Time for Exploration + Pursuit

I sometimes wonder what it means to be a serial projecteur. Projecteur, being a word I just made up on the spot right now, lends the meaning of ‘entrepreneur’ with the modesty of what a project is versus a venture. Entrepreneur lends a grandiose impression of venture; projects seem easier to start and carry through, and ultimately each is a learning experience.

I have left for California. I am here for the summer, working in agriculture on a small-scale family-owned organic farm in Sonoma. Our main crops are blueberries and hay. We also cultivate vegetables and own cows (dairy and meat), sheep (wool), chickens (for eggs and for meat), goats, horses and geese (for eggs). Our hands are full each day and I am learning lots about local food systems and farming operations. I have also ‘ventured’ to California to gain exposure to the world of tech; with several friends working on or in start-ups, it is an area of systems reform that has not only taken off with immense impact but is also proliferating in cities across North America. I am involved in some contract design work with start-ups and am speaking with entrepreneurs involved in the world of local food systems and tech. This is my passion and I am in the pursuit of understanding ways to contribute to and enact food systems reform.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and following this blog so far. The support and feedback has been helpful, amazing and has opened some unexpected doors for me. I’m pulling a short hiatus, during which I will be working in and exploring North and South California; afterwards, I am pursuing a food-tech project of my own within Canada and aim to be back blogging in the new year.

Conclusively, after completing the creative portion of a project and experiencing satisfaction as a measurement of the type of success that is meaningful to me, I am keen to start a new project. The idea is to try many ideas. There always seems to be another one coming when you go out and explore.

[Photos are from the farm in Sonoma, CA and San Francisco, CA respectively.]

Herbed Artichokes with Olive Oil + Lemon

It’s artichoke season in Southern Europe! Hurrah! I love this little vegetable – as daunting as it can seem to prepare, these little guys are really not all that difficult to cook. They make a beautiful presentation and reveal a delicious creamy, flavourful heart, when the leaves are peeled away. Try this simple method used down south to bring your artichokes from market to table lovingly and with time to spare. When picking out artichokes, choose ones that feel firm, but have a big of give around the centre, where the leaves push out any air trapped between the curved tips, when you give them a squeeze. Stray away from browning and limp artichokes.

I asked the farmer at the market in Rijeka, Croatia to pick out a couple of artichokes for me and then watched her weigh them for sale on an old scale with pie weights. For a bulky vegetable, they certainly don’t weigh much. Fresh artichokes are fairly hard to find in colder parts of the world, but are luckily also super tasty preserved in olive oil and herbs, so they are quite easily found in jars next to the olives and other pickled vegetables. Preserved artichokes make great additions to salads (chopped up) and sandwiches, and are also delicious on fresh pasta with fresh cream or soft cheese and olive oil and herbs. Prepare yourself for what will be the massacre of leaves after the first couple of steps (full step-by-step preparation directions below); rest assured that your compost bin will love the abundance.

herbed artichokes with olive oil + lemon
serves 1 as a side or appetizer (makes 3/4 cup hearts)

2-3 artichokes
1 lemon
2 1/2 cups water
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt + freshly-ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
fresh herbs of choice, finely chopped

1. Pour the water into a medium saucepan/pot. Wash the lemons. Halve it, squeeze the juice into the pot, saving 2 tsp for later, and throw the lemon into the water. Your artichoke bath is prepared.
2. Cut off the top third (crown of leaves) of the artichoke with a chef’s knife, and most of the stem, leaving a bit sticking out from the artichoke base. Pull off the tough outer leaves and cut off the tips of all the inner leaves. The artichokes are now prepared for cooking.
3. Put the artichokes, leaves facing up, into the water, making sure they are below water level. Simmer for 30 minutes or longer, until a knife pierces the base easily.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the olive oil and herbs. In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, salt, pepper, 2 tsp reserved Lon juice, parsley and herbs (if using).
5. Once the artichokes are ready, serve warm, drizzled with the olive oil and herb mixture and a slice of crusty bread. Artichokes are beat eaten by hand this way, to peel away the leaves to get to the heart. If using in a sandwich or pasta, after step 4, cut or peel away the remaining leaves until you reach the soft part – the heart. Trim any woody base that is still remaining.

