Tuesday, May 28, 2013

fresh berry birthday tarte




There is a long tradition of non-traditional birthday 'cakes' in our family. We like cake but some of us just aren't cake people. That is to say nobody turns a piece of cake away but when asked for a preference cake rarely wins the day. So when I asked David what he would like for his birthday cake this year I didn't even blink an eye when he suggested fresh strawberry pie. (Actually the strawberry pie came in second after a request for a rhubarb pie but the spring has been late in arriving and my rhubarb is not yet ready for harvesting.)

I was all set to make the regulation fresh strawberry pie but you know, sometimes you just have to follow the urge when it hits and change things up a bit. I put away the lard and rolling pin, pulled out the butter and made a yummy sugar-cookie crust instead of a pastry shell. Lined that with a schmear of cream cheese and topped it all off with a pretty mix of sweet-tart blueberries and fragrant strawberries. I have to say it was pretty good - just not a good bed for a bunch of birthday candles .... but David was only too happy to forgo that tradition as well :)

I went a little bit crazy with this dessert and threw caution to the winds - I used plain old white sugar and white flour (gasp!!) in the cookie crust and white sugar in the glaze for the berries. Call me irresponsible but I rationalized it with the thought that it was an exception not the rule. Nevertheless I wanted to include Eden in celebrating and enjoying the whole meal so for her portion (needing to be gluten-free and refined sugar free) I lined a pretty bowl with the cream cheese mixture, topped that with beautiful, clean berries, and topped the lot with a soft spoonful of whipped cream. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?!

fresh berry birthday tarte

For the crust:
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Whisk the flour and baking powder together and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until well blended. It will be really soft but don't worry, just dump the lot into a 10" tarte pan and press it evenly across the bottom with your fingers. As the butter cools it firms up nicely. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is a beautiful warm gold. Don't underbake or it will taste doughy instead of being deliciously crisp. Cool completely on a wire rack before assembling the tarte.

For the filling:
5 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 250 gm package of cream cheese
4 Tbsp honey

To make the glaze for the berries process 1 1/2 cups of the strawberries with the water in a blender until smooth. Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan; stir in the strawberry mixture and cook, stirring, over medium heat until thickened. Cook and stir for another minute. Remove form heat and let cool without stirring for 15 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese and honey together until light and smooth.

To assemble the tarte:
Spread the cream cheese/honey mixture evenly over the cookie crust.

Gently fold the remaining strawberries and 2 cups of the blueberries into the cooled glaze. Top the cream cheese layer with the berry mixture. Sprinkle the remaining blueberries over the top. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with softly whipped fresh heavy cream.


Monday, May 27, 2013

I have just returned from seven perfect days in Vancouver. Perfect because I got to spend the entire long weekend with Jonathon all to myself. Perfect because although the forecast was for rain, rain, and more rain, we had mostly dry days with only a bit of drizzle and even some clear sky and sun from time to time. Perfect because I love Vancouver. And perfect because I shared the rest of the week (after the weekend) with Janet. 

Janet and I have been friends our entire lives - since before our memories begin. Janet is in the pictures of my earliest birthday parties, was my constant companion and best friend, my sleepover buddy, my confidante - the Diana to my Anne Shirley. As we grew into our teens I admired her verve and confidence, the way she drew people to her, the fun she always made, her great style, and wished I looked just like her. When we started high school we attended the same school for the first time. Every day during Grade 10 we walked the short distance to her family home for lunch - delicious hot lunches I still think of from time to time. We agonized over the boys we had crushes on, shared dreams and clothes, got our ears pierced, listened to LP vinyl records, and had sleepovers every time we could get parental agreement. Then Janet's family moved, taking her with them. We were sad and promised it wouldn't change a thing but I think we knew it would and of course, it did. That and the inevitable busyness that accompanies the last two years of high school - studies, dating, planning, growing up, figuring out who you are. When David and I were married Janet was my bridesmaid. She married. We had babies - her Bradley and my Jonathon were born 10 days apart. We had loose contact for years and years but as our children have grown and we have matured we have found our way back to a close friendship I think we both treasure.

There is a special and unique quality to a friendship of such longstanding. Janet knows me in a way no other person on earth does and laughs and loves me anyway. She isn't offended that I fall asleep when she is talking to me - she wasn't when we were girls and she teased me when I did it again after a long and fun day of shopping in Gastown. 

