Scallion spaetzle: It’s like spring or summer or something.

We went camping this weekend, and our (triumphant) return to the city was marred by bickering and the west coast being unsure about getting around to summer already. Remember how completely not annoying I was in February? Yeah. June has been my payback.

We barely made our boat home, as we were in the last handful of cars onto the ferry from the island, which did little to ease my stress over returning home in time for a shower, healthy dinner, playtime with the cat, and an early bedtime, and Nick was behaving like a pimple under the underwear elastic of my life.

And so, with all of that and my crankypants apparently devoid of stretch fibres, it felt like a day for spaetzle, with bacon. And for frying meat in lard. In the spirit of optimism, the spaetzle is springy and green. It WILL be summer here soon. It has to be. I can barely stand the wait. In the meantime, and screw the consequences: comfort food. I never looked all that great in a bikini to begin with.

Scallion spaetzle

  • 2 bunches scallions (reserve 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 strips bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a blender or food processor, reduce the scallions and garlic to a green onion purée.

Beat eggs and milk and salt into the mix, then gradually add flour until a green paste/batter has formed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. If you own a spaetzle-maker, I am impressed. If, like me, you do not, you can push the batter through the holes of a colander. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter in bits into the boiling water. Boil for two to three minutes, stirring to prevent clumping.

In the meantime, heat bacon in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When bacon has cooked, remove it from the pan to drain, reserving about a tablespoon of the fat.

Return the pan to the heat and pour drained spaetzle in, and add the butter and reserved scallions, tossing to coat. Add bacon and pepper, and serve piping hot.

This makes for a delightful alternative to regular old pasta, and can easily be turned into a cold summer salad. It would be great with a squish of lemon, and some herbs. Comforting and relatively convenient. So you can focus on other things. Like your mood. And drinking.

Savoury strawberry salad: More awesome than alliteration!

I could not get out of bed fast enough on Saturday – it was strawberry day! And maybe I was a little too excited, because it was only the first day of the u-pick season, and there were frustrating turns of events. It all worked out in the end but the berry farm we meant to go to, Krause Berry Farms? Apparently that’s where everyone goes because they have pie and there were more cars parked there than I’d seen in a long time and three people told us we probably wouldn’t get any berries because all the ripe ones were gone. But just across the street, there was a berry farm and almost no cars, and lots and lots of berries. You win, other berry farm.

Grace, Corinne, and I set out among the rows to pluck berries, only mildly irritated that we’d have been wiser to wait a week, and collected as many berries as we could.

I ended up buying some, because we got whole buckets but decided to quit there because the day had not met our expectations of magic and grandeur, which actually happens less than you’d think. It’s possible that we’re easily pleased.

And then we went home, because some of us had jams and ice creams to make.

But before that, I desperately wanted a salad. Caprese-inspired, I wanted a heap of strawberries and burrata and basil and pepper and oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Use burrata cheese if you can find it, or if you’ve got the time and inclination to make it. If not, use the freshest softest mozzarella you can find. This is another case where I don’t have a recipe for you, but a list of ingredients, and you can play with it until it’s to your liking, or until you have enough to serve everyone who’s eating with you.

Strawberry salad

  • Fresh, local strawberries (room temperature)
  • Burrata or fresh mozzarella
  • Basil, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar (a splash)
  • Salt, if needed, and to taste

Chop everything choppable. Assemble on a plate. Sprinkle with pepper, and drizzle oil and vinegar to taste. Serve.

I love using fruit in savoury applications, because it’s not as desserty as you’d think. Strawberries can substitute nicely for sweet summer tomatoes, especially since they mimic the meaty texture of tomatoes, and because they’re as tart as they are sweet and play so nicely with the creamy cheese and citrusy basil. Try this dish with peaches, or nectarines, or plums later in the season. I promise, it will not be weird, and you will love it forever. I wouldn’t raise and then dash your expectations of magic and grandeur on purpose.

Agriculture: I’m doing it!

When I was sixteen I wanted to be a hippie like Jenny from Forrest Gump except without the domestic violence and heroin later on. Mostly I wanted her outfits, and to move to San Francisco and write poetry and wear flowers in my hair. It was all very awkward and embarrassing and I discovered that I need to actually brush my hair for it to not look like a nest for many small rodents, I don’t like Birkenstocks, and meat can be really, really tasty.

