Mary, Mary Quite Contrary…

…How does your garden grow?

A few years ago, I rented a community garden plot. The first year was quite successful and a bit of fun.
The following year (felt like yearS) was not so fun. Picture: hard clay, plots untilled, dragging hoses here and there and some bastard of a weed called Creeping Charlie proliferating. Insert gardening hiatus here. Fast forward: new gardening managment, water spigots every other plot (no hose dragging required), a new resident tractor and people who are organized. Result: I’m baaaaccckkkk.

My garden grows with:
brussel sprouts
sugar snap peas
roma tomatoes
cherry tomatoes
swiss chard
onions (3 types!)
green peppers

I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful helper this year. She’s old enough to appreciate the food we’re growing, even if she has no interest in eating it, and has been taking an interest in cooking lately. It’s like a Jamie Oliver tv episode meets the real world.

Best Garden Helper Ever!

Best Garden Helper Ever!

As a bonus, she’s also pretty fun to work with.
In the garden today, I was hunched over a freshly dug hole and she’s was diligently bringing me seedlings.
Me: can you pass me the swiss chard please?
Her: beets?
Me: swiss chard.
Her: beets.
Me: swiss chard!
Her: beets! (holding the plastic tab with the plant name)
Me: (Look up. Sigh.) Beets. $h*! I meant to buy swiss chard.
We both laughed and she continued to refer to the beets all day as the swiss chard.

Note the beets are not in the above list; they went to a garden plot neighbour. 🙂 After scouring York Region greenhouses, I finally found the swiss chard at Benedetto’s.

Normally when I’m at the garden, it’s all “blah, blah, manual labour, sweat, worms, dirt, insects, blah, blah”. Today, it was different. It had that “if you build it, they will come” feeling. In the past there have been 1-2 people at the garden plots simultaneously. Today, there were 12-20 people at any given time. And you know what? It felt good. It felt like this is what a community garden plot is supposed to be all about: meeting people who all have a common interest and working towards a common goal. These are people that I saw throughout the weekend at various garden centres and greenhouses (apparently we were all looking for swiss chard). Thanks to the garden uniting us, we smiled at each other, gave each other knowing nods or asked where they scored the deal on broccoli. It felt pure and grounded. It felt like life slowed down a little; life was a little bit less tech-dependent and a little more rural, if only for a few hours.

Community Garden Plots

Community Garden Plots

Freshly planted seedlings

Freshly planted seedlings


British Pie Week: The Celebration Continues with Lemon Meringue

I know, I know – British Pie week should result in pastry concoctions housing mushrooms, leeks, chicken and other assorted savory goodies.  The way I figure it, if I’m going to eat calorie-laden crusts, I’m not going to bother trying to disguise it as something healthy by adding vegetables and meat.

And with that, I give you: Lemon Meringue!

Pie Crust: use the one from the Cherry Pie recipe.

Roll it out into a circle and plop it into your pie plate.  Make sure the circle is about 2 inches larger than your pie plate so you have lots of crust to flute.

Chill your crust in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Line your pie plate with foil and fill with pie weights or beans.  Bake your crust for 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and carefully remove the foil and contents.  Pop back into the oven for 10-15 minutes and cook until it’s golden.


  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (this really adds some nice zing!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together.  Add this mixture to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.  Return to the heat and cook over medium heat.  Keep whisking!  The mixture will start to boil and become very thick.  Don’t stop whisking!  Turn off the heat and take about 1 cup of this hot mixture and add it to the beaten egg yolks.  Whisk that until it’s smooth.  Keeping the whisking motif going, add the egg mixture back to the pot and whisk it all together rather vigorously.  Turn the heat back on and bring the entire mixture to a boil.  Then, remove from the heat and stir in the butter.  Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla and whisk until completely combined.  Voila!  Lemon filling, yum!

Pour that into the baked crust and move onto the meringue.


