2013 Season - Farmers Feast 01 [Ramp, Green Garlic & Asparagus Frittata with Mennonite Sausage]
At the start of the 2012 season at the Ottawa Farmers Market, I embarked on a fun project with them that we titled the “Farmers Feast”, in which I would receive a mystery basket of ingredients, chosen by Tara Simpson - their events coordinator, each month to create a recipe with and share with you all. It started as a bit of an experiment to see if we all enjoyed the outcome of the project and as you can imagine, we did! It was such a treat receiving a different bundle of ingredients, some I had to take a second look at as I wasn’t sure what they were, and develop a recipe using as many of them as I could. We did a full season and were thrilled to start again this year. Needless to say, we couldn’t share the farmers feast if it weren’t for all the hard working farms, artisans and producers who dedicate themselves to growing, feeding and sharing with our city. Maybe you can give them a quiet, two-finger round of applause!
A few weeks back, I went and grabbed my basket from the market. It was literally errupting with great stalks of rhubarb, leafy, emerald green garlic and ramps, thick, meaty asparagus, curly, tangled pea shoots, eggs and a big hunk of mennonite sausage (which could be my new favourite addition to a cheese plate). All of these wonderful things were tucked into a stunning hand-carved bucket with a rope handle from Les Seaux Gadi. I highly recommend checking Claude’s wares out, their uses are endless and they would look so lovely in any home.
The kind, hard-working farmers who donated goods for this first-of-the-season Farmers Feast are:
Avonmore Berry Farm - Ramps
Acorn Creek Garden Farm - Green Garlic
Bearbrook Game Meats - Mennonite Sausage
Just Farms - Asparagus
O’Grady Farms - Pea Sprouts
Needhams Garden Market - Rhubarb
Reinink Farms - Eggs
Glengarry Cheese - Big Brother cheese
Les Seaux Gadi - Bucket
The wonderful thing about spring/summer produce is that you don’t need to mess with it a lot. I decided to throw together a very rustic frittata filled with just about everything from the basket (the rhubarb I saved for something else coming soon!) and it turned out wonderfully. The pungent green garlic and ramps with the earthy asparagus and savoury sausage - everything married so well and came together with the addition of the creamy cheese. I highly suggest using these products, but understand that you’re not all located in Ottawa. So if you’re not in these neck of the woods, I hope you’ll at least take a trip to your local farmers market and seek out something similar.
This season, we’ve decided to give away some market bucks to one lucky guy or gal. Details on how to enter are below, and if your name is chosen, you’ll get to pick out one ingredient/product from one of the vendors who donated goods to this month’s basket (excluding Les Seaux Gadi).
1. Leave a comment below telling me what you would do with one (or all) of the ingredients above.
For extra entries (leave a new comment for each)
1. “Like” Ottawa Farmers Market on Facebook (1 extra entry)
2. Follow @OttawaFarmMkt on Twitter (1 extra entry)
We will pick a winner at random this coming Saturday, May 25th. And now, for the recipe.
Ramp, Green Garlic & Asparagus Frittata with Mennonite Sausage
serves 4-6, depending on appetite
2 good glugs olive or canola oil
1 cup chopped ramps (green and white parts)
2 tbsp chopped green garlic
1 1/2 cups chopped asparagus spears
1/2 cup mennonite sausage, diced
1/2 tbsp lemon zest, optional
8 large eggs
1 cup Glengarry Big Brother cheese, 1/2” cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Lemony Pea Shoots
2 cups pea shoots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Turn the oven on to broil.
Drizzle a good 2-second pour of canola or olive oil in a pan. Turn the heat on to medium and add the chopped ramps, leeks, asparagus and sausage. Sauté until starting to soften, 5-6 minutes. While that cooks, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk gently until combined. Add the cheese to the egg mixture. Pour the eggs into the vegetable mixture and fold gently to combine. Let cook until almost set (the top and center will be runny still), about 4-5 minutes. Place in the oven and let broil until golden brown and puffed up, 3-4 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, slice and serve topped with the Lemony Pea Shoots (recipe below).
For the Lemony Pea Shoots
Toss the shoots with the olive oil and lemon and top the frittata with them for some added crunch and a way to cut the richness.
