I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to include my work at the Globe and Mail. So, going forward, I’ll post a photo each time the story publishes, rather than these roundups. But, to catch up, here’s the last little while.

Over in the Events section, I’ll be adding some of those upcoming happenings that might be of interest. Hopefully having everything in one place will be of use. Stay tuned for those later today.

Hooray for the weekend.

Black and Orange Puddings

Black and Orange Puddings

These puddings are my attempt to redeem the combination of coffee and pumpkin, and I do believe them successful. More pudding cup than elegant custard, they are light, with an ebullient touch of spice to keep things interesting.

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

When my grandfather passed, my mum and I travelled to India to attend one of the ceremonies to mark the occasion. In the evening, we gathered with his friends and our family at a nearby restaurant for a reception. It was there that I first tried Dal Makhani, an extravagant bowl of lentils, ghee, and cream, potently spiced. When we returned to Canada, mum asked my great-uncle for the recipe, as she knew he had it somewhere. It was a favourite of his, and of his brother, my grandfather. I wrote this article with grandpa in mind, but on the day it was published in print, that dear uncle joined my grandfather. So, it’s now a tribute to him as well.

Pear Tahini Cake

Pear Tahini Cake

This is a cake that’s better after it’s sat on the counter for a day. That sounds a strange endorsement, but I adore how in that time the texture of the cake changes completely; it settles into itself, becoming a comfortingly soft slice for after school or any time.

Plum Hand Pies

Plum Hand Pies

JoAnne is often the nexus around which various clusters of friends revolve. She seemingly knows everyone, is keen to routinely open her doors to a collection of us around her table. These pies came out of one of such visits. That day, I’d made a puckery cherry version, but going home I was nagged by the idea of stone fruit and almond. Thus, plum hand pies with frangipane were born. Fancied up with some favourite sprinkles and coated pepitas, they were all I wanted, and more.

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Seared Tofu with Two Sauces

Seared Tofu with Two Sauces

I missed this space, and wanted to get back to it. As a start, a gallery of sorts, of some of my work from the last while. These were for my column with the Globe and Mail; I am thinking I'll start posting outtakes so there's a head's up for new work. 

Be back soon with something just for here. See you then. 

Boozy Black Raspberry Float

Boozy Black Raspberry Float

Seeded Date  Marmalade Tahini Knots

Seeded Date

Marmalade Tahini Knots

Barbecue Braised Tomatoes

Barbecue Braised Tomatoes

Golden Turmeric Pots de Crème

Golden Turmeric Pots de Crème

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Halcyon Gate | Tara O'Brady

Phone calls to India used to necessitate a crackling pause after you finished speaking, over which you could hear the faint echo of your own voice before any response came from the other end.

I'd imagine my words travelling along the phone line like a blip of light racing across wires, in a direct path from here to there, from day to night or the reverse, dipping under inky waves to zip across crags of the ocean floor, breaking the surface on the some far shore to scale the heights of airless mountains, carrying whatever sentiment within a incandesent bubble of breath, travelling across all those miles to end against the ear of the listener. The distance could have been the width of the universe. 

Late last month, my maternal grandfather passed away. He was 99 years old, and lived just outside Dehradun in Uttarakhand, India. Within 24 hours of receiving the news, I was on my way there.  

The road to Dehradun | Tara O'Brady
Bougainvillea | Tara O'Brady

His house is called Halcyon. 

At the side of the house | Tara O'Brady

When we arrived, the last of the pomelos still clung heavily to branches, and the mango blossoms were spent.

Calcutta brand fan | Tara O'Brady

We ate meals at the same table from my childhood, cooked by the same cook. Her chapatis were as perfect as ever. The pink gingham curtains my grandmother made hung from the windows. My grandfather's chair was still beside the toaster, his marmalade still on the table.

Sagumburi in the kitchen doorway | Tara O'Brady
Her arm while she cooks | Tara O'Brady
Aunty Dolly | Tara O'Brady

I spent days reconciling memory with fact, and filling in the greyed out details in technicolour. 

I remember his big green car; it was the perfect shade of green, a refined deep-toned emerald with the gloss of a wet leaf. I remember the warmth of his chest through the scratch of a wool sweater. His love of golf, and dogs, and how he'd shade his eyes from the sun with an unfolded newspaper for a nap. 

