Saturday, December 8, 2012

All Natural Nanaimo Bars

rawnaimo bars

When I think of nanaimo bars, I think of afternoon tea fundraisers and Winnie the Pooh.

My mother used to bring me to the teas held by the Cancer Society, and there were always trays of sweets laid out on tables, each piled high with little squares of sweetness in various forms. Nanaimo bars were always my favourite - three layers of intensely sweet deliciousness. I would eat each layer separately, in a routine-like fashion.

The first thing was to peel off the thin layer of smooth chocolate ganache from the top, sometimes break in two, and either devour immediately or let it melt on my tongue. The filling was the best part: creamy, rich, and so sweet it led to an instant sugar rush. Then the base, which helped me come down from my sugar-load filling experience. It was chewy, less sweet, and full of coconut - a satisfying finish.

And once I was high on nanaimo bars, I'd hit up the movie station and watch Winnie the Pooh movies. They were kind of the bomb.

So yes, I had a bit of a thing for nanaimo bars as a kid. I'd head straight for them at teas, Christmas parties, and showers like a homing pigeon.

I still have a fondness for nanaimo bars; every once in a while I'll buy one of those giant squares from a coffee shop, eat it too quickly and then spend the rest of the day in a sugar coma.

Then, a while back, a craving for nanaimo bars hit me, but instead of heading to the nearest Starbucks, I decided to make my own version - one that wouldn't have me sugar crashing within ten minutes of eating. I came up with a dessert that's fairly similar to the original, but not nearly as sweet, and with enough "good" things in it that I didn't feel bad eating more than one...or three...

And judging from my roommates' reactions to them, I'd say they felt the same way too.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Almond Pesto

more almond pesto

For the longest time I only knew pesto as the excessively oily, fermented-smelling substance that the restaurant I worked at ordered in bulk. It was packaged in small glass jars, and came in two flavours: basil and sundried tomato. Half a shelf was dedicated to these little jars of red and green pesto, as if in perpetual Christmas spirit.

A centimetre of oil always floated at the top of each jar, and I used to despise opening them. The jars would inevitably become greasy to the touch, and after a brief struggle with the lid, the opened jar of pesto would emit the pungent smell of parmesan.

I realize this is all very unappetizing and more than a little unpleasant to visualize. I assure you that I did not find this initial experience of pesto in any way pleasant. To be exact, I found it more than a little repulsive.

And then, somewhere along the way, I fell in love with pesto. I think it began with the realization that basil pesto, cucumbers, tomatoes, and black olives is a magical combination. From then on, I began to realize the deliciousness that is pesto. The sharpness of the basil that borders on sweetness, combined with the rich saltiness of the parmesan and the bite of garlic, is a divine creation, and one that I have since made a point of making and eating whenever possible.

Because of course, like so many store-bought things, the oily Christmas-coloured pestos in jars was not particularly exceptional. It always left an acrid aftertaste on my tongue - an assertive taste as easy to get rid of as raw onion.

And yet it still took me a long time before I began making my own pesto. Initially, I was put off by the inescapable richness of it - with cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil as 3 of its five main ingredients, it's not exactly light. In other words, I was scared away by the fat. But over the past year, things like fat content and calories have begun to mean less to me, and I've started to enjoy food more. This is not to say that I've stopped being health conscious and eat buckets of ice cream whenever I feel like it, just that I don't attach so much guilt to eating, and it's amazing how much more I enjoy food and life because of it.

So yes, pesto is rich, but it's bursting with flavour, so even a little can go a long way. Made from scratch, it lacks that awful aftertaste the jarred version has. It tastes fresher and richer at the same time. I like using toasted almonds in place of the traditional pine nuts in my pesto - they have a deep, toasty flavour that lends a warmth to the pesto that seems especially perfect with this time of year, when, as my roommate says, "I begin to feel like I will never be warm again."

So go ahead, make pesto, dump in the cheese, drizzle in the oil and feel good about it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shakshuka

shakshuka

My roommates and I love breakfast, especially when we all get to sit down on the couch together and embark upon marathons of The Office and Arrested Development. Unfortunately, we all have very different schedules, so this does not happen as often as we would like it to (although we are perhaps better off for having less time for tv marathons) but on my days off I love cooking a big breakfast for all of us. It usually ends up being more of a brunch than a breakfast, but we're okay with that.

