Maggi meatball soup.

Maggi meatball soup started out as “groentesoep met balletjes,” or Dutch vegetable soup with meatballs, which I guess it still kind of is? It kind of is. Maggi, the shorthand name for Maggi-Würze, is a sweet, soy-based seasoning sauce Dutch people (and not just Nick) use in abundance, whether a dish needs it or not. It’s actually a rather international thing – Maggi sauce spans continents, and is used everywhere from the Netherlands to the Philippines, from Germany to Pakistan. It’s sweet, very salty, and keeps forever without needing to be refrigerated, and it’s great for seasoning meatballs.

This soup is somewhere between Italian Wedding and plain old chicken soup, with soft, tender meatballs, noodles and veggies in a clear chicken broth. If you are like my mother-in-law, you would serve this with soft, buttered buns and thin slices of deli ham and Gouda; if you are like me, you will retrieve half a loaf of grocery store garlic bread from the depths of your freezer and then burn it under your broiler while you eat half a bag of pre-dinner chips and lose 15 minutes Googling Maggi’s origin story. If you are like my four-year-old, you will drown three handfuls of goldfish crackers in the broth and claim it is too hot to eat long after your small bowl of soup has gone cold.

Anyway, this is good with whatever you want to serve it with, but it’s best with soft white bread in some fashion.

IMG_1872Maggi meatball soup

Meatballs:

  • 1/2 lb. extra lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. Maggi seasoning sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Soup:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, quartered lengthwise and then chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

In a large bowl and using your hands, mush together meatball ingredients until well mixed. Form meatballs about half an inch (1.25 cm) in diameter; you should end up with about 40. Set these aside.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil, carrots, celery, shallot, and garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until colours have brightened and everything’s coated in oil. Add salt, curry powder, and the bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two, until the curry is fragrant and starting to stick a little bit to the bottom of the pot. Add stock.

Bring the pot of soup to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Drop the meatballs into the pot, stirring gently, and let these simmer for 10 minutes.

Add egg noodles,. and cook for another five minutes or until noodles are al denté.

Taste the soup. Adjust salt to taste. Add lemon juice, and parsley, remove the bay leaf, and then serve.

Gezellig, and a spot of mustard.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

January is always a month of catch-up, a chilly, cloudy month when all of a sudden the bills are bigger than you thought they’d be and the deadlines you ignored in December are here, now, with projects not as straightforward as you assumed they’d be when you hastily agreed to them during the holiday season’s drinky haze. January is uncomfortable, a time for confronting excesses of every kind, including enthusiasm. Which is why we need gezelligheid.

Gezellig” is a Dutch word that doesn’t really have an English translation. Similar, in ways, to the more well-known Danish concept of “hygge,” what it means, sort of, is something along the lines of warm coziness or comfortable happiness. Pouring yourself into a pair of fleece pajamas and slumping into a heap of blankets and pillows with a cup of milky tea and a book? Gezellig. The way your favourite café or bookstore or brewery glows warm and golden against the black dampness of a January evening? Gezellig. Thick socks and Wes Anderson movies and knit scarves and slow dancing and Rufus Wainwright and the way that vanilla sugar cookies make your kitchen smell as they bake? Gezellig.

A bowl of homemade soup in the yellow light of your dining room with a small person whose hands dimple when his fingers flex to tear a hunk of bread apart, and who pauses after every third bite to get up from his seat and hug you? Gezellig.

It’s the little things that, when taken in sum, are everything. It’s that feeling where you can’t imagine going anywhere, because why would you leave? Gezelligheid is the exact right thing to embrace when it’s January and you just can’t even with any of this other stuff.

The recipe that follows is for Dutch mustard soup, a thing that is wonderful in the way that Polish dill pickle soup is – until you try it, you won’t understand why it should even exist. Traditionally this is thickened with both flour or cornstarch and egg yolks. To make it just slightly healthier, I’ve replaced the flour with a potato and added a couple of extra yolks; the result is something between vichyssoise and avgolemono, but with mustard, and it’s delicious.

Mosterdsoep (Dutch mustard soup)

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 2 slices bacon, sliced into lardons
  • 2 cups sliced thinly sliced leek (from about two leeks, white and light green parts only)
  • 1/2 pound starchy potato, (such as Russet) peeled and diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard*
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow curry powder

In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat, brown bacon until crispy, about four minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pot and onto a plate lined with paper towel. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat; if less than two tablespoons remain, make up the difference with a bit of butter.

