The day the kids went to camp…

…started out with younger kid declaring that, well, she thought about it, and, she wasn’t going to go.

What’s a mum to do when she sees 2 days before her, no school, M.Ed coursework to do, martinis to drink, and no kids to pick up, cook for, bathe, or referee?

Well, she convinces her daughter that going to camp with her school is the best idea because staying at home will involve NO TV and NO playing with mum because she has work to do.

My own mother’s voice trickled through the air all the way from another province and into my head: “Never force them to go to camp! I was forced to go to camp, and look what happened to me.” It’s a good point.  Unfortunately, the 2 days of freedom before me was so enticing, I started to empathize with my grandparents, who completely destroyed my mother’s ability to be within 15 feet of a  canoe, paddle, outhouse or lifejacket by forcing her to go to camp year after year. Continue reading “The day the kids went to camp…”

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Vanilla, pears, vanilla, pears… and cake!

My garden is still under 2 feet of snow. The last frost date here is June 8. There is no point in even starting seeds indoors yet, but my fingers are twitching to get into the garden and start digging around in there. How are you doing, little worms? Are you still there? Garlic, will you grow? I think I will go uncover you, poor little things….

In the meantime, I am still on a mega pear kick. Which keeps me somewhat content as the winter stretches on… and on… and on. Pears bring such a sweet, delicate, subtle flavour, and never as much as when they are caramelized (I know, you’ve heard it before).

Also, I am on a mega vanilla kick, having procured 60 vanilla beans on eBay for the paltry sum of 2.00$ plus shipping. You, too, can buy ludicrous amounts of vanilla on eBay for paltry sums. Some of it is great, some is a bit dry and dessicated, but what’s great is that I can use vanilla in EVERYTHING without renegotiating my mortgage. Vanilla, pear, vanilla, pear. Definitely topping chocolate-peanutbutter and chocolate-mint AND salt-vinegar on the flavour combinations hotlist.

Elsie, too, is enamoured. Her new favourite food is ricotta with pear-vanilla sauce (her palate is very cultivated, I’m pleased to boast). She can’t get enough. When the grocery money comes in, I’m gonna make a batch of ricotta (another use for buttermilk, P & Sari). Recipe = mix ricotta with the pear-vanilla sauce you made after reading this.

So in homage (if you are Jian Gomeshi, you pronounce it hommage, à la français, even if you are speaking English to Anglophones) to the change of seasons, and to tide you over till your radishes come up next week (I don’t want to hear about it, by the way), I hereby present my Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake, inspired by the vanilla roasted pears on SmittenKitchen and Cook’s Illustrated‘s Apple Upside Down cake (Sept-Oct 2009).

Vanilla-Pear Upside-Down Cake

You will need: Either a 9″ round cake pan or an 8″ square cake pan.

A nice, but not necessary, addition is a sploosh of Calvados, Poire Williams, or other brandy or cognac.

Pears:

3 pears (any kind, but I like Bosc), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick slices

1/2 vanilla bean

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 lemon – juice of

2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into little chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and generously and unabashedly butter your cake pan.

2. Slice the vanilla bean down its length, scrape the vanilla seeds into the sugar (a small spoon or blunt ended butterknife are good tools for this job), and mix till all the vanilla is distributed throughout the sugar. I find shaking it in a jar is very effective.

3. Fill pan with pears, toss with lemon juice and vanilla-sugar, and then dot with the butter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water OR aforementioned booze over top. Cut the vanilla bean into 4 pieces and distribute them evenly throughout the pears.

4. Bake 30-ish minutes, basting and stirring occasionally till the liquid is reduced and the pears are cooked. If there is too much syrup you can always remove some with a turkey baster. You’ll find a use for it. Like, spooning it into your cakehole.  But there should be some syrup left in the pan.

the pears look like this; they caramelize more as the cake bakes.

When the pears are done, lower the heat to 350 F. Make the batter while the oven is cooling.

the cake batter:

 1 cup (5 oz) unbleached, AP flour

1 tbsp corn meal (optional, but good)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar

1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temp if possible (you can warm them in a bowl of warm water)

6 tbsp (3/4 stick/ 3 oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (or crème fraîche, ooh la la)

1 tsp vanilla extract

5. In a medium bowl, sift together the first 4 ingredients (in green). Set aside.

6. In a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer, beat the sugars with the eggs, till light yellow and creamy looking. Add to this the butter, sour cream, and vanilla and beat till smooth.

7. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently till blended.

8. Pour the batter over the pears (rearrange the pears if necessary to ensure full pear coverage). Put the pan in the oven and bake for around 35 min., or till a cake tester comes out clean.

9. Cool 10 minutes, then run a knife around the outside of the cake and invert onto a plate. Any pears that stick to the pan can be placed back onto the cake. Let cool completely and serve with vanilla ice cream, with more booze drizzled on top, or just on its own. Honestly, it doesn’t need anything else.

Enjoy! PS, my beet salad was featured on Foodpress.com‘s Today’s Specials! crazy! Eat your heart out, Famous Chef Recipe Stealer!

Today’s Accomplishment: Homemade Pita with Orange-Sesame Hummus

I just failed my nap.

