Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Christmas Eve was our main family celebration this year, with Alex and Penny joining Rob and me at the table set with our best china and crystal. I wrapped ornaments at the place settings, so Alex and Penny would have them as momentoes for their own tree. Then we opened our presents and listened to carols, with the cat jumping in and out of boxes and chasing the crumpled wrappings. Lots of laughter, and hugs.

This is the first year Alex hasn't been with us in the morning for a commotion of opening stockings. It's been a different kind of day, spent leisurely reading by the tree and hanging out with the cat as Rob makes scalloped potatoes for a traditional dinner at my brother Dave's.

Festivities continue the next night at Brenda's.

It really is a most wonderful time of the year. Good food with friends and family. Sparkly light and long nights.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter Solstice 2016 - Whisky tasting

It is becoming a tradition to celebrate the longest night of the year with good friends and fine spirits. This year Whisky was the theme.

Whisky was given its name from the Gaelic beverage “uiscebeatha”, which translates to “water of life,” and moderate use of whisky is said to bring many benefits to the human metabolism.

We started with a lesson from Scotsman Richard Paterson on how to taste whisky. He demonstrates how to hold the glass and then how to nose the whiskey. The first greeting, "Hello" the second, "How are you", "Quite well" and then, "Thank you very much."  Don't smell too aggressively, don't rush, and enjoy the aromas that emerge after each approach. Peppery? Citrusy? When it is time to taste, add the amount of still water to suit your palate, take a drink and then pause to "chew" the whiskey in your mouth for 15-20 seconds to experience the body and taste.

Everyone brought a whisky and a thoughtful pairing to share and enjoy. We savoured
  • Highland Park, 12 year old scotch  from the Orkney Islands, served with oysters / Kaarina
  • Macallan, 12 year old scotch from the Highlands (Speyside), served with smoked trout and radish / Liz
  • Bowmore, 12 year old scotch, one of the Islays, served with duck pate and salmon / Grace
  • First Barrel, 2 year old straight whisky from a Toronto distillery (just released), served with a beautiful charcuterie assortment / Laura
  • Makers Mark, Kentucky Bourbon, aged around 6 years, served with pulled pork / Diane
  • Crown Royal, Apple Whisky, blended Canadian Whisky, served with apple cheddar / Nicolette
  • Crown Royal, Northern Harvest Rye, blended Canadian Whisky, served with dark chocolate / Diane

Ate a lot of delicious food, and discovered some wonderful pairings. Some of the most memorable were oysters with the Highland Park, the peaty taste becoming an undercurrent to the brine of the oyster. The duck pate with Bowmore was also outstanding, the notes of honey in the scotch complementing the savoury duck pate. Chocolate and Crown Royal were a satisfying end to the meal.
Some of the facts staying with me are: peat in the Orkney's is 4,000 years old; Mordecai Richler was paid a fee for product placement of Macallan in his novel Barney's Version; Bowmore is the same amber colour of Grace's violin; 2 years in a barrel yields an impatient whisky but the taste is enhanced by cheeses and meats; Maker's Mark whisky goes against the typical American spelling and omits the 'e' because its founders are Scottish; whisky really can smell like Royal Gala Apples; Northern Harvest Rye is a masterful blend.I found to be a great source of information, but my favourite was the Richard Paterson You Tube channel. Both were fantastic because they made the subject entertaining, approachable and informative.

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” Raymond Chandler

“I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already.” Tommy Cooper

Humphrey Bogart’s last words were, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.” James Joyce

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Long Nights Moon - December Full Moon

This month's full moon is the brightest and highest of the year.

December 13, the moon is full at 7:05 pm. Known as the Cold Moon, Frosty Moon and Long Nights Moon.

The last full moon of 2016.

The third Supermoon in a row! Those astronomers have done a good job marketing the Supermoon phenomena, however if something occurs three or four times a year, it seems a bit of hyperbole.

A glorious reflection on sparkling snow.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Slow comfort food

This month the weather hasn't been very cold, but the nights are getting longer, and it seems to trigger an instinct to sleep and eat more. Pots simmered on the stove with chile, spaghetti sauces, broths, and soups to satisfy my cravings for comfort food.

I tried several new recipes and added to my repertoire. Favourites were:

  • Lupini Beans
  • Samosas
  • Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup
  • Asian Short Ribs
  • Pulled Pork

There are a few things I notice about the list: it's full of food that takes hours, and in one case several days, to prepare; it's international, with recipes from Italy, India, Asia, French Canada, and the Southern States; and four out of five recipes came from the internet - even though I have a cupboard full of cook books.

Here are the recipes:

Lupini Beans

I had a craving for white bean soup so grabbed some dried beans from the cupboard, prepped them in the pressure cooker, and then went to look for a recipe using lupini beans. Turns out you need to soak the beans for 5-9 DAYS to make them edible. Otherwise, they are actually toxic.

So every day for nine days, I changed the water in the morning and evening. On Day 5, I took a nibble and the bean was still bitter. On Day 8 they were great. Nice and firm and meaty. The shell around the bean is fairly tough so must be removed before eating, but it can be fun it you eat them as a snack and squeeze the bean out of the shell.

One of the ways to serve these beans turns out to be an Italian Christmas tradition, drizzling oil on top and serving with olives.


This month I also (successfully) made samosas  (by hand!).  Which also meant making pie dough. I'm not a baker so was pleasantly surprised that it really wasn't too difficult to make a pie crust, it took about a half an hour. I think if I were to do it again I'd be a lot quicker.

As for cutting and rolling the samosas there are lots of methods, but I chose the one from Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked by Raghavan Iyer. (I had to take the photo on the left as there were no google results displaying a better pic). This seemed the easiest and most straightforward approach from the ones I saw online.

