Writing

From February, 1994 to December 2007, I wrote a weekly food and recipe column called Creative Cooking for The Record, a daily newspaper in Kitchener, Ontario. For the last couple years the column was also published in the Guelph Mercury in Guelph, Ontario.

A few days before submitting my last column, I sat down with Editor-in-Chief Lynn Haddrall to talk about my writing experience with The Record. Here’s the column she wrote following our chat. Following it is my farewell column.

Enthusiasm was an ingredient in Wendi Hiebert’s column by Lynn Haddrall (Dec. 22/07)

I met with Wendi Hiebert to reminisce about her 13 years as a food columnist, and ended up getting great ideas on improving my recipe for devilled eggs. She always has ideas about making a meal more appealing, or just plain easier.

Wendi has been advising Record readers on their culinary skills since Feb. 2, 1994. She doesn’t just write about recipes. She tests them, then she lugs chosen ones into our photo studio, where she sets up the props and the food for our photographers.

On Boxing Day, we will publish Wendi’s last column. “I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to write for The Record over the past many years,” she says.

“It has been a great opportunity to expand my food knowledge and recipe development and writing skills.”

Wendi will continue to share foodie thoughts at www.wendihiebert.com. The site will be regularly updated with new recipes, cooking tips, and her culinary musings. She’s also available to speak to community groups or organizations.

Arts/Life editor Susan Chilton says readers have valued Wendi’s creative contributions. We will continue to publish food-themed content on Wednesdays. One new feature will be a focus on nutritional and caloric content in our recipes. Susan also plans recipes from different cultural backgrounds.

Grand Magazine editor Carol Jankowski worked with Wendi for several years.

“I never stopped appreciating Wendi’s enthusiasm and creativity in creating recipes and thinking up photography props to help display them,” Carol says. “I also was grateful to have Wendi at the other end of the phone when readers called.

“Often their questions about food weren’t related to that week’s column, but I always knew Wendi would provide a thoughtful answer.”

Wendi works as a food and nutrition specialist for the Egg Farmers of Ontario. Her love of all things culinary extends well beyond her writing.

“Because I’m in the food world, I’m always thinking about food. Even the fiction I read is about food. Culinary mysteries. There’s a whole genre out there.”

Wendi maintains her svelte figure by walking the dog and following a simple cooking credo: “make every mouthful count.” That means spitting something out if it doesn’t work. She is constantly testing and experimenting. Not all those experiments are successes. “Just ask my husband,” she quips.

I wondered what Wendi would cook if it was her last meal. “It would be a fondue meal with a cheese fondue to start, a Hot Pot-style broth fondue with seafood, pork, chicken, beef and vegetables for dipping, and a chocolate fondue for dessert. Fondues are for enjoying with friends and family – sharing a communal pot and enjoying good conversation together. As a last meal it would be an enjoyable way to go!”

I also wondered what a food expert enjoys with her family at this time of year. Wendi says she likes to continue with a tradition she has had since marrying her husband Murray.

“Christmas Eve is with my family where we enjoy appetizers including my mom’s meat buns (known in Mennonite circles as fleisch perishky), trays of desserts, and eggnog. Christmas Day is always spent with Murray’s family where we dine on a full turkey dinner, usually with banana cream pie for dessert.”

Next to egg recipes, Wendi loves everything chocolate. Fittingly, her final recipe, on Boxing Day, is Brownies on a Stick.

On the day we chatted about her new blog, Wendi had delivered to the photo studio Pineapple French toast with apricot pineapple topping. It looked almost perfect.

“And you could drizzle some chocolate on it, right?” I asked. “Oh yes, of course,” she said.

Spoken like a true chocoholic.

It’s Been A Slice! by Wendi Hiebert (Dec. 26/07)

After nearly 14 years writing the Creative Cooking column, I estimate I’ve submitted about 625 columns.

This will be my last one.

