Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For Lisa.

You know those people who blog about stupidly complicated recipes with 59 steps and 26 different ingredients?  Those people?  Well today I’m one of them. 

 I made owl cookies.  They were time-consuming and tedious. They were finicky and miniature.  They were quirky and questioning little beings that stared at me wide-eyed from the plate.  I don’t suggest you make them.  But they were awesome. 

Ever since I visited London's Cinnamon Tree Bakery I've had their famous shortbread on my mind, so for my friend Dana’s birthday I thought what the heck, let’s go crazy.  Let’s make some wicked little owl cookies. 

It was a long and annoying process, and I cursed my plan after all of eight minutes.  I made the dough, rolled it into a log, froze it, cut it, rolled out some more dough, dusted it with cocoa powder, cut out the eyes, put two on each cookie, finished the eyes with tiny chocolate chips, chopped almonds in half for the beaks, added slivered almond horns, made patterns on their bellies with the tip of a paring knife, baked them, cooled them, packaged them, then transported them to Dana’s house, anxious the entire way they’d fall and be ruined.  They survived the journey, however, and were received with much enthusiasm.  

It took a few re-designs to get them right (phase one creatures resembled muppets, not owls) but by the end they were sufficiently wise-looking.  I don’t suggest you make them yourself because frankly you probably have better things to do with your time, but here's the shortbread recipe I used, which is  actually quite simple.  Eat them plain, dip them in dark chocolate, or by all means, turn the little suckers into owls if you want.  Just don't say I did warn you.  


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Danger Chocolate.

If I had a nine year-old daughter who came to me and said "I'm going to be an expired Hershey bar for Halloween," I would fist-pump the air, high-five her Dad, and know she was destined for greatness.  

My friend Carey's parents experienced just that, and while I don't know how they reacted, the latter part has proven true.  Happy Belated Halloween, Carey.  I wish I'd known you as a kid.

Please note, this bar expired in 1972.  That's some bad-ass chocolate.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lemon-y Autumn.

Lemon tarts are mid-summer sunshine, hardly at home with the pumpkins, kale, and slow-cooked stews of October.  I can't put off sharing these citrus beauties anymore, however, and I'm ashamed it's taken me so long already.  Absolutely ashamed.

So now, to the tarts: this spring, while living in Calgary and working for Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, I had the pleasure of meeting Shallon Cunningham, owner of Salt Food Photography and all-around lovely person.

Introduced by my friend/her cousin Marnie, we hit it off and planned a date: I, with some kitchen experience, would bake and food-style.  Shallon, with her photography experience, would capture the whole process.  It'd be a learning opportunity for both of us, and we'd have something luscious and sweet to snack on at the end.  We decided on lemon tarts.

Photography + pastry + lemon curd + cream = a very nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. 

Included in this post are a selection of photos from that day, as well as a few that Shallon took of my friend Sue's macarons.  Lush.  They're a nice punch of colour in these dusky Autumn days.

You can visit Shallon's website to see more of her impressive work, as well as her account of our afternoon on her blog, which has a recipe for the tarts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chez Moi.

How old do you think it is?
Not too sure.
That one? 
Couldn't tell you either.  

This was the oft-repeated and rarely satisfying exchange between my parents and I on road-trips.  As a child, I had a relentless fascination with decrepit old buildings.  I wanted to know the age of every crumpled grey barn we passed, and the story of each tired-looking farmhouse.  Maybe they didn’t even have one, and maybe I just read too much Little House on the Prairie, but my love affair with old spaces has endured to this day.  Now, I get to live in one. 

It’s not an abandoned farmhouse with its windows smashed in, but it’s still pretty great.  Two weeks ago I moved into a century-old house in Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood.  I ponder the history of my home every single day, and feel satisfied each time I open its yellow front door.    

There are three of us in the house, plus a dear scruffy dog named Marsou.  My bedroom is small but lovely, with dental crown molding and a window overlooking Pender Street.  From it I watch people on the sidewalk below, and in this way I’ve come to learn how eclectic this area is. 

I still want desperately to know who lived here first, and what the sidewalk looked like then, but for now I’m just happy.  Happy to be in a home with creaks and quirks, and a kitchen that Laura Ingalls Wilder would have been happy baking pies in.   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Saucy, Smokey Victory.

