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thoughts on food, love and life

Updated: 2018-03-02T11:19:19.313-05:00


Because. Paris.


I read an excellent article this week about a woman who walked out of hate. She was born into it, grew up with it, excelled at spreading it, and then learned to hate the hate. She was the granddaughter of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. And her journey out of the church and away from her family was told in The New Yorker.From the deepest most intransigent place she came to understand her opponents and then be convinced of their opinions - and it all started when she decided to confront her enemies on twitter. So it's possible to grow out of hate.I have to believe it. In the wake of the Paris attacks on Friday the 13th, which amplified the muted effects of the horrific bombings in Beirut, the attack on the Russian plane, I have to believe that it's possible for some to travel through hate and out the other side - if it doesn't kill them.I've been struck by a number of things - the racism that leaks out of normal looking people when they think they've got their chance to spread hate, and the reaction of people now who won't stand for it, who will marshall their energies to help fund the rebuilding of a burned down mosque in Peterborough, who will march in protest of a violent attack on a Muslim woman in a Toronto neighbourhood, who will start an online social media hashtag pledging to support any Muslim transit riders who feel threatened - and who keep their wits about them as we face the biggest refugee crisis since the second world war. Of course we'll take them in. Of course we must. If we don't, then I don't know who we are anymore.Also, I heard historian Margaret McMillan make an important point on CBC Radio yesterday. When a political leader 'declares war' on these people, he or she is giving them the legitimacy of a state. "These are criminals," she said. By 'declaring war', it gives them power.And, as usual, in my experience with the more horrible side of our humanity - there is the good. The people who offered their houses to strangers on Friday night in Paris, the taxi drivers who turned off the meters to offer free rides home, the people who jumped on others to protect them from the crazed bullets. As Trevor Noah put it so beautifully the other night on The Daily Show, "Our prayers will be with Paris. Our prayers will be with the people. But let's not forget before we fight, to love."Two weeks ago I made French Onion Soup - and yes it was for the first time. Not only making it, but actually eating it. Do not ask me how I made it past the half century mark, with a chunk of that time spent in Quebec, avoiding this culinary version of a fleecy blanket. It was a bitter November day - raining like global warming was coming with vengeance in its heart. So it was perfect. Last week, I mentioned it to my friends on Facebook and promised the recipe...and so, now when food can comfort so many, I am posting about onion soup. The French kind. I am, after all, one sixteenth French. Okay the only thing thinner than that blood, would be beef stock. Of which there's plenty here.C'était delicieuse. Oh, and...Je suis humain.French Onion Soup - from the clever cusses at Epicurious5 tbsp unsalted butter, divided3 lbs medium sized vidalia onions, halved lengthwise, peeled and thinly sliced1 tbsp vegetable oil1 tsp kosher salt1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper1/2 tsp sugar1 1/2 cups dry white wine6 cups beef broth*10 sprigs thyme2 bay leaves1 baguette1 garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise2 tsp sherry, which I did not have, so I used Madeira wine4 oz Gruyère cheese, grated*My dear vegetarians, you could use vegetable broth, just make sure you really cook those onions down to a deep caramelized colour - that's where you'll pull the most flavour.Serves 4. Recipe calls for 4 - 16 oz oven-safe ramekins - I have 12 oz ones which were plenty big enough and gave us leftovers.In your large Dutch oven, melt 3 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the oil and the onions, and cook about 15 minutes, or until softened. Then add the salt, pepper and sugar and continue cooking until deep, deep golden brown. Stir occasionally. This should[...]

Crab apple abundance


My neighbour Beth has a crab apple tree in her front yard. It shades the front porch and every fall it hangs low and heavy with tiny, beautiful fruit.When my friend Nicole said her neighbour had made a delicious crab apple jelly and hot pepper jelly, she wanted to try making it too. And I had a source. So last week Nicole, our friend Raquel, and I got together in Nic's kitchen. Cutting up a shopping bag full of apples - about 12 pounds, MacGyver'ing a suspension system to drain the apples, and having my first experience with a candy thermometer.What did I learn from making crab apple jelly? A few things. First, crab apples are awfully pretty when you cut them open. Second, don't run your finger through the hot jelly to see if it's set. Read the recipe. And, third, even when you follow directions to the letter it won’t necessarily work out. Then, when you break the rules, sometimes, you make it better. You'll see what I mean.We got this recipe from Martha Stewart and mixed it with this recipe, also from Martha, for hot pepper jelly.Crab Apple Jelly4lbs crab apples6 cups water3 cups sugarWash the apples and quarter them. Put them in a large pot and add the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until very soft, 45 to 60 minutes. Place two layers of cheesecloth in the bottom of a large bowl with the ends of the cheesecloth hanging over the edge of the bowl. Carefully pour the apples into the bowl, and pick up the ends of the cheesecloth, tying them into knots, and lifting the apple/cheesecloth bundle.Now you need to suspend the bundle over the bowl to allow the juice to come out - without pressing the apples. The recipe recommended suspending the bundle on a wooden spoon over the bowl, but that didn't work for us. We got all Macgyver-y and used Nicole's paper towel holder on one side, her coffee maker on the other, and suspended the bundles on a rod from her garden. Let them drain for an hour. You should end up with about 4 cups.Place the juice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, skimming the foam. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cook until your candy thermometer reaches 220°F. Pour into jars, let cool and refrigerate for up to six months.Now...this didn't quite do it for us. We each ended up with three half pint jars of syrup instead of jelly. We sighed and moved on. Except for Nicole. The next day I got an email from her saying how much it was bugging her that the jelly hadn't set. So, she wrote, she threw the syrup back into a pot and boiled it for between 10-15 minutes. Then she poured it back into the jars and voila, perfect jelly. So I gave it a try too and yes. It worked.Hot Pepper Jelly2 pounds apples cut into 1" chunks (unpeeled, uncored)1/2 cup apple cider vinegar1 1/2 tsp coarse salt1/2 cup diced bell pepper2 tbsp minced, seeded, hot chile pepper1 1/2 cups sugarPut some small plates in the freezer. You'll use them to test the jelly later. Put the apples and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Cook until fruit is very soft, 10 to 15 minutes, mash with a potato masher. (We used the rest of our crab apples, and found it took longer.) Again drain the fruit by laying two layers of cheesecloth in a bowl and pouring the apples into the bowl, lift the ends of the cheesecloth and tie into a bundle. Strain the fruit, suspending it over the bowl, without pressing on the fruit. This time you leave the fruit to drain for four hours...use your judgement on this...we felt it was too long. Then put the juice in a saucepan and add the vinegar, salt, bell pepper, and hot pepper. Bring to a boil. Add the sugar, bring it back to the boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Continue stirring for 11 minutes. Turn off the heat. Now it's time for the chilled plate from the freezer. Pour a tiny spoonful onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute (which we didn't do until we re-read the recipe - and my finger has the burns to prove it...yikes). Push your finger through the jelly, it should wrinkle. If it does, it's done. If [...]

Fall classics


It's started. That thing. That bulking up thing. Where I need more of everything - cake, candy, chips, chocolate. Well the chocolate was that really, really good stuff with caramel and sea salt - so, you understand.Obviously we have entered, the appropriately named, fall. And preparing the waistline for winter. No judgement.One of my graces has a 93-year-old mother who lives across the pond. She's so alive and sprightly and an inspiration in so many ways (last year she and her daughter went on a hiking trip through the national parks in the US southwest and she didn't want anyone on the tour to know how old she was because they'd make a fuss). She had been visiting for the past month, and on her last night here we finally gathered to share a meal with her.It was the first day of fall. It did not feel like the first day of fall but I planned a fall meal - roast ham (yez, the bourbon ham from a recent post), leeks with a béchamel sauce, mashed butternut squash and carrots (which was lacking fresh ginger since we both thought we had some, and nope), roasted potatoes, and of course the sprouts from Brussels. It was 450° in the kitchen/dining room. Still we sweated our way through it all.It all started with soup. Tomato soup. And I have to share that with you now.I wanted to use a jar of the tomatoes I had canned a few weeks ago. And found the perfect, simple recipe for them on Chowhound. They call it Classic Tomato Soup. In fact, the recipe demands that they be San Marzanos. Their wish, my command. Bring on the immersion blender.Classic Tomato Soup1 tbsp olive oil1 tbsp unsalted butter1 medium onion, dicedkosher salt (I didn't use salt as there was salt in my jarred tomatoes already)2 medium garlic cloves, mincedpinch of red pepper flakes, optional1 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes, I used 1 litre because that's what I had. I wanted to scale up a bit1-1/2 cups chicken stock (or you can use water)1/3 cup heavy creamfreshly ground black pepperPut a medium-sized pot on medium to low heat and add the oil and butter. Once melted, add the onions. Let them cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and taking care not to brown them. Turn the heat down if necessary. (If you have to leave the stove, make sure you put the lid on the pot, it helps prevent browning.) Then add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.Increase the heat and add the tomatoes and their juice. Break down the tomatoes with the back of your spoon and cook for 10 minutes or so, until they're hot and starting to soften. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Let it cook at a medium simmer for about 15 minutes.Purée the soup with an immersion blender (one of my favourite kitchen tools ever). You can do it in a blender, but let the soup cool for 10 minutes and then carefully, carefully blend in batches. Put the soup back on the heat to warm up over low heat. Add the cream. Add the black pepper.Now taste for seasoning - I'm glad I did, because there was salt enough from the tomatoes.Portion the soup into bowls. You can then drizzle with olive oil and place a nice bunch of julienned fresh basil on top. And then finish with a little more black pepper. You can also shave some parmesan on top if you like.It was a lovely meal I have to say. There was something in all of it that I'd made, the soup, the béchamel, the glaze for the ham - we even had our canned peaches with pound cake and cream for dessert.And now that tomato soup is going into the repertoire. Because it is, as Chowhound promised, a classic.[...]

