The Last Day of June

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It’s a short post today.  Here in Canada, we’re enjoying a long weekend to commemorate Canada Day.  The weather is gorgeous, and you’re probably assuming it’s a short post because I want to spend my whole day outside.

In fact, I hope to spend part of my day outside, but right now I’m in the house getting my youngest daughter packed for camp.  And my husband has joined me inside, as he’s watching the 2013 NHL Draft unfold on TV.  Because we are Canadian, and that’s apparently what we do on the last day of June.

So I’ll gift you today with an easy, delicious, salad recipe.  It takes no time to make, and you can use that saved time to do whatever you like – whether it’s relax outside, pack for camp, or watch a hockey draft.

Arugula with Sheep's Milk Cheese and Honey Vinaigrette
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

9 cups baby arugula (or other mixed greens)
1 3/4 cups 1/2-inch cubes of sheep's milk cheese (e.g. Ossau-Iraty)
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup candied pecans (recipe below)

Whisk together vinegar and mustard in a small bowl, then whisk in honey.  Gradually whisk in oil, and season to taste with salt. (Can be made up to 3 days in advance; cover and store in fridge.)

Place greens, cheese,  cherries and candied pecans in a large bowl.  Add vinaigrette and toss.  

(To make candied pecans, combine 1/2 cup pecans with 1/2 tsp olive oil in a small plastic bag. Shake until coated.  Add 1/2 Tbsp sugar and shake until evenly coated.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until toasted, then let cool.)

Thursday's Child: The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Thursday, June 27, 2013
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world.  Nearly 600 years old, it welcomes between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors every day.  That figure seems unbelievable, but given that there are sixty "streets" in the market, it's not hard to see how an enormous number of people can shop here at once without it becoming overwhelming.

There's virtually no end to what you can buy at the Bazaar.  A small sampling of the shops we saw included ceramics, fabrics, lamps, leather goods, jewelry, silver, carpets and food products. Depending on whether you were hungry or thirsty, it would be a great place to try your first Turkish Delight, or your first Turkish coffee.

We expected it to be like the souks of Marrakech, which we'd visited a few years earlier, but it was quite different.  The Grand Bazaar was quite well-organized, and any time we temporarily lost our bearing, it didn't take long to find it again.  (If we'd got lost in the Marrakech souks, we'd probably still be trying to find our way out.)  The Grand Bazaar is actually pretty similar to your local mall, if your local mall had 5000 stores and the dealers stood in the hallways, trying to entice you into their stores.

In fact, one of the things we enjoyed most was the way the shopkeepers interacted with the shoppers, and their sense of humour.  One of them, seeing the logo on my jacket, called out to me with great excitement, "Hey!  Helly Hansen!"  They weren't overly persistent, though; if we declined to enter their shop, they just smiled and tried to engage the next group of shoppers.
Istanbul is a city that has gone by many names over the years, including Byzantium and Constantinople.  But I think the best descriptor is its nickname, "The City Where East Meets West". It was this combination of the exotic and the familiar that made us fall in love with the city and its people.

Decadent desserts

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My youngest daughter and I were discussing nutrition earlier this week.  Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:

Me: “I love super-healthy main courses.  My idea of the perfect meal is a healthy main course, and a decadent dessert.”

Her: “I love super-healthy desserts.  My idea of the perfect meal is a healthy dessert for the main course, and a decadent dessert for dessert.”

We both agree that this dessert falls under the category of decadent.  The vanilla cupcakes are great on their own, but I couldn’t resist adding a dulce de leche filling that made them everything I ever dreamed a cupcake could be.  I was glad she took most of them to her friend’s cottage this weekend, or I might have been tempted to overindulge in these decadent treats. 

I think we’d both find room for it in our perfect meal.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting and Dulce de Leche filling
(adapted from Eats Well With Others; Dulce de Leche from this brownie recipe)
Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
3 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
16 Tbsp (1 cup) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste

For the Dulce de Leche Filling:
1 can (400 g) sweetened condensed milk
pinch kosher salt or sea salt

For the vanilla buttercream icing:
16 Tbsp (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt


1. For the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake tins with liners.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a mixing cup.  With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients, altering with the buttermilk, in three additions, ending with the flour.  Mix until just incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds more.