Wild Asparagus + Tomato Salad with Roasted Garlic Balsamic Vinaigrette

I am in Europe for the month of May. Visiting friends in Sweden and Vienna, and back in Croatia for 3 weeks, staying with my Nono and Nona, close by to friends and memories I grew up with; growing up, almost each summer was spent in Croatia, shelling beans and picking cherries and raspberries from our urban garden, and sneaking across train tracks and down stone city steps to catch a glimpse of the nightlife at ocean’s edge, when it was already too late in the evening for a bunch of 16-year olds to be out.

I love Croatia, the people, the nature, the sense of togetherness and the feeling of faith in the country that history brings. Frequenting the city market during early mornings, one frequently hears shoppers asking, “is this local? No strawberry is sweeter than what is local!” Past what it means for the economy, and who buyers know they are supporting when they buy local (be it a stranger or their cousin), locals are convinced that what is made in the region just tastes better, and is better for you. And I believe it too. Local in Croatia has come to mean, “food from the region that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.” Perhaps it is the magic of the Mediterranean region that has non-locals believing that local is worth the price here but not at their home, but numerous studies are behind us to back up the ascertation that local, organic produce really does taste better. The local produce in Toronto tastes great! And we are about 6,500km removed. There is correlation here also to why local economies in the Mediterranean also support artisans of all sorts, who are dying breeds in mass-consumerist societies. We vote with our dollars not only for who and which practices we support, but also for the lifestyle and society we wish to be a part of.

This asparagus I found in season at the city market in Rijeka. Called spring asparagus it is much thinner, greener and spirl-y than the asparagus we are used to seeing in supermarkets. This is because wild asparagus grows in forests where it is competing for sunlight with many other plants and the soil (its food) is usually varied and more diverse. Hence, the colour of the asaragus is darker due to the higher number of nutrients packed in, though yes your, ahem, will still be just as smelly…

wild asparagus + tomato salad with roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette
serves 2-3 as a side dish

1 bunch (wild) asparagus
3 tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, halved
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
rosemary or lavendar, dried or fresh
sea salt + freshly ground pepper

1. Prep the asparagus by washing thoroughly under running water and trimming the bottom 3cm (1 inch) off. Essentially, get rid of the woody part – this will be longer in wild asparagus than conventially-grown varieties. Chop into bite-sized pieces.
2. Steam the asparagus for approx. 2 minutes in a sieve or colander over a pot of boiling water, until they turn a bright green colour.
3. In a small saucepan, over very low heat, sauté the garlic clove halves in a bit of olive oil until soft, 5-8 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar and add the steamed asparagus and herbs. With a fork, mash the garlic. Cover to keep warm and let marinate.
4. Halve the tomatoes and then quarter, removing the stem. Place into your serving bowl, add the asparagus, the garlic and any juices, dress with salt and pepper and fresh balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste.

Rustic Spelt Tart filled with Tomatoes, Spinach + Goat’s Ricotta

Spring has arrived in Canada! The weather may not be remarkably different, but it tends towards rain now and using an outdoor grill becomes much more fun. Lest I forget my close friend’s father, for whom every day is a BBQ sort of day; this past Boxing Day, her family had their annual friends and family party during which he grilled outside in a baseball cap to catch all the snow that was drifting down on him.

For the less zealous, seasonal spring foods and an oven pair nicely. Particularly, spinach, tomato and ricotta – the perfect combination in a sturdy, wholesome spelt crust. Tomatoes are a dime a dozen these days, with the multitude that either get imported or grown in greenhouses during the winter, but the hardest tomatoes to find are the heirloom variety. Of course, scarcity makes them only more coveted, but I feel that heirloom tomatoes in particular are worth searching out if you know a place (or grown by yourself – easy, minimal space needed, indoors possible), as the store-bought varieties are watery, thick-skinned and flavourless. Looking at potatoes as an example, consider how we have potatoes for baking, for mashing, for boiling and so forth – russet, Yukon Gold, and so on. Tomatoes generally come in two varieties: grape and cherry. Vine tomatoes can be any sort but are most likely indeterminate. Like potatoes, there are different varieties best suited for different uses, which holds up best and tastes best in that use. What we see in supermarkets are tomatoes classified by tiny or big, so heirloom tomatoes have come to stand for “that variety of tomato we almost lost”.

