Friday, July 03, 2009
I always wanted a yellow hue in my kitchen. I meant the walls, though. Not the stove. Or the counters. Or the cupboard. Or the range hood. Or me.
Yesterday I decided to go Moroccan. I had nearly all the ingredients for Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables. Despite the missing baby onions, I went ahead anyways. I knew I was in for a long process as it basically a gently simmered stew but I learned a valuable lesson. I should have switched from the large skillet they suggested to my deep-sided dutch oven. At least the lid was a better fit. Probably would have used a lot less paper towel. And a lot less scrubbing with the magic eraser.
The recipe was definitely a keeper but it still seemed like it was missing something. The Frog and I aren't exacty sure what it is yet. It could be the baby onions but I doubt it. There was a whole lot of fine chopped onion in the mix too. We guessed maybe it was missed merguez. We have had this dish before in France. It always had merguez in it with the chicken. Since we aren't near any merguez right now, we can't try it again any time soon. We hope to rectify that within the month. Then we can let you know.
I got this recipe for Kseksou Bidawi Bil Djej (Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables) from The Food of Morocco: A Journey for Food Lovers. It was, minus the merguez, a very similar recipe to the couscous you can get in a large can on any shelf in a French supermarket (I know what you're thinking: "A CAN?" but I have to say the canned, jarred and frozen meals to be had are way superior in taste to the stuff you can usually get in North America).
Couscous with Chicken and Vegetables (adapted from the above book)
1 roasting chicken cut into 8 pieces
4 tbsp ghee
1 yellow onion
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground saffron
1 cinnamon stick (3 inch piece)
4 cilantro sprigs, 4 parsley sprigs tied in a bunch
1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins
3 zucchini cut into chunks
1 cup frozen green peas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
boxed couscous, cooked to instructions
3 tbsp butter
3 tsp harissa, or to taste
The chicken doesn't need to have the skin removed. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan (with high sides and a fitted lid). Add chicken and brown on each side. Reduce the heat, add the onion and cook until softened. Stir in the turmeric and cumin. Pour in 3 cups of water, then add saffron, cinnamon stick, bunch of herbs and tomatoes. Season with 1 1/2 tsp of salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes. Add the carrots and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Add the zucchini, frozen peas and chickpeas and cook for 20 minutes or until the chicken and vegetables are tender.
While the stew is cooking its last step, prepare the couscous. You can used water or chicken bouillon (for more flavour). Stir the butter through the couscous.
Put 1 cup of the chicken stew broth into a bowl. Add 3 tsp of harissa paste and stir in.
Serve stew on top of the steamed couscous. Add extra broth and harissa to moisten.
Serves 6 (or allows for leftovers for the next day)
Try and fuss with it yourself or make suggestions if you know what is missing. Let me know.
Oh, and be careful. It may not happen if your lid is a perfect fit but still... The steam is yellow. REALLY yellow. And it likes to settle everywhere. Be prepared to kill a tree's worth of paper towel, just in case.
Friday, June 26, 2009
This past year was the first year that I taught Kindergarten. I worried a year ago that I might not be cut out for kids that young. Now, a year later, I wonder what took me so long to know how much I'd enjoy this grade. I'm a bit sad and miserable right now that I won't have my little ducklings anymore. I know I'll have a new set this September but I grew so unbelievably attached to the ones of this past year. There will be a whole new set of interests and games and make-believe that will make me miss the quirks and charm of my last set.
I'm going to miss the children marching around with stuffed animals and blocks on their backs, singing "The Ants Go Marching", pretending to pack food down to the ant home. Or setting up the chairs to play taxicab, arguing about which side the driver sits on. Or telling me that they couldn't find the body of the bird that we found on our walk, saying that 'God must have come down to take him home to heaven'. Yeah, I'll miss those little moments. Yeah, I know I'm moping. And yeah, I know that I'll be moping about this again next year.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
My query only lasted a moment as I greedily started eating a rare coastal treat--ooligans.
