November 01, 2009

The lives I've imagined - the other me's

A piece of me lives on the Oregon coast
A piece of me lives across an ocean
A piece of me plays the cello and piano
A piece of me has no fear
A piece of me lives in wide open space
A piece of me grows food in California
A piece of me looks at the world askance from a distance
A piece of me sees myself in everyone
A piece of me is learning about the shadows
A piece of me loves pink
A piece of me loves college football
A piece of me sings like a funk diva
A piece of me dances in rhyme with nature
A piece of me knows me through and through
A piece of me cooks for others
A piece of me has a big table
A piece of me has three kids
A piece of me is overrun with cats and dogs and horses
A piece of me has a house with a yard
A piece of me can afford to look after our parents
A piece of me lives on the ocean
A piece of me loves winter
A piece of me speaks six languages
A piece of me makes jam
A piece of me bakes bread
A piece of me climbs mountains
A piece of me explores…

October 23, 2009

life cycle

Fall is here. In breathtaking strokes of colour, streaked by a sun that is harsh as it lowers itself in the sky. The haze that burns the sky white in summer is blown out. The blue through to space is clean and pure and ready for winter.

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the fall but Canada.

It was the mark of fall – the rocky outcrop, Lake Joseph, the Muskoka chairs, the wine, the beer, the caesars, the snacks and handful of women who trek up to the cottage the weekend after Thanksgiving every year to laugh, drink, laugh, eat, and laugh. And eat.

The cottage itself is a testament to another time. It sits on stilts over the water, blending the land and lake. Its glory is fading. The porch off the living room faces east. In the morning, we were sitting nursing cups of coffee in the cold, the water looked like a basket weaver’s work – diagonal lines crossing through each other in perfect sequence. Looking to the east, as the sun was pulling up over the tree line, the water let go its heat and mist rose…and I'm not kidding, a loon cried out far away. Slowly the other women followed the light and pulled chairs into the sun and our day was begun.

We have been going up there every year of this decade at least…and it marks our lives each year. Our host and her former husband had wild parties up there but after their break up the weekend became a way to connect with her women friends.

We come from all walks of life. There are a few tv people, a couple of teachers, a medical administrator, an adventure company owner, an executive with a non profit, an outdoor educator/guide, and we’re deep into or on the cusp of middle age. We are smart and funny - even without the wine.

Most of us only see each other for this weekend – and every year there’s something new – a marriage, a baby, a career change, travel, illness, recovery, discovery.

However, the price of admission - apart from closing up the cottage for the owners on the Sunday - is our host makes us set goals for the coming year. And we have to answer for them next year.

The goals are as varied as we are in personality. One of my favourites this year was Kathleen who wants to find her inner princess. To treat herself well…so some are about self improvement, others want to play the ukulele, one woman wants to find a way to help homeless animals, and Marney is registered for the Ironman Canada triathlon for her 50th birthday, and Erin just wants her hair back.

She looked at me saying, “I want my hair to look like that. It’s not fair,” she said. I flinched inside – it hurt. And it’s true. My hair is back in full swing and gradually growing down to my shoulders and there’s no way to change the fairness of that. Whatever the future holds.

We talked about our year – we toasted Erin who wants her hair back…she is battling recurrent cancer with everything she’s got. And holding her own thank you very much. We toasted her for just being here, when at the beginning of the year we all wondered what 2009 held for her. Jennie lost an employee/friend in a horrific accident while he was on the job. It was also unfair. She sobbed through the telling with such genuine affection for him and guilt for what happened - and she said that he lived by his own rules, he knew who he was…all that at 26. So many live so long never able to say that. Living by your own rules, your own standards…that is quite an achievement in a young life. Carol jumped back into the freelance world after her job collapsed from under her and she’s stitching together her living – single, mortgage holder, making it work. These are strong, remarkable women.

I personally hate goal setting. I’ve always resisted it – I don’t like the set up for disappointment. I’ve done it over and over and over, and don’t get any better at it. I’m already pretty good at beating myself up so I don’t need another missed goal to point out my flaws.

Actually, to be honest, on these cottage weekends, I have always achieved my goals – but that’s because I’ve managed to set my goal posts so wide I couldn’t miss (well couldn’t miss anything other than the point of the exercise, of course).

Although the gods have a sense of humour: six years ago I set my goal low – as always – it was to have a date. One. In the next year. The following October the women’s weekend was two weeks after my wedding. Total overachiever. Total. Yes.

So last year I went practical. I set the goal of writing up the collection of recipes that we have cooked over the years. Because the food has been remarkable. And of course I didn’t get it done. I put out an APB to the women a few weeks ago asking them to at least help me remember all the dishes – and many came to my rescue…but it wasn’t done.

The morning we drove up I came up with a perfect roundtable logic of success…while I had set my goal to create the cookbook, my actual clandestine goal was to fail at the goal…since I always achieve my goal, I wanted to see what this failure thing was all about…or so went my explanation that night. The goal keeper looked back at her notes from last year and said, “No you didn’t fail. You said you’d start collecting the recipes. And you've started.” So I failed at failing. Or something.

We were fourteen at table on Saturday night. It was cold – even for this normally cold weekend, the thermometer couldn’t really rouse itself into double digits. So the fireplace in the big, old dining room was lit, the huge table set (it can sit 14 comfortably).

Wendy and I got to work in the kitchen. This seems to be the year to try a Julia Child recipe. So that's what we did. Coq au vin – and browning enough chicken for 14 does not make for a happy smoke detector. That picture of us is just after we smoked out the entire kitchen.

