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…
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.
It’s July, and I can’t deny my immoderate self.
It’s July, and we’ve had hot weather and all kinds of excellent company; possibly one too many parties, countless reasons to celebrate, many bottles of good wine; trips to the pool, to the splash pads, to the toy store for gifts small and otherwise, to the Junction flea, to the wine store and to the corner store for more chips.
It’s July, with its boozy lunches and early mornings and sweaty nights, phone dates with far flung friends, cold coffees and hot cars.
It’s July, the very end, and we have literally a day or two to take a deep breath and regroup before the madness of August is upon us.
This, friends, is summer in the city, and we are loving every minute.
My mom has been visiting, and to celebrate, I got some gorgeous, plump “dry” scallops on special at our local fish store a few days ago. This is my favourite kind of dish, simple and decadent – I served it with steamed green beans, but any yummy side would do.
4 strips good bacon, cut into lardons
16-18 (just over a pound, or about 4 per person) large bay scallops
juice of a lemon
2 tbsp white wine
1/2c lightly packed fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped
Cook bacon in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; reserve 2 tbsp of bacon fat in skillet.
Return pan to burner, and increase heat to medium-high. Pat scallops dry, and salt and pepper on both sides.
Add scallops to skillet in one layer. Brown well on each side – about 1 1/2 minutes per side – then transfer to a warm plate. Add lemon juice and wine to pan, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Remove pan from heat; stir in mint, and pour sauce over scallops.
Serves four, or three if – as in our case – you are gilding the lily.
This is my girl.
She’s bright and kind and compassionate and sharply articulate.
My girl. Isn’t she something?
I don’t know a woman who has not struggled with body-image issues.
For my part, in my adult life I have largely avoided the weight (or, more accurately, weight-loss) fixation that seems so commonplace in our culture, but I am by no means immune, especially since having my children:
It took me two years to lose the 90-plus pounds (yes, you read that right) that I gained while pregnant with my daughter; and, nearly three years in, I am still working at shedding the last of the (considerably less, thankfully) weight that I gained while carrying my son.
In both cases, I was aware but largely unconcerned about the impact of my post-baby girth until one too many well-meaning comments penetrated my maternal bliss enough to make me want to get moving – not so much because I was displeased with how I looked (although I do cringe a little, looking at the photos from those times) but because I began to feel vulnerable and a little bit ill-treated; and at some point it occurred to me, humiliatingly, that my outward appearance was no longer an accurate reflection of – well – me.
I won’t burden you with the details of the resulting lifestyle choices (that very phrase being one of the most narcolepsy-inducing I know), but if you know me at all by now, you will be aware that, no matter that I am nearing forty and lead a generally responsible adult life, self-denial at the table is not – and has never been – my strong suit.
So instead, I try to get out running as often as I can.
I am not very sporty, and I don’t much like being around other people, so running suits me well: music blaring, lost in thought, unhinged from my daily responsibilities, I come home from a run bursting with a happiness that feels almost reckless.
The way I see it, there are at least two happy side effects to all of this (and no, lest anyone tell you otherwise, the hard work etc. is not its own reward): the first is that I have made peace with my park.
The second is that I believe that my daily run makes me a kinder person, or at least a more tolerant one.
(I know for a fact that it makes me easier to live with – as evidenced by the fact that my husband will, if I am lingering grumpily around the house on a given morning, ask me in the same slightly impatient tone he uses with our children when they are being particularly unreasonable, “are you running today?”)
Even given all of that, though, I don’t always love it. I will gratefully welcome an excuse to skip it, and wander down the road to join all of my neighbours for a latte instead. On those days, rather than the large lingering lunch that might be my preference, I pour myself a glass of Perrier and eat things like this.
Feast or Famine? A Summer Salad
I am not a fan of the leaf-heavy, hair-shirt-y salad; in fact, that I consider this a healthy lunch is perhaps a more telling insight into my daily diet than I intended – all that’s missing is the bacon! – but there’s only so much I’m willing to do.
For the salad, gently toss the following together in a large bowl:
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1c canned black beans, well rinsed
2 tbsp capers
1 1/2 lightly packed basil leaves, finely chopped
1/3c pine nuts, toasted and cooled
175g feta, cubed
For the dressing, whisk together until emulsified:
1 tsp dijon
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp umami paste (optional – I recently discovered this stuff and I love it! Anchovy paste – or even nothing at all – would be a fine substitute)
fresh ground pepper
Pour dressing over salad and toss gently.