Far in the distant past, during teaching school, I had the opportunity to string these plump, greasy little fish on long strips of cedar bark. The weather was grey and bitter cold, my fingers were numb from the cold wind. Perhaps that was a blessing because I recall, as I poked thin little withies through their fearsome little jaws, that their teeth 'bit' me constantly. After a day of hard work, stringing lots of the little buggers for wind-drying, weaving poles through gills for the smokehouse and cutting sealion into strips for smoking, we all sat down to a good feast of bbq'd ooligans and fried bread. I remember from the first moment they touched my lips how their slick, toothy rawness didn't give any suggestion to its future as a unctuous, meaty fish that could be eaten whole--bones, teeth and all--with nary a tastebud offended by the thought of brains, eyes or innards.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I rarely see ooligans. They are a prized possession amongst the coastal peoples native to the west of British Columbia. Often these little smelts are rendered slowly into a fermented oil condiment, "grease" as it is known around here. Both grease and ooligans whole were once enjoyed in quantity in the past. The runs of fish get smaller and smaller each year, the cost of the grease goes up and up. So, when I tell you that a notice up at the local grocery shop offering ooligans for sale was like someone announcing that they were selling gold nuggets from their back door, you'll perhaps understand my own excitement and shock. I tracked down the house, payed a pretty penny for them (and rightly so since it's a delicacy these days) and nearly caused turmoil in the office when I share my tale of luck.
Because they are so flavourful and oily, they need little seasoning. I was told by an elder, whom I asked for cooking options, to just treat it simply--coat them in seasoned flour and fry, I was told. He suggested rice with dried seaweed as a side dish. Luckily I still had a bag of dried local kelp from a friend around. It was a good side to fried fish as its relatively plain taste carried and aided the richness of the fish meat. A bit of lemon to help along the oiliness and all was set.
With the very first bite, I was back, sitting on that stump by the backyard fire, munching on ooligans wrapped in fried bread. It was a good day and it's funny how a simple taste can bring it all rushing back. I was getting stressed with several busy days and boisterous children so it was good to recall a day when a job was completed and I was righteously tired, content with the world and its bounty. And, I thought, philosophically, as I ate myself nearly sick on them, even if life throws sharp little teeth your way, you can always cook them up and render them benign and maybe even quite tasty.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
I know I'll never win him over with my Greek pilaf dish (uber-loads of feta in there) but I manage to get him to look the other way when I pile feta on one of my favourite discoveries during my vegetarian years: Linguine with Wok-Fried Broccoli. This is a fun and fairly quick dish from one of Molly Katzen's great books. Obviously I don't mix in the feta as recommended at the end. I have to wait until it's on my plate.
I find this is a great winter dish because the broccoli and cherry tomatoes (which are the only fresh thing in winter that is called tomato and actually tastes like it) are readily available. It's also a very fresh and light dish so entirely appropriate for spring. I had the great fun of having multi-coloured tomato pints in the store and had to take full advantage of them in such a showcasing dish. Produce variety is not something we have much of up here in the boondocks of B.C.
Be very very careful with the broccoli while you cook... you might end up eating the fried broccoli all on its own before you can mix it with any of the other ingredients, especially if you let the florets brown and crisp up a bit. You think I'm kidding.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Arradon. It is a lost Arthurian kingdom. It is a whisper in a lover's ear. It is the sound of the waves hissing over the shore. It is a reverant prayer in a rock-ringed grove.
I know few places either large or small that carries such an ethereal quality in its name. Arradon is a small town on the south coast of Brittany. That sound so mundane, doesn't it? The place has many nostalgic pulls on my heart and I could never in a million years believe there is anything mundane about this town or any of the region (The Gulf of Morbihan) around it. I know that family and familiarity play a large part in my nostalgia for the region but there is something more that could draw anyone back again and again. There is something to the fierce pride in the unique culture of the region, the legends that envelop the place and the fey quality that haunts the countryside-- it pulls you back again and again.
I was so pleased that my Frogger in Law found a website that brought all the feelings for the boat-riddled ocean, the wisteria, blue shutters and thorny bushes back with a rush. I'd love for you to go there and see where my heart lies when I think of France.
* the photo is my own, not from the website
Sunday, March 22, 2009
When I was younger, my mother used to have us choose whatever we wanted for our birthday dinner. I guess my sister and my father were easy to cook for, easy to please. Things like chocolate cake, steak, pizza are pretty easy fare. Then there was me. I must have been the bane of my mother's life. Oh sure, I was easy to please in the cake department--chocolate or white cake with a jam center were fine for me. Dinner, however, was a research project for me. One year (and I don't even remember how old I was) I wanted an Egyptian-style dinner. To tell the truth, I don't even remember most of what we had except the honeyed carrots and dessert--rose leaf cookies. Essentially they were just sugar cookies flavoured with rose water. I think it was the first time I had something to eat flavoured with rose. It certainly made an impact on me. My poor family humored and indulged my flavour exploration--I was probably the only one that finished those cookies. Those cookies started my long love affair with rose flavouring.
