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If we were to compile a book of family recipes, this upside down pear gingerbread may just be on the cover. We have it every Thanksgiving – it’s our pumpkin pie – and although gingerbread in general is not my favourite, this cake is. It’s special but not fancy, with a soft interior and chewy, caramelly edge, and is one of the very best vehicles for whipped cream there is.

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One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also perfectly suitable for breakfast – in wedges with hot coffee, or smothered in thick Greek yogurt.
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turkey-chili-3

I’m starting to go back and revisit some of my early recipes, the ones I posted in my toddler stages of blogging, with super-up-close photos (what was I thinking?) and plenty of stories of life with an actual toddler. This was one of the first, posted back in 2009, and if you look back on it, I was all HOW CAN IT POSSIBLY BE OCTOBER? Which I literally said to someone ten minutes ago about it already being almost October.

It’s one of those recipes people regularly tell me has become part of their regular repertoire, and so I thought it deserved a do-over.

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With turkey, winter squash, tomatoes and apples, can you imagine cramming more fall into one bowl? Back in ’09 I made this in the slow cooker, but nowadays I prefer the stovetop – either will do. (You’ll need less liquid overall in the slow cooker, since it’s all contained and won’t cook off.) And while you could use any kind of winter squash, butternut are easiest to handle – and peel. As with most chili recipes, it tastes even better after some time in the fridge, so this is the sort of thing to pick when you want to make something ahead of time to have ready for busy days, freeze or bring someone who’s sick/busy/having babies.
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thin-crispy-cookies-3

I thought I had figured out the ideal chocolate chip cookie, that the perfect formula had been squared away and would never need revisiting. I made a batch to bring to CBC earlier this week, and since we were discussing the science behind chocolate chip cookies, I decided to make a thinner, chewier batch to contrast my thick, chewy portraits of perfection. For the sake of radio conversation. Guess which plate most everyone in the studio and newsroom went for? The thin ones with the rumpled edge. It’s like everyone had been replaced by thin cookie loving aliens who just didn’t know any better. It turns out there is no one true chocolate chip cookie – just a few favourites you can keep tucked away in your wardrobe of chocolate chip cookies.

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My current favourite, a mash-up of recipes (sometimes I just alternate) by Anna and Ashley, has been in such heavy rotation that it hasn’t occurred to me to this version in years. I forgot how addictive they are – it’s like the entire cookie is made up of a dark, crisp, almost candylike edge. With a higher ratio of butter and sugar to flour, they melt and spread and caramelize more drastically than those made with more eggs and flour. Some think it’s a failure when their cookies spread thin and smash into each other, but they’re the kind my mom likes best. I just ate four, and had to give the rest away to save me from myself.
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The squash are here! Oh all the piles of squash, arriving during the second week of school, at precisely the same time leaves start falling, some so big you have to cradle them under one arm like a small child. Sometimes, there’s such comfort in predictability. Especially when it necessitates wooly socks.

I called this butternut squash soup, but it doesn’t have to be butternut, which is familiar and easy to handle, readily available, smooth and far more clean and manageable when it comes to peeling and cubing than the gnarly monsters you see in farmers’ market bins at this time of year. But feel free to use any kind of winter squash you like – even if you can’t identify it. And because peppers are piled high at this time of year too, it seems fitting to deliver a double whammy of beta carotene.

Also? I’m trying to cut back on my caffeine consumption, and I’m hooked on having something warm to sip out of my plethora of favourite mugs at my desk. This fits, and is actually good for me. (Not that coffee isn’t, just perhaps not in the quantities of cream I’ve been consuming.)

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pasta-sauces

The text came in early one Saturday morning. “The tomatoes have spoken,” it said. “It happens today at 11am.”

It was my friend Victoria, alerting me to the specific time her in-laws would be putting up their tomatoes this year, something they’ve done since they moved to Calgary from Sessano del Molise, a small town just outside Naples, in 1967. When I heard it was an annual thing, generally a major production involving 20 cases of tomatoes, a dozen friends and neighbours, tables set up in the garage and a hot tub-sized pot set over a single burner in the driveway, I begged to tag along.

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Putting up tomatoes is largely a lost art, what with the availability of good-quality canned tomatoes just about everywhere food is sold, for a dollar or three. But I love the idea of picking up cases and doing it myself, and of letting the tomatoes determine when they’re ready to go. If you’re going to do this kind of thing, turn your basement or kitchen or garage into some sort of tomato crime scene, it needs to be done when they’re at their absolute peak of ripeness – not under-ready, not squishy. Mike and Pasqualina cover them in blankets and wait until the stem end starts to wrinkle. Then, says Pasqualina, they’re ready.