Add leeks and quickly stir to coat in the fat. Add the potato and garlic, and then the chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as you do. Add salt, and bring the liquid in the pot to a boil; reduce to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, curry powder, and two tablespoons of cold water. Set aside.

Remove the pot from the heat and purée using an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let this cool for about ten minutes, and, working in batches, blend until smooth in a regular blender.

Return the mixture to the heat and bring it all back up to a boil.

Remove the mixture from the heat, and, working quickly, pour the sour cream mixture into the pot in a thin stream while whisking constantly, so as not to allow the eggs to scramble. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed; you may not need to add additional salt, as mustard is generally salty enough on its own.

Serve topped with reserved bacon, a dollop of additional sour cream, Maggi seasoning (if you’ve got it), and chopped fresh chives or scallions. Crusty bread for sopping is essential.

*If you can find it, use Zaanse Molen Dutch mustard; if not, Maille’s Thick Country Mustard (or something like it) is a good substitution. In Canada, get President’s Choice Old Fashioned Dijon mustard at any Superstore or Loblaw’s – it’ll run you about two dollars. Can’t find any of these? Mix one tablespoon of grainy Dijon with one tablespoon of regular Dijon. 

Swarni’s tofu bhurji.

Between right now and the last time I posted here, I wrote 32 drafts of posts I either forgot about or decided were terrible and then sort of thought “whatever, I give up, I AM TERRIBLE,” and then ate my way into a new pants size. The timing of the new Adele record was ideal because it hit me right at peak-wallow, and let me tell you, you do not want to read the Hello-inspired blog post I considered somewhere around the third week of December.

(For your and Nick’s benefit, I ate every last one of those feelings, many of them on crackers and with glasses of very cold white wine.)

But things are looking up. I’ve reignited my relationship with MyFitnessPal, which means I – once again – have a handy, non-human place to direct my contempt. I haven’t eaten cheese in four days, which has been hard but necessary. And I got a few work-appropriate sweater-dress/leggings outfits for Christmas and they’re making the bloat a lot easier to hide in this lumpy post-holiday interim.

And I have a few new recipes, including this one from my lovely, wonderful friend Swarni whom I bother every day at work. Swarni is an essential member of the office potluck team, and a harsh critic of any Indian food brought into the office that isn’t up to her exacting standards. She brought a big dish of her tofu bhurji in for a holiday potluck in mid-December and it was so good that I spent the rest of last month haranguing her for the recipe.

I ended up adapting the recipe a little bit, as Swarni gets her spices ground fresh when she’s in India and so they’re more potent than mine; I also use a bit of turmeric for more of an eggy colour. It’s a very mild dish and good for children (even mine, praise Swarni!), but if you like things spicy, a little (or a lot of) hot sauce works well here.

Tofu bhurji is perfect for weeknights, and January when we have no money and pretty much just fridge scraps with which to feed ourselves. I’ve used butter here, but you could easily turn this vegan by simply replacing the butter with a bit of oil. It’s a bit like scrambled eggs, in the end, but with none of the fart taste that so often accompanies a poorly scrambled egg. It’s magic, and it’s not cheese which, just this once, is a very good thing.

Swarni’s Tofu Bhurji

(Makes two to four servings.)

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Madras or other yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 lb. (454 g) medium-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
  • Cilantro

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and stir together onion, jalapeño pepper, and ginger. Cook for about a minute, until the pepper brightens in colour, then reduce heat to medium-low. Stirring regularly, cook for seven to 10 minutes, until veggies have softened and turned golden.

Meanwhile, mash tofu with a potato masher, or use your hands to crumble it until it resembles curds of scrambled egg. Set aside.

Add tomato, garlic, curry powder, salt, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric to the pan and cook for another three to five minutes, until the liquid from the tomatoes has mostly disappeared and the contents of the pan resemble a soft paste.

Add frozen peas, and cook for another three to five minutes, until the water from the peas has mostly disappeared.

Add the tofu to the pan, and mix well. Partially cover the pan and cook for another five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. The pan should be mostly dry on the bottom, and the tofu should be evenly coated in spices.

Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with a blurp of your favourite hot sauce and rice or warm roti bread. Would even be good on toast, come to think of it.

And Happy New Year! I hope your 2016 is delicious and everything you hope and want and need it to be.

 

Taco fried rice.

The first time I ever heard about taco rice I didn’t have much information to go on other than “yeah, duh, that sounds amazing. I would like to have that now, please.”