The hangover from that badly dressed time is a fantasy in which I am able to live in a cozy little house on a large plot of land (overlooking the ocean and not far from the water slides) and all my friends are there and we have goats and kittens and grow our own tomatoes and make cheese and bake bread and do artistic things in the sunshine. There is a permanent rainbow. And we never have to buy anything.

So when Nick’s friend from work, Kerri, offered us a plot in her garden, I imagined us becoming completely self-sufficient, most likely by September. In my mind, we were sitting in dirt, eating perfect vegetables fresh from the ground, and singing something by, like, Jefferson Airplane or Iron and Wine or something. In the background, the kittens and baby goats were frolicking, and the escalating chords of a movie soundtrack were bringing us to that revelatory moment, the climax of our entire lives, and it was carrots.

I went to the garden shop and bought seven kinds of seeds, and then we went to Kerri’s house and she showed us to our plot, which was bigger than I anticipated. She said it would take us a little over an hour, but thanks to Nick and my two to three hilarious jokes about Nick’s instincts for gardening stemming from his Dutch heritage, we had the whole thing weeded and turned and hoed in under an hour. We made a path of bricks, and then laid what was probably too many seeds in tidy little rows marked with popsicle sticks.

A great day. And my shrieking and enthusiasm didn’t even ruin it, for once.

So, please think happy thoughts for me. We planted late, and lack experience. I see no reason why we still shouldn’t end up with so many veggies.

Separation anxiety, Paul’s farewell, and avocado pudding.

Paul’s leaving town. I am sad.

He’s headed to Montreal for the summer, to boil bagels, maybe, and to return in September, probably. He departs for sunnier skies than ours on Saturday, so Tuesday night Grace had us all over for snacks from below the equator and a lot of sparkling wine. I have been dreaming about the ceviche ever since, and not only to distract myself from the fact that Paul will not be here to bug for three whole months.

She asked me to bring dessert, and I was thinking pudding, because, let’s be honest, if I am not thinking of wine, meatballs, or pancakes, I’m probably thinking of pudding, even when I should be thinking of other things, like the answers to the questions people ask me at cash registers, bus stops, dinner parties, and work. If my face betrays me and you can tell my mind is wandering, you can bring my attention back simply by mentioning some sweet thing with a creamy mouthfeel. Good to know, right?

So to match Grace’s treats, I thought avocado pudding would be the way to go. And it turns out, I was right, though I had to go back and tweak the recipe because though I was certain it would turn out the first time, it was rather runny, and we ended up turning it into a loose ice cream in order to eat it before 11:00 pm. Still good, but not quite right. I’ve since adjusted the recipe, made it again, and re-tasted, and now I think it’s pretty damn near perfect. Paul agreed, and he doesn’t even like avocado. I knew this, but am (charmingly) passive-aggressive.

So, here you go. Another green pudding. Please don’t you go leaving me too.

Avocado pudding

  • 1 small ripe Hass avocado
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Mash up avocado with egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together cornstarch and sugar, then pour in honey, cream, and almond milk, turning heat to medium, and whisking to thoroughly combine. Stir frequently.

Heat slowly until bubbling. Pour 1/4 cup of the bubbling mixture into the avocado mix, and stir quickly to temper. You want to be quick so the eggs don’t scramble.

Pour avocado mixture into pot, and whisk until mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Strain through a mesh sieve into a bowl.

Top with plastic wrap (touching the top of the pudding in order to prevent a skin from forming), and refrigerate for three to four hours, until set.

Serve with whipped cream.

Cucumber salad.

I always worry that one day you’re going to realize that we drink an almost unacceptable amount of wine, more than we need to, and that your response is not going to be “I should come over!” See above for exhibit A, and the equivalent of four bottles for four people. Summer is for laughter and sharing.

To be fair, there was enough food for eight people, and once I got going on a simple meal of fried chicken and cucumber salad, the menu somehow spiralled until it included candied sweet potato and apples, whole-wheat baking powder biscuits, peas in butter with scallions, and macaroni and cheese with chipotles for Jaz, Tracy’s boyfriend, who is a vegetarian. Somehow, it all got eaten. The night ended earlier than usual because we all needed to head to our respective beds to sleep it all off.