One of my favourite dishes to break out when I have all that extra time in the morning is shakshuka (also shakshouka), a popular Israeli breakfast dish that is essentially eggs poached in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, onions, chili peppers and cumin. It is...amazing. It's also a meal that's healthy and low-budget.

This is a recipe that makes several servings, perfect for a crowd, but even if you're cooking for just one or two, you can make the sauce ahead of time, then heat up as much as you need in the morning to cook your eggs in, and so have shakshuka for several days. And who doesn't want to repeat shakshuka for breakfast? I know I do. And I think you know that you do, too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chewy Gluten Free Oatmeal Cookies

Soft & Chewy GF Oatmeal Cookies gluten free tower
I've actually been holding out on you with these cookies. Not because I enjoy being witholding, but because when I made these, it was insanely hot outside and I didn't think telling you to turn on an oven and produce extra heat in your place of living would be much appreciated. Why I did just that in order to make these very cookies, I know not. It was at night and I had a baking craving and when those strike there is nothing you can do but bake it out.

So I turned on the oven and dealt with the consequences. I sweated and ate cookie dough, then I fed people cookies. In the end, I think it worked out alright.

Even so, they did not seem seasonally appropriate, and I held off. But now the leaves are turning, the air is crisper, people are wearing fashionable (and unfashionable) coats, Starbucks is serving pumpkin spice lattes - which all point to one thing: fall is here.

And so now, at long last, I bring you these gluten free oatmeal cookies, because there's just something warm and comforting about an oatmeal cookie that makes it seem best suited for chilly autumn mornings alongside a cup of coffee. And that's as poetic as I'm going to get for this post, so go make some cookies!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Israeli Inspired Salad

a bowl full of summer

I'm always talking about how I'm trying to eat more vegetables or even claiming that I am eating more vegetables - it is a continual struggle and alternately a source of pride for me. By which I mean, if I do manage to get an impressive amount of veggies into my diet for a day, or even a week, I feel damn proud. Proud enough that, if I had the tools, I'd make a T-shirt to celebrate: I ATE MY BROCCOLI AND LIKED IT. Printed in big, bold capital letters. It would draw attention to my chest. Which is not the end goal of eating vegetables, but if you wear a shirt with large print on it, this is what happens. I'm going to move on now and pretend that last bit didn't get written.

Right. VEGETABLES. Are awesome. Really, I mean it, even though you'd think from all the whining I do on this subject that I despise them or am working through some kind of phobia. No, this is not true at all - I really do love vegetables, I'm just on such a weird eating schedule all the time that I find it difficult to have vegetable-themed meals, unless I stick them in a smoothie. See, I have this thing about vegetables: they are for lunch and dinner, but never breakfast, unless they're potatoes in the form of hash browns, sweet potatoes or carrots cooked in oatmeal, or spinach in a smoothie. Or omelettes, too. Okay, yes I can eat vegetables in the morning, but I prefer not to. And I definitely can't bring myself to eat crunchy, fresh vegetables first thing - I mean come on, who ever ate a salad for breakfast? If you're eating a salad for breakfast there's something wrong with you.

But lunch and dinner - these are the times for fresh, crunchy vegetables, of which there are so many still around at this time of year, though the time for garden vegetables is fast coming to a close. Alas! But, the days are still hot, the farmers' markets are still open, and so I can still load up on crunchy freshness. I love salads that are full of crunch; they hold up better to dressings and don't get soggy if you store them in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

The simplicity of this salad is what makes it so wonderful - it highlights the freshness and flavour of the ingredients, which you can switch up according to the season and your own tastes. I like to add chickpeas to bulk it up, but spelt or wheat berries would be a nice addition as well if you want this for a main dish rather than a side.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Homemade Tahini

a spoonful of homemade tahini

I just got over a week-long cold, and I feel as if I fell into some time wormhole thingamajig, and have only just fallen back into the world. Of course I know only a week has gone by, but I feel as if in my little time-wormhole-space (ie. my room, where I lived burrowed in my bed for 12 - 16 hours a day) months have gone by. Like I just had my own Doctor Who episode, with timeywhimey stuff, but thankfully no murderous vacuum cleaner aliens.