So in the spring season, when tomato season is usually in August, this dish can use early-season heirloom tomatoes, indoor tomatoes and even canned tomatoes if you want to go for a marinara-sauce topped tart instead, but make sure you are looking for juicy, organic, even oddly-shaped tomatoes, that are firm around the stem and bottom. This will help you pick out the best taste amongst the commercial varieties that are shiny and all uniformly shaped. If tomato clones are all you can find, definitely don’t skip the salting/draining step, as this will help drain the tamato of all the excess water that makes conventionally-grown tomatoes look artificially big, and will help concentrate the flavour. A note to making delicious ricotta yourself (or how to buy) is listed below in the recipe.

A note on herbs – use whichever Mediterranean herbs you like! Oregano, marjoram, thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon – all are delicious in this recipe. Yum.

rustic spelt tart filled with tomatoes, spinach + goat’s ricotta
serves 2 or 4 as a side dish

1 1/3 cup spelt flour, preferably sprouted
1/3 cup coconut oil, very cold
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp water, ice cold
1 tbsp brown rice syrup (or 2 tsp maple syrup, agave)
1/4 tsp sea salt

3/4 – 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese*
1 large tomato
1/4 cup baby spinach leaves, packed
1 1/2 tsp oregano
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt

* I made my own ricotta cheese because I love the tomato-goat’s milk-spinach pairing, but you could use store-bought cow’s milk ricotta if you can’t find goat ricotta. If using cow’s milk it is particularly important to buy organic due to the more stringent feed + medicine regulations, ensuring a hormone-free ricotta. If you’d also like to venture into making your own ricotta, it is quick and delicious – recipe can be found here.

1. Soak the sunflower seeds in water overnight. In the morning, drain the water and place the now-sprouted seeds in a blender, along with the flour and salt. Pulse until well-combined and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. Slice the tomato into thin slices and lightly salt, leaving them on a plate, lined with paper towel, to drain. This will prevent the tart from getting soggy as the tomato releases its juices in the oven.
3. Using a fork or pastry cutter, work the very cold coconut oil into the flour so that there aren’t any chunks of oil in the batter. Do this in as few steps as possible so as not to melt the oil.
4. Add in the olive oil and brown rice syrup and fold to combine. Add water as needed until – using your hands – you can press the dough together and it holds.
5. Turn out the dough onto a very lightly floured surface and pat into a disk. Using a rolling pin, shape into a round approximately 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. The edges may crack, and this is ok. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If wrapped very well, the dough can sit in the fridge for up to a day.
6. Unwrap the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. In the centre of this round, scoop onto and smooth out some cheese, leaving a bare edge of approximately 5 cm (2 inches). Sprinkle the oregano and layer the spinach leaves onto this cheese.
7. Wash the tomato slices of the salt and pat dry. Layer on top of the spinach leaves, salt if the cheese you are using is very mild (i.e. cow’s milk), and drizzle everything with some olive oil.
8. Preheat the oven to 425°F. When thoroughly heated, bake for 20-30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the dough has taken upon a rougher texture.
9. Remove from the oven, let cool, and serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, terragon etc.) or micro-greens (+ mustard greens, watercress etc.) and a strong extra-virgin olive oil if you’d like!

Marinated Mushrooms + Quinoa with Parsley Gremolata

This is a quick post for a quick and wholesome lunch or dinner. Gremolata and its two versions I know are extremely popular by the Mediterranean. On fish, as a salad, potato adornment, on bread and so forth, gremolata, traditionally a mixture of chopped flat-leaf parsley, garlic, zest of a lemon and olive oil, it highlights parsley, a herb that is just as delicious as a salad and/or side, as it is a garnish.

Parsley is highly nutritious and has a vibrant, clean taste. Parsley is full of vitamin K and C, the former being a vitamin frequently missing from conventional diets. Vitamin K is found most prominently in cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard. This vitamin is responsible for allowing your blood to clot normally and to help strengthen bones. Cruciferous vegetables are also important in cancer prevention and as cancer fighters.

