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beaver tails 3

There are certain unhealthy things you have to pull out of the closet once a year and make just for the sake of the day – or season – and most Canada days I make Nanaimo bars and butter tarts – so frequently, in fact, that I begin to crave both around the end of June. Ditto mini doughnuts – having grown up in Calgary, the first week of summer always smells like the midway. I’ve always been one to forego candy apples and cotton candy in lieu of fried dough in its many forms – this year I decided to combine the two holidays and make a batch of beaver tails, which have been around since the seventies, and if you’re in eastern Canada are as Canadian as any doughnut. (Mini or not.)
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I’m a sucker for pecan pie in bar form – but particularly when someone else makes them, uses birch syrup, then brings them along, right in the pan, with a knife to cut them into squares on the dock, on a fishing trip on Great Slave Lake. Birch syrup is something you likely don’t have on your shelf – but yes, you can go ahead and use (real!) maple syrup instead. Birch is similar, made with the sap of birch trees rather than maple – its flavour tends to be more complex, and some say not as sweet. And because it requires 100-150 L of sap to produce 1 L of birch syrup (vs about 40 L of sap to make 1 L of maple syrup) and the tapping window is shorter than the opportunity to harvest maple, it’s pretty pricey. But if you live up north rather than out east, it’s more likely what you’re pouring over your pancakes. Although these were consumed inContinue reading

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Bluebarb turnovers 4

I always have puff pastry in the freezer during the summer – I have no fear of pastry, as you know – but when you don’t feel like making it, or are in a hurry to make something to go somewhere, it’s great to have frozen assets. See what I did there?

Puff is also satisfying in its forgiveness – you can be as rough and rustic as you like, and your pastries will come out of the oven looking divine – the more rough around the edges the better, in fact. You can stuff squares of pastry with just about anything – I went for blueberries and rhubarb, simmered with sugar – seal it up with beaten egg and the tines of a fork, and there you have pies that can be packed or picnicked or just eaten out of hand, leaning against the counter. (Or cold, with coffee, for breakfast. Or as a vehicle for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.)

Bluebarb turnovers 10

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Did I ever tell you about that time a couple months ago when I went wine tasting in Sonoma? It happened quickly, back in March – the week before spring break, when everyone was antsy to get out of town (and yet we had no plans to), I took off and spent a few days touring wineries and sitting on patios, and felt only a little bit guilty about it. It was all in the name of research, right? Besides, I had never been. And touring California wineries seems like the sort of thing I should get some insight into, right? So I can report back? Besides: early spring break.

Buena Vista Winery 4

Our first stop: Buena Vista Winery, which has been around since 1857 – it’s California’s first “premium” winery (I guess they don’t count hobby tool shed wineries), just outside the town of Sonoma. I was with a small group of mostly wine writers, which was intimidating/interesting/thrilling and I highly recommend if you can swing it – you can then sit and sip and nod intently when they ask all the questions you would never have thought to ask, absorb some of their grape smarts by osmosis (warm weather and patios encourage this), and there’s no pressure to order the wine at dinner.

these two

You also won’t get in trouble if you peek at their notes at the wine blending seminar they offer (to everyone! you can go!) in the cellar, in a long room filled with curious things, alongside the bubble lounge (really!) – a fancy white room exclusively dedicated to all kinds of boozy bubbles. We got to choose a label ahead of time to send electronically, so that it was ready to attach to our custom-blended bottles as we corked them; I picked W’s self-portrait, drawn in pastels on rough brown paper. The problem with this: I know how delicious the wine is inside, and yet won’t be able to bring myself to open it.

Buena Vista Wine Blending

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strawberry rhubarb pies 4

On Monday, five friends gathered in one kitchen with three bottles of prosecco to tackle the monstrous rhubarb currently taking over one friend’s garden. It’s beautiful – thick and solid red, and I pilfer it as often as possible; when we pluck stalks from the crown (which is the size of a VW Beetle) it never seems to get any smaller. But this time she went in determined, and there was enough rhubarb to fill three of her biggest stock pots, and then some. We each brought strawberries, and pounds of butter. We nibbled on cheese as we chopped and trimmed, and got flour everywhere doubling up my grandma’s standard formula for pastry for a double crust pie (you don’t want to multiply this kind of thing too many times – plus pastry for ten pies in one bowl becomes rather unwieldy) and mixed, chilled, rolled, filled, almost managing a sort of assembly line by the end, with finished pies getting deposited on every spare surface, but mostly the dining room table. It was dark by the time we finished. (Can you tell by my moody, brooding and buttery iPhone pics?)

strawberry rhubarb pie 1

In 3 hours, we made 25 pies – and each of us went home and played our own version of freezer Tetris to get them in.
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cheesecakes in jars 8

BC cherries are in! Which means a) summer is here, and b) we must celebrate this fact by eating as many cherries as possible. I know food in jars is so three years ago – unless you’re my sister, who came up with the brilliant idea one September that she could tackle two surpluses at once, and send the kids to school with lunch in a jar, tucked into a spare sock. (Don’t worry, she didn’t actually.)

cheesecakes in jars 1

I find a myriad of uses for those small half cup jars – I shake up dressings and dips in them, and melt butter to chill and clarify, and make crème brûlée (OK, I’ve only done this once) and little cheesecakes in jars, which can be sealed and tossed into your picnic basket or work bag. Cherries braised with sugar and their own juiciness is classic, but inspiration will present itself all summer – stewed rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, saskatoons. It’s all good. And there’s no need to turn on the oven!
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kimchi pancakes 1

Yes! Because it’s officially summertime (yes, I know it’s still 8 degrees some places – sorry about that) and there will need to be picnics, and why not pack up some kimchi pancakes and a wee jar of dipping sauce to nibble in the grass? The thing about picnicking, besides being awesome, is that really most food is portable, and you don’t need to stick to baguettes and cheese and cold pheasant, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I had a big jar of kimchi in my fridge that wasn’t going to eat itself, and since there are not a ton of opportunities to use kimchi from day to day (I know there are, it’s just not one of my default condiments), I decided to use a bunch of it in a batch of pancakes. Which, by the way, are different and delicious, even if you don’t love kimchi.
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strawberry rhubarb ice cream 5

I don’t know if you know, but ice cream is my jam. My desert island food. I used the heat of the last couple days as an excuse to make a batch – strawberry-rhubarb, since the best part about the pie is the ice cream pairing. You can skip the pastry and the baking and get the job done all in one go. Also – there’s something about pure pink ice cream that digs deep into the best part of your childhood. It reminds me of digging the thick stripes of strawberry and chocolate out of the tub of neapolitan.

Strawberry-rhubarb-ice-cream 11

I sometimes roast strawberries and rhubarb for ice cream, but that would require turning on the oven, and it hit 31 degrees at dinnertime last night. You can use fresh, uncooked strawberries, lightly mashed, but I find those combined with heat and sugar become the best form of themselves, and are easier to distribute throughout the cream. Bonus: it’s easy to simmer some rhubarb alongside.
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Shrimp scampi

If you asked him, W would tell you his favourite foods are shrimp and pasta – and it occurred to me recently that for some reason, I’ve never thought to combine the two. Which is ridiculous for reasons beyond the fact that together, they are better than the sum of their parts – when it comes to pasta sauces, shrimp and garlic sautéed in butter is about as fast as you can get. Quicker, I think, than heating up a jar of sauce. Also – I generally have butter, garlic and Parm, and shrimp are easy to keep in the freezer, dry pasta on the shelf.
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