Boo!

I will not be sorry to see the back of Halloween.

I have never liked it, not even as a child, when the lure of the kind of refined sugar that we would never, ever, set eyes on at home should have been a very powerful motivator.

Thankfully, my children are too young yet to express the kind of rabid interest in trick-or-treating (my least favourite part of the whole thing) that I know is inevitable, and I am grateful for another year’s reprieve.

The one consolation, as I wait for the minutes of today to tick by, is the availability of these pumpkin seeds, which my husband prepared himself and then very thoughtfully left at my disposal.

Sweet, salty, spicy (the ultimate taste trifecta) and highly addictive, they, and not the mini chocolate bars in the bowl by the front door, are what I am counting on to get me through.

At least that’s what I am telling myself.

Pumpkin Seeds for Snacking

the seeds of one large pumpkin, cleaned of goo, rinsed, and well dried
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp (lightly packed) brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 pinches cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Place pumpkin seeds in a large mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients, then toss with pumpkin seeds until they are well coated.

Spread seeds onto prepared baking sheet and bake 45 minutes, until dry and slightly golden in colour, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

Serves 1 spooked Mama.


consumed.

The past two weeks have been almost embarrassingly full of indulgence for me.

My birthday celebrations started several days early and did not finish until a full week of epic good times had been had.

There was Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the whole year.

An evening out with old and new friends that was so much fun that I still smile at the thought of it, an entire week later.

And an incredible run of sunny days and balmy temperatures that just ended a few nights ago.

I was also undeservedly showered with gifts – some of them in the form of gift certificates to a few of my favourite places – an occurrence that then prompted a little shopping of my own.

I do love to shop, and always have, and I am past the point of apologizing for it (in the words of the divine Rufus Wainwright, “so what if I like pretty things?”) and the flush of joy that finding a new and lovely thing brings.

As I am always quick to protest (perhaps I am not quite so unapologetic as I’d like to think?), the object in question doesn’t have to be expensive, or even unused; it just has to strike some chord in my admittedly quirky aesthetic.

Most recently, it was a fur coat that hinted of the glamourous life of its former owner and a vintage lamp that casts the most glorious shadows in my dining room. Neither cost me a thing, and the beauty that they have brought to my daily life is indescribable.

Still, negligible impact on my pocketbook notwithstanding, I think it may be time to take a short break on the shopping, lest the bringing home of pretty things turn into an all-consuming fixation

(I remember overhearing, years ago, a conversation between two women in a shoe store in which one said to the other, “if I buy them, I will have to feed my kids oatmeal for dinner for at least a month. Would that be terrible?” I am not that woman, but that’s not to say I don’t have her in me).

I fear that it may be a bit like trying to coax a genie back into her bottle, this not-shopping thing, and if I am unsuccessful, I am determined not to panic.

But either way, I will be making more of this soup, and I suggest you do the same. Warming, delicious, simple, and marvelously indulgent, it hints of the glamour of lives past.

And not that it matters, but it will barely cost you a thing.


French Onion Soup

This recipe makes a lot of soup, but it freezes and reheats well. Still, it’s easily halved for a more manageable amount.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 kg onions, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
5-6 sprigs thyme (optional)
2c red wine
8c beef stock, or rich vegetable stock
stale baguette slices (two per person)
several slices of gruyere (a generous amount per baguette slice)

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil and butter together over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring fairly regularly, until onions have taken on a fair amount of colour – they should be a deep golden-brown (this is the crucial part of making French onion soup, so take your time with this step).

Throw in thyme, if you have some, then red wine. Cook 2-3 minutes, then add stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until you are ready to serve – I’d say a minimum of 20 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, arrange baguette slices on a baking tray and preheat broiler. Cover each piece of bread with a generous amount of cheese, and cook under the broiler until cheese is bubbly and golden in spots.

Ladle soup into bowls, and add a couple of pieces of cheese toast to each bowl.

Serves 8-10 (large glass of wine optional).


today is all about…


                                                                        …Me!

