To Jasper by Train

About a year ago I ended up having one too many cocktails at an event and got a little aggressive with the silent auction. The result was my ‘winning’ a train trip for two on Via Rail through the Canadian Rockies to Jasper and a couple of nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge.  I love a mini holiday and thought this would be really fun since we love train travel in Europe (cue aggressive bidding).  When I called with excitement to tell the husband he was a little caught off guard, but I assured him it would be fun, and that I would pay for it as the piece de resistance.

Before I left, I had to tell people about a thousand times that no, I was not taking the Rocky Mountaineer to Jasper; that I was in fact taking Via Rail and that shockingly yes, there are actually two trains that you can take. It also was surprising to people that we would be sleeping on the train, and in bunk beds no less!  As a sidebar, although the Rocky Mountaineer has superb food and wine I’m sure, it travels on the same tracks as Via and you have to spend the night at a hotel in Kamloops so it makes the journey a lot longer. It’s also about 3 times the price of our round trip tickets for a one way trip.

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I love train travel. It’s romantic, it’s scenic and gives you an opportunity to meet other travelers along the way. Yes, I am the rare specimen under the age of 50 who actually would prefer to talk to strangers than look at my phone.  It’s also, let’s face it, a very slow way to get anywhere in North America.  But when you factor in the travel time as an active part of your vacation the hours just fly by.  I read a whole book en route!!!

We left Vancouver at 8:30pm Friday night, just in time for wine and snacks in our cabin, and arrived in Japser at 4pm the next day. The reverse was a 3pm departure and a 9:30am arrival home. The times are great because you get daylight pretty much any time of year for the most spectacular section between Jasper, AB and Valemont, BC. The crowd was a good mix of tourists (couples and families) and people who were commuting across country for various reasons. I chatted with a nice girl who was going all the way to Toronto. She would spend 4 nights on board and would be arriving in Toronto around the same time we’d be leaving Jasper to come home after a 3 day vacation.

Our cabin was tight, but cozy and worked well for the two of us and our backpacks. Don’t bring a rolling suitcase on the train, trust me, you will regret that choice. We started out with two comfortable reading chairs that were converted by our very friendly porter to bunks at night. Inside was also a sink and shelf area and a tiny little toilet room. Each car has a shared shower that I wasn’t brave enough to use.

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We rolled out right on schedule and after getting settled, we wandered down to the bar car where we enjoyed very reasonably priced drinks. It was slow going heading out of Vancouver because we got hung up waiting for the bridge to drop so we could cross the Fraser in New West, but it was neat to see different areas of the same places you drive through from the train. By the time they kicked us out of the bar car at midnight we were just leaving the sleepy town of Mission.

We snuggled in for the night and woke up east of Kamloops the next morning. I can’t say it was the best sleep of my life, but I’ve certainly had worse. Ear plugs are essential and just plan that you’ll wake up a bunch of times and roll over and hopefully go right back to sleep. However, anyone who tells you that the train will rock you to sleep like a wee little baby is lying.  There’s a fair amount of screeching and lurching happening. And if you’re lucky enough to snag the top bunk there’s a handy net to ensure you don’t roll off in the night!

We were served breakfast and lunch on the way to Jasper, and dinner and breakfast on the return. I did have higher hopes for the food, thinking it would be similar to White Spot quality, but it was more like the cafeteria at Ikea minus the meatballs and Daim bar cake. You get to order off a menu (meat, fish or veg options) and there are fancy white tablecloths and ‘china’, which I think was actually Corelle.  Although it’s not the best meal you’ll have in your life, think of it as a novelty. You get to eat a three course meal while watching the world go by.  And who doesn’t want apple crumble with lunch!

Another thing to be aware of when traveling by train is that passenger rail, because it’s going the way of the dodo bird, gets put on hold anytime a freight train needs to access the tracks. In quite a few of the mountain passes the tracks are one way, so you end up waiting…a lot in our case.  At one point the train was stopped for over an hour and we watched about 6 freight trains go by. The good news is that despite delays we were only an hour late arriving in Jasper!

Now, about the scenery, which is probably the number one reason to take the train to Jasper. The Rocky Mountains are simply stunning. I’ve lived in BC for 12 years and having never been east of Kelowna being able to see a large part of our province from the domed panorama car was really exciting. Grab your seat early and hang onto it, because trust me, everyone wants those spots once the train starts making its way towards Mt. Robson.  You still get a good view from your cabin window, but the dome car is fantastic!