But Julia is a classic for a reason - that chicken stew was pretty damned delicious. We served it with salad and boiled new potatoes in parsley butter.

Now I found the recipe in a book I am totally enjoying, American Food Writing, by Molly O’Neill. It has everything – essays on food by Thomas Jefferson to Walt Whitman to David Sedaris. And recipes for the likes of ketchup, peach leather (from 1867), or cranberry sauce (from 1901), even Thomas Jefferson's ice cream. And of course at the end of a piece by Julia Child about the making of her tv show, Molly reproduced the Julia’s Coq au Vin recipe.

It was perfect. The weekend and the food - warming to the soul, deep and personal. That’s goal enough I think.

Coq au Vin – a la Julia Child -

We doubled these amounts to serve 14, browning the chicken in two pans, much to the consternation of the smoke detector.

3-4 oz chunk of lean bacon
2 tb butter
2 ½ to 3 lbs. cut up frying chicken (we used boneless thighs, but I've made it before with bone in and most people swear by the extra flavour the bones impart)
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

¼ cup cognac

3 cups young, full-bodied red wine (burgundy, Beaujolais, chianti)
1-2 cups brown chicken stock
½ tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
¼ tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

12 to 24 brown-braised onions
½ lb. sautéed mushrooms

3 tb flour
2 tb softened butter
a saucer
a rubber spatula
a wire whip

Remove the rind and cut the bacon into lardons (rectangles ¼ inch and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned. Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover, and pour in the cognac. Ignite the cognac with a match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off fat. Then raise heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 ¼ cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, and discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manie). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it, and baste with the sauce. If the dish is not to be served immediately, film the top of the sauce with stock or dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside uncovered. It can wait indefinitely.

Shortly before serving, bring to the simmer, basting the chicken with the sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is hot through.

Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

October 05, 2009

an era fades

Conde Nast announced it will end almost 70 years of food history. Gourmet magazine the oldest food publication in the U.S. has folded...and even in this era of fading print...I'm still stunned that we're losing such an institution.

September 21, 2009

how far we've come


Here is a recipe from The United States of Arugula by David Kamp. I finally indulged in a paperback copy. And I love the cover.

I read the book a couple of years ago (I got it from the library) and since then I've remembered this salad recipe he quotes from the Chicago Tribune of 1937...I doubt you're ready for's kind of like food trauma.

The Lacy Valentine Salad: "marshmallows, apricots, maraschino cherries, dates, celery and canned grapefruit suspended in gelatin and garnished with curly endive and mayonnaise piping..."


September 19, 2009

sausage, the link to earth

I tripped over a thought last night while eating dinner - dinner that Steve cooked and I inhaled after a work week of billowing stress - I'm removed from the food.

What I mean is, I ate my bowl of chili, crunched my nacho chips, drank my drink, put it down and said thanks.

But I didn't make the dinner. I didn't put any of the tastes and textures together. I haven't made dinner all week. I felt no synergy - no connection to the meal that was greater than the sum of the ingredients. I just consumed. I was removed from the love of it.

And it was unsatisfying. Eating by rote. And it bothered me to my core.

I felt disconnected from the earth.

So I fixed it. I was dissecting the fridge of leftovers this evening and found some smoked Mennonite sausage that needed to be used up.

I was drawn back to Jamie Oliver's book Jamie at Home - who else would know how to gussy up a sausage?

On a cool September night, after a gorgeous, intensely sunny day at the Brick Works farmer's market, this hit the spot.

Adapted from "Sweet cherry tomato and sausage bake", Jamie at Home, I've cut the recipe to serve two

6 small red potatoes, quartered, Jamie doesn't use potatoes at all
1 lb cherry tomatoes, I used a slightly larger version
sprigs of rosemary, thyme and bay leaf, I also used fresh sage
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-4 sausages, the full portion of the recipe calls for 12
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, and place on one side of a roasting pan. Put a sprig or two of the rosemary and thyme among the potatoes.
Toss the tomatoes in oil as well and place them on the other side of the roasting pan. Place the herbs, including the bay leaf, amongst them as well.
Sprinkle the garlic over all.
Place the sausages on top of the tomatoes. Drizzle everything with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper it all.
Bake in the oven for about 3o minutes. Turn the sausages to the other side and put back in oven for another 15-20 minutes. I made this with already cooked, leftover sausage and some caramelized onion which I threw in the pan as well for the last half hour. Check out how it's all doing and leave for another 10 minutes if you need to.

I plated the potatoes, topped it with a few of the roasted tomatoes, sliced up the sausage (which was leftover remember), and mixed in the caramelized onions. The sweetness of the roasted tomatoes is so beautiful, I almost teared up...and felt very much back on earth...

Now if you like, Jamie says you can take out the sausages once they're done (and the potatoes in this case) and put the roasting pan on top of the stove, cook down the tomato juices a little bit and thicken them. I didn't do that, but I'll bet it's fantastic.

September 09, 2009

the new portuguese table

Look what was waiting for me when I got home...Ola baby...Como esta...and all that. I'm digging into it looks David wrote/commanded in the front cozinha bem!

