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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I haven't known how to come back here, or exactly what to write. I'll apologize first and foremost; I'd not intended to be gone so long. There really is no easy introduction to this explanation, as the reason I've been quiet is that we lost my grandmother. My Mum's mum.

She and I were close. She was sharp, and encouraging, and a talent in the kitchen. When my brother and I were growing up, she lived with us sometimes,  a steadfast influence always. We were fortunate to have had her as long as we did. I was granted the grace of sharing her last days.

She was a teacher who liked crossword puzzles, and apples in her salad. She would tell us not to drink our juice too fast at dinner, or we'd ruin our appetites. She made a habit of the library. I remember the day she took her hair, which was long and dark and worn in a low bun at the base of her neck, and had it cut into a short bob, set in curls. I thought she looked like Queen Elizabeth.

Still beautiful, only different.

A few days ago, caught up in the busy-mindedness that happens when we potter about with efficient industry, I was checking off items on the running to-do list in my head when I reminded myself; "It's Sunday, I should call Grandma." 

No. She's gone. And with the realization, the air left of the room.

It seems that close, that possible, that on the other end of the line she could pick up and I'd hear her voice again. At some point soon, I hope to be able to do her justice, to come close to explaining who she was, and how much she meant to us.

I'll tell you about the dinner we held in her honour; of all that was made, of those who celebrated together and the stories that were told. I'll be sure to describe the photographs and the music.

I'm not there yet. But I look forward to it.

Until then, here's some of what I said that afternoon:

When I think of Grandma, I think of someone who liked things done a certain way, who had particular tastes, and who wasn’t afraid to let her mind be known. I think of a woman with faith. I think of a woman with strong opinions and the conviction to stand by them. I think of someone who put up with me running to jump in her bed, every time I had a nightmare. I think of a woman who was stubborn, so much so that it feels surreal to stand here without her. I think of independence and strength, a strength that lasted all her days, a strength that serves as fine example for the times ahead.

I think of a woman to whom we are forever grateful, to whom we are forever indebted; one who we love dearly, and whose legacy continues in all those gathered.

She will be truly missed.

roly poly

During my grandmother's decline and passing, food was a tricky thing. It was full of complications and, paradoxically, spontaneous joys. I became prickly about the subject, finding it difficult to talk about cooking and meals and all those things she enjoyed, and we enjoyed together. Having children to feed kept me in the kitchen. The boys had begun to understand what was happening, and so I made her recipes. They called her Gigi.

A little while after we said goodbye to Grandma, we accepted an invitation from dear, darling Jason and Jeff to spend a weekend at their cottage with a bunch of pals. It felt strange, and almost heavy, to be packing up and getting excited again. Someone told me it was "just the thing to do. A change is what you need." They were right.

That group that descended upon Muskoka was one of the finest contingents of individuals we could ever be lucky enough to know; in the end, my stomach hurt from laughing. Goodbye hugs on the dock felt like the last day of camp. The next day, I wanted to go back.

At first the trip had felt half an adventure, half as though I was leaving things behind. But as time passed, it seemed less like moving away from recent days, and more that I was heading in a direction of this new normal, one I'm not wholly ready for, but where I need to go. To a place that's still beautiful, only different.

Those friends set me on my way.

Beyond the fun and games and meteor showers, we'd had meals together, shared in the making and the eating, family-style, tight around the table. It felt comfortable, good. I don't think I can ever fully repay them for the difference they made. I will try, though. 

so this was tasty.

I might begin with lifetime supply of ice cream sandwiches. If that's agreed, then these are most certainly the ones where I'll start. The cookie is crumbly, yet densely, unmistakably full of peanut butter, craggy with dark chocolate and gritty bits of oatmeal. They're alternately squishy and substantial, and make the ideal base for an a scoop of ice cream. What's even better is where I got the recipe.

My friend Sara wrote a book, and her husband Hugh took the pictures. It's called The Sprouted Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012), after the website they've built together over the last three years. You probably know all about them, since they've done a cracking good job of making a name for themselves already. Nonetheless, I'll say the collaboration between the two of them is one of the most striking I know; I remember the first time I saw their work, I asked myself "now, where did this come from?" It was too lovely, too fully-realized, a package of pretty, all tied up.