Serves two very hungry people, or four moderate eaters, or six as part of a larger spread.
It’s been ages, an appallingly long stretch. I know.
But let’s not dwell too much on that, shall we? I am just going to quickly catch you up, so we can all move on. Because now it’s not been weeks or months, but seasons, and that will never do.
If it’s any consolation, you haven’t missed much:
I spent the month of April largely griping about the weather and pining rather intensely for my far away friends and family. Easter happened, and with it a beautiful duck pho, which was hurriedly photographed but otherwise languishes, delicious but undocumented, in our collective domestic memory (for shame!).
Towards the end of the month, my husband’s touring season began, as did roughly six weeks of on-and-off houseguests around these parts – including the utterly delightful Kenny Anderson, who charmed every one of us but most especially my small son.
May is one of my favourite months of the year, second only to October. Some of my most beloved people have birthdays in May, and I was lucky enough to celebrate with more than one of them
(I feel I should mention that one of the celebrations was epic enough to deserve its own post, and involved – along with excellent food and drinks in copious quantities – an absolutely lovely and enviably talented group of women, several of whom I met for the first time that evening. My good fortune knows no bounds).
Luckier still, my mom returned to this part of the world after what felt like an interminable winter away, and her strength and health and good humour brought me no end of relief.
June, with its sweaty nights and solo-parenting and the swampy smell in the park in the mornings, passed me by in a wink.
And now here it is, July already, and the beginning of birthday cake season around here. I have a bit of a love-hate thing for this time of year, involving as it does so much indulgence, and weather just warm enough that much of my resolve to keep at least a loose lid on it melts into a sweaty puddle at my all-too-rarely running-shoe-clad feet.
But when I say love-hate, it’s mostly love, because really, summer is so short. We’ve got some great visitors to look forward to, and my children have just discovered the vast joy of early mornings spent at the local pool.
I absolutely adore using the twin excuses of heat and good conversation to justify a dinner of cold wine and potato chips.
And the dearest of my dears, the three loves of my life, all have their birthdays in the next six weeks.
So stay tuned, friends, and buckle up…
It’s good to be back.
I am not really one for eating my greens.
Although we do take our health somewhat seriously around here, and we try to get in a decent amount of exercise and fresh air and balanced meals on a quasi-regular basis, the only way I can convince myself to ingest the kind of walloping doses of greens that I feel my body needs is to choke them back in the form of a daily smoothie.
Usually with a red wine chaser.
It’s not pretty, but that’s what I do.
My husband, although he will gladly pick up mountains of kale on his way home from work and sometimes even makes my smoothies for me, is not a fan – it’s probably even safe to day he is slightly disgusted by – my pureed sludge.
He, bless him, used to be a vegetarian, so he has a much better handle on what a healthy lifestyle entails than I, who, if it weren’t for the fact that I am nearing forty and vain, could happily subsist on wine and rare steak and anything involving duck fat.
He actually likes to eat greens, tossing with abandon handfuls of baby spinach into stirfries and pastas and other dishes that cause me to wilt slightly at the very sight of them.
And, although he is back on eating meat (I don’t like to think I had anything to do with that, although I am sure the tofu fried in duck fat – “this is the best stir fry I have ever had!” – may have played a part), he’s got a great enthusiasm for things like pulses and beans. Those Moosewood cookbooks on our kitchen shelves all came into our relationship with him.
So the other day, when I came home from the playground to find him cooking lunch, I may have reacted a little less than graciously – especially when he announced that he was making quinoa and kale.
(And when I say less than graciously, I mean that I may have said, perhaps slightly louder than was necessary, “Oh Christ!”)
Even when he told me that the recipe came from one of my cookbooks, I was unconvinced – what could possibly be done to kale to make a dish that was even palatable, much less delicious and satisfying?
Well, as it turns out, this.
I have now made this warm kale salad at least a half a dozen times, and I like it equally well every time. And when I can cajole my husband into making it for me, I like it better still.
Sea change, friends.
The ingredients here are all the same as in Heidi’s book, but I have fiddled with the quantities somewhat. Also, I wouldn’t eat it with quinoa again, but it’s wonderful with socca.
a bunch of washed kale, stalks removed and torn into medium-sized pieces, to make 7 cups
1c large unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3c extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with two racks in the upper third.
Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Combine kale and coconut in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl to make a dressing.
Pour about 2/3 of dressing onto kale mixture and toss well to combine. Divide evenly between the two prepared baking sheets and cook 12-15 minutes, switching the pans on their racks and giving the kale a stir about halfway through. Coconut should be golden and kale slightly crisp.
