Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Love Affairs

There are some dishes that I can never tire of. That I can eat again and again and each time feel so satisfied. At least for a month or so.

You see, my love affairs with foods come in spurts; larger than being on a kick, where one cant get enough chips and salsa or eats the same pasta five nights in a row. No, when I discover a new food love, it lasts awhile.

Such love affairs start out rampageous--I must have it, night after night, thinking about dinner at breakfast, waiting eagerly, and drawing such pleasure from the very thought until lost in the smells, the taste, the feel of it. Nothing else matters, nothing feels as good as that first bite, and i melt into the meal. Slowly though, reality sets in: there are other foods out there, different flavours and recipes to try, but I still want it. So I wean myself of it, eating it once a week instead (though that simply means, at first, that I spend seven days pining for it, rather than twelve hours each day), until it begins to matter less, or seems too routine for passion and fades awade without my noticing, really. Or, I move.

Thinking of this addiction dispersal of mine, I realize it is very much connected to where I am living, and as I have moved quite frequently in the last four years (until now, I have not lived in the same city for longer than eight months), my dinner addictions have also changed.

The first I can pinpoint is from Lethbridge, AB. I was there for University, learning to be a teacher, majoring in English. What I really learned however, was how much I loved English and literature, and how much I really never wanted to be a teacher. More importantly, I learned how much of a refuge I found in cooking. Each night I would pack up my books from the library at around 6:00pm so that I would make it home with a chance to unload my body weight in books and essays to turn on The Ellen Degeneres show, dance with that hilarious woman and then begin cooking dinner. This was hown I would unwind before beginning to read again for the night, and would most often do so to a stew from a recipe book my aunt and uncle favoured while I lived with them in Vernon, BC. It was a vegetable dish chock full of eggplant, sweet and red potatos, tomatos and herbs. I loved it, and it felt healthy after sitting all day with highlighting textbook pages and walks to the washroom my only exercise. But then, back in Vernon with the same aunt and uncle, I decided not to return to school, or eggplant stew.

At that time I worked at an Italian restaurant, first serving then moving into the kitchen for my first official online job. Staff meal then meant Sambuca mussells...I am allergic to mussells. This was short lived.

Enter Halifax and another Italian restaurant job. Enter Linguini Romesco with Prawns. Spicy, nutty, tomatoey, plus seafood and was perfect. I made a fresh pesto every night for a long while, sometimes during the day if I would be working the dinner shift, tweaking and perfecting my recipe, though never (regrettedly) writing down the perfect combination. Then, as the produce of spring and summer rolled in, I devoted every monday to romesco (to beat the monday blues of course) for four months straight. But I discovered more than an amazing pasta sauce in Halifax: I did not want to go to Dalhousie University there for Journalism as I had inteneded in the move, I wanted to cook; after all, I had not written a single thing since landing, but had I ever cooked alot.

Back to Vernon and to pasta with zuchinni and basil, or zuchinni and truffle oil, or zuchinni in an omelette with thyme and goat cheese, or just zuchinni, with mint and garlic. Partly it was to deal with the overwhelming bounty of summer squash coming from my a&u s garden (some the size of my thigh), partly because it was quick, versatile, and fresh.

And now I have found another way to prepare it. I am on my own now, in my own little place, and a garden of my own with, unsurprisingly, far too much zuchinni. I deal with it now however, alla puttanesca. Whores pasta, as they call it in Italy, and how fitting with the fleeting affairs I have with meals. I first tried this in the (detailingly discussed) trip to Vancouver with Jeanine, and it blew me away. Being a salt fiend, I loved the chunks of olives, the bite of capers and the robust anchovies. Adding zuchinni to my new go-to pasta gives me vitamins and an excuse to use more sauce. I have also tried it with tuna instead of anchovies, as suggested my an obvious foodie at the table next to Jeanine and I in the restaurant, with the addition of mint or basil to the usual parsley, on top of steamed cauliflower with plenty of bread to sop up salty juices, and again in linguine with eggplant instead of zuchinni. And although I am only on a once or twice a week puttanesco dosage--there are other veg in my garden, not to mention far to many at the farmers market, after all--I still cannot get enough of it. Next, thinned with white wine and poured over arctic char and sprouting brocolli--I will let you know how it goes. For now, give the standard a shot; I hope you fall madly in love.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last Bites