BBQ is serious.  Just ask Texas, or either one of the Carolinas.  Should you be farther north in Vancouver, ask the people of Re-Up BBQ, because they put on a very serious grill-fest last Sunday at The Waldorf.  

 If they had just called it for what it was, a meat marathon, my friends and I would have won gold.  We were all business, dedicating ourselves to five hours of pulled pork tacos, chili, smoked chicken, brisket, and ribs, pausing briefly to argue over salad vs. meat consumption and sigh with contentment.  I ate more meat in one evening than I usually do in a month, eliminating any chance of the doctor telling me I’m anemic for a good long while.


We sipped Tantalus Vineyard wines and swayed to some late summer tunes.  I can now cross Marathon: Meat or Otherwise off my bucket list, and credit the Re-Up BBQ team for this victory.  Thank you for helping me realize my potential.         

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hook, Line, and Drowner.

Tezzeron. Just saying it puts hair on your chest. Or in our case, fish on our plates. It’s one of the spots where my Dad and I went fishing last week; he wanted to show me where he’s been going with his buddies each September for the last ten years. It’s a beast of a lake with only a few rough cabins on its shore, and that day we had the entire thing to ourselves.

We set out with visions of five-pound trout in our heads, though these were quickly hammered away by a hailstorm en route to our spin-casting spot. My aggressively-parted French-braided scalp took a beating, but we finally found sunshine and set about hooking the big one. Within minutes my Dad had a bottom-feeder, which he released, then I made my first catch of the day: a clam.

Call me ignorant, but until that moment I didn’t realize there were clams in lakes. Now that I know there are, I’d like to point out the considerable skill it requires to hook one. They’re tiny, have no mouths, and can't chase after shiny objects like fish do. So really, well done me.

I didn’t reel in much more, though I caught a few small Kokanee the next day. By caught I really mean drown. One was so small I didn’t know he was there, and after 45 minutes of being dragged on my line the poor guy didn’t need a bop on the head to finish him off. He was already very much done. Guess I’m not much of a fisherman. Fisherwoman? Fisherlady.

Fortunately my Dad had better luck, and between my few Kokanee and his good-sized trout, we had a proper feast. At least I’m good at eating.

(Lack of) skills aside, fishing is really about enjoying the water, each other’s company, and snacking endlessly on a 2kg bag of trail mix. And clams! I now know it can be about clams too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Take Cookies, Take Ice Cream. Now Put them Together.

I arrived in Vancouver at the same time as summer, and the city is hiiiiigh on Vitamin D. I'd like to think the collective good mood is because of me, but I'll give credit where it's due. Sun, you are glorious.
My friend Linds and I have taken advantage of the weather by getting outside, enjoying the beach, and eating many delectable things. The other day we did the Grouse Grind, followed it up with a lunch of nachos and beer, and then made ice cream sandwiches.

I'm not going to talk about the nachos because even though they're great, I don’t want them right now. I want two more coconut-oatmeal-chocolate chunk cookies stuffed with toasted coconut ice cream. That is what I want. There’s half of one in the freezer but that’s Lindsay’s, and good friends don’t eat their bff’s ice cream sandwich halves while they're at work. At least that’s what I’m telling myself while that damn thing laughs at me from the kitchen.
I’ve posted the cookie recipe below so you can make them too. If you wish to fill them with ice cream (which I highly recommend you do), let it soften a bit in the fridge, make the sandwiches, and freeze them on cookie sheets for a few hours to let them set. Then grab a sandwich, your bff, and go find some sun.

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Coconut Cookies Courtesy of Gourmet, via
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packaged finely shredded unsweetened coconut
12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Beat together butter and sugars in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until just blended, then beat in vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Add flour and mix at low speed until just blended. Stir in oats, coconut, and chocolate.
Arrange 1/4-cup (*or smaller, this makes huuuuge cookies) mounds of cookie dough about 3 inches apart on 2 lightly buttered large baking sheets (about 8 cookies per sheet), then gently pat down each mound to about 1/2 inch thick. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position and rotating pans halfway through baking, until golden, 15 to 18 minutes total.
Cool cookies on sheets 1 minute, then transfer with a spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies in same manner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

To the Closet with You, Gumboots.

