A brief background:
I am a graduate of Ryerson University (BAA ’75) in Food, Nutrition, Consumer, and Family Studies. I have had a long and varied career with food playing a central role in all of my endeavours. I taught Family Studies to high school students in Scarborough and Toronto before going on to establish a niche public relations agency providing services to food and consumer customers. In those day, before large corporate merging, we worked on promoting brands for companies like Campbell’s Soup, Heinz, Proctor and Gamble, and Dow Chemical (Saran Wrap).
The Toronto Home Economics Association, Home Economists In Business, Ontario Home Economics Association, and Canadian Home Economics Association played a role in helping freelance home economists network with each other and with potential clients.
In the mid-1980s, I sold my company (Crocker International Communications Inc.) and moved to Grey County where I planted extensive herb gardens. From my circa 1850 log cabin (with modern addition!), I began to teach people about growing, using, and enjoying herbs. I wrote my first cookbook from original recipes I developed for the Herb Walk and Lunch programs I ran from the cabin.
Now, with 22 cookbooks, 21 of which are still in print, I’ve just released Healing Cannabis Edibles and The Herbalist’s Kitchen in 2018. With 1.5 million books in print and some translated into 11 different languages, I reflect on my path to get here as truly reflecting my love for food, plants, and helping people live healthy lives.
I still live in Grey County–I’m now in the village of Neustadt in a circa 1880 grocery store– with my dear artist husband, Gary McLaughlin and our beloved cairn terrier, Alfie.
How long have you been involved with OHEA and what roles did you hold?:
I am a past member of OHEA, having served as president for one term.
How has being a PHEc positively impacted your life?:
Being a Home Economist has defined my working life. I’ve been teaching about health and nutrition since the day I graduated and now, with new books and new frontiers of plant medicine to explore, I find myself in front of groups, large and small, explaining, showing, and helping people understand the nature of the food they consume.
What led you to join OHEA?:
As a young Home Economist transitioning from teaching to business, membership in a professional association was essential, not only for professional development, but also for the camaraderie and business contacts. I found that the very best way to get the most from membership in the professional associations mentioned above was to jump in and volunteer. I loved my tenure on the boards of the Toronto Home Economics Association, the Home Economists in Business, and the Ontario Home Economics Association.
If you could change something about your career, would you and what would it be?:
My career was shaped by my passion for food and my love of plants and I would not change one thing as I moved from teaching to a business that promoted food and consumer products, to learning and teaching about herbs, to plant and food photography, and finally, to writing cookbooks.
The following is an excerpt from my book, The Herbalist’s Kitchen (Stirling, 2018).
Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’
It is well to warn the cooks who have been given the key of the Herb-garden to be cautious how they use Tarragon.
—Frances Bardswell, The Herb Garden, 1930
Had I known Frances Bardwell or even read her advice about French tarragon, I might have saved myself a few stressful moments just before a dinner party I hosted for a group of friends who were “into” food. It was the late 1970s, long before the term foodie was coined. My first culinary herb garden was proving to be the inspiration for new dishes, and I was young and up for any challenge. I had heaps of French tarragon, so I chose Chicken Kiev, a new recipe for me. I’ve since found many recipes online that are similar. Not many have the same international name, but most call for about two tablespoons of chopped fresh French tarragon, not the heaping handful that I added—I love licorice!—to a half-cup of butter. That was the night I learned that if herbed butter is divided and frozen in separate portions, it will slowly release its flavor into fish or chicken as it cooks.
I also learned how potent fresh French tarragon can be, and it is one lesson that is as vivid now as it was forty years ago. After I browned and popped the French tarragon-stuffed chicken into the oven, the kitchen air was sweetly, invitingly scented with anise—and almost as quickly, it became cloyingly, densely methanol-like, and then it just reeked, overwhelmingly, sickeningly heavy with a medicinal smell that didn’t bode well for the chicken.
What to do? The guests were happily sipping on white wine spritzers, noses twitching with curiosity with every swing of the restaurant-style kitchen door. I pulled that door tight and did what first came to mind. I ran outside with the pan of perfectly browned Chicken Kiev, hurled it into the trash, ran back in, opened all the windows, popped a frozen pizza into the oven, topped it with the roasted asparagus that had been selected as the perfect side dish for Chicken Kiev, and created a whole new trend in “gourmet pizza dinners” among my friends.
It was a long time before I invited French tarragon to dinner again, but the promise of sweet licorice won out and I was careful to start with a small amount in recipes. And I never gave French tarragon permission to run, free-rein and unchecked, in any of my own recipes. There are a number of herbs that display varying degrees of anise or licorice fragrance and flavor that may be substituted for French tarragon. The list on page 5 provides some alternatives. But I love the buzz that French tarragon gives to the end of my tongue and its combination of pine and licorice, so I tend to use it to gently spike the flavor of mild fish or poultry, egg, cream, and mild cheese dishes that benefit from its zippy character.
French Tarragon Nut Paste
Like pesto or salsa verde, this herbed nut paste is extremely versatile—you will find yourself reaching for it often. Spread it on crackers or crostini for an appetizer; toss with cooked pasta or vegetables as a sauce; stuff into zucchini or peppers or chicken breasts before baking; toss with rice as a stuffing for roast chicken; and use as a seasoning—add a couple of tablespoons (or to taste) to soups and stews. Cover tightly and refrigerate and use it fresh within a week or freeze it in an airtight container for up to three months.
Makes 2 1/2 cups
1 3/4 cups (425 mL) pecan halves or pieces
2 tablespoons (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 pound (454 g) button or cremini mushrooms
3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) sliced green olives
2 tablespoons (30 mL) fresh French tarragon or rosemary
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) coarse sea salt or to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread out pecans in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in preheated oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
2. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion for 5 minutes or until soft.
3. Meanwhile, using a food processor, chop garlic. Add mushrooms to the food processor bowl and pulse until coarsely chopped.
4. Add butter to onions in the skillet. Stir in chopped mushrooms and garlic. Reduce heat and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and have released their juices. Increase heat to medium and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until juices have evaporated (mixture should still be moist). Set aside to cool.
5. Using a food processor, finely chop toasted pecans and French tarragon. Add cooled mushroom mixture and the olives and process until smooth. Taste and add salt as desired. Scrape into a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The Herbalist’s Kitchen (Stirling, 2018).