Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mindful Consumption 2010

Ah, one of my favourite food events of the year. Mindful consumption, a tradition we started in 2002 and have kept up nearly annually since that time. It's kind of like a potluck, but we eat one thing at a time, with each person sharing why they brought that particular food or drink and what's important to them about it, and then we eat with the intention of truly TASTING. (see this post for details on how it all works, and another example). We started out with a reading from Thich Nhat Han on Mindful Eating, which I've included at the end of this post.

This year there was 8 adults and 3 children...we went in the order posted below (on its side, oopsie can't seem to fix that at the moment). Our menu was as follows and the remnants of this are featured in the photo above:
*Buttercup squash soup
*Unsalted pistachios (most of us realized we've never really TASTED a pistachio without salt!)
*Red lentil stew
*Brown Rice (with Anita sharing some history about the importance of rice in shaping society).
*Mount Begbie's "Nasty Habit" IPA
*Homemade pickled beans, mostly local ingredients
*"Cheesy pasta"--the favourite dish of our group's 3-year old
*Homemade coconut-milk dark chocolate pudding with raspberries
*Desert Lime Tea

As usual, it was the perfect menu without any advance planning.

And here's some of us in our post-mindful meal glow (missing: Jemma, Lyris, Callum):

These are just some of the people of the "miracle"community in my life, which Thich Nhat Han refers to below :) Until next year!

Pre-meal reading:


Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people that are sitting around us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice. Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. When we pick up a piece of a vegetable, we look at it for half a second. We look mindfully to really recognize the piece of food, the piece of carrot or string bean. We should know that this is a piece of carrot or a string bean. We identify it with our mindfulness: "I know this is a piece of carrot. This is a piece of string bean." It only takes a fraction of a second.

When we are mindful, we recognize what we are picking up. When we put it into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing. It's very simple.

Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment.

You may like to smile to it before you put it in your mouth. When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in.

And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.

I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either.

There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.

When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.

When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible.

The other miracle is the Sangha, the community in which everyone is practicing in the same way. The woman sitting next to me is also practicing mindfulness while eating her breakfast. How wonderful! She is touching the food with mindfulness. She is enjoying every morsel of her breakfast, like me. We are brother and sister on the path of practice. From time to time we look at each other and smile. It is the smile of awareness. It proves that we are happy, that we are alive. It is not a diplomatic smile. It is a smile born from the ground of enlightenment, of happiness.

That smile has the power to heal. It can heal you and your friend. When you smile like that, the woman next to you will smile back. Before that, maybe her smile was not completely ripe. It was ninety percent ripe. If you offer her your mindful smile, you will give her the energy to smile one hundred percent.

When she is smiling, healing begins to take place in her. You are very important for her transformation and healing. That is why the presence of brothers and sisters in the practice is so important. This is also why we don't talk during breakfast. If we talk about the weather or the political situation in the Middle East, we can never say enough.

We need the silence to enjoy our own presence and the presence of our Dharma brothers and sisters. This kind of silence is very alive, powerful, nourishing, and transforming. It is not oppressive or sad. Together we can create this kind of noble silence.

Sometimes it is described as "thundering silence" because it is so powerful.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Candied Christmas Walnuts

Today my good friend Karen and I spent a snowy afternoon making batches of candied walnuts! She invited me over as her "walnut elf" to help her with all the gifts she was making. Here's what we did...for you to learn from, and for us to remember the learnings for next year :)

*1 pound walnut halves
*1 cup white sugar
*2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*1/4 teaspoon salt
* 6 tablespoons milk (which is 1/3 of a cup...we used Almond Milk for those with dairy issues).
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Notes: We did 10-1lb batches. Each batch filled TWO ziplock sandwich bags, so 10 lbs really gives you 20 "gift-size" portions. Do NOT double the recipe, it is finnicky enough as it is.

1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Spread nuts in a single layer over a baking sheet. Roast for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until the nuts start to turn brown and the smell of roasted nuts fills the kitchen.

Notes: With the worry of burning, we "underroasted", which meant great success of no ruined batches, but we probably don't have a full roasted flavour in the same way. I'm good with this as I am prone to burning, yo. Also, we took the pans out at the 4 minute mark, mixed them, and put them back in the oven to ensure evenness of roasting).

