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New Brunswick Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

They say time goes by a little more slowly on the East Coast. The people are calmer, the traffic less hectic, and nobody ever really seems to be in a rush to get anywhere.

The stores aren’t open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – in fact, you’ll be lucky to buy a loaf of bread if it’s past 5 pm on a Sunday. It’s what some people might find inconvenient or old-fashioned, but real Maritimers know that there are far more important things to be doing on a Sunday night than scurrying around supermarkets or shopping for handbags. Things like piling wood into your basement for the coming winter, fixing a pot of tea for your family or taking a drive to see your grandparents.

I always used to think that made the Maritimes boring. The fast-paced cities – the ones that rarely seemed to sleep – were exciting to me, a girl from a town so small it seemed to be in permanent doze mode.

But I’m starting to re-evaluate my scathing regard of Maritime life. I’m learning to appreciate that maybe 110 per cent isn’t the be-all-end-all, that maybe firing on just one cylinder isn’t all that bad.

This occurred to me recently while sitting on a two-hour flight back to Toronto, after a solid two-and-half weeks home on the East Coast.

Being home took some adjusting. The very first night back in my old bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. I tried stacking all the pillows under my head, I alternated between laying on my side, my stomach and my back, and I even tried counting backwards from 50.

Around 2 am, it finally hit me: the room was completely, utterly, disturbingly silent. There were no sirens, no traffic, no central air blowing through the vents. There was just my breathing and the occasional crackle from a stick of wood in the stove downstairs.

Total silence. After months of constant white noise, my body couldn’t handle it anymore.

The next day, I woke up to the sound of the kettle whistling downstairs – my dad preparing his morning tea. A very Maritime thing, tea is. City people would much rather guzzle their caffeine in more concentrated and therefore time-efficient forms, from paper cups labeled with Starbucks.

The remainder of my day, and all the other days I was home for that matter, was spent puttering around the house and going for walks through farmers’ fields along the marsh. That’s another great thing about the East Coast – you can walk freely on another man’s property without a suspicious eye targeted your way or a patrol car sidling up beside you.

I ate supper at an actual dinner table at a reasonable time of day, rather than my 8 pm routine of balancing a plate of supper on my knees as I distracted myself with television. I dialed it back a bit, took a few longer breaths, and actually tilted my head upward to see the stars. And, just once, I swear I actually heard snow fall. It was exhilarating.

But rather than get too nostalgic, I’ve been doing my best to incorporate the things I liked best about being on the East Coast into my life here in the city. I’ve been forcing myself to leave work on time so that I can go home and eat supper at a reasonable hour – at the dinner table of all places. I smile at bus drivers and strangers whenever I can, I say “thank you” as often and as heartfelt as possible, and most of all, I’ve been drinking a heck of a lot of tea.

Because it doesn’t really matter where I lay my head at night – in my heart, the East Coast will always be home.

This recipe is adapted from one my dad clipped out of the local newspaper I used to work for. It’s an even sweeter twist on the classic sugar cookie, incorporating my favourite of all genuine East Coast ingredients, pure maple syrup. A dusting of warm cinnamon really does the trick to make them the perfect accompaniment to a steaming cup of black tea.

Tools

Small and large mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Wooden spoon
Pastry cutter
Large baking sheet
Spatula
Wire rack

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp white sugar, divided
4 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 tbsp pure maple syrup

Instructions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp white sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and remaining 1/2 cup white sugar. Cut in butter and stir in maple syrup. Form into small 1-inch balls and roll in cinnamon mixture to coat (If mixture won’t easily form into balls, drizzle in additional maple syrup and pack well with your hands). Place cookies on a large baking sheet, leaving 1 to 2 inches between each. Bake for 15 minutes, until bottoms are light golden and tops begin to lightly crack. Let cool on sheet for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Frying Pan Cookies

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I really, really love to cook. And, if you’ve ever seen me cook, you know that when I do, I like to utilize, in the words of my boyfriend, “Every goddamn dish in the house.”

I also happen to be one of those people who, when completed a task, likes the mess to go away on its own – I’m done with it. I don’t want to look at crusty baking sheets and flour-spattered counters for more than five minutes after the cookies come out of the oven – but I also really, really hate doing dishes.

In my fantasy world, this is where I’d be saying something cheeky like “This is where my boyfriend comes in,” and I don’t blame you for jumping to that conclusion yourself (unless of course, you know TJ…).

