December 21, 2006

Proud as Punch with extra rum...

$40,000 - 40K...40 grand...40 smakeroos..the bloggers have arisen...they've contributed $40,000 to the Menu for Hope ends tomorrow.

See? Being over 40 can feel amazing.

Need & Want

There’s a difference.

A Toronto comedienne made that the spine of her show a few years ago as she told the story of her evolution – or devolution – into her 40s.

Her marriage collapsed under the crush of what she implied but didn’t say was infidelity, she sold the matrimonial home, bought a farm she called Wit’s End and went off to lick her wounds, contemplate life and experience working a farm…which of course meant she had reams of material for her show.

…Like, turning 40 and losing her nouns. They evaporated, like that stuff…you know…the thing…in the morning…the moisture stuff…oh come on…you know…that.

My friends and I all thought we were going to die on the spot…only to be discovered with a mass case of failed bladders.

Want and need…I want that…I don’t need it…but I want it.

I get it.

I was thinking about it this morning as I was thinking of kitchen tools – well, as I do at least part of each day.

Want and need - our kitchen.

I’m not a gadget person. Nope. If a gadget’s ratio between required space and use is inversely related…it goes to the garage sale pile. I feel the most passionate about this when I think about kitchen appliances that force their presence on my counter – oh so meager counter space (Justin Spring would approve).

Popcorn makers, rice cookers (I know they perfect the art of rice cooking, but I trust my instincts now with a pot on the stove – having been encouraged by an old boyfriend’s Iranian buddy who just swept a wand over a rice pot and it was perfect…so I do the same…it’s just about patience – as is most of cooking – that, and wrapping the lid in a clean tea towel if you were a little generous with water), slow cookers, can openers, jar openers, vacuum sealers, blenders, mandolins (though we have two)…I may want them, I don’t need them.

Now…microwaves (reluctantly – I’ll use them to heat leftovers, and soften butter), coffee makers, toasters, and in lieu perhaps a toaster oven (which I don’t have, but which I understand now if you’re on your own and don’t want to heat a whole oven for a pork chop), are all welcome on or near my countertop because I find them useful…daily.

This is my rant right? Yours is probably completely different. I glory in that. The toys can change easily – the distinction is want and need. I’m just sayin’ is all.

Now want can grow to need pretty quickly, if you’ve noticed. Like…my cutting boards. I have a large block I bought years ago and love and use everyday…I need that.

My tongs that sit in the jar next to the stove for quick egress of something volcanic – I love that I can grab them and smack them authoritatively on the bottom to provoke the arms open on their spring mechanism…I need them.

And my wooden spoons – where do wooden spoons come from? They’re like pets in our family. I don’t remember EVER buying one…so how I adopted them I can’t tell.

Except one: my favourite little guy…a six inch spoon, worn down by loving turns in soup and sauces and custards…it’s now darkly, richly stained by its history.

…I purloined it in a custody battle…a breakup that included me practically throwing a whole set of Henkel’s knives back at him – knives that he’d given me as a Christmas present in our less hostile days, because I loved cooking and he didn’t - he actually asked for them back (it was darkly amusing to try to imagine what he thought they might be for) …so I collected a box load of stuff he’d given me, knocked on “our” former apartment door and threw the box contemptuously at him and told him I’m bigger than he is…spiritually…

I use the spoon with glee…so I’m not so sure about the bigger spiritual thing…in this case I think the spoon NEEDED me…no really.

My knife. Now I know that Clotilde when she was talking about kitchen tools said she didn’t think knives were as important as everyone makes out…and I sort of agree in one sense…they don’t HAVE to cost a ton of saffron, or the earth, whichever. Mine, I’ve written briefly about, is from a supermarket in England. I went there specifically after I’d tried it at my friend’s house – thinking I was using something that had been tempered by Shinto monks under a full moon using fairy urine – and he told me it had cost him 20 bucks. When I'm cooking elsewhere, it comes with me. My six inch wonder tool. I wish I’d bought two. I’ve had it for almost ten years I think…Not a Henkel in the place…

When Steve collided with me from the outer reaches of singledom, he brought with him a propensity to experiment with cooking and a digital meat thermometer. Oh. My. God. It’s what gives me some peace of mind when my own propensity to cook too many vegetables with a roast gets me distracted. I used to rely on the billowing smoke.

He also brought the Standing Mixer. ‘Nuff said. I said yes five weeks later.

My indulgence on the want side of life is probably Gabe’s pottery. She’s a friend of mine who produces dishes, no, vessels, of nature. She combines all the remarkable reds, golds, browns, blues, that our place in the world offers up and lets them streak through her, to the glaze, to the kiln…to my table…and I’m grateful. I get a rush when I pull them out of the cupboard and see them on the big wooden table in our kitchen. I don’t exactly need them…but I think maybe my kitchen sprite does…

Aha! I DO have something that qualifies as a gadget that most people would sniff at: an egg poacher. With four cups sitting on a frame in a pot over boiling water to make my most favourite eggs in the world…slightly runny poached eggs on toast…the best.

I didn’t spend the fortune a freelance writer earns on it…I bought it at one of those big box stores in one of those malls that Steve’s nephew refers to as the FCF: fascist cluster *uck. When are we going to support independent retailers/restaurants again? We NEED to.

Our kitchen does have almost everything it needs – including a gas stove. No industrial/restaurant monstrosity that requires its own natural gas generating plant in the backyard…just a simple home stove – it’s bigger than its insides seem – it has NEVER let me down – it’s gentle and beloved by me…

Which leads me to think the greatest tool this kitchen offers is its spirit and the spirit it evokes in me. I started my blog writing about the life in my kitchen – and how it evolved into our kitchen – it’s the heart of our home – it’s warm and wooden and simple.

So I find myself not wanting more…not needing anything for this kitchen to help me love better. Okay except counter space…I need counter space.

I could go on…there are more tools/toys/potential Christmas presents in here that deserve recognition - many that fall into the need category.

But, as Ms. Shamas said at the end of her show: I could go on…but I don’t want to.

Here’s hoping you have what you need and can see it…
With love and peace…Nicola

December 15, 2006

Love & Hope

The ride from 2006 to 2007

I love that I conquered my fear of risotto.
I love that I pickled beets for the first time.
I love that I now make my own chicken stock.
I love that we tried to make pretzels.
I love the smell of onions cooking.
I love that I feed people who are lovely to love.

I love that I have a bigger family now.
I love that I love Steve -
and his spice rub and his rib sauce and his cookies.

I love that he's fearless in the kitchen.

I love that I blog.
I love its freedom.
I love that I found what I love.
I love sharing my life and its accumulation of stories.
I love that through blogging I also found MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl’s books, Julia Child, Calvin Trillin and have so many more to explore.
I love that through blogging I’ve “met”
Julie at Kitchenography and Annie at A Good American Wife.
I love that this is such a talented community of strangers linked by a not-so-strange, magnetic passion.
I love the inspiring people -
Matt, Kate, Meg, Molly, Shauna that keep me striving.
I love when people write to say I’ve touched the centre of why they cook too.

I hope to get better.
I hope to figure out this photography thing.
I hope to figure out the website design thing.
I hope to try ever more interesting things for the home kitchen – and stay well away from restaurant aspirations.
I hope I keep conquering stuff I fear in the kitchen, and out.
I hope to keep finding a voice here.
I hope to keep appreciating what I have.

I have everything I need…
As Shauna wrote:

I send all of you wishes for Love and Hope for the holidays and for 2007. Yes.

December 14, 2006


It never occurred to me that people go full bore at Christmas – making everything.

Their own wreaths – our Jain.

Their own xmas cards – our Karen.

Their own dinner of bloody caesars and popcorn – our Carol. (Kind of like a bloody mary...Actually to be fair, she doesn't limit them to Christmas - and if you go full bore for Christmas, my point is you'll need these by January).

My Mum makes her own martinis.

But, more to the point, she also makes her own mincemeat – for mincemeat tarts at Christmas. It’s one of those foods I've always thought just grows in jars somewhere. At the Cross & Blackwell jar place. It just appears every November on store shelves, in a sort of exotic, archaic aisle of strange Christmas foods. One of those foods you don't think you want to know too much about.

I have always loved mincemeat tarts. Always.

Mincemeat tarts…Christmas ritual. Essential.

