I do remember the fall.

Well. Time flies when you work your buns off.

This is me (yellow jacket) on a typical fall work day... I'm not complaining, OK? Although I don't usually enjoy making faces at the camera. I'll complain about that.

I gave myself a break today, and stayed home. One of my goals was to write, but here it is 4:56 pm, the arrival of the family is imminent, and I’ve just managed to get a cup of tea brewed and cued up some nice music. Floor washed, dinner made, pear butter bubbling… wait.

Pear butter?

We’re at pear butter already? Again?

What about all the garden posts I was so excited to do? Zucchini recipes, kale recipes, beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, beets?

2 of the 11 carrots that didn't get stolen by ants

Well the thing is – the garden’s over. There are some tenacious beans taking shelter under some plastic, and a couple of pumpkins that keep getting bigger but won’t turn orange, and of course, good ol’ kale that’ll just keep going till I rip it out of the ground by its stalk, but apart from that… well, see, it’s fall. Again. My thoughts are turning to cozy, belly-filling pots of beans and fiery curries and chilis.  The light zucchini sautés of August are being pushed aside for…the stuff I wrote about last year.

The end of the summer was a little fast-paced. I went back to work and immediately started and finished 4 of the 5 courses that I have in my workload this semester. I was on the water 4 to 7 days a week. In there somewhere was Frida’s birthday party which required quick thinking on the cake (which almost got axed from the program due to time constraints but I thought that would make for a pretty shitty birthday party)

Girls discover beans

What a birthday party would be without swings and a garden, I have yet to discover.

To hang on to the last vestiges of summer, we booked a little chalet in Coin du Banc and hung out on the beach far away from our kitchen, laundry room, lawnmower and yes, garden.

And by the time I got done with all that, well, it was October 2nd, and I found myself cooking down 8 pounds of pears and hankerin’ for beans.

All of a sudden, it was fall.

I did manage to squeak out some pickled beans but I have to wait for 3 weeks before I can tell you if they are any good. The bean production was out of control. I’m really happy about the late planting of Ice Haricot beans I got from Les Jardins de L’Écoumène  – these beans feature “Small cloves lime green to the exquisite flavor are sought in the gourmet kitchen. The plants that reach 40 cm high should be visited regularly if you want to get an extended harvest. This bean is perfect for short seasons seasons”  (I love translations). But really – I got a shitload of beans, and I think I planted them in August. They are halfway between green and yellow and have a really delicate flavour. The kids went nuts over them.

Golden and Chioggia beets from the gah-den

And I’m pulling up my last beets now, and would like to share with you my all-time favourite way to cook beets and their greens together. This recipe comes from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen which was the first book I bought when I decided to learn how to cook for real. It’s a great resource despite the sometimes snobby and lengthy ingredient lists. While his instructions verge at times on the ridiculous (e.g., one should stir in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere because that’s the natural way that things, like your risotto, like to go around), it’s clear he loves food and feeding people, and his emphasis on seasonal eating works so well with a garden-sourced menu or for those of you with access to farmers’ markets or CSAs.  The recipes are always delicious and there are tons of instructions for making stuff like biga, sourdough, and seitan, and even just for how to chop vegetables. It leans heavily toward the vegan rather than the meat-eating-lapsed-vegetarian, but nonetheless,  my copy is dog-eared and sauce-splattered and this is one page that gets used a lot (possibly due to its short, accessible ingredient list). The result is tender, sweet beets that melt in your mouth and invariably cause people to stop and look at what they’re eating and say, “these are BEETS? Are there more?”.

(On a side note, Berley has since come out with another book that seems to have been written just for me: The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone In Between. This one’s going on my christmas list. Oh, and remind me to tell you about the Osso Bucco that was my downfall.)

