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...