Bee-ing healthy again — Bee Pollen Oat Squares

Well, the airplanes breaking the sound barrier over my house right now tell me that it’s back-to-school time once again. You see, for two weeks each year, Toronto hosts the “Canadian National Exhibition,” also called “The Ex” or the CNE. Closing weekend for the Ex (Labour Day weekend) always includes an air show, so since we live close enough we don’t even have to pay to enjoy it. Fighter jets are cool. As long as you’re not in a war zone, I guess. Or drunk and aggressive on an airplane, as two ladylike women were when they attempted to go to Cuba earlier this week. (there but for the grace of God … ha! Kidding. Fortunately I’ve never been THAT drunk and disorderly.)

But back to the Ex. Some people love it, like me, while others aren’t such big fans. My husband, for example, is always quite happy to see me take the kids on my own. For some reason, the Ex tends to attract a high percentage of people who think that the mullet is a slammin haircut. That front teeth are optional. That the present tense of “to have” is “gots.” That the top of a thong should be flaunted as an alluring fashion accessory. That working from the McDonald’s office (for the WIFI) is appropriate.

Thanks Burger Nerd!http://www.theburgernerd.com/funny-fast-food-pics/

Thanks Burger Nerd!http://www.theburgernerd.com/funny-fast-food-pics/

While I seem to be kindred spirits with these Ex-loving people, my husband is happier to stay home and sip champagne from his Manolo Blahniks. But he’s missing out. Where else would you ever find, all in the same place…

A butter sculpture of Jabba the Hutt

A butter sculpture of Jabba the Hutt

Harrison Ford, still trapped in his metal (the actual prop!)

Harrison Ford, still trapped in his metal (the actual prop!)

A global marketplace of junk from far and wide

A global marketplace of junk from far and wide

And of course, rides, every kind of junk food you could imagine, and farm exhibits.

Tractor riding

And the farm exhibits include the animals themselves. Which brings me to bees.

Thanks aszichild.com

Thanks aszichild.com

Every year I stop by the bee section of the Ex, try to find the queen bee in the live hive they have going, and then pick up some wildflower honey. But this year I grabbed something different. I had just read an article about the benefits of eating bee pollen, so I decided to make it my next dangerous food.

Bee pollen

Apparently it fights respiratory ailments and boosts the immune system, and with a daughter who goes down hard with asthma each September when she returns to her petri dish aka educational institution, I thought that spiking her food with a bit of pollen couldn’t hurt. It also reduces histamine reactions for allergies, and my daughter is a peanut-allergic kid too. Sounded like this might be the miracle cure she needed in her life! (Except for the fertility boosting part, which, let’s hope and pray, her little 7-year-old self could do without for quite some time.)

I decided to meld my bee-utiful experimentation with another back-to-school resolution I have, which is to feed my kids something other than hotdogs or pasta with butter. They have become tough customers over the past few months, and my parenting perseverance has been on vacation too, which doesn’t help the asthma or allergic situation. So here are my…

Putting foot down healthy back-to-school oat quinoa bars, complete with superhero immuno-boosting bee pollen punch-in-the-face

(Based on Lyndsay’s Quinoa Breakfast Bars from the Lean Green Bean, with my nut-free, buzzy bee, and sweet tooth modifications)

  • 1 c whole wheat flour (or chickpea flour to make GF)
  • 2 c cooked quinoa (starting with 1C raw quinoa should be more than enough)
  • 2 c oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ⅔ c Wow Butter
  • ½ c honey
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ c rotten bananas (you know it’s true)
  • 2 Tbsp bee pollen
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • ⅔ c craisins
  • sprinkling of brown sugar for the topping, because a spoonful of sugar helps the quinoa go down

Directions: Preheat to 375. Combine bananas, eggs, Wow Butter, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, and bee pollen.

Bee pollen bars

Add other ingredients and press into a greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar, because if your kids are going through summer candy-floss withdrawal like mine they’ll need to detox slowly. Bake for about 20 minutes, until top is golden-brown.

Quinoa oat bars

Results: 

Quinoa bars

This recipe tastes quite healthy, so my kids did not beg for it. But it is highly guilt-free, and I ate a mess of it. If your kids are more tolerant than mine they’ll love it to death. And I’m going to gobble some right this minute — it’s filling, yet nutritious. Soft rather than crunchy. I’d call its sweetness half-way between a bread and a cookie-bar. Next time I might have to give my kids some added motivation with some maple-syrup dipping sauce. What can I say, I’m whipped. Rating: 3 Yums  The CNE would never sell these bars because they’re too healthy, but brawny men with bee-beards and manly F16 fighter pilots will gots to have them.

A knack for sumac

After a family day of skiing and lazing around at the cottage, my family members had built up quite a thirst.

Waterskiing

(That’s my little guy who’s only four. His board-sport loving dad is overjoyed to see him on skis this year)

Skiing

Cousins

We were out of juice, so I knew that anything with sugar would go over well with the kids. I also knew that anything with vodka would go over well with the dads (skiing was done — water on the water, beer on the pier…).

It was the perfect time to experiment on them … I mean … quench their thirsts … with my sumac juice.

Sumac IMG_6813

As has happened previously on this blog, I was hopeful that I wouldn’t poison anybody. I bought the sumac seeds in the pictures above from my favourite forager-guy at the farmer’s market (he’s hooked me up with lobster mushrooms, spruce tips, and reindeer moss before) and when I did, I asked him why I wouldn’t just pick some from the roadside myself instead of paying him $5, because sumac is all over the place right now. He looked at me and said in a Vincent Price voice, “Well, you could get some yourself, but you would have to make sure you didn’t choose the poisonous variety.” Then he gave me lots of tips about how to tell the difference, but I tuned him out because I had already decided in my head, “Well since you know the difference, if this turns out to be delicious, I’m just going to continue to pay you to keep us all out of hospital.”