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I’d heard of Mt. Robson, but had never paid much attention to it or really seen any photos. But wow, what a beaut!  It’s considered the most prominent mountain in the Rockies and is used by climbers training for Everest. Because of its elevation at 3,954m it creates its own weather system at the top, which results in either the top, the bottom, or both being socked in most of the year. The entire mountain is usually only visible from the train about 14 days a year so we were thrilled we got an unobstructed view (thanks full moon). It was fun to sit and listen to all the oooohhhh’s and aaahhhhhh’s from the other people as they snapped away or essentially viewed the whole thing through their iPads. And sorry, but I have to rant about how annoying it is when people use these massive devices to take photos…lots of photos…blocking other people’s view…instead of just enjoying what’s around.  I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get a good shot through the smudged windows or iPad’s and decided to just sit and enjoy.

Once in Jasper we spent the next three days at the Jasper Park Lodge, wandering around the lake and enjoying our quaint cabin, an original part of the property from the 1930’s, which felt like a summer camp for grownups. It’s amazing how breathing the fresh mountain air just wipes you out.

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Jasper is a cute town with a couple streets of restaurants, bars and shops selling tourise junk.  We did the Maligne Caynon ice walk (go with a guide), and a dog sledding trip booked through Sun Dog Tours.  Dog sledding was a fun thing to do once, but it’s not something I need to do again. Sort of like hot air ballooning. It’s expensive, really cool, and provides great photo ops!  But after 3 days of being a tourist, sipping martinis in the lodge and watching herds of elk wander by we were ready to head back home.

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The train was a bit late coming in from Edmonton, so we asked the hotel to hold our bags while we walked into town.  They assured us they would bring them to the station 20 minutes prior to departure along with another couple who was getting on the train. Needless to say we had some issues with the bags and thought we might have to either leave without them, or miss the train (me=stressed).  But thankfully train travel is different than air travel. Our friendly porter from the trip out saw me looking very distraught and after I explained the situation he put his hand on my shoulder and said, with his thick Quebecois accent, “don’t worry, it’s the train, we wait for you”.  So there you have it, Via Rail really is a more human way to travel.

Take a train trip at least once in your life!  And support long distance commuter rail. It’s an important institution to maintain for future generations.

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On Being a Dog Mom

Wow, it’s been a year since I’ve filled this space with my usual nonsense. I apologize to those of you who were coming here often for my tardiness! But the cool thing is that I can take a moment to reflect on what a year it’s been since my last post.  I like to think that I’m constantly shifting and expanding but week by week, and even month by month you don’t see the same progress that a whole year provides. It’s neat!

So much has changed in my life since my last post, so I’ll start with letting you all know that I can now officially touch my toes!  Sounds weird right, but a year ago I was the loser that had to crouch down to tie my shoes or pick up the piece of mail I dropped. Now, I am a yogi goddess (well at least that’s how I like to think of myself).  Yoga has calmed my mind, brightened my spirit, and it’s slowly letting my inner hippie out. Ooommmm

In September I went back to Iceland.  Yeah you’re reading that right, back to ICELAND, for the second time, where it’s cold, rainy, windy and full of vast nothingness and elves. Why go to Mexico and sit on the beach sipping margs when you can freeze your ass off on the side of a glacier. Man, I love Iceland, it’s so rad. I’ll post some more photos of that at some point…promise!

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Kirkjufellfoss, Iceland

And the highlight of the last year for me was the addition of Walter White, our mini labradoodle (yeah I’m that horrible person who bought a designer dog) who we have both become completely obsessed with. He arrived just before Christmas and threw a major wrench in our holiday plans requiring my mom to fly up from Portland for a week, but I just love this little ball of fluff so freaking much!

So since things have been a little slow and repetitive in the kitchen since his arrival I thought I’d share some thoughts on being a dog mom.  It’s a whole lotta work, even more for P who is a stay at home dog dad, having no office to retreat to. But when I come home and he rushes up all wiggles and wags with his tail hitting his face I just melt. Any amount of stress from my day goes right out the window, and then the work starts, ha ha.

Going from a two person DINK household where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want without a ton of consideration for anyone else to adding a small puppy that needs essentially constant supervision is a big change.  After the first couple days we looked at each other and said “what the hell have we done, he’s a monster”.  But after a few weeks of 1, 3 and 5am pee breaks, constant worrying about my un-vaccinated puppy catching some terrible disease just from going outside, and a lot of no’s we started to see progress.

