Until recently, I have had my suspicions about spelt. But then I added cherries.

Cherry!And, while I’m not sure I fully accept spelt – I view it the way I view kamut, quinoa, and millet … that is to say, as a hippie grain that’s more for fibre than flavour – I’ve come to understand it. Spelt is not all bad. It’s certainly not bad for you. Maybe don’t eat a whole loaf of spelt bread or anything, but if you’ve got cherries – or raspberries, or blueberries, or whateverberries – make muffins. Use brown sugar. A pinch of nutmeg, and maybe some orange zest. The result? A hearty, fill-me-up breakfast muffin that’s as good for you as bran but not as old-mannish. Today is make-up words day.

I bought a bag of spelt flour about a month and a half ago when the little organic store at UBC was clearing out its stock for the summer. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I got a whole lot of it for three dollars, so I thought I’d try it. And then when I ran out of whole wheat flour and forgot to restock, and wanted to make muffins, I thought – “the hell? I’ll use the spelt.” You can make this recipe with whole wheat flour if you want. You can even use white flour – I am not there to judge. But if you have access to spelt, use it, and make these moist little muffins and enjoy knowing that just eating them probably makes you healthier than the guy sitting next to you on the bus. Unless you drive to work, in which case, you’re probably already the healthiest person in your car. Unless you carpool with marathon-running vegans. Oh, hell, I don’t know. Make muffins. Feel happy.

Spelt Muffins with Cherries and Orange

(makes about 16 muffins)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups milk
  • Zest and juice of one small navel orange
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and eggs until the mixture is blended, light in colour, and smooth.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Zest the orange into this mixture as well. Make sure the dry stuff is thoroughly combined.

While beating the butter mixture, slowly add the flour mixture. Once you’ve emptied all of the flour into the butter bowl, squeeze in the orange juice and add the milk. Beat until combined. Add the cherries, and if you’re using nuts, the nuts, and toss the mixture until the cherries are just coated, not smooshed.

Pour batter into a muffin pan that’s either greased or lined with those awesome baking paper cup things. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one comes out clean.

MMMuffins.Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. Make sure to eat at least one while it’s still warm, with butter and maybe a little bit of maple syrup or honey. Feel yourself getting regular and slightly smug.

Muffin on a plate.

I leave for Winnipeg on Wednesday, and although I hope to post another tribute to food before I leave, I may not get to. I don’t know what they eat in Winnipeg, but I’m determined to find out. I’ll be a bridesmaid, so that’ll cut into my investigation a bit, but I hope to be back to my beloved Internet before long – hopefully I’ll have something of significance to report. If not, I’ll think of something. Back soon.

Cherry turnovers are perfect for busy people who prefer to take their pies to go.


Cherries.Seven dollars per pound at the Farmer’s Market this weekend. Or $9.99 at Whole Foods. I trundled over to Grace’s mom’s house this weekend with Grace and James and our buckets and picked all that I could eat and more than could fit in my bucket, for free. Grace’s mom’s neighbour apparently keeps bees now, so her trees, which Grace says have rarely seen so much pollination, are now brimming with bright little red cherries. A complex bird-alarm system has been rigged, and so the cherries grow freely, almost completely untouched by competing natural forces. All this about 28 blocks from home!

Gorilla in the mist?


And so we picked and picked and picked, and I spent the whole time thinking about cherry pie. Of course, however, it’s just Nick and I at home, so to make cherry pie would mean a bit of a fight once I realized that I had pitted and kneaded and done all the work all so he’d eat one piece and be all, “yeah, I don’t really like pie,” and then I’d have to pit him, which would surely be messy because he wouldn’t hold still. So I thought, “portable pies!” Or, cherry turnovers. I love them. They’re convenient like toaster pastries, but they actually taste good. And if Nick doesn’t like them, then I get to eat them all myself. Genius? I know.

Picking picking picking ...


I have more cherries than I can turn into turnovers, but that’s okay. This is a recipe that will use up the lighter, tarter ones so I can reserve the purpler ones for snacking and sundaes.

Cheery Cherry Turnovers

(makes 8 to 10)


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. ice water, if needed

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl; mix well.

Using a box grater, grate very cold butter into flour mixture. Stir in sour cream until a soft dough is formed. Pat into a round, about 1 1/2 inches thick, and wrap in plastic. Chill for one hour.