Several times during my spell of sickness, I attempted to write this post and tell people about the wonderful awesomeness that is tahini, which seems to have taken the place of peanut butter in my life - is that even possible? But alas, I was a wretched, whiny creature, and my appetite was so diminished that even writing about food didn't appeal to me. And so I watched a lot of ABC Family television. It seemed like a good choice at the time. Please don't judge me, I was ill.

But I am finally feeling like a human again: I can taste things, I can breathe easily, my face doesn't feel like it weighs fifty pounds, and so I rejoice - with tahini. And to think that at one time I didn't even like tahini! I couldn't get past the bitterness that always seemed to linger on the tongue after tasting it. But then I gave it a few more tries, and now I can't seem to get by without it. It's rich, nutty, and on toast with a little honey, it is absolutely divine.

sesame seeds, scatteredsesame seeds, scattered, b&w

The thing I love most about tahini, though, is its versatility. It can be used in sweet or savoury dishes and goes well with so many things. Cumin, honey, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and lemon are some of my favourite flavours to pair with it. And tahini isn't just great with a lot of flavours, it's a wonderful addition to all different types of dishes and condiments, like salad dressings, granola bars, hummus, soup, and even egg salad.

So naturally, I wanted to try making my own tahini, and as the preparation is the same as it is with any homemade nut butter, which is easy enough, there was no reason not to give it a go. What I realized, though, was that the tahini sold in the stores is made from hulled sesame seeds, which is why it's so light in colour, and while I love this version of tahini, I wanted to make it with unhulled sesame seeds for the extra nutrients. I am still a health nut, after all.

Tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds is darker in colour and thicker in texture. It won't be runny like the store-bought tahini, but similar in texture to almond butter. It can still be used in recipes like any other kind of tahini, but in some recipes you may find you'll want to add a bit more liquid to compensate for its thickness.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fresh Coconut & Strawberry Smoothie

put a hat on it

I feel like I've been posting heavier, more labour-intensive dishes than I usually do, and it's certainly not a reflection of my actual diet (which has lately involved a lot of granola and pb & jam on toast) which is really all about food that's easy and quick to make, especially with it being summer. If I could even remember all the times I've turned on the oven since June, I'm sure I could count them all on my fingers.

My current residence is in the upstairs of a fairly old, creaky building, and while it does have AC, it does not circulate so well in the upper level. The kitchen itself is a very tiny, crowded space, and it heats up pretty easily, so I've been loathe to even cook on the stovetop for much of the summer. There have been days where I've eaten almost nothing but smoothies - you'd think I was living in a geriatric ward, from all the blending I do.

This is not to say I've been completely off solids - I'm not about to relive the experience of infancy through diet. I have been eating lots of salads made up of fresh, crunchy vegetables (well...maybe not "lots", but I am trying to get my veggies in, I swear!), but to be completely honest, many of my meals have been made up of toast, with a generous smearing of peanut butter and jam, or tahini and honey. Delicious and a wonderful accompaniment to my daily cup of coffee, if not the most summery or nutritious snack in the world.

But while my eating schedule and diet may be a little helter skelter, every once in a while I manage to come up with something delightful, refreshing, and nutritious, like this smoothie, made up of fresh coconut water, coconut meat, and strawberries. I honestly had no idea how delicious young coconuts were until I went to an Asian street food festival weeks ago, where they were selling young coconuts, hacking them open right in front of you before handing them over with a spoon and a straw. I didn't actually buy one, but I was able to taste my friend's coconut, and all of a sudden I had an intense craving to buy a gazillion young coconuts and commence with the kitchen experimentation!

When I broke open my first coconut and took a sip of the water inside, I couldn't believe the taste - nutty, sweet, and almost buttery rich, and so refreshing! If ambrosia was a real thing, I swear it would be fresh coconut milk. And when blended with the soft young coconut meat, it becomes a silky smooth, sweet drink that manages to taste buttery rich while also being refreshing. You can enjoy it like that, or add in some frozen fruit, for a tasty and chilling treat to cool you down, as I do here. (Although this now seems poorly timed, given the rain that has currently descended onto Toronto, making soup out of the air and a frizz mess out of my hair.)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

More Scenes from Camp, and Blueberry Peach Pie

blueberry peach pie for grandpa's 90th

I wrote previously of my visit to my grandpa's camp this past weekend for his 90th birthday - a day he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge, though we do our best to spoil him in spite of his complaints. My grandpa is the most resilient and resolutely independent person I know, and as far as I can remember, he's always disliked anybody making a fuss over him. If he had his own way, he'd live with one plate, one spoon, one fork, one knife, and one cup. Most family visits end with us leaving with more than we came with - at least a third of my dad's wardrobe is made up of "donations" from my grandpa's closet (although to say that my grandpa "donated" the clothes is something of a misrepresentation, as my grandpa's method of "donating" items of any kind is to thrust them at you and say, "Take it! Take it!"). He's determined to get rid of all his worldly goods before his death, but so far my mother's been able to convince him to keep all the dishes and cups in the cupboard.

