Thursday's Child: Walking the Golden Gate bridge

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Last March, my mom, my youngest daughter and I travelled to San Francisco. It was an early celebration of a milestone birthday my mom had later that year, and a wonderful way for the three of us to bond.

Before we left for San Francisco, I had suggested that each of us read about the city and come up with one activity we couldn't miss. My daughter chose Golden Gate Park, with its lovely Japanese Tea Garden and the fabulous California Academy of Sciences. I didn't want to miss Chinatown. And my mom wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

She walks every day and is in excellent health. But I was worried that the walk might be too much for her. It was mid-afternoon, and we'd already spent much of the day on the city's up-and-down streets. So she and I agreed to the very practical suggestion of walking to the halfway point, then walking back.

We paused at the halfway point to take a few photos, and I got a couple of lovely ones of my daughter overlooking the city. Then I said, "I'd like Grandma to be in the next one." My daughter pointed along the pedestrian walk and said, "Grandma left a few minutes ago." And indeed, there she was, walking briskly toward the other end of the bridge.

Turns out she thought we were too tired to make the whole trip, so she decided to do it by herself. So I caught up to her, and we enjoyed our Golden Gate walk - in both directions.

Thursday's Child: Bonus Travel post

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Check out my guest post this week on the Wildland Adventures travel blog, to find out who these men are, and why they're so happy.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

"One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries."
- A.A. Milne

So you're wondering why I'm posting a recipe for roasted carrots on the first hot day of the year.

It's a legitimate question. An organized blogger would have made these back in February, and posted the recipe while there were still icicles hanging off the roof. And I really don't have an excuse, given how long winter lasted this year.

In truth, I meant to make this recipe all winter. But there were always more glamorous recipes calling for my attention. At the end of the day, roasted carrots sounded pretty ordinary.

And once I finally made them, and realized how much I loved them, I was too excited to think about taking pictures until after they'd been eaten.

Which is why I found myself, in the second-last week of May, turning my oven to 425 degrees to roast another batch of these carrots. They were as wonderful the second time as they were the first - both sweet and savoury, with a perfect al dente firmness. Whether or not you're disorganized, let these carrots be your surprising discovery of the day!

Honey Roasted Carrots with Lemon Tahini Yogurt Sauce
(adapted from  Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe in the Guardian, via The Cafe Sucre Farine)

Ingredients for carrots:

2 1/2 to 3 pounds carrots (this looks like a lot, but don’t cut back – you’ll eat them all)
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds or dried cumin
2 tsp thyme leaves, roughly chopped and stems removed
1/2 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
feshly ground pepper

Ingredients for the yogurt sauce:

1 1/2 Tbsp tahini paste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp sea salt


Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil two large sheet pans.

Peel the carrots, then halve them lengthwise. Cut into quarters if carrots are thick.

Place carrots, honey, olive oil, coriander, cumin, thyme, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl or freezer bag. Mix until the carrots are well coated, then spread out over the prepared pans.

Roast for about 40 minutes, flipping carrots several times, until tender, golden and glazed.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt.

Once the carrots are done, place on individual plates while still warm or at room temperature. Top with a spoonful of sauce and serve.

Thursday's Child: La Fortuna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Last week I wrote about visiting San Juan La Laguna, a Guatemalan village on Lake Atitlan. We stayed at the lake for two nights near the end of a very active holiday and were ready for a break. What we got was a little slice of paradise.

La Fortuna is a small inn on the northern shores of Atitlan. Set in a private cove among mountains and volcanoes, the property is accessible only by boat. From the minute we disembarked at their dock, we felt like private guests at a beautifully rustic home. The sense of privacy was enhanced by the fact that there are only four bungalows on the property, all set a distance apart. (We had the one closest to the water, seen in the photo at the top of the post and below.)

Dinners and breakfasts were served on our private porch – dinners by candlelight, breakfast in the bright sunlight. So during every meal, we enjoyed the beautiful view of Lake Atitlan's clear blue waters.

We were happy to relax for much of our stay, but we spent one afternoon hiking up the hill that overlooks La Fortuna. When the owners, Steve and Kat, bought the property, the foliage was so dense and the path so steep that it took two men six months to carve out a path. We followed it to the end with the company of the owners’ dogs and, upon reaching the summit, they enjoyed the view with us.