Bourbon, ham, what could go wrong?


This is a family recipe. It comes from dear friends, well, family, in all but biology. They live in Florida. And about 8 years ago, while I was in the middle of chemo, they invited us down for Christmas. My Mum was going down. My second Mum, Auntie Joan was going to be there. The thought of a roadtrip for Christmas, and heading somewhere warm, that wasn't a hospital, was like a banquet of riches. I was more than grateful. I was overwhelmed.So, the oncologist shrugged her shoulders and said, "go for it." Steve got lessons on how to flush and check a PICC line from our public health nurse (that's an intravenous line that stays in your upper arm throughout the six chemo treatments - and we only had to do it once during our stay), I donned a head scarf, packed some tshirts with longer sleeves, and we headed south. I don't even remember thinking about medical insurance for the trip. Wow.I was on steroids at the time. I took them a couple of days before, then a couple of days after a treatment. That meant I ate like a lumberjack. Maybe two lumberjacks. Okay...three. And then I discovered Bob Evans. The restaurant with meatloaf sandwich screaming from the menu. I have never, for the record, ordered a meatloaf sandwich before. We stopped somewhere on interstate 79 for lunch the first day on the road. I ordered it. It came. Meatloaf sandwich on a plate. That's it."I thought this came with fries," I said with a tad of aggression or annoyance, in a voice that wasn't entirely my own. The waitress jumped back almost imperceptibly. "I didn't think you'd want fries," she said. "Oh, I'll let you know if I want fries."Steve was staring at me. And looking strangely amused. I didn't take the time to notice...I dug in. And within five minutes I called the waitress over. "I'll take the fries," I said. She brought a platter-sized portion.We'd stopped for a big breakfast about four hours before that. But at the time I was eating double meals: two breakfasts, two lunches. I ate the sandwich. I ate the fries. People kept their hands away from me. It's one of the best kept secrets of breast cancer treatment. I gained weight. Like...10 pounds.We arrived in St. Augustine the next day. Anne and Keith, his Mum, my Auntie Joan, my Mum welcomed us - even draped a huge Canadian flag on their garage door so we'd know which house was theirs. They encouraged us to walk along Micklers Beach, and relax. I felt embraced, at home, and Anne made this fantastic ham with a glaze that smelled of bourbon, cloves and oranges. It was perfect. And no, I didn't eat it all myself. And now I make it for almost every holiday meal I cook. It is more than bourbon, cloves and oranges. For me, this is a family recipe, cooked with love.Bourbon glazed ham1/2 cup dry red wine1/2 cup bourbon1 cup sugar6 bruised cloves2 tbsp grated orange peelPreheat the oven to 350°. Bring the ham out of the fridge to warm up.Whisk together the glaze ingredients. You can increase the amount of wine or bourbon (if you have a large ham), but I found that at the smaller quantities it kept its truth as a glaze. Sometimes it gets too liquid-y.Skin the ham, but leave a nice layer of fat. Make a diamond pattern by scoring the fat in 45 degree parallel lines, being careful not to cut through to the meat. Then cross hatch the lines by scoring the opposite way. Poke a clove into the intersection of each line or in the middle of the diamonds. It looks beautiful.Brush a small quantity on the ham.Bake at about 18-20 minutes per pound. For a partially-cooked ham you're looking for an internal temperature of  155°F. If you are heating up an already cooked ham (not spiral cut), you need to reach an internal temperature of 110° to 120° - any higher and you risk drying it out.Baste the ham a couple of times - but don't use the juices that collect at the bottom of the pan or you will make the ham too salty. In the last half hour start basting more frequently. And if you like, at the end, turn on the broiler and brown the top [...]

Fast-beating chicken wings


You know how the tag line on this blog is thoughts on food, love and life? Well, I think I should add weather. Because I realize a lot of my food, love and life energy goes to what's happening outside.I love outside. Well, except this weekend when a cold front swept in and vacuumed up summer in a whirl of wind, rain and blasts of cold. Admittedly, I think I heard all the plants sigh with relief. The grass relaxed and the dried up straw that had replaced the grassy park hills were re-invigorated this morning when I walked the dog.  And the collected puddles of water at the bottom of the hills were a perfect target for some doggy swirling and mud bathing. Sigh.This morning summer is back for another gentle phase. Which put me in mind of another summer recipe, or actually two recipes at once - although it's perfect for any time of year.I am synthesizing two recipes today. Oven roasted chicken wings - and my husband's spice rub that elevates the wings to a new height. Get it? Wings? Height?Earlier this year I was looking for a faster way to cook chicken wings rather than my go-to maple-ginger-garlic chicken wings, which are fantastic, but need three hours in the marinade. As usual, I had hit the end of my work day having lost track of time and needed to cook up the planned chicken wings - which in my go-to mode would have had us eating with the late night news.To google! And up came Michael Smith's roast chicken wings on the Food Network Canada site.The key is cornstarch, mixed with your favourite rub. Of course do not do what I did the first time - I read cornstarch but reached for the baking soda. And no, I didn't notice until they were on our plates. Fortunately, I dug my teeth in first. And choked. It was like eating sea water. I grabbed Steve's plate and mine and headed for the compost bin. Wing fail. Low altitude crash and burn. We ordered pizza.Next time I got it. And I've gotten it ever since, multiple times.You can use any spice rub or even an herb mixture if you prefer. But I'll give you another round of Steve's spice rub (which I'd take to a desert island) that was one of the first recipes I posted 9 years ago (wow!).I'll give you ratios and you can make the batch as big or small as you like and you can store whatever you don't use. This works on chicken, but also anything else from beef and roasted potatoes.Steve's Rub1 part chili powder1 part brown sugar1 part black pepper2 parts kosher saltHealthy dose of paprikaMix together. Done.Now...for the chicken wings12 chicken wings2 tbsp cornstarch1 tbsp sugar (feel free to adjust this as there is sugar in the spice rub)1 tsp salt1 tbsp favourite spice rub (I added more rub mix - the recipe calls for 1 tsp)1 tsp pepperPreheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl (big enough to add the wings). Add the wings to the bowl, a few at a time, and toss. Place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the wings over. Bake for another 30 minutes.I always think it's going to be all cornstarch-y and can't believe it's going to work this time...but it always comes through - unless I've used baking soda. Duh.While they're in the oven I usually strain some yogurt to thicken it and add whatever flavours I like - lemon zest, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. That becomes a dip for all the vegetables I cut up as finger food.This is a perfect football dinner. And yes that other chicken wings recipe was written for the Super Bowl a few years ago when the Ravens won.And this year, I got to try on Cameron's Super Bowl ring - they gave one to every employee (not all of them choose to do that). Yet another highlight of 2015.[...]

