06 December 2014

25 years...

I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school.  Our teachers were compassionate, bright, funny and most importantly: encouraging. We were encouraged to speak up in class, pose questions and debate viewpoints. In other words, we were told our thoughts, ideas, and contributions were valid and necessary.

In hindsight, we learned in a very safe environment—we weren’t diminished because of our sex, and we weren’t held to gender-based stereotypes.  This is probably why, when I took a few classes at the boys’ school across the road, I had no problems speaking my mind.  I know the fact I didn’t automatically defer to post-pubescent male opinion ruffled some teenaged feathers.  When my teachers thanked me for defending ideas and presenting a non-male point of view to classes of 30+ boys—I realized those chalkboard-lined rooms would be probably be training grounds for the real world. In fact, they were.

I was a student, technically in high school but taking University classes, when Marc Lepine screamed “I hate feminists!” as he killed 14 women at L'École Polytechnique.  While that terrible day happened 25 years ago, I remember it as if it was yesterday: the outrage, the fear, the shattering sadness.  Most of the victims were not much older than me.

Much has been written and broadcast this week about the anniversary.  Some, by reporters who were first on scene, others trying to determine the progress (if any) in battle against misogyny and violence against women.

This happens at a time when the news is dripping with alleged assaults against women by Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby and Canadian Members of Parliament.

This happens at a time when Gamergate encompasses long series of seemingly ingrained and systemic misogyny and harassment within video gaming.

This happens at a time when Canada’s Justice Minister doesn’t see harassment in Parliament or in his political party, and claims ignorance of Marc Lepine’s motives. (For the record, we have known Lepine’s motives for decades).

Although we’ve made strides over the past quarter century, we still have far to go.

We are still in a world where star or key employees get the kid glove treatment when accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.

We are still in a world where non-profits provide free labour to police a social media platform’s online harassment, instead of those platforms taking ownership their role in these issues.

We are in a world where an American magazine tries to ban the word “feminist” from pop culture, only to change its mind when the masses object.

Through all of this, there is hope.

Conversation is changing.  Issues of violence against women, sexual harassment and other related issues are now openly talked about because of hashtags such as #IBelieveLucy and #BeenRapedNotReported.

Culture is still shifting.  Although old boys clubs’ stalwarts can still hold power, a new generation of leaders are taking these issues seriously and taking action now.

Communities are reacting.  As of time of writing, Bill Cosby is still slated to perform at my local performance space next month. My friend is spearheading a counter-event to support sexual assault survivors.

Every year I post the names of the 14 women who lost their lives in a horrible act of hatred. They should not be forgotten.

Geneviève Bergeron (1968–1989), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (1968–1989), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (1960–1989), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (1958–1989), nursing student
Maryse Laganière (1964–1989), budget clerk
Maryse Leclair (1966–1989), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (1967–1989), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (1961–1989), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (1968–1989), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (1966–1989), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (1969–1989), materials engineering student

I'm a quill for hire!

26 July 2014

My Darling One: seven years later

You are missed...

cheers! jasmine I'm a quill for hire!

01 July 2014

Mmm…Canada: Strawberry shortcake

140701 Canada Day Strawberry Shortcake 1 

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians, adopted Canadians and everyone who has a bit of Canadianess in side of them :)

One of the lovely things about having an early summer national day is this is the time when some of the most gorgeous strawberries come into season.  From about September until June, we suffer through imports that only a marketer or an accountant in some far off land like Toronto would eat and find palatable: the strawberries I find in the scary megamart conglomerate appear to suffer from some form of gigantism (I often call them cow's heart berries); their rock-hard texture sometimes makes me wonder if these berries were poured into a concrete mould and left to set *too* long; many of the berries are reddish or mostly red with oddly blotched whitish-yellow-green spots (as if someone held the berry in their hand when spraying them with paint, but forgot to turn the berry to ensure it was evenly coated with colour; their cores are as white as snow, and when I sniff them, they smell of…nothing.

Contrast that to the fresh local berries I proffer from my favourite local country market from June until September: sizes very from dainty little gumball-sized jewels to golfball-sized treats (I must admit I prefer the smaller berries that I usually find in August); they are tender and when pressured, yield sweet ruby juices; their happy summer red penetrates the skin and travels through soft flesh to an equally garnet core, and their scent is of…strawberry.