Cherry filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together the sugar, lemon, salt, and cornstarch. Pour over a bowl of pitted and halved cherries, and toss to coat.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roll out your dough to pie-crust thickness, about 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick. Using a bowl or other medium-sized circular cutting thing, cut eight to ten rounds. Fill with a couple of tablespoons of the filling on one side of the round, and then fold the dough over top, pressing the edges to seal. You could use a fork – that’d work. Stab the tops of each turnover with a fork or a knife.

Brush tops with a small amount of milk, and sprinkle with sugar (optional).

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Um, DELICIOUS!Serve warm with ice cream.

I am going to Winnipeg next week for a wedding, so it looks like Grace, James, and I will not be picking anything to report back on for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe raspberries will be next then? As I have pounds and pounds of cherries, you can expect at least one more recipe for cherries in the next few days. Hooray!

A meatball held together by melted cheese is structurally unsound. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t all kinds of delicious.

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed a theme: I really like meatballs. And pancakes. In fact, if you were trying to seduce me, a meatball pancake would probably earn you more credit than flowers, which are lovely but inedible for the most part.

It was finally sunny and hot again today, so I thought, “I could totally barbecue meatballs!” And technically, you can. But then I was like, “I could make cheesy meatballs covered in barbecue sauce and put them on skewers!” Which didn’t seem like it would fail at first. Science and I are aware of each other, but we’ve never moved beyond first names. Apparently, as mentioned up there in the title, a meatball filled with molten cheddar is tasty, but not inclined to hold up to flipping or skewering.

I’m going to give you the recipe, and then I’m going to tell you to paint barbecue sauce on them and bake them in the oven. I always forget about the last thing I cremated on the grill, and then when I go to cook something outside, there are fires and I have to use the scrapey brush and Nick gets mad at me for being sloppy and lazy, and doesn’t agree that his repetitiveness could also be annoying.

First, blend yourself a cocktail. You know what’s tasty with alcohol? Strawberries and rhubarb, sweetened as much or as little as you like.

I stewed some rhubarb and strawberries on Wednesday and threw about four cups' worth into the freezer for baked goods, and it turned out that the concoction worked marvellously when used for fruity blender drinks. Success!
I stewed some rhubarb and strawberries on Wednesday and threw about four cups' worth into the freezer for baked goods, and it turned out that the concoction worked marvellously when used for fruity blender drinks. Success!

Then, do this:

Cheesy Barbecue Meatballs

(Makes 12 to 14 meatballs)

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp. barbecue sauce (plus additional sauce for painting over the meatballs)
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

I pretty much always tell you to do the same thing here. Mix everything in a bowl using your hands. Perhaps I will attempt to be less repetitive in coming weeks, eating something other than meatballs. You can stuff other things with cheese, after all.

Roll into twelve to fourteen balls, about golf-ball size.

Meatballs.Paint with barbecue sauce. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Now, I put mine on skewers:

Ball piercing.Which allowed them to get good and charred. If you like the idea of this, throw them on the grill for a few minutes to get all flame-kissed.

I really thought the skewers would work. But I was enjoying my cocktail, as one does, and so called Nick to come help me flip them. (By which I mean, I called Nick to do it for me.) And he broke them. They looked like this:

It's also all his fault that this photo is blurry.
It's also all his fault that this photo is blurry.

Just bake them. They will maintain their structural integrity that way, and you will maintain your cool. And you will have a lot more time to sip your drink on the patio in the sunshine.

Tomorrow I am going to go cherry picking, and so there will be something new and interesting to tell you about. I promise to show you something amazing that you’ve never seen before. Unless I totally let you down. Because I’ve never done that before. Happy Friday!

Invoking Korea: I am madly in love with all pancakes.

Much as I love home, every so often (three to six times per week) I consider escape. Sometimes it’s the weather, and periodically it’s people – sometimes it’s both (though rarely is it some of the weather or all of the people). Sometimes the grey is all around and the idea of putting on a coat or fighting back is exhausting and you don’t care enough to do either because it’s the west coast and there will always be damp and because some people are going to rain on your parade whether it’s warranted or not. And that’s when I think of Korea. I’ve never been there. They do clever things with cabbage and have excellent pancakes.

A million years ago now, when I was very small, my grandpa returned from Korea with a pair of pretty dolls in blue dresses. They had marabou fans and elaborate hairstyles and I thought that everything pretty like that came from Japan until Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And then I found out where Reykjavik was and then I thought I knew everything. I hope you know that those two thoughts are not completely related. Korea. Seoul. I want to go.


