You know that feeling where you just want to run away from it all to someplace pretty but that also has a well-stocked liquor store and decent restaurants? It can’t just be me who fantasizes about living somewhere almost-remote but almost not, somewhere you can reach into the sand and pull out a fistful of clams in the morning for that night’s dinner, and then head into town for tandoori sockeye salmon and a nice cup of chai for lunch. Such a place exists, five hours away from where I live, and I think about it all the time.
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The drawback to these almost-remote places is that the kind of work that I do (the work that pays my bills, anyway) doesn’t exactly exist outside of urban centres or university towns, or when it does, there is one position that never becomes vacant. This is why we are not there now, wandering shorelines up the coast with Base Camp Coffee in a travel mug, and are staring out apartment windows at the traffic on Broadway instead.
But when you can’t be somewhere, it’s a comforting thing to be able to cook the food of a place instead. Whenever I get an itch to be somewhere, I turn to cookbooks.
I have picked up a few regional cookbooks lately – Christine Hanlon’s Out of Old Manitoba Kitchens has been a delight to flip through – but one in particular, Water & Wood: Recipes from a Coastal Community, a project of the Powell River Public Library, has been making my feet itchy once again.
The thing I like about Water & Wood is that it has that spiral-bound community cookbook feel, but it’s also very beautiful in its design and photography, so that while it feels very “of the place,” offering local history and divided into sections by categories of Ocean, Lakes & Rivers, Farms & Gardens, and Forest & Mountains, it is also the kind of book you could leave out on your coffee table and thumb through with a cup of tea in the evening. And while the recipes are from the community and have a very strong west-coast feel, they’re also a bit more modern than you might expect.
Water & Wood offers a good mix of vegan and gluten-free recipes – there’s a recipe for raw, vegan, gluten-free Nanaimo bars, which honestly could not be more British Columbian unless you were to make them and walk them over to your neighbourhood bike repair shop while wearing Gore-Tex and rain boots. A nod to the multiculturalism of the area, the book also features international flavours using local ingredients, like the asparagus goma-ae and the beef tongue bitterballen (there are a couple of Dutch recipes, from the Van Es family farm archives). More regional recipes like Foraged Salmon Berry Shoots & Fiddleheads, Bladderwrack Egg Drop Soup, or the Pan Roasted White Sturgeon with Fir Tip Butter may not be the kind of thing you have the ingredients to make in your own kitchen, but that’s okay – what you can’t make at home may have you making travel plans.
And best of all, sales of the book support the Powell River Public Library (PRPL). The PRPL serves the residents of the City of Powell River and the Tla’amin Nation and Regional District.
I’ve asked for permission to share a recipe from the book, a very simple apple cake that served me well for several days – this thing does not seem to go stale, and so I was able to make it breakfast for nearly an entire workweek! Maybe the only thing better than running away to Powell River is eating cake for breakfast every day.
(Makes one 8″ cake.)
- 2 cups peeled and finely diced apple (about two medium apples)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil*
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped**
- 1/2 cup raisins**
*I used grapeseed oil – any neutral oil will do.
**Raisins are bad and we keep running out of walnuts as I keep eating handfuls of them, so I subbed one cup of currants.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of an 8″ baking pan (square or round will do) with parchment and set aside.
Place apples in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar. Stir, then set aside for half an hour, or until the sugar becomes liquid.
Add beaten egg, oil and vanilla, and stir to combine.
In another bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
Add raisins and walnuts (or currants), and stir to combine.
Pour batter into your prepared baking pan, and bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate to serve.
To purchase a copy of Water & Wood, visit the PRPL website. (This is not a sponsored post, though they did send me a copy of the book.)