Cottage Cooking Club – August 2015

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May I say that I’m glad this summer’s coming to an end? We’re expected to get more rain over the weekend than we’ve gotten all summer long. It’s a relief. Drought doesn’t look good on Vancouver. At any rate, autumn is harvest time, so there’s a lot to celebrate. I’m looking forward to cooking with squash and root vegetables again.

In between bouts of languishing in the heat this month, I managed a couple of warm-weather dishes for August’s Cottage Cooking Club.

Tomatoes with Thai Dressing

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I made these at the same time I made Tomatoes with Herbs. It’s hard to know which of these was my favourite. I just know that both are lovely ways to celebrate summer tomatoes. This version, with its Thai flavour profile, would make a nice addition to a rice or noodle bowl, or a side for a coconut curry.

Summer Garden Lentils Niçoise

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I learned to love French green lentils while participating in French Fridays with Dorie. There wasn’t much learning to do, to be honest, as I fell in love with them immediately. I use proper lentilles du Puy on occasion, but the Canada-grown French green lentils that I can buy at my local food co-op are organic and delicious. They’re what I use regularly. Is it wrong to say that I don’t notice the difference? Please don’t tell France.

Okay, so I’m not totally over summer. I’m happy to eat my way through the abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers, beet greens, peppers, and everything else that’s on offer right now. Really, I’m just glad it’s finally raining.

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.

G-W Portraits: Jak King

I’m starting a new series that will appear on the blog from time to time. It’s called G-W Portraits and it celebrates the citizens of my neighbourhood, Grandview-Woodland. We’ve got a diverse cast of characters in this part of Vancouver, so you can expect to meet activists, food lovers, artists, musicians, families of all configurations, and more.

I’m asking three questions: Who are you? What are you doing (as a practice, job, vocation, hobby, or right this minute)? What do you love about Grandview-Woodland?

I’m excited to share the stories of the people in my neighbourhood with you. To kick things off, I’ve got a short interview with long-time G-W resident, Jak King – a historian and neighbourhood activist.

I’m using Periscope as a platform for this series, so you can catch it live on Twitter and join in a conversation during the broadcast. I’ll start giving a heads up tweet a few minutes before each one to facilitate that. Afterward, I’ll upload the videos to YouTube, then share them on the blog.

I expect the first ones will be a little rough around the edges, as I get used to using my phone as a video camera, so bear with me.

Tea Sparrow – A Review

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Tea Sparrow sent me their July subscription box of tea, so that I might review their service, but no other consideration was received. All opinions are my own.

As you might recall, last month I visited the Tea Sparrow Iced Tea Festival. Afterward, they were kind enough to send me their July selection of teas for my review.

Each month, Tea Sparrow sends their subscribers four teas, chosen from producers around the world. They choose their loose leaf teas based on quality and flavour, in order to give their customers a survey of the best teas worldwide. The teas are first selected by their tea sommelier, then presented at tea tastings for subscribers and tea experts in Vancouver. The highest rated teas at each tasting are the ones that make it into Tea Sparrow’s monthly boxes. Each tea package includes a description of the tea, steeping instructions, and the URL of the producer – so, when you find a tea you especially like, you can order more, directly from the source.

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In the summer months, Tea Sparrow sends out teas that are especially good iced. It’s a nice practice and July’s mix included some teas that are good hot or cold. I was very happy to have the opportunity to try a summer box, because Vancouver’s been enduring hot, dry weather for months now. I usually drink tea hot, year-round, but this summer has been my own personal iced tea festival.

In July, their picks were Vanilla Honeybush from Aromatica Fine Teas; Iced Ginger Peach Tea from The Tea Spot; Quince Green from Silver Service; and Strawberry Mint from Herbal Republic.

