Sunday, September 30, 2012

good people

I lost my wallet on Friday. In the parking lot of Superstore. And didn't know it was lost until late afternoon Saturday. To my joy it was turned in to customer service - nothing lost. There are good honest people in the world. More of them than we sometimes think. 

I love my wallet. It was a gift - purchased overseas and irreplaceable. Thank you to whoever returned what I treasure and lost.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

raw cinnamon apple pie





I am a confirmed Apple Eater. It is a rare day that passes without an apple moment or two. I like them tart and green or sweet and red. Juicy, crisp, and fragrant, there is nothing better than a walk in the fresh fall air, apple in hand.... unless it is snuggled up in a comfy big chair with a book and an apple. I add apples to my bowl of breakfast oats and seeds. And then there is apple pie. I think I must have been 6 or 7 before I realized that pie didn't mean apple pie. My mom made a unique apple pie - made the way my dad's mom did - with shredded apples and a ton of cinnamon. Enough cinnamon that the apples looked brown. But oh my! it was so good. 

This raw apple pie is more or less a combination of the loaded-to-the-gills-with-cinnamon pie my mom made and a fresh, crisp, juicy apple. With the added bonus of a crust made with coconut, dates, and hemp seeds. If you (like me) need to be excused to wipe your chin and perhaps your shirt-front - you may. It is totally justifiable. This is just plain good. And healthy. There is enough cinnamon to make the apples every bit as brown as I remember my mom's pies were - which means that there is enough cinnamon to reduce inflammation and balance blood sugars. Refined sugar and gluten-free as well.

This is fantastic 'raw' but is equally good slightly warmed. David sometimes gets a sore tongue from fresh fruit and this was one of those times. I heated a second serving (in the microwave - gasp - for one minute) and no more sore tongue issues. Although it removes the whole 'raw' aura, a slight warming - just enough to leave the apples tender-crisp - can't destroy all that goodness. Adding some vanilla gelato really made David smile.

I used apples freshly picked from one of our apple trees. Sadly I have no idea what the variety is. I can only say that the apples are crisp and on the tart side of sweet. If you prefer sweet apples, I would try Gala. (Maybe that would be Aubrie's choice too.)

raw cinnamon apple pie
(adapted from Alive magazine)

(filling)
6 medium sized apples, finely sliced
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

(pie crust)
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup hemp seed
6 large Medjool dates (pitted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

(crumble topping)
2/3 cup reserved pie crust
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 tsp red sea salt

In a mixing bowl combine the cinnamon, lemon juice, honey, ginger, and nutmeg. Add the apple slices, tossing to coat. Set aside.

Put pie crust ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the texture is fine and sticks together. Reserve 2/3 cup. Press the remaining crust mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9" pie plate.

Put the reserved crust mixture back into the food processor along with the rolled oats, cranberries and sea salt. Pulse.

Using a slotted spoon transfer the apples into the pie shell, reserving the liquid. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the top.

Serve cold, drizzled with reserved cinnamon sauce.... or warm, with a scoop of ice cream.

Friday, September 21, 2012

hot tomato jam






I was excited when I saw a recipe for Tomato Jam over on Food in Jars. My good friend Nancy makes an amazing tomato preserve from an old family recipe that they call Sweet Tomato Mustard (or 'Pickle' most confusingly). She has shared several jars with us and we love it. So the idea of Tomato Jam was most intriguing. I hit the farmer's market, hauled home the required tomatoes, and went to work. First up was the Orange Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika. It was so much fun to make and so easy that I was back to the market to buy another bunch of tomatoes to make the Tomato Jam. I decided to call it Hot tomato jam because it is nice and spicy. The only teeny, tiny tweak I made was to add 1/2 tsp of cayenner pepper. If you wanted less heat just reduce the red chili flakes and cut out the cayenne.
 
In case you are wondering what does one do with Tomato Jam this is what we do with it - a slice of baguette with a smear of ricotta and a dollop of the jam, or crackers and cream cheese ( or any kind of cheese at all really!), as a condiment with chicken or beef, and the list goes on. Pretty much a straight up exchange for ketchup but way better. Much cooler. Certainly yummier and absolutely healthier.
 