No tarts? Hold the snow…park the sleigh there fat boy…let the reindeer idle man.

So a few weeks ago, when I found a fresh slew of plastic containers at a local grocery chain with big, huge, almost pie-size mincemeat tarts…I bought a six pack.

I washed them down with a big pot of tea. Did I say them? As in plural? Okay...yes...I had two. I fed my bereft palate, which after a year’s tart fasting, meant I thought they tasted pretty okay. Besides I probably didn’t let them hit the sides of my throat as they went down to my hips.

There were six on Friday afternoon. There were two by Sunday afternoon, when my friends and my Mum came over. So I carefully cut up the remaining tarts while the tea did its brewing.

Carol feigned disgust. She rightly complained that these weren’t Mum's tarts so she wasn’t going there. Mum glowed. Jain waxed on about Mum’s tarts…and Mum glowed.

The poor helpless chopped up bits of tart on the plate looked pretty much like remainders from an industrial tart plant…which of course is what they were.

So Mum, pleased as punch to be needed…set to work. Within the week, the kitchen was a haze of whizzing blenders, flying knives, empty brandy bottles (for the cooking you understand), mixers standing up to the glutinous, heavy demands. Out came the essential but highly specialized Christmas pudding…a fruitcake that will be devoured not denied…pastry all ready...and the mincemeat.

Mum doesn’t have a special recipe…but she’s modified one from Delia Smith’s Christmas.

I thought I’d throw out there the possibility for anyone who might secretly long for a mincemeat tart but feels the stigma of the fruitcake thing creeping up on them, of making mincemeat for themselves…standing up for your rights in tartdom…reclaiming mincemeat…and finding out once and for all that there isn’t meat in it…sort of…


Homemade Christmas Mincemeat
Makes 6 lbs (2.75 kg)
1 lb (450 g) Bramley (unpeeled) apples, cored and chopped small – of course in North America find a sour apple you like – granny smith?
8 oz (225g) shredded suet (it’s fat – ask the butcher at your supermarket – you can also get a vegetarian version – it's crucial, so don’t skip it)
12 oz (350g) raisins
8 oz (225g) sultanas
8 oz (225g) currants
8 oz (225g) whole jixed candied peel, finely chopped (I hate peel, so Mum adds more of the previous fruit
12 oz (350g) soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
2 oz (50g) slivered almonds
4 tsp mixed ground spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
nutmeg, grated
6 tbsp brandy

Combine all ingredients, except the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirring it together thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees F (120 degrees C), cover the bowl loosely with foil and put it in the oven for three hours.

Remove the bowl from the oven and Delia then says, "don't worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swiming in fat. This is how it should look." As it cool stir it occasionally; the fat will coagulate and instead of it being in tiny shreds it will encase all the other ingredients. When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir in the brandy. Pack in clean, dry jars, cover with with a disc and seal. It will keep in a cool, dark cupboard indefinitely, although Delia suggests devouring it within the year...

Yeah. Tartdom...

December 07, 2006

A Place Called Home

I saw a mountain the other day.
It was on tv.
It was in the corner of the living room and I was on the other side of the room…so it was pretty tiny, relatively speaking.
But it made me breathe in deeply. Like I was there. I relaxed. I grinned.
I love mountains.

Probably because I grew up on a flat part of the Canadian shield (which is kind of like a mountain, only lying down and squished as a glacier slid by – this was during a bona fide ice age, not to be confused with a Canadian winter).

Now Toronto is nice – it’s not mountainous – though our house is at the top of a pretty wicked hill.
I started thinking about how I don’t actually belong to this place…I belong to the people in this place.
I started thinking about place. Place and its role in us.

I respond to places or I don’t.
Steve said he doesn’t respond to places.
And if you subscribe to this philosophy, I think that makes us dog people, not cat people…don’t tell the cats.

Actually, I think we just haven’t found our home place yet…that’s what I think.

So I thought some more – what places have touched me? Here are some places where my spirit has danced –

Here’s a given. The heart of mountain land - Nepal – exotic yes. Friendly and open and warm hearted too. I can still close my eyes and imagine the sun rising on Machupuchre, the mountain they call fishtail. I can still see the open smile people greet you with. The kids who run up and pose for your camera. It’s one of the world’s poorest 48 nations. I can still see the Buddhist temples in Kathmandu that help you feel you’ve figured it all out – in fact it’s that communion with place I think. Nothing has ever come close to the spectacular scenery I’ve experienced there. And on my trek into the Annapurna Sanctuary I learned the value of appreciating a hot shower and a Mars bar.

Vancouver – aaah…mountains and ocean. Vancouver has been dubbed a supermodel of a city by my friends who call it home – they claim it’s very pretty, but not very deep. But my spirit dances here because this is where my Auntie Joan lives – so I find wherever she is, I feel at home. And I can get an excellent cup of tea…and she’ll probably have some cake in the cupboard. Maybe fruitcake. Maybe iced with mountains of marzipan.

If I’m in Vancouver I head over to Lighthouse Park. From there I can see Bowen Island and think of a brunch we had there at the Tuscany Restaurant with homemade croissants, including chocolate, and wondrous lemon ricotta pancakes with scrambled eggs and glorious coffee – it’s worth the ride in the boat…

Anyway, at Lighthouse Park I can stand in the trees, I can feel the mist (it does rain in Vancouver, I’ve heard), I can smell the cedar, I can watch the seals in the water…it is just what it is, the way it wants to be, and I am a speck in nature’s dust trail.

My literal home – I mean the place where I breathed first - England. My Aunt and Uncle’s ancient and simple farmer worker’s cottage in Essex – a county that suffers from a lot of ridicule (Brits treat Essexers like Canadians treat Newfoundlanders, and Americans treat Canadians) but it’s not so bad. Plus it’s where my other blood is, my tiny extended family. And since I came to Canada as a baby I only discovered my family at age 8 - after mine had imploded. I literally shared DNA with these people – which if you’re a regular reader you’d know is a fine blend of deoxyribonucleic acid and orange pekoe.

My Aunt would fill us with her trifles and mincemeat tarts and pies…oooh her pastry and for me…her bramley apple pies. If nothing else, that makes England a green and pleasant land.

London in particular. I remember visiting Paris a few years ago and then heading to London and getting the contrast instantly. I love Paris. I get excited just walking the streets and looking up…I didn’t have the heart to get on the Metro because I thought I’d miss something. So I walked everywhere. Paris is another in the supermodel category – beautiful, glamorous, definitely haute couture - and it knows it. London is more in the old cardigan category – not so full of itself in the same way – confident, but with more personality, a history to die for…as many did.

Killarney Provincial Park – Ontario…there is a slope of pink granite high above George Lake where you can take your coffee at the end of the day, behind the campsites, to a sheer pink wall that slides a 100 feet down into the water. You can sit up top at sunset, and watch the sun go down behind the white granite hills of the La Cloche mountains. If you’re familiar with the Group of Seven impressionist artists, this is the park where they often painted and the landscape that you’ll see in the windswept fir trees and dramatic skies. I’m always happy there, even if I hear a bear.

I still get that rush of excitement as I near the sea. I mean, the real thing. I’m surprised I don’t have piles of buckets and spades stored somewhere, ready at a moment’s notice, at the whiff of salt in the air. I remember heading to the sea for the day in England – cousins, grandmother, aunt, mum, buckets, spades, and Action Man in his very silver astronaut suit (my cousin went nowhere without him - that's him drying off at my feet). We’d sit in the sand, backs to the wind, eating our sandwiches out of plastic wrap (or fish and chips in this case) and our tea from a flask (thermos).

There is only one place that has awed me through to my core in terms of age – of ancientness…and I caught the feeling in a fleeting moment, through a car window. The land was flat, the sun was scorching, the earth was its reddish, goldish, brownish self and one lone acacia stood off in the distance with its canopy feeding a cooling shadow under the tree…it was Kenya. It was old. It was the one place that seeped up from the ground through me how old this part of the earth is – like an inaudible voice.


I love being on the move. I was just thinking about how excited I get when I’m going somewhere – I should clarify, on land.
Not a great flyer. I do get excited about meeting people at airports – I don’t get excited by flying.
But boats, ferries, trains, cars, buses (until one I was in fell down a hill in Nepal)…I like the feeling of being on my way somewhere. One day maybe I’ll find the excitement in stopping. I’ll get that rush from finding my actual place in my place. But I don’t think that’ll be for a while – there’s so much to do/see/hear/and, of course, taste.