Divide the batter between the cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 of the way full.  Bake 20 – 24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool 5 – 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting.

2. For the dulce de leche filling:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Pour condensed milk into a glass pie plate or pyrex baking dish.  Stir in salt.

Set the baking dish inside a roasting pan and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.  Cover the pie plate snugly with foil, tucking it in around the sides at the top. Bake between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 hours.  (While baking, check occasionally and add more water to the roasting pan if necessary.)

Once the dulce de leche has browned, remove from the oven and let cool.  Whisk until smooth.  Store in the fridge until ready to use.

3. For the vanilla buttercream:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Reduce mixer to low and add in the powdered sugar, about a cup at a time, until totally combined.  Add the vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt, beating to combine.  Beat for 1 minute.

4. Assembly

Using a small paring knife, cut a circle into the middle of each cupcake and remove a cone-shaped portion of cake.  Don’t cut right down to the bottom or to the edges or the filling will ooze out.  Spoon the dulce de leche filling into the hole until level with the top.  Once all the cupcakes have been filled, frost them with the vanilla buttercream.

Thursday's Child: Bosphorus Bridge, Turkey

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ortakoy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge
Having the chance to visit more than one continent has been pretty great.  But having the chance to visit more than one continent in one morning was one of the coolest travel experiences we've had. With Istanbul being part of both Europe and Asia, we were able to do just that simply by driving across a bridge.
The Bosphorus Bridge
On our final day in Istanbul, we had a guide and driver so we could see the outskirts of the city.  After visiting the stunning Chora Museum, we went for a drive along the Bosphorus Strait and Sea of Marmara, both of which are part of the route that connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas. 

Fishing boats by the Bosphorus
We started in European Ortakoy, home of the stunning Ortakoy Mosque.  As we crossed the Bosphorus Bridge over the strait, we arrived in the Asian district of Beylerbeyi and enjoyed a beautiful view back across to Europe. 

According to Greek legend, when Jason was searching for the Golden Fleece, he was nearly killed by the mythical Clapping Rocks that guarded the Bosphorus and prevented sailors from making their way through the straits.  On the advice of a prophet, he made it through safely and thus was able to retrieve the fleece and bring it home.  I'm pleased to say that in the twenty-first century, it's much safer travelling those waters.

A view of Europe, from Asia
The great Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, has written about the national emotion of huzun and describes it as being a kind of collective melancholy that is almost spiritual in nature.  He speaks "of the old Bosphorus ferries moored to deserted stations in the middle of winter, ... of the children who play ball between the cars on cobblestoned streets; of the covered women who stand at remote bus stops clutching plastic shopping bags and speak to no one as they wait for the bus that never arrives".

- from Istanbul: Memories and a City, Orhan Pamuk

Father's Day

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he'd removed
the iron sliver I thought I'd die from.

I can't remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face."

- from "The Gift" by Li-Young Lee

On Father's Day, here are some of the things I learned from my dad, Paul Baker:

- Loyalty is important - to your family, your friends, and your sports teams.  My dad grew up cheering for the Cleveland Indians and Browns, so his loyalty was tested for many years, but he never stopped rooting for them.  One of the best things my dad and I did was to travel to Detroit to see the Indians play the Tigers.  It was the first (and only) time in his life he saw the Indians play in person.  We went in the summer of 1984, when the Tigers won just about every game they played, but the Indians won that game.
- On a related note, he taught me about the pervasiveness of a sports curse.  I clearly remember him assigning me to watch the end of one Browns' game.  He left the room because he was clearly bringing them bad luck simply by watching the game.  The minute he left the room, they took the lead and never gave it up.  I'm sorry to say this same curse came to rest on me after he died.  I watched the first half of the January 1988 AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos, then went for a long walk during the second half to give the Browns a chance.  I got back just in time to watch the last five minutes.  Anyone who follows football will realize it was actually me who lost the game for the Browns, not Earnest Byner.  Sorry about that.
- Hard work is a part of life.  My dad worked long hours as a farmer, and took two other jobs to help make ends meet.  That was a powerful lesson about putting your nose to the grindstone and getting the job done.
- The examples you set for your kids are more powerful than the words you say.  When I was 13, my dad gave up his lifelong smoking habit because he didn't want to be a bad influence on me as a teenager.  He never complained about it or talked about how difficult it was for him.  I have never forgotten that.
- The person you are isn't dictated by the car you drive, the house you live in, or even the things you say.  It's the way you treat people, not just in public, but when no one else is around.  It's about being kind to everyone, regardless of whether they're powerful or powerless.  It's about treating all people as if they really matter - because, of course, they do.

