Celebrating friendship

Sunday, September 29, 2013
Thursday was a beautiful day in every way.  It was unseasonably warm, and a group of us spent a day outside the city celebrating a milestone birthday of one of our members.  In addition to going on a vigorous hike and enjoying great food, we spent a lot of time talking about life before and after fifty.  We talked about growing older with integrity, and about how we hope to spend the rest of our lives.  We shared ideas about music, spirituality and books, and connected in a thorough way that we seldom have the luxury for in the city.

It was a perfect day with a wonderful group of friends, and days like that must be cherished.

Did I mention how beautiful the weather was?  And I'm hoping you'll indulge me as I post one more summer recipe.  This frittata is a perfect summer dish, but you could make it any time of the year by substituting seasonal vegetables, or frozen vegetables.

Happy birthday, Karen!

Frittata with Summer Vegetables and Goat’s Cheese
(adapted from River Cottage Veg)

2 medium new potatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces mixed vegetables, such as asparagus, green beans, fresh or frozen peas, broccoli (I used 1/2 cup peas, 8 stalks of asparagus and 1 cup of broccoli)
1 Tbsp canola or olive oil
1/2 cup green onions (scallions), trimmed and coarsely chopped
A handful of chives, chopped (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
9 large eggs
3 ounces goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4 inch slices.  Put them in a large pan, cover with plenty of water, add salt and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, cut asparagus (and green beans, if using) into 
1 1/2” lengths, and cut broccoli into small florets.  When the potatoes come to a boil, add the green vegetables.  Once the water has returned to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes, by which time all the vegetables should be just tender.  Drain well. Cut potatoes into 3/4” fingers.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add green onions and sweat for about 5 minutes, until soft.  Add drained vegetables and chives, and toss with the onions.  Turn heat to medium-low.

In a bowl, beat eggs with salt and pepper, and pour over the vegetables in the pan.  Cook, gently stirring once or twice, until well mixed.  Pour into a well-greased 10" round baking dish. Crumble the cheese over the surface of the frittata, then bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the egg is set and top is starting to colour.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.  May be served warm or cold.

From This Valley

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Oh the desert dreams of a river
That will run down to the sea
Like my heart longs for an ocean
To wash down over me.

"Oh the outcast dreams of acceptance
Just to find pure love's embrace
Like an orphan longs for its mother
May you hold me in your grace."

- from "From this Valley", by the Civil Wars

The Civil Wars are playing the soundtrack to my life these days.  I'm a pretty happy person, but I do like my music full of longing, and the Civil Wars have that in spades.  I chose one of the more upbeat songs on the album to excerpt here; I thought you might be alarmed for me if I quoted "Dust to Dust" or "Eavesdrop".

Fall is the perfect season for melancholy, as the days grow shorter and the weather cooler.  Out of the corner of my eye, I can almost see winter wafting into the on-deck circle.  And maybe this impacts my baking as well as my choice of music.

Zucchini is technically a summer vegetable, but this recipe is a perfect way to pull it into autumn. Although I don't make cake very often, this one has catapulted its way into my top two or three. The spicy flavours of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg warm up the zucchini, and the cinnamon cream cheese frosting is so great, I want to spread it on everything I make.  Curl up with the The Civil Wars and a slice of this cake, and you might feel like a little bit of wistful isn't a bad thing.

Zucchini Cake with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
(cake recipe from Eats Well With Others; frosting recipe from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (8 oz)
3/4 cup raisins or walnuts

For the frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ (icing) sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9” round cake pan (or an 8” x 8” square baking pan) with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar and vanilla.  Mix in the eggs until well-mixed.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until just incorporated.

Mix the zucchini and raisins into the cake batter until just incorporated.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, beat butter and cream cheese together until creamy and well-mixed.  Add icing sugar, a bit at a time, and beat on low speed until combined.  Add cinnamon and vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed for an additional minute.  Spread over cake.

Thursday's Child: Valparaiso, Chile

Thursday, September 19, 2013

With all the travelling we’ve done, it’s surprising that I’ve been south of the equator only once, when we visited Chile.  We loved everything about this beautiful country, but one of the standouts was quirky Valparaiso – a city that's still rough around the edges, but with charm to spare.

Because the city's a bit of a labyrinth, we hired Thomas Poussard, a guide with a background in journalism, to show us around.  He shared both the beautiful and the unusual with us, and gave us a great overview of Valparaiso's history.

