30 July, 2009

Taste Adventure - Mallow

We've been heading down the the Southland Natural Area for our weekly CSA pick-ups for a few weeks now (but not this one because Jonathan's truck broke down).  Last week was all about green.  With Hubby out of town and a family trip to Edmonton for a baby shower it was a challenge to actually eat all those greens.  So I was a bit thankful, honestly, that we got a break this week.  It gave me more time to take advantage of all that food. It gave me a chance try something new with this herb called mallow.

The mallow was the first thing the girls grabbed out of our basket, right in the parking lot of the off leash park.  While we chatted with an old friend they kept dipping into the bag and pulling out those broad and slightly jagged leaves.  For a toddler who only recently decided salads were acceptable eating and a baby who spits out anything too flat I was rather surprised.

Following their lead I dug my hand in the basket to try it out. Hmm, if I hadn't actually felt it, I wouldn't have been I was eating anything at all.  It has such a mild, fresh flavour. Kind of like dumbed-down parsley.
Considering the flavour, the most appropriate use of the mallow seemed to me to either include it as salad greens or make tabbouleh. Botanical sites suggested that I make a tea to ease my tummy troubles.  Yeah, that's not me. So I tried the salad, but I had enough salad greens and one can only eat so many salads in a week.  Tabbouleh it was.  

And damn, what a fine idea that was.  It was the freshest, cleanest tasting tabbouleh I've ever made.  The girls devoured it at dinner and I had way more interesting leftovers to take to the office.

It wasn't exactly a traditional tabbouleh.  I prefer my tabbouleh with quinoa instead of bulger. This time I tried a red quinoa. And I added a touch of mint to boost the freshness flavour. I was tempted to throw some feta in as well.  Feta makes everything taste better in this house.  Next time I might at least use it for garnish.

No CSA or backyard stash of mallow?  Substitute another cup of parsley and you will still have a great salad. And you could use regular quinoa if you prefer.

Mallow and Red Quinoa Tabbouleh
(serves 4 as a side or 2 for lunch)

1 cup red quinoa
2 cups loosely packed mallow
1 cup loosely packed parsley
1 cup loosely packed mint
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 salad cucumbers or a third of an english cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 lemons
Olive oil

1. Simmer the quinoa with 2 cups water over medium heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa splits and parts of it look like teeny tiny calamari.
2. While the quinoa is cooking finely chop all the herbs. Zest one lemon and juice both lemons.
3. When the quinoa is cooked toss together all the ingredients with a generous splash of olive oil.  Season and serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

27 July, 2009

A Business Idea

My brother and his wife, and numerous friends of mine are fantastic with their kids' birthday cakes.  I default to cupcakes, but these folks are producing cars, trains, pirate ships, teapots, and yes, a box of crayons. Yes, I am jealous.

So my new business idea - feel free to steal it as long as you promise to give me royalties for life - is a bakery that specializes in kids' cakes.  This isn't Ace of Cakes perfection.  This is stayed-up-til-midnight-dotting-buttercream-on-cake-mix love. Someone should be baking and selling cakes that look like mom and dad made them the night before, so mom and dad can pass them off as homemade - to their kids and their friends.

Again, all I ask for is royalties.

The above cake was another homemade masterpiece by my brother and sister-in-law, in celebration of this little blue eyed wonder.

22 July, 2009

Brought to You by the Colour Green

That big ol' mess of greens is sitting on our pretty, suburban lawn.  Yay for grass.  Yeah, I know, so not environmental to have a miniature golf course surrounding our house.  But it is fantastic to have the girls run around in bare feet and simply roll around in the lushness of fresh sod. And it isn't dirt.  Thank frikken' gawd, it isn't dirt

Tonight was another hot one on the string of summer we're finally getting.  After grilled pork tenderloin, ice cream cones, and kite flying at friends', we headed out to pick up our veggies from the farmer.  That's how The Monster now refers to our weekly CSA pick-up.

This week was was definitely brought to us by the colour green.  Mesclun, head lettuce, swiss chard, stir fry greens (mustard, radish, and turnip greens), something that looks like the skinnier sister of baby bok choy , and something new to me, mallow.  I see some salads, stir fries, and perhaps some tabbouleh in our future.

By the end of this week we are going to be superheroes!