After finishing making the dough, you roll out one big log and then divide it into eight smaller balls, and then flatten each ball into a disc. Since I wasn't making the samosa right away, I wrapped the discs in plastic and placed them in the fridge until the next day. Then I formed each disc into a ball again, rolled the balls into a circle, cut the circles in half, curled the circle into a cone, stuffed it, and wet the dough at the top to seal the edge tightly closed.

The sweet potato filling wasn't to everyone's taste (Penny and I loved it, Rob and Alex not so much). But the dough was a hit.

Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup

We were out at St. Lawrence Market, and one of the butchers had big bags of beef bones on the counter selling for $2. Perfect for beef stock. When he mentioned smoked pork ham hocks, I couldn't resist.

That same afternoon I had two big pots bubbling on the stove. One full of beef stock that would take ten hours to simmer.  The other a French Canadian classic that would simmer just 3 1/2 hours. I found the  five-star favourite for the yellow split pea soup on All Recipes.

Asian Short Ribs

Alex and Penny were entertaining and asked me for a recipe for ribs I'd made in the slow cooker four weeks earlier. I was flattered, but unfortunately couldn't recall making them whatsoever. I even checked my browsing history but it didn't go back quite far enough. It wasn't until Alex reminded me I'd served them with rice and orange slices, that I remembered SHORT ribs, and easily found the recipe.

Yes, it was tasty! And extremely simple.  From Dam Delicious.


  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • 5 pound bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes, if using.
  2. Place short ribs into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in soy sauce mixture until well combined.
  3. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours.*
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Stir in mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and sesame seeds, if desired.

Pulled Pork

The slow cooker was also put to work to prepare delicious pulled pork for Rob's & Alex' reverso 26-62 birthday party. That recipe, I did bookmark, along with the spicy coleslaw that was a perfect match. I followed the instructions, but then added a splash of bourbon for some extra zing. I'll be making this one again - and soon, for an upcoming whiskey tasting.

(Serves 12)
1 4 lb(s) boneless pork shoulder
1 big splash vegetable oil
1 5 ½ oz can tomato paste
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup yellow mustard
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
2 Tbsp cumin powder
½ cup chili powder
2 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
soft sandwich buns for everyone
Spicy Coleslaw
1. Place a heavy Dutch oven or large stew pot over medium-high heat and splash in enough oil to swirl and coat the bottom with a thin film. Carefully add the pork roast to the hot oil and commence Operation Browning. Continue, turning the works as needed until the meat is evenly browned on all sides. Be patient! This is the only opportunity you’ll have to add the rich flavours of browned meat to the dish before the coming liquids are added and lower the temperature.
2. When the roast is evenly browned transfer it to a slow cooker. Stir together the tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, mustard, chipotle pepper, cumin, chili powder and oregano, add a cup or so of water to help evenly dissolve and distribute the flavours. Pour over the pork. Cook for 6 or 8 hours or longer as needed depending on your slow cooker settings. Reverently return, carefully remove the top and behold your achievement!
3. Using a pair of tongs remove the bones and cartilage. With a pair of forks or tongs shred and pull the remaining meat and stir together with the broth. You have a lot of food. Enough to divide into two different meals. Here’s how. Remove and reserve half the proceeds for another meal then make tonight’s dinner with the remaining goodness in the pot.

Craft and build your sandwiches by piling the pulled pork on the soft buns and topping with lots of Spicy Coleslaw. Serve and share!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, by Beryl Bainbridge, is one of the best stories I've read in awhile. The characters don't say much, but their loneliness and fears and pettiness were fascinations that drew me right into their lives. These are grim times. England, during the Second World War, where so much is scarce. Men at war, food rationed, materials hard to come by, daily pleasures a distant hope. The book itself is pretty spare, less than 200 pages, with events taking such a sudden turn at the end I had to go back and re-read the passage more than twice to confirm the twist.

This was Virginia's pick for bookclub and I was surprised when a few people vehemently disliked the novel. Such a brilliant story, such neurotic and pathetic characters, subversive humour, rich metaphor. Oh well, no accounting for taste.

One area our tastes did agree, was the deliciousness of the lasagna. So good we asked for the recipe.


meat sauce
Freezes well. To turn it into a Bolognese sauce, add 1/2 milk or cream along with the wine and stock.

1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of chopped pancetta
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 lb (500 grams) ground veal
1 lb (500 grams) ground pork
salt and pepper
1/2 cup of white wine
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoon of tomato paste
2 28 oz cans of tomatoes, drained and chopped

HEAT oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the pancetta, and saute for one minute, until it is beginning to soften. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook gently for 15 minutes until vegetables are very soft and beginning to brown.

STIR in garlic and parsley and cook for three minutes. Increase heat to medium high. Add veal and pork, stirring to break up clumps of meat. Saute until meat loses its pinkness, about 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

ADD wine and cook until it has mostly evaporated and mixture is juicy, about 4 minutes. Stir in stock, tomato paste and tomatoes.. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for one hour.

UNCOVER and cook for 30 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

14 lasagna noodles
6 cups of bechamel sauce
8 cups meat sauce
2 cups parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp butter

- Boil lasagna noodles (aboout ten minutes) 10 minutes, then put in a single layer on a tea towel or parchment paper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Spread a thin layer of the bechamel sauce on the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan, set a layer of noodles and then cover with 1/3 of the bechamel sauce and half of the meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of parmesan.
- Repeat. Layering once, finishing with the meat sauce and 1/2 cup of parmesan. Dot with butter.
- Bake 45 minutes in oven until a crust forms and sauce is bubbling. Cover with foil the last 10 minutes if crust is getting too dark.