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Chocolate Zucchini Snack Cake

Hey, hi. I figured you, like me, might need some chocolate zucchini cake to help get you through the week. The moist, not-too-sweet kind you just stir up in a bowl and bake in a pan and nibble from when you need it – a cake you could get away with having a chunk of with your coffee in the morning, for filling up lunchbags and the after-school gap. And here’s some good news: if you also have far too many zucchini in your kitchen, you can grate a bunch, as if you were going to make brownies or muffins or a loaf or this cake, and just freeze it in ziplock bags, pushed flat to get the air out and so that they barely take up any space, to use in the aforementioned baked goods at a later date.
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Taco sandwich 1

It’s no secret I’m a bread fan. I love all of it – some more than others. Toast (in all its forms) is perhaps the world’s most perfect food. Toast and jam. Cheese toast. Raisin toast. Peanut butter toast. Yes, even avocado.

I’ve been a fan of COBS Bread since spending a few years out in Vancouver – their Apricot Delight Log makes some of my favourite toast of all time, with an impressive quantity of dried apricots, raisins and currants rarely seen in bakery bread. out supporting the hungry in our community all the time. Each time I’ve made sandwiches at the Drop-in Centre, a large quantity of bread has been donated by COBS. The Leftovers Foundation is always collecting donations from COBS.

Cobs apricot bread

This weekend is COBS’ annual Breakfast Club of Canada fundraiser – from Friday September 15th – Sunday the 17th, $1 from every loaf of bread sold will be donated to the Breakfast Club of Canada. A dollar provides breakfast for a child for a day – last year they raised over $100,000, and this year they’re aiming to raise $150,000 – that’s 150,000 breakfasts for hungry kids. In Canada, nearly 1 million kids go to school without breakfast in the morning. BCC helps launch and support breakfast programs in schools and communities across the country, and besides providing access to healthy food for kids, they train youths and volunteers, boosting community engagement and support. So when they asked me to help spread the word via a few sandwich ideas, I was happy to.

Bread + feeding kids = a cause I can get behind.

Cobs loaves
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Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie

I’m all about pie these days. It’s the fall food, isn’t it? Although it’s time for stone fruit pies, like peach and plum and apricot and cherry and rhubarb (still) and yes, it’s almost time for apple, but while it’s still late summer, with all the ripe tomatoes and the last of the corn, this pie is it. It comes somewhat indirectly from one of my favourite food writers, and it’s really a pie unlike any other – layers of ripe tomatoes, corn, aged cheddar, fresh basil and chives, doused in lemony, garlicky mayo, wrapped up in a buttery biscuit crust, which is brilliant in itself.

Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie 2

You roll the biscuit dough as thin as you would pastry, but it bakes up like a biscuit, only thinner. It’s all crunchy top and craggly edges – the more rustic and haphazardly you throw it together, the better. I don’t bother crimping, just tuck and fold the edge over any old way. There are no eggs or anything else to “set” the pie, but it slices beautifully. It occurs to me that you could add sausage or ham or some such, but it doesn’t need it – truly.

Tomato & Corn Biscuit Pie 6
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Pastel de Choclo

One year ago, I spent a sunny afternoon cooking in my friend Susana’s back yard, with her mom and grandma. (OK, mostly they cooked, and I watched. And then ate.) Every year, one day late in the summer, they pick up cases of Taber corn and get together to make large quantities of pastel de choclo – Chilean corn-topped beef pies in the style of shepherd’s pie. They do it out in the backyard when it’s still sunny, giving them space to shuck dozens of cobs and cut off the kernels, which are then mulched in the food processor with sprigs of fresh basil. I don’t know why I never thought to do this – the result is this creamy-sweet pale yellow mixture, brightened with bits of basil, which I was perfectly happy to eat raw by the spoonful. If you haven’t taken a bite of a good cob of corn raw, try it! ‘Tis the season.