The first time around I chopped all the tomatoes by hand. Second time I pulled out the food processor and threw in the quartered tomatoes (5 at a time) and hit the pulse a few times. Definitely the way to go if you can.
 
hot tomato jam
(from Food in Jars)
 
5 lbs tomatoes, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups cane sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tsp finely grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
 
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer away. Stir every once in a while until the jam is reduced by about half. It will take a while. The first time around, I cooked it at a true simmer and it took (easily) 3 hours - maybe a bit more. The suggested time is 1-1 1/2 hours so second time I upped the heat and did it within 1 1/2 hours. I would call it a gentle or low boil rather than a simmer.
 
When the jam has cooked down remove the pan from the heat and fill hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.
 
Test seals when the jars are cool and store in a cool, dark place. And never go back to ketchup from the store.

Monday, September 17, 2012

okonomiyaki







Okonomiyaki (or grilled as you like it) is comfort food in our family. We were introduced to it in Osaka and although I initially thought 'cabbage pancakes' sounded disgusting - and let's face it, that does not sound yummy - I overcame my disinclination to try some and have never looked back. At least not less than fondly. As in so much else, it is all about how you market it.  Cabbage pancakes (cringe) vs grilled as you like it. Or you can simply go with the exotic and almost magical sounding okonomiyaki.

When we moved to Osaka with five young children we chose not to move into an expat community but rather to live as 'authentically' as it is possible for a foreigner to live in Japan. For us that meant that our children went to the local Japanese schools, we lived in a 900 sq ft apartment, and my new friends were the women that lived next door and downstairs or across the complex from us. All of them were Japanese and - fortunately for me - many of them had lived overseas with their families. So they understood how difficult it was to be far from home in ways much more significant than distance. These warm and wonderful women were very kind to me. They were often the buffer between the expectations of Japanese culture and society and my ignorance. They helped with home/school issues, where to buy groceries and school supplies, doctors, swimming lessons, and taught me to cook what they cooked for their families. I think the first thing they taught me was okonomiyaki. This recipe is the way I learned it from them.

In Japan okonomiyaki is found as street food at festivals. It is also featured in expensive, speciality restaurants. Most often it is topped with an assortment of stuff - from shrimp and squid to pork. And always includes some shredded or powdered seaweed. We are a lot less fancy here at home. Our toppings usually stop at the requisite mayonnaise (in Japan that would be Kewpie sauce which is similar but not as good as) and okonomiyaki sauce. I take full responsibility for that - I dislike the seaweed and hate squid. The other mix-ins are simply personal preference. We use ground pork (or sometimes turkey) here because the cut that is always used in Japan is not to be had in Canada.  These savoury pancakes may not be beautiful food but they are tasty.  Fast, easy, cheap, reasonably healthy, and easy to personalize   - it's a good recipe for busy days. And maybe it will be comfort food for you too one day.

okonomiyaki

4 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup water
4 eggs
Optional - 1/2 lb of browned, ground pork
                    2 Tbsp minced pickled ginger - the red stuff that you often get with sushi
                    Sometimes I stir in a handful of bean sprouts as well.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and sea salt. Add the water and eggs, mixing to make a thick-ish batter. Add the cabbage. There should be roughly equal parts by volume of shredded cabbage and batter. Stir to combine.

Lightly grease a griddle or frying pan set over medium heat. Pour a portion of the batter onto pan, spreading the batter with the back of a spoon so that it is quite thin. (If you don't do this you will have issues with rawness. Promise.) Flip when the bottom is cooked and starting to become golden.

Serve with mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce. Aonori (the seaweed) is optional - entirely. It would make it a lot healthier but I never have acquired a taste for it.

okonomiyaki sauce
(this is a huge family secret - ready?)

equal parts Worchestershire sauce and ketchup

That's really it. Mix it up and spread it on. If you like it spicier add a little more Worchestershire. You can buy commercially prepared okonomiyaki sauces but they are certainly no better (and often not as good) and almost always require a trip to a specialty market.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

no-bake salted nut bars






Every lunchbox needs a treat and this is a good one! Since I first made these bars a month ago I haven't not had some in my fridge. I have tweaked the recipe this way and that - liking each variation - but today's batch is by far the best. A little less honey, a little more almond butter, a little more salt. No big changes but such a big difference. 

