There are many reasons why I could never be a photojournalist. Chief among them being that when I travel, I regularly forget to take many photos.

Case in point, when I went to Seattle at the end of October, most of the pictures I have of my time there were taken over two days, even though I was there for eight. 

Pizzeria Gabbiano, Seattle

Pizzeria Gabbiano, Seattle

Instead, of documenting things as I intend, I get distracted by them. Lost the view on a drive down the coast; the road that winds and climbs beside the shore, and mountains that look like a theatre backdrop. Or caught up in people watching and the rose petal dukkah at The London Plane, or the roast chicken and the staggeringly-piled meringues at The Whale Wins, or the pizzas sold by the kilo at Pizzeria Gabbiano — two fingers' width worth of four types makes a fine lunch. (By the way, those pizzas are Roman-style, and brilliant with toppings like pistachio with mortadella, squash with mushrooms and blue cheese, and I hear they currently offer one with persimmon and 'nduja. If you go, please try it for me.)

Then it is the brioche at Le Picheta breakfast sandwich to write home about, too many coffees to count, and a walk through the art museum, and a few through the market, and return trip to a trio of food shops (here, here, and here). The guava ginger beer at Rachel's reminded me of India, my grandfather's house, and sitting on the dark green hood of his car eating guavas from the tree in the yard. 

Signs at Pizzeria Gabbiano

Signs at Pizzeria Gabbiano

Pike Place Market clams

Pike Place Market clams

Or its the multiple feasts between Delancey and Essex; skinny-and-wood-fired pizza (a crust with bubbles and char and chew), lamb barbacoa on toast, oysters, and succulent-as-all-get-out burgers the size of my fist. And The Man About Town, Ashley's Sazerac, and the scent of flamed cinnamon stick for that one cocktail (it stings the nostrils. In a good way.) Those spaces are immediately welcoming, with tables close enough to feel like everyone's at the same party. And where everyone seems to be a regular. want to be a regular.

(I need to get back for Taco and Tiki Tuesday.)

Flowers at the end of the day, Seattle

Flowers at the end of the day, Seattle

And then people.

Aran is the one that brought me to the Seattle, to lead a workshop on the mechanics of telling stories across multiple disciplines — basically, how photography and words, and even food, can be teamed up, and how we can make the best use of each to serve an overall whole. We covered the elements and principles of design, the fundamentals of writing, and copy and developmental edits. We took photos and made notes, and swapped inspirations. Aran and Bee made recipes from my manuscript for lunch (one of which is below — if you hover your mouse over the photo, details will swoosh up like magic). I talked a lot about working with intention, which made me think a lot about what my own aims and goals are with what it is I do. 

It was a grand group in the studio that weekend.

Baked Eggs, North Indian Style 

Baked Eggs, North Indian Style 

While Aran's invite gave me the excuse to (almost) cross the continent, the trip had long been on my wish list. Beyond the class, I was able to see Lecia, Ashley, ElissaMegan and SamBrandi, Jenny, Brandon and Molly, and Tara. It took me too long to get there. 

Aran's gluten-free apple tart

Aran's gluten-free apple tart

I was in the midst of a community of creative people, each driven in their different ways; some writers, others artists, designers, business owners — all actively pursuing their own goals. And again, with such company the topic of conversation meandered to work, ours and others, comparing approaches and the challenges of experiences. (It wasn't always so serious. Subjects also included Bollywood films, high school dating, bleaching one's hair with lemon juice, numbered streets, scarves, and the O'Hooligan boys).  

One night, Tara and I stood on the near a bonfire with high flames that deserved photography, and talked about our cities, about purpose and plans, and family. There was a chill in the air, but we didn't need coats. You could see downtown from where we were, multicoloured and evenly glowing, and between there and where we were was the silken rippling expanse of the inlet, reflecting that light here and there like sparks.

Boats out the market windows

Boats out the market windows

My book went to the printer on December 1st.

