You CAN have too many giant turnips.

Every year I plant turnips because in late May and early June, I love (LOVE!) turnips. I think about sweet little baby turnips, steamed and tossed with fresh greens and maple vinaigrette, or cool fall evenings with turnips mashed with carrots and so much butter to accompany Bratwurst and grainy mustard. But I never remember to anticipate this.

I am a prolific grower of turnips. Maybe the picture doesn’t do her justice, but this pretty lady’s a D-cup. And she’s not the only one. There are probably 12 or 14 more of these, and I don’t know what to do. I love turnips. I don’t want to not love turnips. And I definitely don’t want to waste turnips, but I suspect very few of my neighbours want to walk out to find enormous turnips on their doorsteps – for some people, one turnip is too many turnips.

Do you have a creative use for turnips and (or) their greens? I’ve made them into gratins and mashes and gnocchi, but I’m running out of ideas. Help me. HELP ME.

Unrelated aside: if you have a minute, stop by and visit The Thirties Grind, where I’m featured as this week’s first REAL Real Housewife of Vancouver. Melissa’s blog is fantastic – her “Absurd Vancouver Property of the Week” feature regularly makes me laugh-sob and question my unhealthy relationship with this city.

But seriously. Tell me what you do with the turnips.

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New soil to till.

I was tossing sizzling olives, garlic, and chilies in a hot pan at the stove when the phone rang last night. Nick handed it to me, and I jabbered on for a few minutes, squealing intermittently and so excitedly that Nick and his brother-in-law, Nathan, were certain something amazing must have happened.

“Did they offer you that job?” Nathan asked, as I had an interview recently that I thought went not too badly.

“Did we get into that co-op?” Nick asked, as we were told we’d have an interview for a place in Chinatown that’d cost half what we’re currently paying for rent each month.

“No,” I said, “and no. We DID get a community garden plot, though, over on sixth – aren’t you so excited?!”

And I was very excited, and while they both claimed to be very happy for me, I think they underestimated how riled up I can get, especially about little things like a plot of dirt beside an abandoned train track. They ought to know by now I’d be downright screechy about the job or the co-op – the subtle difference between sound-effects is very important.

Anyway. Last summer, the lady who gave us a spot in her yard let us know she’d be moving, and so we’d be losing our plot. I never got to see my butternut squash mature, as she moved away before the last harvest of the fall. I had gotten us on a waiting list for a few community gardens, but was told there would likely be no spaces in 2012 and so had fallen into a bit of a sulk, as one does.

And then, just like that, someone gave up his space, and this morning I signed a contract and promised not to be negligent and abandon my plot to the weeds. So we have a garden – and it is beautiful in the way I imagined The Secret Garden was when I read the book as a child – and there will be picnics there. There are communal lettuces, berries, rhubarb, and flowers, and birdhouses containing chickadees and bushtits (which made me laugh through my nose because I am, like, nine). Our plot is in need of some work, but all the tools are there for us and it’s already been given its allotment of fresh compost.

Now we just have to figure out what we’ll grow. Of course we will have radishes, and as many as possible. But what else? What seeds would you suggest to a pair of would-be gardeners on the west coast who want a high probability of success and do not desire a challenge?

Fish and chips.

Vancouver is the sort of place you kind of want to run away from for about eight months of the year. When the clouds are low and the rain never really lets up, it’s awfully dark and everything is just so … moist. The smell of the city in this weather is distinctive, and in places where a lot of bodies are crammed together, the scent is reminiscent of a herd of damp sheep.

(Either we’re comfortable and we’re the third-worst-dressed city in the world, or we’re stylish and we smell like fusty wet livestock.)

It’s sort of weird then that the place I’ve been fantasizing about lately is London. Rainy London with its fish and chip shops and dark beers and the possibility that one might trip over Clive Owen and somehow get to keep him. If I’m going to have to bundle up for the rain, I’d rather do it someplace with good fried fish to eat when I come in from the cold.

This recipe is based on one from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook, which is an excellent guide to British seafood and seafood cookery. I used a local cod, but you can use whatever white fish you prefer.

Tip: Use any remaining batter to coat thin slices of dill pickle. Fry in oil heated to 350°F until crisp and golden, about two minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt to serve. (Fried pickles are also amazing with hot sauce.)

Fish and Chips

(Adapted from the Billingsgate Market Cookbook. Serves four.)

  • 2 lbs. white fish, cut into eight pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning or curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 12 oz./341 mL bottle of your favourite beer

Sprinkle fish pieces with 1/4 cup of flour. Set aside.

Cut potatoes into pieces about 1/2-inch thick, to the length you prefer. Shorter pieces means more fries, and I like more fries. Soak in cold water for five minutes, then remove to a wire rack lined with paper towels and pat thoroughly dry.