Well, It’s been awhile. I promised stories of camp life and then entered camp, my very own black hole. I should have known I wouldn’t write much during the season; my life becomes a tent, a kitchen, and eighty hungry tree planters. Though I managed to check the internet most weeks, Russia could have fallen off the earth and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

Twelve weeks later we’re done, and it’s time to re-enter the world. There were many things I looked forward to while at camp: couches, flushing toilets, and not having to worry about a bear potentially biting me while in bed (yes, that happened, and one planter now has the most wicked camp story ever) but off course there are more things I’ll miss.  I spent nearly every day with my kitchen crew, Jess and Allison, and most of that time we were laughing.  Sometimes out of pure exhaustion, but laughing nonetheless. Three people in one kitchen for fifteen hours a day are destined to either despise one another or fall madly in love, and we were blessed with the latter.

Photo by Hannah Klassen
Camp conditions this year weren’t exactly ideal. First we were in a gravel pit, then in BC’s premier mosquito breeding grounds, then rained on for three weeks in Chetwynd. In just a few days our camp transformed into a slick mud-pit, greedily swallowing up sandals, trucks, and pretty much everyone’s dignity. There was no escaping the unstable black earth, and it became wearing after awhile.
The poor weather meant no days off at Flatbed Creek, no hikes into our favourite waterfalls, and no adventurous campfire cooking. What the weather couldn’t discourage, however, was one very special camp event: Joel Gorrie’s 7th Annual Glacier Rapids Festival of Fine Wine and Poetry.

Photo by Tyler Wilson
Because of the mud, this traditionally creek-side party was moved into a spare semi-trailer filled with benches, a bar, and even two very posh bartenders. Joel decorated the place beautifully, finding a stage for performances and placing tea-lights in tart shells strung from logs. They gave the party a certain glow, a sort of Martha-meets-Mantracker aesthetic that shamed even the swankiest of parties I served at during university. People brought and shared wine, cheese made its appearance in the form of Goldfish crackers and cheesies, and countless musicians and poets proved the talent of our camp.

I contributed a bottle of Prosecco (a little homesick for Italy, I suppose) and decided to girl-up. I put on a dress, did my hair and makeup, found some earrings, and even wore perfume. The only ‘camp’ left on me were my gumboots, though I wasn’t about to give those up. I tried some great wines and chatted endlessly, then watched the inevitable Peter vs. Michelle 2a.m. mud-wrestling match, illuminated for the crowd by headlamps and seriously enjoyed by all.

Photo by Tyler Wilson
It was my favourite wine fest yet. Amidst the music and Merlot-induced haze, my love for treeplanters’ joie de vivre and ingenuity grew even more. There are times when 3:45am wakeups and fields of mud become worth it, and this was one of them.
Goodbye camp, it’s been a slice. Now, to the real world.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let the Camera do the Talking.

We're three weeks into the season. I'm having a great time but I'm tired. So, so tired. Because no one needs to hear the ramblings of an incoherent camp cook, I will give you some pictures instead, some of which were taken by my extraordinary kitchen-mate, Allison.

Stories to come. Someday. I promise.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One, Two, Tree, Four.

Soon, I won’t see the dark of night. That’s what happens when you go to bed at 8pm and wake-up at 4am. That’s what happens when you cook for tree planters.
One more year, though of course that’s what I claimed during the 2009 season. Last summer I was in Norway, staring up at the cliffs from which base-jumpers were launching themselves and realizing that perhaps base-jumpers are the only people on earth crazier than tree planters. But when I returned from my year abroad, I shook my pockets and found no spare change in them. Not a penny. So I thought okaaay, one more summer.
It’s taken awhile to come around to the idea, but I’m actually looking forward to camp. Now that the snow is (nearly) gone, now that I’m well-equipped with base-layers, and now that I’m nearly convinced my body’s not too old for this, it’s time for optimism.
I like cooking for planters because they genuinely love food, and genuinely love you for cooking it. I like excusing myself from the world and hearing no news but news from the block. I like having strong arms and absolutely no regard for what I’m wearing. And I love days off around the campfire, with a motley-crew of planters playing music. Those are my chances to re-connect with life after sunset, and they're simplistically sweet.
So here I go again: one more season, one more summer in a tent, and one more chance to blindly choose my outfits. I am absolutely, positively certain of one thing:
There will be stories to tell.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sorry, bod.