I tried each of the teas hot and cold, taking advantage of the very few grey days we’ve had recently to have some hot tea. Three of the four teas are on my list for re-stocking my tea cupboard (when I finally drink it down to a manageable level). The other wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t get it again.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who read my post about the Iced Tea Festival that my favourite of the four was Herbal Republic’s Strawberry Mint. This tea is superb either hot or cold and is incredibly fragrant. My second favourite was Aromatica’s Vanilla Honeybush. It’s delicious cold, but I’m saving it for cooler weather, because I enjoyed it best when it was hot. A close third was Silver Service’s Quince Green. I know it’s meant to be served cold, but I thought it was quite good hot, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t care as much for the Ginger Peach Tea from the Tea Spot. Perhaps if I sweetened my tea a little, I would have enjoyed it more. (I’m not a fan of American-style iced tea and the Ginger Peach is perfect for sweet tea. If that style of iced tea is your thing, I suspect you’d love it.)

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Still, three out of four is quite a good score for a sampler selection. Based on this sampler and the teas I tasted at the festival, I think it’s quite likely that I’d enjoy four out of four teas most months, a dangerous proposition for a tea lover who has a year’s subscription. I’d run the risk of having a tea kitchen, rather than a tea cupboard.

Tea Sparrow’s boxes are $20.00 USD/$25.00 CAD per month, including shipping and taxes, for US and Canadian orders. International orders are $30.00 CAD, plus shipping. The quantity of tea averages to about 35 cups per month. You can get loose tea more cheaply from a tea shop, but for a sampler of teas from various producers around the world, Tea Sparrow provides good value.

If you’re a tea beginner, I’d recommend finding a good tea shop or two in your area (hint: not a national chain) and exploring what they have to offer. Once you’ve developed your palate, then you can move on to Tea Sparrow’s service. Your local merchant will have developed offerings that fit into the taste profile of their brand. The advantage of a sampler service is that you can try teas that represent a wide variety of taste profiles, finding new favourites (and developing a tea mail order habit).

I also think a six or twelve month subscription would make a wonderful present for a tea lover. (I may or may not be hoping that friends and family are paying particular attention to this paragraph.) If you’re a subscriber who happens to live in the Metro Vancouver area, you can also vie for tickets to their tea tastings, which happen every other month.

As habits go, a monthly tea subscription is both healthy and pleasurable. And honestly, the idea of a tea kitchen isn’t such a bad one, really. You can just keep everything else in the pantry, right?

You can order a Tea Sparrow subscription for yourself or a gift for a friend at their website: Tea Sparrow

Cherry Crumb Tart – A Baking Chez Moi Catch Up

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What don’t you have time for? It might seem like it’s quite a long list.

But, a better question might be, what do you have time for?

For me, that includes making things by hand, whether that’s a pair of booties for a friend’s baby or a meal made with the freshest ingredients of the season. I’d much rather spend my down time on those things than in front of the television.

I certainly had time for this tart, even though it takes a little planning and patience. Dorie has streamlined her sweet tart dough so that it does all its resting in the pan, getting it baked and cooled a lot sooner than her earlier versions. Still, you have to factor that time into the equation before you commit to this tart.

The filling needs an hour in the fridge, so start with that and you will be ready to go as soon as the tart crust has cooled. In the meantime, mix the streusel and pit the cherries. (While you pit the cherries, you can even watch television. I’m not a puritan, you know.)

The tart bakes for about forty-five minutes, and then another half-hour or so after you top it with the streusel, which gives you plenty of time to get a summer supper together.

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By the time you’ve finished dinner, it will be cool enough to serve. With a flourish of icing sugar, if you’re so inclined.

Now, who wouldn’t have time for that?

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Cherry Crumb Tart.

Eat Local: Chau Veggie Express

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I love telling you about what my neighbourhood has to offer, but it’s not good to stick to your favourite haunts all the time. There are too many neighbourhoods across the city and region to explore, with their own characteristic offerings. Part of being a savvy urbanite is not just knowing where to find what you need close to home, but also knowing when what you’re looking for is elsewhere.

I’m good at travelling the east/west axes of the city, but I need to spend more time looking north and south. North Van is just a short trip away by transit and the next neighbourhood to the south of us, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, is full of restaurants, delis, and fresh markets.

