Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Punkin' Good Time

Remember the pumpkin my friend Anna gave me earlier this month? I carved it up today.

The pumpkin's stem kind of looks like a witch's hat!

I used various-shaped leaves as a template for the design I carved out.

As for the pumpkin seeds, I dried them out in a warm oven, then tossed them in melted butter, salt and pepper, and roasted them at 300 degrees for about thirty minutes. The hulls were crisp enough to break open with my teeth, and the kernels inside were still tender. Yum yum.

You can add whatever seasonings you like to your pumpkin seeds: try cinnamon, nutmeg, or even curry powder. If you prefer to eat the entire seed, hull and all, leave the seeds in the oven for another fifteen minutes, until they are a deep golden brown.
And as for the pumpkin flesh, I cut out as much of it as I could, and got about 2 cups. I roasted the pieces in the oven in another pan at the same time as the seeds. Then I sauteed two small onions in butter, added the roasted pumpkin along with 2 cups of chicken broth, and a few sprigs of thyme; simmered for half an hour, then pureed with an immersion blender (removing the woody bits of thyme first).

Try this lovely soup with garlicky croutons on top, or pancetta or smokey bacon bits. Also, why not experiment with your own flavourings - maybe a dash of curry powder, lime juice, and a slice or two of jalapeno pepper? Or try roasting a carrot or two along with the pumpkin pieces, just to get another veggie in.
Pumpkin fun doesn't have to end with Halloween - I hope you've had a safe and happy one!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I stuck in my thumb, and pulled out some plums....

Speaking of lovely presents, a few months ago my sister also sent me a tart pan which I finally got to use when I tried this Ina Garten recipe for plum tart.

This is the perfect autumn dessert - simple to make, not too sweet, slightly crunchy with walnuts and fragrant with cinnamon. The ripe, juicy plum slices retain their shape after baking but melt into a warm softness in your mouth. A delicious way to enjoy the season's bounty.

Plum Tart
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Parties!

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 tablespoons cold butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 pounds firm, ripe plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, walnuts, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix with a pastry blender until crumbly. Mix in the cinnamon.

Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch tart pan.

Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down, to form a flower pattern. Begin around the rim of the pan and work your way inwards.

Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums.

Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it's lightly browned on top and bubbling with plum juices.

Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gifts of Autumn

I've received some lovely presents this fall. First, my friend Anna brought me a pumpkin from her garden. Then my friend Pat gave me a little bag of mixed quinoa from The Grainry on Granville Island. Well, I thought it was a little bag, but it has magically multiplied to feed six people plus plenty more for lunches this week. Quinoa is indeed a wonder grain - watch for a post on it, coming soon!

Last but not least, my sister sent me a new apron - with pockets - and a cheery red, yellow, and brown pattern.

Mother Nature has been generous with her gifts, too, and just as colourful. Autumn is really becoming my favourite time of the year. I hope you are having a beautiful and fruitful season!

Bowl of (raw) quinoa

Tree in Sutcliffe Park, Granville Island

Autumn colours

Fall foliage, Granville Island

Some of nature's bounty


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A different kind of Christmas shopping

It’s that time of year again, when Halloween and Christmas merchandise jostle each other for space on store shelves. I took a wander through the mall on my lunch hour – I wasn’t shopping for anything, but it didn’t take me long to feel that I’d had enough. And it got me thinking that there must be a better way to spend Christmas than buying cartloads of things that nobody really needs and might not even really like.

If you are thinking along the same lines, then here are a couple of gift-giving ideas I’ve come across which I think are a little more worthwhile and meaningful than the usual bottle of perfume, CD, or wool socks.

FH (Food for the Hungry) Canada has their Poverty Revolution 2010/2011 Gift Guide out. It’s full of really neat gifts that people can purchase to help impoverished communities in developing countries around the world. Did you know that $25 can buy two chickens, four rabbits, or fruit and vegetable seeds to help a family start raising their own food? There are items even more inexpensive than that: athletic supplies are $15 and $20 will provide vitamins for three children for an entire year. And if you really want to splurge, how about a goat ($75) or even a hand-dug well ($1,000)?

I had a blast going through the catalogue and doing mental Christmas shopping for kids around the world. Much more fun than I had the other day going through the clearance centre at Sears, trying on boots that wouldn’t even zip halfway up my calves. The boots were a great price, but the same amount could also buy breakfast or school supplies for an entire classroom of kids. Now that’s what I call a bargain.

