go local.

Our favourite farmer’s market opens this morning, and we can’t wait to go.

Situated in a beautiful spot and surrounded by walking trails and great views, this market also has great coffee, live music, and planned activities for children.

Oh, and the produce on offer is pretty great too – although, as what I have written so far will tell you, I don’t really go to the farmer’s market for the produce.

I go for the inspiration, the colours and sounds and smells; for a great cup of coffee and a hand-held breakfast enjoyed in the company of people who are as into food as I am.

I still can’t get over the abundance and diversity of things available to us in southern Ontario, and there is not a time of year more inspiring than this one.

This morning I am hoping to get some local strawberries, so that I can make the best hot weather dinner ever:

Local Strawberry Shortcakes

There are three components to this heavenly supper – I start by making the shortcakes in the morning, before it gets too hot; then I get the strawberries ready and let them sit, covered, in the least warm part of the kitchen. Just before we eat, I whip the cream.

For the shortcakes:
2c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2c cold butter
1c sour milk, sour cream, or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in milk, vanilla, and sugar until dough just barely comes together.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 11 times (not more, not less! This is the secret to perfect shortcakes!). Roll dough into a rough rectangle, and cut into 8 pieces. Gently pat the pieces into rounds and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes, until golden. Cool completely on a rack.

For the strawberries:
about 4c sliced strawberries (from 2 or 3 containers of fresh strawberries, washed and hulled)
2-3 tbsp brown sugar

In a large bowl, combine strawberries and sugar and toss well. Cover and set aside for a few hours.

For the cream:
2c whipping cream, chilled
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp sugar

Whip all ingredients together until soft peaks form.

I don’t expect anyone needs directions as to how to proceed from here…

See you at the market!

salad days.

I have come to realize that I may be overly fixated on the weather.

We all joke that discussing the forecast is one of our national pastimes, and I’ve noticed lately that I actually am one of those cliched Canadians whose conversational gambits often begin and end with, “Isn’t it a [insert appropriate adjective here] day?”

It’s not the worst thing to talk about, but I could do with some new subject matter.

The trouble is, I have not been keeping up well with the news lately; I know nothing about sports; and my taste in music is both un-current and probably a little pedestrian to anyone who might actually like to talk about music with me.

Of politics in my city I know shamefully little, and I am late to register my daughter for school in the fall, so I avoid that subject at all costs.

I do love to shop, but the various vintage treasures that I’ve unearthed at bargain prices may not be of interest to everyone I meet – and besides, I have declared a pre-move moratorium on acquisitions (and how that is going for me is the stuff of a whole other epic conversation).

So you can see why, at a loss for small talk, I drift back to my old reliable, the weather.

Aside from the polite innocuousness of weather-related chat, discussing the forecast also offers the opportunity to segue into my absolute favourite topic, which is, as you have no doubt realized by now, what I am going to eat next.

And today, because it is a beautiful May day, that happens to be the salad you see here.

Barley Salad
adapted from Food and Wine

I actually made this over the weekend, but it makes quite a bit and it tastes better every day.

1 1/2c pearl barley
1c roasted almonds, coarsely chopped
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2c olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp lemon zest
1c packed Italian parsley leaves
1c crumbled feta

Cook barley in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Shake out excess water.

Meanwhile, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add barley, parsley, and feta and toss gently. Stir in chopped nuts, toss again, add some salt and pepper if desired, and serve.

Serves 4-6, depending on your desire for leftovers

simple and good.

There are certain foods that are perfect for certain moods.

If I am deeply overtired in a physical way, I need to have a grilled cheese, fries with mayo, or pancakes and bacon (yes, I have discovered that hangover foods are also a great balm for the overtired body); but when I am feeling world-weary, I turn to smooth, soothing pureed soups.

When I am bleating and blue and the weather is not doing what I’d like, it’s a lemon square and some Earl Grey tea with amaretto.

When funds are plentiful and I am grateful for all that life has to offer, I roast a duck and insist on really good wine with it.

And when everything just feels simple and good, nothing is more perfect to eat than my mother’s lemon pie.

My mom was here visiting last week, and we had the best time.

It’s nearly impossible these days to have an uneventful week at our house, but last week we came pretty close – no birth, no insanely prolonged labour (or preparations for either event), no – well, not too many – raging hormones or eviction notices or husband travelling; and on the home front, no kitchen cupboards needing painting or garden needing planting.

My mom hadn’t been here in eight months, so we spent our week enjoying her company and planning for her next visit, which will happen in our new house.

Oh, and we drank and ate indulgently all week.

The last day my mom was here, she and my daughter made this lemon pie, and its billowy brightness kept me going through what might otherwise have been several days of moping in her absence.

Simple and Good Lemon Pie
I usually buy three lemons for this, but often I only need two.

1/2c cornstarch
1c sugar
3c boiling water
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2c lemon juice
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/3c sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Use your favourite pie crust recipe to line an 8- or 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Cool completely.