Sigh... this trip was as much a learning experience as any of the last ones. Mostly, actually, relearning.
I re-learned that my sister is very much the youngest child: it was my job to take care of things, that if they went wrong...well, she was not responsible for things going right in the first place. Someday, as I often find myself hoping, we will both be able to foresee, to take blame, or at least not assign it so convictingly.
I re-learned that because of the latter, I often feel guilty, like I am letting her down, and that I physically resent this. I get tired. And I get testy. After unsuccessfully trying to perk her back up (oh, when that girl gets down, it is a long haul back up), I just give up, speak a little shortly, just tire of the whole thing.
This, I re-learned, actually lifts her back up. Hard to explain, a bit like a guilt trip I suppose. But it works.
Lastly, I re-learned that she will not admit to being hungry. I would ask if she wanted to stop for lunch, and she never did, as her mood sunk lower and lower. But insist on some food, get her eating, and she unfailingly says she feels much better, she must have just needed to eat. No shit, now if only i could remember to keep her fed like a diabetic.
What I learned though, is that food often brings her down. She claimed, before the trip, that she is very open to trying new things; as I explained before, she will eat it so long as you assure her she has had it and likes it. Again: if she has tried it. Nothing new, and, more importantly, nowhere new. What I learned is how uncomfortable she is with places, assuming that a restaurant only serves fancy, weird, foods that she is not used to, that she will not enjoy. This is new, an assumption that because of where I work and what I am doing with my life, than I must want to eat only that way. It was difficult to convince her otherwise, and disappointing considering the meals we would have was to be the highlight of my trip. She not only dampered this, but made me feel bad for wanting it, and certainly didnt respect that I had catered to what she loved and wanted to do, hoping she would oblige my passions too. Not so much, and it remains a tint on our trip, albeit another learning experience.
Wow, did that ever make our trip sound a complete bust. It was not all bad, and perhaps I should have raved before I ranted. We did make many a good memory, laughing and singing, unexpectedly touring through the home our mom grew up in, having great family visits, movie going, and latte drinking. And now that she is gone I wish we hadnt had little spats, that we had done things differently, that where we ate hadnt mattered so much to me--or so little, no, so much too, just in a different way, to her.

There were, however, two particular eating highlights of our trip, though only one of which we would both agree on. The first was a small coffee shop, Coco et Olive where we had breakfast on the last day of our trip. I had stopped there for coffee the previous day after picking up milk for our shreddies, and suggested we go there the next morning, bribing her with the croissants they had ready. Both days we had plenty of cookies with our breakfast, and sipped lattes from small soup bowls with perfect, dense foam. The only disappointment, the housemade tomato quiche was not ready yet. The quaint shop was a little taste of France, and a serene way to start off the day (though cookies are always a wonderful way to begin, especially when they are dainty lemon sables).

The second place was at my insistance for one wonderful meal (the first night, I had a bag of popcorn for dinner, the second was a pub--I was adamant). We stumbled upon this place on our first night when Jeanine refused to eat at the restaurant I had made reservations at and we began a hungered wandering for somewhere else (should have reverted to our coffee shop go-to). La Quercia, a tiny Italian place captivated me with their simple menu and casually intimate ambiance, so much so that when they had no place for us that night until ten thirty, I made a reservation for two nights later instead. And the wait was worth it. The parmesan souffle was a perfectly blonde pillow, firm to the fork and steaming within, revealing air pockets but as tiny as a needles eye. The zuchinni salad accompaniment was thin ribbons of squash dressed lightly in lemon and olive oil with flecks of basil. A drizzle of well aged balsamic vinegar rimmed the plate, so sweet and fruity; it was a trio of clean, undeniable flavours. For dinner I had Linguine Puttanesca, a sauce rich in salty robustness, the anchovies, capers, olives and tomatoes coarsley chopped, a carefree presentation that renewed my appreciation for peasant food. Dispite my sisters obvious discomfort, I, perhaps selfishly, enjoyed this meal so much that I am glad to have nothing to compare it to. It was perfection, all I could have wanted from Vancouvers restaurant scene. Well, that and the lemon tarts from Granville Island Market that we desserted on while driving home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sister Trip

Today is the first day of five, five, whole days off. In a row. From all of my jobs. Tomorrow I leave for Vancouver where for the next four days where I do not have to think about work, but rather have a summer vacation like most people. And best of all, with my sister.

I will pick her up tonight from the airport, she lives in Alberta, where she is studying to be a nurse. Ive made a lemon tart (I turned her onto them, my favorite, cannot-pass-it-up dessert) to celebrate her belated birthday, and have vaccuumed out my car so she would not be disgusted during to road trip portion of our trip--my car is quickly dirtied from farm shoes, stowing my bike in the backseat, and the meals eaten between jobs. I could tell you all about this sister of mine, how much I admire her go-with-the-flow relaxed nature, her ability to put people at ease and make them feel cared for and loved, how when you tell her something she really listens, and understands, how everyday she is growing more mature and lovely. But what I should really tell you, is that we are nearly complete opposites.

