26 July 2012

My Darling One: Five years later

Five years ago today the man I loved passed away.

A lot has happened in those years--new home, new job, new opportunities, new romances--but I know he is still with me, cheering me on in my victories, hiding his head in embarrassment when I proffer a Jasmine-ism, and consoling me when things just don't go as expected.

In general, my life is good and I know how lucky I am. I love my day job because I get to do work that's interesting to me, and work with fun, hyperintelligent and caring people. My volunteer and community work are fulfilling because I am able to help make the lives of others better--whether it's through providing services to our community's most vulnerable or being a conduit for inspiration. And of course my omnivorous ramblings keep me creative and exploring ideas, cultures and history.

Yes, I do wish Michael were physically here with me to really share all of this, but some things are just not meant to be.

I've often said that I believe people leave us when they have learnt all they have to learn and they have taught all they have to teach. As long as we continue to pass on those lessons we've received, those who have passed on have never truly left any of us.

Thank you, Michael, for teaching me so much.


22 July 2012

Mmm...Canada: Wild boar chops with red wine and mushroom sauce

My weekly visit to Matt my butcher, is always a treat. Apart from having wonderful meat, he's a font of great information and advice and he usually has something that tempts my culinary soul. The other week was no different. My eyes brightened as he told me Perth Pork, a local family-run farm, delivered gorgeous wild boar chops to his shop.

Quite honestly I'm not entirely certain that my part of the world has indigenous swine, but it really doesn't matter. The de Martines have done what has occurred time and time again since Canada was settled--they brought over livestock and reared them for our tables. I haven't been on a tour yet, but I'd love to be able to visit their farm.

Needless to say, when I saw the almost claret red meat, surrounded with an almost snow white cap of fat, I had to take a couple of chops home with me. Boar--like most game--is strongly flavoured. I love its deep flavour--it makes a nice change from its pallidly banal domesticated cousins. After some research (and a bit of a trip down memory lane to the cinghiale I had in Tuscany far too long ago), I decided to whip up a simple marinade.

Play with the spicing, to satisfy your palate. I pan fried the chops, but I think this would be nicely done on a barbecue. Serve with grilled or roasted potatoes and grilled veggies.

Wild Boar Chops with red wine mushroom sauce
Serves two


For the Marinade
250ml (1c) red wine, such as a barolo, cabernet sauvignon, or merlot
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt
0.5tsp (2.5ml) pepper
0.5tsp (2.5ml) dried thyme
6-8 juniper berries, crushed
1Tbsp (15ml) olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed

2 wild boar chops, trimmed of excess fat, if the rind is too thick
olive oil
1Tbsp (15ml) butter
227g (0.5lb/one container) mixed mushrooms, choppped
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix the marinade in a zippy bag. Set the chops in and let marinate, in the fridge, from four hours to overnight.

About 15 minutes before cooking, remove the chops from the marinade, and blot dry with kitchen towels. Do not discard the marinade.

Grill, or sautee the chops until done.

While the chops are cooking, slick a pan with olive oil and melt in a tablespoon of butter. When hot, add the chopped mushrooms and sautee. Add the shallots and garlic and stir until perfumed. Tip in the marinade and stir well. Cook, reducing the wine to a thick syrup. Balance flavours to taste.

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19 July 2012

Julia's Legacy


As many of you know, PBS.com's food section is marking what would be Julia Child's 100th birthday on 15 August 2012.

Several weeks ago, their senior editor contacted me (as well as chefs and other foodbloggers), asking if I'd write a tribute, noting Julia's impact on my life. What an honour!

The celebrations started a little while ago, so you can explore many aspects of Julia's life--the site will grow daily, and culminate in a 10-day cooking and baking tribute to America's favourite chef.

In the meanwhile, my own tribute was uploaded today. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

I'm a quill for hire!

14 July 2012

Hagia: My Little One

Hagia was the littlest of the litter born on 1 September 1995 in my parents' garden. We them took in: Zeus (then called Sofia, but that's another story), Groucho and Scutterbotch. Scutterbotch, an affectionate marmalade tabby, was adopted out within a few weeks and Groucho, a grey kitty with anger management issues, eventually found a home with the exbf. Hagia and Zeus stayed (Bean later joined the tribe).