I just finished at the bakery, and though I ate beautiful food for my three months there, the last seven days were epic. Or perhaps I should just say ridiculous, and highly disapproved of by my digestive system. I ate like I wouldn’t see food again until 2015, or ever again. Soon I’ll be at a tree planting camp and surrounded by more eggs, meat and cheese than Texas consumes in a day, but my brain neatly tucked this fact away and I let loose.  Here's a sampling.

Second two photos by the amazing Michal Lavi.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Tops.

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but every so often I’ll fervently dedicate myself to a show. Right now that’s Top Chef Canada, and Monday nights I’m at my friend Adele’s watching it. That’s at least until I leave  for tree planting camp anyways, where my only entertainment will be the planters themselves. Luckily, they’re usually quite an amusing bunch.
While in the woods, I’ll have to get my Top Chef fix by re-enacting some of the quick-fire eliminations (go find me a bowl of spiky artichokes to peel, STAT!) and assign myself intense challenges each week. For example, “You must cook a dinner for eighty people using only tea, pickles, white chocolate and cumin. You have twenty minutes, the clock starts NOW.” I’ll finish in 19 minutes and 55 seconds, then find the tree planter who looks most like head judge Mark McEwan and get him to berate my final dish. Even if he hates my cumin-dusted chai-infused pickled chocolate soufflé it won’t matter, because his only other option is to go hunting for a meaty squirrel. I’ll therefore win every challenge, and Mark McEwan will lose all of his power.
Because it’s a show about food, and because we can’t manage to do anything without eating, we’ve turned our Monday Top Chef nights into potlucks. The first week I made dolmades, and last week decided on this recipe from Ottolenghi, a restaurant in London and one of my favourite places to eat. Adele described it as “autumnal,” and she was quite right.  It looks like October itself. But with the snow still lingering and spring vegetables not quite here, I figured yams with fresh herbs, pecans, and citrus-maple vinaigrette would work. Next time I’d add feta, too. The cookbook suggests serving this hot with Christmas dinner or cold with a summer picnic, or you could also just make the dressing and toss it with a green salad. It’s so very versatile, JUST LIKE A TOP CHEF.  Go Connie!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stones.

Today, for the first time, I took on crème pâtissière. It’s not difficult to make, but I was worried I would err in one way or another and make our day at the bakery even worse. Aviv, dressing himself at 3:45am, accidentally wore an entirely green outfit to work - shirt, pants, and shoes – and while hilarious, this somehow turned him into the Tall Israeli Leprechaun of Bad Luck. Nothing life-altering happened, but a multitude of medium-sized troubles made the day last forever.
I didn’t want to add to his cursed luck by butchering a recipe, so while Aviv was out delivering bread I set myself up with the makings of crème pâtissière: a dozen egg yolks, sugar, milk, flour, and two very splendid vanilla beans. I triple-checked the recipe and measured everything carefully, then split open the curled black pods to scrape out their seeds. Whisked into milk and spinning on the surface, they reminded me of the Milky Way; black galaxies set against a bright white sky. Had Aviv walked in at that moment he would have found me bent over the stove, watching my pot with an odd kind of intensity. Turns out I really love watching vanilla-studded milk boil, and really really love making crème pâtissière. You start with just a few things, follow a recipe, and are rewarded with smooth, pale-yellow joy.
If you’d like to stargaze over your own pot, Martha’s got a recipe here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Flour on My Face and Flour on The Brain.

And thus it begins - three months covered in a perpetual layer of fine organic flour.

I'm working for my friend Aviv at his bakery, Sidewalk Citizen. It's a small operation (I'm his first employee) but a very busy one. So busy, in fact, that the phrase "remind Aviv to sleep" should be written into my job description.

When I'm not at the bakery I'm learning about a wheat variety called Red Fife, my topic for our final UNISG paper (which, as much as I'm reluctant to remind myself, is due very soon). The more research I do, the more interesting it becomes, and the more I feel like I'm drowning in a field of grain. The politics of seed are complicated, people.

I've heard from many wonderful farmers and bread bakers, and had the chance to visit a farm where Mark Gibeau grows Red Fife. He's now in the process of setting up a small mill and generously took the time to show Aviv and I his whole setup. Here are a few photos from the farm and bakery.

This has been a lovely break. I must now return to my beautiful and confusing field of wheat.