An Admission…of Sorts

Here is where I admit to something that I should rightfully be slightly ashamed of: there are only a select few dishes I have managed to “master” in my lifetime. There are millions more that I have either (a) yet to have made or (b) have tried once and failed miserably or even (c) have tried a few times, making them to the point where they are eatable. How dare I consider myself even remotely adept in the kitchen after such an admission…? Well, the few that I do make well I really do make them to perfection. Trust me – come over for dinner sometime and I’ll make you one or two of them.

Pizza. I make amazing homemade, entirely from scratch pizza. I make the dough. I make the tomato sauce. I roast the vegetables and pan-fry the sausages and pick out the delicious cheeses. I brush the crust with olive oil that has been steeping for at least a month in sun dried tomatoes or other herbs and spices. I carefully knead and proof and rise my dough in a loving, almost motherly manner. I love making pizza and I make it flawlessly.

Risotto is another dish I have mastered. I can make it with any kind of rice and a few grains and it turns out delicious and silky smooth every time. Everyone always thinks that risotto is difficult to make, but I find it easier than plain rice. It just takes patience, a little bit of attention and really good Parmesan cheese.

Pancakes are my sure-fire impress-people-early-in-the-morning dish. I make them with any kind of fruit or berry inside and I usually also serve a simple fruit compote along with them. Warm maple syrup and some whipped butter and I can get just about anyone to do anything I want if I ask them while they chow down on my pancakes.

Panini sandwiches, in all their many variations are as simple as you could possibly imagine…simpler, actually. And the great thing is you can make them with just about any ingredients you have at hand and they will be delicious. It is a dressed up version of the plain old, boring sandwich and it is impressive enough to serve at a dinner party (of course most of my dinner parties of late have taken place with basketball or football on the television in the background, but whatever!).

Scotch Graham Scones are the “thank-you cards” of my culinary world. Any time I have to say a quick thanks to someone (my dad for looking at our electrical wiring when we bought the house, my dad when he helped us move a huge table from his house to ours, my dad when he helped us tear out a wall in our tiny cramped but now spacious kitchen…I guess they are more the “thank-you dad cards” of my culinary world) they are what I make. Incidentally, I have made them A LOT over the past few years…there has been quite a lot to be thankful for.

And last but certainly not least are my now infamous Truffles – or as I have referred to them: the little black dresses of the dessert world. They are the perfect ending to any meal, the greatest little gift to present to anyone for any occasion and the best tasting chocolate morsels you are ever going to have. I have tried truffles from various chocolate shops around town and I have to say mine rank up near the top of the list. I made them for part of the dessert table at my own wedding and saw guests snagging more than a few to take home at the end of the night.

There is now also a huge list on my refrigerator of dishes I intend to master over the next few years; things like French Onion Soup, Pound Cake, Curry and Croissants. For now however I will take these few recipes I have mastered and tweak them into new dishes – like using my celebrated pizza dough to make Stromboli once in a while (which was a huge hit for two men watching basketball in my living room recently).

My Sister

When my younger sister was very little we called her the "Dancing Queen" and to me she will always hold that title…

One of my closest friends is my little sister. She can be the most amazingly supportive person in the world — right when I need her the most. In the past few years I think that through everything that has happened to both of us, we have become closer than I had thought was possible. We have both grown up a great deal and we have both come into "our own" as people.

The other day I was remembering something she used to do, as a baby, when I fed her. She would always do this "la-la-la" sing-song type thing with her tongue while she moved it back and forth in her mouth. It was absolutely adorable – a really amazing thing to be able to remember so vividly, especially considering this year she is turning 30. Actually, I recall quite a bit of what she did and what she was like as a child, possibly because she was so different from me, growing up. When I was young I was terminally shy. I preferred to hide in my mother’s arms or to cling to my father’s neck…even around family and friends. I was not talkative, unless I was really comfortable with the person or persons with whom I was speaking. My sister was different, she was a "performer" from a young age and she absolutely loved to be in the spotlight.

I remember one night at our cottage, lying on the bottom bunk in our bedroom, reading. She came bounding in, all gangly legs and long, blonde hair; giggling and smiling, carrying her teddy bear. She said, "Jenny – (only my family is permitted to call me Jenny) – watch me dance!!", and she started jumping around the room in front of me, flailing her arms around and kicking up her skinny legs from under her night gown. I lay there and watched, completely mesmerized by how free she was and how easily performing came to her. She was utterly beautiful; her blonde hair hanging pin-straight down past her shoulder blades, her brown eyes flashing with mischief and her cheeks glowing with happiness. And I, in my immaturity and insecurity of my early teenage years, was jealous…knowing that I could never be like that around anyone, ever. That I could never just laugh out loud, let go of my inhibitions and dance without caring what I looked like.