(These gorgeous cakes were painted by Paul Ferney. The originals have all been sold, but you can order giclee prints right here. How will you ever choose…?)


thanks given.

Friends, I hope you had a perfect long weekend. Ours was exactly right, filled to overflowing with food and wine and sunshine and overwhelming gratitude.

Here’s how it looked:

As I mentioned on Friday, we started celebrating a day early…

And my children helped me with some baking.

Bikes were ridden and coffee drunk.

There was a duck…

And a pie…

And even after baths were had and pyjamas put on, nobody wanted to go to bed.

The joy I take in this life knows no bounds.


l’action de grace.

Friends, I hope the upcoming weekend is perfect for you, replete with love and good cheer and tables laden with delicious and satisfying food.

For my part, I started celebrating the long weekend a little early last night, so I’ll spare you the meanderings of my slightly soupy brain today and get right to the recipes.

Either – or both! – of these lovely cakes will be right at home at your Thanksgiving feast, and both of them will serve a crowd quite nicely.

My daughter, who just started in French immersion, came home from school today and told me that “L’action de grace is about remembering that some people don’t have enough food; and also, we need to make a really big pie.”

So I have my mandate.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


The Great Pumpkin Cheesecake

My mom, who is no slouch when it comes to baking (remember this? And this?), created this recipe years and years ago, and making it is a Thanksgiving tradition in our family.

For Crust:
1 1/2c graham crumbs
1/4c unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar

For Filling:
4 eggs
1c packed brown sugar
500g (2 bricks) cream cheese
1 – 398ml can pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

For Topping:
1c whipping cream
1/4c maple syrup
a handful of sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine crust ingredients in food processor and pulse until well combined and beginning to clump together. Pat this mixture firmly into the base of an 8-inch spring form pan and refrigerate until ready to use.

Give your food processor bowl a wipe with a damp paper towel – you’ll be using it for your cheesecake filling too.

For filling, process eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Add cream cheese, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg and process until mixture is completely combined.

Pour filling onto crust and bake 45-60 minutes, until cake is set on the outside but still wobbly in the middle.

Place pan on a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, run a hot knife around the outside of the cake and gently remove springform pan sides. Whip cream together with maple syrup. Cover top of cake with whipped cream, and arrange toasted almonds in whatever decorative fashion suits you.

Serves 10-12.

 

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

This is liberally adapted from one of Nigella’s recipes, so I’ve kept the original weighed measures, with approximate conversions in parentheses.

For Cake:
175g (3/4c) unsalted butter
125g (1/2c, packed) brown sugar
2 tbsp granulated (white) sugar
100g (1/4c) molasses
200g (1/2c) maple syrup
100g (1/4c) runny honey
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
a dash of ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp warm water
2 eggs
1c milk
275g (2 1/4c) light spelt or all purpose flour
40g (1/3c) cocoa powder
175g (1c) chocolate chips

For Icing:
500g (2 bricks) cream cheese
300g (2c) sifted icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

For Cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9″ square baking pans with parchment.

In a large saucepan, combine butter, sugars, molasses, syrup, honey, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves over low heat, stirring, until butter in melted.

In a small bowl, combine baking soda and warm water, stirring to dissolve.

Remove saucepan from heat and beat in eggs, milk, and baking soda mixture. Stir in flour and cocoa powder, and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide mixture between prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted into centre of cakes comes out clean.

Cool 15 minutes in pans on racks, then turn cakes out onto racks to cook completely.

When cakes are cool, make icing: in food processor, combine ingredients and process until smooth.

Place one cake layer on a plate and cover with half of icing. Place second cake layer in top, and use the remaining icing to cover top of cake.

Serves 10-12


let’s start with this.

What a delightful week this has been.

The weather has been nothing short of spectacular, a trend that is scheduled to continue for at least another few days; I have discovered a wonderful new album and also rediscovered an older one that, it turns out, is as beloved now as it ever was.

