The best tomato sauce you’ve ever tasted. For real. I’m not even exaggerating. Yes!

Love.I bought the tomatoes because they were lovely, but also because I was super-excited at the possibilities for solar tomato sauce. A fascinating idea, I thought, and what a way to have dinner ready in a hurry, just boil some pasta et voila! And then the sky turned grey for the first time in a long, long time and the heat wave broke and the long-range forecast whined rain for the next seven days and I still had the tomatoes, and then Rose at work brought me a bouquet of basil. And then everything was glorious.

Basil from Rose.So, inspired in part by a recipe in this month’s Gourmet and in part by an unsatisfied desire to get to the essence of tomatoes through a batch of solar sauce, I’ve improvised some. And it worked out well. Very well. You will soon find an abundance of little tomatoes at your local market, and this is what you should do with some of them. About 1.5 pounds of them.

(If you’re like me, you’ll want a meatball or two to go along with things. Use this recipe. Add a little bit of spinach and lemon zest. Make the peperonata another time, and eat it cold with crusty bread.)

Make this in a pot you can use on the stove AND in the oven. It works better that way, and is less mess. Also, while I insist you try this with little tomatoes, you don’t have to. I was just lazy and didn’t want to bother with the whole blanching/skinning thing, which I kind of feel obligated to do when the tomatoes are bigger.

Tomato sauce that tastes like tomatoes

  • 1.5 to 2 lbs. fresh cherry tomatoes (or other small tomatoes)
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp. red chili flakes

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Halve your little tomatoes, and trim the top off the bulb of garlic. Place your tomatoes in the pot, with the garlic right smack in the middle, and then drizzle the oil over top. Add a teaspoon of the salt, and toss into the oven, where you will bake the whole thing, covered, for thirty minutes.

Lusty.Place the pot on the stove, over medium to medium-low heat. You don’t need the thing to reach a rolling boil. Remove the garlic, and squish the cloves out into the pot. You may want to wait until it’s cool enough to handle – I used a clean dish cloth as a barrier against the heat. The cloves should pop out easily.

At this point, you are going to want to puree the contents of your pot. I recommend using a hand blender, because that’s the best way to keep a bit of texture – you could also use a food mill, a food processor, or a blender. If you’ve removed the mix from the pot to blend, return it to the pot. Taste, add the remainder of the salt and any more if you feel it needs it, and your pepper flakes, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat for another 30 to 40 minutes.

Sauce.Boil a pot of pasta (about one pound uncooked) until cooked to your liking, and then toss the noodles into the sauce pot and make sure every noodley strand is covered in fantastic tomatoey goodness.

Sauced.Serve with chopped fresh basil, a dollop of ricotta, and/or your favourite shaved parmesan cheese. And meatballs. But you knew that.

Mmmm. Mmm!I am completely in love with this tomato sauce, because it tastes exactly like tomatoes, which, especially at this time of year, taste exactly like meaty summer sun, to me. And the garlic adds a nice bit of body, and is not aggressive. The roasting and simmering makes it sweet, so that it plays a supporting role here, heightening the taste of the tomatoes. It’s really very lovely. Go out and make this. Especially if it’s raining – the smell … the smell! The wafting, beautiful aromas of this sauce will make your home smell like all the best parts of your garden, roasting. It’s compliment sauce. As in, everyone who eats this will compliment you on your awesome talent and probably also your incredible good looks, and you will taste it and fall in love with yourself all over again. Sigh!

This kind of reminds me of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in a good way.

Moussaka is not a character from the Lion King.

I returned home from Winnipeg to find a clean kitchen and an empty fridge, and a sky full of dark clouds ominous with the threat of rain. It felt like an appropriate time for some comfort food, for the both of us. After too many days of fast food, we both craved vegetables and a meal prepared at home.

And while I was in Winnipeg, I thought about moussaka, though I am not sure why. I don’t really care for much of what I’ve tasted of Greek food – maybe it’s because almost every restaurant is identical out here, and I don’t really like oregano or whatever is done to the rice or that particular colour blue.

I fantasize about Greece, however, and imagine that the food there is fantastic – not like every Taverna along Broadway or on every corner in every small town in the world. I imagine lemons and fresh herbs and sea salt and perfectly roasted lamb and big, fat, meaty olives. Everything with the sheen of fresh olive oil.

So we invited over Steve and Sooin, and Paul, who gets me in Nick’s will if Nick dies, and served up a hot pan of moussaka. And it was good. Except that it was a tad too salty, so I’ve tweaked this recipe some. It’s much better now.


  • 1 Japanese eggplant
  • 2 medium zucchini So you can see what size vegetables you'll be working with.

Meaty filling:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 lb. ground beef or lamb
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 small (5 1/2 oz.) can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock

White sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (or about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta


  • 1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 finely minced clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Thinly slice your eggplant and zucchini, about 1/4 inch thick. Grease an 9″x13″ pan with olive oil.

