Thursday, July 17, 2008

gone fishing

We're off on vacation for the next couple of weeks, with no Internet access. So I've asked BIL and GIL to guest-post for me while I am gone. I haven't given them any guidance except to say that it has to be about food. Being the foodies that they are, I am sure that whatever they come up with will be interesting, so please check back.

In the meantime, I am leaving you with some photos to give you an idea of what we will be doing while we're away...most of these are from last year's vacation.

A little of this....

A little of this...

A LOT of this!!

Be back soon....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

keep your fork, there's saskatoon berry pie

The saskatoon berry. From this...

I’m a prairie girl by birth, and saskatoon berries grow in a lot of places in and around the city where I grew up.

Growing up, saskatoon berry picking in our family was a ritual that was synonymous with summer. I have vivd memories of clambering around in bushes, picking the small but firm berries off the bushes and hearing the soft hollow thunk as they landed in the empty plastic ice cream pails we used.

I'm not sure how my parents found the locations we picked berries from, but I suspect that the fact that they took their young daughters along probably limited the time they had to travel and pick. Both places were within the city, and both were within a 15 minute drive from our house. One of the places is now the site of a mega mall, near a trailer park. The other was also in the city itself, in the depths of the bushes of one of the large local parks. The season was short, so every year my family and I would hurry out and pick pailfuls. My mom would take all the berries we picked (usually 16-20 cups worth, minus whatever my sister and I "taste-tested") and make a batch of saskatoon berry pies. This tradition repeated itself every year, for as long as I can remember, and we always enjoyed the results. I guess this is why saskatoon berry pie is such a comfort food for me.

I left the prairies almost nine years ago. My family followed me east. Saskatoon berries, and saskatoon berry pie became something of a whispered legend, as in " I Remember back when....". I never thought I'd see them ever again.

And then last week, I found them at our local farmer’s market (and this one is as local as they get these days.) . I bought them for my mother, hoping she would make us a pie. Being the wonderful person that she is, she didn't disappoint.

To this...

To this....

For those of you who may not be familiar with the saskatoon berry, here are some interesting points:

  • Saskatoons look a little like wild blueberries and taste a little nutty, like almonds.
  • They are denser than a blueberry.
  • They grow on bushes.
  • You don't have to be from Saskatoon to eat saskatoon berries.
  • You don't have to live in Saskatoon to grow saskatoon berries.
  • You can make pies, syrups, jams and more from saskatoon berries.
  • I have never found a fresh or canned saskatoon berry at the grocery store.
  • Not only are they tasty, saskatoon berries are highly nutritious. (according to this site, saskatoon berries are higher in protein, fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, barium, and aluminum then the blueberry, and are lower in phosphorus and sulfur and are also a source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.)
  • It took my husband and I only 24 hours to completely devour the pie after my mom took the one piece she wanted.

All gone...for now.

[Update 08/08: I was very excited to learn that my mom has bought a saskatoon berry bush to plant in her yard. This means that in a couple of years, we will be able to resume picking berries ourselves in order to make pies. I also learned that the place where she bought it also sold serviceberry bushes, which are an entirely different type of plant according to them.]

My Mom's Saskatoon Berry Pie Recipe
8 slices

This post has been submitted to Sugar High Fridays, hosted this month by FoodBlogga and created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess. I am really looking forward to seeing what else people will come up with! I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.

Mom, thanks for making us the pie and sharing your recipe!


4 cups saskatoon berries
2/3 cup -3/4 cup of sugar
(my husband likes it sweet, I like it tart. The pie my mom made used half a cup, so we think 2/3 should do it)
2 1/2 tbsp of instant tapioca (thickener)
1/2 tbsp of hard butter, quartered and dolloped on the berries

This basic whole wheat crust recipe is from
Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Mind, Body and Soil, my favorite recipe book for the moment.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
2 tbsp organic cane sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup soft butter
1 egg
1 tbsp white vinegar

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl and set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients for the crust together in a bowl. Using a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut in the butter. Keep working the mixture. Crumbly, pea-sized bits will appear. Important: avoid handling the dough with your hands. When Moreka Jolar says the key to good pastry is to handle it as little as possible, she's right. The less you work it, the flakier it will turn out.

In a measuring cup, mix the egg and the vinegar together. Add enough cold water to make half a cup. Pour this gently over the dry crust mixture. Do not knead it. Mix only enough to form 2 equal sized firm balls. Wrap each ball in plastic and chill before rolling them out (an hour recommended).

