Toddler muffins.

Never eats.

I read the books about French babies and how they eat everything, and I assumed that mine would be an enthusiastic omnivore – how could he not be?! And in the beginning, he was – he ate his purees, grains and yogurts happily, lapping up anything I put in front of him and smacking his lips with great delight. Around the time we began to introduce textures, though, something went horribly awry.

The kid doesn’t eat.

Well, he doesn’t eat much, I should say. He’ll eat oatmeal, and applesauce, and yogurt, and peanut butter toast, and all the crackers. He likes cookies, and will eat just about anything I blend into a mush, except for purple things. He likes watermelon in slices, but won’t eat a sliced strawberry. Blueberries and grapes are untouchable, potatoes and pasta an insult. He was handed a hot dog at a birthday party and abhorred it. He tasted a bite of hummus off a cracker at Costco and burst into tears.

Needless to say, he is not an adventurous eater, though he did taste a snow pea the other day and took two bites before throwing it on the ground, which I think was progress. One day he might eat a green bean! One can hope. I keep handing him things, and putting food in front of him, which is about the best I can do, right? I don’t know.

His daycare requires us to send him meals, and I am told that he eats brilliantly when he’s there, so I send him nutrient-dense soups and things to make up for what he doesn’t eat at home. For breakfast, I send him muffins.

He gets all kinds – I made some pink ones for him last week that used up a pound of strawberries and the rest of my rolled oats. He’s had peach muffins, and subtly cheesy corn muffins, and gluten-free coconut flour muffins for something a little different; he likes a meal he can cart around, and a handful of carbs meets his almost all of his needs. My peanut butter-banana-chocolate muffins though, those are his favourite. And even though they aren’t a seasonal thing – I make them whenever the bananas at the little natural foods store on the corner are brown and sad-looking (and cheap).

Gross bananas.

I finally got a photo of him eating one today (after posting on Facebook that I figured it would be impossible). So here’s the recipe. I like to think these are reasonably healthy.

Any of the weird ingredients can be subbed for stuff you have; I bought a lifetime supply of coconut sugar when Nick was diagnosed with diabetes because it’s a low-GI sweetener, even though it later turned out that all sugar acts like refined white sugar in the blood for a diabetic no matter how pure my intentions. You can use brown sugar. Any other oil will work fine in place of the grapeseed. You can omit the ground flax if you don’t have it, but I find that by using entirely whole wheat flour in these, the recipe benefits from the bit of leavening the flax provides; if don’t have flax and like a lighter muffin, use half whole-wheat and half white all-purpose flour.

Toddler_MuffinToddler muffins (or: Peanut butter banana muffins)

Makes 12.

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 or 3 ripe – brown – bananas (if you have smaller bananas, use 3; if you only have those giant monster ones that are like a foot long, two will suffice), mashed
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth, whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin, or fill the tin with 12 paper liners. I am cheap, so I just grease.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In another larger bowl, mix bananas, peanut butter, coconut sugar, cocoa powder, egg, and oil until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed – mix well.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon into your prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the middle ones comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for five minutes before turning the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool. If you are going to freeze these for daycare, let them cool all the way before putting them into a large freezer bag. If you like bananas and are just going to eat these yourself, go nuts.

Peanut butter chocolate banana muffins

Here are the B-sides – a handful of this morning’s attempts to catch the toddler in action.

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

Pot roast weather.

Pot roast ingredients

We were supposed to spend Saturday afternoon turning the soil in our garden plot and planting the cucumbers and beets I’m hoping to be overrun with at the end of the summer – possibly the hardest part about coping with this time of year is that nothing new has grown to the point of being edible yet, and I’ve eaten all my pickles from last year. It’s a dark time.

Carrots, mostly.

But it rained, and we had no other plans. And in these dark times the best thing you can do for your mood and your health is to brown a large piece of meat in bacon fat and roast it low and so slow in a broth that just gets richer and tastier by the hour.

I spent the afternoon wearing an apron and cooking a pot roast. (I did burn my fingertips and swear like a wounded sailor though, so don’t worry – nothing’s really changed.) I don’t make many pot roasts, but we got quite a few chuck roasts with a half-cow we bought and the Googles don’t suggest much in the way of alternative uses for this particular roast. We’ve been making the most of it.

Onions.

And pot roast can be such an inedible thing. Why are they so often so dry? What cooking process could possibly render a cut of meat so grey? Even in restaurants, where pot roast finds its way onto menus under the guise of comfort food, I’ve had the kind of stringy meat that turns to cotton wads in your throat, the kind where you are asking a lot of your esophagus just to get it down.

The bouquet.

My grandmother made a good pot roast, though, so I knew that there was hope. She’d simmer hers in a small stock pot on the stove for hours, and the meat that emerged from the weird hodge-podge of ingredients she threw into the pot would emerge fragrant and tender. The texture was like pulled pork when you cut into it, and the meat was no trouble to chew or swallow.

Pre-cooked pot roast.

Her secret ingredient was coffee, and I remember thinking “oh, I’m not going to like that” when I saw her add it to the roast. But hours passed and the meat simmered and the flavours in the pot melded and turned themselves into something else, and when she spooned the gravy over the meat at the dinner table, I marveled at how rich and delicious it was, and how I couldn’t even taste the coffee. But I could taste that something was distinct, and if I hadn’t seen her put the ingredients into the pot I’d never have guessed at what it was.

