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Spinach & feta pasta salad 2

Apparently it’s Labour Day weekend in a few days (HOW!), which means part of me is plotting what to bring to the parties our friends hold every year to see out the summer, and part of me is getting used to the idea of getting back to a regular schedule next week. I’m also doing my annual kitchen purge, after coming home from Tofino and wondering why we have so much stuff. This includes the stuff currently occupying our freezer and cupboards – including bags of pasta shapes I’m always drawn to at the Italian market, that seem to multiply in the dark recesses of the pantry.

Spinach & feta pasta salad 1
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Blueberry Dark Chocolate Scones 4

And then one night you realize it’s dark by 9. The next morning it’s cool and drizzly, so you use it as an excuse to turn the oven on and bake something simple enough to be ready by second coffee.

Blueberry Dark Chocolate Scones 1

I know I share a lot of scones here. Too many? Is there such a thing? Here’s one more. They’re full of blueberries and dark chocolate, but could be full of anything you like. Everyone tends to love the berry-chocolate combo in a scone – try raspberry (or blackberry, depending on where you are and what’s growing there) + white chocolate, or blueberries (which contain their own juices, making them easy to add and satisfying to slice through) with either, or chop up some tart, juicy apricots, nectarines or plums – the juicier they are, the more tenderly you’ll have to handle the dough. It’s OK – if they wind up too sticky, call them drop biscuits.

And if they look a mess, remember that rough edges make for crispy bits.
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Chanterelle Chowder

It seems everything, garden-wise, is coming early this year. Asparagus was a full month behind schedule, peaches and nectarines (the best I’ve had) were ready to go in July when we drove through the southern BC interior, and blackberries were already ripe when we arrived in Tofino. We’ve been coming out to the coast for about 20 years (my parents built a house there 10 years ago) and last year was the first time blackberries were ready to pick before we headed home mid-August. This year they were even earlier, and – there were chanterelles to be had.

Foraging with chef Ian Riddick

I went out to forage for them one morning with chef Ian Riddick and a few of the chefs at the Long Beach Lodge, and Anita Stewart, who was in town to celebrate Food Day Canada. I can’t share the exact location – foragers are very protective of their spots – but although it had been dry, we hunted for pale apricot-coloured caps among the decomposing tree stubs on the forest floor and discovered enough, mostly in clusters, never cutting any that were smaller than a quarter, to fill three small baskets.

Foraging with Anita

I brought the boys out a second time, this time to a new spot, and although about a pound went to the chefs at the Wick, we had enough to sauté in butter to eat on toast and pizza and in omelettes and soup. I made this chowder twice – once with corn, once without – but you don’t need to go foraging to make it. If you don’t have access to fresh chanterelles, which have a smooth texture and slightly citrusy flavour, use a big handful or two of whatever mushrooms you happen to have.
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crumble squares 1

We’ve had a lot of jam this summer. Cherry to start, and peach and apricot, moving on to blackberry and combinations of such. Blackberries haven’t been in season early enough for the past ten years or so we’ve been spending a chunk of middle summer in Tofino, but this year and last we’ve been spending a chunk of every day picking them. My typical routine involves walking down the road for a (locally-roasted) coffee, drinking it on the log out front, and then filling my empty cup to the brim with ripe blackberries on the way home.

My favourite jams are made with berries and stone fruits, all of which get along splendidly together in whatever ratio you happen to have attracting fruit flies on your countertop. The beauty of jam is that you can toss all that fruit into your pot, or slice it, or squish it, and add half or so as much sugar as there is fruit (a more typical ratio is 1:1, but I like mine more fruity than sweet), a squirt of lemon juice, then bring it to a simmer and mash it in the pot with a potato masher until it turns to jam. There really is no pressure to measure and add pectin and test for gel – if it remains runny after it cools, you can always reboil it – but after awhile you’ll be able to recognize the difference between hot fruit syrup and hot fruit jam. OK, I’ve convinced myself to do a post just about jam, and hopefully make it not so scary.