So instead of using this space to praise my thoughtful boyfriend, who always rewards my baking and cooking by offering to do the dishes, I’m going to take this time to complain about the fact that somehow, mine seemed to have skipped that gene that everyone else’s boyfriend seems to have – that gene that makes men know that in the end, they’re far better off if they just break down and wash the dishes.

Watching TJ do the dishes (on those rare, fleeting occasions) is a painful, agonizing process. First comes the nag from me: I turn on my sweetest possible voice, bat my eyelashes a few times in his general direction, and ponder, ever so slightly, if he would mind doing the dishes.

Then comes the grunt of acknowledgement from his side of the room.

…Forty minutes pass…

This is when I start to get grumpy. I probe him again, a deeper, darker inflection to my voice as I ask him again, if he could do the dishes.

It continues like this until either a) I get really angry and start doing them myself, or b) he gets the hint and finally walks over to the sink, washes a dish or two, then gets bored and goes back to whatever foolish thing he was doing before, leaving me to either a) nag him again, or b) do them myself.

So you can see why a recipe called Frying Pan Cookies caught my eye when I was sifting through a pile of my grandmother’s old recipe cards a couple of weeks back. Cookies you can make in one simple skillet? I was hooked.

I’ll be the first to admit that the cooking method is not the only unconventional thing about these cookies. They’re not really cookies at all, actually, more like sweet little balls of sugar, Rice Krispies and chewy chunks of dried fruit. But they’re fun to make, yummy to eat and, most important, all you need is one glorious, easy-to-clean skillet.

Tools

Large frying pan
(Okay, you also need measuring cups and spoons and a wooden spoon to stir. But that’s it!)

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped dried cherries, cranberries or dates (for less sweetness, go for unsweetened)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Pinch sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies (I used the red and green kind to be festive!)
1 1/2 cups dried shredded coconut

Instructions

In a large frying pan, add 2 eggs and 1 cup sugar. Mix until well combined. Stir in dried fruit, butter and salt. Place on low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and Rice Krispies. Let cool slightly. Spread coconut out on a large cutting board. Form Rice Krispie mixture into 1-inch balls and roll in coconut.

Tip: If you have trouble getting the cookies to bind, sprinkle just a few drops of water onto cookies and roll into balls with damp hands.

Enjoy!
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Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls

Working for a food magazine that promotes healthy eating kind of means you have to, well, you know, eat well. Practice what you preach and all that.

It hasn’t really been a huge shake-up in my life, this conscious decision to embrace healthy foods. I’ve always been a pretty decent eater, more often inclined to eat fresh, whole foods than pre-packaged goodies.

Case in point: When I was eight or nine years old, my bedtime snack of choice was green beans – a big old can of boiled and buttered green beans. Healthy, right?

My sister likes to jokingly accuse my parents of having reserved the healthy food in the fridge for me, relegating her to the packages of chips and cookies that lurked in the cupboards of our childhood. I would deny it, but I can vividly remember my spoiled-little-sister grin when my dad would announce the Red Delicious apples were “only for Little Miss Bean” (I swear my nickname had nothing to do with my green bean snacking…).

So I’ve been eating especially well lately – it’s hard not to when you spend a good part of your day at work reading and writing about the dangers of eating poorly. I’ve even cut back on baking, that weekly ritual of creaming butter and sugar that my boyfriend swears caused him to lose his “hockey body” – whatever that means.

The results have been encouraging. My skin’s cleared up quite a bit, I have enough energy to run regularly and my boyfriend’s lost more than 20 lbs. I’ve been proud of my new lifestyle, boasting to my friends and family how they ought to try it too.

That is, until tonight.

Somehow fate would have it that just as my healthy lifestyle started to really pick up, I would stumble upon a photo of these dastardly delicious cookie bowls, ingeniously made by flipping a muffin tin upside down and covering the convex moulds with dough. Something deep, deep inside of me insisted that I had to have them.

And then, of course, I had to find something to put in the bowls, and what better than creamy homemade vanilla ice cream? And it only made sense to stuff the leftover cookie dough into the ice cream maker too. Doing otherwise would have been a flat-out waste. Right?

I have to promise myself that this temporary relapse into gluttony is just that – temporary. That once I get my fix of these crumbly cookie bowls and smooth and creamy ice cream, I’ll get back on track.