In a printshop somewhere, its starting to exist as something real. Physical. With a weight that can be held in hand rather than felt in the abstract. Once I am able to share a more about its contents in this space, I have every intention of then sharing that much more about what I was trying to get across with its writing. Seattle gave me a chance to practice what I want to say.

I'm looking forward to it.

Amy Chaplin's Spicy Carrot Soup with Lime Leaves and Coconut

Amy Chaplin's Spicy Carrot Soup with Lime Leaves and Coconut

Since I've been home, I've started a habit of soup. I think it's Aran's influence, as she has this witchy ability to make simple soups with remarkable depth.

One that has been a large part of this current trend, is from Amy Chaplin's book At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, which was released just over a month ago. It is a curry-bright carrot bowlful scented with lime leaves and lemongrass, spiked by chilies and smoothed out with coconut milk. It starts with aromatics in the pan to sauté, then in goes everything else. It's a breeze to get together in less less than 10 minutes, then it is left to blip contentedly on the stove for 20 minutes more. It is voluptuous and comforting, with enough heat to restrain the vegetal sweetness and an aromatic freshness. While it is vegan, I wouldn't call that it is its selling point. It is an excellent, stomach-and-soul satisfying meal, simple as that, which is to say, everything Amy's food is about.

Amy has 20 years experience in the food industry, as a former executive chef, teacher, recipe developer, and private chef. She is a vegetarian, and her recipes are often vegan, yet once more, that status doesn't come across as first impression. Amy cooks seasonally, with a globe-covering collection of influences, never encumbered by unnecessary fuss, or sacrificing flavour for dietary restriction. There is never a feeling of absence with the recipes, they have everything they need. The dishes are sometimes soothing, others vibrant and rousing. It is truly good food, first and foremost, which just so happens to be accompanied by a sensible, and adaptable approach to feeding ourselves in a conscientious way. 

It is an impressive collection of over 150 recipes, from pantry staples to full meals, beginning with an in-depth discussion of ingredients and Amy's practices when it comes to how she cooks. It is an invaluable resource, a true reference as well as a cookbook. It gives the reader the tools to change the way they eat, and by extension, their health, and our environment. The book itself is almost intimidating in its beauty, verging on an object to behold rather than use — but then Amy's enthusiasm and quiet, approachable expertise shines off the pages and you're charmed.

Amy, mission accomplished. 

And Seattle, I can't wait see you again. 

 

SPICY CARROT SOUP WITH LIME LEAVES AND COCONUT

Making a pot of this invigorating soup in the middle of winer is the perfect antidote to cold, gray days. The lively flavours of ginger and chill are tempered by a good splash of coconut milk, creating a gorgeous texture and bright orange colour. The lime leaves and lemongrass give the soup a nice lift, but if you don't have them on hand, don't worry. I have made this dish many times without them with delicious results.

Note: in cold weather, coconut milk is solid at room temperature. To melt it, place the can in a bowl of a hot water for a few minutes, then shake well before using.

— From At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin (Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., 2014)

SERVES 6

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise and chopped in 2-inch pieces
  • 6 lime leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder (see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons minced cilantro stems, leaves reserved for garnish
  • 10 medium-large carrots (2 1/2 pounds) cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 8 cups)
  • 6 cups filtered water
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk, stirred and divided
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

TO SERVE

  • Cilantro leaves
  • Sliced red chilies

 

METHOD

Wrap lemongrass and lime leaves in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it tightly. Set aside.

Warm coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté for 5 minutes, or until golden. Add garlic, ginger, serrano chili, and salt; cook for 2 to 3  minutes more, lowering heat if mixture begins to stick. Stir in curry powder, turmeric, and cilantro stems. Add carrots, water, 1 1/4 cups coconut milk, and lemongrass-lime leaf bundle. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from heat and remove lemongrass-lime leaf bundle and compost. 