Jeanine and I are so different. She is glamourous, loves to shop and be around people, sleeps in, and is an incredible dancer. I am the hippy bookworm, who (obviously) loves to cook and write, being around trees and quiet, loves the morning, and cant move with any rythym to save my life. Sure we like alot of the same things, but usually for entirely different reasons. It has taken us a long time to understand eachother, even longer to respect what we know of one another, instead of ignoring or trying to change it. But (along with my ma) she is my best friend, and sisters trips such as this one have always been our best opportunities to grow closer.

Growing up together--once we got along that is--we used to take mini roadtrips just to have sister time. Once we drove to a nearby city just to buy tacky jewellery and have our pictures taken in one of those five-minute photo booths. She helped me apartment hunt in Lethbridge, a trip where we decided she should always be at the wheel, as my road rage and ability to get lost causes quite a bit of tension. The last bit of time we had was when her, my ma, Ernie, and Jeanineès boyfriend Sean came here for Easter. I was lucky enough to be given a day off from Willi to spend with my family, and Jeanine, Sean and I went for pizza at Bordellos (a must go for all visitors to Kelowna) where I learned the art of a woodfire oven and jeanine and Sean learned what a pizza should really look and taste like, then to a hockey game where we got nice and rowdy.

Sean joined the two of us too, when I bought Jeanine a ticket for her last birthday to come bring me home from Halifax. That was not a good sisters trip, we were at odds, and since it was not just the two us, we could not work it out. As difficult as it was, and as much strain as the unsaid put on our relationship, it was definately the trip that we learned the most about eachother, both good and bad and how to be honest about that. And it taught us that we need that time together, albeit more often, to keep that strong.

So here we go again. This time it is just the two of us, and on the opposite coast of the country. This time will be much more relaxed, we are certainly more at ease with eachother and our differences. So much so that we have dubbed one day of the trip as a ÈJeanine DayÈ and one as mine. Weèll do the big shopping in Kitsilano on her day, hit the beach and hopefully try our skills at windsurfing--her, the little athlete she is, will probably be a natural, me on the other hand, lets just say I feel like a pro just holding the board. Day two will peruse Granville Island Market, and hook up with my great uncle clark (a true hippy who i have grown especially close with since moving to the Okanagan), and go for dinner, or better yet, cook market findings. Which brings me to food.

Here is where we are really not that different. Although Jeanine cant even stand the smell of fish, and I will eat anything out of the water and her idea of fastfood is Wendys, mine is a coffee shop stop--though we both agree that when desperate, and this is something we learned while hunting for dinner before going to a ballet together in Calgary, if we cant choose a restaurant, choose a coffee shop, then at least we can count on lattes and cookies--we like many of the same things. Or at least, there is not alot either of us doesnt like. And if there is one thing that has changed alot with Jeanine it is her willingness to try new things (she used to order a burger when we went for Chinese). She will taste anything I make for her (though I avoid cooking things I know she wont like, such as mushrooms and onions, or anything seafoody besides canned tuna), and when we go out for something--this is adorable--sheèll choose something, then ask me if I think she will like it. Numerous times for different items. She knows that now only do I know, but I share her tastes, and trusts that she will enjoy it. Jeanine loves food, she is just not a foodie, so it is really fun for me to cook for her and go out with her...maybe I can get her to try real tuna.

So tonight begins five days of sister time: lots of chatting, laughing, awkward (on my part) dancing, and eating. More when I get back.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I have been sitting at this computer for the last hour and so far I have written and erased two, not even complete sentences. The coffee is gone, I have finished my oatmeal and two peaches (one of which was soaked in wine from last nights dessert--a mimosa of sorts). And nothing. Blank. So i got up to do the dishes and decided to write about not being able to write, because it seems to be mirroring perfectly, my not being able to crave.

Most people have heard of writers block. Well, in my experience, it usually occurs not for lack of an idea, but for two many half formed, overlapping, mumblejumbled ideas, incoherent unless allowed to relax and seperate into themselves. In other words, take a break, stop thinking, go for a walk, come back when its clear.

Well, I have what I am going to call eaters block. Not cookers, eaters. Because it is not that I am uninspired to cook, it is that there are too many things I want to try. Too many newly discovered recipes, too many old favorites, too many options in the fridge, and an exasperating obligation to use them all. It is this last part that is the most cumbersome, because the need to use up certain fridge dwellers overshadows my actual dinner desires, so meals are much less satisfying than they ought to be.

It doesnt help, either, working late nights, because than I am too tired to care, or listen to my stomach. I just want something easy, but wholesome, because it is late at night and I dont want to wake up regretting that bowl of cold potatos dipped in mayonaisse, or burping pesto from the pasta I had but five hours earlier. To avoid such grab-easys, I usually plan what I will make for dinner when I get home, and can prep for it before leaving. Usually this helps, and actually gives me something to look forward too when finished. However, such plans lately have centered growing older veg that must be eaten before I leave for Vancouver (so excited--sisters trip) in four days. So again, eating what I have to, not what I want, and really losing touch of what I do want.