If you have a deep-fryer, heat your oil to 325°F. If you don’t, then pour oil to a depth of two inches into a heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. Using a candy thermometer to monitor the heat, bring the oil to 325°F. Blanch potatoes in batches for 3 to 5 minutes each (unless you’re extremely daring/stupid like me, in which case blanch them all at once while wearing oven mitts and instructing whoever’s close by to stay near and hold a large box of baking soda for the scary grease fire that will surely break out when all that oil boils over into the burner). Place blanched potatoes back on wire rack. Pat dry with paper towel.

You’ll spend a lot of time patting stuff dry. I might not have mentioned that.

Combine flour, Old Bay or curry powder, baking powder, cayenne pepper (if using), and salt. Whisk in beer until a thin batter forms; add water to thin as needed. Increase the heat of the oil to 340°F.

Using tongs, dip each piece of fish in batter to coat, then dredge for 10 seconds in the oil before releasing. If you just drop the fish into the pot, it’ll stick to the bottom. Fry for five to seven minutes, or until crispy and golden.

Set fish on paper towel to drain, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Heat oil to 350°F. Return potatoes to the pot in batches, cooking until golden (another five minutes or so). Remove from oil to paper towel, sprinkle with salt, and then serve.

Serve fish and chips hot, with slices of lemon, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating dessert outside at sunset: important.

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

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

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

(Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book)

Cake

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

Topping:

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

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

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

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

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

Top batter with fruit.

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

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

 

Strawberries.

In France when Grace and I were there, it was strawberry season. At the market in Lyon, I could barely choose from three or four different kinds, and eventually settled on a container of tiny fraise du bois, which smell like those sparkly red strawberry marshmallows from the penny candy bin and taste like the concentrated musk of spring, like dew and flower petals and the nectar sucked off clover tips, and like deep, dirty red – if a colour can have a taste, those thumbnail-sized ruddy berries were vermillion.

Before we left, Grace plotted out the best places for us to eat, and I nodded happily along as she prattled off the names of places we would go to in the France that belongs to David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, and Clotilde Dusoulier. We followed them all over Paris and Lyon to markets and bistros and crêperies, devouring as much as we could.

In many of those places, there were strawberries, and wherever there were strawberries a meal felt French, like a postcard picture of how France has always been in some memory you may or may not have but know just the same. I wish my story could begin with some treacly revelation about how “I found myself in Paris,” but myself and I have been familiar far longer than is noteworthy; you might not be impressed, but I’ve been this way all along. It’s truer and far more romantic to say that “I found strawberries in Paris.”

The best place for strawberries was a restaurant called Spring. It’s an expensive little restaurant, and Grace made a reservation online before we left and then never heard back from them, and she worried that we would not have a table for lunch. She attempted to confirm the reservation, in French, which proved inconclusive. We decided to meet there at the scheduled hour after wandering separately in the morning as we had disparate destinations (mine involved the purchase of seeds to one day grow fraise du bois of my own), and though my inability to read a map pulled me the opposite direction a long way down Rue de Rivoli, we were both able to make it in time.

At Spring we had a perfect meal – cool tuna belly with chilled asparagus, sorrel, and tonnato sauce; cold white wine; crisp fried anchovies; masterfully seared filet of acorn-fed, bushy-banged black pork with grilled wild fennel; five cheeses, tiny bites but more than enough to know everything important about – or at least to imagine in detail – five different terroirs; chocolate sorbet with cocoa nibs and white pepper; pistachio cream stuffed between two homemade chocolate wafers. And strawberries, orangey red and topped with a dome of sweetened crème fraîche and dusted with ground pistachios and sugar. They could have served it in a bucket and I still wouldn’t have had enough, and I’ve been dreaming of those berries ever since.

When we returned to Vancouver, almost nothing was in season yet. I’d have to wait a month, at least, for the first berries of summer. More than six weeks have passed since we’ve been back, and finally this past weekend I got my fix. Tracy and I made a date and drove to Westham Island, to Bissett Farms, and picked as many strawberries we could in one afternoon.

It’s been chilly for an unseasonably long time on the coast, so the berries are more tart than I was expecting. This year you may want to sweeten your crème fraîche more than you might otherwise. To recreate my dish, select as many small strawberries as you can fit into four handfuls. Wash and hull the berries, and put them into four ramekins or parfait cups. Stack them jauntily. This is important.

Sweeten one cup of crème fraîche with one to two tablespoons of honey and a drop of orange flower water, if you’ve got it. Grind freshly roasted pistachios, about 1/3 cup, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar in a food processor. Spoon crème fraîche over strawberries, then sprinkle each serving with as much pistachio sugar as you feel like. Imagine Paris.

 

 

Avocado waffles.

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

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

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

Avocado waffles

(Serves four)

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

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

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

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

Cook in waffle maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.