Victoria Drive is one of the anchor streets in the area and it’s known for having good food from a number of cuisines along its length, attracting foodies from across the city. We found ourselves near 33rd and Victoria a few days ago, so we decided to check out a restaurant that’s been on our list for a long time.

Chau Veggie Express has become famous amongst vegans in Vancouver for serving a fresh, delicious take on Vietnamese classics. Their menu is vegetarian and vegan, but there is nothing on the menu that feels like it’s a substitute for dishes that normally contain meat. Instead, their bowls, soups, and salads seem like welcome extensions of Vietnamese flavours, complete in themselves.

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This is because they’ve worked so hard to develop broths and sauces that balance flavours in the same way as traditional ones, while making the most of their vegetarian ingredients. The food arrives at your table as quickly as it would at a casual food stand, but the layering of flavours and the attention to presentation bring a fine dining sensibility to their dishes. The room splits the difference, with welcoming communal wooden tables and light, charming decor.

I had the Rickety Rickshaw Bowl, which was deeply filling and flavourful – with shredded bean curd and tofu, yams, and spring rolls, even a meat-eater couldn’t have complained that the dish was too light. At the same time, the fresh vegetables and salad and the lemon vegan fish sauce kept the dish from feeling heavy. It’s the kind of meal that leaves you invigorated.

My partner tried the Tropical Rainstorm Bowl and may not ever try another dish. The toasted coconut sauce is everything he’s been looking for since he became vegan. He also appreciated the heartiness of the thicker noodles in this bowl. The best part is that much of the menu is gluten-free, or can be easily adapted. He didn’t think he’d get to have good spring rolls again, but he tried one from my dish and he was grinning. He may order a separate plate of them next time and we’ll be buying some lemon vegan fish sauce to take home. We’ve been looking for a good vegan, gluten-free version and this is it.

The fish sauce isn’t the only thing you can take home, either. Many of their inventive broths and sauces are for sale, along with pints of their famous vegan ice creams.

Come early, as there’s often a line. You can get great meals all day, but you can also stop in for coffee and treats, or bring a crowd for drinks and snacks.

If you’re lucky enough to come at a time that’s not busy, the staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their menu – we enjoyed hearing about their dishes, their philosophy, and their practices almost as much as our meal.

Chau Veggie Express is going to become a regular stop for us, but I’m also planning to explore more of the neighbourhood. I want to know what else we’ve been missing.

Click to add a blog post for CHAU VeggiExpress on Zomato

Hot Weather Eating – A Cottage Cooking Club Catchup

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I’ve been eating simple meals all summer – we’ve had dry, hot weather and it’s been hard to contemplate using the oven or the stove much. Next year, I think I’m going to add a small grill to our outdoor equipment, because cooking outside is all I’ve been wanting to do.

Luckily, summer is full of fruit and vegetables freshly harvested and perfect for simple preparations. The salad at the top of this post is typical of what I’ve been eating lately, along with some very lightly prepared accompaniments.

New Potato Salad “Tartare”

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One of my favourites this summer has been this salad, which gets away from the mayonnaise-soaked version you so often get in Canada and the U.S. Instead, it relies on herbs, cornichons, and a mustardy vinaigrette for flavour. It’s refreshing to have a bracing sourness underlying the dressing on a hot day.

Tomatoes with Herbs

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I had so many cherry tomatoes that I made this two ways, one of which I’ll tell you about at the end of the month. This is the simplest way to enjoy tomatoes, with fresh herbs from the garden, a little balsamic, and a good olive oil. I had enough to satisfy us, share with our neighbours, and still had some to spare. I slow-roasted those and froze them. They’ll be brightening up my winter meals.

Tomorrow is going to be cloudy and mild (fingers crossed for some much-needed rain). I’m going to take the opportunity to put my oven and stovetop to work. So, you’ll be seeing a few more catch up recipes on the 28th of this month, along with August’s Cottage Cooking Club selections.