Finding Fido


I thought I wanted to adopt a dog. Then I became convinced. Then I became obsessed. I wanted to adopt a rescue, a stray, an unwanted animal. It turns out in the world of pet adoption, I had to wait for the dog to adopt me.Back in my younger days, puppies were available like ripe tomatoes in late summer – in the classified ads in newspapers, on street corners, at farmers markets. People would be grateful if you just grabbed one as you rode by on your bike, slowing down only to scooch it comfortably into your basket. I know they were terrible times. I know about the abuse, neglect, stupidity of my fellow humans.But here’s the thing.  One year ago today, our pup finally found us. We’d passed the application process, passed the home inspection (the first and only one we made it to). After 14 tries.Before that, there was Kenny, Maddie,  Remy, Cassidy, Lya, Sansa, Tex, Robby, Sheamus, Benji, another Benji, a schnauzer whose name has vaporized in my head, Pixy, and then, finally, Morgan. We’ve dubbed him Captain Morgan – Terrier of the High Seas. If you had plotted my emotions on a graph during that nine month search, I looked like a parabola. Websites like petfinder and adopt a pet probably thought I was some kind of computer virus. I checked their sites daily, sometimes more, in case a new little guy had arrived. I’d get excited. I’d email. I’d fill in an application. And I’d wait. I ended up sobbing more than once. And more than once I just said to myself, “forget it. It can’t be this hard. I quit.” It wasn’t like we were on some dogland security list or anything. We both grew up with dogs, and when I moved into an apartment I had a cat – then she had kittens – and I kept three of them – and they all lived to ripe old ages and nursed them through their final illnesses. And then we took in my mother in law’s dog when she went into a home. So we had some pedigree of experience. Granted, some of the 14 just weren’t for us – one was a ‘nipper’, one had medical issues (kidneys, been there, done that). Another was so crazy we knew we couldn’t handle him, so we turned into rescuers ourselves, researching and sending info to the owners about how to surrender a dog you no longer want or can care for.  One agency will not adopt anywhere outside their region, even though we’re a mere half-hour from them. Two of them needed another dog in the house to give them some lessons on how to be a dog. At a pet adoption fair we filled in an application and then the dog was withdrawn as we stood there next to her waiting for our interview because she hadn’t been assessed yet. Many were adopted to other people. Dog #13 we were approved for, but when we tried to arrange a visit, our emails went unanswered. The only way I knew our girl was gone was when I went back to Petfinder and looked her up. I just stared at the screen in disbelief. It said ADOPTED! In upper casing, with an exclamation mark like it was a celebration or something.  I tried to confirm it with the rescue agency and they just never, ever responded. Then last September 10th, after the application process, and after the home inspection, we headed 3 hours to the southwest, plowing our way through a storm system so bad I was leaning forward in the car to see if that dark swirling cloud that had descended onto the highway was, in fact, a tornado or just a rainpocalypse – and yes, thinking that, yet again, this was a sign that this dog wasn’t for us – we finally met Morgan. He was at CK Animal Rescue in Chatham, Ontario. He comes from Alabama – a lot of rescues come from the US up to Canada through a sort of canine underground railroad with rescuers, foster homes, and convoys, bringing the dogs here to avoid what is, apparently, a very high kill rate in shelters across the US (one report in Maclean’s from 2013 put the number at 60%, compared to Canada’s 14%). And CK Animal R[...]

Thai twist on gazpacho


Quick, before summer blazes out tomorrow - this heat wave is unbelievable and I kind of love it - we need to cover another hot weather recipe.

During one of the best long cottage weekends of this summer, my friend Carol made this gazpacho as a starter for a hot Sunday evening (which ended up a pouring-rain evening). We stayed indoors, had drinks, did crosswords, read the paper, pulled out magazines, and had a lovely, peaceful, contented evening with each other - all five of us, plus our dog.

Carol is our go-to person for gazpacho. She make the beautiful, classic tomato-based Spanish soup (or liquid salad as I saw it called on one website - ugh) which turns out exactly as it should every time - fresh, spicy, cold, delicious.

Its origins are from Andalusia, southern Spain and various opinions say the Romans or Greeks had a similar bread and garlic based soup. But I like to agree with those who say it was the Moors. It is a great thirst quencher - and women in the fields used to make it in big wooden bowls called 'dornillos' and feed it to the farm workers.

This time Carol tried a new recipe that we loved and can now be firmly in her repertoire: Thai Gazpacho Verde. It blends the Andalusian classic with Thai flavours. Carol found the recipe in the summer issue of the always excellent Food & Drink from the LCBO (liquor stores in Ontario are run by the government). The recipe is by Toronto food writer and recipe developer Eric Vellend and he brings a great twist to gazpacho, no tomato. It's all about the cucumber and avocado and the great Thai flavours that slip in there. And cucumbers are bursting out all over the grocery this is definitely the time. There is apparently a saying in Spanish, 'de gazpacho no hay empacho' which means 'you can never get too much of a good thing or too much gazpacho.'

Thai Gazpacho Verde - serves 4

2 large English cucumbers, peeled
1 small avocado, halved, pitted, peeled
1 clove garlic, minced
2/3 cup water
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp thinly sliced shallots
1 thinly sliced hot red chili pepper
1 cup loosely packed mint leaves (you have me at mint)
1/4 cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Cut cucumbers into medium chunks. Dice the avocado. Put them into a blender and add garlic, water, lime juice, fish sauce and salt. Blend til smooth. Cover and put in the fridge for at least two hours. (Recipe says it will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.)

Place the shallots in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drain and pat with paper towel. Place in bowl with chili and mint. Toss.

Pour the soup into serving bowls. Put a mound of the shallot/mint/chili mixture on top and then sprinkle with the peanuts.

Ultimate flank manoeuvre


Summer has pitched a fit in this last week before Labour Day. It's so hot and muggy here in Toronto that we broke the temperature record for the hottest day all year...and also the hottest nights.We live without air conditioning in our 1-bedroom apartment. We live with two ceiling fans. And this week we live with them rotating full time, all the windows closed, the door shut. It could be the middle of winter out there for all I know. Amazing how at a certain temperature, at opposite extremes of the thermometer, you're trapped in your house the same way the drifting, blowing, wind-chilled air keeps us huddled inside, warming ourselves on the glow of the tv.The dog, who hails from the state of Alabama, and looks a bit shocked that the dog days of summer are so dog dang hot up here, has surrendered to the comfort of the bed under the ceiling fan and looks both scruffy and pathetic.So...anyway, under the heading of eking out a little more summer grilling time, (we've grilled twice this week to avoid the heat of the oven - and waiting for the heat to dissipate has meant grilling in the dark) I have to share this gem of a recipe for the best marinade for flank steak. I love flank steak.I discovered this early in the spring by googling 'best flank steak marinade'. I came up with Kelly Senyei's post on her blog from a couple of years ago, appropriately titled "The Ultimate Asian Flank Steak Marinade".So, looking at the ingredients list, and looking in the pantry I said, right...that looks like the ultimate flank steak marinade. I've now made it so many times and it has turned out beautifully each time. The mark of an ultimate recipe.My only revision of the recipe is the time she gives for marinating. She recommends marinating overnight or at least 10 hours. I don't marinate meat for more than 90 minutes since a marinade especially made with acid (as this is) will break the protein bonds in the meat making it mushy rather than tender. But the flavours are beautiful in this, and in 90 minutes the meat does take on that lovely aroma of the out your big ass ziplock bag.Best Flank Steak Marinade1 flank steak (1-2 lb)1/4 cup soy sauce (I use gluten free soy sauce for Steve)1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (Kelly calls this her secret ingredient)1/2 cup vegetable oil3 tbsp honey4 garlic cloves, minced2 tbsp minced fresh ginger3 spring onions thinly slicedStart by placing the open ziplock bag in a bowl. Fold down the top. It will stand better in the bowl as you put the ingredients in. Add the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, vegetable oil and whisk in the honey, garlic, ginger and spring onions. Put the meat in the marinade and close the bag. Mush it around to make sure all the surfaces of the meat are covered in marinade. Now put it in the fridge for 90 minutes.Preheat your grill and pull the meat from the fridge. Take the steak out of the marinade. Throw away the marinade. Cook the steak to your liking. Let it rest and slice til your heart's content - try not to eat it all before it gets on the plate.I noticed that Kelly also sprinkled some toasted sesame seeds and freshly sliced spring onions (not the ones from the marinade!) on top of the slices when serving, which looks beautiful.Here's to the last long weekend of the summer of 2015.[...]

Smoke On, Now.


