How is it already thisclose to being June? I'm holding tight to the well-worn marks of weekly routines to remind myself of the borders between these days, rather than accepting them as a smear across the calendar.

I am happiest with a schedule, and yet want Monday to feel different than Wednesday. Saturdays are for the farmer's market and tacos for breakfast, Tuesdays are often a standing bibimbap lunch, and Sunday night is when I make granola.

Emma Galloway's Tahini and Orange Granola from her book "My Darling Lemon Thyme" | Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

When I was fine-tuning the recipes for my book, certain ones that had always been part of my weekly to-do list became even more so entrenched in the way we do things around here. The soft sandwich bread took over the bread box, instead of sharing the space with the milk-and-honey-enriched loaf that was our alternate. I was giving away jar after jar of the pickled strawberry preserves. I had a freezer's worth of variations on the Walnut, Cherry Butter Tart Pie (there was one with milk chocolate, one with bittersweet, and one with cacao nibs; then one with pecans instead of the walnuts, another with bourbon, and one with dried cranberries, and every permutation in between).  The clumpy granola became our one and only, and it was made with such devotedness that there was usually a surplus stashed in the pantry.

Once the book was done and out in the world, I took a break from many of those recipes, first off because—and nobody tells you this—while you're promoting a book you end up doing very little cooking. Then it was summertime, when our schedule had only the loosest of parameters. Slowly, slowly with fall and winter and school and holidays, I found my way again to the little ceremonies of my kitchen.

I'm back to a varied bread baking program, and the yeasted ones from the book are supplemented with a rye-heavy sourdough on the regular. The butter tart pie was was on the table at Thanksgiving, and it'll be shuttled to the cottage this summer. 

Now the granola has its antithetical compatriot sharing a shelf. While mine is rough with clusters, this one from Emma Galloway's My Darling Lemon Thyme, is snappy, crackling and light. Hers is a toasted muesli, with a combination of flaked grains, coconut, seeds, and nuts, plus such a collection of dried fruit that each bite is a change from the one before. The kicker really is Emma's ingenious binding agent; tahini, mixed with coconut oil and honey. The resulting syrup is rich without going overboard, and not overly sweet. It is fragrant yet not sickly, evocatively savoury almost. In short, it's compellingly good. 

Sarah wrote about this recipe just last month, so I consider this adding my voice to the chorus of praise as this muesli is one for encores. 

Emma Galloway's Tahini Orange Muesli from "My Darling Lemon Thyme"| Tara O'Brady + Seven Spoons

EMMA GALLOWAY'S TAHINI, ORANGE + COCONUT TOASTED MUESLI

"Muesli-making was always my dad's domain when we were little. Late at night he would set himself up in the kitchen, toasting and chopping like a mad man, before decanting the goods into his giant glass muesli jar. I remember him saying how expensive it was to make but, and this is a huge BUT, homemade muesli beats that store-bought sweetened stuff hands down. This is my favourite version, and it's filled to the brim with the goodness of quinoa flakes, shredded coconut, nuts, and fruit all bound together in a sweet (but not in-your-face-sweet) mixture of coconut oil, tahini, honey, and orange zest. To keep things strictly mean you can use pure maple or brown rice syrup in place of the honey. Also, whole-grain oats can be used in place of the quinoa flakes."

— From My Darling Lemon Thyme: Recipes from my Real Food Kitchen by Emma Galloway (Roost Books, 2015)

Makes 1.5kg | 2 pounds

INGREDIENTS (please see below and the note for my changes)

  • 5 cups | 500 g quinoa flakes 
  • 2 cups |180g unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut (I used both)
  • 1/2 cup | 65g cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup | 75g whole raw almonds, roughly chopped (I used flaked)
  • 1/2 cup | 65g pumpkin (pepita) seeds
  • 1/2 cup | 60g sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup | 35g sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml virgin coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml un-hulled tahini
  • 1/3 cup | 80ml honey, pure maple or brown rice syrup (I used maple)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • The finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup | 200g natural raisins or sultanas 
  • 1 1/2 cups | 165g dried cranberries
  • 1 cup | 95g firmly packed dried apple slices, roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 cup | 80g pitted dried dates, roughly chopped

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C. Combine quinoa flakes, coconut, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower and sesame seeds in a large bowl using your hands to combine thoroughly. Combine coconut oil, honey or syrup, tahini, vanilla, orange zest and sea salt in a small pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly until melted and combined. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.