So here we are, in strawberry season, celebrating my fair nation's 147th birthday.  The other week I went to my most marvellous (ex-)manager's house for a bit of a catch up. His lovely wife, upon hearing I would bring strawberries, immediately piped up with shortcake. It was simply lovely…and possibly the best biscuit-style shortcake I've ever had.  I'm asking for the recipe.

So, when thinking about today's recipe, I knew it would be strawberry shortcake--little fluffy biscuits filled with billowy clouds of whipped cream and gorgeous strawberries.  It's red, white and oh so lovely.

The shortcake recipe itself is based on this Canadian Living recipe--I've made some minor changes to the recipe.  The rest is what I call a non-recipe recipe--the strawberries are macerated with balsamic vinegar, and the whipped cream is a crème Chantilly--slightly sweet, and flavoured with a splash of vanilla.

Can you use other fruits or berries?  Of course you can.  But really, in these fleeting months of strawberry season, why would you want to?

Happy Canada Day!

140701 Canada Day Strawberry Shortcake 2Strawberry Shortcake
Yield: 8-10

For the shortcakes:
200g/2 rounded cups/515ml all purpose flour, + more for kneading 1dspn/10ml baking powder
0.5tsp/2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp/2.5ml salt
25g/2Tbsp sugar, + more for sprinkling
55g/0.25c/62ml very cold butter
1 egg, beaten (see notes)
250ml/1c yoghurt
1Tbsp/15ml milk or cream

For the strawberries:
hulled strawberries as you want (see notes)
sugar, to taste
1tsp/5ml balsamic vinegar (see notes)

For the crème Chantilly:
500ml/2c heavy cream
2 heaped tspns icing sugar (to taste)
1tsp/5ml vanilla extract


Start with the biscuits: 
Preheat oven to: 450F/425F (fan-assist) 230C/200C (fan-assist)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and 25g sugar.

Grate the butter on the large holes of a box grater, and rub into the flour, so there are butter pieces of varying sizes--ranging from the size of grains of rice, to the size of small pebbles and peas. Alternatively, cut the butter into small cubes and cut into the flour mixture, aiming for the same range of butter bits as above.

Mix together the yoghurt and egg an then pour into the flour mixture. Lightly mix together until just combined.

Turn out the very sticky dough onto a well floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Add flour as needed until you have a soft dough.

Roll the dough to a 2.5cm/1" thickness. Using a floured 6.25cm/2.5" biscuit cutter (or larger or smaller, as you see fit), cut rounds of dough. Gather scraps together, re-roll and cut. Place rounds onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk or cream and lightly sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for about 15 minutes. The biscuits should be risen and golden. The bottoms should be a slightly deeper shade of brown and should sound hollow-ish when tapped. If in doubt, slide a paring knife into the top of the biscuit and see that the inside of the biscuit is fluffy and cooked. Set on a cooling rack.

Next, get on with the strawberries: 
Mash them and give them a taste. Add sugar, if the berries need them. Sprinkle balsamic vinegar, to taste. Give the berries a mix and let them macerate.

Lastly, make the crème Chantilly:
Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla together until firm, but still soft.

To assemble: 
Slice a biscuit through its equator. Spoon some of the strawberry juice onto the cut sides of the biscuit halves and then spoon some mashed berries onto the bottom half. Top the berries with a spoon or three of chantilly cream.


  • Re: Eggs -- If in Canada: you'll be better off using an extra large egg, as official sizing seems to have decreased (used to be 56g, but I'm now regularly finding 48g eggs in my "large" cartons). I shall assume other nations have kept sizing sense and not followed suit. 
  • Re: Strawberries--this is totally by eye. I weighed out how many berries I serve per person, and it came out to about 75g, or three or four medium-large berries. 
  •  Re: Balsamic vinegar--if you're using real balsamic, use less than I've indicated. If you're using what's found in your megamart, you may need to boil down the vinegar until it thickens. Let it cool and then use it on your berries.

I'm a quill for hire!

21 April 2014

Feast: Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter to all who celebrate!  I hope you and yours had a wonderful Easter, filled with good people, good fun and (of course) good food.