Those memories butted up against the tree from which the swing once hung. The water pump halfway down the slope behind the house. Straight pins in a tiny jam jar on his desk. The box of photographs that chronicled lifetimes. The fine-toothed comb on his dresser. His red jacket on a hook on his dressing room door. 

Halcyon Garden | Tara O'Brady

Mum and I would wake in the early hours of morning. If we'd left the window between the two beds open, the room was cold in the indigo light, and the breeze so heavily perfumed with flowers it was as if you could taste their scent.

She'd go to the kitchen and make tea with milk and cardamom, and then we'd lay in our respective beds, with covers pulled high and hands around hot cups, listening to the end of the night birds' song and the beginning of those from the day. When the first hint of dawn pierced the horizon, we'd hear a call to prayer. 

I missed my grandfather before we got there—such as it is when you live at a distance from others. At Halcyon I looked for him, expecting him in his favourite seat on the verandah or to hear him one room over. I expected to find him in the midst of the routines of his years. Instead he reverberated in all corners of the house, all the way up to where the wall and ceiling met and past that still. 

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Hey guys. I'm having trouble finding the start that seems right. I've tried, then deleted the attempt, then tried again, then got a drink, put in a load of laundry, and tried again. And deleted again. So let's take a deep breath and jump in. 

Seven Spoons cookbook first look + preview recipe bundle | Tara O'Brady

There. Much easier. My cookbook, Seven Spoons: My Favourite Recipes for Any and Every Day, comes out slightly-less-than two months from now. Specifically on April 21, 2015, which happens to be my birthday and nine days before the tenth anniversary of this site. The publishers, Ten Speed Press in the US and Appetite by Random House here at home, didn't know the significance of the date when they chose it, and the coincidence feels like kismet.

russeted apples and book preview recipe bundle!  | Tara O'Brady

Today I was going to tell you about how I came to write a book in the first place, but then I thought it might be nicer to work in reverse. Start with the book itself, and go backwards from there. Maybe I'll split it up into a few posts — one with how this all happened, and another on how I actually wrote the book and organized my work, if that sounds good to you. Then we can keep the conversation going. 

ploughman's lunch + book preview recipe bundle! | Tara O'Brady

As I said what feels ages ago, the cookbook was an opportunity to gather up the favourite recipes of my family and our friends, and finally nail down some of those go-to dishes that have thus far been without any recipe at all. I ended up at over 100 of them — I think the count is 114 — with more than 80 photos to match. I shot the photography in my home, around the region where I live, and up north in Muskoka, on days spread out over the year I took to write. So you'll see how the light changes with the seasons, and get an idea of how those plates looked on our table. (If you'd like, I can cover my approach to the photography in one of those posts I'll get on planning.)

I aimed to make a book that would be as useful on special occasions as it was in the day-to-day, whether craving a crackling plate of fried chicken burnished with gochuchang-laced honey, or some invigorating quick-pickled vegetables and herbed labneh bundled up in collard greens, or an icy sip in the form of a Paloma with chaat masala salt. There are recipes from my childhood (including a primer on dal), and Sean's too — I am thrilled about how the Walnut Cherry Butter Tart Pie turned out, based on his maternal grandmother's recipe —  as well as dishes we have come to call our own in recent years (baked colcannon, corn gazpacho, and sausage rolls with nuoc cham). While it does have vegetarian, vegan, whole-grain, gluten-free, and many other diet- and allergen- friendly recipes, the book has no fidelity to one set way of eating. It does have an overarching commitment to eating in season, and as locally as possible, with whole foods the usual. The collection is varied, suiting the way I eat, and hopefully you do too.

The book is simply organized to follow a day's worth of meals. It has Breakfast, Lunch, Soups, Snacks and Starters, then Suppers, Vegetables and Sides, followed by Treats, Sweets and Sips, and a chapter of Staples. 

cheesy mushrooms and greens + book preview recipe bundle | Tara O'Brady

In Seven Spoons the book, just like on this site, the stories of those dishes are included too. That said, a few had to be trimmed, even after we added pages to cram in as much as possible. I wanted to include those somewhere, and here seemed a good place. 