Vancouver photo from
Acacia Tree from

December 06, 2006

Dressing Up

What's pissing me off about an association for dressings and sauces is their assumption of me. There's a whole organization, paid really well, I'm sure, to convince me I can't do it. That it's easier to just buy the bottle of Italian Dressing off the shelf. Yes it is. But it comes with loads of baggage - what's in it? how was it made? why does it last more than a year before being opened? how can it be better than something I make with my own loving hands? How? Why? How much?

I've bought into how easy salad dressing is to buy - and bought into how hard it must be to make.

Since I started cooking here in my lovely, little kitchen that has character and integrity, I haven't bought any manufactured salad dressing.

Last night I whipped up some scrambled eggs for Steve and I, and crumbled in some fresh thyme and some beautifully smoked wild salmon (it said wild on the label anyway). I made a green salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and toasted walnuts to go with it. On top - a whipped up takes 3 minutes.

I have some cranberry/raspberry jam in the fridge (hypocrisy alert: yup it's store bought), so I threw about a teaspoon in my mixing cup, dashed in some white wine vinegar, then mixed it up and drizzled in a little olive oil. I read somewhere you only ever taste the dressing with a lettuce I dunked away...slight sweetness, slightly tart, smoothed with the olive oil. We've done that with a few fresh raspberries too...

I've also juiced half a lemon, thrown in a dash of sugar and drizzled in the oil for a fresh, light zap on the greens.

And of course balsamic mixed with a little mustard so that it'll bite into the olive oil as it pours into the cup...yum.

That's some corporate secret...that's created a whole industry of processed food...

To soothe my rant, I thought I'd include something on the more exotic side of dressings and sauces.

I tried this recipe for sabayon on fresh fruit for dessert one night - for Jain's birthday. Its texture is beautiful, its colour a gentle backdrop for dramatic blackberries, kiwi or strawberries...or all of them. And Steve could eat it because it had no dairy, but looks like it does. It's courtesy of Lucy Waverman who develops lots of recipes for the LCBO website (one of my anchors for trying new stuff). And while I thought it would be in the souffle ballpark for hit and miss, it was dead easy. Thanks Lucy.

Late harvest sabayon - if you dare...
6 egg yolks
¼ cup (50 mL) sugar
¾ cup (175 mL) Late Harvest Riesling
In a heavy pot over low heat whisk together egg yolks and sugar for 5 minutes or until mixture is pale yellow and tripled in volume. Whisk in Riesling. Continue to whisk for another 5 minutes or until mixture is thick enough to see the bottom of the pan as you whisk.

In their recipe, they pour the sabayon over pineapple, mango, passion fruit and fresh figs quartered. I poured it over a selection of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries...if it ends in berry...I'm in.

Look I found a prepared version on the internet...

I'm ranted out for now...enjoy. Peace.

December 05, 2006

Dressing Down

In my email box this morning was a press release from something called The Association for Dressings & Sauces...I'm not kidding. ADS...the shortening version.

The headline:
"Association for Dressings & Sauces Encourages Everyone to Embrace the Holidays the Healthy Way"

ADS is "an Atlanta based trade association of salad dressing, mayonnaise and sauce and other condiment manufacturers..." Never mind what they were're smart enough to figure it assured it goes on top of all the fruits and vegetables you're supposed to eat to stay healthy.

That's almost as funny as the Snack Food Association...

Here's some counter spin from the Center for Media and Democracy - an interview with Eric Schlosser . (disclosure, I donate to the center, it is one of my causes)

Here's to happy, healthy, well fed, independent thinking brains...

The Best Shortbread Eeeevvverrrr

People get dogmatic about it.
They get testy.
It's too crunchy, it's not crunchy enough.
Too sweet, too greasy...
Once it's in their mouths, they either gag or look sublime...


I thought I knew shortbread...I've been to the bottom of many a Peek Frean's bag. I thought I knew. I've devoured plenty of shortbread that looks from its wrapping like it's been picked fresh off the heather-covered hills on the north side of Hadrian's Wall, in the home of Pringle pullovers, the home of lads and lasses, the birthplace of haggis and itchy shetland wool (both testament to the sheep's last laugh)...

I didna kno nothin...I'm a wee bairn in the world of shortbread.

At least I was until I was trained in this wondrous example of whipped shortbread. At the risk of getting unimaginative, this tooooooo, is from my lovely friend Karen, who has just moved from our lovely city of Toronto - and the city is the sadder for her absence.

One year we, the graces and I, got together not long before Christmas to bake a whole batch of stuff. Karen brought recipes for the shortbread, for cranberry squares, for almond cookies and truffles...a few of the specimens made it home in the box...the remainder came home wrapped on our hips. But we drank wine, ate munchies, and stood around the big harvest table at Jain's stirring, mixing, spooning and gabbing...moments of grace that make me grateful these beautiful women are in my life.

Now theeeez shortbreads are the kind that are gentle, kind, and just melt in your mouth - you don't actually eat them, you just infuse them into your body through your mouth. I hope you love them as much as I do...the secret is in the icing sugar and in the whipping...

Whipped Shortbread
1 cup butter (unsalted is better)
1/2 cup of icing sugar
1 1/2 cup of flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Cream the ingredients together. Beat/whip for 10 minutes (this is a breeze if you have a standing mixer). You can grease a cookie sheet or two while you're waiting. Drop the batter in tablespoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
I check on mine at the ten minute mark...they're ready when they start getting brown on the edges. I found letting them cool on the cookie sheets makes them easier to move later, because they can be quite fragile as newborn cookies.

Prepare a cup of tea...grab your book or crossword...curl up with your dog/cat/spouse/tartan velour throw and just live to taste and enjoy. Peace.

*that's a picture of Steve's legs in the kilt he wore for our wedding...

November 14, 2006

Broken Spine, the fourth edition

Part of the reason for my wine habit is to give me an excuse to go to the liquor store here in Toronto and pick up the latest edition of their home grown and totally free, I mean, totally free, magazine Food & Drink. Believe me? I just figure while I'm there picking up the rag...I might as well disguise my visit with a bottle...Believe me yet?

Anyway...the Holiday 2006 issue came out a little while ago and as usual they have so many beautiful recipes, it makes my stomach rumble while I'm in line waiting to pay for my latest Syrah. In return for the free-ness, I just have to marshal my way through hundreds of booze ads...

While marshalling away the other day, I came across their recipe for apricot stuffed loin of pork. Which put me in mind of my copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook - and where it's bent now. Its spine now demands that I look at page 105. Fruit Stuffed Loin of Pork. So I thought I'd share it with you.

I've made this often and the recipe has spread to friends far and wide. I even make the sauce when I don't have all the ingredients, just to cook the meat. It's very beautiful too, as you slice through it the fruit and the garlic start looking like a still-life painting.

Fruit Stuffed Loin of Pork - adapted from, and hats doffed to, Rosso & Lukins and The Silver Palate Cookbook

4lbs boneless pork loin roast
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
8 tbsp sweet butter, softened
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 cup of Madeira wine
1 tbsp molasses
watercress(for garnish)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

I take a long, narrow knife blade and cut a slit through the length of the roast, right down the middle. Then, as they suggest, I take the handle of a wooden spoon and work it down the slit to open the meat a little. I use the handle to then start stuffing the dried fruit into the middle of the roast. Alternate the fruit and try not to end with a prune (it just doesn't look right, believe me on this).

Cut the garlic into thin slivers and then using a knife to cut slits into the roast's surface, insert the garlic slivers into the slits. If the roast isn't already bound with twine, do it now and then rub it with salt and pepper.

Set the roast in a shallow baking pan and smear the meat with the butter. Sprinkle with thyme.

Stir the molasses and the Madeira wine in small bowl. (I never have a bottle of Madeira at hand, but I usually have Port's works like magic.) Pour the mixture over the roast.

Set the pan in the middle of the oven and bake for 90 minutes or so. (20 mins to the pound). Baste the meat frequently.

Don't overdo the meat. When you pull it from the oven, let it rest under tented foil for 15 or 20 mins. Cut into thin slices, place on a platter, and pour the pan juices over it all...Garnish with watercress if you like...