After a longer and harder winter than usual, Little Robin Redbreast hops through shoots of grass and tells me warmer weather will soon arrive.  This of course means soon trees will bud,  my irises will  their striated leaves through the ground, and of course favourite farmers' tweets about their spring rituals will fill my Twitter feed.

I start thinking about my Easter feast when the leaves begin to turn and we all begin to resettle into shorter days and longer nights.  Rarely do my plans hold true.  In September I thought about roasting turkey; in January that turkey became an Indian-themed dinner.  

By March, Italy and the thoughts of homemade porchetta filled my mind.  Previously I'd done a Tuscan-style pork roast--a bit of a cheat on porchetta for those who don't want to wrap and tie a pork belly around a roast--so going the extra step only seemed right. Our Dear Little Puff of Cream suggested a recipe, and Alessandro gave me some moral support and tips as to what he looks for in porchetta (tip:  it's all about the crackling). The meal was rounded out with roasted capsicums, garlic and onions tossed with marinated artichokes in olive oil and lemon, grilled asparagus dressed in balsamic and parmesan, and potatoes mashed with (more) roast garlic.  I took a bit of a liberty with dessert, opting for a citrussy limoncello tiramisu.

Instead of snapping pics of each item, I decided to offer images and recipe links to the porchetta and tiramisu.

140421 Easter Porchetta 2

Porchetta (Bon Appetit (Sept 2011))
If you ever need a reason to go to a real butcher, this is it.  Matt (my favourite butcher), presented me with some beautiful tamworth pork, and he trimmed the belly to fit the loin exactly.

The roasted, fennelly-spicy meat was simply sublime.  And the crackling?  Burnished and amazing.

140421 Easter Limoncello tiramisu 2
Tiramisù al Limoncello (Lidia Matticchio Bastianich)
As a means to shake off winter's heavy mantle, I wanted an Italian dessert that also brought a promise of sunny skies and warm weather.  Lemon and limoncello fit the bill.

Don't let the fact this contains alcohol scare you--it's cooked off in both the zabaglione and the simple syrup, allowing its boozy nature evaporate. And what's better?  It can be made ahead (up to two days).

 I'm a quill for hire!

17 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!: Guinness-braised beef short rib poutine

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Some of you may recall my mission to create Guinness-braised short ribs, and what I created was, in fact, Guinness-braised long ribs.  This year, I pledged to rectify this situation.  My plan was simple:

1) Buy beef short ribs when my darling butcher put them on special.
2) Label said shortribs.
3) Freeze said labelled short ribs.
4) Easily retrieve actual short ribs from the freezer, thaw and make Guinness-braised short ribs.

I am happy to report that my mission was successful.

I bought; I labelled; I froze; I retrieved; I thawed; I made Guinness-braised short ribs.

Although they were really good with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, I didn't actually want Guinness-braised short ribs. 

I wanted Guinness-braised short rib poutine.  Tender meat in a rich gravy, over a bed of golden crispy-on-the-outside and fluffy-on-the-inside chips.  Sauteed mushrooms strewn overtop and soft bleu cheese lightly blessing the entire glorious plate.  

Yes.  That's what I wanted.  And that's exactly what I got: a warm dinner plate of happy.

Of course the main part of this recipe is the short rib recipe itself.  I went back to my Steak and Guinness stew recipe and made a few minor adjustments.  The poutine itself is a non-recipe recipe, and very much up to your individual palate:

Guinness-braised shortrib Poutine
Chunky chips
Guinness-braised short ribs, meat cut off the bone (recipe follows)
Gravy from the above short ribs
Sauteed mushrooms
Bleu Cheese (Cashel, if you want to continue the Irish theme)

Guinness-braised shortribs
Serves four

1 clove garlic, minced
1dspn/2tsp/10ml mustard powder
0.5tsp/2.5ml black pepper
375ml/1.5c Guinness (or any other brand of stout you prefer)

1kg/2lbs beef shortribs, cut into 4cm (1.5") pieces
olive oil
400g/14oz mushrooms, sliced
0.75tsp/3.75ml salt
0.75tsp/3.75ml black pepper
2 medium onions, slivered nose-to-tail
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
625ml/2.5c diced tomatoes, fresh or tinned
125ml/0.5c Guinness (as above...or any other brand of stout you prefer)
375ml/1.5c beef broth
125ml/0.5c tomato paste
1tsp paprika (hot, preferably)
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
40g/3Tbsp/45ml soft butter
25g/3Tbsp/45ml ap flour
1-2Tbsp/15-30ml Worcestershire sauce

Mix marinade ingredients together in a zippy bag and add shortrib pieces. Let marinate overnight.

