Monday, December 15, 2014

peppermint lavender balm

I have never made a cosmetic balm before.

When I pull out the double-boiler, it's usually to melt chocolate.

But I kept coming across these recipes for homemade vaporub and I couldn't get over how nice it would be to make a balm where I could pronounce all the ingredients.

After a little research, all I needed was one trip to the health food store to get the ingredients.

I decided on peppermint and lavender essential oils because they are intriguing and I thought they would make an intriguing little balm.

Then I found little travel jars at the drugstore, and set them out as potential vessels.

That's all the prep I needed. I chopped up the remains of a clean white beeswax candle from the farmers' market and fired up the double boiler.

Soon enough, I was melting coconut oil and olive oil, and watching the beeswax melt into translucence before dropping in my essential oils.

And that was that. My very own peppermint lavender balm that took all of ten minutes to brew up.

So far, it's been cool and comforting on a scratchy nose and dry knuckles.

And you know the best part? I made it myself.

one year ago: jane's pecan puffs
two years ago: hot lemon honey tea
three years ago: spiced ginger mounds and cheesy grapes
four years ago: butter lettuce for a break and tipsy rum balls

peppermint lavender balm
slightly adapted from oh lardy

5 tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*
2 tbsp. beeswax, chopped up
10 drops peppermint essential oil
12 drops lavender essential oil

If you're using a glass jar, sterilize it by washing it, rinsing it and then pouring boiling water into it. Let sit 10 minutes before pouring the water out.

In a double boiler or metal bowl suspended over simmering water, melt the coconut oil and olive oil together. Add the beeswax and stir to melt. Remove from the heat. Stir in the peppermint and lavender oils.

Either pour directly into your prepared jar or use a little spoon to pour into smaller clean plastic or metal containers. Let cool. Use on dry skin or rub on your chest or soles of your feet to help you sleep. Store at room temperature if you'd like it softer.

*Oh Lardy says you can also use another carrier oil, such as evening primrose or sweet almond.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

shortbread peppermint pattie cookies

This cookie is undeniably messy.

You'll just have to get over that.

I mean, let's think about shortbread. The best shortbread has so much butter packed in that it's just waiting to scatter all over your best black sweater. But we deal with that because we love that buttery taste.

So you take that buttery, scattery shortbread and you use it as a sandwich to hold a creamy, dense, chocolate-covered peppermint patty. And what do you get?

One of my very favourite Christmas cookies.

Also: a cookie that must be eaten on a plate.

I remember encountering these at my grandma's house when we were visiting for Christmas. I think I looked at it for quite a while, dumbfounded. I mean, this was a brilliant, brilliant idea. How had I never seen it before?

I made it my business to eat as many as I could. I don't know how Grandma came up with it  maybe it was suggested in a magazine or maybe she thought it up herself. I don't think she used a special shortbread recipe, just her regular, no-nonsense shortbread that also got topped with little bits of maraschino cherries in other forms.

Somehow, I forgot about these cookies for almost 20 years, but this year I ate a chocolate-covered peppermint pattie at work last week and suddenly realized it needed a shortbread sandwich around it.

So I went into my gluten-free kitchen and whipped these up. Don't tell  they look so fancy  but they were very quick to make. Now I also know why Grandma, who was a very practical woman, liked making them.

one year ago: annie's sundried tomatoes
two years ago: potato chip cookies and cheese ball
three years ago: roasted tomato soup and asiago lace and dominosteine and christmas treats
four years ago: walnut slugs and spicy cajun almonds

gluten-free shortbread peppermint pattie cookies
inspired by my grandma, elizabeth mitchell
bakes 13  14 sandwich cookies

note 1: Here's the gluten-free shortbread recipe, but if you don't need to be gluten-free, go with your favourite basic shortbread recipe. Make sure you do the sandwiching while the cookies are still warm, so they slightly melt the peppermint pattie and make it stick.

note 2: I'll try to get you weights soon!

1/2 c. cornstarch
1 c. brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
1/2 c. icing or confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. butter
13  14 small chocolate-covered peppermint patties (I like York)

Prepare a pan with parchment paper or a silicone lining.

Stir the cornstarch, brown rice flour, xanthan gum, icing sugar and salt together to form one flour. Cut the butter into 6 or 8 pieces and drop into the bowl. Blend together until it forms a dough.

Shape into balls that are slightly smaller than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Place on baking sheet at least 1.5 inches apart. Press down with a fork slightly to make a fat pattie. Chill at least 10 minutes.

Bake in 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 18  20 minutes, until the edges have just the tiniest hint of colour. Don't overbake.

