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.

Chai tea: Perfect for thunderstorms.

When I was young, my parents had some very good luck with daycare providers. There weren’t after school programs or “amenities,” but there were very interesting people like Mrs. Gill and Mrs. DiAntonio, immigrant women with fantastic recipes who were at home all the time, cooking. And looking after me, I guess, but mostly cooking. And more often than not, they shared. From Mrs. DiAntonio, I learned about the other kind of amaretti cookies – the soft ones with the almond thumbprint in the centre, about how magnificent just tomato sauce could be on pasta, that mozzarella doesn’t come in bricks, and that wine is something that happens after you squish grapes with your feet. I never got to taste the wine, but Mr. DiAntonio would make it that way, and grew his own grapes to boot.

From Mrs. Gill, I learned about bright red tandoori chicken, still one of my favourite things, about samosas (and, incidentally, ketchup on samosas which is still the only way to have them) and potato pakoras and twisty orange jalebis and chai tea. At one point, Mrs. Gill and my mother traded skills – my mom taught Mrs. Gill to sew, and Mrs. Gill taught my mom about Indian cooking. Armed with spices Mrs. Gill had given her, my mom was able to make that chai tea at home. I still remember the taste of Mrs. Gill’s chai – it’s nothing like the Starbucks iteration, and nothing at all like what you buy in teabags labelled “chai tea.”

Today it rained a lot, and there was thunder (and I discovered that Molly is a scaredy cat), and I had a lot of housecleaning to do. A regular cup of tea would not quite have done. I don’t have Mrs. Gill’s recipe, but I remember the taste. If you don’t keep them in your kitchen, go buy the spices – you can buy them at Indian grocery stores, and you get a lot of them for not very much money. I buy most of my spices from Indian grocers (or from the Indian section of Superstore), because they are so plentiful and inexpensive.

So, here. A recipe for chai tea, which I’ll hope you enjoy anytime there’s thunder and downpour, even if you end up drinking it while cradling (and reassuring) a bawling kitten.

Chai tea

(Makes two cups)

  • 2 cups cold milk
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tbsp. whole green cardamom
  • 2 tsp. whole cloves
  • 2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. fennel seed
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1 slice of ginger (sliced horizontally from ginger root, about the thickness of a quarter)
  • 1 piece dried orange peel (optional, but if you have it, all the better!)
  • 2 teabags of black tea

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, toast whole spices until just fragrant, about two minutes, moving them about the pan frequently. Reduce heat to medium, and add milk and honey, stirring to dissolve the honey. Add teabags once honey is dissolved, and allow to come very slowly to a gentle boil, about 40 minutes.

Once it begins to boil, remove the mixture from the stovetop and strain into mugs. Serve immediately.

Bribe Santa and warm your little bones with Mexican hot chocolate.

There was fog this morning, and I almost thought it was snowing. It was dense in parts, but clear in others, and maybe it wasn’t fog as much as it was the fluff of a low-slung cloud, but for the whole rest of the day I felt a chill in my bones. Especially the little ones in my feet, to where the heat of the office never seems to creep.

Tonight was the first night in a long stretch of nights where there wasn’t talk of holiday logistics, empty bank accounts, frustrating jobs, or family pressure. No leaving the apartment, nothing frantic. This evening, with a stack of toys and two rolls of paper to bring together, I ate this for dinner, and there was frothy chocolate and I felt warmth and cheer, as far down as the tiniest bones in the tips of my toes.

Please make this right now.

Mexican hot chocolate

For each big mug of hot chocolate, you will need:

  • 2 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Mexican chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1.5 oz. Kahlua (or coffee liqueur)

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt dark chocolate into the milk, whisking as you do so that the chocolate doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, and chile powder, then whisk continuously until the mixture comes to just a boil. It’s got to be frothy, with a dense layer of bubbles on top.

Measure Kahlua into your mug, and then pour the hot chocolate mixture in. Stir to combine, and then drink right away. You can top it with whipped cream or marshmallows if you like, or on its own, with a side of sugar cookies for dunking.

This is rich stuff, and can work all on its own as dessert. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and layered with spicy, robust flavours – dark chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and spice. It’s robust. It’s infinitely better than any seasonal hot chocolate that you’ll find at Starbucks or its ilk. And it goes well with the smell of wrapping paper, cookies, and tree.

