I want to ease my way back in to this blog. My brain has been stagnant for so long now that I need a smooth transition back to writing. For anyone who might actually still take notice of my little page. Here is where I've been, what I've been doing, what has absorbed every ounce of my energy and changed me completely. My baby. McCallen Stefan, otherwise known around here as BamBam.
A week ago I was in Newfoundland visiting family. I spent two weeks in the place I have always referred to as "down home", the place my father was born and where I spent my childhood summers.
Some of those summers my parents, my brother and I either drove or flew down together and spent weeks catching up with family. Other years, many years, I flew down by myself and threw myself on the mercy and boundless hospitality of my relatives.
I'm not sure why they kept agreeing to put up with me.
I was not an easy child.
I'm sure my parents appreciated the break.
My vacations were spent here, in Job's Cove, in the village that my father grew up in and where my aunts and uncles still live. My aunt Theresa continues to live in my grandparents' house.
Job's Cove is, for me, the real Newfoundand. It is a tiny outpost made up of close knit families with a common identity.
That identity is fishing. Job's Cove is a fishing village.
If you know anything about Newfoundland, or about the fishing industry, you know where I'm going with this. I don't want to harp on it except to say that there is a moment of sadness when I enter Job's Cove now.
The energy, the lifeblood that flowed through the community when I was young is missing. Replacing it is a sense of futility, a kind of lack of purpose. It's pervasive and it's a difficult thing to find yourself in the midst of.
When I was young this place was filled with boats and gear and men full of strength and purpose.
More than one person was amazed that I would even walk down there now. It seems not many do.
I had a number of reasons for visiting Newfoundland at this particular time.
It had been two years since my last trip and for me that's about the point where I start to get antsy. I start really craving the smell of the salt water and the comforts of down home. I also figured that if I better get on a plane now...while I can still fit.
The deciding factor was really the fact that I had just spent a summer mostly alone while Dad had his own east coast vacation and SeaBass worked his butt off in the big city.
It wasn't the alone time that I found difficult. I like quiet. I actually found it hard to adjust when Dad returned home.
Mostly I needed a break from the three insane canines that I was left in sole custody of for the majority of the summer.
Three giant dogs plus one quickly advancing pregnancy equals one stressful summer.
I needed to be dog free for just a minute.
I was also really feeling a pull towards the strong sense of family I feel in Newfoundland. The amazing women there who love me. I live in a home with two men who are of course thrilled with the whole baby thing but I was really feeling like I needed the support of women. That was not something I'd ever really experienced before. The strength of the pull towards it was really an amazing thing.
My cousins threw me a surprise baby shower on the second night I was there. My response to the surprise was to walk directly past the baby shower banner and array of shower decorations without noticing a godddam thing and then to glance at the pile of presents in the corner and think to myself that it was a bit odd that my cousin Lisa, whose baby is now 3 months old, had not yet opened all of her baby gifts and also, why were said gifts now piled in a corner of her sister Cathy's living room?
The reality of the whole pregnancy thing had obviously not yet settled on me.
Also, I am nothing if not observant.
They had to explain to me what was going on. Then I went into shock and spent the next couple of hours totally overwhelmed by the gesture.
I have to say though, flying home accompanied an added hockey equipment sized bag full of gifted baby paraphernalia did a lot to help me accept the reality of the soon to be arriving baby.
I had big plans for my trip. I was going to do a lot of cooking and explore what was going on in with food down there. I was going to get out on my own and have some adventures.
I did none of that.
I spent all my time with family. I relaxed. I made no plans. I let go of everything. It was perfect.
I took pictures.
I had time to see Job's Cove with an eye that I don't always stop to allow myself to view it through.
There were times when I was younger and I was brooding and I was suffering through the usual adolescent upheavals as well as my own special brand of crazy that I felt suffocated when I was down home.
I admit that it was sometimes overwhelming to be so closely surrounded by so much family. It was sometimes a relief to come back here again.
I thought a lot about that this time.
Everything I've been through in the last year and everything I'm going through now has changed me so much. I couldn't get enough of family on this visit.
Okay, I don't know what in the be-jeezus has been going on with my comment posting feature. Suffice it to say that I only became aware this afternoon that people were actually still reading the blog and had not abandoned me and my yammerings.
So....after wiping away my tears of gratitude and appreciation I made sure to publish all the comments, called SeaBass and yelled into his unsuspecting ear, "people actually give a shit about me!"
I wanted to thank you all and let you know how amazed and grateful I am that you're all still around and care about what's been going on with me.
Last weekend I got to attend Savour Simcoe, a great food event put on by Simcoe County Farm Fresh and featuring the producers and purveyors here in Simcoe County.