Here’s to hoping…

Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls
Makes about 9 bowls and 1 litre ice cream

Tools

Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand mixer or stand mixer
Rubber spatula
Cutting board
Rolling pin
Kitchen knife
Muffin tin
Ice cream maker

Ingredients

Cookie Bowls
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp potato starch
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Olive oil cooking spray

Ice Cream
1 cup whipping cream
2 cups half and half
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chip cookie dough

Instructions

Prepare cookie bowls:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar. With an electric hand mixer, beat until fluffy. Alternatively, use a stand mixer on medium speed.

While mixer is running, add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips. Reserve 1/2 cup dough, and form remaining dough into a large ball.

Dust a cutting board and rolling pin with flour. Turn dough out onto board and roll into 1/4-inch thickness.

Turn a muffin tin upside-down and mist with cooking spray. Cut out circles of dough large enough to cover the inverted holes of your muffin tin (TIP: I use a pizza cutter, as it allows me to make smooth circles). With a spatula or the flat edge of a large knife, lift circles of cookie dough from board and place over top of inverted muffin tin holes, cupping dough around holes to form a cohesive cup. If needed, patch any holes or tears with additional batter. Remove excess dough from around the cups.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges begin to turn golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then carefully pry cookie bowls from tin. Turn right-side-up and transfer to cooling rack.

Prepare ice cream:

(NOTE: Most ice cream makers require you to freeze the ice cream maker bowl for up to 12 hours before use.)

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except cookie dough. Turn ice cream maker on and pour cream mixture into bowl of maker. Churn according to maker directions, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, form reserved cookie dough into pea-size balls. Ten minutes before ice cream is complete, add cookie dough while maker is running.

Spoon ice cream into cookie bowls and, if desired, garnish with additional chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

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Oatmeal Chocolate Cranberry Muffins

I learned a lot about myself today… and it wasn’t all good.

I was getting ingredients out of my cupboards to bake this afternoon when I realized how disorganized they were. Multiple bags of flour were strewn amongst three or four cupboards, the onion powder was hidden behind cupcake sprinkles and the balsamic vinegar was hanging out with the tea. Total kitchen carnage.

The tipping point was when I spotted my cat’s claw caps (these strange sheath-type things I glued over top of her claws when we lived in a carpeted apartment) and dried tuna treats next to my daily vitamins. That was it – something had to be done. So, after stuffing the muffin batter in the warmth of my preheated oven, I went about the task, hauling everything I could reach out of the cupboards, piling it all on my counter in one big heap.

It wasn’t until I started organizing the contents of my cupboards that I realized I might have a problem. Because when things are spread out, they don’t look too bad. But when you start lining up 12 cartons of chicken broth and a half dozen cans of diced tomatoes, it starts to look a little insane.

To truly understand how heavy this hit me, it’s important to know my grandmother. She was, in its most unadulterated form, a pack-rat. Her entire basement was filled – and I mean filled – with war-era pantries of non-perishable items: canned soup, tomatoes, broth, jam, shortening, anything she could possible stuff in there that wouldn’t start to smell after a couple of years.

My family always gave her a hard time about it, myself included. We accused her of prepping herself for World War 3 or some kind of apocalypse in which canned corn would become the new currency. In fact, at one point, we went through her pantry, determined to donate the goods to a food bank, only to find most of it expired in the late 80s.

So as I slid the dozenth carton of chicken broth into its place in my now-designated “broth cupboard,” I realized that I didn’t just inherit my grandmother’s innate love of cooking. I also inherited her instinctual need to hoard.

Perhaps the most ironic part is that after all those years of teasing my grandmother, I totally get why she did it. There’s something oddly comforting about opening that cupboard of broth and simply knowing it’s there.

It’s amazing how much we absorb from the people we love, without wanting to or even acknowledging it, until one day you realize you’ve got enough chicken broth and canned tomatoes to last you the next five months. And maybe it’s not so bad, because in a small way, it makes you feel like they’re still there.

This recipe is actually adapted from a cookie recipe a friend gave me. The cookies are now a staple in my repertoire, but all it took was a bit of tweaking, some additional key ingredients and a bit more baking powder to turn them into these amazing muffins.

