Category Archives: Breakfast

Sweetness and Thorns

It’s that time of year again…  Heading towards the warmest months of summer when the sweetest berries ripen.  And in this hottest time of the year, it also brings us back around to canning time.  Come January I’ll be trying to invent things that will heat up the kitchen like canning does, but in July and August… in our house without air conditioning… making jams and other preserves makes the house feel something like an Amazonian rain forest.  Only the love of jam, the availability of free (when you know where to harvest the wild thing, or have your own bushes) berries, and the desire to actually be able to pronounce the ingredients in your food would lead to such folly.  In short, I love it.  😉

20140725_110030

Gooseberries are some of the most beautiful berries ever.  They look jewel-like and the resulting jam… worth every single thorn.

20140725_141835

I left the lemon half in the shot to give a sense of scale, but man… these little buggers can leave a mark.

Now my favorite berries, blackberries and blueberries, will not be ready for harvest for a couple more months.  The harvest season that is soon upon us, however, is that for the gooseberry.  This is not Dave’s favorite berry.  He likes the jam well enough, but this delicious jam comes at a prince, and a bloody price at that.  This rather innocent looking bush is studded with profoundly sharp thorns to protect its delicious produce.  These are not like the puny thorns that snag you from blackberry bushes, but gooseberry thorns are more like mini daggers that sink into your skin and will not let go.  Last year Dave was in Belgium on fieldwork when the gooseberries came ripe so it was only myself and Little Man to gather our berries.  He says it was academic work.  I think it was to avoid the gooseberries.

IMG_0010

Little Man was my gooseberry helper last year.  He brought one of his superhero action figures and played in the dirt, tossing in a few berries here and there.  His favorite part was dumping my “picking bucket” into the larger berry bowl.  Kids can help in lots of ways.

Besides the issue of harvesting the gooseberries, the berries will need to be stemmed and tailed.  This can be tedious, but I have found that doing this with a friend (or my husband) along with a nice cold beer (or maybe two, but remember you need to keep your wits about you if you are making the jam right after preparing the berries) makes the process a lot nicer.  If that does not help, just keep reminding yourself how amazing this jam tastes.  You truly cannot buy this flavor from the store.

20140725_110004

Removing the stems, tails and leaves from freshly picked gooseberries can be tedious.  Grab a friend and a favorite beverage and make the chore into something fun.

Making Gooseberry Jam
Ingredients

4 cups of gooseberries (stemmed and tailed)
1 ¼ cup water
1 lemon, juiced
4 cups sugar

Directions

  1. Prepare your canner, jars, lids and rings. Place a couple of small ceramic dishes in the freezer.  You will use these to test your jam’s doneness later.
  2. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven combine half of the berries, lemon juice and water. Bring the pot to a boil and cook the berries for 10 minutes.  Some of the berries will start to pop and the liquid will turn garnet red.
  3. Add the rest of the berries and the sugar to the pot and stir over gentle heat (about 10-15 minutes) until the sugar dissolves completely. Do not rush this part or the sugar can crystallize (aka bad mojo for jam).  Once the sugar grains are all dissolved bring the berries and sugar to a full, hard boil that cannot be stirred down.  Stir often for about 10-15 minutes with a long handled wooden spoon to ensure the jam does not stick or burn.
  4. To see if the jam has set, remove one of the chilled plates from the freezer and drizzle a little bit of the hot jam mixture onto the plate. Then tilt the plate to let the jam run.  If the jam firms up quickly and sort of crinkles on the top, then it is done.  If it does not firm up quickly, then let it continue to boil hard for a couple more minutes and test it again.  Keep going until you get the crinkles, then you are ready to fill.
  5. Once the jam is firming up well, remove it from the heat and skim off any foam. This can be set aside in a bowl to add to a nice piece of toast to celebrate your hard work.
  6. Fill and process your jars based on the manufacturer’s directions. I like to use wide mouthed 250 ml jars.
  7. After the jars are processed, set them aside to cool for 24 hours. Resist the urge to touch or move them during this time.  If any lids don’t seal properly, simply put those jars into the refrigerator and enjoy over the next couple of days.  The sealed jars can be stored for up to one year.

    Click here for a printable version of the Gooseberry Jam recipe.

  8. After the jars are cooled, clean them off and remove the rings. Label your jars clearly with the name of their contents and the date they were sealed.  Store the jars in a single layer in a dark, cool area.  Do not stack your jars on top of one another.  The reason you remove the rings is that if something went wrong with the canning and bad stuff is growing in there, the lid will lose its seal and pop open.  This food should be discarded and not eaten.  If you keep the rings on or stack something on top of your jars, then you cannot tell if a seal has popped.

20140725_182127

Gooseberry

The innocent little bush, just waiting for this years victims… I mean berry pickers…

Breakfast Snack Cookies

Somewhere along the way we developed a morning routine of Little Man waking up and heading to the couch for a little TV, a drink of juice and a snack to tide him over until breakfast.  I don’t mind this window of quiet since it buys us a bit of time to start moving (and thinking).  Neither Dave nor I are particularly quick or quick witted first thing. What I’ve tried to do for these morning snacks, is find something that still registers as a treat for him, but that I can feel good about giving him to eat.  For Little Man, the greatest treat in the world is a cookie so treats in that form are generally a big hit.  Then I just wanted to make one that was as choc full of goodness (and tastiness) as I could come up with.  Enter the Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookie.