The Snowbirds - earlier this year in BC - courtesy DND/CAF"Sign it," he said, throwing a blank form on my lap. I was busy looking down, writing notes, trying to keep track of what was going on. But frankly, I had lost track of what Mike was saying because it didn't matter. I wasn't going.I looked up at him - his eyes were sparkling, and he was grinning a little. "Sign it," he said again pointing at the form and then moving on to hand out waiver forms to the other seven or so people in the room. I gulped. I was being offered a ride with the Snowbirds, the Canadian air force's aerobatic team. And Mike Lenahan, the communications officer, was in the middle of the safety briefing.Here's the thing: I'm a terrible flyer - especially if it involves detailed safety briefings - which if you remember I wasn't listening to. I'd rather not, thanks. I shook my head vigorously and felt myself pulling my spine into the back of the seat hoping it and the wall behind me would give way and I could back flip out to the parking lot.I know, what the hell was I doing there then? Well, in my not-so-infinite wisdom, I had pitched a story on the Snowbirds and their first female technician, Corporal Marlene Shillingford. I was doing research. And that's what I told Mike, who had invited me down to watch the process. "I'm just here to watch and do research," I said, and the sentence disappeared into meekness. "Sign it," he said. I looked at the form and my ears opened up just in time to hear Mike say, "when, not if, you regain consciousness..." My head started spinning..."Wait, did you just say 'ejector seat'?"It was 22 years ago. And I can still feel it. It was exhilarating, nauseating, nerve wracking. This week those beautiful birds will be flying over Toronto again for the Canadian International Air Show. And I'll be jumping out of my skin and out onto the deck every single time I hear their unmistakable engines. And remembering.Suddenly I was putting on the navy blue flight suit, the helmet with the mirrored visor, the oxygen mask dangling off to the side. Very. Top. Gun. Then I was climbing into the cockpit of plane #7, to the left of Capt. Frank Bergnach, the pilot. Marlene strapped my shoulders down, hard. I couldn't move. The oxygen came on. Frank explained how the radio works and how to talk to him - and that if I threw up in the mask, it would be up to me to clean it up later. The canopy started closing over our heads as the engines geared up. My mouth was dry. And when I looked down, my knees were knocking together. Literally. I tried holding them with my hands so Frank wouldn't notice.Frank noticed. The brakes were released and we were gliding out with 8 other planes to the runway. All at once. Doesn't that seem dangerous? Shouldn't we go up one at a time? Why am I here? What was I thinking? As we taxied I could hear Frank through my headset telling me about his vast experience flying: a bazillion hours in the Tutor jet, a bazillion hours in F-18s, a bazillion hours landing on aircraft carriers with the US Air Force...and I felt myself finally breathing in. Which was good. This was an experience, and I - was - not - going - to - miss - it.All nine planes lined up on the runway in a diamond pattern. The radio squawked to life as we heard the Major in plane #1 just ahead of us, give the command to start rolling. Damn, I was holding my breath again. As we picked up speed on the tarmac, suddenly the Major was off the ground, then us, then the rest, and we unzipped ourselves into a three-dimensional diamond. These planes were flying close together - we were on the far left side of the formation and Frank spent practically 100% of the time looking to the right and watching our neighbour's left wing which was unnaturally close. The plane above us didn't look more that 20 feet away - every rivet, every panel, every detail, [...]

Canning hope


Every once in a while I get to spend the day cooking. I live in wonder of those days - they come along only a few times a year. Last week I had two in a row. For the first time in my life, I spent the better part of Thursday and Friday canning. The sun came in through the bay window, I turned on my 'fun' playlist, and I canned. And I canned. And I canned. And I got more and more tired...And happier and happier.For a couple of days, sitting on my floor were huge plastic bags of loot - the haul we brought back from St. Jacobs Farmers' Market...carrots, potatoes, radishes, beets, leeks, peppers, plums, blueberries, pickling cucumbers, garlic, dill, and of course peaches and tomatoes. A half bushel of peaches. A bushel of tomatoes. And not just any tomatoes. San Marzanos.I felt the urgency of getting going - before the rot set in, and on my floor. For the first time in a long time I fell into a planning frenzy. I bought a canner, a jar lifter, a funnel, and a dozen jars. A whole dozen. Yes, they were wide mouthed (you only buy the others once - unless you're making jam). I bought 12. And right now my kitchen table, counter, pastry worktop are covered with 23 jars - and that's just the tomatoes. So while I was up to my elbows in tomato skins, Steve made a midday run to the store for two dozen more.Starting Thursday with my Mum, and continuing Friday on my own, I washed, blanched, peeled, stuffed, and processed 23 quarts of tomatoes. Nine litres of peaches. Five litres of dill pickles. There is something about preserving food at its best. There's an optimism, a resilience, a sense of self preservation, a sense of being capable, a sense of independence, of worth, a sense of capturing something at its peak of life and suspending it there - a sense of magic.Yes. Sometimes a tomato is just a tomato. But I wouldn't have a blog if I couldn't find meaning in it all, would I?I have wanted to put up tomatoes on the shelf for years. And I've always let the chance slip by.Even this many days later I can't actually move them downstairs. The jars are sitting on the kitchen counter because I am marvelling at the beauty of them.Maybe I'm asking too much of the preserves but they feel like they're filled with hope. The art of the possible.Here are some of the things I learned that I didn't expect:I have a lot of dishtowels - and I'm glad.I am glad I have a big roll of plastic and cut a piece to cover our dining table.I am glad to have had my big cutting boards out to let the hot jars rest on.I used more pots than I expected - the canner, the stock pot to blanch the fruit, another pot to sterilize the seals and rings, and another with spare water kept on the simmer in case the canner didn't have enough water once I put the jars in.I also filled the electric kettle and boiled that.I LOVE my dishwasher's sanitize setting. It meant sterilizing a pile of jars all together. And once they were done, I just left them closed in the dishwasher until I needed them. This was also about grit. I took a personality test once that determined your grit score - and I didn't do very well...and yes I think I'm fairly gritty...and yes, I think we can fade in and out of our gritness - and perhaps that was a low point. But looking at the bags on the floor I knew I had to follow through. They hadn't been alive and grown and blossomed and matured, only to rot on my kitchen floor. True grit. And I paid homage to buddhism too - When I peeled the tomatoes, I just peeled the tomatoes. When I stuffed the jars, I just stuffed the jars. I was in the moment. I did it with joy. And I hope that comes through whenever we start opening those jars. [...]

Pomodoro, you make me 10 again


I am ten years old again. You know why? Tomatoes. The poisonous red fruit, the golden apple, the edible wolf's peach...I don't care what they thought of you in centuries gone by, I can now eat tomato sandwiches 'til they come out my ears. Because it's time. It's August.I went through a phase when I was a kid when all I wanted for lunch was a sliced tomato on white bread. A little butter, okay...although I freaked out if the butter was hard and tore at the bread. Freaking freaked out. And okay to a little salt and pepper. That was my lunch. Day in. Day out. With a glass of milk.And that's what I had yesterday. And today. And will do until the basket of tomatoes in the kitchen is gone. That said, we're off on a family adventure tomorrow to St. Jacobs Farmers' Market to buy a bushel of tomatoes. Because I'm tired of the canned thing and would rather can my own, thank you very much. I had the dust kicked off my canning butt a few weeks ago thanks to my friend Cheryl who had us up to her farm to make her mother's recipe for dill pickles. My jars are so pretty I can't actually put them away, so they're sitting on my kitchen counter...waiting...until Thanksgiving to be opened!But Cheryl inspired me to get a canner, a jar lifter, a funnel and a dozen one litre jars. Tomatoes it is. Not sauce...tomatoes. Tomatoes that I can turn into anything through the long winter. Soup, pasta sauce, chili...whatever. We tend to make something out of a 28-oz. can every week, sometimes more. And frankly, I'm a bit irked by the concept of BPA lining our cans of food - and the more acidic the food, aka tomatoes, the likelier the BPA liner. In a world (say that with the movie trailer voice) where I'm trying to minimize the estrogen that enters my body for no reason, BPA is a persona non grata in my life.I know most of you will already have your jams and preserves well under way and on the shelf. I don't praise myself as a planner, although I do praise myself as a late bloomer - because in the words of Sandra Shamas, at least I bloom. So this is new for me. Credit please. Thank you.So on Saturday I was digging back into Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore - a fabulous cookbook from the fabulous Executive Editor of the even more fabulous Food52. And I stumbled on this, tucked in a corner on page 68. A tomato recipe that was so simple, so elegant, it brought out the poetry of the gorgeous tomatoes we had. Kristen got the recipe from Marcella Hazan and quotes the incomparable Italian icon's facebook page about this recipe: "It has the potential to eclipse every other experience of tomatoes you may have had."Così vero, Marcella. Così vero.Garlic-Scented Tomato Saladadapted by Kristen Miglore, from a recipe of Marcella Hazan's4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed1-2 tsp salt2 tbsp red wine vinegar2 lbs ripe tomatoes1 doz. torn fresh basil leavesOlive oilSteep the garlic in a bowl with the salt and vinegar for at least 20 minutes.Slice tomatoes and lay out on a platter. Just before serving, sprinkle torn basil leaves over the tomatoes. Holding back the garlic, pour the vinegar over the tomatoes and then drizzle with your best olive oil. You can adjust the flavourings - maybe more salt? Or more vinegar? Should serve 4-6.I cut up two huge tomatoes (about 1 lb.) and used the proportions above for the steeped vinegar. Two of us gobbled the whole plate down in one go. Enjoy. While you can. And this weekend, I will can, while I can can. More to come...[...]

