Strawberry Salsa.

Berry salsa

 

My kitchen is sticky with berry mess, and it is wonderful. I have blended them into smoothies for breakfast, pureed and diced them for muffins for the toddler, and fantasized about weather reliable enough for a pavlova that drips with lemon curd and macerated berries. Strawberries are back! I am not cranky about anything today.

But we have a lot of them, because I never know how much is enough until I have too many. No math skills, this one. I still have frozen strawberries in the freezer from last year’s picking/buying binge. Who could say no to summer fruit after too many months of last autumn’s apples?! Impossible.

So, we do what we can with them, and we do everything with them, and tonight because we were having fried white fish, I decided to make a salsa of them; I am very happy to report that my total inability to calculate even the simplest thing has left me with an abundance of salsa – I will get to eat it later, while watching TV, with a big bowl of tortilla chips. Success, no matter how you do the math. Especially if you can wrangle someone else to scrub the sticky off the kitchen floor and counters.

If you don’t like cilantro, I’ve made this with basil and it’s equally good. Also I take the seeds out of the jalapeno peppers but leave the membrane, because I like this salsa just a little bit spicy.

Strawberry Salsa

  • 2 cups diced strawberries, in cubes of about 1/4″
  • 1 large avocado, diced the same
  • 1 large or 2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine, and let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge before serving. Serve over chicken, fish, grilled halloumi, or in a bowl on its own with all the chips you can eat.

More salsa

Roasted cauliflower soup.

Gloom.

This is the hardest part of the year to get through. I have no patience left – please, no more squash! I’m done with potatoes. And I have no kindness left in my heart for kale. Let’s have some asparagus, already!

Tossed.

Spring gave us a sneak preview last weekend, a single day of sunshine and warmth where I ran around with bare arms and ate a bahn mi sandwich in a park while the baby learned the pleasures of sliding and swing-sets. And then things went back to normal, and the sky turned grey, and it has been that way ever since.

This time of year feels like purgatory. Molly Waffles has been pacing the apartment and pressing her paws to the window, scratching at the glass. She is desperate to go outside, but there is a family of raccoons out there, and city raccoons are the size of adolescent black bears and she would be little more than an appetizer. I am similarly desperate for something new and different. Maybe that’s strawberries and pink wine in the sunshine, or maybe it’s something bigger? I will be 30 in 30 days, and I am starting to feel like I’ve been pacing around and scratching at windows, like it’s time to make a mad dash for whatever’s beyond here, whether that means outrunning city raccoons or something even scarier.

Roasted.

Or maybe the wet that seeps in through the holes in my boots has found its way into my bones and now there’s mildew in my bloodstream. Maybe this itch for something fresh is just impatience, because something really good – like peach season – is on its way. And maybe what I need isn’t so much an escape as a way to bide time. If that’s the case, then soup will drag us all through these last dark days before the sun brings back all the green things that make us feel alive.

Soup.

Fingers crossed, anyway. We’ll know better what’s out there for us once the sky clears.

Roasted cauliflower soup

(Serves 4.)

  • 1 small head of cauliflower (1 1/2 lbs)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup shredded aged white cheddar cheese (between 1/4 and 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Chop cauliflower and onion, and place in a large bowl with garlic cloves. Pour olive oil over top, mixing thoroughly with your hands so that all the pieces and bits are coated. Sprinkle with salt, and pour into an oven-safe pot – ideally one that will transfer from your oven to your stove-top.

Roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Stir halfway through cooking for even browning.

Remove from the oven to the stove-top, and add almonds, stock, lemon zest and juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over medium heat for ten to 15 minutes, until the almonds have softened. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or regular blender, then return to heat. Add cheese, stir, then add milk. Taste, adjusting seasoning as needed and thinning to your desired consistency with more stock or water.

 

Creamy garlic and white bean soup.

Dinner for two.