It’s strange to think about that night now, because when I look at her she is an adult; she is not in need of my care or my approval or watchful eye any longer. But, I look at her and she is sill that silly, giggling dancing girl. Only now I realize that I am indeed exactly like her – in all the ways I thought I could never be. I laugh out loud a lot. I dance without caring who sees or what they might venture to think. My eyes blaze and my cheeks glow pink with happiness. It just took me a lot longer to grow into these particular attributes.

I do thank her for showing me just how amazing it could be to feel this way, though. For that gift I am forever indebted to her. And for that reason I dedicate this gorgeous yellow pineapple tart to her today on International Women’s Day.

For more great yellow recipes, be sure to check out the two round-ups on Zorra’s and Fiordisale’s blogs .

The Parent-Trap

The baby has gone to bed, the television is turned off, the laptops are set aside. Ice cubes clink-chink in our water glasses and slightly shy smiles are exchanged across the table. My husband and I are alone – and awake – for the first time in months.

When you have a rambunctious 21 month-old at home you sometimes allow your relationship to…well…"slip". We are definitely guilty of that happening to us these days as most of our time together has been spent sleeping or handing off the aforementioned intemperate cherub. Reading the same book eighteen times in one evening or watching the Hakuna Matata sequence from the Lion King six times in one day is enough to send many marriages into the tank – for us it simply makes us stronger.

Leith has brought so much joy into our lives that we can’t really complain either. Even when we are both too tired to sit through the Oscars or to watch anything on television that is on past 10pm. Even when S. gets home from work starving and the only thing I have had time to do that day is bathe and dress Leith…my hair is standing on end, I have paint and crayon marks on my arms and a crazed look in my eyes. He takes the wee one up in one huge swoop of his arms and I go to quickly shower and then head to the kitchen to make something that a little boy and a grown man will both find appealing.

Then there are the rare days. So rare I don’t remember when the last one was, actually. The scattered Saturdays when Leith goes to bed and we sit down to dinner after he’s asleep. Those days I generally spend most of the day in the kitchen, putting together an "adult" meal. It might have food that you have to chew carefully before swallowing (salmon or medium-rare steak), hot foods that are in need of being served hot (such as soup) or foods that are one-bite-bits that are too big to fit in the tiny gob of one baby Leith (sushi is a perfect example).

This time it was an appetizer of Stuffed Mushroom Caps that coaxed us back into adulthood and out of the parent-trap. Soon our smiles became more familiar, more relaxed and the evening stretched into hours I personally hadn’t seen in months.

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:

Sunday Brunch

My sisters and I try to get together to have brunch once a month. Generally we all agree on an ingredient or theme so the foods that we bring will "go" together. It had been a while since our last brunch — what with me being sick all summer, my younger sister being busy with work and school and my older sister taking off to Ecuador in January — so we were a bit out of practice this time around.

I received an email from Liz last Thursday, briefly outlining that brunch was going to be on Sunday at Vic’s house and the three of us were attending. I was to put together something sweet and the two of them were going to bring savory dishes. It was settled. I scoured my cookbooks and searched online for something delicious that they would enjoy and that I can eat (I have a few dietary restrictions due to my illness…namely that I can’t eat much chocolate…ack!). I figured that between the two of them (amazing cooks each) we’d have a really rich, luscious lunch on our hands so I wanted something to cap that off nicely. I settled eventually on a chai-flavoured cheesecake. It was going to be a bit labour-intensive but I had all day Saturday to make it so I wasn’t worried.

Then S. called me on Friday afternoon. The NBA all-star game was this weekend and we were having his friend Lincoln over to watch the Slam-Dunk competition… and could I possibly whip something up for "the boys"? Hmm. Okay I can do that. Why not? I had an idea for Stromboli (basically rolled-up pizzas) that would be good for a sports night. Those paired with some Caesar salad and stuffed mushroom caps would be enough food for the three of us and it all could be eaten while seated in front of the television, cheering on our favourites.