Reduce oven heat to 400 degrees.

Prepare filling while crust is cooling: In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch and 1 cup sugar. Place saucepan over medium heat, and gradually add boiling water, stirring constantly until thickened.

Lightly beat egg yolks in a small bowl. Stir a small amount of hot mixture into eggs yolks, then beat egg yolk mixture back into saucepan. Cook a further minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in butter vanilla, lemon zest and juice.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape filling into prepared pie crust.

Make meringue: Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium high speed about 30 seconds to combine, then add cream of tartar. With the mixer running, gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Top pie with meringue, using a spatula to ensure that filling is completely covered with meringue.

Place in 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or so, until meringue is golden.

Cool to room temperature before serving.

made with love.

When I was in my twenties, I baked and decorated specialty cakes (usually wedding cakes) for people as a way of making extra money.

I didn’t love doing it, if I’m being totally honest – I was pretty anti-wedding at that point in my life, and I also felt very uncomfortable with the highly-charged emotional force-field that seemed to surround every bride I encountered.

I also found that when people asked for a special cake for an occasion, they tended to forget that the cake is also actually food, and not just an elaborate decorative extravaganza to be endlessly manipulated.

I often wound up feeling like an artist (remember, I was in my twenties) whose medium was not being respected.

Still, I kept at it for some time, partly for the money, but also because I got a secret thrill out of the look on the recipient’s face when they saw the finished creation.

Even though I didn’t often know them well (and on some occasions I didn’t even wish them well), it pleased me to play a small part in making their special day go a little better.

Once those wedding and specialty cake-baking days were safely behind me, though, I never looked back.

Until this weekend.

I have to tell you that I loved every minute of making this cake.

I made it for a dear friend’s daughter (who is also my daughter’s dear friend). She was turning four, and she is deeply embedded in her mermaid phase. Her mother, like me, is pretty ambivalent about the idea of little girls having barbies, but we both agreed that maybe a mermaid barbie wasn’t too too bad – and besides, the kitschy nature of this made it irresistible to both of us.

(And really, the idea of wrapping a barbie up in saran wrap and plunging her into the middle of an edible skirt? As my mother pointed out, there is probably an on-line community of people who fetishize that kind of thing!)

The birthday girl was thrilled, which would have made it all worthwhile even if it hadn’t been fun; and when one of the other mothers at the party asked me if I did this kind of cake-creation on a regular basis, I was happy to be able to answer that I only do it for people I know and love.

Mermaid Barbie Birthday Cake

Here’s what I did, and if anyone out there wants more specifics, please let me know:

I used my favourite layer cake recipe (one that makes two 8″-round cakes) and doubled it, twice. I divided the first doubled recipe between a 9″-round wedding cake pan and a medium-sized Pyrex bowl, both buttered and lined with parchment. The second doubled recipe went into two 8″-round layer cake pans, also buttered and parchment lined.

I baked the cakes two at a time in a 350-degree oven. They took between 30 and 45 minutes (the one in the Pyrex bowl took the longest).

Once the cakes were cooled, I used a champagne flute to make a barbie-sized hole in the middle of each layer.

Then I made a double batch of my favourite basic butter icing recipe, and coloured it with sky blue food colouring gel. I set half the icing aside for the final coat, and used half to fill the layers and cover the outside of the cake for a thin crumb coat.

Once the crumb coat was set, I wrapped the barbie in plastic wrap (I made a plastic turban for her hair) and plunged her into the centre of the cake, arms up.

Then I did the final coat of icing, reserving a bit to pipe onto barbie’s naked chest to create the appearance of a bodice for the dress.

I decorated the cake in keeping with the undersea theme, and once all of the icing was set I took barbie’s hair out of its plastic-wrap turban.

Et voila! Mermaid cake for 20!

letting the days go by.

I know I am not the only mother who sits down from time to time (I could end that sentence right there) and marvels at how I got here.

I haven’t forgotten how it all came to be – it happened so quickly, and so recently, that it’s still very fresh in my mind – but I do marvel.

I marvel that five years ago right around now, I was single, with a very lightweight secret crush on a guy I barely knew; loving the spring weather, and thinking about spending some time in another city, just for a change of scene.

You can guess, I am sure, what the next phase looked like: my lightweight crush became my great love, and spending time in another city became moving my entire life to begin anew with that same love – who, in turn, became the father of my children and then my husband.

We’re just about to move into a new house, another brand new start for the two of us, who have been lucky enough to have many of those already in our relatively brief time together.

Before I met him, I would never have considered myself a romantic.

This is one of the first dishes I ever cooked for him, and it remains a favourite.

Once in a Lifetime Chicken and Coleslaw

This recipe is easily doubled, or tripled, for a crowd, and it’s even better the next day.

4 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp rice vinegar
6 tbsp lime juice
6 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
700 g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4c finely chopped fresh mint
1 package (454g or 1 lb.) coleslaw

In a shallow bowl large enough to hold chicken pieces, whisk together sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, olive oil and sesame oil until well combined. Remove 3/4 cup of liquid from the bowl; reserve.