2. Stir together sugar, cinnamon, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage of 236F (113C). Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla immediately...

Notes: Forget that stir in vanilla immediately stuff! It lowered the temperature and damaged the texture (turned to powder before sticking to the walnuts). Add the vanilla along with the rest of the ingredients in the beginning.

We also noticed a larger saucepan was better so that we could work more quickly with getting the sugar mixture distributed onto the walnuts.
Oh yeah, and when the oven was on, the mixture reached softball temp quicker (more like 4 minutes!)

3. Add walnuts to sugar syrup, and stir to coat well. Spoon nuts onto waxed paper, and immediately separate nuts with a fork. Cool, and store in airtight containers.

5. Do all the dishes!! :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Miraculous Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

I'm spending the week in Calgary with my sister and love-of-my-life nephew, Matthew—and both have major milk allergies. We were looking for something quick and easy to make one night, and Jennie pulled out this recipe.

Now, mac 'n' cheese is probably tops on my most-favourite comfort foods list (see deluxe mac 'n cheese recipe, below), so I was a little doubtful about my sister's vegan take on things. But if you've got cheese-loathing people in your mix, this is a seriously great (and easy!) recipe—totally cheesy deliciousness, sans fromage. My mom's got a gluten allergy, so we used rice pasta here - and still just as delicious.

Miraculous Vegan Macaroni and Cheese recipe
Adapted from RecipeZaar

1 1/2 cups plain soymilk
1 cup water
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 cups nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
3 ounces firm tofu
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 lbs macaroni noodles
2 teaspoons mustard (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente.

Toss all of the ingredients (sans pasta) in a blender (liquid and powdered) and blend until smooth.

Once pasta is cooked, drain and put it in the baking pan pour the cheese sauce over the pasta.

Bake at 350°F until the top of the pasta looks slightly browned and crispy—about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Baked Rigatoni with Broccoli and Gorgonzola

I’ve known my dear friends Shelley and Christina for over 20 years—from back in high school when Shelley wore her signature fringed suede jacket, and Christina and I shared a grade-10 love of Sarah McLachlan (and sadly, copped much of her style then too.) Christina’s now the bass player in a Weakerthans-esque band named Man Missile and Shelley’s just days away from dropping a kid (but I’m fairly certain she’s hung on to that fringed jacket ), but one thing hasn’t changed: whenever we get together, a lot of food is going to get et. Calories be damned. There’s usually banana boats.

Shelley’s been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known her, so she has a decent recipe collection. This one’s a go-to of hers, and it’s kind of a deluxe mac ‘n’ cheese, from a cookbook that I’m now thinking I’ll track down myself: Vegetarian Planet: 350 Big-Flavor recipes for out-of-this-world food every day. (Besides this recipe, for example, it includes one for technicolour antipasto and another for black-out chocolate pudding. Enough said.)

As far as this one goes, I love any recipe that includes gorgonzola. Or cheese, really. And it’s super quick to put together – no fussing with a roux to thicken the sauce, because you’re using already-thick ricotta. Shelley freestyles with some portabello mushrooms.

I recommend following up with a good old-fashioned banana boat: open one up, scoop out a bit of the insides and stuff it with chocolate chips, peanut butter, caramel sauce – whatever can amp up the calorie count. Wrap in tinfoil, stick in the oven (or campfire, if you’ve got one available) til gushy. Eat with dear friends.

Baked Rigatoni with Broccoli and Gorgonzola recipe
Adapted from Vegetarian Planet: 350 Big-Flavor recipes for out-of-this-world food every day (Harvard Common Press, 1997)
by Didi Emmons

8 oz dried rigatoni
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ bunch broccoli, cut into florets (about 4 cups)
2 portabello mushrooms
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese, whole milk or park-skim
3 oz italian or wiconsin gorgonzola or silton (about ½ cup)
salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges (cherry tomatoes would be nice too)
1 cup grated parmesan or asiago

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and boil, stirring occasionally, until it is just tender. Drain the pasta, rinse it well with cold water.

In a large skillet, combine the olive oil and garlic over low heat. Saute the garlic for 2 minutes or until the garlic releases its aroma (do not let it brown). Add the mushrooms and stir fry three to four minutes,until they let their juices out and start to brown. Turn up the heat and add the broccoli and 1 cup of water. Cook the broccoli, uncovered for 3 minutes or until most of the water is evaporated.