I think forager-guy must have known that warning me against the poison variety was securing our continued business relationship (and I admire his corporate-esque protectionism, I must say) because when I got home and read about how to tell the difference between poison sumac and regular, I learned that it’s actually quite easy. Poison sumac is very rare, and the berries look like berries rather than fuzzy fluffy puffs. Poison sumac only grows in very wet areas, and has smooth leaves. The safe stuff’s leaves are usually jagged and it grows all over the place. I was feeling confident enough to go grab some more for myself if I should need it — until I saw this picture of a poison sumac reaction

Thanks poison-sumac.org

Thanks poison-sumac.org

(Do I know how to run an appetizing food blog or what?)

And if you’re getting rid of poison sumac from your property, you never want to burn it because the fumes could be fatal (I’m talkin’ to you here, gentleman homesteader).

I’m joking about staying away from the safe sumac though, actually, because I believe that the risk of finding the sketchy stuff is very low. And it turns out that sumac is a kind of superfood, being a strong antioxidant high in Omega 3s. Plus, the drinks were a hit with my family!

I kept the recipe very simple, pretty-much like a natural iced tea or lemonade, because I wanted to taste the sumac itself. Here’s what I did:

Spiked Sumac-ade

  • 1.5C sumac water (5 sumac buds with water in a 1L container for at least 4 hours on  the counter [longer in the fridge] smashed around with a spoon a few times, then strained)
  • 1C simple syrup (1/2C sugar boiled with 1/2C water, then cooled)
  • Soda water
  • Vodka (1 shot per glass)

Directions: Prepare your sumac water as above, like a cold tea. Not sure the marketers of my jar were intending their statement to mean what it does here, but it still works.

Sumac water IMG_6818

Prepare your simple syrup, and chill it. Make your cocktails by pouring the vodka for each glass over ice (or not) and filling each glass half-full of sweet sumac-ade. Fill the remainder of the glass with soda water.

Results

Sumac drinks IMG_6820

These were a hit with all the skiers, dads and kids alike. Next time I might add mint to make the drinks more mojito-like. As they were, they tasted fruity with a citrus-like tang. Don’t let the fear of boils and growths scare you off — impress your friends with a fancy-pants drink from your own backyard today. Rating: 3 yums

Chicken jellyfish slaw

Have you ever been overcome with jealousy while at the library? Happened to me just this week. I was sitting at a study table, innocently leafing through my gigantic dictionaries (copyediting course), when I looked across at the next table and saw a woman taking notes from this:

The food of Vietnam cookbook

A hugely gorgeous Vietnamese cookbook. I wasn’t even able to see any of the pages, but I just knew that that cookbook was chock full of deliciously dangerous recipes.

I completely forgot about copyediting and stared that woman down. I psychically (psycho-ly?) tried to connect with her mind, sending her this message: You will not sign out that cookbook and will leave it for me. That is my cookbook, woman! I repeated this message over and over again, and gave her the best stink-eye I could.

And it worked.

Vietnamese cookbook

I exercised my tired ol’ library card and lugged that monster book home (before I made my daughter lug it for the picture) and eagerly flipped through to find something with odd ingredients to cook, which is a different process from usual – generally I find the odd food first, and then figure out how to cook it. But my new process wasn’t disappointing except that I had to journey to a further grocery store to ensure I found my ingredient, which happened to be jellyfish…

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

…or “jellies,” as my very particular BC coastal friend calls them. He says that jellyfish is a misnomer. They’re not fish, he says. True. But the name “jellyfish,” is much more melodic and commonplace, in my opinion, so let’s just stick with popular opinion on this one. Sorry, Cam. I’m sure people listen to your other opinions. Like, if I was going to scale a tall building using only my fingers and toes, I’d totally call you.

I had tried jellyfish once before, and I’m not gonna lie, the experience was not a good one. It was probably ten years ago at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and it appeared as a side dish, almost in place of rice or noodles. I slurped them up, eager to try them, but … they sucked. They were extremely rubbery, greasy, and flavourless. But I had faith in my big fat book. When you catch someone going to the trouble of schlepping themselves to the library so that they can get a hand cramp writing out recipes, it’s a safe bet that they’re on to something.

And that woman was right! Thank goodness my mind meld with her was successful, or I would have continued to believe that jellyfish’s only usefulness is to lure a hot lifeguard to pee on your leg. (Not going to Google for an image of that, although I’ll bet it exists.)

Here’s what I did to prepare Nguyen’s recipe – slightly simpler than how he created it because I couldn’t find all herbs his called for.

Chicken Salad with Jellyfish (why he didn’t call it Jellyfish Slaw I don’t know)

  • 1 single chicken breast, skin removed
  • 500mL chicken stock
  • 2 handfuls salted jellyfish strips

Jellyfish strips

  • 1C finely shredded white cabbage
  • a healthy handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • 1tsp toasted rice powder (pan fry dry glutenous rice grains over med heat 15 mins, then grind w mortar and pestle)
  • 6 cloves garlic turned into chips (heat 1/2C olive oil, then add sliced garlic until browned)
  • 1Tbsp garlic oil (use olive oil from previous bullet point)
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 3 or more Tbsp Nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (3Tbsp fish sauce, 3Tbsp rice vinegar, 2Tbsp  sugar, 1tsp chili flakes, 2Tbsp lime juice)
  • small handful of lightly fried chives
  • top with peanuts (but we didn’t due to an allergy)

Directions: Boil chicken breast in chicken stock 15 minutes, then pull apart into strips and allow to cool. Use stock again another day. Rinse salt from jellyfish and then boil for 30 seconds. Soak in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients with drained jellyfish.

