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.

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

In our early twenties, my friend Theresa and I shared a basement suite east of Commercial Drive and a tendency towards excess. It was a dark, damp little place last renovated in the early eighties by someone with a preference for shades of brown, but it was cheap and close enough to public transit and places we liked to go. The living room wall featured a cutout with a long fluorescent tube light at the top that was probably meant for displaying art, but it had a ledge just wide enough for a single liquor bottle, and long enough for maybe thirty.

We wheeled an old TV stand in next to the bar and stocked it with shakers and shot glasses and swizzle sticks and hula dancer figurines and felt pretty good about our lives. The kitchen had a place to hang stemware, and we filled it with our mismatched collection of cups and glasses. Every evening after work we’d have cocktails, the alcohol equivalent to swamp water, and we’d feel like fancy ladies as we sipped mango Malibu and peach schnapps out of plastic martini glasses.

But fancy cocktails weren’t our only bad habit. We were too similar to survive together for too long – though I suspect that if she’d never moved to Australia we’d still be together making bad choices in basement suites, probably sharing a set of kidneys – and one could easily convince the other that what anyone else would consider a bad idea was actually the best idea ever, like washing the kitchen floor with ammonia AND bleach (double the cleaning power!) or buying six Filet-o-Fish sandwiches with extra tartar sauce and a full slice of cheese at midnight because we were going to eat them anyway and it would save us another (inevitable) trip out and while we were at it maybe we needed apple pies too. We invented fourth meal but never thought to trademark it.

One of the ways we enabled each other to do incredibly self-destructive awesome things was by claiming that whatever we were doing was in the name of health. At the time, Theresa was a vegetarian except for fish and pepperoni, and I was just beginning to get really excited about fibre. Theresa would go on long runs, and I would go to boot camp because I was too lazy to exercise unless I paid for it and would only go out of guilt at having spent the money. Because we had our health in mind intermittently, sometimes we would stock up on healthy things, either at Costco or at our parents’ houses when one of our moms was cleaning out her pantry and wanted us to take crap away. One of our kicks was dried fruit, which made an excellent snack for a vegetarian and a fibre enthusiast.

Somehow we came to possess about a kilogram of dried apricots. One evening, in our pajama pants and holey sweatshirts with nothing to do and no desire to go out, we put on a movie and made the healthy choice to snack on dried fruit instead of Cheetos or Zesty Doritos, probably because one or the other of us had exercised and did not want to derail those efforts right away. Theresa brought out an opened zip-top bag of dried mango slices and a plastic bag of dried cranberries, and I found the apricots. Over the two hours the movie played, we ate the entire bag of dried apricots and most of the other fruit, which seemed like a good idea at the time because all that fruit fibre was bound to do good things for us.

Theresa is a scientist, but somehow she didn’t foresee what it might do to us. Over the next two or three days we both learned a valuable lesson, and that is that fibre is a finicky friend, and that very easily you can take the relationship too far.

I cried.

Years later, I still approach apricots with trepidation. I buy them only a handful at a time (and rarely dried), because there is safety only in a certain number, but all I know is that the number is low. And yet I still love them. I have never been good at knowing when to give up on a thing.

In the years between then and now, I have learned a little bit about balance. Maybe one apricot is okay. Maybe with a bit of protein, and a touch of sweetness. Maybe, like peach schnapps, apricots are not a meal but rather a snack that can be enjoyed in moderation.

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

(Serves one.)

  • 1 or 2 apricots, halved
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pat of butter, dotted over cut sides
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 8 roasted whole almonds, chopped
  • Honey, to taste

Heat oven to 300°F.

Place apricot in a small baking dish, sprinkle with cinnamon, and then dot with butter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.

Spoon cottage cheese into a bowl. Place roasted apricot halves over top, sprinkle with almonds, and drizzle with honey.

This is great for breakfast or for a snack before bed. If you don’t like cottage cheese, this is also quite pleasant with yogurt.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

The reality of how little time we have left is starting to hit us now that Month 7 is upon us.