Oatmeal Chocolate Cranberry Muffins
Makes about 14 muffins

Tools 

Small, medium and large mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Whisk
Rubber spatula
Muffin tins
Paper muffin liners
Wire cooling rack

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup large flake rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
4 oz baking chocolate, chopped (I prefer dark or white chocolate, or a combination of both)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin tins with paper muffin liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In a small bowl, cream butter with a rubber spatula until smooth. Transfer butter to a large bowl and mix in sugars, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir in oats, cranberries and chocolate. Drop batter by rounded tablespoons into muffin liners. Bake for 15 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let muffins cool in tin for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and cool directly on a wire cooling rack.

Enjoy!

1

Cranberry Citrus Pie

Today, I am thankful for canned whipped cream.

I recently discovered the canned cream product, after what now seems like a lifetime of deprivation.

It was likely one of those things, like Stove-Top, that made my mom turn her nose up in the grocery aisle. I had no idea boxed stuffing – or whipped cream in an aerosol can – existed until recently.

I haven’t actually bought whipped cream (tub or aerosol variety) in a while. Not since I discovered how easy and less expensive it is make at home. But as tasty as my homemade whipped cream is, it’s hard to get that stiffness you need to really make it look good.

I’ve been sifting through my grandmother’s recipe tins again, looking for something special to make for Thanksgiving. I’ve had some real home runs with her creations, such as those Honey & Soya Sauce Chicken Wings that got such a positive response. But sometimes her instructions can be downright confusing. Because to her, a recipe card wasn’t definitive – it was a guideline, something to trigger her memory. For the most part, I think she made many dishes off the cuff, loosely based on some suggestion or skeleton of a recipe she saw in the newspaper.

This was intimidating to me at first, and for a long time I avoided any recipes that weren’t abundantly detailed. Which, unfortunately, was almost all of them.

But I’m getting more confident now. I’m learning more, I’m trying more and I’m willing to take a few risks. So when my finger came across this recipe when flipping through the multi-colored cards in her tin, I decided to take a chance.

This recipe was one of those more trying tasks. According to my grandmothers recipe, I was to combine all the ingredients in a 2-qt casserole dish and cook them until thickened. There was no temperature, no cook time, no further instructions that would guide me through this pie. I got confused: should I bake the cranberry sauce, since we’re using a casserole dish, or should I cook it on the stovetop, like sauce is normally made?

I tried baking the sauce in the oven, but after 20 minutes of no textural change and a desperate phone call to my mom, I abandoned that plan and went with my initial instinct, which was to cook the cranberries in a pot on the stovetop. Success.

This pie is absolutely gorgeous, with its deep red berries and thick, sticky sauce. But to photograph, it’s pretty one-dimensional, and to be honest, looked kind of like a big hunk of red goo on a plate when I took the initial shot. I got cranky, frustrated and defeated, thinking after all that work, I wouldn’t even be able to put it on my blog. A bit of a minor Thanksgiving meltdown.

Enter the canned cream. A few loops of perfectly swirled white clouds, topped with a sprinkling of sliced almonds and orange zest, and this pie was begging to be photographed.

This recipe is for anyone who’s ever been tempted to eat a bowlful of cranberry sauce on its own. I promise you won’t feel weird cradling a slice of this sweet-tart treat in your post-turkey coma. I added the citrus twist for a punch of flavor, but feel free to omit if you’re only in it for the cranberries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Pie
Makes about 8 slices

Tools

Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Zester

Ingredients

1 frozen prepared pie shell (or make your own pie crust)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups water
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange zest, plus additional for garnish
2 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
Whipped cream, for garnish
Raw chopped almonds, for garnish

Instructions

Bake pie shell according to package directions.

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients, stirring well to dissolve cornstarch. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until cool.

Spoon cooled cranberry mixture into pie shell and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, or until needed. Top with whipped cream, almonds and orange zest.

Enjoy!

5

Blueberry Lemon Shortcake

Confidence has always been a problem for me. To be more specific, the lack thereof.

I’ve always had it in me, that hesitation to speak up in public, or the critical squint when I see myself in the mirror. It’s the constant nagging in the back of my mind, telling me I’m not quite good enough to fill my own shoes.

When I was younger, I thought it was something I’d eventually just grow out of, like a nervous tick or bad habit that gradually fades with age. But, as it turns out, confidence is something you not only have to earn, it’s something you have to own. The earning takes a hell of a lot of hard work and talent. The owning means recognizing you deserve it – that’s where I have trouble.

It’s the embarrassment that makes things worse, the silent shame that inevitably comes with a lack of confidence, and the inner anger at yourself for not having what it takes to walk through a hallway with your eyes facing forward rather than at the ground.