Living in an apartment with really slow elevators isn’t a great place to raise a puppy. Unless like me, you have a large patio where you can install a Porch Potty!  The Porch Potty is a genius invention, that you could totally DIY, that enables your pup to do its business without having to rush it down 26 floors every time it has an accident. And let me tell you, puppies have A LOT of accidents!  Like more than I imagined possible. Bottom line, if you have outdoor space and you live in a condo, shell out the $300 for one of these things and you will thank yourself every day thereafter!

I would also recommend bell training your puppy. It’s about as lame as it sounds. You hang some overpriced bells on your door (or you get a bell and some rope from the $$ store) and then every time the pup has an accident you take it to the door and say something corny like “ring your bells” and then rush it outside to pee in hopes that said pup will actually make it. I was a skeptic at first but then 2 weeks in Walter started ringing the bells!  It was really magical.  What’s extra magical is that now he rings the bells when he needs to do business, AND when he just wants to sniff around, which conveniently is usually when I’m brushing my teeth, about to hop in the shower, making dinner or trying to relax. Special!

He’s almost 7 months old now…my baby…still growing and losing teeth all over the place. Our house now runs on a ‘sit’ based economy while we transition away from the former ‘treat’ based regime. His curiosity annoys me sometimes, as does my inability to find a pair of socks that matches, but having a dog of my own is so much fun and really rewarding. There is nothing better than a puppy snarffling around your bed on Saturday morning.

I’m sure if you’re reading this and have kids that you just threw up in your mouth a little, but I’m serious.  And hey, you can’t shove your kid in a cage on Friday night and run off to yoga and then grab a beer with your better half. I know Walter will never make me crappy stick figure drawings of our family, or tell me he loves me back, but when he looks up at me with his sweet little eyes I feel an immense amount of satisfaction.  He needs us and he will always need us, and the flip side of him not being able to speak is that he can never tell me he hates me, so for now, this works and our pack is complete.

And since I should probably offer a recipe after my very long hiatus, here’s Walter’s favourite stuffed kong filling:

  • all natural peanut butter, unsalted
  • plain full fat yogurt
  • chopped up apple
  • venison dog jerky bits or beef liver treats
  • 2 dried sardines

Dab a little bit of PB on the bottom of the kong to close the hole, then layer in yogurt, chopped apple and the dog treats. Wedge the sardines in so that the fish heads poke out of the top and seal it off with more PB. Freeze, and then give it to the pup to enjoy!

Yeah, I’m a dog mom, and I’m proud of it. We work hard to train Walter and make sure he’s happy and having fun. We also spoil him rotten, and I love every minute of it. Especially when I’m listening to jazz, trying to enjoy a glass of wine in the bathtub and he barrels in and tries to hop in the tub with me.  Those are really special moments!

Love ya W and the big boy you’re becoming!

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Roasted Cauliflower Steaks with French Lentils

Happy New New Year!  Wow, it’s 2015, I really can’t believe it.  Unfortunately 2014 was a dismal year on the blog for me; not because I wasn’t cooking a ton and doing fun things. In fact, I think my cooking reached a new level and I was doing so many fun things that I just didn’t get a chance to properly collect my thoughts in this space as often as I wanted.

I’m not making resolutions or promises to blog a lot this year, but we’ll see what happens. Two weeks ago I proclaimed this blog was dead, and now here I am, back at it.  Last night I created something so delicious and amazing that I just had to share it.  Also, 2015 should be an exciting year for me for a number of reasons. I’m starting a photography course tonight so that means better pictures to accompany these posts, and I have a a few fun trips planned this year.  In addition to a handful of weekend getaways, I’m off to the Carolinas for a wedding and reunion with my college friends in March, that will take me to Raleigh, and Charleston (yeah, I’m already hungry for that one), and then in September my dream of going back to Iceland is coming true.  Two years after our first visit and becoming completely obsessed with all things Icelandic we’ve decided to do a full island 11 day road trip!  We’re also taking a little side trip to Amsterdam to get our proper Euro fix.

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So now that we’re all caught up and re-acquainted, I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve learned.  It’s the ticket to perfectly roasted veggies.  Before you toss your veg on the sheet pan, rub a good thick layer of olive oil over it (also really great for moisturizing your hands while you cook).  Then throw down the veg, and drizzle more olive oil and salt and pepper on top.  This ensures that the side that roasts down first gets nice and caramelized in the oven.