In a large skillet, sauté your onions until translucent. Add the ground beef and garlic, and cook until browned. Add your oregano, pepper, thyme, and cinnamon, and tomato paste, and wine or chicken stock, stir until everything’s all mixed together and it smells really good, and then remove from heat.

In a small pot over medium-high heat, melt your butter. Let it get foamy, then add the flour, and stir to blend.


This is what the butter and flour should look like before you add the milk.
This is what the butter and flour should look like before you add the milk.


Whisk in your milk, and reduce heat to medium. Add your pepper and nutmeg, garlic, lemon zest (not too much!), and stir in the feta. Let this simmer until the feta has melted and the sauce has thickened, three to five minutes. Remove from heat.

Line the bottom of your prepared pan with slices of zucchini and eggplant, not too thick, but until you can’t see the bottom.

Pan with first layer.Drizzle the layer with olive oil, and then add half of the meat mixture over the top, spreading to cover. Drizzle this with about 1/3 of the white sauce. Repeat, adding another layer in this order.

Add the final layer of zucchini and eggplant (there will be three layers of vegetables in total). Drizzle your remaining white sauce over the top layer.

In a small bowl, mix up the panko (or regular bread crumbs), parsley, garlic, and feta. Top the moussaka with the crumb topping, and then drizzle with olive oil, and the juice of the lemon.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and you see bubbling along the sides.

Moussaka!Serve with a salad of cucumber and tomato, tossed with parsley and fresh mint, and topped with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Meal!And bask in the joy of vegetables, even if you are wondering where summer went. It’s still raining, so tonight we are going to eat as if we are elsewhere, like India. Or Mexico. Or both?

Invoking Korea: I am madly in love with all pancakes.

Much as I love home, every so often (three to six times per week) I consider escape. Sometimes it’s the weather, and periodically it’s people – sometimes it’s both (though rarely is it some of the weather or all of the people). Sometimes the grey is all around and the idea of putting on a coat or fighting back is exhausting and you don’t care enough to do either because it’s the west coast and there will always be damp and because some people are going to rain on your parade whether it’s warranted or not. And that’s when I think of Korea. I’ve never been there. They do clever things with cabbage and have excellent pancakes.

A million years ago now, when I was very small, my grandpa returned from Korea with a pair of pretty dolls in blue dresses. They had marabou fans and elaborate hairstyles and I thought that everything pretty like that came from Japan until Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And then I found out where Reykjavik was and then I thought I knew everything. I hope you know that those two thoughts are not completely related. Korea. Seoul. I want to go.


Seven years ago I attempted to teach a Korean family English. They’d hired me as a tutor, totally unqualified, and they were so earnest and funny that I couldn’t wait to see them every week. They tried to teach me a thing about Korea for every thing I taught them about Canada or grammar or homonyms, and often that involved food. They had one son, Daniel, who was ten years old and worried that strangers would kidnap him because of his handsomeness. I told him to be wary of vans and free candy. His mother taught me about salty little dried fish and kim chi, and I’ve since tried in vain to find anything as good as the stuff she made at home. Her tofu was not the stuff of hippies.

My love affair continues, and with each passing year I wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t made it there yet. If my bank account contained enough for airfare, or if airfare was forty dollars, which I have, I’d be gone. (Don’t worry: When I go, I’m taking Nick with me.)

But it’s not my turn. This week David is leaving. He’s going to Amsterdam to ride his bike to Istanbul, and then he’s probably going to Germany to get even more educated, and he’s already one of the top eight smartest people I know. I assume he will miss Vancouver’s diverse culinary scene, most particularly the Asian stuff. It’s good here. Very good, every kind. Also I’m kind of selfish and have been harbouring escape fantasies, and so I planned for a room of us to dine Korean and send him off while I attempt to live kind of vicariously through David. Well, kind of Korean. I really wanted the pancake. (I really want all pancakes.)

As with all my plans, what started off as a quiet little evening soon grew to include all the people who actually ought to have been invited, and soon there were ten. In my mind, that was a totally reasonable number to try and feed, so I estimated that dinner would take a total of twenty minutes to prepare. In future, I will make time for what I like to call “inevitable realizations,” or: “I have no pans big enough to make this much food.” Thankfully, Greg offered his place across the street as a venue. I bought four pounds of Chinese noodles, many little bags of baby bok choy, and too many green things that I would have to accommodate in some way, probably the oven. I also had to double the pancake recipe, and because of that, bake it instead of fry it, which turned out more than okay, like Korean Toad in the Hole.

I’ve decided that you really ought to have my doubled-up recipe, and that you should probably bake it.

Pa jun or pajeon, or: “That really good pancake I like.”

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups cold club soda (or beer)
  • 1 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup zucchini, julienned
  • 1 small onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper

Grease a baking sheet with 1/4 cup of the oil. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Add your baking sheet and let the oven and the sheet heat up together.

