Saying goodbye

A fog hangs about Agassiz this morning. No mountains or hillsides or even sky for backdrop, just the yellow-dropping-leaved trees in the neighbour's yard. Other mornings have been the same, riding my bike to work by obscured moonlight, dew condensing on my cheeks and jacket and gloves. By noon the fog burns away and corn-stubbed fields, the damp hazelnut groves, the kaleidoscopic neon yellows, oranges and greens on the surrounding slopes, all fall in the sun's warm hold. 

Today I am in a wispy place. 

Last Saturday, I strode up soft, October-sun-obliterated drifts of snow, up loose, rusty-red rocks to the top of Mt. Cheam. I went up to say goodbye. I looked down the steep face of the mountain I look up to every day. I found the house I live in, the houses I had lived in, the houses my friends lived in, the roads we drove, the gravel we biked, the paths I ran. I picked out the place where I worked, the field where we grew, the cranberry bog down the way, the brown parcels that had been corn, the green swathes that had been hay. I saw the threads of the river, the shadows on the bridge, the sand we stuck our bare feet into, the rocks we skipped. I pinpointed the cemetery with the age-etched gravestones and steep steps and fallen leaves where we howled at the moon. I named the hillocks and the farms and the streets. The entire actuality of this last year laid out in front of me. There was mist creeping up the Fraser Valley, hiding everything past Sumas from view, but up there, I could see. 

Today that is harder. 

I had a dream once that I was blind. I had lost my eyesight and I was scared. My body fumbled into unknown edges, crashed into walls I was unaware of, hurt I hadn't anticipated. Then, slowly, I began to feel things. I slid my hand over crooks and curves, into cracks and corners. I felt edges and angles, and as I did this I saw what I was touching. I knew its shape and size and, what's more, I knew its colour! I moved with grace and ease, no longer afraid, feeling the vibrations around me, feeling the rainbow of colours. I couldn't see and still I could see. 

Now it is afternoon and snatches of sun are working away at the mist. 

It is hard to see what is behind me, or what is ahead, in this fog. In between one place and another; work to finish and work to come; paths I remember and ways I do not know. Still, I must move. I trust that I can see things my eyes cannot. 

*In one week, David and I will be in Pemberton, nestling into a new valley, looking at a new mountain range, a new river at our side, new fields to plant and harvest, a new house and farm to make our own!


Last sip of summer

It has been a fast and frenetic summer, the sort where if you blink you'll miss it. I can hardly believe that August is winding to a close. And I must say that I am particularly and inexplicably sad about Summer ending this year. Sure there are fine times ahead - the crackle of dry, brown leaves under my bike wheels; the pleasantly crisp mornings; russeted apples to eat with hunks of cheddar; dense, sweet orange squash; dusky purple grapes; the mists that will return to loll about the hillocks just so.  But still. I just haven't gotten my fill of Summer yet. I haven't jumped in enough lakes, or eaten enough drippy, sweet nectarines, or felt the sticky heat from a tent hit by the fiery blaze of a rising sun, and I definitely haven't climbed enough mountains.

So, I think I am dealing with this by escaping to a warmer place, to the sights and smells of Spain. I am dreaming of the steps I took in March and April of 2009, one thousand kilometres worth, on my way from Sevilla in the South to Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest, walking the Via de la Plata. I am remembering the fiery province of Andalusia with its white-washed villages; the wails and insistent clatters and claps of a flamenco dancer; jostling night crowds spilled out onto the warm, cobblestoned streets; oh the jamon, dangling, sweet and musky, leg after leg, from ceilings, everywhere from the supermarket to the local bar. The sparsely populated province of Extremadura with its parched earth; grey olive trees and gnarled grape vines; the red rust paprika of an insanely fresh, moist chorizo; countryside of Holm oak and stone walls and fat-bellied Ibérico pigs. 

I suppose all this surfaces for another reason too, as my boss is off to Spain to walk her own Camino, the Camino Frances. I am here, Spain is there, what to do? I dig out my cookbooks and take the last gifts of Summer - the twisted, thin-skinned peppers; sweet, sun-ripened tomatoes; fresh, pungent garlic. I find some stale bread and reach for my jar of sherry vinegar and use plenty of olive oil. I open a bottle of wine at lunchtime. I bring Spain to me.

Cold Tomato and Roasted Pepper Soup (Salmorejo)
From Mediterranean Harvest

Even though it was only March when I began my trek the days were intensely hot, easily climbing into the 30s. The land was dry, with nary a drop of rain, and villages were few and far between. It was a struggle to find and carry enough water. The best end to a sweltering day was definitely a bowl (or shot glass) of gazpacho - bright and cool and ever so refreshing. Every version I tried was different, from the consistency to the garnishes. This was one of my favourites though. 

