I'm going to get straight to the point, because the point  here is peaches, and as of my count taken at 2:27 p.m. on Monday, August 5, I've had two servings of said peaches.

I'm strongly considering a third.



I should say, the peaches aren't just peaches, though peaches alone are fine, especially when it's August in Ontario and you happen to be in a place known as the buckle to the region's fruit belt. These are spiced and roasted peaches, paired in a bowl with toasted oats. And those oats aren't just plain old oats, but rather glistening and nubbly with a thin, sweet shellac studded with sesame seeds.

I started on the combination after making a slapdash of a crumble last week, with some peaches that ripened faster than we could eat them. It was a buttery crumble, and I'd let the oats get quite crisp in the process. The next morning, rooting around the fridge, I came across the scant leftovers from the night before  — a few lush chunks of peach, errant scraps of topping, and I thought to make stretch the loot and call it breakfast. I grabbed yogurt and a spoon, and in a last-second addition, I anointed the cold crumble with maple syrup spiked with Chinese Five Spice, since the blend's base of cinnamon, clove, anise and fennel makes good sense with peaches, and its touch of Sichuan peppercorn would lend its pep to the fruit's intensely honeyed flesh.  



The result was so good, so exactly what I was looking for, that I became set on another go round, this time with peaches and oats expressly made for breakfast.

What I ended up with was a miserly recipe for granola, with the flakes faintly frosted and balancing the border of savoury. The sesame seeds, for which I used a mix of black and white, break up the texture of the oats, and their flavour is suprisingly, satisfactorily pronounced.

The peaches barely require a recipe, brushed with their own allotment of maple syrup, seasoned with that Five Spice and a vanilla bean, then baked in a moderately hot oven. The fruit emerges fragrant and shining, retaining its shape but supple enough to give way to a spoon.

My third helping will be with ice cream.

5SpicePeachPlate2 .jpg


The choice of sweeteners and fat here is up and open to debate. Honey and brown rice syrup are candidates for the liquid sugar, and natural cane sugar or even Demerara could stand in for the grainy stuff. As far as oils, I like how an olive oil brings a note of green, fruited pepperiness, but a neutral oil like grapeseed could be bulked up with coconut oil, almond oil or even sesame oil, if used judiciously. Feel free to use what interests.

A batch of oats yields more than needed for a cluster of peaches, so in 20 minutes you're well on your way to breakfast tomorrow, and possibly the next, too. The oats keep well, and also make a worthy canvas for wild blueberries, the teeny ones, almost winey in flavour, which are at the farm stands around here right now. Douse the business with milk and eat as a cereal. 

If using larger peaches, you'll need to adjust cooking time accordingly. 


  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
  • Fine grained sea salt, maybe 1/4 teaspoon
  • 2 1/2 cups large-flake rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup flaked almonds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds



  • 4 small peaches, firm but ripe, halved and stone removed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean


  • Yogurt, fresh ricotta or cottage cheese
  • Hemp seeds, bee pollen, optional




Make the oats first, in fact, make them the night before, if possible. Preheat an oven to 375°F / 190°C and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the maple syrup, golden brown sugar, olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and a good pinch of salt. In another bowl, toss together the oats, almonds, sesame seeds and another pinch of salt. Fold the oats into the syrup mixture until coated. Turn the oats out onto the prepared baking sheet, patting into an even layer. Bake in the preheated oven until the oats are golden and lightly toasted, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan once during the cooking time, and flip and shuffle the oats around regularly to ensure even colour. Cool the oats on their tray for at least 20 minutes to crisp up before serving or transferring to an airtight container for later use. (Store oats at room temperature if made in advance.)

For the peaches, preheat the oven back to 375°F / 190°C if needed. Line a rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan with parchment paper. Arrange the peaches on the pan, with space in between each. If they cuddle up too close, they'll steam, not roast. 

Grab a small bowl and mix together the maple syrup, Five Spice Powder and vanilla seeds. Brush the peaches with about half the mixture — let some collect in hollow left by the pit, but don't drown the fruit —  and place in the hot oven, keeping the rest of the maple syrup aside. Bake the peaches until they look soft and juice filled, and scorched where the skin meets the flesh, which should take around 20 to 25 minutes. If you'd like to give the fruit a proper bronzing, place them under a hot broiler for a few moments — don't dare leave them too long, or they'll burn fast enough. Remove the fruit from the oven and let stand a few minutes before serving with yogurt, a raining scatter of seeds, and the rest of the spiced maple syrup, for further gilding at the table.

