getting there.

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It was a rough morning around here.

Just when we thought there was a whiff of spring in the air, it began to snow. The clouds seem impenetrable.

I am overtired – we all are – and aching.

But, friends, it’s March, which means that despite all evidence to the contrary, spring really is just around the corner.

The snow will melt, the clouds will lift, the pain will fade.

We’re getting there.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this glorious short film – directed by Luca Merli and discovered, by delightful chance, here – and making my best effort at “letting go of the anxiety of tomorrow.”

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adios to all that.

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I am not overly fond of winter.

I should consider myself lucky, living as I do in relatively balmy southern Ontario – where winter is a bit of a joke compared to what most of the rest of the country has to face – but even still.

I can’t stand this weather.

I am never properly dressed for it. It makes me miserable, pinched and parsimonious, and I have been known to stay indoors for entire days just to avoid going out in it.

(I bet you can hear my whining even from way over there.)

So it was a great relief to pack bags and retreat to the sunny southern Baja last month. My husband was with us for just over a week, but my kids and I were away a full 16 days, obliterating the end of January and the first several days of February in a haze of hot afternoons and cold drinks and sunshine so bright it was nearly (but not really) unbearable.

We were there visiting my parents, imposing ourselves on the magical, bohemian life they lead in the winter: days spent on a beach largely deserted save for the wild horses who live there; fish tacos for lunch in a restaurant with a sand floor. The blender running just before sun down, nights perfectly cool for sleeping outdoors, and a greatest-hits list of favourite dinners from my childhood – a different one each night.

My kids ran wild and free, making friends with every single person they met, and even though we’ve been home for over a month now they are still asking me when we can go back. Before sleeping, we talk about the parts they miss the most: for my son, it’s the roosters; for my daughter, her grandmother.

I’m thinking longingly of that trip this morning, having woken up with a sore back to another frigid, grey, wintry day.

I’m marking off March with lines on the wall.

I’m already planning for next year.

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hearts and flowers.

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I have spent many a February 14th thinking about love and romance.

Lipsticked and red-stockinged, outrageously shod, fur-coated, occasionally melancholy, rarely single, and often annoyed by the crass commercialism of it all, I have always had a kind of perverse fondness for marking Valentine’s day in one way or another.

In theory, I do like the idea of spending a whole day wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, making grand declarations, overspending on the wine and the food, getting down on bended knee.

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But in actual fact, I am not overly comfortable with any of those things, and I have been infamously irritated when on the receiving end of them in real life. When it comes to romance, I shy away from the grand gesture. I don’t like being boxed in.

I never have.

Ask me about love these days, though, and I will unsheepishly tell you that I can’t get enough. Love from my sweet and complex children, and from my husband, who is those things and so many more.

Life with these three and their love is essentially the glue that holds me together

(and there it is, friends, my heart on my sleeve).

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 
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2013.

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I wonder what it says about my demographic that nearly everyone I know is embroiled in self-deprivation of one kind or another this month.

Sugar, coffee, alcohol, credit cards, television, sloth – all of these, and more, are being abandoned with Lenten fervour in favour of a brisk and tidy start to the new year.

And although I am no stranger to the New Year’s detox, I also have to tell you that I am not completely sold on the concept. I am all for a fresh start, and yes, December’s excesses do take their toll, but I can’t help feeling that we owe ourselves a little more kindness at this point in the calendar.

A gentler beginning.

I think we should all be slinking through the rest of this month (and much of the next one as well) with a piece of runny cheese and a glass or two of wine – and just possibly a spontaneous shopping trip – at the ready, both to acknowledge the utter joy that the holidays brought and to shore us up until the evenings are a little brighter, the Mondays a little less blue.

I am not really one for resolutions – I cannot be relied upon to keep them, ever, and I feel that there is enough opportunity for falling short of one’s own expectations in the day to day life of any mother – but if I were to make just one this year, it would involve neither the clenched teeth of self-denial nor the fleeting comforts of extreme gluttony.