Once you move beyond the fact that they are delicious, they are also wheat-free, vegan and low FODMAP compliant, though none of those labels sound particularly tasty.  So if you’re going just for taste, ignore those last few disclaimers and get ready for a deliciously chewy cookie that you can feel good about feeding your family for breakfast or snack… or for treating yourself to as well.

With these, or pretty much any kind of cookies, I like to bake off a dozen right away for snacking and then freeze the rest in logs for slice and bake cookies.  For one thing that keeps me from eating an entire plate of cookies immediately since I don’t have a massive pile of cookies in front of me, but it also lets me vary things for Little Man in the mornings for snack time.  One of the things I read while researching Little Man’s dietary issues, is that especially if you have a picky eater, you should never serve your child the same thing two days in a row for breakfast.  Since Little Man is a picky eater and has the dietary issues, it felt like we were only feeding him two different foods for breakfast.  So now I try to have 4-5 breakfasts that I cycle through on any given week.  For us that’s often pancakes, eggs/toast/bacon, waffles, baked oatmeal, french toast, and a Dutch apple baby (baked pancake).  This is also why I like to keep homemade frozen pancakes, waffles, and bread in my freezer.  I make a batch of something and then freeze a good amount of it for use later in the week.  It’s not a perfect system, but it lets me rotate things through for Little Man and hopefully keeps his taste buds ready for new things to try.  FIngers crossed…

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookies
I love that I can give these cookies to my son without feeling guilty about the ingredients, and the fact that he loves them because they’re delicious. Loaded with oats and peanut butter, these cookies give a good boost of fiber and protein, as well as a bit of chia goodness to round things out. I like to bake off a dozen and then freeze the rest of the dough in logs so I can bake more  whenever I want. Just add 5 minutes to the baking time if baking from frozen.

Ingredients:
2 tsp. chia meal (see note*)
2 tbsp. water (plus ½ cup for use later on)
¼ cup margarine, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl combine the chia meal and the water, and let it sit for 5 minutes. This becomes your chia egg (aka egg replacement).
    IMG_3923

    All you need to make your own chia meal is a bag of chia seeds and a coffee/spice grinder.  This lets you create a healthier chia meal since your freshly ground meal retains more of the essential oils.  Store bought chia meal is much older and the oils have started to dissipate.

    IMG_3926

    It may not be pretty, but this peppery-gray goo (aka egg replacer) is full of nutrients, and helps wheat-free recipes hold together.

  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the margarine and peanut butter until fluffy. Add the chia egg, brown sugar and vanilla and beat until combined.
    IMG_3927

    Getting the margarine and peanut butter ready.  I use a good quality soy-free margarine.

    IMG_3928

    The beaters make fast work of blending my ingredients together, but you can do this by hand or with a stand mixer depending on your “tool” of choice.

    IMG_3930

    These are the last ingredients for using the beaters (or stand mixer).  From here on out you will want to use a spoon to combine the remaining ingredients.

    IMG_3931

    And here is your lovely batter, ready for the best parts… the oats and chocolate chips.

  4. Add the water, oats and baking soda, stirring by hand with a spoon or mixing on a lower speed in a stand mixer so the oats do not get too broken up.
    IMG_3933 (2)

    I like to stir this part by hand with a spoon so the oats do not get too broken up.

    IMG_3935

    Just missing the chocolate.

  5. Stir in the chocolate chips, and use two spoons to portion and drop tablespoon sized dough balls onto the parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.
    IMG_3939

    This is Little Man’s favorite part since he needs to play Quality Inspector and make sure that the chocolate is fit for people to eat.

    IMG_3941

    Since this is an egg-free batter, the raw dough is safe for snacking on.  Little Man is not generally lucky enough for this, however, since I like to keep as much batter for cookies as possible.

    IMG_3943

    I did not use a scoop to form these cookies, just the old-fashioned method of two teaspoons.  If you do use a scoop, press down on the center a bit to flatten the cookies so that they cook through well.  This batter does not spread like some others do.

    IMG_3945

    More cookie love.

  6. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, then allow to cool on the baking sheet for five minutes. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely (of course, you should munch on a couple while they are still warm… just to make sure they are good). These cookies tend to be more fragile than cookies with lots of flour, but their taste makes up for any potential fragility.

    IMG_3955

    Since there is no flour in this recipe the cookies can be a bit fragile.  Let them sit on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

  7. The dough can also be rolled into a log inside plastic wrap and frozen for slice and bake cookies. When you want the cookies, simply pull out a log, unwrap the portion you want, slice off cookies and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° and check after 10 minutes. They may need a couple of minutes more since they are baking from frozen. Enjoy!
    IMG_3946

    I like to bake off a dozen of the cookies fresh, and then save the rest of the batter as freezer rolls to bake whenever I want them. So start with a sheet of plastic wrap and dump a portion of the batter onto the center of the plastic.

    IMG_3947

    Form the batter into a log-like shape using the sides of the plastic.