This is a quick lunch or can be scaled up for a vegetarian dinner. Vary the quantity of quinoa as you like and use fresh lemon and garlic – they make a world of a difference over their canned and bottled varieties. The gremolata adds a fresh taste to quinoa, a light grain with a nutty flavour. The marinated balsamic mushrooms will pair really well with any other Mediterranean vegetable, but I particularly recommend sautéed broccoli or zucchini or even raw, salted cucumber if in season.

marinated mushrooms + quinoa with parsley gremolata
serves 2

marinated mushrooms
2 handfuls shiitake or oyster mushrooms
4 tbsp yellow onion, roughly chopped
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
pinch dried oregano, marjoram or sage
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

parsley gremolata
1 1/2 cups flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon, grated zest of
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups quinoa, cooked
2 handfuls vegetables of choice, such as broccoli, asparagus or zucchini

1. Do not wash mushrooms. Using a soft brush or damp cloth, brush away all of the remaining dirt, being careful not to break their soft outer layers. Chop into small strips. If using shiitake mushrooms, discard the very bottom of the stems.
2. Marinate the mushrooms in a small bowl with enough olive oil to generously coat the mushrooms, sea salt, black pepper, and a pinch of the herb of your choice. Let sit while you prepare the gremolata.
3. In a small bowl combine the chopped parsley, finely diced garlic and finely grated lemon zest. Dress as you would a salad with olive oil and the lemon juice. Mix well and set aside.
4. Heat the yellow onions and chopped vegetable of choice in a small pan with enough olive oil to very lightly coat the bottom of the pan over low heat. For 5-10 minutes sauté the onions until translucent and soft, stirring regularly. Add a bit of oil if any begin to stick or blacken. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Add the marinating mushrooms to the onions and cook over medium-low heat until the mushrooms have softened slightly, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Stir everything well, cooking over medium-low heat, for 3 minutes.
5. In your bowl, arrange your warm quinoa with your sautéed mushrooms an vegetable. Top the gremolata on the side. Lightly drizzle everything with oive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Eat mixed.

Minty Plum, Spinach + Radish Salad

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters came in the mail recently and I really love it for many reasons. First, its literal simplicity. There are no carefully planned and meticulously arranged photographs. In fact, there are no photographs at all – instead, simple drawings and the rest is up to your imagination. These recipes are classics – few ingredients, where the ingredients should speak for themselves. Thus, the book is filled, cover to cover with classic recipes and ideas for pairings.

One of Waters’ pillars of cooking was to always buy the freshest ingredients (this almost always means local, seasonal and even organic) and to learn the basics of a vinaigrette (salad dressing), soup base, and so on, so that you are never at a loss for a recipe; you know what pairs well together and you can prepare it/dress it by a classic method.

This brings me to the second appreciated feature of this book for me – the recipes, like the title, are simple, and are vey much tried, tested and true. Nowadays, it seems to me in North America, that the dishes considered to be the healthiest are also the most complex, prominently featuring exotic food pairings and ingredients. I am guilty of this myself, at times having posted recipes that are elaborate in order to signal credibility, and while there is nothing wrong with an elaborate meal, its place is not at the everyday dinner table and in encouraging people to cook and support local economies, a daily avocado and fresh corn salad is not going to do it in the dead of a Canadian winter. Even meat has a season. Some things we recognize we cannot grow, and in these cases it becomes a personal decision on how to supplement your diet to ensure it is varied. Eating like this is healthiest for our bodies, and the most inexpensive. It is also one of the tastiest.

This salad makes use of baby spinach, dried beans and mint I grow in potted plants next to the kitchen. The vinaigrette is a simple olive oil and umeboshi plum vinegar combination; umeboshi vinegar can be found in most health food stores and is a vinegar made of fermented purple and red plums. The deep pink colour of the vinegar is full of vitamins and healthy bacteria for intestinal flora. The slightly sweet and sour taste pairs well with white beans, mint, fish, rice dishes and starchy vegetables.

minty plum, spinach + radish salad
serves 4

8 cups baby spinach leaves, loosely packed
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
12 radishes, thinly sliced
8 tsp fresh mint leaves, packed
4 tbsp olive oil
8 tsp umeboshi vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt (if your umeboshi vinegar is salt-free)

1. Toss radishes, peas, olive oil and vinegar, salt (if using) and pepper in a bowl until well coated.
2. Arrange spinach leaves at the bottom of the plate. Scoop beans and radishes mixture on top. Toss lightly.
3. Tear mint leaves if large, into bite-sized pieces and garnish.