Meringue can be tricky.  You can overwhip it.  You can add too much sugar too fast and end up with white goop.  Worst of all, the site of a pie crust filled with lemon filling makes it sad and it weeps (not really but I’m trying to avoid a boring paragraph about humidity, sugar and egg whites).  Weeping meringue is yucky.  It makes your pie crust all soft and in my opinion, it just ruins the pie.  To that end, I’ve read a lot about preventing meringue from weeping.

Some advocate that meringue must be applied to a hot filling and popped into the oven as soon as possible.  Others state this step isn’t necessary.  I’ve tried both and had failures and success with both.  Interestingly, I never used to worry about this and I never had a weepy pie.  Then one day something changed and as a result, I’ve adopted the process of adding a cornstarch mixture to my pie meringue.  Oh, and don’t try to use egg whites from a carton.  Trust me on this.  They just don’t whip up the same as a white from a whole egg. I converted this recipe from one that made enough for 2 pies and was all in metric so you’ll have to pull out your scale to weigh the sugar.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 108 ml water
  • 3/4 cup egg whites (approx 5)
  • 6 oz sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Immediately upon boiling, turn down the heat and add the cornstarch.  Whisk like crazy.  Cook for about one minute, until the mixture is translucent.  Remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Whip the egg whites until they’ve tripled in volume.  Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until soft peaks form.

Continue whipping and add the vanilla.  Add the cornstarch mixture, a wee bit at a time and continue whipping until stiff peaks form.

Put it all together

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Spread the meringue topping over the lemon filling.  Make sure the meringue contacts the entire crust, so as to seal it.  Feel free to make swirls and peaks and whatever you want (use a piping bag or get creative with spoon or fork; they all work).

Pop the pie into the oven and bake for approx 10-20 mins or until the meringue is browned. Note: if your peaks are thin, they may burn before the rest of the meringue browns.

Cool on a rack before serving.

British Pie Week! To celebrate: Cherry Pie!

I recently discovered it’s British Pie Week. Seriously. Check it out.  The website leads me to believe that it’s a celebration based on pre-made pie dough and fabricated by a company in order to sell more product but hey, who am I to criticize a nation celebrating pie?

I’m fairly certain that British Pie Week is meant to celebrate things like Steak and Kidney Pie, Chicken Pot Pie and Fish Pie.  While I won’t deny my Welsh roots, I will deny wanting to eat Fish Pie.  Ewww.  Instead, I give you Cherry Pie.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this pie.  The funny thing is, I hate cherry pie.  Really.  It’s sour.  And cherry flavoured.  My husband on the other hand – he loves cherry pie.  His idea of a perfect birthday cake is my home made cherry pie.  Since I’m no connoisseur but he certainly is, I have it on his opinion that this recipe makes the best.pie.ever.

Go forth – make pie!  Celebrate British Pie Week.  I think we should follow it with Canadian Exercise Week to work off the calories 😉


I use a food processor.  I’ve had plenty of experience making pie crust by hand.  It’s a very romantic notion.  Practical? Not so much.  I hate how it gets under my finger nails, so I opt for the processor.

Recipe makes enough for a total of 5 single crusts (2 double crust pies and one single, 1 double crust pie and 3 singles – you get the idea).

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks – very cold!
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening – very cold!
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup ice water

Place flour, sugar & salt in bowl of food processor.  Pulse to mix.

Add butter and pulse 2-3 times.  Add shortening (it warms up faster than the butter, hence I add it after I’ve pulsed the butter a few times but you could add it at the same time) and pulse just until the fat is dispersed throughout the flour.  The pieces of fat resemble small peas.  If you’re not sure, it’s better to stop when the pieces are bigger rather than smaller.

Mix the egg into a bowl; add the lemon juice and the water.  I find this works best in a pyrex measuring cup.  Make sure these ingredients are cold in order to maintain the consistency of the butter and shortening.