    IMG_3950

    Don’t feel that you have to be too precious about the thing and roll the perfect log.  No one is looking, so if your cookie log isn’t perfect it is no big deal.  And if anyone wants to critique your cookie log shape… perhaps they are not worthy of your cookies.  Just a thought.  😉

    IMG_3953

    Sometimes the cookie logs do not last long enough in the fridge or freezer for me to label them.

    IMG_3955

    The finished beauties.

IMG_3957 (2)

Now I just need a cup of tea and I will declare it snack time.


Note
: Chia seeds lose their awesome oils quickly once ground, so try not to buy them pre-ground as chia meal. Make your own chia meal by blitzing up chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor. You can also do the same with flax seeds, or make oat flour by blitzing up whole oats (not instant, please). Store any extra chia meal in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Click here for a printable version of the Oatmeal Peanut Butter Snack Cookies recipe.

Pancake Breakfast

I love Saturday breakfasts, and I guard this morning jealously.  Little Man is getting of an age when dance or sport classes might make an inroad to our Saturday breakfasts, but not quite yet.  It’s the one morning of the week when we don’t have to rush to be anywhere else.  No one has changed out of their sleep clothes before breakfast.  We haven’t washed our faces or brushed our hair, we just relax and enjoy being with each other.

Two of Little Man’s most requested breakfast foods are pancakes and waffles, which I don’t mind since I can still try to chock them full of as much nutrients as I can, then sit back and enjoy my own buttery, mapley goodness.  I love pancakes too.

IMG_3618

My favorite pancake recipe is adapted from one that we learned in upstate New York, from a family cookbook of dear friends that’s kept up at their camp.  When made with all purpose flour, these are the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever had.  The only problem with them was that I always ate too much, and that left me feeling all sorts of blah.  So sometime after we moved away from New York I started experimenting with shifting the recipe around and incorporating whole wheat flour.  They were still fluffy and awesome, but I could feel good about incorporating some whole grains into them and they didn’t leave me collapsed on the couch.  I tweaked the recipe a bit more, thinning it out a bit when I wanted to make fun pancakes for little man, like his initials or a reindeer face, but for the most part I was very pleased with my Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes.

Then came the shift in our diets and wheat was no longer welcome in our household.  It has been a tough break up.  Though I find that some of the gluten free flour blends are fine in some baked goods, I wasn’t happy with them in pancakes.  Then I tried replacing the whole wheat flour with spelt flour, and the results were fantastic.
IMG_3627The spelt flour pancakes are not quite as fluffy as the whole wheat version, but they are incredibly tender and have great flavor.  They aren’t just vehicles for butter and syrup, but have a great nutty taste of their own.  I do still need to thin the batter a bit to make the decorative pancakes, but a little loss of fluff is worth the gain in Little Man smiles when I made planet pancakes for his birthday.

For this post I’ve included recipe links for both my Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes and my Perfect Spelt Pancakes.  The only difference between the two is in the flour used, but for the ease of people searching for recipes I’ve included them both.  The pictures here are from making a batch of the spelt flour pancakes.  If you are gluten intolerant, this recipe does work well with gluten free flour blends.  I’ve also dosed both versions of the pancakes with a good amount of chia seed meal with the goal of sneaking in whatever extra nutrients I can to Little Man’s diet.  You can, of course, purchase chia seed meal in the store, but it’s just as easy to buy a bag of chia seed and pulverize a bit every now and then in a coffee grinder.  That way you have the whole seeds around if you want them, and you can grind up the meal whenever you want.  I tend to make about 1/2 cup of chia seed meal at a time, and keep the rest in a baggy in the freezer.

Another plus is that if you have extra pancakes (or want to make an extra batch) these store really well in the freezer.  Little Man often eats pancakes or waffles for breakfast during the week when there is no way that we have time to make them from scratch.  So I tend to make larger batches on the weekend and freeze the leftovers.  A couple of seconds in the microwave or in a warm skillet and they are ready to go.

Oh, and one last thing before we get down to the recipe.  As one batch of pancakes are done, I put them in the warm oven on a baking tray and then start another batch.  The main joy of Saturday breakfast is that we all get to sit down together to eat, not to have one family member constantly cooking pancakes to only see them devoured before the short order cook ever gets a chance to sit down.  So use your warm oven well.  Get the food cooked that can hang out for a bit, like the pancakes and bacon, make the coffee or tea, doing the eggs last.  Then make sure that you get to sit down with your family and loved ones for a well deserved meal.  You want memories with your family, not ones where they only remember you standing by the stove.

Little Man and I adding frozen blackberries to a batch of pancakes in our "Saturday best."

Little Man and I adding frozen blackberries to a batch of pancakes in our “Saturday best.”

Perfect Spelt Pancakes
Ingredients
:
2 cups spelt flour
2 tbsp. chia meal (aka ground chia seeds)
1 ½ tbsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
2 cups almond milk (or any kind)
2 eggs
3 tbsp. oil
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (optional)

Directions:

  1. Heat a cast iron griddle or other large, flat skillet over medium heat. If necessary, brush your griddle with a little canola oil. Turn your oven on to low (200°) and place a baking sheet inside.

    You don't have to use a griddle to make pancakes, but the nice large flat surface makes it easier to form and flip the pancakes.  A pan with higher edges can make things a bit... awkward.