In as much as they were so small, she was the smallest: for weeks she'd hide under the dishwasher, hissing and growling as if she were a cat the size of a dishwasher. Hiss, growl and carry on she did, until one day I picked her up (squirming with needle-like claws and yelling at the top of her lungs), lay down on the couch, and held her on my tummy as I fell asleep. I awoke about an hour later to find this little grey and white tabby with tiny vampire fangs and a little goatee sprawled on my belly, fast asleep.

When she awoke, Hagia decided I was her human. And the rest is history.

For almost 17 years she was my constant companion. She followed me around the house, her little bottom bouncing up and down like a bunny's as she ascended and descended the steps and quietly kept me company as I tapped away on my laptop.

She took care of me as much as I did her--the first time I had food poisoning Hagia mustered all her courage to explain (at great length) to the exbf that her human was sick and he, having opposable thumbs, needed to do something to fix it. One night when I came in very late from a date, she waited for me, and tried to corral me into the basement so I could deal with the burst water heater (tried being the operative word...I put her off...that was the last time I would ignore her anxious chatter). She even took care of My Dear Little Cardamummy, purring while lying on mum's bad ankle, like little furry heating pad.

Hagia also had opinions on the various men in my life: The exbf was there to do her bidding. Michael was fine to talk to on the phone, but couldn't bother with him in real life (in the three years we were together, she never came out to see him). And Dear Soul...Dear Soul wasn't worth the effort and she didn't see what I saw in him.

She was a determined little neat freak: she straightened rugs and decided what actually belonged on the dresser (new-to-her things were always nudged off)...and what she couldn't do, she decided who amongst the humans was the best person to do her bidding.

They say pets and their people take on each other's personalities. I have it on good authorities (yes, multiple sources) that this was true of Hagia and me: rather shy, born organisers, headstrong unless you can prove you know better. We can both defend ourselves--me, with words..her, with paws.

And while she wasn't one for cooking, Hagia liked to sit and watch me in the kitchen, her little nose following aromas as they wafted by. Her palate was akin to mine: black olives, bleu cheese, butter, croissants, flour, lemon grass, sugar, vanilla cake. She also had a taste for tequila, as I found out while I had margarita ice cream.

For all but the last month or so she looked and acted nothing like an almost 17-year old cat should. She was pleasantly plump, bunny hopping up and down the stairs, and (of course) offering her opinions on everything. The above photo was taken three weeks ago; this week she was looking drawn and gaunt.

But time caught up...kidney issues and seizures meant regular visits with Dr. Bonnie and assistant Julie: being being poked and prodded, pilled, jabbed and occasionally force fed. Hagia didn't complain...much.

But time caught up.

In one sigh I lost Hagia in the day's wee hours.

I like to think she had a good life--she was warm, dry and well nourished. She played safely, she snoozed deeply and she realised that there were humans she could direct. But most of all, she was loved.

Sleep well, Little One.

I'm a quill for hire!

08 July 2012

Mmm...Canada: Bumbleberry Grunt

There are just some words that bring a smile to my face.

"Bumbleberry" is one of them. Sheer onomatopoeic bliss, to my ears at least.

I've done some reading on bumbleberry--and while it may not be a Canadian term, it certainly is embraced in many kitchens across my fair land.

Add "grunt" -- both as in a Nova Scotian blueberry grunt and another bit of culinary onomatopoeia referring to the sound of the fruit erupting through biscuit dough -- and I think we've got a dish that sounds as good as it tastes.

Bumbleberries, of course, don't exist. The term refers to a mixture of berries, of no particular ratio. Sometimes it includes apples (as this one does), sometimes rhubarb. I mostly have bumbleberry pies and tarts, to use up last bits of berries or to make up enough filling for a pie.

Grunts are one of my favourite quick puddings. Unlike many where you simmer fruit on the hob, this one is entirely done in the oven. I've outlined how to make steamed dumplings below, but if you want more of crispier top, don't cover the dish with foil after you've dolloped the dough over the fruit.

