Picking a winner.

There was supposed to be a recipe to go with this post, and I had intended to make something really fresh and springy – I even bought the groceries. But then a day’s worth of errands and distractions got in the way, including a trip to the mini-spa near my place to get my eyebrows done so I look slightly less unkempt for my job interview tomorrow. The lady with the brow wax thought my eyebrows looked a little pale (maybe they’re not feeling well?) so she said she’d tint them for me, and now I look like a sinister Muppet and I’m sulking. So there is nothing special to report on the topic of tonight’s dinner.

But that’s okay. Because reading and re-reading your answers to the question of what is the best thing you’ve ever eaten, grown, or made has been more delightful than anything I might have cobbled together tonight. Warm tomatoes and summer berries plucked fresh from the gardens and wild bushes of your past, bread and gingerbread you made yourself, your magical first Hollandaise sauce, marmalade and strawberry jam, meat pies and tarts and sausage rolls, Chicken Tikka Masala, and the best hot chocolate or buttermilk fried chicken ever – we would have the best potluck dinner party, you know.

And I’m glad I decided to pick a winner at random, because you didn’t just tell me what you ate, but why, and even when, and your stories were wonderful and I couldn’t just pick a favourite, not like that. So the winner is Elina, who’s name I pulled out of Nick’s grubby green hat.

Elina, send me your mailing address and I’ll ship the book off to you. You can email me at emily (dot) wight (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks again for participating! We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming once the intensity of my new eyebrow colour fades and I get myself to the market.



New soil to till.

I was tossing sizzling olives, garlic, and chilies in a hot pan at the stove when the phone rang last night. Nick handed it to me, and I jabbered on for a few minutes, squealing intermittently and so excitedly that Nick and his brother-in-law, Nathan, were certain something amazing must have happened.

“Did they offer you that job?” Nathan asked, as I had an interview recently that I thought went not too badly.

“Did we get into that co-op?” Nick asked, as we were told we’d have an interview for a place in Chinatown that’d cost half what we’re currently paying for rent each month.

“No,” I said, “and no. We DID get a community garden plot, though, over on sixth – aren’t you so excited?!”

And I was very excited, and while they both claimed to be very happy for me, I think they underestimated how riled up I can get, especially about little things like a plot of dirt beside an abandoned train track. They ought to know by now I’d be downright screechy about the job or the co-op – the subtle difference between sound-effects is very important.

Anyway. Last summer, the lady who gave us a spot in her yard let us know she’d be moving, and so we’d be losing our plot. I never got to see my butternut squash mature, as she moved away before the last harvest of the fall. I had gotten us on a waiting list for a few community gardens, but was told there would likely be no spaces in 2012 and so had fallen into a bit of a sulk, as one does.

And then, just like that, someone gave up his space, and this morning I signed a contract and promised not to be negligent and abandon my plot to the weeds. So we have a garden – and it is beautiful in the way I imagined The Secret Garden was when I read the book as a child – and there will be picnics there. There are communal lettuces, berries, rhubarb, and flowers, and birdhouses containing chickadees and bushtits (which made me laugh through my nose because I am, like, nine). Our plot is in need of some work, but all the tools are there for us and it’s already been given its allotment of fresh compost.

Now we just have to figure out what we’ll grow. Of course we will have radishes, and as many as possible. But what else? What seeds would you suggest to a pair of would-be gardeners on the west coast who want a high probability of success and do not desire a challenge?

Giving away The Homemade Pantry

When I grow up, I want to live high on a cliff in a little house with a red door, with the city close enough to bike to, with green and beach everywhere. There will be maple trees that turn bright orange and red in fall, and baby goats on my house’s grass roof. Nick will hunt in the forest and fish the water, and I will pick clams out of the sand and plant radishes in the garden and write stories from my breakfast nook. We will have kittens and teacup pigs and golden retrievers. There will be dinner parties every Saturday and long picnic lunches with pink wine that last until dusk every Sunday. When you come to visit we will drink hot tea and cold cider, and eat the bread I made fresh that morning with homemade ricotta and jam made from the blackberries that grow on the path down the hill to the shore.

I am a long way away from this, but it’s nice to fantasize and I often let my mind wander. Especially on days like today, where I misjudge the weather and wear sparkly ballet flats and capri pants when galoshes and a raincoat would have been a wiser choice and I come home with wet feet and make-up that’s traveled to all the wrong parts of my face. (When I grow up, I will know to buy waterproof mascara.) Especially this week, when it seems like I could do anything, because suddenly I am unemployed and don’t have any place to be.