On the Pickled Strawberries (pictured above with chicken liver pâté as part of a ploughman's lunch): The first time I had pickled strawberries was in New York City, in a restaurant at the edge of Central Park. The place was packed, filled with people and noise, and a fierce windstorm was kicking up outside. Still, the strawberries pulled attention. Luminously scarlet, lacquered in juice, they were berries from Oz, daintily presented on top of succulent slices of fresh mozzarella. The supple cheek of sharp fruit against the cool, creamy blandness was startling. Refreshing and silky, each soured morsel had me wanting another.

On the Bostocks (I love bostocks): Nikole introduced me to bostocks. We were once waiting to cross at a busy corner in Toronto — Yonge at Roxborough Street East, if you happen to know the neighborhood — when she asked a question I couldn’t quite hear over the cars. It sounded like, "Have you ever had a bus stop?" Not understanding, I don't think I replied either way. She then led a block further down Yonge Street, to Patachou Patisserie (sadly, now shuttered).

In the front window, between apple turnovers and showy cinnamon swirls, was a cluster of plain, brown, icing sugar-dusted pucks labeled bostocks.

Those squat pastries proved remarkable at first bite. 

One Pot Brownies + book preview recipe bundle!  | Tara O'Brady

The book is available for pre-order, for those interested. As a special thanks, anyone who orders early gets a bundle of recipes right away, starting today. (Those who have already ordered get one, too!) There are five recipes from the book, including the North-Indian style baked eggs that some folks asked about, along with two exclusive to the package. These brownies are one of those recipes, with a super easy, fudge caramel glaze that takes them to fully over the top, rather than just slightly so. Click this link to claim your PDF; simply enter your information and follow the instructions. Then you're off to the races. Or the kitchen, as it were.

I'll sign off for now. I'm working with both my publishers to plan events around the book's launch — so if you'd like a visit do let me know! We'll also take the locations of pre-orders into account, so that kindness will be represented. Once confirmed, those dates and information will be added to the NEWS section on top menu bar.

Well then. This feels like a lot, yet feels really great. Thank you for reading this far, and for so long.

xo and happy days.

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This isn't the story of cookies. Although, there was a cookie the approximate size of my hand involved.

Nor is this the account of astounding breads baked in wood-fired ovens, though we had some of those too. Nor is it about Schmuffins, teeny cakes that want to be doughnuts, which are not only exceedingly tasty, but are also the most adorably-named breakfast ever.

It's not even about Texas-style beef brisket tacos, with meat that's been smoked long and low for hours. Or the crispy jalapeño rings that set fire to that smolder, and matched dangerously well with tall, skinny glasses of Lynchburg Lemonade. It could be about the waiter we met, with his shock of blond hair and high cheekbones. He talked really fast and he knew his stuff. But it's not.

It's really a story of an unexpected friendship that became one of the most important in my life. And how, last fall, that friendship took us to Louisville, Kentucky.

More years ago than I'll mention, I was sitting in a university Canadian Lit lecture. It was the first day of class. I was next to a friend, and he and I were chattering away, waiting for things to get started when, right before the professor began to speak, this lanky guy wearing a baseball cap plunked himself down in the chair on my other side. He had a grin that took up nearly three-quarters of his face.

In one of those painful exercises of "getting to know everyone", the professor decreed we were to introduce the person we were sitting beside to the rest of the class. I looked to my buddy and laughed at the prospect of how I could embarrass him in front of the girls assembled. But then, she added "you're talking to the person on your left." 

That would be the random boy in the hat. And that's how I met Brett. Thanks, Professor Rose.

Years later, years of postcards and basketball games and cups of coffee, Sean and I had the honour watching Brett marry Kathryn, a woman with a smile that somehow manages to overshadow even his, and who is far more vivacious, talented, sharp and funny than he probably deserves (and I say that with honest affection). She's a gem.

I only wish they lived closer. They settled in Kentucky, and had two of the cutest children you'll ever see. Those two imps call us Miss Tara and Mister Sean, and it is knock-you-over sweet.

I've not told Brett this, but Louisville suits him. His Canadian accent has changed, so that certain words now sound deeper when he speaks them. There's a hint of drawl, a warm rumble in tone that sounds the way Bourbon tastes.