Blend soup in batches in an upright blender on highest speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until completely smooth and velvety; return to pot and season to taste. Stir in cayenne pepper, if using. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each bowl with a drizzle of reserved coconut milk, cilantro leaves, and chilies. 

NOTES (from Tara)

  • Lime leaves are often sold frozen at Asian groceries and will keep for ages in the freezer. They might also be called murkat lime leaves. 
  • I used Amy's curry powder from the book, but any one you like will be fine here. The water can also be replaced with vegetable stock. 
  • To serve, I added browned cubes of paneer, along with cashews I'd bashed around in a mortar and pestle. 
The last of a workshop lunch at Aran's studio

The last of a workshop lunch at Aran's studio

Now! Finally! Since you made it this far! To in addition to sharing this recipe, Amy and Roost Books generously sent a copy of At Home in the Whole Food kitchen for me to pass on to one of you! If you'd like to be in the running, please comment below to that effect, and be sure to include an email address when you sign in (i.e. on the form, not in the comment field). A winner will be randomly selected after 8 PM EST Friday, December 12, 2014. UPDATE! Congratulations to CASEY on winning the book! I'll be in touch via email. Thanks to all who entered.

One more thing! On the topic of coming home, my friend Tiffany Mayer's book on Niagara and its food was released this fall. It chronicles the region's farming history, its present food culture, and the hopes for its future in an ever-changing environment and economy. The book, called Niagara Food, reads like a chat with a particularly smart friend, and celebrates not only this area's bounty, but also the people who make it their life's work to feed others. She did such a great job with it. 

Posted
Authortara
61 CommentsPost a comment

About two weeks ago I walked out on a pier that stretches into Lake Ontario. That pier runs parallel to another one, one that crops out from the edge of the neighbourhood where I grew up. It was a grey and windy day, with cotton batting clouds to almost the horizon, but you could still see Toronto from this shore. There was a queue of steamships, the kind my father used to sail, anchored in deeper water; they were waiting for their turn up the canal, or for a pilot to board, or something like that. The pier doesn't look that long until you've made it to its end — at which point you'll find a park bench, a collection of boulders, and a life preserver on a stand. 

Ships on Lake Ontario | Tara O'Brady

Over the last two months, I finished my book. Recipes, headnotes, and photos, sent off into the world (really to the offices of my publisher). We've worked through one round of edits, the design is well underway, and in just less than seven months from now, it will be in bookstores. Then it will really, no-turning-back-now out in the world. 

Very soon I'll be able to share more, including, fingers crossed, a peek at the cover (!!) and some of the nitty gritty about what you'll find inside.

It's funny. A friend told me recently that she thought I'd been quiet about the book, and I was speechless; flabbergasted even. (As an aside, flabbergasted is such a fine word.) From my perspective, I've lived and breathed this book for the last year or so. I've often heard it said that writing a book is like having a child, like the delivery part — the effort, the stress, the worry and then the relief and reward. For me, writing a book was like having a child. Not being in labor, but when the baby is home and you're tasked with the care of it. The Book was on my mind always, even when I was away from it. I went to it first thing in the morning, and put it to bed each night. Some nights, I went to bed with it, quite literally sleeping with a stack of pages on the nightstand. 

Pistachio-lemon Israeli Couscous | Tara O'Brady

Now it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm reconstructing our dining room. When I was in the depths of the book I found it more productive if I could write right beside the kitchen instead of working upstairs. Even if I wasn't cooking from the manuscript, cooking while writing kept me in the proper mindset . So this table, intended to seat eight, currently seats a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, external hard drive, a stack of notebooks, another of books, my camera, its battery, a bottle of Tylenol, a pile of receipts, and a tin of cookies a friend sent me from Paris. 

