January 2016 Favourites

My first favourites of 2016!

IMG_7314

◌ Loved this article on Toni Morrison.

This is a pledge I can get behind!

◌ H. and I watched A Most Violent Year — a quiet but thought-provoking film about morals. We liked it.

◌ Reading the Guardian’s Weekend magazine is one of the rituals I look forward to every Saturday and I was so thrilled to see a cover story on Ellen Page!

◌ It was posted in the spirit of new years’ resolutions, but this is a collection of good advice for all year round (and: the science of willpower).

◌ 2016 book previews: fiction; nonfiction.

◌ Speaking of previews, winter ’16 in TV.

◌ I watched Vice’s prison documentary on the flight to Canada in December. It’s a good one.

◌ I’m a little skeptical of so many of these clickbait lists, but every once in a while they do make you feel good! 16 Uncomfortable Feelings That Actually Indicate You’re On The Right Path.

◌ Beg, borrow, or steal Station Eleven — one of the best books I have ever read. Just read it. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, last year’s Pulitzer winner, was also very very good. Harrowing, but jaw-droppingly beautiful writing.

◌ I’m late on this, since it’s been on since 2009 I started watching The Good Wife in October, but … it’s a good show! And on Netflix in the UK and Canada.

What’s really on trial in the Ghomeshi case?

IMG_7451

My new favourite pasta

Introducing my new favourite pasta dish…

Bacon, sauteed leek, and Parmesan spaghetti

Surprisingly, this is my own creation! (There are not too many of them on this blog). And it happened so randomly: I was scrounging away looking for a quick pasta I could make to take with me for lunch. I’ve made a couple of time since and it’s a great staple that’s also quite versatile.

How to make it:

  1. Cook 4-6 strips of bacon.
  2. Meanwhile, salt a pan of water and bring to a boil; cook pasta of choice (I used wholewheat spghatti) to just post al dente.
  3. When the bacon is finished, take it out, and in the same pan, season and then sautee the leeks in the bacon fat [you may have to remove some of the fat; the bacon here isn’t as fatty as in North America]. Sautee the leeks until they are your preferred ‘doneness.’
  4. When the noodles are finished, drain them (keep a bit of water so they don’t stick together) and transfer to a big bowl. Chop or tear the bacon and add it, along with your choice of oil or butter (I used EVOO).
  5. Add in the leeks and grated Parmesan. Season to taste. Viola!

Like any pasta this has easy (and possibly more delicious?) substitutions: pancetta for the bacon, and other types of cheese — aged Asiago or Grana Padano maybe?

IMG_7538
There is chicken in this photographed version; one time I made it I threw in a chicken breast.

Chicken, Leek, & Kale Pie with Cheddar Crumble

Ever since we have been back in London I have been on a bit of leek craze. Leeks have been plentiful at the farmers’ market and I have been picking up a few every week (so expect a few leek-related posts to come).

One of the midweek meals I made was this “pie” from Diana Henry, a self-described “cook who loves words.” The concept of a savoury crumble intrigued me and the combination of ingredients sounded like it would work.

Well, it did! This was straightforward to make (although not terribly quick if you’re starting without leftover chicken), satisfying on a winter evening, and very moreish. The recipe doesn’t specify what cut of chicken to use; I only had breast and I found that it worked absolutely fine as there is a lot of moisture with the sauce (if you’re using breasts from scratch make sure to not overcook them — my preferred method is poaching in stock). Boneless thighs would probably be ideal though.

I added in the kale as I had some lying around. I also found there was a bit too much of the topping, but that’s personal preference.

I really liked this dish — it just screams “snowy rainy winter night.” H. loved it too but we differed on whether it was better than Rachel Allen’s chicken and leek pie that I made back in October. I preferred Rachel’s whereas H. preferred this one. :)

IMG_7528 (2)

IMG_7535

Road Trip: Nova Scotia to Florida

2 provinces, 14 states, 6 days, 1 snowstorm, 3400+ kms!

