Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Outside with nature on Canada day.

Like many, I'm sure, I was sitting here in our quiet backyard, slightly inebriated... :)  It was Canada day. Supper was done, it was a long day, the wine was good. The kids were finally quiet inside playing a video game, with Marc. The sound of the game (The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker) made me feel nostalgic. My oldest daughter now 24, out of the nest and engaged, used to play that game with Marc. I feel blessed with all the life around me. Inside and outside.

The little voices inside the house were nice and familiar but there was such a rich mixture of sounds and calls outside that all I could do was to sit still as I tried to pinpoint each source. As the day came to an end, my ears settled on a few different bird calls. A baby robin that got lost from it's nest a week ago is doing great and learning to grow fast on its own. He usually chirps so loud and proud! He will do fine. I can usually spot him in my service berry tree. We used to be worried for him, now he makes us smile. There was an other robin singing further on a wire. His call was so pleasant, I fell in love with it's song. There were cedar waxwings too (less pleasant, very high pitched) and grackles (those guys sound just like the birds in Hitchcock's classic). A mourning dove sat quietly on a wire till it flew away, I later found out that the sharp whinnying noise is made from the wings flapping. Above were chirping birds that reminded me of swallows, they were swooping fast and were definitely on the hunt. Above that, seagulls, loudly announcing their passing overhead. I assume they were going back to the waterfront after feasting somewhere else. We're a good 15 minute walk from the marina and beach so I envy them for getting there much faster! ;) A few other birds were chanting but I'm no expert and couldn't identify them. Usually we have a couple of shy cardinals but they've been elsewhere for the last week. Same with sparrows and blue jays. So many calls were coming from hidden spots through out the leaves. I just sat and listen and felt hypnotized.

Then there are the squirrels (or Squirtels, if you ask my 4 year old). They like to rush through our thick vine, a Virginia Creeper that is growing on our fence and side of the house. They stop by my service berry tree, stuff their faces and then rush back to my garden looking for seeds (a bird feeder used to be there), or they bury something in for later. Then they move on to the big trees behind the shed. They used to nest in our shed's roof but some paper wasps took over. The hive is still small (the size of a pear) and we can see a bunch of larvae in their  honeycomb like nest. I can't destroy that! :( I felt sick to my stomach with the last massacre. Anyways, the squirrels who used to live there, are now living up the tree. That tree, a Box Elder, is like a hotel. I couldn't cut it down ever. It's so full of life and action! In the morning, the best is to sit on the back deck with some coffee and look up or listen. There is always something going on. 1 new chipmunk has been snooping around. Too shy though. My own cat will climb that tree but it's mainly a great perch for birds, bugs and rodents! :)

Speaking of rodents, something has been nibbling my parsley. Raccoons come visit at night (they love that tree too). Could they be parsley eaters? We used to have a groundhog but it's been ages since I saw it. Could be a rabbit but I figured more plants or vegetables would have disappeared... Slugs? Possible. I'll have to look into that. With a flashlight!

Cool black wasps with thin yellow lines have been flying around my old peony plants. It's far enough from the deck to not make me nervous. Yet... I wonder if it's the same guys that built the hive in the shed's roof. It looked like they were drinking water on the leaves but maybe they were hunting for bugs. Lots of that in my garden. I read that they can skin and chew them apart to bring back to their nest. Thanks for eating my pests, guys! I was curious and watched super close for 10 minutes as they flew around me or the plants, I wasn't really bothering them and they were too busy flying and searching. I heard they can be more dangerous in the fall so I have a decision to make. Then a beetle landed on my lap, looking like a jewel! Emerald green with iridescent colours. So stunningly beautiful I moved on to that. A lot of them seem to hide in our vine. Snails hang out there too. Same with the great black wasps which I assume mainly go there to hunt. They are so impressive looking with their cool, jet-black bodies. I always kept my distance, they look nasty but it turns out they are not. They just look for grub to feed the nest wherever that is.