One of the books in said stack, fittingly enough, is David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. Since that book came out, it's not made it to my bookshelf, but rather has spent its days on this table or in my kitchen, since I've been using it so much. In the first week, we made David's croque-monsieurs twice, with lots of mustard and cornichons on the plate, and a salad of bitter greens to join them. Then I made two of his tapenades —the artichoke with rosemary and the green olive with almonds — for summer afternoon snacking, then, when the basil and vegetables were plentiful in our weekly CSA box, his soupe au pistou made quick work of the bounty. Now that the weather is cooling I'm eyeing the scalloped potatoes with blue cheese and roasted garlic and the roast lamb with braised vegetables and salsa verde. 

I have such faith in his recipes that the first time I made the dish that follows, I went for a double batch. It's a bowl of fat couscous studded with nuts and fruit, including preserved lemons. We had it warm with a roasted chicken and some green beans, then the next day I had it at room temperature with bronzed slices of halloumi. It was filling without too much heft, fragrant and refreshing with fruit. The pinch of cinnamon provided an elusive, purring sort of backnote of spice that was especially effective.

This is such a useful book, full of the kind of recipes my family and I adore, including unexpected additions like caramel pork ribs, meatballs with sriracha, and naan stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese. And I've not even gotten started with the desserts (why hello, coffee cème brulée and carrot cake). 

My Paris Kitchen is beautiful. Ed Anderson's photography is stunning; he conveys the beauty of Paris as artfully as he does the food. Then there are David's essays; longer passages that give context to the recipes, and offer a glimpse into his past experiences and his present days. He is sharply funny, charming, and so damn knowledgeable. This is the kind of book you want to spend some time with.

Speaking of spending time, I've missed this. It's good to be back, and it's good to see you.

 

LEMON-PISTACHIO ISRAELI COUSCOUS

Recipe by David Lebovitz, from his book My Paris Kitchen. (Copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved). The recipe and method as they are in the book, with my notes below. As David says in the headnote, orzo is a good substitute for the Israeli couscous. 

SERVES 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1/2 cup (30 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) diced dried fruit (any combination of cherries, cranberries, apricots, prunes, or raisins)
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) unsalted (shelled) pistachios, very coarsely chopped (almost whole)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups (225 g) Israeli couscous or another small round pasta
  • Freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Trim the stem end from the lemon and cut it into quarters. Scoop out the pulp and press it through a strainer into a bowl to extract the juices; discard the pulp. Finely dice the preserved lemon rind and add it to the bowl along with the parsley, butter, dried fruit, pistachios, salt, and cinnamon.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the couscous and add it to the bowl, stirring until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are well mixed. Season with pepper and serve.

 

NOTES (from Tara)

  • The same weekend I made this salad, my good friends Adam and Tamara catered an event with a salad of couscous with grapes and pine nuts. So inspired , I used diced red seedless grapes instead of the dried fruit, adding them once the couscous had cooled to warmish room temperature. 
  • I went a bit generous with the herbs, using a mix of (mostly) parsley and cilantro — probably using about 3/4 cup (45 g) chopped herbs in total. 
  • I bashed the few pistachios left in the jar  to a powder in a mortar and pestle as garnish.
  • To serve, I layered the couscous with about 9 oz ( 255 g) halloumi, which had been cut into 1/4-inch slices and fried in a medium-hot nonstick pan until they were golden on both sides. 
  • If you don't have preserved lemons, this quick version from Mark Bittman is quite good and only takes a few hours of sitting at room temperature. The ratio of lemons to salt and sugar is 1 : 1 teaspoon : 2 teaspoons, so you can do as many or as few lemons as you'd like. If using these lemons, simply mince the flesh and peel very finely and add them, along with accumulated juices, to the bowl in Step 1.
Posted
Authortara
21 CommentsPost a comment

The days of these weeks have washed over us like waves; we've been carried on their highs and lows, along their ebb and flow.

We've followed the constant movement of the current, and kept our heads above water. Buoyed by a raft of bread, no doubt.

That last bit was probably only funny to members of my family, as in the midst of all of this, my island refuge has been the kitchen and my conveyance out of the deep has been bread.

