Just this morning

What a divine summer morning! The sky is robin-egg's blue, the sun is starting to toast my neck and there's the faintest, freshest stir of a breeze. I just ate my breakfast outside to the splash of the sprinkler, the cluck of the chickens (!), the caw of the crows and, of course, the howling of the hounds. How good was it? I finished about five minutes ago, and here I am, already telling you about it - that's how good. 

I wanted to make some granola the other night, specifically with some rye flakes I found languishing in the cupboard. I mused about went well with rye, then puttered here and there on the internet before I cobbled together a couple different techniques. The resulting granola was imminently tasty, though not particularly sweet nor with that coveted "clumping". But still, when I sliced some juicy nectarines into a bowl, sprinkled the granola on top and poured over a generous slosh of milk (and a swirl of sheep's milk yogurt - which is rather barnyardy yet still delicious in small amounts, or tempered with a bit of sweetness in desserts) it was pretty dreamy.

Rye Granola with Sunflower Seeds, Cranberries and Nectarines

I had better start writing down my experiments, especially when they turn out so dang good. That said, the qualities below are approximately as I remember them.

1/4 cup rye flakes
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp unsalted butter
pinch of sea salt
1/2 tbsp sunflower seeds
1/2 tbsp dried cranberries

To serve:
2 juicy, ripe nectarines
about 2 cups whole milk, or to taste
2 tbsp sheep's milk yogurt, optional

Preheat the oven to 325 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Mix the rye and oats together on the baking sheet.

Place the maple syrup in a small, heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a bubble over medium heat. When it has reduced slightly, remove from the heat, swirl in the butter and add a pinch of salt. Pour over the rye and oats and mix until they are thoroughly coated. Bake for 10 minutes, then add the sunflower seeds and mix well. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until toasted and golden brown. Add the dried cranberries, mix well and let cool completely.

To serve, slice the nectarines into two bowls, letting any juices drip in as well. Cut each slice in half if you fancy and feel free to use less nectarine. I had a few bites of mine before I started slicing. Divide the granola evenly between the two bowls. Pour about a cup of milk, and a tablespoon of yogurt, if using, into each bowl. Stir to distribute well. There you have it. Eat outside and enjoy!

Makes enough for 2 breakfast servings. Scale up as you please.


Cool relief

How's the weather where you're at? Is it hot? I mean really, really sweltering? I'm jealous. But, I might be able to help you. First of all, is there some butter at the back of your fridge? Okay good, are there raspberries too? Excellent. Now, this might be tricky, but do you have an ice cream maker? Well, look at that, the stars are aligned! It's okay, you're gonna be alright, you're gonna be cool soon.

Brown Butter Ice Cream with a Raspberry Balsamic Swirl

This ice cream has one of the most decadent custard bases I've ever made. To balance the richness I swirled in some tangy raspberries laced with balsamic vinegar. A perfect pairing, if I do say so myself!

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups (160g) raspberries, fresh or frozen
3 tbsp (45g) sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Combine the milk, cream and about half the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In another saucepan (preferably one in which you will be able to gauge the colour of the butter as it browns), place the butter over medium heat. It will melt, then foam and, after about five minutes, begin to brown. Once it has a nice, nutty aroma and a deep golden-brown colour, remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice. I would suggest standing back at this point, unless you enjoy scalding butter burns. Allow the butter to cool until it is no longer hot to the touch but is still liquid.

In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks, the remaining sugar, and the salt together until light-colored and thick. Whisk in the browned butter very slowly, whisking vigorously so that the mixture emulsifies. Once all the butter is incorporated, slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan the cream mixture was in and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. If you have an instant-read or candy thermometer, this happens, temperature-wise, between 170 to 175 F. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl and cool it quickly by placing it in a larger bowl or a sink filled with ice water and stirring often. Once it is cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

About an hour before you plan on churning the ice cream, make the raspberry swirl  by mashing the raspberries, sugar, and balsamic vinegar together with a fork. It should be juicy but still have a few nice-sized chunks of raspberries left. Chill until ready to use.

Freeze the ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. As you remove it from the machine, layer it in a storage container with spoonfuls of the chilled raspberry swirl mixture.

Makes about 3 cups.