Seven years ago I attempted to teach a Korean family English. They’d hired me as a tutor, totally unqualified, and they were so earnest and funny that I couldn’t wait to see them every week. They tried to teach me a thing about Korea for every thing I taught them about Canada or grammar or homonyms, and often that involved food. They had one son, Daniel, who was ten years old and worried that strangers would kidnap him because of his handsomeness. I told him to be wary of vans and free candy. His mother taught me about salty little dried fish and kim chi, and I’ve since tried in vain to find anything as good as the stuff she made at home. Her tofu was not the stuff of hippies.

My love affair continues, and with each passing year I wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t made it there yet. If my bank account contained enough for airfare, or if airfare was forty dollars, which I have, I’d be gone. (Don’t worry: When I go, I’m taking Nick with me.)

But it’s not my turn. This week David is leaving. He’s going to Amsterdam to ride his bike to Istanbul, and then he’s probably going to Germany to get even more educated, and he’s already one of the top eight smartest people I know. I assume he will miss Vancouver’s diverse culinary scene, most particularly the Asian stuff. It’s good here. Very good, every kind. Also I’m kind of selfish and have been harbouring escape fantasies, and so I planned for a room of us to dine Korean and send him off while I attempt to live kind of vicariously through David. Well, kind of Korean. I really wanted the pancake. (I really want all pancakes.)

As with all my plans, what started off as a quiet little evening soon grew to include all the people who actually ought to have been invited, and soon there were ten. In my mind, that was a totally reasonable number to try and feed, so I estimated that dinner would take a total of twenty minutes to prepare. In future, I will make time for what I like to call “inevitable realizations,” or: “I have no pans big enough to make this much food.” Thankfully, Greg offered his place across the street as a venue. I bought four pounds of Chinese noodles, many little bags of baby bok choy, and too many green things that I would have to accommodate in some way, probably the oven. I also had to double the pancake recipe, and because of that, bake it instead of fry it, which turned out more than okay, like Korean Toad in the Hole.

I’ve decided that you really ought to have my doubled-up recipe, and that you should probably bake it.

Pa jun or pajeon, or: “That really good pancake I like.”

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups cold club soda (or beer)
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup zucchini, julienned
  • 1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper

Grease a baking sheet with 1/4 cup of the oil. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Add your baking sheet and let the oven and the sheet heat up together.

Pull the baking sheet out of the oven once the “it’s not ready” red light goes out (which means it’s ready). Add your vegetables.

I tell you to julienne things, but then I don't do it myself because I kind of hate doing that because it takes too long. I guess you don't have to. Just cut everything really thin.
I tell you to julienne things, but then I don't do it myself because I kind of hate doing that because it takes too long. I guess you don't have to. Just cut everything really thin.

In a large bowl, mix your flours, your eggs, your soda, one tablespoon of oil, your salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and whisk to combine. Pour over the veggies, tucking any strays into the batter blob.

Batter blob.Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Large tray of pancake.Serve with a quick little sauce, and a bit of kim chi, which I’d meant to include but totally forgot about. The sauce?

Cho Ganjang

  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp. cheongju (Korean rice wine) or sake
  • 4 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste

Serve to others. Because there is no love like the love between people who love pancakes.

A good-looking chap, yes?
A good-looking chap, yes?
Feasty, on Chinette.
Feasty, on Chinette.

Of course I am excited for David and his magical adventures. Though it is beginning to feel like time for my own adventures. Sometimes you fall into them, and sometimes your life pushes you in – I’ll let you know what compels me, once something finally does.

In the meantime, eat pancakes.

And then smile, lay on the floor, and be full.
And then smile, lay on the floor, and be full.

Clams in porter and cream: If there’s a better title, I can’t think of it.

Friday, in the middle of the day, I had to supplement the wine with a Diet Coke because I was just having too much fun. I kneaded enthusiastically. I needed a nap. Of course that meant that I overcooked the bread – I forgot the buzzer and woke to wondering how much longer was left on the loaf, only to find that instead of golden it was a dark – though edible – brown. Also, because sometimes when I’m shopping I’m drunk filled with tremendous enthusiasm for the next feast, I accidentally grabbed the whole wheat flour that acts and sort of tastes like white flour (the word “SALE!” is like onomatopoeia to me – I see it and I think of a joyful noise and it compels me) – the colour is odd, but Grace was kind and said the finished loaf looked “artisanal,” which I can’t actually define but I think means “crusty and way too high in fibre.”