Fast, easy, healthy and delicious. Addictive. Pretty perfect.

If you don't like or are allergic to one or another - or simply want a change - it is an easy thing to change this recipe just a bit using different nuts and dried fruits. Hazelnuts in place of the almonds, walnuts for pecans, dried cherries, raisins ... tons of options and potential.


no-bake salted nut bars
(adapted from O magazine)

scant 1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil
6 Tbsp almond butter
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup hemp seed hearts
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Combine the honey, almond butter and coconut oil and heat gently (in the microwave or on the stove in a small saucepan). You don't want to make it crazy hot - just warm enough to melt the coconut oil and make it easy to mix together. Remove from heat and stir to combine. Add the sea salt, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix well. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl combine the remaining ingredients (almonds, pecans, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, oats, and cranberries). Stir to mix well. Add the honey/ almond butter mixture (making sure that it is not hot - or you will have melted chocolate chips. I know this. Not a bad thing but I prefer the condensed bits of chocolate) and mix well.

Use an 8" strip of parchment paper (the width of a 8x8" pan) to line your pan. Dump the mixture into the pan, pat it into the corners and smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate until cool and firm. Cut into squares and enjoy.

These will stay firm at room temperature - unless room temperature is really warm - so they are fine (although softer) in a lunchbox. The backseat of a hot car produces a finger-lickin' sticky mess. I store them in the fridge because I employ all my will-power and don't eat a batch in a couple of days ... or an afternoon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

summer pasta





Driving homeward Saturday evening after a very full, really great day I was trying to think of something to make for dinner. Something really simple because I was feeling tired and lazy and  it was already past dinner-time. It also needed to be really yummy because I was not terribly interested in eating anything. At all. I was trying to convince myself that tomato sandwiches would be acceptable and was almost there when I remembered this. Honestly almost as easy as tomato sandwiches.

I really didn't plan to post this but after we had more or less finished eating - you know, the sitting at the table thinking about another forkful finished - David asked me if I was blogging this. I looked at the empty plates, thought about another forkful, and decided yup, I should. Because this is the kind of food that you just want to keep eating... like buttered popcorn.

You will really want to use some of the exceptional tomatoes that are abundant now, basil you just picked (or picked up), and the best olive oil you can afford. The sauce is uncooked but when you add the hot pasta  it warms the cheese and tomatoes just enough. For what you ask? Just enough. You'll see.

summer pasta
(adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

4 medium perfectly ripe tomatoes, chopped roughly
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
5 Tbsp excellent olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup crumbled feta
340 gm pasta (I used penne)

Put the chopped tomatoes into a serving bowl along with the garlic and olive oil. Roughly chop the basil and add it to the bowl. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper and some sea salt. Crumble in the feta, give everything a gentle stir, and let it sit (on the counter) for at least as long as it takes to cook the pasta - or as long as 8 hours.

Cook the pasta just to al dente. Strain, slip it into the sauce bowl, and fold everything gently together until it is well combined. Serve immediately and when you are finished, try not to lick the plate :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

tomato pie





With field tomatoes and garden fresh basil so plentiful - and more importantly - so wonderful right now you need to make this pie. Today. Or at least tomorrow. The recipe was shared by my friend Toni after she served it to our quilting group months ago. I was immediately obsessed (and made it several times within a week) but I figured if it was that good with supermarket tomatoes what would it be like with end-of-summer straight-off-the-vine perfection? I can't compare with absolute authority (since I am not eating the comparisons bite side-by bite) but I am confident that I figured right. Of course, this is not low-fat or gluten-free but it is fresh and wholesome. A rich, melty, cheesy tomato pie is totally worth jumping off the wagon for. As long as you don't make it several times in a week. Ha!

