The Spring Hermit’s Bookshelf


So many of my friends across the continent are dealing with a harsh winter, while I’m contemplating planting the first seeds in the garden. I almost wouldn’t mind being snowed in, though – it’s been a long time since I’ve had a snow day and there’s nothing like cooking, baking, reading, and dreaming from a cozy vantage point on an icy world.

Except for doing all that, while also being able to go on long, sunny walks in the fresh spring air. I should just enjoy it before the rains start again, shouldn’t I?

And really, who needs an excuse to hunker down with a good book?

I just finished Vikram Chandra’s Geek Sublime and it was every bit as good as I expected it to be. I love writers who can take seemingly disconnected subject matter and weave the threads together into a greater whole. Chandra’s book explores code, but also colonialism, Indian and Western literatures, writing, and more.

I also have a bookshelf standoff happening between Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Baking Bible. Actually, the only conflict they’re creating is whether or not I can justify adding two more beautiful books to the groaning shelves of our cookbook bookcase.

Here are some other excellent recent reads:

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner – deceptively small, for such a rich and comprehensive survey of a subject, rather like a magical object in a fairy tale.

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean – for those who dream of architecture and cultural formation, along with the romance of Paris.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – a post-apocalyptic vision that sees more than just dissolution.

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum – a bracing book of essays.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow – copyright from a socially just perspective.

And coming up:

Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 by RF Foster

Moving Targets: Writing With Intent, 1982-2004 by Margaret Atwood

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

After that, I think I should get back outside. So, tell me, what are you reading?

FFWD – Chicken Couscous


I have an electric wok, which was one of the first presents I got when I moved out of my parents’ home. I have it still and it’s always been a welcome addition to any household I’ve been a part of, save for one.

As I was moving into one of the countless shared apartment situations that make up young adulthood, my roommate seized upon the wok as the funniest object I owned. Apparently, her ex had been given one, and after getting rid of it as quickly as possible, made it into a running joke about déclassé appliances.

Well, maybe there’s no place for an electric wok in the vast suburban kitchens we grew up with, but in the tiny urban apartments of our present, I loved it. I’ve never used it for stir-frying, though it would work perfectly well. For me, it was just the thing for a party.

I loved throwing buffet-style potluck dinners and my stovetop and oven would be full of dishes simmering, stewing, baking, and steaming. The wok would be over on the dining room table, filled with Anne Lindsay’s Moroccan Chicken Stew or a fish stew from the same cookbook, happily simmering unattended.

I used to make the same stew in vast quantities when I was one of the only ones in my university crowd who knew how to cook. It would keep us all going for a week, and when the chicken ran out, I’d sauté cubes of tofu in the same spices and add them to the pot. At the end of the week, if there was any broth left over, I’d use it as the base of a clean-out-the-fridge soup.

This week’s recipe put me in mind of that stew, just as Dorie’s Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine did a few months ago. Her take on these flavours includes harissa, which wasn’t on my radar way back then, but brings a welcome heat. I also enjoyed the turnips in this dish, instead of the sweet potatoes that I’d usually reach for with these spices.

I often add dried apricots or currants to a dish like this, but am out of both, so instead stirred in a small spoonful of apricot jam just before serving. It balanced the flavours almost as well as the fruit would have done. It also added another lovely note to the stew’s aroma, which included hints of saffron, ginger, and cinnamon, too.

Since it was just me eating this dish, I halved the recipe and made couscous to go with it. I’ll still be eating my way through the leftovers for a day or two, which is okay, since the flavour keeps improving with time. I won’t be stretching it out with tofu, though. I think I’ll save that for a vegan version I can eat with Kevin, and serve it with quinoa.

Though I didn’t need it this week, I’m hanging onto my electric wok, in anticipation of gatherings to come. And for the record, I’m also awfully fond of my stand alone steamer.

You can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Chicken Couscous.

A Very Early Spring


It’s been an early spring here in Vancouver and despite all the rain that’s come with the Pineapple Express, the early flowers and warmer temperatures have been kind of great. I’ve even heard that some of the cherry trees are already in bloom.

It’s worrisome, too – climate change is set to bring hard times to ski resorts in the south coast temperate zones and a bright future for BC wineries, but whatever else comes with it is much more unpredictable.

For now, though, I’m going to drink in the colour and get an early start on cleaning up and preparing my garden beds. And I’m going to start dreaming my way through the copy of the West Coast Seeds catalogue that just showed up in my mailbox today.

I’m excited that soon enough it will be rhubarb season again and I can get busy making Roasted Rhubarb, Rhubarb Curd, Rhubarb Baby Cakes, and Hungarian Shortbread. I’m also looking forward to finding even more uses for my favourite harbinger of spring.

Whether you’re still snowed in or starting to feel the heat, I’d love to hear what’s in store for you in the coming weeks. Let me know in the comments!

FFWD – Croquants


Hello Doristas – I’ve missed you! I can’t believe this is my first French Fridays post since the beginning of the month, but it’s been hectic around here.

This week’s recipe is one of my favourite sweet treats from this book, one that I’ve made often when I’ve had extra egg whites in the kitchen. (Although its place as my favourite egg-white-using dessert may now have been usurped by Dorie’s Cranberry Crackle Tart.)

