30 September, 2008

A Breakfast of Memories

When people leave it is often the simplest things that you miss. Yes, they may have been war veterans, strong supporters of community service, or the most mischievious senior citizen you've ever met. But it is the rituals of hospitality, the conversations over greek salad and gin & tonic, and the breakfasts that you miss.

Hubby's Grandpa passed away last week and we were in Kelowna on the weekend for his funeral. Only a short 18 months after Grandma passed away we had to say goodbye to another kind, loving soul.

When I arrived in my husband's life he spoke fondly of his grandparents, their home in the Okanagan, and the sheer kindness of these two important people. The first time I met them they welcomed me with a shot of frozen vodka and a debate about the perfect martini. The first morning in their home came early - I was sleeping alone because Hubby and I were only dating and still young - but Grandpa was already up.

Every single morning Grandpa would be the first one up to ready breakfast. He would grind coffee beans and boil water to make coffee. He would set out plum or strawberry jam, the bread, and cereal. The table would be set for all of us, Hubby included, even though he never eats breakfast. Sleeping in wasn't an option, but mornings were never too early. Every setting would have a tiny juice glass and a mug for coffee. And always on the table was the English crockery jug filled with milk, frosting with the cold liquid in the morning sun.

As my relationship with Hubby deepened and we eventually married we made at least two trips a year to visit Grandma and Grandpa. We shared meals on the deck, happy hour, one particularly stressful trip where our car was rebuilt in the car port, and road trips to local foodie haunts. But I always welcomed breakfast there more than any other place in my life. From the giant kitchen in their retirement home to the bright kitchen of their final home, I would sip my tea while the rest drank coffee and we would talk and nibble for hours. I would tease them about those tiny juice glasses. We would discuss business and politics and history. Hubby and I would get lectures about when we were going to first, get married, and then, have kids. When the coffee ran out we would plan our daily adventures and clean up, only to get ready for lunch.

Breakfast will never be the same.

At the funeral one of their granddaughters spoke about her relationship with her Grandpa. She brought up something that struck home for me, in particular. Grandpa was the person who taught me how to make oatmeal - porridge, as he called it. I grew up on Cream of Wheat, but that's it. Other than some packets of instant oatmeal I'd never had the real thing until last year. When C discussed her Grandpa she reminisced about how she was forced to eat oatmeal as a kid and the shock in Grandpa when she started requesting it as she grew older. It may only be porridge, but we can always learn from those before us.

Grandpa showed me that the perfect bowl of oatmeal starts with simmering water and a generous pinch of salt. Put in half the amount of oats as water and cook ever so slowly to bring out the creaminess of the oats. Don't rush it, even if you are using the quick cooking oats. I've evolved a little and both the Monster and I enjoy our steel cut oats with some brown sugar, milk, and a little fruit.

We returned home late on Sunday and today I am quite sick. But the baby needs to be fed, which means I need to eat. Oatmeal seemed perfect. I sat, buried under a quilt with one baby napping and the other at daycare and thought of some pretty amazing people while I ate my soulful breakfast.

24 September, 2008

Ice Cream Cures All!

I'm sure at one point in history, perhaps after the invention of the ice cream maker, that headlines around the world screamed the truth about ice cream. It really can cure all, at least for the ten or twenty minutes it takes to let the seduction and relief to melt on your tongue. Profound sadness, a hot day, cramps, or even the celebration of a day well done - all are made better by ice cream.

In an effort to clean out the garden before this week's frosts set in I picked all the mint. Planted in anticipation of never made summer mojitos there was a lot of mint. A perfect opportunity to make Hubby's favourite, mint chocolate chip ice cream. I found what seemed to be a straighforward recipe, went shopping for chocolate, and patiently made my ice cream.

I say patiently made my ice cream because during this process I learned a few more lessons in ice cream making.

Fifth lesson in ice cream making: Make the custard or whatever base you are using the day before. I steeped the mint leaves in the cream on one afternoon, made the custard after the babes were in bed, and after covering with plastic wrap, refrigerated the custard until the following afternoon. A really cold base means the ice cream freezes faster and there are less ice crystals. In other words, creamier ice cream.