No matter – the little biscuits for the strawberries turned out perfectly, so all was not lost. Small victories. But then Grace brought lemon slice in cake form, so we ate the peppered berries and honeyed cream that way, and it was even better. I ate the biscuits and the leftover berries and drank the leftover wine for breakfast. I wrote about them here.

Almost all of my photos from the evening turned out blurry. Fortunately, Grace also brought a tripod and her good camera. And I am now in possession of a few glamour shots of the meal, so it’s time now to tell you all about it.

Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.

I couldn’t tell which of us was trying to seduce the other, except that we’re both very sloppy drunks and then two bottles in, James called and offered to bring us wine, and Paul called and asked what we were doing and then came over with some beer and an empty bottle of ketchup so nothing life-changing really happened. Nothing life-changing except for this:

Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.

And it’s possible that I’m exaggerating and tooting my own horn here. But I don’t think so. What do you need to make this happen in your kitchen? Not much. Not much at all.

Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.
Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.

Clams in porter and cream

(Serves four, unless one of you is me or Grace)

  • 4 lbs. clams
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1 medium-sized bulb of fennel
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (you can use chicken if you want)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup porter or other dark beer
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Before you do anything, make sure your clams are clean. Soak them in a bath of cold-to-lukewarm water, 4 cups water to 1/3 cup salt. Your clams will spit out any sand they’ve got kicking around inside their shells – you may need to repeat this process two to three times to be sure you’ve got it all. Nothing’s grosser than a mouthful of sea dirt.

My pretties.
My pretties.

When they’re good and clean and you’re ready to get on with it, heat the oil in a large pot, and caramelize your onions, garlic, and fennel, deglazing the pan as needed with the beef stock. Add the salt and pepper.

When everything’s golden and smells good, add the beer, the cream, stir it all up, then add the clams. Steam these with the lid on until the beautiful little guys open, ten to fifteen minutes. Possibly longer, if they’re stubborn. Which can totally happen. Shake the pan frequently to ensure that all the clams touch the heat and the liquid.

Before serving, add in the mushrooms, stir to coat and cook lightly, and then dump the whole thing into a big bowl. Garnish with the parsley. This is excellent over pasta, or just as is, with lots and lots of bread. Drink lots of dry white or pink wine. Sigh repeatedly over your contented fullness.

And then eat this:

Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.
Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.

The whole meal had a soothing, sedative effect on the both of us, and we never made it out to karaoke, as planned. Come to think of it, many of the meals I’ve shared with Grace have done more to lull than energize: Perhaps our diets are too rich? Maybe we gorge ourselves too much? Maybe there’s more to life than eating and possibly we could eat less and venture out into the world a bit more, because it is Friday after all and we have to consider our youth? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s probably just the wine.

Today was also the best day ever, and I know that you’re going to stop believing me when I say that. Here, have some strawberry shortcake.

I know that yesterday I said today I was going to tell you all about clams, but the thing is I was a little drunk by the time dinner struck and all my pictures turned out blurry, and Grace brought her camera and tripod and took photos but I don’t have them yet so I’ll tell you all about clams tomorrow, or possibly the day after. Today we went out to Westham Island to pick strawberries.

Westham Island is way the hell out there off the highway beyond Ladner, and while it’s not actually that far away in kilometers, to get there you have to travel several long and winding roads and cross a couple of bridges and once you get there you have to try and decide which farm you will go to, and Grace and I wanted to go to the one with the winery. Of course, that’s at the end of another long road, but when we got there, we beheld many wonders. To our delight, it was Strawberry Fest this weekend. In addition to the startling variety of fruit wines available for sale, I was pleased to discover a company that custom-tailors tuxedos for wiener dogs. I don’t have a wiener dog yet, but when I do, he will ALWAYS be snappily dressed.

Strawberry fields forever.
Strawberry fields forever.

But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that it’s now officially strawberry season, which means that it’s summer.

The place we went to was a u-pick kind of place, and you bring your own bucket – pretty standard stuff.

Pick, pick, pick.
Pick, pick, pick.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.

It took me forever to get started, and I grabbed several sharp weeds with my bare hands before getting into things. Agriculture isn’t for me, I decided, and also I don’t much care for squatting. In no time I was using my galoshes as a seat, ambling along the rows with prickly sleeping feet. I’ve revised my dream career to include “not outdoors” in its descriptors. It smelled very nice, like leaves and the odd whiff of berry musk.