I can usually sit there all evening. Mosquitos usually force me in. To be honest, even they don't threaten me as much as they used to. Nothing like working next to bugs in the dirt to take away the edge. In fact, I felt sorry for them as their habitat was being disturbed by me, this giant woman, destroying their world by creating landslides, floods and transplanting green buildings all around them. Gardening can be so relaxing if not loaded with guilt!

Lots of gardening was done today. I mainly weeded stuff out. Like my crazy mint that managed to grow outside of it's pot a few years back. It was taking over the beds in the front of the house. Sorry neighbours! Once I pulled it all out and knowing it was going to rain (a heavy tradition on Canada Day), I added a few new plants like daisies, chives, French tarragon and lavender. We'll see how it grows. Like I thought, right after I watered them, the rain poured down. It didn't last too long but it was a great way to clean everything up and quench those plants. All had a chance afterwards to shake their leaves dry in the warm breezy air and late afternoon sun. I felt satisfied and went straight to the kiddy pool to cool off.

Call it obsession, I couldn't resist to check it all out late in the evening after it all had time to settle. Satisfied, l looked up and spotted a satellite and gazed at that for a while. Then something else caught my eye. It was dark and I could barely spot the quick silhouette in the indigo sky but it was clearly looking like a dragonfly, zooming in and out of the tree to feast on bugs. It just happens that earlier that night, as I stared out the window, singing to my daughter while sitting on her bed, I noticed lots of bugs fluttering through the leaves of the tree close to her window. At the time, I was surprised at how many I could see if I just relaxed my eyes (eyes that need glasses too), so I was trying to imagine how many more were actually hidden away from view and how much food that must have meant for the birds who were nesting nearby. I never thought of dragonflies! You see them in the yard, above ponds and low to the ground but in trees? It was quite impressive and I just stood there, letting the mosquitos bite me just for a bit more of the show. One came close to the light and I could swear it was blue. My 7 year old daughter must have felt it because she came down the stairs in her birthday suit (it was so hot) and joined me outside. I held her in my arms, hid her in my kimono and we stared a bit longer, enough for her to spot it on her own. It was a nice 5 minutes. We spotted a little white moth that landed on a leaf at eye level and she wished really strongly for the moth to be spared. Fingers crossed. We walked back in, I sent her back up, heard the first fireworks in the distance which meant it was 10h00pm and on cue the rain just poured down! :)

A few random pics below from this weekend. They might help give visual to our little but lively space. Sorry no pics of birds, bugs or rodents. Just one of my small accomplices who is mostly seen in her birthday or bathing suit.

My welcoming oasis when stepping outside on the back deck.

Pool included if you don't mind sitting or lying down! ;)

A mister got added to the parasol. That thing made the Humidex of 40 a lot more pleasant!

Better view of the mister clipped on the parasol. Not very pretty right now but oh so handy!:)

This swing takes abuse from the kids each day but rocks me to many lazy sleeps.

My accomplice watering the garden. Plus, good view of the trees surrounding the shed.

Different angle shows a better view of garden and crazy vine (Virginia creeper). 

The deck right off the kitchen, looking inviting (with the help of a cropped picture).

One pic of birds! :) Seagulls, heading for the waters.

Not giving justice but a pretty sunset was happening behind those trees and wires.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day dreaming and berries.

I'm now 44. Yep. It happened 4 days ago and went rather smoothly. It didn't hurt and I got spoiled! :) My guy (with the help of our girls), showered me with cool presents and baked me a pretty cake! He covered it up with whipped cream and decorated the top with fresh berries. In my books, nothing beats freshly whipped cream (mildly sweetened), with a hint of vanilla to caress some berries on a cake. Nothing! :) Not even chocolate. 

The ratio that works for me is about 1/2 cup of icing sugar dusted through a sieve in 2 cups of whipping cream (half way through the whipping), with about 1 tsp of vanilla. 2 cups of cream gives plenty to ice and fill a 2 layer cake of 8 or 9 inches, generously. I doubt Marc used as much but it was still perfect. It tasted like sweet nostalgia and summer promises of warmer weather and good times ahead. My little one eagerly helped me with the blowing. 