I served this dish to my camera-shy friend Krishna.

Kish

She’s a very dangerous eater – you may remember meeting her last time she was over, when I served her up some curried goat. Right now you’re thinking, “I’m kind of glad I don’t get invited to dinner parties at yours, Ann,” but honest, she likes trying my stuff. Plus we’ve been friends a long time, so I just threaten I’ll expose her dirt if she doesn’t eat and like what I make for her. That chick has a lot of dirt. (Like, under her fingernails. Okay, so that’s not even true either.)

Results:

Jellyfish salad

We ate the salad with a delectable pork moo shu lettuce wrap main – here’s a hot pic of the thinly sliced pork loin prior to cooking:

Pork loin

We nibbled directly from the bowls long after our first plates were clean. I even ate jellyfish slaw leftovers for lunch today, and it was just as good. My husband ate tons too, and he would have been the first one to say he was ordering pizza if it was blah.

And what did the jellyfish taste like? It was chewy for sure, but it didn’t taste fishy or have much flavour at all, really. My husband said that it took on the flavour of the sauce. I think the salad definitely would have been missing something if it had been cooked without the jellyfish. I’m going to call it an important textural assistant. Rating: 3 Yums. If you live near a coastline and a jellyfish stings you, make sure you teach it a lesson and throw it in a pot after the whole leg-peeing rigamarole.

Crazy for Cranberries

I may have mentioned that I enjoy food festivals. Now if you’re of the urban persuasion, you may be thinking I’m talking about a Food & Wine Expo. Or maybe the upcoming Yum Cha Dim Sum festival which I totally already have tickets for (and it’s NO KIDS, too. Don’t be jealous).

Obviously, I do love those metro foodie events. But I’m not talking about those things this time.

I’m actually talking about farming celebrations in honour of a small town crop specialty. You may remember when I wrote about green tomatoes that I have visited the Leamington tomato festival. I also used to go to the Winona Peach Festival. I don’t like to brag, but my cousin was a peach princess there. That makes me a peach cousin, I guess. Peach Duchess? You may now call me The Right Honourable Duchess of Peaches. Let them eat cobbler!

Anyway. My husband’s family cottage is near a town called Bala, which, by coincidence, is also where my Dad’s great-grandparents settled when they came to Canada. Bala is known for exactly three things:

1. A water ski show that happens every Monday all summer long.

Thanks summerwatersports.com

Thanks summerwatersports.com

2. The Kee To Bala – an old dance hall from 1930 that now attracts big bands. And not “big bands,” like it used to, but big names. Like Snoop Dog. Not sure what brought Snoop Lion to a town of a few hundred permanent residents, but I drank gin & juice with the best of them.

Thanks green autumn.ca

Thanks green autumn.ca

And 3., The Bala Cranberry Festival

Thanks balacranberryfestival.on.ca

Thanks balacranberryfestival.on.ca

It’s actually in October, so I’m either a little behind, or a little ahead with this post. Six months. Equidistant. So let’s go with ahead. But I saw fresh cranberries in the store the other day, and thought, “What exactly do people do with fresh cranberries?” And we all know that when I see a food and wonder “What the??? ” I have officially met my blog theme criteria.

So cranberries.

IMG_6294

They used to be harvested by hand, but that was labour intensive. Eventually, a lazy farmer got the bright idea to flood the fields because cranberries have a little pocket of air inside, so they float when they swim. Then the farmers use giant egg beaters to dislodge the berries, and they rock their hipwaiters to “corral,” them. You never knew such effort went into fighting your bladder infections, right?

I found this post about what to do with them, and chose the very first suggestion – I candied them! It is Easter weekend after all, and I thought our blood sugar wasn’t quite high enough. Cranberries might not be spring-ish, but salads sure are. I used to find that a winning salad had four things – bitey greens, nippy cheese, fresh fruit, and candied nuts. Now my daughter has a nut allergy, so this time I morphed the formula by swapping the nuts for seeds and candying the cranberries. Worked like a charm.

Spring Kale Salad with Candied Cranberries and Goat Cheese

  • Kale, hard spines removed, leaves chopped
  • Sprouts
  • Goat cheese
  • Candied cranberries
  • Green onions
  • Cucumber
  • Fresh, colourful cherry tomatoes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Honey Mustard Dressing: 3Tbsp olive oil, 1 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 1/2tsp honey

How to candy cranberries: Make simple syrup – boil 2C sugar with 2C water until sugar dissolves. Pierce cranberries and pop them into the syrup. Refrigerate for at least a few hours – overnight is suggested. Remove cranberries and roll them in fine sugar (I only had normal white sugar, and it worked AOK). Let them dry for a few hours on parchment or a silpat. Hang onto the pink simple syrup.

IMG_6309 IMG_6311

Results: Cracklin cranberries, this salad was great! I could see myself using candied cranberries for desserts, too, or candying other fruits for different purposes. Rating: 3 yums. Hey, and with the cranberry infused simple syrup, I made this!

IMG_6332

Cranberry gin fizz anyone? Cheers to spring!