Remove the lid of your food processor (make sure it’s turned off!).  Pour the water/lemon juice/egg mixture over the flour mixture.  Replace the cover and pulse just enough times that you’ve made a rough mass of dough.

Unplug your food processor; remove the lid and dump onto a lightly floured counter top.

Shape the mass into a log and wrap in plastic wrap.  Place in the refrigerator for at least an hour (can be left for up to 3 days; can be tightly wrapped and sealed in a ziploc bag and frozen for up to 3 months).  I shape the dough into a log because then I can score 5 equal sections to make my pie crusts.  For this pie, you’ll need 2 crusts: a top and a bottom.

I like to make the pie crust a day in advance.  Once your pie crust is firm and you’ve got a section, roll out your dough to fit a 9 inch pie pan.  Stick it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Pie Filling

Whoa.  This is going to take all of 5 minutes to make.  Better get that oven preheated.  Crank it up to 425 F.

  • 5-6 cups of sour cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen – note that if you use frozen, you must defrost and allow enough time for most of the juices to be extracted or you’ll end up with a soggy mess)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • milk for glazing

In a large bowl, toss the cherries, cornstarch, flour, sugar and lemon juice together.  That’s it.

Put it all together

Pour the filling into the previously prepared pie crust.  Stick it in the fridge.  Roll out another pie crust (the top).  You can get fancy and cut it into lattice or whatever you want.  Remove the pie from the fridge.  Dip a pastry brush (or your finger) in the milk and run it around the edge of the bottom pie crust, where the top will sit.  You want to seal the seams.  Place the top crust on the pie.  Pinch the edges to seal the crust.  Trim the edges and flute or whatever you want.  Prick a few slits in the top with a sharp knife.  Using that pastry brush and the milk, glaze the top of the pie.  Sprinkle with fancy coarse sugar if you have any or just leave as is.

Bake the pie for 20 mins then reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and bake until juices begin to bubble, about 35-45 mins.  I like to keep a cookie sheet handy and slip it onto the rack  below the pie if the pie starts to bubble over.  Keep in mind that a cookie sheet will increase your cooking time as it absorbs some of the heat and blocks it from the pie.

Remove pie from the oven and allow to cool before eating otherwise those cherries are going to burn your mouth.  Badly.

Serves 6-8.  Or 2-4 if you’re my husband.  What can I say?  He likes his pie.

Oscar, Oscar! What’s an Oscar party without food?

Oscar night is approaching.  I’ve often entertained the thought of hosting an Oscar party but alas, I haven’t been able to ditch that “you don’t go out on a school night” mentality and as a result, my grand plans have never materialized.

If you have successfully shed the parent-induced guilt that was laid down on you in your teen years and you’re hosting a gala soiree but have no idea what to serve your guests (or even just yourself!), here are some ideas, based loosely on the Best Picture Nominees:

The King’s Speech

  • Scones with jam
  • Cucumber sandwiches
  • Pinwheel sandwiches (tuna, egg salad, PB & J even!)

Black Swan

A plate of carrots.  Anyone who eats them must immediately perform some sort of cardio for an hour afterwords, to burn off the calories they just consumed.  In keeping with the body image problems identified in the movie, only allow one carrot per guest 😉

The Social Network

  • Beer
  • Chips
  • Pizza and anything else you ate/drank when you were in University/College


  • Irish stew
  • Guinness


The Kids Are All Right

  • Wine
  • Organic veggies and dip

127 Hours

  • Energy Bars (ie. Cliff Bars, Lara Bars)
  • Apple juice (if you have to ask why I included this, you don’t want to know)
  • Water

Toy Story 3

  • Baked Potatoes
  • Any kind of Pork (Represent Slinky Dog and Pig in one shot by serving pork wieners!)

True Grit

  • Baked beans (mash Toy Story 3 together with True Grit and serve pork and beans!)
  • Whiskey

Winter’s Bone

  • Squirrel
  • If you’re averse to squirrel, try City Chicken.  There are a million recipes out there.  My grandmother used to make it when I was little. All I remember was really thick, stubby skewers and she used veal cubes that were breaded and really unhealthy.  Of course, it was delish!

