Safely Spring

I think we can safely say it’s spring. The snowdrops are still going strong in my garden, but daffodils, crocuses and even cherry blossoms are appearing here and there, too. More importantly, my rhubarb is starting to get going. It won’t be long before I can start using it and picking up more at the market, because I always need more than I produce.

I’m making a list of new rhubarb recipes to try, along with my perennial favourites. I’ve posted about a few on the blog, here are some highlights:

A crumb topping and a cookie crust that hold a rhubarb-lime treasure.

Who needs pineapple when there’s rhubarb around? For another take on this theme, you can try these.

Roasted rhubarb equals rhubarb in/on/instead of everything.

Incredible jam leads to even more incredible jammers.

An epic rhubarb adventure with my nieces.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying peak citrus and even the apples that are still quite good at this time of year. I managed to quell my impatience for spring by catching up on the Crumb-Topped Apple Bars that the Tuesdays with Dorie crew tackled in October. They didn’t last long, so I’m going to make some time for the spring-like meringues everyone (organized) made for this week’s recipe. Then, perhaps, it will be time to start harvesting the first stalks of rhubarb. One can hope.


Dorie’s Cookies – Chunkers

Chunkers from Dorie's CookiesIn some ways, I’ve been old all my life. Physically, I was born with a slight hearing deficit, near-sightedness has been with me since Grade Four, and my hair started turning grey when I was still in high school. My behaviour has often been grannyish, too – tea-drinking since twelve, defiantly knitting in my twenties and thirties, and pushing baked goods on all comers since I was old enough to stir a batter. For most of my life, those aspects of myself were characterized as quirks and sometimes even adorable emblems of my individuality. More recently, they’ve become evidence of my status as an oldster.

Now it’s my politics, my way of life, and many of my experiences that are seen as incongruous. Feminism in those over forty is getting a drubbing this week, in particular, thanks to Caitlin Flanagan and her disavowal of any understanding of how young women date these days.

At least I can take solace in baking, which is where this particular train of thought began. (You were wondering when I’d get to the cookies, weren’t you?) Taking a photo of these proved challenging and I’m once again impressed with the production team behind Dorie’s Cookies – the photo in the book is tantalizing.

However, these cookies are much more than they seem. They’re brownie-like in the centre surrounded by a shatteringly thin, crisp crust. They’re filled with chopped milk and dark chocolate, plump dried cherries, and cashews. Every bite is a tiny bit different, though equally delicious.

All this and more went into the cookies!The worst thing about these cookies is that you have to wait for about 30 minutes for them to set after coming out of the oven. The best thing about them is that the unbaked cookies freeze well, so I’ve got a bag full of them in the freezer awaiting my next chocolate craving.

So, to wrap everything up in a neat bow, don’t reject a cookie because it doesn’t photograph well. Remember that there is a diversity of experience and belief at every age. And looking ahead, don’t dismiss a senior’s quirks and foibles as a symptom of age. It’s pretty likely they’ve been that way all along and that their life experiences might seem as up-to-date as your own, upon closer examination.

January’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

No resolutions, but a promise

Cute little holiday card

I got a little extra cheer today, in the form of a holiday card that had been hiding at the bottom of my mailbox. Thanks, Betsy! I am now resolved to pull my mailbox down every now and again. That’s as close as I get to a New Year’s resolution.

I am not a resolution-maker, but I do like to make myself a promise or two now and again. Right now, in this gloomiest of Januaries, I’m promising to make time for more creative endeavours. My life has been a little too grindstone-centric of late. I’m missing writing for my blog, but even more I’m missing the connections to the people behind the scenes of my favourite blogs.

It’s not just writing and cooking, though, that I want to do more often. I want to get back to exploring community and creativity and I have a few ideas. I’m even considering joining a choir. (Too East Van? Maybe.)

For now though, I’m making a list of things that have the potential of brightening up the last few weeks of rainy, gloomy Vancouver winter. I encourage you to make your own list, wherever you are, then share it with me.