September 08, 2009

Speaking of Ice Cream

Before summer runs away...There is a creamery to the east of us called St. Clair Ice Cream – that sells the biggest, humungousest, gargantuan balls of ice cream. Steve remembers going there as a kid and getting a head-sized orb on a cone. A frozen planet. He said it was absolutely ridiculous. So we headed east. We lumbered back to the car under the weight of two "small" ice cream cones. We were gob smacked at the size, the weight, the mass, volume, density, gravitational pull these things had.
On the sidewalk were two young kids – about 8 and 10 – car door open, Mum in the driver’s seat, warning them away from the car, holding stacks of napkins. I could see why. The young boy was giggling uncontrollably looking at his arm, knowing he was fighting the good fight, but he had lost. He was solidly coated from the fingers up to the elbow in mint green. It looked like a glove that was dripping onto the sidewalk - which made him laugh all the more, which gave the ice cream time to melt more. His older sister saw us coming along with our ice creams and said, “Are they CRAZY?” bending under the weight of her cone. “We ordered a SMALL.”
Their universes collided – they got something they wanted and couldn’t handle it or make any sense of it. I don't remember the ice cream itself, but that was the most joyful ice cream moment I’ve ever had…

September 07, 2009

Summer and the Spit

Labour Day weekend is always tinged with sadness. When you’re saying goodbye to summer it takes some work not to feel a grief creeping toward you. The sun has swept southward in the sky and now comes fully in the window, bathing our sofa in rays during the morning – much to our old cat’s delight. Three trees in the Don Valley have decided to try on red. It’s still hot in the sun, but you need sleeves in the shade. We turn the lights on so much earlier.

Toronto got the Labour Day weekend of all Labour Day weekends weather wise. It was gorgeous. And we earned it.

We headed down to what’s called the Leslie St. spit this morning – as we’ve done many times over the summer. In its weekday life, dump trucks trundle down the paved road that heads off shore, to add to the re-bar and bricks and concrete and old granite that had a life and now are the foundation of new land.

Nature is working as partner in this. The trees have taken over, the marshes, the grasses all filling in what we don’t want to use anymore.

The spit, in its weekend and holiday life, becomes a park. Five kilometers from the entrance to the lighthouse at the end – five kilometers of growth…and cyclists and rollerbladers, runners and walkers.

The wind was coming off the lake today in powerful, cool gusts. The boats were conservative in their sails. The monarch butterflies hunkered down on all the purple flowers they could find, the thistles, the cornflowers. The golden rod was at its beautiful height and everywhere. The cormorants are so happy on the spit it’s one of the biggest nesting colonies in North America.

We’ve seen snakes and rodents and great blue herons hunting, and even a beaver in the inlet pond. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beaver in the wild before…if he climbs out of his stick house and looks to the north he’d see the skyline of Canada’s largest city right there. But I don’t think he cares.

This year with the moderate temperatures and loads and loads of rain, everything looks lush and beautiful and at its prime of life. In a place that is a hopeful place.

And this weekend was definitely a summer looking for the weather Oscar.

It was a perfect end to summer - a 10-kilometre walk, on a perfect day, through a construction site that nature is cleaning up…So when it came to dinner I went up to the corner vegetable market to see what they had. I picked up local radishes, green beans, some lemons, some tomatoes, green onions and headed home. Oh, and salted cashews…to go with the bottle of wine I intended to open while preparing the summer daze dinner.

Steve marinated a piece of flank steak I had bought at Fresh from the Farm on Saturday. He consulted the Cook’s Illustrated marinating article, which had been marinating under the coffee table for a while. He poured molasses, soy sauce, garlic, water, olive oil, a dash of sesame oil and chives from the garden into a plastic bag, stabbed the meat liberally with a knife, then put the steak in the bag for a lovely bath. For an hour …90 mins max. Then he barbequed it on the grill.

Meanwhile, glass of wine in hand, and bowl of cashews on the table (I love cashews), I made a salad of the tomatoes. I chopped them into small chunks, added some chopped scallions, red pepper and lots of fresh basil from my pot outside – I doused it all in good olive oil (brought directly from Italy by my dear grace Naomi).

I roasted the red potatoes I had in fresh rosemary, crunchy salt, and black pepper. I sliced an onion and caramelized it in a skillet. Then I trimmed and steamed the green beans for only a minute or two and plunged them in ice water to hold their gorgeous green (and I stared into them - because the colour makes me think of what Ireland must look like). Once the potatoes were nicely roasted I pulled them out, threw them into the pan with the onions and added the beans, which I’d cut in half. Once it was all cooled down, I threw over a little balsamic vinegar and finished it off with a little more olive oil.

The radishes were large. And that has meant only one thing to me lately – crunch and no taste. No peppery shake of the head, no holding my forehead as the radish does its thing. Just crunch. So I decided to make a Vietnamese dressing for them. I sliced the radishes thinly, and poured over them a dressing I made with fish sauce, cider vinegar, lemon (should be lime, but the lemons were cheap), garlic, sugar, and shredded carrot. And I let them bathe together while everything else was cooking…They were fantastic.

It was our Summer Daze dinner. And while September moves us on toward autumn, and I love September more than any other month, this Labour Day weekend will be in the books as a great beauty, bringing summer to its full height. The summer of 09 went out leaving them wanting more…

*Pic is from here and here's more on the Leslie Street spit - if you need it!

August 31, 2009

Then there are those you never meet...

The linguine did it for me. Dripping with fresh tomatoes, basil and brie...then the fruit-stuffed loin of pork drizzled with a mixture of madeira and molasses...then the famous chicken marbella gussied up with olives and capers and garlic...and the stuffing for Thanksgiving.

Sheila Lukins has been in my kitchen in many times - channeled through The Silver Palate Cookbook. As I've noted before, the spine is now broken in a few places, it's stained on many pages, the signs of a classic...

Sheila's recipes have become part of my home, nestled in the kitchen, helping to feed my favourite people and make them happy...I think she'd be glad to know we ate well by her. I'm grateful.

Rest in peace.