Add the ricotta cheese and the gorgonzola. Stir the sauce until it is near smooth, and season it with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine the pasta, the cheese broccoli sauce, the tomatoes and 2/3 cup of the parmesan or asiago cheese. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if necessary. (At this point you can refrigerate themixture for baking later.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spoon the mixture into a 9-by-13 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the casserole. Bake the casserole, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes (or a little longer if the mixture has been refrigerated). Spoon the contents on to plates, and serve.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My 10 Days of Amazing Eating

(Scroll to bottom to see me experiment with some of the dishes featured on this menu).

The image above is what came up when I googled "Delicious Vegan Food". Meh. It's got nothing on what I ate at Yasodhara Ashram for my ten day yoga retreat. Alas, I did not bring a camera, so I hope the words below will ignite your imagination as well as your tastebuds.

I recorded what we ate every single day and I think became known as "that girl that lingers over the food with her notebook". But I wouldn't know for sure as we at all meals in silence, so that saved me from any cafeteria-style snickering from my fellow yogis (who were, of course, kind and gentle folk who would never do such a thing). Below is the gorgeous dining hall, by the way.

Anyway, what follows is simply my offering toward this amazing food experience. It may be somewhat frustrating for you readers as I have no access to any actual recipes. I hope hope hope they will produce a cookbook someday. Vancouverites can catch a sampling of the deliciousness at Radha Yoga and Eatery. Enjoy imagining the tastes...I know I will read and re-read this menu like a compelling novel.

Ten Day Retreat at Yasodhara Ashram (www.yasodhara.org)
May 7-16, 2010

*Nearly all ingredients organic
*Ingredients are not in order or quantity, I just copied them as written on the meal cards
*Vegan alternatives were always available where dairy and eggs are indicated

*All meals eaten in silence and with gratefulness

· Hot oats
· Hot millet
· Homemade granola
· Canned ashram applesauce
· Fresh yogurt
· Multigrain bakery bread
· Butter, Earth Balance
· Ashram Jams--cherry, berries, peach, (not labled, always delicious)
· Ground Flax
· Sunflower seeds
· Raisins (optional, of course!)
· Variety of teas and coffee (I would always settle in with a pot of steaming orange pekoe and milk)

Day 1

· Shitake Mushrooms with Ginger Green Tea Topping—Olive Oil, Green Tea, Lemon Juice and Zest, Garlinc, Ginger, Chives, Brags Soy Sauce
· Spicy Ginger SoySauce (ingredients not recorded)
· Onigiri (Sushi Balls) (ingredients not recorded)
· Sorrel and Potato Soup (ingredients not recorded)
· Miso Soup (with orange zest)
· Cucumber Salad with Ashram Greens and dill
· Red Cabbage, Apple and Wakame Slaw—with Dijon, rice vinegar, olive oil, ginger, miso

· Pesto Pasta (with and without chicken): kamut penne, olive oil, basil, parsley, salt, lemon juice, sunflower seeds, leeks, shitake mushrooms, asparagus
· Ashram Greens
· Spelt Bread Stix—spelt, water, olive oil, molasses, yeast, sea salt

Day 2

· Sunflower Hemp Seed Pate’—Hemp Seeds, Lemon, Apple Cider Vinegar, Miso, Tamari, Ginger, Dates, Paprika, Dill, Cumin, Curry, Celery, Carrot, Cilantro, Turmeric
· Artichoke Dip—Artichoke, sunchokes, garlic, parsley, olive oil, dill, lemon, salt
· Spelt Crackers—spelt, oil, flax, egg, salt
· Nutritional Yeast Dressing—nutritional flake yeast, tamari, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic
· Other stuff: home made sauerkraut, dried kale)

· Barley-stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Almonds, Currents and Feta—onion, tomato, basil, oregano
· Cauliflower and greens
· Dark chocolate pudding with raspberries—butter, cinnamon, sugar, cocoa, arrowroot, milk, vanilla

