Tuesday, May 29, 2012

mango love on oahu

That is a pineapple that I found growing in a field. At sunset. I ask you: how fun is that?

In retrospect, I should have known it would be a very good day when, as we were driving up to the North Shore in the morning, I heard these lyrics on the radio:

My heart does the tango
I love you like a mango

I am serious. I did not make that up. I mean, how could I make up a lyric that good?

We had just eaten a lovely breakfast of yogurt panna cotta and toast with macadamia Nutella sitting outside in the courtyard at the even lovelier Café Julia in Honolulu.

Now, we were cutting up the middle of the island of Oahu to reach the Haleiwa farmers' market on the north shore (and, um, buy mangoes!). This is how my husband demonstrates his love for me: he finds farmers' markets.

We pulled into the dirt parking lot and I was ready to bolt out of the car, cloth bag in hand, excited grin firmly plastered on face.

I headed into the fray of stalls selling flowering ginger, shrimp tacos, lilikoi popsicles, taro, apple bananas, sea asparagus, honey soap, coffee beans, and local chocolate. Scott, on the other hand, found a shaded table and settled in with a book. (After five years of marriage, we know how to navigate these things.)

Occasionally, in between chats with vendors, I brought him things: an iced coffee, a shrimp taco. Once, I called him over to see some beautiful local jewellery (good thing, too, since he then bought me a necklace with a rose petal pendant for our anniversary!).

The farmers' market was heaven. We stayed until it shut down in the early afternoon.

After that, we drove along the north shore and explored in the rain. Once it stopped – as we knew it would because it was that kind of day – we drove back to Waimea Bay for our afternoon swim. (On Oahu, I just didn't feel like my day was complete without an afternoon swim. In fact, the most work I did every day was packing our bag for the beach. Ah, the good life.)

At the farmers' market, I had asked the woman who sold me a very, very good shrimp taco for lunch where we should go for dinner. She thought about it for a moment and said, "Opal's Thai" because her friend worked there and it was very good. But, she said, we needed to get there early because it would be busy on a Sunday night.

I kept that in mind in the afternoon, but somehow – miraculously! – my triple-type-A personality didn't get stuck on it, and we lazed around on the beach as the sun dipped lower over the water.

And maybe it was a vacation lesson for me. Maybe we were just lucky. We walked in to Opal's around 6 and got a table right away. We looked at the menu happily and made our choices as the tables filled up all around us. Then Opal came. He asked us all kinds of questions: where were we from, had we eaten Thai food before, what were we planning to order. He made a few notes, nodded and said, "I'll take care of you."

I asked about wine – after a full and perfect day, wine was necessary to cap it off – and he said we could buy some at the drugstore next door and bring it back.

We could buy some wine at the drugstore (!). Notice the italics! In socialist Canada, we can only buy alcohol in government-approved liquor stores. So that in itself was an adventure. But I walked right over like I did it every day, found a bar of soap (to replace the badly-scented soap back at the condo) and picked a very nice Sauvignon Blanc from California off the shelf.

When I got back to Opal's, he whisked out a bucket of ice and plopped my drugstore wine in. Our lettuce wraps, with salty tofu and carrots and other goodies, had just arrived and we dug in. The whole meal was like that. We finished one thing, another surprise arrived, we drank more (now chilled) wine and dug in like kids at a birthday party. Sigh.

The sun was just setting as we started back down the island and I do believe my heart did the tango.

One year ago: Oregon hazelnut salad
Two years ago: Behold the small white bean in ripe bean soup

Monday, May 14, 2012

poached apricots and hawaii

Look at these poached apricots.

Don't they look lovely and buttery with that hint of syrup and crushed pistachio on top?

Too bad they don't taste that way.

Unfortunately, I know exactly why.

A couple of years ago, Scott found out that his late Mennonite grandfather used to drink apricot brandy. This was a revelation because Mennonites are not known for drinking . . . um . . . anything.

So Scott thought we could get a bottle of apricot brandy and drink it on Christmas Eve when we opened presents, instead of our usual port. I was game, although I got a little nervous when he said the apricot brandy only cost $8. And this was not a small bottle.

Christmas Eve came and we eagerly toasted our little glasses of apricot brandy, thinking of Scott's grandfather. The first sip, however, was disappointing. The second sip confirmed what we already knew from the first: we weren't drinking any more of this. It was strangely perfume-y without any real flavour. It was bad.

Of course, we couldn't just throw the apricot brandy out, but we couldn't drink it, either. It hid in our cupboard for a long, long time. Over that time, we went to a Turkish restaurant and had the loveliest simple dessert of apricots poached in some kind of alcohol. I filed the dessert away in my mind, thinking I would have to try making it some day.

