Last night I went to the ballet. Madame Butterfly was the ballet, Alberta Ballet was the company. The performance was wonderful and the plot well-expressed through the choreography, Pucinni's compelling music, the sets and gorgeous costumes. I was thoroughly there and thoroughly enjoyed it. But more than the beauty of the ballet I was able to relax into the memories of Merin that so flood any experience that touches dance. To relax into those wonderful memories was a welcome joy.
Merin loved going to the ballet. Even though it almost always entailed rushing home from class to dress and primp - in a flurry and fluster - and finally arrive breathless at the theatre to sit in less-than-desirable seats on the third balcony (or to stand for the entire performance at the Paris Opera House when in Paris) she loved the ballet. She loved anticipating the show and, when the night arrived, dressing up to meet the occasion. She loved meeting her friends, going with her sister, sometimes with me, or going solo. She loved the atmosphere that attends the event, the music, the dancers, the dancing - she loved the dancing!
Last night's ballet - centered as it was on Japan - was colored with another layer of memories of Merin. Memories of finding a studio and teacher that met her standard and need the year she was in Tokyo with us. Teaching her the long and multi-change train route to that studio once we found it. Sitting in the heat and humidity of the studio while she took class. And then knowing that she could easily go on her own but going with her anyway just for the joy of sharing time together.
Ballet memories are so very heavily loaded for me. Three years have passed and I miss my Merin more intensely than I can say. Time has mellowed the pain of loss in a way and I hope that mellowing will continue but I am realizing that I will always yearn for Merin and grieve her loss, even as I anticipate our eventual reunion. Being in a ballet setting brings precious memories to the very front of my mind and heart in a way that demands I pay attention to them. Until last night the intensity and sheer volume of those memories teetered on the edge of too sharp. It was wonderful to remember and feel the warmth of all that my daughter was as I relaxed into those precious memories last night. Once again, I know that life is good.
image from the Alberta Ballet website
I love Sunday evenings. The house is peaceful, I am happy. Most times my heart and my stomach are absolutely satisfied - good food shared with the people I love best in all the world is a simple pleasure and an absolute luxury. A luxury that I never take for granted and hope to never live without. Today we shared our Sunday dinner with Thomas and his family. Ewan is teething and wanted everything and nothing but finally settled very happily on a cob of corn. Theo negotiated for another piece of bbq'd sausage with every bite of potato and Jane is so grown up that she ate her dinner and chatted about life and kindergarten with all the élan of a five year old. A bit chaotic but ever so much more charming and dear than the most gracious dinner party. It is the kind of party I most cherish.
The carrot on the end of the stick this evening was the cake that was baking when everyone arrived. Always a good thing to have a carrot to dangle when one's dinner guests are balking at their vegetables and this was a particularly appealing carrot. I must admit that I was a tiny bit anxious that this particular enticement might disappoint my youngest guests as it has a generous amount of dark chocolate (something that does not appeal to the palates of many youngsters) but I need not have worried. Theo devoured his with intense concentration while Jane attended to her dessert with a little more delicacy but no less enthusiasm. The rest of the table simply enjoyed.
The recipe is one that I found a few years ago on Smitten Kitchen and have made several times. Today I played with the sugar and flour, and added some apples from our tree outside. It is an incredibly delicious cake and so simple to make. Loaded with fruit and dark chocolate, topped with some softly whipped heavy cream...
There is browned butter in this cake. Browned butter and I have a history and it isn't a happy one. I have learned to do nothing but brown the butter and even then I don't take my eyes off the task for even a second. Not to check a recipe or stir another pot. Nothing. Every time I do, the butter burns. Just that fast it goes from perfectly fine to black and bitter. It seems to me the critical moment is the nutty smell, just after the foaming begins to subside. (If you wait for the butter to truly brown you're hooped - it will continue to darken off the heat.) That is the moment to remove the pan from the heat but keep stirring for a minute or two - bad things can still happen to those precious milk solids. It is a little tricky but a trick well worth mastering. The cake is ever so much better for it.
pear apple almond cake with dark chocolate
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose spelt flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large pears, diced
1 small apple, diced
3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks
Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan, set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together the flours, salt and baking powder.
Using a mixer whip the eggs on high speed for 5-9 minutes until pale and very thick. While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter (or brown it before you begin the whipping). When the eggs are sufficiently whipped, add the sugar and continue whipping for another minute. Turn the speed down to stir and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of the flour.Stir just until combined.
Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear, apple and chocolate pieces over the top and bake at 350 degrees F. until the cake is brown and springs back to the touch - about 50 minutes in my oven. (there is a lot of fruit in this cake and it is very moist but there is a difference between moist and underdone - test carefully)
Serve with softly whipped cream.
Sunday dinner at our house is most often a noisy, busy, happy, crazy, cluttered kind of affair with kids and toys scattered over top of and around parents lounging in groups and talking - the kind of catching up that is super important for all of us to stay connected. It is a highlight of my week, even those times when things just aren't like in the movies. I love to have all (or as many as possible) of my chicks in one place and under my roof, and Sunday afternoon is when it most often happens. Usually the house is full but occasionally the family has other obligations. On those rare Sunday evenings David and I have a quiet few hours together to enjoy a meal that is tailored just to us. No food preferences to consider other than our own, no bedtimes to work around. Just what we like and when. A soft and gentle time for we two. This past Sunday was one of those Sundays so I made a red quinoa salad that took my fancy earlier in the day and paired it with an easy bacon-wrapped, mustard and brown sugar-smeared pork tenderloin. Simple, easy, healthy, good. Enjoyed at leisure and together. Yummy enough to want to share.
Quinoa salads are so popular that they are becoming a bit cliche - a shame because there is so much creative potential. On the other hand there is a large contingent that has decided (quite emphatically) that they dislike quinoa and won't have it however it may be prepared. This salad offers something for both camps, those who think another quinoa salad is same-old-same-old and those who think they don't like quinoa. Red quinoa is quite a different beast from regular run of the mill white quinoa. Firmer in texture, nuttier in taste, and altogether better - it may persuade the quinoa nay-sayers to rethink their stand. The lime vinaigrette is spicy and bright. We liked it all. I made three small changes to the recipe. The first was of necessity not choice - I had only one lime so my vinaigrette used the juice of one, not two limes. It tasted just about perfect to me but two may be better. The second was substituting grape seed oil for canola - I don't use canola anymore. (A reasoned choice.) And finally I increased the amount of cilantro because I love it :)
Our quiet Sunday was lovely for a change but I really hope we have a noisy, busy, happy, crazy, cluttered gathering next week. I miss it when we don't.
red quinoa salad with spicy lime vinaigrette
(from Food 52 with a few small changes)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients except the oils in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oils until combined. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1" cubes
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Combine the pumpkin seeds with the olive oil and paprika on a baking sheet and toast at 350 F for about 8 minutes, or until brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees F. Using the same baking sheet, combine the butternut squash and grapeseed oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through to evenly brown and caramelize. Set aside to cool.
In a medium saucepan bring the water, pinch of salt, and quinoa to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add the cooked squash, beans, half the pumpkin seeds and half the cilantro. Drizzle with the lime dressing and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with the remaining pumpkin seeds and cilantro.
One of the local whole foods markets I frequent has recently really stepped up their game in the taste-test department. So much so that I find myself timing my stops there so I can be sure of tasting whatever is on offer that day. One has to think these things through carefully or one is apt to miss the boat - there is only a limited amount on any given day and I suspect that I am not the only one to notice. These taste tests are not your run-of-the-mill-Costco offering. They are home-made and designed to promote whole ingredients the store is selling. Having spoken to the woman who does the making I know she doesn't 'invent' the recipes, she just finds them, makes them, and samples them. She is kind enough to provide the recipes (a necessity if the shop wants to sell the ingredients I would think) and I have happily made several at home. Yesterday I was there again and the sample was so good that I ate one and then boldly, one more. No shame at all. Snagged a recipe printout, checked to make sure that I had everything I would need and made a batch of these cookies first thing this morning. Of that batch, five cookies remain and I doubt that they will last the day.
Eden, Isaac, Mark, and David were my primary testers. Nobody wanted to share and Eden was sad that she didn't have chickpea flour on hand because she wanted to make some then and there. 'Nuff said.
The cookies at the store were gluten-free but used refined sugar. I used coconut palm sugar instead, added a spice and a little almond extract to up the almond taste. Unfortunately, while the taste-testing woman shares her recipes she does not share the source so I cannot give credit where credit is due - and I really think some reasonable credit is due here. These are good cookies - not just good for gluten-free. At least we all thought so.
almond cardamom cookies with chickpea flour
gluten-free, refined sugar-free
1 cup almond flour
1 cup chickpea flour
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
Cream together softened butter and coconut palm sugar. Add egg yolk and both extracts, beating until smooth and creamy. Add chickpea and almond flours, mixing until a soft dough forms - this will take a minute or two.