Roasted Beet, Pecan + Arugula Salad

I was introduced to this recipe by my mother; nothing traditional, familial or cultural – just a fresh, warm comforting taste, very much New World, that can be adjusted to how you like it. The sweetness of the roasted beets, toasted maple pecans, and balsamic vinegar, pairs wonderfully with soft salty goat cheese and the peppery taste of arugula. Good quality balsamic vinegar is already a star on its own, tying all the ingredients together, so it is wise to use a variety of salad greens, and not just the very assertive arugula on its own, such as the inclusion of red or green lettuce and baby spinach, both of which are much milder.

Together, the salad is quite hearty and would make an amazing lunch if you increased the relative quantity of beets, pecans and/or cheese, and served it alongside a slice of crusty whole grain bread – (brush it with olive oil and toasted briefly in the oven alongside the beets). To this note, it is easy to see how unfussy this salad is – you can adjust the quantity of each of the ingredients to suit your tastes, omit the nutmeg, or add more varieties of greens. I did not add any goat cheese, as I didn’t think of it until later, and my mother added toasted pine nuts. Beets can also be boiled instead of roasted if you’re looking to save a bit of time, however they will not end up with such a deep, rich flavour this way – in the oven, the sugar in the beets caramelizes. Final note, just make sure to keep a steady hand with the balsamic vinegar and start light – it will quickly wilt the salad greens and overpower all other flavours.

roasted beet, pecan + arugula salad
serves 4

good-quality balsamic vinegar
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1/2 – 1 full head red or green lettuce
2 cups arugula
1 cup baby spinach leaves
3 red beets
1/2 cup pecans, broken into pieces
1/3 cup fresh soft goat cheese, plain
2 tbsp red onion, finely diced
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1. Gently wash the beets, dry and trim the ends, without getting close to the round part. Trimming too closely will cause the beets to lose their juices as they roast, so even when raw, be careful not to “bleed” them. Line a baking dish with aliminum foil, as beet juice stains, and roast for 45 minutes – 120 minutes, at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, until a fork or knife pierces the vegetable easily.
2. Toss the pecan pieces with the maple syrup and cinnamon until evenly coated. Place on a baking sheet and bake alongside the beets for 5 minutes, or until as soon as the pecans are fragrant. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
3. Wash the greens and shake off excess water. Tear into pieces.
4. In a large bowl, place the washed greens and diced onion. When the beets are done, remove, and when cool enough to handle, just slide off the vegetable skin. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the salad mix.
5. Add the pecans, salt and pepper to taste, and enough olive oil and balsamic vinegar to coat the salad. Start with a ratio of 2 parts oil to one part vinegar and add more vinegar as needed. Toss to combine, and garnish with the crumbled goat cheese. Serve.

Coconut-Vanilla Mixed Berry Torte

A week ago was my birthday! When I was much younger, my birthday signalled a special occasion where a trip to the bakery was in order, either for a luscious fruit tart, or chocolate-nut torte, my favourites. I was an avid baker at home but my marzipan flowers (and I don’t think I even owned gelatin to glaze fruit!?) paled in comparison to those trained in the art of pâtisserie. Anyways, there was also something special about having someone else prepare your birthday dessert for you. Nowadays, I might be tempted to indulge in a cultural favourite when travelling, like chocolate in Vienna and baklava in Turkey, but I am much more excited about the prospect about crafting a cake that is healthy – because who doesn’t love a beautiful dessert that you nonchalantly get to go back for seconds! I might have even had this for breakfast a couple of times… Although maybe at this point I’m inflating its status as a torte, haha. This mixed berry torte features juicy berries, a very dense and moist crumb, and a light and not-too-sweet coconut-vanilla cream. It is also sugar-free, dairy free, and best of all can be seasonal!