Remove pans from oven and let stand about 5 minutes. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve.
I love a leap year.
In this era where nearly everything can be adjusted to suit standards that seem more exacting by the day, where we calculate our time down to the second on a regular basis and even a baby’s birth can be scheduled, there is something to be celebrated – something pleasingly archaic if slightly bizarre – in the continuing existence of February 29th.
The only down side is that it prolongs the end of this dreary month, which, as far as I am concerned, could not come soon enough.
Just when I thought I had endured this balmy winter largely unscathed, I was beset recently by the dreaded seasonal slump – I’ve mentioned it before, and I even had the temerity to suggest that I had avoided it this year; but that was sadly not the case (as evidenced in part by the recent waffle-mania that has overtaken our house).
So we aren’t celebrating the extra day in February, exactly.
It’s been an eventful few years – which coming from me, having lived a fairly unconventional and action-packed life, is saying a great deal – and although there were some harrowing times that I could certainly have done without, most of the time I marvel at how far we have come.
This recipe takes me back to the early days of my first pregnancy, and the beginning of my time here: a time when I felt utterly unmoored, far from everyone who knew me well and overwhelmed by what I had undertaken when I decided to embrace this new life, new love, new neighbourhood – and vastly empty new home.
But before it did I made a batch of socca one cold, bright March afternoon and ate it off a paper towel with my fingers, sitting on the floor all alone and looking out the bare kitchen window and shaping, in my mind’s eye, a life.
A long way, indeed.
I have made one addition to to this simple recipe, and fiddled somewhat with the method, so if you are a stickler you’ll find the original here. This is a southern French dish, ideally paired with cold rose served in tumblers in the heat of an August afternoon, but for some reason it always comes calling for me at this time of year.
2c chickpea flour
2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 tsp ground cumin (I am currently obsessed with roasted cumin and would recommend that if you can find it, but regular ground cumin is of course more than fine)
a generous grinding of black pepper
2c warm water
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced, lengthwise
2-4 tbsp olive oil (not necessarily extra virgin, since it’s going into a very hot pan)
Sift flour into a large mixing bowl. Add salt, cumin and pepper and stir to combine, then slowly whisk in water to form a smooth batter. Whisk in extra virgin olive oil. Cover and let the batter sit for as long as possible, ideally an hour or two and overnight if it comes to that.
Set a 10-inch cast iron skillet on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Stir onions into batter.
When oven and pan are hot, remove pan from heat; swirl about a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan, then add a scant ladleful of batter, tilting the pan so that the batter reaches the edges and thinly coats the bottom. Return pan to oven and cook 8-10 minutes, until batter is golden around the edges. Gently flip the socca in the pan; return to the oven and cook a further 3-4 minutes, until golden and crispy on both sides.
Slide socca onto a plate and eat (or serve) immediately.
Repeat with remaining olive oil and batter.
Makes six beautiful socca.
Love, and waffles. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!
Red Velvet Waffles
I was given a waffle iron for Christmas and I can officially say I am obsessed. This particular recipe came together this past weekend and these have already become a new household favourite – which is exactly what you’ll be, if you can pull it together to make them tomorrow morning…
1 1/2c light spelt (or regular all-purpose) flour
1/4c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp coarse sea salt (I like the crunch of the sea salt here; if you don’t have any, I’d dial it back to about a half tsp regular salt)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2c buttermilk
1 small glob of red food colouring paste, or about a tbsp of liquid food colouring
1 tbsp vanilla
6 tbsp melted coconut oil (or unsalted butter)
1c chocolate chips
In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking powder. In a second bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, food colouring, vanilla, and oil (or butter).
Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
When waffle iron is ready, combine wet ingredients into dry, stirring gently until batter just comes together. It will lumpy. Gently stir in chocolate chips.
Using about a cup of batter per waffle, cook according to manufacturer’s instructions (mine took just shy of four minutes per waffle).
Makes four waffles.
So, so yummy.
I tend to greet the first month of the year less than enthusiastically.
I am wont to feel a little bitter about the end of the holidays and the return to routine (as a friend recently said on a Tuesday morning, “where are my pancakes? Where is my bacon?”) and I cringe at the thought of dark mornings and foul weather stretching out two or three more months.
But, now that we’re well into February, I have to tell you that the last day of January this year filled me with nearly as much hopeful enthusiasm as I felt for the first. And the seasonal ennui that usually causes my body to demand bread and butter and cheese, in such quantities that every meal feels like a battle of wills, has been largely absent.
