show you I love you. Our family wasn’t really the hugging kind growing up. Mostly because my stepmom thought that unless you were a little child it was inappropriate to hug, hold hands or cuddle with someone of the opposite sex even in your immediate family. So, food and feeding people were how we showed love.

In Junior high I had started to develop a lot of resentment toward presents and gifts. There was a lot of broken promises and negative experiences associated with gifts. My step family attached a lot of sentiment to the dollar value of a gift and if it wasn’t what they wanted a receipt was quickly requested or even a humiliating lecture about being cheap when given handmade things or buying certain things not considered “nice/ fancy.”

So I hated gifts. I hated all feelings and stress and anxiety associated with gift giving and receiving. That’s why when it came time for my 13th birthday my two closest friends gave me a box.

Not just any box… a box filled with food. Canned tuna, KD Mac and Cheese, knorr’s chicken noodle soup, Cadbury mini eggs homemade jerky, all sorts of savoury goodness. It was the best present I have even received. It was the first present I ever cried because of what it was. It was the first gift I ever received that was truly made from love. I still remember everything in that shoe box to this date. Even now on my birthday, Adam takes me somewhere special to eat. No gifts are exchanged, just time spent with people we love, doing what we love- eating.

This is when I learned the true gift of food.

Teenage Melba & “The Pickiest Eater.”

You would never know it but when I younger I was labelled as the pickiest eater in the family. Yup, me. That’s because my family had such advanced palates! Most of my family are foodies. I was called picky because I didn’t like big chunks of onions and raw tomatoes . That’s pretty much it. And I still ate that stuff, I just didn’t like it. Now, however I love them both.

That’s why I don’t tend to connect well with people are are traditionally picky eaters (not the Melba version of picky.) My dad was always like “you don’t want it fine more for me.” And I would watch him eat these big red tomatoes with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and it would drive me nuts to not be able to enjoy it the way he did.

That’s why I would keep eating it. I saw how much joy and delicious pleasure people got from eating certain things, that I would try and try and try it until I liked it.

Did you know it takes 6-11 attempts to acquire a taste? (At different times in your like not like 6-11 bites all in one night.)

It’s because our bodies and hormones and outlook changes. Therefore our tastes change. Nothing bothers me more than people who refuse to try things, and people who refuse to try things again because it take MORE than one or two or five goes! It also tells me that those same people give up in many aspects of their life very easily.

Which is also something that I don’t gravitate towards or find attractive. It’s different if you’re allergic or you had a traumatic experience, I get that, but to refuse food? Especially with my background of nearly starving as a child I can’t empathize with picky eaters. I also do not take kindly to people who mock food or call food disgusting or make rude comments on how food looks.

Respect your food, respect those they give you food and give thanks to your food.

This concludes Part 1 of my stories regarding how my life is affects by food and why I am the way I am due to the experiences surrounding food. Please check back on Part 2, which hopefully I will post shortly. I didn’t intend this to be so long but apparently … I have a complicated relationship with food!

Follow me on Instagram @Melba_Seto for up to date posts on how to embrace growth and adventure in your life!

I Like Me Some Sweet Sticky Balls. Tong Yun, A Chinese Dessert.

I’ve never been much a sweet tooth kind of person, but one thing I’m always a sucker for, are Asian desserts. One of my favorites are these sticky rice/ glutinous rice balls filled Continue reading

The Pie That Changed My Life: Homemade Banana Cream Pi

I have never had much of a sweet tooth and though I love baking I usually only indulge in a bite or two of whatever I make. The most unfortunate thing about my experience with pies, is that I didn’t really like pies until my early 20’s. Continue reading

To Feed You is to Love You.

There is nothing I detest more than feeding someone I do not respect. To many this probably seems like an odd proclamation but to those who know the meaning of food, it is not so crazy a statement.

I learned this particular aspect of myself a few years ago. While travelling with an organized climbing group called Hot Rock, in South America. We all had certain daily duties to perform as well as a rotational roster for cooking duties. I won’t go into details but essentially over the course of the trip I learned that there was one particular person I absolutely resented cooking for. She was the one non – climber on the climbing trip whose sole purpose was to cause trouble and tension between everyone else. Yeah… you know the one.