I guess they were afraid to create a torch of 44 candles so they only gave me 6. How sweet. :)

It was so nice to have all of my girls and my husband by my side with my future son in law and my father who visited for the day! XOXO He brought me some port, a cool easel that folds into a suitcase and bubbly! :)

He also treated me to a tasty, copious meal at a local restaurant which left me full for 2 days straight! The only thing I cared to eat  after, was the rest of unused berries on some banana muesli with cold milk and a drizzle of maple syrup to sweeten the deal. Then I took my cool bowl outside and soaked in the hot, hot sun, joined by my little one who nibbled contently on a corn chip like a squirrel.

Speaking of squirrel, this little guy was busy gnawing on a black walnut for a while. We all just sat there, watching each other and the clouds. Day dreaming...


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Still alive and kicking!

It's been a while. I felt bad and frustrated for missing in action for so long, so early in the game but I had to let go to get busy elsewhere. I figured I would miss a week or 2 but 33 days!? Gaaah! Not good. Somewhere in mid April to May, I had a sick little girl on antibiotics, an older one getting engaged (that's very distracting you know), major house cleaning, family visiting, a big Easter dinner for 13, my baby girl's 4th birthday party the day after, more family visiting, a 2nd birthday celebration the next day, band practice at our house, a gig with my husband's band across the river by the end of that week, my middle girl's 7th birthday party the next week, family visiting again, an other gig, band practice, pottery class... "breeeathe"... Then all of a sudden, it all went sort of quiet! Instead of skipping back here, I slowly deflated like a balloon.

A few times I really wanted to post about something but my brain was numb and turning to mush. Cool topics and fun opportunities went by but it required too much effort. What can you do when it's competing with kids, dinner, pottery classes (the hobby that keeps me sane), going out or getting some down time with my guy! :) The last stick in the mud that kept me away though is realizing that we ran out of time for procrastinating with taxes. Ugh! Speaking of numb brain turning to mush... This is where I'm at! :P

TAXES! Yuk. It was ugly for a while. PMS decided to join in the fun too! I was grumpy and we ordered a lot. All the paper gathering, the sorting, the trashing, more sorting, loads and loads of papers, like a big giant salad went from mind boggling stress to just manageable. Then there was the categorizing and finer sorting of those piles, followed by adding numbers. The adding can be simple (if you live in a bubble), but tricky if you get distracted. Especially when your kid decides to ask you an important question just when you think you added that last odd number but all of a sudden you're not so sure and you lose count only to realize that you typed in the wrong number anyway x 3!! Then the iPad you thought was really handy for this decides that the battery is out of juice! Yeah. Drink please!!!

The drink. I mentioned this concoction before (ice, coffee liquor, milk and a generous addition of J.D.),  it's working! :) A beautiful bouquet of dandelions from the little one also warmed my heart. I know it's a weed but how can you not smile at this sun spot on my table!! :D Also, I'm not allergic. My neighbour is. She received as many from her little girl. I almost took them all (out of pity), but that was a lot of dandelions! The pic was taken yesterday. It's like groundhog day with taxes here so it doesn't really matter which day of the week... A foggy evil that sucks time. Hell must be one giant, bureaucratic, paper pushing, number calling, tax office without clocks. The good news, the flowers are still pretty today. I just had to weed a few out. They made me smile. That's good!

Aside from the flowers, yesterday stood out because Marc went out by late afternoon and took the girls with him after school! SWEET!! They were doing a few errands for my birthday (which is tomorrow). I'm in no rush to get older but oh well. I'll be 44! No point denying it and I do enjoy getting spoiled. It was blissful peace. I even played a few records to chill (husband took my iPod with him), can't complain right? I sat by the patio door. Sweet rain started coming down on what was a warm spring day with that unmistakable smell in the air. You know, when the ground and dusty warm surfaces get wet and refreshed with cool showers? There is a word for that. Petrichor! My smart guy reminds me every time. I always forget. ;) The rain got louder. I was going to play more music but a variety of birds were chirping with delight outside, the drops were making their own rhythm at the front and back of the house. All windows and doors were open. Where ever I looked, it wash lush with green leaves from the trees. Finally! That cottage vibe we often feel as the weather gets warmer was here!