And without further ado, the goods.  I had an amazing dinner at Pourhouse here in Vancouver just before Christmas that consisted of a cauliflower ‘steak’ on a bed of lentils with a yogurt raita and papadum’s.  To me it was the perfect plate of food for a vegetarian. So good in fact, that I left vowing to re-create it, which I did last night.  I just ate the leftovers at my desk and felt like I’d had lunch in a little Parisian bistro.  This dish is quintessentially French, it’s hearty, it’s healthy, and inexpensive to make.  The only thing I need to improve is my cauliflower cutting skills.  I only was able to get two actual ‘steaks’ because you need to cut all the way down to the stem.  But don’t worry, just toss whatever you get on a sheet pan and roast it up.

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Roasted Cauliflower Steak at Pourhouse

Roasted Cauliflower with French Green Lentils and Herbed Yogurt 

Pre-heat your oven to 400.

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 head white cauliflower, trimmed, sliced in half, and then cut into 3/4 in. steaks as best as you can (start from the larger inside pieces and work your way out)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup french green or de puy lentils
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • half a white onion or 2 small shallots diced
  • 1 tbsp herbs de provence
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • water, as needed

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (honestly stop wasting your time with low fat dairy)
  • 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used dill and mint)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice

While the oven pre-heats, boil the lentils over medium high heat with the stock, veggies (feel free to add celery, leeks etc. to this one), and herbs. Cover and simmer about 25 min. until the lentils are tender, but retain their bite, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add water or more stock throughout this process as needed. I find cooking the lentils in stock vs. water gives a much richer flavour.

Place the cauliflower on an oiled roasting pan, drizzle more oil on top and season with sale and pepper. Roast for 20 min, turn carefully, and roast for another 12-15 minutes, until tender but crisp.

Mix up all the yogurt sauce ingredients and when you’re ready to plate, put a big scoop of lentils down first, top with a piece of cauliflower steak and then dollop of yogurt.

Bon appetit!

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My Roasted Cauliflower Steak

Lazy Summer

I’ve been known to be lazy in the summer. And a byproduct of this malaise is that I cook less…a lot less.  I can’t bring myself to prepare anything more than a salad or a frozen veggie burger on a day that’s hotter than 25 degrees.  Mostly this is because I want to be outside, enjoying the sun and doing fun things.  It may be as simple as having a glass of wine (or two) on my patio with a book, meeting a friend for a walk, or going for a bike ride, but the end result is always the same on these long summer days.  Food is not cooked.

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I go through phases based on the seasons, and in the summer, as soon as the days get longer and the air gets warmer, the social butterfly in me comes out.  Beach after work? Beer on a patio? Dinner with friends? I just can’t say no in the summer.  It’s like I stop thinking about how much sleep I want, or how much money I’m spending, or the fact that if I go out I will inevitably have to buy lunch the next day.  I just say yes!  A friend of mine told me about her ‘summer of yes’  a few years ago and I quite like the idea of having a couple of months a year where you just do what feels right!

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But, lately, as the summer days are starting to get shorter (it’s dark now at 9pm, le sigh) and the air is a little cooler I’ve been incredibly inspired in the kitchen.  It’s like I’m a lost little puppy who found its way home! In the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking, and baking (which is rare for me) up a storm.  My fridge is always full and I haven’t had an excuse to go for lunch in a while.  My husband is in heaven!

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to use the f word just yet, because we still have 4 more weeks of summer to go, but I will say that the days of just salad satisfying me for dinner have officially passed.  So in case you’re wondering, here’s what’s been going on in my kitchen.

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I made a split pea soup for my husband to have as an afternoon snack at work (yeah maybe it’s weird, but he likes it).  Just a little something simple I threw together the other day.  2 cups of dried split peas, 4 cups of veggie stock, diced carrot and onion (which I sauteed a bit), a couple pinches of herbs de Provence and I let it simmer for about an hour before I pureed it with my immersion blender.  Easy peasy (literally)!

I also made an awesome grilled vegetable ratatouille the other night.  I grilled up zucchini, these funny looking round light green squash (not sure what they are called), a couple peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and once everything was cooked to my liking, I sliced it up and threw in some crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs de Provence (yes, this is a theme), and seasoned it with some salt and pepper.  It was even better cold the next day!