After a lovely Christmas in Nova Scotia, H. and I left Halifax on 28 December, Florida-bound. The purpose of our trip was to drive my grandfather’s car down (he would fly a week later). We had only a rough plan of our route leaving, and no hotel reservations made. I was a little nervous about that — I am a person who likes a plan — but I actually ended up loving it. The spontaneity was a lot of fun and, thinking back on it, exactly what I needed given the last quarter of 2015 was deadline after deadline after deadline.

Part of day 1
Leaving the frozen north!

Nights 1 and 2: Portland, ME
We drove over 900 kms the first day to try to get as far south as possible due to an impending storm. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it out of the snow belt and ended up spending two nights in Portland instead of one. The upside of this is that we got to eat see more of Portland — what we could access in the storm anyway.
Hot Suppa — We had breakfast here on day 2. Hot Suppa had amazing reviews on Yelp (which is how we found most of our recommendations), and it was packed, even in the middle of a major storm. We both liked our breakfasts but didn’t love them, and felt that it didn’t quite live up to its hype.
Dutch’s — For lunch that day, we wanted something simple: we both had “takeaway sandwich” in mind, and it had to be somewhere close that we could walk to in a ranging storm! Dutch’s was a great choice- it looks unassuming but their food was delicious.
Boda — Boda was every hipster’s dream. A “Very Thai” kitchen + bar, according to its website. It was good food. It felt more innovative than your average Thai restaurant, although I’d argue your more traditional place is just as satisfying.
Tandem Bakery — We needed caffeine and sustenance for our 800km drive to Harrisburg and Tandem was the perfect choice. The coffee was probably the best all trip and the scones and muffins we had were sooo tasty.

Out of the snow belt
Starting to escape the snow

 

Night 2: Harrisburg, PA
We arrived in Harrisburg after a rather stressful drive through the rain and fog. We crossed 7 states in one day which felt to us like we’d accomplished something!

Harrison's State Capital Building
Harrisburg’s State Capital Building

Cork & Fork — This place was a nice 10-minute walk from our hotel and was packed to the rafters when we arrived. We didn’t think we’d get a table but agreed to wait for a little while to see. After about 15 minutes a table became free and we are so glad it did because the food at Cork & Fork was amazing. We shared a pizza and salad and both were excellent.
Little Amps — Continuing our one-day tradition of starting the day with breakfast to-go from independent coffee shops, we headed to Little Amps. We’d noticed the place the night before (it is kitty-corner to Cork & Fork) when it had live music on. Less than 12 hours later it served us up great coffee and delicious baked goods.

Night 3: Charlotte, NC
Driving into Charlotte was a little surreal because it had a “big city” feeling much more than our previous two stops did. We also had more trouble finding a hotel because it was NYE. I was booking the hotel as H. was pulling off a random exit into the city. But it all ended up working out. We had supper at Mert’s, which was exactly the southern diner that we were after! It was really an experience of its own — unlike anywhere either of us had eaten before. We walked around a bit after supper, taking in the atmosphere of DT Charlotte (jubilant and lots of police). We ended up bar-hopping a bit and then ringing in the new year quietly in our hotel room! (Note: no report on breakfast here as, it being New Year’s Day, we deliberately chose a hotel with breakfast included).

Mert's!
Mert’s!

Night 4: Savannah, GA
The drive from Charlotte to Savannah was an easy 4 hours — much shorter than previous days — and we planned it this way to have a few extra hours of daylight to explore the city. It ended up taking longer to park and unload than we expected, so our time was cut a bit short. Savannah was the first and only place we stayed that felt touristy. It was New Year’s Day after all, and I think there were lots of visitors. There was also no way we could do the place justice in 12 hours of exploring it, but we did get a little taste.
VinnieVanGoGo’s — We had a late lunch here — apparently some of the best pizza in the city — and it did not disappoint. The pizza was fresh and very tasty.
Treylor Park — When we first showed up to Treylor Park we were told that the wait was going to be an hour. Instead we ended up sitting outside at their bar (which had a cooler vibe than inside, we thought). Again, this place was awesome. The food was inventive, the drinks were really good. Highly recommended.