Pastel de choclo 5

Pastel de choclo is made with a base of pino, hard boiled eggs and olives, topped with the corn mixture. Susana’s mom Catalina is known for her pino – essentially the same mixture that’s used to make empanadas, although for empanadas Catalina makes hers with larger cuts of beef, roughly chopped, and a formula she keeps secret by preparing it late at night after everyone is asleep – for pastel de choclo it’s made with ground beef and merkén– a spice blend with a smoked chili base, lots of garlic, and Catalina quickly boils the onions first, which she says makes them easier to digest and eliminates heartburn.

Pastel de choclo 7

I loved how neatly Susana’s grandma, Lela, sliced around the base of each cob before pulling off the husks and silk, leaving a neat little pale green cap at the bottom.
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Grilled Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing

Yes, you can totally grill lettuce! Not just romaine. And it’s stunning. Such a fun alternative to the usual summer salads.

Grilled Lettuce with Blue Cheese Dressing 10

I got a shipment of living lettuce from Inspired Greens last week – gorgeous heads of lettuce grown in Alberta greenhouses and harvested in their pots, sold not in clamshells but in sturdy thin plastic cones, with their roots attached. They’re grown to adolescent size – a bit bigger than baby lettuces, so they stay fresh for ages, especially if you store them in a short glass of water in the fridge. Honestly, I try growing greens in my garden and patio containers with limited success every year – they wilt and bolt and never grow to be big and full and robust – and this is a bit like having a micro-garden on a shelf in my fridge. Far less frustrating.

Inspired greens 5
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Tartine Baked French Toast

I’ve decided that during the summer, all mornings count as weekends, regardless of my to-do list. A relaxed schedule makes it seem like summer holidays, particularly when taking our time with coffee and carbohydrates in the morning.

When there’s surplus good bread around, French toast is It. I never follow a recipe – it’s just eggs, milk and bread, right? Perhaps a splash of vanilla in the egg-milk slurry. But this time I came across a new formula that required cooking soaked bread in a hot pan long enough that it developed a crusty bottom, which would then help contain even more custard you poured in as it cooked, and then the whole pan was transferred to the oven to cook evenly through, almost soufflé-style.

Tartine French toast 3
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Carrot Top Pesto

Not sure about you, but my fridge is currently loaded to overflowing. So many things coming out of the garden (and the CSA box, and the neighbour’s garden) with greens on top that almost take up more room than the things themselves – the beets and carrots, mostly. I manage to cook beet greens sometimes, and always hate throwing the carrot tops away, but once in awhile I manage to turn them into a batch of pesto. Yes! They’re green and good for you.

Carrot greens
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Saskatchewan Landscape

In keeping with our new hobby of exploring close to home, we ventured beyond the Alberta border toward Saskatoon, a city I love but haven’t properly visited in years. We didn’t realize it was only 6 hours away, and with a route that goes right through Drumheller, we hopped in the car for a long weekend in June. With a population of around a quarter million, it’s neither a small town nor big city – the perfect size for exploring, really. And like most Canadian city-towns it’s currently exploding with good food, new breweries and plenty of good coffee to be discovered.

W’s first discovery: phone books! Thick paper ones that listed everyone in the city. It was such a novelty, he lay on the hotel book reading it half the night.

Night Oven

The next morning, we hit the Night Oven. Love the name, the place, the bread, the pastries, the coffee. Some of the best bread in Canada is baked right here, baked with heritage grains – ed fife wheat, purple wheat, spelt, dark buckwheat, khorasan, einkorn and rye – sourced from Saskatchewan farmers and milled onsite, the loaves then baked in their own homemade wood-fired oven. These guys are hardcore bread artists. Their pastries, on the other hand, are flaky and delicate – that powdered sugar one on the right is filled with cream, as if a croissant and cream puff got together and produced delicious offspring.

The Hollows 1

The Hollows is one of my new favourite restaurants anywhere. It’s in the Riversdale neighbourhood, one of the oldest areas of Saskatoon, that like so many old inner-city neighbourhoods is seeing some revitalization. The Hollows took over a space that for generations housed a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Dragon – anyone who grew up in Saskatoon recalls eating there with their parents. In the basement, which is damp and low-ceilinged and now full of shelves of preserves, pickles and culinary experiments of all kinds, they found boxes of Golden Dragon plates and even order pads, which they still use. Chef owners Christie Peters and Kyle Michael cure, brine, smoke, butcher and preserve, forage dandelion greens from neighbours’ yards for the tastiest pesto, tan the hides of the animals they butcher, and use the fat to make the soap for their restaurants. (They also own Primal, which is more Italian-inspired and equally fantastic.)