If I were to make a wish for all of us this year, I’d say let this be the year that we find and take comfort in the middle ground.

Elusive and lovely as a sliver of winter sunshine.

Happy new year!

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January’s Healthy Lunch

I made this a few days after finishing my January detox, and the sweet, smoky, salty pancetta was enough to make me swoon with delight. The rest is pretty healthy. If you cook the barley ahead of time, it all comes together fairly quickly, but if you start with raw barley you need to give yourselves about an hour’s lead time.

5c cooked barley (about 350g raw, cooked according to package directions)

150g cubed pancetta

5 sticks celery, thinly sliced crosswise

2 cloves garlic, chopped not too finely

1c roasted almonds, coarsely chopped

roughly 1/3c olive oil

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp dijon mustard

sea salt and pepper to taste

If barley is fridge-cold, leave it sitting out to get the chill out before putting the rest of it together. If the barley is still warm from cooking, all the better.

Cook pancetta in a cast iron or other heavy skillet, over medium heat, until just beginning to crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a bowl and set aside. Drain all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pan, and reserve.

Return pan to heat and add garlic and celery. Saute, stirring occasionally until garlic is very fragrant and celery has lost most, but not all, of its crunch.

Meanwhile, Pour reserved pancetta fat into a glass measuring cup, and top up with olive oil to reach a scant half cup. Whisk in vinegar and dijon to emulsify.

Place barley in a large bowl and toss with almonds, pancetta, celery, and garlic. Add vinaigrette and toss well to combine. (At this point, if you were more organized than I, you might chop some italian parsley and stir it in before serving)

Serves 4 as a hearty main course, with enough leftover that you can sneak spoonfuls from the bowl for the rest of the afternoon or 6-8 as a side dish.

 

 


dark days.

 

I recently took a bit of a hiatus from my running.

By that I mean that I still went out occasionally, but only logged five or six kilometres at a time, and only once – at best twice – a week. Even though I’d had a very indulgent summer and should have been welcoming my usual post-Labour-Day return to a more restrained routine, instead I drifted in the opposite direction, thrillingly occupied with some new and highly fulfilling work and really revelling in my rare free moments, which – unsurprisingly – involved plenty of wine and coffee and pastries and shopping and magazines and large, almost ridiculously festive meals.


I also celebrated a birthday and enjoyed a wonderful visit with my mom.

It was a pretty fantastic six weeks or so – glorious, even – and throughout that period I was amazed, as I am still, that even in a life so filled with good things as mine, there seems always to be room to squeeze in a little more beauty, a little more joy.


And it’s that – the thought of this beautiful life, like a bubble of light – that has been getting me through the dark days of late: the troubling memories and mental anguish and anniversaries of loss and pain that come each year with October’s end.

That, and my return to my daily running routine.

And mornings at the cafe with this guy.


And reminders like this.

Roast Vegetables for Dark Days

This is basically a combination of most of my favourite things, in a dish. It’s easy and pleasing – a wonderful lunch or an accommodating side dish. I feel that it’s an adaptation of someone’s original recipe, but I’ve been making it for so long now that I’ve forgotten.

1 large fennel bulb
2 large parsnips (total parsnip weight about 500g)
250g bacon lardons, or cubed pancetta
2-3 stems fresh rosemary
a generous slug of olive oil
a generous pinch of french grey sea salt and a nice grinding of black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, or 400 degrees on the convection setting (I absolutely adore my oven’s convection setting).

Trim the stems and fronds from the fennel, and quarter (lengthwise) and core the remaining bulb. Cut each quarter lengthwise into three or four wedges.

Peel parsnips and cut crosswise into pieces roughly the same length as the fennel pieces. Half or quarter parsnip pieces as necessary so that all of the vegetables are of a roughly uniform size.

Place vegetables, bacon or pancetta, and rosemary in a glass or ceramic oven proof dish large enough to hold everything in one layer.

Add olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss well.