Nick and I have been talking lately about whether we might the “too much garlic” people. Is that a thing? When people leave here after a dinner party, do they talk in the elevator on the way down about my heavy hand and effluvious kitchen? Do they sniff their breath from behind cupped palms and cringe? Anytime I make a recipe from a cookbook, I double the amount of garlic the recipe calls for, at least. Sometimes I smell it on my skin and in my hair, and always on my breath.

Raw garlic.

There are people for whom there is such a thing as too much garlic, and those are the people I will never understand. I once absentmindedly cut a slice of bread using a knife I had used earlier in the evening to smash some cloves of garlic, and I put peanut butter on the bread, and when I noticed it tasted like garlicky peanut butter toast, I still ate it. Also I should wash things right after I use them, but whatever.

My parents get garlic from a friend of theirs who grows fat cloves of organic garlic in his backyard, and though I’m pretty sure they aren’t supposed to give it to me (this garlic is not meant for just anyone, I’ve heard), sometimes they do. The garlic is pungent and aggressive, and it is so fresh that even dried, the cloves do not pull easily from the bulb. The skins are thick and ruddy, more like parchment than the whisper-thin white skins on imported supermarket garlic. This is good shit, and I get it all year round. For free.

Beans and garlic.

You can buy local garlic at your Farmer’s Market, and sometimes places like Whole Foods have some good options as well. The white, delicate bulbs you get from the supermarket are usually imported all the way from China, so there’s no way to know how fresh they are. They are subdued, but they will do in a pinch. Less-garlicky garlic is far, far better than no garlic at all.

Simmering.

If on occasion you want to feature garlic beyond being heavy handed with your marinara sauce or whathaveyou, consider putting it in soup. An easy weeknight garlic soup will fill your kitchen with slow-simmered aromas and your mouth with a healthful, soothing richness. White beans add body to this dish, and herbs bundled together and removed at the end lend complexity without leaving visual evidence of having been there. This is peasant food, simple and straightforward and wholesome. To save time you can roast the garlic the night before, and your apartment will smell like a bistro some late night in Paris and there is nothing wrong with that.

Dinner.

Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches. In case that wasn’t obvious.

Creamy garlic soup

(Serves four.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 540mL/19 oz. can white beans, such as navy, white kidney, or great northern beans
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a small baking dish with two tablespoons of olive oil, roast whole garlic cloves for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and sweet-smelling.

Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, sauté onion with remaining oil until golden and lightly caramelized. Add beans, roasted garlic, and chicken or vegetable stock, and stir to combine. Bundle sage, parsley and bay leaf using kitchen twine, and pop into the pot. Simmer together for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove bundled herbs and discard. Puree soup using a blender or immersion blender. Taste, adding salt and pepper and adjusting seasonings as needed. Serve immediately, or simmer for an additional five to 1o minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved. Remove from heat and finish with cream, if desired.

Scraped clean.

Overnight pancakes.

MESS.

For the past two weeks, this household has been in the sick of things, each of us weighed down by an assortment of pains and ailments, from migraines and colds to flus and sinus infections. I wish I could say that I have taken charge of our healing by simmering wholesome and restorative meals rich in love and nutrients. That would have been nice of me.

Last Wednesday the sick was so bad I skipped lunch and napped under my desk for an hour. The next day I took a sick day, and by the weekend I was sure I was going to die. I begged Nick to smother me, and when he wouldn’t I chastised him for not taking advantage of the out I had offered him. I tried to smother myself but the cat thought we were playing a game and ruined it.

By Monday this past week I was certain I had cracked some teeth coughing, so I made a dental appointment. The good news is the teeth are fine; the bad news is my sinuses are pretty angry and infected. The worst news is that my wisdom teeth are pretty much one with my skull now but they have to be removed so it sounds like it’s bone-saw time. That’s the worst time!

2013 has not been off to a good start. And now that I have managed to attain a functional balance of NyQuil, antibiotics and codeine, the baby has finally succumbed and is fevered with a face full of ick.