When hemp gives you the munchies… Sweet chili lime shrimp salad

Apologies for not blogging for a while, friends! I don’t know what’s with me these days. My husband and I are nearing the end of Breaking Bad (the show, not any kind of illicit activities) so our evenings have been munched up by the TV more than usual.

But speaking of illicit activities and munching…

Hemp oil

 

How could I resist this dangerous food when I saw it in the grocery store the other week? Oh, the potential for blog jokes…

So here’s what you need to know. It’s green. In colour and nickname.

Green hemp oil

It needs to be refrigerated or it goes rancid easily. It smells and tastes quite like how the ganja smells, but without the same stink. Not that I would know what pot smells like, because whenever I smell it I run in the other direction of course. If you have never smelled it, I’d be willing to wager quite a bit of $ that you’ve never walked around Vancouver, but that might be slightly off-topic.

Back to what you need to know. It’s made from the hemp seeds of plants that have low THC (this puts the “wacky” in the “tobacky”), but the leaves can get mixed in here and there through processing, which does leave teensy residual bits of THC. In Canada, the concentration needs to be less than 10ppm for food and is usually around 4, but this varies by country. If you’ve hit this food blog by accident and tend to listen to a lot of Bob Marley or Snoop Dog, you might want to Google “hash oil,” which is made from mature leaves and flowers. There are probably recipes you could apply there too – maybe I’ll do a baking post on that subject when Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister and laws here have changed slightly.   I predict a giveaway? Hmmmm…

But more about what you need to know. You don’t want to heat it if you can help it, because it has a low smoke point, which means that the oil begins to break down and stop being good for you (remember my post on ghee, that has a high smoke point and so is better for frying). And yes, you heard me right! Hemp oil is medicinal! Well, not in the way that you’re thinking. It has a 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which is the exact balance required by the human body. We can’t make these fats ourselves, but we need them to fight inflammation and basically nurture everything we need to be healthy, like mood, behaviour, and cellular processes. I’m thinking that if you ate a few tablespoons a day you might be able to stop chowing down on salmon and almonds. But then you might get munchier thanks to the hemp, so you’d wind up eating more salmon and almonds – Omega fat snowball effect. Ha, “fat snowball.” Sorry, distracted there for a second. Not sure how good hemp is for concentration…

Anyway. I had a hankering for shrimp and all things fresh because I’m dying for spring to show up, so I made the hemp oil into a honey shrimp glaze as well as a ginger lime salad dressing. Yes I know I told you not to cook the hemp oil but I really wanted shrimp and you don’t need to cook it for long, so I went with it. Don’t judge, mon.  Here are the recipes:

Sweet shrimp avocado salad ingredients

  • Crispy-fresh boston leaf lettuce
  • Red pepper
  • Avocado
  • Chives
  • Shrimp
  • Snow peas

Honey shrimp marinade ingredients

  • 1/2C honey
  • 1/4C soy sauce
  • 4Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 4Tbsp hemp oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2tsp ground coriander
  • 2tsp paprika

Hemp miso ginger lime salad dressing ingredients

  • 4Tbsp hemp oil
  • 1/4C lime juice
  • 2Tbsp honey
  • 2Tbsp miso paste
  • 1 inch ginger, chopped

Miso dressing

Directions: Marinate shrimp for at least 1/2 hour in fridge. Assemble remaining salad ingredients and make dressing. Fry shrimp with snow peas lightly, until just pink, and add to salad.

Results:

Honey glazed shrimp saladThis salad hardly tasted like marijuana! The honey gave the shrimp a delicious light char, and the ginger and chili worked well for a little extra zip. A great spring salad with exceptional medicinal properties. Rating: 4 Yums Woody Harrelson would eat this salad all day long.

Wheaten is good eatin’

I nearly left the apostrophe out of this post’s title, but then I just couldn’t do it. Because that would be wrong.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here is a picture that my husband’s cousin who lives in Dublin and Belfast sent us today (she kind of does live in both, although not usually at the same time).

Thanks yourdailymedia.com

Thanks yourdailymedia.com

Awesome. My husband’s parents were born outside Belfast, and so although I have distant roots in the Emerald Isle, we’re lucky to be able to visit close family members over there relatively frequently. Whenever we’re able to go, we hop back and forth between Dublin and Belfast being very graciously hosted by many warm family members. When I say warm I mean friendly, because even on a good day Ireland isn’t so very warm. But as Phil always says when they start apologizing for the rain, we don’t go for the weather.

Thanks theferalirishman.blogspot.ca

Thanks theferalirishman.blogspot.ca

We go for the wheaten bread.

That’s right all you Irish relatives reading this, you’ve found out my secret. I pretend to like you and all, and I do enjoy all the tea, so thanks for that, even though I horrify you by putting sugar in mine. But mostly I come for the bread, because you just can’t get wheaten here. You can’t even find good recipes when you Google it, and I am an exceptional recipe Googler.

Let’s let that news sink in for the relatives for a moment and I’ll bring the rest of you non-Irish up to speed, in case you haven’t experienced the diversity of Irish breads. Apparently in the 1800s, Ireland couldn’t grow the “hard wheat,” needed for good yeast leavened bread, so the introduction of baking soda as a leavener was a game changer, allowing the Irish to make good breads with their softer wheat flours. This is where “soda bread,” comes from, and “wheaten bread,” is a variation that uses whole wheat flour. Wheaten may be a more Northerly delicacy, but I might only believe this because it’s on every Belfast relative’s table through the day. We find it a more satisfying, filling, healthy (if you still feel that whole grain is a bonus) toast than anything Wonderbread-ish from here. They’re not even in the same league, actually. The closest I can compare it to is an unsweet, ungreasy, dense bran muffin loaf.

