Category — Food

On Beauty 0

October 19, 2017

 

 

From where I’m sitting, October just got serious. Waves of storm fronts are sweeping down from the Gulf of Alaska and the puddles are toddler-splash-worthy on the driveway.  But the sudden shift to dark, wet, autumn weather feels a little harder to take this time. I’m not talking about the seasonal shift from summer to fall I went on about before. Apple cake fixed that right up.

I’m talking about this new, deeper, more inward shift, one that still happens every year with the rains, but feels…less stitched with hope now. Yesterday we learned that a Canadian music and culture icon died. Women everywhere are having to be brave in ways that make my heart ache. Environmental destruction seems to be so ever-present that it keeps jumping up the list of chronic stressors. I won’t go on.

I found myself staring at a spear of kale this morning. It was about to be chopped up for a soup, but the onion I’d diced had left its noxious fumes in the air and my eyes were watering, so I left the kitchen with the kale leaf in one hand and blinked away the sting by the feeble grey light of the back door.

This leaf. Dinosaur kale. Lacinato. Brassica oleracea sabellica.  Tall with a slightly sad tilt to the top. Rippling bubbles of chorophylled tissue. I held it up to the light. What a revelation, I thought. What a strange piece of matter this is.

How beautiful.

I wasn’t sure why. There was something about its absurdity, its prehistoric-ness, it’s unexpected tastiness, that made it striking. Which made me think: what is beauty? Yes, it’s personal, yes, it’s culturally seeded in us, yes, we are biologically drawn to it. But what if it’s something I never thought about before this moment with this piece of kale?

What if our perception of beauty is a kind of hope?

 

 

I thought about the reasons I found this stalk of a plant beautiful–this thing we’ve bred into existence. This leaf that looks diseased and genetically doomed. This combination of atoms from long ago stars that I will feed to my family later. There’s hope in all of that. A wish for the future.

Could that be part of why it’s beautiful to me? Its own improbable, magical existence?

Hope is something that’s been flagging in me lately. (See above non-inclusive list of this week’s terrible news.) The biggest hope machines I have are my kids, who haven’t yet learned to doubt or be cynical or let the world get them down. That’s part of their beauty too. So, hope makes me happier. It protects me from the darkness. When I think about how hope makes me feel–the warm upward tug of it in my body, it doesn’t feel very distinguishable from the experience of beauty. Maybe not at all. A field of red poppies. A puppy. A perfect story. A stack of pancakes. Beauty and hope. Hope and beauty. Maybe it’s better to talk about them both as part of the same thing. Maybe.

And the soup was delicious, by the way.

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Seasonal

A Brave Apple Cake 3

October 3, 2017

 

 

Early the other morning, Little E and The Tiger rushed into our room to report that one of the windows was broken. Broken? we asked. Yes, it’s all wet on the inside, maybe the inside-inside, they said.

 

Hmm.

 

So we dragged ourselves into the living room to find our picture window all fogged up. And it did look like it was on the inside-inside. For a moment DH and I wondered if the seal on the window had broken.  I felt a sleepy kind of pride that the kids might have got it right without any knowledge of window anatomy. So we sent Little e outside (no shoes necessary, she insisted) to check from that side, and when she couldn’t give us a satisfactory report (It still looks broken!), D went out (also barefooted) and jumped like a basketball player to reach the window with his finger.

 

Nope. Not broken. Just dewy on the outside. The outside-outside.

 

 

Just the undeniable start of autumn.

 

I have to admit I don’t love it. It’s not that it’s not gorgeous and colourful and full of a season’s worth of fruit and veggies. It’s that it’s not summer anymore. Okay, so maybe I should say, I don’t love the end of summer, and I blame autumn for it. There’s dew on the house and grass and car. It’s funny because once I get used to the idea of sweaters and cold mornings and darkness coming down swiftly after dinner, I’m alright. Autumn’s a great season, once it gets going (well, maybe until the endless rain hits…). But the start of it? Ugh, that’s tough for me. It feels a little broken on the inside-inside.