To create the pie

Roll the first ball out to fit a 9-inch pie plate. Carefully push the dough into the sides of the pie dish and around the edges. Spread the filling out evenly into the pie dish. Roll out the second ball of dough and place it on top of the berries. Pinch the edges carefully together to seal the pie.

Make some vent holes in the top. (My mom does a V pattern across the diameter of the pie) . Brush with a little bit of milk (1-2 tbsp) and sprinkle some sugar to make it glisten (according to my mom white is best - I made her use cane sugar and she noticed the difference).

Bake at 375 F for 50-60 minutes or until it is browned and the berries bubble through.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I'm a Starbucks girl, I admit it.

It started with the iced Tazo Chai Lattes in the late 1990's and has progressed from there. When I was running with the Strollercize ladies after the birth of the Bean, I was in our local Starbucks at least 3 times a week. I've managed to cut down since then, but it's still my little luxury...

While out running errands today, I stopped in to discover they had just launched (today! this morning!) Vivanno Nourishing Blends. As far as I can tell (even before I saw this Business Week article), it's Starbucks' entry into the healthier, smoothie-type drinks (which, as the signs note in small lettering, still go good with espresso or green matcha tea). The two choices were Orange Mango Banana and Banana Chocolate.

I decided to try the Banana Chocolate. One whole banana, a proprietary whey protein and fiber powder (whatever that means), milk, ice and cocoa all blended together and served in a cup that uses 15% less plastic than their other ones (I'd like to see Starbucks recycle their cups, but that's another story).

My verdict? I am going to stick with what I think Starbucks does best: coffee (and Chai tea lattes). I found the BCV tasted most like chocolate milk, with a little bit of banana thrown in. The cocoa made the drink gritty. I'm also thinking that the whey and protein powders (which were also not blended in very well) don't exactly sit well with me either...judging from the way my stomach feels (not ill, but certainly not happy).

It will be interesting to see if these take off, or fall flat like their espresso-sized cups of Chantico did a few years ago (I had to look up the name on that one - how bad is that?).

What did catch my eye --and I will order this next time I go -- Baked Berry Stella.

[update August 31: I've posted my own version of the recipe for baked berry stella here...]

Friday, July 11, 2008

the cast of characters in this blog

I use acronyms and nicknames in this blog to refer to people who show up - mostly to protect our privacy, and sometimes to protect the not-so-innocent ;-)

Here is the quick and dirty reference to all the names so far:

The Bean: my 3 year old son. A boy with definite opinions on how he likes his berries and a real charmer to boot.
The Boo: my 1 year old son
My husband: self-explanatory - the father of Bean and Boo
BIL: my youngest brother-in-law
GIL: his girlfriend
The Flower Lady: one of our neighbours down the street
Big BIL: my husband's oldest brother
SIL: my husband's sister

Did I miss anyone??

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

double the pasta, double the fun

I love cookbooks. While I certainly use the Internet for a lot of my recipes (especially since we put the computer in the kitchen), there is something about being able to directly document the changes I make and the reactions to recipes that I enjoy. I also enjoy finding those notations later.

This recipe for conchiglie stuffed with roast pumpkin and ricotta is a perfect example of that. I made it for the first time in April this year, only a few weeks after receiving this cookbook.

One word is handwritten on the page after the date: Yum!

After making it again, I have to say that comment still holds. Maybe it's the creamy combination of the pumpkin and the ricotta. More likely it's the richness of the 10 cloves of garlic roasted and then baked in. Or, possibly, it could be the combination of the tomato sauce and white wine which adds just the right finishing touch.

If you make this recipe yourself, please be sure and let me know what you think, okay?

The orginal recipe comes from Quick & Easy BBQ's and Grills (Do Australians really count pasta as barbeque or grill food?). If you know anything about cooking at our house, then you know we love barbeque. Butternut pumpkin squash is the ingredient called for in the book. The first time I made the recipe I used actual chunks of pumpkin I had leftover in the freezer from Hallowe'en. This past week I used an acorn squash, and I even mixed in some grilled eggplant I had remaining from a previous night's dinner. I think it would work equally well with just about any squash.

You'll also see spinach linguini in the photo. That's because I grossly underestimated the amount of conchiglie I had in the house to serve to 3 adults, a toddler and one hungry 13-month old. (No, wait, it was for additional colour...right?)