I have been privileged to share recipes, cooking tips and techniques, and my personal thoughts about food as a freelance food writer for The Record for many years, always with the freedom to choose the topic and recipes each week as I pleased. It’s been a good gig.

I was first invited to write for The Record in the early 1990’s when then food columnist Pat Hughes was looking for assistance with her daily In Good Taste recipe column. Pat’s writing partner, the late Eleanor Cameron, was ill with cancer and Pat needed help developing recipes and writing the column. The opportunity suited my training as a home economist with expertise in food and nutrition, my love of cooking, and my interest in writing. How could I turn down the offer?

Pat proved to be a gracious mentor, generously sharing her wealth of food and recipe writing experience with me. After Eleanor passed away, Pat retired from food writing, and in 1995 I began the weekly Creative Cooking column.

Over the years, the question I have been most frequently asked about writing for The Record is “where do you get your ideas and recipes for the column?”

The simple answer is from a variety of sources. Reading food magazines and attending cooking schools and food-related conferences and seminars keeps me aware of the latest food and cooking trends. I have also stayed current and connected to the foodie world with memberships in organizations such as Cuisine Canada and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Cookbooks and media releases from food companies have provided inspiration as have readers who’ve written or called to ask a question or suggest a topic for a column. And providing lots of food for thought is the wealth of foods produced in Ontario and Canada by our farmers, producers and processors.

My ultimate goal for the column was to provide helpful information about food, along with delicious and appealing recipes. I hoped to simplify cooking and make it easier, if not even enjoyable, whether you were cooking for one, a family or dinner or party guests. I hope that I mostly accomplished that for you.

I can thank observant readers for calling in when recipes were less than perfect with a step unclear or an ingredient quantity incorrect, or heaven forbid, missing entirely. Knowing there were people investing ingredients, time, money and energy in preparing one of my recipes and then having a problem with it did not make for a good day. Thankfully the keen eyes of the copy editors and proof readers at The Record ensured these mistakes didn’t occur very often.

I am also appreciative of readers who told me they read my column, and even tried the recipes. Compliments and constructive criticisms were always taken to heart. Taste preferences are a personal thing and what tastes good to me may not always to someone else. It was good to hear of recipe successes by readers in their home kitchens or ways readers adapted the recipes to make them their own.

The most memorable response to a recipe came shortly after I started writing the column. I was teaching Family Studies at the time and in the middle of a class (my Grade 7 students were working on a sewing project), a call from a reader was errantly transferred to my classroom. On the line was a reader who had just read my recipe for borscht which included a can of bean with bacon soup. The caller told me, in no uncertain terms, that the recipe was not authentic by any standards. As borscht had its origins as a soup eaten by peasants, she assured me there would have been no processed soups available at the time. Above the uproar of my students trying to poke each other with pins, I hurriedly explained I had given one version of borscht, not what I claimed was the original recipe. I promised to call her later when the class was over. During our second conversation, I was pleased to learn her recipe for borscht.

An important component of the column has been the accompanying photograph. Sometimes I have used a photo of a recipe sent to me in a media release. Much more often, I’ve brought in food and props (tablecloths, placemats, dishes, cutlery, flowers, etc.) to create our own photo. Since The Record’s in-house studio does not have a full kitchen, most of the food I have brought as been prepared at home and garnished or tweaked in the studio.

On a couple of occasions, my husband Murray has mistaken a container of food in the fridge meant for photography for his lunch. One time, our dog thought food set by the door (I left it there for a minute while I ran to grab another prop!) was his lunch. Labels on containers in the fridge prevented repeat occurrences with the husband. He also learned to ask which foods he was allowed to eat, and soon became resigned to getting the misshapen cookies or muffins as the better looking ones were reserved for photography.

As for the dog, I’ve learned not to leave food anywhere within his reach. Apparently he likes my cooking.