August 04, 2009


I remember reading in The Female Brain a few years ago about neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine's patient who had a small daughter. The mother had always, always, always fought the gender stereotypes. The little girl didn't get dolls, she got trucks. No fairies, no princesses, no cinderella...and one day her mother walked in her room to find her daughter holding her favourite fire truck. She had it wrapped in a blanket and was cradling it like a baby. And she was saying, "poor truckie." Truckie was sick.

Sometimes you can't beat your way past nature and the need to nurture.

I was reminded of that at work today when my friend Karen told me about her son's adventure a couple of years ago while walking along the street. They had stopped to watch a digger - there is a universal law that boys shall be mesmerized by anything that moves tons of earth: diggers, dump trucks, steam shovels...all power, all the time.

The little one was in his stroller and he caught the digger operator's eye. He called out to Karen to ask if her son loves diggers...and when she said oh yeah, big time, he pulled something out from beside him and threw it in the hole. Then he manoeuvered the big shovel, cradled the object in the shovel's bucket, and brought it up to the surface. He carefully placed it in front of Karen's boy. Then using the shovel's back side, nudged it toward him. To top it all off, an actual policeman came over to pick it up and give it to the little one. It was a boxed Bob the Builder digger- new, wrapped. As Karen said, 'that man has no idea what he did that day.' Her son was over the moon. He ate all his dinner with his Bob the Builder digger and slept that night with it on his chest.

One construction worker beating up nature with his own nurturing.

July 29, 2009

Routine - comfortable or boring?

Having a routine has such a smelly reputation. People who used to be attached to their routines were pegged as reliable, dependable, predictable and it was a good thing. People who follow their routines now get pegged as boring, unimaginative, and gasp, predictable. No, actually they go further than that, they get pegged as crazy, nuttier than a shithouse rat. Inevitably when the words will whisper out: OCD – obsessive/compulsive disorder…

I’ve noticed over the last few years we make things either catastrophic (I hate that soup, I could kill that guy, it’s a disaster) or pathological (he must have xxx syndrome, yyy disorder, zzz genetics). We have no in between and we’re thankful when our lives careen somewhere in the middle.

It kind of pisses me off frankly. Why can’t people have their routines? It brings comfort to some.
I have a friend or two who like their routines – or have their thing. And they have to be quiet about it. One eats the same salad everyday, from the same place. They recognize her voice on the phone now when she calls to pre-order it. Another crosses the street only at crosswalks – no jaywalking – now it seems quite sensible given that she was hit as a child running out into the street…but no matter how quiet the street, she’ll wander the extra way up the sidewalk to get to the other side. And me…I run home from work and I run home the same way every time. It may seem boring, routine, but I time it. And then I can see if I’m getting stronger and faster or older and slower. You may guess which way I’m starting to lean on that one…

My sudden defense of routine behaviour is also a sign of age - another step on the path to old fartedness, along with my sudden fascination with birdwatching and lack of interest in bars and nightclubs - and it's also just pure defensiveness. I noticed during my staycation this summer that I have my places, my things, my ways. I have two cups of tea with breakfast and it’s not over til I do. By 11am my brain and stomach are working in league to push me to the coffee maker. And it has to be the same kind (Kicking Horse coffee – the Kick Ass strong blend and no I don’t get paid anything to say that). Steve and I will wander on a hot afternoon (although this July we’ve been waiting for a hot afternoon) up to the Dairy Queen about 20 minutes up the road from our place (which is complete justification especially with the return trip) and we’ll sit and watch the world pass by on the sloping road down into the valley that overlooks the city. Not the best ice cream, but I’ve had worse. And the setting isn’t bad.

Twenty years ago my gang of friends went to a middle eastern restaurant in the middle east of Toronto (east, but not as far east as the city now wanders – a friend’s friend said that once) – we went there a lot. Okay we went there so much we’re fairly sure we paid for the family to move to the other end of the droopy strip mall and expand two store widths. We spent all our time there. We were university students and the coffee was good and the food was even better. And the family that owned the joint came to know us all by name.

The restaurant is still there – though the family has moved on (I believe they sold it to a couple of their cooks), and so has the old gang of friends. I don’t see them anymore. And I stopped going there until a few years ago. The family must have given the cooks all the recipes – the hummus, the baba ghanoush, the tabouleh, the labaneh, all from scratch, all still killer good.

My Mum, who can never remember the names of the dips always sits down, looks at me with excitement and says, “so, are we going to have all the bits in the middle?” And I don’t know why but we order all the bits in the middle (the dips), then we order chicken kabob sandwiches, or the lovely lamb kabob sandwich – even though their beef shawarma looks fantastic. And we don't stop eating until we're hurting...the tahini and onions and tomatoes and parsley all melding together with the meat…the pita soft, warm and fresh...all wrapped in a foil diaper. The diaper I learned very early in my middle eastern eating career, should never, ever be removed without putting one on the outside of your pants. Or you’ll be sorry. I’ve warned and wagged my finger at newbies and watched them get drenched in a combo of tahini, meat juice and tomatoes.

They even have mahalabia – which I don’t eat often, I just love saying it. Ma – ha – la – bia…

So that was our routine – Two three four times a week we’d all pull up in our assorted cars and chow down. So now you know why I have to run.

Now here’s the best part. We’d grab a table – we’d order our bits in the middle and the waitress would bring divine crunchiness on a plate: pickled turnips and hot peppers. We’d dive in and have to ask for more – in fact they just started bringing us two plates.