I think that is why the artichoke was so unbelievably satisfying the other night. It was not what I had planned, but when I opened to crisper to get out the patty pans in dire need of cooking, but still with no plan of how i wanted them, and saw that big globe, i knew the little squashes would have to wait another day. It was impulse, but the mere sight of it reignited a craving I had had for awhile, long before purchasing it waiting for the time to make it happen.

So now, as I write this, I am trying to shake the plans from my head. Ill go for a walk, stop thinking, finish work, open to fridge and hope for an artichoke moment, hope to see a craving.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I Heart Arti Hearts

Lately I have been working what we call the peanut butter shift at the restaurant. It is the shift, that, like the nutty spread in the sandwich, works between the the lunch and dinner, holding them together like bread, making sure each is stocked and rescuing when things get heavy on the line. This means short mornings to write or pick beans on the farm, and little left of the night, or my energy, by the end of it. And after essentially preparing for two meal times, I have little incentive to cook a third for myself when I get home, opting for whatever can be made in one pot, takes less than fifteen minutes to prepare while munching a salad, served with bread and downed with wine. And lately, that has meant eggs, or steamed fish and veg (it would be cereal if it didnt seem so strange eating it with the absoltely necessary big glass of wine). Too much chopping for one day, I just want simple sustenance before it all has to begin again.

So tonight, I had a steamed artichoke. Dipped in mayonnaise. With a big hunk of double-baked-swiss loaf (a crusty bread for the strong jawed). Not the healthiest of meals, but for me, one of the most satisfying.

I love artichokes as much as I love breakfast--hell, I love artichokes for breakfast, baked with eggs, parmesan, parsley, and oregano. Canned or fresh, they make their way into many of my meals: on pizza with zuchinni, fontina, and basil, or kalamata olives and asiago; in risotto with fresh mint; in a ragout with shelling beans, new potatos, and summer savory; in salads with arugula and shaved fennel; baked, steamed, sauteed, straight out the can. I love their odd grassy flavour, like no other vegetable. The are what my friend Johnny calls brutto ma buono-- Italian for ugly but good. its true, they are not very pretty, but I couldnt imagine my food life without them.

Which brings me to a little aside. This spring I decided to embark on the ever-more-popular-Hundred Mile Diet--albeit a cheaterès version. You see, there are certain things that I just could not give up, things that will never be a part of the Okanagans incredible bounty. Alot of pantry goods for one (spices like cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, rice, certain flours, etc), coffee (though I buy beans that are fair trade and roasted here to ease the guilt of addiction), lemons (theyre as intrinsic to my cooking as olive oil, another exception to my miled limits), and artichokes. To survive this year, I am allowing myself artichokes, of all things, and this winter it may be the only green thing I have to eat.

And tonight it was all I wanted to eat. I got home around nine thirty, not knowing what I wanted, only that I was hungry but too tired to pack away a bowl of pasta (another go-to after a day on my feet and no real serious substance in me). And there it was in my veg drawer: brutto ma buono. It took twice as long to eat as to make, dipping each leaf in the aoili, but going even later to bed never felt so worth it, This could be a new peanut butter shift routine...

Steamed Globe Arti with Lemon Garlic Aoili

For the Artichoke:
Trim a large artichoke, removing most of the large outer leaves, cutting the poiny tips off the remaining leaves, and slicing an inch off the top and removing the fuzzy choke. Place upside down in a small sauce pan, pour in water about a third of the way up the arti, a glug of olive oil and some white wine. Add a bay leaf, some parsely sprigs, a couple of sage leaves and summer savory sprigs too (you can use other combinations of herbs as well--thyme works nicely), and half a lemon, squeezed and dropped right in. Bring the water to a simmer, cover, and steam until tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove arti from pan and dip each leaf, one by one, in the aoli. savour. sleep.

For the Aoili:
1é4 cup mayo
zest of half a lemon
1 tsp minced fresh or 2 tsps roasted garlic

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Fish, A Wine, and a Ma

My mom and I are exceptionally close. Nowadays, as it has been for awhile, we are as likely to describe ourselves as best friends as we are mother daughter. Besides her tendency to interrupt, her stubborness, her petit frame, her inability to just sit and relax and her love of tulips, I have inherited her interest and, as a former chef herself, her career in food. She is the one who encouraged me to pursue the apprentice route and move back to the Okanagan, and I have her to thank for where I am at today. A bummer is not being able to share each day with her or have study sessions where we create fantastic classic dishes, yèknow, for practice...I have alot of wish you were here moments in the kitchen without her.

