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maple syrup pie 2

How is it that I’ve never made a maple syrup pie? Such a Canadian thing and somehow, I hadn’t. I’ve corrected this.

Maple pie is not super summery kind of pie in that it doesn’t incorporate berries or stone fruits, but it would be if you added a tumble of raspberries or blueberries over top. And it is when you consider the fact that you make it ahead and chill it in the fridge, then serve up cold slivers (or big wedges to share – it’s pretty intense) with ice cream or vanilla-scented whipped cream. Also, it’s about as easy as it gets to whisk together the eggs, cream, brown sugar and maple syrup and pour it into a crust. It could even be a store-bought crust – I won’t tell.

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Who knew this was a thing, in the middle of rural Alberta? Not me. We’ve been poking around home this spring and summer, jumping in the car and going on day or afternoon trips and overnights, just for a change of scenery and to get to know our province a little better. I love prairie road trips, and small towns I might not ever otherwise know. A few weeks ago we visited friends at their cabin between Gleniffer Lake and Red Lodge Provincial Park (both which are under an hour away yet I was previously completely unaware of), which turned out to be right below the Scandinavian Trail. Yes, we’re still in Alberta. We started at the Stephansson House, which turned out to be just off Township Road 371, in the middle of miles of fields. Turn down the road and you’ll find a tiny house – a provincial historic site dedicated to Stephan G. Stephansson – the Poet of the Rocky Mountains – whoContinue reading

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key lime pie 1

Oh this week. So much rain. So much sad.

From where we are right now, summer holidays seem like an insurmountable obstacle course away, and so I made a key lime pie. It’s been one of our favourite things to eat out on the west coast, in Tofino, at SoBo ever since it was a little purple food truck in the back of a gravelly parking lot (where Tacofino is now) and when it occupied the restaurant space at the botanical gardens I was pregnant with W, and the only thing that seemed even slightly palatable was wedges of their tangy-sour pie. We still stop to pick up pieces to go – unassuming wedges of pale yellow on graham crust in little cardboard carryout bowls, topped with whipped cream.

When I slid a slice across the table to Mike the other night at dusk, he took a bite and said, “this tastes like the ocean”.

key lime pie 4
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theresa coriander chutney
These are a few (OK, two) of my favourite things:

1) When friends adopt me for the day (or hour, or afternoon) and let me cook with them and their families, and I get to pull up a stool and sit in their kitchen and watch their moms make dishes they learned from their moms.

2) When what they make is unfamiliar to me, and I learn something entirely new, like the joys of a fresh coriander chutney sandwich on buttered white bread. I’ve since learned these were the sandwiches of many friends’ childhoods – just the chutney, on squidgy white bread, with butter. It’s apparently a thing. I now know this thing, and although I didn’t grow up eating them, I can start now, and I’ve learned to make coriander chutney the likes of which I’ve never tasted before from someone who knows.

coriander chutney sandwich
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Cherry Clafoutis small

It’s July, and cherries have arrived. The big, plump ones we all eat too many of – if that’s possible – and a wee bowl for spitting pits (although it’s infinitely more satisfying to spit them into the grass) has been on my counter all week. My fingers are perpetually red.

Most people buy cherries (these come from BC) to eat them by the bag; rarely to bake with. I seek out those who own cherry pitters and make their own pies and try to become their best friend, but those people are few and far between. If you, like me, aspire to be a cherry pie baker but never quite get around to it, a clafoutis might make a good first step. (Or last step – who needs a pie when you have clafoutis?

cherries
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Blueberry grunt

I want to do too many things. Most of the time I let ideas run rampant in my brain, sometimes I let them loose into lists, and occasionally I tackle them in real life. But my favourite ideas are the edible kind – the small culinary projects that don’t require a big time commitment, that you can dream up (even if you weren’t the first to do so) and start pulling out bowls and spoons and be done while you still have an appetite for it, before your mind wanders on to something else.

Blueberry grunt 1

Early every summer, when BC blueberries finally come into their own, I buy vast quantities of them to eat and freeze and bake with – they’re just about the best things in the world to nibble on, my mom taught me to throw handfuls into salads (even potato salads – for real), and of course they’re naturals in pies (with other berries and stone fruits) and crumbles and smoothies and muffins and scones. I scatter them over pancake batter as it cooks in the pan, and simmer them with maple syrup until they burst, to pour overtop. I toss a handful onto yogurt with granola and pack them to go on road trips or to the pool. We go through loads of them.
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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.)

beaver tails 1
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birch syrup squares

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.

Yellowknife shoreline 1

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.
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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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