Fry bread 1

Bannock is bread in its most basic form – flour, baking powder, oil or lard, water – baked in the oven to supplement your morning coffee or evening stew, wound around a stick to cook over an open fire, or torn off in a ball and patted thin, then fried in lard or oil in a hot skillet until golden and crisp on both sides. It’s essentially a scone, only easier, and with a slightly more rugged chew.

I learned to make fry bread with a hole in the middle, in what I think might be the Blackfoot tradition – I say this only because the few times I’ve seen it made this way was by women from nations in the Blackfoot Confederacy – and I love how quickly and evenly the bread cooks in this flattened doughnut shape, without worry about it remaining doughy inside. The hot pan gives a quick crusty exterior without making you turn on the oven. And I’ve been known to mix up a batch of dough and cook a few fry breads at a time, saving myself having to resist eating the entire batch, with blueberry-rhubarb-saskatoon jam spiked with maple syrup.

Bannock over a fire
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broccoli rubble with egg

I’ve been staring at these photos for a good twenty minutes, wondering if I should bother sharing them – they don’t do the dish justice, partly because I left the broccoli on the stove a bit long while doing other things, and partly because mulched broccoli isn’t particularly photogenic. But it was delicious, and a totally different thing to do with broccoli.

I’ve been mildly obsessed with the concept of broccoli rubble since reading about it over at Deb’s – the rough chop of it, the quick sauté in garlicky oil, the shower of Parmesan. (And maybe because it sounds a lot like Barney Rubble?) I’ve always been drawn to just about any kind of grainy salad – I figured broccoli would hold up to chewy wheat berries quite well, and some salty crumbled feta, and lots of pepper, and a fried egg. I wish I had some walnuts to toast and toss on top. I devoured this thing, and I don’t regret it.
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Lamb kofta 1

I adore lamb, but am particularly fond of it ground, spiced with garlic, cumin, cilantro, coriander and salt, and grilled kabob-style. Despite my endless love for lamb kofta (a word that refers to all kinds of spiced, minced meat-balls, kabobs et al), I rarely think to make it, and I can’t fathom why that is. It’s meat on a stick, and it cooks in about ten minutes, and you can drag it through garlicky yogurt. At any rate, I was reminded how easy they were to make when I fired up the grill at 6:30 am to make them for CBC this morning, and cooked some flatbread alongside while I was at it, using the same naan recipe I’ve used for years – because I knew I’d be cooking early in the morning, I made the dough last night and kept it in the fridge to slow the rise.

Lamb kofta 3 Keep Reading »

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Chocolate marshmallow pie 2

I know it’s the height of spring and all thoughts are turning to strawberries and rhubarb (or should be), and I just harvested armloads of same to ensure baggies of frozen rhubarb will jam (pun totally not intended) all surplus freezer space for the foreseeable future, but because there were two 11 year olds in the house today, I decided to score some points with a chocolate marshmallow pie instead. (Spoiler: it worked.)

It’s been on my to-do list to make something out of Renée’s new(ish) book, All the Sweet Things, since long before it hit the shelves. It’s a gorgeous book, so well photographed and designed by the talented crew at Touchwood (who also published In the Dog Kitchen and Out of the Orchard! ahem), but most importantly it’s filled with things I actually want to make (and eat).

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Ellis bird farm 2

– This post was created in partnership with Travel Alberta and the support of Tourism Red Deer, which helps me spend more time here (where I most want to be!) and spread the word about all the amazing things there are to do/eat/find in our province! It’s always a good time to support our local farmers and small businesses. As always, it’s a documentation of our trip, in my own (often awkward, sorry) words. –

If you’re around here on a regular basis (thank you!), you may have learned that our new thing is short road trips, often to small towns that aren’t typical tourist destinations. I love the speed of small towns – the free parking at their core, the relaxed pace, the old bowling alleys and old-school diners. And I love finding new things right in our neighbourhood, globally speaking. A few weeks ago we spent the weekend in Red Deer and Lacombe – not high on most vacationers’ lists, but I was teaching a few classes at the Cooking Room, I had heard there were some tasty things going on in central Alberta, and isn’t half the fun of a weekend away the staying in a hotel part? (With a pool? And ironed sheets? And a TV at the end of your bed?)