Cooking, as it turns out, is a skill of pure confidence. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to express yourself in the kitchen. So it’s kind of ironic, and fateful, that I find myself drawn to it.

When I started cooking, I was so awkward, following every instruction of my cookbook to a tee. I had no faith in myself. Gradually, I strayed from the book, adding my own ingredients or substitutions and discovering which flavours I enjoyed and which ones I didn’t. My confidence grew, and, over time, that confidence started to trickle into other aspects of my life.

I wish I could say that I’m fixed now, that I no longer doubt myself at every corner in my life, or even look myself in the mirror now without focusing on a blemish or two. But I’m better. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but to me, it’s the difference between looking away from a stranger and looking them in the eye, or something as simple as making these words I’m writing now public or stashing them in a folder somewhere on my laptop.

This blueberry shortcake recipe was, as silly as it sounds, a milestone in my confidence as a cook. While the biscuit is adapted from a recipe I’ve been using for a while now, the sauce is entirely my creation. It may be simple, but it’s mine, and that’s what makes it beautiful. The idea for it sprung from my latest culinary obsession: lemons. While the tart citrus is great for livening up everything from chicken to peas and beans, I find it pairs beautifully with blueberries. I dare say it’s replaced strawberry shortcake as my go-to summer dessert.

Tools

mixing bowls
hand mixer
measuring cups
measuring spoons
wooden spoon
pastry blender
baking sheet
potato masher
lemon zester
cooling racks

Ingredients

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch lemon zest

Biscuits

1-3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Blueberry Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pint fresh blueberries
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons water

Instructions

In a medium bowl, blend whipping cream, vanilla and sugar with a hand mixer until thickened, and stiff peaks form. Stir in lemon zest. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut butter into small chunks and use a pastry blender to mix into dry ingredients, then use your fingers to rub mixture into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs (The heat from your fingers provides just enough warmth to slightly melt the butter, which allows it to blend nicely with the flour mix.)

Form a well in the middle of the bowl by pushing mixture out toward the sides. Gradually add the half-and-half, stirring between each addition, until it forms a mass. Gather into a ball. Lightly flour a cutting board, then transfer dough onto board and knead lightly. Roll out dough to 3/4-inch thick. Using a floured round cookie cutter or the opening of a small glass, cut out circles.

Place biscuits close together on a baking sheet (about 1 cm apart) and bake for 8 – 12 minutes, or until fluffy and slightly golden on top. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter. Add blueberries, sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine. Heat on medium, stirring often, until berries darken and begin to plump, about 4 minutes. With a potato masher, squish berries until almost completely mashed. Stir in lemon zest and water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens. Taste for sweetness/tartness, and adjust sugar and lemon juice accordingly.

When ready to serve, cut biscuits in half crosswise. Spoon blueberry sauce on bottom of biscuit, add a dollop of whipped cream, and replace top half. Top with additional sauce and whipped cream. Serve with fresh blueberries and lemon zest sprinkled on top.

Enjoy!

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Strawberry Rhubarb Spread

I’ve only seen my dad cry a few times, but each instance is as clear in my memory as the last.

One of the most memorable times was on Fathers’ Day, five years ago. It was the Sunday before my high school graduation, and my family was getting ready to leave for a grad event at the local church. Not one for dressing up, my dad was at a total loss of what to wear to the slew of formal events that tend to go along with these things. Or perhaps he had it under total control – he just pretended he needed my help picking out outfits because he knew it made me happy. Either way, he needed a suitable tie, and so, for the first time since I was in kindergarten, I gave him one.

It wasn’t the tie that set him off. It wasn’t even the card, really. All I’d written inside was that I was going to miss him when I went away to university in the fall. I think, rather, that it was the mutual realization that I wasn’t his little girl anymore – I was growing up, moving out and starting my own life. And no matter how much either one of us wanted it, we would no longer be able to be a constant and daily part of each other’s lives. I think he just realized that it was time to let me go.

Rather than drifting apart as I moved further away, my dad and I got closer. As my life got more difficult, I realized I could depend on him even more that I ever did when I was living at home. I discovered that we’re more alike than I ever thought we were, from our obsessive fretting over insignificant things to our subtle ways of showing we care. I realized that he is one of the main reasons I chose to be a writer in the first place – his love of reading and, albeit hidden, love of writing encouraged me to pen my own thoughts, which eventually became my career.