We tend to get a little overlooked up here in cottage country, overshadowed by our close proximity to the big city delights to be found in Toronto. But we've got some pretty damn happenin' food related goodness going on around here too. Plus, guess where much of that yumminess folks are enjoying in the big city is coming from? There's certainly no farm land left in the urban sprawl on the shores of Lake Ontario!
Farm Fresh asked me to take some pictures of the food featured at the event. I pretty much jumped at the chance.
The day was beautiful, with booths scattered throughout the historical outdoor exhibits at Simcoe County Museum. Restaurants and purveyors were partnered with local producers whose product they used to create yummy, yummy dishes for us food sluts. It was a perfect way to showcase our area.
The North Restaurant produced a tasty and incredibly beautiful lamb dish with help from their partner Sunnidale Farms
These guys were kept incredibly busy all day serving the starving masses.
Their display was very vibrant and inviting and I was having a blast snapping pictures.
Cravings pulled out two separate dishes for the event. The first was a sort of deconstructed perogie of spelt with a cauliflower puree in the place of potato, smoked brisket and smoked bacon and carmelized onion.
It was really tasty. The spelt had a wonderful texture and like any successful "deconstruction" attempt, the individual elements all combined in your mouth to give you a great taste memory of the original dish (check me out using big foodie terms! I'm feeling fancy.)
Their second dish was a meatloaf served with a corn, bean and carrot succotash, creamed potatoes and a roasted tomato ketchup. I'm drooling just writing out the description.
They had a challenge keeping up with demand.
Just for a little variety, here's a shot of some of the lovely local beverage on offer
It was a hot day. I couldn't drink wine. I was not pleased. I sucked on my water bottle and sulked.
Pinehouse Farmswas partnered with Portage Bistro. Together they offered a beautiful little bundle of fresh greens topped with a fresh dressing as well as a dumpling and a cold soup.
I would now like to show you some of the things that I thoroughly enjoyed cooking and eating while missing from the blogosphere.
Roasted Beet Salad
Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers
Wild Mushroom and Wild Leek Soup
And now I would like to give you my excuse for the missing-ness.
Are you ready for it?
It's a good one.
My body has been invaded by a tiny alien being who sucks me of physical energy, mental capacity and, most distressingly, the desire to lovingly prepare home cooked meals.
Or, less dramatically but equally as truthful - I'm pregnant.
I realize that this might not seem like an immediately logical excuse for abandoning my blog and truthfully, it's not the entire reason. The entire reason goes something like this, I was going through a bit of a depressive period that was making it very difficult for me to write, or cook, or write about cooking, or do most other things that I enjoy.
There I was, drifting along in a fog of emotional yuckiness when I was suddenly and very unexpectedly
(unexpectedly like, I went out, bought a pregnancy test at the drug store and then immediately headed to the liquor store and bought a bottle of wine 'cause that's just how sure I was that I was just being crazy and there was no way that SeaBass and I had successfully made us a baby)
lifted out of my stupor by the news of a wee SeaBass Jr. on the way.
I was then pretty quickly sucked into another kind of stupor - the kind caused by having your body taken over by a wee, tiny little alien being. It is truly incredible how much havoc one itty-bitty, teensy-weensy stranger can wreak on your insides.
Seriously, I was unaware of how both how immediately and how intensely being pregnant would affect me.
But of course, I'm loving every minute of it. Because in between the morning sickness, the aches and pains, the inability to eat anything but bread and other assorted baked goods; I get to think about what is actually going on inside me and how totally cool it actually is.
So, that's whats been going on with me. But I'm back and I'm determined to start cooking and eating real food again. And, if you'll allow me, I'm also determined to write about this next several months and how I'm dealing with it.
SeaBass and I first had a version of this dish the year we lived in Halifax, NS. I took him out to a Teppanyaki restaurant for his birthday (totally cheesy but fun...and yummy) and we both fell in love with this salmon dish.
Have I ever told you about our year in Halifax? How we got together as a summer fling at home in Toronto (I had no interest in anything serious knowing I was returning to school in Nova Scotia) and then, come September, SeaBass totally followed me out east...at which point I couldn't seem to get rid of him. So we moved in together after approximately three months of dating and five years later here we are. Still stuck together.
It's a love story for the ages really.
Anyhoo, since that birthday celebration I've come back to this salmon recipe time and time again. It has good memories attached to it but mostly it's just damned tasty. The salmon is sauteed in soy sauce in lemon juice, making it salty and sweet and tangy all at once. The tender, flaky flesh of the salmon absorbs the flavours of the soy and lemon but holds on to its own character at the same time.
