Friday, October 23, 2009

My Favourite Part of the Day

At 3:30 pm I turn off my microfilm reader or shut down the archival database and I put on the kettle. I suppose I don't need to actually shut down to have tea, but it feels more like a real break that way. I'm not the only one who does this. I've quickly learned I need to fill the kettle all the way and start a line of mugs if I want to get my turn. The coffeepot is strangely lonesome at this time, the bustle of 10:30am being long over. I like to look at everyone's mugs. People usually only bring one mug to work, and it's usually one they like very much as they use it everyday. A lot of people have handmade mugs, which is oddly reassuring, although I know that a museum probably has a higher percentage of artsy types than other government offices. Boss J. has kittens on her mug. C in public relations has a travel mug, even when she has no appointments. R's is huge and bright yellow. E has a mug with our logo that she bought on her first day of the job. Mine is one of the handmade ones. A gift from Boyfriend on his recent trip to Labrador. The potter's name and the year are engraved on the bottom.

While the kettle boils I find out what the weather is like. The Museum is composed largely of windows that are several stories high and wrap around the building to provide panoramic views of the city. However, I'm in a little beige cubicle and can't see out. So people tell me what's happening. Apparently it's snowing.

With my tea I have a cookie. This is a shocking admission, because I take my tea in my office and food in offices is strictly forbidden. But the other part of this ritual is looking at kittens at or checking on my favourite blogs (see below) and I'm not giving up on it. The cookie has become such an important part of my day that it keeps me baking on a regular basis, even when nothing else does.

This is also the time of day that Tom Allen, DJ on CBC radio 2 shifts from classical music to contemporary. Today as I snuggled into my chair with my tea and my chewy cocoa chocolate chip cookie (see Orangette) Tom was playing some Joni Mitchell and kittens were being adorable. I thought to myself that this was a moment of perfect happiness. Perfect. I couldn't be happier if I was on a yacht in the Mediterranean. And I get this moment every single day.

I'm really very lucky.

Favourite Blogs

Monday, October 19, 2009

Soupy Sunday!

Yesterday I had yet another example of how the simple things in life can be some of the best.

I woke up in the morning and baked bread. I have never actually done this before. I used the recipe for "Rancho La Peurta Whole Wheat Bread" that I found here: . It was a little denser than I like my bread, but very good. It was pronounced fantastic by AC, who is a connoisseur of homemade bread, so I'll take that as high praise. AC and his girlfriend KW joined Boyfriend and I for soup for lunch. The soup, as usual, was one of Julia Child's. It was the saffron potato variation on her garlic soup. I was a little nervous as I was spooning it up. It was far too easy to make, for one thing, and for another it looked like nothing. Small pieces of boiled potato in a clear broth. Oh dear, I thought to myself, They're all going to hate it.

But JC didn't let me down. It was delicious! Unaccountably delicious, in fact. One of those meals that are double or triple the sum of their parts. And just too simple not to make all the time. Add friends, homemade bread, cookies, port and wonderful friends and you get a perfect Sunday.

(I made my usual chocolate chip cookies as a fall-back in case the rest of the meal was a disaster. I aged the dough for 36 hours after reading an article that claimed that this was the holy grail of baking tips. I don't think it made that much difference.)

Julia Child's Garlic Potato Soup:

I haven't given measurements for some of the herbs because she called for dried and I used fresh. Herbs are something you can play around with anyway.

1 head of garlic
four sprigs of parsley
2 cloves
pinch of saffron
3 cups chopped potatoes.

Separate the cloves of garlic and peel them. Throw them in 2 quarts of water with the thyme, sage, parsley and cloves. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the broth and discard the garlic and cloves. Add the potatoes and saffron to the broth and simmer for 20 minutes more.

And that's it! Seriously, that's all you have to do for a foolishly yummy soup.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Eating Alone

While at Chapters last week I browsed through What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin. The book is both a study of solo eating habits and a collection of recipes for one. I didn't buy it, but I think I'll go back for it because I've been thinking about it a lot. I've always enjoyed cooking, but I have to confess that I only started doing it regularly when Boyfriend came on the scene. My single life was a parade of convenience foods and while he was away last summer I set a new record for tuna sandwiches. I cooked a proper meal once or twice a week, but from the same handful of recipes. I almost never experimented or tried something new. I suppose that I wanted something familiar and comforting when I got home, and now that I have that in the form of a person I'm looking for something different from my dinner plate. I don't mean to suggest that this is at all typical, but it was my experience. I still frequently eat alone, but rarely at home. It's usually while going from one job to another. (Ever eaten leftover beets under an umbrella at the bus stop? I have!)