Pull the baking sheet out of the oven once the “it’s not ready” red light goes out (which means it’s ready). Add your vegetables.

I tell you to julienne things, but then I don't do it myself because I kind of hate doing that because it takes too long. I guess you don't have to. Just cut everything really thin.
I tell you to julienne things, but then I don't do it myself because I kind of hate doing that because it takes too long. I guess you don't have to. Just cut everything really thin.

In a large bowl, mix your flours, your eggs, your soda, one tablespoon of oil, your salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and whisk to combine. Pour over the veggies, tucking any strays into the batter blob.

Batter blob.Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Large tray of pancake.Serve with a quick little sauce, and a bit of kim chi, which I’d meant to include but totally forgot about. The sauce?

Cho Ganjang

  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp. cheongju (Korean rice wine) or sake
  • 4 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste

Serve to others. Because there is no love like the love between people who love pancakes.

A good-looking chap, yes?
A good-looking chap, yes?
Feasty, on Chinette.
Feasty, on Chinette.

Of course I am excited for David and his magical adventures. Though it is beginning to feel like time for my own adventures. Sometimes you fall into them, and sometimes your life pushes you in – I’ll let you know what compels me, once something finally does.

In the meantime, eat pancakes.

And then smile, lay on the floor, and be full.
And then smile, lay on the floor, and be full.

Clams in porter and cream: If there’s a better title, I can’t think of it.

Friday, in the middle of the day, I had to supplement the wine with a Diet Coke because I was just having too much fun. I kneaded enthusiastically. I needed a nap. Of course that meant that I overcooked the bread – I forgot the buzzer and woke to wondering how much longer was left on the loaf, only to find that instead of golden it was a dark – though edible – brown. Also, because sometimes when I’m shopping I’m drunk filled with tremendous enthusiasm for the next feast, I accidentally grabbed the whole wheat flour that acts and sort of tastes like white flour (the word “SALE!” is like onomatopoeia to me – I see it and I think of a joyful noise and it compels me) – the colour is odd, but Grace was kind and said the finished loaf looked “artisanal,” which I can’t actually define but I think means “crusty and way too high in fibre.”

No matter – the little biscuits for the strawberries turned out perfectly, so all was not lost. Small victories. But then Grace brought lemon slice in cake form, so we ate the peppered berries and honeyed cream that way, and it was even better. I ate the biscuits and the leftover berries and drank the leftover wine for breakfast. I wrote about them here.

Almost all of my photos from the evening turned out blurry. Fortunately, Grace also brought a tripod and her good camera. And I am now in possession of a few glamour shots of the meal, so it’s time now to tell you all about it.

Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.

I couldn’t tell which of us was trying to seduce the other, except that we’re both very sloppy drunks and then two bottles in, James called and offered to bring us wine, and Paul called and asked what we were doing and then came over with some beer and an empty bottle of ketchup so nothing life-changing really happened. Nothing life-changing except for this:

Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.

And it’s possible that I’m exaggerating and tooting my own horn here. But I don’t think so. What do you need to make this happen in your kitchen? Not much. Not much at all.

Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.
Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.

Clams in porter and cream

(Serves four, unless one of you is me or Grace)

  • 4 lbs. clams
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1 medium-sized bulb of fennel
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (you can use chicken if you want)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup porter or other dark beer
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Before you do anything, make sure your clams are clean. Soak them in a bath of cold-to-lukewarm water, 4 cups water to 1/3 cup salt. Your clams will spit out any sand they’ve got kicking around inside their shells – you may need to repeat this process two to three times to be sure you’ve got it all. Nothing’s grosser than a mouthful of sea dirt.

My pretties.
My pretties.

When they’re good and clean and you’re ready to get on with it, heat the oil in a large pot, and caramelize your onions, garlic, and fennel, deglazing the pan as needed with the beef stock. Add the salt and pepper.

When everything’s golden and smells good, add the beer, the cream, stir it all up, then add the clams. Steam these with the lid on until the beautiful little guys open, ten to fifteen minutes. Possibly longer, if they’re stubborn. Which can totally happen. Shake the pan frequently to ensure that all the clams touch the heat and the liquid.

Before serving, add in the mushrooms, stir to coat and cook lightly, and then dump the whole thing into a big bowl. Garnish with the parsley. This is excellent over pasta, or just as is, with lots and lots of bread. Drink lots of dry white or pink wine. Sigh repeatedly over your contented fullness.

And then eat this:

Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.
Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.

The whole meal had a soothing, sedative effect on the both of us, and we never made it out to karaoke, as planned. Come to think of it, many of the meals I’ve shared with Grace have done more to lull than energize: Perhaps our diets are too rich? Maybe we gorge ourselves too much? Maybe there’s more to life than eating and possibly we could eat less and venture out into the world a bit more, because it is Friday after all and we have to consider our youth? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s probably just the wine.