I do have tricks though, for when I miss my ma when it is simply not possible to just call her up or (better yet) share a hug. And, naturally, such tricks involve food. Besides making the cream of wheat of my childhood, I might poach eggs atop thick slices of tomato; eat a whole bowl of popcorn with lots of butter and watch Mama Mia or old episodes of Gilmore Girls; drink mint tea with gingersnaps (I miss her alot at Christmas, so naturally I go through alot of ginger snaps); or make rice pudding, enough for breakfast the next day. But most often, I open a bottle of Gewurtz and start cooking Halibut.

Gewurtztraminer is my mas favorite wine. A self proclaimed, and proven, wino, she loves the smell as much as the taste, as if you are sitting in a garden of pungent peonies (I like the same wine, but heavy on the lychee nut). On a recent wine tour together, we sample three different gewurtzès from the same vineyard, enjoyed the same ones, then shared a bottle that night. When she comes to visit, I am sure to have a bottle chilling, and buy ones to save just for such occasions.

As for Halibut--if it is on the menu at a restaurant, she cannot not order it. She loves it unabashedly, raves about it. Cannot even begin to describe why, or how much, just that she does--the raving comes in the way she swoons over the first bite, melting right into it. On the night of said wine tour, we cooked some together in my place, mimicking an Indian spiced recipe from David Tanisè A Platter of Figs Cookbook, with sauteed yellow tomatos and summer squash and barley jazzed with green onions and loads of garlic (another ingredient my ma is wild about). The bits of bad of the day (weèll just say a sick friend, sick puppy, and ma sick of my sisters momentary attitude), evaporated with the scents and taste of the meal, were washed down with the wine. And I got to cook again with my ma. Perfect.

So needless to say, when I miss her, want her close, feel like life is falling apart in a way that only a mom could fix, I eat and drink her favorites and wish, or pretend, that I am sharing it with her. That is what I did tonight....and last night. No, life is not shattering, quite the opposite. So good that this is my way of sharing it with her, a toast to her in a way. For, again, I wouldnt be where I am without her.

Halibut on Green Beans with Cumin and Mint

This dish can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Sure you can sear off the fish and finish it in a hot oven, meanwhile blanching, then roasting to carmelization your beans, but after a long night at work, I prefer the one pot (or pan, in this case) method: quick, simple, and only one dish to wash.

Trim as many green beans as you think you can eat. Place them in a small pan with thinly sliced shallots, a fresh bay leaf, some water (not nearly enough to cover the beans) and a good slosh of olive oil. Lay the halibut on top and season with coarse salt and pepper and a sprinkling of cumin. Cover and steam (water should be simmering) for 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. Top with chopped fresh mint. Pour some gewurtz, hug your mom, enjoy.

oh-and I should give credit where credit is due, the inspiration for this dish comes from another lady I quite like (one I have never met, though I would be happy to share this dish with her too, especially over a bottle of Joie Rose), Heidi Noble. In her cookbook From the Orchard Table, Heidi offers a recipe for Roasted Green Beans with Cumin and Mint, amoung many other wonderful things, especially desserts. More on her later.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Want to Talk About Cake Too

Awhile ago now, I stumbled upon Molly Wizenbergès blog Orangette; I believe I read an article of hers in Bon Appetit magazine, looked up her site, fell in love with her writing, bought her book, fell even more in love with her writing and now try to find the balance between reading what she writes and wishing I had written it myself. Actually, Orangette is one of the reasons, or at least gave me a push, for starting my own, this, blog. But more on my drawing inspiration from Orangette later, right now, I want to talk to you about something Molly once talked to me--and many others--about. And that is cake.

Last March I got a craving for cake: a sweet feel-good bit of comfort to make it the rest of the (very) long, (very) cold, (very-very) grey winter. But it seemed a mighty silly thing to bake an entire cake for one, especially when a slice usually suffices such cravings. I knew this time was different though; I didnt just need a couple of bites worth cut from the pan, I needed a whole cake. All for me.

Yes, I needed to be able to eat two, three, however many slices I wanted while curled up in a blanket wishing and hoping for Spring. Like Molly and her need for a convenient, eat at the counter, get through the frazzled moments, not quite dessert, I wanted baked comfort, and found companionship in her note. So I set to finding my perfect busy day cake.

Well, but the next day, I just so happened to be skimming a Gourmet magazine in my favorite Kelowna bookstore, when I flipped to a recipe for Vanilla Cardamom Pound Cake. Bypassing the bargain books, I headed straight for the till. This was no longer a craving coincidence--this was cake destiny.

And the cake did not disappoint. I swapped the butter for olive oil (part of the craving stemmed by another reading), and used buttermilk (my not so secret baking ingredient) for the plain whole milk, both giving it a grassy, zingy lightness that was fresh in a time of heavy drear. Moist, but not too rich. Plus I love cardamom, its subtle warmth gives sweets a bit of spicy life. And as each day passed the spices intensified, just as the original recipe promised. I ate the whole thing--albiet over a week--toasting the last slices as it became a little less than fresh, and dipping the toasted fingers in straight cream. Bliss. This was to be my cake; my busy day, my every day, my go to cake.

