Wednesday, April 28, 2010

informative information (or self indulgent babbling)

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.

Anyways, that's what's been happening with me.

Thank you for listening. 


what's harder than the first christmas?

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.

My birthday is more difficult than Christmas.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Foraged Food Feast

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.

Friday, April 16, 2010

nine months and one day (267 days)

I visited the cemetery this morning. It's not something I do often, in fact this was the first time I've gone since last fall. I don't feel a connection to that patch of ground with my Mother's name on a slab. But this morning I was driving past the grounds and at the last second I found myself heading past the gates and towards Mom.

I thought I would just stop for a moment, take a look and make sure everything was okay, maybe say an obligatory prayer over Her grave. Instead I suddenly found myself sitting on the ground beside Her and carrying on a conversation. I found myself telling my mother all the things I miss without Her in my life. I found myself completely overwhelmed.

When I talk to Her as I go about my day (and I do, all the time) I feel Her still as a force in my life. I feel Her having influence and strength. In the cemetery I felt only the loss of Her. I felt all the things that are missing and that I will never find again.

Maybe the point is only that I still feel her, no matter where I am. Or where she is?Maybe the catharsis of the cemetery is helpful. Maybe it will help me heal?

I don't know.

I still don't know much of anything nine months later.

These days I'm doing a lot of thinking. A lot more thinking, worrying, questioning about my mother, her life, her loss, her legacy than I am engaging in emotional outbursts or bouts of melancholy. 

To have lost such a strong influence in my life - the strongest influence in my life - has left me questioning everything about myself. I think about how much I want to be like my Mother, everyone's angel; committed to everyone's needs, the consummate parent, the kind soul, the teacher. And then I remind myself that in the end She may have given so much of Herself to everyone else that She had nothing left to sustain Herself and because of that we all lost Her far too early. I wonder if I can strike a balance. I question my choices. I worry over my weaknesses. 

I feel trapped by all the thinking.

And at the end of every day I know that if I just had my mother to talk to, she would guide me to find my own path, my own answers. 

I still don't know how to do this without her.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

two words: wild leeks.

After a week consisting of a horrendous stomach flu, followed by a tremendous head cold; both of which left me so lacking in appetite that even No Reservations could not entice my taste buds to salivate - I am finally back in the land of the food obsessed.

One thing kept me going, kept me hoping every day that I would wake up with a growly stomach once more.
Yes, my wild leeks are ready. My secret location is filled with patches of vibrant green shoots sending up wafts of oniony goodness.
The only thing I've eaten since my recovery is leeks. SeaBass keeps complaining that I smell but I insist that it's helping my sinuses.
Leek pesto, leek and potato soup, sauteed leeks.

Did I mention the leek pesto? I've made huge batches of it three times already.

Maybe SeaBass has a point about the smell? I can't tell. My nose is still stuffy from the cold.

If you get your hands on any wild leeks do yourself a favour and make a simple pesto. Eat it like a dip, use it as a pasta sauce, top a pizza with it.

Wild Leek Pesto
whipping cream
toasted pine nuts
olive oil
parmiggiano reggiano

I'm not going to give you any proportions here because it really depends on how strong your leeks are and if you want a milder or more oniony pesto.

Tip: When I used the pesto as a pasta sauce, I blended in some sun dried tomatoes to add a touch of mild sweetness to the sauce.