I’m not even finished with the allure of the Irish breads. Again in the North (because it’s St. Patrick’s Day after all. Ahem), there’s something called an “Ulster Fry.” Basically this is a breakfast where each delicacy could cause a coronary in its own right. You’re thinking, “But that’s true of my own breakfast, right here in North America, Ann.” Oh, okay, cheeky. Does your breakfast have at least three types of bread, one of which is potato, and many of which are fried in a pan? Are these graciously accompanied by all the fried eggs you can eat? Multiple types of sausages? Puddings? (Which are kind of also sausages…). You get the picture. I ate an Ulster Fry at a gas station the last time I was there. At a gas station.

But back to why good Wheaten is elusive unless you’re in a place with really cute accents and lots of rainbows (and I’m not talking about Church and Wellesley). Irish flours are still different than what I can get here. Maybe they’re still working the “soft flour,” over there, but if they are they seem to have perfected any 1800s handicaps. My husband’s cousin Heather gave me a recipe for Wheaten some time ago but I was afraid to try it because it included two kinds of wheat flour. We only have one wheat flour here and I’m not convinced I have the luck of the Irish in the flour department. 

On my last trip over, though, I found another kindred foodie in Emma who shared a bunch of her cookbooks with me, making a special trip back over to loan them for the remainder of our trip. I had high hopes for this one

Click for Amazon

Click for Amazon

which had a similar Wheaten recipe in it to Heather’s, but with only one kind of wheat flour. I finally got around to trying it today. (The rest of the book rocks too, but is crazy expensive to ship from Europe so I bought it on Amazon as an ebook. E-cookbooks suck, BTW – too hard to flip through them quickly – but they’re cheap!)

And now for the recipe! Amounts translated and directions paraphrased, some ingredients tweaked.

Multi Seed Wheaten Bread

(Makes 2 banana bread sized loaves)

  • Butter for greasing pans
  • 3 1/2C all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2C whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2C wheat bran
  • about 1C seeds – I used sunflower, poppy and sesame)
  • 1/4C butter, cubed
  • 2Tbsp honey
  • 2Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1L buttermilk

Directions: Preheat to 350 and grease pans. Mix dry ingredients in a very large bowl, reserving a healthy handful of seeds. Add butter, and rub it into dry ingreds with your fingers. Make a well in the middle and pour in remaining ingredients.

Reid and buttermilk

Mix, and add to pans. My batter was quite dry, but Neven says goopy. Mine still worked. Sprinkle tops with reserved seeds.

Wheaten

Neven’s directions say to “bake for hours,” which is not highly specific, and I was testing out my new convection fancy-schmantz, so I can’t even tell you how long to let it go either – about an hour on convection.

Kids

But here’s what to watch for – wait until it starts to go brown, and then stick a knife in which should come out dry. Dump loaf onto a plate and tap the bottom and it should sound hollow (Neven’s directions). I think you can cook this lepre-loaf for a good long time without damaging it. And then eat it within one or two days because I have a funny feeling it might turn into the blarney stone fast.

Results: 

Wheaten

Well, I guess I won’t be seeing you Irish relatives again. It was great! Argh, but then there are still those Ulster Frys. I might just have to return after all. :) (Miss you guys). Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!

And on another note…

Question for you. Let’s just say you’ve been remodelling your kitchen due to a broken pipe thanks to your useless neighbour who shares your wall and nearly burned your house down in a prior incident. And let’s just say that your husband is far from being a backbencher, so every decision takes in-depth negotiations. And then let’s just say you’re finally nearing the finish line and he has ordered the final component – lights that took a bedroom peace accord to decide on. And let’s keep in mind that he already got his hand slapped for taking it upon himself to choose the knobs without checking with me, because to anyone else they look like they like the girl version of phallic.

Nipple knobs And then let’s say this is the pattern in the rest of the kitchen. Silver kettle (Irish. Tea. But with sugar)…

Kettle Silver stove, as seen previously (Convection. Plus kids enjoy the light). Silver toaster (with cheeky magnet. Can I say cheeky any more often in this post?)…

ToasterSilver nipple knobs… And then this. We agreed on the red part.

Red lightI’m not being grumpy when I say they have to go back, right? I was looking forward to having a grown up kitchen where things matched. Sheesh. Almost at the finish line. He’s lucky he’s Irishly cute.

It’s Joanna’s virtual shower! And a bunch of dangerous baby foods!

Today’s post is an extra special one. You see, my Internet friends, Joanna and her husband Mike from way on over there at http://midwesternbite.com/, are expecting a baby. So sweetheart Aly from way on over there at fudgingahead.wordpress.com (also expecting a baby) suggested we throw Joanna a virtual baby shower. Fun! And this way, we don’t even have to have a bunch of old women yelling, “Save the bows, save the bows, bikini time!” Score. So welcome to your shower Joanna!!!

I’m new to virtual baby showers, but from what I gather, everyone surprises Joanna with their posts at the same time, usually with a recipe or something special and baby related. Since my blog rep is to try out weird, creative foods, I made a special trip over to the weird food Mecca, T&T, on a hunt for some interesting foods that were baby sized. Or actual babies. I wouldn’t put it past T&T. Anyone ever read Jonathan Swift, circa 1729? Anyone, anyone? Bueller…

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

Right now everyone reading is thinking, “Who invited her.” No worries, there will never be any actual cannibalism on this blog.