My version is a little different, but the ingredients are similar. It’s laziness more than anything that makes mine different – throwing something in the oven for hours and hours just feels like less work than monitoring something on the stove top. There’s not a lot to this recipe, and it can be assembled in minutes; it just cooks for about four hours, which is the perfect amount of time for whiling away a rainy afternoon. And if there’s still cold wind and snow where you are, this will warm your home right through.

For cooking, it will be ideal if you have a pot that can transition from stove to oven. If you don’t, that’s okay. Just make sure the vessel you cook your beef in has a lid and is deep enough that the cooking liquid comes halfway up the sides of the meat.

Cooked pot roast.

One last thing – I mention that you should bundle your herbs in cheesecloth and tie them into a bundle – a bouquet garni! – but if you don’t have cheesecloth or string, just throw the herbs in whole and individually and then fish them out at the end. Also, I know I’ve shown rosemary in the photo above, but it’s really better if you use fresh thyme. Rosemary, when cooked for a very long time, tends to impart a bitter flavour that I am not fond of. Thyme stalks are not woody, and do not impart that same bitterness.

Slices.

Pot roast

(Serves four.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil or (ideally) bacon fat
  • 1 x 4-5 lb. beef chuck roast
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and chopped
  • 2-4 cups beef stock (or chicken, if that’s all you have)
  • 1 355mL/12 oz. can of cola
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 275°F.

Generously season your beef with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Using a piece of cheesecloth, bundle your parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Roll tightly, then tie with string to secure. Set aside.

Heat fat in your large pot over medium-high heat. Brown your onions on each side, then remove to a plate.

Add your beef to the pot, and sear each side of the meat. You want to achieve a deep brown on all sides of the meat. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pot, and cook for about one minute, stirring frequently. Add the cola to deglaze – make sure to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot using a wooden spoon. Add the Worcestershire sauce and coffee granules.

Add onions back to the pot, spreading so that they cover the whole bottom. Add the meat back to the pot, placing it on top of the onions. Add the herb bundle, then the carrots, and pour enough stock to come halfway up the meat.

Give it a quick taste – is it delicious? Yay! Is it not salty enough? Add more salt.

Cover and cook for 4 hours. Serve with noodles – we had knopfle – or mashed potatoes.

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.

 

Kiwi sorbet.

kiwi

The reason I find bananas so abhorrent is mainly because a banana in a lunch bag crammed into a steamy coat closet in an elementary school classroom will not only infect every other piece of food in the bag with its noxious banananess, but it will permeate your insulated plastic lunch bag as well, making every meal you ever eat out of it taste like aged overripe banana. Forever. If it happens enough, that kind of thing can scar you for life. Even now, when I give the baby a banana the smell of it on his cheeks and his breath repels me.

Until recently, I couldn’t think of anything more offensive than perfectly good peanut butter cookies destroyed by banana-stink. And then, after she complained about pantry moths in one of those water-cooler conversations, someone left the person I share an office with a big bag of mothballs. My office-mate was out sick, so the mothballs sat in our office for a full 24 hours before I thought to hang them out the window until she could take them home.

I taste mothballs in the back of my throat when I swallow. I can smell them in my sinuses when I breathe through my nose. It’s been five days.

Bananas, you are demoted. Mothballs are the new very worst.

Almost all of the very best things are delicate and perishable. Almost nothing wonderful will leave its mark forever on your tongue or in your lunchbag. A peach bruises and turns to mush when you’re not looking; a bottle of wine smashes on the sidewalk when the bottom of your piece-of-crap reusable shopping bag gives out. Asparagus wrinkles and turns into slime if forgotten in the crisper. If you are lucky you will never know the feel of a rotten potato squishing through your fingers. Cheese gets moldy, bread goes stale and grapes become raisins, which is possibly the cruelest fate of all. Somehow, though, kiwis are hardy.

Kiwis, if stored somewhere cool and dark, will last for months. I didn’t know this until recently, when I happened upon a kiwi farmer at our local Farmer’s Market one rainy Saturday. I also didn’t know until recently that kiwi fruit grows quite happily here on the wet west coast. And apparently, kiwi fruit makes excellent jam.

Skinned kiwis.

So I bought an inordinate amount of kiwi fruit, as you do. And then I didn’t know what to do with it, and the baby likes bananas so what does he know about anything, so it sat in my crisper for three weeks as I waited for an epiphany and an opportunity and then it happened. Brunch! And friends! So I made the best thing you can make out of kiwi fruit after just cutting it in half and eating it with a spoon.

Friends plus babies plus sorbet.

 

All I need now is to know how to clean the taste of mothballs out of my inner face. I’ll take any suggestion.

Kiwi sorbet

(Serves 6)

  • 1 lb. peeled, chopped kiwi fruit (10 or 12 medium-sized kiwis)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest and juice of one lime (about 1 tbsp. juice)

Whiz kiwi fruit in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Combine salt, sugar, water, zest and juice in a pot and bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar has completely dissolved, pour into the bowl with your kiwi purée, and chill in the fridge for at least six hours, or overnight.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions, then pour into a bowl, cover with plastic, and freeze until you’re ready to serve it.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can turn this into a granita by pouring it into a 9″x13″ pan and scraping it every 30 to 60 minutes with a fork until frozen and fluffy. Or, you can mostly freeze it in a 9″x13″ pan, chip it out into a food processor, and blend until it resembles sorbet.

Serve cold, obviously.

Green treat: Kiwi sorbet.

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!