November 15, 2014
It was once thought that echos were the voices of spirits calling to the living from within the rocks. Some Native American cultures believed that a Shaman could visit with these spirits in stone, or manitous, as they were called, by leaving his body and passing through the solid surface of the stone. Once inside he could trade with the spirits for tobacco, herbs, paint and medicine. It was risky business - communicating with the stone spirits. For if the shaman failed to carry out the ceremony correctly he'd become trapped in a prison of stone, leaving the shell of his lifeless body outside.
A few weeks ago we found ourselves here, among the spirits of the stones. It's a little know place, off a dusty dirt road, about 25 miles outside of Colorado Springs. Locals call it The Paint Mines. It's a fascinating study in geology. In a depression on the plains at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, richly coloured clay spires, capped with rugged sandstone hats, create a labyrinth of gullies and gulches. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have inhabited the Paint Mines for over 9000 years! Striations of vividly coloured clay stretch across the stone pillars in layers- ochre, aubergine, and rose. They were used to make ceremonial paint and to create and paint pottery, hence the name The Paint Mines.
November 9, 2014
It's early Sunday morning. I'm in that hazy place where sleep is fading with the morning dawn when I hear her slipper-clad feet shuffling down the hall. She pushes my bedroom door open. It creaks on its hinges.
"Mommy?" she says softly, barely a whisper. I can feel her breath on my ear.
Relishing the warmth of the bed, I don't open my eyes. The disheveled blankets envelope me like a cloud, the sheets are cool when I move my feet. She persists.
"Mommy," she says again, brushing my cheek tenderly, the very same way I stroke hers when checking for a fever when she's feeling unwell. "Mommy, I'm hungry."
I open my eyes just a bit. Her face is three inches from mine. Her hair smells like strawberry shortcake from the shampoo we used in the bath last night. Even her little fingernails are painted strawberry to match mine. The paint is chipped and peeling, but she still thinks they look beautiful, and so do I. In one hand she clutches the leg of a pink, rubber monster - a prize from Halloween. In the crook of her elbow she cradles a worn pink bunny the way all children tuck away their most loved objects when they need to use both hands. It's her Velveteen Rabbit.
"Can we have strawberry muffins for breakfast?"
It's her second request for strawberries in as many days. I've told her countless times that strawberries aren't in season this time of year. Anywhere. And that makes them all the more desirable. Which is why I always keep bags of organic strawberries stashed away in the freezer. You never know when the cravings will strike.
Yesterday it was strawberry ice cream made with organic cream and milk, smooth Madagascar vanilla, and frozen strawberries. Because she's allergic to peanuts, nearly all brands of ice cream are out. So I make it at home. If ever I were to have a love affair with a kitchen appliance it would be with my ice cream maker. Life would be dreadfully dull without it! But I'm drifting off again . . .
October 22, 2014
There is something in the Autumn that is native to my blood-
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.
I must have first read this poem years ago as an English major in college. I think of it often, walking down the tree lined streets; crimson, purple, and yellow in all their autumn splendor, leaves drifting, soft as feathers, to land on the curb below.
But it's not the first stanza of that poem that's resonated within me all these years. It's the last...
There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir-
We must rise and follow her;
When from every hill a flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.
I've always felt that I have a bit of gypsy blood flowing through my veins, passed down from my father, no doubt, an author and artist by nature. The blood of an artist is never satisfied. There's always that deep pulling, that ever distant calling to go somewhere different, to wander, to explore, to look beyond the veil that separates reality from the imaginary, to stretch the limits and to reach for more. All the while nurturing this thing within. This thing that will eventually be called ART, if it doesn't drive you mad first. For me this feeling is especially persistent in October, when change buzzes like electricity through the chill fall air.
October 12, 2014
. . . or from Apples to Zucchini.
As fall begins, I feel like I'm holding on to summer for dear life! I love fall, it's my favorite season, but summer went by far too quickly and I'm not ready to let it go! The garden is dying but my counters are overflowing with courgettes and zucchini, and baby green tomatoes waiting to ripen.