And soon I was well into the whole process, shouting across the field to James and Grace whenever I felt so compelled – “OMG, look at these retard-berries!” I’d shout. “Developmentally challenged berries,” Grace would correct. And then when the troupe of annoying British children turned up, I decided I’d best stop shouting “retard!” into the fields, and James agreed.

No, really - see?
No, really - see?
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.

It didn’t take very long to fill a whole bucket. For me, that is. James ate three times as many berries as he picked, and Grace anal-retentively only picked perfect berries – her berries were all of uniform colour and size. Grace is a better editor than I am, and has a keener eye for detail. My bucket showed an open-minded preference for diversity (read: a tendency toward rushing and impatience).

By the end of it all, I had picked four pounds of berries, paying less than I paid yesterday for half as many.

I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.
I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.

But what to do with all those berries?! I immediately counted out the prettiest, reddest ones from among the berries at the top of the bucket and dropped them into a bowl and drizzled them with a touch of sugar and just enough cream. They were so soft that they didn’t need to be chewed – I could smash them just by pushing them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. They tasted precisely how strawberries are supposed to taste, with not a streak of white anywhere inside of them.

Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.
Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.

As too many strawberries will leave you with a terrible case of the scoots, I’m beginning to wonder what I’ll do with the rest – I think I’d like to make strawberry shortcake, and maybe a batch of muffins, and then freeze some for margaritas. The rest I will eat as they are, or dipped in pepper or sugar or maybe both – I don’t remember at which point the laxative quality of strawberries begins to take effect. Only one way to find out!

In the meantime, here’s my favourite base for strawberry shortcake. It’s a James Beard recipe, and it produces a biscuit, not a cake. But it’s sweet, with a crusty top that contrasts nicely with soft berries and whipped cream. I add cardamom because I like it, but you can omit it if you’d like.

Cream Biscuits

(makes four to six, depending on how big you like them)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine your flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and cardamom. Mix it up, and once it’s mixed, slowly add one cup of the cream. Stir constantly, adding more cream if the dough doesn’t seem like it’s holding together. Once it’s formed a dough, turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead for about a minute. Divide the dough into four to six pieces, and pat down until each is about half an inch thick.

Paint with melted butter, all sides. Place on an ungreased baking sheat, and sprinkle the tops with sugar. The coarser the sugar, the better – I like a nice crunch.

Bake these for about fifteen minutes, or until golden brown.

I have to half recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.
I have to halve recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.

Serve warm, with fresh berries and a generous dollop of whipped cream.

And now, it’s time for another handful of berries, a glass of wine, and a nap, because agriculture is hard work and squatting makes you tired.

This whole post is little more than me bragging about my day off. Which was awesome. I crave your envy.

Long before Nick, there was the city. Having grown up outside of it, and just out of its reach, I was determined to someday get here and renounce my suburban roots. Vancouver to me is like Paris to people who’ve been there and loved it – it occupies my imagination as much as my reality, and it’s wonderful. The water! The buildings! The markets! The wine! I smugly wonder why anyone would ever live anywhere else but here (the cost of housing? The long stretches of grey weather? No! That could not be). I do this mostly on bicycle.


Last night, Paul, Nick, and I went to Granville Island for the opening night of the Altar Boyz, a tremendously raucous bit of blasphemy that had my face cramped with laughter and my mascara running all the way down my cheeks. Before that, we sat on the patio at the Backstage Lounge, which is fantastic not for its food, which costs more than it’s worth and is generally subpar, but for its patio, with water views and generous sunbeams. The cheap beer also helps.



Moules!I had mussels, which were not memorable, but they were pretty, and they reminded me that I love shellfish and had not had it in nearly long enough. With the promise of a busy Nick this evening, I knew that this was my chance: Clams! I would alert Grace of my desire to feast, and we would eat bread and clams and drink refreshing summer wines. So I returned to Granville Island today, because The Lobster Man just beyond the public market is my favourite place to buy shellfish. Oh, the adventure!


And along the way, I became distracted, as always, by Oyama Sausage, which is the most wonderful place in the world. Fact. I decided, having just purchased a short, me-size baguette and sweet little local/overpriced strawberries, that in addition to the clams, I would also buy lunch.