I recently wrote about a rose-pistachio ice cream I had really wanted to taste while I was in France. It got me thinking about the rose petal jam I still had haunting my cupboard and how to use it. While hunting through a binder of recipes my mother gave me when I left home I came across a recipe for a dessert I hadn't had or made in ages--Jam Dandy Coffee Cake. The recipe was simple and tasty, a fond, sweet remembrance from childhood. I figured, since the base was a basic cake, the topping could be changed to suit any taste. I rummaged through my baking cupboard and found my pistachios, fished out my virginal jar of rose jam and hoped for the best. I'm happy to say that the result was a lovely, rich cake that would go well with a coffee and dessert service. Or, it could go well with a nice tall glass of ice cold milk.
Jam Dandy Coffee Cake
1 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup shortening, softened
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup brown sugar (I used a mix of white sugar, white sanding sugar and pink sanding sugar)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pistachios)
2/3 cup jam ( I used rose petal jam)
Set oven to 375 F. Beat all ingredients together except the sugar, nuts and jam. Beat with 50 quick strokes with a fork. Pour into a greased 9-inch square pan. Sprinkle top with sugar and nuts. Dot top with jam. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. I also made a raspberry and almond version today. If you think you can combine a jam and nut, give it a try.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I've made pastitsio so many times I could probably do it in my sleep. If you do everything efficiently, it doesn't take a large amount of prep time and then you can just stick it in the oven. It's really comforting on a cold, winter's night. It tastes even better the next day and it can double up very easily. Enjoy.
½ lb. very lean ground beef
½ cup onions, chopped
1can(8oz) tomato sauce
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp allspice
⅛ tsp nutmeg
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1¼ cup milk
2 tbsp flour
3 drops Tabasco sauce
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Spray 8x8 inch pan with non-stick spray. Add ground meat and onions to skillet. Cook until meat brown and onions soft and lightly golden, around 5 to 8 minutes. Pour off and discard excess fat. Add tomato sauce, half the salt, half the pepper, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Stir until well mixed. Add hot macaroni and parmesan. Stir until well mixed. Spoon into baking pan. Set aside.
Return uncleaned skillet to stove, adding milk and flour. Stir milk and flour together with the remains in the skillet until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat and cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in Tabasco and remaining half of salt and half of pepper. Pour white sauce over the meat mixture in the waiting baking pan. Bake in oven 25 minutes.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I waxed poetic about Le Pelican in Rochefort-en-Terre recently but I could wax onward poetically about the little town of artists. Rochefort is a tourist's dream.
After lunch, The Frog, Frogger-in-law and I searched for the entrance to the chateau at the peak of this town. The castle ruins here had been bought by an artist who built his home on the same grounds. The ruin still exists and the house has been converted, partly, into a museum. The museum was okay but I liked the park, gardens and ruins better. I was particularly charmed by the wishing well in the courtyard. Alas, my camera died here and I was quite without a charged battery so I couldn't get much juice left to take pictures of the church and town.
We visited the church and enjoyed its charms but it was the town that took my breath away. The town is a warren of little streets and stone steps. A number of shops nestle up against the main streets. Many building have vines and climbing bushes, some flowered, enhancing the already fairytale-like town square. The collection of shops would make a persons in love with books, crafts, baked goods and sugary confections fall madly in love.
The store I remembered the most was the confectioners and not just because it was one of the few shops with air-conditioning (really not that common in Europe) on that muggy day. I never did buy anything there but it was worth just walking around, ogling at all the varieties and quality and gem-like creations. My mind is swirling with all the confections that were there that day. They are all a whirl of candied fruit, marzipan, chocolate mousse and other such delights but I remember distinctly that ice cream I regret not getting--rose-pistachio ice cream. A number of the ice creams there looked to be a foodie's delight but the desire to have rose-flavoured ice cream still yanks at my imagination.
To help you walk the town and church, take a look here at dirkvde's flickr collection or learn a little more about the town here
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Back in the summer of 2008, The Frog and I were in
The first thing that we noticed was the room. The dining area, on first impression, looked like a hunting lodge and a part of a Sherlock Holmes novel. There was a large stone fireplace, wood panelling, red velvety chairs, and an exposed beam ceiling at which I couldn’t stop staring. The second thing we noticed immediately after was the quality of the service. From the beginning we admired the clockwork precision and ballet of the staff moving amongst the tables, the experience they had seemed to emanate from every fork placed and glass poured. Yet these both seemed to be the intricate setting in which the jewel of the food was placed.