Enter the month that is February in Canada: a winter wonderland that can be both very white and very gray, depending on the time of day. The sun sets earlier and we are all wrapped in parkas and heavy boots. Needless to say, not much grows here at this time of year, unless it’s in a greenhouse or indoors. As for what brave trees are proudly standing, they have got to be at least partially hibernating. Fruit tortes being my favourite, I would generally be asking for a miracle of nature in February for local fruit, or in most cases we take advantage of the miraculous development that is globalization. Raspberries from California and strawberries from Guatemala. The cool thing about this torte is that all the ingredients can be local, as berries are easily frozen and thawed for this recipe (use fresh if they are in season), the sweetener can maple syrup and/or honey, depending on where you live, and for what your locality can’t grow, it’s fair trade to import (somebody call me when a coconut palm goes up in Canada). These ingredients are either canned or dried – two safe methods of preservation. Just watch for preservatives in your shredded coconut (buy organic) and avoid the sugared versions, and buy full-fat coconut milk with no other added ingredients. Light versions of coconut milk will prevent a thick cream from coming together.

This recipe is my take on a beautiful recipe posted by Amy Chaplin on her blog, Coconut & Quinoa. You can use whatever combination of berries you like, and the cream and berry filling can be made ahead of time. This cake is delicious and well worth it!

coconut-vanilla mixed berry torte
makes one big cake!

coconut spelt cake
2 1/4 cups whole spelt flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened dried coconut
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt, fine
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup filtered water, cold
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl.
2. Blend the coconut and salt in a blender or food processor until fine, but still dry. Add to the flour mixture and combine.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, half of the water, olive oil, vinegar and vanilla extract until emulsified. Incorporate into the dry mix while slowly stirring everything together. The batter should be thin enough to run off the whisk/spatula, but thick enough that it runs very slowly. Keep adding the remainder of the water until you reach this point. If you need more liquid use a bit more olive oil.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil an 8-9 inch spring-form pan and line with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and when the oven is ready, bake for approximately 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean, and the edges will have pulled away from the pan. The cake will take on a deep golden brown colour.
5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before taking it out of the pan.

Mixed berries
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen mixed berries (I used blueberries, raspberries, pomegranates, blackberries)
1/4 cup sugar-free berry jam of your choice (I used blackberry)
1 tsp arrowroot powder or similar starch
1 tsp filtered water

1. Place everything, except the arrowroot, in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries burst and soften.
2. Sift the arrowroot powder over the berries and stir to combine. Cook a little while longer until dissolved and enough liquid has evaporated that you could spoon the berries as a very thin jam. Remove from heat and let cool. It will continue to thicken.

vanilla bean coconut cream frosting
2 cans coconut milk, full fat
6 tbsp maple syrup (or agave syrup, honey)
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
1/3 cup agar flakes
1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or flour)
pinch sea salt

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt. Cut the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds using a knife, and place both pod and seeds into the saucepan. If using the vanilla extract, wait until step 2 to add.
2. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the agar and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat and cook, simmering, for 10-15 minutes until completely smooth. Turn off the heat, and keep the pan on the element. Mix in the arrowroot powder and vanilla extract until dissolved and let sit until the mixture stops steaming.
3. Transfer to a mixing bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until set (solid). Mixture will be hard. Once set, transfer to a blender and blend until completely smooth. Return to the mixing bowl and place in the fridge, covered.

order + assembly
Of course, you may prepare the ingredients and parts in the order you wish, so this is just a guideline for what I have found to be most efficient, working in one day.

1. Prepare the frosting as per directions. While the frosting is setting in the fridge the first time, make and bake the cake.
2. Allow the cake to cool completely. Prepare the berry filling.
3. Blend the solid frosting and return to the fridge.
4. Remove the cake from the pan and parchment paper. Cut the cake in half using a serrated knife.
5. Place the bottom half of the cake on your serving dish. Spread the chilled smooth frosting over the half, reaching the edges. Spread all of the berry filling over this, but do not reach the edges.
6. On top of this, place the top half of the cake. Create a ‘crumb layer’ by using a small amount of frosting to completely cover the assembled torte in one thin layer. This will keep crumbs from rendering the final layer of frosting unattractive.
7. Smooth the rest of the frosting, in even amounts, over the entire torte. Decorate with a sprinkle of coconut flakes and a heap of fresh berries at top centre.
8. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving to ensure a thick frosting.