We are ramping up to what is by far my favourite weekend of the entire year, and I am awash in nostalgia, the autumns of my past a film constantly flickering through my mind’s eye. There is no place I’d rather be than in this present, but I am grateful to have such a stack of happy memories to conjure up as I move through my days.

It needs to be said, though, that my inner Martha is cringing in horror at the state of my house. Considering that I love Thanksgiving the best of all of the food-and-tradition-laden holidays in our calendar year, you’d think that I’d be all over the cleaning and seasonal decorating that such an occasion deserves.

Instead, I am plotting the move of yet another piano out of (and another one into) our dining room, wondering whether I have time to repaint the dining table while the weather is still warm enough to open the windows, and leafing through cookbooks and magazines, contemplating elaborate feasty menus that I will absolutely not be preparing – at least not this weekend

(I will be cooking a duck, which you won’t likely be seeing here until after the fact, but fear not, friends! I have not one but two spectacular autumnal desserts coming your way tomorrow. That’s right. I’ve got your backs).

And thinking fondly of everyone I love, near and far. If you were here with me now, I’d make you a coffee and whisk the milk in a pot on the stove and feed you one of these scones.

Let’s Start with This (sweet potato scones)

I was attempting to clean out the kitchen drawer (you know the one I am talking about, the one with everything haphazardly crammed into it) a couple of days ago and found this list of ingredients scrawled on a scrap of paper.

1c rolled oats
3/4c buttermilk
2 1/4c light spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1/4c maple syrup
1/2c canned pureed sweet potatoes (or leftover fresh ones if you have them)
1/4c finely chopped pitted dates
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl; stir well and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas.

In a separate bowl, whisk together syrup, sweet potatoes, dates, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir oat mixture into sweet potato mixture, then add everything to flour and butter mixture.

Stir gently until just combined (dough will be very sticky), then turn out onto a well floured surface and knead a little. Pat dough into a circle about 9″in diameter, and cut into 10 wedges. Arrange scones on prepared baking sheet and bake 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through if you think of it.

Cool scones slightly on pan before transferring to a rack to cool a little more.

Serve warm, with lots of chat.

Makes 10.


so simple.

I have been wanting to share this salmon dish with you for ages, but it’s never felt like the right time.

Partly this is because, as you’ll see below, I have found the challenge of getting a decent photograph of the finished dish to be somewhat insurmountable. It’s also partly because I have been a little sheepish about its list (if you can call it that) of ingredients.

There was a time when I am not even sure I would have called this a recipe.

I used to feel that no dinner worth its proverbial salt could be had without hours of lovingly coaxing into being in the kitchen, accompanied by large glasses of wine and several friends.

That in fact dinner was not worth having without several large glasses of wine (and a few friends).

That there was nothing in life worth standing in line for; that any activity that required me to wear practical shoes was not something I wanted to be a part of; and that cheap shoes were never worth it.

(I still feel pretty strongly about all of those things, but on most of them – with the possible exception of the cheap shoes – I am at least willing to bend.)

There was a time when I would have insisted that three ingredients, including the salmon, does not a recipe make. Certainly, a meal that could be made, from start to finish, in roughly half an hour, would not have met with much approval, nor would it find its place into the quasi-public domain that is this blog.

But as I said, I am not as immoderate (or should that read intolerant?) as I used to be, and there is absolutely nothing extraneous that can be added to improve this ultra-simple dish.

Simple Salmon

If your night-waking this week is induced by visions of a complicated Thanksgiving feast, this might be the perfect antidote. I actually baked it in the same hot oven, at the same time, as a pan of this cauliflower (I tossed some curry powder in with it and omitted the capers and sundried tomatoes), and it worked out perfectly.

1/4c lightly packed brown sugar
1/3c dijon mustard
4 – 250g filets of salmon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and mustard until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth.

Place salmon filets in a lightly oiled glass or ceramic baking dish just large enough to hold them.

Spoon mustard mixture over salmon filets and cook in the middle of the hot oven 15 minutes, or until salmon is bronzed on top and still bright pink in the center.

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.