It was a wonderful luxury to reconnect with the leisure of several days - to be reminded of how much we have in common and to enjoy all that we don't in one another. What a happy thing our mothers were friends so we could share a long and rich friendship. Best friends then, dear friends for always.

And I have to say ... Janet can still talk all night long. We had So Much Fun!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

avocado chicken salad




There is a story with this recipe - of course there is! - but this is story with a moral. The whole story is very long and a bit ridiculous (as is the case with most stories involving morals) but the long and the short goes like this....

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman named Eden. She fell in love with a handsome man and they decided to marry. Plans were made and Eden's mother was very happy and busy making every little thing - a wedding dress, food and decorations for the reception, invitations, dresses for flower girls and bridesmaids. Being an independent sort of person she didn't ask for help (but she should have!) On the day of the wedding all was going well until Cheri realized that the chicken for the chicken salad was still in the freezer at home and not in the fridge at the reception venue. The distance between where the chicken was and where it was supposed to be was too great to be overcome in time. Panic ensued. Some people spoke a little too loudly and not very kindly. The mother of the bride lost all composure and cried enough to ruin her makeup. Fortunately there was an easy solution - buy more chicken. Easy. Happy. Problem solved. The moral? Everybody needs some help and most people don't mind being asked. In fact I have learned that many people truly want to help. Supermoms are only a myth. ... well, except for their ability to love. That part is true.

Although a small part of the day was ridiculously traumatic at the time, I have wonderful memories of of Eden's wedding. This chicken salad is inseparably connected with those memories. Jonathon was working for the Capilano Group at the time and got the concept for the recipe from the chef at The Bridge House at Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park. I say concept because the recipe I got was for such a huge quantity that I couldn't wrap my head around it. Whatever the case we love this chicken salad - and when I say 'we' I mean men, women, and children. Eden likes it so well that she suggested a sidebar on the blog with favourite recipes listed; this one topping the list. It is easy enough for a quick lunch or picnic and fancy enough for a ladies-that-lunch kind of affair. 

Some of us eat our chicken salad in a croissant, others on a bed of greens - it is a big hit either way.

I usually buy a rotisserie chicken for this, it is about perfect. I also prefer to use red grapes for taste and appearance but today the red grapes were less than perfect so I bought green. Still good, still pretty. Add a little or a lot of cayenne according to your taste.

avocado chicken salad

3 cups cooked, diced chicken
2 green onions, white and green parts sliced thin
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup red grapes, halved
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Combine all the ingredients except the avocado. Fold it in gently just before serving.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

six threes ice cream



At the start of this Mother's Day I had thought to write a post about the mothers in my life - my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law. My daughters. To record some of the ways their influence has shaped my own choices as a mother, my life as a woman. The post was quite well formed in my mind this morning but just now the thing I want most to share is this ice cream. I want to share it today because like families the wonderfulness is much more than the sum of parts, the goodness is in fact multiplied. The recipe is an old one - I got it from my mother's cousin years and years ago. When she passed it on she told me it was an old pioneer recipe that had been in her husband's family forever. Like the best old recipes it is so simple that you don't need to write it down, the whole thing is right there in the name. Six threes - 6 sets of three ingredients. Nothing exotic just oranges, lemons, bananas,  milk, cream, and honey. Pure, simple, goodness. Just like family.

We had the whole crew here today - once again everyone but Jonathon (that distance thing sure gets in the way of his joining our Sunday/special day dinners) together to celebrate. It was a noisy, crazy, wonderful affair. The men pretty much took care of our Mother's Day dinner but I made the dessert. In an effort to make something that ALL the mothers around the table could eat I chose this ice cream and subbed honey for the sugar in the original recipe, totally forgetting that the bananas in the ice cream put it on the "no" list for Eden. So sad. Gluten-free, refined sugar free but not banana free.

Isaac enjoyed it for her. He was absolutely focused on getting the ice cream in - no sacrifice of personal comfort was too great. When you are 18 months old getting most foods into your mouth on a spoon can be tricky, the quick-melting properties of homemade ice cream is a downright challenge. He tried using his spoon, his fingers, and in the end resorted to drinking the melted dregs straight from the bowl. And then, dripping ice cream, howled when it was gone. An adorable, sticky, mess.