Lots of bread. Oh, the bread there's been. Breads both sweet and savoury. Bread to eat, to share, to pack up and send out into the world.

To pick the candidate for our bread-boating excursion, I'd would most certainly choose the Pane Integrale from Jim Lahey. It is a bread flour and whole wheat incarnation of his famed No-Knead Method, a recipe I'm sure familiar to many of you, but I'll offer a refresher just in case.

Most often, baking bread sets the pace for our hours; it is in the time between the kneading and the shaping and the baking, that the rest the day takes place. There is a schedule to be kept and yeasted breads often benefit from your rapt attention. They are enlivened by your efforts, requiring your labour to turn boggy dough into a sprightly loaf.

But this bread, however, is another sort of bread. It is a bread that asks for very little of its maker, only a warm spot to reside for a day. There's a quiet companionship of that bowl upon the counter, its presence made ever the more gratifying when that bowl is a glass one and you can observe the metamorphosis of flour, water and yeast inside. For in that day, a slump of dough transforms itself into a billowing sponge that's double the size of what it was to begin.

After that, a quick shaping and another rest. A few more hours now, while a cast-iron pot (with lid) preheats in a blistering oven. Dough goes in, lid goes on. And then, while unobserved, is when magic to this trick becomes evident; the dough goes swelled and bronzed, gently arched on its top and deliciously-scorched underneath. When the lid is lifted, you're met with steam touched with smoke and the heady scent of baking bread. Like I said, magic.

Out of the pot and on the counter the bread snaps, crackles and pops as it cools. Lahey calls this auditory phenomena of exterior and interior settling as singing, and I'm pretty fond of that thought.

When the tune finally ends, you are left with a bread with a chewy crust and a crumb full of pockets to hold lots of butter. Or to dunk into soup. Or to smear with chèvre and honey.

As a meal upon the water or the raft upon which you float, and through calm or choppy seas, some good bread is often just what you need. Smooth sailing to you, friends.

I'd forgotten until now, that they boys have a book where in the pivotal scene, the characters set out for a new world on sailboats made from sandwiches. Thanks for the inspiration, Ms. Barrett.

PANE INTEGRALE

A no knead crusty boule using whole wheat flour, from Jim Lahey's book My Bread.

Recipe

* * * * * * *

It happens that I'm also talking about bread, soft and squishy sandwich bread in particular, in the latest issue of UPPERCASE magazine. You can find it here, if you'd like.

It was Tuesday's dusk; the sun was on its way but hadn't quite left, and the night was at the door. That's when the rain arrived. Those last few glimmers of day hung in the wet air, and turned the raindrops to prisms and set our backyard aglow.

March rain is like the gentle hand of a parent on the shoulder of an eager child. It keeps us closer to home than we might like. It reminds us to please wait, only for a moment, to slow down and tread lightly as the world outside isn't ready just yet for our boisterous play.

Spring may be awake, but she still bears the imprint of her pillowcase upon her cheek. Soon she'll join us, in her finest dress in shades of sunbeam yellow.

In no time she will arrive, and our world will change. Spring is the most rambunctious of seasons, skipping across the landscape, with cascades of cherry blossoms tumbling from her hair and leaving trails of mossy green footprints.

In the blink of her eye, the Firsts of the season will be upon us. The first crocuses, drowsy headed and darling; the first evening walk when the breeze is mild and sweet; the first dinner eaten outdoors, preferably with strings of lights overhead.

And as we anticipate Spring's approach, we also mark the celebration of the Lasts of Winter. The last day to wear those woolen socks you loved in December but resent four months later; the last fire to crackle in the fireplace; the last of the Sunday roast suppers. Well maybe not the last, but at least the less frequent for those.

A habit of a meal for us, and for many; in our kitchen it is most usually the Zuni Café version, complete with the necessary bread salad.

