Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A New Baby...MFK Fisher...and Cookies!!

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Cookies headed to the oven.

Something out of the oven. Hint: It wasn't COOKIES!!

If you read this blog, you know that baking is not my thing. Too restrictive, too much measuring, father and brothers were bakers, blah,blah,blah. I have a friend however, who has had 'something in the oven' for the last nine months! It turns out on the night my friend was in labour for some strange reason I decided to make Chocolate chip cookies. It's all creation...albeit comparing cookies to babies...let's just say that she worked a bit harder than I did! I took a bag of these cookies with me when I went to see her 'creation', yesterday. Definitely less edible and infinitely more special than my contribution...

Experiences: Gastronomic and otherwise.

"The first time,on our way to Germany, we had sat downstairs while our meal was being made. There were big soft leather chairs,and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips I ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that came out of waxed bags at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.
They were so good that I ate them with the slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that I drank two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life." MFK Fisher-The Measure of my Powers-1931-32

Cookies: The Recipe.

These cookies turned out better than I EVER expect anything I bake, to. From a Weight Watchers perspective they were a little heavy on:
  • the butter: 1 cup, and
  • the sugar: 2 cups.
When I calculated, 1 oz of cookie worked out to 3 points...completely manageable for a sweet,buttery treat. They were thin,with crispy edges, and golden brown. They cooled quickly,and froze beautifully. The recipe is courtesy of the:
 Harrowsmith Cookbook: Volume#1-Shirley Morrish-Devlin, Ontario

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla ( I used 1.5 tsps)
2.25 cups flour ( I used 1.75 cups of white flour,and .5 cup of whole wheat flour)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts ( I used 1 cup toasted slivered almonds)
12 oz pkg chocolate chips ( I used 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Cream butter,sugars,eggs and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients in order listed. Mix well.
Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets (I used parchment paper-ungreased) with 2 inches between cookies. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. ( 9 minutes was perfect for my oven)
Makes 6 dozen cookies ( I believe I got 4 dozen)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cathy's Summer Vegetable Soup

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These photos illustrate the stages of this particular pot of soup. Preparing a vegetable soup is not difficult. The challenge for me is to make it flavourful enough without adding any meat. The flavours of vegetables on their own do not give the richness to the broth that I love. In this case I added Yukon Gold Potatoes, and a can of rinsed garbanzo beans, and kept the aromatics extremely simple: A single Bay Leaf, and some salt and pepper.
I started off wanting to blend the soup to a chunky-smooth texture but when my blender sort of 'blew-up' half way through the process, I was left with a bowl of blended, and a bowl of chunky vegetable soup! Surprisingly, to me...they taste quite different...but equally delicious, filled with strong fresh earthy flavour, even a couple of days later.

Cathy's Summer Vegetable Soup.

Olive oil and butter- 1 tbsp of each
2 large leeks white and light green part only, sliced and washed thoroughly
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes cut into 2 inch chunks
2 medium carrots-sliced into 1 inch coins
1 large bunch of rainbow chard-stalks and leaves separated. Stalks chopped finely/leaves chopped coarsely
1 bay leaf
1 540 ml can garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Soften leek over medium high heat in a large pot with oil and butter approximately 5 minutes. Add all the vegetables and Bay leaf except for the chard leaves, and stir until coated with the oil/leek mixture for 2 minutes. Add enough water to the veg mixture to cover, bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes uncovered, or until potatoes are cooked. Turn off heat and add garbanzo beans and chard greens, and stir until wilted. Let cool for 15 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings/add salt and pepper. Either blend, or serve as is.

If you decide to blend, a mixture of plain yogurt and fresh herbs of your choice as a garnish adds a nice tartness to the soup. (I used fresh Basil and Chives.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer Joy is Eating from the Garden.

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A Summer with NO HEAT!