So I spent all day Saturday in the kitchen. Making pizza dough, roasting red peppers and whipping up marinara sauce for dipping the Stromboli in. Making a gorgeously decadent chocolate pudding pie for dessert and putting together some really delicious stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer. By the time Lincoln arrived I was tuckered out…I had barely enough energy to eat and make a bit of small-talk about basketball with the boys and I was headed to bed. I had intended to make the cheesecake for my sisters after dinner but I simply couldn’t drag myself from the arm chair I was lounging in. I figured I’d get up early and do it Sunday morning.

When I woke up Sunday morning I was, believe it or not, more tired than when I’d gone to bed. It certainly didn’t look good for the cheesecake. I was just about to start making it when S. suggested I change my plans and make something a little more simple, but just as delicious. He reminded me of the delectable dessert I had eaten more than a few times while we were in Kuwait. We searched around the ‘net for a recipe and came up with a few that suited me just fine. Simple, scrumptious and something I could make in less than 20 minutes, pop in the oven and then transport easily (even in the nasty weather we had on Sunday) to my sister’s house.

I highly recommend this recipe if you need a simple dessert these days. It’s more like comfort food than any other dessert I’ve ever had.

And that "theme" for this past brunch? It turned out by coincidence to be bread…since the three of us brought bread-laden courses for each other. Both of my sisters intended to make delicious, gourmet sandwiches (one switched her course to a salad instead at the last minute) and me with this croissant/bread pudding.

What a Boy Wants

My son is hardly what one would call a "finicky eater". He will eat just about anything – as long as it is served to him at room temperature. Any warmer than that and he says "hoooot" and allows the food to slide out of his mouth. He also gives me this look like "mom, you should not feed a small child food that will burn his mouth". It’s not like I feed him hot food…just warm food that he deems to be too hot. The kid also takes cold showers and giggles when the cold winter wind blows fiercely in his face. So he’s a bit strange.

But he’s a great eater. He doesn’t turn his nose up at much at all. He loves vegetables and often eats them first or second from his plate. He’s a huge fan of all things milk-based (yogurt, cheese, milk, cream cheese…) and knows the word for milk in both English and Arabic. He also likes meats (chicken, beef, fish, lamb) a lot and even indulged in a wee piece of mama’s steak at dinner recently. Spicy isn’t even an issue for him – he plowed through some rather spicy salsa this past weekend, dipping more of his fingers into it than the few corn chip pieces we allowed him.

Pasta however might just be his favourite dish and I try to make it for him as often as I can. He is a huge fan of his mom’s lasagna, and her spaghetti and meatballs. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get him to chow down on pasta in a cream sauce (he is very much partial to tomato sauce)…that is until I tried this recipe on him. He gobbled it up in seconds and the word from his mouth when it was gone? "MAW peashe"…which is Leithy-speak for "more, please". Two words I don’t think I’ll ever hear enough of.

The only thing Leith loves more than food is Thomas-the-Train…as you can see in these pictures my brother took over Christmas.


My husband S. is a wacky man. He tends to say silly things and compose songs off the top of his head. This was one of the things that I first fell in love with, way back when. It reminded me of my own father when I was little and how he used to sing nonsensical songs to us in the car about the cows or a dog or some girl he was "huggin’ and a caulkin’" (an actual song as it turns out).

One of S.’s favorite pastimes is pretending that our cat, Jasmine, talks and sings. Yes, it’s true. He sings songs in our cat’s "voice", usually making up the crazy lyrics as he goes. Jasmine has had great success with such hits as "I love My Mom", a cover of "Lean on Me" and most recently, "Jelly’s Cute, Jasmine’s Pretty".

Most people wouldn’t think that S. had this sort of frivolity inside of him, and to be honest sometimes I forget it’s there myself. To look at him he’s just a normal guy; quite intelligent and not overly outgoing most of the time. He’s silly with his son and affectionate with me but with most other people he is pretty quiet. But catch him at home after he’s had even just a little bit of sugar and watch out. Jelly starts getting hung from the rafters, Leith gets thrown up and down in the air and Jasmine starts to sing.

Last night she made up a new song – one that I can’t seem to get out of my head today. Every time I look in the fridge at the leftovers from last night’s dinner the song pops back into my head. It’s driving me a bit crazy.

Mom, I feel like heck tonight
There is no food for me to bite
You are the one who makes me calm
Are you stroganoff to be my mom?

There’s nothing in my bowl tonight
Somehow I think that can’t be right
You know I think you are the bomb —
Are you stroganoff to be my mom?

(Sung to the tune of "Are You Strong Enough" by Sheryl Crowe)