My work schedule has been intense but extremely gratifying! In fact, I just returned from an outstanding weekend in Las Vegas at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, where freedible was a sponsor! With all that's been happening these days, it almost feels as if I've missed out on an entire season! Consequently, I've had little time to write (as you've probably noticed and which I truly regret -- I have an ever expanding collection of recipes that, like cheerful stories told around the warmth of a fireplace, must be shared!) and even less time to tackle the growing mounds of produce that cover nearly every surface in the kitchen. The time I do have is packed full of the adventures we should have had in summer, before school started. To tell you the truth, it's rather nice to get out early on a cool fall morning and explore this beautiful region of Colorado. Hikes, day trips to ski resorts, a drive in the mountains. And of course, apple picking in the country.
Of all the perks living in Colorado offers, I think the one I enjoy the most is visiting these orchards which are just an hour away. We drive out here every year, usually to the same orchard, on the same dusty dirt road, in the same sleepy town. This year I was in the mood for change. A friend mentioned that we should try an orchard in Penrose called 3rd Street Apples. Through I'd never been there, the name sounded warm and familiar enough that I had to check it out.
August 22, 2014
About an hour from where we live, straddling the Arkansas river, is the small, agricultural town of Canon City. The road is lined with apple orchards, pastures, vast fields of alfalfa, a derelict collection of buildings with faded facades and wind-torn signs, and a vineyard. If there's any indication that this place is more than just a small country farming town, it's this vineyard. Off the road, down a narrow drive, nestled among ancient oak and hawthorn trees, there is an old neogothic-style abbey. A hidden gem in this rugged land of cactus and cowboys. Its spires are barely visible above the trees, which is probably why I've driven past it with out even noticing for so many years. It's surrounded by vineyards, thriving in the rocky soil and intense Colorado sunshine. Though the abbey was built in the early 1920's, it reminds me of something much older. Like some of the grand churches in Europe perhaps, which is why I feel at home here. It was used as a boarding house and school for many decades, and the vineyards were planted by the Benedictine Fathers in the hopes of establishing a world-class winery here in the heart of Colorado. That never happened, and in the name of Progress, the abbey was eventually closed and abandoned.
There's something to be said about progress, but that will have to wait for another day. Perhaps there's more to be said about the past. About ways that are lost and dreams that are forgotten. Recently the abbey was revived and restored by the historical society; the wild, rocky vineyards have been tamed and tended - and, better late than never, a winery was finally established in the out buildings behind the chapel. Using grapes from the vineyards as well as other varieties grown locally, these days the abbey produces some of Colorado's finest, most treasured wines.
August 10, 2014
Ever since I can remember, dirt cake has been a birthday tradition. I was never a big fan, but my mother used to make it for my brother every year. Even now, we're well into our 30s, and my brother still requests it. I've always joked that dirt cake was just an excuse to cram as many unwholesome ingredients as possible into one bowl and call it "cake." Still, due in no small part to the prodding of his uncle, now Connor requests it every year for his birthday, as well. This means that instead of having it just once a year in February, we now have it in August, too. The tradition lives on.
As with any tradition, gradual change is inevitable. My mother's recipe - made with Oreos, instant pudding, and cool whip - has been steadily evolving since falling into my hands. The cool whip was the first to go. Replaced by real whipped cream, flavoured with pure vanilla and stabilized with powdered sugar. Next I banished the pudding, so sickeningly sweet, artificial flavours and all. It was replaced by a simple, creamy, old-fashioned vanilla custard. Last weekend we celebrated Connor's birthday, and I made one final change. I swapped out the Oreos (now questionable for those with peanut allergies) for rich, homemade chocolate cookies. Now, I dare say, I'm happy with how far this recipe has come. Like a ungainly child with a greedy sweet tooth, the cake has matured into a sophisticated adult, balanced, not overly sweet. Okay maybe that's a stretch... Can anything that's garnished with gummy worms be legitimately called "adult?"