 

And what makes me feel a little less seasonally broken? Yup, baking.

 

 

I have a list of late summer/early autumn recipes I make just this time of year, and as you can probably guess by the huge number of seasonal delights on this site, those are where our hearts lie.

 

 

I’ve shamelessly tinkered with Deb Perelman’s awesome apple cake recipe because I can’t not tinker when I bake—it’s a compulsion. I used a mix of white, whole wheat and oat flour, added rolled oats, and in the one I made last week I used pecans instead of walnuts and it was GLORIOUS for all except Little e, who gives nuts a wide berth on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings and any other time when you start to think she’s reverted back to liking them. I also bake the cake in a rectangular pan, not a tube pan, which the recipe calls for. It wasn’t on purpose. I just cannot find my tube pan.

 

 

Apple Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe

 

6 apples (I used macs from our tree), peeled and chopped into small bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp cinnamon

3 tbsp brown or granulated sugar

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup oat flour

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup rolled oats

1 ½ tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup orange juice or buttermilk

2 1/2 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans

 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a tube pan like Deb does, or a rectangular cake pan like I do. Toss the apples with the cinnamon and 3 tablespoons sugar and set this bowl aside. Combine the flours, baking powder, oats and salt together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl or jug, whisk together oil, juice or buttermilk, remaining sugar, vanilla and eggs. Stir wet ingredients into dry, and then fold in the nuts.

 

Pour the batter into the cake pan and top with the apples, pressing them down into the batter so it rises up a little around them. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, but do take it out when the toothpick tester is just a little damp with cake–otherwise it may be too dry when it cools. Let it cool completely in the pan and then cut into squares (I keep mine in the pan and serve from there).

 

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Includes a recipe!, Kids and Parenting, Seasonal

Baby’s First Roux 2

September 7, 2017

 

 

This is what happens when you brazenly bake and cook and concoct and discuss food around your children: they become mini foodies. They ask to take cooking classes. They announce plans to become bakers when they grow up. They want to create masterpieces in the kitchen using only water, Cheerios, salt and herbs snipped from the garden.  (I had to taste that one.)

Lately Little e’s been asking to bake things, by which she means stir some ingredients in a bowl and see what happens in the microwave. There’s been a lot of congealing and rubberiness. She’s been delighted.

 

 

So the other day I decided, when asked the same old question–can I bake something today?–to try to slot in a cooking lesson (disguised as fun, of course).

I told her we’d make a white pudding. That sounded AMAZING to her, so off we went…to make a roux.

I know one of the things she likes about cooking–that we all like, I imagine–is the magic, the alchemy of it. We take separate substances and combine them, heat them, change their structure or size, and–abracadabra!–we have a whole new substance. A combination that’s more than the sum of its parts and is, hopefully, tasty.

 

 

I never think about this anymore. I’ve made too many hundreds of dinners, lunches, cakes and puddings to think about what’s actually going on. There’s an end result to get to (before everyone gets hangry). But cooking with kids slows you down, brings you into the moment.

We forget all that we know. All that we take for granted. Butter and flour, heated together into a paste, then slurried with milk? Yeah, that’s a roux, but look what happens! The hot butter cooks the flour, coats it with fat, so that when you add the milk, the flour expands and thickens the liquid evenly, into a smooth sauce. Or in our case, with less milk, a thick pudding. It IS magic. This is wheat and animal fats combining in a way never found in nature. Some ancient human alchemist-cook stumbled upon this strange bit of edible science and we’ve been making it ever since. It’s miraculous, and to my five-year-old, it’s that and more. It’s a symbol of all that she gets to discover, these small and bright secrets of the world.

A tadpole becomes a frog, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, teeth sprout from the smooth, pink gums of a baby. These are some of the things she’s witnessed, and now she’s seen how flour and fat can thicken into something delicious. She knows how to make a roux.

And eat it like pudding.

 

 

What recipes do (or did) your kids like to make?