You use more bread than most gazpachos but that gives it a thicker and, I think, more luscious texture. There is a sweet tang from the sherry vinegar, the bright pop of fresh garlic, and a hit of charred spice from the roasted pepper. In Spain this would be garnished with finely chopped hard-boiled egg and the absolutely amazing jamón ibérico de bellota . Nothing compares here, so I just leave it out.

2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped (uhhh, I may have only done the chopping here)
1 large green bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
5 ounces stale French bread, broken into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup cold water
2 or 3 large eggs, hard-boiled
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon, or basil, alone or in combination

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, bread, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper generously, toss together, cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Add the water and about 1/2 tsp salt.

In batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree. If you wish, thin out with more cold water, but keep in mind this soup is meant to be thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut the eggs into a tiny dice. Toss with the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle each serving with the chopped eggs and herbs, and serve.

Serves 4 to 6


Pickin' wild mountain berries

The blueberries are early this year. We picked up our order the other day - twenty-five pounds worth, nestled snug in their cardboard box for the ride home. Most went right into the freezer for smoothies upon smoothies to come. Some went into a rather delicious crumble, others into a frozen yogurt that's about to be sandwiched between oatmeal ginger cookies. I wish I had doused all of them in gin syrup though. 

Yes, gin syrup. You mix some sugar and water together, add a sprig of rosemary, some crushed juniper berries and bring it all to a boil. You pour it over your blueberries - hot, so they don't cook but soften, plumping up ever so sweetly. They turn from dusky to gleaming, glittering, starry-summer-night blue. And then you add gin. And then you wonder why you never realized that blueberries were made for this. Because now they taste like they grew on the mossy fringes of an alpine meadow, scented with sun-warmed pine and freshened by cool mountain breezes.

What to do with your jar of refreshing, woodsy-sweet berries in syrup? Take to them with a spoon! Pour into glasses, add soda water to taste and more gin if you like for the best drink of the whole summer. Imagine yourself in far-off, high mountain places. Maybe watch this video, too.

Blueberries in Gin Syrup
From Gourmet

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
15 juniper berries, crushed
1 (4 inch) sprig of rosemary
pinch of salt
1 1/2 lbs blueberries
1/4 cup gin (perhaps Victoria Spirits)

Combine water, sugar, juniper berries, rosemary and salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Place blueberries in a heatproof bowl and strain syrup through a sieve over the berries. Stir in gin. Macerate until completely cooled, about 30 minutes. Store in the fridge. 


A new style

And has Summer ever arrived - riding upon rays of sunshine, stretches of blue skies and solid smacks of sheer heat! As temperatures pushed awfully close to the 40s, I had the good fortune to have most of Canada Day off, and the even better fortune of jumping into mountain-icy-cold-lake water. A hike was attempted too, but that was abandoned not far up the de-commissioned forestry road. Hunky (our truck) was none too pleased about his rear end scraping gravel every time we went over a deep hump. And, judging by the hands covering my eyes and bouts of hyper-ventilation, I'm not sure if 4-by-4-ing is really for me. 

It's been so suffocatingly hot in our house that we had to drag our mattress down the stairs, into the minimally cooler living room, where it remains. It kinda feels like we're camping only better because there are no mosquitoes or strange, possibly-animal things brushing against the thin fabric of our tent and we don't need a flashlight to go to the bathroom. We still seem to get up at 4:30 in the morning though.

Life is busy. Busy and bountiful. We are doing two or three farmers' markets a week. David is out in the field every day, harvesting, weeding, watering. New things all the time - sweet, yellow-buttery potatoes, fragrant green and purple basil, tiny bunches of green onions. At work we're transitioning to a new, much-larger cheese vat with all its advantages and drawbacks. We still carve out time for marathon SYTYCD sessions, and suppers with friends, and glasses of wine.

Yes, with life all a-whirl, I found it very challenging to get into the kitchen and cook, at least consistently. We'd inevitably bring home some leftover produce from a market and I'd dutifully collect a selection to stash away in the fridge. It was hard to fit ten bunches of kale and a rag-tag assortment of herbs and fennel and mustards greens in there though. It was even harder to use before the next batch of leftovers arrived. Every week I'd clean out the fridge, compost the greens I still hadn't used, re-stock, and repeat. Until now.

I read a book called An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. As the title suggests, it is about cooking simply, and well. There are essays on making salad dressings and cooking beans and using the odds and ends of last night's supper for tonight's. In the first chapter Tamar explains what she does with her vegetables after a trip to the grocery store, or farmers' market or whatever. She puts a pot of water on to boil and then she cooks all her vegetables at once, in batches; chopping up bunches of greens while others simmer, to be followed by cabbage, or potatoes, or whatever it is she has found that day, then finally pasta, or grains, or beans. She might make a quick supper then, but most of the prepared vegetables she keeps in her fridge, to use in the meals to follow. 