There is a blog I like to visit, and it’s written by a charming woman from the type of verdant place I’d like to someday live. I’ve followed it for years now, since she first said hello to me. She writes about grand adventures and everyday ephemera, and the way she writes makes me feel like I am there with her in her kitchen, sitting at her table, nibbling warm pastries filled with homemade jam. And while I am always trying to write a book, she has actually gone and done it. Alana is who I want to be when I grow up.

The Homemade Pantry is a wonderful book, eloquent and beautiful, and it’s filled with recipes for things you can absolutely make but always just buy. Why not fill your freezer with homemade toaster pastries and wholesome chicken nuggets, and why not make your own mustard, butter, tea, vanilla extract, or crackers? These are all things any of us can make with things we already have in our kitchens and just a quiet weekend afternoon or weekday morning.

I want to give you this book. Well, one of you. I would give it to everyone but even in my grown-up fantasy I don’t have a lot of money. (This is something I should amend for future daydreams, maybe.)

Leave me a comment below and tell me a little story about the best thing you’ve ever eaten, made, or grown. On the evening of May 2, I’ll put the names in a hat and pick a winner at random. I’ll mail it anywhere, so it doesn’t matter where you’re from.

I’m really looking forward to sharing The Homemade Pantry with you!


I usually don’t do this, but Ethel the Dean is a good friend and when she suggests something, I go along with it. Also it’s my birthday so I’m feeling indulgent, so indulge me, won’t you? Even though I have to wonder who would want to know seven things about me – are there even that many that are interesting? My list of phobias is longer than that and I’ll bet no one wants to know the details about my self-destructive lavatory-specific neuroses. Suffice it to say I am very uncomfortable with camping. So instead, let’s talk dishes.

Seven dishes that I have enjoyed and hope you will enjoy too.

1. Momofuku Bo Ssam

I’ll admit to having what started as a culinary crush on David Chang … let’s just say that it has evolved with each Momofuku recipe I’ve made. This pork cooks so long and so low that when it comes out of the oven, it has the structural integrity of room-temperature butter. And that is such a good thing.

2. Pok Pok’s fish sauce chicken wings

You like honey garlic wings? Never make them again. Make these instead.

3. Martin Picard’s duck fat pancakes

There is really no excuse for these except that I sometimes have duck fat left over from roasting a bird and tend to feel extremely decadent on those Sundays we don’t go to my or Nick’s parents’. If you have leftover pork (see Bo Ssam, above), layer it between these pancakes and drizzle too much Canadian maple syrup over top. You will probably feel the heaviness of each beat of your heart for two to three days after, but it will be worth it, and you will feel alive, even if your lifespan is now three years shorter.

4. Vanilla roasted berries

I make these over and over again all winter long. Have you ever tried that coconut milk ice cream? It’s vegan and probably better for you than most of the things on this list; roast strawberries, and put them on that. Luscious.

5. Francis Lam’s ratatouille

This is probably the best ratatouille I have ever made. I make huge batches in September and early October and freeze it, and it reheats beautifully. It takes forever, but it is absolutely worth it. In the dark days of February, this dish thawed and reheated and served over cheesy polenta with crusty bread is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

6. Pork meatball bahn mi

Nick prefers sandwiches to just about every other category of food. His favourite are pork bahn mi, which we get from Ba Le on Fraser and Kingsway, where they cost $3.75 and come served on fresh-made baguettes. At home, this is his favourite version of a Vietnamese sandwich. We eat these while watching No Reservations and imagining a life of leisure on the shore of some Southeast Asian country we can’t afford to fly to.

7. Scallion pancakes

I just really like pancakes, you guys. These are good.

Unrelated self-promotion.

For an ongoing list of stuff I want to make or eat or buy, you can follow my ish on Pinterest. Also I have a Facebook page now too. You know. In case you’re over there and want to hang out or whatever. And as always, there is Twitter, which is where I forget myself and Tweet whatever pops into my head regardless of how embarrassing it is.

Twenty-nine. Weird.

It’s “Say something nice on the Internet Day.”

I like a lot of people from the Internet but I only had 8.5"x11" and I drew all those hearts, some of which now seem superfluous. Also my face looks like a melon here.