The time seemed ripe when I saw particularly fat dried apricots at the grocery store a couple weeks ago. I looked online to find a recipe for poaching them but couldn't really find what I remembered. With nothing to go on, I thought I'd make it up.

Looking at our (not so vast) selection of alcohol, I saw the apricot brandy. Genius! Apricots go with apricot brandy!

Turns out, they don't.

If I have taught you nothing, please remember this: nothing goes with apricot brandy. Don't drink it or cook with it or do anything with it. Pour it down the drain. In fact, that's what I'm going to do right now.

(Sound of me pouring apricot brandy down the drain and wrinkling my nose.)

Now, I don't want to leave you recipe-less for the next little while, while I jaunt off to Hawaii to celebrate my anniversary. (We're going to Oahu – Any favourites you want to share?)

So, here are a few links I've been looking at lately:

I love this photo, and of course the Earl Grey chocolate cake looks divine.

The German in me can hardly wait to make this buttermilk poppyseed cake.

I think I might finally be ready to try making my own marshmallow fondant.

Chive blossom vinegar, anyone?

I once made my own granola bars and they were a crumbling tray of despair. These look better.

Does this photo trick you like it did me?

And if I were to try poaching dried apricots again, I might try this. I'll be back, tanned and relaxed, with a recipe in a couple weeks. Aloha!

One year ago: Dutch marzipan cookies
Two years ago: Chocolate nut balls

Sunday, May 6, 2012

grilled chicken sandwiches

For a little while there, it seemed like summer was coming.

I got all cocky: hanging laundry outside to dry, busting out the rosé, buying a fragile little basil plant . . .

I think you can guess where this is going. It is now cold and wet and gloomy and I can't believe I wasn't wearing socks just a few days ago. (May showers bring June flowers?)

Anyway, back when I thought summer was coming, I made our favourite summer sandwich.

The original recipe calls for a barbecue but since we keep thinking we're moving and decide we don't want to move a barbecue across the country, we've adapted this recipe over the years for our handy electric grill. The chicken takes a bit longer to cook, but it still makes the happy grill marks that I think look kind of professional.

Also, we marinade the chicken in this genius concoction for which I take no credit, but which does lovely, lovely things to the chicken, making it all tender and tasty.

After marinating and grilling, it's pretty easy: slather your bread with the lemon-garlic mayo, pile it up with grilled chicken, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted pepper and havarti cheese, try to get a bite in before everything pops out onto your plate, and you're in business.

This is one of our favourite meals to serve company because you can do everything ahead of time except grill the chicken. Heck, even the chicken is fine if it's just warm and not hot.

After that, everyone can build their own sandwich with whatever they like. Also, you just have to have a good time licking your fingers and chasing pieces of messy sandwich around your plate. Instant happy dinner party!

In fact, I have proof that this sandwich creates fond memories in our guests. We made this for our friend Richard back when we all lived in Ottawa.

Last year, he lived in Japan and came to visit us. I asked if there was any Canadian food he was longing for and I would make it for him. What do you think Richard requested? That's right: this sandwich.

So, you see, it's kind of hard to go wrong. Change the filling, use a real barbecue, make your own mayonnaise from scratch.

Do what you want and you'll still love this sandwich. This, I am confident of. Summer, not so much.

one year ago: sour cream coffee cake
two years ago: putting asparagus on pizza

grilled chicken sandwich
adapted from Canadian Living

chicken marinade
2 tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar*
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
freshly-ground pepper
2 good-sized boneless, skinless chicken breast

lemon-garlic mayo
6 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

sandwich filling 
1 red pepper, roasted** and sliced
1/2 c. oil-packed sundried tomatoes, sliced
1 1/2 c. havarti cheese, grated
1 avocado, sliced
your favourite bread to make the sandwiches

Mix all the ingredients of the marinade together and coat the chicken. Let stand for 10 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.

Mix all the ingredients of the lemon-garlic mayo together and put in a small bowl.

Prepare the sandwich filling items (slice, grate, etc.).

There are two ways to grill the chicken:

1. Grill the chicken on an electric grill set to medium-high until done. Turn once while it's cooking.
2. Grill the chicken on the greased grill of your barbecue set to medium heat. Close the lid and grill, turning once, until it's not pink inside, about 10 minutes.

Slice the chicken and assemble your sandwiches. If you like, grill them once they're filled in order to get the cheese to melt (but I don't).

* I ran out of red wine vinegar and used white wine vinegar instead. Still yummy!
** To roast that pepper, cut out the innards and put the three or four big pieces of flesh you have left on a pie plate. Roast it in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.