Some people accomplish amazing things in life. Things you wouldn’t even think possible. Things that make you wonder if the accomplisher is even human. Even ordinary people, who we are sure are human, manage to do some impressive stuff.  Allow me to share a few examples, staying away from the obvious and clichéd (e.g. climbing Mt. Everest, booooo-ringggg!):

  • The “lost boys” of Sudan walking hundreds of miles through the desert to Ethiopia with nothing to eat, wear, or drink – and then ending up in Ethiopia – to find that it sucked there, too… and then surviving.
  • This dude who is running across Canada to promote getting kids to play outside. Running across CANADA. Running. (I can’t even get one kid to play outside, no matter how much I run.)
  • My friends who built their own house from scratch. And it’s a darn nice house too.
  • People who ace law school and then voluntarily write the Quebec Bar exam… over…and over…
  • Daycare workers.
  • People who manage to stay at home all day without succumbing at 2-hour intervals to the tempation of eating chocolate biscotti – and brewing up a little somethin’ to dip it in.

As for me, a big accomplishment looks something like not overspending on the groceries, preparing for my one meeting per month, or getting the diapers washed before we run out of clean ones.

I am reading staring at the pages of The Sentimentalists, the surprise Giller prize winner, and the following passage managed to penetrate my brain deep enough for me to register it:

“I had thought in those years, I suppose, having learned the lesson from my mother well, that it was foolish to ask for too much out of life, afterwards only to live in the wake of that expectation, an irreducible disappointment. But what pain, I thought now, could be greater than to realize that even the practical reality for which you had assumed to settle upon, did not hold – that even that was illusory? Would it not be better, then, to set your sights on some more fantastic and rare dream from which even in failing to might take some comfort in having once aspired?”

Oh, my, god. Depressing. While I am proud of having understood the paragraph, I was smacked in the face with a reality that I’ve kinda been shoving to the dusty corners of my brain for the last couple years. Child-rearing is a gas, and all, but in terms of expectations, well… I think I might as well let go of all of them right now. Stir them into my latte with a chocolate biscotti and drink ’em down. While I set myself some goals so ridiculously unattainable that I won’t feel in the least bit guilty about having failed them.

But before I do, I made a little promise to myself that I would post something besides dessert. So this week soon I am going to try and find it in me to share a couple of things that you can eat and not feel bad about AT ALL. For this first one, in fact, you can feel pretty darn good, cause these things are so satisfying, delicious, impressive and easy, you’ll never go back to store-bought pita. Unless you live in a diverse, bustling urban centre where there is amazing fresh pita to be bought just around the corner from where you live, which is not the case for me.

In the stores here, pita is either a greasy, doughy slab with no pocket, or a dry, cracking, pasty disc that rips when you try to stuff the pocket and that has an aroma reminiscent of cardboard. I have pretty much given up on pita here, but it is such a convenient little bread product that it always made me so sad. With pita, you can make sandwiches, you can use it as a pizza crust, you can cut it up and dip it in things, you can use it as a burger bun, and when it goes stale, you can brush spices and oil on it and bake it and turn it into pita chips. Oooooh, pita chips….

8 little balls, all ready for flattening

So I saw this recipe at The Fresh Loaf and it was so tempting. I was a little nervous about the puffing up part, but it worked a treat. Frida loves to roll out pitas almost as much as she loves to eat them, and it’s super fun to watch them puff up in the oven.

I know, I thought they were UFOs too.

I’m going to let you cruise over to the Fresh Loaf for the recipe and instructions cause it’s a site that’s fun to hang around a bit if you are into bread baking. I really didn’t alter the recipe at all, and my version might not be of much use to you:

I always use 1 cup whole wheat flour in there to make it taste a bit more interesting. Also don’t forget the sugar, it will help it to brown, and help the yeast to grow (You didn’t think I meant no sugar, did you?).

Removing them from the oven can be a bit of a bitch, the technique that works best for me is the oven-mitt-reach-sweep-and-grab. Tongs tend to tear the bread and spatulas…well…sometimes the pita slips off…  So just don those mitts and squint and sweep that pita onto your other mitt and plop it on the counter.

Once your pitas are sitting there steaming on your counter (and not in a ball of flames on the bottom of your oven back deck cause you dropped one on the element and threw it outside, ahem), you may decide you want to dip them in something. Or you may decide that you want to just eat them with butter melting on top. Either is OK. But if you want a recipe for hummus, here is one that I’ve been really enjoying lately:

Orange – sesame hummus

Makes about 2 cups. You need: a food processor, or a blender? Or an immersion blender? Magic stick? I can only tell you what I know: Food processor. Let me know if you use something else for yours.

1 can chick peas or equivalent cooked chick peas

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, minced, depending how much you like garlic

1 tsp sea salt

juice from at least 1/2 a lemon, taste and add more if you like it more lemony

Enough orange juice to make the hummus the consistency that you like.

A bit of sesame oil for drizzling

Some sesame seeds for decorating

Hummus is an inexact science, hence the inexact ingredients. Sorry if this is not your style, you just have to taste and add what you want.

1. Put everything but the OJ into the bowl of the food processor and blend till smooth. As it gets stuck on the walls of the bowl, add some OJ through the feed tube, a bit at a time, till it gets a bit more liquidy. Stop every now and then to scrape down the sides and test the hummus, adding more salt, OJ, and/or lemon juice as you deem necessary. Be careful, I added too much juice without thinking the other day, and now I have a soupy hummus.

2. Place hummus in a nice bowl, drizzle some sesame oil on it and top with a cute little sprinkling of sesame seeds. Black, or white, or both! Beauty! Dip away, you dips!