There’s a large Frenchman there who gave me his name but it was jumbled, the way French is, and I could not piece it together in any logical way. He asked for my order in French (I don’t know why), and in order to not seem like a jerk, I responded in High School French, what little I recall of it. (Although, if he’d asked me to sing a song about Les Pompiers, I would have been able to. That stupid song – about firemen – is etched into the recesses of my brain. Thanks, Grade 8. THANKS.) He laughed, apparently tickled by my efforts. What wonderful samples I was handed as a result!

I ordered Delice de Bourgogne, which is possibly the most delicious cheese in the world except for all the other ones, and decadent, oily duck prosciutto. Then I wandered into Liberty, intent on picking out a wine that Grace would surely enjoy, and then discovered cherry wine, which I couldn’t not buy – I had to consider lunch! I wonder how long it takes to get gout. Note to self: look into that.

Sixty dollars later, I finally made it to Lobster Man, the entire purpose of my trip. Mindful that everything I had purchased would have to fit into my backpack, I resisted the urge to buy every kind of oyster, sticking with my original clam plan. Cramming my day’s purchases into my pack, I raced home, in part to get the clams into the fridge as quickly as possible. But mostly to get to the sandwich, which by that point was actually shrieking my name. Here it is:


SDC10672I’ve now discovered that everything tastes better when you order it in French. (Be warned, favourite restaurants, most of which are not French.) And the strawberries were fantastic – little bombs of sweet red glory! How perfect with just a touch of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of basil and black pepper. I don’t care how much cheaper it is to buy a townhouse in Surrey: I’m never living any farther than a bikeride away from duck prosciutto and still-breathing shellfish and cheeses with names I can barely pronounce and wonderful, obnoxious French men. Vancouver: Nevermind how often I whine about your weather – I love you!

Tomorrow will be less a love-fest and more an actual, respectable post about clams, a recipe for clams, and strawberries in honeyed whipped cream. Stay tuned?

Awesome sauce: From epic failure comes great success.

I am awfully sorry. Or, if not really sorry, then exceedingly apologetic. Like, Canadian apologetic. So, you know, not really sorry, but excessively polite.

Julia Child (hero) wrote that one should never apologize. “I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make,” she said. “Such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings.”

The day after Nick and I wheeled home our first barbecue, Nick invited a friend or two over for dinner. There were to be four of us, five at the very most, counting David who turned out to be available at the last minute, and who is also a herbivore. Which was fine, because I had a can of black beans on hand, and I’d made veggie burgers before, though only in a pan on the stove. Soon, though, as is wont to happen with Nick’s friends, four turned into eleven in our tiny apartment, and in no time flat I was all sorts of frantic, pattying burgers, sending boys out for more meat, running out of toppings and buns and trying to remain pleasant and personable. Flustered (and well into my second bottle), I incinerated David’s veggie burgers, charring them thoroughly through. And I was profusely apologetic.

And then I paused – if it was just David, it would have been fine. “Why am I sorry?” I asked him, and he shrugged. “Don’t be,” he said, choking back his blackened black bean hunk very politely. “It’s not that bad,” he said.

Julia (hero) assures us/me that “Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile … then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile – and learn from her mistakes.” And so when I get all excited at the market and buy pork belly without ever having made it before and no idea how to cook it, it’s a learning experience. And aren’t mistakes the best way to trip over something new and fantastic? Yes. Yes they are. And so I invented something I now (cleverly) call Awesome Sauce. I’m going to use it on chicken wings.

Dinner.Awesome Sauce Marinade

  • 1 tsp. fresh, finely grated ginger
  • 3 cloves finely grated garlic
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. beer
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

I highly recommend this as a marinade for your meats. It’s a little sweet and a little different, and it made the weird thing I did to the meat tonight not only edible, but delicious (never mind the texture).

And so, from one enthusiastic mistake, I now have a fallback for when Nick’s friends show up en masse. Now, I just have to stock the freezer with chicken wings.

Or disconnect the buzzer.

Chana masala, eight years ago, and the only thing I miss about Surrey.

A quasi-Indian feast.

My first encounters with chana masala were from a place off the highway in Surrey called Kwality Sweets, a tiny little shop that sold samosas by the paper bag, three for a dollar, and you could pay any way you liked unless Mrs. Sekhon was working, and then you could only pay cash. I think Kwality Sweets provided me my first taste of chick peas.

Later, when I began spending weekly evenings in Burnaby with my grandmother, we’d go to the Himalaya in Vancouver at Main & 49th with my aunt and uncle, and the chana masala was heaped onto a plate with the samosas, which I think you got two of. My grandmother liked that place, and the waiter, George, who had been raised in India.