The shitake mushrooms are prepared basically the same way, sliced and then sauteed in soy and lemon, with a little butter thrown in at the last minute if you're feeling indulgent.
This is one of my more interpretive recipes - mostly because it's never actually occurred to me to stop and measure out the amount of soy sauce that I'm using - but also because I personally like my salmon heavier on the lemon that SeaBass does.
He's salty, I'm tangy. We balance each other out.
So, here's the loose recipe. Please play with it and make it work for you.
Soy, Lemon Salmon with Shitake Mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
2 salmon fillets (skin removed)
1-2 cloves garlic finely diced
1 cup soy sauce
juice of 1-2 lemons
dozen shitake mushrooms
Heat saute pan with 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
Add minced garlic.
Pour 1/2 cup-3/4 cup soy sauce over salmon and into saute pan.
Add juice from 1 lemon.
Saute salmon on med. heat for approx 5 mins on one side.
Watch soy and lemon juice to ensure it is not cooking down too much - you want to stay very liquid in the pan.
Add more soy and lemon if necessary - taste to be sure you're happy with the combination.
Turn salmon over and continue to saute until cooked through.
Allow the soy and lemon juices to cook down at this point.
Spoon the thickening liquid over top of the salmon as it is thickening.
My creative juices have been frozen. I haven't been cooking as much as I normally do let alone writing about cooking as much as I normally do.
I'm not sure exactly why that is. I believe it has something to do with the time of year.
Good god, could we please get some fresh, local veggies around these parts?
No? It's still far too early? This crazy spring of ours has not finished fooling with us yet and tomorrow there is a chance of flurries?
Alright then, I think I'll just go back to bed 'til mid June-ish.
I'm still eating my wild leeks constantly - also SeaBass is getting really fed up with the pervasive garlic-iness that surrounds me. I think it might be doing serious damage to our relationship.
And now excuse me as I take a small blogging break to snack on a cracker with leek pesto.
Don't judge me!
I've had no luck in my hunt for morels, which I'm blaming on our very strange spring. It's been very dry, alternately very warm and very cold and very unpredictable. Mother nature is quite obviously enjoying herself messing with our vulnerable little human emotions; chuckling as we all get excited about gardens and planting and days in the sun and then falling on the floor laughing as she yanks the rug out from under us with another cold snap.
Basically I'm feeling a little lost in limbo. Sensing the abundance of fresh summer produce just around the corner is making it difficult for me to cook with what is here now.
All that being said, the last time I was down in the big city visiting the in-laws - a lovely day trip of the sort that causes me to
a) lose sleep
b) pop anxiety meds
c) bury myself deep in consecutive glasses of wine
I made sure to take a little of the edge off the visit (you know, in case the valium and alcohol weren't doing the job) by making a stop at a nearby Asian grocery store.
While I have definitely noticed a kind of cosmopolitan shift around here in the time since we moved up here, soy sauce and rice noodles are often the most Asian ingredients I'm likely to find at local stores.)
I could have spent a good hour (and a good hundred dollars) roaming through the store but SeaBass was keeping me on a tight schedule so I limited myself to a few dried ingredients that I've been wanting to try.
My favourite ingredient so far?
Yep, dried lily flowers also known as Golden Needles for their beautiful yellow colour.
They are the dried buds of the day lily and add great texture and taste to traditional Chinese stir fries and soups.
You simply reconstitute the dried flowers in hot water and they are ready to be added to any dish.
I find them slightly earthy with a burst of tart almost vinegary hit in the reconstituted bud.
I wanted to make something very traditional as my first dish featuring the lilies. I always like to start that way with a new ingredient, it gives me an idea of where the ingredient comes from, its role in tradition and history. Once I'm comfortable with the history of an ingredient I'm ready to make it my own.
Right, so enough babbling about what I'm sure is my ever so intriguing food tendencies ('cause obviously I totally know what the hell I'm talking about.) Back to the food.
The first thing I made with my bounty of lilies was Muxi (Moo Shoo) Pork.
I actually made it twice. SeaBass loved it so much he made me cook it for him again the next day (sometimes I feel like I'm in a relationship with an 8 year old picky eater!)
I can't really blame him though. The lily flowers were a harmonious part of the dish but definitely their own texture and level of flavour to the end results.
As with all Chinese recipes it is important to get all your prep done ahead of time and be totally prepared when you start the cooking, 'cause although the ingredient looks long and the recipe might at first appear complicated, it's actually very simple. And things move incredibly quickly once you get the ball rolling.