This is my latest submission to Presto Pasta Nights, started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and hosted this week by Gay of A Scientist in the Kitchen. Be sure to stop by and take a look. I'm excited this week because a member of my extended family has told me she would be submitting a recipe. I'll link to it here when I see it!

Conchiglie stuffed with roast pumpkin and ricotta
adapted from Quick & Easy BBQ's and Grills
serves 4

1 regular sized squash, cut into wedges
Olive oil to drizzle
10 unpeeled garlic cloves (or less, if you are not a big fan of garlic)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup fresh, shredded basil
3 cups of pomodoro sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine
24-32 conchiglie (sold as giant jumbo shells where I shop)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
2. Place squash in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and bake for 45 minutes or until everything is tender and mashable. While this is cooking, boil water for the conchiglie. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta.
3. Remove the squash from the oven, but leave the oven on, because you'll bake the shells at the same temperature. Let the squash cool, peel it and mash it. Mix with the ricotta and half of the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Put the pasta sauce and wine in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15 more minutes, or until it has slightly thickened.
5. Fill the shells with the pumpkin/cheese/basil mixture and then spread any remainder in a large ovenproof dish. Top with shells, and then pour the sauce over all. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and the rest of the basil and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with garlic bread (or spinach linguini ;-))

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

perfect summers

The weather here has been spectacular. Hot, but not too humid. It makes it hard to want to sit at the computer. That, plus I'm spending the entire week, 24x7, with the kids (the caregiver is on a well-earned vacation).

The wading pools are our best friends. The squeals of delight coming from my 13-month old as he discovers the wading pool for the first time are priceless. Watching the Bean splash and float around on his belly after disastrous swimming lessons made me smile. _This_ is why I took the summer off from work.

With all the sand coming in from the playground, I've moved into cottage mode. (laundry? dishes? Only when absolutely, down-to-the-last-pair/dish necessary.)

In weather like this, the only way to cook is to use the barbecue. Because I'm short on time, but still taking pictures, I'm posting some photos of the food that we my husband grilled. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Honey Lime Chicken with Grilled Parsnips
Tired of the same old chicken marinade, I went to the web and found this recipe. Grilling the parsnips was my own idea, since we had them in the fridge.

Caribbean Rum Shrimp
rum, cilantro and allspice combine beautifully in this marinade, which comes from License to Grill. Our neighbour asked my husband to make this for his latest neighbourhood block party. They disappeared within the first 30 minutes of being served.

Grilled lamb kebabs
The recipe that made me reconsider my opinion of Jamie Oliver. My husband bought jamie at home for me for my birthday. This was the first recipe I tried. I served this for my mom and her friends when they arrived for dinner, straight off the plane.

What the kebabs looked like on the plate as I served them.

Honey Lime Chicken Kebabs
The first time was so good, we did it again as kebabs, using honeydew melon and grape tomatos as vegetables/fruit)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

the essence of a (foodie) list

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been in love with making lists.

The lists I made were pretty mundane as far as entertainment value go --the usual "My favorite things" (not surprisingly, chocolate is on the list), "Things I want to do before I die" (#34: go work on Fashion Television) and the top 100 songs for the years 1983, 1984, and 1985, (as copied carefully during the special New Year's Eve and Day broadcast from the local pop music radio station.)

I realize the common thread between them and others (aside from the ones generated by the radio station), was that I had put down on paper lists of things that were important to me at that moment in time.

Today my lists are pretty boring, but necessary: if I don't make a list of the groceries I need, or a list of things I need to get done around the house or at work, I feel hopelessly lost. There is a certain sense of satisfaction to being able to cross something off a list. (pay bills? check. send mail? check. finish blog post? ummmm...check?). For me it's "thank god I remembered it and managed to fit it in between playground, lunch, naps and diaper changes".

Ever since I started reading food blogs, a new list has been forming in my head. Since they are all food-related, I decided to share them here. I plan on updating this list on an ongoing basis as I come up with new things, and cross items off.

1. Try baking a Red Velvet Cake.
2. Go to the French Laundry, or maybe just check out the blog.
3. Go to Chez Panisse.
4. Meet some food bloggers in person (preferably over food!)
5. Take a food tour.
6. Learn how to make my mother's croquembouche.
7. Learn how to make my mother's pralines.
8. Take a cooking class.
9. Sign my kids up for Rising Chefs.
10. Read Omnivore's Dilemma.
11. Read In Defense of Food.

More to come.....