To make marinade, add soy sauce and garlic to the mixture in the bowl and stir well. Add chicken pieces; toss to coat, cover, and marinade as long as you can (minimum 20 minutes, maximum 4-5 hours).

Stir mint into reserved 3/4 cup of liquid to use as dressing for the coleslaw.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use tongs to transfer chicken pieces to a well-oiled shallow baking dish large enough to hold chicken in one layer. Bake, basting occasionally with marinade, until thighs are cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes before serving.

While chicken is resting, toss coleslaw with dressing.

Serves 2, generously.

separation (anxiety).

When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I thought I’d be a capable-but-remote mother. I have never particularly liked children, and had never intended to have any of my own; but I was prepared to take the responsibility seriously and try to do well at my job.

I couldn’t have imagined, then, the rabbit-hole that is falling messily and helplessly in love with your babies.

As it turns out, far from being remote (or, some days, even very capable), I am a mother who actually can’t stand being away from her kids.

I can’t describe the mixture of anxiety and guilt and mild heartbreak that I feel when I have to do something without them for more than an hour. Of course, I can function without having them with me constantly, but I don’t like it one bit.

But yesterday morning, by the time my children and I had hobbled through several hours of games and puzzles and baking and bathing and breakfast, and it was not even 8:00, I was looking for something much stronger than milk to add to my insultingly decaffeinated coffee.

And I also felt an unfamiliar sensation.

I couldn’t put my finger on it until my husband, bless him, offered to take the kids out, and I realized that what I was feeling was the need to not see them for a little while.

That feeling didn’t last long, but while it lasted I took advantage: I pulled a chair out onto the back deck, put my feet up on the railing, and gobbled up this last breakfast bar in blissful silence.

Breakfast Bars

These are a great breakfast, eaten slightly warm with a bit of yogurt drizzled on top. They are also an excellent take-along snack, treaty but healthy and yummier than store-bought granola bars.

1c brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2c oil (I use melted coconut oil, but any vegetable oil would do)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2c oats
1c whole wheat flour
1/4c wheat germ
1/4c unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom
1c chopped dried apricots
1/4c craisins
1/4c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment.

In a large bowl, beat together brown sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Stir in oats.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, wheat germ, coconut, baking powder, and cardamom. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir to combine. Stir in apricots, craisins, and chocolate chips.

Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over mixture and, using the plastic wrap as an aid, press batter very firmly and evenly into the pan.

Remove plastic wrap, and bake 35 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool in pan, on a rack, for as long as you can stand it before cutting into squares.


Recently, my husband and I got some good news.

We’d been waiting for it for months, and the waiting, and its attendant anxiety, had been tremendously difficult for us. Although we’d done everything we could to stay positive, we were coming to a bit of a breaking point when we got the word.

Of course I expected to be awash in relief – maybe not immediately, but within hours at least; but a day went by, then two, then three, and nothing.

I continued to feel anxious and ambivalent, labouring through my days as if there were a black cloud over my head, and mine alone.

I started questioning the nature of the news: was it not as good as we’d first thought? Was there some lurking underlying reason to hang on to the worry that had been plaguing us all this time?

And then I became disappointed in myself: had I lost the ability to embrace the good things in life – or welcome them, at the very least? Had I become one of those people who prefer living under the black cloud?

After several days of this kind of torturous myopic musing, my food processor broke.

For some reason, the untimely (and, with any luck, temporary) demise of this beloved appliance pushed me over the edge.

I have always been slightly embarrassed by my affection for my food processor, and I am more so now since my disproportionate reaction to its failure to thrive: I raged, pouted, craved smoothies night and day, and was generally impossible to be around.

But I’m happy to report that, in the days since that cathartic experience, all of my ambivalence towards the initial piece of good news has vanished.

I’m ready to welcome a little hope, and relieved that we are on our way forward after being mired in limbo for far too long.

And although I am devastated about my food processor, I am holding out for a quick and inexpensive repair job – in the meantime, I’ll make do with the immersion blender of dubious origins that’s languishing in the cupboard.

Glorious Soup

With thanks to my friend Catherine, who inspired me to make this after a long conversation about the glory of beets.

6 medium beets, quartered
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
6c chicken stock
2 lime leaves or bay leaves (optional)
1c finely chopped fresh dill
1/2c coconut milk
1/2c sour cream
a few sprigs fresh dill, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss beets with 2 tbsp olive oil and place in a shallow, ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and roast about an hour, until very tender.

Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add celery and carrot and continue to cook, stirring, a further 5 minutes or so. Add cardamom, ginger, and stock. Add lime leaves (or bay leaves), if using. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add beets to soup and use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Blend in dill, then gently stir in coconut milk and sour cream.

Reheat just until hot – do not boil!

Serve garnished with more sour cream, if desired, and fresh dill sprigs.