Roasted Winter Slaw

Slaw makes me think of a great big old family diner, where they serve you cabbage dripping with mayonnaise on the side of your 1/4 chicken, or summer afternoon lunches by the beach, while your neighbour grills mains on a portable BBQ, in his bathing suit bottoms and sunglasses. I guess I couldn’t think of a more apt title for this dish of shredded cabbage and roasted spaghetti squash, enveloped in a thick roasted sweet bell pepper sauce with hints of toasted sesame seeds. Haha and there goes my plug for this recipe. Subtlety is a practiced art. Somewhere graffitied on a Kingston city wall, I passed a quote – exactly what I cannot remember but to the effect, “…soft-voiced and reflective, women raised on memories instead of money,” describes a perfect paradigm to the good food out there today. While food marketers with pockets thick with money fight for shelf-space among competitors, use advertisements that scream as loud as they can about brand benefits, and dress their products in flashy “clothing”, I can’t help but wonder what it is saying about us as consumers – that this is what grabs our attention and convinces us to make a purchase? Why are we not immediately skeptical of brand-new medical studies that support brand label claims and not more drawn towards the quiet bulk section (rice, dried beans, nuts… possibilities are endless…) of an organic market where money is spent on product quality and not quality of advertising. The product speaks for itself and you, the consumer, make that judgment call amidst the lack of advertisements meant to be persuasive. Or wonder about what amazing things could be achieved by these great big companies if cost reduction didn’t usually mean sacrificing quality. Perhaps as consumers we need to look beyond all the marketing mayhem and appreciate the products that take a bit more time – after all, those things that are done in a hurry are never the subject of our memories.

Anyways, the recipe is a good one – relatively painless to make – just a lot of chopping here and there and then waiting for the oven to do all your work. Sesame seeds are rich in B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron and zinc. Toasting them lightly increases the bioavailability of these vitamins and minerals and releases their trademark nutty flavour. Bell peppers are also a fantastic source of vitamin C complex – perfect for the winter and something you can’t ever find in the vitamin’s capsule-forms. I will always say that eating a fresh orange, or any bright red- and orange-coloured fruit or vegetable for that matter is a better idea than taking an isolated vitamin in capsule form. The body just cannot simply use synthetic vitamins even close to as well as it can those produced by nature. As I sat in the kitchen preparing this recipe, I filled my time by responding to emails and reading snippets of recipes from a book I just ordered: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. I will post about it when it arrives.

roasted winter slaw
serves 2

2 2/3 cups spaghetti squash
4 cups purple/green cabbage or kale, shredded
2 large red bell peppers
3/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, chopped and loosely packed
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp dried basil
large pinch red pepper flakes
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt

1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half, length-wise. Remove the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Do the same with the bell pepper but use a knife to remove the heart. You can keep the stems on both.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and place the squash and pepper halves face down. Do the same for the sesame seeds, spreading them into a thin layer. Once the oven has fully heated, place everything into the oven, using the top rack for the pepper and seeds. Toast the seeds in the oven for 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Stir occasionally and do not allow the seeds to brown (burn). Set aside to cool. Roast the squash and pepper in the oven for a total of 50-70 minutes. Once the pepper has blistered and the squash is soft enough to pierce lightly with a fork, they are ready. Remove and allow to cool.
3. Using a mandolin shredder (on one of the thinnest settings) or with a large knife by hand, cut large chunks of the cabbage into very fine strands. If using kale, separate the leaf from the middle stem and cut into long, thin strips. Set aside.
4. Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the garlic, basil, red pepper flakes and shredded cabbage and cook covered for approximately 5 minutes. If using kale, keep aside.
5. In the meantime, purée the roasted pepper in a blender. Add in the parsley, lemon juice, salt and sesame seeds and pour into the skillet.
6. Using a fork, scrape the inside of the roasted squash to obtain strands of “spaghetti”. In this step, add the squash and kale to the skillet.
7. Mix lightly to coat everything evenly with the sauce. Remove from heat and serve immediately, garnishing with freshly chopped cilantro or parsley, toasted sesame seeds, and/or a drizzle of tahini, if desired.