I'll admit, we let ourselves go and the property needs some TLC. The grass is patchy, there's lots of yard waste to pick up from our last wood order and cutting for the winter and we need to weed stuff out. Mowing the lawn would be nice too but I really like the way it's filled with clovers and leafy plants that look so luscious and green, I'm craving a salad! :) Everywhere we look, something needs repair but I'm not letting this get to me. Who ever wants to judge can go ahead. Maybe it's my mid forties talking. Life is short. We have young kids, we're busy, we get tired faster, life is good and we take the time to smell the coffee (I prefer coffee over flowers) :) Speaking of flowers, we had red tulips that were real beauties with a few white ones. Now they're gone back to sleep till next year. Lily of the valley is poking out here and there and we have a beautiful, fragrant, lilac tree that makes me smile and Marc sneeze.

Today, I enjoyed an other peaceful hour with more sporadic rain, chirpy birds, wild backyard watching and coffee while the troop was out again. Time to wrap it up and crunch the last numbers from receipts that are staring at me. See you when I'm 44!! :)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pottery, café au lait, scrambled eggs with leftover cornbread.



She called us yesterday with the big news. She said she was going to process it a bit before announcing it to the world but a few hours later it was all out on facebook with a pic of her smiling from ear to ear! It's emotionally exciting and a bit overwhelming. She might be 24 but she was my first baby! She moved out a few years ago but wow! A new milestone for everybody in this family! :D

All week, I just wanted to wish everybody a great Easter weekend. :) I had a great post on the topic but I keep getting distracted! The truth is, I have 6-7 posts, waiting to be completed (covering everything from our traditional easter egg decorations, amazing baked ham with scalloped potatoes, bad weather and comforting soup, tasty pasta, cool pottery, crafty cards I made with the girls *breathe* and more). All fun stuff! All unfinished because 1- I can't focus! 2- I have young girls that need me and they don't sit still. Now 3- My baby is getting married (I sort of knew and was on standby for a week) and that is all I think about!! :D

Before the roller coaster of emotions, yesterday's morning was a nice slow one. Got to sleep in, found myself alone in the kitchen while all were puttering or playing upstairs. I made coffee, felt like having it in a bowl like a real café au lait from my youth and took the time to enjoy it on the couch by the window. I even made myself some food without interruption. Usually I don't eat in the morning or not until it's considered brunch or lunch and definitely not before I had a few cups of coffee in my system. I explained and shared my ritual here. I had a strong craving for scrambled eggs though. There was a bunch of green onions wasting away in the fridge and leftover cornbread sitting on the counter. So after 2 good bowls of magic potion which I enjoyed slowly in the living room, I got started.

First I'll sidetrack and say that I made this bowl shown in the pic below. I'm proud of it! :) It was made for my 6 year old daughter who is usually using it for soup but I enjoyed it just as much lately. It is amazingly thick at the base to keep fingers from getting burned and the rim is nice and slim and comfortable for lips to pleasantly sip a hot drink. I hate thick rims. It is the perfect bowl for café au lait or tea. I need to make more but I'm no expert on the pottery wheel and I don't know if I can make it the same.

Lame 'selfie' drinking coffee but who else is going to take the pic?

It didn't occur to me until now but it's appropriate to show this one. It's Easter weekend after all! On this bowl I just felt like being spontaneous, I drew a rabbit without thinking too much about it and then made up a plant/tree that grows figs (one of my favourite fruits). At the time, I was obsessing over the fiddle leaf fig tree which is now everywhere and sort of drew the same kind of leaves. It was a happy experiment. The end result is a whimsical composition and my girl loves it. I'm surprised that it's still in one piece after 2 years! So I'm thinking Etsy shop? ;) Whether that happens or not I plan on sharing my projects on this blog. Okay, focus... So back to the café au lait and morning grub.