This is the point at which I want you to think you’re invited over, because you are. Anytime, so long as you’re not planning an intervention. Wear elastic-waist pants. If you think of it, try to call the night before.

We almost never issue invitations, because there are always friends passing through, either to play games or watch games on TV, or to share wine and gossip, or to catch up because somehow we all got very busy and the constant togetherness sort of died off. The latter has been the case with Tracy, who runs a fantastic arts and lit magazine and works four-thousand jobs and still finds time to win awards and go to Toronto and get into grad school to study publishing, and I have got to stop whining about being tired from my one job and my no other things. Tracy has been away and returned, and the night before she came over, she sent me a message to indicate that it’s been too long/forever, and let’s eat.

So we did.

A lot.

And I didn’t realize it, but I make a lot of cucumber salad come summer. It goes with everything – fried chicken and biscuits, with spicy Indian food, with delicate pieces of fish or with big hunks of grilled meat. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I have been eating it at summer meals since I was approximately an infant. Here’s my spin on it, which you can easily adapt to your own summer table.

Cucumber salad

  • 1 long English cucumber, sliced into very thin rounds
  • 1 small onion, sliced paper-thin
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (your choice, and depending completely on what you want to serve – I like parsley, mint, dill, or cilantro)
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • Pepper, to taste

Place cucumber and onion slices in a large bowl, and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for two hours.

Drain liquid from veggies, and toss with yogurt, lime juice and zest, and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnished with more chopped herbs. I also like a sprinkle of paprika, sometimes, or a little bit of ground coriander.

See? So easy. So cooling, and so practical. So totally enough for way more than four people.

We’ll be back to much smaller dinners tomorrow, and a weeknight’s ration of wine. Both dinner and wine will be more than enough for more of us if you think you’ll feel like stopping by.

Basil lemonade: Perfect for sunny patches, summer picnics, and chilled bottles of vodka.

It’s the weekend! Fantastic. And it’s sunny, which is making my headache and massive to-do list seem less like factors that could screw up my whole day … perhaps the sun will be to blame for a whole day of doing nothing, perhaps with a magazine, perhaps on the beach. Fortunately, the lemonade is ready to go, and my bike tires aren’t as flat as I thought. To the water!

Basil lemonade

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about four ripe lemons)
  • 1/2 juiced lemon, quartered

Juice lemons. Cut half of one lemon into quarters.

Over high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot, heat sugar, water, basil leaves, and quartered lemon-half until sugar has dissolved. Let stand five minutes, pour into a bowl or large measuring cup, and chill up to four hours.

Pour lemon juice into a pitcher, and strain sugar-water-basil mixture into the pitcher as well. Stir, and add three to four cups of cold water, to taste. Alternately, you could use sparkling water for fizz.

Serve chilled, with basil leaves to garnish. Is improved greatly by a generous splash of vodka and a patch of sunshine to sip it in.

Tuna tartare, and a repressed yuppie sort-of howl.

This morning I woke up late and was panic-stricken that it was Thursday already and I had so much to do and it was never going to get done and to top it all off there was no time for a shower and there is a hole in the sole of my boot and when I walked to the bus stop in the rain water leaked in and it made my foot stink and all I could think of was holy crap, why?! But then – great news! – it turned out to only be Wednesday and the sun came out and not only did I cross a whole bunch of stuff off of my to-do list, I may not have smelled as bad as I thought.

I blame society for the fact that I stress like this two or three times a week, and civilization, and pretty much everything that contributed to me having to wake up to an alarm every morning and question my commitment to hygiene every single day. And sometimes I get rebellious. But since I constantly teeter so precariously on the line between “communications professional” and “moron,” I had to make the difficult choice to only be rebellious in non-career-limiting bursts, at least whenever possible. I like to think that this is the result of maturity.