Today was also the best day ever, and I know that you’re going to stop believing me when I say that. Here, have some strawberry shortcake.

I know that yesterday I said today I was going to tell you all about clams, but the thing is I was a little drunk by the time dinner struck and all my pictures turned out blurry, and Grace brought her camera and tripod and took photos but I don’t have them yet so I’ll tell you all about clams tomorrow, or possibly the day after. Today we went out to Westham Island to pick strawberries.

Westham Island is way the hell out there off the highway beyond Ladner, and while it’s not actually that far away in kilometers, to get there you have to travel several long and winding roads and cross a couple of bridges and once you get there you have to try and decide which farm you will go to, and Grace and I wanted to go to the one with the winery. Of course, that’s at the end of another long road, but when we got there, we beheld many wonders. To our delight, it was Strawberry Fest this weekend. In addition to the startling variety of fruit wines available for sale, I was pleased to discover a company that custom-tailors tuxedos for wiener dogs. I don’t have a wiener dog yet, but when I do, he will ALWAYS be snappily dressed.

Strawberry fields forever.
Strawberry fields forever.

But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that it’s now officially strawberry season, which means that it’s summer.

The place we went to was a u-pick kind of place, and you bring your own bucket – pretty standard stuff.

Pick, pick, pick.
Pick, pick, pick.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.
Pretty, pretty, pretty.

It took me forever to get started, and I grabbed several sharp weeds with my bare hands before getting into things. Agriculture isn’t for me, I decided, and also I don’t much care for squatting. In no time I was using my galoshes as a seat, ambling along the rows with prickly sleeping feet. I’ve revised my dream career to include “not outdoors” in its descriptors. It smelled very nice, like leaves and the odd whiff of berry musk.

And soon I was well into the whole process, shouting across the field to James and Grace whenever I felt so compelled – “OMG, look at these retard-berries!” I’d shout. “Developmentally challenged berries,” Grace would correct. And then when the troupe of annoying British children turned up, I decided I’d best stop shouting “retard!” into the fields, and James agreed.

No, really - see?
No, really - see?
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.
This plant has too many chromosomes or something.

It didn’t take very long to fill a whole bucket. For me, that is. James ate three times as many berries as he picked, and Grace anal-retentively only picked perfect berries – her berries were all of uniform colour and size. Grace is a better editor than I am, and has a keener eye for detail. My bucket showed an open-minded preference for diversity (read: a tendency toward rushing and impatience).

By the end of it all, I had picked four pounds of berries, paying less than I paid yesterday for half as many.

I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.
I am less awesome in real life than I am in my head.

But what to do with all those berries?! I immediately counted out the prettiest, reddest ones from among the berries at the top of the bucket and dropped them into a bowl and drizzled them with a touch of sugar and just enough cream. They were so soft that they didn’t need to be chewed – I could smash them just by pushing them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. They tasted precisely how strawberries are supposed to taste, with not a streak of white anywhere inside of them.

Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.
Nothing belongs in my stomach more than these.

As too many strawberries will leave you with a terrible case of the scoots, I’m beginning to wonder what I’ll do with the rest – I think I’d like to make strawberry shortcake, and maybe a batch of muffins, and then freeze some for margaritas. The rest I will eat as they are, or dipped in pepper or sugar or maybe both – I don’t remember at which point the laxative quality of strawberries begins to take effect. Only one way to find out!

In the meantime, here’s my favourite base for strawberry shortcake. It’s a James Beard recipe, and it produces a biscuit, not a cake. But it’s sweet, with a crusty top that contrasts nicely with soft berries and whipped cream. I add cardamom because I like it, but you can omit it if you’d like.

Cream Biscuits

(makes four to six, depending on how big you like them)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on top
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a bowl, combine your flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and cardamom. Mix it up, and once it’s mixed, slowly add one cup of the cream. Stir constantly, adding more cream if the dough doesn’t seem like it’s holding together. Once it’s formed a dough, turn it out onto a floured surface, and knead for about a minute. Divide the dough into four to six pieces, and pat down until each is about half an inch thick.

Paint with melted butter, all sides. Place on an ungreased baking sheat, and sprinkle the tops with sugar. The coarser the sugar, the better – I like a nice crunch.

Bake these for about fifteen minutes, or until golden brown.

I have to half recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.
I have to halve recipes around here - they're always too much for two people.

Serve warm, with fresh berries and a generous dollop of whipped cream.

And now, it’s time for another handful of berries, a glass of wine, and a nap, because agriculture is hard work and squatting makes you tired.

This whole post is little more than me bragging about my day off. Which was awesome. I crave your envy.

