It’s been ages since I posted anything. When life is crazy, my kitchen is quiet, and that’s the way it’s been for the past couple of months. Finally this weekend I think I broke the spell. There is a pumpkin muffin recipe I like in the Four Sisters Inns cookbook, and this recipe was inspired by that one, along with a pan of cooked yams in my fridge that needed to be used up. I think I like this recipe better than the original – always a great result when improvising.
Yam, ginger, chia and sunflower seed muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup candied ginger, minced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-3/4 cups pureed yams (approximately 1 large yam)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat oven to 375F. Mix together flour, oatmeal, baking powder and soda, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, sunflower seeds. In another bowl, whisk together chia seeds, hemp hearts, raisins, ginger, egg, oil, yams and maple syrup. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins and bake for about 25 minutes.
I once lived in a house in Victoria with fig, pear, and plum trees. I was a university student then, studying art and English literature. Thinking back, I’m wistful for all the picking, poaching and preserving I could have done, should have done. I didn’t worry about things like that, though. I just sat in the sun, ate fruit from the trees, and leafed through thick books.
That was the year The Riverside Chaucer came into my life, thickest of all the thick books. I’m not sure what that has to do with figs, except that here it is, fig season, and I’ve been seriously regretting my decision to donate that book to the library book sale lately. Somehow the two must be related.
I’m sure I’ll understand why some day. In the meantime I’ve got sandwiches and nostalgia for the fruit trees of old to pass the time.
Pear and fig grilled cheese
Makes 1 sandwich
This sandwich is the result of some delicious leftovers from our local cheese shop. It is delicious made with sliced fresh figs (if you are lucky enough to have them) or fig jam.
Butter two slices of multigrain sourdough bread and spread thinly sliced figs (or jam) jam on the other side of the bread. Layer on thin slices of aged cheddar cheese, pear and red onion, and grill the sandwich in a frying pan until golden brown.
Somehow it is already the August long weekend. I’ve been dipping into a book of poems by T.S. Eliot this weekend and thinking about the “still point” in Burnt Norton, the idea that past and future can gather together in the present, creating a sense of meaning and solace, of something more permanent than time.
The still point reveals itself more often in the summer months when there is more slowness and reflection, more space for being instead of just doing. As I write this I am on the patio. The dog is sitting beside me in the shade of a plant, positioned so there are tomato leaves resting against her forehead and nose. I’ve just fed her the last few snap peas from a waning vine in an effort to distract her from what has become her latest game, nipping off the buds of my string beans (she should at least wait until they are fully grown if she’s going to be the one to enjoy them).
Eliot’s poem takes a walk through an imaginary garden, and I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend feels a bit like that. In my garden, the roses are mostly gone, but the tomatoes are thriving, lavender is about to rebloom, pole beans are winding their way up bamboo stakes and the mint and oregano plants I have scattered throughout the garden have sprouted tiny purple flowers. Life is still as it’s going to get, I think.
There they were, dignified, invisible,
Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
In the autumn heat,
through the vibrant air,
And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
I love spanikopita, but I rarely make it because it is too much work. Yesterday I made this spanikopita pie, and it was so much easier than fiddling with the wrapping and stuffing of individual spanikopita – it took no more than 15 minutes to put it together. I’m quite proud of the salad as well, since it all came from my garden…fast-growing cherry tomatoes are the best.
I’ve tried to write out some instructions below for working with the phyllo dough, but the nice thing is that it generally tastes and looks great no matter what you do, so I wouldn’t worry too much about perfectionism. The whole point of the recipe is to make it easy to make spanikopita, so don’t fuss!
Makes 6 servings
1/2 package of phyllo pastry, thawed
Olive oil for brushing on phyllo
1-300 gram package of chopped spinach, thawed (or about 3 cups chopped fresh spinach)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
200 grams of feta cheese (about 2/3 of a cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and chives from the garden)
Fresh ground pepper
Hot pepper flakes for sprinkling on top
Arrange the phyllo sheets in layers in a greased glass pie plate. I put down 2-3 sheets in the bottom of the pan, brushed them with olive oil, layered on another few sheets, brushed with olive oil and so on until they were all used up. When I was layered the sheets I let them drape down over the sides for folding up over top once the filling is in, like you would with a crostata.
Once you have all the sheets layered in the bottom of the pie plate, mix up the filling ingredients – spinach, garlic, shallots, feta, eggs, herbs and pepper – in a bowl and pour on top of the phyllo dough (I didn’t bother draining the spinach and it worked just fine). Fold any phyllo dough that is hanging over the sides on top of the filling and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with hot pepper flakes and bake in a 400F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is puffy and golden. Phyllo dough is pretty good about not burning, but what I did was keep the pie on the bottom rack of the oven for about half the time. You could also cover the pastry parts on top with a bit of tin foil if you are worried about burning.