I’ve even made these cookies when I didn’t have egg whites to use up, which reminds me – I’d love it if cookbooks had an index section for egg yolk recipes, as well as one for egg white recipes. Pavlova lovers will agree with me, I’m sure.

I love croquants with any kind of nuts, but my favourite version uses a mix of different nuts – our co-op sells a ‘fancy nut mix’ that’s perfect for these cookies. I’ve tried them with unsalted nuts, but found the cookies were then too sweet, so I stick with salted nuts now.

These cookies are perfect with a cup of tea and keep quite well in a cookie tin. I brought a big batch of these to a training a few months back and the Chair took the leftovers home, as we had another meeting scheduled for the next night. He showed up to that meeting empty-handed, explaining that “a couple of friends dropped by last night and, uh, we ate all the cookies.”

I think that’s a ringing endorsement.

You can find David Lebovitz’ version of croquants here (or even better, you can get yourself a copy of Around My French Table). And you can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Croquants.

Baking Chez Moi – Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake

There are many reasons why I love to bake, but eating what I bake isn’t at the top of my list. Don’t misunderstand me, I love baked goods and I think homemade ones are the best. But sharing what I bake rates higher for me, as does the act of baking itself. There’s something calming about the methodical nature of baking and something satisfying about the progression of a baking project. And though tasting is the final step in this progression, it’s the aroma of something delicious in the oven that’s really the sensory payoff for me.

This is especially true of this week’s Baking Chez Moi assignment. From the moment I started scraping the pulp from the vanilla pod, my home smelled wonderful. After the butter browned, the aroma was heady. By the time the loaf came out of the oven, it was intoxicating. I felt it was very unfair that I’d read Dorie’s comment that the loaf improves after a day’s rest, because I really wanted to slice into that cake immediately. Actually, I wanted to set it in front of me on my desk. Who needs a bouquet when you can have the scent of this loaf perfuming your space, instead?

Well, wait I did and the cake rewarded me with a tender, sponge-like crumb and a gentle crispness at the edges. There is no need to spread butter on this loaf cake – browned butter is present in every bite. It would be good used as shortcake might be, covered in macerated berries and cream. Stale, it might be perfect in a parfait. Right now, though, I like it just as it is, eaten out of hand. I’m looking forward to trying it toasted in a day or two, as well. Then, I might break out just a little more butter.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Brown Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake.

Cottage Cooking Club – January 2015

Early spring

Spring is a few weeks ahead of itself here. The blooms that start popping up in February have been appearing everywhere around the neighbourhood over the last two weeks. It’s a welcome sign of renewal.

I’ve been experiencing renewal in a slightly less pleasurable way since the turn of the year. Our building was completely re-piped over the last few weeks and it was disruptive enough to throw off my blogging schedule (among other things). Half of my kitchen’s contents were piled on the other half and the rest of our place was uneasily accommodating the contents of our storage and coat closets, along with the substantial contents of a big built-in bookshelf.

There are no more holes in the wall and in their place, there are bright new coats of paint. We’re slowly organizing and putting away the things we’re keeping and working on getting rid of the rest. (One of the advantages of this sort of project is that it inspires you to purge unneeded belongings.) One of the disadvantages of work of this kind is that it saps creative energy, so we’ve been existing on some pretty utilitarian cooking lately and writing inspiration was a little hard to come by.

But that’s all over with, so I’m back in the kitchen and at my desk and will be catching up on some promised posts soon. For now, I’m glad I only committed to one Cottage Cooking Club selection this month, though all of them looked like things I’d love to try.

Curried Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and Squeak

Just before the chaos began, I made a big batch of this bubble and squeak. The traditional version has been a comfort food favourite of mine for many years, but one that I don’t often remember to make. This curried vegan version, which uses leftover cooked cabbage and potatoes, is economical and delicious. (And as a bonus, it reminded me that simply sautéed shredded cabbage is a delicious side dish all on its own.) I added chickpeas to the dish, for a little protein and fibre boost, but otherwise followed the recipe. My only quibble is that curry powder is such an imprecise description. I’m going to be playing around with curry spices as I make this dish again, until I get a combination I really love.

I also made the fennel and celeriac soup with orange zest, which was delicious, but that was when the work in our kitchen began and I neglected to get a photo. I love this sort of soup, especially when the weather is cold or rainy. Citrus and fennel have bright notes that help to make up for sunless days and celeriac has the same sort of earthy heft as potatoes, which braces against the cold. A perfect winter soup.

Now, we can move on to February. It’s a cold and dark month in many places, but here in Vancouver, it’s often full of spring.

Here are the links to the rest of the group’s posts for this month. I encourage you to check them out – you’ll meet some wonderful bloggers and get some great inspiration for vegetarian eating.

Renovation Blues


Things might be a little slow around here for the next couple of weeks. Our place is undergoing a complete re-piping right now and it’s put our living space into chaos.

On the negative side, I’ve missed a French Friday and I might miss one more, between water shut offs and emptying out built in bookshelves, storage spaces, and one quarter of my kitchen.

On the positive side, I’ll have a timely book review for you on Saturday and next Tuesday, I’ll be telling you about a resource for your New Year’s resolutions that can be found right in one Vancouver grocery chain.

In the meantime, I’ll be telling myself that this renewal will help give another twenty years’ life to this building…