You can imagine how good the leftovers are, made over into sandwiches...

And above all, may it give you joy...Bon Appétit.

November 10, 2006

Mussel Mania

Okay so here’s my contribution to cooking flippantly…very Zen.

Mussels with Stilton - for Julie

2 or 3 Shallots, chopped
1 or 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
White wine, enough to cook the mussels and provide a base for the dipping sauce, ½ a bottle? A Bottle?
About 1lb of mussels, cleaned and debearded…when you wash them they should all close up...whichever ones don’t close are probably dead, so throw them out.
Heavy cream – don’t try to skimp on this, because it’ll break apart the thinner it is. Use what you feel enriches the sauce without causing instant coronaries.
Stilton cheese – crumble into chunks…probably a ½ pound to a pound depending on how many mussels you buy.

In a large frying pan that has a lid, sauté the shallots and garlic in a little olive oil, don’t let them brown. Add the wine, bring to a simmer and add the mussels - cover with a lid to steam them. Check back in a few minutes and if they’re all open to the world, pour in the cream and stir. Let simmer a few more minutes then throw the stilton over the whole heap and allow to melt a little. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Pull off the heat and serve – right in the pan if you like.

Make sure you have beautiful, crusty bread sliced up for dipping.
Have a wonderful weekend and great eats.

Thanks to NOAA for the mussel pic -

November 09, 2006

My cutlery drawer

Shrink-wrapped Buddhas in Bangkok

If you saw my cutlery drawer, you’d be sure I don’t even know how to spell intuition, let alone live it.

One person has kindly called it Zen, others openly call it tight assed. And they’re both right. My forks and spoons lie on their sides, in perfect precision waiting for their marching orders.

I prefer Zen though.

There is peace in that ordered drawer – it’s pleasing to the eye, well, my eye. And thus pleasing to my soul.

I apologize to no one.

My kitchen tool drawer is another story. Not so Zen…more Zennish, pseudo-Zen, faux Zen, pretenZen.

The knives rest gently on a rack at the back of the drawer, to protect their edges. The rest of the tools are just thrown in at the front with almost abandon.

Their handles all face left – as Steve and I are southpaws.

Is there such a thing as Zen-assed?

What I’m trying to get at is intuition – letting go – and pursuing cooking from the gut…leading to an incredibly satisfied literal gut. Our kitchen is a place of Zen – relaxation, a place for the senses, a place of enjoyment.

(Except when cooking a roast dinner, when it looks more like an Olympic sport of timing – and things get very, very steroidal especially between me and the gravy).

But otherwise, there’s a clear moment in my day when I put the laptop down, I get up and go into the kitchen. I turn on the lights over the counter, pull out my large cutting board, dig around for my favourite chef’s knife (a 6-inch chef’s knife from Sainsbury’s in England that I bought for 9.99 (sterling) and couldn’t live without) – and prep an onion. Slicing an onion is the start of something glorious…and that is definitely Zen.

It’s not like a lot of family kitchens – they often remind me of drive thru’s or warzones, littered with facts of life as people fly past looking for the next energy hit – a fuel pump for life. Snacks as shrapnel.

Cooking just doesn’t matter there…it’s not loved there…food surrenders there – becomes complacent – empty.

The Mums in my life ran family kitchens – feeding their children and their husbands with a mixture of love and duty. Most of them also worked. And now that they’re almost all divorced/widowed/single/and seniors, they take it easy in the kitchen.

And having cooked through the 60s and 70s when processed food was Better! Cheaper! Faster! And maybe even healthier (we’ll test it later!), they now look at me as if I’ve got three heads when I make stuff from scratch.

But then they’ll take something in hand and make it for me…and their intuition kicks into gear. None is trained as a cook, nobody has chef’s blood – but their food is wonderful. There is something indefinable that they put in the pot that works.

The closest I’ve come to understanding it is – they’re relaxed. They hate fuss. They just get it done.

Their tongues and noses working full time – tasting and sniffing for weakness, poverty in something – a little more salt, or sugar or wine. Gravy always behaves. Breads always rise. Pastry wouldn't dare crack - and if it does who cares...we'll patch it later.

My Mum and Auntie Joan who love to cook for dinner parties when they’re together are often missing half the ingredients they need. They make up the rest with a lot of, “oh that’ll do.” “I don’t think curry in this…how about mustard?” Or “we don’t have any shrimp, do you think sausage would be alright?”

And when they sit down to first try their own creation, they apologize in advance for the fact that it’s now a non-shrimp-sausage-non-curry-mustard-sauce-on-pasta-because-they’re-not-fond-of-rice dish.

And it’s delicious.

With none of my precious fretting, research, determined technique, clawing for perfection.

In a word, they drive me crazy.

I admit that’s not very Zen.

It reminds me of my friend Carol who stresses herself over cooking for others. She organizes for a living – entire television crews, in studio and out. She’s a perfectionist (like the rest of us, a group of perfectionists in denial - we can't be, we've never done anything perfectly).

Every year a bunch of us trek to a friend’s cottage in beautiful northern Ontario. Different teams cook different meals. Carol and I have been on the Saturday night dinner challenge for a few years now. This year I couldn’t make it. But we had already planned on making the tagine I wrote about a few weeks ago. Carol was left holding the grocery bags.

She had it all orchestrated the week before. The onions sliced, the spices measured and packed, the meat chopped, everything organized within an inch of its life. It scared me. I gave her some containers of chicken stock I’d made so that part of me would be in the dinner, and as I gave it to her, I made her look me in the eyes and I said, “Cook with love, not with stress. Relax.”

It apparently was a hit. So I guess/hope she took it in.

I read about food/cook it/eat it/breathe and sleep it…but I think I must dedicate a few more years to reach the actual state of Zen that relaxes me into intuitive cooking.

I’ve started. My rules are simple. Simply the best ingredients we can afford (our meat is organic and we eat less of it to make it possible), no processed foods – although we crumble in the face of some chips, and fresh vegetables (nary a can to be seen here other than tomatoes).

I don’t often cook from a recipe. I’m trying new things.

And now when I think about dinner I start thinking in terms of balance, whether juxtaposition or harmony. I love tempting balance when I cook. It makes me happy.

My Mum, Auntie Joan and my Mum’s friend Enid (another wonderful, intuitive cook) wouldn’t use the word Zen probably ever – especially over dinner. But they get it. No fuss Zen. Think I’ll go mess up my forks for fun.

November 06, 2006

A Quiet Revolution

Steve called me from a park bench last week in Boulder, CO. He was looking over an astounding memorial. The fields of the university campus had been sown with thousands of flags.

Each red one represents a dead American. Each white one represents 7 dead Iraqis. Happy Election Day.

photos courtesy of: Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

October 30, 2006

Will this hedonism ever stop?

I've been invited by dear Annie to indulge in the fantasy of what I'd serve for dinner to other food bloggers.

I'm a little nervous that these things don't take longer to think up. I just sat down and came up with a dinner I'd minutes...of course, it's lunchtime and I'm in the midst of a moral battle between the need for a run and my need for a ham and cheese croissant or fries or ice cream...or all three...anyway...back to self absorption...mine of course.

Apologies to any vegetarians at the table.

This dinner would go most of the night you realize. I love those long, slow dinners with a few courses...and lots of time to go down with the wine and talk. If anyone plays piano or guitar I'd be thrilled. And as food bloggers getting together for the first time, I wonder if we'd have anything to say to each other.

Once you've arrived in my home, I'd greet you with a flute of cold Prosecco to make this all go down a little smoother. (I'd also love you to be met with the smell of a wood burning fireplace...but I don't have one - I did wish before I moved in here that I would have one, and when I got here was thrilled to see one - but it was blocked years ago...which proves the saying, be careful what you wish for...or at least be very precise.)

So over on the side table is a bowl of wood-smoked olives (the first time I had these was at a restaurant in Vancouver - we were sitting at the bar waiting for our table, having martinis I think and the bartender put these in front of Lauren and I)...I love the slightly roasted, smoky flavour and their warmth. It does what it's supposed to: gets you going.

But I'd also put out for your consumption a dish of my mussels cooked in the garlic, white wine sauce with melted stilton dripping into the sauce underneath.