So today my rebellious, animal urges compelled me to eat a big pile of raw red meat, with a raw egg yolk perched on top and long shards of sharp Grana Padano balanced threateningly over the whole thing, and capers, I don’t know where, but capers. I thought about it, imagined it even, and set out to The Butcher on 10th Avenue on my way home today to demand my cut of beef, and was politely lectured about that pesky hygiene issue, and how tomorrow I would have to call ahead for a special cut of beef, one that had been kept in isolation and not touched the other, dirtier meats and knives and cutting boards. And I wanted to growl, “Give me the dirty meats! I AM MAN!” But The Butcher is in Point Grey where people are respectable and old, and that sort of outburst would have been frowned upon, and that’s the only place I’ve ever successfully acquired mutton.

Disheartened and subdued, I turned and skulked out, determined that I would eat something raw and animal before the evening turned to bedtime. Fortunately, there is a fish shop a few doors down where they sell local seafood, including sushi-grade frozen albacore tuna. I bought a small, very reasonably priced hunk of fish, and an overpriced avocado from a basket beside the cash register, and not an hour later had a mouth full of something raw after all.

For a taste of virility fresh from your own kitchen, here’s a recipe for tuna tartare. Use sushi-grade fish if you do, because I would hate for you to food-poison yourself or whatever happens if you use non-sushi-grade fish. I’ve food-poisoned myself lots of times, and it’s no fun, even if you get paid sick-days where you work too.

Tuna Tartare

(Serves two as a small meal or four as a small appetizer.)

  • 1/4 lb. frozen sushi-grade albacore tuna
  • 1 avocado, halved
  • 2 tbsp. chopped scallion, light green and dark green parts only
  • 1 tbsp. minced radish
  • 1/2 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Pinch sugar

The tuna should be frozen but workable. Mince it. Mince the hell out of it.

Dice half of the avocado. Place in a bowl, with the scallion, and the minced tuna.

In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients.

Thinly slice the remaining half of the avocado and lay it down on chilled plates as the foundation for the tartare.

Pour sauce over fish mixture, toss to coat, and press it into small ramekins lined with plastic wrap, as many as you’ll need. I used two of the small Pyrex custard cups.

Turn mixture out onto the plates, pulling the ramekin away, and peeling off the plastic. Garnish with remaining avocado, if any, and serve with a small, light salad. Or nothing, if it’s to be an appetizer. I like this with toast points, a single slice of homemade bread quartered.

It’s a nice, bright, cool dish, and one I think we’ll enjoy throughout the summer. I wanted to keep things light, so the flavours were rather subdued. You could punch this up with a bit of grapefruit juice, or add heat with a dash of sriracha. Be creative. And then feel as if your balance has returned, and have a shower, and try not to be manic again until at least the weekend.

Also? Thank you, Gerald, for your camera advice. Look! No blur!

Roasting radishes brings out all the best adjectives.

I don’t know about you, but I love radishes. LOVE them. I like them raw, sliced over baguette with fresh, homemade butter and fresh-ground black pepper; I like them quickly pickled in a little bit of rice vinegar with sugar and hot red pepper flakes. I like them in salads, in egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches, and whole, eaten like miniature apples, each bite dipped in sea salt. I like them in bruschetta. There is no way that I won’t eat radishes. I love their peppery blitz on my tongue, the way they are so bright and crisp and wet, such a perfect red byproduct of water and earth.

Nick is more reluctant, and doesn’t love them like I do. He’s okay with my radishy urges, but doesn’t embrace them significantly, or even properly. I’ve never seen him pick radishes up when shopping. I’ve never caught him popping them into his mouth, as if secretly, in those quiet minutes before tooth-brushing, cat-feeding, and bedtime. I doubt he even dreams about them.

But this is not about Nick’s shortcomings as an eater. I am certain that one day, I’ll find him crouched over the crisper, teary-eyed at the way the radishes look beside the lettuces and lemons. One day, he will look at food the way he looks at video games.

Tonight we got a little closer to that day, and it was radishes that pushed him. He asked for seconds.

We had a couple of small pieces of venison for dinner (the second last package of venison remaining in my freezer from last fall’s hunt), but the main event was radishes, roasted with whole cloves of garlic and tossed with a pinch of fresh parsley and the gentlest squish of lemon to ever occur in my kitchen. The radish greens were tossed in with browned onions during the last minutes of their fast caramelization in the meat juices and cooking fat. There was so much black pepper! Nothing went to waste. And it was efficient – dinner was on the table within twenty minutes.