I come from the Anthony Bourdain school of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, make it witty.” I can be deliberately contrary, especially when I’m bored. Is it possible to be charmingly obstinate? In retrospect, probably not.

These are character flaws (or not, if you’re laughing), but they are traits that do not have malice behind them. I’m sarcastic, but I’m not mean. I think I’m funny, but I genuinely feel bad if I’ve hurt your feelings. I try never to do that. There’s a line between wit (even scathing wit) and outright assholery, and if I occasionally cross it I will be awkwardly apologetic and uncomfortable in my skin until you say it’s all okay.

But that line is blurry on the Internet, and strangers can be awful to each other. Anonymity makes beasts of people who might otherwise be nice humans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the comment sections of blogs and news sites, anywhere where an opinion is offered up for debate. I have been fairly lucky – this place seems to mostly attract good people. But there are a lot of meanies out there who seem bent on just pooping all over everything.

So today, given that it’s Say Something Nice on the Internet Day, I’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to tell you that your stories are interesting, and your perspective is important, and that no amount of online snark should keep you from telling the world what you have to say, whether that’s “OMG SAMMICHES!” or “These pretzels are making me thirsty!” or  “I fed my baby gravy and he liked it!”

Rather than argue with each other (“You fed your baby GRAVY? The only right answer is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 12 years or you hate your child. He is always going to know instinctively how you’ve failed him.”) or criticize each other (“Nobody cares what you had for lunch! And there is no M in SANDWICHES.”), let’s just support each other. There will always be someone out there to whom our stories are interesting. That anyone talks to me ever is testament to that.

I was lucky to spend most Fridays during my grandmother’s last years sitting at her kitchen table. She had a colourful personality and a salty tongue, and when we spent time together she would talk and tell me how things used to be and how I ought to do them going forward. She had read everything and she is still one of the smartest people I’ve known. She would tell and retell the bits and pieces that made up her more than 70 years. To her they were just snippets, ephemera that applied here and there to whatever the subject was at the time. But to me, they formed a narrative that spans a lifetime, and she lives on in every funny story I tell about her. Someday I will write them all down, and then she will live forever.

So forget those jerks who don’t have anything nice to say. Leave comments when you’ve enjoyed reading something somewhere. And tell your stories. I promise you that someone out there will really enjoy them.

Merry Christmas!

‘Tis the night before Christmas, or, more accurately, the early morning of, and the cat and I are the only ones here stirring. I hear the rattle of paper on poorly wrapped gifts under the tree, and Molly hopping in and out between the branches. I hear the ornaments jingle as her tail flicks and flits, and the occasional soft “mew” as she reminds me that she has chosen my company over that of those warm, sleeping bodies in the room down the hall.

I should be sleeping. If I were smart, I would be – this is our busiest weekend of the year, and we have got to be at our best for these long days. There will be marathon meals and endless wine and rum drinks, and staying awake will be mandatory for most of it. Someone will have to watch the baby.

But it is my Christmas too, and I like being alone, puttering away in my kitchen, making something wonderful. If that has to happen well after midnight, then I’ll take it as it comes (with chilled vodka and a whisper of  Meyer lemon).

Time for myself and time with my knives and pots and stove has been hard to come by these past few months, which I suppose is to be expected with a newborn, though I don’t like being defeated so easily. I have taken to buying challenging ingredients just to have on hand in case a burst of energy lines up with a wide enough window of time. Last night I braised goat ribs. Tonight I am waiting on pork belly.

Christmas morning belongs to Nick and I, and for the past three years I have made something special for the occasion. This year I’m making David Chang’s pork belly buns, from the Momofuku cookbook. You can find the recipe online at Epicurious as well.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll sip chilled prosecco and assemble sandwiches of tender slices of pork belly on steamed buns with cold cucumber, hoisin sauce, and pickled red onions. Right now, the aromas of pork and vinegar and spices and yeast have taken over the apartment, overpowering the smells of cookies and cranberry-scented candles that lingered here before. These are my sugarplums. The meat is sizzling in its slowly rendered fat, turning golden in a burst of high heat. So this is Christmas.

So Merry Christmas. I hope that you find a moment today to enjoy your favourite sort of magic, and that you get to do a little bit of what you want to do. If you can find a few minutes for a sip of sparkly wine and a sandwich, all the better.

Season’s Greetings, and I look forward to being in the kitchen more often and spending more time with you here. Maybe even in daylight.