Remove the meat from the zippy bag, and pat dry.  Do not throw away the marinade.

Heat your brasier pan or dutch oven over a hob and slick the bottom with oil.  Sear the meat on all sides and set aside.

Add more oil, if necessary and add the tomato paste and fry until the sugars caramelise and the paste's colour deepens to a brick red.  Remove from pan.

Tip in the onions (with more oil, if necessary) and caramelise to a light golden colour. Add garlic to the pan and mix.  Once the garlic releases its perfume, stir in the celery and saute until translucent.

Preheat your oven to 190C/375F.

Add the seared meat, with its juices to the vegetables. Pour in the marinade along with the diced tomatoes, Guinness, and enough beef broth to cover. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the paprika, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Stir well. Let the mixture come up to a boil and keep it there for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lid the pot and pop into the oven to braise for two hours.

While the meat is simmering, melt oil and butter together; add salt and pepper. Tip in mushrooms and sauté until lovely and soft. Remove the fungi from the pan and set aside.

Just before your timer dings, knead the butter and flour together into a beurre manié.

After the dinger dings, put the pot back onto a medium-low flame on the hob. Remove about a cup's worth of liquid and mix it with the beurre manié and pour back into the stew. Stir well. Add the mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 20 minutes before serving.

I'm a quill for hire!

14 March 2014

Happy Pi Day! Key Lime Pie with Chocolate Coconut Crust

Happy Pi Day! As many of you know, I'm from Kitchener-Waterloo…home of the University of Waterloo and its renowned maths, engineering and computer science faculties, The Perimeter Institute, and one of North America's fertile tech hubs…so pi day can take on a slightly different feel than in other areas.

Much to my parents' regret, the maths and sciences genes swerved by me, leaving me more interested in pie than pi.  That said, I've been known to watch documentaries and attend lectures about physics, stats and math. And of course a good percentage of my working life--both corporate and as an independent consultant is spent with maths and science inclined colleagues and clients. The numbers part of my brain is alive and well, just happily riding the waves of words, music and art that usually preoccupy my mind.  

I usually let Pi Day pass sans fooferah, but this year, thanks to my unhealthy obsession with all those lovely Buzzfeed quizzes, I found out I am a key lime pie.  That is, the "Which Pie Are You?" quiz offered the following proclamation:

"You're tart and sweet, and so, so creamy.  You think outside the box, which can be your biggest asset.  Nothing's quite as satisfying as your cool graham cracker crust."

Yeah.  That sounds about right.  

But so do the other quizzes I've taken.  I'm Lady Violet, Lizzie Bennett as well as Abigail.  I'm Henry Rollins from Black Flag and I'm Wonder Woman.  I'm so awesome I don't need to give up anything for Lent…especially snickerdoodles.

But back to pie…erhm…pi…erhm…

Needless to say, ever since that pie quiz, key lime pies have been jostling for room in my head.  And it turns out…I happen to have all the ingredients on hand.  Sweetened condensed milk and coconut extract in the pantry, cookie crumbs, coconut and lime juice in the freezer.  The rest --sugar, salt, butter and eggs are almost in use.

The filling is a pretty standard, unfettered key lime pie filling.  The crust is a result of a bit of kitchen playing.  Together they create a rather easy and lovely pie. The only caveat I can offer is that it does take a full workday to set, so make it the night before or the morning of to ensure the filling is properly cooled and set.

Key Lime Pie with Chocolate Coconut Crust

Yield one 9" (23cm) pie.


For the crust
150g/300ml/1.25c less 2tsp chocolate wafer crumbs
55g/165ml/0.66c unsweetened desiccated coconut
20ml/2dspn/4tsp sugar
1pinch salt
40g/45ml/3Tbsp butter, melted
1tsp/5ml coconut extract

For the filling
375g/14oz/300ml/1.25c less 2tsp sweetened condensed milk (one tin)
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
150ml/0.5c+1Tbsp+2tsp key lime juice (or regular lime juice)
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

For the crust:
Mix all crust ingredients together.  The texture will be damp sand-like.