A Cold Spring

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"A cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited
carefully indicating their characteristics."

- from "A Cold Spring" by Elizabeth Bishop

"Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth."
- Philip Larkin

We thought spring was here a few weeks ago, but we may have been jumping the gun. Our May long weekend is usually considered the unofficial beginning of summer fun, but this weekend has been chilly, just like so much of the spring. Too cold to plant the annuals, too cold to take a long walk by the Humber river - and it's been close to freezing at night.

Some of us are particularly eager for the the warm weather. My daughter's friend told her in excitement that next week would start warm, and get one degree (Celsius) warmer every day. "Look!" she said. "It's going to be 19 degrees on Monday, 20 on Tuesday, and by Friday they're calling for 23!" Upon re-examining her iPhone, though, she said, "Oh, sorry, I wasn't looking at the temperatures, I was looking at the dates."

If the warmer weather never does come, you can warm up your kitchen by baking a loaf of bread. I tried another recipe from my favourite bread cookbook, Kneadlessly Simple, and the results were as great as always. Although I found this loaf a bit sweet to use as sandwich bread, it was perfect buttered lightly and eaten as is. And the directions say to cool it thoroughly before slicing, but I bypassed that step and was rewarded with a blissfully warm and delicious slice shortly after it came out of the oven. Warm enough to forget for just a few minutes that we're still waiting for spring.

Four Grain-Honey Bread
(from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett)

2 cups unbleached white bread flour, plus more as needed
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup yellow or white cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup rolled oats, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup cooked and cooled brown rice
Generous 1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
1/2 cup mild honey
1 1/4 cups ice water, plus more if needed
Canola oil or other flavourless vegetable oil for coating dough top and baking pan

First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, oats, brown rice, salt and yeast. In another bowl or measuring cup, thoroughly whisk the honey into the ice water. Vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flours, scraping down the bowl sides and mixing just until the dough is thoroughly blended. If the ingredients are too dry to mix together, gradually add in just enough more ice water to facilitate mixing; don't over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, mix in more bread flour to stiffen it. Brush or spray the top with oil. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavour or for convenience, refrigerate the dough for  3 - 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, stir once during the rise.

Second rise: Vigorously stir the dough. Using a well-oiled rubber spatula, fold the dough in toward the centre, all the way around the bowl. Dust an oiled 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with 1 Tbsp each cornmeal and rolled oats, tipping it back and forth to coat the pan sides. Turn out the dough into the pan. Brush or spray the top with oil. Smooth out the top and press the dough into the pan with oiled fingertips or a rubber spatula. Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp each cornmeal and rolled oats over the top. Press down to imbed. Cut four or five 3-inch long, 1/4 inch evenly spaced slashes diagonally across the loaf top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap that's been brushed with oil.

Let rise: For a 2 to 4 hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature. (Alternatively, for a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water.) Remove the plastic when the dough nears it, then continue the rise until the dough extends 1/2 inch above the pan rim.

15 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees.

Bake on the lower rack for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and firm on top. Cover with foil if necessary to prevent over-browning. Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes longer, testing until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few particles on the end. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes more to ensure the centre is done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf onto the rack to cool thoroughly.

Thursday's Child: San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Thursday, May 15, 2014
One of my favourite experiences in Guatemala - and there were many - was visiting San Juan la Laguna. This tiny town on Lake Atitlan is well off the tourist path. But it's known locally for beautiful textiles, and the use of traditional methods to achieve vibrant colours.

The elders in these tribes were dying off, and younger members realized their knowledge would be lost forever if nothing was done. And so a group of women formed a collective to master the skills and keep the local traditions alive.

We travelled across Lake Atitlan by boat, the only way to reach San Juan La Laguna that doesn't involved serious climbing. The main street slopes steeply uphill from the dock, and all the stores are located along this short street. We wandered in and out of the shops, each of them tiny but pulsing with colour. We were interested in learning about their methods, but found the locals don't even speak Spanish (they speak Tz'utijil, one of the dozens of languages and dialects spoken in Guatemala). We were grateful to be travelling with a guide who helped translate.

We discovered that camomile produces shades of yellow and light green, while avocado wood yields brown. The lovely pinks in the photos above are made from ground-up cochinilla, a local insect, while adding rusty nails to the mix produces red. 