Treylor Park tacos!
Treylor Park tacos!

IMG_7409

The Coffee Fox –We had our final breakfast (to go) at the Coffee Fox. Again, the coffee and breakky here was spot-on.

We made it to Sarasota late afternoon on January 2nd.

Overall
The trip was about driving more than anything else — we obviously had to get the car there! But we were fortunate to see some really cool places and take our time doing it (it is possible to do the drive in 2-3 days). It really made me want to spend more time in the US. As a child we tended to spend our vacations in Canada or the UK (with the exception of some March break trips to FL), and as an adult I have not lived in Canada enough to take advantage of traveling south. The US is such a diverse place and I have always loved visiting and this trip only made me want to see more of it.

Our reward -- sunshine!
Our reward — sunshine!

Some random tidbits
*My favourite part of the whole journey was the drive from the US border to Bangor, ME. We crossed the border around 4:30pm; the sun was setting, snow was all around us, the scenery was incredibly beautiful and there was hardly anyone else on the road. I was driving, H. was dozing next to me (pretty much the last time the passenger was able to doze!), we had NPR’s Fresh Air on the radio, and the whole thing was incredibly peaceful.
*We really noticed how craft breweries are taking off! There was local beer everywhere, even in Sarasota. Awesome.
*At least in the south, everything tasted sweet(er) to us. Butter, bread, pesto, even crackers — it seemed like everything had added sugar. Yuck. I could not stomach more than a bite of some of it. We definitely noticed a huge difference between Canada/UK and the US.
*I learned to drive in NS, where a traffic jam is a tractor + 20 cars behind. There’s only one spot in the whole province (that I can think of) where a highway has 3 lanes. And I have not done much driving in the past 10 years — I didn’t drive at all when I lived in Montreal or Germany, and don’t drive now. So I won’t lie, I was intimidated by some of these big highways. But I did it! Some of the drivers though, oh the driving…
*To book hotels I used the apps Priceline, HotelTonight, and Booking.com. We found that Priceline had the best deals, but it was very random.

A look back at 2015

2015 was a very packed year. It had many highs and some rather low lows, particularly towards the end of the year as I took on way too many responsibilities work-wise, all of which seemed to have the same deadlines.

Travel-wise, as ever, I was very lucky this year. I visited two new countries, Latvia and Iceland. I traveled to new parts of countries I’d already been to: Barcelona, Milan, west coast of Scotland, and the epic road trip I just finished (more on that coming soon). I went home to Nova Scotia three times. Three times. All under different circumstances, but I feel very very lucky to have spent so much time in my beloved home province this year.

Work-wise, I taught my own class for the first time. I wrote drafts of six chapters of my thesis. I attended four conferences (including my first one in Canada!) and met lots of interesting people along the way. I had an amazing opportunity to observe EU cultural policy coordination “in action” in Riga. I transferred to ‘writing up’ stage and can FEEL how close I am to finishing. I continue to be challenged in what I am doing and enjoy what I am doing and thus know that this is the ‘place’ I am meant to be, professionally, even if it means living like a poor student for a little while yet.

Speaking of which, life in London continues to be equal parts thrilling/amazing and challenging. I have no savings anymore, my teaching jobs do not pay enough to cover my rent, and shudder how much I’ll owe in student loans when I finish this degree, but have to remind myself that this is temporary and that when I finally have a ‘proper’ job (fingers crossed), it will be worth it (at least I hope so!).

One of the absolute best parts of 2015 is that I got to see all three of my best friends this year– one once, one twice, and one four times! All three live in Canada and our visits are very rare so seeing them all has been special.

Food-wise, some of my favourite things I made last year (in no particular order) were mozza and mushroom cakeschicken and leek pietahini cookiesroast shoulder of lambseafood chowder, buckeyesapricot crumble tartbaked satay chicken with millet, and haddock and leek risotto.

