not pretty.

I recently had one of those epic and bewildering days where nothing (nothing!) really seemed to go my way.

I didn’t (thank goodness) have a particularly ambitious agenda, and nothing really disastrous happened, so it’s not that things went terribly wrong – but they also didn’t go terribly right, and by day’s end, even I was tired of hearing my own voice uttering variations on the word “no.”

The (not very pretty) quesadillas you see here sum things up:

They were delicious, a hot, quick, and relatively nutritious lunch; but only my husband and I ate them. My kids wouldn’t touch them!

And the salsa fresca that I envisioned accompanying them? Mealy and watery, and somehow both tasteless and excessively garlicky all at once.

No tragedy. But an uphill battle all the way.

Still, by day’s end, there were sleeping children, wine, a delicious soup (which I forgot to photograph), and some long-overdue adult conversation.

Also, the promise of a better day tomorrow.

And this way of preparing black beans, which was the delightful discovery that would, on a normal day, have turned things around.

Slightly Redeeming Refried Beans

I come from a long line of women who can’t stand refried beans, but I love these, and they keep well, so a quick hot lunch can be had in the time it takes to heat a tortilla in a pan.

1/4c olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or mild)
pinch oregano
2 – 540mL cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2c – 1c chicken or vegetable broth

In a large, shallow saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until golden, 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic; saute another minute or so, then add cumin, coriander, paprika and oregano. Stir well. Add beans, then 1/2c broth, Simmer 5-8 minutes, or until beans are soft (I’d taste a bean at 5 minutes – personally I prefer them not too mushy). If they seems a little dry for your taste, add the remaining 1/2c of broth and cook until heated through.
Remove from heat, and mash as much or as little as you’d like (I used a potato masher).

Makes about 6 cups.


Promise me you won’t laugh out loud when I tell you that we don’t often have dessert in our house.

Of course, there are exceptions – when my mom comes to town and bakes us a pie, for example – but generally speaking, the sweet-treat-after-dinner thing is just not our thing.

This is partly because my children, who are very early risers, are usually bundled off to bed mere moments after putting down their forks, so feeding them sugar just prior to that seems a little counter-intuitive (if not slightly masochistic, from the parents’ perspective).

It’s also partly because I love desserts so much that I’d prefer to have them be the main event, rather than relegate them to the end of the meal, when everyone is already drowsy from the wine and a little full.

There is nothing I like more than having a cupcake or leftover piece of pie first thing in the morning, preferably with coffee (and cake in the afternoon is the perfect way to push through the glassy-eyed no-man’s-land that constitutes the hours between three and five o’clock).

The only trouble is, because I avoid making that kind of thing unless it is a special occasion, there is rarely a leftover slice of something yummy to be had in my house in the mornings.

And that, friends, is why I am such an avid fan of the breakfast cake. It is treaty enough that you can fool yourself into thinking that it’s an indulgence, and healthy enough that you can fool yourself into thinking you’re starting your day with something nutritious.

This particular one came together so simply and quickly this morning that it’s going to be on heavy rotation around here until we run out of peaches (and by “we” I mean every fruit stand within a 10-block radius of our house).

Peachy Breakfast Cake

1 1/2c light spelt flour (you could use all-purpose too, or – better still – whole wheat. I am just really enamoured of this spelt flour I discovered recently, so I am using it in everything)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2c frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
1/2c melted butter or coconut oil
1/4c buttermilk
2 eggs
1 heaping cup diced peaches (I used 3 medium)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a bundt or other tube-shaped pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder and cardamom in a large mixing bowl.

Whisk together apple juice concentrate, butter or coconut oil, buttermilk and eggs in a large measuring cup with a spout.

Gently stir liquids into dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in peaches until evenly distributed through the batter.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake 30 minutes, until cake is slightly golden on top and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pan on rack 10-15 minutes, then run a knife or spatula around the outside of the pan and invert cake onto a plate.

Serve warm.

slightly pickled.

I love the idea of making pickles.

For me, pickling conjures up visions of charming country kitchens, steaming pots, banging screen doors, and faded Liberty print housedresses; row upon row of shiny jars packed with bright, tasty things to spice up the dreary winter ahead.

At this time of year especially, that vision of industry, tradition and simplicity has its appeal.

Of course, it’s totally a fantasy: despite my attempts at various other incarnations over the years, I am a city girl through and through, completely and happily entrenched in city life, not bound to tradition, and not terribly industrious either – especially when the task at hand involves the kind of repetition that home canning demands.

I am also not a fan of making things in bulk, so, much like life in that country kitchen, those rows upon rows of jars would drive me a little crazy after a very short time.

(And did I mention that I don’t even really love pickles?)

And yet – and yet! – the fantasy remains.

These two (delicious, bright, and easy) salads are the closest I will come this year, but they will, in my mind’s eye, almost get me there.

Slightly Pickled Carrot and Peanut Salad

I should warn you that neither of these salads keeps particularly well over night, so don’t plan for leftovers.

1/4c white wine vinegar
1/4c olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6 medium carrots, thinly sliced
3/4c salted peanuts

Whisk together vinegar and oils in the bottom of a large non-reactive bowl (I use a Pyrex mixing bowl).

Add carrots and toss well. Leave 3-4 hours, if you can!

Add peanuts just before serving, and toss well.

Slightly More Pickled Zucchini Salad

4 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2c white vinegar
1/4c brown sugar
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

Place zucchini in a large non-reactive bowl (I use a Pyrex mixing bowl). Add 1/4c of the vinegar, 2 tbsp of the sugar, and 1 tsp of the salt, and toss well. Let sit at least an hour or two, then turn zucchini out into a colander and drain well.

Return zucchini to bowl and toss with remaining vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add chives and toss well.

Each salad serves 4-6, depending on what else is on offer. Faded housedress optional.