Get Out of the House

It’s nearly time for Dine Out Vancouver, which is a great, affordable way to experience creative set menus at some of Vancouver’s best restaurants. I’ve had some terrific meals and some interesting adventures at my Dine Out choices over the years.

You can also be fed, in a less literal way, with the smorgasbord of offerings from this year’s PuSh Festival.

Scottish Caramel Pu-erh

Or Hunker Down, I’m Not Judging You

There’s a new tea shop on Commercial Drive, Babylon Tea Company. Ye Olde East Van Tea Drinkers (we’re not a club, but we should be) have been speculating on when it would open for months. And now it has, I’m finding myself wanting to stay home and nurse a cup…well, let’s be real…a pot of their Scottish Caramel Pu-erh all evening. I’m actually afraid to go back, because I am susceptible to developing a tea of the week habit.

And speaking of good habits, the lovely folks at Tea Sparrow have a new initiative, the Community Grocer. Healthy, plant-based foods delivered to the door, helping you wait out winter. I’m hoping to tell you a little more about this soon.

The Globe & Mail Holiday Crossword

Be Good to Your Brain

Crave the spotlight? Find out if you’ve got chops at Vancouver Theatre Sports‘ Saturday drop-in.

Or get ready to conquer Paris with conversational aplomb with Alliance Francaise. It’s also a great excuse to go to Salade de Fruits for a long French language lunch.

And if you’re really daring, you can stretch both body and mind in one of Harbour Dance‘s many classes. Just make sure you invite me to opening night.

Okay, it’s back to the grindstone for me. But, I’m back on the regular in 2018 with lots to share with you. So add me to your list of gloom-chasing strategies. Or, maybe just grab a cup of tea and we’ll hang out.

Soup to Heal the Heart – The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook Launch

Making Chicken Tortilla Soup

I received a review copy of The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook from Appetite by Random House at a book launch edition of a Soup Sisters evening. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

I firmly believe that cooking for others and with others is one of the surest ways to build and support community. It’s the belief that underpins block parties, cookie swaps, and soup swaps, as well as initiatives like the community kitchens that bring vulnerable people together to cook and connect or Montréal’s Newcomer Kitchen that gives space to newly arrived Syrian women to prepare and sell food, establishing themselves in their new home.

For Sharon Hapton, this motivation blossomed into the Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers, a network across 25 Canadian and U.S. cities that brings groups of people together to cook and eat, all for the benefit of women, children, and youth in crisis. A typical monthly gathering yields 150 – 250 litres of soup, which is brought to local shelter partners the next day. Participants benefit from working with a group of like-minded folks, alongside talented chefs that keep everyone on track in the kitchen. While the soup is simmering, those same chefs feed the night’s volunteers, starting with a hearty bowl of soup. It’s an elegantly crafted concept that’s resulted in waiting lists for these monthly gatherings and a steady stream of healthy, lovingly crafted food for folks who need it.

You can learn more about Soup Sisters directly from Sharon, in this interview:

Sharon Hapton on CBC’s The Homestretch

Last night, I attended a gathering at one of Vancouver’s regular Soup Sisters venues, Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. It was both a soup-making event and a book launch, because the third Soup Sisters cookbook, The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook, arrived on October 17th. Appetite by Random House and Food Bloggers of Canada invited a number of bloggers and foodies to make soup and learn more about Soup Sisters and its newest collection of recipes.

This isn’t my first introduction to Soup Sisters. I’ve been following their work for years and have always wanted to take part in one of their soup-making evenings. I also own a copy of their second cookbook, The Soup Sisters and Broth Brothers Cookbook, which I reviewed in 2015. I turn to it often for recipes and inspiration when I’m in a soup-making mood.

