I adore blueberry season. Blueberry sauce for ice cream, blueberry pancakes, blueberry smoothies, blueberry bars, blueberry jam, blueberry pie, blueberry muffins and blueberry loaf. I can’t get enough of those brilliant little indigo spherical bursts of tender sweetness. They are also very good for you, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, C, as well as niacin, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron. Yummy AND healthy hasn’t come along very often in my lifetime.
Stop. Breathe. Seriously — take a whiff…deeply, through your nose. Do you smell it? I mean, really smell it? No, not the smog or the pollution. Not the boring everyday smells. The nice one. The sweet, light, airy scent that bounces and flits its way along, throwing itself beneath people’s noses as they make their way…wherever they’re going.
It’s not flowers or grass or water or even that odd scent that lightning leaves behind on the thick air after a storm. It’s neither warm nor cold and definitely not damp or dry. It’s got a heat like chili’s and a depth like really delicious, red wine. It bubbles and makes me light-headed much in the same way that champagne does and goes right along with it like strawberries. Chocolate, in shapes like bunnies or hearts or just in good, droolingly delicious lumps. Fresh, double cream brie with peppercorns — soft and sumptuous with just that little crack and spice of pepper between your teeth.
I can’t stop there…
It’s ice cold beer on patios and peanut butter cookies sold at lawn sales. It has the feeling of freshly picked tomatoes with home-grown basil in a salad with buffalo mozzarella that you buy on your way home from work one night, because you simply had to go to the gourmet cheese shop that was more than a half-hour walk out of your way…
It’s more than food though, too. It’s Frank Sinatra on the stereo and patio lanterns on the balconies. Oh, and who can forget having the window open again after a long cold winter? It’s the smile you swear you see on your son’s face when you are walking home in t-shirts and sunglasses…and your husband’s face when he sees you in a light summer dress again after so long in jeans and big, bulky sweaters. It’s freshly painted toenails and hair pinned up off of your neck…
My fickle friends, the summer wind has come blowing in. Leith and I celebrated it with a gorgeous, fresh Caprese Salad last night…a short swim before dinner and the windows in our apartment open all night (even though it rained). We made it through the winter. Summer is coming. It finally happened. I love it.
When I was growing up, comfort food was something I learned about very early on. I don’t subscribe to the motto that ice cream will cure all of your woes or that a chocolate bar will help you cope, it is more that I think you should eat what your body is craving. I’m not prescribing that you eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but if you’re craving a hunk of dark chocolate, you should probably indulge. It’s most likely not going to kill you.
I learned to listen to what my body was craving when I was pregnant with Leith and then again when I was hospitalized a few years ago. I won’t get into all the medical mumbo-jumbo but will admit that I ate a lot of food high in iron (a good steak is my best friend) on a regular basis. It wasn’t that I ate poorly before then; it was more that I became more aware of what my body desired and have continued to eat in that fashion since.
Sometimes what your body needs is compassion. For some this comes in the form of a cup of tea or a bowl of soup. For others it might mean eating toast or left-overs. Pasta is definitely one of the greatest comfort foods for me. Effortless to prepare, and with so many different ways to serve, it is also my stand-by side dish. But your average tomato sauce or everyday white sauce sometimes just doesn’t cut it when you whip pasta out for dinner. Besides, why should you stick to old standards when you can create new and interesting ones instead?
This little beauty of a dish can be an appetizer, main dish, side dish or, even a snack. The cheese in it is a rich-tasting, full-bodied experience and it holds its own next to the sausage and the roasted peppers. The spice is just right, enough to make your toes curl but not enough to make your tongue burn. The recipe is extremely simple to prepare (and could be done well in advance) and the only real "work" is roasting of the peppers in the beginning, which can be done well in advance if you like.
That is what I love about pasta – it is so versatile and so simple. You can eat it every day of the week and have marvelously diverse dishes to eat each time that are healthy, hearty and utterly scrumptious.
If you want some more truly delectable Macaroni and Cheese recipes, be sure to visit the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s 30 Days, 30 Ways blog.
Solace in Sustenance
I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. I stomped to the shower, scrubbed my scalp raw while grumbling about how decent people don’t get up before the sunrise everyday and glowered at my red, dampened reflection in the mirror. Tempted to drape myself in black, I donned a pink cashmere turtleneck at the last second in an attempt to cheer myself up.
It didn’t take.
I got to work, slammed a few drawers, stomped around haphazardly for a while and tossed some papers on my desk. I wandered into my co-worker’s office and snarled "I’m in an awful mood today". And turned to go. I hadn’t been looking for justification or for encouragement or even a bright response. I had just needed to tell someone that today was not going to be my day.