Ever since George, I cannot think of men like Rudyard Kipling without imagining anyone’s old dad or grandfather, grey slacks belted high on the waist, and the accent. If you closed your eyes when George spoke, you’d have thought he was turbaned and bearded, not blue-eyed and balding. His syllables, mottled and pleasant, undulating like a car rolling downhill on octagon tires, reminded me of the way that the chatty men spoke, those men always dressed in colourful turbans and white dhotis or Umbro tracksuits and dress shoes, seated on Kwality Sweets’ plastic deck chairs, nice men who would always ask if this was my first samosa, and had I had the jalebis? Yes, of course, I’d answer – they’re my favourite. George never asked me what I liked. It didn’t matter, and I was okay with that – I was a teenage girl, and he was more interesting than me.

George did not seem to be a fan of most of his customers, but Cuddles found him curious, and soon, like John and Chris of the Penny Farthing, he knew her order and they would chat. He would bring her the fiery pickled carrots and the minty green chutney, and he would almost, almost smile. Indian food was a kind rebellion, she told me once, a thing my grandfather would never have eaten. He liked curry, she said – he just didn’t know it. She would sneak hints of the yellow powder into his food. A trace of it in regular old potato salad makes all the difference in the world.

After my grandmother, my aunt and uncle remained familiar to George. I did not, though we would still stop in for a samosa, a plate of chicken tikka, and a little square box of jalebis and gulab jamun, and maybe a slice or two of barfi, which I think must be Indian shortbread. The last time I was there, George was too, although there was no small talk. He served Nick and I quickly, if disinterestedly, and I left a very large tip.

Indian food in the city is not like it was in the suburbs, where little sweet shops with the same blue and white and red signs that were all or almost all in Punjabi are pretty much everywhere now. The Himalaya is a rarity out here, where places like Vij’s, Maurya, and Chutney Villa turn out delightful delicacies that, while fantastic, are not what you’d qualify as comfort food. And they cost too much. Mrs. Sekhon would not charge you eight dollars for a small plate of chana masala. George would give it to you for free.

And so, periodically, when it seems like time again for a chick pea, I like to whip up an easy batch of spicy goodness, served with rice, and sweet potatoes and spinach simmered in coconut milk and nutmeg and lime, and a lazy sort of raita. It’s as satisfying a feast as I remember, even if it is my own spin on things, because it would feel like infidelity to produce the same meal exactly. Like ratting out your mother’s rumball recipe, it’s a thing you don’t do without at least a dozen years’ distance. So, stay tuned. As my moral fibre unravels, you can expect a perfect reproduction and detailed instruction in about a decade. (Not quite as soon for the rumballs. My mom insists that she will endure.)

Chana masala is a very easy thing to make. My version is utterly inauthentic, but it’s soothing and wonderful, and tastes enough like the stuff to pass, even if you cannot find your garam masala, which I couldn’t. So this recipe doesn’t call for it. Which makes it all the easier to make at home. I wonder if that means it isn’t chana masala? Maybe not. But I wouldn’t bother trying to come up with a new name.

Weeknight Chana Masala

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds (if you don’t have coriander seeds, ground coriander is fine, although if you’re using ground, then add it later, with the other dry spices)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 14 oz. can (about 1 1/2 cups fresh) diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (I use a full teaspoon, but Nick told me that I should tell you to use less, because you might not expect it to be as hot as it is, which is how we/I like it … I think he thinks you’re a wimp)
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 19 oz. can (2 cups) chick peas
  • 1 lime, just the juice
  • Salt, to taste
  • About 1/4 cup of cilantro, a third of which is reserved for sprinkling on top

In a pan on the stove, melt the butter. Add the coriander seeds. Give them about a minute, and then add your onions, garlic, and ginger. The smell will be pungent and fantastic. Once the onions have cooked until translucent, add in your tomatoes, juice and all. At this point, you’ll want to add in your dry spices, all of them. And the smell gets a bit stronger, and you’ll feel slightly more alive.

Add in your chick peas, and squish the lime juice over top. Reduce the whole thing until the juices all but disappear. You want it to be thick and rich, not runny. I didn’t add any salt, but here’s the point where you want to taste and adjust your seasonings.