Also – it’s only an hour and a half drive. So we picked up W at school after lunch and headed to this place – the Ellis Bird Farm. I had no idea it existed. It was once the home and farm of brother and sister Charlie and Winnie Ellis, who set out their first nesting box for the mountain bluebirds in the fifties, and went on to fill the fields with some 300 nest boxes for mountain bluebirds and tree swallows, built and erected houses for black-capped chickadees, purple martins and flickers, and established a program for feeding winter birds. (It’s a great story – you can read all about it here.)

Ellis bird farm 1Ellis Bird Farm grain elevator

And it has the oldest (or one of) hand-made grain elevators in Alberta! I’m a sucker for a grain elevator.

Today, it’s both a working farm and a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of mountain bluebirds, tree swallows and other native cavity-nesting birds. It’s open to the public during the summer months – there are beautiful gardens, a new visitor centre, and the world’s largest collection of nest boxes. They’ve also teamed up with scientists to track birds using light-level geolocators.

Ellis bird farm 3

Between the surroundings and birdsong, it’s the best possible picnic location – but if you don’t think to bring your own, the tiny Ellis Café is in the little yellow house where Charlie and Winnie lived, and they’ll make you a picnic lunch full of locally produced meats, cheeses, pickles and preserves from area farms. Also: real iced tea and scones!

Ellis bird farm picnic
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Cabbage rolls 6

Cabbage rolls are not trendy, nor instagram-worthy. Some might call them dated, even though their doughy tablemates (peroghies) bask constantly in nostalgic adoration (even by those who did not grow up with Babas making them). I forgot how much I love them until my friend Dorata, who has been doing my hair for something like 20 years, and is one of the best cooks I know, brought me a plate with a few delicate Polish-style cabbage rolls as I sat with my hair under the dryer, and they were some of the best things I ever ate.

Cabbage rolls 5

I’ve never actually made them myself, and so I gave it a go for the radio this morning. I don’t expect to nail anything straight off the bat, especially not having had relatives telling me how and how not to make them. I texted Dorata, read a bit and went from memory, and came up with something that, in my mind, is a pretty delicious cabbage roll – meat-heavy (I used pork and beef, and a handful of rice), not overly spiced, simmered in plain, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Turns out W loves them too, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they like vaguely like brains.

Cabbage rolls 4
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Waterton view

I’d like to sheepishly admit that although I grew up here, I’ve never really been to Waterton, save for a trip to a bison ranch ten years ago that no longer exists. I feel like a bad Albertan, but I know many Calgarians have never ventured this way, opting instead for the almost instant gratification of a drive to Banff or Canmore. The town of Waterton, in Waterton National Park, is tiny – with a population of 105, it virtually closes down in the winter, opening up again in May for the summer season. The place is somewhat of an enigma, without any chains (hotels and otherwise, with the exception of a small Subway), no cable TV and currently absolutely zero real estate for sale (we checked within 24 hours there) – it has a completely different flavour than Banff/Canmore/Jasper, focused on the lake but still surrounded by mountains. Touristy but not annoyingly so, nor overrun with people.

Waterton landscape

One of the best things about a trip from Calgary to Waterton is the drive — through farmland instead of foothills, on not-too-busy highways through towns like High River, Claresholm and Nanton (and Fort McLeod for a three minute detour), or on the Cowboy Trail (which adds an extra 10 minutes to your drive) past Millarville, turner Valley and Black Diamond. I love the wind farms as you get close to Pincher Creek, and the way the rolling green fields suddenly give way to massive Rockies, with no in between. It feels somehow like being in Europe, and then rolling into a little beach town.

Waterton lake 2Bayshore inn 1
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