I wrote about the trip we took to see him and his family in UPPERCASE magazine, issue 12. There, I share the details of our adventures. Adventures, and a recipe for buttermilk biscuits.

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I don’t have any direct biscuit heritage; I am without pedigree when it comes to those storied biscuits of the American south. My only claim, the only reason I hold the making, eating and sharing of biscuits so high in nostalgic regard is the simple fact that I like biscuits a whole darn lot.

It’s a bit of an obsession. The trouble is, biscuits are one of those things that you can spend a lifetime perfecting. Close cousins to a scone, the type of biscuits I’m talking about are a simple quickbread; the purest forms are flour, a levener, a fat and a liquid. My recipe isn't bang-on traditional; it instead borrows from a few sources, and has a few tricks, in the aim of assuring those of us who didn't grow up making biscuits the guarantee of success. 

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Although the biscuits are saved for UPPERCASE, I do have a recipe to share. Let me introduce you to the Hot Brown, what's usually an open-faced sandwich of roasted turkey and bacon, under a blanket of Mornay sauce (a cheesed-up version of Béchamel) that's then broiled until bronzed and bubbling. It was invented in the 1920s at the Brown Hotel in Louisville by one Frank K. Schmidt, as a late-night offering to their guests who'd tired of the dance floor. It is a divine mess of salt and richness and gooey cheese that doesn't suit every day, but is gluttonously welcomed once in a long while. Thank you, Mr. Schmidt.

While a Hot Brown is usually served with sourdough toast, you can see that's not the direction we're taking today. And, much like a journey down south to catch up with old friends, it's a good trip to take.

Kentucky Hot Brown on a Biscuit

My variation on a classic, inspired by a slew of recipes, including that from the Brown Hotel. Use your favourite sturdy biscuits here, as they're the base to an impressively weighty filling. 

I apologize for the egg on top. It's not conventional, and I seem to be fallen into an unintentional theme:"if it's tastyput an egg on itIt'll be even better." For once, the blame is not entirely my own. On our last morning, with Brett and Kat and their charming children as company, we went out for breakfast. Sean ordered a Hot Brown, and the waiter suggested two eggs on top (Louisville's got some great service). He is a brilliant man. Seriously. Crack an egg and don't look back. It's the business.

For the Mornay sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups 10% cream

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, divided

A grating of fresh nutmeg, less than 1/8 teaspoon, optional

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To assemble

2 eggs

2 buttermilk biscuits, split

1 medium tomato, a good meaty variety, sliced

2 thick slices roasted turkey breast, maybe 4 to 6 ounces total

2-3 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp and kept warm

1 recipe Mornay sauce, kept warm

Flat leaf parsley, to serve

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Slowly whisk in the flour, incorporating fully so there are no lumps. Continue to cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for a minute or so more. In a slow, steady stream, pour in the cream and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring often to make sure the sauce isn't catching, until the sauce comes to a boil, around 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground black pepper, and nutmeg if using. Keep the sauce on the lowest heat to keep it warm, stirring occasionally.

Preheat a broiler. Cook the eggs to your liking; my preference is either fried sunny side up, or poached. At most, over easy. But, it's your breakfast so do what you'd like. My only note is that they can be slightly undercooked as they'll be blitzed under the broiler and nobody likes rubbery eggs. Get them ready and then set them aside for a moment. Place the two bottom halves of the biscuits on a small baking sheet or an oven proof plate. Top each bottom with a few slices of tomato. Place a slice of turkey on top, then divide the bacon between the two (breaking the slices in half to keep things neat, if needed). Place your eggs on top. Pour over some of the Mornay sauce and sprinkle the reserved cheese on top. Keep the rest of the sauce hot for serving. Put the biscuit tops beside the filled bottoms, cut side up. 

Toast the sandwiches under the broiler until the sauce starts to bubble and the cheese begins to brown. This should take maybe a minute. Remove from the oven, garnish with whole parsley leaves (which bring a much-needed, fresh crunch), and top with the second half of the biscuit. Serve immediately, with the remaining Mornay sauce passed alongside.