I know that this is at least partly because the temperatures in our city have regularly crept nearly into the double digits (that’s above zero), accompanied occasionally, if bizarrely, by enough snow for my children to get their 45-minute fill of snow-angel-making and snowman-building. I went running outdoors last week in cropped pants, and left my coat open on an afternoon walk with my husband.
So the weather has helped.
But the first several weeks of 2012 have also flown by very quickly, a fact for which I am extremely grateful.
I can actually barely remember the first 14 days or so, which were taken up by my attempt at a January cleanse.
(I have nothing good to say about that experience, unsurprisingly, except that now that I am back to eating and drinking normally, if not with abandon, each meal seems to bring with it a fresh opportunity to consume something delicious.)
But aside from that brief donning of the proverbial hair shirt, my resolutions for the new year have taken a while to take hold, as they usually do.
And I know you know me well enough by now that, despite its title, you aren’t expecting any kind of crisp, leafy goodness from this post
(indeed, you could be forgiven if you are not welling up with enthusiasm for the dish you see photographed here. The ravenous hordes – my husband and I – had been waiting for it to come out of the oven for what felt like far too long for me to do its gloriousness any kind of photographic justice last night, and to be fair, it actually didn’t look any better the next day when I put slightly more effort into trying again.
And if all of that doesn’t make you want to spring into action, I understand completely, but I will still heartily encourage you to make this dish. It’s that good, if not that pretty).
What I can offer up is winter comfort food at its finest, a little bit lavish but not enough to irrevocably derail any food-related resolutions you may, like me, have high-mindedly made a few weeks ago.
A kind of quasi-fresh start, if you will.
I have to stop short of calling this a pizza, but pizza is what I had in mind when making it. I was in a rush, though, so needed to rethink the crust completely, which led me to a lovely old stand-by dish of Nigella’s called Supper Onion Pie.
For the filling:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
425g lean ground lamb
1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
a handful (about a cup) of fresh baby spinach leaves
3-4 tbsp sundried tomato pesto
salt and pepper, to taste
225g soft goat cheese
For the crust:
1 2/3c whole spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
scant 1/2c milk
1/4c olive oil or melted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium – high heat. Add onions and saute until softened, then add garlic. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant, just a minute or two; then add lamb to the pan. Cook, stirring, until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer lamb mixture and any accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.
Add pepper to pan and cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until slightly tender. Transfer to bowl with lamb mixture; add spinach leaves and toss gently. Add pesto and toss well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
Spread this filling into a 10-inch cast iron skillet or deep-dish pie plate. Top with goat cheese.
Now, onto the crust. I made mine in the food processor because I was feeling very pressed for time, but mixing it by hand would also be no trouble at all. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk well to combine. Stir wet ingredients into dry, just until a firm but sticky dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a round roughly the same size as your pan. Gently transfer dough onto filling and press firmly on the edges to seal.
Bake in 400 degree oven 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees and cook a further 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden and firm.
Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before inverting onto a serving plate.
I have attempted several times to write about our holidays thus far, and each time it’s been a struggle to express the balance of joy and relief and heart-filling happiness and exhaustion – and also the sense that memories are being made every second, and the need to document them while still being fully present in the moment – that is Christmas time with young children.
It’s been wonderful, and zany, and at points overwhelmingly emotional.
We have missed family, and shed tears for lost loved ones. We have ached for friends who are enveloped in grief.
We have celebrated our good health and our good life and our great good fortune, to have all that we do.
And today – blessed first of January! – we cracked into a brand new year.
I got out first thing, before it started to rain, and when I got home we drank the last of the bubbly and said a fond farewell to our Christmas tree.
And we ate an enormous breakfast, which we all enjoyed…
And then there was dancing.
Giant Baked Blueberry Pancake for Auspicious Beginnings
3/4c whole milk
3/4c light spelt (or all purpose) flour
1 tbsp plus 1/4c granulated sugar
1/4c (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4c soft unsalted butter
scant 3/4c frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and milk together, then add flour and 1 tbsp granulated sugar. Whisk to combine (batter will be slightly lumpy). In a small bowl, stir together remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Pour batter into pan and scatter blueberries over top.
Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges of pancake are puffed and golden but centre is still slightly runny. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture.
Dot with remaining 2 tbsp butter, and carefully turn the pancake over in the pan. Return pan to oven and cook a further 3-5 minutes, until pancake is risen and golden and sugar has turned to syrup.
Remove from oven and invert pancake onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.