I served to to the boys, and waited for the verdict. Granted the cookies are not as dark as Oreos; however, they both agreed that my homemade cake looks more realistic, which is important where dirt is concerned. After the third helping it was clear that the latest version hit the mark. In fact, even I loved it! And that's saying a lot!
This recipe may look daunting, but I promise if you take it in steps, it's easy. The cookies and custard can be made in advance and then it's just a matter of assembling the cake a few hours before serving.
July 27, 2014
Of all the fresh produce that drip from the market stands this time of year, I think tomatoes are the ones I love best. I adore the smell of the tomato vine when you walk through the stalls at the farmers' market. Like a summer rain storm, I can smell the tomatoes long before I see them.
When I was a kid, my brother and I loved to scour our mother's garden, looking for green-horned tomato worms. We'd hunt through the tomato plants first thing in the morning while it was still cool and the plump caterpillars were inching their way through the green tomatoes. Thinking we were saving them from certain doom, we'd collect them in old glass pickle jars, adding sand and sticks and fuzzy tomato leaves for them to munch on. You see, after the breakfast dishes were washed, my mother would put on her sun hat and go out to the garden, and if she found a green-horned tomato worm feasting on her plants, she'd certainly smash it. Heroically, we'd pull the worms from the vines, and place them safely in their new homes. In protest the worms would spit-up on us, a sticky green mess that smelled of tomato vine. By lunchtime we'd smell like tomatoes from head to toe.
Okay, not a very appetizing memory, I have to admit. But the point is that just the smell of tomatoes on the vine brings me right back to these moments as a child in the garden.
Tomatoes are everywhere these days, and I can't help but buy them every chance I get. The kids eat them like apples, juice running down their chins, and I've been known to add them to just about anything. Someone once said: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is adding it to your fruit salad. Well, I haven't yet added them to a fruit salad (it's coming), but I did make a pie with them last weekend. This Caprese pie is everything we love about Caprese salad, baked into a tender crust. Finished with a sweet drizzle of balsamic sauce, I can almost imagine I'm back in that garden. The tomatoes are ripe, and there's not a sticky, green worm to be found.
July 14, 2014
"What's a caramel bean?" you ask. Let me explain.
Last month I was invited by Snack Out Loud to participate in a recipe showdown with two other Colorado based food bloggers. Snack Out Loud would provide their Crunchy Bean Snacks and I would "reinvent" a recipe using one of their five flavours.
Never one to pass up a good challenge, I said "Bring it on!"
A day later a huge box landed on my doorstep. Inside were several boxes of Snack Out Loud's Crunchy Bean Snacks. The kids wanted to dig right in, but I needed to do a little research. So we lined the five different flavours up on the dining room table and I started reading down the list of virtues on each package.
Packed with fiber and protein (7g per package!)
Made using 100% wind power (cool!)
Produced in my home-state of Colorado (local!)
and (most important to me!) Nut-Free
I was getting excited already, but I still hadn't tasted them. So we ditched our typical afternoon snack (bread and fruit) and dove into the boxes on the table.
I went for Ranch first. The beans were light, airy and crunchy and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were slightly spicy! This isn't your run of the mill potato chip ranch flavour! It had a kick to it! I closed my eyes and recipes flooded my mind. These would be perfect sprinkled over a salad . . . like croutons . . . but perhaps that was a little too simple.
Next I grabbed a bag of Jalapeno Cheddar. Whoa! My tongue was on fire! Immediately I thought of breading a chicken cutlet with these, serving it along side a spicy mango black bean salad with a cool margarita to wash it all down. I got out a notebook and began jotting down recipe ideas.
Eve, meanwhile, was very happily munching away on a package of Tomato Basil bean snacks. I took a few and thought of pesto. Could I replace the pine nuts in traditional pesto with these? A nut-free pesto served over pasta! I wrote it down in my notebook.