Roast 25-40 minutes, turning everything occasionally, until vegetables are cooked through, bacon is crispy, and everything has a comforting golden glow.

Serves 2-4, depending, as ever, on everyone’s appetite and whether you’ve got a main dish planned.


fall.

I have been a sartorial disaster lately.

I don’t know how it happens that each time the seasons change, I find myself caught out, at least a day or two (if I am being generous) behind the weather.

It’s autumn, friends, officially and irrevokably, and yet each chillier-than-I-anticipated morning finds me stuffing my feet into clogs when what I should be wearing is proper shoes. The wool sweaters and skirts – the ones that I have been pining for since roughly mid-August – all need a quick trip to the dry cleaner’s. And my rather vast collection of vintage coats? The repairs needed would fill a blog post all their own.

My stockings have holes in them. I need a new scarf. The moths have discovered my cashmere undershirts – as I discovered, to my horror, just yesterday.

When my birthday twin told me she’d found a fabulous grey fur while on a wine tasting holiday in the Niagaras, I was envious to an unseemly degree.

Disaster!

But there is really no need to speak in such dire terms on a day like today, inching towards the end of a week like this one, when I’ve been spoiled beyond measure on every front.

I’m anticipating that some austerity (again, on all fronts) will be in order before too long, but before that takes hold I’ve got stacks of new reading material, a cupboard full of wine, the promise of more glorious company this weekend, and – yes! – possibly a little shopping to look forward to.

Bon weekend mes amis!

Farro and Chanterelles For an Indulgent Weekend
adapted from Bon Appetit

Indulgent, indeed: I used chanterelles here because they are a seasonal treat and a serious favourite of mine, and I made this dish as a part of my birthday feast last week. But they are neither easy to find nor easy on the pocketbook, so my plan for the next time is to use a mixture of tasty common mushrooms and ramp up the flavour with some coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts.

2 cups semi-pearled farro*
4-6 tbsp olive oil
500g chanterelles, carefully cleaned and cut into one-inch pieces
1 c chicken broth
5 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

*I found farro vexingly difficult to track down, and wound up being given some in a very roundabout way by a neighbourhood friend. Pearled barley, which is much more readily available, would be a fine substitute.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain and toss lightly in a colander, then set aside to cool completely.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add roughly one third of the mushrooms and cook, turning once, until mushrooms are crisp and golden on the edges. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining olive oil and mushrooms.

Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan large enough to hold everything. Add farro to pan and cook, stirring, until farro is hot and has absorbed some of the broth. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. With pan still on the heat, beat in butter a few cubes at a time. Stir in mushrooms, chives and thyme. Taste once more and adjust seasoning if necessary, then serve immediately.

Serves four as a main, eight as a side.


indulge me.

I tend to be a bit childish about my birthday.

Never mind that I am an adult – a parent, even! – with responsibilities and practical concerns to attend to daily; when it comes to my birthday, I insist on indulgence of all kinds.

This year was no different.

Although my actual birthday was this past Friday, I have enough wonderful friends and family in my midst that my celebration spilled into the weekend and is still, in some senses, ongoing.

So, I know I owe you more (much more!) than just this, but I hope you’ll indulge me for a few more days…

Birthday Brownies

1 1/3c soft unsalted butter
400g bittersweet chocolate, chopped – the best possible quality (I use Green and Black’s)
6 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2c brown sugar
1 1/2c flour
a pinch of sea salt
1/2c white chocolate chips
1/2c chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13-inch baking dish and line with parchment. Fill a saucepan with water to the one-third mark, and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Combine butter and chocolate chunks in a medium bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and melt butter and chocolate together, stirring regularly with a heatproof spatula, until combined.

In another medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and brown sugar. Combine flour and salt in a separate small bowl.

Let chocolate mixture cool slightly, then whisk in egg mixture. Add flour mixture, white chocolate chips, and pecans, and beat until well combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes.

Cool completely in pan on a rack, then cut into squares.

You should get a minimum of 32, but really, the size (and level of indulgence) is completely up to you.