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting

Chocolate…Spheres… 2

August 10, 2017

Have you noticed the proliferation of balls these days? (Ahem.)

Coconut bliss balls, pineapple balls, power balls. All these things are rolled into spheres and exude health and trendy seeds–and every time I pass by a counter with things on a square plate labeled ‘balls’, my mind goes immediately into the gutter. Yes. Sorry. I can’t help it.

 

 

Perhaps you are familiar with (or have been happy to forget) the South Park ditty of yore that did a lot to cement this toilet-thought tic of mine? If not, you may look it up. Or you may not. I won’t offer any more info. Regardless, I find I am now quite unable to keep a straight face when describing a rolled, sticky confection of dried fruits, nuts and other usually-wholesome ingredients. I just couldn’t title this post chocolate balls.

I’m a odd human, I know.

 

 

BUT! These…spheres…are very delicious! You should make them. Let’s now talk about how righteous they are with toasted walnut, deep cocoa, just enough maple syrup to keep them from being savoury and enough chew to satisfy the biggest chocolate fudge craving. They’re easy to put together and even easier to devour. If you’ve read this far, thank you for humouring me and my silliness, and please, go get yourself set up in the kitchen with these ingredients. Chocolate balls await.

!!!

 

 

Chocolate-Walnut Spheres

 

Ingredients

1 cup coconut flakes (medium length, unsulfured is best)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

8 dried dates, pitted and chopped

1/3 cup cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup almond butter (or cashew, or hazelnut…)

1 tbsp psyllium husk (or sub wheat germ)

3 tbsp maple syrup (a little more if you like it sweeter)

large pinch salt

 

Spread a piece of waxed paper over a cookie sheet.

Toast the walnut pieces over low heat in a dry pan, being careful not to burn them. Let them cool to room temperature before using, or they’ll make the mixture much stickier. Put the coconut and the chopped dates into the bowl of a food processor and run it for 5 to 10 seconds, scraping sides, then running again for 5 seconds. Add cocoa and walnuts and pulse to chop the nuts. Add remaining ingredients, including walnuts, and pulse several times, until the mixture gets sticky and pulls into a ball. It’ll be very soft, but still rollable.

Using your palms, roll walnut-sized balls of dough until smooth and round, and place on the cookie sheet. You should be able to make about 16 at this size. Chill in the fridge to set. To store, separate layers of the spheres with wax paper in an air-tight container in the fridge.

 

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Includes a recipe!

The scales, the number and me. 13

August 2, 2017

Today I threw out my scales. Actually, I put them in the garage; more on that later. At any rate they are hereby banished.

 

 

As a kid there were always scales in our bathroom. Slid away somewhere but easy to get to. I don’t remember when I first became interested in the scales or when they become more than some strange device that gave a number – no more meaningful than a Magic 8 ball or one of those folded paper fortune tellers. Some time around the beginning of high school, I think. Then, all of a sudden the scales seemed to hold a lot more weight (pun intended). Firmly entrenched in a system of measures to evidence worthiness – A’s and B’s, percentages assigned to various projects – school, I’m talking about here – I discovered that the scales gave a single, golden measure. One number to indicate real success! Success that all other successes – popularity, self-control, an elegant, easy, fortune-favoured life – were founded on. The Ultimate. One perfect number.

 

Or, as it turned out, a perpetually imperfect number.

 

After high school I moved around a lot. Australia, England, China, Canada. Always, when I was back home, I stepped on the scales and checked my number. My personal number fell within a pretty broad range. If I clocked in at the bottom of that range then I was momentarily elated, at the top and I was mortified, my self-esteem shoved through a paper shredder. And somehow, even when my number was low, my inner dial always swung quickly back to shame. I didn’t trust myself to get or stay light. When I was, temporarily, light, I was never light enough.