[photo provided by Les Seaux Gadi]
Disclaimer: Farmers Feast is a partnership with the Ottawa Farmers Market. I am not compensated beyond the ingredients given from the market. Opinions expressed are mine.
Moving and a Cocktail [The Victorian]
The Friday before a long weekend is always rough. I can feel the anxiousness in my muscles, twitching and squirming and trying to maintain composure. It feels almost like the last month before summer holiday when I was in elementary school.
We move next weekend and from tomorrow until next Saturday I will be buried in boxes and packing tape and eating off paper plates and wearing the same jeans and t-shirt everyday and generally just losing my mind as is the case for control freaks like me when their worlds get tossed upside down. (you can tell by the run-on sentences that I’m already borderline losing it). I’ll have one more post coming Tuesday and then *poof* - I’ll be gone for a wee bit. Nesting, as they call it, and trying to pick through the boxes that contain my life.
Today, I bring you booze. Mostly because I need it, but I figured you probably do, too. Don’t make me imbibe all alone, guys. This cocktail, which was unnamed until we called it The Victorian, comes from my boyfriend’s colleague at MacKinnon Reid & Associates, a landscape contracting and design company. He first started working with Katie, an all-knowing horticulturalist that’s taught Al so much in just a few short weeks, when he told her he was making me dinner for a date night last week. Knowing he wouldn’t remember the recipe, he recorded her explanation of the cocktail so he could recreate it without fault. The instructions were concise and specific. 2 ice cubes, crushed… but only two. He followed it to a tee, even though I was slightly hesitant, complaining that I wasn’t a big fan of martinis and this sounded suspiciously similar. The result? Clean, refreshing flavour that got it’s delicate sweetness from a crisp white wine, a floral, earthy kick from the gin and a slight savory hint just at the back of your throat from a splash of vermouth. It was lovely. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. Gin and wine?! I never would have combined the two. I certainly never would have imagined the two married so well together. So I decided I would share it with you. Katie has planted Victorian gardens throughout Ottawa so we named this The Victorian for that reason. I hope you enjoy it and thank you, Katie, for sharing our new favourite summer sipper.
based on recipe from Katie Andrews
makes 1 cocktail
Katie makes her own White Pear Pinot Grigio for this, but any sweet white wine will do. Feel free to try with a dryer variety, but I tend to like the sweetness this offers.
I garnished this with lemon balm from the garden, but the recipe did not call for it. I mostly used it for the kick of colour.
2 ice cubes, crushed
2 ounces sweet white wine (moscato, riesling or even a sweet pinot grigio would work)
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce vermouth
Place the crushed ice in a martini or other short glass. Top with the wine, gin and vermouth and swirl to combine. Sip and enjoy.
Saying Yes, Meaning No [Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt]
I’m a yes girl.
Saying no has always been a task that stirred my anxiety (surprise, surprise). I don’t like to disappoint people and for some strange reason, saying no made me feel like I was letting someone down or hurting their feelings. It didn’t matter the invitation, I felt wholly obligated to say yes lest I disappoint the host, the organizer, my peers or even my family.
As I travel the bumps and rockier roads of adulthood, I’m realizing more and more than “no” has a valuable place in my vocabulary. Saying yes to everything may mean meeting more people, some of them truly wonderful, attending events that I take precious information away from, experiencing things I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and catching up with old friends, but it leaves me wondering: where in all those yes’s do the invaluable people and things that are already in my life fit in? The ones who have seen me through the highest of highs and some very dark lows. Shouldn’t my yes’s be reserved for them more often than strangers and
events I have no interest in? And for the people and things that I love?
Saying yes constantly had been leaving me heavy with agitation. I knew I didn’t want to say yes to all these request but I said it anyways. I was frequently disappointed in myself for cowering behind my inability to stand up for what I wanted, and I felt angry that I now had to attend or work on something that didn’t interest me in any way. It was a double-whammy of frustration and who got to feel the brunt of it? Those nearest to me. The ones who had to listen to me bitch and moan about having to attend this or do that even though I was the one who agreed to it in the first place.