    You don’t have to use a griddle to make pancakes, but the nice large flat surface makes it easier to form and flip the pancakes. A pan with higher edges can make things a bit… awkward.

  2. In a large bowl whisk the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and set the bowl aside.
    The chia meal looks like a nice heap of black pepper right now, but it will completely disappear into the batter soon.

    The chia meal looks like a nice heap of black pepper right now, but it will completely disappear into the batter soon.

    The mixed dry ingredients with the chia incognito.

    The mixed dry ingredients with the chia incognito.

  3. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, measure out the almond (or cow or coconut or soy, etc.) milk then break in the eggs and add the oil. Stir with a fork until the yolks are broken and the ingredients are more or less combined. This doesn’t need to be perfect.

    I like to in my milk into a large measuring cup, then add the eggs and oil.  They all get mixed together in this cup without dirtying another bowl in the process.

    I like to in my milk into a large measuring cup, then add the eggs and oil. They all get mixed together in this cup without dirtying another bowl in the process.

  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to blend well.

    The batter is ready to go.  If I am making fancy or decorative pancakes, then I like to remove a bit to a small bowl and thin it out with some extra milk.  Then I put it into the pancake pen, or just free hand initials or planets or bunny bums, etc.

    The batter is ready to go. If I am making fancy or decorative pancakes, then I like to remove a bit to a small bowl and thin it out with some extra milk. Then I put it into the pancake pen, or just free hand initials or planets or bunny bums, etc.

  5. Make sure your griddle (or pan) is heated and oiled. Pour the batter onto the griddle in the amounts you desire. I use about ½ cup for a really big pancake with a tablespoon or slightly more for silver dollar sized ones.

    When I called these "perfect" pancakes, I was talking about taste not presentation.  I'm not interested in making Yoda faces or artistic pieces too pretty to eat.  These are pancakes.  They should be fun.  Don't sweat it if your child's initial is barely legible.  As long as they know what you're trying to do, you've succeeded.

    When I called these “perfect” pancakes, I was talking about taste not presentation. I’m not interested in making Yoda faces or artistic pieces too pretty to eat. These are pancakes. They should be fun. Don’t sweat it if your child’s initial is barely legible. As long as they know what you’re trying to do, you’ve succeeded.

  6. Wait until the edges of the pancakes start to look a bit dry and the bubbles stop forming. This is a relative waiting game, and will differ based on the heat of your griddle/pan, etc. Flip your pancakes and adjust the heat. If they are too brown turn down your heat and wait a moment to let the griddle/pan cool. If they are too pale, raise the heat slightly.
    The first batch of pancakes is always the sketchiest.  The griddle may be too hot or too cold.  Just adjust your settings or batter and keep on going.  You can always serve the "special" pancakes last.

    Look for the edges of the pancakes to start to be a bit dry and for the bubbles to slow in forming on the tops. This means that the pancake is set enough to flip without splattering all over the pan.

    IMG_3622

    The first batch of pancakes is always the sketchiest. The griddle may be too hot or too cold. Just adjust your settings or batter and keep on going. You can always serve the “special” pancakes last.

  7. Once cooked, remove the pancakes from the griddle and put on the warmed baking tray in the oven. Repeat with all of the remaining batter until all the pancakes are cooked. Prep/cook any sides you want, and warm the maple syrup (the real stuff, please). Enjoy an awesome breakfast!
    Pancakes staying nice and warm in the oven until the rest of breakfast is ready to be served.

    Pancakes staying nice and warm in the oven until the rest of breakfast is ready to be served.

    Any leftover pancakes can be reheated during the week for a fast and awesome breakfast.  I often make extra just so Little Man has some good pancakes to eat on a rushed week day morning.

    Any leftover pancakes can be frozen and then reheated during the week for a fast and awesome breakfast. I often make extra just so Little Man has some good pancakes to eat on a rushed week day morning.

Click here for a printable version of the Perfect Spelt Pancakes recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the Perfect Whole Wheat Pancakes recipe.

I woke up to the snow…

I woke up to the snow, but didn’t really give it much attention (other than groaning at the delay of Spring) until I tried to step outside for a quick jaunt to visit “the ladies” to gather some eggs.  I say that I “tried” to step outside since at first I couldn’t tell where the steps up from our basement were.  The three squat steps from our basement door to the driveway had been reduced to a fluffy hill of snow, with no indication of where each individual step might be.  I stood there for a moment, confused, as if trying to remember what the landscape was supposed to look like.   In my defense I hadn’t had any coffee yet, and my only goal was to get the eggs quickly so that I could make breakfast in time for the gold medal men’s hockey game between Canada and Sweden.

So I girded myself, clutched my egg basket tightly, and plunged outside into what I hoped was the path to the hen house.  I more or less found the stairs and with my sorely abused pink Uggs, plowed my way up the low rise.  With each step my boots disappeared into the 2+ feet deep drifts, and with each step some snow made its way into my boots.  Who needs coffee, a little snow inside your sockless boots will get you going in the morning.  Snow hat flopping.  Egg basket dangling.  Balance swerving with each step into where I hoped the path to the chicken house lay.  I was a picture of beauty and grace, and hopefully I was the only witness to my progress.

My poor, abused boots disappearing into the snow they were not designed to handle.