As usual, I wasn’t entirely paying attention and when it came time to try making it for the first time, I missed a few essential details.

Taco rice is one of those magical, confusing dishes that results from a bunch of ideas all jumbled up and served on one plate. It’s origin is Japanese – Okinawan, specifically – with influence from a bunch of taco-craving American GIs based on the island. It came up in the most recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, and it was only then that I understood. Says Bourdain: “This unholy, greasy, starchy, probably really unhealthy delight, a booze-mop-turned-classic, caught on big time.”

Taco fried rice baseIn short, what I thought was taco rice was not taco rice at all. Taco rice is a layered thing – spiced, fried ground meat on top of white rice, with lettuce and tomatoes and cheese on top of that. Taco fried rice is unholy in its own way, the kind of thing you would make if you were drunk in your kitchen late at night, or if it was the 1950s. It’s exotic! Except it’s not.

It’s comfort food and you should be comfortable when you eat it.

So, here’s my misinterpretation of taco rice. What is authenticity anyway?

Taco fried rice

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and then diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups prepared salsa (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, celery, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, and corn until colours have brightened, about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies have just begun to soften.

Crumble the ground pork into the pan. Add chili powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, coriander, and oregano to the pan, and stir, breaking up the pork with a wooden spoon as you go. Cook for about five minutes, until pork is cooked through and the pan appears dry on the bottom.

Add soy sauce and rice vinegar, and stir to combine. Add rice. Stir again.

Add salsa, and stir. Cook for another three minutes, until most of the liquid in the pan has disappeared. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in cilantro and serve with accompaniments.

Taco fried rice with toppingsAccompaniments:

  • Shredded cabbage
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Diced avocado
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño peppers
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Cholula

EarthBites and Spaghetti alla Carbonara

atung

Last week, the folks from Rocky Mountain Flatbread, one of my favourite local pizza places (and a kid-friendly spot to boot!) invited me to sit in on a cooking class with Alex Tung, a Vancouver-based chef with international credentials and a flair for all things Italian. Given that it was a rainy Thursday and there were plates of pasta a chef would make for me while I watched, it didn’t take much convincing. Chef Tung made three dishes: a luscious pomodoro sauce over a fresh pasta he likened to Italian udon, a fregola dish with clams and fresh tomatoes, and Spaghettoni alla Carbonara, a version of which is described below.

The class was part of a fundraising initiative on behalf of EarthBites, a local program that teaches children in schools about food and nutrition. It’s an issue that’s timely and particularly pressing for urban kids who may not have access to gardens at home.

Every year, EarthBites goes into schools to teach thousands of kids how to grow and cook their own healthy meals. The children are instructed by a dedicated team of urban growers, nutritionists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about engaging children with the food they eat.

You can support EarthBites (and maybe learn something new!) by participating in one of their “watch and learn”-style cooking classes with local chefs, including Top Chef Canada contestant Dawn Doucette, and Chopped Canada winner Alana Peckham. Classes run through the fall; visit their website to learn more. I love getting a few chef-tested recipes to play with at home, so between that and the food and the cheffy banter, this was a winner for me.

To whet your palate, here’s a recipe for Spaghetti alla Carbonara from the class I took with Alex Tung (pictured above), an award-winning French-trained chef with a passion for Italian cooking. If you can’t find guanciale, available in Italian delis and specialty stores, use pancetta or bacon. If you can find smoked hog jowl, it’s comparable (but smoked, which guanciale is not), and generally a bit cheaper. In Vancouver, Buy Low Foods often has smoked hog jowl for around $3.50 per, which – at about a pound per piece – I generally can make work for two meals.

While we’re on the topic of kids and food, you might like to know that this dish was picky-eater approved. The kid practically inhaled it, and requested it for lunch the next day, even though he hates cheese and everything else that is savoury and delicious. Dear Alex, I love you.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

(Adapted from a recipe by Chef Alex Tung. Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1/2 lb. guanciale (or pancetta or bacon), diced
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 3 whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (slightly cheaper grana padano also works well here)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a large pan over medium heat, cook diced guanciale until crispy and until fat has rendered, three to ten minutes depending on the size of your dice.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Chef Tung insists that it must taste like sea water; he is right. Cook pasta according to package instructions, about seven to nine minutes until al dente. Between the salted pasta water, the pork and the cheese, it’s likely that you will not need to season the dish with any additional salt.