With a certain reluctance, I’ve started saying no. At first, it tumbled awkwardly off my tongue and left a bitter taste, but the more I practiced the more confident my no’s became and the lighter my shoulders got. In the end, I’m the only one who’s accountable for the decision I make - not the people who asked in the first place or my poor friends who had to lend an ear to the protests. I’m learning to save my yes’s for the people and things that bring me joy - and there are so many. If I want to say no to an event that everyone is attending so I can sit at home curled into Al watching 4 episodes of Game of Thrones - I’m going to. And I’m not going to feel badly about it, either. If it means I miss events, that’s alright too. The great thing about events is that there will always be more. Always. There is no guarantee that there will always be more nights spent on the porch with my best friend, our laughs keeping the neighbours up, or more dinners in my mom’s backyard by the pool, margaritas with my sister, baseball games with my dad or dinner dates with Al. Those are what my yes’s should be reserved for. That, and doing just this. Coming here and having the time to talk, for real, about what’s going on. Time to focus on creating dishes and photos I’m proud of. Things I was missing by being too afraid to say no.
Of course, life comes with obligations and there are times when yes is all I can say. Likewise, there are times when I do really want to say yes to the events and the dinners. And that’s ok, too. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to go with my gut and trust what it’s urging me towards.
And today, my gut urged me towards veggie burgers. Ones that I made on the fly and used what I had for. Nutty Japonica rice, a blend of medium-grain black and short-grain mahogany rice, and earthy mushrooms speckled with a Turkish baharat blend. Topped with a cool garlic cucumber yogurt that I tried relentlessly not to scoop up with a spoon and eat before the burgers were ready. These are good. You should probably say YES to them.
Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt
makes 8 sliders, 4 large burgers
2 cups diced button mushrooms
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp baharat spice, recipe follows
1 cup cooked black or mahogany rice (brown rice is fine, too)
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 tbsp lemon zest (1/2 large lemon)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, to pan-fry
Ideas to serve:
4 large (8 small) buns of your choice
sprouts (I used pea shoots)
Drizzle a heavy skillet over med-high heat with vegetable oil and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until liquid has released and evaporated and the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown. Add the garlic and baharat spice and stir to combine. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes.
Mix the cooked rice and mushroom mixture with the carrot, cayenne, egg, bread crumbs, parsley and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. If the mixture is a bit wet, add more breadcrumbs or a bit of flour to help dry them out a bit. Form into patties and pan fry on a heavy skillet drizzled with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on to bottom. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a bun slathered with yogurt sauce and topped with whatever you like most.
Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Sauce
makes 1 cup
3” piece of english cucumber, grated
1 cup Greek yogurt (must be Greek)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
Squeeze as much moisture from the grated cucumber as you can. Place in a food processor (or bullet/blender) with the yogurt and garlic and blend until smooth.
makes about 1/3 cup
“Baharat” literally means “spice” in Arabic. There are many different varieties but I prefer this Turkish style blend. If you have the time, toasting your coriander and cumin and grinding them fresh makes a huge difference in the flavour here.
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight jar.
Knock Out That Cold [Spicy Kale Ginger Lemonade]
There is something ominous lurking around.
A dirty, nasty cold/flu that seems to be knocking my friends and family out one by one. I woke yesterday with a sandpaper throat and what felt like two corks in my sinus’. Immediately I started trying to knock it out before it did me in.
Water (a lot of water), raw garlic (mashed into yogurt), oil of oregano and two full glasses of Green Juice later, and I seem to have come out victorious. I had plans to share a galette today, but in the spirit of health, I thought I’d share the recipe for the green juice that I’m adamant saved my ass from this TKO cold.
Spicy Kale Ginger Lemonade
based on Café My House’s version
The ingredients are pretty rough here. Taste and adjust based on what you like best. This method is for those not lucky enough (like myself!) to have a juicer. It takes a little more time but it’s well worth it.
1 bunch kale (curly or lacinato), rough chopped
1 large apple (2 small), skin on, cored and rough chopped
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 english cucumber, rough chopped
large handful flat-leaf parsley
2” ginger, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 - 1 cup water
Place all ingredients in a blender with the 1/2 cup of water. Blend until everything is combined in a sludgy mess. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the contents of the blender into the strainer. Using a spoon or a potato masher (I have the best success with the masher, but it’s whatever works for you) and work the juice out of the pulp until it’s fairly dry. Taste and add more lemon if needed. Chill the juice or pour over ice and serve.