Eat straight away, or at room temperature, or chilled enough that the peaches are cold, but the juices still loose and running. 

Enough for 4 servings.

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When I worked at a theatre company in my teens, one season there was a play that opened with Geroge Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue”. I fell for it at first listen, somewhere in between the flirting tumble of notes at the beginning and the arcing rise up the scale before the clarinet cascades in a sigh. It was summer, and the play was a love story. A friend of mine had a breathless crush on the production's male lead. One afternoon, the power went out in the theatre, so the show continued by candlelight.

It was all pretty romantic. 

I'm keenly aware of how strange it sounds but when I was trying describe these apple cider caramels, namely caramels spiced with chai masala, strains of "Rhapsody in Blue" kept coming to mind.


Before I lose you entirely, it might be best to try to lay out what we have here. The recipe starts with reduced apple cider, bulked up with sugars and swirled with butter and cream. Then things perk up with a combination of spices; cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and ginger, flinty with black pepper, which taste to me how that Gershwin tune sounds.

Caramel can oftentimes be flat, all sugary heaviness, a dud. These caramels lilt; they flicker and spark. There are highs and lows, deep sweetness, prickling warmth, fragrance and flavour that rolls and develops. They're romance and drama wrapped up in brown paper, and totally worthy of infatuation.

spiced soft caramels

They are soft caramels, not the kind that stick to your teeth and threaten to pull out your molars, but yieldingly-so; they stretch only the tiniest bit when bitten, then relax, supple and dense as you chew. 

We made them by the trayful for gifts this December, in both a straightforward cinnamon version and this fussed up one. They were so popular, I'll be making them into January as well. I am not one for candy, usually, but found it easy enough to make an exception in this case (this being my other). And speaking of ease, these are a cinch as far as candy making goes; some boiling and stirring, then pouring out. Just make sure to keep an eye on the bubbling pot towards the end — when it comes to temperature the caramel will be a smidge lighter in colour than these photographs show, as the shade deepens with the addition of the spices, and even further when the candy cools. 

apple cider caramels spiced with chai masala

And for that ease, you get something stunning. A candy that's interesting yet familiar, and altogether dreamy. Candlelight not required.

Happy new year.


Modified slightly from Deb Perelman and her book The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012), rewritten by me, except as noted.

Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove and black pepper are fairly standard for chai masala — the mixture used, as you might gather, to flavour masala chai. I think the assortment of spices brings further complexity to the caramels, and works nicely with the apple cider. And, as it's evocative of gingersnaps and gingerbread, the blend matches well with the echoes of the holiday season. While it's not traditional in masala chai, if so inclined, seeds scraped from 1/2 a fresh vanilla bean can be added to the spiced salt.

The original caramel recipe calls for cinnamon alone, so feel free to use 1/2 teaspoon of the ground stuff if that is your preference.

Deb says: Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.


  • 4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom 
  • A good pinch ground clove
  • A few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, less of a fine-grained one
  • 8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
  • Neutral oil for the knife


Bring the apple cider to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until transforms into a dark, thick syrup and is reduced to about 1/2-1/3 cup in volume, which should take around 35 to 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, set out the other ingredients, as the candy comes together pretty quickly at the end. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch, straight-sided metal baking pan with a cross of parchment. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together all the spices with the sea salt. 

Once the apple cider is reduced, remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the butter, sugars and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat and let it boil until a candy thermometer reads 252°F, about 5 minutes. 

Immediately remove the caramel from the heat. Add the spiced salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and set it aside to cool; around 2 hours at room temperature, or faster in the fridge. Once the caramel is set, use the parchment paper sling to transfer the block of candy to a cutting board. With a well-oiled knife, cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Place the cut pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the fridge for 10 minutes before wrapping. Once firmed up, wrap each in pieces of parchment or wax paper, twisting or folding closed. 

The caramels will be soft at room temperature, or can be kept firm in the fridge. They'll last about two weeks, either way. 

MAKES 64 candies. 

First photo taken from my Instagram. For those who asked about the recipe, this is for you. I hope you enjoy them. xo!

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I will never be a great Indian cook.

I've been set up to fall short of that goal by being born into a family of great Indian cooks. (If I could, I would double underline the word great right there and surround it with a beatific halo of twinkling, sparkling lights, just to give you an approximation of my conviction to that belief.)

As a result of this fortunate misfortune, the Indian meals that come to being under my hands, in my own estimation at least, will never, ever measure up to the meals of my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Theirs are just so much better. They've absolutely ruined me for anyone else's Indian cooking, even my own.