But I did find lots of interesting foods that were babyish. Baby-sized, mostly. Let’s start with the fruits. First up, we have a picture of my cat Rudy lounging with a baby watermelon. Rudy is not impressed, if you couldn’t tell, but his needs have kind of taken a back seat in recent years. Joanna, this watermelon will be about the size of the baby you are about to give birth to, if you’re lucky. I birthed two watermelons, each with no drugs. My kids are not nearly grateful enough. I’ll be including a watermelon recipe at the end of my gripping commentary, so hang tight.

Baby watermelon

Next, some baby honey mandarins. They taste pretty much like regular mandarins, but they’re cuter. Cut them into quarters for kids and they gobble them up. The mandarins are pictured with one of my two ungrateful watermelons.

Baby mandarins

The watermelons are cute, though, no?

Next up, some baby bananas. You see, when a mommy and daddy banana love each other…

Baby bananas

And now let’s move on to more dangerous baby foods (although I wouldn’t suggest feeding them to actual babies unless pureed). I haven’t cooked many of them yet – feel free to suggest recipes. My next number of posts will grow from this one, highlighting a few of the following.

Here are some baby dried shrimp. I’ve always seen these in China town and wanted to experiment with them. They’re small enough to be water bugs. Sea monkeys, if you will.

Small dried shrimp

Next, some lotus rootlets. I had never heard the word “rootlet,” but as soon as I did I was sold.

Lotus rootlets

And now for two things that I might actually bring to a shower. I did once bring biltong to my cousin’s baby shower, but I sheepishly snuck it back out again from the pinkified pinkness without a reveal. Anyway, I grabbed these cute red bean bunny buns. My kids never would have gone for a red bean bun, but they gobbled the red bean bunny buns. Easy – steam for 15 minutes.

Red bean buns

Just be careful how you plate them…

red bean bunny buns

And I also got some short ribs. You might argue with me that “short” is not exactly babyish, but have you ever seen a tall baby? I think not.

Short ribs

I decided to marinade the ribs to prep for dinner tomorrow, and chose a recipe from “Weber’s Real Grilling,” which I just mentioned on Joanna’s most recent post where she discussed her cookbook obsession and asked for our favourite cookbooks. Funny story. I went to one of my three cookbook shelves hunting for Real Grilling, and I started to get panicky because it seemed to be missing.

Cookbooks

I hunted for it for a while, only to find out that I had taken it off the shelf two minutes prior to when I lost it, and that it was on the counter in front of me. Cooking with wine when there isn’t any wine in your cooking has its drawbacks, people.

Funnier story. Looking at that picture made me realize how many Jamie Oliver cookbooks I have. I like Jamie Oliver. I mean, I really like Jamie Oliver. Go ahead and judge, but who else am I going to go for, Emeril? Although secretly I do think he’s kind of cute too. Anyway, once I had a steamy dream with Jamie Oliver. Right when the dream started to get interesting, I stopped Jamie Oliver and said, “Hey, if you’re cooking with hot peppers, do you throw the seeds in too?” We all have our priorities.

Who invited her??

I’ll finish with the Weber recipe for the short rib marinade, as well as a simple recipe for watermelon mint salad. But before I do, I want to say a hearty congratulations to Joanna and Mike. As I’m sure you’ve learned from Sweetie Petey, kids are amazing. I wish you both the greatest happiness with your family, and you, Joanna, the best of luck with welcoming your watermelon into the world. From our family to yours, here is a picture of some pizza love we had for dinner tonight that we’ll send your way (the love, not the pizza, unfortunately). I value your long distance friendship, and look forward to hearing about your kid adventures!

And for anyone else reading this, please comment with some cute parenting advice for Joanna. 

pizza love

Mint watermelon salad with feta (serves 4)

  • 1 baby watermelon, cubed
  • 1 English cucumber, diced
  • Good hunk of feta cheese
  • Handful of mint
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Pepper

Prepare everything, adding mint and feta just before serving.

Bourbon marinade

Combine the following ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.

  • 1/2C bourbon
  • 1/4C ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Who knows? A giveaway!

So here’s a first.

My loyal fans know I cook weird stuff. I find it, slay it (or at least charge it, usually with the “tap,” if you must know), research it, cook it, and then feed it to some lucky victim … I mean … friend or family member.

There’s a certain part of this process that gives me great joy, besides watching the terrified faces of my victims when trying an odd food creation. The grocery checker part, prior to the tap, is always lots of fun. You see, weird foods aren’t often labelled well. For some reason, they don’t have stickers. They’re usually all jumbled up in the same section as all the other weird foods, so even when they do happen to have a header card thingy, you can never be sure what is labelling what. Most times I take a picture of the name sitting above the weird food display for two reasons. 1. I’m pretty sure the memory section of my brain is the size of mulberry, so if the label is right I’ll be needing it when I get home  2. The grocery checker often says, “Um, what is this?” and because my memory is the size of a mulberry as already mentioned, I show them what I think the weird food is and then I don’t have to store the odd probable-name in the mulberry.

Ninety percent of the time, the checker person says, “Um, no, it’s not that. Don’t you know what it is? You’re buying it, right?”

Then I greatly enjoy saying, “No, I don’t know what it is. I like buying foods when I have no clue what they are.”

Then checker person says something along the lines of, “Vern to cash four please. Vern,” into their microphone, and that store’s inventory expert food nerd, who I have just anointed, “Vern,” shows up and says, very matter-of-factly, “It’s a blah blah blah.”