While your pork and pasta work their magic on your stove, beat eggs and egg yolks in a small bowl. Add cheese, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

If your guanciale cooks quicker than you expected, remove it from the heat but leave it in the pan to keep the rendered fat liquid.

When pasta is ready, scoop out about a cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot but do not return the pot to the stove. Add the guanciale and its rendered fat (like, all of it), stir, then add the egg mixture, stirring well and quickly. Stir in the water, about a quarter of a cup at a time, until the pasta is coated in an satiny sauce.

Taste. Does it need salt? Add salt.

Scoop the pasta into bowls, then sprinkle liberally with black pepper. Serve immediately.

Learn more about school programs and adult cooking classes at earthbites.ca.


EarthBites_logo_header_200This post wasn’t exactly sponsored, but I did get to take the cooking class for free. No one told me what to say, but I think the assumption was that I would say something good? I don’t know. Maybe no one should ever assume that of me. I can be a real jerk.

Hunger Awareness Week: Potato cakes with salmon and kale.

While you might imagine that the food bank is all about canned and boxed non-perishable goods, the reality is that 40 per cent of the food donated is fresh and frozen produce.

In Canada, 80 per cent of food banks provide at least one service above and beyond hampers and meals. In some communities, this can mean gardening programs or community kitchens, where people learn to cook and preserve what they harvest. These programs are empowering and sustainable, and engage young people and communities in the food system. If you’re not able to get to a store and buy food to donate, consider donating cash.

Funds donated to Food Banks Canada go a long way. Food Banks Canada and provincial and regional food banks form partnerships with retailers, local businesses and farmers, and are able to stretch their dollar considerably; the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society reports that every dollar donated is actually worth three dollars, which supports not just community programs, but also the purchase fresh produce and protein sources when they are most needed.

Today’s recipe combines fresh, in-season produce with canned salmon (rich in brain-boosting DHA) for a hearty meal that works as well for breakfast as it does for dinner. This is something you can mix up ahead of time; it’s also easily adapted to the leftovers you have in your fridge. It uses kale, because kale grows like weeds and it’s hardy enough to live in your fridge for a few days while you use up other things.

Potato cakes with salmon and kale

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1 lb. red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh kale, stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7.5-oz. (213 mL) can salmon, drained
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large pot of salted water, bring diced red potatoes to a boil (make sure to leave their skins on!) and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Add kale, and then garlic. Toss to coat kale in oil.

Drain the potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour reserved liquid into the pan with the kale, and cook, stirring frequently until water evaporates and kale has wilted, another minute or so.

Pour kale and potatoes into a large bowl. Mash, then set aside to cool enough to continue, about 15 minutes.

Add salmon in chunks, removing bones. Add mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add eggs. Mush the whole mixture together until thoroughly combined, then form into eight cakes.

Cakes!Working in batches, fry over medium-high heat, about two minutes per side. Place cooked cakes in a pie plate and keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Serve cakes with boiled or steamed vegetables or a garden salad, and a glob of mustard for dipping.

Hunger Awareness Week: Whole grain pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce.

A well-stocked pantry has saved my butt on more occasions than I can count. Being able to open a cupboard and see a few simple things that could equal dinner is something I don’t take for granted – it’s a reassuring thing, and a luxury for many. Whether it’s because payday is too far away or I’m just too lazy to get to the market over the weekend, pantry meals warm my home and filled my belly most weeks, and have for my whole life.

When choosing non-perishable items to donate to the food bank, try to select nutritious items to fill the pantries of those with diverse dietary needs.

  • Fifty per cent of food bank users are families, including children; consider donating kid-friendly items like granola bars, breakfast items like oatmeal or other hot cereals, sugar-free applesauce, or peanut- or gluten-free items for school lunches.
  • If 20 per cent of people who use the food bank are seniors, consider seniors’ health issues (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension): select low-sodium canned goods, low-sugar or sugar-free canned or pureed fruits, lean proteins including peanut butter and legumes, whole grain and gluten-free pastas, and high-fibre grains and cereals.
  • For families with babies and young children, consider donating baby food, infant formula, or diapers in a range of sizes (not just newborn). Nursing mums need nutrition too – fortified cereals, canned fish (especially sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel), low-sodium canned soups and stews, and parboiled grains can be beneficial, especially for parents who are pressed for time.