We went to the restaurant a few weeks ago – Mum, Steve and I – during a shopping day. And it had been so long that I actually forgot about the turnips. And when they showed up – I grinned and said…oh…yeah. And we chomped down. Crunchy, tart, beautiful. I had to figure out how these were made – so when we got home I dug online and into some books here (my cookbooks now have their own home on bookshelves in the bedroom – not my favourite place but better than on top of our cupboards where they got both greasy and threatened to collapse the hardwood cupboards) I morphed a few recipes into one. And it was close...

It was easy and quick. And so was the eating a week later. Steve kept going to the fridge and forking a few down. They’re gone now. But I’m definitely going to make them again. And again. And again. Like a routine - comforting and rooting us to our joys...

Pickled Turnips – adapted from a few sources (see my updated recipe - the restaurant was generous enough to share it with me)

2 lbs turnips
1 raw beet
½ lemon
1 ½ heaped tbsp salt
6 cups water

Wash the turnips and the beet. Don’t peel. Slice the turnips and the beetroot about ¼ “ thick. Sprinkle the beet slices with the juice from the lemon and then lay them in the bottom of a jar (I sterilized the jar). Put the turnip in on top of the beet and pack them in. Add the salt to the water and stir then fill the jar. Seal and keep cool for about four or five days.

The beets slowly colour the turnips a beautiful pink.
The recipes call for waiting a week – but we found them a little on the soggy side by waiting that long. And I put them in the fridge once we’d opened them.

July 01, 2009

What summer feels like in this house

I put the duvet away. We’ve turned the ceiling fan on in the bedroom. The bay windows in the kitchen stay open all the time to catch the breeze in the alley. The bay window overlooks a brick wall, but lets in light. The old doors all stick a little. Dampness rises from the old floor boards. There is thermal lag here – the bricks hold on to their winter cold for a long time and this year into July, but slowly it’s warming up in here. The house plants have escaped to the deck full time. The earth has tilted enough to take the sun’s rays out of our living room. They’ll fill the room come December when the earth tilts back. The basement bathroom is now earning its nickname: the swamp. I washed the tile floor about an hour ago, it might be dry by the end of the week. And I fight an ongoing battle with moldy grout.

Many years ago my friend’s little daughter was in the bathroom, on the toilet, deep in thought. This was her first visit to this house.

It was built in her great grandmother’s era, when flappers were the rage, when the world was living the heady champagne daze before economic collapse, actually in the same years my mother was born. It has triple brick walls, made in the valley just to the west of us. It has old casement windows that complain with the age of many winters, and old oak floors – narrow bands of wood so worn you can see the basement light in some sections. But it feels safe and solid and like home – even though we rent. We love this place.

As she did her business, Kayla considered everything around her. She made her pronouncement: “Mummy? I ike (no l’s yet) Auntie Nicky’s cottage.”

Kayla went outside to play. Her Mum told me what she’d said. A cottage? How cool is that? Little ones like that don’t lie (she soon told me my teeth were yellow). But while she was in my good books, I glowed, because this is like a cottage - it has the spirit of peace that a cottage has.

And in the cool, slow rise from spring, the poppies and peonies have exploded in their beauty and wildness, the roses quickly coming in to take their place, the astounding clematis has crawled up the deck again covering it in purple, and the marshmallows have flowered like a bright laugh. And when I hear the trees rustle with wind and I sit here sipping my morning coffee at the desk by the door looking out over the deck, and I see so many colours of green rising in their lushness, cushioning our presence in a big city, I feel pretty lucky. Grout be damned.

Peony picture from wikipedia.

May 07, 2009


So you're standing at the stove. Cooking for your kids. Cleaning the house. Keeping the career going. Running them to t-ball. Writing quarterly reports. Helping with their homework. Loving them to bits...and feeling just a little a dream that lost milk just on the date of expiry...and that question that you don't want to let in hovers did I get here?

Here's a shout out for my friend Karen Bridson's new book - Stunned

May 05, 2009

toasted tweet

I jumped into the twitterenzy a couple of weeks ago and yesterday started following Ruth Reichl on twitter. This morning when I got to work she sent out a tweet to say she was in Toronto - she was in the car on her way in from the airport and she wrote it seemed like a good place to live and eat. Which is particularly generous given she was on the road from the airport, maybe she was looking down at her briefing notes.

Anyway, you can reply to these things you know. And when Ruth Reichl tweets in your town the day after you start following her, it feels personal.

So i hit reply.

140 characters of welcome and wit. I typed. I erased. I typed. I erased. I caved.

Some are masters at it. Sir Ken Robinson is a good follow on twitter. He wrote the other day, also while on his way from an airport, this one in Vancouver , "Driving to Whistler. Asked driver if he is collecting me tomorrow. He said it will be him or someone else. An exact summary of the options."

Clearly I have to sharpen the knife edge of my wit to plunge into this.

Later Ruth tweeted that her lunch was good. phew. Toronto has its talents and I think food is one of them.

I'm tweeted out...

April 12, 2009


Annie added to the natural partners, perfect pairings, fred and ginger list:

potatoes and vinegar

and another from a family friend: peanut butter and onion - red onion apparently...anyone? anyone?

And I thought of another two during my run home - no with pineapple, and french fries and mayo...

April 06, 2009

Perfect Partners

And another thing - that's Fred and Gingery:
Roast beef and horseradish

And another while we're on the roast thing:
Roasted potatoes with rosemary

And the poetry:
Strawberries with thick, whipped cream

April 03, 2009

fred and ginger

Today Toronto is soggy. Most rain in one day for the last 60 years. Which of course is the day I took off to burn some overtime. Which means the bathroom got cleaned, the laundry got done, the kitchen counters were finally cleared, and the cats got more attention...and snacks.