Three more sleeps (that’s it!) and Santa’ll be here! I’ll bet if you leave a mug of this out for him, he’ll leave you something equally special. It’s caffeinated, so if you make yourself a mug too, maybe you’ll even stay up late enough to greet him?

Happy holidays!

August 6 was National Root Beer Float Day. Did you know? DID YOU CALL YOUR DAD?

And, most importantly, did you celebrate? I did everything except for the Dad-calling part because when I finally got around to celebrating it was after ten o’clock and he gets up at 4:30 in the morning because he’s insane.

I made a root beer float. Here are instructions. I know you know how to make one, but you’d be surprised what other people don’t know. I continue to be surprised by that.

ingredients.Root beer floats will forever be inextricably linked to dads. Particularly my dad, but I suppose you could replace my dad with your dad if you’re remembering, but if you want to remember my dad as an integral part of your childhood, I wouldn’t think anything of it.

There are a few things that I remember for their Dad-specificity – Cheez Whiz and marmalade sandwiches, long john doughnuts, Get Smart, sitting in front of my bedroom door to think about what I’d done while everyone else watched Star Trek … things that I’ve mentally filed next to “Parents > Dad” in my memory-bank, like that time I ordered kalamari at the Knight & Day on King George Highway on my twelfth birthday and I didn’t realize it was going to come out looking like spiders because I really didn’t know for sure what kalamari was at that point, or what a squid looked like, and I looked up with panicky eyes and my mom was all, “you don’t have to eat that,” but my dad made me eat it anyway because Knight & Day was even overpriced then, so I ate the spiders and tried to wash it all down with Orange Crush but then I got this gross feeling and threw up all over myself, and then I think my dad was going to make me eat the spiders that didn’t get covered in Crush-puke, but my mom was all, “it’s her birthday,” so I didn’t have to finish. My dad starts a lot of his stories with, “nobody else thought I was funny, but I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.”

Which is how I start a lot of my stories, actually.

Which I think means that my dad is hilarious.

He once ran for president of his union just to annoy the president, who ran every year unchallenged, and who had gotten just a tad too comfortable. He almost won. He would have had to move to Ottawa.

My dad is hilarious.

Dad didn’t just make me puke on myself, though. He made some good things, too. Like apple fritters, which were chunks of apple dipped in batter, then deep fried, and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. And bread, without a bread machine. He’d make the dough, and I wouldn’t be paying all that much attention, and then he’d stuff it in a huge, cleaned-out can, and then all of a sudden the house would smell like fresh bread and it was glorious, all yeasty and warm-smelling, and when it came out of the oven, it looked like a giant, super-tall muffin and he’d pop it out of the can and slice it up and we’d get to eat it with jam that my grandma had probably made and it was the best bread I’d ever had. I’ve never seen cans big enough to re-create his makeshift bread pans, and I’ve always kept my eye half-peeled. I bet when I find them, Nick and I will have to eat our way through a lot of baked beans.

Root beer always reminds me of Dad. The A&W kind, specifically, even though there are better root beers, and I can’t remember which parent introduced Henry Weinhardt’s into my life. But it’s A&W root beer when I think about floats, because that’s what we had (though sometimes we had floats with Orange Crush, or cream soda, and those were also quite good). That, and ice cream that comes in brick-form, or in those big buckets. I didn’t think ice cream came in either anymore. They do. And this was a very satisfying rediscovery.

You can make root beer floats fancy, but that’s not the point. There are some things that you have to think about as if you were eight years old, and they should never, ever change, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Change sometimes equals bastardization (see TMNT), and to bastardize the root beer float would be unholy. It gets its own day. Like Christmas. And Father’s Day.

If you didn’t celebrate, it’s not too late. Just grab a brick of ice cream and a bottle of root beer, pour yourself a float, and call my dad.

This is a picture of me and my dad. He's the one in black. I don't think he reads this.
This is a picture of me and my dad. He's the one in black. I don't think he reads this. We're dancing here, which is weird, since neither of us actually knows how.

Eating in Portland: Touristing for the Gluttonous.

