Sunday, December 23, 2012

and so this is least my toenails look pretty

Today's post was supposed to be all nice and nostaligic and well, Christmasy. I don't much care about Christmas anymore, to be honest. But I still bake cookies. I don't buy people presents, I don't do much in terms of decorations (although this year, it being S and I's first Christmas, we did do a little Charlie Brown tree). I do bake cookies. I always make my favourite of my grandmother's cookie arsenal, jam jams. Last year I also made her "nut cups" for my my mom (her favourite). I usually do some gingersnaps, this crazy shortbread+caramel+chocolate bar (also called "million dollar shortbread" because its so indulgent, according to the recipe. With a POUND of butter it'd better be). And sometimes some random experiment of minty something I don't often like.

So, long explanation short, I meant to post some lovely, poignant thing about baking my grandmothers classics, making my mom's favourite christmas treats for her, in lieu of a real present. Instead I find myself wanting to fling these stupid nut cups at the walls (how on EARTH did I tolerate making these last year.....oh ya....maybe a blog about it will help me next year). Its basically a cream cheese/butter/flour crust. That parts not such a big deal, once you decide the wooden spoon, then beaters, aren't working and lugging down the food processor is a better idea. Then you make some semblance of a butter tart filling. But tighter. Just eggs, brown sugar, a touch of vanilla, and some nuts. Pecans and walnuts in this case. Roll out the dough (a bit of time in the fridge helps, its pretty soft). Cut into rounds (I use mason jar lids and they fit the mini tart pans well). Fill and bake at 300F for 20-25 minutes. I took off to do some much needed yoga. But after 20 minutes when I was so rudely interrupted, I tried to remove one.... and, put them back for another 5minutes. It still didn't much matter. I even used my new non- stick, 12 mini tart pan, and chanced it on an old non-non-stick one my mom gave me last year after I told her of my escapades. I was worried about that pan, but I imagined she had gotten it from my grandmother so it was fitting. In the end it seems not to have made much difference. The filling solidifies on top, and trying to get it out of the pan makes it crack. The filling inside stays oozy and slips out everywhere while the tart shells crack. They do taste good, but they don't look perfect, or even pretty. Something I for some reason cannot tolerate today. Instead, I painted my toenails. At least they look nice now. I really am in a mood where I need to appreciate the little things. I keep looking at them for reassurance.

As I sit here, contemplating my anger and frustration, so many emotions come up. I don't know if I can post this. I think I may have talked about my grandmother before. She was the matriarch of our family. The reason we got together, aunts and uncles and cousins. We don't do it anymore. Now its just me and my parents. Is that why I don't really care so much about Christmas anymore? Don't get me wrong, I do love the opportunity to spend some much needed time with my family. But its just the three of us. We all have too much stuff, don't need presents, and we'd rather just spend the time together. I told a co-worker that the other day, I don't think she understood so much. Something about the idea of no presents got her down. I guess....I don't necessarily believe in the Christian view I was brought up with, and I certainly don't believe in the capitalist view I was inevitably brought up to. And I miss my larger family time. I miss the big gathering of people I only saw on holidays. And being incapable of recreating my grandmother's nut cups, makes me feel incapable overall, and miss her, which makes me feel a bit nutty myself.

I suppose I just wanted to make something for my mother, from her mother. And make it right. But I suppose I also need to learn I can't do that, as much as I would like to. Its hard to believe that holidays are still this difficult, 2 years later. But they are.

in the pan

the mess after taking them out

So after abandoning the project the other day, I put the remaining dough and filling in the fridge. Today I'm trying frantically to get them done before I have to go home tomorrow. I think I may be filling the shells too much, and should really listen (read?) when my grandmother wrote 2/3 full. Just 2/3 Sarah! It seems like not enough, especially since they are already mini tarts. But it rises up and overflows and sticks to the edges and maybe that is what makes it so hard to get them out. Also, maybe actually cooking them a little less so the top has less time crackle. And, finally, I had to make another little batch of filling, and I added a touch of corn syrup (like I remember from making butter tarts in the past). Not much. Say a tbsp or less for a 1/3 batch of filling. All these things seemed to have helped a bit. And I guess I'm just in a mood today where I can tolerate imperfect looking cookies. I'm heading home tomorrow, with my boy. It'll be the first time meeting the parents. I'm excited about taking this step, and nervous. I hope they all love each other as much as I love them. Merry Christmas/whatever you are celebrating!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

catching up, part three - hallowe'en

We carved pumpkins. And made pumpkin soup - following a recipe from Heidi at 101cookbooks - with brown rice, toasted pumpkin seeds, parsley and scalliions. We used the "decorative" pumpkin from Thanksgiving. And we ate it with roasted kale and beet salad, based on Sarah B's recipe at My New Roots (Have I mentioned that I adore her site, her life, and look up to her a LOT, as another Sarah B from Ontario who dreams about someday being a cook and doing a holistic nutrition degree?)