Long before Nick, there was the city. Having grown up outside of it, and just out of its reach, I was determined to someday get here and renounce my suburban roots. Vancouver to me is like Paris to people who’ve been there and loved it – it occupies my imagination as much as my reality, and it’s wonderful. The water! The buildings! The markets! The wine! I smugly wonder why anyone would ever live anywhere else but here (the cost of housing? The long stretches of grey weather? No! That could not be). I do this mostly on bicycle.


Last night, Paul, Nick, and I went to Granville Island for the opening night of the Altar Boyz, a tremendously raucous bit of blasphemy that had my face cramped with laughter and my mascara running all the way down my cheeks. Before that, we sat on the patio at the Backstage Lounge, which is fantastic not for its food, which costs more than it’s worth and is generally subpar, but for its patio, with water views and generous sunbeams. The cheap beer also helps.



Moules!I had mussels, which were not memorable, but they were pretty, and they reminded me that I love shellfish and had not had it in nearly long enough. With the promise of a busy Nick this evening, I knew that this was my chance: Clams! I would alert Grace of my desire to feast, and we would eat bread and clams and drink refreshing summer wines. So I returned to Granville Island today, because The Lobster Man just beyond the public market is my favourite place to buy shellfish. Oh, the adventure!


And along the way, I became distracted, as always, by Oyama Sausage, which is the most wonderful place in the world. Fact. I decided, having just purchased a short, me-size baguette and sweet little local/overpriced strawberries, that in addition to the clams, I would also buy lunch.


There’s a large Frenchman there who gave me his name but it was jumbled, the way French is, and I could not piece it together in any logical way. He asked for my order in French (I don’t know why), and in order to not seem like a jerk, I responded in High School French, what little I recall of it. (Although, if he’d asked me to sing a song about Les Pompiers, I would have been able to. That stupid song – about firemen – is etched into the recesses of my brain. Thanks, Grade 8. THANKS.) He laughed, apparently tickled by my efforts. What wonderful samples I was handed as a result!

I ordered Delice de Bourgogne, which is possibly the most delicious cheese in the world except for all the other ones, and decadent, oily duck prosciutto. Then I wandered into Liberty, intent on picking out a wine that Grace would surely enjoy, and then discovered cherry wine, which I couldn’t not buy – I had to consider lunch! I wonder how long it takes to get gout. Note to self: look into that.

Sixty dollars later, I finally made it to Lobster Man, the entire purpose of my trip. Mindful that everything I had purchased would have to fit into my backpack, I resisted the urge to buy every kind of oyster, sticking with my original clam plan. Cramming my day’s purchases into my pack, I raced home, in part to get the clams into the fridge as quickly as possible. But mostly to get to the sandwich, which by that point was actually shrieking my name. Here it is:


SDC10672I’ve now discovered that everything tastes better when you order it in French. (Be warned, favourite restaurants, most of which are not French.) And the strawberries were fantastic – little bombs of sweet red glory! How perfect with just a touch of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of basil and black pepper. I don’t care how much cheaper it is to buy a townhouse in Surrey: I’m never living any farther than a bikeride away from duck prosciutto and still-breathing shellfish and cheeses with names I can barely pronounce and wonderful, obnoxious French men. Vancouver: Nevermind how often I whine about your weather – I love you!

Tomorrow will be less a love-fest and more an actual, respectable post about clams, a recipe for clams, and strawberries in honeyed whipped cream. Stay tuned?

Sweet potatoes are the best thing ever for you. Even if you get swine flu. Though if you get swine flu, call me, because I’d like to lick your door knobs.

I woke up this morning and was dying (again). Rheumatoid arthritis is a pain and I go through a lot of Kleenex and am all kinds of sexy. Fingers crossed for swine flu, though, which I actually want because I’m pretty sure I could lose, like, twelve pounds just throwing up, not to mention all the wasting away. Very convenient, much easier than fitness.

So I decided to spend the evening in pajamas watching the best movie ever and eating soup in an attempt to be fully recovered by the weekend, which is supposed to be hot and sunny, which means I won’t feel like soup at all, and you should embrace desire when it strikes you. So soup today, and then fish and chips and hefeweizen on a patio on the weekend. Oh, I’ve got dreams.

I’ve decided to share my feel-better recipe for sweet potato soup, because there’s a reasonable chance that other people are feeling battered by this weather, and because maybe you’ll make the soup and with any luck it will be the last time you’ll need hot soup until November.

This recipe makes about four bowls. Enough for tonight and lunch tomorrow anyway, even if my math is wrong.

Sweet Potato Soup

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, chopped (about three cups’ worth)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek (or more, to taste. No sambal oelek? Use hot sauce.)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot with a bit of oil, heat your onions, garlic, and ginger until golden. Add in your carrot and sweet potato, and toss until coated in all that garlic/ginger goodness. Pour in your liquids, zest and juice your lime into the pot, and throw in the sambal oelek so that it can eke it’s spicy glory all over the place.