Since I clearly have France on my mind, I also made my own version of a French potato salad.  I used mixed white and red nugget potatoes, thinly sliced fennel and green beans. My vinaigrette was simple too, grainy dijon, champagne vinegar (vive la France!), and olive oil of course.  That with a glass of rose and a Peter Mayle book and you might as well be spending a year in Provence!

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I’ve also rekindled my love for Deb Perleman’s blog (Smitten Kitchen).  I’ve made her barley, corn and haricot vert salad, as well as her chickpea and roasted pepper salad. Both were hits with friends at BBQ’s.  And as we speak, I’m waiting for her herbed potato and summer squash torte to come out of my oven.  I had fun making it so even if it’s terrible it’s not a loss!  Getting a little more comfortable with my mandoline over here…no big deal!  Let’s hope I still have all my fingers at Christmas though!

And on to the piece de resistance. The baking. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually pretty good…and not too sweet.  I hate overly sweet, sugary things.  I see kids at sporting events with cotton candy stuck all over their hands and faces and I have to look away, like I’ve seen a snake or something.

Every August with zucchini is in abundance I make this chocolate olive oil zucchini bread. Who are we kidding, it’s a cake, but it’s a healthy cake!.  Simply amazing!  I also adapted a recipe from my new Turkish cookbook for a fig and walnut cake.  Here’s my version:

  • 8-10 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 T semolina or corn meal
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T orange juice, or zest of an orange
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used goats yogurt as it’s more Turkish)
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 11″ spring form pan and set it aside. Mix the figs together with the semolina and 2 T sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining sugar with the eggs until smooth.  Add orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, vanilla and yogurt.  Mix until smooth and then add the walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until incorporated.

Spoon half the batter into the pan, then sprinkle the figs on top.  Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 40-45 min. depending on your oven.

So there you have it, I’m back in the saddle after some summer shenanigans. I’m feeling inspired and happy back in my kitchen where I belong.  Soon enough there will be posts about football and stew and red wine, but for now, I’m enjoying this beautiful lazy summer here in Vancouver!

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Hipster Foodie Trifecta

Hipsters are to Vancouver what hippies are to Portland.  In Vancouver hipsters tend to look like they just walked out of a Where’s Waldo book with their Herschel backpacks.  They congregate around microbreweries, overpriced thin crust pizza joints and just about anywhere with a communal table.

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I’m not hating, because I totally dig all this stuff in a big way too.  And according to my husband I have hipster tendencies.  I’m not full blown, but borderline.  What I’ve come to realize is that not only do hipsters start fashion trends, but they also start food trends.  I became acutely aware of this after the whole Voodoo Donghnut phenomenon happened. In case you’re not aware, Voodoo Doughnuts is a doughnut shop in Portland that’s been around for as long as I can remember.  I recall going there in college for PMS doughnuts (yes, they grind up Midol and put it in a doughnut) and no one in Portland was ever that excited about, but hipster tourists decided that it was worth talking about, and now it’s a thing.

So, flash forward to 2014 and look at the number of what I like to call ‘hipster dounut’ shops in Vancouver.  Lucky’s Doughnuts was awesome (hello French cruller)  and then Cartem’s Donuterie showed up…with their earl grey donut that tastes like a kids cereal and oh, wait, it wouldn’t be a proper hipster donut shop if they didn’t offer a bacon donut.  These designer donuts ain’t cheap; it’s like they’re the new cupcakes.  And I could honestly take em’ or leave em.

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Brussels sprouts are next on the hipster hit parade.  Previously thought of as little cabbagy stink bombs, they’re so popular now you see them on the menu of pretty much every restaurant in Gastown.  I loooove brussels sprouts so I’m cool with it, but if I have to hear one more person rave about the brussels sprouts at the Flying Pig I’m gonna lose it. They all taste pretty much the same, and you can make them at home in your oven really easily!  Even the d-bag set over at Glowbal has embraced the brussels sprout.

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And my last item in the hipster foodie trifecta is the microbrew.  I don’t know why everyone has suddenly realized that good beer is awesome.  Thankfully the PBR boat seems to have sailed away from Vancouver, and the real hipsters are all about the IPA’s now.  I called it years ago, when I proudly proclaimed that Alexander Keith wasn’t making an IPA, he was making a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and now we all know it’s really a just a boring old lager. I’m not saying I’m better than the YVR hipsters because I’ve been drinking the hoppy stuff since the 90’s, and it’s rad that we have all these little breweries around town (thank little baby Jesus for 33 Acres).  I recently jumped on the growler bandwagon myself and am absolutely loving it. But I don’t want to talk about beer like the real hipsters do, I just want to drink it and enjoy it. Hops are hops, and liking the darkest porter the world has ever seen doesn’t make you some sort of badass.