The book is the very much more of same, with 100 of Sara's best recipes, including Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto (zesty and punchy), Quinoa Collard Wraps with Miso-Carrot Spread (vibrant with colour), and Baked Artichoke Dip (addicting). 

In Sara you'll find an earnest cook who wants to feed people healthfully, with whole foods, conscientious choices, and meals full of personality. Her recipes are gorgeous, and Hugh captures them deftly; he's got an artful way with detail, that one. They should be proud.

As a bonus, the pair of them are too stinkin' cute for words. 

I'm glad to share their excitement, and for the opportunity to express my gratitude to those who have been keeping me company. I'm glad to be back here, too. 

Grandma, we know that you are home. I wore your earrings one day and my hair was up, and Mum said I looked like you. I can't imagine words that could have meant more. Thank you for everything.



From The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods (Ten Speed Press, 2012).

Sara says: Making this recipe requires a little bit of time, since you'll have to wait for some of the ingredients to chill, but once they are made, they'll keep in the freezer for up to a month, so you'll have an ice cream sandwich whenever you please. It's such a special treat to have these waiting in the freezer when someone pops over. The cookies are pretty tender, so I freeze them before I put the ice cream between. They never get rock hard in the freezer, so even on the first bite you can enjoy them without hurting your teeth.

I find that a thinner, more fluid natural peanut butter, such as Laura Scudder's Organic Smooth Peanut Butter, works best. You can purchase oat flour, but I love the convenience of making it myself, and the texture of homemade oat flour is quite lovely. To yield the amount you need for this recipe, pulse about 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats in a food processor until it looks like a coarse flour.


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/4 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1 1/3 cups oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
  • 2 quarts premium vanilla bean ice cream, see note
  • 1 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add the egg, honey, and peanut butter and mix until well combined. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on a baking sheet 2 inches apart, using a second baking sheet as necessary. You should have about 30 cookies. Bake, rotating the trays halfway through, until the outer edges turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Once cooled, transfer to plates and chill in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and let soften for a few minutes. Using and ice cream scoop, place one scoop of ice cream on the bottom of a cookie and top it with another cookie. Gently press down and smooth the outer edge. Roll the ice cream edge in the peanuts, pressing them to adhere, and place the sandwich back on one of the plates in the freezer. Repeat. Once fully frozen, after 20 to 30 minutes, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment paper. They will keep in the freezer for up to a month.


  • I used a 2-inch scoop to portion the dough and ended up with 18 cookies, making 9 sandwiches. They baked for about 10 to 12 minutes. 
  • Instead of vanilla bean ice cream, I used the Crème Fraîche Ice Cream from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones(Ten Speed Press, 2012), the exceptional new book from Bi-Rite Creamery. I left the lemon out of the recipe, adding vanilla bean, and substituting half the granulated sugar for turbinado. We made brown sugar crème fraîche at the cottage to serve with crumbles, and I'm still thinking about it. The tangy finish of the ice cream works really well with the richness of the oatmeal cookies; I'm sure a sour cream or buttermilk ice cream would also be very nice.


My wholehearted congratulations to Sara and Hugh on The Sprouted Kitchen, and its release on August 28, 2012. If you can't wait to see it for yourself, I've got some great news! Ten Speed Press has generously offered a peek into the book, with the complete table of contents and a 10-recipe sampler. You'll want to bookmark that page.

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Here's what's going on. I'm sick. It is a straightforward cold, complete with the cloudy weight of congestion, which makes me fairly certain of what it would be like to walk around with my head in a full fishbowl, and rather uncertain as to whether I put detergent in with the wash. 

I am, at present, crazy for masala chai and comfy woollen socks that are a little too big. It's kind of boring. 

I did make myself some soup yesterday. Do you ever get that way when you're under the weather? Confident that a specific ingredient is the only thing to restore you to ruddy-cheeked health? Well, yesterday, that ingredient for me was cabbage and the conveyance of the brassica clearly needed to be soup. I was absolutely positive that would be the poultice for what ailed me.

It was the ugliest soup on record. 

In my fishbowl-brain it all made sense. While I often crave the slicing heat of chili when sick, yesterday I yearned for soothing. I was all about an onion soup at first — I remember reading in a cookbook that at Les Halles, porters at the famed Paris market used to keep off the bitter cold of winter mornings with mugs of soup à l'oignon. I felt in need of such protection.