If you live in Vancouver and want something a little more local, check out the Hope in Shadows photography exhibition at the Pendulum Gallery on Georgia Street (on until October 23rd). The prize-winning photos, all taken by residents of the Downtown Eastside, are featured in an annual calendar which you can purchase at the gallery or from one of the many street vendors around town. The 2011 calendar features colour photos for the first time since the project began in 2003. On its cover a beaming little boy stands in front of a bright wall mural, holding up a sign that says, “I can make a difference.”

The photos on display are beautiful and all the more remarkable because they were taken using a very simple disposable camera. The one I liked most was a black and white portrait of two young girls playing violins, with their backs to the viewer. I later learned that the photographer was a young girl herself, a friend of the budding violinists’.

“People think that everyone who lives in the Downtown Eastside is either a drug addict or homeless person, or both,” says Garvin Snider, one of the photographers who very kindly toured me around the exhibit the afternoon I visited. “That’s just not true. We have lots of kids down there, lovely families.” The photos show that there is indeed another face to the Downtown Eastside, and it’s one that shines with hope. And isn't that what Christmas is all about? 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday afternoon at the winery

I used to live in Langley, BC, and I miss it sorely. It's just a few exits down the TransCanada from where I currently live, and yet going there is like entering a different world. Here are long green hills, endless miles of quiet country roads, farm houses, apple orchards, horse paddocks, fields dotted with cows and sheep.

And wineries.

My dad first discovered the Domaine de Chaberton winery a few years ago when his office hosted a lunch at the winery's bistro. It was a fifteen-minute drive from where we lived, and it soon became our favourite place to go for special celebrations, to take out of town visitors, and to buy wine - especially at Christmastime.

It's one of the things I miss most about Langley. So I was very happy when a group of girlfriends agreed to come out and visit the winery with me today. It was a perfect autumn day, sunny and warm enough so that we were able to sit on the patio overlooking the vineyard.

After a delicious and leisurely lunch, we toured the vineyard, the fermentation room, and the wine cellar. Harvest is just over, and there are crates upon crates of grapes waiting to be pressed. Then we sampled some wines and bought several bottles. I got my Christmas wine shopping done.

The wine cellar. The walls are made of cedar, which keeps out bugs. And the barrels are a combination of American and French oak.

It's from the friendly and knowledgeable winery staff that I learned a few important things about drinking and storing wine. Like how to swirl the glass to release the wine's bouquet and look for the "legs" that are an indication of a good vintage. And why corks are better than screw caps, especially if you are planning to age the wine for a few years. And how you should store wine bottles on their sides, in a cool, dark place.

There are several other wineries in the area, but Domaine de Chaberton is the one I will go back to again and again. Just like the rest of Langley, it feels like home.


The beauty of little things

Seasons may change...

Winter to spring....
... but I'll love you until the end of time.

~ "Come what may," Moulin Rouge


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chile's Miracle Miners

2010 isn't quite over yet, but it'll be hard to top what I think is the feel-good story of the year - possibly the decade. Yesterday the whole world watched in wonder and awe as, one by one, thirty three Chilean men emerged from the mine which could very well have been their tomb. I'm sure many of us laughed and cried along with their loved ones. I know I did.

I found an interesting article in the Montreal Gazette entitled, How Did Chile's Trapped Miners Survive? The first question, the same one uppermost in my own mind, was, "What did they eat?" It was amazing to learn that the men rationed themselves two spoonfuls of tuna and half a cup of milk every forty-eight hours for seventeen days before drillers discovered that they were still alive.

Think of it. Seventeen days during which these men somehow managed to keep themselves and their hope alive.

And then there were the fifty one more days that followed, in which the men organized themselves, established a routine, and perhaps most incredible of all, managed to keep up their good humour.

Those of us who lived out these past two and a half months comfortably on the ground, living our normal lives, and perhaps taking a lot for granted, have much to learn from these men. As one of the miners said, "Often something has to happen to you before you stop and think and understand that you only have one life, and then you think what you have to change."

C.S. Lewis once called pain "God's megaphone for a deaf world." It comes in many forms; sometimes it needs the moral - if not literal - equivalent of a ton of falling rock to wake us up. When it does come, let's hope we have the perception to look for what needs changing, instead of throwing up our hands and giving up. The miners didn't give up. We owe it to them to do the same. 


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October Sky

If there's anything I've learned during this year of taking pictures, it's this.  Sometimes, the most important thing you can do is stop and look over your shoulder.  The greatest shot may not be in front of you, but behind you.

Yes, that's the same tree in Feather Moon.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving

Today and everyday I am filled with gratitude for the family and friends with whom I share food, laughter, and life. Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!