I have not been making much food at home because suddenly there is urgency to experiencing every patio and new restaurant, or to savouring the experience of doing absolutely nothing which mostly involves take-out or huge containers of fresh berries and ice cream and marathon sessions of 30 Rock. The laundry piles up and the bathtub stays grubby. But that seems to be the case regardless of the distraction.

There have been bursts of productivity in spite of us both, and everything seems to be coming up Emily. We were despairing the lack of reasonably priced but not disgusting two-bedroom apartments in the city while the walls in our current apartment began to close in on us when a spacious, many-windowed two-bedroom opened up in our own building, just across the hall. We move in October 1, so for the first time we don’t have to rush to pack, and we even have time to paint the new place to our liking.

At long last, we’re having ourselves a summer, but not a painfully hot one – outside the temperature has seldom exceeded 27 degrees (Celsius). Which has meant long afternoons in the sun, eating cherries and watching the barges in Burrard Inlet or feeding the birds tasty bites of fresh doughnut on the boardwalk at Granville Island, or cool evenings picnicking on Jericho Beach or walking to Cambie Street for the good tacos (and some lecherous staring at the beautiful blue-eyed taco man).

The sun is bright but the breeze is comfortable, and this does not feel like the same city I dream about running away from in the winter after 40 consecutive days of rain.

And, most importantly, still no stretch marks. I am so slick with lotion and cocoa butter that I’d be lethal on a Slip ‘n Slide. You keep your fingers crossed good and tight for me.

All this going and doing and lotion application has kept me out of the kitchen most of the time, and I can’t say that I mind. We eat a lot of 10-minutes-or-less dinners, a lot of berries in cream, and a refreshing number of salads. I like to think that summer’s slacking is an excuse to go out and make the stories we tell all winter, that somewhere in the season’s casual outdoor feasts there is something important, or, at the very least, something to dream on.

Like pink wine and sunshine in Grace’s wine glasses: important.

The aroma of a trout Paul that caught as it cooks with lemon and dill on the barbecue: important.

The chewy texture of oatmeal sourdough made by Grace from a starter with natural yeast: important.

A simple meal shared on a blanket on the beach: important.

People you are fond of in good moods and summer clothes: important.

Eating dessert outside at sunset: important.

Cake and peaches and raspberries and brown sugar topping: important.

You can make this now, and eat it on the beach as the sweet finale to a picnic, or you can use whatever fruit you’ve frozen and make in the winter when you’re cold and missing the smell of the ocean and that flattering summer evening light. I made this with peaches and raspberries, but it’s based on a recipe that calls for blueberries. It would be beautiful with blackberries.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

(Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book)

Cake

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice (this is wonderful with Meyer lemon if you can get one)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup diced peaches
  • 1 cup raspberries

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

Beat butter and sugar until thoroughly combined, then add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Mix.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture with milk, and beat until smooth. Spread evenly in baking dish.

Top batter with fruit.

In another bowl (so many dishes! Fun!), mix sugar and flour. Add butter and vanilla, and squish between your fingers until a dry, crumbly crumb has formed. Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm.

 

Avocado waffles.

Breakfast is a challenge around here. We have never been very good at morning meals, or at getting up on time, or at being nice to each other before 10:00 a.m. It’s no longer possible to just skip breakfast in favour of a latte on the way to work or whatever we’re doing, because Nick needs to eat right after his morning insulin shot. I’m not a morning person, and most mornings it’s a challenge to come up with something more interesting than oatmeal, and if I have to eat another bowl of mush I am going to ugly-cry until someone else volunteers to do the morning feeding around here.

The weekends offer a bit of relief, because he can eat at any point within about a 90-minute period and no one has to leave for work at 8:00 a.m. A weekend breakfast must make up for the previous five days’ worth of hot glop. Since I’m the one making breakfast, that means waffles, which everyone knows are the greatest of all the breakfast foods. These ones have avocado in them – the taste of avocado in the finished product is very light, with a buttery sweetness, and goes magnificently with maple syrup.