And this post isn’t about recipes, because I am currently in the process of inventing one, although maybe it’s already been invented but I’m not going to search online for it and then once I post it, if I Google search for it, then my post will come up first and it will validate me AND the creative process. Tomorrow: Recipe. Today: Portland Love Fest.

With the exception of a few racist billboards, America proved to be pretty awesome. And not to be totally unpatriotic, but I think Canada has something of an inferiority complex as far as the US is concerned. I think it’s because we don’t have Happy Hour here. Or Crunchberries. It’s like America is Canada’s cool older stepbrother – we don’t really get some of the things he does, and sometimes he’s an asshole, but mostly we wish we could be as cool as him. Unless he’s Republican that year.

In America, they have a special line of Doritos just for stoners.

"Tacos at Midnight," anyone?
"Tacos at Midnight," anyone?

It was a hot one, registering 103°F, or 40°C, so we were parched the whole time. We got some lemonade, which I was totally going to make fun of until @katarnett posted her discovery that blue dye is actually good for you now, so now I guess I’m jealous that in America, raspberries come in blue.

It was freakishly good!
It was freakishly good!

Although it’s only a five-hour trip to Portland from the Canadian border, it took us closer to nine hours to get there, because of all the stops. Theresa’s dad’s truck, which we borrowed, had air conditioning, but old cheapness habits die hard for Theresa, who couldn’t bring herself to turn it on because of the chance that using the air conditioning might eat up all the gas in the truck, which might mean we’d have to get more gas, which was expensive. So we drove fast with the windows down, and stopped a fair bit for cool drinks and swims in lakes.

When we got to Portland, we refreshed ourselves with some deliciously cold, enviably cheap pints of good microbrew.

Theresa

Vincente's

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Beautiful.

We stayed in a hostel called McMenamins White Eagle Saloon, and even though it didn’t have air conditioning and we were sweltering, it was a pretty awesome place to sleep for $50 (total, not each). Except that sometime after we returned to the room from the bar downstairs, I remembered that I once heard that there have historically been more serial killers per capita in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere else in the world, so then I couldn’t sleep in case one lept out of the closet or climbed through the open window to serial kill one of us. I never think of these things at home, which is also Pacific Northwesterly. It could be time to get serious about medication.

At the bar, we ate and drank for cheaper than we may ever have done either before.

Delish.And we learned about this amazing beer called “Ruby,” which is the most perfect girl-beer ever invented. It tasted like raspberries (the red kind), and it was magical and cold and everything great about the world in a single pint glass.

And we drank and drank and laughed and laughed and The Exhasperated Ex-Ex-Patriot came from across town to join us, and a marvellous time was had until I dumped too much dijon onto my $3.00 burger and then I felt sad but then more beer came and life was good again.

The next morning, after several cold showers and night terrors over serial killers, we went for breakfast at Voodoo Doughnuts. Prior to the trip, my two goals for my time in Oregon were simple: eat a foie gras jelly doughnut, and also eat a maple bacon doughnut. Turns out, the foie gras doughnut is sold somewhere else, and the maple bacon doughnut sells out like crazy at Voodoo, so much so that when we got there around 9:00 am, they were completely out of stock. I settled for a PB&J doughnut, which was a delicious combination of peanuts, peanut butter, deep fried dough, and raspberry jam. Manna.

Voodoo Doughnuts.

SDC11190

Voodoo Doll doughnut

PB&J

Oozing.

And so we took to the road again, sad to be leaving so quickly, but delighted at ourselves for all the gluttony. And I shall return to Portland very soon, as it turns out I am madly in love with it for the same reasons I am in love with Vancouver but somehow Portland managed to out-doughnut Canada and also the drinks are very cheap there.

Also, in America, they still have POG. No. Fair.
I hog POG too.So, I guess what I mean to say is that you should come back tomorrow, because I mean to tell you all about brandied apricot cobbler with ginger, and it will be all kinds of delicious and completely new because I will have invented it. I think. It’s very warm out still and that could be why I’m finding it very hard to have coherent thoughts, never mind the struggle it’s been to try and write them out.

Saucy meat makes romance.

The thing about being flat broke most of the time is you have to plan. And you have to be able to make your own fun, usually on $20 or less.

