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Archive for August, 2013

august1.foodpic.darcieIt wasn’t an easy decision when Sam and Ellie decided, along with Sam’s mother, that the best thing for all of them would be to buy a house with a granny flat.

Sam and Ellie had lived with family before, and it had left everyone involved with lingering resentments that they tried to cover up with pie and ice cream and careful skirting around topics that caused tension.

Esther was happy with her apartment, though.

After a long search, the house they found had a basement walk-out that was flooded in the mornings with sunlight and, if she stepped out onto her patio, right to where it met the grass, and leaned to the south, there was a view that couldn’t be beat.

Upstairs, Ellie was nervous about dinner.

On the day they’d all signed the legal documents, they’d agreed, as a family, that Wednesdays would be family dinner night. One night of the week when they’d plan a menu, divide it between them, then enjoy each other’s company around the table that had been an antique when Esther received it for her wedding 40 years earlier, and now occupied Ellie’s dining room.

This week, while Esther  had offered to make a roast beef dinner, complete with Yorkshire puddings, Ellie had wanted to do something special that both showed her mother-in-law that she was glad they lived so close now (because she wasn’t yet sure she was glad), and that built a bridge that would bring them together. Bridges could be built with food, she was sure of it. The Food Network and a hundred glossy magazines told her it was so.

And so, Ellie insisted that on this first family dinner night, she wanted to do everything. Just this time. Perhaps, she’d said, Esther could bring some veggies and dip to start things off.

Esther didn’t want to say anything. Certainly not that her feelings were hurt by being left in the produce aisle. And not that she thought Ellie had bitten off more than she could chew.

Over the decades, Esther had probably prepared a thousand family dinners, often for several dozens of people. And the one thing she knew for certain was that timing a dinner is something easier done when done together.

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, when the Farmer’s Market opened, Esther quietly drove herself down the hill from their house, parked in the grassy lot next to all the tents, and spend a good two hours buying things she’d never known existed.

In her mesh handbag she had some fresh dill and parsley for her dip, along with a purple cauliflower, yellow baby carrots, and zucchini the size of her fingers. She stopped to eat a tray of little doughnuts, which she vowed to try making at home one day, then went on to stop at the grocery for a carton of sour cream.

Back at home, Ellie’s plans to shop after work, come home, and make a stuffed trout with steamed baby carrots, and creamy bruleed custards for dessert, had come as far as discovering that she should have unpacked her kitchen, and should have asked for a deboned fish with no scales.

Ellie didn’t even like fish. But she was a good cook. She’d just never had the chance to prove it to Esther.

When Ester came upstairs with her veggies, neatly cup up and arranged around a bowl of dip, she found Ellie scraping against the grain of a fish with a butter knife, sending silvery scales flying into her hair.

“Can I help?” Esther asked.

For a moment, Ellie stood frozen, hoping it would render her invisible.

And then, both women began to laugh. Just a little. It wasn’t exactly a bridge. But maybe a footing.

“You can learn new recipes from a magazine,” Esther said as Ellie tore out a recipe for homemade relish, which Esther set aside without reading. “But they cannot tell you how to cook. For that you need someone to teach.”

Ellie took a deep breath, and left the footing where it was.

Fresh Dill Dip          

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced

1 Tbs shallot, minced
4 Tbs fresh, finely chopped, dill weed
1 Tbs fresh, finely chopped, parsley leaves

flaked Kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

In a medium bowl, beat together mayonnaise and sour cream with a rubber spatula until combines. Gently fold in garlic and shallot, dill and parsley. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour  to let flavours develop. Adjust seasoning.

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Summer Salad Worth a Thousand Words

july26.foodpic.darcieSetting down the notebook where I stash ideas throughout the days, I sit at my laptop and begin to stir together thoughts about summer.

There was the day of walking around downtown that turned my black-and-hot-pink flip flops into flop flops. There was my certainty, after pulling into a parking spot at a favourite restaurant, and stepping out into a crunch of sunflower seed husks, that holidayers from Saskatchewan must have been there first.

And then POOF! I can’t think of anything.

I don’t know much about my new neighbours. Only that they replaced the old neighbours, with the ceaselessly barking dog.

I know they have eclectic taste in music (anything from reggae to dance to metal to folk). I know they bought new speakers when they moved it. And I know they’ll be considerate and turn them down if I let them know I’m home and bothered.

I am both.

Today it’s dance music. Muffled by the drywall.

But what I want is to hear the birds. Wind chimes tinkling in the warm breeze. The afternoon’s sun showers. I want to hear the quiet, which is exactly what I was listening to before the music.

I send a polite text, and minutes later, the music withdraws back into the wall, and try to find where I left off.

Summer. Heat haze. The swaths of waist-high lavender mounds that make our home and environs look and smell like a Provencal garden. The nodding hydrangea, and day lilies that are true to their name, unfurling creamy morning blossoms that, in the evening are half composted on the stalk, dying so completely on cue that they could never be called day-and-a-half lilies or anything but their true name.

At the hummingbird feeder, which I’ve lately moved my desk to see as I work, this year’s hatchlings sit and sip, blissful and ignorant of the aerial skirmishes being fought out by parent birds trying to claim the entire replenishing litre of sugar syrup for themselves.

Under physiotherapist orders not to spend more than 20 minutes at a time at my desk, I turn off the fifth such timer of the day and set my laptop to sleep. I leave the house, realizing at once that I’ve chosen to mosey out for a green tea lemonade during the afternoon’s hottest hours, which people in cleverer climates have set aside for siesta.

At a busy intersection, a young woman, impeccably dressed and wearing 3-inch stiletto heels and no helmet rides her bike against traffic.

I order my iced tea, turn towards home, and am soon waving my hands through the lavender, stopping to admire local honeybees that have thoroughly pollinated these mounds.

On the lane, I see our neighbour, smile in greeting, then step through my door to find a house that smells of tomatoes basting in hot oil, and Chefhusband putting together a salad with bowtie noodles, goat cheese and ribbons of baby zucchini. A dish and a picture as close to the feeling I was trying to shape as the words I was using to shape it.

Summer Salad with Pasta and Confit Tomatoes

1/2 lb Farfalle (bowtie) pasta, cooked tender

1 baby zucchini, sliced into ribbons with a carrot peeler

1 stalk green onion, very thinly sliced on an angle

3-4 tufts parsley, torn off stalks, finely chopped

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, sliced

1/2 cup favourite black olives, sliced

1 recipe confit tomatoes (follows)

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 – 113g package goat cheese

flaked kosher salt/fresh ground pepper

In a large bowl, toss together first 6 ingredients. With a fork, remove confit tomatoes from oil and add them to the other ingredients, allowing the oil clinging to the tomatoes to become part of the dressing. Add white wine vinegar and toss until coated, adding more of the tomato oil as needed. Season with salt and pepper.

Reserve goat cheese until plating, then crumble desired amount over each serving.

Confit Tomatoes

10 small Roma tomatoes, quartered, seeds removed

1 shallot, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

olive oil

flaked kosher salt/fresh ground pepper

Place tomato, shallot and garlic into a small, shallow baking dish. Cover with olive oil. Season with several pinches of salt and 10 turns of the pepper mill.

Cover with foil and place into a 275F oven (toaster ovens are perfect for this) for 45 minutes.  Allow to cool.

*Note: Reserve tomato oil for use in other salads or bread dips.

Darcie Friesen Hossack: food columnist, author

Mennonites Don’t Dance, Thistledown Press Sept. 2010

shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize (first book, Canada and Caribbean)

Danuta Gleed Award runner-up

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