Homemade bread for dipping or to have with my onion confit or my tapenade.

I'd make Crab cakes with mango relish (that is so simple it's crazy: chopped mango, jalapeno pepper, red pepper, red onion, and the juice of one lime - and then devour it with anything you'd like to eat from meat, to fish, to certain cheeses)

Moving the table itself...

Linguine with smoked salmon, dill and a gentle lemon cream sauce
Green salad with vinaigrette
Balsamic Lamb on a bed of roasted potatoes served with steamed green beans tossed in butter and a bit of tarragon (a little goes a long way)
The not-so-pedestrian Roasted chicken with Steve's rub with cranberry relish and roasted potato salad
Fresh blackberries, raspberries and strawberries (at their peak and local - ha, ha, ha) on a gentle lemon cake with whipped cream (just slightly flavoured with lemon zest)
Chocolate brownies with the best of vanilla ice cream
A shot of world famous Ontario ice wine
The best of coffee
The best of tea
By then, I'd hope we'd be the best of friends...Bon Appétit...
Going to get my running gear on to pay for this hedonism...

October 18, 2006

Two Forks in the Road

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.
Mark Twain

Steve likes to call it “going over the wall”.

He’s writing a one-way ticket out of his old life…and so am I.

And our voices have changed.

His day is filled with talking to engineers, designers, computer specialists, imagery gurus, banks, governments, tax specialists, graphic designers, and his nephew. He’s head of business development for a new company.

Steve worked as a grip/electric in the film business for 20 years. He can duct tape/wire/glue/solder/ratchet anything into anything. He says grips are engineers with an authority disorder. Okay, build this town in a day, okay take it down.

One of his last jobs before he took a left turn was an infomercial for an animatronic monkey head. Imagine a monkey chopped at mid thorax sitting on your desk, or perhaps a table in your foyer. It has a motion sensor (built in!) that triggers the monkey’s head to turn and look at you as you enter the room. It makes monkey sounds. It makes happy monkey sounds when it's happy, screeches when it isn't. In fact it has "4 distinctive moods": curious, happy, feisty, fearful. All for just $129.99.

That was his last foray before going over the wall and running fast. No looking back. Burning bridges. Steve loves to tell that story.

Steve's new company can analyze stuff for renewable energy – his nephew is the brainchild of it – making renewables more efficient, saving us money, doing something positive for the planet – and at the very least isn’t about selling a robotic animal head for fun, torture, or haut décor.

Steve’s other life (while gripping) was/is to absorb every piece of information about the environment and fixing it. He’s spent more than 10 years reading everything/attending conferences/talking to visionaries/inventing stuff and has a non-PhD in the topic. It’s encyclopedic really. Plus, bless his heart, he can’t contain himself when he talks about it. And can he talk about it.

So when he arrived at his fork in the road…he veered left.

And he’s happily absorbed 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day, sitting at a desk, getting a tan from his laptop LCD screen. He’s never had a desk job. I make him eat. He's a little focused. I look at him directly and up close if I need him to take in a piece of information, and he responds, if I'm lucky. Kind of like an anti-authoritarian robotic head.

I love watching every minute of it. He’s passionate and driven and happy.

My fork is a little less clearly marked. I’ve enjoyed my career in television. I started as a researcher, moved onto field producing, directing, producing. I’ve gotten into places people normally never see. And I got paid for it. But I’ve never felt at home…never was using my own voice. I felt like an impostor most of that time, like someone would eventually come up and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to leave.

And yet, I did know stuff and learned so much. It just felt like being married to the wrong guy.

It took me the last five years to admit it. I’m not a quitter. I have always believed you don’t quit, you try harder. I've done it with jobs...I've done it with relationships.

The price of that is the stress. And the problem with the stress is that it kills my appetite. No food. The worst weight-loss plan on the face of the planet.

One of my last jobs in television was to direct some stories of youth making a difference in the world – I loved it, but I was in over my head in terms of style. And I floundered. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating. I took my pulse a lot because my rib cage was hurting from my pounding heart – it was regularly at 120.

Finally a friend pointed out it doesn’t mean failure if I quit – it means I have a different voice to them. So I worked out an arrangement with the wonderful producer to help get me out of it. She later told me she’d hired me again. So was I imagining it?

My built in! emotion sensor was set on 1 distinctive mood! Fear was eating me alive. I spent some time thinking – digging – why would I let myself get to that point? Why had it become a life and death thing that flushed all the chemicals for my flight or fight response? I knew it was an overreaction. I started to think I was going crazy.

So I wrote about it. I wrote a feature about the impostor phenomenon...believe it or not there’s an actual label for it. Successful people feeling like they’ve made it and don't deserve it. You can take a test. I got an A.

Fear of failure/success has driven me a lot in the past – and I’m not kidding myself, it still does. When I was writing the impostor article I came across this: “When is a mistake ‘failure’ and when is it just a mistake? The Impostor Phenomenon can lead you to that ‘all or none’ thinking, in which success equals perfection and anything less than perfection equals failure.”

Yup. Quitting is hard work.

And it’s one of life’s hardest lessons: when is it smart to quit? How come we don’t learn this stuff growing up? How come no one tells you when it is okay to quit? When quitting is being good to yourself? When staying is harming you? How come no one points out the difference?

We get better at quitting the more we do it – the boundaries of acceptance/non-acceptance get clearer. I call it learning from the shadows - knowing what we don't want, rather than what we do.

There are those who get too good at it and become pathological about it. They quit everything. Then there are those who never try. Those who never quit. Those who accept that there are two kinds of people in this world, those who are happy and those who aren’t. This is their lot and they can bear it, not happily, but with peaceful resignation.

Writing it out helped - lowered the temperature, put it in perspective. And Steve told me I wasn't perfect (imagine), no one was...and to remember that tigers aren't going to eat me. So life is pretty good.

I found myself falling in love with storytelling all over again. Feeling in control of the tools, instead of the tools using me. Hearing me through the sentences, the paragraphs, the whole.

I found my voice again. I knew it was there somewhere.

My appetite for challenge came back. I’ve stepped away from tv to see if I can make it in writing. That is what you call jumping from the fat to the fire - because tv actually pays a living wage.

So, I guess I took the left fork in the road too. The right fork would have been to play it safe. And for some reason, Steve and I don’t seem to be in the mood for safe, kind of ironic eh?. Like our relationship and marriage, our life seems to be driven by listening to instinct, tempered by what our experiences can offer.

I still have to deal with fear. I have to actually get articles pitched to editors. I can’t just hide here in my blog, as comfortable as it is.

It’s better trying than not. So...I’m going over the wall.

October 16, 2006

Snipe 'n Munch

My friend/grace Karen was “helping” me brainstorm some ideas for Foodnut last week.

She came up with this:

Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Lower Sodium Stuffing Mix for Chicken
2 pkg. (10 oz. each) frozen broccoli florets, thawed, drained
1 can (10-3/4 oz.) 98% fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup CHEEZ WHIZ Light Reduced Fat Cheese Dip
PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Prepare stuffing mix as directed on package, using only 3 Tbsp. margarine. Set aside. MIX remaining ingredients in 2-qt. baking dish; top with stuffing. BAKE 30 min. or until heated through.

Which she followed up with:

Home made Cheese Whiz
1 pound processed cheese, cut into small pieces
13 ounces can evaporated milk
4 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon salt Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Melt all ingredients in heavy saucepan or double boiler over medium heat. Pour into containers; let cool. Use on crackers or in recipes calling for Cheez Whiz. This recipe for Cheez Whiz serves/makes 1 lb.

Now, as far off the mark as this may seem from my usual search for food and meaning, it inspired me to write about our annual Snipe ‘n Munch. Because, the World Series is 'round the corner.

To be technical, we came up with the annual Snipe 'n Munch as a celebration of the Oscars. Actually, more of a celebrity roast of the Oscars.

And okay, we’ve only held one annual Snipe 'n Munch because we were away during this year’s Oscars (discovering ahi sandwiches in Costa Rica). But we adapted by throwing a Superbowl version before we left. We called it the Scratch ‘n Sniff.

I was going to wait until the red tide of Oscar fever came around again to write about it, but I’m feeling the need for another fall off the wagon.

Our Snipe ‘n Munch was born in the Canadian winter. We needed two things: junk food - fat and sugar - and the like-minded to bond with - over fat and sugar.