Leave the cookies on the pan but place the pan on a rack. In about 4  5 minutes, get out a cutting board and carefully put the cookies on it upside-down. (They are in a fragile state right now.) Gently press a peppermint pattie down on one shortbread cookie and gently press another shortbread cookie on top. Place on rack to cool.

Monday, November 17, 2014

hazelnut cacao nib granola

I am an unabashed breakfast eater.

Sometimes, I hear stories about how people get up in a rush and go to work without eating breakfast. I can't even imagine it.

I mean, how could those people breathe on an empty stomach, let alone sit up straight and speak in full sentences?

I used to eat peanut butter toast and fruit for breakfast, along with some strong black tea, of course. Scott added eggs and coffee to his breakfast and he was a happy camper.

About two months ago, everything changed. After seven blissful years of married breakfasts, Scott decided it was all too much work and took too much time in the morning.

Now, I make granola or oatmeal on Sunday, and then we dish it out or heat it up throughout the week. I still insist upon the fresh fruit, but actually Scott was right: it is much easier to just dish up some granola instead of toasting toast and fussing with eggs.

This is our favourite granola so far. I'm not surprised, considering that hazelnut and chocolate is one of my all-time favourite flavour combinations. (My German heritage means that I am incapable of thinking about chocolate without hazelnuts.)

When I first made it, I wondered if the cacao nibs would make it too sweet for breakfast. But no: cacao nibs are just cacao beans that have been roasted  no sweetener added. They actually kind of remind me of little pieces of coffee beans, in a good way.

In any case, the granola is golden and lightly crunchy and completely the right thing to eat for (a quicker) breakfast. My thanks go out to Megan Gordon, who wrote the lovely Whole-Grain Mornings.

Megan is based in Seattle and she runs the popular Marge Granola. She gives a couple granola recipes in her cook book  I also tried apricot pistachio  and they're both revelations. They taste just exactly like I always knew granola could: not too sweet and nicely toasty, with lots of nuggets to get excited about. Megan, you have helped save breakfast.

one year ago: japan in pictures and japan in food
two years ago: quince jellies
three years ago: applesauce spice cake
four years ago: west african peanut soup via winnipeg and butter tarts

hazelnut cacao nib granola
very slightly adapted from whole-grain mornings by megan gordan
bakes 6  7 cups

300 g. (3 c.) rolled oats
60 g. (1/2 c.) sesame seeds, raw or lightly-toasted*
50 g. (1/2 c. raw walnuts or pecans, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. regular salt)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
120 ml. (1/2 c.) maple syrup
120 ml. (1/2 c.) olive oil or melted coconut oil**
35 g. (3/4 c.) coconut flakes or 1/3 c. toasted sunflower seeds
60 g. (1/2 c.) raw hazelnuts, chopped
25 g. (1/4 c.) cacao nibs

Get out your biggest cookie pan. If you don't have a sheet pan, use two regular-sized cookie pans. Line with parchment paper or a Silpat. Preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit.

Now, get out a big bowl. Stir the oats, sesame seeds, walnuts or pecans, salt, cinnamon and cardamom together. Pour the vanilla, maple syrup and coconut oil on top and stir it in. Pour the mixture onto your prepared pan and spread it evenly.

Bake for 15 minutes. Stir the coconut or sunflower seeds and hazelnuts in. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. It should be fragrant and golden but not too dark  it will keep cooking a bit as it cools. Once it's cool, stir the cacao nibs in.

Store in an airtight container on the counter for 3 to 4 weeks  although I bet it'll be gone in a few days. You may also freeze it up to 3 months.

*I buy lightly-toasted sesame seeds at the grocery store for everything. I find they don't burn here, so it saves me the pain of buying raw on top of the sesame seeds I already have.

**Megan calls for coconut oil, but I haven't had it in the house. I've been using olive oil (which Megan uses in her other granola recipes) and it's great.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

chard salad with feta and capers

Ever since I said that salad doesn't make me go gaga, well 

Salad has made me go gaga.

Here's the latest installment: chard salad with feta and capers.

We were lucky enough to eat it a couple weeks ago at our favourite old lunch spot in Victoria, the Parsonage.

Now, I know that everything the Parsonage makes is divine, but I only ordered it because I thought it would balance out my Island ham and cheddar croissant and Scott's gluten-free reuben.

Man, did it ever. We were sitting at a little table out front and had to use all our restraint not to eat each other's portion. We were sharing just a little side salad, and Scott was soon heading back in to order a full serving. Then he was pretty disappointed when I wanted more than a few bites of that big bowl of salad.

That settled it. After we finished, I crossed my fingers and asked one of the Parsonage's friendly chefs how to make such a good chard salad. And he told me: local chard, capers, feta, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

That, I could do. When we got home, Scott found local chard at the farmers' market and I set about mixing it up. And then I understood why the Parsonage makes it: this salad gets better over the course of the day. And night.