Black Fox Distillery

We happened to be there on World Gin Day, and so went out to spend it with Barb and John at Black Fox Distillery, a two year old distillery who had just won best cask gin at the World Gin Awards in London, UK. Such wonderful people, and a gorgeous farm loaded with haskap berries, pumpkins just starting out, and fields of wildflowers. And the sweetest dogs. It’s so nice to get to know the people who grow and make your food. (And gin.)

wanuskewin 2

We headed out to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a national historic site and generally amazing place above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River, where archaeological finds have pre-dated the Egyptian pyramids. To date, 19 pre-contact archaeological dig sites have been identified in the creek valley bottom and coulee depressions along the valley wall. We went on a medicine tour, a walk during which we explored and learned about indigenous plants and their uses within the early Northern Plains Indigenous communities, saw beaver lodges and loons, and cooked bannock over an open fire.

wanuskewin 1

There are open dig sites and other evidence of archaeological exploration around the grounds, and a cultural/interpretive centre with a theatre, meeting space, further storytelling and cultural artifacts, and a restaurant where they serve local whitefish, bison stew and stacks of smoky grilled bannock with berries and whipped cream.

Wanuskewin food
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lunch at fifteen 1

You know that saying, that you should do one thing every day that scares you? I’m not sure who wrote it, but I admittedly always scoffed at it a bit – healthy fear is a good thing, most often triggered for good reason, and pushing beyond that life-saving emotion isn’t necessarily the secret to a successful venture. But. Sometimes you gotta stop staring at your computer, blankly and incredulously taking in the endless barrage of awfulness and just get out and do something already.

I posted something on my personal Facebook page a few days ago – an open wish that we could somehow reclaim those viral images of angry people bearing tiki torches and flood the internet with people gathered together, armed with casseroles and curries and baklava and pie — heading to a backyard barbecue or picnic. To have peaceful pluralist potlucks and picnics everywhere, and use those garden torches to illuminate conversation and real connection. To gather people in our communities and spread the message that bigotry and hate are unacceptable, that love wins — and brings pie.

And so a few days went by, and people liked it, and loved it, and commented and texted offering help and ideas, and things kept happening in the news, and we all continued to feel angry and frustrated and wanting to do something – anything – to stand up to all this. So if you’re game, lets do what we can in whatever ways we can to bring people together and light up the dark, everywhere, wherever you are. I went to the dollar store yesterday and bought a bunch of tiki torches. This weekend, a week since the events in Charlottesville and the killing of Heather Heyer, let’s gather in parks and living rooms and back yards and remind the world -or even just your cul-de-sac— that there is good in the world and support in our communities, and that we won’t allow racism to permeate our society. Let’s invite people beyond our usual circles — neighbours, friends, coworkers, newcomers — so that we can get to know and better understand feelings and perspectives beyond our own, so we can look those who feel scared or marginalized in the eye and remind them that we stand with them. So that maybe we can generate a clearer sense of where to go from here, or at least provide comfort to each other at a time when every day seems to bring a new reason to be scared and horrified. There are few better ways to get to know each other than over a meal, particularly one everyone has contributed to. (And if you can’t gather some people for a meal -or snack, or coffee- this weekend, do something when you can. This sort of thing never expires and should really carry on forever.) I loved learning awhile ago that in Switzerland, in French, a potluck is called a pique-nique Canadien. Canada isn’t so much a melting pot as a potluck — we all bring something unique and wonderful to the table.

Among all the calls and texts and bits of brainstorming, my friend Brooke pulled together a website overnight, to direct questions and upload images so we can spread love (and pie) far and wide, and is organizing a potluck in Salt Lake City.

People are so amazing.

Potluck Collage
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