Potato-crusted halibut cheeks.

The trouble with the Internet is that you can never really be sure that what you’re being given is the truth. It’s easy to zoom in and capture the beauty of a plate of cookies without all the mess that’s around it, or to choose long strings of delicate, pretty words when one’s situation might be better described more … colourfully. On the one hand, I tell you about risotto because I love it, but on the other hand, I’m still paying off my student loans and I lost my job but still have to make rent and rice and chicken stock and cheese go a long way toward filling a belly; risotto never made anyone feel badly about her lot.

Most food blogs would have you believe that everything is idyllic, all the time – we write as if MFK Fisher would be on her way over with chilled rosé and a spare page in her next manuscript for our quiche or bread or pound cake. A certain amount of this is contrived, because the point is to get you to want to sit down with us. We want you to like us, and to tell your friends about us. This is marketing, to various degrees, but it is not inherently dishonest.

When I zoom my lens in on a plate of food, it’s both because I want you to see it and because I don’t want you to see that I keep spilling things on the tablecloth so it’s stained pretty much anywhere I’d put a plate down but my only other tablecloth is plaid and meant for Christmastime but it went into the dryer even though it wasn’t supposed to and is now misshapen and faded. And I accidentally ruined the finish on the table because I still don’t understand which cleaning product to use for which task, so I need a tablecloth, or place mats, or something.

I’m broke. But, like the banner says – well fed. And even though it’s always messy here and I screen my calls for bill collectors, I can climb out onto the roof of my building and eat dinner while the sky turns orange and then pink before the sun disappears behind the mountains. And sometimes I’m maudlin and feel sorry for myself, but then I find halibut cheeks – which are the cheapest and most delicious part of a halibut – to crust and fry, and a new brand of booze sends me a case of freebies and my favourite stretch pants are clean and folded and waiting for me.

Sometimes a visit to the garden the day after it’s rained yields the crispiest red and green lettuce and sorrel I’ve had all season, the kind of greens that only need oil and lemon for dressing.

I might not be selling a lifestyle (though if I was, it would be the opposite of GOOP’s which should count for something), but I hope I’m selling the idea that there is good in even these bleakest of days. The job will come, the bills will get paid. I will lose 20 pounds. But right now, we have a few pieces of fish, a salad of greens fresh from the ground, a partial view of the mountains and English Bay from the roof, and nothing lasting to complain about.

These are good. That is a piece of information from the Internet that you can be sure is true.

Potato-crusted halibut cheeks

(Serves two. If you can’t find cheeks, cubes of your local white fish will work just fine.)

  • Oil, such as grapeseed or canola
  • 1/2 lb. halibut cheeks
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour or cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup potato flakes (dry instant mashed potatoes)
  • Salt

In a pan over medium-high, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed (such as cast-iron) pan.

Meanwhile, mix flour and Old Bay. Dredge halibut cheeks in this. I find the most effective way to do this is to shake the flour mixture and cheeks in a paper or plastic bag – here in British Columbia, our BC Liquor Store bags are perfect for this.

Coat floured pieces of fish in beaten egg, then dredge on both sides with potato flakes. Fry for two to three minutes on each side, until golden and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot, with sauce for dipping. I prefer tartar sauce (with pretty much everything), but go with what you like.

Disclosure: I got free drinks.

If you’d like a summery beverage to go with your cheeky bites, American Vintage Hard Iced Tea is pretty all right. It’s got a true tea flavour, but with a not-subtle boozy punch. If you’re fond of any of the canned Jack Daniels lemonade drinks, you’d like these. I don’t know how reliable I can be about a review of free alcohol, because FREE ALCOHOL, but they are a kind company and sent me samples at the precise moment when the urge to drink my feelings was strongest. This endears me to them, and a result I encourage you to try their product if you enjoy coolers. They don’t have a website (what? Is it not 2012?), but here’s a fairly thorough review I can agree with.

Making rainbow pasta at Project Space.

On East Georgia here in Vancouver, just up the block from Phnom Penh, a lot of little art spaces are starting to appear beside the lot of little restaurants I have long enjoyed. One of these is Project Space, a bookshop/art studio/everything-space run by the fabulous folks behind OCW Magazine, who have kindly published my words over the past five or six years.

For the past few days (and tomorrow), Project Space has been home to Summer School, a series of free classes hosted by artists Erin Jane Nelson and Ming Lin. So, because I’m there any time someone wants to combine art with something I can eat, today I went back to school.

The class was led by Ming Lin, who taught us to make rainbow pasta. Natural dyes are a passion of Lin’s, and food is an obvious medium for the exploration of these.

Making pasta is easy. For this class, we poured three cups of all-purpose flour into a pile on the table. We dug a well into the centre of the pile, and cracked an egg into it. We added salt, beat the egg gently in the well, then added about one tablespoon of puréed vegetables – either spinach, beet, or carrot. We’d then continue stirring, this time gradually folding flour into the the mix. When the dough began to form a ball, we’d pull it from the well and knead it, incorporating more flour until the dough was firm but pliable and no longer sticky. The dough went into the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.

The same pile of flour lasted three rounds of this, and I ended up with three colourful balls of pasta dough, each time re-piling the flour, adding egg and salt, stirring, then adding a spoonful of purée.