Chick peas getting awesome.Just before you serve this, toss in most of the cilantro. Reserve the rest for topping. Eat with naan bread, and something to sop up the spice (if you used a full teaspoon of cayenne pepper). I also served it with rice, and mashed sweet potatoes and spinach (simmer two medium sweet potatoes in a can of coconut milk, the zest of one lime, a bit of garlic and ginger, and a half teaspoon of nutmeg until the liquid has pretty much disappeared and the potatoes are tender, add a handful of spinach, and then mash).

Chana masala and side dishes.With a crisp sauvignon blanc or dry rosé, this is excellent. Nick forgot what I asked him to grab on the way home, so we had a fresh little pinot gris, and it was also tasty. For dessert, I’ll cut into a fresh, perfect yellow melon I found at the store on the way home, because I do not have jalebi, or gulab jamun, or even barfi, and I don’t know how to make them. I imagine in India, and even in Surrey, that melon is perfectly acceptable when jalebis are unavailable. I may drive out there this weekend, just for a small square box, all my own.


Sweet potato gnocchi: Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you have to eat poverty food.

Sweet potato gnocchi with sundried tomatoes and basil.

When I called this thing “well fed, flat broke,” it was because payday was looming on the not-too-distant horizon and we had no money, but the quality of our meals did not suffer. And I thought it was appropriate, because even on nights when we literally have nothing left to show for all our hard work, we still manage to eat fantastically well.

This is in part due to my compulsive tendency to hoard when times are good – we always have a fridge full of basics that can be spun into something you’d want to eat. I think it’s also because our cute little existences would end in very clumsy suicide if we had to come home to Kraft Dinner and wieners every night once the cable’s been cut off (it has) and our astronomical debt rears its ugly head (it continues to). I cook because we love to eat, and because we don’t care to be reminded all the time about how many ways we suck (so stop calling, Canada Student Loans). A good meal makes us feel better, like regular people who are good at life and who manage to live on what they earn. A crappy meal reminds us that we are little more than 26- and 27-year-old children playing grown-up. So we are well fed.

And, today, we are flat broke.

But I have basil in the fridge, and sundried tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, and I felt like dining in a spot of sunshine and pretending I was anywhere else, and preferably somewhere where sand in my bathing suit would be my biggest worry at any given time. It’s very easy to indulge those fantasies – all you need is a little bit of preparation.

Oh! Before I get started, I wanted to show you what I mean by “two medium sweet potatoes.” I find that the size of vegetables is very subjective and varies from place to place and depends on what time of year it is.

I am aware of the unfortunate resemblance ... I wanted to show you the shot from the other angle, but at that point the resemblance wasn't merely unfortunate, it was uncanny, and sort of gross.
I am aware of the unfortunate resemblance.

Sweet potato gnocchi

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, baked (bake in a 400°F oven for one hour – cool completely before working with these … I recommend doing this the night before)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (plus additional flour for kneading – the amount will depend on how much moisture is in your sweet potatoes)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, mash your sweet potatoes. Add the flour, the egg, the orange zest, and the nutmeg, white pepper, and salt.

Ingredients.Mix these together until the whole thing forms a dough. It will be a very soft dough, which means that you will need to work a bit more flour into it. As mentioned, this amount is variable, and depends on how wet your potatoes are – I needed an additional cup, plus some to keep the gnocchi from sticking together once formed.

Once a dough is formed, divide it into six chunks of about equal size. I saved one, and threw the rest into the fridge to keep them cool while I worked. Roll the chunk out into a long dough snake. (Official term.) I rolled mine until it was about a half-inch in diameter. Then, cut the dough into small pieces, about half to three-quarters of an inch. If you know how to roll the gnocchi with a fork to make it look nice, go for it. If you’re like me and you just mangle the shit out of it, then you can call the little pieces done. Put them on a tray lined with floured parchment while you cut apart the rest of the dough.

Throw these in a pot of boiling water, and then when they rise to the top, they’re done, about seven minutes. You’ll probably end up with more than you can eat, and if that’s the case then you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi for another fun time.

Once cooked, I tossed these in a pan with two tablespoons melted butter, a 1/2 cup of chopped sundried tomatoes, a whole roasted garlic (with the cloves squished out), and a generous smattering of basil (reserve a bit to top the pasta with). I also threw in a handful of parmesan cheese.

Gnocchi in pan.Serve topped with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Imagine you’re somewhere drenched in sun that smells like lemons. Drink red wine. Eat. Enjoy.

It may not look like a lot, but this was remarkably filling. Nick couldn't even finish my leftovers.
It may not look like a lot, but this was remarkably filling. Nick couldn’t even finish my leftovers.