Press onto the bottom, and up the sides of a pie tin.  Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.  

Remove from oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack.  

Leave the oven on as you mix the filling.

For the filling:
Mix the tinned milk with the yolks.  Add the juice and salt and mix until smooth.

Pour into cooled crust.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on the counter for about 30 minutes and then set, uncovered, in the fridge for 8 hours.

Garnish, if you must, with sweetened whipped cream.

If you're squeezing the lime juice yourself, rasp a couple of teaspoons of zest and mix into the filling.

I'm a quill for hire!

09 February 2014

#lovesochi in a Florentine swirl of red and white

140208 Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies1

A few days ago David Jones tweeted looking for support for Toronto Pride's #lovesochi campaign.  The ask was simple, tweet a picture of your hands making a heart shape and tweet it with the #lovesochi hashtag and a message of support to Russia's LGBTQ community.

For me, it's a no-brainer, and I was happy to tweet.  I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are gay, so I'm privy to some of the issues they've encountered.  I've been privileged to be one of the first, if not the first person someone's come out to, so I've seen and heard the relief when they've not been rejected because of their  preferences.  Really, beyond all of this, to me and a number of others, it's a human rights issue.

I fully admit not everyone shares my view (as is evidenced by Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws, as well as fights for same sex marriages and benefits), so I knew by participating in the campaign, I could open myself up to unkind messages.  Which isn't new: I'm an articulate and informed woman on Social Media, who isn't easily swayed by right-leaning bafflegab.

Would my latest "fan" be more disappointed to find out that he's not man enough for me (or any of my hot women friends…or hot men friends...now that I'm thinking of it, I do have a lot of hot friends), or that I am not a lesbian? Not that I'd tell him: I have enough issues with amorous online sillybillies who are attracted to the fact that I'm an articulate and informed woman on Social Media, who isn't easily swayed by right-leaning bafflegab.

And I know there's a chance by posting this here, I may attract more trolls.  It's a risk I take because not voicing my support is a risk I'm not willing to take.

My hands frame a gorgeous Florentine swirl of red and white, the top layer of a freshly baked tin of Red Velvet Swirl Brownies.  The maroon brownie layer is chocolatey, with the right amount of chew, and unlike many other red velvet cakes, there's little of the telltale bitterness half a bottle of red dye usually leaves. The silky cream cheese topping is a balance between sweet and tart with a hint of cocoa from the dolloped and swirled brownie batter.  Gorgeous, simple and tasty, I followed this Food Network Recipe almost to the letter, but not quite.

140208 Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Brownies2Red Velvet Swirl Brownies
Yield 1 20cm x 20cm (8"x8") pan
Tweaked from Sunny Anderson's Red Velvet Swirl Brownies Recipe
Cream Cheese Layer:
250g/8oz/1 brick cream cheese, softened
50g/60ml/0.25c white sugar
1 egg
0.5tsp/2.5ml vanilla
Brownie Layer:
112g/125ml/0.5c butter, melted
200g/250ml/1c dark brown sugar

1tsp/5ml vanilla
25g/60ml/0.25c cocoa powder
pinch salt
1Tbsp/15ml red food colouring
1tsp/5ml red wine vinegar
2 eggs, beaten
110g/185ml/0.75c all purpose flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 180C/350F and butter and paper a 20cm x 20cm (8"x8") tin.
For the cream cheese layer:
Beat together the cream cheese layer ingredients until fluffy. Set aside.
For the brownie layer:
Cream beat together the melted butter with both sugars and vanilla. Beat in the cocoa powder and salt until well blended. Mix in the food colouring and then the food colouring. Stir in the eggs before folding in the flour in two additions.
Pour most of the cocoa batter into the prepared brownie tin (reserving about a third to quarter cup). Smooth the batter.
Pour the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie layer. Dollop the reserved cocoa batter on top of the cream cheese mixture. With a chopstick, skewer or teaspoon's handle swirl the two batters to create a pretty florentine pattern.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Remove to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before cutting.