It was a reverence-free zone. Bitching at the television was mandatory (no kids allowed). Nothing beat our scrutiny – dresses, speeches, tuxes, haircuts, speeches, cleavage, speeches, and what people said.

So the snipe was obvious and abundant – but the munch was art.

We asked everyone to bring the food they’re most ashamed of.

The enthusiasm was frightening.

All these people we know and love, who are healthy eaters, came out of the pantry.

  • Cheezwhiz on celery
  • Cinnamon rolls - packaged
  • Alpha Bits as appetizers
  • Cheezies of course – have you ever set them on fire? Don’t think about that too much.
  • Chips and dip brought up the rear, if you’ll pardon the expression.
  • Jain and Andy brought the Bugles.
  • Naomi was eclectic: she brought store-made mini cupcakes with that creepy icing and sprinkles on top (chocolate and vanilla), lime chips, and a jar of gherkins.
  • Karen well, it defies the senses, almost. She made Monkey Bread. She brought Pillsbury dough cylinders, exploded them open, ripped them into chunks, piled them into a pyramid, drizzled it all with a mixture of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and baked it. It came out looking like a volcano with lumpy cinnamon lava. I’ve been near a few active volcanoes…they didn’t smell like that.
  • The pigs in a blanket came with Nic and JP - cocktail wieners, a slice of processed cheese, wrapped in a Pillsbury crescent roll and baked. Once you have the doughboy in the oven, you’re done for. Those things came out on a plate and were devoured like the tide takes a sand castle.
Almost no one let us down – except Carol who brought an extremely healthy layered veggie dip – which she defended by saying it had sour cream in it. We devoured it…but we sniped.

There was no stopping us. There was freedom in the license to eat it all. Hedonism. Pure and simple - probably hydrogenated.

We didn't care. We needed communion and comfort food in the Canadian winter. And we’ll obviously do anything to secure both. We were giddy with power - and sugar and fat.

No, there were no leftovers. And no, I can't remember who won a thing. But then, that wasn't the point.

Then this year, we planned the Scratch 'n Sniff for Super Bowl XL. And we were dwarfed, diminished, jennycraiged. This press release came through with a mere 3 days, 3 hours and 24 minutes left on the countdown-to-kickoff clock for the Super Bowl last January.

Yes there is a countdown clock on the Super Bowl website – it’s at 110 days right now. But maybe that's a lifespan clock.

The “Snack Food Association” and “Calorie Control Council” – they work together? can you imagine the meetings? – released some gargantuan facts:

Americans eat 30 million pounds of snacks on Super Bowl Sunday

· 11.2 million pounds of potato chips
· 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips
· 4.3 million pounds of pretzels
· 3.8 million pounds of popcorn
· 2.5 million pounds of nuts

The average armchair quarterback will consume 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat just from snacking (not counting any meals).

The potato chips alone will account for 27 billion calories and 1.8 billion grams of fat – which is the same as 4 million pounds of fat. That’s the equivalent of 13,000 National Football League (NFL) offensive linemen at 300 pounds each.

Who can compete with that? You Americans have to win at everything. Pass the dip.

October 13, 2006

PST Local Time

I wrote in my last post that Mark and Lauren were among my favourite home cooks. Well with months of hard work behind them (they own a boutique special effects studio - - and have just finished the art and marketing that was part of The Guardian) they collapsed at home for a low-key Thanksgiving feast for two.

Which is great. So here's what they cooked on their low-key, do-nothing, laid-back holiday:
"Managed to groggily plod to Granville Island, buy a wee salmon and stuff it full of oysters and shallots and garlic and sauterne. Then we flopped it on a cedar plank and barbequed. That was our bright spot. We ate it with a lovely gewürztraminer (Laughing Stock, made here in BC by former stock brokers)."

Well. Now that's bon appetizing.

Salmon Totem III from

October 12, 2006

Fig Bruschetta

I’ve had a number of emails asking for this recipe, since I mentioned it as one of my five foods to try before you die. So if even one person feels they've lived a more complete life because they ate this appetizer, my work is done.
This is a recipe from Entertaining, by Donna Hay…via my friends Lauren and Mark who live in Vancouver and who have fed me so well over the years – they are my favourite kind of home gourmets: they’re adventurous, the ingredients matter, and they make it all look so easy and effortless.

I helped them make these one night for a party. I didn’t think they’d make it from the oven all the way to the platter – not with me in between.

24 thinly sliced sourdough baguette
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, halved

8 oz (250 g) blue cheese
1/3 cup (135 g or 4 ½ oz) mascarpone
1 tbsp roughly chopped Italian parsley
cracked black pepper

1 tbsp butter
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
6 figs (quartered) - I have also used pears when figs were in hibernation (and I think I'd like to winter there - sounds like a warmnation)

To make the bruschetta: Brush slices of bread with olive oil. Place under a hot grill and cook until bread is golden on both sides. When done, rub with garlic halves.

To make the filling: combine blue cheese (I used stilton), mascarpone, parsley and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To prepare the figs: Heat butter, balsamic vinegar and sugar in a frying pan over high heat. Stir and allow to simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly. Place the fig quarters in the pan a few at a time, cook for 30 seconds on each side, or until they are lightly coated. Set aside.

Spread a small amount of the blue cheese mixture on each slice of bread and top with a fig quarter. Place them under a warm, low grill until cheese starts melting.

Serve….makes 24 minus whatever slips into your mouth on the way to your guests.

Addendum: I just got word from my friend Lauren that they couldn't find fresh figs they reconstituted dried figs. She wrote, "one thing I do remember is that we reconstituted them with port! Very important point. Can’t remember how long really … probably a good few hours 'til they looked all plumped up with the blood of the gods." Always good to have options that have the blood of deities.

I just read figs were probably our first crop - 11,200 years ago. Researchers found some carbonised figs at a dig in Israel earlier this year - indicating that humans grew figs before they grew wheat or barley or legumes. From the look of these carbonised figs though, I'd stick with fresh.

fig leaf picture is public domain

October 10, 2006

Cranberry Sauce

An ode to the cranberry...

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year. It's a simple harvest celebration - honoring you know...bounty, beauty, brussel sprouts.

So we honored it right - roast turkey (Fresh from the Market of the Mennonite farmers), with sausage stuffing (my Mum's), I made cornbread/sausage stuffing for glutenfreeSteve, roasted potatoes and parsnips, steamed marrow with béchamel sauce, mashed butternut squash/carrots and ginger, steamed green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts and what I wait for the opportunity to make - cranberry sauce.

I remember the first time I trod near the thought of actually making cranberry sauce and turning over a package of fresh cranberries to read the recipe on the back. I said out loud, "You're kidding right? That's it?" So I made it. And kind of swaggered as I brought it to the table like I'd just saved a life with a new surgical technique.

But then I got into it. And I discovered this recipe in Delia Smith's Christmas (a few of her volumes sit on my shelf- but this one is particular well thumbed, stained and brokebacked). I've adapted it a little but here you go. It's a sauce that also freezes well, so you can save it for Christmas, if you have any left over...but you won''ll start putting it on everything you can think of...just 'cause...

Cranberry Relish

450g (1lb) fresh cranberries (which is more than a bag, but I used one bag and it was fine)
Juice and rind of one large orange
1 huge tbsp fresh ginger grated or 1/2 tsp ground ginger (I've only used fresh)
4 cm (1 1/2 inch) cinnamon stick
4 cloves
75 g (3 oz) caster sugar (I used regular sugar)
2-3 tbsp port wine

I wash the cranberries and put them in a saucepan. Delia suggests you chop them in a food processor, but I have never done that. You can peel the orange with a potato peeler, then cut the peel into slivers and add them to the pot. I usually do, but this year I grated the orange peel and it was fine. Add the juice of the orange, then the ginger, the sugar, and the spices.

Bring everything up to a simmer, stir well, and cover. Let it simmer carefully for about five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the port (I use less than the recipe calls for).

Cover with plastic and let it sit in a cool area until dinner. I made mine the day before and then pulled it out to warm it up to room temperature in time for eating.

The trick here is actually finding all four cloves before you serve it. Worth the trouble.

Photo from:

Tea and Me

Hard to tell us apart really. Steve says my DNA is 75% tea…when I’m on low.