Sure, it was good with our Sunday lunch . . . but it was even better in my lunch the next day. The chard is tender enough to eat immediately  although you wouldn't mistake it for young lettuce  but it gets more tender and flavourful the longer the dressing is on it. The feta and capers are brilliant with the chard, and it is altogether beautiful with little bits of the rainbow running through it.

Dear Parsonage, I wish we lived closer and I could eat your sandwiches every week.

one year ago: three-nuts chocolate torte
two years ago: 27 hours in saskatoon and homemade ricotta cheese
three years ago: quince almond cake and roasted beet risotto
four years ago: pear ginger jam

chard salad with feta and capers
inspiration and ingredients via the parsonage, proportions are my best guess
this is a relaxed salad  i really don't think you need to measure

about 6 stalks rainbow chard or kale*
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
ground pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. capers
2/3 c. feta cheese, crumbled

Prepare the chard by cutting out the tough coloured stalks that run down the centre. Line the leaves up and cut them into bite-sized ribbons. Set aside.

Whisk the red wine vinegar, sea salt and ground pepper together. Whisk in the olive oil slowly. Roughly chop 1 tablespoon of capers. Add these capers and the garlic to the dressing and mix well. Toss about three-quarters of the dressing with the prepared chard. Add the other 1 tablespoon of whole capers and feta and mix well. Taste and decide if you need the rest of the dressing, or more salt and pepper.

May be eaten immediately or any time in the next couple days. Store in the fridge.

*If using kale, you might want to massage the dressing into the leaves to soften them somewhat.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

fresh plum kuchen

You know when you have something in mind, maybe something you haven't eaten properly since you were a child? And you set out to make it but you're not very hopeful because you haven't eaten it for so long and recreating recipes almost never works out on the first try?

That's how I felt going into plum cake.

I knew what I wanted: plum cake like I had from German bakeries when I was a child. Possibly plum cake that my mother even made, although I'm not sure.

What I do remember is that it had a hearty, buttery crust that was the furthest thing from a grocery-story white cake you could imagine. Plums in the top, sunken and weeping purple juice. On top of the plums there's this light crackling of sugary something.

We would eat it, my mom, my dad, my brother and I sitting under the cherry tree on our front lawn, around 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a weekend when it's officially coffee time if you're German.

I hadn't had such a plum cake for years, but I bought Italian prune plums at the market this week and they were just crying out for a dough resting place.

I found this recipe for fresh plum kuchen in The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser. This particular cake dates from 1947, which gave me hope that it wouldn't be too modern or light. As far as I'm concerned, plum cake has heft and is not meant to be a mere wisp of cake.

I adapted it to have gluten-free flours and sent it into the oven with a hope and prayer.

Before it was done baking, I knew it was the plum kuchen I'd been looking for. Would you believe me if I tell you that I could tell by the smell?

There is something about plums with just a little bit of cinnamon that is magic. The cake itself baked into a texture I haven't encountered with gluten-free flours before. It tastes buttery but almost chewy, almost as it it had yeast in it.

It is exactly what I remembered. Perhaps that's why I've already had three pieces since it came out of the oven 21 hours ago.

one year ago: leek gratin
two years ago: beet salad with honey-horseradish dressing
three years ago: star anise plum jam
four years ago: finally yummy brussels sprouts

fresh plum kuchen
slightly adapted from Jane Nickerson in the Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser

1 1/2 c. wheat flour
     or gluten-free:
     30 g. millet flour
     30 g. sorghum flour
     30 g. wheat-free oat flour
     60 g. sweet rice flour
     60 g. potato starch
     1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter or vegetable shortening
1 large egg
1/3 c. milk
grated zest of 1 lemon or lime
melted butter for brushing

1/3 c. sugar (1/2 c. if your plums are very sour)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. wheat flour
     or gluten-free:
     1 tsp. sweet rice flour
     1/2 tsp. millet flour
8 small ripe plums, halved and pitted
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp. heavy cream
optional: whipped cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8 by 8-inch pan. Set aside.

To make the cake, stir the flour(s), baking powder, salt and sugar together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until it looks like coarse cornmeal.

Whisk the egg, milk and lemon zest together. Stir them into the flour mixture, until they're just blended to make a thick dough. Press the dough into the prepared pan, and then brush the top with melted butter.

To make the topping, stir the sugar, cinnamon and flour(s) together. Place the plums cut side up on the dough. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the plums.

Whisk the egg yolk with the heavy cream. Drizzle over the plums and sugar mixture.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered (35 minutes in all).

Serve alone or with whipped cream.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

mt. harris trail mix

It is not summer anymore.