This recipe is written for the old-fashioned hand crank ice cream freezers that can churn out a 4 litre batch. A Cuisinart freezer will nicely handle about half the batch. I tried to figure the best way to make a half batch but decided my best advice is to make the whole thing and freeze twice. Really, it is so good that it is well worth doing. It is incredibly good.

I replaced the original 3 cups sugar with 2 cups honey  - I know that upsets the beautiful symmetry but 3 cups of honey is way too much.

six threes ice cream
(a pioneer recipe)

3 cups heavy cream
3 cups milk
2 cups honey 
the juice of 3 oranges
the juice of 3 lemons
3 bananas, mashed

Whisk together the cream, milk and honey. Freeze until slushy then add the orange juice, lemon juice, and mashed bananas. Continue freezing according to the directions for your freezer.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

the banana bread that inspired the oatmeal




This is hardly seasonal but is there season for ripe bananas? It seems that I always overbuy bananas - why else the all-to-common bunch of darkening fruit in the fruit bowl? So it is either feast or famine here, we either have bananas or we don't. Of course you say, there is no other way, you can't 'kind of' have bananas but what I mean is that there are long stretches between bunches of darkening bananas. I don't ever eat bananas as they come but mash 'em up and add them to whatever and well, there is a long list of things that bananas make ever so much better - smoothies, banana muffins, banana pancakes, banana bread oatmeal, and what would banana bread be without bananas?

I have been making this banana bread for longer than I care to think about. It is the definition of banana bread in our house and is the recipe that Jonathon referred to when he came up with the amazing banana bread oatmeal.  I don't remember where I first found the recipe but I believe the credit goes to Mark Bittman. At any rate it is truly wonderful and truly easy. A good thing to have around for when you are sure someone is going to want to eat a banana or two for a snack and then they don't. It happens. Go figure.

The addition of coconut is genius. I have tried this subbing coconut oil for the butter - it's good but the butter is better so I recommend not messing with that.

coconut banana bread
(adapted from Mark Bittman)


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sprouted whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas - mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Mix together dry ingredients. Cream the butter. Whisk the eggs and banana into the butter then stir the lot into the dry ingredients. Gently stir in vanilla and coconut.

Pour into greased 9x5" loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 45-60 minutes - until nicely browned. Do not over-bake. Cool on rack 15 minutes before removing from pan.

This is practically irresistible straight from the oven, cooled and sliced, or toasted with a dab of jam. Just don't spread it with butter - please! It really is great all by itself.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

muji




When we moved to Tokyo in 2004 we made the decision to travel light. Take nothing (or at least very little) with us and buy whatever we might need to feather our new nest. It sounded exciting and fun - a dream come true. It was kind of fun .... but more just a lot of work and  a little frustration. We were not outfitting for the long term - three years was the plan - so no point in spending a fortune but dorm-room style was not on my list of options. I didn't know the city, I didn't know the shops, and I didn't speak the language. A blank slate but no carte blanche. After I wrapped my head around the limitations I scoured the city and found some wonderful stuff. One of my very favourite finds was Muji. I discovered the flagship store near the Ginza and found smaller satellite shops in every neighbourhood I frequented. I beat a path in the pavement between our apartment and the flagship store. Seriously. 

Muji sells cool stuff. Furniture. Housewares. Clothing. Stationery. Bikes.. and more All seriously cool. None of it branded. All minimally packaged. All designed with a beautiful purity and simplicity - with craftmanship. Muji’s founding principle was to develop new and simple products at reasonable prices by making the best use of materials while minimizing their impact on the environment. I have heard Muji described as a Japanese IKEA. No disrespect to IKEA but no. Muji is smaller but more, and just... cooler. 

During the excursions to Muji over the three years in Tokyo I bought a little bit of most everything they sell and quite a bit of some of it. With one notable exception we have loved every item. The clothing I have from Muji are among my favourites and the stationery dept is a must. I have to confess that we bought a black leather sofa and chair there that was Bauhaus cool but was incredibly uncomfortable - David vowed to throw it over the balcony railing more than once. But it did look great. lol.

Sure wish we had a Muji in Canada. If you go to Tokyo be sure to find your way to one of their shops and if you can, go to the flagship store in Yurakucho. For me.