As it happens, this week I did eat alone. Boyfriend picked up a nasty cold and didn't leave his house all week. (No, we don't live together. Seems like it sometimes, doesn't it?) With the book in mind I started the week determined to eat real food. I made the Braised Kale and Chickpeas I talked about a few posts back, except this time I actually used chickpeas. Tuesday I had an entire frozen pizza. Wednesday I can't remember what I had. At all. I'm here racking my brain. What did I do Wednesday? I know I watched Glee, I know I did some laundry, but I can't remember a single thing I put in my mouth. Yesterday was a collection of various leftovers.

It's clear to me: I love food, I love cooking, I love eating, but for me it needs that extra spice, someone you love to eat with. Boyfriend will be over tonight. I don't know what we're having, but I know I'm a lot more interested.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pride of Ownership

Saturday I made Boeuf Bourguignon, but I don’t really know what to say about it. It is one of Julia’s most famous dishes and I assumed that after making and eating it the words would flow, but they don’t. It took 4 hours, including chopping, and it was absolutely delicious. But that was all to be expected. There were far too many onions, but that’s typical of JC. The beef was delicious and fell apart in my mouth. I’ll make it again (with fewer onions) once in a while for the rest of my life. It just wasn’t inspiring in the literary sense.

What was inspiring, was my lemon blueberry almond crumble. This one came from a recipe on, but I changed it enough that I think I can call it mine. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before. Perhaps it’s a certain pride of ownership that makes me want to show the world. You don’t need me to tell you that boeuf bourguignon is time consuming and delicious, but if I don’t tell you about my dear little crumbles, no one will ever know.

Lemon, Blueberry and Almond crumble

Adapted from

1 cup sliced almonds with skins
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 large egg yolks1 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh blueberries
Sugar to taste

I started by popchopping the almonds into big chunks and toasting them for 5 minutes in a pan in the oven. Then I mixed flour, sugars, half the zest, cinnamon and salt with a wooden spoon. Boyfriend mixed in melted butter while I separated the eggs and lined the muffin pans with papers. Don’t forget to grease the papers I did, and it made for some tricky eating. Then we mixed in the yolks and vanilla. We pressed heaping tablespoons of the mixture into the papers, then chilled for 15 minutes (putting the remaining dough aside) while we prepared the blueberry filling. This was where I got really creative. I mashed the blueberries slightly to get the juice flowing, then I poured sugar over them, stirred, and added more sugar until the juice began to thicken. I added the remaining zest and as much lemon juice as I could squeeze out of the lemon. My friends and family like things really lemony. I dropped teaspoons of this mixture into the muffin cups while Boyfriend mixed the almonds into the remaining dough, which we then sprinkled to cover over the muffin cups. We baked for 20 minutes rotating halfway through. They were brown and toasty on top and very, very good.

Friday, October 9, 2009


A little bit about myself, if you haven't gleaned it already: I am very sentimental about the past. Particularly my own childhood. There were issues, of course. Mean kids and everything that brings. But there were some very wonderful times in my home, and particularly in my kitchen. Most of these memories involve my mother, and almost as many involve Betty Crocker.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook, circa 1977, was a constant. Her happy face, the colours dimmed over the years smiled over hundreds of cakes, cookies and pies. Coming home to see that orange binder open on the table meant something delicious was on it's way. My mother's copy is an absolute mess. Most of the pages are falling out, a lot are out of order. They're badly stained with grease and chocolate. Some have my mothers neat handwriting amending the recipes so they will cook perfectly in our dishes, in our oven. I love this book more than anything. So you can imagine my joy when my mother gifted me with my very own copy, 1977 edition and everything. It's just the same, except this one is clean and neat. But that won't last.

Last year at Christmas, Betty Crocker released her* 1967 Cooky Book, complete with the controversial "y" spelling of cookie. You can imagine how excited I was. But I didn't find this until January. I decided to wait until Christmas to use it.

Working in a cardshop messes with my internal calendar, and for the last few weeks I've been humming carols and dreaming of shortbread. The day before yesterday I added an extra blanket to my bed and decided, that's it. It's Christmas now.

Last night was my inaugural cooky. Almond Butter Cookies. the simplest thing in the world to make. Cream a cup of butter with a half cup of sugar. Add a cup of chopped almonds. Then two tablespoons of vanilla and two cups of flour. Form into balls and press flat with a greased glass dipped in sugar. Oven for 10 minutes and there's your cooky!

The were done by the ever-obliging Boyfriend in the popchop. It's an interesting thing, the problem with the popchop is that it doesn't chop evenly, but in this case it worked to an advantage. Some of the almonds were reduced to powder while others remained in small chunks. The powder combined with the flour to infuse the whole dough with an almond essence while the chunks livened up the cookies.

These were a very simple taste. Crumbly, just a bit sweet, just a bit almond-y, just a little bit creamy, not too soft. A perfect cooky to have with a cup of hot chocolate on a wintry night. I froze half the batch for use in December.