I know this because there is a light scattering of yellow leaves covering my front lawn and I've had a terrible cough for more than three weeks.

Therefore summer: please, come back soon.

In the meantime, here's one more summer memory  and a good snack that will take you through fall, winter, spring and all the way back to summer again.

Almost a hundred years ago, Scott's great-grandfather, Ley Edwards Harris, helped survey a mountain deep in the Rockies. They climbed up on a snowy, blustery day and Harris almost lost the camera equipment in a whiteout. Later, the chief surveyor decided to name the mountain after him.

Ever since I met Scott, he's been talking about climbing Mt. Harris. The mountain is practically buried in the back country of Banff National Park. There are no hiking trails and it only sometimes shows up on maps of the area.

This summer, Scott and his two brothers charted a way to Mt. Harris. It involved a week of hiking, lugging 70-pound packs and watching out for grizzlies (they only saw one).

Scott is an experienced hiker, and I quickly learned that Scott thought my suggestions for food and packing were a bit amateur.

Still I wanted to help, so I offered to make trail mix.

Yes, this was something the expert would let me do. So I set about making trail mix. I tinkered with a Canadian Living recipe called "Fanny Pack Trail Mix." (I certainly didn't tell the expert the name or he would think I was really amateur.)

I subbed in some salted seeds and nuts where the recipe called for unsalted, on the theory that you need salt when you're exercising and it would taste better. The expert agreed. I also added banana chips because, actually, banana chips are awesome.

The expert packed himself a big Ziplock bag full, and a couple smaller ones for the brothers. I held a bit back for my non-adventurous non-hiker life here in Edmonton.

While they were off scaling Mt. Harris, I ate a small container of trail mix every day at work as a mid-morning snack and thought of them.

When they came back  tired, hungry, but having reached Mt. Harris  the expert reported that the trail mix had served them very well. I was pleased.

one year ago: warm salad of crispy chicken thighs and green beans with garlicky tomato concassé
two years ago: little house on the prairie and beet hummus
three years ago: hop & go fetch it: german edition and parsley lentil pasta
four years ago: salted chocolate shortbread and mrs. doucet's apple chutney

mt. harris trail mix
adapted from canadian living

2 c. (500 mL) salted roasted sunflower seeds
2 c. (500 mL) green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 1/2 c. (375 mL) raisins
1 c. (250 mL) roasted almonds
1 c. (250 mL) roasted cashews
1 c. (250 mL) salted roasted peanuts
 2 c. (250  500 mL) banana chips

Get your biggest bowl out. Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container on the counter.

Monday, September 1, 2014

summer: nova scotia

I promised to show you Nova Scotia. Let's go to Cape Split.

One morning, we got up early to drive to the Annapolis Valley.

We wound our way through the valley, fields of corn and early-morning storm clouds, out to a little piece of land that juts into the Bay of Fundy.

We walked over patches of mud and tree roots and dry path until we reached the point where the cape actually splits.

We settled into the grass and Queen Anne's lace that carpets the top of the cape, and had our picnic lunch: blueberries, carrots, smeerkaas (spreadable Gouda cheese!), smoked maple sausage and a bit of mint dark chocolate we'd picked up along the way.

It was a nice view for lunch.

one year ago: summer road trip to b.c.
two years ago: cherry peach jam and ode to victoria
three years ago: salmon for dinner
four years ago: peach crisp and tomato zucchini gratin

Sunday, August 24, 2014

summer: prince edward island

When I think back on this summer, I will think of the beauty.

Of the way the sun hit the blue Atlantic and how clouds chased each other across the sky faster than I remembered possible. Of sand dunes and fine red sand between my toes. Of wild raspberries on the beach path and the smell of warm salt air. Of the East Coast in summertime.

Let me show you.

We'll start with Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia will come in a few days.

These are the Greenwich dunes in Prince Edward Island National Park.

The boardwalk stretches on for ages, leading over bog and marsh and freshwater.

Until suddenly, at the foot of a dune, you take off your shoes for the sandy path and walk barefoot over that dune and right into the Atlantic Ocean.

Later, we drove east  all the way to one of the eastern-most points in North America.

The East Point Lighthouse was built in 1867 and is still manned.

Better keep an eye on that boat.

Waters from the Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence meet at the foot of the lighthouse.

Dusk falls after a dinner of mussels, halibut and the most exquisite cobbler made with teeny-tiny Island blueberries at the old Shaw's Hotel near Brackley Beach.

Good night.

one year ago: snack chronicles: super fudge
two years ago: finding jim mitchell lake and tarragon three-bean salad
three years ago: tschüss, deutschland! and german groceries
four years ago: rote grütze on ice cream and rosemary corn butter