I do recommend serving this shortly after making it. Otherwise, the dumplings could absorb the fruit juices, and you'd be left barren of those that gorgeous claret-coloured sauce.

Bumbleberry Grunt
Yield 1 22cmx22cm (9"x9") pan; Serves 4-6

For the fruit
140g (250ml/1c) blackberries
150g (250ml/1c) blueberries
125g (250ml/1c) raspberries
160g (250ml/1c) strawberries (quartered, if they are large berries)
1 tart baking apple (such as a Granny Smith), peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm pieces
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
1.5tsp (7.5ml) cornstarch
125ml (.5c) water
0.25-.5tsp (1.25-2.5ml) orange flower water OR 1tsp (5ml) vanilla extract

For the dumplings
220g (375ml/1.5c) all purpose flour
1Tbsp (15ml) baking powder
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
1Tbsp (15ml) sugar
30g (20ml/2Tbsp) cold butter
80-125ml (0.33-0.5c) buttermilk (or more, if needed)

Preheat oven to 200c/400F.

Combine fruit with sugar, cornstarch and orange flower water or vanilla. Tumble into a 22cm square (9"x9") tin. Pour water over top. Cover tightly with tin foil and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling.

About five minutes before the fruits are done stewing, set to work on the dumplings.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Pour in about 80ml of the buttermilk and gently mix, adding more liquid until you have a soft, but not damp dough.

When the fruit is happily blurbling away, remove the tin from the oven and carefully decloak the foil from its top. Drop the biscuit dough over top the bubbling fruit, leaving gaps, so the juicy liquid can flow and burst atop the grunt. Replace the foil, covering the tin carefully. Return to the oven for 20 minutes.

Serve while hot.

To serve:
Place a spoonful or two of dumplings in a bowl and spoon the fruit mixture and its juices over top. If you wish, serve with Chantilly cream, custard or ice cream.

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01 July 2012

Mmm Canada: Made In Canada Cupcakes

Happy Canada Day!

I know they don't look like much, but these little cupcakes carry a grand name--well, the recipe on which they're based carries a grand name: Made In Canada Cake.

Lately I've been interested in older cookery books (Canadian and otherwise) and those issued by community groups, so when I came across them the other day while reading an article looking at some historical Canadian desserts in theglobeandmail.com, I read it with more than a passing interest.

The author included links to a few recipes, including a grunt and a buckle (both are dessert types I rather like). But one--Made In Canada Cake--held my fascination.

'What a bizarre little title,' I said to myself. But then I thought to when the cookbook was published. 1911. Robert Borden replaced Wilfrid Laurier as Prime Minister, and what seems like the never ending points of Canadian identity as well as international affairs, particularly Canadian-US relations were front and centre.

Whether or not the creator of the original recipe intended it to represent a slice of Canadian history is unknown. What I do know, based on the ingredient list (the only addition I've made is the salt, and I adjusted the recipe for cake flour instead of regular), it is a cake made with Canadian ingredients--notice the lack of flavours or spices. If this were being created today, there would undoubtedly be a splash of vanilla or perhaps some orange and spice.

The cake itself is like many other vanilla or plain cake recipes--it's easy to put together. The final cake is tender, and can be eaten on its own or served with your favourite icing or glaze.

Made In Canada Cupcakes
adapted from Made In Canada Cake submitted by Mrs. Guy Simmonds, Wilton, Lennox Co.Ont for the1911 Canadian Farm Cook Book, as found in the Globe and Mail.

Yield 12 cupcakes

55g (60ml, 0.25c) butter, room temperature
100g (125ml, 0.5c) sugar
1 egg
130g (250ml, 1c) cake flour
15ml (1Tbsp) baking powder
pinch of salt
60ml (0.25c) milk

Paper the bowls of a 12-bun cupcake tray. Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Beat the butter until light. Cream in sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Incorporate the flour and the milk, in alternate additions, in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping the bowl down after each wet addition. Beat together for a minute or so.

Divide the batter, equally between the papered bows--you will have to scrape out each drop.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Ice, glaze or decorate as you wish.

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