Sunday, March 27, 2011

up island

I have been hunting and gathering up Island in the Comox Valley and this is what I've found: spicy beans, salsa and sauerkraut from the farm down the road from my dad's land. The farmers were just putting up a new greenhouse in the mud as we walked up, their big, friendly dog trotting along beside us.

Further down the Island highway, we managed to find Woody's wild-flower honey, and locally-roasted coffee beans in Royston.

This was all part of a long weekend we created with my dad to celebrate my birthday. Instead of a cake, we made huckleberry-bramble-buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and sat at the table with quince blossoms dad had forced. Then we went out for lunch. Actually, we went out for a few lunches . . . a couple of cafés so good that I've added them to my favourites in hop & go fetch it. (Look for Courtenay and Cumberland.)

This got me thinking about other favourite restaurants in other cities I've been meaning to add to hop & go fetch it. Finally, this weekend, I put them in. If you're looking for new restaurants in Toronto, Vancouver or Victoria, voilà!

last march: sophisticated marshmallow squares and a soup among friends

Monday, March 14, 2011

grand forks borscht


When I was 10, I met a new best friend. Alison came from a Doukhobor family, and she had just moved to Kelowna from Grand Forks, a little town nestled in the mountains of the West Kootenays of British Columbia.

Doukhobor cooking is, shall we say, not for the faint of heart. The Doukhobors are a pacifist Russian sect who take their anti-violence belief all the way over to not eating meat. But they make up for it with copious amounts of butter and cream.

In fact, their cooking is so amazingly rich that Alison and her family convinced me – a Canadian girl from good meat-eating German-Scottish stock – to become vegetarian.

For 12 years.

Doukhobor food is that good. 

Alas, as is the way of the world when you’re 10, best friends don’t stay best friends for long.

I still dream about the perfect pyrahi – yeasty pockets of dough filled with cottage cheese or peas and drenched with melted butter. And I still make vareniki; think of pierogie-like things, again smothered in butter.

But for a long time, I couldn’t replicate the creamy borscht Alison’s mom made. There are so many different kinds (and spellings) of borscht – with white cabbage and beef bones or pork hocks . . . The list goes on. But none of it was the Doukhobor borscht I longed for – I'm talking dill and cabbage and beets and cream.

Until one fateful day when I was looking through my parents’ old recipe cards and came across a recipe in my mother’s handwriting for Grand Forks borscht. She had written the name “Bea” on the top. I’m not sure who Bea is – I think she might be my mom’s old teaching friend.

The recipe was strange. It called for dill and mashed potatoes and copious amounts of butter and cream, and leaving it out at room temperature over night . . . But it was from Grand Forks. And it called for copious amounts of butter and cream. This, I thought, was a good sign.

And it is. This is the soup I have been missing since I was 12.

Grand Forks borscht is now a winter standard at our house. The recipe makes enough to feed a small army – invariably, I end up splitting it into two large pots halfway through cooking. But it is so very, very comforting and creamy on a cold rainy day. It’s definitely hearty enough for dinner and perfect in your lunch the next day, or frozen to grace a lunch later on. It might even make you consider becoming a vegetarian. 

last march: dahl for dinner, dahling and canadian boterkoek 

grand forks borscht

feeds 10 – 12 hungry people

4 large potatoes, chopped
salt and peper
1/2 – 1 c. whipping cream
3/4 c. – 1 1/4 c. butter
1 large beet, grated
3 large carrots, chopped
3 – 4 sticks celery, chopped
20 – 28 oz. (600 – 825 ml.) diced tomato (canned or fresh)
lots of dill, chopped
3 onions, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 head of purple cabbage, chopped

Boil the potatoes in a large soup pot with lots of salted water. When they are tender, use a slotted spoon to scoop them out into another bowl. Mash them with 1/2 – 1 c. cream and 1/4 – 1/2 c. butter. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Throw the beet, carrots, celery, tomatoes and dill into the potato water and bring to a simmer. After they’ve cooked a few minutes, taste the vegetables and decide if you’d like to add another 1/2 tsp. of salt. Boil until tender.

While the vegetables are boiling, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Melt the butter and fry the onion and garlic until it’s soft.

If you have another pan at this time, also heat it over medium heat. Melt the butter and fry the cabbage until it has softened.

When the boiling vegetables are soft, throw in the onion, garlic and cabbage. Add more water if you don't have enough stock. Simmer until everything is a soft as you like it in a soup. Stir in the mashed potatoes. Taste and add more salt and pepper as necessary.

Serve. Or, if you follow the original recipe, let stand at room temperature all day or overnight; then heat and serve.

Also freezes well, if you don’t have 10 – 12 people to feed immediately.