I have talked before about how this whole writing business is generally solitary.

The independent work is often freeing; the singularity clears distraction. It can allow that cerebral space to isolate your message, your voice. Your perspective.

(As I write this, a six-year-old is telling me nuances of various Lego themes. So I'm not companionless, and maybe that limited distraction thing isn't always possible — but there's at least the chance of it.)

That said, I don't think we should always work on our own. I was at a conference recently, and one of the speakers, Robin Esrock, talked about living a life away from the computer. He believes that rich, diverse experiences are not only of value in their own right, but also bolster your efforts upon your return to your work. I'll co-sign that argument.

I think we also have to remember to do different work now and again. Away from the desk and at it. And for me, that means collaborating. I'm lucky to have a friend who's often up for the task in Nikole Herriott. (Hi, N!) 

And, on our most recent effort was this, a Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie with Black Tea Caramel. 

Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie + Black Tea Caramel  | PHOTO: Nikole Herriott  RECIPES: Tara O'Brady

Chai Masala Pumpkin Pie + Black Tea Caramel | PHOTO: Nikole Herriott  RECIPES: Tara O'Brady

Nikole and I look for any excuse to work together, and try to whenever we can. So, when asked to be part of Food52's pie week for Thanksgiving, it was a no-brainer. Also easy, coming up with our pie, as Nikole and I share a love of pumpkined varieties — so I set to tacking down the particulars of one of the best I know how to make. 

You'll find the pie on Food52; but let's get into the details here. The pastry is a simple one, but specifically the one that you'll find in my book next spring. It is my family go-to, and it has flake, but still enough strength to hold up in a braid as perfect as the one that Nikole wove. (Come on now, look at it. A thing of beauty.) The filling has a couple of secrets. A gentle heat on the stovetop before it bakes helps with the filling's set, so it is firm yet supple. The spicing comes from chai masala, the spice used to sometimes flavour tea. It is a collection of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and black pepper not dissimilar to what's standard for pumpkin pies, but with a touch of almost gingersnap-cookie feeling in there. It also isn't overly sweet and thus allows for the introduction of caramel.

The caramel completes the masala chai theme, with cream steeped with black tea and whole cardamom pods as the base. The tea, and go with a nice one here, provides a musky, herbal character as well as a tannic edge. I feel like it's that verging-on-winey quality of Darjeeling that saves the caramel from coming across as cloying. Instead it's got a subtlety that doesn't overpower the pie.

Once again, it's a collaboration that just works. I can't say enough good things about it.

 

BLACK TEA CARAMEL

This caramel comes together quickly, which is a good thing considering how many uses you'll find for it. It is quite a triumph with this pie, but also on pound cake, or ice cream with some roasted nuts, or stirred into warm milk. And, if you're already thinking in such a direction, I would think folks might like jars when the time for festive gifting aries. 

MAKES just about 2 cups (475 ml)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups (295 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea, Darjeeling is best
  • 4 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon whisky
  • Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon

 

METHOD

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a simmer. Stir in the tea and cardamom pods and let bubble for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave to steep while you get on with the caramel.

Pour the water into a large, wide heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the sugar into the centre of the pan. Do not stir. Once the sugar is mostly wet and starting to dissolve, gently swirl the pan once or twice. Let the mixture come to a boil then cook, carefully swirling only occasionally, until the syrup is a light amber colour, 13 to 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and wait for the caramel to turn deep amber (it may begin to send up whiffs of smoke), 3 to 5 minutes more.

Off the heat, with a fine-meshed sieve, strain a quarter of the hot cream into the caramel, standing back as the caramel will expand rather impressively and release a cloud of steam. Whisk in that cream, then add the rest. Stir in the maple syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt, then return the pan to the heat. Knock the heat back to low and simmer, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, just to cook off some of the edge of the whisky and make sure everything is blended. Pour the caramel into a heatsafe jar or bowl. Use hot (but not scalding) or let cool completely before storing in a covered container in the fridge. Rewarm before serving.

 

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icewine gelée with yogurt mousse and pan-roasted plums

Today has a funny feeling to it. The feeling of askew and unsettled.

There was the storm that knocked out our power and heat for 20 hours, which was a nothing in comparison to what so many of you are still dealing with. And then there's that I'm here, talking about a story I started working on three months ago, one that published one month ago, with food for September. Yet here we are, almost at November.

Do you think that Halloween, a day of ghosts and goblins, of tricks and treats and dashes of magic, is a good day for time travel?

I’m hoping so, as that’s my plan. Fingers crossed you’re up for the ride.

Over the summer, Nikole asked if I'd like to collaborate again, this time for a piece for The Globe and Mail. Michael had already agreed; it hardly took me a second to jump up and join them.

The idea was that we'd make a meal together, one that felt right for the end of summer and fall's beginning, one that suited big platters passed around, with a menu inspired by ingredients we found at the farmstands and orchards and markets we like. Nikole and I would sort the food together; then on the day, I'd cook, she'd get everything set in that way she does so well, and Michael would be tasked with capturing it all. 

Here's how it went. 

the meal, all together

We filled the table. (And I may have filled the studio with smoke at one point.)

There was a salad of Santa Claus melon and spiky, sharp arugula, dressed with Champagne vinegar. We stripped the gold and cream kernels off the cobs of a pile of corn, and sautéed them with sweet onion, ground fennel and coriander. There was a plate of brined pork chops, edged with crunchy fat and succulent through and through, finished with a cider pan sauce and decorated with fried capers. Capers are so nice that way, they split and crisp, opening up like blossoms with the tiniest of petals, frilled and crunchy. We leafed the Brussels sprouts to keep their shape, the ideal vessel for toasted hazelnuts and a dressing of olive oil. 

The afternoon before, we'd filled cups with layers of icewine gelée and a honey-kissed yogurt mousse and then stashed them away in the fridge. To finish them on the day of, there wasn't much to do but for spooning over some pan-roasted plums. That was dessert.

When all was settled and dishes empty, and the room quiet, we stayed around the table. We sipped on drinks and talked past dark.  

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Thinking back to then from now, I think we achieved the meal we'd hoped for. It was a September dinner in Ontario's farmland, even though it was August in the middle of the city. I'm grateful for those who shared in the making of it all.

And I'm so very happy to now share a part of it with you.

******* 

If you'd like a way to help with relief efforts for those effected by Sandy, the Red Cross may be a place to start.

And, I've not forgotten — for the copies of UPPERCASE issue 15, Mike and Lauren have been selected. Guys, I'll be in touch! 

For this post, all photographs by Michael Graydon, styling by Nikole Herriott and food by me. xo, pals.

(Be sure to check out Nikole's site for the corn recipe, it was a favourite! For those who asked, the glass cups for the dessert are egg coddlers; they are available at her shop.)

ICEWINE GELÉE WITH YOGURT MOUSSE AND PLUMS

While the recipe reads long, it isn’t especially complicated; the steps are spread out over the chilling time, with only short periods of activity. 

The icewine gelée is intensely flavoured, balanced by the subtlety of the yogurt mousse. Sautéed plums are simple, yet luxuriously lush, gorgeous with their claret juice. The unexpected addition of fresh thyme, and grassy, extra-virgin olive oil, bring a fragrant richness, evocative of fall.

Grilled figs would be a lovely substitution for the plums. Or maybe fresh cranberries, cooked with sugar and orange zest, until they just burst and go juicy.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Ready time: 3 1/2 hours (includes chilling time)

Serves: 6

For the icewine gelée

  • 1 sheet leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
  • 100 ml icewine

For the yogurt mousse

  • 2 sheets leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
  • 1 cup greek yogurt (2% butterfat)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping, 35%) cream, divided

For the plums

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, not extra virgin
  • 8 small, firm plums, each cut into eight wedges
  • 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar, or thereabouts, depending on sweetness of fruit
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1 small sprig thyme, left whole, plus more for garnish

To serve

  • Extra-virgin olive oil and store bought amaretti or other crisp biscuits

For the gelée, soak the gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, gently warm the wine in a saucepan over medium-low heat until under a simmer; do not boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin and whisk into the warm wine until dissolved. Divide the wine mixture between six 1-cup-capacity cups and refrigerate gelées for 1 hour.

To make the mousse, soak gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes.

While gelatine is softening, stir yogurt, honey and vanilla seeds together in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons heavy cream into a small saucepan and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whip remaining cream to firm peaks.

Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and melt in the small saucepan with the reserved cream over low heat, stirring to combine. Whisk this into the yogurt mixture and then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon yogurt mousse into the dessert cups, on top of the icewine layer, filling to a generous two-thirds full. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

To prepare the plums, warm olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add plums, sugar and salt. Cook, shaking the pan gently and turning the fruit with care, until plums begin to soften, around 3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, add the thyme sprig and stir. Let cool for 5 minutes.

To serve, remove thyme from plums and spoon fruit on top of prepared mousses. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, passing the amaretti cookies and any remaining fruit at the table.

Note: We used the Cabernet Franc icewine from Henry of Pelham in the gelée for its beautiful colour and acidity. Peller Estate’s Private Reserve Icewine Vidal makes for a rich, golden gelée, and affords a more modestly-priced option.

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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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Hello there friends!

Tara and Nikole here, with so much goodness to tell. You might remember we’d mentioned Kinfolk Magazine a while back, and we’re mighty excited that today we can finally, finally give you a look.

The magazine is all about the magic of the small gathering; the coming together of those we cherish the most in celebrations big and little, or in the passing of simple hours in their company, and the everyday moments that charm. It was an idea close to our hearts and right up our alley, and we were thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of it.

In an added bonus, it gave us the perfect excuse for a collaboration we’ve long wanted to do. We wrote a story about two friends getting together for breakfast or lunch on a weekday, eaten outside. We sat on the steps in the sun and laughed over cookies and bubbles, messy sandwiches and berries, and it was all pretty grand. We hope you like it, we’re happy to share it with you. Nathan brought together a stellar group for the project. The magazine is both a print and online endeavour; while the paper edition’s already sold out (!!) fingers are crossed for a second run, and here’s to enjoying the beauty of its pages on their site.

So thanks to everyone for their hard work, we’re beaming to be a part of such a community. Here’s to days like these and the many issues to come. Kinfolk Magazine, issue one. Hip, hip.

Photographs numbers 3 through 5 by the absolutely spiffy Nikole Herriott, the first two by me.

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