Somehow my French notion studied abroad for a year, as an Italianate influence worked its way into our pot. A thought of Italian cabbage and bread soups tempted, and I got stuck on the promise of skinny slices of savoy, stewy and supple, slurpable like vegetable noodles — without being noodle-y.* 

There was my plan: equal parts onion and cabbage, with the onion cooked until almost caramelized first (only blonde, as I didn't want the assertive personality of truly-bronzed onions), then in would go the savoy and a bit of flour for weight, and then some chicken stock.  And oh, a rind of Parmesan could be tucked in too, to melt and mingle in with everything else.

That's pretty much what I did.

The soup burbled genially for a good half hour; the vegetables lolled about in their warm bath and became pliant. I was left with a wan tangle of stuff, not all that exciting to the eye, and I began to worry. 

Right at the finish, I rubbed a miserly nub of garlic against some toasted bread and floated it upon a ladled mugful of the soup, then grated a mix of Gruyère and Parmesan atop, and introduced the lot of them to the broiler. After their brief meeting, the soup emerged a bit more golden for the appointment but still kind of boring. Much like my cold. 

I tried to take a photo, even attempting a sidelong approach, hoping if you caught the soup out of the corner of your eye, it would somehow give the illusion of being more beautiful than it was.

You'll note there's only a picture of cabbage here today. That should tell you how those attempts went.

I'm still telling you about the soup though, as I think it was a good start. It was blessedly warming, and its paleness belied the fact it was unexpectedly rich, and the bread sogged into the broth in a way that sounds unappealing but gave appreciated substance. And then there's that bolstering feeling of virtue that always seems to come along when we remember to eat our greens. It might not have beauty, but it had character. And it made me feel better, which was the whole point. It's a good beginning. 

A beginning is something. We can work on looks. Talk again soon.

*With that astute commentary and use of "noodle-y" I've reached the pinnacle of my literary career. Thanks y'all for putting up with my nattering.

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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.


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.


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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double birthday
there was a celebration

I wanted to pop in to tell you about the weekend we've had. It started Thursday and it was a cracker. I think I've mentioned before that the month of April is a packed one here - in our closely extended family there are no less than seven birthdays in these 30 days. There's friends in there too, so there's cakes left, right and centre, it feels.

That's not a bad thing.

My day is still to come, though my mind isn't really on all that. I'm already feeling full and happy with festivity. There has been the winking spark of skinny candles, and the familial harmony of songs sung. There have been balloons and banners and streamers in ruffled swags. 

There was cake topped with raspberries and pistachios, and a scant flurry of nonpareils. Beside a slice I nudged a scoop of ice cream for its company and thought of what a perfect pairing that is; the cool fresh against the dense crumb of a good sponge, the vanilla mixing in with the preserves of the filling in an early spring rendition of berries and cream. It tastes like celebration, and like too much of a good thing, which is to say I was tempted to have seconds.

purposefully messy

Over this weekend there's been sun, rain, snow and everything in between. At one point yesterday I watched treetops as they bowed to a point I thought they'd surely break; their budded limbs rocking twistedly back and forth against a dull sky. An hour later I was caught in hail almost exactly the size of the candies that adorned my slice of cake the day before. As I ran inside I was as decorated as dessert, dusted all over with white. There was thunder as it snowed in the afternoon and the lamps flickered like the candles.

Then there were moments when we didn't need our coats; when the sun was out and bright, and you couldn't help but turn towards its warmth. Everything kept changing from moment to moment, just as the light did in these photos I've brought to show you. I was reminded me how magic it all can be - of the extraordinary bits to be found here and there; the awe of wind, the joy in blue skies, the pretty of snow and the peaceful company of rain.

I chose to believe that the blustering gusts will make those branches stronger. That all these showers will indeed bring May flowers, and they'll be beauties.

old fashioned

Only words for now. Here's to the hope you don't mind. I'll be back soon with the recipe for what we're proposing for my birthday - a coconut custard icebox cake. Benjamin and William will be helping, and there's plans to sneak some dark chocolate in between the layers if they don't eat it all first.

Until then friends, I wish you days of cake and ice cream. 

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