I'm a quill for hire!
140208 LoveSochi campaign2

01 February 2014

Feast: Gung Hei Fat Choi! - Sweet & Sour Ginger-Pineapple Chicken

140201 SS Ginger Pineapple Chicken 2

Sometimes when I crave a food, I don't crave a "good" or "authentic" version of it.  

If I want a good burger, I make it myself using meat (or patties) from my butcher, and nestle it in a bun with crumbled Stilton, onions I've caramelised for the better part of an hour, garlicky sauteed mushrooms and a Dijony-mayonaissey spread. That said, from time to time I want the distinct industrialised flavour and greasiness that can only be satisfied by a trip to one of those ubiquitous multinationals that pride themselves on consistency of product, units sold and "community impact" through donations and sponsorships.  

No, it doesn't really make a lot of sense, but then my gullet is an equal-opportunity foodish place.

This week I wanted Chinese food.  Not the good stuff--the food made by kitchens trying recreate dishes from particular provinces, with subtle but sometimes complex flavours--but the not-so-good stuff.  Not what I consider "Canadianised Chinese food"-- a half-hearted nod to the land of the dragon, blandly spiced, ladened with as much MSG as it is with green bell peppers, but in a place that lies somewhere in between.

Very specifically I wanted sweet and sour chicken.  Something a step or two above what's available in food courts and many Canadian-Chinese restos.  Although there's nothing wrong with jolly puffball chicken nuggets, bronzed in a deep fat fryer and swimming in that sauce (cloying and puckering, and coloured an orange that brings to mind nuclear radiation), I think I can do without bobbing battered bird bits.

I flicked through a number of recipes and hovered over dishes as disparate as Gung Bao Chicken and General Tso Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken.  Between several web pages and several tomes in my library, I came up with this version.

It's quite a simple recipe (although the ingredients list may turn off those accustomed to lists containing fewer ingredients than they can scan in the 12 items or fewer checkout.  Sweet veggies--carrots, bell peppers and onions--and seared chicken chunks bathed in a sweet and sour sauce. Yes, there's an orange sauce--not the 1970s disco as what I'm used to, but there's a suggestion of garishness that I'd expect from such a dish.

So while this dish probably won't ring in the Year of the Horse in many homes, it did in mine.  And although the new lunar year is a day or so old, it is off to a galloping start.

Recipe in progress: Sweet and Sour Ginger-Pineapple Chicken
Serves 4-6
450g/1lb boneless chicken, dark & white meat, cut into 2cm (0.75") cubes
1Tbsp/15ml cornflour
2Tbsp/30ml all purpose flour
60ml/0.25c light soy sauce
Peanut oil for frying
2-3 dried chillies
1 medium onion, chopped into 2cm (0.75") pieces
1 yellow or red bell pepper, chopped into 2cm (0.75") pieces
1 carrot, sliced into 5mm (0.25") thick discs
4 green onions, cut into 5cm (2") lengths (green & whites)
1Tbsp/15ml minced ginger
1tsp/5ml minced garlic
80ml/0.33c chicken broth
80ml/0.33c tomato ketchup
2Tbsp/30ml dark soy sauce
2Tbsp/30ml white vinegar
1Tbsp/15ml honey
125ml/0.5c pineapple juice
250ml/1c pineapple tidbits
Garnish (optional)
toasted chopped cashews
Mix marinade ingredients with chicken and let sit for 10-15minutes.
Heat oil until shimmering and brown meat in batches. Don't worry about cooking the pieces all the way through, you're just looking to colour the meat. Remove from pan.
Wipe out the pan, and add a bit more oil. Again, when it shimmers, add the chillies and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the carrots and bell peppers and stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add onions and fry for 2 minutes. Add green onions and stir fry for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from pan.
Slick the pan one last time and add the ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the broth, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, honey and pineapple juice. Stir well and bring up to the boil. Reduce by about a quarter and add the chicken and its juices. Stir so the meat is coated and let the sauce reduce to about half. Stir in pineapple.  Balance flavours to taste.
Add vegetables long enough to heat through.
Serve over rice or mix in with noodles and garnish with nuts.
I'm a quill for hire!

01 January 2014

38 words

"So, 2013, you were hard. I'd appreciate a bit of gentleness in the year to come. I'm hard too, though, so if all you've got is more of the same, 2014, bring it and I'll take ya down. "

Those 38 words--contemplative, declarative, confessorial and  challenging--posted in 2013's waning hours, pretty much summed up so many in my Facebook news feed.