It will sound like a contradiction but for barely set scrambled eggs, I like a nice hot cast iron pan. It might not be the right way but somehow it works for me and rarely sticks. Lots of melted butter helps. A well seasoned pan too. There are lots of links on Google for that and the secret is to keep using it! While the cast iron pan heated on medium high, I whisked in a bowl, 2 eggs with a fork, a bit of salt, freshly cracked pepper and set it aside. I then took 2 green onions, washed, trimmed and sliced them. I threw a pat of butter in the pan with a little oil to prevent it from burning and let it melt and foam then threw the onions in. I cooked them for 1 minute stirring on and off and then tipped the eggs in. Now the next step is why it works for me. The moment the eggs hit the pan I take it off the heat. It's my quirky method. I give them the chance to barely set before I gently nudged them into ripples with my spatula, breaking and turning them delicately. Usually just pushing them around here and there as they try to set is enough. I don't add milk, water or cream to my eggs. I like them simple and moist and just cooked enough to say they're not runny. Cooked but creamy! :)

That's what my oldest daughter (the one who is GETTING MARRIED), calls them. She is still asking me to make creamy eggs if the opportunity knocks. The whole process goes really fast! About 2 minutes. Especially when using a cast iron pan that retains the heat so well. I shredded old cheddar on top and let that melt a bit. I took the cornbread sitting on the counter, sliced a piece and put that in the empty pan which I put back on the hot burner to warm it up and toast the sides. It didn't take long. It was so good I ate before taking a pic. Oh well, I'm learning.

It turned out to be a tasty, satisfying brunch which my 6 year old smelled too. Next thing you know I was making an order for her too. Hers is the pic of the yellow goodness in the pan above. Simple, no onions, served with ketchup and toasted cornbread. Oh and here is a plate of her face below! :) Sort of. When I made it, it captured her expression. She had long hair then and loves the colour green. All I had at the time was this dark green glaze that ended up looking blue. Besides that, it's a great little plate that gets used a lot for eggs and sandwiches. If you scroll below, you can see what she looks like with an egg on her face. Here, it never gets old! :)

Her little sister was not impressed though. She wanted boats! Which means hardboiled eggs cut in quarters. With cornbread. Non toasted. No pics for that one but my favourite hardboiled eggs are roughly cooked for 8-9 minutes like the ones in this older post where it was served with buttered asparagus.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chick-pea and tomato soup with rosemary

My favourite cookbooks don't have pictures. Or very little. Most of the cookbooks I grew up with or learned from didn't have many. With time, I learned to recognize a good recipe by reading about the main ingredients, the supporting ones, the key seasonings and the preparation. I'm not always right but I can usually guess if it is worth trying or not. One of these picture-less books is SUPER handy to have. It saved me more than once when I was too tired to think or too hungry to focus. The title says it all: What to cook when you think there is nothing in the house to eat by Arthur Schwartz. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I can thrive in the kitchen when there is little to cook with, but sometimes I need guidance and this reliable friend provides it.

If there is a book out there that shouldn't be judged by it's cover, this is it! :)

I'm a visual person. As an illustrator with an education in graphic design, I can appreciate beautiful cookbooks. That said, when it comes to recipes, I learned to be skeptical of the pretty pictures in the glossy pages. They influence your opinion with a visual that, in the end, isn't about the taste but about presentation. I love a good presentation but let's face it, it's worth zilch if the recipe isn't good! If only we could lick a page and find out! :) I like rustic food. Tasty peasant food. The comforting kind that helps you let go of the stress and worries at the end of a long day. It's not always pretty or picture friendly but it quickly gets overlooked when it leaves you with a happy tongue and a distracted mind. This basic book can deliver that kind of satisfaction. Arthur Schwartz was a restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. He is a knowledgable food lover who can also find great pleasure in a simple, home cooked meal made with mundane ingredients. You can feel his enthusiasm in the book which is pared down enough for the basic cook. I truly enjoyed reading this one.