I’ve always made a point of going home for Fathers’ Day, to remind him that no matter how grown up I get, I’ll always be his daughter, and he’ll always be my dad. This is the first year I haven’t been there to hug my dad, or to tell him how important he is to my past, my present and my future, and I have to admit, I’m a little cranky about that today.

I know it can’t be easy for him, either, spending the day without his little girls, who’ve both grown up and moved away to pursue our own dreams. But even if he wanted to hold it against us, he couldn’t – after all, he’s the one who showed us we could do whatever we put our minds to.

I was in the grocery store the other day when I eyed some brilliant red rhubarb stalks, freshly picked. They looked so good I had to buy them, even though rhubarb isn’t something I’d normally pick up. Then I remembered something my dad always makes this time of year, when the rhubarb patch in our backyard is in full bloom, yielding unlimited amounts of fresh, bittersweet stalks. Every June he hauls in a handful of rhubarb, cuts it up and washes it, the boils it down to a sweet, smooth spread. It’s delicious spooned on toast, or you can even pour it on vanilla ice cream for a super-sweet treat.


Strawberry Rhubarb Spread
Makes 2 large jars

Tools

Medium saucepan
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups
2 large tight-sealing jars

Ingredients

2 – 3 cups diced rhubarb (about 3 – 4 long stalks)
1 cup diced strawberries
1/2 cup superfine sugar

Instructions

In a medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups water to a boil. Add rhubarb and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn soft. Add strawberries and continue simmering on medium for an additional 15 – 20 minutes, until mixture is mushy and slightly thickened. Add sugar, stir until dissolved, and remove from heat. Add additional sugar to taste. Let cool in saucepan, then spoon into tight-sealed jars. Spread can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Enjoy!

1

Cherry Squares

My boyfriend’s been having trouble sleeping lately. He’s had too much roaming around in his head over the past few months that the idea of resting still with his thoughts seems lost on him.

I shouldn’t blame him, but sometimes I do – like at 2 am, when he’s keeping me awake with all his tossing and turning. It’s hard not to become a raging lunatic when you’ve been lying next to an eggbeater, your eyes burning into the back of your head from that distinct combination of frustration and fatigue. It’s even more difficult not to consider slipping a sedative in his supper when I’ve just spent all day exhausted because of his incessant bed-spinning.

The last three months have been his most difficult. He left his job back home to move to Ontario with me. We were naive enough to think that finding a new job here, in one of the biggest cities in the country, wouldn’t be that hard for him. Yet he waits, every day, to hear back from one of the couple dozen applications he’s sent out, hoping for good news. I come home from work, and he’s so lonely it’s sad. You can tell I’m the only human face he’s seen all day, because he’s so anxious to show me everything he’s done that day.

Then the night comes: he tries to numb his mind with video games and podcasts, but nothing seems to be able to calm him down enough to sleep. Eventually he nods off, but rarely before 3 am.

We tried over-the-counter drugs, with weird names like Sleep ‘N Relax, and even weirder ingredients, like catnip. They worked for the first few nights, although I’m tempted to think it had more of the placebo affect than anything else. Within a week or two, he was back to his irregular routine of 5 am bedtimes and 2 pm mornings.

Last week I was doing some research for work when I came across an interesting find. Cherries, apparently, are a natural sedative. Deeming this a far better solution than slipping some concoction into his pasta sauce, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work and bought a bag of cherries. I knew that if I were to get him to eat them, I’d have to slip them into something he would find appealing. If anyone would have a good cherry dessert recipe, I knew it had to be my grandmother. After a little sifting through her old recipe tins, I found it. Scribbled on a blue recipe card was the answer to my problem: cherry squares.

Tools

2 medium mixing bowls
pastry blender
rubber spatula
9-inch baking pan
hand mixer

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, cold
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole fresh or bottled cherries
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 – 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine flour and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, mix in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add salt and spread onto the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking pan to form a bottom crust.

With a hand mixer, beat eggs. Add remaining 1 cup brown sugar and beat until well combined. Stir in cherries, vanilla and coconut. Using a rubber spatula, spread cherry mixture on top of bottom crust in pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until squares are solid and lightly browned.

Enjoy!

0

Pavlova Bites

I was browsing through Mother’s Day cards last week when I had a bit of a meltdown. I was trying to remember if I had stamps at home, and if not, that I should pick some up on my way out.