It was during the stay of Mr. Winter that I ran into trouble, wanting rice not bread on a particular Sunday night. With that classic recipe as my inspiration, I served a brown rice salad rocky with almonds and tangy currants, with the spice of arugula there to light up everything. And while its bready predecessor has my lifelong devotion, I was pretty fond of how it turned out.

Now back to that night of that rain I mentioned to start. There was to be roast chicken for dinner. Without currants or arugula, I did have cranberries and parsley, and chose to build upon my previous improvisation. I included a pinch of ground coriander for good measure, bringing the subtle suggestion of grass and citrus beneath the direct flavours of clementine and fresh herbs. We were well fed.

In the end, the rain lasted the night, today we're again beneath its watery cloak, and tomorrow looks to be cold. But we have a date with warmer days penciled in our calendar.

It'll be soon enough, and we'll be ready.

BROWN RICE SALAD FOR A MARCH EVENING

You'll note that there aren't quantities for many ingredients, and there is a reason for that. I treated our dish much like a salad, dressed with a deconstructed vinaigrette. But, you can easily consider this more like a pilaf, seasoning it instead with a subtle hand and omitting the vinegar, leaving the flavours more mellow and round.

You might think that there is a lot of parsley, and it is. It is an ingredient here, not a garnish or an accent. I like the effect of the whole leaves for their juicy crunch, but chop them roughly if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 minced shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A good pinch of ground coriander seed
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts, I like a mixture of flaked almonds and whole cashews
  • 1/4 cup dried currants or 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • One clementine
  • Champagne vinegar, optional
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cup parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until soft but without colour, around 3 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and ground coriander, and cook for 30 seconds more.

Add the rice, stirring to coat each grain with the butter. Toast for around 30 seconds, then add water and cook according to your rice's package instructions.

Meanwhile, toast the mixed nuts in a dry pan over medium heat, tossing often. When well-toasted and bronzed in places, remove from the pan to a bowl to cool. Set aside.

When the rice is done, pour into a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruit to the bowl and grate over some of the zest from the clementine (do this when the rice is still quite hot, the heat of the rice plump the fruit and will diffuse the oils from the rind). Squeeze over some of the juice from the clementine, a splash of Champagne vinegar, if using, and a drizzle of olive oil. Fork through again. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Can be served immediately, warm or at room temperature. Stir in most of the nuts and parsley right before serving, saving some for garnish.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• I think this is especially good with a brown and wild rice blend; the wild rice adds an extra chewiness I like.

Heidi has a wild rice salad that is served with goat's cheese, an idea I'll be borrowing in the future.

Most often an optimist, my moments of pessimism sometimes pay off. Last week, not even an hour after we talked about melting snow and bare earth, it snowed. I just knew that would happen.

That night, we shoveled the driveway.

Then, starting two days later, it snowed for three days straight. We cleared and shoveled often. We almost broke a shovel.

With the romantic fancy of my burgeoning hope for spring, I'd be blameless in muttering a sailor's curse or three as I tromped up and down and back and forth across our driveway and up the garden path. Maybe it is the madness of midwinter, but I have, shockingly, embraced the snow.

And shoveling. I really like the shoveling.

I volunteer to shovel. Trippingly pulling my boots on, and with the words only halfway out of my mouth, I'm out the door. I try to wait until after dinner, so everyone's fed and happy; when the darkness has settled in and all the streetlights are on.

In that quiet, the scene that greets me is especially beautiful. The languid wind of our street, the glow of porches lit in rows, a car rolling slowly past with its wheels crunching the snow the plows haven't cleared yet.

Tethered to our house with the task of shoveling, it's a snow globe existence; a world contained by how far I can see around the bend of the road.

There is a deep satisfaction in the feel of a blade cleaving through the weight of snowdrift, the metallic scratch of the shovel against the pavement. There is a thought of productivity and industry, a chest-puffing pride in getting a job done.