19 July, 2009


This was a weekend of reminders.  Reminders that we have some damn good friends in our lives, reminders that there is indeed such a thing as summer, and reminders of what a farmers market can be.

We've been in Calgary for almost 6 years now, after living in Edmonton for most of my life (university and grad school being the exception).  We've made ourselves a very nice life here, one we have no intention of leaving (are you listening, Grandma and Baba?).  But sometimes it is just necessary to connect with loves from the old life in Edmonton.  Sure, we go up there far more frequently than we would probably like, but we spend all our time driving between family that we never get to spend time with our old friends.  So even though they had to stay in a hotel because of our renovations, some old friends came down for the weekend, just to hang out. 

And hang out we did.  The four kids ran around with hoses and jumped on the beds while my girlfriend and I nursed gin and tonics.  Yes, we are that kind of a mom.  We chatted non-stop and it felt like the days when we used to sit on the porch of our old place and watch the world go by.  Except now the world was full of screaming toddlers instead of drunk university students. So really, not that different.

Yesterday we drove South to Millarville to the farmers' market.  We've been going to the Calgary Farmers' Market so long that I really had forgotten what a true farmers market can be - actual farmers selling from a table in front of an open truck.  It truly was a shock to my system after nearly 6 years at the Currie Barracks.

So much is being said about the Calgary Farmers' Market.  Honestly, I'm staying out of the fray. We do enjoy going there on Sunday mornings, and do buy most of our groceries from there. I talk to the regular vendors that I shop from, catching up on their gossip and getting the latest from the fields. And I'll be honest, we spend a lot of time at the bouncy castle - my kids are the ones hogging it and being so damn cute that all other parents stop to watch (well, that's the way it seems to me).  As I've gone from daughter to student to adult to mom and seen the evolution of my market goings the Calgary Farmers Market seemingly works just fine.

Then I went to Millarville yesterday and my comfort all got blown away.  Seeing those trucks and the dirty hands counting out my change reminded me of all that is good about the market. The direct farm to consumer relationship, the open air, and even the crowds fighting for samples of something new and interesting.  I've been treating our weekly market trips as a good family outing, but also like only a bit more than a trip to a really friendly supermarket.

I've decided that for the rest of the summer I'm going to visit more markets, more parking lots filled with trucks, tables, and farmers.  I'm going to see what we can discover and what new people we can meet.  And I'm taking you along.  

It's summer, let's eat.

15 July, 2009


Did I ever tell you about the time we were heckled at our wedding?  In the middle of our vows, when I promised to nurse Hubby's wounds, his brother not so quietly commented on the challenge that would be.  And when we were walking down the aisle, vows said, kisses made, and the juggler wrapped up the bridal party colluded and shouted out, "Finally!"

Sheesh, you'd think we'd dated forever.  It had only been six years, with two years of living together.  A mere blip of time.

Why do I tell you that?  Well, I felt like shouting out, "Finally!" when I got the email that we were going to receive our first CSA delivery.  I am way too excited about this.  Maybe it's because we've only just got our lawn and there has been no fresh green in my life for weeks and weeks and weeks? Maybe it's because I can still only fantasize about a garden on my own? Maybe because I know what a struggle it's been for our farmers, and so many others?  Or maybe I just wanted to feel inspired by some simple food and wonderful people?

Regardless of the reason I happily, yes happily loaded up the girls and both dogs to the pick-up zone this evening -by myself, after a full day of work and some single parenting.  The girls said hello to Jonathon and Andrea, their farmers.  The Monster carried the baby beets and turnips back to the car while Smilosaurus munched on a piece of turnip greens.  And I walked down the aisle of the parking lot, screaming "finally!" in my head.

12 July, 2009

Ice Cream for Dinner

Some days diets and nutrition are just thrown out the window. When you are young, single, and childless it is pretty damn easy to make a dinner of nachos and beer, or perhaps some chips and dip in front of wrestling on TV (been there). Having kids, though, makes nights like those so much more difficult, yet so necessary.

Gone are the days of pizza on the couch or a bowl of cereal for dinner. I would like to blame an irrational desire to promote nutrition and proper dinner etiquette, but I have to blame The Monster. We tried, more than once, to make it a big treat to have dinner at the coffee table in front of a hockey game or Le Tour de France.  No dice, that kid insists on eating dinner together at the dining room table.  We're lucky she doesn't know anything about white tablecloths and candles. Sure, it is our fault for a general insistence on table manners and enforcement of dinnertime rules. But seriously, can't we relax the rules, just a little?