It’s times like these when I can’t fathom coming down off my prescription and cough syrup high to go to the grocery store. We are out of eggs. And we had a late night. So somewhere between rescuing the little guy from a coughing fit and the two of us passing out in the dark, I whisked together some flour, water, yeast, honey and salt for pancake batter. If all three of us woke up in the morning, we would have pancakes. It would be a kind of reward.

Nighttime batter

 

Morning batter

This recipe makes 6 pancakes, and will serve between two and three people, depending on how hungry you are, or how much bacon your version of Nick decided to make. I like these topped with berries, or with chestnut cream. Because they are more like fried bread than flapjacks, you could take savoury liberties with them – try them with sour cream and apple sauce, or with cottage cheese and thinly sliced scallions, if that pleases you.

As a note – the berries on these were a mix of a pound of frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of cornstarch, a tablespoon of honey, and half a teaspoon of vanilla, simmered until the berries softened and released their juices and the whole thing thickened pleasingly.

Pretty pancakes.

Lazy pancakes

  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

30 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to cook, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.

Gently spoon your pancakes into the pan, taking care not to stir the batter. Cook until edges appear crispy and bubbles form through each cake, about two minutes. Flip, and cook an additional two minutes, or until golden and puffed.

Serve hot, with a compote of berries, or maple syrup, or sour cream and apple sauce.

Fluffy!

Sweet potato tortilla Española

Eggs

Thank you for all your breakfast advice! I have put it all into a Word document and bullet-listed it, and the document will serve as an extremely wordy shopping list. We’ve been eating a lot of leftovers, and Nick is very excited about the idea of breakfast cheese. He is less excited about leftovers, but he could get up early and make us both something to eat if he really has a problem with it.

He has yet to volunteer.

I’m even putting my Crock Pot to work. It’s still making breakfast slop, but at least the slop is different – I like this list of porridge recipes at SweetVeg (Hi! Thanks for the tip!), especially the overnight barley one (which also works for a blend of barley and farro with dates and cardamom).

Your advice has been super helpful. I have, literally, been eating it up.

I have been gradually learning to cope with morning food, but since starting this new job where my hours are much more flexible we have been eating wholesome homemade dinners a lot more often. Sure, I am up way too early and at the office at an ungodly hour, but I am home by 5:00! It is just enough time to start a load of laundry and savour a brief, perfect moment of silence alone with a magazine and no one wailing on the floor about the injustice of being told “no,” and then to start dinner.

Sweet potatoes in eggs

Tonight, dinner was a lot like a breakfast I might make if I had any zest for life in the grim hours before 8:00 a.m. I actually stole this recipe from my friend Paul who learned it when he lived in Spain, like the well-travelled bon vivant he most dapperly is. Well, I adapted it – his recipe uses regular potatoes, and no thyme. I always have sweet potatoes, and usually a hardy herb or two on hand, so it evolved to suit my fridge’s contents; feel free to use regular waxy potatoes and no herbs if you prefer. The best part about it is that we have just enough for breakfast! If I am very lucky, Nick will get up first* and reheat it for me so I can sleep a little bit longer.

Dinner.

*Dare to dream, no matter how impossible your dream may seem.

Sweet potato tortilla Española

(Serves 2 to 4; portions for 4 will be small.)

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, sliced thinly (1/4 inch)
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 4 tbsp. cup water
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

In a 9-inch pan over medium-high heat sauté the onion in two tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add potatoes, tossing to coat in oil and onion mixture, then add water and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking (and scorching).

Remove the sweet potatoes and onion from the pan and cool for 10 minutes or until there’s no more steam, and heat the broiler. Fish out the thyme sprig and discard it. Wipe out the pan.

Whisk together eggs, some salt and pepper, and heat another tablespoon of oil in the pan, tipping to coat the whole bottom. Mix the sweet potatoes into the eggs, pour the whole thing into the heated pan. Run a spatula along the sides every so often, and when the sides are golden, after five or six minutes, then shove it under the broiler until the centre sets and the top is golden. Another three minutes, maybe five, but leave the oven light on and check frequently.