Day 3

· Asparagus Soup—onion, asparagus, lemon, salt, celery
· Curried Vegetable Soup—cauliflower, kale, onion, quinoa, salt
· Veggie Wraps:
*Tofu cubes, nutritional yeast, salt
*Hummous—sesame, chickpea, lemon, salt, olive oil, sunflower oil
*Roasted Eggplant—cumin, lemon, salt
*Pumpkin Seed Spread—pumpkin seeds, garlic, olive oil, tamari, silken firm tofu, dill, paprika
*shredded carrot
*home-made pickles
*red cabbage, apple, wakame slaw

· Spinach Salad with fennel and cranberries
· Veggie ranch dressing: olive oil, garlic, tofu, a.c. vinegar, honey, oregano, basil, dill, scallions, pepper, salt
· Poppyseed dressing: a.c. vinegar, onion, honey, Dijon, salt, poppyseeds, olive oil

· Quiche—mushrooms, green onions, asparagus, spinach, egg, milk, wheat, butter, salt, shortening, parmesan
· Nicoise Salad—potato, asparagus, red pepper, tomato, red wine vinegar, olive oil, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, olives, (mayo on the side)

Day 4

· Spring Rain Soup—shitake mushrooms, komfu, peppercorns, fennel seeds, cloves, bay leaves, ginger, rice noodles, sesame oil, rice vinegar, carrots, green onions, tamari, sea salt
· Fresh baked bagels—whole wheat and white flour, honey, yeast, salt, sesame seeds
· Lebna—yogurt, chives, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt
· …and many delicious leftovers

· Rockfish Risotto—rice, rockfish, asparagus, onion, thyme, butter, asiago cheese, sea salt
· Beet Salad—Golden and Ruby Beets, Champagne vinegar, olive oil, mint
· Ashram Greens
· Spiced Sunflower and pumpkin seeds—tamari, sugar, garam masala, ground ginger
· Dill and mustard dressing—dill, Dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt

Day 5

· Vegetable Soup—carrot, parsnip, celeriac, onion, kale, parsley, potato, oregano, Braggs, green beans, leek
· Apple Hemp Muffins—whole wheat flour, oats, hemp hearts, b.powder, b.soda, sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, apple sauce, brown sugar, milk, vanilla extract, vegetable oil
· Pasta Salad with Portobello and Almonds—damut pasta, Portobello mushrooms, almonds, chives, parsley, leeks, olive oil, canola oil, salt, balsamic
· Other leftovers (quiche, beets, spinach!)

o Corn (hard shell) and soft wheat tortillas
o Ground Tofu—firm tofu, cumin, onion, coriander, chili powder
o Rice—oregano, onions, carrots, celery
o Guacamole—sautéed red onion, sautéed garlic, avocado, lime, coriander, cumin, tomatoes, salt
o Asiago Cheese
o Sour Cream
o Red Pepper, Fennel and Zucchini Slaw—with red onion, lime juice, olive oil, salt, cilantro
o Greens

Day 6

· Butternut Squash Bisque—Squash, onion, vegetable stock, salt, turmeric
· Rosemary Pumpkin/Sunflower Seed Crisps (Spelt or Rye)—salt, soymilk with lemon, brown sugar, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, sesame seed, flax seed, rosemary, b.soda
· Salmon Salad—salmon, mayo, fennel, cucumber, lime,salt
· Spring Spread—Tofu, olive oil, garlic, apple cider vinegar, balsamic venegar, honey, oregano, basil, dill, paprika, onion, scallions, pepper, salt, kale, lime, chives, sunflower and pumpkin seeds
· Roasted potato salad with chili vinaigrette—potatoes, olive oil, sautéed garlic, Dijon, cilantro, thyme, turmeric, sea salt, capers, rice vinegar, chili powder

· Zucchini Feta Casserole—kamut bulgur, onions, garlic, zucchini, oregano, basil, marjoram, salt, eggs, feta, cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, tamari, tomato paste (in the bulgur)
· Medley of carrots, bok choy, asparagus
· Ashram-grown fruit mash