Roll into balls about 1" in diameter and flatten slightly. (I used a cookie stamp just for fun, even though the cookies were a lot smaller than the stamp I liked the look.) Bake at 300 F. for 12-18 minutes on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cool for 2 or 3 minutes on the pan and continue cooling on a wire rack.
Yesterday I was busy doing the stuff I usually do on Mondays (laundry, cleaning, gardening - work that needs to be done but has a negative glamour quotient) when I realized that it was almost time for dinner but there was nothing planned, let alone on the go. At that particular moment of realization I was standing in the very middle of my garden, bravely advising the mice to head out (and not across my toes) so I could dig a few carrots, etc. As I pulled some beets, picked a bowlful of beans, and dug a few carrots I was wondering what to do for dinner. It came to me pretty quickly a few minutes later as I looked at the beautiful haul, clean and bright, at the side of the kitchen sink. Food that pretty doesn't need a whole lot of fussing to be amazing. So we had a beet salad, sautéed beet greens with lemon juice and butter, a little bbq'd chicken breast, and .... a green bean salad that will change your life.
The recipe is from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark - one of my very favourite cookbooks. I appreciate all the volumes in my ridiculously large cookbook collection for one virtue or another but this cookbook is one of the two or three that I use often and have never tried anything that I have not loved. Her green bean salad is of necessity a tiny bit different from mine because of a walnut allergy here. She talks about eating her mother's green bean salad with her hands, a comment I thought odd at first reading but now totally understand. I used my fingers too :) I shared some for lunch with Eden - she used her fingers exclusively.
This just might be the very best way to eat green beans. Ever. Coming from me that is saying an awful lot. I take my green beans very seriously.
green bean salad with tarragon and pecans
(adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark)
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 tsp finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1/3 cup broken pecans
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the prepared beans into the boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes - until the beans are bright green and almost but not quite crisp-tender. Remove immediately from heat and drain.
In a small bowl whisk together the shallot, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
In a bowl toss together the warm beans, pecans, tarragon and shallot vinaigrette. Serve warm, at room temperature, or straight out of the fridge for lunch the next day.
There is hardly a fruit I have met that I don't like - some fruit I love (my apple a day habit) and then there is my personal passion fruit. I am devoted to watermelon. I know that watermelon is available year round now but it is never quite as good the rest of the year as it is when it is truly in season. When I was a child I practically counted the days until it was summer again and it was not truly summer until watermelon was in the stores and my mother bought one to bring home. It was a summer evening ritual to slice a round of watermelon and carefully cut the rind off leaving the beautiful circle of red flesh whole. I remember sitting across the table from my dad, each of us with our circle of watermelon on a plate and a fork in hand, carefully eating our way around the slices from least sweet to the precious super-sweet bit at the centre, talking about the events of our days as the light grew dim. I knew friends and cousins salted their watermelon, a practice that appalled me then and baffles me now - watermelon being so perfect the way it grows! I have seen recipes for watermelon this and that and never been even the tiniest bit tempted and then, fatefully, I was at a summer evening bbq with friends and we ate the most amazing watermelon salad. Ever. I had three (yes, three) servings before the night was over and could not wait to make it at home. I cannot encourage you enough to do the same. It is easy, easy, easy and absolutely delicious .... (unless you, like my unfathomable brother, do not like watermelon.)
I maintain that watermelon is perfect all on it's own but the combination of ingredients in this salad is sublime - sweet crisp watermelon, rich salty feta, and the peppery freshness of the greens - each enhancing the other. It is simply another way to enjoy the best fruit of summer.
To call this a recipe feels a bit grand - maybe think of it as a suggestion. My friend simply told me "watermelon, arugula, feta, and poppy seed dressing from a bottle". I prefer to make my own dressings (because it is easy and then I know just what is in them) so I tried two versions for this - one with balsamic vinegar for the acid and the other with lemon juice.We loved them both; I have a slight preference for one, while David has a slight preference for the other. Guess it doesn't much matter :) I can only say that my my life will never be the same.
watermelon, feta & arugula
4 cups baby arugula greens
3 cups watermelon cubes
1 cup crumbled feta
1 Tbsp plain greek yogurt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or 4 tsp fresh lemon juice)
Put the greens, watermelon, and feta in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together yogurt, olive oil, and vinegar (or lemon juice). Pour the dressing over the greens and watermelon. Toss lightly.