Saturday, October 09, 2010

Prelude to Thanksgiving: Fig Compote

Fresh figs are a bit of a rarity here in Vancouver, so finding some at the grocery store is always an occasion for me to give thanks. I love their delicate flavour and firm, blue-black skin that gives way to crunchy softness. I bought a pound of fresh figs this week, and by happy coincidence a recipe for fig compote came through my Twitter feed that same day.

Now I've had fresh figs and dried figs, but I've never had kicked-up figs, so I thought it was about time to try. And am I ever glad I did. On this cold, rainy autumn night, my kitchen is filled with the fragrance of melted butter, sugar, and honey, and for supper I'm having this rich, dark, sticky, sweet compote spread on warm slices of French bread, eaten straight off the bread board. Yummmmm. If I were a cat I'd be purring.

Fresh Fig Compote
adapted from Good to the Grain by Kimberly Boyce

1/2 pound fresh figs
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar

Remove stems from figs and cut into quarters (or halves, if they are small)

Turn on your oven to the broil setting and set a cast-iron or oven-proof pan on the stove to heat.

Melt the butter and add the honey and sugar. Stir together and cook on high heat for about a minute, mixing frequently, until it starts to bubble.

Add the sliced figs and stir to coat them with the syrup.

Slide the pan into the oven to broil. Cook for five minutes. With your oven mitts on, turn the figs a few times to prevent them from sticking and burning.

The compote is ready to pull out when the syrup is deep golden in colour.

Serve warm on slices of bread or pancakes, or rolled into crepes.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Surviving breast cancer: 2 stories

So it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and there are all kinds of campaigns and gimmicks going on. People will stop at nothing these days, it seems, to make other people aware.

Don't worry - I'm not about to tell you where I like my handbag. (I didn't reveal what colour my bra was last year, either.) As a friend of mine puts it, "I don't think this is a 'powerful' way of trying to help support our cause for breast cancer. I think we can come up with other creative ways than trying to be provocative."

My grandmother and my mom

So instead, I'm going to tell you about my grandmother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer after her doctor suggested she have a mammogram - though she was over sixty, she had never had one. She ended up having a partial mastectomy and radiation therapy, and lived for six more years. That's six more Christmases, six more birthdays, six more wedding anniversaries that she celebrated with us before she succumbed to leukaemia in 2002.

And I'm going to tell you about a good friend of mine, a young woman who also had a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer this spring. A couple of weeks ago, I watched her dance the flamenco on another friend's birthday, orange skirts twirling and slender arms whirling above her head. She is strong, beautiful, happy, and completely recovered.

My grandmother and my friend had many things in common: their dignity, their resilience, their courage, their serenity in the face of suffering. Also, they both had mammograms, and they both had an incredible support network of friends and family. And they never gave up hope.

That's my little bit for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Maybe these stories will give someone out there a bit of hope and inspiration.

If you are over forty or have a history of breast cancer in your family, schedule your mammogram today. And check out the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute for more helpful information.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Big, soft, chewy chocolate chip cookie

You know how sometimes, you don't know exactly what you're looking for until you find it? That's how I felt years ago when I stumbled onto a book called Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies at the local library. This was back in the day when I firmly believed that the tall, dark, and handsome man in my life was perfectly attainable - I just needed the right recipe. Because everyone knows that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Maybe the perfect chocolate chip cookie would do the trick.

Well, a couple hundred cookies later, I discovered that the Almighty had different plans for me, and that tall, dark, and handsome men were not part of my destiny. That's okay. I didn't end up with the perfect man - just the perfect plan. And the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Since good things that make us happy must be shared, here it is. The title of the book says it all: the cookies are satisfyingly big, meltingly soft, deliciously chewy. The recipe calls for classic, simple ingredients: butter, eggs, sugar, flour, milk. And the procedure is easy enough to do on a weeknight. Get the kids to help, and enjoy them together as an after-school or bedtime snack, with glasses of cold milk.

Or....try them on the next tall, dark and handsome you meet....maybe there's one of those in the cards for you.

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Cleave
makes twelve large cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Jill Cleave prescribes a combination of 1 cup APF and 1/2 cup cake flour; I don't always have cake flour on hand and find that straight APF works just as well.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Add the egg, milk, and vanilla. Blend well.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture, turning and stirring lightly with a wide rubber spatula.

When the dough starts to come together, add the chocolate chips and walnuts and give it a few final turns to blend well.

Use either a 1/4 cup measure or a 2-ounce ice cream scoop to portion out the dough onto greased cookie sheets. Space the cookies about 2 inches apart.

Bake until lightly browned and firm to the touch, about fifteen minutes. Serve warm.

You can use the dough immediately, or wrap it up with plastic wrap and refrigerate for five days, or freeze for up to three months.

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