For Nick, fun is cleaning and purging three garbage bags full of all the awesome clothes I don’t wear but still love and will someday lose enough weight to fit into again. Jerk. My idea of fun is anything but that. So Nick cleaned, and I cried, and then we had dinner, which was fantastic.

By the way, as of this evening, I have called a ban on all sesame oil-soy sauce-delicious-but-played-around-here standbys. I thought I’d done it last night – Other Emily came over to spend the night pre-move to Portland, so I made Jerk chicken and a sweet potato, tomato, and okra curry on rice fried with peas and parsley, and it was delicious and filling and then we had pudding. So, good night, and then I thought tonight I’d really give’r and we’d have something awesome and I’d bake bread, and then Nick turned the afternoon into a suckfest and made me listen to Metric, and the kitchen was disgusting, and we were hungry but too lazy to do dishes, and everything was dirty, so I had to get creative. Kind of. I did the sesame oil soy sauce thing again. But it works, so whatever. This is a variation.

Oh! About planning. We always have a freezer full of things we can use, and a bijillion things we can use for seasoning, marinades, and crap like that. And canned goods, and a few vegetables left over. Today, we had two potatoes, half a yam, and a bag of baby bok choy. And some pork tenderloin. So I barbecued the pork and the bok choy, because everything I could have used to cook either of these inside was dirty.

Grace, who is awesome, and who I’ve mentioned before, said once that anything tastes good when it’s marinated in a bit of soy sauce and ginger: this is correct. I tossed the bok choy in a bit of each, then a bit of sesame oil, and set the veg aside. For the pork, I mixed up:

  • 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic

I rubbed a bit of this onto the pork tenderloin before I threw it on the barbecue, and reserved the rest for later.

Pork on BBQ

I let it cook for about 12 minutes, because this was a small piece of meat, and I turned it once. The bok choy cooked for about seven minutes on the top rack.

Bok choy on BBQThe pork smelled amazing while it cooked.

Grilled meatToward the end of the pork’s cooking, I painted both sides with the rest of the marinade, because Nick was all, “I want saucy meat.” And I was like, “Of course you do, muffin.”

Here’s dinner:

Tasty!After that, we took our $20 and bought two bottles of terrible wine and biked down to Kits beach because Nick said we’d make out on the beach and be all romantic and shit, which is better than eating the rest of a five-pound bag of Mini Eggs on the couch while he watches another three hours of hockey. It was nice. The whole ride there, the air was fragrant with wood smoke and pink flowers, and I kept exclaiming, “seriously, why doesn’t everyone live here? It’s amazing!”And then when we got there, the beach was lovely and empty, except for the couple of geeks with guitars. We totally made out. Nick and I. Not me and the guitar people.

Now we’re back at home, surrounded once again by dishes, and Nick is trying to make me watch a Mastodon music video while I Internet it up and we finish the last of the wine, the one in with the sweet zebra-print label. So, romance is alive and well, kids. Don’t give up hope.

Dutch Babies: Good to Eat

Nick asked me the other night to tell him my favourite thing to eat. Choose one thing? Who am I to say that a beautifully roasted duck breast and a chewy, buttery lobster tail aren’t equally worthy, or that peanut butter cookies, wonton soup, Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, or beet carpaccio aren’t equal and each distinguished in their own right? I couldn’t pick one. But, if I had to pick a favourite thing to eat in the morning, it would be Toad in the Hole – Yorkshire pudding with sausages and onions baked in, all fluffy and crispy and meaty. Yorkshire pudding on its own is pretty fantastic.

So Nick got me thinking about my favourite things, and among my favourite things: Yorkshire pudding. Right. I believe we established that. A few weeks ago, we made a brunch date with two lovely friends, Aimee and Evani, and so while planning a mid-day stat-holiday feast, visions of puffed batter were dancing about in my head.

I had two savoury dishes on the menu already – tortilla with cucumber and avocado salsa, and “potato stuff,” which is a genius of a thing that comes from every kitchen of every person I’ve ever met’s mother (1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, 1 cup sour cream, 2 cups grated orange cheddar cheese – don’t use white, it turns out gross-looking, and most of a bag of hashbrowns, stirred together and baked covered in a Corningware dish for 30 minutes at 450°F).  So, no Toad.