Pasta with caramelized tomato sauce and garlic.A pantry with a few staples you’ll use again and again can go a long way to making you feel secure. Today’s recipe is an easy one – it’s comprised of stuff you probably already have, and it’s hearty enough to feed a family of four to a comfortable degree of fullness. It’s kid-friendly, at least at my table. It’s also suitable for people with diabetes, and it reheats well for lunch at work the next day.

Whole wheat pasta with chickpeas and caramelized tomato sauce

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1 lb. whole-wheat or other whole-grain pasta, such as penne or rotini
  • 19-oz. (540 mL) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flakes (optional)
  • 5.5-oz. (128 mL) can low-sodium tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley to garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add pasta. Cook according to package instructions, about 11 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook for two minutes, until just translucent. Add chili flakes (if using) and garlic. Cook until onions and garlic have just turned golden, another three minutes. Add tomato paste. Stir constantly to keep the paste moving around the pan and cook until colour deepens and butter seems to have disappeared, four to six minutes.

Before draining the pasta, reserve about two cups of cooking water. Drain pasta, and add pasta and chickpeas to the pan. Stir, then add water half a cup at a time until sauce has loosened and coats the noodles thoroughly. Taste, adjusting seasonings as desired. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Hunger Awareness Week: Rice and lentil pilaf.

It’s funny how we think about poverty, and how we distance ourselves from it in reassuring ways. It’s a thing that happens to other people, and it is complicated. Maybe it’s because of their choices, we reason. As if we have made the right choices. (I, personally, am an expert in making questionable choices.) It’s a thing that happens to other people, not to us.

Not to us. But a third of us are still living paycheque-to-paycheque, at least in Canada; in the US, the numbers are even higher. According to Food Banks Canada, one in six people who access the food bank are currently employed, or have been recently. Sixty-four per cent of people who need the food bank are paying market rent. In Vancouver, nearly 20 per cent of those who need the food bank in a given week are seniors.

It could totally happen to us, to quite a few of us.

September 21 to 25 is Hunger Awareness Week in Canada. According to Food Banks Canada, “Hunger Awareness Week is about raising awareness of the solvable problem of hunger in Canada.”

Hunger in Canada exists because deep and persistent poverty continues in the country. For more than a decade, diverse and inter-related factors have sustained this situation: a labour market that fails to provide enough jobs with stable, livable wages; a rise in precarious and non-standard employment; a fraying income security system that does not provide sufficient financial support for those in need; a lack of affordable, social housing; and accessible and affordable child care. (Source: hungerawarenessweek.ca)

During Hunger Awareness Week, organizations across Canada have come together to raise awareness about the realities of poverty and the people who need food banks most. One of the major goals of this campaign is to dispel some of the myths around who accesses food banks and why. This is essential, because we’re never going to truly tackle hunger and poverty and inequality if we don’t see ourselves as part of it.

It’s not a stretch to see yourself moving from broke to poor. I can see it from here, just on the other side of some accident or emergency.

Food security is an issue that’s important to me, and so I’m spending the week highlighting a few simple, nutritious recipes a person could make to feed a family using some typical food bank staples. I’ll use the platform I have here to support the campaign, share my tips for stretching your budget and making donations anytime of year, and hopefully you’ll get a few budget-friendly recipes you can enjoy anytime, whether you need them or not.

What follows is a recipe for rice and lentil pilaf, a weeknight-friendly gluten-free vegetarian dish that’s easily made vegan. It’s good (and filling) on its own, or as a side for roasted veggies or sausages or pork chops, or as an alternative to stuffing for those who don’t do gluten. It tastes a bit like stuffing, because it’s meant to be comfort food. I serve this with beet pickles.

Rice and lentil pilaf with apple and mushrooms

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium apple, cored and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed
  • Celery leaves, for garnish

In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, apple, and celery, and saute until fragrant and until onions are translucent, about three minutes.

Add garlic and mushrooms. Cook for another three to five minutes, until the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid. Add salt, sage, thyme, and pepper, and cook for one more minute, stirring to coat the veggies in the herbs.

Add rice and lentils. Add four cups of water (use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer), and bring to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes.

Let rest, covered, for five minutes before serving. Garnish with celery leaves.

Three ingredient Nutella “ice cream” bars.

pops
Smoke over the highway. Weird red sun.You can expect that it will rain here; it always does, sometimes for weeks on end. It hasn’t rained in a long time though, and forests are burning all over the province and the smoke has blanketed the city and surrounding areas, drifting across the mountains and over the prairies, making it as far east as Toronto, allegedly.

Even NASA has noticed.