Connor grabbed a bag of Smokey Chipotle BBQ. A few seconds later he was panting and fanning his mouth with his hand! These were a little sweet and a lot spicy! I finished off his bag and got him a big glass of milk. They reminded me of a sweet, smokey chili. Something we'd eat on the camping trips of my childhood. The kind of chili you sop up with hearty cornbread muffins . . . I scribbled "bake into cornbread" in my notebook.
Alas, it was getting late and we were all quite full (7 g of protein, remember) but there was still one flavor that no one had tried. Lightly Salted. I picked up a bag and popped a few in my mouth. Crunchy. Salty. Mild. Then it hit me: This was the perfect "blank canvas" on which to create a work of art. Something unusual, out of the box. Something decadent and sweet and unexpected. The recipes poured in faster than I could write them all down. In the end, when I finished the package, one word was written on the bottom on the notebook page: "Caramel."
And so, after a few days of playing in the kitchen with melted sugar, chocolate, ice cream and even a little spiced rum, the recipe was finally born. I was inspired by the crunchy texture to create a candy that was deep, rich and salty. I tossed the beans in a little homemade caramel and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sea salt. They were amazing just like this - like caramel corn (I even sprinkled a few on my ice cream that evening). I was tempted to eat the whole batch but held out. I had bigger plans for these crunchy little caramel beans. I made an easy chocolate ganache which I formed into little balls around the caramel beans. I put the remaining beans in a plastic bag, handed Connor a meat mallet and let him go to town. When the beans were crushed, we rolled the truffles in them, pressing all that caramel-y, salty goodness into the sides of the candy. Et voilà! A nut-free caramel bean truffle was born - crunchy on the outside; rich and smooth on the inside.
And now you know what a caramel bean is.
Check out the recipe on SnackOutLoud.com and visit their facebook page to see what my competitors came up with. Then vote for your favourite! You can vote once a day and be entered to win a carton of your favorite Snack Out Loud flavor.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE!
June 25, 2014
It's like something out of a dream....
Driving down an obscure road, winding like a snake in the grass through the Colorado mountains, its towers rise above the trees, capped by gold mosque-style minarets that catch the sun. Like a Gothic castle out of Game of Thrones, it's nestled among the pines and aspen trees on the mountain side. An empty moat stretches out in front, and a gatehouse and drawbridge stand open to greet visitors.
Since mid-February, the kids have been hinting that they want to go back to Bishop Castle. Finally here, they run under the iron gate and across the bridge, paying no attention to the silver-headed dragon that emerges over the castle walls. This dragon (with the help of a hot air balloon burner and two redirected chimneys) actually breathes fire!
Hiking up the eroded mountainside, the castle walls loom before us like a sleeping stone giant, at once both threatening and enticing. Legend has it that a ghost wanders these halls at night, slipping through the rock walls and keeping watch from the towers high above. A vapor in the form of a small child with the voice of a man, he disappears like a wisp of smoke into the cool mountain air. He draws us in. Beckoning in the softest whisper, "Come in. If you dare." Or perhaps that's just the wind, moaning through the open windows.
But where rumors of ghosts are concerned, it's always a good idea to start at the beginning. So let me take you back 45 years, when a man by the name of J. Bishop began collecting the pink granite rock, carving out a hillside, and building the foundation of a cabin. As the cabin grew, passers-by began asking if he was building a castle. He soon decided that's exactly what he'd do. By hand, stone by stone, without a single blueprint or plan, the castle began to come to life.
June 11, 2014
Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
-from Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Breezy sundresses, hanging lifeless in my closet for far too long. Lazy weekends at the pond. Sun hats, bare feet, pedicures. Farm stands and fresh herbs from the garden. Popsicle stains on t-shirts and sticky little faces. The open window above my bed, the breeze that smells of Russian olives and stirs the curtain while I sleep. Chilled Pinot Grigio on the patio as the sun sets and a garden of stars blossom one by one. Fresh, easy meals, laced with laughter and garnished with smiles. Food that's just as good cold, served straight from the refrigerator.