Turn out onto a plate, and slice into six pieces. Serve with salad and pickles or olives.

A slice of tortilla with coleslaw and pickles.

 

 

Crafty macaroni and cheese

Crafty macaroni and cheese.

Sometimes you just want to eat the food you grew up with, the kind of stuff that hearkens back to a time when cheese was powdered and that was okay. Remember when Parmesan cheese came in its own plastic shaker and was shelf-stable? I think it was made of nylon.

I have always loved macaroni and cheese, and for most of my life macaroni and cheese was something that came in a box. It never would have occurred to me to make it from scratch until a few years ago. When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first “apartment” (translation: dank basement suite with limited natural light and a permanent damp smell), I was broke all the time and would maximize my calorie intake in the days before payday by cooking up a box of macaroni and cheese (remember when it cost less than a dollar?) and eating the whole thing super fast, then laying face-down on the couch, uncomfortable, to digest for the rest of the evening as though I were a snake that had just swallowed an antelope.

It was an attractive time.

It felt horrible, but it was oddly comforting. When I was a kid, even though we always had Costco cases of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard, it was a total treat, especially if you got it for dinner which almost never happened. I loved macaroni. And in my formative years, macaroni and cheese was always, ALWAYS orange.

Orange sauce.

When you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, it is mostly not orange, even when you use orange cheese. And while grown-up, from-scratch homemade white mac-and-cheese is extremely delicious, it is more like comfort food to me when it’s orange. But macaroni out of a box is the opposite of comfort food these days; when I eat it now, I feel … gross. But you know what’s orange? Carrots are! Also they are healthy, so you can pretend that’s why you’re using them.

Veggies.

This is a very simple dish, and I make it quite saucy so that I can add stuff if I feel like it – adding a 28 oz. can of hominy (drained and rinsed!) makes this kind of amazing – or so that I can plan ahead and have leftovers that reheat well. Add whatever you want – even chopped up hot dogs, if that’s what you like. I won’t judge. (How could I?)

Big pot of cheesy noodles.

Macaroni and cheese

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded aged white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Salt

Over high heat, bring carrots, onion and garlic to a boil in about two cups of water with a bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until carrots are soft, 15 to 2o minutes. Remove bay leaf, pour contents of pot into a blender, and blend. Set aside.

Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Add mustard, whisking again, then add the carrot mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, paprika and pepper and simmer – whisking occasionally – until thickened, four to six minutes. Add cheese, stirring to melt. Add cream, if you feel like it – not mandatory, but it gives the sauce a richer, silkier taste. Add any additions – such as hominy, cooked sausage, roasted veggies, or whatever. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add cooked macaroni, stir well to coat, and serve.

Also, if you live anywhere between West Van and Langley, enter this week’s giveaway! Not a ton of entrants, so your odds are good.

Into the pantry: Lentil Sloppy Joes

Vegetarian sloppy joes

Nick and I grew soggier in 2012, rounder and softer than ever before and at the end of it, we felt so tired. I can’t recall a vegetable in December that I didn’t eat coated in sauce, and every time I had a feeling I covered it in cheese and chased it with a handful of chocolate. So while we finished 2012 in a food coma, we’re starting 2o13 a little lighter.

I made a critical error in weighing myself the morning after an epic New Year’s Eve feast. (Never do that.) The sum of every bad choice I made this year is much higher than I’d anticipated, but that’s okay – it sets the bar for success this year lower. I have been fretting over what I am going to do with my life – 30 is fast approaching and good lord, what have I done? – but the weight-loss excuse buys time. “I had to lose 20 pounds!” I’ll say, and then maybe no one will notice that I still haven’t lived up to that potential people used to threaten me with.

