the most important meal.


If you were under the impression that my family and I are subsisting on breakfast foods and baked goods these days, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

I have been managing to cobble together some decent – even inspired – dinners, which isn’t hard to do given the bounty of seasonal produce; and I have banished the cereal supper for the time being, which makes me disproportionately pleased with myself.

But on full, full days like the ones I’ve been having (and will continue to have for the next couple of weeks, I expect), the evening meal isn’t what keeps me going.

Most of my good times in the kitchen have been happening in the earliest part of the day, before it gets too hot and muggy and while what is required of me for the next twelve or so hours seems almost reasonable.

I have been using the fact that my baby is still nursing as an excuse for waking and baking relentlessly, and I have also been getting a lot of mileage out of these pancakes – wonderful for breakfast, a decent mid-morning snack, and not bad slathered with peanut butter for lunch or late at night, either.

Oatmeal Pancakes
adapted from Orangette
You must start these the night before, which I find more thrilling than onerous, but I recognize that not everyone may feel that way…

1 1/2c whole oats
2 1/4c buttermilk
1/2c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2c butter OR coconut oil, melted and cooled

Combine oats and buttermilk in a mixing bowl; stir well, so that all of the oatmeal is submerged in the buttermilk, then cover and refrigerate over night.

The next day, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl.

Whisk together brown sugar, eggs, and melted butter (or coconut oil) in a small bowl. Add egg mixture to buttermilk mixture, and stir well to combine.

Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients – do this gently, but make sure everything is well combined.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with a little oil, and then, when the pan is hot enough, add the batter by 1/4 cupsful (I get two pancakes per batch in my pan). Flip pancakes when they are looking dry around the edges, after 3 minutes or so. Cook a further few minutes, until golden, then transfer to a plate and place in the warm oven while you get on with the rest.

Makes 14 pancakes.


lucky.

(soup tureen courtesy of mrs. huizenga)

Our house is in chaos at the moment.

Having just said goodbye to the last guest we will have at this address, we have begun to dismantle our life here. It’s not the most fun process, partly because of the emotional weight attached to what we are doing – but also partly due to the fact that it is an extremely messy undertaking.

Simply put, there is crap everywhere.

How is it that we’ve managed to accumulate so much in the three short years we have lived here?

When did I, formerly known to my friends as the compulsive minimalist, become the kind of person who has boxes and bags and bins of excess to cart to the Goodwill every day?

For every box I pack, there is another filled with things we no longer need – if indeed we ever needed them in the first place.

Going through our things, I’m half fascinated and half horrified by the pile-up; but when I manage to shift my eyes from the miasma I feel terribly lucky.

Lucky that we’re in the privileged position of having more crap than we know what to do with.

And lucky that we are moving on.

Happiness Soup
adapted from Nigella Lawson

The great thing about this easy-going soup is that it works hot, warm, or even tepid. I have never tried it fridge-cold, but at room temperature it’s great.

1/4c olive oil
3 medium yellow zucchini, finely diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
zest and juice of a lemon
1 tsp tumeric
4c (1 litre) chicken broth
1/2c basmati rice
4-5 large basil leaves
1 ball of mozzarella (about 325g), cut into small cubes

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini pieces and cook, stirring gently, about 5 minutes, until slightly softened.

Add garlic and tumeric and stir; then add lemon juice and zest, broth, and rice.

Cook, uncovered, about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked and zucchini is tender. Add basil leaves and remove from heat. Puree soup in batches.

Serve warm, but not necessarily hot; garnish each bowl with a handful of mozzarella.

Serves 4-6.


d-day.

My kids have the best dad ever.

Root Beer Cupcakes
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I had a couple of cans of root beer in the fridge leftover from my pregnancy, and this seemed like a great excuse to crack them open. Note that these cupcakes are super moist and freeze very well – which may or may not be good news if, like me, you find having 24 cupcakes sitting on your counter to be tempting in the extreme.

Cupcakes
2c root beer
1c cocoa powder
1/2c unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4c granulated sugar
1/2c firmly packed dark brown sugar
2c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 eggs

Frosting
500g icing sugar
1c soft butter
250g soft cream cheese
1 tbsp rum

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners. In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined.

Gently combine the liquid and flour mixtures together in the large bowl (batter will be slightly lumpy).

Use a 1/4c measure to fill cupcake liners and bake cupcakes, rotating trays halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 15-17 minutes.