I wanted to ignore it the day I saw it in the bookstore. I was in my early 20s and had no idea who Arthur Schwartz was. I just stared at the cover, feeling sorry for the poor design sitting ugly in a sea of beautiful books. Now I wonder if that was designed on purpose so that it could stand out because it worked! Almost defiantly, I picked it up. Mainly out of curiosity. I admit, I appreciated the title as I had been asking myself that question too many times. I felt like it was worth a look inside. After perusing through a few pages, I felt guilty for judging. Arthur Schwartz was no fool. I was! Here was a food lover who knew how to improvise with a small larder and tackle the challenges of a late night craving or unexpected guest. He was talking my kind of language! I read a few recipes in the entry 'Beans and other legumes' and then further under 'Tomatoes'. My mind was made up. SOLD! I dropped the pretty books that I wasn't too sure about and took this one home. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Thank you Mister Schwartz!!!

Before I sound like a lame book reviewer (too late?), I'm going to talk about the recipe I love. Actually there is two which I cooked so many times, I stopped counting. They're both simple, quick and tasty chick-pea soups. One has Italian flavours and is from the late Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (Harper's Magazine Press 1973). It's so flavourful! The second one is a chick-pea chili soup with Mexican, Southwestern flavours. Another winner. Marc never complains when those soups are served. Usually after the kids are in bed. Tonight it was rainy, grey and a bit cold and I was in the mood for one of these soups. I was feeling like having the Mexican chili version but mainly had the ingredients for the Italian so I did a cross over. It didn't disappoint. Like always, Marc approved. My only wish was for a second bowl but the first one was quite generous.

This is my improvised version thanks to Mister Schwartz. I would love to have dinner with this man!!

I wish I had a picture to share but it was too good and I like to eat hot. All I have is this! ;)

Chick-pea and tomato soup with rosemary 

Adapted from Arthur Schwartz's What To Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat and Marcella Hazan

1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves chopped fine, or dried and finely crushed between your hands
28 ounce canned tomatoes, roughly chopped with their juices
19 ounce can chickpeas, drained
3 cups beef broth, or 1 beef bouillon cube dissolved in chicken broth or water (see Note below)
Salt, pepper to taste
Olive oil

Note: About the beef broth. I rarely make homemade beef broth and I rarely buy it in a can. That said, I often find myself buying bouillon cubes to cheat. What I often have is homemade chicken broth. It tastes great but somehow beef holds better in this recipe. I felt guilty once to add a beef bouillon cube in my homemade chicken broth but the end result was so good in my soup that I never looked back. This is a quick recipe when you are stuck with what you have. If you have beef broth great. If you have a beef bouillon cube to throw in water, fine. If you have homemade chicken broth and a beef bouillon cube, even better! :)

In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the onions in the oil for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, stir and cook 2 more minutes. Careful not to let it brown. Add the finely chopped rosemary, stir around and add the tomatoes with their juices. If they're not chopped, you can break them with a spoon. Cook for 20 minutes. It will start looking like a sauce. Add the drained chick-peas, stir and add the broth (the original recipe says to add 1 cup but I always end up adding more liquid and the soup still gets thick), stir it all together and let simmer for an other 20 minutes. I often let it simmer for 30.

Taste, add salt and pepper. Purée all or part of the soup in a blender, food processor or food mill. An immersion blender is the best for this. It allows me to control what I want directly in the pot. I like to chase the tomatoes if too big but I like this soup chunky. If you prefer it smooth, go for it but personally I think this soup deserves texture. Reheat if necessary (I never need to and always burn my tongue). Serve in bowls with some grated parmesan.We don't always have some but I always drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top and hopefully have a chunk of bread with butter to mop the bowl. It's that good! Happy flavours!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring is here!

Sounds like a late statement but it took for ever for spring to show up. In fact I'm still expecting to see snow. It's hard to believe that this pic is only 12 days old! This little jerk looked creepy lurking at our living room window. He startled me a few times in the late hours and was an irritating reminder of our long brutal winter. He was like mocking me, saying: "I'm still heeeeere!" Finally, he melted last weekend. Good riddance! Sorry kids. He was cute but he had to go! Same with the snow.

Yesterday, I went for a milk run late in the evening under the rain. It was the perfect spring setting. I had a gorgeous red umbrella with me and I couldn't even bother to open it. The rain almost felt warm, the air was balmy and the peat mossy smells were hinting that things were finally happening. The earth is softer, thawing, worms and plants like our day-lilies are poking out of the ground. The little world around us is waking up after a long sleep, slowly stretching and pushing. New birth, new cycle.