Weather-wise,this has been a truly crappy summer. I have lived in BC for more than 30years now and I have seen my share of summers that were late to arrive...but this summer is like a pot of water on a fire that can't quite get up to temperature. Did I also mention that today is August 11th? Judging by the little herb garden I have been growing on my patio, and from the quality and variety of produce arriving in my weekly SPUD tub, I can conclude that this year's growing season has been one of the bright spots in this unseasonably cool summer. The exception for me have been the berries. Having grown up in Abbotsford, surrounded by fields of strawberries,raspberries,and blueberries, in my expert opinion this years berries have been some of the most sour I have ever tasted.


The one flavour I will remember from this summer is the taste of fresh herbs, namely Basil, Thyme, Oregano, and Chives. I have been religiously picking and snipping these herbs in a variety of combinations and adding them to soups, eggs, and pasta. I made a pasta dish for lunch yesterday that consisted of Swiss chard, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, and a handful of fresh Basil and Chives tossed in at the end with extra virgin olive oil, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. As I was eating it, the combination of fresh basil and zucchini took me back to last summer in Raito Italy, sipping wine and savouring a variety of antipasti with the P-Man. I have also been enjoying eating tuna sandwiches made with fresh Basil leaves mixed in with the lettuce. Try it, and you'll never think tuna is boring again!

A Summer Meal as described by MFK Fisher in " The Measure of My Powers" 1936-39

"First we drank a delicate broth made of chicken stock and white wine and fresh tomato juice, the three iced and mixed together just before we sat down. Then there were little hot cheese tarts, made in Vevey that afternoon. With them we drank a three-year-old Faverges from the vineyard across the road, a high thin white wine like all those of the coast we lived on. Then there was a tray of cold roast pigeons lying on a bed of herbs from our garden, and a big earthen tureen of all the small summer vegetables we could find, cooked whole and separately and then tossed together with sweet butter. There was bread, fresh and crusty." MFK Fisher.

Happy summer eating!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Toast 2 Ways: MFK Fisher and Me

Print Friendly and PDF I realize that writing an entire blog post on toast could be considered ridiculous,but I intend to soldier on...

Friends,Babies,and Brothers

I spent the other day with a friend who is three weeks away from motherhood and even in her delicate condition,she managed to make us lunch.Watching her cook reminded me that soon she would be responsible for the nutritional needs of a tiny baby,then a toddler,and so on.Somehow, sitting there in her dining room,chatting and watching her while she walked from counter to stove to sink to refrigerator,reminder me of sitting in the kitchen that I grew up in.I would wait patiently...who am I kidding, impatiently,for someone, my mother,father,or either brother to feed me. My brother David was always cooking,and always eating. Because he was usually hung-over and I just never stopped talking, to shut me up, he would make me toast. Sometimes it was covered with cinnamon and sugar, but my favorite was a piece of rye bread with onion or garlic rubbed onto it. The toast was always nice and hot,almost too toasted,and slathered in butter.Then he would chop the onion or garlic in half, and rub it into the toast until the toast was almost flat! I still remember lifting that ugly piece of bread to my lips, and before I could even bite it...the smell of the pungent onion or garlic would go right up my nose.There was always too much butter so it would dribble down my arm and I would have to lick it off, and by the time we had both eaten the first piece,he was handing me another one.

MFK Fisher speaks with candour about what she feels to be unreasonable dietary rules in post war America Especially around the new idea of balanced meals for children.

"And later, when they(children) begin to think of the automatic extravagance of most of our menus,and above all of the ghastly,stupid monotony of them,they too will cast off many of their habits,and begin like you to eat the way they 'want' to instead of the ways their parents and grandparents taught them. They will be richer,and healthier,and perhaps best of all, their palates will awaken to new pleasures,or remember old ones.All those things are devoutly to be wished for,now especially." MFK Fisher

Picture Perfect

I am a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. Over the last few years, I have made a choice to eat less bread and butter. The photo above has been one of my current food favorites.I have been stewing fruit with a little brown sugar,in this case plums and eating it on toast.Lately I prefer to taste butter when I take a bite of the hot toast smothered with the warm fruit.It makes me happy and satisfied.