Finding My Past in Food [Healthier Egg Salad with Tarragon and Pickled Celery]
My past with food isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes wish it was. I didn’t learn to mix, knead and roll pasta with my grandmother on Sundays and I wasn’t teetering on my tip toes, nose barely reaching the counter, while my Dad taught me how to break down a chicken, sear it to a golden brown and simmer it in tomatoes and capers, olives and hot peppers. It wasn’t my reality. There are times I feel nostalgic for the stories of those whose family and food lives were wrapped around each other like a sturdy vine, but I forget that I, too, have a past in food, glamorous or not.
The older I get the more I remember the things I did learn about food from my family. They may not be the stories I longed for or the romantic ones some of my friends and peers can tell, but they were the ones that shaped me. My Dad passed along his fearlessness towards all food. Mold? Just cut it off and carry on. Leftovers there for a while? Details, details - just eat it. Expiry dates? A mere suggestion. He joked endlessly about liver and onions, terrifying my sister and I at the thought of having to join him at the table. He ate any cut, any way. If there was something on a menu that he hadn’t heard of before, there was an 80% chance it would arrive in front of him minutes later. At the time I may not have appreciated his ways with food, but theses days I embrace them. He made me a fearless eater, never one to turn anything down, never afraid to try anything at least once. Especially creamy, mayonnaise-filled items like chicken salad, egg salad, any kind of canned meat… I was my fathers daughter and it made me proud to say that I liked what he liked.
Years later, when it was just my mom and I living in her place, I learned how to cook the first meals I made for my friends and first real boyfriend. Meaty spaghetti sauces studded with big hunks of tomato (something that made my sister squirm in disgust), tomato soup jazzed up with a hit of Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and melted cheese slice that I still crave today when I’m under the weather, dreamy whipped mashed potatoes that I can still claim as the best I’ve ever had and still make today, much to Al and my friend’s delight. She taught me that cooking for people made them feel special and showed them how much you cared for them. It was a high I still haven’t come down from despite not getting into cooking until I was about 24. Sunday dinners at her place brought us all together so we could slow down, laugh hysterically and tell our stories from the week. I still relish her cooking and it always makes me feel important and loved when she cooks for us.
My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese. She comes from the kind of food background that I’ve always longed for. Her mother cooks everything from scratch. When I used to go there, back when I was only just learning to love cooking, I remember seeing hot peppers from her garden drying on the window sill. Amanda explained that she would grind them and use that as seasoning in her dishes. That nearly blew my mind. Do people do that? Don’t spices come from a clear jar with a sage-green lid in the spice aisle? She would feed us labneh, a soft cheese made with strained yogurt (also homemade) and I would sit, bewildered at her dedication to feeding her family ingredients that she pulled from the garden or created from a few humble items in her fridge. Her cooking is a nudge to her past, rich with tradition and memories of Lebanon. I remember Amanda always felt a bit weird about her entirely ethnic lunches (at least to suburban kids who ate french fries or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), and I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a bit put off by them in the high school cafeteria, but those are the meals I now hope I can feed my kids someday. Meals rich in culture and tradition, meals that have a past and a story to them. Meals and ingredients that I made with my two hands. Ones that I might even be able to say Mary Melhem, your Aunt Amanda’s mom, taught me about when I was just a bratty 10th grader.
All of these stories shaped the way I cook, the way I eat and my relationship with food. Though I longed for more then, I realize now that I couldn’t want for any more. Fearlessness and an open mind, the knowledge that cooking equates to loving and that making a meal for someone is the best way to show them you care, and a dedication to create meals from scratch for my family and share the tradition and stories behind them.
Egg salad always reminds me of my Dad. He liked his creamy and mayonnaise-filled (expired or not) and studded with green olives. I haven’t eaten egg salad in a long time but when I do, I prefer mine a touch healthier and with plenty of flavour from tarragon, pickled celery and hot sauce. I still thought of him as I spread it thick on bread and took a monstrous bite as the salad pushed out the sides like toothpaste.