Balsamic Glazed n Braised Beets and Greens

Adapted from Peter Berley’s recipe, from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

1 medium red onion, cut into wedges or crescents

4-5 fresh beets (more if you’re using smaller beets, enough to cover the bottom of your pan in a snug layer) with tops*, roots trimmed, and cut into wedges,

Beet greens,  chopped*.

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

*if you can’t get beets with the tops still on (PIPPA: DON”T USE CANNED BEETS), you could probably substitute other greens such as collards, chard, mustard greens, or, OK, twist my arm: kale – but I wouldn’t use spinach, I don’t think it’s tough enough for this job.

1. In a heavy pan that has a cover, arrange the beet slices and onion so that they fit snugly on the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar, oil, thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. Toss and then pour enough water over top to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, until the beets are nearly tender, but not quite.

2. Raise the heat and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to a syrup and the beets are fork-tender.

3. Add the beet greens, reduce the heat again, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Uncover and turn the greens over so they mix with the beets. Add pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes more and serve.

Yum.

You can tell by the wind
By fresh cut wood
All stacked to dry
That autumn’s here
And it makes you sad
About the crummy
Summer we had

With pine trees creaking
And ravens screeching
Just like the story my grandma tells
About when a bird
Hits your window
And someone you know
Is about to die

Autumn’s here
It’s ok if you want to cry

Find a sweater
And you’ll be better
Until the kindling is tinder dry
We can be quiet
As we walk down
To see the graveyard
Where they are now
I wonder how
They brought their piano
To haldane hill
From old berlin
Be hard to keep it
Well in tune
With winters like the one
That’s coming soon
Auntumn’s here
It’s time to cry now

I think that ghosts like
The cooler weather
When leaves turn colour
They get together
And walk along
These old back roads
Where no one lives
And no one goes
With all their hopes set
On the railway
That never came
So no one stayed
I guess that autumn
Gets you remembering
And the smallest things
Just make you cry.

Autumn’s here.

  –Hawksley Workman, Autumn’s Here

Advertisements

India in my dreams

A puja at the women’s level of the “monkey temple” (the monkeys get the top level – of course!).

An old student of mine (as in, she used to be my student, not a student of mine who is old) is currently traveling in India and has posted some pictures on “YouFace”, as my mother refers to it.

A lightning shot of envy coursed through me as I saw her pictures of smoky, hazy Varanasi. That was replaced by memories as I got my own photo album out. Her images, like mine of the same ghats, portray such an image of serenity and quiet: the river always calm, the air hanging thickly above it, the sun blazing behind a curtain of smog. But in my head I could hear the cacophony: the clanging of bells, the hawking of this-or-that-wallahs, the women shouting at husbands, kids, stray cows, each other. Perhaps deep within those bathers at the shore is the serenity captured in the pictures; they bathe in the holy water, oblivious to the ashes floating by, to the cow drinking beside them, to the filth in the air and water, to the shouting women.  They pour water from the Ganges over their heads and close their eyes and are at peace in that holiest of rivers.

In the blue city of Jodhpur

When I was in India, I was usually far from “at peace”. It was a crazy, often stressful, totally alien place for me to be. I was always on guard for scams (I got scammed), always afraid of getting sick (I didn’t), and always wondering where the heck I was. It didn’t take me long to decide to slow down and enjoy the place where I was. I got into the habit of buying a book – only Indian authors allowed – and staying in one town till I had finished it. Then I would trade it in, get a bus or train ticket, and head off. It took me ages to get anywhere like this but I think I saw more than I would have if I had spent my whole time there sweating and cursing on some godforsaken train. Anyway, I never got the hang of trains. One time, convinced that my train was late (everything is late in India), I sat in front of it on the platform for about 20 minutes till it was time for it to leave. It left. With me standing on the platform. I thought it was another train, but the fruit-wallah told me it was going to Agra – without me.

Pretty much every train or bus trip I took has a story – like the one where I thought I had it all figured out, but in the end had bought a ticket for the wrong month. Traveling in India is just not what I’d call relaxing. But it refreshes in a different way: It fills the senses, opens the mind, and forces us to question everything about our lives in the West. Oh, and it makes us fat.