Anyways, we always shared our cooking duties with one other climber so it would be less laborious for one person. Every time it was my turn to cook the mean girl would never thank me for my food and would exaggerate her gratefulness to the other cook, (on top of other mean things she would do). Thus began my realization of how much love I put into my food and how hard it was to feed someone I did not love.

I began cooking at the age of 6 and I have always loved to feed other people. Since that experience on that trip, I have interestingly enough, put more love into my food than ever before. It has become increasingly apparent to me how much I value people in my life. I have always tried my best to recognize and verbalize the great qualities I see in the people around me, but in recent years I have redoubled my efforts.


This Pies for You.

Lately, I’ve been addicted to making pies. Not the sweet pies but the savoury ones. I love savoury food and even more so savoury pies! However, these aren’t your traditional pies. It has suddenly dawned on me that I can put whatever the heck I want inside a flakey pastry. ANYTHING! Mind blown right?

Today I have made three different kinds of pies.
1. Beef Stroganoff with Wild Shaggy Mane mushrooms picked by yours truly.
2. Butten Chicken with A Twist (Cottage Cheese instead of Paneer)
3. Cream of Bacon, Beer, Aged white Cheddar and Shrimp.


I spent the morning making the pastry, using a dumpling technique I saw a the Ginger Beef Restaurant. I cut the butter, crumbed it into the flour and gently kneaded some milk into it. I made large coils of the dough and tore off little balls of dough, of which I made into flat circular pieces. I stuck those babies in the fridge while I began making the Stroganoff filling. The butter chicken was already ready from the day before.


Thinking of you.

While all these amazing things were happening, I started thinking.

I thought of you. My friends, my family. I thought about what you were doing for the holidays and I was hoping that maybe i’ll get a chance to see you. I thought about how wonderful you were and all the good things you have done and all the things you have achieved thus far in life.

I thought about how excited you would be to see me and let me put yummy things in your belly.


Time to chill the fillings. I put these out on the balcony as I prepare to wrap the first batch of pies. I thought about who would love the wild mushrooms in the Stroganoff. I also started to think about how lucky I was to have so many creative, loving, adventurous, open minded and intelligent people in my life.


I started to preheat the over to 400 degrees F. I began to wrap the butter chicken pies. I thought about who would like these and that I better make sure there’s a little piece of chicken in each one. Crap that ones leaking. Oh well someone will eat it.

I thought, crap I didn’t make any vegan or vegetarian option. I usually do. Exactly, I usually do and in those cases those people get special treatment so this time the meat and dairy people get a turn! I still feel bad.

Then I started thinking about the Veggie people in my life. I wonder what kind of pies I can make them next time. How will I make the crust? Im starting to fill the Stroganoff pies. I tried a coconut oil crust last time but it was so dry. I’ll figure it out. I miss my Veggie people. One of my best friends is a Veggie and she’s all the way down in Texas. My other Veggie friends are Kiwis and they’re so far away too. I hope they’re all having a good time doing stuff and things right now.

I realized I still had a bunch of pastry left, what else could I do? Bacon. Everyone loves bacon! Then I began to make the third filling. Bacon with mashed yam in a creamy cheesy filling. Yum. I put the other pies in the oven.


By the time I finished the third filling I was getting fatigued from all the cooking and wrapping. Instead of waiting for the filling to cool I just started spooning the hot creamy stuff into my pastry. I forgot the yams. Damn It. Ouch! Crap I’m burning my fingers! I modified my technique and finished the Bacon pies. They look a little wonky but thats okay it will make them easier to distinguish.

Finally Pies.

After a few hours, my pies are almost done. I am sitting here sharing this odd post with you all because I wanted to share a glimpse of what goes on in my mind when I’m cooking. You.


I think of you when I’m cooking. Cutting, Simmering, Boiling, sautéing and burning myself. I think of you when I put in spice or no spice. Meat or no meat. Onion or no onions. I think of you when I wash all the many dishes that come along with cooking, so that when you come visit me there’s a nice clean kitchen. And when I pack these up, I’m going to try make sure they don’t get crushed or broken, because I’m thinking of you.


This is what it means to me when I feed you. Every time I cook I think of all the people I enjoy feeding and how mush happiness we have brought into each others lives. So next time you take a bite of my food. I did it because I love you, and when I say I feed you because I love you, know that it’s true.