Day 7

· Broccoli Spinach Soup—broccoli, onion, veggie stock, spinach, lemon juice, salt
· Veggie Burgers—millet, almonds, walnuts, oil, mushroom, spinach/kale, onion, celery, sage, thyme, dill, salt, tamari, nutritional yeast, flax
· Sunflower seed buns—yeast, water, sugar, salt, whole wheat and white flour, sunflower seeds
· Accoutrements: roasted garlic mayo, Ashram pickles (small, chopped and large, whole)
· Ashram grown greens with pear and toasted seeds
· Lemon Herb Viniagrette—lemon zest and juice, thyme, oregano, mint, sorrel, olive oil, sunflower oil, red wine vinegar

· Quinoa bowls—
o Red quinoa
o Steamed kale
o Honey-tamari tofu—medium-firm tofu, honey, tamari, garlic, ginger, oil
o Grated Daikon Radish
o Spicy Ginger-Garlic Sauce
o Cilantro Aioli—almonds, lemon zest/juice, cilantro, parsley, ginger, honey, olive oil, salt, cumin

Day 8

· French Onion Soup—onions, garlic, veggie stock, thyme, dried mustard, salt, canola oil
· Crostini—rye flour, white flour, water, salt, sugar, olive oil, yeast
· Tomato Bruschetta—tomatoes, roasted garlic, parsley, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, basil, sea salt
· Roasted Mushroom and Artichoke Bruschetta with fresh thyme—portobello mushrooms, crimini mushrooms, fresh thyme, lemon juice, sea salt, artichoke hearts, spinach, olive oil
· Quinoa Salad—quinoa, red and green peppers, celery, cucumber, lemon juice, sunflower oil, salt
· Ashram Greens

· Salmon Rotini—Kamut rotini, salmon, asparagus, zucchini, lemon, olive oil, salt, fennel
· Broccoli Salad—broccoli, carrots, leeks, garlic, sunflower oil, shite wine vinegar, salt, sunflower seeds
· Apple-rhubarb crumble—fruit, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt

Day 9

· Carrot Ginger Soup—onion, ginger, carrot, veggie stock, turmeric, salt, apple, nutritional yeast
· Boiled Eggs
· Voracious Vegan Pate’—onion, mushroom, garlic, olive oil, sunflower seeds, spelt flour, nutritional yeast, basil, salt, thyme, sage, kelp powder, tamari, potatoes
· Sunflower Aioli—salt, sunflowers (sic), lemon juice, roasted garlic, water, olive oil
· Ryvita Crackers
· Other leftovers
· Ashram Greens
· Citrus Vinaigrette—water, lemon, sugar, OJ, rice vinegar, tamari, garlic, tarragon, ginger

On the beach! (no ingredients cards)
This was the only meal not eaten in silence, but was social.
It was steamed veggies and curry.

Day 10

· Leftovers
· Vegan Caesar Salad—sautéed garlic, tahini, miso, lemon, tamari, olive oil, water, capers, romaine lettuce

(The Last) SUPPER
· Pureed Yam with Cashew Butter—yam, cashew, rice milk, earth balance, sage, salt
· Roasted Sugar Cane Lime Tofu—tofu (medium firm), sugar cane syrup, tamari, garlic, thyme, pepper (black), lime, brown sugar
· Asian Slaw—rice vinegar, honey, salt, lime, tamari, sunflower oil, carrot, daikon, radish, green onion, sesame seeds (black and white)
· Ashram Greens
· Sesame Orange Vinaigrette—OJ and rind, ginger, olive oil, sesame oil, thyme, tamari, arrowroot, sesame seeds, sunflower oil

Thank you Yasodhara Ashram Chefs and Cooks!!
I want to know your secrets.
Thank you Karma Yogis for caring for the farm/garden and doing canning and dishes and other stuff that gets this food on the table and most importantly into my mouth.

UPDATE June 4th, 2010

I experimented with the following menu for some friends:

Apple and hemp muffins (I followed this web-recipe pretty much exactly and it turned out nicely).
Lime Sugar Cane Tofu (this web link served as a very loose guide only)
Yams with Cashew Butter (totally improvised)
Greens with Tofu Ranch Dressing (totally improvised, not as good as at Yashodhara, but still good!)

Chocolate Pudding with Raspberries (in this case I added no honey, just a tiny bit of sugar, and I used the coconut milk. It was really quite good, especially chilled).