But for all his efforts to rid himself of all his possessions before dying, my grandpa has never been able to sit in the back seat of life. He can't not have something to do - if he runs out of projects, he invents one. A few summers ago, we arrived at his house (he still lives on his own) to find he had dug up half his front yard. "Levelling" he said.
patch of redthe road to campwild raspberries
campfire sparksskylinecampfire

He's also been a jack-of-all-trades his whole life, so if he doesn't have something to fix or tinker with, I wouldn't be surprised if he broke something just to give himself something to do. Several years ago, my parents' washing machine broke, and my mother called my grandpa to ask his advice - he got so excited that he nearly threatened to drive down just to take a look at it. In the past, my parents have seriously considered making use of his free labour in order to do all the household repairs my dad's never gotten around to doing.

This penchant of my grandpa's for fixing things, however, is something of a mixed blessing. He's like a basset hound when it comes to sniffing out broken or slightly malfunctioning appliances, but sometimes this creates more problems than it fixes. He once decided to use a lawn trimmer to strip paint off a deck. Apparently it worked. At first.

And even when his age does actually catch up to him, he still refuses to give into it. About a month ago, he had a horrible attack of gout, and his feet swelled about four times their size. He was in enormous pain and could barely walk and definitely couldn't drive. So he called a taxi and used a golf club as a cane to walk out to it. I believe my parents have managed to convince him that, in future situations such as these, he should call an ambulance.

But however much my grandpa dislikes us making a fuss over him or giving him presents, he always appreciated gifts and fussing in the form of food - especially sweets. On just about every visit to my grandpa must involve the baking of at least one batch of his favourite peanut butter cookies, and in addition to his usual gift of cookies this year, I was determined to bake a pie. It is summer, after all, and fruit is in abundance - it would have been a crime not to make a pie.

And so I made a blueberry peach pie, which my grandpa happily consumed for dessert with a scoop of freshly whipped cream, and again the next day. For lunch.

So here it is for you to go bake and devour. For dessert, or even lunch, if you so desire.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Scenes of Camp and a Recipe for Potatoes

grandpa at 90 tucked in the woods his 90th birthday

This past weekend I spent at my grandfather's camp (what southern Ontarians refer to as a "cottage" I believe) for his 90th birthday. Traditionally, the whole family gathers in Thunder Bay for my grandpa's birthday - which he is always loathe to celebrate. "Bah - it's just another day!" he insists every time. But of course he always happily receives his birthday cake, heaped high with berries and whipped cream (his favourite).

a mother's hands grandpa and his cake a mother's hands, b&w
angel food, summer fruit, & whipped cream the remains of dessert heaped high

And during any of my family shindigs there is always, always lots of food involved. Cheese, chips, homemade bread, and trail mix abound throughout the house, there are barbecue dinners, vegetable dishes from the garden, and dessert - every night there must be dessert. Naturally, I am not one to protest such indulgence.

There's a different rhythm to life at camp. There's no internet or phone, and such bad cell phone reception that it might as well not exist. Usually such a lack of modern conveniences would drive me absolutely batshit crazy, but at camp their absence somehow doesn't bother me. The days seem slower, more relaxed, in spite of Sergeant Tibbs' 6:30 a.m. wake-up yowl (the most pathetic and hilarious noise you ever heard a cat make). Baths are taken in the lake - there's something so utterly delightful about diving into a fresh water lake first thing in the morning, surrounding yourself in a pool of (biodegradable) suds. Water for drinking and washing fruits and vegetables is brought in from town (the water at the camp comes straight from the lake), and the water for dishwashing is boiled in a huge pot on the stove. These things are just inconvenient enough to make life at camp interesting rather than frustrating - we're hardly "roughing it" in the woods, but there is something satisfying in feeling at least somewhat removed from the rest of the world.

