At the root of it all
Eating and food have been at the heart of my family since before we had kids. Sharing meals with friends framed our university days and forms the bulk of my memories of life in Montréal. I should have dropped out of my expensive neurodevelopment training program at McGill (that is, my interminable science degree) and taken up cooking full time or, better yet, gotten in on the ground floor with blogging back then (now there’s an idea!) to spare myself the thousands upon thousands of dollars of student loans that are currently wrapped up in our mortgage. But, it was far too petrifying a proposition to change paths like that and I was raised with the idea that cooking is just a hobby. I still vividly remember one friend mentioning Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution idea and telling me that I should get on that band wagon in Canada. *sigh* Either way, my scientific mind wouldn’t be riddled with remnants of physiology and reflective thought on the social studies of medicine, nor would I have had the opportunity to pursue my post-degree in education; so, no regrets.
Food is a passion
I really enjoy cooking. A lot. I love, love, love to read cookbooks and the history of food intrigues me. My then boyfriend (now husband) snagged a used copy of Alan Davidson’s The Penguin Companion to Food (which is now the Oxford Companion…) one year on rue Ste-Catherine on his way home from Concordia and we never looked back. We were content to spend an evening eating a good meal and looking up random food-related questions and seeing what yarn history could spin for us on cold, Montréal evenings.
Groceries in Montréal were (are?!) cheap so we could indulge our cooking fancies even on a student budget. Hosting elaborately planned potlucks with friends and drinking cheap wine from the dépanneur was far cheaper than going out for an evening of clubbing and, in our books, we had heaps more fun. Being the real city that it is (!), Montréal permits drinking in parks so long as you are consuming food; as such, we also had amazing picnics as we drank (responsibly) and soaked in our surroundings.
The last year that we were living in Montréal, a group of us formed the ridiculous but aptly named Culinary Club and every month we would meet to be dazzled by the skills of one member, with the entire themed meal being curated and cooked themselves, from appetizer to drinks to dessert and everything in between. We would all pitch in to cover the costs of the meal and the deal was $20 or less and no one ever went over budget. We ate like royalty. There was some serious talent in that group. I still have the menu scribbled out on a piece of paper in one of my favourite cookbooks, Piano Piano Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant. My theme was an Italian Feast. I have yet to go to Italy but I dream of heading there one day, hopefully by bike so that I can eat my way through the country. I remember this evening with such fond memories. There was one small hiccup but it had nothing to do with the food or menu so doesn’t warrant mention here! Some how I managed to perfectly plan the entire feast and I recruited two lovely friends who were in the process of developing quite a passion for wines to set us up for beverages throughout the evening. This is what I prepared and served October 29th, 2006:
Il pane ~ A Crusty Loaf with a Biga starter
Antipasti ~ Pera al Grana (pears, grano padano, balsamic reduction, and mint) served with Prosecco
I primi ~ Panzarotti al Sugo di noce (pasta stuffed with a mixture of greens & herbs in a ricotta walnut sauce)
I secondi ~ Daino al Forno con le Mele Cotogne (roast haunch of venison with quince, but I had to subsitute pear & apple for the quince)
Contorni ~ Spinaci Saltati (sautéed spinach)
Formaggi ~ cheese plate
Dolce ~ Semifreddo di Miele (honey semifreddo)
I can’t recall if we rounded off the meal with some grappa or a digestivo of sorts? I don’t even remember if we made it past the cheese plate. I do remember loving the simplicity of the antipasti and it was the best venison that I have ever eaten. My favourite part of the meal had to have been the atmosphere of good friends gathering to linger over good food. I remember feeling very satisfied after pulling off that meal as it required a lot of calculated planning and timing. A sort of crowning achievement as we wrapped up our last year in Montréal, leaving behind our well cultivated family of friends that we had broken bread with on many an occasion, before we headed west to see if the grass was greener on the other side.