Slaw Days of Summer


It’s been kind of a remarkable summer.Last August, for the first time, we spent some precious dollars renting a cottage for a week, only to have the weather turn into a not-so-impressive impression of October. With no heat source in the cottage, and after a few days of using the oven, and boiling big pots of water on the stove to put on the table, we surrendered on Tuesday night and headed home Wednesday, having made it in the lake once.The view from my friend Cheryl's farm. That first row of trees is where the coyotes live. The moon is the setting Blue Moon.This summer, I’ve been in Ontario’s beautiful lakes far more often than I have the right to expect. Thanks to my generous friends sharing their space with me and letting me breathe – smelling the overwhelming scent of pine needles on the forest floor…hearing coyotes chatter the night of the Blue Moon, then wolves the next, and loons the night after…and tasting summer food – coleslaw, bbq corn, gazpacho, and marinated flank steak on the grill.I had s’mores for the first time (yes, that took more than 50 years), and got pulled around a lake on a big, fat tube, for the first time; laughing so hard I was pretty sure my bladder and I would part ways. And I laid on a dock one night and watched shooting stars carve their way across the Milky Way.Sunset at Bitter Lake, which, by the way, is next to Tedious Lake. Seriously.I noticed last night we turn on our lamps a little earlier. The cicadas are still around but slowing, now crickets have picked up their chorus – they’re a late summer thing, the sunflowers are in full blush, and the corn is piled up at the farmers’ markets. A sense of mild panic is running through me as I face facts – summer is coming to an end. Because, that is what it does.I thought I’d share some discovered recipes I’ve tested enough this summer to say with confidence, yup…good food. And if you think about where you serve it, like outside preferably, it transforms into good food karma - meals married to setting – amplifying both the taste and the experience.Even the s’mores. Though, I have to say s'mores have more to do with setting than taste…it’s a mixture I think could be seriously improved. Smore karma needed.The karma is up to you. Set the table outside. Or make this stuff and take it to a park and set out a blanket and dishes and napkins and wine, and just breathe. Enjoy the moment. Because all good things come to an end…but so do bad things. And living well is the best revenge anyway, right?This coleslaw recipe is excellent. It comes from Bobby Flay and the Food Network and is called Bobby’s Creamy Coleslaw. I can eat the bowl myself.1 head of green cabbage, shredded2 large carrots, shredded¾ cup of mayonnaise2 tbsp sour cream, I used thickened yogurt – and when I don’t have time to thicken it, so be it.2 tbsp grated Spanish onion, I used red onion2 tbsp sugar, or to taste – so says the recipe…I found 1 tbsp sufficient2 tbsp white vinegar1 tbsp dry mustard2 tsp celery salt (go ahead and buy some, it’s brilliant, and some say essential, to potato salad)Salt and pepperMix together the shredded cabbage and carrots in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, onion, sugar, vinegar, mustard, celery salt, and salt/pepper. Spoon carefully over the vegetables. Mix. Check for your desired dressing-to-vegetable ratio and add more if you like - but remember, less is more. The important thing is to let it sit in the fridge for a bit - the tastes really mature over time - you know, like us.I usually only shred half a cabbage to make this, so whatever portion of the dressing I don’t use goes in the fridge. I’ve doused salad, other vegetables, leftover chicken with it. It stands up to e[...]

My Hummus Journey


It turns out, I take hummus pretty seriously. Yes, it does have a funny sounding name and yes, it is alarmingly close to 'humus' which, "refers to any organic matter that has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain as it is for centuries, if not millenia." Thanks Wikipedia.If you've had bad hummus that might sound familiar. It would definitely remind you of stable organic matter that will break down no further and last for millenia.I have been on a search for the right hummus recipe for years. It started a few years after the perfect recipe slipped right by me.Many, many years ago I was on a first name basis with the owners of the Armenian Kitchen in Toronto. One of our many nights there Johnny, the son of the owners, sat down with me and explained how to make hummus. The hummus at the Armenian Kitchen is unparalleled in my admittedly limited experience. It's creamy, tasty, supple, bearing the light pools of olive oil and paprika on way easily as the pita bread breaks its surface.But I, being young(er), and totally disinterested in the difference between hummus and humus, so long as the pita was fresh...and really only vaguely interested in cooking at all, let his careful instructions go right over my head - especially after he leaned in and said it's extremely important to skim the scum off the surface.I'll get back to the scum.Of course once cooking got into my veins (and onto my hips), I rued the day I failed to take notice of, and notes on, Johnny's hummus lesson. And I was definitely pushing my luck when I got the new owners to give me the recipe (and their blessing to post it) for pickled turnips. I pointed my finger at them and said, ' the hummus.' They just laughed and shook their heads, and wagged their fingers at me.I was on my own. Fine.I decided to start simply. Can o' chick peas, tahini, garlic etc. Simply...yuk. Grainy, flat, boring. How was that possible?I kept remembering that baking soda and dried chickpeas were involved somehow. Then a few weeks ago, Food52 posted the recipe for the Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's hummus from Jerusalem. Lo and behold, there it was...dried chickpeas and baking soda.I've made it a few times now and yes, it's excellent. And you can vary the flavorings - some people swear off cumin, others avow its perfection. More garlic? Less? Oil? Water? I encourage you to try different species.But the key is dried chickpeas that you've soaked overnight. And the baking soda. And...let it sit for 24 hours before you serve it - the flavours are so much better the next day.The business:1 1/4 cup of dried chickpeas1 tsp baking soda6 1/2 cups of water1 cup of tahini (originally calls for an extra 2 tbsp of tahini - but I don't find it makes a huge difference)4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (add more if you like it, and at the end, some lemon zest for extra zing)4 garlic cloves, crushed6 1/2 tbsp ice water (I am going to start adding more, as I find it needs to be a bit thinned)1 1/2 tsp saltGood olive oil (for serving)Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in double the amount of water. They'll be much larger in the morning - so be sure to give them enough water to absorb.Drain them. Put them in a saucepan over medium heat and sprinkle the baking soda over them. Stir constantly and cook for about three minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Skim the surface to remove foam and any skins that float to the top. Cook the beans for approximately 30 minutes - always skimming...always skimming. The beans can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to cook - they're ready when they're soft and squishable with your fingers (but not mushy).Drain the chickpeas. Drag out the food proc[...]

The Way to Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs


The number of eggs I've ruined over the years just trying to make egg salad sandwiches would shame all chickendom.

Then Chef Ian came to class with this gem of knowledge and said it would never fail.

He was right.The perfect hard boiled egg isn't as hard as I thought. 


It all starts with putting your eggs in a pot of cold water. Just to the top of the eggs.

Add a splash of white vinegar.

Bring the pot to the boil.

Add a dash of salt.

Put the lid on the pot.

Turn off the heat.

Let the eggs sit in the pot for 15 minutes.

Cool off in cold water.

Peel and away you go... simple wisdom...

On Holding a Knife


The number one thing that will make you a better cook is learning how to hold your knife properly.

Seems simple. But there's a lot about life that is deceptively well as a lot about life that seems overly complex.

But slicing through something can be easy. You just need the courage of your convictions. Remember?

And I found just holding the knife properly makes you feel more courageous. I spent most of my chopping life working my way through various hand holding these two, classic mistakes.




The key is your index finger and your thumb have to touch the blade. You put your index finger along the ridge where the blade meets the handle.

Close your thumb along the other side of the same ridge. So now you're basically pinching the blade at the heel (where it meets the handle).

Cup your three remaining fingers under the handle. Voilà. That's all there is to it. Centuries of chefs evolved knife skills for you. Now just slide your knife forward through your food. Rock on the front edge of the blade and come forward again. Boom.