I did discover a good way to do that - don't even mention it's dinner.  Just sit down on the floor at the coffee table, food in hand.  Let them come to you, begging to try your treat.  Then, don't feed them dinner.

That is how we came to have ice cream for dinner the other night.  Hubby was out of town so it was just me and the girls. I'd had a day, just a long, draining day.  And I wanted to try and get a decent picture of this ice cream before 9 pm.  Since the ice cream was all soft (too soft) and I didn't want to freeze it again, I scooped it all in one bowl, parked in front of Le Tour, and we ate ice cream for dinner.  And damn, it felt good.

Strawberry ice cream with a rhubarb swirl.  If one felt so inclined a sprinkling of granola on top would make it the ice cream interpretation of a strawberry rhubarb crisp.  But I wanted smooth, creamy, tangy, and sweet.  And this delivered.

The ice cream was made with the custard base I've developed and quite like - creamy and thick without being eggy. I macerated, then pureed strawberries. Then added a swirl of stewed rhubarb before it was placed in the freezer.  

Just a note on the rhubarb.  The picture below shows two different versions of stewed rhubarb, made exactly the same way.  One was with pretty much green stalks, one with very red stalks. There was pretty much no difference in taste. The only difference is cosmetic. I saved the brown stuff for a topping for oatmeal and yogurt, and used the pink stuff in the ice cream.

Strawberry Ice Cream with a Rhubarb Swirl
Makes about 5-6 cups

2 cups half and half cream
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup milk
1/2 a vanilla bean, split
3 egg yolks
2 cups cleaned, hulled strawberries
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup chopped rhubarb
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
Splash of vodka

1. Combine creams, milk, vanilla bean, and 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan.  Heat while stirring, but do not scald or boil.  Whip egg yolks in small bowl.  Slowly pour 1/2 cup of warm cream/milk mixture into eggs, whisking constantly.  Pour eggs/cream/milk mixture back into the remaining cream/milk mixture.  Heat, stirring constantly until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (5-10 minutes).  Remove from heat, pour through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
2.  While custard is cooling slice the strawberries and macerate in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar.  Just before you want to make the ice cream blitz the strawberries with a food processor of mash well with a fork.
3. Make your stewed rhubarb.  Combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Set on medium heat to cook.  Stir occasionally while the mixture cooks down.  After a few minutes the rhubarb will be almost broken down and the sauce will be thick.  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Add a splash of vodka just before adding to the ice cream. 
4.  Stir the strawberries into the cooled custard and make ice cream according to your ice cream maker's instructions.
5. When your ice cream is done, place half in a container for the freezer.  Dollop half of the cooled rhubarb over the ice cream.  Scoop over the remaining ice cream, top with dollops of the remaining rhubarb.  Quickly run a knife through the ice cream to swirl the rhubarb.  Place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream and freeze until firm. 

07 July, 2009

Farm in the Family

Yes, that is a cemetery there. The Alvena Cemetary, to be exact. My great uncle passed away last week so we were in Saskatchewan to say goodbye. It was a gathering of your typical giant Ukrainian family - my uncle left 10 children, 24 grandchildren, and currently 28 great grandchildren.  That is nothing to say of the fact that he was one of five kids with families of their own. 

Uncle Bernard was a quiet, strong man.  Humble and hardworking, I always remember him with open arms, a quiet laugh, and the ability to observe and appreciate all that happened around him.  He loved horses, his family, and he loved his farm.  While I was sad that the girls never got to meet the man, I was deeply proud to take them and Hubby to meet his farm.  I can hardly remember him off the farm, even though I saw him at hall parties and wedding receptions.  Uncle Bernard's farm was Uncle Bernard.
By the time I was old enough to have strong memories of the place it wasn't always somewhere I wanted to go. But as long as we got to hang out with our cousins, go into the fields, or feed the kittens in the abandoned chicken coop we city kids were happy.  Uncle Bernard was usually working during our visits.  He, or our older cousins, would sometimes take us into the swather or combine if it was harvest.  One time they let me drive the pick-up.  It didn't matter that I couldn't see over the dash, the purpose of our drive was to scare the ducks out of the field.