Like their previous cookbooks, the new one features recipes from chefs, bloggers, and Soup Sisters participants, but this time a number of the recipes were contributed by kids and teens. Cooking with young people is the focus of this book, with some tips and advice for getting kids into the kitchen and a host of accessible recipes. Making soup is a great introduction to cooking, especially with kids. It’s a process that can be broken down into many manageable steps, there is always something new happening throughout the process to keep kids interested, and the end result is the kind of meal that people of all ages will enjoy.

5 soups for Sereenas House

Last night’s participants split up into teams, each making one of five soups destined for Sereenas House for Women, a supportive housing program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. All the recipes were from the new cookbook, as was the soup that Chef Tony Minichiello made for our meal. His soup was a recipe from his wife’s family, an Armenian lentil and rice soup that has a deceptively simple list of ingredients for a soup so rich in flavour. My team (which dubbed itself “Team Nourish”) made a Chicken Tortilla Soup that was shared by Earls Restaurants. Other teams tackled Maritime Fish Chowder (Laura Calder), Spaghetti and Mini Meatball Soup (Bonnie Stern), Every Bunny Loves Carrot Soup (Skylar & Chloe Sinow), and Posh-Tasting Red Pepper and Coconut Soup (Taya Groner). Those last two were contributed by young participants and they were in attendance at the event to cook their soups with us.

House-made brioche topped with ricotta, arugula, and roasted tomato.

Our evening started with appetizers made with brioche the cooking school students had made that morning and topped with ricotta, arugula, caramelized onion, and roasted tomato. We were given an introduction to Soup Sisters, a presentation from a representative of Sereenas House, and a talk from Sharon Hapton, introducing the new book and talking about the program’s origins. Then we all went to our stations and started chopping and dicing. In no time at all, it seemed our soups were ready for their long simmer. In part, this was because many hands truly make light work, but it was really the help and guidance of Northwest’s chefs and students that made the work fly. They also kept an eye on our soups while we went off to prepare labels and eat dinner. Our dinner started with Chef Tony’s soup and he talked about the history of the soup in his own family while the bowls were passed down the table. The soup was followed by a salad rich in greens and topped with couscous and our meal finished with slices of light mousse cake that had been prepared for us by the school’s pastry students. After dinner, we ladled soup into containers and each team produced between 25 and 30 litres of soup for donation. I think we all felt a little spoiled and also quite pleased with how much soup we collectively produced.

The Soup Sisters Family Cookbook

We all went home with a copy of the cookbook courtesy of Appetite, but I think many of us will also be buying copies to give as gifts this holiday season, especially because the sale of the books helps to support the program. If you’re curious about any of the Soup Sisters cookbooks, they have some sample recipes from the 2nd volume in the series up on their website. I’m happy to have 100 more great soup recipes at my disposal and I’d especially recommend this book to anyone who cooks with kids.

I’d also suggest, the next time you’re considering a gathering for a celebration or a team-building exercise, find out if there is a branch of Soup Sisters near you and book an evening. The fees go toward purchasing the best seasonal ingredients for the soups and you’ll have a richly rewarding experience and a richly delicious meal, to boot.

Dorie’s Cookies – Crash-O Cookies

Oatmeal raisin milk chocolate Crash-O cookies

This month’s Cookies and Kindness selection from Dorie Greenspan is the very last one of the series, though Dorie hopes that everyone who bakes her recipes will continue making sharing and goodwill part of the mix.

This is a cookie that will be welcomed by just about anyone – even those of us who are usually fussy about raisins (like me) and those who really only care for milk chocolate, like my niece and reportedly, the entire Republic of Ireland.

Which is fitting, in a week when kindness is the very least of what should be expected of us. My suggestion is to take some cookies to one of the anti-racist marches and rallies that are being held all over this weekend, or eat some with your kids while you answer their questions about nuclear proliferation, or bring them to your grandparents (or great-grandparents) who remember the fight against 20th Century fascism.

There is power in sharing food, just as there is power in standing up together, talking about what’s important, and learning how to make a world that truly does move toward justice and love.