And yet, moving back and forth across the drive, the pattern of my footsteps is simultaneously meditative. The imagined dome of my small world condenses my thoughts and clears out the rubbish. I come back inside, cheeks flushed and arms tired, my mind full of a hundred new ideas.

I'm an odd duck, I know. But it makes me happy and I always sleep well after.

Yes, I really do like shoveling. Not something I'd ever thought I'd say.

And, while we're on the subject of likes, I really like cakes made with tangerines and almonds. It's a like I think you'll find easy to understand.

I made this cake as an interpretation of Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake from her book How to Eat, which as it happens is an interpretation of Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake.

It's made without flour; at its most simple the recipe only requires fruit, nuts, eggs, sugar and baking powder. I've fussed up the cake because of the ingredients I had, and appreciated the effect of those additions. Neither version disappoints though, so either way you're set.

It reminds me of marmalade, with the pith and peel used to their fullest. It is modestly sweet with a sourness you feel on your teeth. That devastating bitterness humming underneath the waxy fat of the ground nuts.

The exterior bakes to a glossily sticky bronze, with a blond crumb underneath. The scent of almonds and citrus is remarkable, smelling as you'd imagine wintertime should.

To eat this is to swallow the March sun, a beam of brightness on a snowy day. Or, if you're like me, it's just what you want when you come in from an evening of shovelling.

TANGERINE ALMOND CAKE

Adapted from Nigella Lawson. I use skin-on, raw almonds for colour and texture. Blanched almonds or pre-ground meal can be used as well.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound tangerines, around 4 medium, washed well
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
  • Butter for greasing a pan
  • 9 ounces raw almonds, see note
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Place the tangerines in a medium pot. Pour over the orange flower water if using, then fill the pot with cold water until the fruit is covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tangerines are quite tender, around 2 hours. Drain the fruit and set aside to cool.

Over a large bowl to catch the juice, split each tangerine in half horizontally, and pick out any seeds. Put the flesh, peel and pith to the bowl, and discard the seeds.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides (with a collar of paper extending a little past the rim of the pan).

In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attached, grind the almonds to a fairly even meal. Add the tangerines, and process to a thick purée. Bits of nut and tangerine skin will still be visible.

In the large bowl used for the juices earlier, beat the eggs until blended but not frothy. Stir in the sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then the baking powder and salt. Fold in the fruit mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, around 1 hour. If the cake is browning too quickly towards the end of baking, tent with foil. Remove from the oven and cool, still in its tin, on a wire rack.

Makes one 8-inch cake that's even better after a day.

In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe

One morning last weekend, Saturday morning to be exact, some unexpected news changed our plans for the day. It was nothing thing earth-shatteringly important, only an errand that would take us away from what we'd planned to do, and where we'd planned to do it.

The agenda was tinkered and 20 minutes later, we were out and about. Once arrived at our destination, the errand took only minutes and were left at loose ends. We had gone too far afield to revisit earlier plans, so now what to do?

We agreed upon a secondary plan, but then that fell through due to circumstances beyond our control. Back to the car and the drawing board.

In the end, all was well, and as of two o'clock in the afternoon, we were walking in the winter sunshine along the bustling main of a nearby village. Fed and full, warm despite the cold - which is surprising, as I'm usually the first to complain of a chill - stretching our legs after lunch at the pub.

We strolled to the bookshop, one where the books are piled high on every available surface, including the floor. I got lost a few times, behind student editions of Kim and Anna Karenina, and between rows of Penguin classics dressed in their multi-colour jackets, with that cummerbund of cream around each of their middles.

Next to the teashop. A wall of teas in glass jars faces you as you enter, a brass bell above the door merrily announces your entry. Everything inside is tiny and twee in a way that's very Alice in Wonderland, but charmingly so. It's a place I've been before, with Mom most memorably, most enjoyably for their High Tea.

The Mad Hatter himself would surely approve of the party the ladies of the shop lay out, a balancing act of treats perched on dainty plates, fragrant teas steeping in individual pots, silver spoons and sugar cubes. Most memorable and most enjoyable of all though, are their scones.