I made my own pie shell but if you don't have time or simply don't want to, you could use a frozen pie shell. Aside from not peeling the tomatoes and using only a very good sharp cheddar instead of a cheddar/mozzarella mix, I made this following Toni's recipe faithfully. I did try once to cut down on the mayonnaise - and won't go that route again. 'nuff said.

Serve it with a green salad and consider dinner done.

tomato pie
(recipe from Toni Young)

4 tomatoes, sliced about 1/4" thick
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onion
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 9" precooked deep dish pie shell

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the tomato slices in a single layer in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow them to drain for 10 minutes, then place the tomato slices on a double layer of paper towel, top with another double layer of towel and press lightly to absorb any excess moisture.

In the baked pie shell, layer the tomato slices. Top with basil and green onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Combine the cheese and mayonnaise, spread over the vegetables. Bake until cheese is melted and top is slightly browned - about 30 minutes.

Serve warm.

Monday, September 3, 2012

where I am now

Two years ago, deep in the misery of loss, I wished for some kind of how-to. I wanted to know how long, how hard, what to do. I felt so      lost.     The task of recovering, or regaining my balance seemed entirely out of reach. Sometimes even just breathing was simply, very hard. Life hurt. I didn't know how to manage myself let alone how to help my husband, my children, my friends. 


For the last few months I have debated this post. I write it not in a bid for attention or sympathy but because of that wish for guidance. Perhaps someone, somewhere, sometime, will need to know. A little bit. And find some hope.

Summer is full of Merin for me. Perhaps that is because the last precious memories of her are summertime - a July bride, a first home, a sweet baby, family time at the lake, learning to be a mom. And then of course, the accident. And a funeral.


Merin was our youngest child. My last offering. Not more loved than any of the other four but the last and so we spent a different kind of time together. She was a daughter after two sons - the distance between Merin and her sibs seemed greater than the 2 1/2 years that separated her from her next older brother because Mark and Thomas were always a pair. She was simply always with me. We liked being together - a good thing as she homeschooled for grades 8 - 12 to accommodate her ballet training. We worked well together - most of the time. I knew her. She knew me. When she died we were having so much fun. The same fun that I had learned to love with Eden. Relating in a different kind of mother/daughter stage - as adults, friends, mothers together. The three of us (Eden, Merin, and I) were having such a good time. Hannah (Thomas's wife) made the mix even sweeter. 

I miss the particular mix. I miss Merin's voice each morning on the phone when she would call. I miss her. When I drive by the street they lived on I feel a tug of sadness. One day not long ago I realized, as I drove by that street and felt that tug, that I was missing the fulfillment of so many plans that Merin and I had made together. Some of those plans were explicit (finishing their kitchen renovation for example) and others were simply expected - summer afternoons watching kids play in the sprinkler, shopping trips, Christmas baking afternoons - all that and more. I wasn't finished having fun.


Even though two years have now passed I find it hard to believe that although I know she is gone I still have a hard time really believing it. It remains surreal. I dreamed of her again a few weeks ago. It was kind of fun - she was just playing with me, laughing and teasing in her sweet, gentle way that made me feel loved. I miss her. I wasn't ready to stop playing with her. And like a two year old that is called to bed when in the middle of fun play, I could dissolve into frustrated tears over it.

So where am I now? And how could this help anyone? Realizing that every journey through grief is intensely personal and that there really is no timetable, no plan, and therefore no how-to I would like to offer that it does get better. As I write this with tears on my cheeks and a lump in my throat, I know that it is so much better than it was. There is still sorrow but no longer the raw, tearing pain that took my breath away. It is more an ache. No longer a constant presence, it is like an injury that manifests when probed - I feel it when something reminds me. At other times just because. Memories are sweeter and so welcome. I can honestly say that I have been blessed with peace and I have hope for even greater peace as more years pass.


I am intensely grateful for my loving and strong husband, for my incredible children, for the concern we have for one another and the fun we have together. The prayers that have been offered on our behalf have taught me much about faith and the real, tangible effect it has - I want never to forget. The comfort of the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The grace of my Father in Heaven. Friends. Service. Work. All of these things have helped me. But what helps and has helped me is for another day, separate from where I am.


The joys in life are now a little sweeter in contrast.