1/2 lb. pork tenderloin
Marinade for Tenderloin
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Stir Fry Sauce
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp chicken broth
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn starch
handful shitake mushrooms
1 portabello mushroom (or handful crimini)
2 tbsp dried lily flowers
1/2 cup bamboo shoots (rinse if canned)
2 green onions finely chopped
2 thin slices ginger cut into strips
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp oil for frying
1 tsp sesame oil
Mix together all marinade ingredients - *add cornstarch last.
Cut tenderloin into thin strips and cover with marinade.
Marinate for 30 mins.
Mix together sauce ingredients - add cornstarch last. Set aside.
Cover lily buds with hot water and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
After 30 mins. drain the lily flowers and remove any hard tips from them. Set aside.
Beat eggs with salt and set aside.
Heat wok over medium.
Add 2 tbsp. oil.
Add beaten eggs and scramble until firm.
Remove eggs from wok.
Wipe down wok.
Add 2 tbsp oil back to wok.
When oil is hot, add ginger and fry until aromatic.
Add pork and stir fry until almost cooked through.
Remove pork from work.
Add 2 tbsp. oil to wok.
When hot add mushrooms and lily buds.
Stirfry for one minute.
Push ingredients to side of wok.
Stir the sauce you set aside and add to wok.
Stir sauce quickly to thicken.
Add pork back to wok.
Add scrambled egg.
Add green onion.
Mix all ingredients together.
Serve with hoisin sauce on top of rice or mandarin pancakes.
* As cornstarch is a thickening agent, if you add it to your sauce before any other ingredient you will not get the texture and taste you are looking for.
I know I've been neglecting the blog a little lately...and I feel terrible about it.
I feel I owe an explanation.
Be prepared, my explanation is ridiculous and shows what a preposterous excuse for a now 32 year old adult I am.
Also, it reveals my fragile hold on sanity.
But, as you know, I'm nothing if not honest with you all so I'd like to let you in on what's been hampering my creativity and deeply affecting my already clearly defective brains.
Ever since my nervous breakdown (I cringe every time I say that but it is the simplest way to explain what happened to me) I have tried my hardest to maintain a very simplified, routine, non-stressful existence. And I've done pretty well at it. I weeded out a lot of stressful elements from my life, left my stressful job, moved away from what I felt to be a stressful town and generally enveloped myself in a stress free cocoon.
Unfortunately, this has backfired just a little bit.
I'm now at a point in life where I want to get out there again. Correction: where I need to get out there again.
Or maybe both are correct.
I want to get out there because I've been feeling stagnated and I have a lot of ideas hopping around in my over-active imagination that are just begging to come to fruition. Also, I'm feeling healthy enough to want and I want to take advantage of that.
I need to get out there because, well, if I don't I'm wasting my life and I refuse to waste any more time (Mother and best friend passing away will make a person reflect heavily on their own mortality and the quickly passing sands of time.)
So, here's where things get tricky.
My neurotic, obsessive need to keep things simple and calm means that any new activity I add to my life causes me great anxiety and stress.
And, while absent from the safety of the blogosphere I've been busy adding activity to my three dimensional life.
Translation: sleepless nights, panic attacks and total inability to focus on blogging or even (gasp!) cooking! It's true, poor SeaBass has suffered many a "make it yourself!" supper.
I think things are starting to calm down now though.
The biggest "new thing" is something I'm very excited to share with all you folks but I really wanted to wait until I was over making myself almost puke thinking about it (you're welcome for the image) before writing about it.
My friend (owner of Karma Marketplace, local business woman of the year and all around amazing person) and I have begun a healthy lunch program at a local elementary school. We're doing local, organic and totally made from scratch foods and I am at the helm of the cooking end of the business.
I have never cooked for more than six or seven people at a time before.
I have never cooked for folks who don't know me and therefore don't feel obliged to be at least polite, if not complimentary, before.
I have never tried to feed healthy, organic food to an audience used to fillers, by-products and additives before.
By the way, did you know that children are picky?
Yesterday was our second lunch. It was a success and now I can relax....until next Tuesday when we do it again.
I'm looking forward to sharing the experience with you. The food, the successes, the failures, the ensuing panic attacks.
Christmas was difficult but maybe made easier by the haze of grief that still covered every waking moment and allowed a shield of numbness to protect me from the pain of Mom's absence.
That fog of initial grief has lifted a little now what with the coming of spring, the return of longer days and brighter sunshine penetrating through the emotional darkness.
With spring also comes my first birthday without Mom and this I am finding much more difficult than the holiday season.
My mother was all about birthdays.
Even more so in the last few years I think. She insisted on cooking our favourite Mommy meals for birthday dinner and providing our favourite birthday cake (or Mommy made pie in my case) for dessert.