Sixth lesson in ice cream making: When you are putting the ice cream in a container to harden, place plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream. This too reduces ice crystals = creamier creamy ice cream.

Seventh lesson in ice cream making: if you are putting chocolate in the ice cream, let the Monster eat some chocolate. Better yet, make chocolate chocolate ice cream. She liked the ice cream well enough, but she kept asking for more chocolate.

I tried to follow the recipe exactly, hoping for good direction. Unfortunately, I had less mint than they called for and not enough half and half. But I am tremendously happy with the way I did things. The only thing I would change is to use less chocolate, yes, less chocolate. Just an ounce or so. When you are chopping it yourself you get lots of little pieces that, at times, overpowered the ice cream. I would also halve the recipe. This nearly overwhelmed my ice cream maker. It makes a good amount of ice cream, more than this family needs sitting around in the freezer.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
(adapted from The Kitchn)

1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves, washed
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
5-6 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1. Bruise the mint leaves with a mortar and pestle, or simply the butt end of a wooden spoon, until you can really smell the mint.
2. Whisk the creams, milk, sugar, and salt together. Toss in the mint leaves and heat until hot, but not boiling or simmering. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for an hour or more. Refrigerate after a few hours if you are not making the custard right away.
3. Strain the mint leaves from the cream base. Heat to a simmer.
4. Whisk the egg yolks. Add about a cup of the cream to the yolks, whisking vigourously. Then stir the egg mixture into the cream. Continue to cook, whisking continously, until the custard is thick. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Strain the custard into a clean bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface on the custard and refrigerate a few hours or over night.
6. When the custard is cold, make ice cream according to your appliance's directions.
7. Chop chocolate. Add chocolate to the ice cream maker just before your ice cream is done. Pour into a container and place in the freezer to harden for a few hours before enjoying.

19 September, 2008


Having the Monster help make dinner, from every single step does not guarantee that she will actually eat the dinner you've made together. Isn't that something that we, as parents, are told to do to encourage picky eaters to eat? Give them ownership and they'll want to try it! Unfortunately for us, that isn't working lately with our curious two-year old.

We finally got some more heat this week, allowing my tomatoes a chance to actually vine-ripen. Well, some of them. I happily went out and picked them to make dinner last night. Combined with some left-over pie crust, and the Monster's favourite feta cheese we made a galette.

I simply rolled out the pie crust and placed it on a cookie sheet. Drizzled with some fruity olive oil (purchased on this trip), quartered and left whole tomatoes from the garden, a clove of fresh garlic, a handful of chopped fresh oregano and marjoram, and loaded with some sheep's milk feta, the pie crust happily wrapped itself around this bounty of summer. I only had to coax the edges up to keep it all together. The Monster helped with every step, taking a keen interest in distrubuting everything across the crust. Another liberal drizzle of olive oil and into a hot oven for about 20 minutes.

To be honest, I think Hubby got annoyed with me gushing about this galette even before we ate it, but I just knew it would be good. And I was right. We devoured it, especially after the Monster ate one 'patoe and a hunk of cheese and declared herself, "All done." More for us.

Hubby did complain that there was no meat to the meal, as I served it with a tossed salad. We did both agree that it would make an excellent brunch dish accompanied by some poached eggs and greens or as a side to a roast pork. And I think it would be an excellent way to bring summer to your winter table as the high heat would concentrate the flavours of lackluster winter tomatoes.

16 September, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Slow Food's Feast of the Fields

When a whole bunch of foodies get together in a spectacular location for some yummy, locally produced and cooked food it is a recipe for a hot afternoon. When a couple with two young daughters go to that event it is a recipe for a sweaty, busy afternoon spent chasing, cajoling, and sometimes eating.

The family went to Slow Food Calgary's Seventh Annual Feast of the Fields on Sunday. There were local restaurants cooking food sourced from a number of local producers. The food was great, the music was fun, the location was fantastic. The Monster was mostly whiny and picky and the baby was fussy. I think it was a day for the babysitter...