I had a quick lunch, pickies...a carrot or two, a boiled egg, some cheese, some little grape tomatoes, some spring onion...and as I munched I noticed just how good some things are together. Like some couples...not others...but some.

So I thought I'd think of some food pairings that are as natural as Fred and Ginger. Now my list is certainly geocentric, so I'd love you guys to add some too...especially some you'd never think of...

1) old cheddar cheese and spring onion
2) spring onion and hard boiled eggs
3) egg salad and dill pickles
4) dill pickles and smoked meat sandwiches
5) tomatoes and basil
6) fresh figs and blue cheese
7) cookies and cold, cold milk
8) fries and mayo
9) smoked salmon and creamed cheese
10) garlic and anything (that's for jo)

pics from

February 26, 2009

A start

I think this all started with cookbooks. I didn’t cook. Well, not much. And not much well. But I found myself wandering through the cookbook section of a local bookstore making new friends in print – and staying there - for about 15 years now.

Mollie Katzen was one of the first to come home with me. I was enchanted by her drawings and the printing and then the recipes in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I knew nothing of the Moosewood gang. I didn’t even notice the book didn’t have a single piece of flesh in it. It was filled with vegetarian dishes.

I made pesto for the first time because of her. Without a food processor. And for that matter without a mortar and pestle. I improvised with the bottom of a glass and a shallow bowl. And after that, I bought a food processor. And pesto took seconds, not hours...

(Which, come to think of it, I also lost in the “custody battle” to someone who doesn’t know a food processor from a wooden spoon – and who thought a kitchen was wherever the microwave was.)

But the sense of wonder in putting those ingredients together, like alchemy, was powerful. And the perfume of the basil…it was good.

It all came together in Lasagna al Pesto. I made it over and over. And then I moved on to try other things – a roast…then a turkey…was there no end to this magic called cooking? And the lasagna, like all new trends, faded from my consciousness.

Last fall we headed to Calypso again – a group of women who come together once a year at a friend’s cottage. Many of us only see each other that weekend. And apart from catching up with each other’s lives, and our host’s penchant for making us set goals, and uncorking many bottles, we eat.

Our friend Wendy was thinking of lasagna for the Friday night arrival dinner. And somewhere from the back of my addled mind came “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest”. So I shared it with her…and she shared the lasagna with us. And brought it back to life for me. It was a good weekend.

My self-assigned goal by the way, was to collect the recipes from our years of dinners at Calypso…this is my start.

Lasagna al Pesto – adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

1 lb. fresh spinach
1 cup minced onion
3 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper
½ cup grated paremesan
1 cup of pesto
2 lbs (4 cups) ricotta cheese
¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
20-24 green lasagna noodles (I have used plain and green, and mixed them too)
1 lb mozzarella cheese, in thin slices

Clean and stem the spinach. Chop it finely.
Saute the onions in 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy skillet until they’re soft not brown. Add salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Stir the spinach into the onions. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add half the grated parmesan, the pesto, the ricotta, and the sunflower seeds. Grind in some black pepper. Mix.

If you are using dried noodles, boil them about 2 minutes, then rinse them under cold water, and drizzle them with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil.

Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of an oiled 9x13 inch pan. Spread 1/3 of the filling onto the noodles. Place 1/3 of the mozzarella over that. another layer of noodles, another 1/3 of filling, another 1/3 of the mozzarella, more noodles, the remaining filling, remaining mozzarella, and one final layer of noodles, the remaining parmesan. And then drizzle the top with olive oil.

Cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes.

February 22, 2009

Simple and Rich

The classic things are the most simple, right? Not simplistic, simple. Clean. Thought through. Simplicity arrived at through complexity, until it's clear. Concentrated, a reduction of ideas to their essence.

I've been watching the new TED talks at - including Elizabeth Gilbert's struggle with her craft. And the soaring optimism of Jose Abreu, and El Sistema which puts a musical instrument in the hands of every Venezuelan child over the last 25 years, and has created a whole nation of music. And then a friend loaned me her copy of David Sedaris' "When You are Engulfed in Flames", whom I love and mostly because he makes complex observations so simply. And through me runs this quote that I've quoted before and can't get away from..."Simplicity is not a goal, but one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself, as one approaches the real meaning of things." Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor and a leader in modernist sculpture.

I have a theory. And I came to this theory wandering through the Tate Modern in London. My appreciation of art (and I am completely untrained in art), my opinion of it, is inversely proportional to the explanation next to it. In other words, the longer the text has to be to tell me what the artist "means" to "say", the longer my eye roll. I usually walk away completely irritated, whispering to the muse that helped that artist, "get over yourself." As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her TED talk, some people can have muses that are, frankly, lame.

Cooking can give you the same blast of poetry or frustration - and I most admire the food that delivers beautiful taste, balance with as little fuss as possible.

Last night, as the snow and the temperature fell again, and as we gathered round our table to pull together the warmth and humour and stories of our companions, I made something simple. Tomato sauce. It is so simple. So rich. And it doesn't take hours to simmer. Probably the best tomato sauce I have ever made...and I have made tomato sauce every week for the last number of years. I am sold on this one.

It comes from Cook's Illustrated - which I adore for their addiction to the how and why of cooking - oh, and their beautiful cover art. It comes from their 2006 issue, but I found it online when I watched them make it on their video series. I gave it a try and it was great. Then I made it again yesterday for our friends. I watched them get up from the table and get seconds, and the pot was empty when we started washing the dishes. So much for leftovers to get through this recession.