It finally feels like summer has arrived in Colorado. We're soaking in every drop and falling back into the summer routine. Which means our largest meal is lunch, served outside on the patio in the shade of a huge elm tree. The same tree that lost two branches in February under the weight of winter snow. I worried that we wouldn't have the shade we used to, but the other branches compensate and it's just as comfortable there as always. It doesn't matter that the tree drops leaves into our wine and sticks into our food. We love it anyway.
In the evening, when the sun is low, the kids ride their bikes to the park. I tag behind, watching them weave and wobble down the bumpy sidewalk, enjoying the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair.
We can't get enough cool soups, pasta salads and fresh garnishes these days. Today's lunch was no different. A vichyssoise which I made last night. This leek and potato soup gets better with age! I served it cold, along with a cool stelline pasta salad. I'm in love this little star shaped pasta! So festive and fun for summer parties or the Fourth of July! The pièce de résistance was a garlic marinated lamb steak with a basil-mint gremolata. The kids picked the herbs from the garden this morning as I was putting the steaks in the marinade. I cooked the steaks on the grill for just a few minutes when we were ready to eat. It couldn't be simpler than that. Food that's ready when I am. The perfect summer lunch!
June 2, 2014
Beanie Weenies. Not the most glamourous of meals by any stretch of the imagination. It's one of those kitchy old dishes that grandmother's always loved to serve to their grandchildren. Or at least mine did. Often - when we spent the night and felt oddly grown-up sleeping in the dusty room which we knew was haunted, under the covers in the creaky old iron bed - there were beanie weenies for dinner. Am I the only one with memories like this?
I don't know why I was craving them last week. I haven't had them in ages. Except that I was going through an old box of black and white photos and came across a portrait of my very young grandmother. The same portrait that hung in that room, just above that old bed.
Being the foodie that she was, I'm pretty sure my grandmother's beanie weenies never saw the inside of a can, but hard as I try, I haven't been able to recreate her recipe. I just can't get it right. So I came up with my own. With souped-up ingredients like caramelized onion, spicy jalapeno, smokey molasses, pepper bacon, and uncured beef hotdogs. It's something that the foodie in me can appreciate just as much as my children appreciate the sticky, sweet and smokey flavor. It's like a sophisticated cross between Boston baked beans and beanie weenies. Here's my pimped-out version. These are definitely not your grandmother's beanie weenies.
May 27, 2014
Several years ago we lived on the gulf coast of Florida. I remember hunkering down in the living room while Hurricane Katrina raged outside. Despite the evacuation order issued for our neighbourhood, I was pregnant with Connor and couldn't bear to leave home. How the wind ripped the branches from the trees, the shingles from our roof, and the shutters from our windows (later found bobbing in the neighbour's pond)! The sound of the rain as it battered our house, the wind hurling things at us from every direction! Smash! - on the back of the house! Crash! - on the roof! Wham! - on the shuttered front window! Yet, amid the chaos and confusion the air tingled with the strange energy of life at its most real and raw.
Is it wrong to compare the end of the school year to a hurricane? Probably, but that's how I've been feeling lately. The flood of activity, the tingling, electric sense of change that hovers in the air. When you have a food allergic child and all the school parties seem to revolve around food, it can feel as if you're being hit from every direction. A cupcake party one day, a popsicle party the next, summer birthday celebrations, field day. And then, late last week, there was a very special poetry tea. The kids had worked so hard throughout the year. Memorizing classics from Robert Lewis Stevenson, Aileen Fisher, Eloise Greenfield, HW Longfellow. This year Connor had a solo speaking part, and I didn't dare miss it!
May 16, 2014
The air is soft and light, like a cashmere sweater, just warm enough to be comfortable. The birds are singing, the garden is turning green and weeds are popping up like - well, weeds. And our world is awash in purple.