My friend Claire took this photo of me with the plate of food, yum!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'Burban Chocolate Chip Cookies

Three things are dead giveaways that—despite all efforts to conceal it—I grew up in the 'burbs. First, I eat processed cheese. But only Kraft Singles (I do have standards). Second, I've got a soft spot for amaretto, the most drinkable thing at a bush party.

And third, I make cookies with shortening.

Don't get me wrong—I love butter. Can't get enough of it. But shortening makes cookies soft and gooey and delicious, and even when the rest of the world got all transfat phobic, I turned a blind eye.

But then today, as I was whipping up another batch of chocolate chip goodness, I decided to see *just* how bad this love affair was. Turns out, as of 2004, Crisco is now transfat free! Or close enough for a girl from Ajax. Time to celebrate with more cookies.

I got this recipe from my friend Kari years ago and tweaked it just ever so slightly with a topping of fleur de sel--a souvenir from a recent trip to Amsterdam. (At 2 euro a bag, I should have bought two). It's pretty standard recipe, but you'll make it fantastic if you take a little extra time with the hand blender. Make sure your wet mixture is light and fluffy like a jar of marshmallow fluff.

Substitute with butter if you must, but know that you're missing out. Huge.

'Burban Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 cups flour
1 cup chocolate chips
fleur de sel

With handmixer on high, blend together shortening, eggs, vanilla and both sugars until mixture is light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Sprinkle in salt and baking soda, then slowly blend in flour until well blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon on to parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle each cookie with fleur de sel. Bake at 350F until lightly golden around the edges, about 8 minutes. Makes about 5 dozen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cuban Food--friend or foe?

Everyone had warned me: The food in Cuba is crap. Now, I love food but I have dreamed of going to Cuba, especially Havana, for years, so I was undeterred. We just loaded up on Cliff bars and figured we'd be fine.

After 24 hours of traveling, we made it to Havana and were famished. Hunger being the best chef and all that, we found a place by the water and ate the meal pictured above. We were delighted! Grilled fish, roasted chicken, rice, salad and Cristal beer...all delicacies we'd become very familiar with over the following week. There was nothing fantastic about the food, it was simple and "undisturbed" by many spices (due to the many embargos, Cubans simply do not have a lot of selection for flavour or food variety) but the hunger combined with outrageously low expectations meant we enjoyed our meal that night immensely.

We discovered that Cubans LOVE their ice cream and have dedicated an entire cafeteria-style-themepark to it (La Coppelia). Many of the delicious ice creams were made with condensed milk...so good! We ate it right out of the tub on the sea-wall (Malecon).

This was our first breakfast at our Casa Particular (Bed and Breakfast, kind of, in a beautiful old colonial style house) in the neighbourhood of Vedado, just outside of old Havana. Again, simple. Papaya, pineapple, coffee, guava juice and a (dry-ish) bun with precious butter (cannot assume butter will be available). I had requested tea instead of coffee in my broken Spanish and discovered no tea, just coffee. Okay, any milk? Nope, no milk (add milk to list of things that may or may not be available). So we learned to enjoy black coffee that week just fine.

Over the next several days, we enjoyed white beans in sausage sauce (vegetarians, don't judge me! I did what I had to :), plantain "cups" stuffed with mayonnaise or something, root vegetables, and black beans prepared in every conceivable way humanity can configure.

We discovered that one of Havana's solutions to being an island suffering from serious embargos was to cultivate urban agriculture. We didn't see as many gardens as we had hoped, but we did get a glimpse of this plot, right near the Plaza De La Revolucion. Viva!

We couldn't resist buying the baking we would pass by. This handful of cookies (below) were ubiquitously displayed by themselves on shelves in random kiosks on the street. No variety, no icings, no bells and whistles...the message is just: "here's what we got, do you want it or not?" I was not particularly impressed with the baking, but again, the buying and eating of what is available (not necessarily being able to choose whatever you like) seemed part of the Cuban/Habanero experience. We also relished the pizza (pretty good, and popular!) and being able to drink a beer with that in a public City Park (here we are on the Prado). Yum!

I also must feature this photo (below): Cubans are very proud of their lobster ("Langosta") and this one came with a banana on top of it. Double delicacy, really. What I should mention is that a wicked cuban salsa band played the entire time I ate this, as was the case everywhere that we ate dinner, or lunch, or had a drink...music and food/drink were nearly always a synonymous experience. Hooray for that!
After 5 days in Havana, we relaxed for 2 days on the beach with variations of rum drinks in hand...pina coladas, mojitos, cuba libres. Who am I kidding, we had plenty of those in Havana too. Because no matter what you think of Cuban food, you just can't beat their rum.