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The beauty of putting up your own tomatoes, besides the shelves of backyard or farmers’ market tomatoes you could potentially wind up with in your pantry, is that you could do one jar, or ten, or fifty, depending on your appetite for such a project and the size of your biggest pot. On this particular Saturday there were buckets and cases of tomatoes, and an enormous plastic colander set over an even more enormous bowl, another of cold water and a stockpot of simmering water. Here’s the process: start with Roma or plum tomatoes, which are meatier with less juice and seeds. Blanch them quickly, for about 20 seconds, so that once plunged into cold water, their skins will slip off in your fingers. Pasqualina would cut out the stem end and any unripe bits, and thickly chop them into the colander to drain any excess juices and some of the seeds. Mike would then grind them in a small hand-cranked food chopper – a blender processes them too much, they said. You could pulse them in a food processor with a gentle hand; you want some chunks, but not too big. The chunkily blended fresh tomatoes would then go into the gigantic pot to be simmered with fresh basil from the garden and some salt, cooked just long enough to go two fingers’ worth down the side before going into jars.
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pot-roast-1

I know, two days into school and I’m already dishing out pot roasts, as if we had already switched on the furnace and were full-on into fall. (I made gingerbread too this week. I know!) Really what’s happening is I’ve been spelunking through my freezer, making room for the berries and tomatoes and soups and curries I’ve been making to keep everything that’s coming in to season all at once from composting itself on the countertop. And those items that take up the most real estate are the first to go.

Plus, making things like pot roast and muffins makes me feel like I’m on the ball with life, taking care of things. Who cares that I shovelled the stuff off my treadmill onto my bed and when it was time to go to bed shuffled it all to the floor, and have since piled even more stuff onto the treadmill (which is beside my desk because I truly believe one of these days I’m going to use it) and there’s still stuff on my to-do list from last summer? I made pot roast for dinner. I’m on it.

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Stone fruit crumble pie  4

Stone fruits make the best pie. Truly.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the BC nectarines are unreal this year – better than any I’ve had. We bought a case and started rationing them toward the end – they were so sweet and juicy, we’d slice them thickly over our pancakes, and let the juices mingle with maple syrup. There were apricots, too – and some peaches, and plums. And the omnipresent blackberries, which add tartness and colour by the handful to just about any pie. I mean – look at it!

Stone fruit crumble pie 1

The crumble top was a compromise of the best possible kind – some in the house wanted pie, and others wanted crisp – I kind of like getting the best of both worlds. And in the late summer and fall, which with all its apples and pears and stone fruits is undoubtedly crisp season, you can blend a big batch (I use equal parts brown sugar – flour – oats, with half as much butter, rubbed into rubble) and keep it in the freezer to scatter over fruit tossed with sugar, or pies, or unbaked muffins.

Stone fruit crumble pie 2

I was surprised to learn a couple years ago that a very well known restaurant with a very well known chef (who told me so herself) made pies using frozen shells. She shrugged and said they were perfectly fine, streamlined the process, and no one knew. Well then. While I can make pastry, I sometimes don’t feel like it – or I don’t want to clean up the mess, or we’re out at a cabin somewhere with no pie pan or no flour, or we’re leaving the next day and I don’t want to buy the ingredients. Or for whatever reason. Perhaps you fear pastry (it can sense it) or it’s too hot, or you’re in a hurry. As a wise friend once said, the best kind of pie is the kind on your table. This is true. No one will complain if you made a pie without making the crust from scratch. Bonus: if you’re going somewhere, you don’t need to remember to bring your pie plate home with you. Of course you could make a single crust for this pie – of course you could – or you could crimp or press the edges of your premade crust with the tines of a fork to make it look a little more yours.
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Overlander lodge 3

This is the Overlander Mountain Lodge, on the edge of Jasper National Park, between Jasper and Hinton. I had no idea it existed. Generally when we head to Jasper, it’s up highway 93 from Calgary. This time we decided to take the long way home from Tofino, heading back up the 5 from Kamloops and then turning off into Alberta, and Jasper.

I’ve been to Jasper a lot in the winter, and a few times in the spring and early summer (this year we went in May, and the weather was perfect) and they are, obviously, completely different experiences. While I love climbing through the mountains in ten feet of snow, I also love being able to hop in a canoe and paddle around Lac Beauvert.

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Whether or not you’re staying there, it’s worth a stop at the JPL to sit on the patio and have a few cocktails, and have dinner at the new Orso Trattoria – stunning food, and an equally stunning view. (It’s no secret that the JPL has become one of my favourite places in the world.)

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In winter, the lake makes the craziest space laser sounds when you bounce a rock across, and is so clear you can see straight to the bottom through clear ice. In summer, it looks like this.

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If you are staying, the outdoor pool is open year-round, which is particularly cool when it gets dark early, the stars come out, and you can float and stargaze while the kids (or grownups) jump, steaming, out of the pool, throw snowballs at each other and hop back in once the cold starts to set in, baby polar bear-style.

JPL pool

And in summer, coffee by the pool is pretty sublime.
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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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