Warm spring days like these stir up the fondest memories of when I was a girl. My grandmother would fill her house with fresh cut flowers from the garden. She couldn't get enough. A kaleidoscope of flowers in every room, eclectically arranged in old jam jars and chipped tea cups. Lilacs, irises, tulips, cherry blossoms, and wild flowers which I'd gathered from the hills behind her house. On May Day she would help me weave them into a crown to pin in my hair. Throughout the summer months the sweetest, most intoxicating aroma would waft through her rooms, carried on the gentle breeze which rustled her embroidered curtains. When she died and the house was sold, I transplanted some of her lilac bushes into my own garden. These days, her lilacs grace my kitchen table.
On warm spring days like these, I throw open the windows and doors, and let the dog come and go as she pleases. You have no idea how happy this makes her. She bounds in and out, relishing the new-found sense of freedom. Finally she settles in the sunbeam that stretches through the open door and across the kitchen floor, only to pounce back out if a squirrel or bird ventures too close. I love the sense of openness in the house, too. The sun is brighter, the air is fresher and smells of rain and, like my grandmother's house, my rooms are dressed in royal shades of purple - irises, lilacs, lavender, and chive blossoms, all in bloom right now.
May 11, 2014
I'm taking a break from food today to write about something that's been heavy on my heart recently. Something that's deeply personal and intensely private, but something with which I believe all allergy moms struggle. The endless questions, fears, self-doubt, and monsters-in-the-closet that come along with raising a child with severe food allergies. And the search for a place to rest. Check out the full post on Freedible.
May 3, 2014
There are times when writing this blog that I find myself at a loss for words. I don't have a fabulous story to go along with my recipes. I can't even come up with a fancy quote to go under the picture, and I'm just too exhausted to Google one. Times when my thoughts are as scattered as the golden flecks of polenta that spilled from my trembling hands onto the black stove top last night. If I could just manage to process them, refine them, maybe even add a little butter and salt, I'd have something amazing to say. But I just can't fit the pieces together. There are times, in fact, when all I have is a recipe. Simple as that. A recipe that's so deceptively easy, yet so luscious, rich and luxurious, that it would be a crime not to share it with you.
This is that recipe. The meal I made last night. Or rather, it made itself in the crock pot and was waiting for me to stumble through the door, weary and drained. Can you ever have too many crock pot recipes? Or, for that matter, too many pot roast recipes? I say, no. However far too often crock pot roasts all begin to taste the same. Have you noticed that? So when I bought yet another roast, I knew I wanted something different. Something rich and spicy and slightly sweet. I began combining flavors as I pushed the cart up and down the supermarket aisles - tangy balsamic, woodsy rosemary, zesty red pepper, voluptuous honey...
This roast is fork-tender with a velvety, meaty sauce. And if there's ever a perfect sponge for absorbing a sauce of this caliber it has to be polenta. Polenta was made for meat sauce. Of course, last night I used instant polenta, which took all of 3 minutes to prepare. Because, as brain-dead as I was, that's about all I could handle. So there you have it. Me being honest with you at 11:30 at night, while my eyelids fight to close, and I'm hitting spell-check one last time.
This is a recipe for days when your thoughts are farthest from the kitchen, because we all have them...
April 24, 2014
Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
There's a wild and wooded area not far from our house. A series of paths loop and crisscross like shoelaces through the trees. The kids love to run ahead, looking for smaller paths that intersect with the main ones. They know these narrow paths are sure to lead to something amazing. Isn't that always the case? Some of the best opportunities are found only when you leave the smooth, straight path and venture deep into the forest.
The path I was on runs parallel to another larger path, however the two rarely connect. Occasionally, through the tree branches (still bare from winter) and the dense undergrowth (just beginning to turn green), I would see a jogger or a mother pushing a stroller. Perhaps they saw me too, headed the same direction, on a different path, though we never met. Our paths never crossed. If I were to get to the larger path I must step off my well worn trail and navigate one of those rocky footpaths through brambles and wild bushes. This is exactly what I did, without even knowing it, when I boarded a plane to Las Vegas last November to speak at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference.
April 18, 2014
The apple tree is beginning to bloom and that means I'm craving asparagus.