Lessons, Tips and Facts from Our Chef


It's great to be with a chef as he cooks something you're about to try cooking too. You can watch and listen and ask questions - here are some of the surprises I picked up from Chef Ian in my first 7 weeks of cooking might already know these...but I was surprised by some of them.Never stir stock.Add bones to the pot, add cold water just to cover.Bring it just to the boil, then to a slow simmer, skimming off the scum as it rises to the surface. (sounds like life doesn't it?)Then add the vegetables and herbs.For dark stock – use veal and beef bones...and knuckle bones give off a lot of gelatin…you’re looking for a gelatinous stock.Remove the vegetables and bones when done and continue boiling down until you have a condensed stock – much easier to store in the freezer and then add water when you need to reconstitute. So don't add salt until you're making something with it. The difference between broth and stock? Broth is made of stock and other things you add…stock is just stock…it’s the foundation of sauces, soups, and ahem, broth.Cooking times are longer than you think – about 4-6 hours for chicken stock, 12-24 for dark stock – a slow cooker is good for making stock overnight.Always cool down the stock by putting the pot in the sink and running cold water under it – needs to cool down fast. Then get it in the fridge or freezer.To create a sachet for some stocks you can split a leek lengthwise, lay the bay leaf and thyme sprigs in the middle and then put the leek together again and tie with string.  Tie sachets to the handle on the pot to make them simple to remove later.Chef only cooks with black pepper. First night he passed around black and white pepper for us to smell - white pepper reminded me of horses or farms or something. Then he said he only uses black pepper because white pepper smells like a barnyard to him. But smell both and see which you prefer.Use a steel on your knife every time you use it – sharpen it, professionally, once a year. (Unless it's Japanese, then you should check whether you need a special diamond or ceramic steel.)Hold a chef’s knife with the thumb and forefinger at the front edge of handle…curl the other fingers under the handle.Your other hand holds the food - like a lemon. Imagine you're holding a lemon with your palm down..see the shape of your fingers? That's how they should rest on top of the food you're cutting. The flat part of your middle finger the most prominent, nails tucked back, your thumb and pinky slightly behind.Slice away with your food and your knife at opposing 45 degree angles - so you form a triangle - you, your knife arm, and the food held by your other hand…How to slice vegetables – it's a rocking motion, the knife sliding forward through the food…blade shouldn't have to leave the board.The food doesn’t move, the knife and your hand do.Buy a rubber shelf liner at the dollar store to put under your cutting board to prevent it from slipping. Or in a pinch, lay wet paper towel under the board.Use flat leaf parsley for cooking, use curly parsley for garnish. Curly leaf parsley releases too much chlorophyll turning food green. Add salt, pepper and any citrus at the end.Making sauce - either your roux is hot and your liquid is cold...or your liquid is hot and your roux is cold.Roux: equal parts fat (butter/oil etc) to flour mixed together. I'll pull together another list as we move along...If you have any to add, please do...let's build up our tipsheet together.[...]

A Trout in the House with White Wine Sauce


You know when you are ladling something out of a pot – and it’s dripping and dripping and you can’t get it over to the bowl you need it in…and you stand there as a stream of stuff hangs like a string, then turns into drips then turns into slower drops and you just wait for that break in the dripping to get quickly over to the bowl…and then you rush and slurp stuff all over the place? And then throw the ladle back in the pot and it splurts up the sides…okay…maybe it’s just me…But I learned last night that if you dip your ladle in the sauce, soup, stock whatever, hold it up, then dip the base again in the surface of the sauce, soup, stock, it will stop the stream, drip, or drop and you can cleanly get whatever over to the bowl you need it in. Huh!That is one of the many lessons I’m picking up at cooking school. I’ll write a whole list out for you – stuff I didn’t know – that you probably do – but as home cooks we don’t necessarily run across in our books or online.The class is very cool. We work in professional kitchens, on stainless steel islands for four people and I have a friendly, collegial group of Lisa, Sheryl and Anna…we get along great and everything is about cooperation – not a whiff of competition. We’re now six weeks in and more and more comfortable wearing our chefs whites and hats, brandishing our chef knives, and even turning on the stoves. The ranges are big mothers – six burner Garlands. And they growl as you approach them, daring you to try.We are in the fishbowl – so named for being right at street level, with floor to ceiling glass and we’re encouraged to wave at the people who stop to watch. One reason I grabbed the space at my island – one of the furthest from the edge of the bowl.At the front is Chef Ian’s demo counter and stove, with cameras and monitors so you don’t miss any manoeuvre. We start the evening standing around watching him demonstrate what we’ll be cooking…taking furious notes…then we scatter like an offensive line coming out of a huddle.They supply trays of ingredients portioned and to be shared with your teammates. You know those towels that chefs wear tucked over their apron strings? They’re for using as pot holders – not for wiping your hands…I’ll master that one day…I still can’t bring myself to tear paper towel for every wet hand you have while cooking.Last week we made fish. And it exercised our knife skills, our sauce skills, and our timing skills. And then as always our cleaning skills.Ontario trout is quite lovely. These were farmed trout fillets. We poached the fish and then made a beautiful sauce with the poaching liquid. Thought I’d share.Poached Filets in White Wine Sauce4 portions1 Filet Ontario lake trout2 oz butter1 oz shallot, diced2 oz white wine (recipe calls for reisling, but use a dry white if you have it)8 oz fish stock (we cut ours in half because Chef thought it was too strong)If you’ve cut the fish stock, make it up with waterParchment paper cut into a circle (see video for a great tip on how to shape it easily – this is what the chef taught us too)Sauce1 pint fish velouté - or have on hand some more fish stock and wine to bulk up liquid once you've cooked your fishWhipping cream to taste (although recipe called for 3 ½ oz)1 oz butter12 green seedless grapes, sliced in half4 sprigs flat-leafed parsley chopped1 stem of fresh thyme, choppedSalt and black pepper to taste (there’s a blog to be done on white pepper)½ lemon, juice and zestYou can make the fish velouté separately if you like, but why not use the liquid you poached the fish in? Then you dirty on[...]

Don't Apologize


“When you flip anything you must have the courage of your convictions, particularly if it’s sort of a loose mass like this. Oh…that didn’t go very well...But you can always pick it up. And if you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?”Cooking. A metaphor for life. And wisdom from Julia Child.A perfect source of wisdom for me right now. Because, believe it or not, after months of building up to it - I left chef school. In the first week.And I learned a lot. But not what I was expecting.Chef school is exciting. The kitchens are dazzling. The demo labs, the industrial mixers, the massive stoves, the chef whites, the knife kits, the hats, elevating you into the profession. (Although one baking teacher asked why we all wanted to go into the life of a domestic servant…)These chefs are very passionate, determined and dedicated artists. Through all of that I discovered something.I really, really, really don’t want to cook to the standard of a restaurant. It was like hitting my passion for food with a nuclear bomb.And though no one asked them to, my classmates figured out quickly that if the chef asked us if we understand, they said, in unison, Yes Chef!I wasn’t sure if it was in me when I wrote about it before I went. And guess what? It isn’t. My neck and shoulders tighten, my lips get pursed. And I suddenly find I’m trying to shake my shoulders loose. Nope. It’s just too much. You know…set to 11.It was a blow. I spent most of the week on the verge of tears in public and letting them overflow in private. It was shocking. The thoughts started creeping through - the money...the risk...the embarrassment...the naivete, and my age old panicky feeling of doubt followed quickly by paralysis - I can't go forward, can't go back.The old me would have torn myself to shreds. For a long time. In a voice I wouldn't use on anyone else. I debated pushing through. I've been in these settings before (anyone in a newsroom or tv control room feels it) and wondered why I pushed on. But here no. I knew if I went back, my body would stop myself from going in the classroom. Hmmm. Journalism was what I was meant to study. What I loved. And cooking school was adding a specialty to my life. And one that I can still learn.I had made a huge mistake.So this time, I quit.For me, the “courage of my convictions” was in calling it. When a goal leads you down a fork in the road and you see another path veering away from you – you get to call quits. And you will never quite know. And that, my friends, must be what growing up feels like.I’m a home cook. I want to get better. I want to, in fact, be the best I can be. I want to taste well (not good, that’s different). I want to practice up my palate. I want to create. And I want to share.Cooking is generosity, not competition. Not so much the culinary Olympics. For others maybe, but not for me.Goal/motivation psychology tells us that if your goal is taking you in the wrong direction, adapt the goal. Find a related goal – one that’ll get you near. In psychology gobbledygook it is called ‘goal disengagement’ and ‘goal reengagement’. And people who can do that apparently also have the added benefit of better physical health.In other words, flogging yourself to death because you won’t quit what you don’t even want ain’t good for you.When I told my closest friends, they all had the same reaction – in calls and emails…first complete support and congratulations for knowing so fast...and second, worried that I’d beat myself up…I seem to have a repu[...]