What followed were messages from the bereaved, those who've worn ruts to and from hospital, as well as those who've been discarded by employers or lovers.

Snaps of smiling faces, happy pets, copious foods and drinks, as well as messages of peace and goodwill were there, but a steady stream of resolve, hope and strength kept coming though from all corners of the world.

2013 wasn't a great year for many in my circles, but we came through together, some more bruised than others.  Regardless, unlike entering into 2013, there is a determination to face the good and the bad with the sort of aplomb reserved by those who don't have the luxury of resting on laurels or the assured safety of a soft landing.

So while I take stock of my own 2013 and gird myself for whatever 2014 throws at me, I decided to simmer a pot of Hoppin' John Soup to encourage good fortune and optimism.

Hoppin' John is a southern US peas and rice dish, which may have evolved from what was fed to African slaves transported to the US.  The modern dish itself is usually made with rice, black eyed peas (or field peas) with onion, pork, salt and greens such as kale, cabbage or collard greens.

Today, it's traditionally eaten on New Year's Day to bring diners good luck and prosperity.  The peas symbolise coins, pork represents optimism, and the greens symbolize banknotes.  I've also seen an interpretation where the peas represent peace and the rice, riches.

Whether you believe a dish can usher good luck, riches and peace, my take on the popular American food offers a hearty and warming meal.  I made this soup after looking at several recipes for the traditional meal and its brothy cousin.  My inspirations came from  my friend Kalyn, Emeril Lagasse and AllRecipes.

The soup is smoky, salty and above all, hearty and warming.  The rice breaks down and thickens the tomatoey broth.  The peas are toothsome and not overcooked.  The greens are silky soft.

Whether or not it brings luck…well, ask me in at the end of the year.

Hoppin' John Soup

Yield: approx 2.5 L


225g (0.5lb) dried black eyed peas, picked and soaked overnight
flavourless oil
1 onion, chopped to small dice
1 celery rib, chopped to small dice
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped to small dice
1 garlic clove, minced
500ml (2c) chopped tomatoes
1dspn/2tsp (10ml) Cajun seasoning (see notes)
0.5tsp (2.5ml) dried thyme OR 1.5tsp (12.5ml) fresh thyme
1 large pinch of dried chilli pepper flakes
1-2 bay leaves
2L (8c) chicken or vegetable stock (more, if you want your soup more brothy)
100g (125ml/0.5c) raw rice (see notes)
1 ham hock, ham bone or pieces of ham rind (optional)
225g ham, chopped to small dice (see notes)
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped (chiffonade), green parts only -- approximately 1.5L (6c) (see notes)
1dspn/2tsp (10ml) apple cider vinegar


  • Slick your soup pot with oil and light the hob to a medium flame. Add onions, celery and bell pepper. Saute until soft. Add garlic and stir until the air is perfumed with garlic. 
  • Add tomatoes, Cajun spice, thyme, chilli and bay leaves. Mix well and cook (uncovered) for about 10 minutes, occasionally to crushing the tomatoes and stirring, to ensure the veggies don't catch. 
  • Add chicken stock, rice and ham hock (if using). Stir, bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes. 
  • Drain the beans of their soaking water and tip the beans, along with the ham, greens and apple cider vinegar, and give it all a good stir. Bring the soup back up to the boil and turn the flame down to a simmer and let the soup cook for another 30-45 minutes. Stir occasionally. The peas should be tender, the rice soft and collapsing, and the greens, silken. Balance flavours to taste. 
  • Serve with a good loaf of crusty bread or cornbread.


  • Cajun seasoning: you can use a shop-bought spice mix or make your own (the recipe I use is Emeril Lagasse's Essence
  • Rice: Most recipes I've seen call for long grain/wild rice, or seasoned rice mixes. I used basmati, which works well. 
  • Ham: I made this with half a slice of ham steak (with the bone), but you can use leftover ham, bacon or sausage (I think English bangers (with lots of sage) or fresh chorizo would work well).
  • Greens: I think the point is have something green and leafy--so use what you have chard, kale, spinach, collard greens, etc.

I'm a quill for hire!