Slow Food Calgary is devoted to the protection and promotion of regional cuisines, ingredients, and local purveyors. At Feast of the Fields a number of local restaurants teamed up with local producers to showcase ingredients, taste, and talent found here.

Hubby and I were looking forward to the day. It had been a tough week for both of us and the promise of good food and a day out kept our spirits up. When Sunday bloomed into a gorgeous Indian Summer day and the girls napped well beforehand we thought we were set. You could smell the grills as you approached the garden at Rouge, starting us salivating.

Unfortunately, the Monster was not in the mood for a garden party, asking us for a tea party at a friend's house instead. She was temporarily placated by some lemon water when we got there. And until we found some bacon on one of the specially prepared treats she wanted nothing to do with the food. Hubby and I busily gorged ourselves on everything she wouldn't eat, and then some. Tomatoe and bacon soup, duck proscuitto, blackcurrant and yoghurt tartletts, and more.

Then we found ourselves a spot in the shade, with a good view of the garden and the band. The Monster found some other kids - including ones in the best t-shirts with the slogan "Slow Eater" on them. And when Jessica Beacock, one of the chefs from Rouge, came out to harvest some nasturtiums from the garden the kids flocked to her. She gave them a lesson in edible greens and even let them pick some flowers to taste. The Monster liked the peppery taste so much she helped herself again.

At the end of the day Hubby and agreed on two things. One, it appears that you need money to be a foodie in this city. While I won't discount the importance of an organization like Slow Food, the event wasn't cheap. And it seemed that a lot of people there weren't afraid to show off that they have money. There isn't anything wrong with that, but it makes me wonder about the rest of the world. Good food isn't only for the rich, but I'll save that tirade for another day.

And two, as much as we want to expose the girls to local producers and new tastes, we would have had a better time if we'd gone by ourselves. Sure, there were lots of kids around and we believe it is important to introduce the concepts of Slow Food, but it might be better to wait until she is a bit older to appreciate an event like this. Or maybe we just wanted a date.

Slow Food Calgary
Slow Food Edmonton

14 September, 2008

Eeking Out Summer

The corn is almost done, as are the peaches. My tomatoes are still very green because there is no heat to the day. And the days are so much shorter now. Summer is over and our brief glimpse of fall has begun. To celebrate the end of the summer, use up some mealy peaches, and get the girls (and I) out of the house while Hubby was out of town I baked some hand pies and we headed to the park for a picnic.

After another week as a single parent I was rather excited for our picnic. The Monster was not. But I was smart, I went to the playground. Of course, that meant she spent most of the time playing and very little eating. Half an apple and half a pie. She hasn't been eating much of anything lately, perhaps she is getting some molars? How could I worry when she tore around the park, happy as could be? I even managed to nurse the baby while she climbed and slid. Oh, and I ate about 4 pies... Talk about emotional eating, or they were just that good.

To make the pies I took my mealy peaches, about 4, and a couple of ripe bartlett pears, tossed them with some vanilla sugar and a couple of tablespoons of flour. No recipe, just some peeled and chopped fruit in a bowl. You could use any combination of fruits. Next time I'm doing apple and pear together.

I made some pate brisee, cut it into 4 inch squarish shapes, and filled with a few tablespoons of fruit. Then I simply pinched the edges, brushed with a beaten egg and a bit of milk, then sprinkled with some raw sugar for extra crunch. Bake at 350 degrees Celcius for about 15-20 minutes.

Here is the recipe I use for crust. It is my standard for all pie crusts. Originally, I always used Martha's, but now I add the vinegar and have more consistent results with a tender, easy to work with crust.

Pie Crust (based on a pate brisee)
Enough for two single crusts or a double crust pie.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup cold butter
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp - 1/4 cup cold water

1. Mix together the dry ingredients.
2. Cut the butter into smaller pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse together in a food processor and cut with a pastry blender until it resembles a course meal.
3. With the blender running add the vinegar and the water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough is moist but hasn't quite come together.
4. Turn out onto a clean surface and bring together into two discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least one hour or ready to use.
5. Roll out on a floured surface and use.