Fan out the base of your stalk of lemongrass, and let it sit in the pot. I find that too much lemongrass makes stuff taste like dying, but doing it this way lets you get just a whiff and a taste of it, which is all you really need.



Simmer this all together until the sweet potatoes and carrots are tender, about ten minutes. Maybe less. You should probably test for yourself.

Once everything is tender and smells good, you’re going to want to purée this. Part of feeling better quickly is not expending extra energy on chewing. Also, smooth soups taste better, because all the tastes get jumbled together. Glorious!

I serve mine with a poached egg in the centre, which you may recall is how I served the pea soup, but don’t worry – there isn’t a poached egg in every soup we eat around here. I like it for the richness the yolk gives, and the extra bit of protein. And also, I like eggs. We buy them by the 30-pack. For the two of us.

soup in bowls, with eggsAnd you know, I do feel better. Sweet potatoes, ginger, and the spicy hot sambal are all terrific when you feel the weight of a thousand pounds of symptoms rattling around in your chest.

Tomorrow is my Friday, so I’d best be getting to bed so I can rest up and endure it – after that, it’ll be all feasting and frivolity and feeling fantastic. Also tomorrow, I’ll sign up for bootcamp. I really think some violent influenza would be easier to stomach.

Beets: Adventure roots!

The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.
The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.

Beets are pretty much the best ever. Fact.

I had to go to Granville Island on Sunday, because Grace bought me a ticket to Rosé Revival and I asked Nick to put it in his pocket so I wouldn’t forget it and then Grace fed us red wine slurpees and then we had regular wine and then she brought out the whiskey and it was late-late-late when we left her apartment and staggered home, and somewhere between sitting on her couch and flopping into bed, the ticket escaped. So I went to Granville Island to go to Liberty to buy a new ticket. Long story short? They said, “we have lots of tickets. See if you can find yours, and if you still can’t, come back tomorrow. You’re awesome.” So I bought a bottle of Pink Elephant, because I’m on a sparkling wine kick at the moment, and wandered the market getting all love-bubbly about produce and cheeses and Oyama Sausage and the dreamy fishmonger who talked me into buying his fresh-fresh-fresh halibut.

But we’re not into shortening long stories around here. No. In the immortal words of my grandmother, “to make a dull story long:” Beets.

Beets are largely misunderstood. I believe it’s because they come in cans and $1.09 tins of beets are kind of gross and when you’re a kid and your parents are poor and don’t notice that there’s a whole section in grocery stores with fresh vegetables, you get shit in cans, or in bags that you keep in the freezer. I kind of wonder if grocery stores didn’t have produce sections in the 1980s. I’ll bet they didn’t. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a grandmother who pickled beets in magic. I have been a beet fan since my first magenta pickle.

It’s important to me that beet biggots be shown the light. There is no vegetable that cannot be made holy: it’s all in the preparation. And for beets, that means roasting.

To roast a beet, treat it like you would a potato you intend to bake. Give it a rinse, scrub off any crud, but don’t peel it. Put it on a piece of tin foil big enough to cover the beet. Salt. Pepper. A drizzle of olive oil. Wrap it up, and then throw it right on the rack of your oven, which should be a balmy 425°F. Depending on the size of your beet, the thing will roast for 60 to 90 minutes before it’s done. My beets were a bit bigger than my fist (I have adorable little paws), and took just under an hour and a half to become tender.

Prepare an ice bath. Once the beets are good and tender (stick a fork in one), pull them out of the oven and unwrap them immediately, dropping them directly into the ice bath. Let them cool there until you can handle them comfortably. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to rub the skins right off.

What do you do now? Well, that depends. If you’ve just spent the day being enticed by fish mongers and all the ways to fritter away the last of that paycheque you just got, you may want to make a salad out of them. You have all that halibut, after all.

Beets have mad sex appeal.
Beets have mad sex appeal.

I made that picture humongous because I wanted you to see all the beautiful colours. You can’t see them though. They’re there. Maybe there’s too much cheese.

So what do you need to make this happen? Two large beets. Or a bunch of smaller ones. Golden AND regular if you can find both. I also had a candy cane beet that was supposed to really make this lovely, but it was diseased. Don’t eat diseased beets.

A handful of very small tomatoes. I found these little orange heirloom cherry tomatoes and immediately felt that deep spiritual connection that one does when all atwitter at the sight of little tiny vine fruits and the joy of an impending feast.

Bocconcini. The amount you need will vary depending on the size. Mine were about the size of purple summer plums, so I used two.

Basil. Fresh. Chopped.

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Pairs excellently with halibut (pan-fried in butter with a capers and garlic, and seasoned sprinkling of salt, pepper, and lime zest), asparagus wrapped in bacon, and minty potatoes (roast new potatoes or chopped white, red, or purple potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes in a bit of olive oil, and toss with a tablespoon or two of fresh mint).

Do you hate my table cloth too?
Do you hate my table cloth too?
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.