Every time I see someone with a lit cigarette I think about following them to make sure they don’t toss the butt into the grass, which is basically just thin kindling now. We’re in a drought, officially, though that’s been obvious for a while. There was no snow on the mountains this year.

It’s weird. It’s hot. Everyone’s weather app is saying “smoke” instead of sun or clouds. All the lawns are dead and the leaves in the tree outside my living room window are crisp and brown. The sidewalks are like flypaper, sticky with aphid goop from the trees that drifts through the air like dew would if there was any.

Creepy yellow sky; smoke cover.You can’t blame a kid for only wanting watermelon, or ice cream. I mean, I’m right there with him, but at some point you have to be a role model. Or whatever. Or, at the very least, you have to look seriously at your budget and think about whether or not you can sustain a box-a-day habit of Fudgsicles for however long this summer will last.

This recipe is easy, and you can make it in a heat wave. It’s just overripe bananas, yogurt with a generous percentage of milk fat (I like Liberté or Krema, depending on what’s on sale), and a big glob of Nutella, which in this weather is practically liquid. You throw it in a blender, and then pour it into ice pop molds, and then you wait. No cooking, and not the worst thing for you if you’ve been living primarily on gin slurpees and handfuls of berries.

Nutella “ice cream” bars

Makes 6 to 8 pops, depending on the size of your molds.

  • 1 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
  • 3 medium over-ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup Nutella

Pour all ingredients into a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze, minimum six hours or overnight.

To remove from the molds, run a little hot water over the base of the mold to loosen.

 

Medias de seda.

Pinky drinks.The weather warnings are already in effect, and I’m kicking us for not buying that goddamned air conditioner when we saw it on sale last December. It’s going to be a hot one they say, a scorcher! It’s already hot.

Summer struck the west coast before it struck a lot of places – we’re running out of berries during what would otherwise be the beginning of berry season. Cats everywhere have been wilting for weeks. Last week a pigeon flew into our apartment through one of the wide-open windows and I thought we’d have to leave everything behind and move. And the air outside is all flowers and barbecue smoke and cigarettes and wet concrete, and my neighbours on this busy apartment block are stripping down, nude or nearly nude flesh visible in every uncovered window. It would all be very sexy if I was younger, or if I had that air conditioner.

The feeling of my skin on my skin is, at times, unbearable. Now is not the time to talk about berry smoothies or fresh-pressed juice. Oh, it’s blender-drink time, to be sure, but I’m not longing for some ascetic mix of ice and fibre that’s not going to take me anywhere.

Gin me, is what I’m saying. And I don’t even really like gin.

(There was a summer, and there were four friends from high school and boys from somewhere else and Cultus Lake and gin and the feeling that I was going to live forever followed very quickly by the feeling that I was going to die of gin poisoning and my parents would have to come pick me up from an unmarked spot off a logging road where a boy named Monty who had nipple rings would have had to explain everything. In summary, gin and I have some history.)

These are sticky, sweaty times and times like these call for cold, sweet drinks. I’ve told you about my lazy go-to, my shameful sangria, but this new thing is even better. It’s called medias de seda, and it tastes like some vague memory I can’t place, a little like vanilla and malted milk and something else. It’s sweet and creamy and just the right shade of pink.

My parents brought this cocktail back from Mexico, from Puerto Vallarta maybe, and it’s as decadent as a milkshake and just as pink. I guess it kind of is a milkshake, but a very adult kind of milkshake and if you are lucky someone else will make it for you while you dip your feet into a pool of cold water. It could be a pool like you might find in Puerto Vallarta, or it could be a turtle-shaped kiddie pool filled with hose water and your naked toddler and several dozen bath toys in your parents’ back yard; the important thing is that you make this drink your excuse to sit and cool off. My dad tinkered with the recipe so that it serves two, probably to sedate my mom and me at the same time.

Here’s to your hot, sticky summer. Gin you.

Medias de seda

Serves 2.

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. creme de cacao
  • 3/4 oz. grenadine
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 1/2 oz. light cream or half-and-half

Combine gin, creme de cacao, grenadine and ice cubes in a blender and blend until smooth. Add cream or half-and-half, and blend until combined. Divide evenly between two glasses. Marvel that this is kind of like an Orange Julius. But like, with gin. A Gin Julius! Repeat yourself in case no one heard you. Find yourself hilarious while you cool your overheated body in a patch of shade with your feet in some cold water.

Drink selfie because drinks.