MFK Fisher writes a chapter called: "How to be a Wise Man" One of my favorite passages I find hopeful and heart breaking describing sharing food with a child.

"It was a nice piece of toast, with butter on it. You sat in the sun under the pantry window,and the little boy gave you a bite,and for both of you the smell of nasturtiums warming in the April air would be mixed forever with the savor between your teeth of melted butter and toasted bread, and the knowledge that although there might not be anymore, you had shared that piece with full consciousness on both sides, instead of a shy awkward pretense of not being hungry." MFK Fisher

Memories of Relationships Past

Eating toast with my brother is something that I did for only for a few years.Our relationship changed.He got married and moved out,and my mom dad and I moved to another city. We were as close then as we would ever be for the rest of our lives. It was because for that 10 minutes,in the kitchen our house,we had something in common,something we both agreed was delicious.We didn't have to relate to each other or even talk, we just ate our toast.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Early Suppers and Taste-Blindness...More MFK Fisher.

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I am still reeling from almost a week of visiting relatives. The day to day feeding of these two people, both in their middle 70's nearly killed me. I take a few things for granted regarding my strengths and weaknesses. One of my strengths being my ability to create menus and prepare meals. For the last week,I have been unable to reconcile the fact that the people I was preparing food for were as described by MFK Fisher for all intents and purposes 'Taste-Blind'.

"Almost all people are born unconscious of the nuances of flavour. Many die so. Some of these unfortunates are physically deformed,and remain all their lives as truly taste-blind as their brother sufferers are blind to colour. Others never taste because they are stupid,or more often,because they have never been taught to search for differentiations of flavour."< em> MFK Fisher

I cooked this roast lamb the night before my guests arrived, anticipating re-heating it, or serving it cold for sandwiches the following day. I marinated the lamb in garlic,Dijon mustard,and chopped Rosemary freshly snipped from the pot on my patio. It slowly roasted for a few hours, surrounded by golden new potatoes, and 2 whole heads of garlic. I was very pleased I managed neither to overcook the lamb or the potatoes.
The day after my guests arrived I asked if we should have the lamb and potatoes for dinner. I was told that they usually ate a late breakfast,little or no lunch, and did not like to eat a large dinner...preferring to go to a chain restaurant that served very good borscht soup with garlic toast, or yummy potato skins...with a large slice of pie for dessert. If we didn't want to go out...their favorite 'meal' served between 4:30 and 5 pm in the afternoon would consist of some sort of chips and dip, and maybe some cheese,or pickles...with maybe some cake or pie. After the original shock, I realized that what MFK Fisher had written in 1937 in "Serve it Forth" was true:

"What is more tedious for us than an early supper? It thrusts itself into the gathering speed of a days life like a stick into the spokes of a turning wheel. It forces a pause,a stop,which acts as a kind of disequilibrium to the fine balance of the remaining hours of consciousness." MFK Fisher

My guests left yesterday morning. After another breakfast at the aforementioned chain restaurant complete with overcooked rubbery eggs,a doughy pancake the size of a hubcap,topped with maple 'flavoured' pancake syrup, and watery all you can drink coffee the P-Man and I staggered home almost giddy with relief, and spent the rest of the morning lounging on the patio reading. At almost 2 pm, we washed and dressed and wandered down to the beach for a luxurious long lunch complete with a chilled bottle of white wine,a seafood salad for me,and pan-fried oysters for the P-Man. We treated ourselves to another glass of wine and chatted with the owners while they ate their midday meal. After more wine the four of us shared a freshly baked pastry filled with almond cream and drizzled with rich dark chocolate. It was going on 6 by the time we slowly made our way back up the hill to our now blissfully quiet apartment. There was no need for supper, just a nice nap in the setting sun, and a good cup of coffee to end the evening.

"I too dine late by preference,and I too like my room clear and beautiful,and above all, my guests very few and even more selected." MFK Fisher

Amen Mary Francis...Amen to that!