Anyway, for a great meal, start with beets. Also, maybe stick a Post-It to your bathroom mirror with a reminder that you ate beets the night before so that the next morning you don’t freak out a little and think you’re hemorrhaging or dying or something. That’s no way to start your day. Beets: Exciting!

Puttanesca: Scandal Pasta for a Night Alone

Sometimes I like an evening to sit around in my underpants eating my favourite things and sipping the kind of wine that Nick can’t drink because he’s never learned to sip and big red wines give him headaches. And he doesn’t like olives or capers and I don’t think he’s ever tasted an anchovy, and the obvious question is “why did you marry him?” but the truth is this whole ’til death thing was kind of revenge for both of us. So sometimes he’s away for the evening and that’s when I make spaghetti alla puttanesca, that delicious brothel favourite that goes tremendously well with a fruity (yet manly) malbec, both of which are infinitely better when consumed on the couch while wearing your favourite underwears and a shirt you don’t mind splattering sauce on, because it’s messy. And that’s sexy. Try to imagine me thinner and dripping with spicy, briny pasta sauce. Instead of bloated and wearing Nick’s elephant-eating-a-guy beige T-shirt. I’ve never been cool. Or alluring.

Italian hookers smell like garlic and olives and strong cheese. I'm hoping to adopt one.
Italian hookers smell like garlic and olives and strong cheese. I'm hoping to adopt one.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

(About enough for two. Serve with delicious crusty bread.)

Don’t worry about the measurements for this. You should be impassioned and a little sweaty while you make this. And you should be wearing red lipstick.

  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti (note: that’s a 1/2 lb. pre-cooked. I have no idea how much it weighs when it’s cooked.)
  • A splash of good olive oil – maybe a tablespoon, maybe two
  • 1 tsp. dried red chili flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (don’t get all anal-retentive about the mincing – it doesn’t matter here. Chunks are fine.)
  • 10 to 12 kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp. small to medium-sized capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 5 or 6 canned plum tomatoes, diced
  • A splash of wine – whatever you’re drinking will probably do; red is better
  • A heaping tablespoon or so of chopped fresh parsley
  • Grated pecorino cheese to top (if you don’t have it, regular old parmesan will work fine too)

Boil a big enough pot of salted water to cook your pasta. Measure out enough for two servings – 1/2 lb. should do. When it’s boiling, put noodles in pot.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. When it’s hot, toss in your chilies, your garlic, your olives, and your capers.


Let them cook for a minute or so together, then toss in your lemon zest, your tomatoes, and your anchovies. Toss these in the pan together until your pasta is just about al denté, or about six minutes. When it’s just about ready, drain off your pasta and throw it into the pan. Add the wine, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Give the pasta two to three minutes to finish cooking and absorb all those sumptuous flavours.

Just before you remove it from the heat, throw the parsley in there, toss again. Get a smug, self-satisfied look on your face at how good this smells.

Plate it, on one or two plates, or plate half and put the other half in a container for your lunch tomorrow. I guess you could even divide this in four and serve it as a side dish. But this pasta is kind of a big deal, so I wouldn’t let something stupid like chicken relegate this to the side.

Shave as much cheese as you like onto the top of the pasta, and serve as is, with a side of bread.

Plated puttanesca awesomeness.

I didn’t tell you to add salt or pepper, because the sauce itself is very salty with all the olives, capers, and anchovies, and the chilies add the right amount of heat, but if you’re into salt-licks and you just can’t live without pepper, add either or both in at the end of cooking.

For dessert, I’m considering a modest bowl of strawberries with a dribble of cream and a delicate sprinkling of berry sugar. I don’t know why people worry about dying alone – if you can cook, it hardly matters, because you can continuously delight yourself, and you never have to wear pants and you can drink the whole bottle of wine if you want to. And no one ever gets all disappointed in you for staining their shirt and leaving dishes everywhere and spending ten dollars on a jar of olives that you’ll eat over the course of a single episode of Iron Chef, which some people think is weird and kind of a waste of ten dollars.

I like Nick. I don’t know why he likes me.

Food porn.
Slightly blurry food porn.

Vegetabletarian? We serve your kind here.

Wow. Been a real keener with this blog stuff lately. Been cooking a lot too, motivated in large part by this non-pink camera and my desire to learn how to take non-blurry pictures. Also, would be okay with someone coming over to take pictures for me. So I invited Chris Gerber, Nick’s friend with the good camera, over to eat. I like Chris Gerber.

A lot of kids aren’t eating meat these days. Weird, right? Some of them came over for dinner tonight. I’ve found that the challenge with vegetarian cooking is that people don’t really “get” vegetables. They get meat though. Meat is the main course, and that’s that. So vegetables are kind of an afterthought – just dump some hollandaise sauce on them, and they’ll be good to go. Much as I love a good litre of hollandaise, one cannot coat everything they eat in egg yolk butter sauce. Bad idea. Pretty sure that’d kill you.