August’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Mid-Summer Ambitions

Roxy's summer style

My ambitions this summer are modest: making the best of summer produce, experiencing what the arts and culture scene has to offer in the off-season, and keeping cool (though not as stylishly as Roxy, as you can see in the photo at the top of the post).

Old-fashioned blueberry bars

I feel a little behind on stone fruits this year, but I did a heroic job with berries and rhubarb, with some more blueberries waiting for this weekend’s baking. I got a small harvest of figs from my five-year-old back yard tree this year (beating last year’s inaugural harvest of exactly one) and celebrated with a fig tart and some very tasty jam. There’s also plenty of kale, cucumber, beets, and homegrown lettuce in the refrigerator, which will make for a very healthy weekend of lunches and dinners. I’ve scattered photos of some of my recent kitchen projects through this post – let me know in the comments if you think I’ve been giving summer fruits their due.

<Frangipane fig tart

As for my second summer ambition, there is plenty going on this weekend and for the rest of the summer.

If you can get yourself out to UBC tomorrow night, the Blackout: Night Sky Festival would be a wonderful way to spend the evening. It reminds me of my childhood trips to the lake country around Kamloops, when we would set out lawn chairs in our campsite and stay up late watching the Perseid show.

Fig, balsamic, honey, and vanilla jam

If your idea of making the most of this hot, muggy, smoky summer is finding something to do indoors, you’ve got lots of choices. Movie theatres are great places to hide from high summer and they provide their own kind of visual feast. I’d start with The Cinematheque‘s annual Film Noir program, then move on to the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

Or you can embrace the elements, heading out to sea with Caravan Stage Company’s Nomadic Tempest, then enter a salmon stream in the middle of the city with Uninterrupted: A Cinematic Spectacle.

Chocolate cookies and a whole lot of blueberries

If you want to get out of town, you can head over to the Sunshine Coast for the Rogue Arts Festival or out to the Shuswap for the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival. And if you’d like to skip the organized activities, you can DIY your own Okanagan wine tour, explore the Fraser Valley’s Circle Farm Tour destinations, or spend August the way my family did when I was a kid and find your favourite fishing spots in the Thompson-Nicola region.

I’ll bring the treats.

Cook the Book Fridays – Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant Caviar

The sky this morning was an poisonous shade of orange and all day there has been a visible haze of smoke. The air has a heaviness that I haven’t felt since I was in Mexico City and I’ve been limiting my dog walks to a block or so for days.

It’s better here than through much of the province – Kamloops scored a horrifying 49 on the Air Quality Health Index and Clinton’s Mayor warned that a wildfire may threaten the hydro station that fuels much of MetroVancouver and the Island. The city has emptied out for the long weekend, save for those celebrating Pride Weekend and the Powell Street Festival, with many people in search of clearer air.

But, I’m supposed to be writing about something much more pleasantly smoky. [Aside: When did smokey become an old-fashioned spelling?] I charred some eggplants on the grill this evening, then finished them in the oven. I scooped out the pulp and whirred it in the food processor with lemon, garlic, smoked paprika, and basil. Then, I served it with crackers and toasted French bread.

It’s the kind of dip that I enjoy taking on a bike ride or a hike as much as I do serving it as part of a buffet. I whirred it a little too long to live up to its name, but the flavour is still terrific. It’s salty, earthy, herbacious, and spicy. It would have been lovely as part of an al fresco meal, under normal circumstances, but tonight it took a little bit of the sting out of staying indoors.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Dorie’s Cookies – Classic Jammers

This spring and summer have been punishingly busy, but not so much so that I couldn’t find time to bake some cookies for dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever. Dorie’s Classic Jammers are perfect for sharing and for baking in small batches. The dough and the streusel freeze very well and you can fill them with whatever jam you happen to have on hand.