When we’d begun with complimentary amuse-bouche—green olives and cheese-flecked pastry—we had no idea what a culinary pleasure we’d experience. As I described, I had an appetizer of quail which included its cold-smoked breasts (as did The Frog). What I didn’t say was that once I’d gotten over the shock of the cold meat, I tried one of the legs that accompanied the breasts. They were roasted and stuffed with the ground flesh of another type of game bird (I’m stumped right now for its name). I could have eaten just a whole plate of those. All this was accompanied by a small salad and a sunny-side up quail egg.
I did enjoy the nice contrast of all the subtle flavours of my main dish. Barley is an underrated accompaniment for white fish. The cidery sauce was just sharp enough to provide a top note to the fish’s middle note and the barley’s base note. They all married well together. I have to admit that I was a little less impressed by the main course than the stunning appetizer but I would be doing the dish a disservice to say it was a lesser quality. There was quality in every inch of every dish we had at that table. The food was an interesting mix of French traditions and experimental ideas in food. Even the bread mixed these ideas. There was a mixture of several choices of buns at our tables. I don’t know about the others but mine was bread heaven and almost too stunning to eat. Almost too stunning but not quite enough to keep my greedy teeth away.
I couldn’t decided at the outset what to order for dessert so I ordered everything. Well, not quite. Just a plate of all desserts in miniature. I had ones I liked more than others. I am not a big fan of whipped cream so the framboise cake was a bit disappointing. The chocolate cake was nice but oddly not what I had been looking for that day. The melon was ripe to perfection. Really, French musk melons really seem to blow cantaloupes out of the water. There was nougat ice cream which was nice but not as nice as the peach sorbet next to it. Yum! And of course there was the crème brulée. Who cannot like crème brulée? After, coffee was served with lovely little complimentary cookies.
Le Pelican seemed to fit very well into the theme of the town which seemed to be a colony of artistes clinging to the fringes of an old but partly restored chateau (which we visited later). The restaurant was a quiet little stronghold of quality and pleasure. I’d love to keep it a secret but it would be a shame that someone out there reading this wouldn’t know to try this restaurant with an unassuming outward appearance if they passed through the town.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I, like my young students, sat on the round carpet, drinking in yet another thlathla story. Initially we'd heard a cautionary tale, a typical "boogeyman" story of this culture. Now, however, our tiny, exquisitely wrinkled storyteller had a different look in her eyes. As she now told us the stories brought back by local hunters or fishermen, a look of a deep-seated belief and uncomfortableness shimmered in the depths. The students all leaned forward a bit as we listened, a little afraid to miss an important detail. I leaned in, too. I've always believed in the possibility of Bigfoot but here, on this isolated island surrounded by ocean, mountains and thick forests, I can practically feel the breath of one on my neck.
"It was in the tree, crying like a grown up man."
She'd reached back to her youth, recalling a personal experience. You can understand the belief in her eyes. Her quiet, expressive voice plants hooks in your imagination and you're running back home beside her, trying bravely to follow the thickly-wooded path home. You can hear the weeping high in the tree. You can taste the fear on her tongue.
I'll admit, this sweet elder is a wonderful storyteller. You might even pass off the story as another wonderful rendition of her endless supply of local legends and tales. If she was the only one to tell such stories, maybe that's all you'd think, but, she's not alone. From cradle to grave there is an acceptance of the preternatural world of ghosts and unexplainable creatures in this place. Belief in the existance of the Thlathla, the Bigfoot, is second only, I think, to the belief in ghosts. I've heard stories from many people both local and not.
Thlathla goes by many names up and down this coast. Almost always tall and totally hairy by description, they have been both respected and feared by the First Nations (Native Americans) along these shores. They are known as kidnappers and eaters of people or bringers of power and wealth. It's not just the local people, though. You'll find just as many people foreign to this island return to "civilization" with tales that seem to belong on a 'tales of the supernatural' show on a scifi channel--small boulders hurled at fishingboats by furry creatures, huge, bare-footed footprints found by hunters high in the mountains, police officers who pack their bags after returning ashen-faced from a lonely patrol night. Whether the story is based on experience or local lore, being here makes you a believer. It's easy to disconnect from the unexplained in the city but here you are forced to face the primeval fear of the endless distances, impelled to look past quick, dismissive explanations.