Then it hit me: this is the first time in my life that I’d need stamps to give my mom her card.

I started crying in the middle of Hallmark, my card selection getting cheesier and cheesier as the tears came down. I thought about calling her, but figured that would just amplify the emotional wreckage I’d become.

After a few minutes of lurking in the corner, blowing my nose and wiping my eyes, I finally regained some shred of normalcy, selected a card, and left. I was okay, until on the drive home, when the radio played some old Blue Rodeo song that my mom always loved, and I broke down again.

It’s been almost two months since I saw my mom, hugged her, and said goodbye. I know this day must’ve been hard for her, with my sister and me moving so far from home. She put so much of her heart and energy into raising us that I’m worried she feels a bit bereft without the two of us around.

So to my mom, I want to say thanks. Thanks for loving me, supporting me, taking care of me and always treating me like her little girl. Thanks for putting up with me when I was a bratty little kid, and keeping me in line when I was an even brattier teenager.

But most of all, thanks for always being there, no matter what, to listen to me cry when I failed, smiling when I succeeded, and guiding me through this crazy journey of life. I couldn’t have it done it without you, and not a day will go by that I don’t absolutely and completely need you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

Tools

large mixing bowl
hand mixer
rubber spatula
2 baking sheets
parchment paper
small mixing bowl

Ingredients

4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp superfine sugar (If you can’t find superfine sugar, put granulated sugar in a blender of food processor until sugar crystals are fine)
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, divided
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
2 tsp granulated sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In large bowl, beat egg whites and salt until peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar and continue mixing until stiff. Fold in cornstarch, vinegar and 1 tsp vanilla.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and drop mixture by the tablespoon on sheets, leaving a half-inch between each. Place baking sheets in oven and immediately reduce heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare whipped cream: In small bowl, whip cream with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Add remaining vanilla and sugar and mix until just combined.

Top pavlova with whipped cream and your favorite berries.

Enjoy!

3

Strawberry Sorbet

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this post should be about. My life has been turned upside-down over the past month: I’ve left my family, my home, my job behind and completely uprooted in a new city, with a new job and a new home. I’ve been dreaming about the day when I could finally write this post – the one where I’d tell you how amazing my life is now that I have my dream job.

Ten minutes after I arrived in my new apartment, I slumped down on my air mattress and cried. I missed my home, my boyfriend, my dad and the comfort of the Maritimes. I asked myself what the hell I was doing here, in this dark basement apartment in Brampton, with no furniture or any semblance of home. I couldn’t believe I’d left my life behind in Fredericton for this.

Three days later, I started my new job. I was sick to my stomach most of the morning, stressed out over whether or not I’m good enough to be an editor at a food magazine, and whether or not they’d even like me. My mom, who’d driven up to Ontario with me, left that morning before I got in my car to start my new job. I felt totally, completely, alone.

To say my life is perfect now wouldn’t be entirely true. My boyfriend moved up a week after I got here. Ever since, I’ve been overcome with guilt for asking him to quit his job in Fredericton and come with me. He still hasn’t found a job, and is getting more and more frustrated every day. Money is tight, which is even tougher when you live in a city that demands a constant flow of cash. Our new apartment is a home, but it doesn’t feel like it yet. I’m homesick every day, and as much as I hate to admit it, I miss the understated simplicity of the East Coast.

But as scary as this is, I know I’d never be able to forgive myself if I never gave it an honest shot. And, to be honest, I think I’m going to like it here. With the exception of its lack of garlic fingers (yes, Maritimers, there are no garlic fingers here), the food in this city is so much better, and the actual city itself is pretty breathtaking.

This was my dream, and I owe it to myself to let go of all my inhibitions, fears and longings for home, and just be proud of what I’ve done.

This recipe is adapted from Hamilton Beach.


Tools

measuring cups
measuring spoons
large saucepan
wooden spoon
blender
ice cream maker

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 cups fresh strawberries, plus additional to garnish
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey

Instructions

Place ice cream maker freezer bowl in freezer to chill the night before you plan on making sorbet. When ready to prepare, combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove sugar water from heat and let chill in the refrigerator until chilled, about 1 hour.

In a blender, purée strawberries, lemon juice and honey. Add sugar water and blend until just combined. Place freezer bowl in ice cream maker and turn the machine on. Pour strawberry mixture into the maker and let churn for 40 minutes, or until reached desired consistency. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!