Healthier Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Tarragon
makes 4 sandwiches
Though this recipe is mostly mine, I did use Smitten Kitchen’s idea of picking the celery. This adds such a welcome kick of sour bite to the salad without having to bite down on a pickle. Unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case - add a few pickles diced really tiny.
Hard boiled egg method courtesy of 101Cookbooks. Follow it to the tee and you’ll have perfect eggs every time.
1/4 cup (2 stalks) celery, diced
1/2 cup pickle brine (from dill pickles, sweet gherkins, pickled jalapenos)
6 hard boiled eggs, method follows
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or favourite hot sauce)
1 tsp dijon
1 tbsp caper berries (2 tbsp if you really like them)
1/2 tsp salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
sliced whole wheat bread
romaine, kale or greens of your choice
Place the diced celery in a pickle brine of your choice. I used jalapeno because I wanted that spicy kick. Let it sit in the brine for at least 45 minutes up to overnight.
Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place your eggs in a pot and cover by 1-2” with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes. Plunge into the ice water and let cool for at least 3 minutes to stop the cooking process.
Peel the eggs, place in a big bowl with the celery, greek yogurt, tarragon, Tabasco, dijon, capers lots of pepper and salt. Mash everything together, paying most attention to the eggs, until you’re left with a well combined, coarse textured salad. Taste and adjust to your liking. Spread a nice, thick layer onto bread and top with greens of your choice. Place the second slice of bread on top and take a big, messy bite.
Was your childhood ripe with tradition and history in food or did you have a past similar to mine?
Finding the Warmth [Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats]
Today we need comfort. A reminder that amidst the cold, dark world we live in, there can be warmth.
As we all hold our collective breaths, scared of what might happen and scared of who might do it, it’s hard to feel the warmth. Hard to remember that there is so much good surrounding us; good that undoubtedly trumps the evil. Even though it may not seem so right now.
If you’re struggling to find the warmth, let me offer mine. I can’t physically hug you all, but I can fill you with something warm that might withstand the cold until you’re able to find your own warmth.
We’re thinking of you here in Canada and sending our warmth.
Apple-Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats
This recipe is simple - you’ve likely had a version of it before and it’s easily adaptable to whatever you have on hand. This is something I make for my boyfriend when he’s sick or feeling low so I share it in hope that it might provide the same comfort to you.
1 cup steel cut oats
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 sweet apple, cut into 1/2” dice (skin on or off)
1/2 tsp (or more) ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 cup brown sugar (more to taste)
1/2 cup nuts (walnuts or almonds are great), toasted and chopped
Bring the oats, water and milk to a boil. Reduce head to a simmer and add 3/4 of the apples (save the others for garnish), cinnamon and cardamom. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until oats are chewy but cooked through.
Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar. Taste and add more cinnamon or sugar if desired.
Spoon into bowls and top with remaining diced apple and toasted nuts.
I Am On Fire [Food Bloggers of Canada Conference Recap]
Oh me, oh my. Where do I begin?
I suppose the beginning seems like the most logical place to begin. This past weekend I attended the very first Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. It was the first non-work-related conference I’ve attended and while it was a no-brainer for almost every other attendee, I went into it with much hesitation.
I don’t talk about this often and I can’t recall if we’ve touched on this before, but I suffer from anxiety on an almost daily basis. Social, non-social, sometimes all-encompassing, sometimes little more than a dull ache coursing through my gut. If we’ve met, you might be surprised to hear this since I am typically pretty outgoing, loud & approachable, the first one to yack your ear off and the last to leave a party. But pretending that this is natural to me does not always come easy. It exhausts me from head to toe and leaves my brain feeling like a juiced lemon, void of any substance.
Willingly throwing myself into a room full of people I haven’t met (for a full weekend) sends me into a bit of a tailspin. I was very, very nervous to attend, almost enough to back out last minute. The combination of flying (another anxiety-inducer for me), being away from home and my security blanket (otherwise known as my boyfriend, close friends and family) and meeting new people had my stomach in such knots that I thought I might be sick as I touched down in Toronto on Friday morning. I told myself to be brave, to enter into this experience with an open mind and let what was going to happen, simply… happen. And so I did.