 

Eventually, after all my travelling, I headed back to New Zealand, a fully fledged “grown up”. In my packing boxes I brought home with me many health and wellness (let’s be honest, even though they weren’t, diet) books, charts and diaries in which I had tracked my weight and my very own set of scales, the ones now banished. I bought my scales at Ikea. Because there is no Ikea in New Zealand products from Ikea are endowed with an odd kind of mystique. They are thought of as sleek, uber-functional and exotic. Superior. Exactly the kind of kudos I gave the scales themselves. When I moved into my first home, now married and with two daughters of my own, I slid the scales under my own bathroom cabinet. Then I watched as my daughters slid them back out again and stood on them and asked “What does the number mean, Mummy?”

 

 

What does the number mean? When I was pregnant with my first child, in Vancouver, my midwives weighed me at each visit. It made me skittery and nauseous to be measured in front of others, to watch them record my failing score. When they asked me about my mental health I confessed the ways I’d tried to control my number over the years. They asked if I preferred not to be weighed. I was flummoxed. Not weighing me, was that an option? How would they know if I was doing well? If I was “winning”? If I was doing good by my baby? They shrugged and replied that there were many, many other indicators for Mum and baby’s good health, all of them much better than a number on a scale. Really? There are better numbers?

 

What does the number mean? I’ll tell you what I’ve learnt. I have two photos on my kitchen wall – I weigh a lot more in one but in both I have exactly the same expression. When I look at those photos I know that having a low number on the scales has not led to a long-term, sustainable improvement in my happiness. I’m no more “successful” in one photo, at one weight, than I am in the other. I got a bit more social kudos at a lower weight, perhaps, but there weren’t any ticker tape parades. When I weighed less I felt no less lonely when I was feeling lonely. I felt no less sad when I was feeling sad. When I was convinced of my unworthiness my number did not pass me a glass of champagne and fill the empty hole in my soul; I just felt unworthy. The magical number made no real, sustainable difference whatsoever. It didn’t “fix” me, it didn’t make my life better or transform me into a better person. It didn’t change me and it certainly didn’t change the world. The number wasn’t magic at all.

 

 

But over my adult life, I have given the number a monumental amount of importance. I allowed the number to be the most important goal. I did a lot of very unhealthy, damaging things to affect the number and allowed myself to become consumed by my consumption. My life, my mind, was shaped by my shape. I had the worst thoughts about myself and spent days, months, probably years if I added it all up, flagellating myself about the number. In that time I could have learned a language! Written a novel! Learned a language and written a novel! And no matter what I did or thought the number did not stay the same, it was never small enough and it changed nothing, nada. It never made me supremely happy, whole or complete.

 

Faced with the choice of continuing an obsession with a number on a scale, and all the associated shame and frustration that has brought me, or discontinuing the obsession – I am finally choosing to ditch the scales. I’m going to be honest here, this is somewhat terrifying. Think of an object that represents something really important, something you really value – your wedding rings, your baby’s first booties, your University degree, a note from a grandparent, and now, imagine chucking that object out. Does your stomach sink? Do you feel a bit sick? That’s how I feel. Horribly, irrationally, terrified. And, at the same time, I know it’s the right thing to do. I know that number-checking and number-chasing and number-idolizing is pointless and fruitless. It’s a brutal, unhappy waste of my time. I have over twenty years of personal evidence.

 

Ditching the scales is just the beginning of a new chapter for me. I don’t know what life is going to be like when I am no longer checking my number; when my number just is what it is and I don’t even know what it is. When I am learning to give up trying to change my number. The few days before I banished my scales, knowing that I was going to, I suddenly started checking my number several times a day. Like a weird, grieving person, very afraid to let go. But let go, I did.

 

As for why my scales are in garage and not in the bin? Partly, I’m scared. Partly, I could come up with only one good reason for keeping them, one worthy circumstance for checking the number and that is: suitcases. The only number I want to monitor with my scales is the weight in my cases, the excess in my luggage. When I’m spending my precious time adventuring the planet. With precious daughters who know only dust beneath the bathroom cabinet.

 

At least that’s the plan. Wish me luck.

 

Hugs,

Hannah

x

In: Food, From Hannah, Kids and Parenting