My favourite meals are too numerous to think of. Most of them are in Sandy Cove, where the seafood is right out of the sea and the vegetables out of the garden the same day you eat them, but there has also been opulence and extravagance (thank you B.A.!), and lots of wings Wednesdays.

In 2016, my goals are simple. Finish my PhD. Find a job. Keep the stress to a minimum (which will be difficult, given the first two goals!). Try to live well and remember the things that matter most to me: H., my family, my friends, being healthy, having fun, learning new things, seeing the world, and (how can I forget!) reading. :) Happy 2016!

2015 in reading

Hello from Canada! :) This will be my last post of 2015. While I have an awkward end of the month work-related deadline, I’m trying to take as much time away from work/the computer as possible now that I am home for Christmas. Other than helping out, I won’t be in the kitchen much either, so expect food-related posts to start back up again in the new year (and I’ll do a big favourites round-up in January). Come January, my work schedule changes and I hope to get back to what has been sorely lacking in my life for the past few months — cooking! You can also expect a travel post early in the new year as H. and I are embarking on a 3400km road trip next week!

I always enjoy sharing my favourite books of the year. As always, this isn’t necessarily books published in 2015, just the ones I happened to read.

Fiction
Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (2002) — Russo is hands-down one of my favourite authors. I’m quite literally pacing myself through his work so that I don’t read everything at once. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as Straight Man, Empire Falls is a humorous and highly perceptive look at small-town life in America.
Sylvanus Now, by Donna Morrissey (2006) — A sparkling Newfoundland tale (the best kind of tale!) that will stay with you a long time after. Morrissey nails the descriptions of 1950s Newfoundland. Brilliant.
Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson (2003) — This is another Canadian author and this story takes place in rural Ontario. Again, the story-telling is magnificent.
Undermajordomo Minorby Patrick deWitt (2015) — Not my usual ‘type’ of read, but this book was fun, funny, and very engaging.

Nonfiction
No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett & Gordon Rayner (2010) — I remember the expenses scandal as it unfolded and this book gives the backstory of how that happened as the truth came out of how MPs were abusing their expense accounts. Required reading for anyone interested in politics, power, and the media.
The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks (2015) — I think the reason this book was so successful is because it’s about  practices that many of us are so far removed from and disengaged with. Rebanks brought shepherding and farming back into everyday conversation and I think he did a fantastic job of it.
Hack Attack by Nick Davies (2014) — This should be on everyone’s reading list. Everyone. It is a book about power and the media and corruption and while it’s a hideous story it is a brilliant book.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! :)

November 2015 Favourites

The snow’s falling on WordPress….it’s December!

◌ Driving one of the world’s most remote highways.

Holiday hummus board….yum.

◌ Liked this article on Tony Bennett painting in Central Park.

◌ Let this smiling, rescued donkey lift your spirits!

◌ One 2015 cookbook guide.

Whisky cocktails for winter.

Conversation between Gloria Steinem and RBG.

Amazing photographs.

Most Instagrammed location in every state.

NYT 100 Notable Books of 2015 and 10 best crime novels too.

Love Alanis, love JC, and love this rendition!

Mushroom & Mozza Risotto Cakes / Baked Risotto with Peppers & Eggplant

Two posts in November is not a great record. I had every intention of posting more, but life got in the way. I was a hermit for most of October and was not being very social, so made it my goal to get out more in November. I wish I could say that’s why I haven’t been posting, but no, H. and I were struck down with an awful stomach bug that lasted 10 days. That 1 1/2 weeks was a total write-off in terms of cooking and doing much outside of the house, unfortunately.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately… life has changed a great deal in the almost 5(!) years since I started this blog. While I still have a great deal of control over my schedule, I no longer have the time to experiment in the kitchen as much as I used to. Cooking has become a lot more functional and practical, as I knew it would, and that’s only going to increase over time. I still love being in the kitchen and trying new things, but I now only seem to have the time to do that a few times a month. Of course, this is also coming to the end of the semester during which I have lectured for the first time, am trying to finish my PhD, and of course how can I forget, now starting to apply for ‘real’ jobs. I.e. it’s a very busy of time of year! Reprieve will come (I hope).