A cream scone by the most classic definition, palest white and with only its edge tinged with tan. Buttery, of course, but it is the sweetness of the cream that comes through most clearly. They are dense without heaviness, which I realize makes no sense, but it is the only way I can think to describe what it is like to bite into one of those lovelies.

In my humble opinion, it is the simplest thing that is the nicest thing about their scones, and that is their sugary top. Fresh and hot out of the oven, the scones are covered in flurries of granulated sugar. It sticks, but doesn't melt, bestowing each and every scone with their own glistening crown.

On Saturday, stuffed as we were, we weren't stopping for scones. And a shame it was. Such the shame that scones were not far from my thoughts for the hours after our departure from the shop. But, all was not lost. Scones, those ethereal scones, were still a possibility.

Through my unabashed cross-examination of the staff I have come to know some of the super-extremely-absolutely-top-secret details of their recipe. From there I have read and baked and cut and compared and tasted my way into a home version that visits at least outskirts of the realm of deliciousness in which their scones reside.

And, since you've all been so kind and embraced our project with more enthusiasm than we could have hoped for, I would so like to bake you some scones, and set a nice table with a pot of Devon cream and a jar of blackcurrant jam. We'd use my Grandmother's china.

Everything the best I could do, because as far as I'm concerned, you're just about the nicest thing, too.

SUGARED CREAM SCONES

The closest I've come to approximating the scones from the tea shop in the village we visited. Since I don't know your schedule, and we've not set a date for our tea, I'll share with you my recipe in the interim.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, see note
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, very cold
  • Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C).

METHOD

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine, then chill in the freezer while you proceed.

Cut the butter into small dice, then chill it as well.

Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour a work surface. Locate the knife of your choice. Assemble a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or get out a large bowl, a pastry cutter and spatula.

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of the food processor, pulse a few times to lighten. If doing by hand, whisk or fork the flour mixture to aerate. In the processor, remove the cover and evenly distribute the cubed butter over the flour mixture. Replace the cover, and use short, quick pulses to bring the mixture to something that resembles an uneven meal. If by hand, toss the butter into the flour, then use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into irregular, pea-sized chunks.

With the processor, add about half of the heavy cream then pulse a few times. Add three-quarters of what's left, and pulse maybe three times more. Remove the cover and take a look - the dough should be crumbly and light, but if you pick up some and squeeze it in your hand, it should stick together. If it does, stop. If it doesn't, keep adding a few drops of cream, pulsing once or twice, then checking again. Don't worry if you don't use all the cream.

If working by hand, it is much the same process, but using a spatula to fold and turn the dough to incorporate the liquid. Again, judicious is best with the cream, you don't want a soggy dough.

Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface and knead, gently and lightly, until the dough is fully together; you should still see dots of butter here and there. Pat the dough out into a rough round, and dust with a bit of flour. Divide the dough into three, and shape each ball of dough into a 4" round about 3/4"-1" thick. Cut each round into four wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones in the preheated oven until lightly golden at the edges and dry on their cut sides, around 12-15 minutes. The tops should be puffed and they will feel light for their size. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack set over another baking sheet. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 smallish scones.

Notes:

• If you are serving the scones with something tart like a lemon curd, I would advise using 1/2 teaspoon salt. However, when paired with a heavier, sweeter accompaniment like devon cream and jam, I'm more generous in my measurement.

• Wanting some extra prettiness, I rolled the dough out with a pin and used a floured, fluted cutter to shape them. But, since scones are often finicky if over-handled, I usually use a 4-inch springform to form my them. I dust it with flour, then pat the dough into the pan, gently pushing it even. Pop it out, cut it into four and it's done. The springform gives the scones high, straight sides that cook evenly, and using a mold cuts down the handling and stretching of the dough.

Posted
Authortara
31 CommentsPost a comment