Simple Almond Granola

Back in the fall, a friend and I went portaging for 4 days and 3 nights up north in one of Canada’s national parks: Algonquin Provincial Park. For those unfamiliar with portaging (like we were of the act prior to going), the term refers to the practice of traveling from campsite to campsite by canoe in the water, and by foot over land, with your home, food and clothing all on your back. Canoeing was smooth sailing, but portaging a 45-pound canoe over your head with all your belongings strapped to various parts of each of your bodies is much harder than it looks, needless to say. At least we had had years of experience canoeing and just camping out in the dead stark wilderness prior, right Chloe? Not really… Anyways, we decided to wing it, both being pretty practical and low-maintenance, plus we were dying to “connect with the wilderness” (or whatever that means) after both spending 4 months of the summer indoors working full-time office jobs. Office emails to each other are great, but nothing beats the art of silent communication when you are ravenous (nod head, blink twice while stuffing your face with warm carrot sticks), wildlife-spotting (gesture wildly with paddle and almost get thrown out of the rocking canoe), or just plain tired (stare blankly at person + the fifty or more knots you still have to tie to make sure your entire livelihood doesn’t float away or get attacked by bears in the middle of the night). Ah yes, the joys of portaging. At the bottom of it though, is a love for doing-it-yourself and spending a relaxing 4 days in good company and breathtaking scenery. It was an amazing experience and wholly satisfying. Don’t forget your film camera for the ultimate antediluvian experience.

So of course, in preparing for this trip, meal-planning was a natural part of the process. A couple of tips to take from here:

One, meal-planning for the general week does not have to be a painful experience. Meal planning reduces food wastage by encouraging meaningful purchases, and can up the nutritional value of your meals by helping you consider loosely what you will be putting into your body for dinners the upcoming week. Always have on hand dried grains, and legumes that you can soak the night before and cook effortlessly in bulk batches, in a rice or pressure cooker that first day; keep condiments and spices well-stocked as the occasion arises; and use the weekly grocery shop for staple base items such as your regular vegetables, fruits, yogurts, fish and so forth and vary the weeks with top-line fresh items that you don’t often buy, i.e. an entire squash, head of cabbage etc.

Two, let it be known that I have a personal vendetta against most breakfast cereals. Highly processed, coated in white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic vitamins + minerals, many mass-market cereals are not  the right way to start your day. It has been drilled into our heads that breakfast is an integral part of our morning because it helps balance our blood sugar levels and provides energy to start the day. Most breakfast cereals currently on the market do not contain nearly enough bioavailable dietary fibre to properly balance blood sugar levels, and the inclusion of sugar wreaks only greater havoc on our endocrine and hormone systems. You are much better off skipping the colourful cardboard box and vitamin supplement aisles in the grocery store for the bulk packages of unadorned plain oats. As one of my friends termed it when she switched from one of the popular cereals to steel cut oats: she actually felt full after breakfast and experience any further feelings of light-headedness.

Recipes such as this one for homemade granola are power-packed with important vitamins, minerals and omega-threes from the hemp, flax and chia seed combination, protein and complex carbohydrates, that together provide a steady, slow-release of energy throughout the morning and up until lunch. On the go, or in a bowl of almond milk, both make great breakfast options. Also consider cooking plain oatmeal or buckwheat porridge in the morning and dressing it up with the same ingredients below: fruit, spices, coconut oil, maple syrup and seeds. You can make big batches of the oatmeal for the next 3-4 days, keep it sealed in tupperware in the fridge, and it takes only 5 minutes in the morning to heat up your portion on the stovetop with a little bit of water added to keep it from sticking to the pot.

simple almond granola
makes 5 cups

3 cups rolled oats (not quick-cook)
1 cup almonds (or pecans)
1 cup buckwheat (hulled)
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
5 tbsp chia seeds
3 tbsp flax seeds (ground)
1 tsp vanilla extract
generous pinch sea salt

optional: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, dried fruit

1. Mix coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, sea salt and hemp, flax and chia seeds in a stand mixer until smooth.
2. In a large oven-proof baking dish, combine the oats, buckwheat and chopped almonds. Spread the wet ingredients evenly over the dry.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and when ready, bake for 30-40 minutes, until the oats and almonds have turned a light golden brown colour. Stir occasionally while the granola is baking to ensure everything is evenly coated.

After it has cooled completely, the granola will keep for up to a week in an airtight container, and also makes great autumn gifts when dressed up in glass containers + ribbon.

Feel free to experiment with flavours by adding in up to 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg and/or 1/2 tsp cardamom to the wet ingredients prior to baking. I used all three spices and additionally stirred in 2/3 cup of raisins after baking. If gluten-free is important to you, ensure that the oats you buy are certified GF and you will be good to go.