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.