As someone who is often on the outside of large social gatherings looking in, I live with a lot of regret for missing out on events, parties and conferences that I am too nervous to attend, too overwhelmed by the debilitating anxiety that I feel so often. I was not going to let it happen this time. After a turbulent flight to Toronto, some alone time wandering the culturally rich streets of the city and lunch with a close friend that calmed me slightly, I took a deep breath and walked into the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel on Friday afternoon to meet up with Renee, Jan and Julie so we could carpool to Hockley Valley Resort. I was greeted with warm smiles and hugs and we hopped into Jan’s van and took off for a weekend I won’t ever forget. One foot in front of the other, one deep breath at a time.
Arriving at Hockley Valley Resort was overwhelming. So many people bustling about, trying to organize themselves before the onslaught of bodies took over the resort. To make matters slightly worse, the resort was handicapped by a power outage due to bad weather, but it just barely slowed them down (kudos to you, Hockley Valley Resort!). Slowly all the unknown faces that gathered around the lobby were named, as we said shy hellos and exchanged business cards and stories of our travels through inclement weather to get to FBC. I met my roommate, Andrea, and we quickly became acquainted. She was my first real friend of the weekend and it was a relief to be able to finally let the knots in my stomach loosen slightly.
We shared a glass of wine at the bar with a few other friendly bloggers before it was time to attend the cocktail party followed by a 3 course dinner of impeccably prepared dishes, with wines to pair, provided by sponsors Canada Beef, Mushrooms Canada, Rosewood Estates Winery and Henry of Pelham. Our tables were assigned and I had the pleasure of speaking more intimately with Bridget Oland of Crosby’s Molasses, Jenny Jack from Brunette Baker, who is as bubbly as a freshly corked bottle of champagne, Alexa Clark, whom I’ve admired from a far for some time, and Melissa Hartfiel, co-organizer of FBC and someone I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get to know in person for as long as I’ve been a member of Food Bloggers of Canada. It was a real treat to get to know these ladies on a more intimate level and it left me feeling confident that I could do this. These people were “my” people and if I was brave enough to walk up to them and start a conversation, I would be rewarded by getting to know someone who was interested in what I was interested in, and who wanted to know me as much as I wanted to know them. This was one of my biggest lessons from the weekend. That first 10 seconds might have been uncomfortable (or flat-out unbearable if you’re like me), but after that, once the initial greeting was complete, I’d opened myself up to a new relationship that had the potential to grow into something more than acquaintances, which I was lucky enough to experience (more on that later).
I would love to regal you with tales of all the life-long lessons and tips from the pros that I absorbed over the course of the weekend but quite honestly, I have not yet wrapped my head around it all. It was difficult to try and take in all of that precious information. I did my best to lap it up as quickly as it came out (thank god for my notebook), but I still feel like I need a couple weeks before it all sinks in. I can tell you this, Food Bloggers of Canada brought in a caliber of speakers and panelists that you wouldn’t believe. Keynote speaker, David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria, had a crowd of energized, loquacious attendees silenced and enthralled by his honesty and openness to share with us what brought him to this place in life, what has made him successful and what he has learned in his years as a writer (not a food writer, but a writer who writes about food - that was specified) I felt lightheaded being in his presence, his self-awareness and refusal to apologize for being just who he is and doing only what he truly feels is right for him and his life really spoke to me. I even managed to, despite my stomachs booming call to run away and hide, nab 10 minutes of David’s time to chat with him one-on-one about my future and his thoughts on how to push forward when I feel like I’m stuck in a straight line. It was clear that this weekend would be a game changer from that point on.
The next two days (or day and a half) were a blur. Seminar after seminar of awe-striking speakers and panelists provided moments of clarity that I thought I might never have, spoke on topics I’d never even thought were important to me but now realize affect my livelihood as a writer and recipe developer, and provided insight on items I had never quite understood fully. Again, to absorb all of this information was overwhelming but in a way that made me feel fired up rather than stressed out. A whole different kind of anxiousness that I hadn’t discovered yet. One that I can deal with.