The secret ingredient is Love – of course – but it’s not a secret. I feed you because I love you. End of discussion.

I Made Noszki! A Polish Delicacy 

Besides climbing, one of the main reasons why I love to travel, is so that I can experience the world through my palate. This is also why I take pride in being able to recreate a lot of dishes by taste alone. Play by Ear? I Cook By Palate

One of the things I fell in love with, when I was visiting Adams birthplace, Warsaw, Poland, I was introduced by Ciocia (Auntie) to noszki. 

Noszki is a savory seasoned jelly filled with tender pork and typically peas and carrots. Like most cultural dishes there’s many variations including, using shredded turkey, boiled egg, and grzyby (mushrooms).

When I am creating traditional dishes I try to emulate the origianl recipe as much as I can. For those that know me, when I travel you’ll often find me asking about the local staple dish and then tirelessly ordering and eating the same thing in various places. 

I do this because it gives me a better idea what the staple dish tastes like. From this form of surveying I dedeuce the ingredients that are common in these dishes and try my best to make my own version applying the secret methods of preparation that I have learned over the years. 


The first time I had noszki it was in a prepackaged process form, and I didn’t really care for the flavor or texture. However I knew that this was a widely eaten dish and I endeavored to try it again… and again and again. 

The second time I tasted this dish was at a 50’s style milk bar diner  where you were able to experience the whole Milk Bar charm. Piece of bread roughly cut and carelessly buttered the. slapped onto a plate and place in front of you. A misshapen overturned bowl of noszki offset on a plate garnished by a smirk from your server. 

This was the most amazing noszki ever. A squirt of fresh lemon and a dash of Maggie sauce and my taste buds were exploding. The gelatin was delicate and melted in your mouth and the meat was perfectly spiced with bay leaves and peppercorn with a hint of nutmeg. 

From that point on every noszki I tried was delicious. Though not comparable to the milk bar I suddenly understood what it could and should be like. 

I find that in most cases. Until I try a very delicious version of a dish, I can’t quite grasp what it should be like. Perhaps it’s the contrast from a terrible rendition to a exquisite one, that allows me to finally crate a palatal spectrum. That’s definitely it, because from here I can imagine all the things in between! 

To those that love to eat and those willing to try things, here’s my recipe for noszki. 

(And to new readers, when I give recipes I typically only provide the method and the ingredients. This is because I practice cooking to taste so I find giving exact measurements makes it difficult to create the best outcome. )

“Cooking is an experience of the senses, one must learn to listen, taste, and feel in order to understand what the outcome should be.” – M.S

Ingredients

– Pork Hock / Feet 

– Gelatin 

– Fresh Parsley

– Carrots

– Celery

– Onion

– peppercorn 

– salt

– garlic

– marjarom /savoury/ thyme/ oregano (I didn’t have marjoram so I substituted with the other three, using very little oregano) 

– bay leaves 

– nutmeg

Method

1. Place pork in a pot with just enough water to cover. Add fresh carrots, parsley, celery, onions and garlic. (Leave the whole) Add bay leaves, salt, peppercorn, nutmeg, and marjoram.  Boil on medium, until meat falls off the bone. (The longer the better, I boiled mine for about 4hrs) *Add water as needed. 

2. Strain the broth through cheese cloth/ fine strainer and return broth to pot.

3. Let meat and vegetables cool enough to dice. Return to pot.

4. Add more water if needed just enough to cover the ingredients. Add more fresh chopped garlic and extra spices to desired flavour. Should taste like a nice stew. 

5. Add roughly 1/2tbsp of gelatin per 1c of liquid. Bring to a boil. 

5. Remove from heat and pour into moulds! 

6. Chill overnight and serve with fresh lemon juice and Maggie sauce on toasted Ozery Morning Rounds


Please let me know how it goes and feel free to share your photos on Facebook or Instagram with #MelbasKitchen 

Cooking in Poland! Jajka Faszerowane. (Stuffed eggs)

Day 4 April 8 

  
One of my passions when traveling is learning about as many aspects to the countries culture. This includes languages and cuisine.