This recipe is based on one I like for plain old buttermilk waffles from the Saveur Cooks Authentic American cookbook (which is completely worth its purchase price if you only make the fried chicken).

Avocado waffles

(Serves four)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup mashed avocado (about one small avocado)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp. honey

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine egg yolks, avocado, buttermilk, and honey in a blender, and puree until smooth. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Combine avocado mixture with dry ingredients, mixing until just combined, then add one-quarter of the egg whites to the mix. Fold batter into remaining egg whites until what results is a fluffy pale green batter cloud.

Cook in waffle maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Eggnog baked oatmeal.

December offers all kinds of events, and in combination I find that priorities conflict. Mimosa brunches are followed by dinner with the in-laws, nights of rum and eggnog are followed by work the next morning, and sparkling wine-fueled oyster binges are followed by early wake-ups for shopping with Mom. Expectations run high this time of year. In a perfect world, I’d be able to stumble from one event to the next in a twinkling haze of festive spirit and good cheer, but the thing about in-laws and work and Mom is that they have little appreciation for my kind of enthusiasm, and sometimes Nick decides it’s my turn to drive.

Knowing that Grace’s oyster feast was upon us and having bought two bottles of sparkling wine, I planned ahead. To stave off the effects of a party, I like baked oatmeal; it’s a dense, cakey version of oatmeal that will fill you up and sort you out.

Before going out, I put oatmeal, eggnog, eggs, butter, and spices into a bowl, mixed them well, and placed the mixture in a 1.5 quart baking dish that I then put in the fridge. Now, if it seems like I am asking you to bake oatmeal in custard, don’t worry. That’s absolutely what I’m asking you to do, because we’re a long way from swimsuit season, and this is a celebratory dish, the kind of thing you bring out for brunchtime and then digest during a nap that lasts all afternoon. It’s oatmeal, but it’s special. It’s like a big dish of oatmeal cookie, the dessert of breakfast dishes. High in soluble fibre and butterfat.

Use the best eggnog you can get – I use the stuff from Avalon, which I bought more of than I needed because of the beautiful dairy man who causes me to trip over my words. Also, it’s delicious.

Eggnog baked oatmeal

(Serves four.)

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant – I used large flake, the kind that cooks in 10 to 15 minutes on the stove)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1 cup eggnog
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp. rum or bourbon, whichever you prefer (optional, I guess)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. Stir. Add eggnog, butter, eggs, rum or bourbon if using, and vanilla. Stir again, thoroughly. Pour mixture into a greased 1.5 quart baking dish, cover, and refrigerate for eight to 10 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350°F. Bake oatmeal for 60 minutes. It should be golden on top, with a little bit of bubbling around the edges. Let rest for five minutes before serving; serve with maple or golden syrup, if desired, or yogurt. If you were to serve it with ice cream it would be amazing but I am not so bold at 9:30 on a Sunday morning.

Oat crêpes.

This morning I really wanted crêpes, and I got up and discovered we’re out of flour. But we have oats! So we had oat crêpes, and now are so full. They’re the easiest things ever to make, and if you whip the batter up the night before and stick it in the fridge, they’re even better.

Fill them with whatever you like; I made a purée of yams, orange zest and juice, and spices. This time of year, applesauce would also be really fantastic, or a compote of this summer’s berries. And then, of course, top with whipped cream.

Oat crêpes

(Makes eight.)

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar

In a blender, combine oats, eggs, milk, butter, and sugar. Purée until smooth. Refrigerate 30 minutes, or overnight.

Over medium heat, melt a small amount of butter in a nonstick pan, rolling the pan to coat the whole cooking surface. Pour an eighth of the batter into the pan, rolling again to coat surface in batter, and cook until the surface of the crêpe loses its sheen, about two minutes. Flip gently, and cook for another minute.

I butter the pan once for two crêpes, but use your best judgment. Keep cooked crêpes in a warmed oven until all crêpes are ready to be served.