Makes 2, which should serve 2, but I won't bat an eyelash if you don't want to share.

Notes:

  • Of course fresh, vine-ripened, fragrant-as-all-get-out tomatoes are the ones you want for a sandwich, especially one of such lineage. That said, there comes a time in darkest winter when said sandwich is on your mind and there's no such beauties to be had. I realize I've not helped matters by talking about Hot Browns in January. In these desperate times, I wish I could be so steadfast as to say to wait until September, but I can't. I'll tell you to get yourself some local offerings and roast them in a low oven to concentrate their sweetness to at least a suggestion of summer's best. I roasted my slices, seasoned with salt, pepper and a miserly pour of olive oil, at 300°F (150°C) for about 2 1/2 hours. You can go lower and slower, about 200°F for as much as 4 hours, if you're that patient. 
  • A few drops of hot sauce, dripped over before the biscuit lid is squished on, is how I like to do things.

Places and people

The Original Makers Club

21 C Museum Hotel

Proof on Main

Garage Bar

Blue Dog Bakery and Café

Doc Crows Southern Smokehouse

Hillbilly Tea

Cake Flour

Jack Fry's

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I don't think I've ever mentioned this, but I'm a ship's captain's daughter.

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I'm suprprised I've omitted this essential information, as it was relative proximity to the waters upon which my father sailed that determined where I was born, and where I would grow up.

My father's workplace was the wheelhouse of a steamship, at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Each step had a ridged metal tread at its edge that shone. I made that climb countless times up to the ship's bridge, and spun around on many a wheelsman's chair, and all too often accidentally smudged my greasy fingerprints on the lenses of the binoculars they kept handy. I can tell you the type of cookies in the crinkly packet always tucked by the tea kettle, and how much I liked it when my father wore his captain's hat with its embroidered gold leaves, which wasn't often.

I spent a good deal of my childhood on boats. There are regulations mandating age minimums for children on those boats now, but they were more casual with such concerns then. I've got stories to tell.

I could tell you about the mail boat that would pull alongside ours in the Detroit river. I think it brought the Customs Officer aboard, to stamp the papers that allowed our passage across the line that divides Canada and the United States. More importantly to me, the small boat also brought tuck shop supplies. My father once ordered a case of Coca Cola and a box of Nestlé Crunch Bars for my brother and me to hoard and barter and savour for the remainder of our run. You really can't beat a day like that.

I could tell you about studying the undersides of bridges as we slipped underneath. Or about the people who would wave from shore as we'd pass through a canal. And how we'd wave back.

I could introduce you to a  Sleeping Giant.

Or tell you how, after earning your sea legs, (the habit of keeping a bounce in your step, knees flexible and unlocked even when standing in one place), to step on land feels strangely static. There is a momentary shock to realize the ground isn't moving.

I could tell you about storms. The ship would roll and pitch, and I'd understand why some of the furniture was chained to the floor. In wild storms, when the waves came onto the deck, or the rain was hard, or the wind fierce, we couldn't make the walk from our quarters at the bow of the ship to the galley at its stern for our meals. (Not all ships have this set up, with such a split.) In those circumstances we would climb below deck to the tunnel, a space between the side of the ship and the holds, and travel the football-field length of the deck that way, stepping up and through the raised, rounded doorways that marked our progress.

There was a time I woke up to lightning in the middle of  the night. I went to the window and the only lights to be seen were the swaying blips of those on deck. Then the sky lit up, a shock of energy diving straight into the water. I boosted myself up onto the deep windowsill. It was recessed, with a heavy drape mounted outside. I pushed my back up against one side of the alcove and put my legs straight out to the other. So wedged, I pulled the curtain closed, and watched the lightning flash. I don't remember going back to bed.

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I could tell you about the days that were grey.

On those days, those windless days, the water was still and heavy; a silver-backed mirror reflecting a sky that was perfectly overcast, without sliver of blue to be seen. There would be no waves, no movement except our own. The water looked viscous. As it broke against the bow it folded upon itself like ripples of pewter silk, reminiscent of the slick, rounded backs of sea lions when they surface. 