I’ve missed cooking along with all my CCC colleagues and I’m looking forward to catching up on your blogs.

Spoiled For Choice

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The neighbourhood I live in is in transition. There’s a threat of tall buildings and generic chain stores on the horizon. So, today I thought I’d focus on some of the businesses that make my neighbourhood great.

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Food

This is a good place to start, because I just found out that Bosa Foods is taking over the space at Commercial and Parker that Dream Designs left behind. Bosa has been tucked away at the corner of Victoria and Turner since 1957, but the family is redeveloping the block and will be reopening with a bigger space. In the meantime, it’s good to keep them close to their original location and great to learn that an empty storefront will be filled by a business with roots in this community. It looks like the restaurant space beside it is ready to take on a new incarnation, too. If it becomes a sit down Italian deli, the neighbourhood will be in heaven.

Our first stop for groceries is always East End Food Co-op. They concentrate on organic and fair trade products as much as they can, while also trying to support local farmers in the produce aisle.

Donald’s is another of our stops, though less frequently, as both of their locations are on the outer edges of our neighbourhood. They’ve become famous for their produce and prices, while stocking a wide variety of organic and special diet products.

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There are also too many fresh markets along Commercial and East Hastings to list here. I can find just about any produce, spice, or condiment I can think of – which came in really handy for tracking down French Fridays ingredients.

And there are more and more great delis, butchers, and fishmongers in the neighbourhood. Some are longtime favourites, like Bosa, while others are welcome newcomers.

La Grotta del Formaggio has cheese, deli meats, and incredible sandwiches.

If I’m looking for meat, I can go to Pasture to Plate for organic beef, chicken, pork or turkey. If I’m searching for something farther afield, I check Rio Friendly Meats or Windsor Meat Co.

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And then, there’s Gourmet Warehouse. It’s a dangerous place to be if you like to cook. South China Seas is smaller, but just as dangerous.

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Things

Let’s start with Tiny Finery. They stock beautifully crafted local goods – jewellery, letterpress cards, ceramics, bath products. I especially love that they promote the artists and makers they buy from, both in store and on their website.

Doctor Vigari has furnished our home with many pieces of art over the years. They have a collection of art and jewellery that’s carefully curated and eclectic. It’s good that they moved a little farther down the Drive from us, so that we can better avoid impulse purchases.

LaLa’s does retro and kitch, but it’s mixed liberally with chic.

The Found and the Freed casts a wider net than most antique stores. There’s nothing stodgy about the goods they collect.

There are two yarn stores in the neighbourhood, which makes me happy: Baaad Anna’s and Wool Is Not Enough. I’m on a yarn diet, but I know if I want to break that fast I can find what I need at one or the other of these stores. You’ll want to visit both, because they stock quite different (but equally fine) yarns.

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Books, Records, Video

Yup, you read that right. My neighbourhood still has book, record, and video stores.

Audiopile and Highlife Records are both going strong on the Drive, while newcomer Horses Records and Books is carving out its own niche on East Hastings.

I don’t like to brag, but we have so many bookstores in the neighbourhood that I’m only going to tell you about my favourites. People’s Co-op Bookstore is as much a community space as it is a bookstore. Pulp Fiction has a carefully chosen mix of new and used books – whether you’re into pulp and sci fi or the most literate of new books, you’ll be happy here. Canterbury Tales has a solid selection of used books, with a few new ones, too.

And we can’t forget Black Dog Video. The video rental business is a hard one these days, but it’s so nice to have a video store in the neighbourhood that has a broad catalogue. I’m not ready to give up my viewing choices to streaming services exclusively. There’s too much to see that would get left out.

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It’s becoming clear to me that I need to do a neighbourhood series. We’ve had coffee and, now, retail. How about bakeries next? Restaurants are a huge category around here – that would be more than one post. Definitely one on the breweries and distilleries in the neighbourhood. What else? Let me know in the comments.