The Food Life


Many years ago, just before I turned 40, a friend wanted to go to the driving range. It was one of those muggy summer nights when you can’t really think of sleeping, when the air is soft but thick on your skin - like velvet, and the stadium lights have a glow around them.I hadn’t hit anything with a golf club in years. We had hacked around at various driving ranges once in a while, the way most of us go bowling or try curling…to say we’d done it, to be bad at it, to laugh our asses off.But this night meant heading to the driving range with someone who was born to golf - who had put in his 10,000 hours before he turned 20. And so, my competitive spirit and fear of humiliation kicked in. And I wanted to be good at it. In my late 30s…like…sure.I think most of us want to pursue stuff we’re good at – it makes us feel good - no, competent, when a lot of the world is so competitive that feeling incompetent or unsure is more the norm than not. So I approached the range with a great deal of dread. And excitement.I had been watching golf tournaments for years. I loved the mental part of the game, the skills, and that the players were playing a game against the course, and themselves. But play? No. And for good reason.My dad was a golfer which made Mum a golf widow. We moved to a house in the middle of nowhere because it was close to his golf course. Weekends were about waiting for Dad to finish his game and his social time at the club. He took the car…we waited at home. That was the kind of time it was. Mad men…And one year after we’d moved in, Dad left. He took the car, his clubs, his stuff, and the smell of golf stayed rancid in the house. Golf was never really mentioned as a bad thing…but as a kid I just got the vibe. No. I had no intention of playing. So that summer night we got our buckets of balls and walked over to the tees, I had no expectations.My friend handed me his 7-iron. He put a ball on the tee. ‘Hit it,’ he said.I stepped up. I swung the club back and down and through, and the ball sailed into the night air.He stood and looked at it. Then he grabbed another ball, put it on the tee, and said, ‘do that again.’So …I did. And again, it went sailing into the night air.He jumped up from his chair and hugged me. ‘You’re a natural,’ he said. ‘Who says watching golf doesn’t teach you anything?’A lot of life is like that – yes, I just said golf is a metaphor for life. Yes I did. I was thinking about this today. I am a late bloomer. I’ve always said that. I think it has to do with learning to be comfortable with risk – which took me a very, very long time. In fact, way into my 30s.Life really does evolve – in surprising ways. In my rolling rock of life, I found myself learning about things I never, ever thought I was capable of learning – I loved journalism and writing my whole life (but I didn’t jump in until I was 28 and couldn’t find anything else to do), and that, by serendipity, took me into science (which I had dropped in grade 10), which led to international travel to some of the world’s most fascinating spots, which led me into health journalism (and got me through my phobia about medicine and doctors and the word ‘probe’ and any word ending in ‘-oscopy’), and brain science…I used to write on my resume that if my science teachers were dead, they’d be spinning in their graves. And the stress of that life – it ain’t all glamour like you may think – led me to just start running one day. And suddenly I was getting into uber fit mode…and uber eating mode.So th[...]

Grocery Philosophy


Grocery shopping takes some philosophy.Maybe I’m overstating it. Maybe it simply takes planning. Doesn’t really matter.  I find both pretty hard – philosophy and planning. My grocery method is a non-method…I fall into the category of ‘oh-look-pretty-shiny’. If it’s gorgeous, or on sale, my cart wheels its way over there…then over there, then over there…and then it gets parked, and I find myself just wandering through the produce. Which drains $100 from my pocket pretty quickly. But it’s good exercise. I don’t know really what I want to buy. I probably need milk, tea, bread, tea, salad greens, tea…that’s what my shopping list looks like, if I get as far as a list. My brother in law and his wife came across the country for a visit a few weeks back. And I pulled in all kinds of food for the week. It was a joy – from hummus and tabbouleh from my favourite place, to the fish from my favourite fish place, to the meat and eggs from my favourite place…that was a good day.My brother in law is a FANTASTIC cook. And the knife doesn’t fall far from…the counter. His son is an executive chef. They’re vegetarian, or his wife is, and Bill’s meals are a delight. But it was their grocery shopping that had me mouth breathing for a while. When we visited them about eight years ago, we went to the market with them one weekend morning. Before we went, there was a conference to determine the menu…for the whole week. I was in awe. We went. We shopped. Bing, bang, boom. Done. As Sam explained, they live a ways from the nearest store so it’s a pain if you’ve forgotten the quinoa…We live three blocks from a main street. We can shop every day if we want – and often do. She also said that when she shopped without a list of menus, she threw a lot of food away…um…guilty gulp. Only yesterday I threw out a box of organic greens that smelled more like organic sewage. And old watermelon chunks. And biggest crime of all - furry Rainier cherries. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I guess there are personalities for shopping – or philosophies. And they can collide. Right in the aisle. When Bill and Sam visited us a few years back, we went to a local grocery store to pick up stuff for dinner. I pushed the cart and wandered as I do from aisle to aisle in the produce section.                                                      I saw stuff. I stopped. I’d put stuff in the cart. I’d walk over to the other side, around the corner and back…zig, zag…meander…and Sam snapped a gasket. She looked like a mother goose herding goslings. She got the cart back, got me/us focused on what we were doing there and off we went – bing, bang, boom…done. My eyes were twinkling a bit as they do when I realize I’ve annoyed someone and I find it amusing that we have completely different approaches to something. I laughed…I think she did too…later… Grocery shopping is something of a pleasure for me – I know it’s part of drudge work for some people and I get why. Even when I rush in for a litre of milk (yes, I’m in Canada, so it’s a litre), my feet brake suddenly as I pass the fruit or vegetables displayed near the door. I pull out my phone to take pictures of the beautiful eggplants or radishes. And if I'm visiting anywhere, I must, must, must, find my way into a grocery store - foreign food stores are fantastic adventures.It’s a thing for me. What is it[...]

Deep Breath


Le Chef de l'Hôtel Chatham, ParisDeep breath. It’s not as cold as I think. Go on…Dive in.I’m going to chef school. This September.It’s a culinary skills course. For a year. For a certificate.And frankly, as everyone congratulates me on moving in a new direction, I’m terrified. But then, what else is new?I’m 50 for crissakes. I make my own tomato sauce, salad dressing, and turkey stuffing…so what makes me think I can jump to the next level? Really. People think I’m a good cook. I read almost exclusively food books and cook books. But that does not qualify me to be a chef.The hardest part of switching direction is trying to determine if this is the right path – if I’ll go for a month and then wake up one day saying this isn’t really what I want…or wake up one day and figure it’s too a)hard b)scary c)stupid d)authoritarian e)all of the above.I don’t know if a chef demands I jump that I can just say how high…I’m not sure it’s in me.I’m not sure I won’t look silly in the hat – okay…actually I’m excited about that part. And I think the chef whites will help temper my imposter syndrome.And I’m not sure I want to go to school as the most definitely oldest student in the class. Or more realistically if I want to go to school with a bunch of kids – and yes…they could be my kids.Out, out damn-ed doubt.I went to the information night last fall (just back from Italy and still digesting tons of excellent food and even more excellent red wine – by the way, can anyone explain why I don’t get a headache from cheap red wine when I’m in Italy?) and listened to the chefs explain how the courses work, what to expect and how delighted they were they had chosen this line of work and that god probably created humans to become chefs – the chosen tribe. (and on that previous parenthesis thought – I wonder if red wine in France has the same effect?)I went up to the chef who was giving most of the information to ask about the different types of programs and what I was thinking of doing – he said (with a straight face) that he’s had a lot of people come through the program in their 30s and also a fair number in their 40s who were thinking of changing direction – he’s even (and this was where the straight face thing came into play) had one person in their 50s.I just looked at him and nodded…but inside I had fled through the door, out into the rainy, cold October night, with that familiar feeling of just not belonging…What a freak. A flighty, quirky, weird sort…Oh well…so I’m flighty…I thought about it through the winter and into the spring – and a couple of weeks before my 50th birthday, one evening, impulsively, I filled out the form – my finger hovered over the ‘Submit’ button…and I pressed down. I felt that metallic cold flush of fear like I’d just made a huge error. I looked at Steve with my eyes wide and he just said, ‘What?’ – ‘I think I just applied for chef school.’Steve, being Steve, just smiled. Then he said, ‘good for you’. How I love that man. So now the tuition is paid and I’m wrestling with the stupid, self-important educational bureaucracy, and going to orientation in just over a month. Next week I have to register for my courses and the next day have to take a placement test for English (yes, really – two degrees including one in journalism – although any journalist and especially editor will tell you that has no bearing on the quality of my English) and a test in math (just gulped)[...]