Whatever you choose to do/eat, enjoy the show!

Smoothie Recipe: Don’t try this at home.

I’ve been experimenting with smoothies recipes lately.  The key word there is “experimenting”.

Today I thought I would try to re-create the flavor of my Blueberry Banana Blaster muffins. How hard could it be? Blueberries, bananas, and bran were the easy part.  I opted to use orange juice for liquid.  I had All Bran Buds so I used them.

The result? It was really thick. The first few mouthfuls were intriguing enough that I thought I liked it.  It was mildly flavoured with just a little sweetness.  I proceeded to drink half of it and then it hit me:  Ew.  Not good!  I tidied up my mess and when I went to dispose of the remains down the drain, the leftovers plopped into the sink in a congealed mass that had the imprint of the cup in it (like really thick yogurt).  My guess is that the bran swelled which caused the consistency to change.  The thought of that made my gut swell, I swear!  Here’s the recipe below, just so you know what not to make!
1/4 cup all bran buds
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 cup orange juice
1 banana

Looks pretty good eh?  Yeah, just remember: looks can be deceiving!

Human Cheese aka Recycling Breast Milk

Human Cheese.  Cheese made from breast milk.  Read that again.  Say it out loud.  What do you think?  Do you cringe?  Wrinkle your nose?  Smile?  Maybe you wonder what it tastes like.

When I first heard of making cheese from human breast milk I shook my head and dismissed it as a chef’s experimental fancy.  I didn’t really have a visceral reaction to it.  I read this post on the Globe‘s website and the thought of human milk as a sustainable food source brought out a much stronger response.

Eating human cheese.  My initial reaction to this was:  No way.  Gross.  Ewww.  That’s just wrong.

Evolution being what it is, my brain kept working.

Why though?  Why would it be wrong?  Because there’s something cannibalistic about it.  But wait.  I nursed both my kids.  Does that make them cannibals?  No.  Okay so that string of logic isn’t so logical.  Why is it so easy to accept the idea of eating cow’s milk products and so difficult to warm to the idea of human milk products?

After a few days thought and a handful of conversations about human cheese, I’ve given up trying to explain my aversion to the notion of eating the ultimate in all natural organic cheese.  What I’ve become more fascinated by is the marketplace that has developed for the sale/purchase of breast milk.  A quick search uncovers several websites devoted to classified ads where an ounce of milk sells for anywhere from $1 to $3.  One company has already been created to re-sell the milk.  They pasteurize it and test it for disease/bacteria and then turn around and sell it at a mark-up.  I’m more averse to this commercialization of breast milk than I am to the idea of eating human cheese.

Food for thought.

Brie, again.

I found these fantastic little dishes called “Brie Bakers” at a recent sale.  It’s basically a ceramic dish with a lid, that you bake brie in. I thought they were so brilliant that I scooped up a few of them to give as gifts.  Since that time, I’ve seen ads for them everywhere.

I love brie.  I rarely have it.  Having said that, I’ve served it twice in the past 3 weeks.  The first was the Brie with Caramelized Apples.  The second was a recipe that came with this handy little Brie Baker.  It called for slivered almonds, dried cranberries and a splash of maple syrup.  Pop it into the oven (the directions state “hot oven”; I set the temp for 275 F) and voila – 15 mins later you’ve got another delicious (artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising) appetizer.

If you’re interested in picking up one of these marvels, check out the following retail links:

Kitchen Stuff Plus
Golda’s Kitchen

Green Tomatoes

Towards the end of the summer I discovered heirloom tomatoes.  It all started with a desire to propagate my own tomato plants next year.  It turns out that you can’t do that unless you have heirloom tomatoes.  I found some partners in crime who donated some seeds to my cause and one particularly generous individual gave me a tomato so I could taste it and harvest my own seeds from it.  It was an Aunt Ruby’s German Green.  I wasn’t forward thinking enough to snap a pic of it but I’m sure if you search it out, you’ll find a picture or two out there.