If you’ve never roasted radishes, once you do this will probably be the way you’ll come to love them most, if you don’t already adore them irrationally. Just a quick sear in a dash of oil in a pan over high heat, then into the oven for 15 minutes, and that’s it. Toss with herbs and pepper and lemon and salt, if you feel like it. That’s it, really, but here’s the recipe anyway. Make them tonight?

Roasted radishes and garlic

(Serves two as a generous side dish.)

  • 1 bunch radishes, greens removed
  • 6 cloves garlic (or more if you feel like it)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, or parsley
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Trim each radish, top and bottom, removing the root and top. Slice in half lengthwise, if your radishes are of average radish size, or in quarters if they are very large. Peel garlic, and trim the tough ends off if necessary.

In a sauté pan that you can use on the stove-top and in the oven, over high heat, heat olive oil. Add radishes and cook quickly, no more than a minute per side. Add whole cloves of garlic, and put into the oven, uncovered.

Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, turning radishes and garlic each once halfway through cooking. Both sides should turn a deep golden brown.

Toss radishes and garlic with herbs, lemon juice, and salt, and serve immediately. Take a blurry picture, then eat.

They turn sweet, almost buttery. They lose their peppery taste, but take on something different – still bright and springy, but a little more subtle, and silky on the tongue. They are very good as they are (with meat and their sautéed greens), or mushed up with soft cheese on fresh bread. Like cooking cucumbers, this is the kind of thing that everyone should know about by now but for some reason doesn’t. But you do now! Now there’s no excuse. Enjoy!

Beurre blanc: A tasty conclusion to a very good day.

Yesterday was one of those very good days that required no vehicle and no long trips away from home. The day started groggily, and with starvation, so we walked over to Szechuan Chongqing for spicy green beans and siu mai and king crab with garlic, among other things, and to meet up with Theresa, Mick, and Corinne.

We ate until we were sure we were sure we’d explode, which is how you’re supposed to do dim sum, and then waddled our separate ways, with Nick and I headed for Granville Island and patio beer.

While there, we grabbed spices and vegetables, and two thin pieces of fish, and wine. Always wine, because if you’re going to eat white fish you need white wine to go with. Everyone in the entire market was smiling, Nick noted, and why wouldn’t they be? The sun was trying harder than it has in a long time, and there was a man with an accordion, and everything smelled fresh and all together the fragrance of ocean and roses and bread and fudge and smoked meats and maple and fruit musk was invigorating. In this city that’s smelled like wet pavement for a week, things were looking up. With the late afternoon to spare, we headed home, intent on writing and napping and that wine.

And dinner was just as easy and low-key. Nick chose the ingredients at the market – the fish and some asparagus, and in the time it took to roast the asparagus in the oven – twelve minutes – I made Julia Child’s beurre blanc, two poached eggs, and the fish, pan-fried very gently in a film of melted butter. It was the kind of meal you could eat any night of the week, easy and fast, but also so delicate and elegant that you could serve it to good-quality company. The secret, of course, is the beurre blanc, which is basically an emulsion of butter and acids, lemon and/or vinegar (or wine!), some shallots, a little bit of salt, and, if you’ve got it, white pepper.

You can make up to a cup of this by using a bit more butter, but since it’s just the two of us, I use 3/4 cup. You’ll have enough for four people with the recipe below.

Beurre blanc

(From Julia Child’s My Life in France)

  • 3/4 to 1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces about 1 tbsp. each
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced shallot

In a heavy bottomed sauce-pan, place salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, and shallot over high heat, and reduce quickly until only about a tablespoon of the liquid remains.

Remove from heat, and turn heat down to low. Whisk in the first cube of cold butter, and then the second, until a cream forms. Return the pot to low heat, and continue whisking in cubes of butter, adding a new pat just as the last piece has melted into the sauce. Serve immediately, spooned over fish or vegetables. All in all, this takes about five minutes. Less, maybe, and you can do it as your fish cooks and your asparagus roasts and it will all be done together.

Serve with dry white wine. On a patio, if you’ve got one.

The acidity combined with the butter makes this a bright, surprising sauce that works well over a thin slip of fish, sole or trout, or even salmon or halibut. Also, it’s fun to say. Beurre blanc. It’s even more fun to eat.