Apparently this week is one of the most depressing of the entire year (how is it that we are already depressed when the year has hardly begun??). Something about how winter is still looming infinitely in front of us, we’ve already failed our New Year’s resolutions and Christmas debts are piling up.
I think for me it has more to do with the fact that I get up long before the sun has breached the horizon and don’t tend to get home from work until it has sunk beyond the horizon. I forget what it feels like to feel the sun on my cheeks and how it feels to need to wear the sunglasses that have hibernated at the bottom of my bag.
So I try to cook "sunlight" into my foods. I cook with fruits and vegetables that remind me of the warmer days of spring, summer and even the early fall. Apples, peaches, pears, berries all play featured roles in my desserts while squash, vine-ripened and sun-dried tomatoes and roasted corn headline in my main courses. I think eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps me keep my head from clouding over when the forecast calls for frigid temperatures and little or no sun.
After eating one piece of this apple coffee cake I felt much better. It cheered me up, filled up my stomach and set my brain on the right track for the rest of the day.
I Gave at the Office (literally!)
For me, Christmas really is all about giving. I love to give people presents any time of year, so when the holidays roll around I tend to go overboard and dole out the gifts to one and all with reckless abandon. I remember in years past (pre-husband, pre-baby, pre-illness, pre-house, pre-new job) when I seemingly had all the time in the world; I would bake treats and lovingly prepare packages for everyone I knew. A dozen different types of sweet delicacies wrapped tenderly in wax and tissue paper, addressed only to the luckiest of people in my life.
The recipients would gush and smile and peek inside, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the contents while they mentally tried to decide what they would break into first. Of course I ate up the adoration with a spoon and it only served to spurr me on the following year when I would go through it all once again.
But that was pre-everything that rules my life now (see above), back when time was not quite so scarce a commodity. Even last year I toned things down a bit and cut the dozen treats to about half and the packaging was not quite as nice as I would have liked.
This year I’m not quite sure what happened. I had lists of people, lists of foodstuffs and lines all over these lists attaching names to preferred treats. I was organized with shopping lists and recipes and schedules. And then whammo! It didn’t happen. The weekend that I was supposed to be baking up a veritable storm I ended up on the couch, half asleep and stuffed up with an awful cold. All that following week I kept promising myself I was going to tackle the baking and everyday I just…well…didn’t. There was work-work to do, house-work to do, husbands and sons to take care of, laundry to fold, sleep to catch up on…and the baking never got done.
I ended up finally, the day before I wanted to give out my gifties, taking a vacation day from work. I spent it in my kitchen, making a gigantic batch of utterly gorgeous Chili Pepper Jam. While it might not have been as taste-bud tempting as my usual sweet delights, it is absolutely striking, and quite festive with it’s flecks of red throughout. Sweet and quite spicy, this "jam" goes great with cheese, eggs, and is particularly good spread on a turkey sandwich…maybe even with a little cranberry chutney (recipe to come soon) joining it.
The weather truly has changed to fall and winter is just around the next icy corner. I have been wearing turtle-necks and extra sweaters all week – this is hardly the balmy October we had last year. Then, we were out in t-shirts on Thanksgiving weekend if I recall correctly. Yesterday I had to wear socks for the first time since May – that was truly difficult. Out come the blankets and warm coats, scarves, hats, gloves and mittens.
The one good thing about fall and winter is the freedom to cook the warm, enticing meals that I enjoy so much. Hearty stews and soups and intensely flavoured pastas and casseroles. Meats, stewing all day or roasting for hours in a hot oven reign supreme over my kitchen once the weather outside starts to dip. I even start to bake more, using up the autumnal bounty of apples and the last of the beautiful and delicious summer berries. Fall is really every cook’s favourite season, isn’t it?
It is always just a bit difficult to make the adjustment however and this year has been more complicated than usual. The days are so jam-packed and the nights even busier – I just don’t spend the time in the kitchen that I would like to. This past weekend was no different of course; there were trips to the in-law’s, visits from friends and lots of house-cleaning and winterizing to get done and not nearly enough time spent feeding our stomachs, or our souls.
But, even if summer has come to its chilly demise, I do still love to barbecue. And this salad brings the best that summer has to offer together into a dish fit for a chilly fall evening. Serve it with toasted or grilled sandwiches and it is the perfect fond farewell to summer with it’s glorious vegetables and it’s beautifully robust flavours.
Grilled to Perfection
Somewhere in amongst the trips to the pool, the treks to the cottage, the seemingly unending backyard cleaning, the outdoor home repairs and the hours of watching the Olympics, I find time to cook. I love summer cooking for its simplicity: meat + grill = dinner. I find the scents of summer cooking irresistible: all those fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables make me lightheaded (in a good way). The flavours of summer are diverse and splendid…and tempt my palate well into the cool crisp months that follow.