If you are wondering what to do with your life, I suggest starting with a simple, hearty meal. Sloppy Joes remind (reminds?) me of meals on weeknights in a time when bad choices weren’t measured by weight, that I would always eat without fussing, and that would more often than not finish with a bowl of Neapolitan ice cream from a bucket (heavy on the strawberry for me, please) and maybe a drizzle of chocolate sauce. This grown-up version eschews meat and ketchup, but is no less satisfying … perhaps more so, because it’s delicious but not to the point of discomfort. 2013. We can do this.

Spices.

Lentil Sloppy Joes

  • 1 cup green, brown or French lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, finely minced (or whizzed until almost puréed in a food processor or blender)
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder, such as ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 x 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • Salt to taste

Simmer lentils and bay leaf in 2 cups of lightly salted water until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and rinse, then set aside. Discard bay leaf.

Meanwhile, cook celery, carrot, and onion in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat until glistening, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove lid, add garlic, and cook until the mixture is caramelized and reduced by two thirds, an additional 15 to 20 minutes. The longer you cook this, the sweeter it will get.

Mirepoix.

Caramelized.

Add mushrooms, and cook until moisture has mostly dissipated and the bottom of the pan is dry. Add spices, thyme and tomato paste, stir until combined, then add lentils. Add the cup of water and the apple cider vinegar and honey. Stir to combine, and cook until the mix begins to bubble. Serve over lightly toasted sourdough or buns.

Lentil sloppy joes.

Corn waffles.

Do you ever feel like someone just reached into your head and squished your brain like a giant stress ball, and that it’s taking forever to regain its shape? I’m all out of smarts. I barfed the last of them onto the table at today’s job interview and now I’m just sitting around, watching remixes of Gangnam Style on YouTube with my mouth hanging open.

The sorry sight of me in my pajamas looking lobotomized in the evening is becoming too common, and is the one drawback to the sudden increase in interviews I’ve had lately. I’m drained. The average hour-long job interview is preceded by at least eight hours of performance anxiety and trying to remember all the stuff I’ve ever done at work while wondering what compelled me to get this stupid haircut that I have no idea how to style.

The interview is then followed by five days of questioning, of wondering “WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” and doubting all of my life choices. I’ve gone through this eighty-thousand times since April. Was my mother right? Should I have learned a trade? Would I have owned a home by now?

Awkward first Internet dates might be less fraught.

To remedy the constant feeling of mental stupor, I’ve been dragging people into my dining room and forcing them to entertain me in exchange for food. This provides me with opportunities to do something that isn’t worrying, while also allowing Nick and I to interact with people who have verbal skills and whose pants we are not responsible for changing. (On the upside, I’ve been able to relate to the baby on an intellectual level lately. We both watched a Baby Einstein DVD all the way through without blinking today.)

This past week, with corn season underway and my friend Missy’s desire for fried chicken and waffles at an all-time high, we invited both Missy and Greg over for a weeknight dinner party and ate fried meat served on carbs and drizzled with maple syrup and hot sauce until we felt no more feelings but fullness. They talked and we laughed and everyone felt okay about life as we slumped onto the couches afterward.

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? The chicken, waffles, hot sauce, and syrup combo? It does here in Canada, because until recently that combo was only available to us through our TV screens via Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I promise you that it’s delicious. It works for reasons I am not even sure I can explain.

I mostly wanted to tell you about the waffles though. They have corn in them, and the kernels pop in your mouth as you bite down on them, and they’re sweet. Some people think corn is a vegetable, so a plate of waffles is practically a square meal (regardless of the shape of your waffle iron). Well, maybe not. But they’re quick and you can have them in the time it takes to complain about not knowing what to make for dinner. You’ll be back to watching PSY videos online in no time.

Corn waffles

(Serves three to four.)

  • 2 cobs corn (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup

Cut the corn from the cob. If you would prefer not to get it all over everywhere, cut the corn into a bowl. Once the kernels are off the cob, scrape the cobs with the knife to get any remaining kernel bits and corn juice into the bowl as well.

Sift the dry ingredients onto the corn kernels. In a separate bowl, whisk together the liquids. Stir the liquids into the dry/corn mixture and stir until no flour lumps remain.