I do try. The trouble is, even if I meticulously weigh and measure and take note of every single flick of the wrist and dash of spice and cooking time down to the millesecond, I cannot replicate the magic of the food that is served from my parents' kitchen.

I am respectably proficient in the recipes I consider essential to the recreation of childhood meals, and I might even be so bold to call myself good at cooking them. But honestly, if it came down to a bowlful of my channa masala (spiced chickpeas) or a spoonful of Mum's, I would most assuredly pick the latter.

Frustrated and hungry, I branched out on my own. My immediate and extended family is of a diverse enough background that a variety of Indian cuisines are often represented at our table. I took that thought and ran with it - seeking out recipes that had no particular tie to my family but had a general place in the geography of our heritage.

The practice has been a successful one. The dishes have been familiar enough to have an emotional resonance for me, which really, is such an essential part of the way we cook and eat, but yet their unfamiliarity saves them from comparison or prejudice.

I'm not giving up on those family recipes, my word no. But while I'm learning, it's a start.

I fry chopped bindis (okra) among onion and tomatoes, and can stir up a thick gravy for kofta (meatball) curry. I have served generous bowls of peppery Mulligatawny, puréed until velvety smooth (an utter departure from my family's recipe). Then there are recipes like this cauliflower, that isn't classically Indian at all, but retrains enough of that spirit that it feels comfortable to have around. It feels like something I've been eating for years.

When making dal, the ubiquitous stewed lentils that are found throughout India, the dish is usually finished by tempering - a process called tarka (that's the way we pronounce it, but it can also be spelled tadka). It is a last-minute seasoning of the lentils with roasted spices cooked in ghee (clarified butter) or oil (often mustard). Here the aromatic butter is poured over roasted cauliflower, for an unexpected vegetable.

The cauliflower is presented in thick slabs, like a coral specimen from the mysterious deep, pressed under glass with it's spindly-limbs artfully arranged just so. After roasting, even the fibrous stalk looses its tenacity as everything goes soft and sweet. Hot from the oven, the cauliflower gets bathed in butter thick with spice and succulent nuggets of onion. It's taste is so reassuringly that of home to me that I get woozy with nostalgia just thinking about it.

And see in the photographs where the sauce collects and pools? I'll let you know now that you'll want to drag your cauliflower through those collected juices so that every crenulated tip is filled with the piquant liquor.

One swipe, and you'll thank me. Scratch that, no thanks necessary. Just be sure to save me a piece.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin and Coriander Butter

The spice blend is called garam masala, from the Hindi words "warm" and "spice"; with masala suggesting a combination of spices rather than a singular. It is without a standard recipe, with each household seemingly with its own version, but the basic components of coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom, along with chilies are fairly universal.


1 medium cauliflower, leaves removed and cut into 3/4-inch vertical slices

neutral oil for drizzling

salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1-2 dried red chilies, stemmed and broken in two

4 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cloves

1-inch piece of cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds

2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee)

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

Preheat an oven to 450°F (230°C), with rack on the lower third.

Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet, lightly with oil. Lay out the cauliflower on the tray and season both sides well with salt and pepper. Roast, turning once, until tender and golden, around 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium high heat, dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom and chili until fragrant, tossing or stirring often. They might darken, but you do not want to see smoke or for the spices to catch. Watch them closely. Remove the spices to a spice grinder and allow to cool. Once warm but not hot, process the spices to a fine grind.

In the same skillet, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent and sweet but without colour. Add some of the spice mix (see note below) and turmeric stirring them thoroughly into the butter. Continue to cook the onions and spices for another minute.

When the cauliflower is finished roasting, spoon the butter and onion mixture over. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.


• If you prefer, the cauliflower can be cut into florets and then tossed through the butter. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.

• Use as much or as little of the spice blend as suits your taste, a teaspoon or so would be a good starting point. The onion mixture should be well-spiced and pungent, to season the mild vegetable. Any leftover spices can be stored in a sealed container for a week or so.

• If you have a favourite garam masala recipe of your own, feel free to use it here.

A warm nibble for the cooler days ahead; spiced pumpkin scones. Photos courtesy of Deep Media.

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils ..."

Sometimes I think I would really like to go back to school.

I could say that it was because I wanted to be surrounded by knowledge, or that I long for the daily exchange of ideas or that I crave an opportunity to stretch my mental boundaries. But, while all of that is well and good, I must be honest.

The thing that would most excite me about back-to-school would most likely be the stationery.