Ooh! I forgot to mention – I bought some lovely fresh free-range happy-UBC-farm-chicken eggs the other day, so I had another reason to make something Yorkshire-puddingy.

Anyway, so I thought – why not add a bit of sugar and top them with a warm raspberry-lemon compote and way too much whipped cream? It turns out such a thing already exists and has a name (with or without any version or variation of the compote or anything else) – and it’s a fairly awesome name at that – who doesn’t love joking about eating babies?! “I can’t think of a better use for them!” “Hahaha!” Ahem. You want the recipe? Of course you do. It’s quite simple/excellent/fun to make fun of babies.

I scraped a little bit of vanilla bean into mine, because I have some (though, since Nick tossed the lid to the container during a mad clean-freak sweep of the kitchen, they may all dehydrate before long). You can use a teaspoon-or-so of vanilla extract if you’ve got it. Almond extract or a little maple syrup would also probably be quite tasty.

Dutch Babies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • Butter

Preheat your oven to 450°F. Butter six ramekins and place them on a baking sheet, and toss them into the oven.

In a single bowl, combine your flour, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. You used the butter to grease your ramekins, remember? Don’t worry. You won’t need it again. Work quickly, whipping everything together – make sure you don’t leave lumps. If your vanilla bean refuses to spread out and act normal, go in manually – use your fingers to separate the blobbies – that’s what they’ll look like: little black blobs, sort of like frogs’ eggs, but less gross.

When your batter is ready, pull the ramekins out of the oven and divvy the batter up between them. This recipe makes just enough for six. When the batter’s in, put it all back into the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. Monitor their cooking via the oven light: You are not allowed to open the oven door until they are done. They will go flat, and then your brunch guests will not be as impressed.

When they come out of the oven, don’t wait too long to serve them. Drizzle them with a bit of sauce, and serve with whipped cream. For my raspberry sauce, I used two cups of frozen raspberries and the zest and juice of one lemon, reduced until the mixture was thick and nearly jammy in texture – I started them in a pot over medium-low heat about an hour before I had to serve everything, and didn’t watch them too closely, just stirred them occasionally.

I was quite pleased with the way these turned out – I think the eggs were really what made them. The yolks were a fantastic golden colour, and imbued the Babies with a very springy yellow hue. I wish I had a camera to show you! I will get one soon, I promise. And then I’ll make them again, and post pictures, and you’ll be all, “wow, those are lovely. It’s a good thing she’s a baker and not a breeder, because her real life Dutch babies (well, half-Dutch, which is funny, because she’d totally have gone Dutch on the genes for those whippersnappers) would probably not be nearly as good-looking.”

I wonder if it’s necessary to mention that brunch means you can get drunk during the day without everyone shouting “ALCOHOLIC!” and pointing at you. Nap time!

UPDATE: Toad in the Hole is shown on This is why you’re fat. Goddamn it.

Mulled wine for Michael

Dear Michael:

I have heard that you want to soothe yourself into a stupor. You’re sick? This probably won’t cure it. But you’ll feel lovely, and you’ll probably sink into a warm, womb-like sleep. Well, womb-like if your mom was a drunk. So, probably better than the average womb experience. Ew. Now I’m picturing giant vats of womb wine. Screw you, Michael.

Ahem. Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of white wine. You can go cheap. I like a good bottle of $10 German Riesling.
  • 1 mickey of brandy
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 1 pear, quartered
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 slices of ginger (slice them across the root, to the thickness of quarters. The word of the day: QUARTERS.)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of water

Put everything but the brandy in a pot over medium heat. Heat slowly, and allow to simmer. Add the brandy, and continue to simmer, 5 to 7 minutes.

You may want to add water or sugar to dull or counteract the acidity, if your wine isn’t terribly sweet. Fidget with it until it’s as sweet as you like. Don’t allow it to boil – alcohol is manna. Don’t waste it.

Strain the liquid into a pitcher or bowl – you don’t want the fruits and stuff floating around in there. Drink. It makes a lot, so if it’s a work night, don’t drink it all by yourself.

Love,
Emily