My poor, abused boots disappearing into the snow they were not designed to handle.

Once I retrieved the eggs, I realized that I hadn’t considered the difficulties of returning to the house through the deep snow with a basket full of eggs.  Luckily both the eggs and I returned to the house unscathed, if a bit frozen around the edges. With the eggs secured for breakfast I put together a “fancy” version of Eggs-in-a-Hole.  In the spirit of the gold medal game I used a maple leaf cookie cutter to cut the Canadian symbol into our toast.  Little Man got the more traditional torn out hole for his toast to accommodate his Scrambled-Eggs-in-a-Hole.

A fancy version of Eggs-in-a-Hole in honor of the Canadian men's gold medal hockey game against Sweden.

A fancy version of Eggs-in-a-Hole in honor of the Canadian men’s gold medal hockey game against Sweden.

042

Alas my yolk broke for this picture, but in my defense my fingers were still frozen and I really wanted to get the food served so I could watch the game.  Little Man’s toast was torn to accommodate the volume of his Scrambled-Eggs-in-a-Hole.

My well-intentioned ode to Canadian hockey.

My well-intentioned ode to Canadian hockey.

After breakfast and with two gold medals in hockey for Canada we donned whatever snow-sort-of gear that we had (we are still woefully under equipped for weather) and ventured outside.  The snow came up to Little Man’s hips, and he was not impressed until we got him out onto the “sort of plowed” road where he could run and move more easily.

The snow came up to Little Man's waist, yet his dad doesn't seem to mind.

The snow came up to Little Man’s waist, yet his dad doesn’t seem to mind.

Trucking down the "sort of plowed" road.

Trucking down the “sort of plowed” road.

Hoops, anyone?

Hoops, anyone?

When we couldn’t take the cold anymore, we retreated back to the house.  Little Man had a well deserved warm bath, and then we all were treated to steaming mugs of Auntie Erin’s Hot Cocoa.  The past present to ourselves on our Big Snow Day was an afternoon nap.  Bodies tired out from playing in the snow.  Bellies warm and filled with cocoa.  Toddler snoozing in the other room, and us sprawled gracelessly across the bed.  It was heaven.

118

A fairytale wilderness

A fairytale wilderness

Mommy, Where Are We?

Little Man and our "big, big, big, big" tree

Little Man and our “big, big, big, big” tree

“Mommy, where are we?”

 Ever since the move, our son asks us this a couple of times a day.  When we ask the question back to him, he answers that “we’re home.”  Not having had anything in his experience to prepare for (or to understand) our cross-continental and over-the-border move, he’s still working out what “home” is.  And frankly, so am I.

 So where in the world are we? 

Country: Canada

Province: British Columbia

Island: Island!?!

OK, one more time… Island: Vancouver Island

 As the second house on the farm property we are surrounded by trees and pasture and wilderness, but in less than 10 minutes we’re back down in town close to dozens of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or the sea wall, or the library, or within 15 minutes to the university where Dave teaches.  We seem far from everything, but can get anywhere in a matter of minutes.

 When Dave’s mom, sister and I were first driving out here to view the property this “closeness” was not apparent.  Having lived in the American Midwest for a number of years I was not as immediately worried about the wilderness as my lovely, city-raised travel partners.  The minute we passed by the last subdivision and there were more trees than telephone poles my in-laws got fidgety.  There was quite a lot of nervous giggling, and “where ARE we?” questions.  Our odd mumbling GPS didn’t help matters, nor did my cryptically written directions.  Was I even awake when I wrote them down?  Then finally we passed two mammoth Easter Island heads (moai) in the middle of the forest, and turned right onto our road.  I know this may sound odd, but all of you archaeologists out there (in career or in heart) will understand when I say that those heads seemed like a good omen to me.  They are incongruously perched amid the cedars that run alongside the road, and the first time you catch sight of them they can be startling.  I still have no idea why they are there, but I’m glad that they are.

 Our neighborhood seems like two sides of a fairytale.  A few homes, all with incredible gardens and most with chickens, wrap around a short lane.  This is bordered on one side by grassy fields and restful horses, and on the other side by a gentle downward slope leading to a low, damp pasture ringed with trees and a small pond.  When I first saw this view on that cool Spring evening, the edges of the bottoms were fringed with a silver mist, and I imagined all sorts of magical creatures emerging from the forest darkness.  Or then again, maybe a slip back in time, before the Hudson Bay Company and the miners and the loggers, when this land was filled with a very different type of civilization.  The darker side of the fairy tale I learned later that evening.  This land used to belong to a British aristocrat, tales of the native peoples who might have called this place home long buried.  The aristocrat wanted to create a home more suited to his fancy, and drained a lake that once filled the pasturage below that I had been admiring.  That story still makes me think about a novel I’ve read, the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain, where the evil sorcerer-lord drains a magical elven lake.  The drained pasturage today is beautiful, particularly when the sheep are slowly munching their way through the cedars.  I do wonder, though, what it was like before; and what older beauty was destroyed to make this current beauty possible.