For some reason the idea of eating a green tomato left me squeamish.  Deep down a part of me insisted it was not ripe even though I knew better.   A few days passed and I started to fear for the life of the tomato.   The last thing I wanted it to do was rot on my counter but I was also very hesitant to cut it open and actually eat it.   Finally I came up with the idea of using it in a dish I make with tomatoes, onions, corn and chicken.  It was delicious! I put most of it in the dish and the colour was fabulous.  I gathered up some courage and ate a piece and what do you know…it tasted just like a red tomato! The tomato was quite large and I ended up leaving a quarter of it behind.   I was ready to eat the rest when it suddenly dawned on me…I hadn’t harvested any seeds from it!  That was the primary purpose of me having it; eating it was secondary!  Ahh, the irony of it all.  I harvested the seeds, ate the rest and we’ll see if the seeds germinate next spring.

Green Tomatoes, Red Tomatoes, Purple Onions and Yellow Corn

Green Tomatoes, Red Tomatoes, Purple Onions and Yellow Corn

Bringing in the Harvest: Roasting Vegetables

I’ve always loved a good roasted potato. To me, it is perfection in textures married together: crispy outside, soft and mealy on the inside.  I decided to add some variety to this basic theme and opted to try roasting carrots, onions, brussels sprouts and of course my beloved potato, all together.

For the first attempt, I followed a recipe.  I used completely raw vegetables which may not seem important but it factors into my second attempt.  Thinking that the potatoes would take a little longer to cook than everything else, I chopped those up a little smaller than the carrots.  The onions were somewhat problematic.  I chopped those into quarters.  Since the recipe called for all of the vegetables to be placed into a bowl and mixed together, the layers never stayed together thereby making this vegetable much smaller than the others.  I split the brussels sprouts in half and cut the carrots into small pieces as per the recipe.  Everything was drizzled in a few tablespoons of olive oil, salted and peppered, tossed and put into a prepared cooking pan.  Cook at 350° for 20-40 minutes and presto: burned onions (or, “seriously caramelized” depending on your choice of words), carrots that were almost completely shriveled up, slightly over-done sprouts and partially uncooked potatoes.  Hmmm….  having said that, we still managed to polish off the food as it was quite tasty.

This time, I couldn’t afford to make a mistake.  I chose this dish as a side dish to our Thanksgiving dinner so it had to be done right.

We had some cooked potatoes in the fridge still with their peel on and everything, just calling out to me to be used.  Of course I obliged.  I cut the potatoes into decent sizes remembering that they were already cooked.  I cut the carrots in larger size pieces than the potatoes.  Again, I halved the brussels sprouts.  I quartered the onions and placed them in such a way that (I hoped) they would stick together while cooking or at least not burn.

I used a 13 x 9 pyrex baking dish for this, completely un-prepared (no cooking spray used as per the original recipe).  As I prepared the vegetables I placed them in the dish, omitting the tossing from the first attempt.  Once the vegetables were all set, I gave everything a liberal spray with my olive oil cooking sprayer, dashed with salt and pepper and put in the oven at 400°.  I cooked them for 30-40 minutes, turning them every 15 minutes and removed them from the oven.  About 15 minutes before our turkey was ready, I popped the dish back into the oven to warm the vegetables.  The result: terrific!  Everything was cooked to a uniform degree.  The roasting had concentrated the flavours of each vegetable and as you can see from the After picture, there wasn’t much leftover.

Roasted Veg: Before

Roasted Veg: Before

Roasted Veg: After

Roasted Veg: After

To recap:
Pre-heat oven to 400°.
Chop vegetables, using pre-cooked potatoes.
Place veg in cooking dish.
Spray with olive oil.
Add salt and pepper.
Cook for 30-40 minutes, turning every 15 mins, until done.