Checker person does a dance of joy because they can take my tap and chug ahead with their line, I make a note of the chosen name in my phone (mulberry), and the rest of the weird food order of business can proceed.

Until the other day, when there was a first. I nabbed two of these:

Mysterious food

Weird food 1-IMG_6006

To my great delight, the Vern was called in, and he/she said, “That’s a lotus root.”

I Googled lotus roots, and here’s what the insides look like:

Thanks justhungry.com

Thanks justhungry.com

And here’s what the insides of my veggie and/or fruit looks like:

Odd foodAnd folks, coincidentally, for this, my one hundredth blog post, for the first time, I’ve come across a food that I can’t figure out what it is. I’ve Googled until my Google finger was sore. I’ve sorted through pictures. I’ve searched, “Kind of like an artichoke,” because it peels like one, and “tropical edible tree fruit” and “common South Asian edibles,” and everything else I can think of. And I’m coming up empty.

So I cooked it up anyway. Butter and garlic, can’t go wrong with butter and garlic. And I ate it. I tried some raw, and some cooked. And then I left some leftovers on a plate on the table in case I dropped dead at my son’s swimming lesson and Dr. House’s people had to break in and do an investigation (those guys are smart, but I don’t think they’d know what it was either).

And I created a contest and giveaway, in honour of my one hundredth blog post, and also in honour of a really sweet review and giveaway my blog friends at Midwesternbite.com are doing for my YA romantic comedy novel. I’m really taken aback by the support they’ve given me. So here is how this contest is going to go:

1. You need to follow @midwesternbite on Twitter or subscribe to www.midwesternbite.com to be eligible. As per the really great support they’ve provided to me. While you’re at it, if you’re a chick, go subscribe to www.thepurplefig.com too – more BFFs, and you’ll love the stories. Hey, and don’t forget about me either! That’s a lot of subscribing, but I know you can do it.

2. You need to take a guess at what the heck this weird food is and tell me in the comments. I’ll give further observations to help with your research after I finish the contest rules.

3. If the weird food has already been guessed in the comments by someone else, you need to provide one serving suggestion in the comments. The first person to guess what the food is will get TWO ballots to win, and everyone else who follows the rules will get one.

4. Sorry, but you’re only eligible if you live in North America. I still love you if you live across an ocean or way down south, but it’s expensive to mail crap to you.

And as for the crap that’s getting mailed… (Kidding, this is one of my favourite cookbooks, obviously)…

odd_bits_cover_l

And now for the further details about this odd fruit or vegetable:

1. Apparently I’m not allergic to it, nor is it lethal, neither cooked, nor uncooked.

2. Its protective leaves are kind of like corn husks. Which might make them husks and not leaves. You tell me.

3. I think it’s some kind of super food, because I’m still awake and it’s after 10pm.

4. Its inner leaves are soft and downy, like a monkey’s paw. Or a kitten’s paw. Or a kangaroo’s paw. (I Googled each of these and it’s not that either, FYI)

5. It goes well with beer. And wine. This, I can say for sure.

6. It kind of tastes like a cross between an almond and an artichoke heart. I Googled almondichoke, but no dice.

7. It helps with virility. Wanna know how I know? Ha ha, not really, but I’ve been waiting all day to make that joke.

 

So that’s it!! Best of luck! And if it’s something really silly, like a carrot, you may never see this post again (and it won’t just be the memory part of my brain that’s the mulberry). Oh, and the contest closes March 1, 2014.

Apres School, and the Sapodilla

Know what I’m not any good at? Skiing. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Okay, maybe it actually is for lack of trying. When I was in high school, my friend decided to teach me how to ski. We went on a bus trip to a hill, she taught me to do some turns, and then she got bored on the little hills and decided I was ready to graduate (you could argue that all hills in Ontario are little, and you would most definitely do this if you are reading this from the West coast, but they weren’t little to me). I went with her, but each time I lined up for the lift, I thought to myself, “Hm, I wonder if I’ll die this time.” I wasn’t good enough to keep up with the turns and I quickly picked up speed, so my strategy was just to lock my knees and yell at people to get out of the way. Thankfully, it worked that day, but I swore to be grateful that I had walked away with a pristine neck and never to try that again.

Years later, I took a few lessons, and by a few I mean five. I found this cold, and not particularly enjoyable. They never granted me the privilege of poles.

And then I married a snow bunny.

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

That wasn’t him (but it might as well have been).

Thanks swoonworthy.net

Thanks swoonworthy.net

That wasn’t him either. Sorry about that, went on a bit of a Googling tangent. I’m back now. And you’re welcome, ladies.

Anyway, my point is that although my husband would love for me to be good at skiing, it does not happen to be one of my strengths. He is still encouraging me to learn, but I find it at waste of time and money at this point, and also it completely stresses me out. So although I love learning new things, as far as skiing goes, I’ve drawn a line in the snow and said that I have no need to learn to hurtle my body down a hill at high speeds. There are days this makes me feel like a quitter, and a jerk for not being more optimistic and team-player-ish. And I know there will be great numbers of ski trips in my future, because my kids are already becoming great little snow bunnikins. But now we’re finally coming around to my dangerous food point.

I am very adept at apres ski.

Sapodilla

That’s my friend Jackie. We did zero skiing the day she posed with these, but it was frigid cold out, so my sapodilla smoothies with brandy went down just as nicely as if we had tamed some Alpine slopes (is that the lingo? I wouldn’t know). As with apres ski, I am also very good at apres school. You don’t need to actually go to school to do apres school. In general, I think there should be more “apres” activities where you don’t take part in the activity. Life is too short not to celebrate not taking part in something.