 Now our “home” borders this beautiful expanse.  When Dave came home from his first soccer practice, we sat outside under the little arbor on a bench. Sipping beer we sat and ogled the view, laughing at what had brought us here and not quite believing that we’d landed in such a beautiful place.  This is where Little Man’s first memories will be formed.  Amazing…Sunflower3

 As I try to create my own sense of “home” in my wilderness, I’d like to share the latka recipe that I mentioned in an earlier post.  Mom made these latkas for me and my brother every Saturday morning throughout my entire childhood.  They are one of my earliest food memories.  I also remember spending the night at my Grammie’s house as a young girl and asking her to make these latkas in the morning.  She didn’t know how to make them, and I was young enough that even though I had helped my mom make them countless times I did not know how to explain the process or the ingredients.  Later I would pay much closer attention to what Mom was doing so I could also recreate that taste, and now they are probably my most powerful comfort food.  These latkas were a part of our Independence Day(s) dinner, and are still my go-to comfort Saturday morning breakfast.  Little Man is going to love them!

 Mom’s Latkas

Latkas are traditionally Jewish, specially served at Hanukah, but I have also had them at diners in different parts of the States.  I have never had the opportunity to eat them homemade anywhere else than my own home.  They’ve become the kind of dish that is so closely embedded in my own culinary identity that even though I am not Jewish, I don’t think that I could try any one else’s latkas (except for my Mom’s) with an open mind.  When Dave and I were dating, in fact, he asked me to send him the recipe (more of a method at that point) so he could make them for his family when he went home one Christmas.  I was later horrified to hear that he’d had the audacity to grate cheese into my latka mix.  While that could be a lovely oozy hash brown recipe, I was not amused that it had ended up in MY latkas.  I haven’t shared the recipe with anyone since, but now in my quest for home I’m sharing the recipe again hoping in the sharing some sense of “home” can be created here as well.  So traditionalist (with a side of apple sauce and sour cream), anarchist (grated cheese in the batter…) or just plain wonderful on their own, I hope you love these as much as I do.

 Makes about 12 medium-sized latkas.

 3 medium (2.5 lbs) Russet Potatoes

4-5 eggs

¼ cup garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Canola oil for the pan

 Preheat your oven to its lowest setting.  You will keep the cooked latkas warm in the oven while you finish cooking the rest.  I am not a mom who stands at the stove cooking while everyone else gets to sit down and eat the delicious food.  I like to cook them all, keeping the done ones warm in the oven, and only when the last latka (or pancake, piece of french toast, etc.) comes out of the pan do we all sit down to eat together.

 Line a large nonreactive bowl with a clean kitchen towel (not a fuzzy one) and grate the potatoes into the towel-lined bowl.  Collect the four corners of the towel together and squeeze the potatoes firmly over the sink to drain out the extra liquid.  Put the potatoes into the bowl and set aside.  Some people like to drain the potatoes in a colander for 30 minutes or so, but I am not that patient.

Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl

Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl

Grated potatoes after being squeezed

Grated potatoes after being squeezed

Pour enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet to coat the pan well.  Don’t skimp here. By having a good amount of hot oil in the pan you can get a good golden crust on the latkas.  Too little oil and the latkas stick to the skillet, and oil that isn’t hot enough lets the potatoes soak up too much oil creating greasy latkas.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot.  Do not try to use olive oil here, as it will burn.

 Now back to the drained potatoes.  Break the eggs into the grated potatoes and add the garlic powder, as well as a good amount of salt and pepper.  It will seem like you are adding an excessive amount of dried spice, but you’ll be surprised by how much it takes to season the latkas.  I often start with about a tablespoon of salt and pepper depending on how much potato I have to start with.  Stir the mixture together until well blended.

It is always a good idea to break eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then add them to the main mix.  That way if you get a bad egg you have not ruined your entire batter.

It is always a good idea to break eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then add them to the main mix. That way if you get a bad egg you have not ruined your entire batter.

Lovely latka mixture.  You will not know if you have the seasoning right until after you taste the "tester."

Lovely latka mixture. You will not know if you have the seasoning right until after you taste the “tester.”

 When the oil is hot take about a tablespoon of the mixture in a slotted spoon and put it into the hot pan, pressing down lightly to form a rough pancake shape.  Cook this “tester” latka until golden on one side and then flip it.  This should only take a minute or two if the oil is heated well.  Once the latka is crispy on both sides remove it to a towel lined plate and taste.  The “tester” lets you gauge if you need to add any more garlic powder, salt or pepper.

Latkas frying on their first side

Latkas frying on their first side

Latkas on the flip side

Latkas on the flip side

 Once you have the mixture seasoned properly, drop more latka mixture into the skillet.  I use about 1/3 of a cup of mixture each for four good-sized latkas cooking in the pan at any given time.  It is important to use the slotted spoon for the latka mixture, as the potatoes will give off liquid as they sit.  You don’t want soggy latkas, so let the excess liquid drain out of the spoon before you drop the mixture into the pan.  Cook until the latkas are golden on one side, flip them and crisp the second side.  Between batches you can add more oil as needed, heat the oil again, and then add another batch to the pan.  As one batch of latkas is done, remove it to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep them in the warm oven until ready to serve.

Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.

Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.

Latkas

Print on the link above to open a pdf of the Mom’s Latkas recipe card that you can print.

