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

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.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

When you have a baby in BC, they send a public health nurse to come and make sure you know what you’re doing and that your living room isn’t a meth lab, and with the little pork chop, things were no different. And while the nurses at the hospital were amazing and lovely and I wanted to bring each of them home to live with me, the public health nurse sucked.

I am sure that she meant well. She contradicted everything the hospital nurses said, and then went on to list the things I was doing wrong and the things I shouldn’t do wrong in the future. And then she gave me some pamphlets, and a DVD about purple crying, and told me I should let the baby decide our schedule because wanting to get more than an hour’s sleep in one go is selfish and his needs are sensitive. Did I want him to have abandonment issues? Did I want him to be an emotional eater, a problem drinker, or an Adam Sandler fan? I am sure that she meant well. Or maybe she was just kind of an asshole.

Either way, figuring that she knew best, I tried to follow her instructions so as not to permanently ruin the boy. I was never able to get him off the bottle so he will probably be obese and emotionally distant. One thing you find out pretty quickly is that every nurse, doctor, or person with children is an expert and is happy to offer his or her opinion, and each of those opinions contradicts all of the other opinions you’ve already heard. And that everything you do wrong will eventually be the reason why your child grows up to be a nihilist or a crackhead.

Piece by piece the public health nurse’s advice unravelled. He preferred the bottle, and we preferred sleeping three hours at a time, and then four hours, and now sometimes seven. We run the bath a little warmer and he doesn’t cry, and we let him watch TV sometimes when one of us is making dinner and the other has to go to the bathroom. The last warning she offered was about putting the baby to sleep on his stomach – you’re never supposed to put a baby to sleep on his stomach.

The kid wouldn’t nap. He was tired, and he would cry and cry about it, and it was, quite frankly, tiresome. We both knew that he needed to sleep, but he had to sleep on his back which was the rule. And so every single day, we would battle over naptime, and I would put him down to sleep as he rubbed his eyes and his fat bottom lip quivered. And he would cry and I would give it 25 or 30 minutes and then I would pick him up and the two of us would sit down on the couch and he would complain about how I was mistreating him and I would agree that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.

We did the whole nap-on-the-back thing today, and it went the way it always does. But today, after I picked him up and pat his back and told him that we do like him, we just like him better when he’s rested, I put him back in his crib, down on his stomach, and within 30 seconds he was asleep, and though I checked him every five minutes to make sure he wasn’t dead, he slept nearly three hours.

The baby napped today. THE BABY NAPPED TODAY.

So I did what I like to do when I have some time alone. I made a little treat, and read a little bit of book, and had a full sandwich uninterrupted and it was everything I thought it would be.

The little treat was a little bit of jelly. The sun has come out the past few days this week, and there are Meyer lemons at the public market, and for the first time in months I felt like something cool and fruity instead of something hot and chocolate. A little lemon juice, some sugar, and a pot of green tea turned into something pleasantly bitter and refreshingly tart – the kind of thing one might enjoy during a few fleeting moments of quiet.

If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons but increase the sugar to a full cup.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 packets of unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 teabags of green tea
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (from two or three Meyer lemons)

Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup of cold water. Scrape into a pot with the rest of the water, the sugar, and the tea bags. Heat until sugar and gelatin have dissolved, but do not allow the liquid to boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let sit for five to ten minutes, so that the tea can steep to taste.

Divide between six ramekins, and refrigerate until set, two to six hours.

And if you have the time, a nap and a treat will brighten your mood right up.

Roasted grapes.

Four o’clock in the morning is cold even when all the windows are closed and you’re wearing flannel jammies and slipper socks. 4:00 a.m. used to be different, maybe because anytime I found myself there it was because I had been having too much fun, and my veins were warmed by the coursing of so much rum through them. I remember dancing until my clothes were soaked through with sweat, then packing into the always-busy 24-hour pho place on Broadway for a bowl of rice noodles and beef wontons. It is less fun to be awake now than it used to be.

At four there is no traffic on the street outside. There is little activity on Facebook or Twitter to serve as a distraction. Even the cat will not be coaxed awake.

The baby sleeps long hours through the night now, waking only briefly every now and then – he sighs heavily and his eyes flutter, but his fussiness is mostly gone. He’s a bottle baby, so he gets to sleep while I wake every three hours to pump his meals. I keep a lamp on in the living room at night, so when I wake up I can see Nick’s face and the baby’s in the shadows, both of their mouths wide as they breathe deeply, right arms at ninety-degree angles above their heads, snarfling and snoring in their separate beds.

When I sleep I dream about sleeping.

On the one hand, I am very tired. On the other, these moments alone in the lamplight are mine, and I savour the time on my own. Also, four o’clock is a peckish hour, and I always need a snack.

Roasted grapes

This idea comes from Fine Cooking, with some adaptation. I prefer to use seedless red globe grapes, and to roast them longer than the original recipe calls for. Some olive oil, some maple syrup, and a pinch of salt are all you need. They will take on a jammy, almost molasses taste. Serve these over ice cream.

  • 1 large handful of seedless red globe grapes
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small baking dish, toss grapes with oil, maple syrup, and salt.

Roast 20 to 25 minutes, turning the grapes occasionally, until they are soft and their skins have ruptured.

Serve hot, over ice cream.

These are easy to make ahead and reheat, if you’d prefer. They are great as they are, or as a side for roast pork, or as part of a fancier dessert that you might serve to company. But in those cold hours before dawn when you’re wearing flannel pants, they are at their best.