Spaghetti Bolognese - Now or Later


We have entered the parent care years.Decidedly.3 parents. In their 80s. 2 of 3 in their right minds, but their bodies starting to show signs of wear. 1 of 3 in her wrong mind and wrong body. Between the three of them we’re playing hard and fast against the brain, the heart, the lungs…trying drugs, trying bars and chairs, shoring up their lifestyles – keeping at least one well out of institutional care. There’s a lot of adaptation that has to happen – for those dealing with their aging bodies, and for us – as we try to help as much as we can to keep everyone safe, and comfortable and as happy…well…as can be. And yes, food is involved. Because life is a lot easier if you don't have to worry about dinner so much - or if someone makes it a tad easier for you...So I'm going to share some of the recipes I have found that work...won't share the ones that don't...and if you could share some ideas too that would be fantastic. I found myself holding a 500 gram packet of ground beef – grass fed, organic…and there was no way that was going to wait around in the fridge until I finally chucked it in frustration with myself. Yes…that happens. I needed a recipe that would work now and later – something that could go in the freezer for my Mum to do a quick thaw and chomp. I asked her about shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, chili con carne…but when I said spaghetti Bolognese…her eyes lit up. So I looked up a bunch of recipes…because you know how you think you know how to make something, but really you find the group brain core dumping ground a much better place for ideas? And the web didn’t disappoint… Except in one sense – why do the British need to call spaghetti Bolognese ‘spag bol’? Uh…no.I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food site. And it was interesting. So, here is my interpretation of the recipe.4 slices bacon, diced1 large onion, diced3 cloves garlic, minced2 stalks celery, diced1 large carrot, diced(the recipe also calls for a chili pepper, diced, but I didn’t have one)1 lb ground beef, I used extra lean2 tbsp tomato paste1 – 28 oz can plum tomatoes6 or so fresh cherry tomatoesFresh or 1 tsp dried rosemary1 tsp dried oregano, or more to tasteSalt and pepper to taste1 glass red wineBeef stock (as much as necessary for liquid)2 bay leavesFresh basil leaves, some for cooking, reserve some for servingPut a glug of olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan, heat to medium and fry the bacon until brown and crispy. Lower the heat a little and add the onions, garlic – let them soften a little (but not brown) and then add the celery, carrots. Add the rosemary and stir the mixture letting it soften for 8-10 minutes. Add the ground beef and break apart in the pan. Let it brown thoroughly. Stir in the tomato paste for a couple of minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and the wine. Stir in the oregano and basil, salt and pepper. Slice the cherry tomatoes and toss in. Stir. Bring everything to a simmer – and if you need to, this is when you can add some beef stock. Then lower the heat, cover partially, and let simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.The recipe calls for 75g of grated parmesan to be added once it's cooked – however I didn’t have any – and didn’t miss it. I also did a quick taste test as I do with tomato sauces at the end…and added a teaspoon of sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes. Then I chopped up[...]

Random Sundown


In the midst of this winter, I was trying to remember my childhood. In the summer. The heat dissipates. Air is thick. My body stills. The window open, the sky slips off the edge from violet blue heading to black. The air soft, velvety, tired from the day’s sharp and heavy humidity. I can smell grass that’s just been cut by someone’s dad after dinner. I hear a sprinkler. A mosquito buzzes over my ear, close, its bass hum making me twitch. I can hear people chatting quietly, laughing occasionally, ice cubes clinking against glass in the distance. A gate squeaking open and closed, the latch clicks…porch lights come on.~People are drawn to sundown…we gather. Primal. Watching the end of day, watching the source of our life slip over the edge – a collective release of optimism, or is it hope, that we will be fine to wait for its return. We treat sunset reverently. We stand facing the same way – joined, but alone. I’ve seen the sun set into oceans around the world, but had never seen the green flash until last year. We arrived at Anna Maria Island for a week in April. We arrived late afternoon – with plenty of time to walk to the beautiful beach. No haze on the horizon – a clear prospect for the sun to drop cleanly off stage. At its last possible moment, it winked a brilliant green light, like a magnesium flare…and we looked at each other and said at the same time – did you see it? There’s almost no twilight. Sun sets. People turn. Night comes.~As the day fades into evening my husband’s mother fades too. Her brain on Alzheimer’s mode, she gets lost. Her instincts tell her she’s not safe, like an animal looking for shelter. This is when she has most of her falls. When her bones crack, and her breathing is short. She is losing this battle. Every day is a new wonder of yesterday’s facts – why she’s in the hospital. What hospital she’s in. Why she can’t move her arm. Why she can’t go home. The experts debate the drugs: they help her brain, they make her fall…which is the lesser of the evils. The specialists call it sundowning – but it's's shadow should be about shadows…not sunset. ~The day was just about over when we finally pulled into Agra. A long drive from Jaipur. The dust, the dung, the frenetic, and frankly, suicidal, tendencies of our driver frazzled us. It was the end of day Thursday – and we were there for 24 hours to see the town’s virtue – the Taj Mahal. As we checked in, the hotel owner warned us to get over there pronto as the government had just changed the rules – the building built for love was now closed on Fridays. That, I thought, was pretty much my karma when it came to love. We grabbed a taxi. As the building appeared in the distance beneath the Mughal arch, my breath reflexively drew itself in. The Taj Mahal is spectacular, a tribute to beauty – even swarmed by barefooted tourists, wedding couples, families. Its symmetry gives you some peace, except the sky used that moment to open. We were drowned in torrential rain – not drips, buckets. A second karmic tribute to my love life. We ran for it. Taking shelter in the actual mausoleum, staring back along the gardens as the rain washed the tourists away. And once it faded and moved on, we crept back out and wandered gently back along the gardens. My third karmic signal of love. The sky to the west was a deep metallic grey, with a severe straight edge just hovering above the hori[...]

Super Wings


The Harbowl...
I'll be watching. We even bought a hi def antenna for it. There is NOTHING like watching football in hi def...(update...Yay Ravens!!!)

We'd be watching anyway, but our friends' son, Cameron, adores sports. He eat, breathes, sleeps, lives it...and gets paid for it. After working for the Florida Panthers, he scored a gig guessed it...the Baltimore Ravens...and so after a couple of years of working with them, he's spending this weekend dancing in the streets of New Orleans, living at the peak of that particular sports' world...and we couldn't be prouder or happier for him...he's buzzing (and he got tickets for his parents and sister for the game...)

So how to celebrate? Food of course. Food and the Superbowl go together like...well food and the Superbowl. Like our infamous Snipe 'n Munch party. Did you hear that the most popular superbowl food has spiked in price these last couple of weeks? Well...if you're going to invest in chicken wings for the Superbowl...then treat them well. They deserve your respect...And is a Canadian twist on a Superbowl super food: Maple Garlic Ginger Chicken Wings

These are courtesy of a food blog called She Cooks and He Eats.

I've made these at least half a dozen times...and they're delicious every time.

So to the recipe for Maple Garlic Ginger Chicken Wings
They need a few hours to marinate - I've done them after an hour in the sauce and I've waited three hours...whatever works for you...

I do have to share the video she posted on how to eat chicken's kind of brilliant.

Oh...and Go RAVENS!

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A Home of My Own


Sigh. I hate to admit this.I have never owned a house. I really hate that I hate to admit this. Re-Sigh.What I hate more, is that having never owned a house makes me feel a bit like a loser.I don’t think I’m alone. Oh god don’t let me be alone.I know a few other people, mostly artists, who have never scraped enough money together for a down payment – let alone cover a mortgage. Even in this time of unprecedented, unbelievably cheap money. That bastion of adulthood - a mortgage. You've arrived...right?Contrary to popular belief, house ownership is not an entitlement. Until the late 1940s most people in North America rented. The housing boom made owning possible. And now about 2/3 of Americans own a house – or the bank owns it while they live there. Which means a significant number of people still rent... I went through the numbers with my husband when he came into my life. He’s owned before. He knows this whole ‘budget’ thing. He watches real estate like a red-tailed hawk on a field mouse. He hasn’t seen the market making any sense for the last number of years. So we’ve put money away…paid all our bills…and we sit patiently - okay I’m not so patient - waiting for a ‘market correction’. By the way, the Toronto real estate numbers were recently released, and sales here have dropped a whopping 19.5% over last year at this time…BUT…prices haven’t. Steve created an excel spreadsheet with every variable and compared owning to renting (and saving/investing the difference). Yes, we save the difference – our shredded sofa is ample evidence. We do have that discipline. On balance, it kind of balances…but…and yes there is a but…if you buy early in life…and if you pay it off, then the advantage is to owning. And there is a difference once you’ve cashed out as an owner and have to live on the money – you might be better off....Blah, blah, blah. Money and math and business decisions...I’m more fascinated by the feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s uneasy. That feeling like you’re being left behind at the train station while everyone heads off to vacation/beach/funland. Or there’s a party somewhere…you can hear it…somewhere…Friends have urged us to buy – saying the same thing I’ve heard over decades – jump in, or you’ll never get in – always said when things are in a frenzy.Part of my problem is that I forgot. I mean time flew by…and sort of like having children…I forgot there might be a deadline. And here is what I hate even more. It might actually be too late. There is an encroaching deadline on this…why buy something that I have to commit too many years to paying off…years that would now take me wayyyyy beyond retirement (assuming I were to live a fantasy life and actually retire)? Buying now just doesn’t make sense to me…it doesn’t make sense. And I shake my head loose, and my shoulders and my arms…as if I’m starting afresh – pushing away the propaganda that says my life is not successful without a house in my name. And trying to live in the spirit that works hard not to follow the herd… I know. I know… renting… …the house isn’t ours, the things we’d improve aren’t really in our power to improve. We share the basement laundry with our landlady (as lovely as she is)…so she has to come briefly through our apartment to get to the basement. The century-old place is nowhere near soun[...]