Agreed, Molly, everyone needs one of those. My ma has three: her upside down cake--an always raved about blank canvas of carmelization--her uber moist carrot cake, and her Black Magic cake, something I willingly endure a chocolate migraine for a hefty chunk of. Even my Grandma, notoriously anti-cooking, has a lemon loaf that is not only expected by the family at all get- togethers (and as birthday presents for some of my cousins), but now by anyone who has eaten it at a church bake sale or luncheon. And now I have mine, revamped and perfected, and best enjoyed without guilt at peice numbers or sizes.

I tell you this now, because I am eating a slice. Ever since making it in the season of no fruit, I have dreamed of how the vanilla and cardamom would pair with the Okanagans fresh peaches. Well, summer is here, and having poached peach slices in a little white wine, I now have my answer: sublime. I thought the cake was perfect on its own, but with the peaches it is a whole new treat...but I still want the straight whip.

Olive Oil and Buttermilk Pound Cake (laced with Cardamom and Vanilla Bean)
Adapted from the March, 2009 issue of Gourmet, the original recipe was done with butter, a cake very different from this, but still eatable over the kitchen sink--unless you put drippy juicy peaches over it as I did...Oh, and I should mention Gourmet suggests toasting slices and serving with icecream, a brilliant idea, especially if it is just you and a slowly drying out cake.

Preheat oven to 350F with rack in the middle. Prepare a loaf pan or a nine inch cake pan (though then you will also need a 6 cup muffin tin too...cupcakes!).

Whisk together:
3 cups AP flour
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
1é2 tsp baking soda
1é2 tsp salt

Beat together, scraping down sides, until pale and fluffy:
1é2 cup plus 1 Tbsp mild in flavour olive oil (or 2 1é4 sticks butter, softened)
1 1é2 cups granulated sugar

Scrape in seeds of:
2 vanilla beans, halfed lengthwise
Beat in, one at a time:
4 large eggs
Then beat in until well combined:
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Beginning and ending with flour mixture, alternately add to butter mixture just to combine with: 1 cup buttermilk

Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top and gently rap on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake until wooded skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan for and hour, than invert onto rack and cool completely (though it is ok if you cant wait, and want the first slice warm from the oven, but that flavours do intensify with time)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Veggies for One...Hundred

I am overwhelmed. It had been three days since I had last ventured into my garden, and now I can barely move once inside. It is difficult to distinguish one tomato plant from the next, the basil threatens to seed (didnt I just make a shwack of pesto), I cant keep up with the arugula, and the lone head of butter lettuce is the tenth, undiscovered planet. And the zucchini- oh god the zucchini-why did I plant three varieties, why...

Yes, slightly overwhelmed and prepared to pawn veggies off on neighbors, friends and family, any random person I meet in the street looking in need of a summer squash. I need a bigger freezer for what I stow for winter, a bigger stomach and vitamin tolerancy, and I really need to remember that right now, I am just one, a single gal who needs to learn her vegetable limits.

You see, I have a problem: I cannot pass up certain veggies. Aside from the green peppers that I can easily walk on by (possibly holding my nose), I cannot so ignore a beautiful tight head of bibb, an artichoke begging to be steamed, bulbs of baby fennel, or glistening young onions. I fill my fridge and cram my crispers as if we are coming to a second ice age and I may lose any chance of greens again. And I do this, time and again, picking up something pretty at the farmers market only to shudder when I see the less-than-pretty-needs-to-be-eaten stock I already have.

Take tonight for example. Despite the abundant garden of mine offering a colander full of fava beans, another of swiss chard, and the first ripe and ready tomatos (so exciting), I have just finished a bowl of cauliflower linguine for dinner. I do not grow cauliflower. I bought it this morning at a farm I work at when not at the restaurant, simply because I had to have it. Simply because I had never seen purple cauliflower before, had never tried the green, and their vibrancy was so beautiful that I had to, I just had to. No matter that I already had more than half a head of regular the regular old white florets in my fridge; I took one of each, another pound of cauliflower.

Oh and how good it was too. Each color tasted different. Moreover, the white variety I got from Tom tasted different even, than the lot I had already from another local farmer. Toms was sweeter, with a bit more ting, while the other was creamier, nutty.