Food and Family, Family and Food

One of the biggest perks of this trans-continental move has been getting closer to family; or at least closer to my in-laws.  We are on the correct coast for my family and their air travel time was cut down by three hours, but we are not close enough to allow for frequent visits.  Luckily for our Little Man, however, he at least gets to be closer to one set of grandparents… finally.  The saddest part, of all of our moves, has been moving farther away from friends that have become family.

Living in the American Midwest we were lucky enough to have a couple of visits from family each year.  Within the first two weeks of living on the island we had three visits from family, with others planned for the near future.  This is my idea of an embarrassment of riches; access to family.  Now if we can just get my parents to move a bit farther north… but I digress.

Little Man and Dave wading out into the ocean

Little Man and Dave wading out into the ocean

Little Man and Daddy wading out in the ocean

The water was amazingly clear and shallow for quite a ways…

The most recent family visit to our little homestead was Dave’s sister.  I have been blessed by being a part of multiple families of very strong women, and Dave’s sister is one of them.  Because of the distance that used to exist between our respective homes, you could probably count the number of times that I have actually been able to visit her on two hands, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know her even better now that we are so close.

When we got a weekend planned for E to come out, we were all very excited and my mind immediately went to what food I could make.  I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from cooking for people, and from trying to find the perfect thing or meal to create that fits that person.  In E’s case, however, this can be tricky, but to quote her son “tricky, but I can do it.”  For various health reasons Dave’s sister follows a unique set of dietary guidelines; not quite vegan, not quite macrobiotic; not quite gluten-free.  Her diet is distinct enough that my “go to” ideas of home-made scones and cinnamon rolls did not seem appropriate (though I shamelessly will use those to lure any other family and/or friends to come and stay with us… they’re tasty… you know you want them…).  Now before I give anyone the wrong idea, E is also completely “no muss, no fuss.”  She does not want anyone to feel they must cater to her eating style, and in fact has been known to bring all of her food with her so as not to cause anyone stress or hassle to feed her.  Challenge accepted!

For dinner I knew that I wanted to make something out of a macrobiotic-inspired cookbook that E had given me a couple of Christmases ago.  The recipe I chose was the Rustic Pasta from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet.  I have not yet gotten permission from the publisher to post the recipe, and since I did not do anything to make it my own I’ll just have to point you in the right direction for the moment.  If/when I get permission to post the recipe I will.  In the meantime I can at least tell you that it is a recipe that should not work.  It is a simple whole wheat pasta dish with quite a lot of onion and cabbage, and a sauce that combines a little bit of soy sauce with a little bit of marinara sauce.  It should not work, but somehow it does.  Even Little Man agrees, but I do admit to a liberal dusting of his favorite parmesan on top.  I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to try it if E wasn’t coming to visit (motive) and if we had not just harvested a cabbage from the garden (means).  Let’s just leave it at the fact that the dish was so good I just made it again for our family for dinner and Little Man scarfed it up again.

Freshly picked cabbage for a Rustic Pasta dinner

Soon to be freshly picked cabbage for a Rustic Pasta dinner

The recipe I want to highlight for this post is also not my own, but I have gotten permission to share this one with you.  Kiersten Frase has an amazing blog called Oh My Veggies – A Vegetarian Food Blog (www.ohmyveggies.com) that I have been truly enjoying.  In fact, one of her recipes has become my go-to breakfast.  Her Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake (click on the text link to go to the site and recipe) takes only minutes to prepare the night before.  In the morning simply toss the pre-mixed ingredients in the blender, blitz it up and you are ready to go.  The shakes are creamy, intensely chocolaty and taste like a great milk shake even though they dairy free.  The one change to the recipe that I make is blending in two ice cubes per serving just before pouring the shakes.  This makes them even frostier, giving more of the ice cream texture.  Kiersten also has a Chai Breakfast Smoothie, which we love, and a Piña Colada that I haven’t had a chance to try yet, but chances are it will be delicious.

Oh My Veggies Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shake

I made Mexican Chocolate Breakfast Shakes for the three of us, Dave, E and myself, and Little Man did his best to smile his way to repeated tastes from all of us.  Little monkey!  The shakes were the perfect start to our morning.  We ended up doing a day trip out to Chemainus, which is about 20 minutes south of Nanaimo.  Chemainus is a pretty little town with great character right on the ocean.  It is famous for its numerous murals, but Little Man wanted nothing to do with that, and instead pulled us along to the playground by the water.  The water was cold but not quite toe-curling, and amazingly clear.  Our little guy had a great time wading out with his Dad and looking for shells in the shallows.  He also developed quite the crush on his Auntie, or I should say has rekindled the flame.  Little Man has only had the chance to spend time with E on two or three trips, and each time he falls for her hard.  Good thing the feeling seems to be mutual.

Family at Chemainus Beach

Family at Chemainus Beach

Two Independence Days

Did I mention that we made the move to Vancouver Island the day after Canada Day and two days before American Independence Day?  So even though I had warned our American bank that we’d be moving to Canada, an automated system caught our Canadian purchases and “temporarily” froze our account… the day before the Fourth of July… so no live person would be in the office to fix this problem until July 5.  Argh!  Our dilemma was discovered when we tried to buy sushi from a take-out joint for dinner.  Thank goodness we had not decided to go to a sit down restaurant, had eaten our food and then found out we had no funds at all.  I don’t know what we would have done.  Would they accept our toddler helping us wash dishes as payment?