Today I have two really good recipes to share, both featuring arborio rice used in ways different to a traditional risotto. Bringing these together was a fluke; I originally intended to post them separately but it makes sense to combine them.

Mushroom & mozarella risoto cakes
delicious magazine tweeted this recipe over a month ago, and it caught my eye straight away. It is one of those recipes that looks straightforward and requires easy-to-get-a-hold-of ingredients. Although my version did not look as good as the photo in the link ;), I loved this meal because it turns out that I love the texture of fried arborio rice. The cakes are a bit hard to get to stick together. Mine did, but just barely. This is the perfect meal to have with a crisp, slightly spicy side green salad. They’re crunchy and simply delicious.

risotto cakes

 

Baked rice with eggplant and peppers
Luisa’s title sounds better, and her photo looks better too! But essentially this is exactly what is sounds like: rice baked with aubergine and peppers and topped with cheese. It’s very tasty and straightforward enough to make as a weeknight meal. I’d be inclined next time to try it with drained canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones, just to see what a difference it makes in texture. Otherwise this dish gets my full approval.

riso al forno all siciliana

PS: Happy December! November favourites coming soon.

World of Chilis

Back in late October, H. and I and my mum had a nice visit to H.’s parents’ in Germany. One afternoon we visited the very impressive Herrenhäuser Gärten — a must-see if you’re in the Hannover area. They had a temporary exhibit on chilis — we were impressed! I knew there were loads of chili varieties but to see them all collected in one spot was very cool.

IMG_7231

IMG_7233

IMG_7234

IMG_7238

On bake sales

I love a good bake sale. But I have to confess I generally enjoy the prep and the baking more than the actual eating, especially when it’s for a good cause. Recently, my friend B. and I hosted a bake sale for a cause near to our hearts. We each made 3 items and some of her friends helped us out, as you can see form the photo below. We hosted it on a Friday afternoon at her workplace — which just happens to be Vanity Fair magazine at Vogue House in central London. I decided to make banana bread, cupcakes, and sesame snaps (the first one tried and true, the latter two not). It was a mixed bag…

Mascarpone and almond cupcakes
I am not a cupcake person. They’re generally, other than maybe chocolate cake, the last thing I’d go for because I find them typically to be sickeningly sweet. Of course, there are exceptions. And since I had never made them before, I thought I’d give it a go. I used a recipe from Ottolenghi’s first book, Ottolenghi, which has some really good sweet treat recipes. In the book they are hazelnut cupcakes, but I could not find any hazelnuts so used almonds instead (it is such a small amount — 45g). I was really pleased with the way these turned out. I cut the sugar a bit in both the batter and frosting and it worked well. They were moist and very tasty. And they sold out! Someone even bought one and then came back 10 minutes later to buy the last one. :)

Sesame snaps
By my standards, the sesame snaps failed. As I was reading the recipe and comments, I thought to myself, “two cups of sugar sounds like a LOT.” Always trust your instincts. I ended up putting in about 1.5 and it was far, FAR too sweet. Like fudge. It needed maybe 1/2 a cup. (One person who visited our bake sale said, ‘ooh, these look healthy’ and I had to warn her that they were likely sweeter than she thought). H. thought they were ok, but I couldn’t really stomach them. Making the snaps is a slightly finicky process because you’re working with hot sugar and it dries very easily and quickly. I poured it but could not completely spread the mixture evenly before it started to cool and thus the snaps ended up being thicker than I wanted. Not the best first attempt, but 4/5 bags sold — hopefully to people with sweet tooths.

In the end, we raised £231 ($463 CAD)!

bake sale