Nectarine kuchen.

This week has been my first week off work, and the days are long. Where last week I spent my days in a panic that I wouldn’t get everything done before this kid arrives, now I am beginning to think he’s never coming. The doctor assures me that “we’re close,” but that all I can do now is wait.

Patience is not my virtue, and “any day now” is not enough information to make plans around.

It’s a weird feeling, this lack of a sense of purpose or structure. In the absence of a real to-do list, I don’t do much of anything. I should probably finish addressing the thank-you cards from my shower. I should put the laundry away and do something about the kitchen floor.

I was proud of myself yesterday because I made dinner, a word that if I were being totally honest would be placed in quotation marks. We eat a lot of take-out. During the day, when the light in this place is most oppressive, I wander up and down Granville Street because I am told that walking will help speed things along. At home the cat no longer feigns interest in our conversation, though we do spend long hours napping.

The evenings are much nicer. The light is softer, and people come over. I feel most like myself in the evenings.

My parents called on Saturday to tell us they were going to come over on Sunday to bring baby things and dinner. There are still local peaches and nectarines at the markets, because the season was late this year, so I grabbed the last few big nectarines in the bin and decided to make dessert, which counts toward my total productivity for the week and also means cake for breakfast until the leftovers run out – double win.

The nice thing about this dessert is that you do it in bursts with long stretches of sitting down in between. You make the batter, and then it rises, and then you put the batter in a pan, and it rises again. You make the topping, and it macerates, and then you bake the thing. Not much standing, at least not for too long.

It’s also fun to say – kuchen, or “kooken,” and oh how I wish I spoke German. And while I wasn’t sure of it as an after-dinner treat, this kuchen would certainly be lovely with tea in the middle of the day if you were going to have company some Sunday afternoon. It’s not too sweet, with a coarse, bread-like crumb and slightly yeasty taste that was nice (but not what I was in the mood for post-pasta). You’ll want to serve it warm, ideally the day it’s made, but it does reheat well.

I’ve made minor adaptations to the Gourmet Today recipe, as I didn’t like the lemon in it and wanted a touch more vanilla. And while the Gourmet recipe calls for those cute little Italian prune plums, I am not ready to bid farewell to sweeter, muskier stone fruit just yet. In winter this would be nice with a whisper of cinnamon and topped with poached pears or thin slices of orange.

Nectarine kuchen

(Based on plum kuchen recipe from Gourmet Today, page 733; serves 8.)

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, warmed to about 110°F
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into tablespoons (room temperature)

Topping:

  • 1 lb. nectarines, pitted and sliced to between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick
  • Half of one vanilla bean, scraped
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar

Butter a 9″x13″ baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and water and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

In a large bowl, beat 1 3/4 cups flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, vanilla, and yeast mixture at medium-low until smooth. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, sprinkle dough with remaining 1/4 cup of flour, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Leave to rise somewhere warm for 45 to 60 minutes (until doubled in bulk).

Stir batter until flour is thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into prepared pan, cover, and let rise until doubled, another 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine nectarine slices with vanilla bean and brown sugar. Toss to coat, and let stand at room temperature, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Drain liquid from nectarines, and arrange nectarine slices over top of dough. They can overlap. Bake until cake is golden and fruit is tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Roasted peach sorbet.

It’s chaos in here as our move-in date was bumped up to September 15. Nick wants to paint the new place, because when we moved in here no one had and it has driven him insane for most of two years, so he’s been wandering the hall between our two places for weeks, looking at paint chips and trying to determine how dark is too dark for an accent wall and exhausting me with so many questions about so many shades of blue. He made a monster out of the cat, who had previously not known that there are other apartments (and therefore, grand adventures) to be had in this building, and now she sits most of the time crying by the door, begging to be let out into the world.

We’re all pretty pathetic, and between the cat’s howling and whining and Nick’s puttering and pacing and me we’re not finding the energy to pull ourselves together and get properly sorted and packed. There are stacks of things, “go through it” piles that don’t get gone through, and Nick keeps saying horrible things like “you don’t need all these books, maybe get rid of some?” I’d like if we never have to move again.

So I did what I do whenever I don’t want to do any of the things I’m supposed to. I made a project out of the fruit in the fridge, and sorbet resulted, and it reminded me of desserts I ate in Paris and so I went back there in my mind. Once I had black currant sorbet with cold fresh strawberries dressed with just a whisper of brandy, and it was soft on the tongue and pure fruit – better than ice cream, if you can believe it.

I adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe for nectarine sorbet. It’s peach season now, and because Okanagan peaches are perfect we only ever eat peaches when Okanagan peaches are available. For a few weeks every summer, we have peaches in our oatmeal, on our salads, and sliced over vanilla ice cream. I buy too many, and the peaches at the bottom of the bag turn soft, not good for eating raw but ideal for roasting. So this is a roasted peach sorbet, and it is as fruity and clean as a French sorbet and it will help you enjoy what’s left of the summer or forget about how many things you have to do this fall.

Roasted peach sorbet

  • 2 lbs. fresh peaches, halved, stones removed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Zest and juice of one large lemon

Heat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.

Place peaches cut side down in dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the fleshy sides have turned golden. Remove from the oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest five to 10 minutes.

Remove foil, and peel skins off peaches. Discard skins. Place peaches in a blender with remaining ingredients, pulse until smooth, and then strain into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cool.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve on its own, with assorted other fresh fruits, or with a touch of your favourite liqueur.

And then after that, go look at the cutest cat on the Internet.

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.