Summer lovin'

My God. Do I ever love summer. Real summer that is. The kind where days are like walls of heat, the sun burns into your skin, and gin-and-tonics are necessary for survival. When nights are balmy, sweet breezes set the bedroom curtains fluttering, and gangs of freshly free high school kids prowl the streets. This kind of summer finally arrived in Victoria a couple weeks ago.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.  I haven't been here much because I've been out there, relishing it all. I've been swimming in dark, narrow, rushing river channels, suntanning (while being pelleted with sand) on city beaches, sleeping outside in tree forts (a bit chilly in the morning, and what an early morning!).

Let's not forget u-picking! I went with Patrick and Emily (who has a most excellent blog you should surely check out) and we picked mountains of strawberries. Something about fields full of plump, beaming berries brings out the greed in me. I brought home 10lbs of fruit. When you can't even fit most of your regular groceries into the fridge (of epically small proportions) it's certainly a challenge to also squeeze in heaps of  almost-past-the-point-of-ripeness strawberries. Suffice to say, I made three different kinds of jam, a batch of ice cream and some strawberry dumplings (for breakfast) in just three days before I felt like the situation was under control. It was actually exhausting, quite frankly, but once it was done, I celebrated in the sun!

Ashley, Gracie and I had the first picnic of Summer, proper. It was past seven o'clock, we were all in skirts and dresses and bare arms and it was hot. I was warm, warm, warm! Oh, I just want to lay in those words all day long! We had cool beer and Ashley made a smashing salad with cucumber, nectarine, avocado, some just-plucked-from-the-backyard romaine, and a raspberry dressing. There was a Tunisian eggplant frittata that we sandwiched into hunks of baguette spread with harissa. Gracie had her own baguette.

Then, oh then, we had dessert.

I know Ashley and I know she loves pavlova. Inspired by my bounty of berries and the Middle Eastern leanings of our picnic, I made a pistachio meringue cake. It hardly took an ounce of effort but it looked fantastic, and tasted fabulous as well. Crunchy, then chewy, then melting meringue; soft, decadent mascarpone cream and sweet, ripe strawberries perfumed with just a hint of rosewater. Oh yeah.

So get thee here and try the recipe. I followed it pretty much as it was written, although I did divide the recipe by three and thus made smaller meringues. It feed two women and one two-year-old amply with leftovers (divine, cold for breakfast).


An early summer evening

It's an early summer evening. A hazy warmth lingers in the last, receding rays of sunlight. You go to a farmer's market that's just begun, near your house, and gaze upon buckets of twisted asparagus, bouquets of calla lilies, boxes of shining globes that are tomatoes. There are rabbit-sized heads of lettuce and strawberries no larger than a pebble. You choose a bundle of precious magenta jewels - beetroots, complete with wild, voluminous greens.

At home, you split your treasure from its stalks and gently scrub each scraggly root. Tightly ensconced in tin foil, with a smattering of water, they go into a blazing oven, set at 400 F.

There's still some time before they turn tender, so you hop on your bike and head to a little charcuterie that stocks wedges of crackled, crystallized Parmesan and rounds of oozing, chalky-white triple-cremes. Testing its heft, you lift each cheese to your nose and pause for a sniff. Some are strong and pungent (of dank cellar perhaps?) and others are mild and sweet. It is easy to imagine soft, doe-eyed cows, bells dangling, chewing grass unaffectedly with a vista of craggy, snow-weathered peaks looming high behind their alpine meadow. In the end, you splurge for an exorbitantly priced pyramid of a goat cheese, from France, smudged with grey ash.

Back to the beets - a knife slides smoothly into their crimsoned flesh so you gingerly slip the skins off each. With scarlet hands the roots are cut into rugged chunks before being tossed, still warm and bleeding, with a pucker of red wine vinegar and a crumble of salt. In a heavy, cast-iron skillet you layer the rinsed beet greens with a glass of water. Soon it begins to bubble furiously and you swish the rapidly wilting greens about until the skillet is dry. You mix them with the glistening beetroots and all that's left to do is slice some country bead, a hard-boiled egg you spotted in the fridge, and, of course, your splendid goat cheese. 

You set the weathered wooden table outside with a jug of pale blue flowers, a pure white platter, a pat of butter, a saucer of salt. You sit and even though you are in the shade it is warm. You are warm. Your supper is cool and light, like the evening, like the now-becoming night. The bread is so happy with butter that you don't even need salt, and the egg, though glimmering with golden yolk, pales in comparison to deep, dark beetroots. With each stab of vermilion root, each tangle of silky green, each smudge of now-stained cheese you think - this dense tang, this minerally twist, this sweet sink, is about as transcendent as it's going to get.

Oh Nigel Slater, as always.