Serve these frittata bites to your father, or anyone you love.  Happy Father's Day to my dad, my husband, and every other man who loves his kids.

Spinach, Sundried Tomato and Feta Frittata Bites
(adapted from The Healthy Foodie

Makes 6 large frittata bites

1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup bell pepper, finely diced
2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped and lightly packed
4 whole eggs
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp fresh thyme
2 Tbsp sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly brush a 6-cup muffin pan with olive oil.

Drizzle large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, about 4 – 5 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, garlic and bell pepper, and continue cooking for about a minute, until fragrant. 

Throw in spinach leaves and toss gently until completely wilted, about one minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add whole eggs, egg whites and fresh thyme.  Beat the eggs until fully incorporated and slightly frothy.  Add spinach mixture, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese.

Spoon into prepared muffin tin.  Do not fill the cups more than 3/4 of the way to avoid spillage.  Cook for 22 – 25 minutes, until eggs are set and top starts to colour.

Let cool on a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before removing frittata from muffin tins.

Can be served immediately, or eaten at room temperature, with a green salad.

Thursday's Child: Istanbul, Turkey

Thursday, June 13, 2013
This month, I'm sharing some of my memories of Turkey, a beautiful country that's been in the headlines this month for the protests in Taksim Square, and the government's response to them.

One of my most vivid recollections of Istanbul was how the city engaged our senses.  The morning we visited the Blue Mosque, we exited the building to see a parade in the adjacent Sultan Ahmet Square. Although we didn't know what it was commemorating, the stirring music and gorgeous uniforms held us spellbound. And the five daily calls to prayer that issued from the mosques were captivating.

The beautiful Rustem Pasha Mosque is one of the best-hidden sites in Istanbul, but well worth the effort to find.  Built in the 1560s, it was named for the Grand Vizier who had recently died. It's located in a very busy section of the old town, literally on top of some of the stores in the market so their revenues could help run the mosque.  It's hidden down a tiny alley in the noisy commercial section, but once we entered it was a haven of artistry and serenity. The interior walls are covered in some of the most glorious collections of tile produced in the Ottoman era, including the rich red hues that were so difficult to manufacture.  The mosque is tiny and difficult to find - and we were thrilled to have visited.

When we left Rustem Pasha, we walked to the nearby Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar because it was originally built to sell goods brought back from traders who travelled to Egypt.  Like the mosque, it dates to the 1560s, and probably seemed as exotic to those sixteenth century city residents as it does to twenty-first century tourists.  In addition to spices, merchants sell rose blossoms, honeycomb, dried fruit and, of course, Turkish Delight. The fragrances were bewitching!

Thinking of Istanbul with great fondness.

Cooking from the cupboards

Sunday, June 9, 2013
Some days I know in advance what I'm planning to serve for dinner, and I make sure I've got everything I need from the grocery store.  But not every day works out like that, and I have to rely on the ingredients I have on hand to make something that's fast, healthy and delicious.

It would be hard to beat this recipe on all counts.  It takes no time to prepare, is full of healthy ingredients, and tastes wonderful.  And as a bonus, it uses ingredients that I usually have in my fridge and cupboards.  I made it last week for the first time, and you can be sure there will be many more times for this amazing recipe!

Spicy Carrot and Chickpea Pita Pocket
(adapted from River Cottage Veg)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
4 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1 large clove of garlic, minced
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus a good squeeze of juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
14 ounce tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
pita bread or fresh, soft flatbread
4 heaping Tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt

Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the cumin seeds and let them fry for a minute or two.  Add the carrots and fry for 8 – 10 minutes, stirring often, until tender and starting to brown, but still with some bite.

Add the garlic, orange zest, smoked paprika and chickpeas and cook until the chickpeas are hot.  Remove from the heat and add a good squeeze of orange juice.  Taste and add more orange juice if needed.

Spoon some of the chickpea mixture into the pocket of a warmed pita, top with sour cream or yogurt, and serve.