I did not realize the size, the space, the breadth of the unkown on an airplane; in the air, the miles in between wing and ground grants a distance that makes it seem unreal. In a car, you are immersed in the landscape. It is all around, you're closely contained. It was on water that I truly understood the smallness of my world; a world that at that moment was 30 souls on a 700-some-odd-foot man made island of steel and steam. It was one of those grey days, when the outline between sky and water is lost, and there was no land in sight. Only grey, in every direction. I stood still, aware of the hum of the engines that powered us - a vibration you feel in your joints, in the soles of your feet - and was sure I could walk the thick tension of the lake, all the way to the horizon, and go on from there. We were a pinprick. A dot on a map.

I talked to my mother about this memory, and she provided the context; it was most likely Lake Superior we were sailing then, possibly Erie. She told me a quote from Christopher Columbus, which seemed to fit: "You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

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These photographs aren't of the waterways I knew, although my father has navigated these too. They are of Prince Edward Island, a province on the eastern edge of Canada, and the setting for a new adventure. For Kinfolk Magazine's second volume, two friends - Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott - and I put our heads together on a project.

We collaborated on a story about travel, most specifically as a pair. It follows the cross-country drive to the 150-year-old farmhouse where they stayed for a week. Here's an excerpt:

In this case, we're speaking of memories of days spent on the tip of an island. Looking through windowpanes effervescent with bubbles trapped in the glass. Meals shared, and chairs pulled close to the table, and to each other. Walks on soft sand after a feast of clams with butter and beer, to return the shells to the waters from whence they came. The taste of potatoes dug from red earth, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else. The act of battening down the hatches and together bundling up against a storm, with winds that wailed against ancient walls in exhilarating gusts.

Clothes brought in from drying, branded with the scent of salted air.

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The magazine is out now, available both in print and on the iPad. If you would like our recipes from the story, I'm chuffed to point you in the direction of Bon Appetit, where they're published along with a few more shots from PEI. Thanks so much to Julia for that.

And speaking of photographs, Nikole has some others up today too - we wanted to show y'all some of our favourites, and though it nice to divide them between us two. So if you head on over to her site you can see them, and read her thoughts on the matter. 

For a look back at the launch of Kinfolk and our first collaboration, it's here

All photographs by Michael Graydon. Food and styling by Nikole Herriott. Cheers guys, it was great fun.

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I thought it might be a little bit fun to share pictures of some of our summer. Photos of days of holiday; of longer evenings and lazy mornings, of trips to the farm and to the city.

I wanted to go through some odds and ends, all in the aim of the business of catching up.

There were meals out with friends, and peaches on the back porch.

We discovered an addiction to strawberry lemonade popsicles, then green peas lightly braised with shallots and tender lettuces, then salads of summer squash, corn and chili.

We've been bottling up this summer, in glass jars that now are stacked and lined on shelves downstairs. We preserved some whole, made ketchup (!!) and jams, and I'm considering a batch of nectarine chutney or tomatillo salsa before we put the big pots away.

There were carnivals, and roller coasters and one last ride to officially say farewell to the season. 

School's started. There's a small backpack that's taken its place by the front door. There were pumpkins outside the market yesterday and stacked hay bales and lined up corn stalks. Apples are around, too. 

Looking ahead, I'm thinking of pies. I'm itching to get into warm sweaters and scarves, and socks pulled up the knee.

First though, we're planning a trip to Louisville, with thoughts of friends with whom it's been too long since we've shared a meal. There's a whisper of bourbon before dinner and biscuits for breakfast - and I can't decide which excites me more. 

I'll be back with more words and a recipe soon. I'm hanging tight to these moments and not quite ready to let go of them yet.

Until then, friends.

Above photographs taken with my phone.

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My pal Justin sent me a book about cookies the other day. It's one with a backstory and an even more important intent. It makes me want to get out the bowls and warm up the oven. If you can give it a look, please do.

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mushroom toast

And, finally, I was recently hired to represent Canada in a friendly competition between the United States, Australia and us - over mushrooms. With thoughts of the Maple Leaf Forever and all that, I couldn't turn down the job. If you'd like to find out more, and vote (yup, you get a say in this too), please click over to Mushrooms Canada and Tastespotting for the full explanations.

It involves Butter Roasted Mushrooms, which are something I think you should know about.

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