One of my favourite memories of Valparaiso was taking the ascenseurs, or funiculars, from one level to another.  Because the city is built into the hills that emerge from the ocean, most of the streets descend at a sharp angle.  The funiculars were built over a century ago, to facilitate getting around.  The oldest, serving Cerro Concepcion, was built in 1883.  

I wrote in an earlier post about the street art in Valparaiso.  Any city with an open-air museum of street art is one worth visiting.

Pablo Neruda spent much of his time in his home in Valparaiso.  La Sebastiana, as it was called, has astonishing views of the harbour. It displays the beautiful objects that he loved to collect, as well as his poetry.  La Sebastiana is rumoured to be the best place in Valparaiso to watch the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Valparaiso was a major international port until the Panama Canal was built in 1914, but it went into decline as shipping business began to move through the canal.  Recently, however, the city has made enormous strides.  It has rebuilt some of its former glories (renewing La Sebastiana after it was looted following the 1973 military coup), preserved existing ones (its funiculars being named to UNESCO’s World Heritage List), and launched new ones (the street art).

So small
Like a cloth
Ragged in a Window
In the Wind
of the ocean
With all the pain
Of your ground
The dew
Of the sea, the kiss
Of the wild angry sea
That with all of its power
Beat the rocks
It could not
Knock you down
Because on your southern chest
Is tattooed
The struggle
The hope
The solidarity
And the joy
As anchors
The waves of the earth."


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sometimes, procrastination is a good thing.

I made these sandwiches a few months ago, at the beginning of summer.  I loved them and knew I wanted to post them, but other recipes kept pushing them aside.  Some were recipes that used seasonal ingredients (like Blueberry Lemon Bars), some had seasonal associations (S'mores Ice Cream), and some had to be posted right away because of the story that went with them (Black Bean Burgers).  And all that time, the photos of these sandwiches sat on my desktop, patiently awaiting their day.

That day has arrived.  And here's why procrastination is a good thing: because if I'd posted the recipe right away, I wouldn't be staring lovingly at the photos today and remembering how awesome these sandwiches were.  And I wouldn't be drawing up my grocery list and adding ciabatta, arugula and goat cheese.  A word to the wise though – don’t wait too long before trying the recipe yourself.

Caramelized Onion, Arugula and Goat Cheese Sandwich
(adapted from Simply Life)

Makes 2 – 3 sandwiches

2 or 3 small ciabatta or sourdough buns
2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 large button mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 handfuls arugula
2 – 3 ounces goat cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook about 5 minutes, until browned.  Add mushrooms and cook 5 more minutes.  Add garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, sprinkle with sugar, and mix together.  Stir in balsamic vinegar and cook about 5 additional minutes.  Set aside.

Slice buns open down centre.  Spread goat cheese on the bottom half, then top with arugula and caramelized onion mixture.  Wrap entire sandwich in foil and bake about 8 minutes.

Thursday's Child: Stockholm, Sweden

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When I think of medieval cities, I usually think of ones that are in central or southern Europe, like Prague, Mont Saint Michel or Carcassone, France.  When we visited Sweden a couple of years ago, I was surprised to see the large, beautifully-preserved medieval section in the centre of Stockholm.

Gamla Stan is Swedish for "the old town", and that's the name given to the medieval area in Stockholm.  Cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and the abundance of buildings with character made this one of the loveliest cities to explore on foot.  It was almost destroyed, however.  Until the mid-twentieth century, this section was allowed to become rundown, and a number of buildings were even torn down to build the Swedish parliament.

Storkyrkan is the oldest church in Gamla Stan.  It was built in the thirteenth century and, because it's so close to Stockholm Palace, it has accommodated many of the Swedish royal weddings  and coronations.
Across the square from Storkyrkan is the Old Stock exchange, which houses the Swedish Academy, where the announcement is made every year about the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The German Church (Tyska Kyrkan) was built to serve the religious needs of the large number of German merchants and craftsmen who had settled in Stockholm.  Until the mid-sixteenth century they had no place to worship.  But in 1558, King Gustav permitted them to hold sermons in the German language, and soon they built their own church.  The German Church is dedicated to Saint Gertrude, the patron saint of travellers.

After watching the changing of the guard, we were ready for lunch. We chose a small cafe in Gamla Stan, just outside of the palace courtyard. The Swedish meatballs with lingonberries were fabulous! 

Even street art reflects the beauty of the old town.

If North American phone booths looked like this, they never would have gone out of style.