I am a big fan of boxing day.
First of all, it’s my sister’s birthday, so it seems only natural to greet the 26th of December with nearly as much fanfare as the 25th.
Also, there is something about the energy on the day after Christmas that I just adore: the house is slightly disheveled, with the detritus of yesterday’s gifting and feasting and drinking still lingering about, but it’s not so painfully messy that I feel I have to get up from the couch – and the new novel I just started – and actually deal with it.
We seem as a family to be moving around in a haze of love this week, all goodwill toward one another (read: a remarkable, if no doubt short-lived, absence of sibling strife) and small moments of joy, and none of the high anxiety-slash-anticipation inherent in the big day.
There have been many videos watched. I’ve nearly gone blind putting together a pair of Lego superheroes. We’ve skated and sledded. The sun has come out.
There is an abundance of food in the fridge and wine in the cupboard, amazing leftovers (if I do say so myself) and enough residual holiday spirit to make a batch of these cookies, which, it must be said, may actually be the best cookies I have ever made.
Chocolate Ginger Cookies
adapted from Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook
1/2 c soft unsalted butter
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c dark molasses
1 1/2c all purpose flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
8 oz. (240g) dark chocolate, chopped
coarse granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Add flour to butter mixture and beat until just combined.
Stir in chopped chocolate.
Pour a cup or so of sugar onto a plate.
Scoop up a tablespoon of dough and use your hands to roll it into a ball. Dredge in coarse sugar before placing on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough – I got two pans os 15 cookies each when I made these.
Bake cookies one sheet at a time, in the centre of the oven, until surface is cracked and they are barely dry at the edges, about 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet.
Eat with abandon.
Makes 30 cookies.
Spring has finally arrived in my part of the world, blowing in on the heels of April’s last blustery gusts, and everything is responding favourably to its sudden and unseasonable warmth with bare limbs blatantly exposed, long fervent conversations had and mornings whiled away in the sunlight.
I’ll spare you the full April post – wittering on about icy winds and bleak outlooks and the sound of a train in the distance – that was left on the cutting room floor, but I will tell you that no one unlucky enough to have been in my vicinity these past few months was sorry to see the winter finally draw to a close.
The change has been so welcome, and yet so sudden – it feels a little like May, with all of its attendant goodness, arrived late last week with a vengeance:
Last weekend, our park exploded with cherry blossoms, and I couldn’t get over the paradox: that those stunning, ethereal blooms, all sweetness and light, can bring out the some of the ugliest and hungriest parts of people. Even after an early morning of dodging couples in formalwear, crying children, men with long lenses, mountains of garbage, and raging, impatient motorists, though, I came home raving not about the hideousness of humanity, but the beauty of the blossoms.
That colour, that smell.
I dragged the whole family back to the park almost in spite of myself.
Two of my dearest friends have birthdays this week, and we are expecting an honoured guest in our house, so I have stocked the cupboards with wine and other celebratory goodies in anticipation. Sunday is the Junction Flea, possibly the best mother’s day gift a person like me could hope for.
I don’t even care that they are forecasting unseasonable cold, because I have had this dish in my pocket for months, waiting for just such an occasion to share it with you.
Happy weekend, friends! Happy spring!
Lamb Shoulder Roast for Any Occasion
When I say any occasion, I mean any time, any season. I first made this last July, for a friend’s birthday celebration at my house. I made it again when my sister and her family visited in August, then in October for my birthday feast (the one that included a version of this dish). I made it once over the winter holidays and again just a few weeks ago for Easter. It’s always that good. And the leftovers make an incredible hash. It’s an overnighter, but you still have time to make it for mother’s day, and I can’t overstate how easily made and rewarding a dish this is. Run to your butcher right now!
1 2.5-3 kg lamb shoulder roast, bone in and tied, with some fat on it
3 tbsp coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2c olive oil
1/2c fresh squeezed lemon juice
Lightly score lamb fat at 1″ intervals and place in a roasting pan with a tightly fitting lid – the pan should be just large enough to hold the lamb comfortably. Rub lamb all over with salt and pepper, then garlic and rosemary. Finally, drizzle over the olive oil and lemon juice and massage everything gently into the lamb. Cover pan tightly with foil, then its lid, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roast lamb, basting occasionally (rewrap the pan very tightly with foil after each basting), until meat is very tender and beginning to fall offf the bone, about 4 hours.
Remove pan from oven, remove lid and foil, and hoist the roast onto a large platter to rest. Preheat broiler. Decant lamb juices into a jug. Remove string from lamb and transfer it back into the roasting pan. Broil for about 5 minutes, until fatty bits are crackling and golden.
Return lamb to platter; skim fat from the surface if the jus in the jug. Serve immediately, scattered with lemon pieces and rosemary sprigs.
Serves 6, with plenty of leftovers.
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.
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).
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.
The best month of the year begins now.
Here we go!
Is there such a thing as virtuous gluttony?
We celebrate a lot in our house at this time of year: my two children have their birthdays within four weeks of one another, and my husband’s birthday and our wedding anniversary are sandwiched in there too.
Not to mention enough family birthdays, friends’ birthdays, and friends’ children’s birthdays that, combined, this summer’s various celebrations have fused in my memory into one long party involving possibly more than one bouncy castle and many, many glasses of rose.