Sergeant Tibbs mining for pb peanut butter cup

But back to the food. Naturally.

Years ago, on a family car trip, we camped on a ridiculously windy, pebbled beach, my dad and brother sliced up some potatoes, stuffed slices of butter and onions between them, wrapped them up in foil, and cooked them on the barbecue. They were delicious, and the dish has become a standard way of cooking potatoes in my house, and so of course my dad had to make it for grandpa's birthday dinner. It's such a simple dish - but honestly, you can't really go wrong with butter, onions, and potatoes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Egg Salad, My Way

egg salad sandwich, my way

I used to think egg salad was grotesque. The texture, the smell, the sound of it - I couldn't stand it. As far as I was concerned, it was an egg mixture that had been mayonnaised to death. When I worked in a restaurant, making egg salad sandwiches to order was one of my most loathed tasks. I handled it as if it were poisonous; getting any of it on my hands was enough to almost to send me into a girly fit of "EW EW OHMYGOD GETITOFF GETITOFF!" Thankfully, I always resisted that urge. There was my dignity to consider, after all. And I always want to slap anyone who runs around screaming in such a ridiculous manner - unless there happens to be a spider involved. Although were I involved in such a situation, I would probably be yelling things too inappropriate to quote here.

But here I am, posting about egg salad. How did this happen?

Well, hunger happened. In the Montreal airport, where you can either buy a fruit cup from Starbucks for the price of your soul or purchase a caesar salad at the bar joint for twenty dollars, and it will be so measly sized that you might as well be feeding a gerbil on a diet.

The only decently priced place to buy food from in that airport is Tim Hortons, but at this aforementioned time, a bagel didn't seem like it would quite cut it. I was starving, and I wasn't in the mood to eat a 20-pack of Timbits. So I took the plunge and ordered the egg salad - how bad could it be anyways? I like eggs. I don't dislike mayonnaise, as long as it's used within reason. I like bread. So I ate it.

And I did not die. And while I was not transformed into a raving fan (at least of Tim's egg salad - there was a hint of horseradish in it that I did not appreciate) I could suddenly see the potential of the dish.

So I began making egg salad sandwiches, only I used yogurt instead of mayonnaise. It was a quick and convenient thing to make for lunch, and I appreciated its total lack of fussiness. However, a day came when I was running late and making lunch in a rush, and realized I had no yogurt and my egg salad was not going to hold together and I had to get going - I mean really get my ass out of the door already - and god dang it all I was going to be left with mashed eggs and bread for lunch.

But then genius struck - tahini! It's creamy, nutty, delicious, but most importantly, it would save my egg salad from failure. Then I remembered I had fresh parsley in the fridge, and voila, I had very unintentionally created my favourite egg salad. And so here it is, egg salad, done my way.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Strawberry Lime Smoothie

put the lime in the smoothie & drink it all up

I've probably already whined enough about the summer heat, which is (at least for me) fairly intense here in Toronto. Of course, I could be in Cambodia or India, where I am convinced I would not survive. It would be a horrifying re-enactment of the Wicked Witch of the West's death, and while that's an entertaining enough scene in Technicolor, nobody wants to see that in real life.

Which is why smoothies like this become so important during this time of year. They're nutritional, delicious, and cooling. I am not a seasonal smoothie consumer (I eat them on a near daily basis, all year round), so in cooler months I often have to don a sweater whilst eating them. They literally make me shiver with cold - which is what makes them perfect for this time of year, because instead of bringing you to the brink of pneumonia, they cool you down to a temperature that feels livable.

The lime in this smoothie is especially refreshing - there's just something about citrus that feels like summer, but in a way that's bright and zingy, not droopy and sweaty (which is how I feel most of the time throughout July and August). I've been putting lime in just about everything lately - water, salad dressings...alcoholic beverages. Just try adding a squeeze or two of lime juice to your bottle of water - it's amazing how much more refreshing it is with that bitter, citrusy kick.

But I should probably stop my lime speech before I break into "Put the lime in the coconut and drink it -"

Oops. Too late. Although, that does sound like a fantastic idea. I will put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up. Thank you pop culture!

But in the meantime, have a smoothie.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Pride Parade 2012

This is a bit late, but hey, it's never too late to stop celebrating the awesomeness of Pride!

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