When we walked home from school, my girls and I stripped our coats off for the first time this year. They were chirping, skipping and so excited about the change. It was contagious! :) They talked about picnics and biking and the park. They stayed outside to play, I gave them juice, the sun was warm, the birds were singing but the girls were louder. SPRING! Yay!

Eventually it got cold and I went in followed by the little one not too long after but that was a great start!

And with that I realize that I have no energy for a post. Maybe for a drink. I've been obsessing over a concoction that I'm enjoying best in a crystal glass. Goes something like this: 3-4 ice cubes, top with coffee liquor (the one I have is made with rum), top with milk. Voilà! Si bon!! 

I would like to call it a White Russian but I know better (no vodka). I'm personally quite happy with the rum version. I'm not the Dude.


Now pizza, feet up and a movie. Happy Weekend! :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

French potato salad (with tuna) when you wonder what's in the kitchen to eat.

I wrote this post well over 2 weeks ago. Yet I couldn't get myself to click "publish". It was easier to procrastinate with other, simpler entries. Why? It was a mess. It was too long, too personal, then too short, then too long again. I think I must have written half a dozen versions. I'm blaming it on being new at blogging, being too honest, having too much to say and not being a writer among a few other things. Add to that pics that weren't quite selling it and it felt like too much trouble. It's a tasty salad though and I did waste braincells on it (the writing, not the food). So no more fretting, I'm putting it out there with one of the things I do best when I procrastinate: doodling on photos! :)

So here it is. KACHUNK!

I don't know if it's a family trait or a European thing but my French mother said she functions the same way. We might feel secure with a full larder and great provisions but we seem to thrive in the kitchen when there is little to eat. I'm not talking about chewing on a carrot while assembling a cheese sandwich (as tasty as that would be when hungry). I'm talking about creating a simple, tasty recipe with just a few ingredients to feed a whole family. We've all done it with soup, salad, pasta or stew that can be stretched if needed. 4-5 generations ago, it was a matter of survival and I respect the women who had to put up with that pressure everyday to feed their loved ones. Many cultures developed a great respect for food after long hardships in their countries with limited food supply. Sadly, many struggle with this reality right now. I had a taste for it myself a long time ago as a very young parent. A Christmas basket ended up at my door. It was hard to swallow but I was grateful and I wish to never experience this again.

In my pampered life now it's more of a welcoming challenge. I force myself to focus on the goods and try to make them shine. I'm not always successful with the results and eventually someone has to run off to the store. Many times though, I'm proud to say, the outcome is pretty tasty! 2 weeks ago, I had a few moments like that. We were already due for a grocery but bad weather and sickness all around made us stay inside and rely on what we already had. I did well with the goods but one simple meal really stood out for Marc and I. That day we were beyond fried from dealing with sick kids. The fridge was pretty slim, the girls barely ate and by the time they were settled for the night, we just wanted to crash on the couch. It was too late to go to the store and we didn't want to order. What to do? What to do? I told Marc, that I had been craving potato salad for a while. We had a few potatoes in the pantry and the goods to make good dressing. Hurray! He was all over that idea.

Now, I'm not talking about potato salad with mayo. I have no issues with that kind and I love mayonnaise but what I wanted was a French version. My mother's. The potatoes are boiled till tender, peeled while still hot, halved, sliced thick then tossed while still warm in a bowl where they'll soak up a well seasoned vinaigrette made of red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper and oil and then party with the onions (or French shallots if you have them). Simple but tasty. It's a great side for fried fish by the way. I also had a can of tuna that I knew would work well with this. Potato salad with tuna it was! Before you get all squeamish with a "yuck" and close this page, wait! Please STAY! Stick around and give it a chance. Even Marc who wasn't convinced, kept shoving more in! He admitted it was tasty and only wished for more. Seriously. Taaasty! Now, the problem with late night food pics (for an amateur like me), is poor lighting. Freaking challenging!!! It gets brightened later in photoshop but sometimes too much! :) I was so hungry I almost didn't bother to photograph this in the first place but I wanted to document.