So, back to the question: Cuban food-- friend or foe? Answer: who cares? As long as I'm in Cuba.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Creamy White Bean Chili

I've had this white bean chili recipe on the brain ever since I had a memorable version of it at Bonnie's Restaurant on Aspen. Actually, EVERYTHING I ate at Bonnie's was amazing - they have this mile-high apple strudel with whipped cream too - which was a revelation for ski-hill dining. Case in point: the tres malheureux "fish taco" I had in Whistler last weekend. Essentially, a battered fish 'n' chips-style unidentifiable piece of fish on a piece of cardboard.

But Bonnie's! Worth the trip to Aspen alone.

This isn't their recipe (and if anyone has it, PLEASE send away!) but a compilation of a few recipes I found, plus a little ad-libbing to get it to the right consistency. It's still pretty tasty. I'll still fantasize about Bonnie's, but this'll tide me over in the meantime.

Creamy White Bean Chili recipe

2 tbsp butter
1 cup chopped onion
2 tsp.minced garlic
2 cups chopped mixed bell peppers
1, 4 oz can chopped jalapenos
1/2 lb mushrooms
3/4 c diced carrots
4 cups vegetable broth
1, 15 oz can black-eyed peas, rinsed
1, 15 0z can, garbano beans, rinsed
2, 15 oz can, navy beans, rinsed
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, chopped
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 cup light sour cream
Monterey jack cheese, to top (optional)

Melt butter in a large heavy-bottom pot; add onions and garlic.Cook over medium heat,stirring occasionally,until translucent (3-4 minutes).

Add peppers, carrots and mushrooms. Stirfry until soft (5-7 min.).

Add all remaining ingredients, except sour cream.Continue cooking until mixture comes to full boil (10-12 min.)

Cover,reduce heat to low. Cook;stirring occasionally,until slightly thickened (45-50 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream.

Serve in bowls with gusto! And shredded monteray jack cheese.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vegetarian Kapstunica (Slovak Christmas soup)

I make this soup recipe twice a year: for my family on traditional Christmas eve, and on December 6 when I throw a Slovak Christmas party for my friends back in Vancouver. It's a traditional Slovak Christmas soup—though made a little non-traditionally, given that there's no meat in it. Its base should have a nice big pork hock for flavour, but given that I'm a vegetarian, I've learned how to substitute that out.

The recipe comes from my Aunt Olga, who learned from my Babka (though I'm curious how Campbell's tomato soup became part of the base—I'm certain it wasn't always). For the first few years I made it I would call her on the 24th in a panic to get a recap of how it all comes together, but I've pretty much got it down now. All of the amounts are rough estimates—like most soups, it's pretty flexible. So feel free to up or down the volumes if you like a little more potato, a little less oregano, etc. It makes A LOT, like, enough to serve an army for a week a lot, but if you want to feed even more people, up the potatoes. Easy peasy.

Slovak Christmas Soup Recipe, vegetarian-style


3 cans Campbell's tomato soup
1 jar good-quality sauerkraut (buy from a Polish deli)
1/2 cabbage
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
10-12 prunes, diced
2 medium onions
1/3 cup butter or margerine
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dry basil
1 tbsp dry oregano
1/4 cup brown sugar
salt to taste
sour cream


In a small pot, cover potatoes and one onion with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt. Cook until just fork-tender, about 7 minutes.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine tomato soup with three cans of water, sauerkraut, cabbage, one onion, prunes, butter, caraway, peppercorns, basil and oregano.

If soup is too thick, add more water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer.

When potatoes are ready, empty the whole pot—water, onions and all—into the soup pot. (Parboiling the potatoes is key: potatoes won't cook in tomato-based dishes).

Simmer the soup for at least two hours, until the fresh cabbage is soft. (You may have to continue adding water if soup gets too thick.) Add brown sugar (because sauerkraut brands vary in acidity, you might want to adjust the amounts up or down) and salt to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.

This soup is often even better on the second day!