Freshly made rhubarb jam

I chose a terrific rhubarb, candied ginger, and cardamom jam that I made with Melissa of Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach when we visited The Preservatory at Vista D’oro Winery for a book launch. (I’ll be reviewing the book in my summer cookbook review series and telling you a bit more about our visit then.)

I had just enough jam left for two-and-a-half batches, sharing them with friends and family a dozen or half-dozen at a time. Later in the week, I made another batch with some grape jelly I’d gotten as a gift, and though it was a bit runnier than jam, it was just as tasty in this cookie. I still have some circles of dough in the freezer, along with some leftover streusel, awaiting the next occasion for sharing some cookies and kindness.

Classic Jammers, with jelly

July’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Baking Chez Moi – Streusel-Topped Rhubarb Lime Tart

Streusel-Topped Rhubarb Lime Tart

I know I was extolling the virtues of sharing all over Instagram last week, but I realized today that for all the baking I did last week, I didn’t have any treats (savoury or sweet) left in the house. I remedied that by picking up a pint of strawberries this afternoon and am now battling the urge to re-purpose the goat’s cheese I’ve got saved for Cook the Book Fridays – there’s nothing nicer than a goat cheese and strawberry tartine at this time of year. Except maybe fresh summer strawberries all on their own. So, the goat cheese is safe for now.

I do admit to hanging on to more of this rhubarb tart than I usually do for the baked goods I make. Rhubarb is one of my favourite things in the garden and my estimation of my fair share of a rhubarb dish may be a little skewed. This was wonderful the day it was baked and it was still good for breakfast the next day (or so). Its base is Dorie’s sweet tart dough, cookie-ish without being overly sweet. The filling is rhubarb brightened with lime juice and zest and covered in custard, then topped with streusel.

I could eat variations of this tart with whatever happens to be in season and enjoy them very much, but I’d always be counting down the months to when it’s time to harvest the rhubarb from the garden.

Luckily, there’s still some rhubarb to be had, though I rarely make the same thing twice with it in the same season – my rhubarb recipe file is ridiculously large. Once it’s gone, I’ll console myself with all the other berries and stone fruits to come.

I’ll also start getting to know my new friend – a very kind Co-op neighbour gave me some sourdough starter at a meeting tonight. So, if you have any sourdough advice, let me know. I’m determined not to let it die!

Sourdough starter

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this month’s recipes here.

Dorie’s Cookies – My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookie

Chocolate chip cookies with a hint of nutmeg and coriander.

I found out recently that some of my neighbours think that my diet consists mostly of dessert. So much so that I’ve been told that one of my housing co-op neighbours was dumbfounded when a very healthy vegan meal I made was described to her. I guess between my Instagram feed and my fondness for bringing treats to meetings and gatherings, people may be thinking of staging an intervention. (In East Van, this would look like a gentle redirection in the food co-op toward the alternative flours and sweeteners.)

I suppose I should start posting my everyday eating a little more often, but I’m not starting today. I got a new oven this morning and what better way to test it than to bake up some chocolate chip cookies? One of this month’s Tuesdays with Dorie choices is her Newest Chocolate Chip Cookie, which I’ve been wanting to try ever since I vehemently disagreed with the judgement that put Dorie out of this year’s Piglet competition. Personally, I love adding chopped chocolate dust to cookies and I was especially intrigued by the hints of nutmeg and coriander in the cookie.

A whole lot of chocolate chopping going on.

Of course, my timing isn’t perfect. These are the kind of chocolate chippers that benefit from a night’s rest. I gave the dough an hour in the fridge and popped in a test batch. My research so far tells me I have nothing to regret in having made that decision. I am curious to know if I’ll think they’re even better when I bake the rest of the cookies tomorrow, though. Right now I can tell you that they’re a little soft, a little chewy, a little crisp, and very delicious. For an even better description of these cookies, head over to Sarah Jampel’s Food52 article, which has links to this recipe and to Dorie’s Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, too.

June’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here at Tuesdays with Dorie.