Something else happened over the weekend. When I first met Kathy and Kris, bloggers from Halifax and Toronto respectively, I didn’t feel that gut-wrenching anxiety that I’m typically faced with upon making a new connection. I felt at ease. Astonishingly so. I felt like I didn’t need to prove who I was or why I was there, I could just be easy in their presence, like we’d known each other all along and were just getting together for the umpteenth time in our friendship. I don’t feel this way often. I attribute this calmness to the fact that we are like-minded in so many ways (which makes sense given we were attending the same conference and were interested in the same things). I know that had I not been brave enough to attend FBC, I would have missed out on these two connections. I would have let them slip away like so many other things I have let pass me by because of the fear. It’s sad to think how many people I might have missed in my life because of this, but it makes my spirit soar to know that this time I didn’t let it happen. I can call these wonderfully talented, quirky and kind women my friends (in real life!). I don’t know when we will connect again, but I do know that I’ve made friends that I plan to keep in close touch with, to collaborate with, and to find comfort in knowing there are people out there who just “get” me (and I can be an acquired taste so they’re brave to take me on). I have FBC to thank for that and for so many other unforgettable moments from the weekend.
To Mardi, Melissa and Ethan, organizers of the conference, I don’t know what to say to you but thank you. For your undying devotion to all of us writers, photographers, stylists, authors, collaborators, eaters, drinkers and food-lovers in Canada. You forever hold my respect and admiration and I hope you realize you are superheroes in our eyes. You are the first people we can thank for any success we experience after the conference, and the people that brought us all together to relish in good food, impeccable company, and unforgettable learning experiences.
This weekend stirred my soul and made me feel more alive than I have in some time. I said it throughout the conference and I meant it when I said it; after all the talks, all of the wisdom bestowed upon us and all of the connections and conversations… I am on fire. Thank you, from the very pit of my gut, to every single one of you I met, connected with and shared in this experience with. It was a dream.
Not Settling for Sawdust [Coconut Red Quinoa Muffins with Sour Cherries and Pecans]
I love breakfast. Love it like I love a glass of wine at the end of a long day (and that says a lot) and can’t bear the thought of getting out of bed without knowing there is something scrumptious waiting for me when I do. The thought of waking to the same bowl of plain old oatmeal or natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast every day makes my heart sink. I’m not getting up for that – I refuse to! I want something that tastes good, something that tames my morning-lion-hunger and nourishes my body as it does.
I’ve been in the bad habit of grabbing a bagel or croissant sandwich (from Bread and Sons in Ottawa. It’s a show-stopper. Go there immediately!) lately and it needs to end. So I decided to whip up a batch of breakfast muffins. Who says a muffin can’t be delicious as well as nutrient-packed, hunger-staving, and fibre-filled? Not me. I don’t say that, guys. It’s not true and I’m tired of hearing it. Muffins are not the bad guys – it’s the people who are loading them up with butter (tasty, tasty butter) and unrefined sugars who should bare the blame for their bad rap. If you trust me (I think we’ve been hanging out long enough to warrant a small to medium amount of trust between us, no?) then you’ll believe me when I tell you that these muffins are healthy (they have some brown sugar… but it’s brown so it’s ok…right?) and so full of flavour that you won’t even miss that whats-it-called muffin you’ve been spending your hard earned coins on each morning. Filled with wheat bran, flax seeds, toasted pecans and coconut, dried cherries and cinnamon and just enough brown sugar to keep things interesting, they are good enough to get me up in the morning and filling enough to tame that noisy beast that makes home in my gut from 7-8am each day. Don’t settle for saw-dusty bran muffins that taste like cardboard or butter-filled muffins that may as well be breakfast-hamburgers; these are better and will make your mornings bright and sun-shiny and happy (probably). If you’re interested, I’ve calculated the nutritional information here.
Coconut Red Quinoa Muffins with Sour Cherries and Pecans
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 12 muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/3 toasted pecans, crushed
1/4 cup flax, freshly ground
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup dried cherries, rough-chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup milk (I like 2% best)
In a dry skillet, toast the shredded coconut, wheat bran and crushed pecans over medium heat until golden and fragrant, 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, cooked quinoa, toasted coconut/bran/pecans, cherries, ground flax, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Stir to combine.
In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg, applesauce and milk until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. Divide among a lined-muffin tin and bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool and enjoy!