Fall: Harvest and Holidays

Raisin Challah

Raisin Challah

I really love this time of the year.  I enjoy fall fairs, apple picking and the leaves changing.  Fall is also the time of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Thanksgiving, and in our house, that means lots of baking.  I’m not Jewish (I married into a family that is) and during this season, I joke often that I’m only in it for the food.

A Jewish holiday wouldn’t be the same without Challah (unless it’s Passover and that’s another blog entry).  The recipe that I use makes 2 loaves.  This  bread freezes nicely and often we keep both loaves.  Rosh Hashanah means I give a lot of bread away.  I can’t make enough bread for everyone who reads this but I can post the recipe here so you can enjoy this for yourself!

New Year’s Sweet Round Raisin Challah
excerpted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman

2 tblsp dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1/3 cup light honey
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
6 1/2 – 7 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups dark or yellow raisins, plumped [see below]

Egg Wash:
2 tblsp water
2 tsp sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

A few notes before you begin:
I use 1 egg plus 1 tblsp of water for my egg wash. It works quite nicely and is less fussy than the original.
I have successfully frozen this dough before baking, removed it from the freezer, let it go through the 2nd rise and then baked it. I have also successfully frozen a baked loaf.
When measuring honey, it sticks to your measuring cup. To avoid this, pour the oil from the recipe into the 1/3 cup measure, then pour it into the 1/2 cup measure. Fill your 1/3 cup measure with honey and top off the 1/2 cup measure with oil. The thin layer of oil left behind in the 1/3 cup measure will prevent honey from sticking to the measuring cup.
I use a KitchenAid 5 quart stand mixer with a dough hook for this recipe.

[To plump your raisins, pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a few minutes. I do this first and drain them while the dough is resting.]
Stir together the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel/dish cloth.
Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
Briskly stir in the remaining sugar, honey and salt.
Add oil, eggs, yolks and 5 cups of the flour.
Turn your mixer onto speed 2 or 3 and let it go until the dough starts to come together, approximately 5-10 minutes.
Knead by hand or with a dough hook for about 10 to 12 minutes, adding the remaining flour as required to make a soft and elastic dough. [ Add the flour very slowly to avoid having it splash back at you.]
The dough should leave the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky, add small amounts of flour until it is soft. You may have to divide the dough into 2 portions and work with them separately, if it is too bulky for your mixer.
Once the dough has been mixed and is silky smooth and soft, let the dough rest on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or longer; you want that gluten to relax so you can easily add the raisins.
Flatten the bread gently and press in the raisins as evenly as possible throughout the dough, folding the dough over the raisins to “tuck” them in.  This takes forever. It’s much faster to divide your dough into 2 batches, toss 1/2 of the dough plus 1/2 the raisins (drained and patted dry) in your mixer on a low speed for a few minutes. If you choose to do this by hand, keep going until all of the raisins are added. It’s worth the effort!
Place the dough in a greased bowl, brush the top with a little oil and cover it with plastic wrap and a tea towel.  Let the dough rise until almost doubled and puffy (45-90 minutes).  I find the time for rising varies, depending on how warm my home is. Sometimes it is up to 2 hours.
Divide the dough in two and shape accordingly – round for Rosh Hashanah, braided for Shabbos or just in a loaf pan. I then use the plastic wrap from the first rise to lightly cover the shaped challahs while they go through a second rise. I put a tea towel over the plastic and set them on the stove to rise for another 30 minutes or so. The original recipe has the egg wash put on the loaves now. I perform that step after the second rise.
Placed the shaped bread on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the egg glaze ingredients. Brush the bread with egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until puffy (20-30 mins).
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake the bread for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake for another 20-25 mins or until the bread is evenly browned.
If you find that the loaves are starting to darken more than you would like, cover them lightly with foil and continue baking for the remaining time.

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