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bisquick 3

I did most of my camping – fulfilled my lifetime quota, I think – in my twenties, and now I have an 11 (!!) year old who only wants to go camping, not so much for the tenting and sleeping outdoors but mostly for the fire, and the cooking of food over it. Although you can get pretty much any kitchen gadget in convenient campsize (I even saw a full-sized blender with a hand crank at a store out here in Tofino), what makes camping so much fun is the sport of finding ways to cook in and over hot coals.

bisquick 4

My camp kitchen tools of choice: a good bed of coals, a cast iron pan (which, depending on how you camp, may be too heavy to lug around), a bowl and spoon that can be rinsed in the river, and a few good, straight, not-too dry sticks. The boys are usually in charge of seeking these out, and stripping them of any intrusive branches.

bisquick 1
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Any Berry Muffins

I don’t have many photos of these, but I’m sure you’ll agree that’s OK – most of you likely know what muffin batter looks like, and these were spur-of-the-moment muffins made to a) utilize the glut of blackberries currently taking over our kitchen, and b) convince some of us to stop spending $3 per so-so muffin at the coffee shop down the road every morning.

A muffin recipe may seem a bit too obvious, but I’m always surprised at how few good ones I come across out there in the wild. Although stir-together muffin batter is as simple as you can get, they can also be tricky – I like a nicely domed top with a crunchy edge and tender crumb, berries evenly dispersed throughout. When I posted this photo, I had half a dozen requests for the formula within five minutes – a good, basic recipe is a good thing to have at this time of year, when berries and juicy stone fruits are at their best and – depending on your surroundings – ripening everywhere. You could flavour these with orange or lemon zest, but when I’m going for a straight-up all-purpose flour muffin, nothing oaty-grainy, I like mine tasting of butter, sugar and vanilla, caramelized by the oven’s heat, and of the berries themselves. I made another batch with blackberries and chopped apricots, and tomorrow I have plans for the last of the cherries in the freezer.

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This year, we spent the early weeks of summer poking around small town Alberta, spontaneously (when we could) jumping in the car with the dog to go exploring. We watched sunrises and sunsets, drove past waves of canola, through and around afternoon storms, and explored plenty of places previously overlooked whilst whizzing by on the QE2.

canola

Red Deer and Lacombe. The boys looked at me blankly when I told them (it had to be told, not suggested, or they likely wouldn’t have gone for it) we were going to spend a Friday this way. It turned out to be one of the best days so far this summer. Not least of all because I got to yell ‘canola!’ out the window at the yellow fields, making W roll his eyes and put on his headphones. Yes, already.

Donut Mill 1

The best prairie road trip days include doughnuts. The Donut Mill was one of those places we’d always whiz by on the highway, but although it didn’t open until I was in my twenties, it always seemed like the sort of landmark stops that has been around forever. Who dreamed up a windmill filled with doughnuts? And so one day, we stopped. I drive back and forth to Edmonton quite often, but when W is in the car we pull in and go choose from the tall glass-covered display, gesturing and pointing exaggeratedly at our choices to the salespeople who can’t hear through the glass.
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lemon coconut pie 3

I’m always intrigued by other peoples’ birthday cake choices. There are those who stick with tradition and get the same thing every year, and then those who are more opportunistic, seeing it as their one annual chance to request the most extravagant ice cream cake/croquembouche/peanut butter pie/tower of brownies/cupcakes/crepes/cream puffs (all previous choices of mine, yes) imaginable.

Yesterday was my nephew’s 26th, and being a salty-over-sweet kind of guy, he thought about it for a few minutes, then remembered a coconut lemon tart he had had at a dinner out at Feast Tofino earlier this year, and not being able to find the source of said tart, I decided to come up with one based loosely on 1) his memory, and 2) our favourite Key lime pie out here at SoBo.

lemon coconut pie 2

And here’s something else: did you know you can whip coconut cream the same way you whip heavy cream? It’s true. And it tastes like coconut. It’s true. I’m sorry you’re welcome.
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jarlsberg dip 1

‘Tis the season for garden parties. My neighbour-friend has one of the very best back yards in the world – small and brimming with herbs, food and flowers, a fence made of repurposed pallets, hung with old tires with waterfalls of flowers cascading out of them. But mostly it’s the lights she strung up that start to glow as it gets dark, and the friends with guitars, chatting and strumming, and the tables covered with food because everyone brought something to eat.

solitas yard

When I have to bring something to a party, I lean toward baked cheese dips, because they’re the very best to share with friends. And because S lives just two doors down, I baked mine in my cast iron pan and walked it over with a tea towel wrapped around the handle. It was devoured in under five minutes, was perfect with gin and tonics and prosecco drizzled with rhubarb syrup, and I came home to email everyone the recipe.

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