Marinara Sauce - adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 - 28oz cans of whole tomatoes, with juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 medium garlic cloves, minced finely
1/2 tsp dried oregano (I used a tad more)
1/3 cup of dry red wine (I used a merlot we had kicking around)
3 tbsp fresh basil chopped
salt, pepper and sugar to taste (add this toward the end, once you've determined what the tomatoes need)

Pour the tomatoes into a strainer over a large bowl. Let drain for five minutes or so. Using your hands, pull out the stem and core of the tomatoes. Set aside 3/4 cup of the tomatoes. Also set aside 2 1/2 cups of the liquid.

Heat olive oil in a skillet until shimmering and cook the onion until brown on the edges - about 6-8 mins. Then add the garlic and oregano and cook for about 30 seconds - until the garlic is hitting your nose.

Add the strained tomatoes and cook over medium high until all the liquid has disappeared and the tomatoes are creating a fond, sticking to the bottom of the pan slightly. This is the core of the issue here...the concentration of these tomatoes is unbelievable. This takes about 10-12 mins. Keep an eye, and keep stirring every so often.

Add the wine and stir while it thickens for about a minute, scraping up the bits off the bottom. Then add the tomato juice you reserved earlier. Bring it to a simmer and let cook for about 8-10 minutes. I turned off the sauce at this point to wait for our friends to arrive.

The recipe calls for pulling out the food processor. But when I was getting ready to serve and had the pasta boiling away, I reheated the sauce, added the fresh tomatoes I had reserved from before and just mashed them in with my trusty manual potato masher. The fresh tomatoes add a lovely texture and lightness. Add the fresh basil (nice as a garnish on top as well).

This is the time to test for salt, pepper and sugar.

Serve over pasta - we grated a little fresh parmesan on top...and all disappeared.

February 12, 2009

The way to my heart

I think it was the shrimp. Or the homemade curry powder. Or maybe the champagne. Then again, it could have been the homemade naan. Well, maybe the champagne and the wine. Actually it was the whole nine yards (metres for my Canadians)…the whole effort. Steve got an A – and a wife out of that dinner. Food and wine and love…

It’s that time of year that imposes romance on us. But the only people I know who feel Valentine’s Day are those who are single – it’s like a fork in the eye – an entire industry that earns billions of dollars making a segment of our population feel excluded. I know that’s how I felt about it when I was single. I was indignant.

Now that I’m turning into an old married woman – deeply and lucky in love – I think of Valentine’s and it becomes about food. Food has been a serious part of this very serious relationship I’m in – which has me laughing everyday…sickening really.

Steve is an adventurous cook/experimenter. He has needed to try making many different things since we’ve been together – potato chips, various breads, baguettes and most infamously pretzels…and now that his intestines have revolted against wheat, he has mastered the art of the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. There’s a bowl of them in the kitchen tempting me…

But I knew life had shifted – the ground had cracked open and I was on the other side of a new life – when Steve drove up on his BMW motorbike with dinner packed in the panniers on the back. It takes some thought to have a dinner that can be transported in briefcase-looking boxes.

We were friends. He was making me dinner for my birthday. It was simply two friends getting together on a Friday night after work. Oh, and we’d been flirting for the past couple of weeks on email. I’ve written about the lost email before.

I thought I’d share the recipes that were part of bringing us together…Steve made the dinner because I had travelled through India not long before. A couple of days later, we went over to his apartment. It looked like a flour bomb had been accidentally set off, not just in the kitchen but everywhere. And on the dining room table was a book called Complete Indian Cooking. He’d bought it to make my birthday dinner. And he didn’t and still doesn’t like Indian food (I’m sorry to say). But he did end up liking me pretty good - we were engaged five weeks later.

Talk about a way to a girl’s heart…it always comes down to bread.

– recipes adapted from the utilitarian-ly named Complete Indian Cooking – and all this without a tandoor

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ oz. fresh yeast
5/8 cup warm milk
5/8 cup plain yogurt
ghee or vegetable oil for greasing
½ cup butter
2 tbsp poppy seeds

Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and baking soda. Dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir in the yogurt. Mix thoroughly with the flour to form a dough.

Knead the dough until it is smooth, and then place in a bowl covered with a clean cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place for about four hours.

Divide the risen dough into 12 equal-sized portions and roll them into balls. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the balls into oblong shapes, using both hands and slapping the naan from one hand to the other. Now that sounds like fun.

Grease a griddle or heavy-bottom skillet lightly with ghee or vegetable oil and heat it until it is very hot. Cook the naan on one side only, a few at a time. Remove and spread the raw side with butter and poppy seeds. Cook under a preheated hot broiler until browned. Serve hot.

Shrimp and Spinach Rice

2 cups basmati rice
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
2 onions sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1-2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 lbs spinach, washed, trimmed, and chopped
1 lb cooked, peeled shrimp

Wash the basmati rice thoroughly. (I love washing rice - I run my fingers through it and around it while the water runs and it always feels like a quiet, important thing to do) Cook according to the directions. I usually put the rice in a pot, add water until it's about 1" above the rice and put it on to boil. Once boiling, I immediately turn the heat to low. Leave for 15 minutes. Turn off heat then without lifting lid and let sit on the stove for at least five minutes.

Stir in butter.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for five minutes until golden. Stir in the chili powder, coriander, and the remaining 1 tsp of salt, and fry for a few seconds.

Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until softened. Stir in the shrimp and remove from heat.

Layer the spinach mixture with the buttered rice in an ovenproof casserole dish beginning and ending with the spinach. Cover tightly with a lid and then cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F (175 C) for 30 minutes. Serve immediately. Unless you're on a motorbike.