My brother's birthday was the first without Mom.
It was just last month and so also came without the easy cloak of encompassing grief to protect all of us.
I tried my best to fill in for Mom. I pulled out Her recipe for lasagna and stressed and fretted that I would somehow screw it up and we would feel Her absence even more through a botched attempt at pasta impersonation.
I made sure we had store bought garlic bread and Baskin-Robbins chocolate and peanut butter cake for dessert.
Mom's lasagna recipe is more Irish-Canadian than Italian and store bought garlic bread is an aberration to my "from scratch" sensibilities. But on birthdays that was never the point.
The point was Mom's cooking. It was the love that came through Her food. It was the joy She took in having Her children with Her on the anniversary of the day She welcomed them into the world.
There is no one here to attempt to make Mom's pizza for me today; to bake me birthday pie.
No one is remembering April 28th 32 years ago and all the April 28th's since.
It might be selfish, but maybe today I have a right to be. Mom would think so.
We are lucky enough here in central Ontario to be surrounded by the ultimate in wild foods. Fiddleheads, wild leeks and morels are all native to the area and are easily found if you're willing to put in a little time and effort for the search. Personally, I am totally willing!
This is my first year going out on "forage" and I am totally in love with it. There is something so fulfilling about spending an hour of my day picking the food that I will use for supper that night. My hope was that all three of the mighty edible trilogy of leeks, fiddleheads and morels would be available in time for this post but, you can't rush mother nature, and so we'll have to do without morels. Never fear though, I promise to write another post when they become available.
Saturday afternoon SeaBass and I headed out to the magical neighbourhood forest, grower of all things yummy. Interestingly I seem to be the only one aware of the goodness to be found amongst the trees. Not that I'm complaining...I've taken a rather proprietary stance on the forest in fact.
We headed for an open patch of fiddleheads first and sifted through the layers of leaves to find the tiny, unfurled baby ferns.
This is what you're looking for in a fiddlehead; tightly furled with a nice stem and a bright green colour. When it comes time to cook them you will brush away any brown fuzz first before doing anything else.
My friendly neighbourhood forest is absolutely blanketed in wild leeks right now. I hop from patch to patch picking a few from each one so that I don't overpick any one area. Just starting to blossom now, and popping up in amongst the fields of leeks are Ontario's official flower, the Trillium. My sources tell me that when the trilliums are in full bloom, the morels will be ready. Unfortunately we have a little ways to go, only about 20 percent of the trilliums have blossomed so far.
We also spent time on Saturday collecting edible trout lilies. Their tender leaves, shoots and flowers are wonderful on their own or in salad.
After a peaceful afternoon wandering the forest, I laid our bounty out on the table and came up with some plans for our Foraged Feast.
The most important thing to me was showcasing the each wild food on it's own, prepared as simply as possible and then including each ingredient in a larger, more elaborate dish.
The trout lilies are so delicate, with a sweet, fresh sweet pea like flavour that I chose to leave them raw and whole and simply dress them to serve as a salad.
With dandelions we collected I made a cream of dandelion soup topped with raw dandelion flowers and dandelion flower fritters.
The dandelion greens gave the soup a nice bitterness that was balanced by the cream and the slight sweetness of the fritter.
I love the combination of fiddleheads and wild leeks together. I made a light tart with the two.
While the tart was good (I think SeaBass ate half of it) I have to say that when it comes to wild foods, I really prefer to eat them as simply as possible and without a lot of other ingredients.
Except for pesto.
I have an obsession with leek pesto.
I'm looking in to a 12 step program to help me but in the meantime, I just keep eating pesto. Our guests are lucky I shared any on Saturday. It was not easy seeing my pesto on another's plate!
Back to simplicity.
I sauteed fiddleheads and leeks together, loving the garlicky flavour the leeks lend to the fiddleheads and the slight asparagus note lent to the leeks.
The sauteed veggies accompanied the main course, quail in cream and more wild leeks.
This was a great combination. The rich meat of the quail soaked up the flavours of butter, cream and the strong onion and garlic of the leeks. The leeks cooked down into the quail and into every level of the dish. We couldn't stop eating the yummy little birds. They were the perfect end note for the meal.
Spring is an amazing time of the year. It feels to me like mother nature might be apologizing for the harsh winter. Maybe she's celebrating everything coming back to life. Whatever the reason, I am so glad that I have woken up to all the amazing things around me.
I've never eaten so well before, or taken so much pleasure in knowing that I have seen my food ripen from a seedling in the snow covered ground to a delicious ingredient on my plate.