It has been wonderful.
…to something like this
…and back again.
Left to my own devices, I’d like to think that I could happily exist on leftover homemade birthday cake and cold, pink wine; and if mine were the only needs to consider, I might just give it a try. There are, however, children in my life, and although I submit to their dietary whims with embarrassing regularity, even I have my limits.
Enter this quick, simple, and delectable cauliflower dish, with its caramelized edges and salty bits and just enough olive oil to make it feel like an indulgence.
As to the question of vutuous gluttony: if there is such a thing, I am hoping this dish will get you there.
Especially if, like me, you’ve already been everywhere else this summer.
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/3c olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2-3 tbsp capers
8 sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and finely sliced
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In baking dish large enough to hold all of the cauliflower in one layer, toss florets with olive oil and salt until well combined.
Place in oven and roast, stirring from time to time, until cauliflower is tender and beginning to brow, 20-30 minutes.
Serve garnished with capers and sun dried tomatoes (and a large glass of wine).
Serves 4, generously
My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary.
We went out to dinner, which, in our life populated with small children, is an exceedingly rare treat; and everything, from the lack of line up to the excellent service to the utterly wonderful food, went perfectly.
Which was lovely and appropriate, because when it comes to my home life, I occasionally have a hard time believing my good luck. I could go on (and in fact I have) about the delight I take in my relationship with my husband – I think we are the perfect match, and we continue to get along terrifically well even though we spend a lot more time together than many of the couples we know.
He is talented, warm, and charming, a great dad and a good friend. I absolutely adore him, and I love the life that we are building together.
I am telling you all of this today because he has gone out of town for a couple of weeks, and when he is not here for an extended period of time it is not difficult for me to descend quite quickly into ungraciousness.
So if you see me wearing a pained and/or openly resentful expression in the coming days, or if I am less than effusive on the subject of my wonderful husband, please don’t take it too much to heart.
I promise I won’t either.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but this feels like the week things are beginning to take a turn for the better around here.
The weather, for one, is looking much more promising; the sun bursting through the clouds this afternoon had jangly summertime song lyrics bouncing through my head.
Sticking to my Lenten resolution has not been as painful as I might have thought (possibly because I have been compensating for the lack of baked goods with sushi and potato chips in equal measure), and I have found that going largely, although unscientifically, gluten-free has made me feel more clear-headed and slightly less fatigued.
My children and I are all germ-free for the moment, and my husband and I have been spending what feels like a gluttonous amount of time together.
As the kids say, it’s all good.
My week so far has also included a couple of bits and pieces of good news, which I will have to keep under my hat for the time being, but we are celebrating around here nonetheless with (what else? )cake: this flourless cake.
And this pale green soup, which will counteract the cake and put a little virtuous spring in your step.
Simple Broccoli Soup
This is adapted from a great basic cookbook called Whining and Dining, by Emma Waverman (yes, that Waverman!) and Eshun Mott. I can never bring myself not to fiddle with their recipes, but my husband follows them to the letter and the results are always perfectly good.
1/4c unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4c (a one-litre carton) low-sodium chicken broth
1c diced peeled russet potatoes
4c broccoli florets
1 – 400 mL can coconut milk
In a large pot set over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to colour. Add broth and potatoes and bring just to a boil; then simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Add broccoli and return to a simmer. Continue to simmer 8-10 minutes, until vegetables are very tender. Add coconut milk to pot, and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
The list of things that have conspired to keep me off the keys these past several weeks includes, but is not limited to:
a lack of internet service (and an appalling lack of service from our internet provider, but you’ve all no doubt heard that story before) for more than a week following the move;
three family birthdays and twice that number of birthday parties;
many wonderful out of town house guests;
a broken camera;
and my husband’s travel schedule, which took him away from us for what felt like an eternity.
I have missed posting a great deal – in fact, I have missed cooking a great deal, since most of my meals this summer have centered around cheese and crackers and leftover birthday cake.
Still, there are at least a couple of weeks left of this glorious summer yet, and my kitchen, now that I have begun to settle into it, is awash in fresh local ingredients.
Which I plan to press into service.
Any minute now.
As soon as I finish this cupcake.
Carrot Cupcakes for a Momentous Day
adapted from Gourmet Today
It was my son’s first birthday on Saturday, and I made these cupcakes for the first of two parties we held for him over the weekend. They were a huge hit, and I’d make them again in a heartbeat.
For the Cupcakes:
1 1/2c light spelt pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4c vegetable oil
1c packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4c finely shredded carrots (I used 2 large ones)
1/3c finely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2c sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
For the Icing:
3 1/2c icing sugar
250g cream cheese, room temperature
1/2c unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp vanilla
For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg in a bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together oil, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Beat in flour mixture until well combined. Gently fold in carrots, walnuts and coconut until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 25-30 minutes, turning pan halfway through cooking time, until a tester inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Turn cupcakes out onto rack to cool completely.
For the Icing:
Place icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to remove any lumps. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth and thick. If icing is runny (as mine was on a highly humid Saturday morning), refrigerate it for an hour or so until firm enough to pipe onto the tops of the cupcakes.