So lets just look at the picture of the actual salad below and get this out of the way shall we? Don't let the looks deceive you. Your taste buds will thank you later.

Potato and tuna with scallion and celery salad.

This is all about improvising with what you have. Ideally 2 French shallots chopped fine and added to the dressing would have been great. Often I just settle for what I have. Red, white or yellow onions give more bite but all we had was a small bunch of skinny green onions to save the day. Turns out it was perfect and way easier to digest so late in the evening. We also had 4 celery stalks, happy to join in to add great crunch. Add to that the 1 can of tuna, the 6 potatoes and it felt like the perfect ratio for 2 hungry people. I used leftover dressing I had made a few nights before. It had a little bit of chopped onions left in there and I was going to milk any onion flavour I could get! This is a "go by feel" salad so in the end (after a good taste), I adjusted with a few more splashes of red wine vinegar that I drizzled on top. Same with the salt and pepper. The point is to taste, taste, taste and adjust. There were a few romaine heart leaves in the fridge too. They were still crunchy and it felt silly to leave them out so I washed and dried them well, ripped them into manageable bites and lined our plates with them before dishing the potatoes on top. Aside from the vinegar and oil, I never measure. I had to redo this just to get an idea of what one would need. This also explains the 2 brighter fun pics above. ;)

I later realized that we had asparagus and wished I added those too but they turned into a tasty speedy lunch the next day. Other great additions would be green beans cooked al dente and cut in 2 if too long, radishes sliced thin, cherry tomatoes halved, sliced hardboiled eggs, chopped parsley, capers, cornichons... So many options if you don't mind experimenting! I'm just glad we were limited to a simple version. If you're using a cooking onion I would only use half. If you have french shallots (the best), finely chop 2!

Potato Salad with Tuna

4 big potatoes or 6 medium ones
A bunch of small green onions (about 8)
4 celery stalks
1 can of tuna (in water, oil or broth, doesn't matter)
Romaine heart leaves (enough to generously line your bowl or plate)
French dressing


Red wine vinegar 4 tablespoons plus extra at the end if you wish
Extra virgin olive oil 8 tablespoons
Dijon mustard 3 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon
Salt (a teaspoon)
Freshly cracked pepper

First make the dressing. You can do it in a bowl and whisk with a fork or you can shake it in a jar. I use both methods. The last one is handy when in a rush or with no clean utensils in site. ;) It's also handy if you made too much. Just leave the leftover in the jar and save the rest for later in the fridge. In bowl or jar pour the red wine vinegar in which you'll add a good spoonful of dijon mustard with salt and freshly cracked pepper. I go by taste so for the salt I'll say start with 1/2 a teaspoon... taste. I can garantee you that you'll want more in the end. Add to taste. Whisk a bit or shake. Add the oil, whisk or shake to get a nice emulsion. Taste and adjust if needed.

Wash the potatoes (don't peel them), plunk them in a pot of water, bring to a boil and cook till a knife slips out of them easily (or cheat and use the microwave if in a rush like us).

Wash, trim celery and slice. Same with green onions. Wash your romaine heart leaves, dry well and rip in reasonable bites.

Take your potatoes and peel them while still hot but manageable. The skin should come off easily with the help of a paring knife. Once peeled, cut in half and roughly slice over the bowl. You want the slices to be thick but not perfect (anywhere between 1/4 to 1/2 inch). Pour half the dressing over them and toss gently. Let them soak it up. It will disappear. 

Add onions and celery. Open the can of tuna, drain the liquid (pour that in a bowl for your kitty) and scatter the flesh over the salad. Add the rest of the dressing and toss gently. Taste. Taste again! Does it need vinegar? Does it need salt? Adjust till your happy. Chances are you will want to add one last tablespoon of vinegar on top. Maybe more oil. When I did this again recently, I remembered a little jar of capers and added 2 full tablespoons. Great idea! :)

Line your wide plate or pasta bowl with the leaves, generously spoon the salad on top, grab a fork and dig in! Leftovers will be great the next day and best at room temperature.