I must admit I was a bit shocked, and also off-put. BoilingReally? Not my preferred cooking method for fresh vegetables. And I always cooked my vegetables specifically for the dish I was making. But, as the unused bunches of kale continued to pile up, I decided to give her approach a try. I filled up my biggest pot with water, added lots of salt, and cranked the heat up. I tore off stems of Swiss chard and gave them a good rainbow-y chop and plop into the hot water. They cooked much faster than when I would saute them, and I didn't have to keep a watchful eye and splash of water handy. When they were done I tasted a piece, still dubious, and it was freakin' delicious. Still fresh and green-tasting but not toothsome in the least. About an hour of chopping and boiling and juicing left me with a large container of boiled kale, a smaller one of boiled Swiss chard (stems and leaves), a bunch of boiled potatoes, a jar of cilantro pesto and a small yet potent jar of bright green juice. It certainly took up less space in the fridge. 

The real magic happened the next day when I came home and, after 10 hours of work, made a tart! A Swiss chard, pine nut, olive and feta tart. I made the crust myself, trying out a new recipe which is now a firm favourite (and which I will share with you very shortly), and while that rested for half an hour in the fridge, I foraged for ingredients. While it baked, I relaxed and checked my e-mail. There were even leftovers for lunch the next day. And for supper that next night, again after 10 hours of work, I made another tart - this time maple sausage with kale.  And in the morning I had fried rice with kale and an egg for breakfast. Somehow, though I never believed it would make a difference, having my vegetables ready to go made it so much easier, and enticing to get into the kitchen. 

Cooking styles seem to evolve as our lives do, and right now, this one is working for me! Today, my prep work produced a container of roasted zucchini, one of roasted mushrooms, another of sauteed radicchio, some boiled collard greens, a jar of juice to add to my morning smoothies, and a bowl of kale chips for snacking on. Pizza? Pasta? Sandwich? Salad? It could go in any direction from here, depending on what I'm into that day. Dinner is that much closer to actually happening and, these days, that is a very good thing.

Now, here is a recipe:

Simple, Easy (and also Gluten-Free) Tart Crust
From Green Kitchen Stories

This isn't a flaky, butter-laden crust and that's fine. It is light and healthy but also delicious. And gluten-free. And slightly sweet thanks to oat and ground almond flours. I find that a nice balance to a tart that is chock-full of greens. I make both the oat and ground almond flours myself, using a coffee grinder dedicated to such culinary purposes. I simply measure 1/2 cup rolled oats and blitz away until I have a finely ground flour. Same goes for the almonds. Though it might not be completely accurate that 1/3 cup whole almonds equals 1/3 cup ground almond flour, it's good enough for me. You could use regular flour if you like, or something else - buckwheat might be nice. Other nuts are tasty as well. I used walnuts in the crust for my sausage and kale tart. The dough will seem a bit sticky at first but, no matter, just wrap it up and stick it in the fridge. There's also no need to roll it out, simply push it into a pan with your fingers, and away you go!

I haven't included a recipe for the filling, I'll leave that up to you and your imagination. You might want to check out the Green Kitchen Stories recipe though. I loosely followed it - mostly the egg/cheese proportions, which give you a tart that is mostly greens, and none of this thick, heavy quiche stuff. A tart as it should be, I think.  

1/2 cup (65g) oat flour
1/3 cup (45g) ground almond flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp organic butter or coconut oil
3 tbsp ice-cold water

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Combine the flours, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and cut into the flour with a pastry cutter, or your fingers, to make small, flour-coated, butter pebbles. Add the water and mix with a spatula until just combined. Gather into a ball, wrap with plastic, and refrigerate about 30 minutes. 

Press evenly into an 8" pie pan, prick the bottom with a fork and blind bake for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F, add your filling to the tart case, and bake about 30 minutes until set and/or done. Let cool somewhat before serving.

Makes enough for one 8" tart.


Better late than never

Do you ever get tired of reading this blog? I mean, do you ever wish you could simply listen, or maybe just watch rather than use precious brain power to decipher letters into words into sentences into paragraphs into sense? Well, you are in for a treat today!

You may recall how, last year, a string of guest bloggers waxed poetic about dates, and being vegetarian, and choosing the correct tool with which to spread peanut butter on Dispatches from the Dinner Table. There was another guest lined up, waiting in the wings, but his post didn't materialize. Until the other day, when (over a year later) it showed up in the form of a link to a video he had made. A 13-minute-long video just for Dispatches from the Dinner Table! I must admit I was quite impressed.

So, allow me to introduce you to my latest and greatest guest blogger Cameron: He's a schoolteacher and serious Canucks fan. He is very fun to banter with, can recount all sorts of movie trivia and is allergic to apples (among other fruit). He loves competition and Snifty Snakes (among other games). He likes beer, and sleeping, and also cats. He dislikes cilantro, cleaning (as you will soon see) and loud chewing. You can hear more of Cameron on What's the Deal, a podcast series in which Cameron and his friends Patrick and Chris discuss every single episode of Seinfeld. 

Now, prepare yourselves for cooking as you've never seen it before!