Transfer to a large deep baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until toasty and golden brown. Watch those edges like a hawk as they have a tendency to burn. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Stir in the dried fruit and transfer to a large glass jar or airtight container. Will keep for 2-3 weeks as long as airtight.

NOTE FROM TARA:

Instead of quinoa alone, I used 3 cups rolled oats11/2 cups quinoa flakes, and 1/2 cup buckwheat groats. I tailored the fruit to my sons' preferences, using 1/2 cup sultanas1/2 cup chopped figs1 cup dried cranberries1/2 cup dried cherries1/2 cup dried blueberries1/4 cup minced candied ginger, and 1/2 cup pitted dried dates, chopped.

Last but not least, thank you for the generosity of your kindness in response to my post about my grandfather. You guys are the absolute best. xo

I was granted the gift of a decent ability to remember things. My capacity for recall has served me well enough; through years of English Lit exams, countless passwords and PINs, phone numbers and postal codes, and all the other scraps of information deemed vital these days.

For the longest time, I had my brother's Social Insurance Number memorized. I was without specific reason to do so, I just did.

Mysterious how the mind works. Doubly mysterious how it sometimes chooses to abandon you completely. In my case? That memory of mine has one specific failing, and a funny one at that. Pakoras.

It's not that I've forgotten them, that would be impossible. Those vegetable fritters were one of the reasons that ours was the most popular house for after-school snacks on our street.

My grandmother and mother made them with onions or with sliced potatoes most often, sometimes with cauliflower too. Crisp and tender, touched by spice, they were like onion rings and potato chips and french fries all rolled together, made that much better by the combination.

Sitting at the table, I'd concoct an accompaniment to the pakoras as we waited for them to be cooked. The glass bottle of ketchup and a plastic bottle of chili sauce was all it took. You'd pour some ketchup into a little bowl, then stir in a swirl of firey-hot chili sauce, being as miserly or as generous as you'd like. That's it, that's all, you were ready to go. (This sauce is not at all authentic, but the thing to a six-year-old palate.)

My preferred pakoras were onion ones. They would emerge from the oil open-weaved, with rings of onion coiling around each other. In those few spots where the batter collected, the pakora was soft and fluffy; where the batter was thin, it shattered with a delicate crunch.

Trouble is that Grandma, the maker of superlative pakoras, firmly disavows these lacy versions of my childhood memory as her intended result. For a split second I foolhardily considered a defense of my recollection, but you don't argue with Grandma.

Of course the mistake was mine.

As I examined this lapse in my reminiscence, I had two epiphanies. First, my well-documented greed is probably at the root of this. I wouldn't be surprised if my childhood self (or my adult self for that matter) saw it fit to only select the thinnest, snappiest, pakoras of the bunch; only those ideal specimens would have been squirreled onto my plate.

Second, I shouldn't expect myself to be a faithful narrator to this story. It is inherent to the nature of our most treasured childhood memories that they be viewed through the blurred lens of nostalgia. Of course it would be that in my recollection every pakora was my exact favourite.

Lucky for me, pakoras are not only in my memory. And now that I'm the one at the stove, I can indulge my fancy and make sure that every pakora out of the oil is, in fact, my exact favourite kind. Yes, I know, greedy of me. Again.

But I'll sit with spine straight and head high. To me, these are memory brought to life, or to our plates to be specific, with the bias of sentiment fully, marvelously intact.

INDIAN ONION FRITTERS

Pakoras are often made with a batter that includes a variety of spices and a leavening agent. This is my Grandmother's recipe, who believes that simplicity is best when appreciating the qualities of each ingredient. As I said, you don't want to contest her opinion; I'm smart enough to be a good little granddaughter and report it faithfully.

Since I do deviate from tradition in the way they are shaped, I've called these fritters to avoid any confusion. Ramshackle and rustic, the messier your clumps of onion, the more texture there will be in the finished fritter.

For the full pakora experience of my childhood, the ketchup chili sauce combination is a must.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup gram (chickpea) flour
  • 1 small red chili, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced cilantro
  • A generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Water
  • Oil for deep frying (peanut, vegetable or canola)
  • 2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced into thin rings horizontally
  • Salt and fresh lime wedges for serving
  • Ketchup and chili sauce for serving (optional, see above)

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, chili, cilantro and salt. Slowly stir in enough water until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipping (heavy) cream. Beat the batter well, so it is lightened and foamy at the edges. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove or in a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F (175°C). When that's reached temperature, separate the onion layers into individual rings and drop them into the batter, stirring gently to coat. Using a fork, pick up a clump of onion rings and allow the excess batter to drip off.

Carefully drop the tangle of onions into the oil and fry until lightly golden on one side, around 30-40 seconds. Flip the fritter and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack set up over newspaper or on some folded paper towels.

Repeat, frying a few at a time, until all the onion and batter is used.

Enjoy immediately, with additional salt sprinkled over and a squeeze of lime juice. Offer a condiment of ketchup blended with chili sauce for dipping.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite. To be safe, let's say 2.

Notes:

• A small amount of crushed dried red chili can be used in place of the fresh.

• Pakoras can be made with a variety of vegetables. Melissa has some phenomenal versions to offer.

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I've stopped in with some chickpeas today, along with a recipe that has me acting like a crazy person.

How so? Well, let's read the ingredients. You will surely recognize the usual suspects, robust olive oil, our old friend garlic, aromatic leeks and of course the chickpeas. Then there's twangy lemon and woodsy rosemary, adding height and depth to the mix. Last, the salt. Can't forget that, the universal leveler, the thing that amplifies individual flavours while miraculously creating overall harmony.

But no pepper.

Who have I become? It's unlike me to bring Salt along without it's bosom buddy Pepper. And often I go one step further, with dried chili flakes, cayenne or Kashmiri chili thrown in for kicks. But in this case, (deep breath) I have decided I don't want pepper anywhere near this meal.

Let me give you some sense of this tumble of stewy leeks and chickpeas; they cook up in a way that is gratifyingly substantial, as is our need in these January days. But they are just cooked, without a trace of sludginess, still firm and springy-centered. Silken leeks curl around their goldeness, the pale jadeite strands are floral and sweet. The rosemary and lemon are noticed to be sure, but their forms are blurred at the edges, melting into and carrying forth the flavours of the others in equal measure.

The full effect is something akin to what it would be like to read the collected poems of e.e. cummings by spoon rather than by eye. While there is a variation in tone from bite to bite, there are no full stops or pesky uppercase letters to interrupt the rhythm we've got going here. Pepper would break up that essential mellowness, its wham! bang! personality, although a virtue elsewhere, would be too much for the delicate structure of this dish to bear.

We can't have that. So, I've banished the pepper. Scandalous behaviour, on my part.

Secondly, I'm mad for this stuff. Straight out of the pan it is terribly good, with some wilted bitter greens or steamed broccoli rabe nearby to swirl into the herby, lemony, garlic-infused olive oil left behind. Or, pour in few glugs of stock (chicken or vegetable, please) and suddenly there's soup. It can be eaten as is, with perhaps some Parmesan, or blitzed into a purée (but take the rosemary sprigs out before bringing out the heavy machinery).

Whatever way, in mine at least, hold the pepper.

CHICKPEAS WITH LEEKS AND LEMON

I was heavy-handed with the olive oil, as I knew I wanted that excess to dress the greens served alongside. For a lighter dish, or if your intended result is soup, reduce the oil to 2 tablespoons. Adding the rosemary back to the pan at the end gives a final hit of herbal steam. The twig, and the clove of garlic, can be removed before serving if desired.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, bruised but whole
  • 1 6-inch branch fresh rosemary, broken in two
  • 4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and with the white and light green parts sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 lemon

METHOD

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic and rosemary over medium heat. Once the garlic turns fragrant and the rosemary begins to sizzle, remove the rosemary but reserve for later.

 

Add the leeks to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft and sweet but still brightly green, around 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, and continue to cook for a 5 minutes more, at which point the chickpeas should have darkened slightly in colour.

Using a microplane or zester, add a few scrapes of lemon zest to the pan, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently to combine. Check for seasoning, adding more juice, zest or salt as needed. Return the reserved rosemary sprigs to the pan, and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.

I know that I am more than late for our usual Thursday chat, but please forgive my tardiness. Due to an oversight on my part, our guest of honour was not ready for their debut. But finally, the wait is over.

The pickles have arrived. And what pickles they are. But before I tell you about their end, let me tell you of how they came to be.

At the market last weekend, I overheard a farmer describing the progress of his crop. Speaking in glowing tones that were more than tinged with pride, he detailed the specific traits of each of his vegetables; how they grew, their likes and dislikes, their particular qualities. He had a quiet intensity about the way he spoke, an enthusiasm that shone through his words. It was evident that the subject matter was of the utmost importance - more than a livelihood, but a passion as well.

There's just one of the many reasons why he's our Regular Vegetable Man.