S. had never carved a pumpkin before (!), but I think he did a great job.

It was my first time carving in a couple years, and for the last decade I have mostly carved OM symbols. Not faces. Don't ask.

The soup was delicious, we ate it all week for lunches and felt so nourished. It was bright, the colour sunny and uplifting, the texture rich and fulfilling, leaving us satisfied and full, yet knowing we'd put great, healthy food in our bellies.

And I got my lover on the roasted kale chip train. Meaning that last week he made me dinner (while I read my book - lucky girl!). It was roasted kale and potatoes, with spicy Italian sausage and romesco sauce. Did I mention I'm lucky?

catching up, part two - birthday adventures

Let's be honest, I tend to think of any activity within a two week period surrounding my birthday, as a birthday-related event. So there were quite a few noteworthy birthday celebrations that I want to post about.

A few days before, also before Thanksgiving-prep-madness began, we took a day off to explore the Scarborough Bluffs. It turns out that my manfriend lives just a few blocks up the street from where my grandparents used to live. I spent some good times there as a child, running around and exploring the Bluffs, working in the garden and playing games with my grandmother. I've lost touch with that side of my family in the past few years (my biological father's family). My grandmother passed away a few months ago, and I saw this as an opportunity to revisit the places I remember from my childhood time with them, as well as seeing my lover's neighbourhood for the first time. It was an amazing and emotional day, beautiful and sunny, feeling more like late summer than impending fall. We saw lots of wildlife wandering down to the base of the Bluffs.

And some vibrant fall colours

We ended up climbing the Bluffs (what I thought was a path turned out to be...a precarious and adrenaline-filled climb, and I was in flip flops). I can't even find the words to describe that experience. There was a point where I didn't think I could make it up any further. And I had no idea how to get back down. I was almost crying (I'm scared of heights). My partner had to shimmy over and try to boost me up. There was a point when I finally got to the top, lied in the grass shaking with fear and adrenaline and exhilaration, when S. was slipping in the mud, barely able to make it up, and I had to try to help him. If at any point, one of us had fallen...I don't even want to think about it. Yet, it was an amazing sense of accomplishment. And I wanted to do it again.

After, we went and saw my grandparents old house...something which didn't give me closure by any means, but which brought back happy memories. Of my grandmother's lovely rose garden in the front yard, the smell of being in the garage with my grandfather, of his shelves and shelves (and shelves) of old jazz records in the basement, of sitting in the living room watching torrents of rain water pouring down the steeply hilled road outside. I wish I had seen them more in recent years, but I've come to terms with that. I'm just glad I had the times with them that I did.

Later that day, we went out for dinner, then dancing.

And then later still, a week or so after my birthday, there were flowers, and an official birthday dinner out.

The dinner was at Union, an adorable little restaurant that focuses on rustic, farm-to-table cuisine, like the one I hope to have myself one day. I got all dressed up. We sat at the chef's rail. We had an amazing charcuterie board. I snuck a picture of the kitchen when no one was watching. S. convinced me to get the steak frites, instead of the vegetarian polenta with greens dish (which he said was not expensive enough). I was disappointed. Still, I'd go back just for that charcuterie plate!


All in all it was a lovely birthday (week+). And now I'm 32. And so excited for the year ahead!

catching up, part one - thanksgiving edition

Well, I have a lot of catching up to do. I would like to offer the "I've been busy with work, and so many other accomplishments" excuse, but I'm afraid that's not really true. I've just been having fun. Enjoying my open schedule and the time it gives me to spend with my man. There have been quite a few kitchen adventures over the past couple of months, as well as other adventures too. October was a pretty busy month with Thanksgiving and my birthday celebrations. I also started a new class - hula hooping! I was proud of myself for joining something new, with new people, something that I struggle to do because it makes me anxious. But I swallowed my fears, and I love it! I knew the people would be nice; I didn't know how much joy I would find in learning new things, grasping new tricks that I had been struggling with, and just generally being playful. It is great exercise for my body and my mind. I find myself feeling more agile, dexterous, and this has translated into more flow in my life, at work, and in the kitchen.

However, all of this means I have had very little time at home alone. And little inclination to post here when I do (instead spending my time hooping, or cooking). But, tonight I have the night off, and I've spent the whole day doing just that - being home, alone. Catching up on some comedies, my favourite food blogs, some kitchen work. So I want to finally make the time to post about the cooking and exploring I've done in the past month or so.