The challenge tonight was to approach vegetables in a way that allowed vegetables to behave like a main course without everyone feeling like the vegetables were either imitating meat or that the whole dish was suffering for the lack of meat. For someone that keeps a jar of bacon fat in the fridge and dreams of the many uses for schmaltz, this is no small thing. But not impossible. No. Not impossible.

The solution? A little pea and asparagus risotto with bulgur and a rustic onion and fennel tart, adapted (and improved upon) from this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine. Also, a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and basil, all drizzled with delicious olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I got the basil from the plant on my balcony. It was real good.

It’s quite late and I don’t actually have a recipe for the risotto … it’s all in my head and I don’t feel like trying to remember it now. I am going to try and remember it later, and tell it to you again – I may have to re-do it and take notes throughout the process so I can report back. If you know risotto, it’s made the usual way, only with vegetable stock and peas and asparagus thrown in. I added the bulgur for nuttiness, and because I have a freaking ton of it, because I was on a total bulgur kick a few months back. So you get the onion-fennel tart thing, and some lovely pictures, a few of which were provided by the talented and artistic Chris Gerber. The crappy blurry ones are from me.

Rustic Onion and Fennel Tart

(Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
  • 5 tbsp. ice water


  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream of crème fraîche
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk

To make the dough, measure the flour and salt into a bowl. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter into the bowl, and toss together lightly. Using a fork or a finger, pour the water gradually into the mix. You want the dough to form a ball, and to be relatively firm. You may not need all of the water. When a dough-ball is formed, wrap it in a sheet of plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge.

Start cutting the onion – thin slices. Do the same thing with the fennel bulb. Thin. Get your butter melting in a pan. Once melted, dump your onions and fennel into the pan, with four of the sprigs of thyme, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Start the pan on high, cooking until softened, eight to ten minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until onions are golden and caramelized. The recipe says 20 minutes, but it lies. It’ll take half and hour. Once the onion-fennel combo is complete, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream/crème fraîche, and season with whatever salt and pepper you feel it needs.

Preheat the oven to 375°F, and butter a cookie sheet.

Grab your dough ball out of the fridge. Lightly flour your rolling surface. Make sure it’s clean. Dough doesn’t hide the crusties you let harden on your countertop. Pat the dough ball down, and roll the thing out. Once it’s thin and rolled, fold it back into a ball-like shape, and start again. You want the flour and the butter to be all inter-mingled and stuff so that when you bake it, the pastry gets all flaky and luscious, not hard like shingles. When it’s all rolled out, move it over to your buttered cookie sheet.

Pour your cooled onion-fennel mixture onto your pastry. You want there to be about an inch and a half border around the mixture, because you’ll be folding the edges of the tart in, making it look all rustic and homemade, which is totally in right now. It looks like you tried hard that way, even though this was super easy and monkeys could do it.

Lay the remaining two sprigs of thyme over top your crust, and brush with your egg-milk mixture.

Your pre-baked tart should look like this:

Pre-baked tart.Bake for 40 minutes. I thought I had a really good picture of the tart, but I get really distracted really easily, so I guess I forgot to take it. Your finished tart will look like the thing at the top right of this photo:Tart with other food.The other stuff there is the risotto and the salad, which were also good. At least, I thought they were good. The thing about these food blogs is that it’s kind of my word against anyone else’s. But, to be fair, no one gagged or was all, “Ew, WTF? Why are you feeding me poison?” So, awesome show. Great job. IT ALL TASTED GOOD.

There was also dessert. I made mango upside-down cake, but it got a little botched when I tried to take it out of the pan. Solution? Cover that shit in caramel sauce. Caramel hides flaws. And helps the broken parts of cake get stuck back together.

Cake!Oh! I used my last vanilla bean in the whipped cream. Well, not my last, but the last in that open container. Glad that story line is now all wrapped up.

I’ve included some of Chris Gerber’s actual attractive images below. He didn’t give me all the photos he took, which leads me to believe that the others were way too good to share, so instead he’s taken them home to paint them for me in watercolours, so that I can get all Cook’s Illustrated on this blog.

Chris Gerber interprets salad.
Chris Gerber interprets salad.
Chris Gerber takes sexier pictures of dessert than most people could.
Chris Gerber takes sexier pictures of dessert than most people could.
Chris Gerber photographs yesterday's shrimp recipe. My penmanship is really nice, so I take half-credit fot the artistry of this one.
Chris Gerber photographs yesterday's shrimp recipe. My penmanship is really nice, so I take half-credit fot the artistry of this one.

Conclusion? Vegetables are tasty. People should eat more of them. Unfortunately, they do not possess the sedative-qualities of large hunks of meat, so it’s 1:04 am and I am still wide-awake. Thankfully, there was wine left over. Good night.