As we wandered around the old farm, buildings old and unused but the grounds, garden, and yard perpetually neat (this is the cleanest, most organized family farm ever), my brother and I reminisced about our visits there.  And suddenly the whining we did as children - well, me mostly - all went away. Those pathetic moments were replaced with pride in knowing that this farm is part of where we came from. 

While my brother led a number of the kids - his, mine, and some other city cousins - on a tour of the buildings and machinery I followed and admired his knowledge and memories. During the tour The Monster was a non-stop question.  She wanted to know what every building housed, what each machine did, how everything worked, and just what it was all for. 

The farm is a working grain farm - wheat, rye, barley, peas. At one point it was a truly diverse family farm complete with cows, pigs, chickens, crops, and a garden to make any Baba proud. The barns, coops, and sheds are mostly empty now. Their usefulness replaced with metal quonsets and granaries, some heavy duty machinery, and the ever present farm dog, Rex.

The natural curiosity of a three-year old outweighed any potential boredom. While Smilosaurus busied herself with transporting gravel from one spot to another, The Monster followed my brother and learned everything she could about grain farming. 

Boy did she learn!  It is a little over 7 hours of driving to get from Saskatoon to Calgary.  For the portion of it that she was awake our conversation went something like this:

Monster: What's the combine Mama?
Mama: The combine takes the seed off the grass, puts them in the dump truck, and puts the stalks in a line behind.
Monster: And where does the dump truck go?
Mama: To the granary.
Monster: And then what happens?
Mama: The farmer sells the grain and it goes to make things like flour.  And then we bake with the flour.
Monster: Oh. And what about the other combine?
Mama: It's not a combine, it's a swather.  
Monster: What's a swather do?
Mama: It cuts the grass, like a giant lawnmower.  Then the combine comes and picks it up.

And repeat. And repeat.  And repeat.  Over and over again, for about 5 hours.

She finally had her lightbulb moment in the process during a bathroom break.  With Hubby rudely standing in the ditch I picked a stalk of some wild grass/weed/oats.  We now know that she is a visual learner because as soon as I showed her the grass and demonstrated what the combine and the other combine did something clicked.  Suddenly she was explaining the process to us, Grandma, the nanny the next day, her sister, and anyone else she saw, regardless of whether they wanted to hear or not.

We don't need petting zoos and picnics on our farm visits. The connection is already there for her. The connection to family, the connection to the process, and hopefully, the connection to her food. Uncle Bernard lives on in her, and so many more, because the farm - literally, and in knowledge and memories - lives on.

Guess where we'll be going come September?  

01 July, 2009

Canada Day Picnic

Okay, so it isn't exactly Canadian to celebrate the nation's holiday with blue cheese. Well, maybe it is. Whether it is a Canadian, French, Italian, or Danish cheese it actually might be a perfect representation of Canada. Strong, diverse in flavour, and easy to get along with. You may like us or hate us, but you probably don't dislike the idea of us.

Personally, I am a huge blue cheese fan. The more the better, the stronger the better. In all its variations. The Monster isn't a huge fan herself, but she'll eat it in the dip form I served today. Smilosaurus was loving it.  Dispensing with the veggies altogether she simply plunged her hands directly into the dip and shoved them in her mouth.

We served this dip at The Monster's birthday party.  That definitely started a new addiction for me. If there were hot wings anywhere near me right now I would be gorging myself on wings and blue cheese dip.  And drowning a crappy evening in beer. I'll have to settle for being relatively healthy and dipping some blanched asparagus and carrots. Sigh.

The following recipe makes a thick dip.  If you prefer a thinner dip, or something that will stick a bit more to those hot wings use undrained or regular yogurt. Whatever you do, don't break up the cheese into teeny weeny pieces.  You want a few chunky pieces of cheese in every single bite. The sharpness will temper heat, provoke the taste of green, and make your tongue spicy, as The Monster describes the taste. And with four ingredients it is dead easy to make.

Blue Cheese Dip
(makes 1.5 cups)

1 cup greek style yoghurt (or drained, plain yoghurt)
1 tablespoon mayo
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon chives

(To drain yoghurt place about 1 and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 cup plain yoghurt into a cheesecloth of paper-towel lines sieve.  Let sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.)

Mix together all ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with additional chopped chives.  Serve chilled.