Let's start off with Thanksgiving (oddly, posting this a month late makes it rather timely for American Thanksgiving this week). It was my first time making a turkey - I dry brined our 14lb turkey overnight and it turned out quite well. I somewhat followed this recipe, which was an adaptation of the Zuni Cafe roast chicken I've read so much about. I told myself I wouldn't make WAY TOO MUCH food for once, but that of course did not happen. There were mountains of mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, classic stuffing, slow-braised brussel sprouts (my favourite sprout recipe!), homemade cranberry sauce and some beautiful purple and white roasted root vegetables.

It was a great night, with great friends. What I did manage to do that I'd promised myself was to keep my stress levels down for once, by prepping for 3 days ahead of time, and thanks to my amazing sous-chef. I actually managed to get dinner out only an hour later than I'd originally said.

Naturally, we forgot/had far too much wine to think about it/ to take a picture of the spread. But, I got one the next day (my birthday) of our leftovers for "brunch."
We also started the day off with a lovely bottle of bubbles, courtesy of a very generous friend who'd come for dinner the night before.

My favourite part, as usual, was the mashed potatoes/stuffing/gravy, which I proceeded to eat every day for the rest of the week.

I know its been awhile, but its nice to remind myself how thankful I am for my friends, my family, my love, my ability and desire to spend 3 days prepping and cooking a rather expensive meal for the people I love. And how thankful I am for a "hobby" that I am so passionate about and committed to, that brings me such joy (I meant cooking, but I suppose I can add hooping to the list).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Parpardelle, by hand, Harvest festival....and family stuff.

So there's this guy. He's pretty cool. The other day he came to the farmers market with me, and helped me carry home a half bushel of tomatoes (one handle each). Then we made fresh pasta together. And rolled it out by hand. I have to say, it was...really fun. Really....nice. And that's not something I'm used to.

You may recall me writing about my family, and grandparents, a little while ago. The same night I got a call from my aunt, very business-like, about estate-settling matters. We haven't spoken in probably 5 years, but there was certainly no love lost on her part. I don't know why things like this bother me. They do though, I yearn for connection. And that's exactly the frame of mind, of spirit, that I am in after returning from Harvest Festival. Everyone there is so full of life, love, friendliness. It made me feel more open and free. I said I had to collect my thoughts on it, but I don't know that that's possible. It made me reconsider my current "career" (if you can call it that), think more about a path (both career-wise, and spiritually, and especially my conundrum with reconciling the two), my experience of joy, and how to experience (I don't know how to define the sensation, but this is my current word of choice) bliss daily, as well as spreading that feeling around as much as possible.

I know I've had a few too many resolutions here, but that is my current one. To live, as much as possible, mindfully, lovingly, connected, and to light that fire in others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

preserving madness pt 2. - 30 lbs of tomatoes and a weekend of awakening

I promised you last week I would tell you what I did with my almost 30 lbs of tomatoes, and perhaps a little bit about my weekend away at Harvest Festival, my favourite event of the year! Since I could actually write much more than a little bit about Harvest, and still need to collect my thoughts about that amazing experience, I'll stick to the tomatoes for now. Just know that I have returned feeling refocused, reconnected to the universe and my true being, and recommitted to figuring out how to maintain (and to helping others cultivate) these feelings throughout the year.

For the basic whole and crushed tomatoes, I followed the guidelines in my Bernadin Complete Guide to Home Canning. The roasted and pickled recipes I found here: Five ways to use large tomatoes, at Food in Jars, and the link from there to her "In a Pickle" series on Serious Eats.

9 lbs = 4.5 quarts of peeled whole tomatoes - two of these didn't seal, so I put them in the fridge and I'm making sauce with them now. I was planning on just freezing the sauce, but I may can the results instead, due to lack of freezer space, and I'm finally going to deal with the beets I got last weekend in St Jacobs, so I can just put the tomato sauce in the canner with those. The sauce is just 1 small minced onion, 1 chopped garlic clove, 2 quarts tomatoes, simmered until reduced to your liking. Add salt, if you like, after reducing, then can as you would regular crushed tomatoes.

10 lbs = 6 pints of crushed tomatoes - I decided to try doing "crushed" tomatoes because of the float and siphoning that happens with whole tomatoes. I will use them for cooking anyway, and I didn't crush them all that much, so they are still quite chunky with larger pieces. I figured that the cooking beforehand would remove more air from the tomatoes, resulting in less float and siphoning. It also meant I could fit more into each jar, so I used pints rather than quart jars. I think using quarts in my stockpot contributes to the problems I have with sealing, as its hard to keep 3 inches of hard boiling water covering the quart jars for a full 85 minutes. The crushed tomato method is a little more time consuming, because you have to chop all the tomatoes, doing so bit by bit as you add them to a pot 2 cups or so at a time. This is to maintain a boil in order to prevent the pectin from breaking down, which is what contributes to separation of fruit and liquid after they are in the jars.