But guilt sets in. And wonder. What do I do now with the rest of the florets. No, the rest of the fridge. Honestly, you would think I had pet rabbits (I also bought five pounds of rainbow carrots at the farm just two days ago). What do I do with the patty pans or the leeks Ive had for over a week. There are not enough meals in the day; beets on my oatmeal, perhaps, pea sundaes. That oughta use some up. And salad sizes will have to double, because, even though the overwhelming garden experience was still fresh in my mind from this morning, tonight, when at my aunts, she offered me the veg from her garden taht would not last while they are away on holidays. Sorry, I should have said, but I am up to my ears in lettuce and beans, instead I walked away with a grocery bag of more lettuce, cucumbers, tomatos and chives. I am opening a small produce stand tomorrow.

What is worst about this, is that I lose enjoyment in my meal if I feel obligated to make it. If I have to have cauliflower for dinner for fear of its decay, I resent having bought it at all, get angry that I have done it again, and eat with a grudge against no one but myself--and the stupid cauliflower for looking so bloody attractive.

But there are no regrets tonight. I am satisfied, and glad for my purchase...for now

Cauliflower Pasta with Walnuts, Parsely and Ricotta Salata
this recipe was adapted from Alice Waters Chez Panisse Vegetables, my bible when it comes to emptying my fridge or dealing with my latest trip to the market.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, warm some olive oil in a skillet and add:
finely sliced shallot
minced garlic

Gently soften and season with dried chilis. Cook pasta and while doing so, add to skillet:
1 1é2 cups trimmed cauliflower florets
Splash white wine

Cover until pasta is ready, then toss the two together and top with toasted walnuts, chopped fresh parsely and ricotta salata cheese.

Oh, and to use up the rest of the head of cauliflower:
Make a risotto with fresh mint and lemon zest
Soup with a gruyere grilled cheese
Steamed over barley and topped with salsa verde or spicy pannagratto

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pretty Little Things

Baking is not my forte (my university buddy still bugs me about my dry ass muffins and cookies). I have a reputation for impatience, and a tendency of messing with recipes to create things that merely resemble baked goods, but could easily be mistaken for playdough upon eating. My excuse is that I do not have much of a sweet tooth--oh how things have changed since the breakfast candy days-- so I bake just to have it, and hardly care of the results.

Lately though, I do care. And I get cravings. For sweet things. The whole idea is strange to me. What I want chocolate...cookies without borderline healthy oats...cake...not for dessert but in the, right now, this morning.

The most recent of such needs was for cookies. Something simple and bite size, lemony, maybe vanilla-y too. Nothing with raisins, not biscotti, my usual go-to cookie, but something different, and yes, something sweet.

And then I stumbled upon Molly Wizenbergs recipe for Buttermilk Cookies with Lemon Zest. The picture alone made me want to eat them, they were so pretty. Dainty little things, pale yellow with a touch of frosting. I thought of how I might feel eating such splendid little things, possibly just as pretty as them.

So I set to baking, tweaking what Molly had tweaked from the original Gourmet magazine recipe, to--yes--cut the sugar a bit, and jazz up the lemon (if there is one dessert I can never resist it is double lemon flan, not even the flan, actually, just a big ol bowl of lemon curd.), and lace the frosting with vanilla bean because there is nothing quite like those tiny little flecks to make somehting sweet seem real and cared for. Hell, I so badly wanted these to turn out perfect that I bought a bag of icing sugar just to use three tablespoons of it for that frosting.

Success! They were everything I imagined them to be. Not to sweet, petite, and as pleasureable to look at as they were to eat. Almost scone like in texture because of the buttermilk, which, paired with all that lemon gave them a little zing, they were not too tart for the mellowing vanilla glaze. So good that I ate fourteen of them that night. Fourteen. Granted, they were small, so it was more like six regular sized cookies; that is borderline gluttony, but only borderline. Besides, I felt too elegant eating them to even consider feeling like a pig.

I have, since, made the cookies again...twice. Once more because of a visit to a Farmers Market where I was inspired by some lavender shortbreads to add the flower to my cookies (and, admittedly, to use up more buttermilk). The second, upon request from my girlfriend Megan, after she tried them on an impromptu picnic while visiting me.

First I must tell you about this picnic. It was perfect. Both my ma and Megs were out from Alberta, I had booked the day off and we set out on a ladies mission of shopping and wine. Well, we didnt make it very far before hunger set in and, oh how perfect, a bakery right on the way that had been raved about to my mom on her flight over here, right on a small, grassy area by a rocky beach. Two pulled pork buns and a raspberry coconut walnut tart accompanied the cooler of just in case snacks I brought, and we found a spot on the grass to munch. And so we did, on hummus and bread, a rainbow selection of carrots, fresh ricotta, apricots, iced mint tea, and those pretty little cookies. Well that was it. One of those was all it took to get to two, three, four cookies and a subsequent raving to her family about my baking.

So flattered was I that when Megan, hmmm, casually mentioned that she had told her family about the cookies and that they were dying to try them, I whipped up my third batch and brought them the next day to her campsite. Dropping by for a quick hello the next day I learned they were gone in moments, and Megs was not alone in her enthusiasm. Tell me you wouldnt be flattered too.