Meanwhile, we are heading out shortly for a Slow Food event. Hubby and I are excited for some good food and company. I'll admit, I would have loved to get a babysitter, but it is a beautiful day and the event is in a garden. It will be tiring to chase after the Monster and still have time to eat and visit, but I hope she finds something yummy to eat.

09 September, 2008

Backseat Adventure - The Italian Centre Shop (Edmonton)

Every good Italian thing - like pancetta, caciocavallo, the best sandwiches in the world, and canolli - is worth a road trip. Shortly after Hubby and I got married we moved across the city, a mere 5 minute drive to what is arguably the best grocery store in the world - the original Italian Centre Shop. Aside from the farmers' market and milk from the chain grocery store, we bought everything else we ate from this store. Tucked into an inner city neighbourhood this corner of Italy (and Europe) brought us great gastronomical, social, and aesthetic (you should have seen the boys in the deli) pleasure.

The Italian Centre Shop was one of the things we missed the most about Edmonton when we moved to Calgary 5 years ago. There are good Italian shops here, but they weren't quite the same. Not in character, not in food, but maybe still with the boys in the deli. Sure, the aisles were too narrow and there never really is a downtime, but it is a special place.

Since we moved a second Italian Centre Shop opened in Edmonton, on the southside of town. Conveniently, it is located a mere 5 minute drive from my mother-in-law. This saves me the traffic and construction congestion to get through downtown to the original location.

Arguably, the character at the second location is just not the same. Having made a few trips there I can say that it is improving. Lack of character is more than made up for with wider aisles and the bakery alone.

Sadly, the boys in the deli are not there either. Of course, I have to say that knowing that my brother-in-law's nephew now works there. He and a bunch of older men and women. Either way, the staff are knowledgeable and generally friendly. They are quick to offer a sample if you are curious about one of the nearly 50 cheeses they carry. And, more importantly, they are quick to give you cooking advice. Pick up your number and catch the drool while they wait to serve you.

I must confess that I went a little crazy when I was there. My mother-in-law bought olives, olive oil, and feta - exactly what she came there for. I controlled myself at the deli, buying only some panchetta, proscuitto parma, caciocavallo cheese, and montasio cheese. Then I bought a few bottle of oil, some balsamic vinegar, cookies, even pop. The cart got a little crowded for the baby. And Hubby was none too happy about packing it all for the trip back to Calgary

It was all the start of something good. After our regular Sunday morning market visit I made roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta for dinner. Yesterday I made proscuitto wrapped melon for moms' group. The Monster loved the pancetta, not surpising as it is a close cousin to bacon - one of the only meats she will eat these days. She wasn't a fan of the proscuitto parma. I plan to simply nibble on the remainder of the caciocavallo throughout the week and make some fricos with the montasio cheese, although I haven't decided between apple or swiss chard.

Back at the store we finished our shopping with lunch. This location has a cafe attached, aptly named Spinelli's after the owners. We indulged in the best sandwich ever - salami, spicy capicola, ham, provolone, and hot vegetable spread all on a ciabatta. Lucky for us the Monster didn't want anything but her brownie. That meant we didn't have to share and she happily munched away on her completely indulgent lunch. And if I drank coffee I'm sure this cappuccino would have finished things off nicely, my mother-in-law thought so. I was just excited to get home and cook.

The Italian Centre Shop
Original Location: 10878 95 Street 780-424-4869
South Location: 5028 104A Street 780-989-4869

05 September, 2008

Mine! Mine! Mine!

There is that moment in time that every parent dreads in the development of their toddler - the Mine! stage. When the fork you are using, when the book you are reading, when the toy the other little girl is playing with, or when the quilt on the bed is always "Mine!" to your kid. It's exhausting to chase them arround attempting to extol the virtues of sharing or explaining that other people need those things to eat, mow their lawn, or move. It's infuriating when they can't grasp it, even though we should know better and realize an 18 month old doesn't necessarily know any better themself. So we follow behind them, chastising them as much as we can and apologizing profusely to the man whose cane she tried to steal or the little boy whose cookie she took.