I came to this island already a believer in the unseen world but I sit here now, typing, as a firm believer with my own unexplainable experiences of ghostly voices and giant footprints by an isolated lake. I've been friends and colleagues with people who can't explain their experiences of ghosts who speak their pet's name or hooting creatures that follow their canoe. No. I'm wrong. We all can explain but we'd be hardpressed to explain ourselves to the hardbitten people of the cities and suburbs. Being here in a land clinging to the edge of mythology is the only way to explain it. I wish I could explain the feeling more. You'd probably have to live here to truly understand it.
Friday, February 20, 2009
My partner, The Frog, agreed with me. He pointed out that I had narrowed my vision about dining rooms. He said that there was more to a dining room than the food on the table. He pointed out the good friends who gathered there and the endless topics of discussion one has in the process of eating. I have to admit, a number of great discussions have started while dining, conversations that run the gamut from skipping rhymes to Alaskan history.
I wandered away only to find that what I needed had always been right there. Forgive me for taking so long to realize it, dear continuing (and new) readers.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
We in Canada, at the last poll taken, were so charged with Obama-mania that about 80% of us admired the new American president. Just as a point of comparison, that is more than the popularity of our own leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Seeing the Canadian news this morning you could see even normally stuffy, stiff politicians looking a bit giddy to host Obama.
I admit I have been swept along by the charismatic style and soaring rhetoric of Obama. I, like many Canadians and other people around the world, have watched the presidential race closely. We in Canada, I think, had a special interest in the result because we are the largest trade partner and one of the closest allies of the United States.
I tried to read and watch what I could today about Obama's visit to our nation's capital, to our prime minister. I was excited to see not only his grinning acknowledgement of those crowds screaming "Yes We Can!" but also the gracious press conference between both leaders. Hey, it was one the few times I'd seen my Prime Minister actually seem human and even somewhat eloquent. I think, like most Canadians watching, we felt like the shy girl in the corner getting winked at by the popular guy in school. We felt seen, validated. I think we haven't felt that way for a while.
I realize that the national news networks in the U.S. weren't as interested in the Canadian personal stories of the day but I wish they had paid just a little attention to our news tidbits. I've seen the touching images from the U.S. of young African American kids crying when they realize that they too can become president but it translates to some other countries as well. It happened here. I got misty-eyed. It was sweet to see young Canadian kids of colour saying, 'I see Obama and I know I can be ANYTHING I want if I work hard enough". As a teacher, I know that I could have told my students that until I was blue in the face before but they had to see it to believe it. They believe it now. I know they'll believe me more readily now.
The story becomes a little personal for me now. A young teenager I once taught some years back seemed to have problems seeing any point of trying to do better. I learned, from another teacher, the day after the election, that this same student had begged to be allowed a few minutes grace to get home in time to watch the news about Obama. Not one time but many times. This startled me in a good way. I was hopeful but hesitant. Was this the spark that was needed to chase away the regular gloom I'd seen in this child? I saw this student the next day, the young eyes still shining with hope. I smiled and got a shy one in return. I quietly said, "Yes you can". I saw the "Yes I can" returned in the shining smile I got as an answer.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Music is more than a sound to me. It is more than background noise. It is more than a soundtrack following my emotional crests and falls. It is more than something I teach. It is quasi-religious to me. Maybe it is my religion.
You'd be surprised to realize, then, that I don't own an I-pod, MP3 or any such musical device to take with me wherever I go. It's not that I don't like them. I'd probably love to have music near me during a walk or prodding me through exercise. But I can't. I simply can't. It would take an act of God to stop me from singing along with almost any song, even if I never heard it before. Even a sore throat doesn't stop me.
I could go on saying "yahda yahda... years of experience... yahda yahda training". But that is just icing. Even without all that I would have sung down the pillars from Heaven. Singing is like breath to me. Singing is my prayer to God. Singing, I think, is the way I connect with God and God connects with me. God knows that I'll pay attention to the message when the music begins.
I've spent nearly two hours trying to end this post. I don't know how. I think it ended where it needed to. I can't think of any fancy turns of phrase to introduce the piece of music that inspired this thought blip. Enjoy. Sing with me if you like.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Timing seemed to be all wrong for using the work computer--either I was way too busy or, if I had time, I was way too tired to think in large, wordy chunks. Plus, I wanted to be able to sit in the comfort of home in my velvet robe, talking baby-talk to my dog and pondering politics with The Frog. That's where I really wanted to be when musing.
I thought a new computer would follow me home at Christmas but that wasn't to be. I thought a new computer would fly to me a month ago but that wasn't to be. I thought I was getting a Gateway computer but that wasn't to be.
All that has changed.
My new toy got here today.
And I love it. Already.