Heat the waffle iron according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Spray the thing down with canola oil, top and bottom.

Pour batter into waffle iron, drop the lid, and cook until waffles have stopped steaming, and are golden and fluffy. Don’t lift the lid during cooking, or else they flatten out and get floppy.

Serve hot from the iron, doused in syrup. Or topped with chicken. Whatever gets you where you need to go.

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.

Kasha varnishkes.

I like clutter. I like my visual field to be jam-packed with stuff that sparkles or is brightly coloured or that I can look at and instantly conjure some memory of some time or place, whether real or fictional – I’m beginning to wonder how many of the things I remember actually happened and how many I invented or just read. In the recklessly unencumbered pre-baby era, Nick and I would spend many of our weekends flitting from brunch to thrift stores and flea markets, picking through piles of junk to find what we believed to be treasures. I once joked to my friend Dan that it wouldn’t be a big deal for us to move cross-country, as everything we own could be replaced in thrift stores when we got there. He agreed, which should probably be kind of insulting. I mean, some of our stuff is from Ikea, so it’s not all junk … right?

Among the beer steins and vintage “art,” one of my favourite things to discover among the rubble was cookbooks, especially the kind from the 70s and 80s with their deliciously terrible food styling and orange-tinged photography. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t buy the 1987 edition of Vogue Entertaining when I saw it at the VGH Thrift Shop for $13 – the jellied salads! The all-brown buffet of “Indian food!” The palm fronds in crystal vases! (Side note: That this is one of my biggest regrets speaks either to a total lack of ambition or a history of unapologetically not giving a shit. I can’t decide which is worse.)

One of my favourite cookbook finds to date came from the Cloverdale Flea Market, where we spent one sunny afternoon searching for more beer steins, kitten art, and light-up statues of Jesus. In a pile in the back of one man’s trailer, I found a collection of six paperback books on “international cuisine,” which continues to delight all these years later. My favourite is the book on Jewish cookery, which does not contain a recipe for matzo ball soup, but which boasts recipes for both Cantonese Chicken and Chicken Chow Mein.

Not knowing a lot about Jewish food, this book has been my introduction to a cuisine that only seems to get airtime in December and April. And while I have yet to follow a recipe to the letter, a few recipes have been jumping-off points. One of these, for kasha varnishkes, is an excellent (if not beautiful) dish (“delicious and nourishing beige noodle mush” is a pretty accurate description) that uses pantry staples for a cheap starch alternative.

Buckwheat is one of those super-healthy things you’re supposed to eat to lower cholesterol. It’s high in fibre, it’s cheap, and it’s quite tasty. And it has diverse applications – Food52 has a compiled a pretty thorough list. You can find roasted buckwheat groats, also known as kasha, at natural foods stores and Eastern European delis and groceries. Kasha varnishkes are lightly sweet, thanks to the onion and apple, and are best served alongside sausages or roast meats and pickles, or with veggies for a full and hearty meal. You can use vegetable stock to make it vegetarian-friendly.

Kasha varnishkes

(Serves four as a side-dish.)

  • 6 tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup roasted buckwheat groats
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 lb. small egg noodles, such as spaetzle
  • 2 cups chopped apple, diced to about 1/2″
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and stir in apples and onions. Cover, cook ten minutes, then remove lid and reduce heat to medium. Stir frequently for 20 to 30 minutes, until apples and onions have caramelized and shrunk down considerably.

Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of butter in a pot over medium-high heat. In a bowl, stir buckwheat and egg until thoroughly combined. Pour into pot, stirring to keep groats from sticking together. Keep stirring until egg is cooked and appears dry. Add garlic, then chicken stock. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is absorbed and groats are fluffy, about 15 minutes.

In another pot, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add noodles, and cook until just al denté (refer to cook time on package). Drain.

Stir cooked groats and drained pasta into the apple and onion mixture, add an additional tablespoon of butter, stirring to coat. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Stir in parsley, and serve immediately.