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We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. - E.H.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pasta with seared scallops, mushy peas.

I promised myself I would post a recipe along with my long-winded life updates. This is a food blog after- all, non? And this recipe is too good not to share. It's not at all vegan (no matter how much I love my vegan housemates, sometimes I crave scallops.. and butter.. and cream, you know?)

This is a recipe in two parts, and they go too well together to post separately.

Part 1: Pan seared scallops in a white wine cream sauce, served over egg noodles.
Part 2: Mushy peas with fresh mint (the Brits aren't wrong! Mushy peas are delicious.)

This is the kind of meal you should make on a first date, or for your mother or something - super easy, beautiful and guaranteed to win hearts. In my mind, the mushy peas really steal the show here. Mostly because it's so unexpected. I mean, really, who named mushy peas?? It has got to be the most unappealing name out there. Mushy peas are a side dish in need of a good marketing campaign.

Pasta with seared scallops, in a white wine cream sauce:

you'll need:

pasta - we used egg noodles and it was delicious.
1 lb scallops
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1/4 milk
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh parsley (or finely chopped spinach)
1/4 cup shallots, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
freshly grated parmesan cheese, for topping.

1. Cook the pasta. While that is happening:
2. Rinse and drain the scallops.
3. Make a roux. If you've never made a roux before it's really easy, and it's pretty much the key to making any kind of a white sauce (the base for cheese sauce, cream sauce, etc). Here it is:
     a) Melt the butter in the pan on low heat
     b) Slowly add the flour to the butter, mashing it around with a rubber spatula. It should form a small
     ball. The idea is to dissolve the flour in the butter and cook it, without letting it burn. This should take
     about a minute.
     c) Slowly add the milk to the flour/butter combo. The small ball should expand to absorb the milk,
     making a thick creamy sauce. Now you have a white sauce, the base of a number of delicious things.
     d) Add the cream. Now you have a cream sauce! Easy.
4. Melt a bit of butter in a different pan and saute the scallops, shallots, parsley and garlic - not too long! Scallops turn into tiny hockey pucks if they're overcooked. We're talking 3 minutes, tops.
5. Add the roux to the scallop mixture and stir well. Add the white wine, and cook over medium heat until the sauce reaches the desired thickness (about 5 minutes).
6. Squeeze fresh lemon into the mixture, add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve over pasta with freshly grated parmesan. Fancy!

Mushy peas with fresh mint:
(Have I mentioned this was so delicious I made it the next day.. and the next? It's that good.)

You'll need:
1/2 lb frozen peas
1 big handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch green onions (so.. 5 or 6 green onions? lots.), finely chopped
1 or 2 dabs of butter

1. Heat olive oil in the pan over medium heat.
2. Add green onions, mint and peas, stirring for 2 minutes.
3. Add a splash of water to the pan and cover. Leave for 5 minutes, or until the peas are cooked through.
(But still tender. No one likes overcooked peas).
4. Mash the peas with a potato masher! Add the butter and mash some more! Then add salt and pepper to taste. Thank the Brits.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spring! An update

Ok, so spring came and I forgot I have a blog - guilty as charged. But... it just got so nice out, you know?

Spring has been so worth waiting for. The few weeks have been pretty amazing - backyard rock shows, patio beers, lots of long dog-walks with friends. It's good to get to know this city again as an adult, almost seven years after I left. Lots of re-connecting with old friends and meeting exciting new people - moving from Peterborough to Toronto was scary, but it was worth it. Good times, my friends.

                        Lily and Toby, bffs.

We've been working on the back garden too. We're pretty much too broke to buy plants or do any serious soil amending,  but we have lots of seeds saved from last year and we've been sowing and watering and hoping for new shoots to come up. So far there have been signs of life from the kale, chard, beans and snow peas - the garlic is growing like crazy in it's transplanted home and it looks like the herb garden will survive. Have I mentioned how amazing it is to have a backyard garden in Toronto? It's pretty rare, and it's totally amazing.

In an effort to keep the dog (and all the other dogs who visit) out of the garden beds, we've constructed a makeshift fence around the borders of some of the beds.

                        My awesome friend Jen, stick weaver extraordinaire 

Again, this falls into the category of too-poor-must-invent, but I like the way it turned out. Basically, we banged some thick, strong sticks into the ground every couple of feet, and then wove flexible, green branches between the pegs.

I don't know that the fence has what it takes to physically keep the dogs out of the beds - it's more of a psychological barrier, but so far that seems to be enough for Lily. She's pretty eager to do the right thing (and any plants we grow will have to be tough enough to withstand the occasional canine intrusion).

But you want to know the best part?? The best part is our entirely salvaged privacy fence/hammock setup.   Totally free, totally destroying any work ethic I may have once had.

    Tony, the farmer behind Wheelbarrow Farms, busy manning our backyard CSA drop-off. It's a tough    

And, last of all - happy 2 year anniversary to my beautiful housemates Meagh and Claire... the only people I could ever imagine sharing a house with. So much style, so much love.