6 lbs = ~3 cups slow roasted in the oven for 10-12 hours at 225 degrees celsius. These are delicious to just snack on. I put half in the freezer immediately, half in the fridge to use for omelets, salad, pasta for the week, then threw what was left after in the freezer. I'd love to make more of these as they are AMAZING. You can do the same method with cherry or grape tomatoes, for less time.

3.5 lbs = 1 quart and 2 pints pickled - the quart went in the fridge, the 2 pints were boiling water canned. I also did a quart of pickled grape tomatoes for the fridge. I preferred the brine from this recipe so I used that (with less sugar) for the second batch of pickled romas that went on the shelf.

Now, where can I find another 30 lbs of tomatoes?! I still would love to make some ketchup and tomato jam...and more slow roasted tomatoes to keep in the fridge packed in oil...and perhaps just a few more jars of plain crushed....and maybe a bit more salsa!

**update! went to the farmers market today, and a new, lovely man in my life helped me carry half a bushel of tomatoes home. Two sheet pans are current slow-roasting in the oven, the rest will have to wait a few days, as its back to work for me tomorrow. We also made fresh pasta tonight, with the sauce I made yesterday, and some sausage from a small butcher down the street from my parents place.

new score!

and just a little harvest festival preview:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

pickled peppers and produce porn...canning madness pt. 1

Along with my gradual acceptance of fall arriving (slowly!), we are coming into the last push of preserving. At least to a certain extent (there are always projects no matter what the season). Today has been 3 weeks since I started my first attempt at fermentation, using this recipe for hot pepper sauce. I have read a TON about fermentation over the last month or so, and most sources do say to use a salt brine to cover whatever you are fermenting. However, I was intrigued by the idea of just bashing the peppers up with salt, and letting their own juices do the work, and it seems to have worked out just fine! I finally tasted them today, and they are SO DELICIOUS!!!! I can't stop snacking straight out of the jar. I don't think I will even go on to the next step of making hot sauce out of them, because I'm happy to just eat them plain.

day one:

day 21!

I went to a family wedding in Waterloo on the weekend. My cousin looked absolutely beautiful, it was so nice to see extended family after a few years, and to meet new family as well! Every detail was lovely.

I lived in Waterloo for 6 years for my undergrad degree, and haven't been back in about 5 years, so I was really looking forward to eating at some restaurants I used to love, seeing some old friends, and revisiting my favourite spots. It was also really nice to take a mini-trip with my parents, like when I was much younger. We were pretty busy with commitments, but I did manage to get a free hour on Sunday to walk around uptown, and wander through Waterloo park, a place FILLED with memories.

Saturday morning I got to St Jacobs farmers market, and finally fulfilled my dreams of picking up a huge amount (ok only a half bushel, but I'm a single girl here!) of tomatoes. To my knowledge, there is nothing of this scale in Toronto, where almost every stall has small to large quantities of everything imaginable. You do have to be careful, because not everything is local. If that's what you're looking for, make sure to check with the farmer/person managing the booth. I was enamoured with the rows and rows of beautifully vibrant peaches and peppers and oddly enough rhubarb.

I also bought LOTS of hot peppers, small beets, a huge bunch of kale, some yellow beans, and potentially the most delicious cherry tomatoes ever.

Needless to say, I've been in mass preserving mode since I got back. I'll talk about the tomatoes another time, but today I dealt with the rest of the peppers (I did two small half pints of mixed pickles yesterday). For 6$ I got about 3lbs of various hot peppers - jalapenos, cherry, habaneros, a few bananas, anaheims, and one other kind I don't remember. Today I started another round of fermentation. Because I love the results of my last attempt so much, I started a double batch of that. I just sliced 1 lb of various peppers (no habs!), put them in a wide mouth jar, mixed in 2 tbsps of salt, and let them sit for awhile to draw out the juices. I'll bash them a bit in awhile to get them even juicier, and if need be add a bit of brine to cover them. Then I fill a ziploc bag with more brine, and wedge it in the top of the jar to keep everything submerged.

I did another batch (with 1.5 lbs of hot peppers, using one habanero in each jar) of whole or halved peppers in a salt water brine, using this as well as several other Well Preserved posts for guidance. I did a 3.6% brine, dissolving 3 tbsps of salt in 1.5 quarts. I first dissolved the salt in just one cup of water, then added in the rest of the room temperature water (I let it sit overnight for the chlorine to evaporate). I wedged the peppers into two quart jars, and covered them with the brine. I'll use brine-filled ziplocs again to keep them under. These ones I will likely turn into hot sauce, by blending them with some brine and vinegar. We'll see which method I prefer over the next couple of weeks!

I'm away this weekend - at Harvest Festival, pretty much my favourite holiday of the year!!!! I'll let you know next week how the peppers are going, and tell you what I did with 30lbs of tomatoes.