Now of course you need the Raita. I make this for all sorts of dishes - and eat the leftovers with a big spoon.

3 1/2 oz of thinly sliced cucumber
1/ 1/2 cups plain yogurt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 fresh green chili, seeded and finely chopped

Put the cucumber in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let it drain for 30 mins. Pat dry.

I know raita is traditionally pretty runny, but I prefer to thicken the yogurt first. It's simple (and if you're stuck without sour cream for something, this works in a pinch). Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth. Use paper towel if you don't keep cheesecloth handy. Pour the yogurt into the sieve and allow to drain for a while. Pour away the liquid. And when you're happy with the thickness of the yogurt, pour it back into bowl and mix with the cucumber, green onions and chile (optional). Keep it in the fridge until you need it. You can vary what you put in it...I love it with finely chopped garlic...but the longer you let it sit, the more you'd better love garlic.

The picture of the tandoor oven and naan bread above comes from wikipedia

January 31, 2009

My cooking chops

I’m normal. Favourite word. Bar none. Ever.
Not normal as in boring, flat, suburban. I’m normal - In the medical sense. It's a good thing.

Hello again.

I feel kind of slow-roasted. That feeling where I've slowed down (some of that is mental), eased back, tenderized myself, allowed myself to caramelize and brought out the sweetness...slow roasted the best in myself.

I've got myself back. I've held it together and now look back at my adventure through chemo and radiation (which, I must admit, is not so much like being slow roasted, as it is like being zapped in a microwave)...and realize how shit scary it was.

So now when they check me out and get bored and start talking about the disaster to their stock portfolio, I grin and go along for the ride...I'm so boring, I'm normal! Best word in the English language.

So life reasserts itself. I work. I run again. I eat. And I talk about food a lot. Hence I run.
Unless the windchill is crushing us senseless. Winter is professional this year. Snow and bitter cold. Our mothers have both had to have professionals come and clear ice and snow from their rooftops. And Steve is intently figuring out how to spend the winters in a place where windchill is a problem only in the beer fridge.

I have been finding my cooking chops again.

At the back of the freezer the other day I excavated a lamb leg. It was clearly on the edge of extinction. And I thought about a recipe I saw Jamie Oliver do on "Jamie at Home" that cooked the lamb (it was a shoulder in that case) for four hours – and it looked so incredible when it came out, I needed a napkin.

Now in the case of the lamb leg in my freezer, it wasn’t destined to inspire poetry. It looked like something prehistoric found by archeologists in the Andes. I was dealing with a sorry looking piece of meat – what else could I do but cook the hell out of it? And then perhaps it too would regain a sense of normality or at least at the risk of inspiring poetry - fulfill its destiny.

I had to try and remember the recipe – because I just haven’t the guts to spend the 40 bucks on Jamie's book yet, but I will. What I did have was the four hours it takes to bake it in the oven…I thought.

That day Steve had kindly taken to cleaning our oven – which we consider our civic duty to our local fire department. The oven is small and our organic chickens we roast in there weekly are particularly adept at spitting all over it until there’s more smoke than air in the apartment. So, I came up with this recipe at 5pm and Steve stepped up his rinsing and wiping…which was at 5:30pm…We ate...late.

However, a couple of hours of bad Saturday night television later (and if you grew up in the 70s, the lamb would have been done in the middle of Love Boat and before Fantasy Island yuk) when it came out of the oven, it was everything I could do not to eat it with my hands right off the bone, probably like one of those prehistoric frozen beings found in the Andes…it was a glorious end for a piece of meat that was otherwise doomed to freezer burn.

So here goes a sort-of slow-roasted lamb rescue. Adapted from the James...

1 lamb leg or shoulder (mine was about 2lbs bone in)

1 bunch fresh rosemary

1 head of garlic

olive oil

crunchy salt

freshly-ground pepper

The key here is to get the oven as hot as you can to start. So, 500 degrees F.

While that’s heating up, score the fat on the roast into a diamond pattern (run your knife through diagonally in one direction and then turn it and run your knife in the opposite direction).

Pour some olive oil in the bottom of a roasting pan and then pile a layer of fresh rosemary– I used what I had on the counter that had been living its last glory days.

Throw half to ¾ of the garlic cloves unpeeled on the bottom of the pan.

Place the roast, fat side up, on the rosemary and garlic.

Pour olive oil on the roast and rub it into the crevices of the fat and meat.

Sprinkle the roast with the salt and pepper.

Top with the remaining rosemary and garlic bulbs.

Wrap the whole thing tightly in tin foil…I used a couple of layers to make sure it was sealed.

Place in the middle of the oven.

Turn the heat down to 325 degrees F.

Leave for four hours.

Now when it comes out you’ll be able to pull the meat off the bone with a fork. I’m not kidding. It’s just beautiful.

Pull the meat off and set aside on a platter that you can keep warm.

Remove the rosemary spears and discard. Take out the garlic and set aside.

Pour off the fat from the roasting pan, all but one tablespoon. Don’t lose any of the good brown bits that are chock full of flavour. Squeeze the garlic from the garlic bulbs and mash them into the pan.

Put the roasting pan on the stove, if you can, and add 1 tbsp of flour. Stir the flour and oil together to thicken – let cook a little to lose the flour flavour, then add 1 cup of chicken stock. Stir with a wooden spoon and let it boil for about five minutes or so. Add a bunch of fresh mint that you’ve finely chopped (leaves only) and about 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar. Bring back to a boil briefly.

When ready to serve you can pour it directly over your platter, or place in a warm jug and let people help themselves. Bringing lamb back from oblivion to its normal destiny...Good to be back...Enjoy.