I will not, however, apologize for my upcoming bit of selfishness. You see, I am painfully addicted to my cherry jam. Rather, to cherry jam with ricotta on toast. I could eat this every day, two or three times a day. The only thing that stops me from doing this is supply.

Sure, you can get cherry jam in the store. Most of it is imported from Europe and is quite chunky and thick. I find it all rather cloying, but it will work in a pinch. This summer I was inspired and decided to make my own. So far I've made three batches and I still worry whether there will be enough to get me to the next cherry season.

Making the jam, while time-consuming - was actually quite easy. I even decided to try it without using the pre-made pectin. I thought I was rather brave, having used Certo my entire life. With a little bit of searching I came across a post by the ice cream guru David Lebovitz. It was all coming together.

Following his basic directions I pitted all my cherries (with my paring knife), cooked them down a little, measured, then added sugar and boiled away. Then I put them in my specially bought jars. (Smart me bought new jars of a different shape for all my cherry jam. That way there can be no mistake between the cherry I love and the strawberry for the Monster and raspberry for Hubby.) A half hour later I realized that the jam was not going to set. So I emptied the jars back into the La Creuset, quartered an apple for some added pectin, and boiled again. Success this time. So I tried again with cherries and peaches. Yesterday I decided that I didn't have enough in the pantry and made another batch of plain cherry.

Instead of rationing my supply, I will enjoy it all. The Monster and Hubby will not. They are not allowed to touch my cherry jam. And yes, I will have a temper tantrum if I see their fingers or spoons even in the vicinity of my cherry jam. Maybe the Monster will shake her finger at me and tell me to share, and maybe I will. Likely I won't. It is all mine, mine mine.

03 September, 2008

Black Currant Adventures

When travelling with a toddler it is important to note the difference between fruit farms and farms with animals. A few weeks ago a girlfriend and I saddled up all the girls (she has two as well) and went south to Okotoks for a morning at Kayben Farms. This was exciting for us moms, but a great let down for the Monster when she realized that, other than the black cat hanging out by the cash register, this farm did not have any animals.

That being said, the girls were troupers and worked up a good amount of excitement for berry picking. We were too late for strawberries but the black currants stood ready for us. The excitement lasted oh, about two minutes. At that point A (my friend's oldest) decided that black currants were gross and the Monster hated getting her arms scratched by the bushes.

My girlfriend and I stuck to it - hell we weren't giving up without a fight and at least a half a bucket of black currants. We gave the girls snacks and sent them off to pick flowers/weeds. In between policing them and making sure the babies were happy we managed to get about a half bucket. By then the girls were done with the field. We headed back to the main building, drooled over flowers, and treated the girls to a black currant slush.

I headed home with all the black currants, armed with great intent to turn them into something. I'm not a fan of jelly, preferring jam. After boiling down the currants with some water and straining them overnight I was left with 10 cups of tart juice. What to do? What to do? To be honest, I couldn't decide so I just froze the juice.

After seeing Julie's post about blackcurrant sorbet and ginger ale floats and my current fixation with the ice cream maker I thought about ice cream or sorbet. My original thought was syrup, but I was having a hard time finding instructions or a recipe. Then I saw a show on Vermont and they, of course showed a sugar shack. Hmm, you make syrup by boiling the crap out of the sap. I decided that's what I would do with the black currant juice.

First I had to find bottles. A few trips to restaurant supply stores and Canadian Tire came up with nothing. Then my mother-in-law suggested a winemaking store. Jackpot! A dozen 375 mL bottles with plastic, reusable stoppers.

It turns out buying a dozen bottles was optimistic. My 10 cups of juice, after an hour of boiling, turned into about 900 mL of thick syrup. Well, not quite syrup yet. I added in 3 cups of brown sugar, a half cup at a time. It is still a bit tart, but I didn't want it sickingly sweet.

All that's left it to make pancakes for dinner and enjoy our labour.

Kayben Farms
Winemakers Wine Co 403-258-1200