After resting in the fridge, the dough was ready to be rolled. At this point, I’d recommend the use of a pasta roller, unless you have the upper-body strength of someone over the age of eight. I do not, but no machine was available, so I rolled my pasta out with an empty wine bottle. Though the idea is to get your sheet of dough as thin as possible, mine was thicker than if I had run it through a pasta machine, which made the boiled noodles thicker and chewier than I prefer. But that’s okay.

Some people trimmed their pasta into long strips. That’s how I did mine, as fresh strands of pasta tossed with browned butter and grated Grana Padano combine to form one of those perfect, simple dishes we ought to make more of. Others were more creative (and patient), and attempted to fold their pasta into bow-ties and penne.

Our teacher cut hers into tiny squares perfect for a pot of soup.

I ended up with a pile of purple and orange noodles, enough for two people to enjoy a small plate of pasta each. I boiled it for about three minutes, then tossed it in a pan with butter and cheese and chopped fresh chilies, and then scattered parsley over top.

Pasta-making was a pleasant diversion, and a reminder that a small amount of effort can yield delicious results. Why not dawdle over a bit of dough the next cloudy day and treat yourself to something simple and delicious? I hope it rains tomorrow, as I’d like to purée some chilies for a batch of dough and see what happens. What’s your perfect pasta? I’d love your tips and recipes. Bonus points for butter and cheese, obviously.

Strawberry lemon pancakes.

If last year’s strawberries – mouth-puckering and tannic – were the bitter embodiment of everything wrong with last summer’s weather, then this year’s fat, sweet berries have more than made amends. I can’t tell if I’m sunburned or turning into a red Violet Beauregard, I’ve eaten so many strawberries – handfuls and handfuls every time I’ve passed the fridge this past week. Berries dipped in sugar, berries sprinkled with cracked black pepper, berries melted into caramel and crushed into smoothies and boiled into jam.

I’m not tired of them, and raspberry season is already here. But we have to finish these before I can move on to a new berry – I am aware that this is the best problem a person can have.

So this morning we had pancakes.

There’s a breakfast place in New Westminster I liked to go to called The Jiffy Wiffy Waffle House. It’s changed, cleaned up, and isn’t the delightfully dodgy waffle purveyor it once was, but in its (my?) waffly prime, I would go there and order the waffle with peaches or berries baked right in. This was a novel idea, at the time – maybe it still is, because the last time I tried to do that here I burned frozen raspberries between the grooves of the waffle press and it took forever to scrub the thing clean. Don’t press fruit in your waffle iron unless you know what you’re doing, I guess.

Anyway. I like fruit baked into carby things. Who wouldn’t? And these pancakes, thin and crisp and lemony, topped with sliced fresh berries, whipped cream, and this strawberry caramel? It’s like breakfast strawberry shortcake, which is the embodiment of everything right with this summer in Vancouver at this very moment.

Strawberry lemon pancakes

(Makes eight pancakes.)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulled and diced

In one bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, lemon zest and juice, milk, and one tablespoon of butter. Stir in diced strawberries.

In a large skillet heated over medium heat, pour half of the remaining butter into the pan and turn to coat. When it begins to sizzle, pour in four equal portions of batter, turning once the edges of each pancake have started to look crisp and bubbles have formed on the surface of each cake. Turn, cook another one to two minutes, until golden on the bottom. Repeat until you’re out of batter.

Serve with fresh berries, whipped cream if you’re feeling indulgent, and this strawberry caramel I keep talking about if you feel like you’ve sweated away enough calories already this week and therefore deserve it.

If you end up with more pancakes than you can eat, simply cool them completely on a wire rack, and then stack them between sheets of wax paper, stick them in a bag, and freeze them. You can pop them in the toaster as you need them. They are way better than Eggos.

Picnics and bacon-wrapped garlic scapes.

All of a sudden, two layers of clothes are too many layers of clothes, and my toes are naked and touching the grass, and I’m drinking wine in parks and getting dirty looks from the other mothers for all my drinking wine in parks. Summer finally landed in Vancouver yesterday, so picnic season began in earnest this afternoon.

I have written about the joy of picnics here before but I am getting older and with age has come a tendency to repeat myself, and also to assume that what I say bears repeating. Take yourself on a picnic. Bring a friend, and a bottle of wine, and something to nibble on, and whittle away the afternoon, or just languorously pass your lunch hour (bottle of wine optional in that instance, unless you work from home). All you need is a patch of grass and a bit of bread and cheese.

And garlic scapes, if you can find them. Even better if you can grow them. Wrap them in bacon, and eat them outside.

Bacon-wrapped garlic scapes

  • 24 garlic scapes
  • 8 strips bacon
  • Coarse salt
  • Pepper

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Trim scapes at the bud, leaving eight to 10 inches of the stalk. (I left the buds on some of the shorter scapes, and the flowers inside were a little fluffy, but not unbearable if you’re used to finding cat hair in everything.) Bundle scapes in threes, wrapping each as tightly as possible with the bacon.

Sprinkle each bundle with a few flecks of coarse salt, then with freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes, until the bacon is brown and looks crisp. Flip the bundles halfway through. Delicious served hot, but also pretty nice eaten cold, in the shade, on the grass.