Before I met Adam my knowledge of Polish cooking was pretty much limited to pierogi, kiełbasa , cabbage rolls And borscht. In the last few years I’ve learned a couple more dishes from his mother.
Today I’m going to show you one of the classic breakfast dishes of the polish people. 

Stuffed eggs! Jajka Faszerowane.

This is one of Adams favourite ways to prepare eggs and if made right you will experience a fresh, tangy, crispy and eggy delight.
As mentioned in my previous recipes like those who play by ear, I cook by palate. Meaning I don’t actually have exact measurements of ingredients but rather I rely on my senses to recreate dishes and I challenge you to do the same! 

I also practice in efficiency and practicality so my recipes are written in the way that, whatever takes the longest is done first. It may seem I jump around a bit but read it first to avoid confusion and all will be clear! 

Ingredients

Equal portions of :

Fresh dill

Fresh chives (or green onions) 

Many Eggs
Salt

Pepper

Fresh lemon

Much Butter 

  

Method:

The secret to crispy Jajka Faszerowane is to ensure you have soft-medium boiled eggs. You want a little bit of the yolk to still be soft so that when you mix the stuffing it will stick together as it cooks.
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and then add your room temperature eggs. Set a timer for 7-8 minutes. (Factors that can affect this time; elevation, humidity, “room temperature” whatever that means). 
While the eggs are boiling it’s time to prepare the stuffing.

    
2. Finely chop the dill and chives. I usually bundle both these together and chop it all at once. Place in a medium mixing bowl.

3. Add salt and pepper and a healthy splash of lemon juice. Mix well. 
*** 4. Once the timer goes off remove the eggs from heat and pour out the water and rinse with cold water to arrest the cooking process.

  
5. Using a sharp knife cut the eggs IN THE SHELL, in half, lengthwise. We’ll be using the shell to hold the shape of the filling.

  
6. Gently scoop out the egg, without breaking the shells and put the boiled eggs in the mixing bowl with the dill and chive mixture. Set aside the empty half shells for now. 

7. Mash the eggs well with the dill and chive mix. Taste to see how you like the balance of salt to pepper to lemon. Should be a little tangy but not sour. 

8. Once you’ve happily and thoroughly mashed the eggs, gently fill and pack the stuffing back into the shells. 

  
9. Heat a medium sized frying pan on low- medium with enough butter to lightly coat the entire pan.

  
10. Place the stuffed eggs on the frying pan with the shell up and filling down. 

11. Cook the filling until golden brown (10-15min).

  
12. Serve with a touch of mayonnaise and mustard. (Don’t eat the shells !) 

  
I hope you enjoy this little bit of Poland and please let me know what you think! 

Travel Mug Review Contigo Vs. Starbucks Vs. David’s Tea

If you’re someone who loves hot drinks, teas and everything that is associated with tea culture, this travel mug review will come in handy.  I have always been a lover of tea and tea related things; so much so, that I have a section of my home dedicated for all my tea things.

One of the reasons I became fascinated with pottery, was so that I could make my own tea vessels, and beyond that, I even spend time in the bush gathering and preparing herbs to make my own teas.

Needless to say having the ideal travel mug to keep your drinks at the temperature you want them is essential to this way of life. Continue reading

Black Bean Pasta With Espresso Balsamic Vinegar Chicken And Chanterelle Mushrooms

Here’s the recipe from my YES Friends canoeing in the Rockies adventure with my friend Sam.

For the video click here: YES Friends: Part 2

Vermillion Lake

Vermillion Lake

All my recipes are improvised and I encourage you to alter the recipe as you see fit and use it only as a guideline to tummy happiness!

Black Bean Pasta with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar Chicken and Chanterelle Mushrooms

Black Bean Pasta with Espresso Balsamic Vinegar Chicken and Chanterelle Mushrooms

Continue reading

Sheperds Pie : Melba’s Kitchen

Comfort Food

I spend a lot of time cooking, so much that it’s not unusual for my friends to know that when they invite me over for a meal, it will probably result in me cooking for them! A common thing I hear from my friends is “I miss [Melba] cooking in my kitchen!” especially when I haven’t been around for a while. So really “Melba’s Kitchen,” is a metaphor and not necessarily always a physical location.

Melba’s Kitchen is a metaphor for sharing meals made with love.

Continue reading