S. and I have a deal that lasts from early April until late October. Actually, who am I kidding, it’s an all-year-round arrangement, much to his chagrin. If I marinate the meat and put together a side dish, he is more than willing to take to the outdoors and grill our main course. Sometimes I will peek out the kitchen window or lean out the back door to see him strutting around the backyard, congratulating himself on a job well done. He is artfully arranging steaks or chicken on the barbecue in order to achieve maximum beauty with his precise grill marks.
I benefit from this display of gastronomic masculinity not too long after as he proudly presents a plate of perfectly grilled meat. Even though he claims not to know what he’s doing some of the time dinner always turns out perfectly cooked, deliciously presented and amazingly delectable.
Love and Devotion
When S. and I first met we used to email each other a great deal. Not because we didn’t see one another often or because we lived great distances from each other…simply because both of us were "writers" much more than we were "talkers". I have miraculously (through hard drive crashes and various other computer malfunctions) managed to save each and every one of these emails from over the past six years (six years, wow!).
Sometimes when I’m feeling rather schmaltzy and reminiscent I will go into my email archives, search through the files and click open the one labeled "S.". Curled up in my big red armchair with a cup of coffee I slowly read through them, starting from the very first one (December 27, 2001).
They are full of vim and vinegar, those emails, sprinkled with affection and innuendos that don’t even enter our everyday conversations these days. It isn’t that we don’t still feel that amount of affection towards each other now, it is more that we simply don’t have the time to express it. With a 20-month old at home, all the stresses that come along with owning a new (100 year-old) home and me carrying around all the baggage that comes from having been sick again six months ago, we just don’t have the time or energy.
One such email, in response to him telling me he had some Rheo Thompson chocolates hiding in his apartment that he was worried about eating and regretting that profligacy soon thereafter, I wrote:
"Mmmmmm. Chocolate. That and champagne has always been something I rarely indulge in but love too much to give up in entirety. They do both something to my head…but I do agree…too much and the regret becomes unbearable…I’m going to have to raid that safe of yours…"
I read it again this morning and realized that his love of chocolate has not diminished over the years, though mine has slightly. And though I might fall asleep most nights in front of the television and I rarely send him emails that don�t center around a to-do list, when I am faced with concocting a dessert that will please his palate, I will always turn to that sweet, dark extravagance. I made him this chocolate pie recently and he ate every crumb, even returning the love and devotion by washing the dishes the night he finished the pie (that is the marker of true love). The pie should be called "I Love My Chocoholic Husband Pie"…how sappy.
For more amazing pie recipes be sure to check out Rachel’s SHF this month – " target = "new">Pies that Evoke Your Dreams (you still have time to participate, too!).
Pies sound delicious to you? Make a contribution to a non-profit organization helping to transform the world of food through pie – The Pie Ranch. Please specify "Pie Ranch/Green Oaks Fund� in the "Designation" field of the online donation form (Pie Ranch is fiscally sponsored by the Rudolph Steiner Foundation) at: http://tinyurl.com/3bmn4c
This year I am officially on a quest. Well, a few different quests, I suppose when you get right down to it. I want to pursue the "ultimates" in cooking and eating; look out Tyler Florence, the Domestic Goddess is in town and she’s starving.
Everyone makes new year’s resolutions – to lose weight, to make more friends, to be a better person. Not so for me this year. I lost weight when I was sick, I have many friends and frankly I think I’m a damned fine person (!). So my resolution is to find or to make the best of the best in food this year. I don’t intend to fly to Paris for cheese or Greece for olive oil, but I think I’ll do okay regardless. Some of the very best food is right here in Toronto and the surrounding areas…and I don’t mean to boast, but on good days, some of it comes out of my very own kitchen.
And just as a small sneak peek, you have June’s SHF to start thinking about already…"How Sweet is Canada?", when I will be searching out and asking you to help me source or make the sweetest parts of this country. Stay tuned, it’s going to be a huge event!
This week I searched and scoured my cookbooks for the ultimate brownie recipe. S. wanted a chocolate-laden dessert for his post super-bowl hankerings and my brain settled on brownies immediately. Simple but delicious and unsuspectingly filling they are the perfect dessert for someone who loves chocolate as much as him. But what is the ultimate recipe? Would it be the cake-y brownie that is light but with a great crumb and the perfect balance of chocolate? Or would a cocoa-dense brownie that is dry but mouth-wateringly scrumptious win the day? Or perhaps the best would be the dense eggy-ness of traditional chocolate brownies, studded with chocolate chips, that you rarely see nowadays?
To see the winner, you’ll have to check the recipe…personally I thought these were the best brownies I’ve ever had. And the best part about making them yourself is that you can cut them as large as you want!