Anyways, this is not to brag (well, maybe a little bit, I am quite proud to have found what I now like to consider my signature cookie) but also to share, as I did with Megan and her family, the recipe for the cookies that look almost too pretty to eat, but insist that you eat them, many of them.

Lemony Lavender Buttermilk Cookies
adapted from Orangette

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together:
1 1é2 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1é4 tsp each baking soda and salt
1é2 tsp dried culinary lavender, crumbled

In a seperate bowl, beat til creamy:
6 Tbsp (3 oz0 butter
When creamy add:
2é3 cup granulated sugar
Beat until light and fluffy then add, beating well:
1 lg egg, preferrably free range

To the wet ingredients, alternately add dry ingredients and:
1é3 cup shaken buttermilk
Dough should be smooth and pale yellow

Spoon onto prepared sheets in Tbsps. Bake 11-15 mins, cooling on the tray for one minute before removing onto wire rack and glazing, while still warm, with:
3é4 cup icing sugar
1 1é2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds sprinkled in

Just so you know, these cookies are meant to be enjoyed the day they are made (no problem there), so pop the rest in your freezer. Also, expect to have lots of glaze left over, to dip your cookies in if they are not sweet enough, or to dress other bakings such as pound or cup-cakes. And if you dont have vanilla bean, add 1é2 tsp vanilla extract in after the egg, theyre just as good, and still quite pretty.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Creme de Bleh

Perhaps I should elaborate on the seemingly random porridge comment; I assure you, this is not a site (entirely) devoted to old-fashioned breakfast cereal. As it is, however, a commentary on my love affair with the meals and their meanings in my life, oatmeal fits right in.

You see, I am a third generation porridge devotee. Both my grandma and aunt eat instant Quaker Oats, the apple and cinnamon packets to be precise, every morning. Every morning. So involved, are they, in their routines, that each brings along their breakfast of choice on overnights, just in case; the latter admits that even if she is spoiled with pancakes and eggs on the weekend, or a luxurious breakfast out, she craves the packages and her accompanying mint tea. They even make it similarly, letting the opened contents steep in hot water on the counter while getting ready for the day, sometimes eating it cold and mushy, but satisfied none the less.

So it is no wonder where I got my breakfast habit from. It started early too, when my mom used to make a huge pot of oatmeal in the morning for each of us to dish up, pour on milk, and, of course, top with brown sugar. While my mom and sister were stirrers, I used to love the way the sugar melted, dark and caramelly on top of the glop. Id carefully spoon around the outside and underneath as the sundaed portion lowered in the bowl, until the last three bites were nearly all sugar: breakfast candy (I had a bit of a sweet tooth).

My choice toppings now, as I mentioned, have changed, but there is something wonderfully nostalgic about the classic milk and sugar--especially when applied to something my mom called Creme de Bleh. She was referring to Cream of Wheat, but her descriptive moniker played on the blandness of the cereal, and my sisters facial expression when forced to eat it. It is one of the things I make when I long for the comforts of home. Creme de Bleh for breakfast is like a hug from my ma, and one of the few fitting substitutes for porridge.

There is a slight problem with my routine though (besides that I have started obsessively packing it for overnights--hey, it works for my grandma). I love breakfast. It is my favorite meal of the day, at any time of the day. And I love it all (except bacon, I cannot stand bacon and I know that I am Canadian and it is my patriotic duty to live for the stuff, but...) even the bland: rye toast, shreddies, cornflakes, branflakes, porridge. Ill have biscotti for breakfast, leftover rice pudding (though not cold pizza--breakfast for dinner sure, but not visa versa), homemade granola; Ill fold my omelettes over sauteed zuchinni, artichokes or asparagus, and stuff with goat cheese or parmesan, softly poach eggs and break them with my fork, oozing over toast with chopped fresh herbs and lots of coarse pepper. Ill make sourcream pancakes or waffles topped with fruit and maple syrup, french toast laced with cinnamon and lemon, crepes wrapped around roasted rhubarb and a dollop of greek yogurt. Oat scones with jam and warm milk in my coffee (never underestimate the relieving power of a good cup of coffee). Oh, warm and gooey cinnamon buns. Ok thats enough, I could go on and on, but I am afraid, readers, that I have either lost your interest or your attention and youve headed for the griddle.

But what is a girl to do, I ask you, when she loves all of the morning foods, but cant imagine a day without that gummy bowl of porridge, teeming with warm milk, and, currently, glistening with honey over halved apricots and walnuts. Save them for dinner I suppose.

If you have a better answer, Id love to hear it, or a favorite breakfast, cause Id love to add to my list. And speak up fellow oat junkies, youre not the only ones with just in case quakers in your suitcase.

happy mornings