The Record’s photographers, with special thanks to Robert Wilson who worked with me most often over the years, have done an amazing job each week of making the food photo look appetizing. So the photo didn’t look the same week after week, we often took creative license with the layout which meant doing different things with how the food was presented. A couple times readers called in to mention that cutlery had been incorrectly placed.

Then there was the afternoon we almost set the studio on fire. We were shooting a photo for a column on kitchen disasters and were trying to simulate a fire in a cooking pot. Things got just a little out of control, but in the end, we were spared a studio disaster; a pair of oven mitts was the only casualty.

Another time I brought in a cake decorated to resemble a football field for a column on foods to serve for a Grey Cup party. Getting the cake to the studio in my car was challenge enough. At the studio, I suddenly realized I had incorrectly drawn the field markers to resemble an NFL field, not the dimensions of a football field in the Canadian Food League. Luckily I had icing to spare. With a little effort the NFL field was soon replaced with the correct CFL markings.

Most of the food remained edible after photography as we tried to keep things as realistic as possible to show what you, the reader, might end up with if you tried the recipe.

One does not write a freelance column for a newspaper for the financial rewards. For me, the rewards have been in being able to share my love of cooking and interest in food to hopefully educate and inspire others to enjoy the preparation and taste of new foods or recipes. It has also been an opportunity to write for a well-read local publication.

I will continue to write about things of a culinary nature on my new food blog (www.wendihiebert.com). Here you will find more recipes, cooking tips and techniques, and news and my views on food. Really, just whatever inspires me. The site also lists workshop and seminar topics I’m available to speak on including chocolate talks and tastings, stories of klutzes in the kitchen, and how to write a family cookbook.

It’s been a privilege to write for The Record and to be read by its readers. Thank you to the many people at The Record who have had a hand in getting my column to print each week over the years. A special thank you to Susan Chilton, Mark Bryson, Lorraine Pause, Melinda Marks, Carol Jankowski, Kathy Storring, Rod Frketich, retired Photo Editor Brian Clark, Robert Wilson and the rest of the photography and graphics team, and any others who worked on the food page.

A special thank you also to my husband Murray who put up with having to try foods that were sometimes out of his comfort zone, but who has always been very supportive and encouraging.

As a final recipe, here’s a last sweet treat for 2007. No doubt the dieting will begin in earnest at the start of January, but in the meantime, make a batch of these Brownie Pops over the holidays, enjoy one and share the rest. This is a fun recipe to make with kids.

Brownie Pops
(Makes about 16 to 20 pops)

White vanilla baking chips can also be used. Try dipping each brownie in both chocolates, letting one chocolate dry before dipping again for a contrasting look.

Cooking spray or butter
1 box (450 g) brownie mix or your favourite brownie recipe
Water, oil and eggs called for on brownie mix box
16 to 20 popsicle or craft sticks
2 cups (500 mL) chocolate chips
2 to 3 teaspoons (10 to 15 mL) vegetable oil or shortening
Assorted sprinkles, coloured sugar, finely chopped nuts, shredded coconut

Line an 8 or 9-inch (20 or 23 cm) square pan with foil so foil extends beyond sides of the pan. Spray foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.

Prepare brownie recipe and bake as directed. Let cool completely.

Place brownies in freezer for 30 minutes. Remove brownies from pan by lifting foil. Peel foil from sides of brownies. Cut brownies into pieces about 1-1/2 inches (4 cm) x 2 inches (5 cm). You may have to be creative with cutting to maximize the number of pieces you can get. The number of pieces will depend on the size of pan used and the how big you make the pieces.

Carefully insert a popsicle stick into the end of each brownie, peeling foil from bar. Place on a baking sheet; freeze for 30 minutes.

In a microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and oil on High for about 1-1/2 minutes, stirring after 45 seconds. Stir to melt chocolate. If necessary, add additional time 10 seconds at a time.

Dip top third to half of each brownie into chocolate; sprinkle with decorations. Lay pops on foil or waxed paper to let chocolate dry.

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