My love of lists is old news, I know. But it is a continuing, relentless habit. What you might not realize though is that the quirk is even deeper-rooted than the itemized collection of things to do; in fact, lists only scratch the surface of my fondness for writing things down, getting organized, and the supplies associated with both.

The whir of a label maker makes me happy. I have spread sheets detailing gifts given for holidays over the last five years. I was recently miffed to find out that Ikea had discontinued the glass jars I like for pantry storage. I have been known to colour code paper clips to best suit the subject matter they clamp. Seriously. And yes, I got made fun of for that one.

As you can well imagine, my level of commitment to eccentricity has led me down many an aisle of a stationery store. And so then you can imagine, I have bought enough stationery to be particular in my purchases. Rollerball, not ball point pens please. A mechanical pencil with no more than a 0.5 millimetre lead, thank you.

But back to the lists. My incessant scribbles need a home, and this brings me to my greatest love of school supplies - notebooks. Oh, how I adore a brand-new notebook. Whether tiny or fat, simple in its decoration or elaborate, a notebook smacks of promise and new beginnings. Some notebooks seem to make ideas flow easier; inspiring one to sit down and put thoughts to paper.

Throughout our house, our car and in my purse, you will find notebooks. Teeny tiny scratch pads for quick reminders are tucked in the junk drawer in the kitchen. On the desk is a thin, spiral bound notepad of my father's, containing a story about a squirrel I wrote in elementary school. A collection of journals line a shelf in the den, their contents spanning years of our lives. Innumerable recipes and food thoughts are jotted down on scraps of paper and tucked into random books and magazines, or take up books of their own.

It was in one of these (many) notebooks that I came upon a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Scones and, as a bonus, a mystery. Reading it over, I realized that I had absolutely no recognition of the words whatsoever. Though in my handwriting, with notes and substitutions in the margin, I have absolutely no remembrance of where the recipe came from, or when I heard of it.

Mysterious provenance aside, I was charmed by prospect of lightly-spiced scones; perfect for the cooler weather forecast for the weekend. They were quick work through the use of a stand mixer. Butter is blended into dry ingredients, then liquids are added to that. Dump everything out onto a work surface, knead lightly, and you're done. All that is left is to cut the dough into the desired size and bake.

A scant 15 minutes later a tray full of proudly-puffed scones are yours to be enjoyed. The addition of cake flour helps to keep them tender, while the pumpkin purée adds moisture and pleasing saffron yellowness. Lovely on their own, even better with a smear of butter and a cup of tea. Simply delicious.

Wherever this recipe came from, I am so glad I had someplace to write it down.

Some of my favourite stationery sources are:
Russel + Hazel, See Jane Work, Etsy, and of course the classic, Moleskine.

Spontaneous moments often end up overshadowing the most stylized effort. While enjoying these little bites outside, the cooling rack was momentarily placed amongst the stones. I was so taken by the texture of the crumbly, crackled scones against the gravel, I felt compelled to include the image here.

Spiced pumpkin scones
Of unknown origin, but so tasty that I am tempted to claim them as my own.

2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 cup (1/2 pound, 2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (unsweetened)
2/3 cup 18% (table, coffee) cream, chilled
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, for egg wash
Granulated or sanding sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Use parchment paper to line a standard baking sheet and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. On the machine's lowest setting, cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles course meal. The butter should be in small pieces approximately the size of peas.

Lightly whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée and cream. With the machine running still on low (or stir), pour the liquids slowly into the flour and butter mixture, stirring until just combined. Small bits of butter should still be visible, but almost all the flour should be incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, gently knead the dough, folding and pressing gently until fairly smooth. Divide the dough into four, and shape each ball of dough into a 4" round about 3/4"-1" thick. Cut each round into six wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Once finished, brush each scone with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated or sanding sugar.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the the tops are lightly golden and the cut sides look flaky and dry. When fully cooked, they should feel light for their size and sound almost hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes. Best served warm.

Makes 24 medium scones.


• 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice can be substituted for the individual spices.
• The scones can be frozen before baking. After cutting them out, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze uncovered. Once firm to the touch, remove to an airtight container or a freezer bag and store. To bake, take the scones from the freezer and preheat the oven. Wait 10 extra minutes after your oven has reached temperature, then egg wash and sugar the scones. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.
• These can be made without the aid of a stand mixer. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour, then stir in the wet ingredients. Do not over mix, stir until just blended. From here, the method remains the same.
• If your kitchen is very warm, chill the cut scones for 15 minutes before baking for best results.