A Lack of Thought [Almond Mint Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk Dressing]
I keep coming here with the intention to write a big long spiel about stuff and things and life… and then I get here and just stare at the page, pick at my cuticles, sigh heavily, and walk away.
I’m not sure if it’s a result of a busy few weeks or if I’m actually just getting really boring. I’m hoping it’s the former, because my cuticles are pretty ravaged. The thing about writers block is that it doesn’t just go away… at least not in my case. I tend to just write through it despite not having all that much to say. This isn’t always beneficial when you have readers who expect a certain caliber of writing… so I apologize in advance for the lack of intelligent thoughts, but I promise that block or no block, I’ll always share recipes that make up my shortcomings.
So, like, you know… here are some falafel. They are really good. So good that I ate about 6 of them in one sitting, popping them into my mouth like they were grapes. The creamy, citrus-spiked buttermilk and avocado dressing, which has all the texture of a decadent dressing but is relatively healthy if you’re not afraid of good fat, was perfect with the earthy, herbed falafel. I dunked them into the dressing and enjoyed them as simply as that. But you can absolutely stuff them into a pita or a lettuce wrapped filled with your favourite produce, herbs and sauces.
So make a batch this weekend. And have an intelligent conversation on my behalf, because I will probably be fumbling over my words for a few more days.
Almond Mint & Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk
recipe adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
makes 1 dozen falafel
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
1 cup toasted almonds
2 cups canned chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small red onion, diced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp flour (whole wheat works!)
1 tsp baking powder
Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing, recipe follows
Lemon wedges, to serve
Place the herbs and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until herbs and chopped and almonds are almost ground, a little texture is good.
Add the chickpeas, garlic, red onion, red pepper flakes, olive oil, cumin, flour and baking powder to the bowl and blend until well combined. It’s ok to have some texture and chunks of herbs/chickpeas/onion etc. No need to be TOO picky.
Preheat oven to 350.
Roll about 1 1/2 tbsp scoops into an oval shaped ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes so they brown evenly on all sides.
Serve on their own with the dressing, or stuff into pita or lettuce wraps with tomatoes, extra herbs, dressing and extra avocado. Serve with extra lemon wedges on the side.
Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing
1-2 tbsp lemon juice, depending on taste
1/4-1/3 cup buttermilk
salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water (or more buttermilk) to thin, if needed. Taste and add more salt or lemon, if needed.
Speedy Meatless Monday [Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup with Lemon]
Spring may be inching closer, but that doesn’t mean the lingering chill in the air can’t be battled with a warm bowl of bright, fragrant soup.
Today’s meatless Monday dish has spent many cold, winter nights wrapping my bones in a blanket of steaming hot, vibrant red soup made rich with the addition of savory caramelized fennel and roasted garlic. The splash of lemon at the end brightens the deep flavours and balances everything out. It’s a lick-the-bottom-of-the-bowl sort of soup and one that’s especially well-received when there is little in your fridge to make a meal out of, as seems to be my case lately.
If your evenings are cool and you need something soothing, this soup will fit the bill wonderfully.
Caramelized Fennel, Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup with Lemon
serves 2 as main, 4 as sides
1 large bulb fennel (about 1 1/2 cups), diced
1 head of garlic, roasted*
1 can (1/2 cup) tomato paste
4 cups chicken or veg stock
1 cup water
2-4 tbsp fresh lemon juice, depending on taste
salt and pepper to taste
fennel fronds, optional
Drizzle a pan over med-high heat with a few glugs of olive oil and let it get hot. Add the fennel and a few pinches of coarse salt and let it cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until deep brown and caramelized around the edges, 20-30 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and roasted garlic cloves and cook until the paste has deepened in colour and become very fragrant, 6-7 minutes. Add the stock and water, bring to a boil and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release all the flavourful bits of fennel and tomato paste. Turn down to a simmer and let it bubble away for 20 minutes. Puree if desired (I like it smooth, but there is nothing wrong with a chunky soup). Add lemon juice, 1 tbsp at a time and taste to see if you’d like to add more. Taste for salt and add more if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.
cut top off garlic, drizzle with olive oil and salt, wrap in foil and roast at 400 until golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Let cool, squeeze cloves out into soup.