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 .

Little Cakes

I think that teeny, tiny desserts are a fantastic way to end a meal. Such sweetness and delicate flavours all tied up in a cute little package to present to your dinner companion(s). I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a book of mini desserts for a while now…and finally I found one.

The mother-and-daughter team who wrote the amazing baking book, “The Whimsical Bakehouse” are now tempting us with plenty of wonderful new recipes for tiny cakes, cupcakes, tiered cakes, cheesecakes, pound cakes and muffins – and ingenious ways to decorate them (think mini cakes that look like bowls of popcorn, ice cream cones, hats, and even baskets of flowers).

Continue reading “Little Cakes”

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.

Fundamental Fare

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!


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)

Dinner in Amman

While in Amman, S’s uncle took us to an incredible restaurant, Reem Al-Bawadi. A traditional Jordanian restaurant, known for its tasty food and great atmosphere, we had a fantastic time and some even more fantastic food.

First of all it’s a huge restaurant, about the size of a Toronto city block. You walk in to this cavernous hallway where there are men playing drums, a woman serving Turkish coffee and another making the traditional, large, thin flat pancake-like bread/pita which is served with dinner. Leith had a wonderful time looking at everything and everyone, including his first sight of a sheep (real but stuffed and mounted) and a cow (head only). He literally stood there pointing at them saying “Moo” and “Maa” and would have happily done that for hours if we had let him.

Leaving the enormous entry-way and entering the restaurant was akin to stepping back in time and into culture at the same time. Sitting in the restaurant is like sitting in one gigantic luxurious Bedouin tent. You sit at a huge, very low to the ground table that has a big tray set into the middle of it. S’s uncle ordered and that tray was soon filled with delicious appetizers…Hommos, Labaneh, Tabbouleh, Baba Ghnooj, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Kebbeh and some Cheese Samosas. Of course, I was full after the appetizers, which always happens to me, I can’t help it.

Then dinner arrived, again ordered by S’s uncle. There were plates and plates of Kabab and as well (I think ordered specifically for me since I mentioned that I like fish) grilled fish. The fish was probably the best I have had in my life (maybe even better than when I used to catch fish up at my cottage and grill it fresh from the lake). The waiter brought the whole, grilled fish to the table, de-boned it in front of us (I think there were actually 4 plates of fish), squeezed some lemon on it and presented it to those of us who wanted it. Once I had had S. dispose of the head for me, I quickly dug in, forgetting how full I was moments ago. I ate the whole plate myself and could have eaten more if there had been any. I later asked my mother-in-law how they cook it, if they put anything in particular on it…she told me it’s just salt and pepper and lemon juice and a bit of oil. You can bet I’ll be buying whole fish at the market sometime soon and making it for S. and I.

After dinner, coffee is served by a man in a strangely familiar uniform (I’m sure I’ve seen it in a movie at some point). I love the tradition and culture the place is steeped in, from the atmosphere to the music (they put on a “show” mid-dinner with a traditional wedding drum dance) to the food. Some people might find this sort of experience hokey but I just sat back, watched the smile on my husband’s face and enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.

Shukran Khalo Sulayman.