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

When cupcakes are cooled, make frosting:
Place icing sugar in the bowl of the food processor and blast for a few seconds to remove any lumps. Pulse in butter and cream cheese, and then rum.

Using an offset spatula or a table knife, dollop and spread frosting onto tops of cupcakes.

Makes 24.


special delivery.


I have begun having my groceries delivered.

The passing mention of this new habit in a recent post did nothing to reveal how momentous a difference ordering food online, and its subsequent delivery, has wrought; so let me just say, unequivocally and on the record:

It has changed my life.

I have always loved shopping for food (and most other things, too), but lately it had been starting to feel like a bit of a chore.

We have several big household expenditures coming up, so we have been making an effort to be more frugal – which has meant less shopping at the pretty little jewel box-like shops along our strip in favour of trips to the vast, faceless and uninspiring (but ultimately more economical) supermarket at the outer fringe of our neighbourhood.

Because I find going to that store the worst kind of drudgery, my husband has been doing the grocery shopping of late – and although his is an errand of mercy and I should be grateful that he does it at all (and I am grateful, really!), I am not always pleased with what he comes home with.

It’s not that he’s a bad shopper – I’d just prefer to do it myself.

(For a while there, because of my control issues, we were making our trips to said giant grocery store en famille, and that was the worst kind of gong show:

Picture the four of us, largely disgruntled and at least one of us hungry, hurtling through the aisles in an attempt to make good choices and buy everything on our list before someone had a major meltdown and we were forced to leave without anything.)

Enter the life-altering on-line supermarket, where the aisles are empty, there is never a line at the checkout, and you don’t have to pay in cash or bag your own groceries.

Yesterday, I ordered everything on my list while nursing my baby and watching my daughter do a 300-piece puzzle.

And then this morning, before I had even finished making my coffee, there was a man at the door with four boxes of fresh food for my family and me.

I was so delighted by the whole thing, I made us a cake for breakfast to celebrate.

Spiced Carrot Breakfast Cake

The disadvantage of this over, say, muffins, is that it takes considerably more time to cook. That said, it also seems to go a lot further (don’t ask me why, since the ingredients are virtually the same), and the presentation is awfully pleasing. Besides, who can resist the notion of cake for breakfast?

1c wheat germ
1c buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2c applesauce (unsweetened)
1/3c oil (once again, I use coconut, but any vegetable oil will do)
1/2c agave nectar OR thawed apple juice concentrate
1 2/3c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
about 2c grated carrots (I grate 2 fairly big carrots – not enormous, but not medium-sized either)
1/2c chopped pitted dates
1/2c chopped almonds
1/2c craisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a tube pan.

Place wheat germ in a large mixing bowl.

Combine buttermilk, eggs, apple sauce, oil, and agave nectar in a large glass measuring cup and whisk until smooth. Pour over wheat germ in bowl and stir to combine.

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Stir in carrots, dates, almonds, and craisins.

Add flour mixture to buttermilk mixture and stir until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes (check after 35), or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Cool 10-15 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake and invert it onto a wire rack.

Serve immediately, or let it cool a little longer before serving.

Makes at least a dozen slices.


beauty.

I can not tell you how thrilled I was to unpack a box of groceries the other day and find the small paper bag containing these tomatoes.

I nearly couldn’t eat them – I was so taken by their beauty that I just wanted to sit and stare.

I gazed at them on every lovely surface I could come up with (the white stove top, the pale blue platter, the yellow tablecloth, the green couch).

I sniffed them: they smelled like the memory of a garden from childhood.

Aren’t they gorgeous? Days later, I am still rapturous at the very thought of them.

After ogling them for a while longer and spending considerable time deciding how best to enjoy them, I made this sauce.

Then everyone in my family ate it.

And that, friends, is why I love food.

Fabulous Sauce from Fabulous Tomatoes

This is one of my favourite simple no-cook pasta sauces, but it also makes a great salad if, like I did recently, you discover partway through your preparations that there is no pasta to be had in the house. This is also one of the rare times when I have to insist that you use the best olive oil you can get.