*Yes, I know she's not a real person. I don't care. I'm pretending she is.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Too big a promise

First, you must understand: I think that mashed potatoes are the perfect food. Nice ones, not too lumpy, not too watery and made of real potatoes. Extras, like garlic, are nice but not really necessary. Boiled potatoes, some butter, some cream and some seriously vigorous mashing and I am a very happy person.

So when readers declared cauliflower puree, "just as good as mashed potatoes" I was understandably wary. But I had been looking for something to do with the lovely white cauliflower we'd picked up at our last farmer's market, and you could add garlic, cream and butter, so I decided to give it a try.

You start by boiling chopped cauliflower for ten minutes in water and milk and garlic. Then you drain (saving the broth) and roast the florets in the oven for 10 minutes at 250 degrees. At this point, you toss the cauliflower in the blender with some of the broth, and puree. Boyfriend seemed aghast at this. It turns out he's something of a blender virgin (Seriously? In this day and age?) and hot vegetables and broth offended his delicate sensibilities.

We wound up with something that looked like rice pudding, and that didn't taste like mashed potatoes at all. I considered adding more butter, more cream, more garlic, but I soon realized that I was considering a cream and butter soup with a cauliflower base. This goes against the spirit of the current vegetable theme, which is to let the veggies speak for themselves with minimal assistance. Anyway, Boyfriend loved it, eating the last half of mine as well as his own. Me, not so much. I doubt I'll make it again.

But the veggies were not a complete failure. When in doubt, listen to the gospel of JC (Julia Child) we had her carrots. I don't remember the French, but the dish consisted of boiled carrots tossed with a glob of butter and some chopped parsley. Delish, fab, and not trying to be something it's not.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A hard admission

I only started this blog a few weeks ago, but something fairly major has changed since then. When I started running was one of the most important things in my life and my goal of running the Cape to Cabot was uppermost in my thoughts. If you've been reading through, you may have noticed I stopped writing about running, or only mentioned it in passing. The reason for this was that I was grappling with myself, slowly coming to terms with the fact that I had been too ambitious and set a goal I wasn't ready for.

The workouts began to overwhelm me. They took everything I had, and it took me too long to recover from them. I started to dread them. There have been plenty of times that I've had to force myself to run, but this was different. Running had lost it's joy. I tried to push myself forward anyway. I told myself that it wouldn't be a challenge if it wasn't hard, and that if I just got through I would feel much better.

But that simply isn't the case. Last night my father and I had a long talk. We went over the runs I had done, how I felt, and what my expectations were. The conclusion was obvious. I would probably be able to finish the race, but it wouldn't be a good run. I may have had to walk parts and I was risking injury. It was a hard thing to decide. I've been telling people for 9 months that I was going to do this, and I've got a lot of pride. But I want to recapture running. To enjoy it and do it for fun again. I'm worried that doing this race now would ruin that. So I'm leaving it to next year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We got beets!

So Lisa Simpson happily declared many, many years ago. The joke being, of course, that no normal child would ever be excited about beets. I completely agreed.

When I myself was a child, I was both picky and willful. Some vegetables were eaten after long, drawn out negotiations (I would eat 23 peas, no more, no less) but some vegetables I would not even consider. Beets fell into the latter category. It wasn't a vegetable my parents ate regularly, so it wasn't much of an issue. The end result being that I ate beets for the first time yesterday.

A quick survey of food writers has revealed what seems to be a unanimous opinion on beets; they must be roasted, not boiled. The recipe we chose was from Eat, Shrink and Be Merry by Janet and Greta Podleski of Loony Spoons fame. As their cookbooks combine two of my Father's favourite things, healthy recipes and terrible puns, Loony Spoons was a big part of my childhood, and the subject of many negotiations. My tastes having matured, I accepted the complimentary copy I was given with some excitement. Having read through it, I decided that I would have bought it for myself, if I'd needed to.

So last night we got out the beets and turned to These Beets Were Made for Walking. Boyfriend wrapped them individually in tin foil and roasted them for an hour while I did hill sprints and took a shower. Then we took them out and let them cool while we roasted shallots in olive oil with fresh thyme. Boyfriend peeled and chopped the beets while I made chicken and broccoli to complete the meal, then we tossed the beets in a bowl with the shallot mixture and some balsamic vinegar.

I don't know exactly what I was expecting for my first beet experience, something mushy and turnip-like, I suppose, but it wasn't what I got. It was firm, with a rush of juice. My first bite quite surprised me. I ate my beets slowly, desperately searching for descriptors, but few were forthcoming. Beets are very different from anything in my (admittedly limited) experience. In the end I can only describe them as adult. Of course it was ridiculous for a child to like them, because beets are a grown-up food. But then, Lisa was always well beyond her years.