This is Richard, my late brother, having tea during one of the family caravan holidays, before I was born. We were weaned on tea. I’m almost not kidding. I had a splash of tea and sugar in my bottle occasionally.(Just got word from my Mum after she read this that it wasn't actually my bottle, but rather the 6os version of the sippy cup - I apparently was stretching the truth...)

I’m quite normal, apart from an authority disorder on tea.
I’m not saying I think about tea a lot. It’s more reflex than reflection.

And it doesn’t affect me at all, until someone does it wrong - crosses the moralitea line. I mean, there are rules for a reason. No good reason, but for me, there are rules.

Tea may be as close as I come to a religion. And like the trappings of centuries of imposing buildings, asexual robes, funny hats, smelly smoke, and gruesome art, that require more faith than reason, the rules are there to control rabble rousers – in the tea world, those I call non-tealeavers.

The bag.

I converted to loose leaf tea a few years ago. Not the snotty stuff that’s expensive enough to trade on street corners at night, but regular tea (like Tetleys) – without the bag – the stuff that clogs your teapot, then your drain. Tea with attitude. Tea that goes commando.
Let’s be frank. The bag just gets in the way.

The water.

Tea demands boiling water. Not just off the boil. Not simmering. Boiling. So all those restaurants that have those evil water simmerer things, the ones with the red lever – be gone. There was a deli and coffee shop downstairs from where I once worked. Lovely, lovely people who got to know me and everyone else in the multi-storied tower. Anywhere from 3-4pm Nancy would fill up the water pot, put it on the burner, and turn it up to high. For me. Because if you pour non-boiling water into a cup of tea, the water gets foamy on top. The tea doesn ‘t steep properly, you might as well just tell me to throw it in the microwave.

The microwave.

Moving on, almost.
Another thing....tea cannot be boiled. It cannot sit on the stovetop all day and be reheated when people pop by. Yes, I've seen it.
Now...moving on.

The pot.

I have a gorgeous stainless steel pot, with a very smart filter that sits inside and is easy to remove and clean. The thinking person’s pot…whoever designed that deserves an award. It wasn’t cheap, but it was on sale. However, I see the merits of ceramic pots – the tea does shine in there. Tastes better, gets richer. But the danger of ceramic pots is that you can be seduced by the $7.99 price tag before you test it out. And you just can’t tell. You remove it from the box, approve the colour, the size, the lid, but the danger that lurks for anyone who isn’t really looking…is the spout.
I think there are workers out there making these things for pennies a day, who are frustrated joke cup manufacturers. Pouring tea from a malformed spout is like discovering politicians lie and waste your money. It looks good as you pick it up, then it dribbles onto everything between you and the cup.
And the pour is the important part – both art and science. It’s lyrical, it’s beautiful – and practical…it’s at that point you can test the strength of the steep, and retrench if it’s not ready. A fine spout is all.

The steeping.

Weak tea is a crime, surpassed only by weak, milky tea. Tea should be almost mistaken for coffee, but not gone so far as to be mistaken for varnish – if it smells like it could strip wood, it’s gone too far – tannins run amok. I call it crunchy, because it almost won’t go between your teeth.

The cup.

Nope none of that fancy cup and saucer for me, though you might be surprised. I want a mug. Although I really do prefer a bone china mug. It does seem to taste better. And no, that doesn’t really make any sense.

The milk.

This is not science. The milk for tea goes in first. The cream in coffee goes in last.

Herb tea is not tea.
Well, it might be. But I prefer the name tisane, then I can get my brain around the cranberry, blueberry, cinnamon, thrust of the hot drink on my tongue.

The biscuits.

Good for dunking. Not for too long. A dunk can turn to disgust once the biscuit disintegrates into the murky depths.

Is this a little obsessive?

You’ve probably already come to that conclusion. If you’re still reading it’s either because you are fascinated by the weird, or agree, and are trying to figure out if it’s a disorder or just a control issue.
I know we're feeding an addiction. I know it's caffeine (don't start me on decaffeinated tea). But tea means something. It means sitting down - slowing up - sipping - allowing heat and sweetness to calm us. Shall I put the kettle on indicates the termination of trauma. The distilling of disaster. The panacea of panic.

It signals comfort, warmth, love - an assurance that life has moved on. "Fancy a cup of tea?" is one of the friendliest-sounding questions in the English language.


October 09, 2006


I got an email yesterday from Michael and Jennifer, the chefs who created our wedding dinner. They wrote to tell me they're just days away from opening their brand new restaurant in Toronto called Quince.

It's just up the street from their old restaurant, Stork on the the southern chambers of the heart of the Yonge and Eglinton area, if any of you know Toronto. They've been at it for six months and hoped to open earlier, but in the usual world of restaurant creation, they've been a tad delayed.

They invited Steve and I to their opening on October 18th. I'll catch you up later.

Happy Thanksgiving Day - to others of the Canadian persuasion!

September 29, 2006

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well...

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." 
- Virginia Woolf

We gave ourselves just over 3 months to plan our wedding. Bags of time. Oodles. An eternity. No problemo.

Then I started researching the food. Because, as you’d expect, that was the most important element of the day.

If we were going to put money into anything in this wedding, it was the food.

With three months to plan the wedding I wasn’t worried.

My dream wedding, when I thought about it, involved 10 people in a restaurant with the freedom to choose what they wished from the menu and winelist. And I was aghast at the number of places whose imaginations stopped at: chicken or beef. I was not inspired.

And what they charged for that creativity! They were eating our modest budget... tartare.

I was telling my friend Julia this over dinner at her house one night. The night that she and Guy met Steve for the first time. Their beautiful home had just been renovated – they looked around. “How many people are you inviting," they asked.

 “About 50,” I said.

“You could have it here.”

We laughed…and then we stopped laughing…and then we thought about it…The back room was walled by French doors that overlooked a flagstone terrace. If it was warm enough, wedding outside, if not, by the fireplace. We agreed.

So we had a venue…we also had an officiant for the ceremony. My friend Karen, of the magic nuts, had an uncle who was an officiant. Done.

Next: back to how to feed them.

Our budget bled red everytime I called a well-known wedding venue…Steve’s face looked like he was hemorrhaging. And so it went: wedding venues/restaurants/big rooms/caterers/tables/linen/cutlery/glasses/rent-a-dream wedding…and I realized the wedding industry was salivating, poised for attack, waiting for me to give in.

Suddenly the wedding was less than four weeks away.

I was walking down Yonge Street one afternoon, after lunch with a friend, and walked passed The Stork on the Roof, a restaurant I loved and had been to a few times. It was owned by Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel, friends of friends. They had just finished their lunch service, so I went in to say hi and thought it wouldn’t hurt to pick their brains on how to make dinner out of cheese and crackers for 50.

They hugged me and asked how things were going. “Well I’m getting married in a month, and looking for a way to feed people. You guys don’t do weddings do you?” I hoped I didn’t look too desperate, but I think it was too late.

Jen looked at Michael and said, “Sure! We’d love to. We’ve closed the restaurant for birthday parties I don’t see why we can’t for a wedding.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. One of my favourite restaurants available? On a Friday night? In a month?

I tripped home like the not-so-giddy bride I was, and told Steve – he trusted my instinct (part of why I love him) – so we went to meet the chefs that weekend, before they opened. They pulled out a variety of menus. My jaw dropped. They were offering a choice of 4 appetizers, 5 entrees, and 4 desserts. There would be an open bar, a choice of wine, and champagne after the main course. I nearly teared up. It was what I had dreamed of for 10, but was getting for 50 instead. Steve loved the restaurant, it was warm and friendly and unpretentious and Jen and Mike oozed the passion they have for the food…We knew we were in good hands.

Then the price. I closed my eyes. We had chosen the more expensive menu. Open bar. Wine. Champagne. It came in at $65 per person…everything except the tip.

We came in UNDER budget. Who ever heard of such a thing? I let go my giddy side.

The day before the wedding my friends the graces all gathered at Julia’s to help slice, chop, prep the hors d’oeuvres we were serving before the ceremony. Julia wanted to take care of the flowers. Steve was busy mixing dance and dining CDs.

We laughed, and talked, and rejoiced at it all. It was elegant. It was communal. It was beautiful. Cook with love…it’ll show in the food.