I grew up on the west coast in West Vancouver, back when it was a bit more of a village and we roamed along the beaches, picked blackberries by the bucketful in the neighbourhood, where my family caught Dungeness crabs in the bay, fresh coho on the boat, and hunted duck and geese out in Ladner. We got great beef from a farming uncle in Alberta, had the odd grouse and pheasant from interior hunting trips, and, overall, probably ate as close to a whole foods diet as one could label it, even by today’s standards. I ate so much fish growing up that I started getting hives from salmon! (Don’t worry, I’m okay now, but it took a couple of years to get over the allergy.)
Somehow my poor mother was roped in to cooking two dinners: an earlier one for the kids and then one later on for herself and my dad. This devolved into many meals of mashed potatoes, carrots & peas, and breakfast sausages for dinner, culminating in my sister giving my mum Sheila Lukins & Julee Rosso’s The New Basics in the early 1990s with the inscription “…no more sausages please…”. A few years later, my sister left the nest and with that brought back new food ideas with her, from travel or university. I remember her recreating a delicious tomato-based white fish stew after she had come back from Turkey and she and another family friend brought the Moosewood Restaurant and the Mollie Katzen Moosewood books into our house. All the while I was still fascinated with pasta and Italian cooking with no real outlet for it other than requesting spaghetti on my birthday!
I got to be a bit more in charge of what was cooked when I was about 16 years old and my parents divorced and I ended up living with my mum. We shared the load of running the house: I did a lot of the grocery shopping and some of the cooking. Then, a few years later, I left the nest myself, doing some traveling, then taking on a long journey to get my B.Sc., intermixed with summers spent reading cookbooks in my tent in the nether-regions of northern BC, bringing me full circle to where I am now, many Sunday dinners with friends later, now cooking for my two kids and my patient partner who has been on this journey with me for close to 15 years.
How we eat now
We like to eat whole foods around these parts, with most of what we make being created from scratch. Flavour profiles are generally fairly basic these days as we have two young palates to contend with and shape, so you’ll find that I often have notes about how something varies from normal which, in turn, helped my kids to grow to like or even love something; for example, garlic-less hummus or pesto!
I love fruit, vegetables, and good meat, including fish. My husband loves bread. I love pasta. I like to bake, but I especially like to bake with harvest fruit, so mostly in the summer and fall. I’m not a big cake eater (we wanted pie at our wedding…), but I am trying to get on board with a few good cake recipes for kids’ birthdays and other special occasions.
Eating seasonally is a big focus for us in large part due to our garden. This is also a cheaper way for us to eat good quality food, at least. Although, ironically, it isn’t always cheaper to eat seasonally, but we know that the quality is exceptional if we are supporting local growers, rather than ho-hum produce, out-of-season, from far off lands, and still not all that cheap, not to mention bearing a huge carbon footprint.
I also try to preserve as much of the harvest as I can and this commitment keeps growing every year, with next year being epic if all goes well as I am finally finding more time to tackle projects like these as the youngest finally hit 2. Our focus the past while has been berries, greens, and tomato sauce.
Cooking with and feeding kids
More and more, I try to include the kids in the kitchen. Mostly through baking at first, but now even more savoury dishes with my eldest, who just turned 5. I am starting to work up the nerve to include some basic knife skills for her (like, real, sharp knives!). I will continue to highlight kid-friendly recipes on this blog, with respect to palate-pleasers, but also those that are great for making with little helpers!
Recipes and cookbooks
I am always trying new things, on my own or inspired by others and I will document successes here, be they my own creations or a recipe review. And, as I mentioned, I have a love for reading cookbooks, so expect to find the odd cookbook review as new books land in my lap!
Our Hundred Acre Wood
Expect to find tidbits on seasonal eating, a treat for a special occasion, kid-friendly recipes, cooking with kids, recipes, and reviews interspersed throughout this space. I strive to fuel our bodies daily with real food and promise to pass on our favourites with you!
I hope that you can find what you are looking for, below, by browsing through, or searching the blog. If not, feel free to comment or make a request on this page!
Baking & Dessert
Vanilla Zucchini Cupcakes