Well, hello.

No recipe today, but how about an introduction instead?

His name is Hunter, and he was born last Wednesday. After a bit of a rough start – we had a little scare after his blood work came back with the suggestion of a bacterial infection, but all appears to be well now – we were able to bring him home from the hospital today.

We are just getting to know him, but he seems to take after Nick for the most part; he’s a good sleeper, and pretty mellow. The only thing that fazes him is hunger, and that is where I see myself – he is impatient and hangry, and when it is mealtime he loses his composure and a lot of his charm. I imagine that this is a kind of payback for all the times I was a bad date or ruined an evening because the food just didn’t come fast enough. Also he has my nose, which I always thought would look better on a boy.

The cat is not sure about this. I keep telling her he is a people kitten and that she will get used to having a brother. Maybe she will.

So, anyway. We’re spending the next little while trying to figure out what to do about babies, but all will be back to normal around here pretty soon. Maybe a new normal, but the food will resume as usual just as soon as I have my bearings.

A perfect day for pickle-making.

Today we made 47 jars of pickles with Nick’s sister and brother-in-law. I haven’t had homemade pickles since my grandmother made them – it’s been too many years. And I hadn’t made them in the meantime because they are a lot of work, and because I had somehow elevated pickle-making to an “I’m a grown-up!” status symbol and I hadn’t felt competent enough with my canning pot to do that yet.

We brought home 12 jars of pickles, which should just about get me through the year if Nick only has one per jar.

This feels like an achievement, especially after buying so many disappointing jars of commercial dill pickles for so many years. I am crossing “make pickles!” off my life’s to-do list, and making plans for next year’s batch.

This was a pretty thrilling sight. I don’t think I would have enjoyed doing it alone, but four people made quick work of 40 pounds of pickling cukes – we took the afternoon, and there was plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and a bowl of ice cream afterward. It was easier than I thought it would be, and I recommend you try it, especially with an eager group to help.

Nature hates me, and the feeling might be mutual.

“Oh, shit,” Nick said, pushing his way through the overgrown ferns and thorny outstretched branches of the rose bush. “This is going to suck.”

And suck it did.

Between all our weekends of busyness and the rain and mist and sporadic bursts of sunshine over the past month, the garden went from a meager plot filled with potential to an unwieldy mess of weeds and despair.

The last time we’d been by to weed, the garlic was going strong and radishes had just begun to sprout, and there were early signs of turnips and maybe chard. In not long at all, the radishes went to seed and turned out to be inedible, and the only things that survived are the turnips, the garlic, three purple kholrabi plants, and two struggling carrots. There might be a beet or two sprouting, but it doesn’t look good.

Nick said his best swears as he yanked unidentifiable greenery out from among our withering crops, and I made him promise we’d come back next Friday with seeds and maybe a few pepper or tomato plants and try to recoup some of our losses. He grunted something incoherent and asked for the bottle of water I’d just finished. It’s not too late to try again, is it?

This gardening stuff does not get easier just because you have a year of it behind you. Sure, we planted deep enough and far enough apart, and early enough in the season. There’s more to it, apparently, like regular supervision and a lot of bending over and pulling. I assume that by next year we’ll be experts, as it turns out we’ve still got a whole bunch of that pain-in-the-ass learning to do.

Next year.



Oh! Pretty!

It’s a very good day when I arrive home to find elegant gift bags stuffed with individually wrapped homemade baked goods.

I suppose that’s stating the obvious. But it’s true, because a gift of baked goods is a gift just for me, because Nick can’t sneak bites when I’m not looking or, as I’ve convinced him to believe, he will lapse into a diabetic coma and die before ever finishing his video game or seeing the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Marriage has given me a chance to really shine.

The cookies are from my friend Amber (pictured in this post here), who lives in Victoria which is inconvenient as she is all kinds of fun (especially as a shopping buddy) and a highly skilled baker – I would like to see her more. Someone needs to give her a donation to start up a bakery, as you can clearly see (preferably a tall, olive-skinned benefactor with his own plane and a villa in Provence). She has endless patience and apparently a fabulous collection of cookie cutters. And she has excellent timing, as I have been wanting homemade cookies but not wanting to make them myself. When I bit into these I discovered that they’re better than I can make anyway.

Thanks, Amber! The lobster is my favourite, but I am going to eat him last.