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.

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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!