Anyway. Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

They taste a lot like a brown sugar coated pear, and their sap was the original source of chewing gum. I highly recommend them for snacking on straight up after every activity you’re not participating in. But even better, you can take this website’s advice and make brandy smoothies on a blistery cold winter’s day. (Or you could try a brandy smoothie with another soft sweet fruit, like a peach or even ripe persimmon if for some odd reason you can’t find sapodilla).

Brandy sapodilla smoothie (serves two)

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp honey

1/2C brandy (I increased the brandy from the pitiful 1Tbsp the original recipe called for)

1 cup sapodilla pulp

4 cups ice

Place the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.

Results: A great winter warm-up (although it’s mostly cold). This is tropical snow in a drink. I would buy sapodilla if I came across them again. Rating: 2 Yums

I’ll close with another picture of Jackie where I messed up depth of field (I played with some effects with it too). See Cinnamon, I really need to practice this month’s Snaptoit photo challenge on depth of field. Thanks for answering my question!!

Wait, instead I’ll close with a question for everyone else (it’s my blog and I’ll pivot on a whim if I want to). Make me feel better – name one thing in your life that you have given up on learning to do, but that you think to yourself, “I’m actually fine and dandy not to know that, thanks.” This is like the anti-New-Year’s-Resolution.

Cheers to winter!Jackie2

A New Year’s winter radish salad

For some reason, this post has me thinking about New Year’s. I’m a titch early, I know, but I was early for American Thanksgiving when I posted about Canadian Thanksgiving, so maybe being ahead of schedule is my new thing (in all parts of my life. Yeah, that’s it. Ahem. Please keep these intentions in mind when you get my Christmas card January 15).

I think it got me onto a New Year’s theme when I was thinking about kale. Did it seem like kale was everywhere in 2013? I guess it’s better for everyone’s health than the year of the Krispie Kreme donut was.

Anyway, I was thinking about kale because I grabbed some winter radishes at the market

Winter Radishes

for my next dangerous food, and I decided to serve them in a kale salad inspired by the recipe of a blogger chef whose hot cookbook I learned about in 2013. Thanks Emma from Dublin for introducing me to her! You should put this cookbook on your Christmas list if you haven’t seen it –  accessible but delicious recipes. And I love that she started as a blogger. Role models, you know?

Smitten kitchen

But then I had nothing more to say about New Year’s or radishes. Until I remembered the kid’s story about people struggling to pull a radish from the ground. Which, when Googled, turned out to be Russian folktale about people struggling to pull a turnip from the ground. But help me out here and let’s just say it was a winter radish they were trying to pull.

Thanks turniptime.co.uk

Thanks turniptime.co.uk

In case you haven’t been around young kids in a while and are unfamiliar with the story, the end is that it’s only with the help of the tiniest creature that the mission is accomplished. It takes everyone’s help to get the job done.

So in keeping with a New Year’s theme, I’ve decided to retell the winter radish story using personalities who were newsworthy in 2013. And after you read the story, you should make the kale salad to get ahead of any food resolutions you’re going to make New Year’s Eve because it’s super delicious and healthy and it’s good to stay ahead of schedule. And then you’re going to stay out of my spin class if you’re not a regular because it’s really annoying when Jan 1 rolls around and suddenly I can’t get a bike but then it’s open season again in March.

But I digress.

The 2013 winter radish story

One day, there was a big fat winter radish growing in the garden, and Ann needed to pull it up so that she could take lovely photos of it for a delicious kale salad that she was going to put on her award winning blog about dangerous food. But try as she might, she couldn’t get it out of the ground. She silently told herself that she should start going to more spin classes to improve her strength and fitness level.

But luckily, Miley Cyrus came along. At first she tried to swing from the radish and use her giant white tongue to pull it out, but then she reluctantly helped Ann pull, hoping it would become a photo op.

Next, baby North West came crawling by. She was late helping out because she was filling out paperwork to rename herself “Jane,” but after she finished that, she became excited at the prospect of having a normal life as a farmer living out of the spotlight, so she began to tug at Miley.

Prince George crawled onto the scene, sympathizing with North’s wish to become a regular person. He helped out, but he did keep whispering “commoners” under his breath as he struggled.

Soon Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis arrived. Everyone thought they might not help because they had better things to do than hang out with tabloid people, but neither could resist being helpful, so they jumped in immediately.

Edward Snowden strolled through but didn’t help, just texting the Russians to tell them that celebrities were hijacking their folk tale.

And then, finally, Rob Ford arrived. Because it takes absolutely no brains but significant girth to pull out a radish, he was successful, although he swore throughout the process and the babies had to cover their ears. Then he asked “Hey, what’s a radish and can I smoke it?”

The Moral? Don’t be like Rob Ford. Eat your radishes.

Kale salad with winter radish

Winter radish kale salad

(I don’t add amounts below because it depends on how many you’re serving for. I like a salad heavy in the “toppings”)

  • Kale, washed carefully and chopped, with the central spines sliced out and discarded
  • Walnuts or pecans
  • Dried cherries or cranberries
  • Soft goat or feta cheese
  • Honey mustard dressing with ingreds below – home made is easy!
  • 3Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey

Directions: Make your salad, then add the dressing at least 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat it – kale dressing needs to sink in to make the kale more tender.

Results: This is one of my very favourite salads! Helpful hint – nuts, fruit and cheese are always a winning salad combination. Winter radishes taste kind of like the red spring ones, but earthier. Rob Ford might even enjoy this dish. Rating: 4 Yums