 So we went home, frustrated and concerned about what we were going to eat that evening and the next day until the American bank opened again and freed our cash supply.  Luckily the day that we unloaded our moving van I had visited the grocery store for a few staples.  We had oatmeal, bananas and milk for toddler cereal in the morning, and I had also bought a bag of potatoes on the off chance that we just needed something comfort foodish…  I don’t know about you, but basically any type of comfort food for me includes potato in some form.  It would be another day or so before I realized our farmer friends were growing potatoes in the garden, and oh what a splendid discovery that was.

 On the drive back to our sushi-less home, we remembered that we were living on a farm (yes, we were slow on the uptake that day…).  Most importantly in this case, we were living on a farm that had chickens, glorious chickens.  So we all put on grubby shoes and I grabbed a basket that usually held students’ papers and dropped in an unused (and unwanted) curtain as padding.  As our landlords were on vacation, their friends were stopping by to take care of the animals.  We had been told that we could collect eggs and eat from the garden while they were away.  As we trudged up to the chicken coup, we were praying that the farm help had not completely collected all the eggs.  They had not, but we will later find out that they had planned to do just that, which is a different story for a different day.

 In the meantime, we needed to collect dinner.  The three of us walked into the coup; or at least two of us did.  The previous day our son had decided that the sheep were “too loud,” but the chickens won his heart instantly. While his love was unwavering, he was not sure about walking amongst them and instead felt safer in Dave’s arms.  I can’t blame him, I’ve often felt the same way.  We collected nearly 3 ½ dozen eggs that day (remember the part about other people’s plans to collect eggs?  Oops!).

The ladies who saved the day

Collecting eggs for dinner

The best eggs you will ever taste

 Later Dave and his mom would comment on how confident I looked in the hen house gathering eggs, and they asked about where I had learned to do that.  My first thought was that it was egg collecting, not rocket science…  or even archaeological science.  Then I remembered that this actually was not my first time collecting eggs.  Visiting my Grammie’s small farm as a child I had also collected eggs.  I don’t think I did it often, and my main memory of this is being pecked by the chickens (not fondly).  Flash forward to the in-between time of Canadian and American independence holidays and I suddenly found myself living on a farm, with a hungry husband and child waiting for my efforts.  I think my long-missed grandmother was proud at that moment.

 With our egg bounty we headed down to the garden for some herbs and lettuce.  I found a little curly parsley, some fresh oregano and an abundance of chives.  Basket overflowing and toddler in arms, we headed back to the house.

 The potatoes were shredded, drained, seasoned and pan-fried into latkas like my Mom’s college roommate had taught her (this recipe will be shared in a later post).  Another 8 of our eggs were transformed into what I on the spur of the moment named Chinese Eggs.  I had never cooked with eggs that I had literally just collected minutes before.  Just like restaurants use descriptive names to entice our appetites, I use the same tactic with our son whose favorite food in the world is Chicken Fried Rice.  The only way I got him to try (and love) an amazing roasted sweet potato risotto was to call it Italian Fried Rice.  I have no shame when it comes to food shenanigans that get him to eat.  So our Independence Day meal (for both countries) was made up of my Mom’s Latkas, Chinese Eggs, a salad of freshly harvested lettuces and fresh herbs, tossed simply with a little olive oil, salt and white pepper.

 As we ate and laughed about our farm fresh feast, washed down with a lovely, cheap Californian wine I brought in my luggage, we sent all grateful thoughts to those chickens and their absent caretakers.  When Dave and I married in upstate New York, promising for better or for worse, much of what I was thinking about was the difficulties of life as an academic, especially for two academics in the same field.  I certainly did not imagine (in dream or nightmare) living on a farm, feeding my amazing family with the bounty that we had literally just collected from the ground 30 minutes prior.  All in all, this was a pretty good way to celebrate independence.

On my way to the chives

Chinese Eggs

I named these “Chinese” Eggs in honor of my profuse amount of chives, which reminded me of an amazing sautéed flowering chive dish I’d had at a much missed restaurant in upstate New York.  Using the catch word “Chinese” was also a ploy to entice my son to try them.  He usually does not like scrambled eggs, but he LOVES Chinese food.  In this case the ruse worked and he gobbled them up!  If you are curious as to why I only used half of the yolks in this recipe, I did that in an effort to lower our overall cholesterol intake for this meal.  Between the Chinese Eggs and the Latkas I used an entire dozen!  We didn’t finish it all, but that was still quite a few eggs on our table at once.  I also used white pepper as opposed to black because I had not yet found where I had packed the black pepper.  It was a fortuitous difficulty since the flavor of the white pepper was perfect for this dish.

 8 eggs divided (4 whole and 4 whites)

1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives and tarragon)

½ teaspoon white pepper

Salt to taste

Olive oil for the pan

In a medium bowl whisk the four whole eggs and four egg whites together.  Mix in the chopped herbs, pepper and salt.

 Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil.  Pour in the egg mixture and stir, stir, stir.  Cook the eggs until the whites are set and then remove them from the pan to a serving bowl.

 *If cooking for children, pregnant women or anyone who is immune compromised be sure to cook the eggs thoroughly.

Click the following link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.

Chinese Eggs Recipe