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Archive for June, 2012

The dead body in the pool is putting a serious dent in Geoffs morning. An ex-pat property manager on the Caribbean island of Bequia, Geoff doesnt want a spotlight shone on the secret past he left behind in Canada, but now hes the suspect in a brutal murder. With no help from the inept local police force, hes drawn into investigating the murder himself, to clear his name. As Geoff finds out more about the circumstances surrounding the killing, and he and his loved ones find themselves in danger, he begins to see a very dark underbelly of the place some people call paradise…

Part travelogue, part mystery, Island in the Clouds takes a long, hard look at the reality of living in a place that seems perfect…from the outside, anyway.

Island in the Clouds, the debut murder mystery (first in a trilogy) by my fellow-Humber grad Susan M. Toy, is fun in the sun. With shady characters, some murders, and an island that refuses to be what it seems.

In honour of her first book, Susan has allowed me to host a contest and give away a signed copy of Island in the Clouds. All you have to do it comment and tell me about your favourite vacation meal. It doesn’t have to be from a trip to the Caribbean, or an island destination. Just wherever you went and found an amazing, unforgettable dish, whether in a restaurant, from a food truck, on the docks…

For more on Island in the Clouds and the origins of this contest, check out this week’s food column in Kamloops This Week (also being published in the Okanagan Sunday and Prairie Post). But you don’t have to be a subscriber to enter the contest. Just sit back, have a read, then tell me about something you ate.

The best travel/food story wins!

If yours isn’t the winning entry, however, Island in the Clouds is available in print and as an e-book. For how to purchase, click on THIS LINK.

And enjoy!

(Contest closes July 16.)

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darcie friesen hossack

(March 2012)
It’s showtime.
Or very nearly.
When we arrive at Conrad Grebel University College and make our way into the dining room, the voices of 200 students rise and fall with laughter and conversation.
This is Community Supper. Every Wednesday, the room is reserved for exactly one hour. Dinner is prepared by Old Colony Mennonites ladies. There are rapid-fire campus announcements, followed by a twenty minute presentation.
“You’ve been briefed about our timeline?” I’m asked by tonight’s hostess.
“6:05 to 6:25, not a minute longer,” I affirm. The timeline, although not sacred, is inviolate. A part of the Wednesday ritual, and not to be messed with.
I like it, this adherence to social timing. Sixty minutes, and then, for better or worse, everyone breaks company, and no one is left stranded in the middle of a conversation trap.
First, though, there is dinner, and tonight’s menu features salmon.
What…

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The last time I made granola, it was hard to tell the difference between the pebbly clusters of seeds and oats, and the bits of broken teeth that were later replaced with a crown.
Today, however, when I wake to my first morning in Waterloo, where I’ve come to speak to audiences at Conrad Grebel Univeristy College, I find Hildi in the Breakfast Room off her 1950’s kitchen. She’s been up for hours already, busy with the work of a retiring-but-still-busy scholar.
I, on the other hand, am still on Pacific Time, and have never been a morning person. So it’s noon — a little past — when Hildi asks whether I’d like breakfast or lunch.
Breakfast, definitely.
“Granola, yogurt and fresh mangos?” Hildi asks, adding a query about how I slept.
Now, it has to be noted that I am no-talent, a pretender and a hack when it comes to sleeping.
Others lay their heads upon their pillows and set their consciousnesses adrift on a lake of dreams.
I take half a blue pill and hope for oblivion to pull up over my head like a sodden blanket, then later wake with a mouthful of taste like dirty coins.
However, how I slept is less important this morning than where.
“Well enough,” I say. And it’s the truth.
Considering a three hour time change, chronic insomnia, and nerves that should be stripped down to their wires by the reading and lecture I’m to present tonight, I did sleep rather well enough.
“It’s a lovely guest room,” I add. It’s also the truth.
Graciously windowed and flooded with airy light, the room, the house, is a testament to better builders from a more accountable time. And here, in this same room where I last night unpacked my pillow from home, I know, have also slept some of the greatest living writers whose books I have ever trembled before.
Rudy Wiebe, father of Mennonite literature and Order of Canada recipient.
Patrick Friesen, Governor General finalist. And David Bergen, Giller winner.
Miriam Toews’ accomplishments are too many to count, and my fangirl status too embarrassing to note. And Sandra Birdsell is not only a Giller finalist, but my teacher from the Humber School for Writers, whose work I return to whenever I need to feel completely inadequate as a writer.
Altogether, they are writers of such loft that I get dizzy just looking up.
And yet, even though Hildi, a scholar of English, and Peace and Conflict Studies, has spent her career ensuring writers of Mennonite heritage are heard in a crowded room, there are no airs here.
There is easy conversation, warmth of spirit, and generosity of self. And there is Hildi’s granola.
“I brine my walnuts,” she says when I ask why this reduced-fat granola is better than any other. Better than cookies.
A few minutes later, Hildi’s husband Paul joins us for mid-day espresso, as Hildi writes down her granola secrets for me to take home and share with all of you.
Already, this trip has been worth the flight from West to East, and I begin to wonder what other kitchen secrets I might yet glean before I head home.