And the next morning…Steve and I couldn’t help marveling at how happy the day was. It was sunny and warmer than normal. We were calm and happy.

Then Steve picked me up from my hair stylist at 4pm (an hour later than I expected). We fought traffic northward to Julia’s house, me in the passenger seat with my hair held up with over 100 bobby pins, realizing as I stared at the people heading home from work that I had written my vows, memorized them and stored them somewhere in my brain where the sun don’t shine. The nerves had arrived.

Then the words flooded back to the front of my brain and I could breathe again. We arrived, the food prepping was in full swing, I went upstairs to change. Dear Jain brought us champagne, and left us alone while we just marveled at the precipice we were on.

It was a happy wedding. As 7pm rolled up to us, I finally lost it…I giggled for about five minutes as we all gathered outside on the terrace – lost it. Not mascara-smudging lost it…but almost. Steve lost it once I’d said my vows to him. He was speechless – which is something for Steve. Then when he said his vows, they came out in a whisper. At least the officiant verified he’d promised a bunch of stuff, no one else heard a thing.

Then we were off to the restaurant – and the orders were taken and the meals flowed out of that small kitchen like poetry. The room was almost silent as everyone tucked in. I chose the seared scallops, the venison and then the crumble. Cook with love…

Jen and Michael sold the restaurant last year. They closed on my birthday. So we went for one more dinner – I had my first soufflé. I know they’ve taken some deserved time off and are thinking about re-opening with a different theme…and I can’t wait. But I don’t think they realize how far beyond fulfilling my dream they went. They will always be embedded in the memory of the happiest day I’ve known. And that’s something.

Have a wonderful weekend…
Eat, love, and sleep well…

September 28, 2006

The Missing Link

Steve sat across the table from me – his eyes sparkling from sudden realization and a little too much wine. His arm was extended, his finger pointing. “You think that I gave up?”

He had achieved the perfect smirk.

I could feel my cheeks flush, my eyes narrow, my arm rise, my finger point back, “You mean you think that I gave up?”

We stared for a bit.

Then I grabbed the corkscrew, another bottle of wine, the dessert and headed for the living room…and he followed.

I knew my life had just shifted – like an earthquake had just passed through the kitchen.

All because of a lost email.

A few weeks before that dinner, our very excellent friendship took a strange, vortexed dive into the weird world of email flirtation. He admits now he was the big, dirty slut who started it all (his words, not mine). But only because, he claims, I must have “meant something” when I emailed him and signed it with just an “n”. I didn’t…but it’s kind of a spurious denial now.

This needs perspective. I am still living down my reputation as an oblivious non-flirter. I was single for four years. My friend Bill told me he was going to pay to have my radar fixed, because something was obviously very wrong. I NEVER noticed when someone noticed me.

When I did stumble into flirtation – I lived up to my obliviousness: I emailed one guy I liked a downright lascivious invitation to “keep in touch”. I was so proud of how forward I was. I never heard from him again.

My friends, those so-called graces of mine, nearly peed their pants. I still hear that story.

So falling in love has a lot to do with good fortune. Because in my case it almost didn’t happen.

Steve and I met through one of my best friends, one of the graces in my life, Carol. She and Steve had been college buddies. They had become rock climbing partners after losing touch for a bit, and we started hanging out.

Steve walked into the pub the first time I met him, and smiled. His smile lit me up. He’s the kindest person I have ever met, one of the most compassionate, and has a sense of humour that chokes us all…and he used all that to get through a hard time.

He was coming out of a long-term relationship – and since Carol and I have both been there, we understood the emotional landslide.

Then, after a winter-long road trip through North America and into Mexico he came home to climb back into his new life.

The emails started about a month later. And as we sneaked toward my birthday at the beginning of May, he offered to cook me dinner. Before we knew it, we were debating the merits of various super villain costumes and how good showers are.

I didn’t take him seriously – because my radar is, as I’ve said, extremely off track. Besides, I kept saying – IT’S STEVE.

Then after a flurry of furious, very lusty typing – he suddenly stopped.

He simply wrote one night that: “he had a visitor coming.” Didn’t know what that meant…but it stopped.

I was certain I had been wrong, misread it all, couldn’t flirt to save my life…See?

And so it went for the next week – we dove back to the fringes of friendship and just agreed on the mundane details of scheduling the dinner and where it would be and who would be cooking and what time it should be.

My stomach fluttered when he arrived. I felt foolish and embarrassed and worked at being normal. He showed up on his motorcycle with a smile and a dinner already cooked. He had planned a menu he could pack into the paniers on the back of the bike.

He walked in with: a chilled bottle of champagne, homemade guacamole and bread to start, curried shrimp and spinach on rice, homemade na’an bread, homemade raita for the main, and homemade apple turnovers for dessert. He was wearing the closest thing he could find to an Indian shirt…all because I love Indian food.

And he prepped it all while I was writing (on deadline).

Then we ate. It was beautiful. As we finished up the last of the main course, I got up to open another bottle of wine. And I tested the water – dipped my toe in… “So we never concluded whose Catwoman costume was the best…”

And he said, “Yes we did. Julie Newmar. I said so in the next email. You got that one right? Because my computer crashed right after I pressed….”

He paused. He smirked, and pointed, “You think that I gave up.”

I pointed back at him and we stared at each other for a long time. My radar was working fine.

He never really left. Even though he’d just rented an apartment and furnished it.

He explained that because I hadn't answered the "missing" email, he figured he'd offended me, gone too far...tested the limits. So he backed off and looked at the dinner as a friendship salvation mission.

Five weeks later, down in a park that juts out into Lake Ontario, on the first day of summer, we went out on an actual "first date". (He even left a voicemail, introducing himself and asking me out and said his friend Carol had said we should meet...)

He sat on a log, I sat on the ground leaning on his legs, and he said he wanted to marry me. And I said I wanted to marry him. Then I told him, he hadn't actually asked me. So he did.

I pulled out a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot I had bought just in case (since my radar was by now, so polished, I sensed what was coming). Then I did a happy dance on the rocks – the wind blowing with me, the sun dancing in and out of the white clouds, the cormorants skimming along the surface of the waves.

There was no existential hesitation. It was an instinctive reaction, a gut feeling, a crazy, impetuous, underthought life change. It was soooo unlike me.

I was so happy.

I’ve lived with Steve now for two years – well, 2 ½. We work together in the same room everyday: our office by day, our living room by night.

About six months into the marriage I realized how lucky I’d been. We had learned more about each other – knew more about our moods, our needs, our habits…I felt richer and luckier. We are good partners.

We share cooking duties – and love cooking together. We talk. We lean on each other. We push and challenge each other. Then we talk some more. And I’ve learned to keep saying I love you out loud and often – because I now know how rare it is.

So this weekend we’ll be celebrating 2 years of fixed radar, lost and found emails, and I think we have enough imagination to leave out the catwoman suit. I never knew how rich life could be.

September 26, 2006

Another Broken Spine Recipe

My cookbooks live on top of the cupboards over my sink. At 5'10" I can reach them no problem - although dusting them is still a chore. I came across another book with a broken spine - and it's one of those expansive titles again: The Top 100 Pasta Sauces, by Diane Seed. I don't know if you've seen it, my copy was printed in 1992.

I let it fall open and it showed its cracks on page 97 - which belies tasty and easy...and if you read Adam's pro-fat manifesto, you will be supporting him by trying this - think of it as a good or delicious deed:

Rigatoni alla Norcina - Rigatoni with Norcia Sauce

550g/1lb rigatoni or short pasta

1 small onion
15ml/1 tbsp olive oil
200g/7 oz pork sausages
100ml/4fl oz white wine
250ml/8fl oz double (heavy) cream
50g/2oz (generous 1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Slice the onion very finely and fry slowly in the olive oil in a covered pan. The onion should not be allowed to change colour. (Did you know that if you cover the pan, the onions will take longer to brown? - Handy to know if you're still chopping and you only want the onions translucent and perfumey and soft and silky, but I digress...)

Remove the skin from the sausages and divide the meat into very small pieces. Put them in the pan with the onion and add the wine. After 10 minutes, add the cream and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and keep warm.

Cook the pasta. Drain it, toss in the grated cheese, and turn into a heated serving dish. Stir in the sauce, add freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve at once.

Feeds 4. Oh my...