I got fat eating Indian sweets, street food, curry, dahl, and chai, and not exercising. It was way too hot! And anyway – what are you going to do – go jogging??

Anyway, all this to say, it got me thinking about India, my trip there, and the FOOD.

There is no use trying to reproduce the food.

They have special stuff encrusted on their pots that makes their curries magic. They have spices that have not been sitting on grocery store shelves for decades. They have no idea how to pass on what they do, cause they just do it, like their mothers “just did it”, and their grandmothers before them. And when you ask them what is in their chai to make it so perfectly sweet-spicy, they say, “masala”.  OK. I can handle mystery.

But I do hanker for that food. And while I know I can’t really make it in my own kitchen, there is one curry that consistently makes me happy for a few reasons:

  1. it’s saucy
  2. it’s easy
  3. it’s tasty
  4. it’s adaptable
  5. it’s fast
  6. Frida likes it!

All of these things combine to make it my emergency dinner dish when I haven’t done the groceries and/or I’ve been futzing around doing unimportant things all day (such as skiing, reading, world-wide-webbing, or making biscotti) and forgot to make dinner.

So, as a special favour to you, and to fulfill my vow to share non-dessert items with you, here is my dee-lish curry (no picture because it was really, really ugly. The picture, not the curry.). I’ve written down the basic recipe, and some ways to adapt it afterwards. Serve it with basmati rice and/or naan bread, a dollop of yogurt on top, and always, always, fresh cilantro.

A bit of solitude for a boy in Pushkar

South-Indian Curry

Adapted from MediterrAsian.com

Makes enough for about 6 folks to eat and then have room for dessert.

Ingredient list:

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp (or more to taste) fresh ginger, minced

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cumin (freshly ground, if possible)

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can coconut milk

1/4 cup red lentils

Lemon juice

Fresh cilantro for garnish

1 cup Basmati rice

 

 

    1. In a 3-5 quart pot, wok or dutch oven, sauté the onion in the canola oil over medium heat until softened, 8-ish minutes.

 

  • Add the garlic, ginger, salt, and all the spices, stir & cook for about a minute till fragrant. Don’t let the garlic char. Keep it movin’.

 

 

  • Add the can of tomatoes and the coconut milk along with the lentils, reduce the heat to med-low, and let it simmer till the lentils are cooked, about 20 minutes.

 

 

  • Meanwhile, make the rice. Follow the instructions on the bag.

 

 

  • Squeeze a tablespoon or two of lemon juice into the pot, stir in a handful of chopped cilantro, and serve over the rice, with lots of lovely cilantro sprinkled on top, with a dollop of plain yogurt.

 

 
Other things you could add:

 

    • Toasted and chopped cashews as garnish

 

  • Chick peas

 

 

  • Shrimp (we get these little tiny shrimp that are caught locally, they are great in the curry)

 

 

  • White fish like cod

 

 

  • Spinach

 

 

  • Ground fennel seeds, cardamom, black pepper, and/or cinnamon in with the spices

 

From San Francisco: a preview, and oatmeal.

So I figured, I’m on Mat leave, it’s cold at home, I have a friend in SF, and it’s cheaper to fly here from Toronto than to fly within my own province, so I bought a ticket and here I am. Shit my kid just woke up. It’s definitely a different experience, traveling with a babe. Hang on.

Oh my god – she’s so cute. Listen , I’ll finish this later. Just wanted to say that if you ever find yourself without maple syrup, and you want to make oatmeal anyway, MAKE IT, stir in some blueberries close to the end of cooking (they get all leaky like they do in pancakes), and then some brown sugar, some orange zest, and a few squirts of OJ or even lemon juice, and rejoice that you didn’t spend 10$ for a measly 250mL of maple syrup. Catch you later, East Coast!