3-4 large heirloom tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
2 tbsp finely chopped basil
1 (340g) ball mozzarella, cut into small-ish cubes

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Lightly score each tomato with a sharp knife, then plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water (you may need to do this in batches) for just a minute or two, to facilitate peeling.
Scoop the tomatoes out of the water and peel them, then cut each tomato in half and remove the seeds. Core and coarsely chop tomatoes.
Place tomatoes in a large, non-reactive mixing bowl and toss gently with sugar, salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Let sit at room temperature a minimum of two hours, and as many as eight.
When nearly ready to serve (ie. while your pasta is boiling), add chives, basil and mozzarella to tomatoes and toss gently.
Makes sauce for about 450g of pasta, or salad for six.


excess.


I have a confession to make: I am not really a fan of leftovers.

When confronted with them, I don’t find myself inspired to create marvelous dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts; instead, I think longingly of those food disposal units that would allow me to stuff the uneaten portions of our meals down the drain and grind them into oblivion.

For some reason, I find opening the fridge to the sight of shelvesful of little containers a bit anxiety-provoking, and I would be quite happy if they were to simply disappear without my having to give them a thought (and to be fair, they often do, thanks to my husband, whose appetite is tremendous and somewhat less discerning than mine).

The leftovers problem becomes complicated when I acknowledge that generally, when cooking, I prefer an abundance of ingredients. Because we are only four, and only two of us can really be said to actually consume our meals, the result is that I tend to make quantities of food from which leftovers are inevitable.

So basically, I go to as much trouble to generate leftovers as I do to avoid dealing with them once they’ve been created.

I know, it’s a problem.

But we’re not here (well, not really) to delve too deeply into my complicated relationship with food. We’re here to celebrate the fact that, when I was dispirited by the bits and pieces floating around our fridge one recent rainy day, I decided to make these pancakes for lunch. All four of us gobbled them up, and there wasn’t a leftover to be had.

Corn and Cheese Pancakes

I processed the corn kernels in deference to our baby, but you could just as easily leave them whole and stir them in at the end with the cheese.

1c fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 eggs
1/2c olive oil
2c buttermilk
2 tsp sugar
1c whole wheat flour
1/2c corn meal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 heaped cup grated cheese (I used cheddar)
a little butter, for the pan

Process corn kernels in the food processor (if frozen, they will make quite a racket). Add eggs, oil, buttermilk and sugar and process until combined.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, corn meal, baking soda, and paprika. Add corn mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in cheese.

Heat a large heavy pan on medium-high heat. Melt a little butter in the pan.

Make pancakes in batches, using a quarter-cup measure. Cook each pancake about 3 minutes per side.

My husband and I ate ours with salsa and sour cream, my daughter had hers with maple syrup, and the baby ate his au naturel.

Makes 14.


waking and baking.

(with sheepish thanks to my friend Eden, from whose delightful blog post I ripped off this title)

We all have our morning rituals, the idiosyncratic routines without which we spend the rest of the day feeling slightly off.

Personally, although I have learned to live largely without caffeine these last couple of years, and my drinking alcohol in the morning is limited to the occasional mimosa, I find it very, very difficult to begin my day without some kind of baking, preferably still slightly warm from the oven.

During the recent heat wave in our city, it took me several days of being out of sorts and saying ferocious things to anyone I met who dared utter the words, “we have air conditioning, but we prefer not to use it unless we really need it,” before I realized that a large part of my attitude problem had to do with eating a cold breakfast every morning.

Necessity being the mother of invention (and greed being an incredibly powerful motivator), I decided to try to come up with a warm weather-friendly strategy: rather than giving up the waking and baking altogether, the trick was to make up a recipe so easy and fast that the kitchen barely had time to heat up before I was pulling some yummy thing out of the oven.

With the help of my willing family and what must be the hardest-working ceiling fan in the GTA, I came up with these muffins.

And I have to tell you that, even though the temperature is more moderate now than it was last week, I still can’t get enough of them.

Muffins for Hot Mornings

3 very ripe bananas
1/2c oil (I use coconut oil because I’m obsessed with it these days, but go ahead and use whatever you’ve got)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2c thawed apple juice concentrate
1 2/3c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
3/4c chocolate chips

In a food processor, combine bananas, oil, eggs, vanilla and apple juice concentrate and process until smooth.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and espresso powder.
Add flour mixture to food processor and process until all ingredients are combined.
Scrape batter into a large mixing bowl and fold in chocolate chips.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
While oven is preheating, line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, and bake 17 – 18 minutes.
Remove from heat (and turn oven off immediately!) and cool 10 minutes or so in pan before transferring to a wire rack.
Serve immediately, or allow a little time to cool.
Makes a dozen.