 

Hildi’s Granola
5.5 c rolled oats
4.5 c nuts (selection of almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts)
3/4 c unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 coconut oil
scant ½ c brown sugar
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine well. Spread onto two large baking sheets and bake at 325F for 20-25 mins.
Sprinkle with Maldon salt.
Fold in 2 cups dried cranberries or cherries. Cool completely before storing, refrigerated, in an airtight container.
Brined Walnuts
1 lb raw walnut halves
4 cups warm water
1/2 cup kosher salt
In a large bowl, dissolve salt in water. Add walnuts. Let soak for three hours: drain.
Spread walnuts into a single layer on a baking sheet. Allow to dry in a 170F oven for 5-6 hours, stirring periodically to encourage even drying. The nuts will have a crispy, somewhat crackly texture when thoroughly dried. (Under-drying will result in the nuts being vulnerable to mold.)
Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

 


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(serves 4)
4 5-ounce fillets of arctic char
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Calamondin Balsam (see notes)
kosher salt/fresh ground pepper
1 tbs “Perseus” olive oil (see notes)
Trim and remove any bones from fish. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Place, skin side down, on a large plate. Season lightly with salt and pepper (a pinch each for each fillet).
Whisk together extra virgin olive oil and Calamondin Balsam. Brush onto fillets and let marinate for 15 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer arctic char onto this. Bake in a 350F oven until barely opaque in centre.
Remove from oven. Let rest three minutes. Plate and drizzle with Perseus olive oil to finish.
Serve with favourite vegetables.
Notes: The specialty vinegar and oil are from Crescendo (www.crescendocanada.com for store locations and mail orders). Calamondin is a citrus, also known as a Panama orange. The Balsam (vinegar) is bright and only a very little bit is needed to add a high note to a delicate fish like arctic char.

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(Makes 5 dozen)
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Cereal Crunch (recipe follows)
3/4 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups mini marshmallows

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars on medium-high. Scrape down sides. Add egg and vanilla and beat 7 minutes.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to wet mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape sides.

Add cereal crunch and chocolate. Pulse from low to high until just incorporated. Pulse in marshmallows.

Scoop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls (3/4 oz scoop), generously spaced, onto Silpat-lined baking sheets. Flatten. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour (do not skip this step!)

Bake in a 375F oven for 10 minutes.

Set pans on a wire rack for an hour cool completely.

Cereal Crunch
4 cups cornflakes
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/3 cup milk powder
3 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 tbs butter, melted

In a medium bowl crush cornflakes to Rice Krispie size with a potato masher. Toss with pecans, milk powder, sugar, and salt. Add butter; toss to coat, creating small clusters.

On a Silpat-lined baking pan, spread clusters and bake at 275F for 20 minutes.

Cool completely.

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This is an old Mennonite recipe. Though I didn’t learn it from my Grandma Friesen, it still reminds me of her kitchen in Schoenfeld, Saskatchewan.

2 cups milk
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbs active dry yeast
1 tbs granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp kosher salt
4-5 cups flour
12 oz Farmers sausage (about 1 1/2 large)
Grease an 11 by 11 by 3-inch baking pan.
In a  small pot, scald milk by warming it over med-high heat until barely simmering. Allow to cool until it is warm but no longer hot (baby bottle temperature).
Meanwhile, proof yeast in water with sugar.
In a large bowl, beat eggs well. Stir in milk and yeast mixture.
Whisk salt into flour and add, one cup at a time into the wet mixture (whisking at first, then changing to a wooden spoon), until mixture is thick and slightly elastic. (It should be like a very heavy muffin batter, but not so thick or overworked that it becomes a dough).
Chop sausage into bite-sized pieces. Fold into batter.
Scrape batter into prepared pan, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours, until nearly doubled.
Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

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2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup arborio rice
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup whipping cream
 

In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan combine milk, rice, and salt. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula.

Reduce heat and simmer until the rice is tender (about 25 minutes), stirring frequently.

When the rice is tender (al dente), add the sugar and cinnamon. Cook another 5 to 10 minutes.

Combine cornstarch with whipping cream and add, stirring, into pudding. Cook until mixture thickens.

Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and raisins.

Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream.

To serve chilled, transfer pudding to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

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