When I was a child, my favourite story began like this: Once upon a time there was a little house way out in the country . . . There's a reason why The Little House has always fascinated me. You see, as a girl my aunt and uncle owned an apple orchard way out in the country and I thought this story was about them.
We used to visit every Sunday when the weather was warm. If you've ever read this story you can envision exactly how the place looked. The house was up on a hill and out back stretched row upon row of trees fanning out from the house like the tail of a peacock. In the springtime the trees were covered in pearly white blossoms and the orchard buzzed with a million bees. When the weather got warmer we'd watch as the tiny green apples swelled and turned as rosy as our cheeks in the summer sun. In the fall, when the leaves began to change and a cool breeze rustled the heavy branches, the kids would each be handed a paper sack into which we'd gather the fruit that had fallen to the ground. The best apples were sold at the fruit stand down the road, but the ones on the ground were ours for the keeping, as long as we could wrestle them away from the wasps. My grandmother would carefully select the apples that were salvageable and cook them down into apple jelly, and jam, and butter, and sauce to eat all winter long.
Along the back fence meandered a tiny stream. An irrigation ditch, really, but to a city girl like me it was a wonderland, full of adventure and magic. Bullfrogs hid in the tall, cool grass and garter snakes basked in the sunshine by the water. Iridescent dragonflies swooped in and out of the cattails as I walked along the edge. Here and there were placed rickety old boards to act as makeshift bridges. A parent's nightmare; a kid's dream come true! They would wobble, creak and crack as my brother and I raced across those boards into patches of white dandelion fluff on the other side. More than a few times the bridges would tip us into the muddy water below. I used to daydream under those apple trees, and I promised myself that someday I would live in the country.
But here's the best part. The part that's not in the story book. Along with the tall grass, the dandelions, the bullfrogs and snakes grew the most tender, sweetest, most delectable wild asparagus! In spring, when the trees were in full bloom, the entire family would comb through the grass looking for the thick green spears. You had to really search, like finding a needle in a haystack, they were well hidden. But when we found one we'd cut it at the base and stash it in our bag. We spent hours searching the orchard floor. "I found one!" my mother would yell from a few rows away. "Here are three!" exclaimed my brother near the water where the grass was moist. . . Like a treasure hunt, we'd filled up bags and bags of wild asparagus to eat throughout the week, and every Sunday there was more to be found.
April 10, 2014
"There are a million flowers in here!" Eve exclaimed when she woke up Saturday morning. Her sleepy eyes began to sparkle as she took in the sea of flowers that covered the kitchen table. She was right, maybe not a million, but that morning the table was buried in flowers. Why? Because in just a few short hours 8 five-year-olds would head through our door to celebrate Eve's birthday.
Last month, when asked what type of party she wanted, she looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, in her most persuasive voice, "A Frozen party, of course....with lots of pink roses." I know you're saying "Not another Frozen party!" because if you have children between the ages of 3 and 16 you've probably had enough of talking snowmen and that song you just can't get out of your head. And you most certainly know that the store shelves are bare when it comes to Frozen merchandise, whether it's birthday decorations, books, or toys. So I won't bore you with yet another Frozen birthday party post, because there are about 8,000 of them out there. (I know, I Googled it.)
No, this post is about a party that didn't exactly happen the way I planned, and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. You see, when your daughter gazes up at you with a wisp of bangs in her chocolate eyes, and says "Please, Mommy, can I have a Frozen party? Pretty please??" Well, at least you try. I scrolled through Pinterest and began envisioning a grand, three-tiered cake decorated like Elsa's ice castle and adorned with the Frozen characters. I think I was more excited about that cake than Eve was. I ordered the over-priced Frozen play set that is so popular right now (this one) at the beginning of March and congratulated myself for actually planning ahead for once. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. With the day of the party closing in and the cake decorations glaringly absent, I began to panic.
March 23, 2014
Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.