With the help of our guide, we chatted with Wendy, one of the weavers who was working in the shop that day. And today we have a beautiful runner for our kitchen table that Wendy made.

Memories of mothering

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day to my mom!
(Photo taken at her birthday, earlier this week.)

The girls and I, Mother's Day 2014
Memories of mothering (names disguised to protect the easily embarrassed):

May 21, 1997: "She sometimes tests me to see what she can get away with. She knows she's allowed to eat and drink only in the kitchen. So she likes to take her juice cup and line her feet up right next to the divider between the kitchen and hall floors. When she thinks I'm not looking, she'll inch one set of toes over the line, then the other. If she's feeling bold, one whole foot will wander into the hall. As soon as I crane my neck to see where she's standing, she scoots her feet back in the kitchen and gives me a look of complete innocence."

June 22, 1999: "Every night at bath time, she tries to stand up in the tub. Every time, I warn her if she stands up again she's coming out. And every time she gives me a big grin as she tries to stand again, then a roar of fury as I take her out of the tub."

February 4, 2000: "Some mornings, I feel like I'm in one of Dante's lower rings as I try to shoehorn her into her snowsuit and boots. I've actually given up on mittens. She'd rather draw pictures in the snow with her bare fingers for fifteen minutes, after which she howls in pain and has to be carried inside, than submit to the mitts for five seconds. And although we usually get the boots on, they often get kicked off again. She gives herself bonus points if she kicks them off outside, which are immediately doubled if done while standing in a snowdrift. Yesterday, after doing that very thing, she wept, "My socks are cold!"

In honour of Mother's Day, here's a chicken recipe that's as delicious as it is easy. Whether you're serving toddlers or teens, and even if you're just serving yourself with some leftovers to spare, you can't beat this great recipe.

Skillet Chicken with Green Garlic and Thyme
(adapted from Cook This Now, by Melissa Clark)

Note: Next time I'll probably double the garlic-thyme mixture - it was fantastic!

8 pieces of chicken 
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (first amount)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (second amount)
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

In a large shallow dish, place the chicken, 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic, and mix to coat the chicken. Cover the dish and chill in the refrigerator for two hours and up to overnight.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the second amount of olive oil, then add the chicken and seasoning mixture. Cook for 10 minutes without moving the chicken. Flip the chicken pieces, cover the pan, and continue cooking, without moving, for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Check the breasts by piercing them with a fork to see if they’re cooked through. If so, transfer them to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. If not, let them cook another 5 minutes or so until done.

After removing the breasts, use a spoon to remove some of the excess fat. Pour in the wine. Simmer, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the skillet, until the sauce reduces and the remaining chicken parts are cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a plate and whisk the butter into the pan, whisking until the sauce thickens. Serve with the sauce on top of the chicken.

Thursday's Child: Exploring Helsinki

Thursday, May 8, 2014
We visited Helsinki for one day, as part of a Baltic cruise. The other destinations on the cruise were so fabulous (St. Petersburg! Stockholm! Copenhagen!) that we didn't give much advance thought to Helsinki. In the end, it was such a great port that I wished we'd had more time there.

I've written elsewhere about a few of the sites we saw: the stunning Helsinki Cathedral, the evocative Sibelius Park, the striking Rock Church with its peculiar choice of organ music. I'll finish the tour today by describing some of the other places we visited.

Taking mass transit might be more uplifting if every station was as beautiful as the Helsinki Central Railway Station (Rautatieasema jarnvagsstation). Pictured both here and at the top of the post, it was designed by star art nouveau architect, Eliel Saarinen.

The statue of Havis Amanda was erected in Market Square over a hundred years ago amid controversy, because of both the subject's nudity and the concern that it subjugated women. Now it's one of the best-loved features of the city. (The orange tent in the background is one of the tents in Market Square that sells food and other items in warm weather.)

The great Finnish long-distance runner, Paavo Nurmi, is celebrated with a statue in front of the Olympic Stadium Tower, site of the 1952 summer Olympics.

Helsinki Market Hall is a food terminal that serves fabulous Finnish and international food, both to eat there and for takeout. Those that eat there might enjoy a lunch of herring pie, or salmon pie, with lingonberry juice. And those who get teary-eyed at the sight of realistic-looking herrings might convince their mother to buy cheese sandwiches from a food tent in Market Square.

Sharing a seat - and a laugh - on the bus back to the ship: