Images of a long weekend. Signs of spring; candy-coloured chocolate eggs and blooming red shoes.

I have my own little ritual to start the day.

Most mornings we get up just before the sun rises; we make our way downstairs in the dim predawn, drawn like moths to the glowing red eye of the coffee maker. My husband and I will chat quietly with pajamaed little boys cheerfully groggy, (relatively) quietly content to keep Mummy and Daddy company around the kitchen table.

But the day is not started yet.

My day truly begins about two hours after I get up. After coffee and orange juice and breakfast, we make our way back upstairs. This is when the day begins, as I move from room to room, pulling back the blinds which have hidden the sun from view. The windows, now unencumbered, welcome the light as it streams in.

Why, hello there World.

This is the most energetic light of the day, clear and true. Even in the winter, I anticipate this moment of revelation, this ceremony of bringing the day into our home. Now that spring has thankfully arrived on our doorstep, the morning light is even more radiant, growing increasingly-golden as the days go by.

It is a light that renders everything new, every day full of possibility.

There is a newness to childhood that I had forgotten. So many things that we grow to take for granted is bran-spankin-brilliantly new to a little one. William is in the thick of it, crawling and standing and exploring the boundaries of this new world of discoveries. There is glee in the discovery of the ability to clap, wonder at the skill of rolling a ball, unabashed joy at knocking down a block tower.

While our Benjamin has been through first teeth, first steps, first words already, he's not done yet discovering, not by a long shot. He's just getting started.

At three years of age, he has entered the world of reason. He asks questions. A lot of questions.

"Why do I need that?" (on wearing a coat)

"Who is that guy?" (in the grocery store)

"How does that work?" (too popular to pick one example)

"Where does this go?" (completing a puzzle)

"What is this?" (on oh-so-many things)

It is amazing to observe him as he considers his world. When Ben was very small, we were more concerned with the big picture, with labels like boy and dog and cat and apple. Now we also can consider the details, how he is a boy and a brother and a son and a Benjamin. And a bird can be brown and red and fat and a robin, too.

The same sort of diversity is explored in food. As much as we rely on our established recipes, variation is welcomed. Eggs can be fried and scrambled and poached and omelets and boiled; they need not be only one way.

Now and again I make it a particular point to seek out discoveries, just so I can see our boys process the new. I pretend to be casual, while slyly watching their expressions transform from curious to interested, then ponderous, and then finally wonder lights up their eyes - with this new thing, their world is forever changed. And it is marvelous.

Often, their grins match my own.

Lately we have been eating a lot of popcorn, since Benjamin declared it his favourite snack. We have always made it in relatively the same manner, with butter and salt, but sometimes with herbs and garlic or a grating of Parmesan. Curious to see his reaction, I thought I would try my hand at making caramel popcorn, one of my guilty pleasures and something he had never had before.

Pressing my luck, I chose a recipe outside the realm of the usual caramel corn - one that was salty sweet, with a hit of spice to add some interest. Last Halloween we roasted pumpkin seeds then tossed them in a heady mix of cumin, cinnamon and ground ginger. They were addicting, and Benjamin was a particular fan.

The result was more than I could have hoped for. At first the taste is sugary-sweet, then as the caramel dissolves the spices become evident. Each bite builds upon the savoury, but is never overpowering. My only trouble is, now that we've come upon this popcorn, I am not at all inclined to try another.

I might have to abandon my good intentions, at least as far as popcorn is concerned.

The publication in the photos is the ridiculously-brilliant Uppercasemagazine, from the exceptional minds behind the Calgary-based gallery of the same name. It is, in a word, gorgeous. This is their inaugural issue, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. You can thank me later.

Speaking of magazines, have you entered your name in the giveaway yet?

SPICY SWEET CARAMEL POPCORN

What you get when you mash up two recipes from Martha Stewart with a healthy dose of inspiration from David Lebovitz. Baking the popcorn makes for a thinner, crisper coating.

This recipe is technically a half batch; I find it an easy amount to handle, especially as there is only a modest amount of bubbling, scorchingly-hot sugar syrup to worry about. However, if you are making this for a crowd, or for any more than say two greedy adults and a toddler, I'd go ahead and double the quantities.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 cups of popped popcorn (plain, without seasoning)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Demerara sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • sprinkling of fine salt (optional)

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 250°F (120°C). Line a half sheet pan or baking pan with a nonstick baking mat (Silpat) and set aside. Have your popcorn standing by in a large, wide bowl.

In a small bowl, stir together the salt, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and chili powder. Set aside.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugars, corn syrup and water over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Without stirring, bring to a boil. If necessary, use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pan and remove any crystallized sugar. Swirling the pot gently now and again, allow the sugar to cook until golden in colour, around 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and, working quickly, use a heatproof spatula to stir in the prepared spice mixture. Note that the sugar will bubble up due to the baking soda. Allow the foaming to subside slightly, it will only take a few seconds, before proceeding.

Quickly (and carefully) pour the caramel over the popcorn, stirring and tossing to coat. Spread the popcorn as evenly as possible over the prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. While baking, stir the popcorn occasionally, gently breaking up any large clumps and keeping the popcorn in an even layer. The last time you stir the popcorn, maybe about 5 minutes before taking the tray out of the oven, sprinkle with some fine-grained sea salt, if using.

Allow the popcorn to cool completely on the tray, then break up any remaining large clusters. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Makes around 6 cups.

Notes:

• If I had not been out of light brown sugar earlier this week, I would have followed David Lebovitz's suggestion of using it instead of granulated.

• I use Kashmiri chili powder.

• While I like my caramel corn unadorned, nuts would most likely be welcomed in this recipe.

• See the link above to the Martha Stewart recipe for notes on popping popcorn on a stovetop.

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In the foreground, Artichoke Asiago Squares. All photos courtesy of Irene Powell.

On a cold October evening, nothing could have been more welcoming than the sight of Anna Olson's new shop, Olson Foods at Ravine; tucked amongst the vineyards of St. David's, Ontario, the windows of the farmhouse-styled store shone warmly as we drove up the winding gravel driveway.

Though a celebration of Anna Olson's new book,In the Kitchen with Anna, (Whitecap Books, 2008) the evening was also felt to be the formal debut of the three-month-old shop, the second owned by the Food Network star and her husband (in this case also in partnership with Ravine Winery). It specializes in baked goods, fine foods and condiments, artisinal Canadian cheeses, select cookware items and boasts a small café-styled menu to be enjoyed on site, or for takeaway.

The store is expansive without feeling cavernous. The vaulted ceiling with glossy exposed beams embody the rustic elegance that seems the hallmark of Olson Foods at Ravine. A generous harvest table greeted us on arrival, tastefully adorned with seasonal flowers and an array of savoury nibbles from the book, including wedges of Provençal Tarts and slices of Brandied Pork Terrine, studded with cranberries and pistachios.

To one side of the room the bakery and deli beckons; servers are standing at the ready, offering up steaming bowls of Celery Soup with Blue Cheese. The on-site wood fired oven produced the gloriously-burnished roasted chicken on display, and is to thank for the house-made breads piled generously on the counter. To the other side of the room, backed by displays of oils, vinegars and jams, delicate cake stands present a trio of Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes. At their feet are platters of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse Tarts and perfectly-cut rows of Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars.

Taking it all in, we wandered the shop; handcrafted cutting boards from Stratford, Ontario were of particular interest, as were the array of salts and aromatic teas. Rainbow-hued enamelled cookware gleamed brightly from the shelves.

A wonderful compliment to the lakeside location of the original Olson's location in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario, Olson Foods at Ravine feels earthy and lush; well-placed in Niagara's wine region, it is a wonderful addition to the area, and is surely to become a favourite for locals and visitors alike.

Almost too lovely to eat, Mocha Hazelnut Cheesecakes.

With two bustling stores, the second season of her highly-successful new show Fresh recently wrapped up, and a new book on shelves, Anna Olson has a lot going on. I was able to grab a moment of her time to chat about food, inspiration and seasonal tastes.

seven spoons: Your new show has taken you out of a white studio space into the vibrant colours of your own home; with that, you have shifted your focus from desserts alone to foods for all occasions. How have you taken to the change?

Anna Olson: I'd have to say that I'm going back to my roots; that is, I started my culinary career not as a pastry chef, but as a savoury cook. Developing my pastry skills happened about six years after [I started] cooking. I have been a chef for almost 15 years - oops! Dating myself.

I feel this latest book shows a bit more of my complete self, not just the baker in me.

7S: Your book, In the Kitchen with Anna, follows this move to homey, accessible takes on the classics. How did you approach writing it?

AO: Fortunately the approach to writing this latest book was not a stretch of the imagination. I did not have to reach far for motivation; in fact, I took a step back to see what dishes and flavour combinations I was reaching for instinctively. I find, to get through my hectic days, I was cooking not just comfort food, but dishes that spoke to classic flavour combinations - yet with a little kick or something different to keep me interested, both in cooking and in eating.

7S: What would you consider your major influences in the kitchen? Any culinary heroes?

AO: I have the greatest admiration for chef Michael Olson, my husband. Before I knew him personally, I came to the Niagara Region to work with him professionally; I [had] admired, and still do, his commitment to using local, seasonal ingredients.

7S: With your two stores, Olson Foods at Port and the new Olson Foods at Ravine, what trends are you seeing with customers tastes?

AO: I find that customers aren't necessarily seeking exotic high-end ingredients. They want products that have a story or personal connection, and without fail it has to be a quality product. With food safety becoming a more publicized issue, knowing where your food comes from is important.

7S: Are there any particular ingredients or products that are particularly inspiring to you right now?

AO: Being seasonally motivated, I am happy as can be to cook with pumpkin, squash, onions, sage and rosemary. I do a roast every weekend in the autumn and I also eat a lot more cheese than I do any other time of year.

7S: Often you will hear chefs and cooks separate what they cook professionally, and what they cook in their own kitchen. Is that the case with you, and what is your go-to recipe at home?

AO: Since the two stores feature a great deal of familiar flavours and dishes, I'm not seeking to separate myself from them. In the day when I worked fine dining, after a service of cooking lobster, foie gras and making elaborate sauces, I would need to break away. I think that, like many chefs, the roasted chicken Sunday supper is the epitome of the perfect meal.

7S: And finally, three questions in one. It would be remiss not to ask you about sweets, as you have become so famous for your decadent creations. What is your favourite celebratory dessert? Your favourite comfort dessert? Your favourite guilty pleasure?

AO: Ah, I can never give a straight answer to that "favourite" question. Yes, I am seasonally motivated, so that shapes my favourites; I wouldn't dream of making a strawberry tart in October. But, I am very much craving-motivated when it comes to sweets ... when I want chocolate, I can think of nothing else until I get my chocolate!! And sometimes that's how the best recipes happen - by pure craving!

My thanks to Anna Olson for taking the time to speak with me; please look out for my thoughts on In the Kitchen with Anna: New Ways with the Classics early next week.

From top; freshly-baked Museli Bread, delicate bites of Lemon Cheesecake Mousse, and (with Brandied Pork Terrine in the background) chef Anna Olson's new book.