Hope y'all are having a great time in the warm weather.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Things I love about fiddleheads:

1. They mean that it's spring. 
2. They provide an awesome excuse to spend time crawling around your local riverside, marsh, or wherever else you find ferns. 
3. They are delicious. 

Fiddleheads are baby ferns, still curled up into what looks like ... the head of a fiddle. They come out in early spring and are absolutely amazing gently steamed with lemon and butter. While you can sometimes get them in stores, you are way more badass if you find them yourself. 

                       This fern is almost too far along for fiddleheads - only the smallest shoot at 
                       the base of the plant is still good to eat. 

There are a couple of important things to remember when harvesting fiddleheads. First off, they are only good to eat when they are still quite small. In the photo above, only that smallest shoot at the bottom is still small enough to eat - once the shoots start to unfurl and become leafy, you're too late. Secondly, only take one or two shoots from any given plant, to leave the plant healthy for future years. 

                       This fern is younger - perfect size for harvesting. 

Toronto has a number of extensive park systems where you can find fiddleheads in the spring. While I would never give away my secrets, I would suggest that you check out the ravines (the Humber ravine in the west and the Don Valley in the east), which provide great opportunities for careful foraging, especially as you move north out of the downtown core. 

                        Harvested fiddleheads

When you get your harvest home, rinse the fiddleheads and store them in a bowl of ice water until you are ready to use them. This keeps them crisp, and gives a chance for any dirt/bugs to separate from the shoots. 

There are many ways to cook fiddleheads, but my favorite is very simple. Steam them for a few minutes, until they are tender-crisp. Steaming fiddleheads is a bit like steaming asparagus - it doesn't take long, and they get mushy very quickly. Serve them with butter (or butter substitute), lemon and a little bit of salt. Serve next to pretty much anything - I served them with garlic/leek/goat cheese scrambled eggs and rye bread, but they would go just as well as a side with dinner. 

If anyone else out there has a favorite way to cook fiddleheads, or another favorite spring forage-able, I would love to hear about it. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

The great garlic transplant

Last fall, before knew we were moving to the big city, Agata and I planted about 80 cloves of garlic in our community garden plot. We were driving through the city last night and decided to check on them - and look what happened!

In what was maybe a rash move, we decided to transplant the whole lot of them to Toronto, and see if they could a) survive the move and b) grow in our rocky Toronto garden. We dug them out of the garden and put them in little plastic pots for the drive. 

Adorable, non? The smell in the car was incredible. It was like being bathed in raw garlic for hours on end. But we all made it, more or less (the bedroom still inexplicably reeks of garlic, even though I've done  my best to launder all the evidence), and Agata planted them in our newly dug-up backyard garden in the dark.

When I went out to water them this morning, everyone looked alive. Now we cross our fingers and hope that they can hack it in the big city..

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gardening - the Toronto edition.

I'm pretty new to gardening. Agata is more of an expert, the kind of gardener who constructs massive spreadsheets detailing what seeds to start when, when to reseed what - her garden plans look like architectural designs. I'll admit that that level of planning is not my strong suit.

I do, however, like digging in the dirt. There is something about the combination of sun, dirt and beer that really appeals to me. Our new house has a garden out back, and the presence of weeds leads us to believe that, if given the chance, it can support life. So, last Sunday we spent the day digging up the back yard and sifting through the soil for roots (it seemed like there were more roots then dirt, at some points).

                       the garden, mid-toil

I broke a pitchfork in the first half an hour of digging (in half! pretty impressive, I think), and a steady stream of neighbourhood types stopped to chat as we dug up the back yard.

We met a fellow who lives a couple of doors down who writes dystopic short stories about the future of Toronto where the power grid and all technology has failed, and Rob Ford is king. He invited us to a reading at a local bar, which he assured us is very open minded and welcoming to people like us - by which I'm going to assume he does not mean gardeners.

I had the chance to better get to know a fellow that I had met, somewhat unfortunately, a few days ago. At the time, he was screaming through my living room window about rabid dogs (one downside to having a living room that used to be a  storefront), making me cross my fingers and hope that he was just passing through the neighbourhood and not, in fact, our neighbour. I was wrong, of course.

He seemed to like us better when he realized we were planting a garden, and we made some neighbourly small talk over the fence. I felt like I was really making some progress, and maybe I was right, because he asked if he might bring a bucket and take some of our soil for his backyard.  He clearly didn't recognize how hard we were working for that soil.

Maybe one day, we'll reach a happy medium between yelling-through-the-window and popping by to borrow a bucket of garden. In the meantime, I'm making a mental note to draw the curtains.

While our storefront-living room may not be great on privacy, it does make a very effective greenhouse for starting seeds. We planted (among other things) marbled red onion seeds, which look like miniature disco balls.


It was exciting to plant some of the seeds we had saved from the garden last year. We saved seeds from the seven varieties of tomato we grew last year, as well as a couple of varieties of beans, peas, cucumbers and flowers. We even saved seeds from a blue hubbard squash that grew in our roommate's mothers garden and looks a bit like a dinosaur- and I'm excited to try and grow one ourselves.

Seed saving makes it feel like we're bringing a little bit of our old garden with us into this new space.