On that same weekend his summer squash was especially fine, slender and small, with delicate, taut skin that was perfectly blemish-free. I do not know what it was that sparked my idea of pickling these little darlings, but a pickle was my particular plan. It was a surprising choice, as my usual tendency is to grill, griddle, or roast. But a pickle seemed the order of the day, the promise of crisp, cold slices of squash, puckery and astringent had me salivating. As a good pickle should.

Five days after salting, boiling and sealing the jars tight, I opened the fridge with fork in hand and anticipation in my heart.

That's the thing about pickles, they require faith. Commitment. They take their own sweet time. You do what you can to set things in motion, but that is where your influence ends.

What you put in the jar is as acrid and overblown, eye-twitchingly sour. But wait, just you wait, this is only the beginning. From there, the pickle really takes care of itself. The wait is transformative, and what happens inside that glass coccoon is entirely out of your hands. But your patience will be duly rewarded.

And rewarded I was. After those days, the vinegars had mellowed and muted, now balanced with a sweetness that is first to the tongue. The heat follows, with the indisputable zing of acid to finish.

I wonder if our Vegetable Man might like a jar.

BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLED SUMMER SQUASH

Inspired by a recipe from Simply Recipes. As these are meant as a refrigerator (chilled) pickle, they are not processed after being canned. Please see the link above for valuable tips on sterilizing and, if you so choose, how to process pickles so that they are shelf-stable.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds mixed summer squash, cut into 1/8-inch slices (I used yellow summer squash and zucchini)
  • 1 medium white onion (about 8 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon or a good pinch of ground cloves

METHOD

Toss squash and onion with salt in a large colander set over a bowl. Add ice, toss again. Refrigerate, tossing occasionally for 3 hours. This process will increase the crunch of the pickles by drawing out excess water. Once the 3 hours have passed, drain the squash, picking out any ice cubes that might remain. Rinse well and drain again.

Bring vinegars, sugar, mustard and celery seeds, peppercorns, turmeric, red pepper flakes and ground clove to a boil in a saucepan. Add the drained squash and onion. Ladle into 4 hot sterilized pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch below each jar's neck. Carefully wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth. Cover tightly with new, sterilized lids and screw tops. Cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for 3-5 days before opening.

Makes 4 1-pint jars, to be eaten within weeks of making.

This dish is similar to peperonata, shares ingredients with caponata, but is more of a relish. It could be used sparingly as a condiment or generously as a main ingredient.

With all of that variation, it is hard to reason why I am having such trouble finding the words to appropriately introduce this bowl of piquant peppers and eggplant. I feel a bit sheepish, as the inadequacy falls squarely on my shoulders; the relish is rather tasty and possesses a multitude of positive attributes. Cut into thin lengths and roasted, the vegetables delicately slip across the palate, sweet and unctuous. Vinegar-steeped then soothed with olive oil, they have an acidity that sets the mouth to water.

I will say, despite the lack of fanfare and my difficulty with uncharacteristic taciturnity, this relish has been extraordinarily easy to enjoy. Three jars have resided in our fridge in as many weeks, with the ingredients for a subsequent batch always waiting at the ready. Maybe that record is endorsement enough.

ROASTED EGGPLANT AND PEPPER RELISH

The generous quantity of vinaigrette thoroughly bathes the cooked vegetables and results in a particularly-succulent result. These juices will cloud slightly when refrigerated, due to the olive oil, but will clear once brought to room temperature. Can be served as a sandwich spread (above), an antipasti, or as an accompaniment to grilled and roasted meats and poultry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 red bell peppers, seeded, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4" batons
  • 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and then sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar, see note
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
  • sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). On a standard rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan, toss together the peppers and eggplant. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast, for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Add 3/4 of the onion (reserve the rest) and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft but without much colour, about 25-30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, make the vinaigrette; combine the vinegar, capers, garlic and basil. Slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup of olive oil, until thick and emulsified. Mix in the reserved onion and the red pepper flakes (if using), season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

When finished roasting, tumble the hot vegetables into the vinaigrette, tossing well to combine. Make sure to scrape any caramelized bits off of the pan and any accumulated juices. Allow the vegetables to marinate for 20 minutes at the least, serving the relish warm. My preference is to cool the mixture, then refrigerate in a sealed container overnight. It can then be served at room temperature or warmed gently.

Makes about 2 cups.

Notes:

• The reserved raw onion will slightly pickle in the vinaigrette. You can skip this step, but I like how they turn into translucent ribbons of concentrated acidity.

• For those who might find good quality balsamic vinegar overly intense, you could substitute 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar for the same quantity of balsamic.