Cut the pie into six pieces and serve with salad – it is good warm right out of the oven or cold the next day.
Have you heard about VB6 yet? It’s new to me since reading an article in the Georgia Straight this week and I have to say that I think you’re all about to become vegans. Part-time vegans, anyways.
VB6 is short for “Vegan Before 6,” a diet / catchphrase coined by New York Times food writer and cookbook author Mark Bittman. The idea is to eat a plant-based diet during the day, and then after 6pm you’re free to eat what you like – meat, eggs, dairy, junk food, whatever you want. “All the benefits of a strict diet without the deprivation,” he says on his website.
I think it’s great. I’m much more a fan of moderate solutions like this, and like Meatless Monday, that promote modest, incremental shifts in our habits and mindsets that lead to actual change. So much better than the usual diet narrative of no this, no that. It’s yes to plants all day, and then yes to whatever you want at night. And if you cheat, that’s fine. Actually, that’s the point: you’re supposed to cheat.
I’m curious to see if the movement catches on. I think it will. I really agree with the woman in the Georgia Straight article who says this: “Something magical happens when people start down the path of a plant-based diet. They start asking what’s in their food. They begin being concerned with the ingredients, quality, the source, the cost to the environment, and the toll it takes on animals.”
I know, you’re thinking, no way, not me, never. Vegan food is gross – too much quinoa and kale and hippie-dippy nonsense. Meat4ever.
But watch, as soon as you start thinking about what you’re eating – whether it’s an animal or a plant – I bet you’ll notice yourself leaning a tiny bit toward the plants. That’s what happened to me, and now I eat things like white bean, chart and beet salads all the time. With edible flowers on top.
Those plants…they’re a slippery slope!
White bean, baby chard and beet salad
Makes 1 salad
This salad was inspired by the beautiful baby chard from Vancouver’s Local Garden. You could also substitute spinach or baby beet greens or any other type of lettuce from your fridge or garden.
Pile 1-2 cups of chard leaves on a plate. I also added a few pea shoots, arugula, mint and Asian greens from my garden. Drain and rinse a can of white beans and sprinkle 1/2 cup of them on top of the salad (reserve the rest for something else). Top with 1/2 cup diced roasted beets and 1 tablespoon of toasted nuts or seeds (I used pumpkin seeds). Drizzle with a balsamic or raspberry vinagrette, and don’t forget the flowers! If you’re eating vegan, you might as well go for it. Nasturtiums, violets, pansies, roses and all sorts of other flowers can all go on salads – mine has (had) arugula blooms on top.
I have more to show and say about California, but since it is Bike to Work Week I thought I should post a few pictures of my new wheels.
Before this year, I’d never participated in Bike to Work Week (or any bike to work days, really). For a long time – most of the years I’ve worked, actually – I’ve walked to work, or occasionally taken transit or bummed a ride from my loving hubby. All of which has been fine, but walking can be slow and all the bike-friendliness in Vancouver made me want to start cycling instead. Plus, with my better half training for the 122-km Gran Fondo to Whistler, it was hard not to feel like I should be riding somewhere!
My old bike was a mountain bike that wasn’t great for commuting, so off it went to Kijiji-land and I found this beauty on Craigslist about a month ago. I’ve been happily cruising the streets of Vancouver since then.
Obviously there are lots of environmental and health benefits to this biking to work business (most people lose 13 pounds after the first year, for example), and as someone who works at a desk most days and has hobbies like reading, writing, and eating, the exercise is welcome and needed.
I am also enjoying the fact that it’s fun, plus the camaraderie with fellow cyclists I see on my journey to and fro each day. Yesterday a woman waiting beside me at the intersection on a more serious-looking bike said “I love your bike!” and I said “I love my bike, too!” We both showered it with compliments until the light changed, and she looked a little jealous at the end. Then, further down the road, the peppy Bike to Work organizers serving coffee and bike-loving propaganda cheered for me and took my picture when I drove past their tent. How nice is that for a Monday commute? Today, when it was pouring, all of us cyclists were like a little club, grinning at each other and admiring our pedal-powered virtue. I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow, when it is also supposed to be pouring.
I do look forward to the day when, like my hubby and cycling comrades, I too will be able to effortlessly zoom up Vancouver’s hilly slopes. I’ve been getting my butt kicked this week riding to work since it’s been raining, and also because I am just back from 10 days holidays. With the exception of walking San Francisco’s formidable hills, most of my time was spent eating, drinking and lounging beside pools and vineyards. All of these activities are quite different than riding your bike to work, not to mention the actual working part (phew!).
I did actually miss my job and colleagues while I was away, so that is a bit like the icing on the cake for my soggy, sweaty and joyful start to Bike to Work Week.