We had company for dinner this weekend and, as I've been so consumed by various projects at work, I didn't have time to plan until Thursday. When I finally sat down to write out the menu, I drew a blank. My pen tapped hollowly on the table. Tap, tap, tap... "What should we have for dinner this weekend?" I muttered more to myself than to anyone else.
"Pizza!" yelled Eve from her bedroom. She has the ears of a bat! Of course. Pizza is always the answer, isn't it? That got me thinking. Everyone likes pizza, right?
I remembered the Ratatouille pizza I made back in January with leftovers. Hearty chucks of eggplant and zucchini, delicate shreds of sweet basil. I've been meaning to make it again, with a topping that's not too wet, designed specifically for pizza. And so I began planning a causal, relaxed pizza party. Don't get me wrong; this is not you kid's standard, classroom pizza party. I wanted a grown-up party with intense, grown-up flavours. A party where my guests are laid back but the pizza is anything but. Where the laughter flows as freely as the wine; where we eat with our hands, with our elbows on the table, and the conversation stretches long into the night. That's my kind of party!
And so I started tossing various combinations of cheese and toppings around in my mind. It had to be something that was a bit unexpected, a bit gourmet. Something that my guests wouldn't soon forget because, let's face it, pizza parties are a dime a dozen. I wanted to make an impression. It wasn't until I finally went to the market Friday morning, and strolled through my favourite section of gourmet cheeses and charcuterie, that the menu became clear in my mind. The ratatouille pizza would have a Parmesan and black pepper crust and would be dripping in tangy Asiago cheese. Oh course, when I'm making pizza I cannot forget the salami one that my kids just adore. Like pepperoni only smokier, without as much heat, with a sweet, homemade sauce and chunks of tangy Feta, I know that's what Eve had in mind when she made the suggestion.
March 16, 2014
If magic exists it lives in a pot of chocolate. Like a cauldron of witches brew, the more I stir the more it bewitches me. The aroma, rising in rivulets like ghostly fingers, grips and pulls me in, deeper and deeper I fall under its spell. Hypnotic. Watching my spoon trace endless circles round and round the pot. And the colour! The deepest, richest, darkest brown. The very same, intoxicating colour of my daughter's eyes. It draws me in, beguiling, ensnaring. She has yet to learn the power she holds in those chocolate eyes. My daughter, in fact, has chocolate running through her veins. She was, after all, named after chocolate. Vianne, her middle name, after Vianne Rocher, the enchanting owner of the chocolaterie in Joanne Harris' novel, and my very favourite movie, Chocolat. And how very appropriate. It was for my daughter that I created this pie.
As I sat at my computer last Friday, I was inundated with tantalizing photos of pie in my twitter stream and on facebook. They were, of course, in honour of National Pi Day (that mysterious number that defines the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of each and every pie plate, large or small.) As I scrolled through the recipes I realized, in horror, that I hadn't yet created a peanut-free, peanut butter pie for my chocolate girl! The tragedy! I had to come up with something immediately!
So with all these glorious images at my fingertips, I scrolled through the peanut butter pies, picking and choosing only the very best elements from each to go into my salted double chocolate sunflower pie. An Oreo crust - because Oreos are one of the few grocery store cookies she can eat and I wanted to indulge. Sure they aren't the purest of ingredients, but for allergic individuals, if there's a food that's safe to eat, then it must be celebrated in all its unwholesome glory. And celebrate we did, with 20 of them as the foundation of the pie. The sunflower butter - it's beaten with tangy cream cheese and a good dose of vanilla. Clouds of freshly whipped cream are carefully folded in, creating the most heavenly, pillowly texture. If this filling was a bed, I'd sleep forever! And the topping, the part I find most irresistible - pure, rich chocolate, gently melted into luscious cream and unapologetically smeared over the filling. And as if three truly decadent layers were not enough, let's not forget the sea salt. The finest French fleur de sel, still moist, sprinkled liberally over the warm chocolate like diamonds embedded into the darkest mahogany. Need I say more? Or are you as spellbound as I am?