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Anyways, enough of a rant, if you don’t feel like going out to a hipster joint and paying $12 for crispy brussels sprouts, just make mine at home!

Gretchy T’s Hipster Brussels Sprouts

Preheat the oven to 450. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and once it comes to a roll add your brussels sprouts. Put the lid on it and let it cook for 5-6 minutes or until you can pierce them with a knife.  Drain and rinse with cold water to cool them off.  Cut the sprouts in half and put them on a lightly oiled sheet pan.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle a little more olive oil on top.  Spread everything around to coat, and then make sure all the sprouts are cut side down on the pan.  Roast them for about 8 minutes and then toss them.  I roast mine for another 6-8 minutes, because I like them almost overdone on the inside, but crisp on the outside.  Play around with it and see what you like.  You can do them for longer on a lower temperature, you’ll figure it out.

The secret is to sprinkle the sprouts with freshly grated parmesan cheese right out of the oven. Drizzle with some white truffle oil and squeeze half a lemon over the top.  You’ll feel like the Flying Pig has come to your kitchen! All you need is a growler full of the good stuff and you’re all set. Happy hipstering!

Being a Vegetarian on Sundays is Hard

Fall is pretty much upon us in Vancouver.  The weather is still warm, but the light is different, there’s a slight chill in the air and the atmosphere has a hazy, misty quality to it.  Simply put, it’s a beautiful time of year to live here!

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It also means that gone are the days of summer salads, late dinners on the patio, and thinking “I don’t feel like cooking so I’ll have some tomatoes and cheese for dinner”.  It gets dark around 8, and by 7 my body is craving something hearty.  It’s a bit daunting because this is my first fall (my favourite season by far) as a vegetarian.  Spring and summer were totally manageable, but going meatless in the fall will be quite the accomplishment.

We probably haven’t met, but one thing you should know about me is that I love football. I’m not a die hard for any particular team, but if I don’t have plans on a Sunday, I’m most likely to be found enjoying the game on my couch, with a cold beer in hand.  A by product of this home body behaviour is lots and lots of cooking.  On a typical Sunday during the regular season I’ll spend at least 4 hours actively cooking or baking.  Yes, my co-workers love me!

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But what am I to do without my go to’s like shepherd’s pie, spaghetti Bolognese and turkey meatloaf?  No wings on the bbq, or ribs on Superbowl Sunday this year.  So yes, being a vegetarian on Sundays is hard.  But not quite as hard as I thought.  I’ve recently discovered that you can make a hearty, delicious and satisfying vegetarian meal that even a meat eating, Budweiser drinking man would love on a Sunday.  For the opening Sunday of the season today I made mixed bean chilli.  

It was a labour of love, in that I had to soak the beans overnight,  boil them for about 90 minutes this morning, and then leave them in the slow cooker on high with everything else until 5pm.  The result of my advance planning was an amazing and authentic meatless chilli.  The secret ingredient is coco powder.  Inspired again by Deb Perleman’s recipe on Smitten Kitchen, here’s my slow cooker version of her 3 bean chilli.

3 beans

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup each: dried pinto, black and red kidney beans (soaked over night, and boiled until almost cooked (90 min approx.)
  • 2 15 ou. cans diced tomatoes with juices
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened coco powder
  • 2 tbsp good quality chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  •  2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (add more if you want a but of heat

Add everything to the slow cooker and turn it on high, cook until the beans are tender and completely cooked (about 3 hours). Reduce to low and simmer until you’re ready to eat. Serve with any and or all of the following: diced green onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped pickled jalapeno peppers and tortilla chips.  You could also serve it over rice to get your complete protein.  

If this isn’t a touchdown then I don’t know what is!  We finished off the meal with large pieces of Ina Garten’s Plum Tart Tatin (from Barefoot In Paris) which I made yesterday with fresh plums that reminded me of my childhood so much I almost cried.   

plum cake

So that’s one Sunday down, 15 more regular season Sundays to go, which I’m now seeing as 15 opportunities to try something new, fabulous and veg!

Perfect Summer Cocktails

It’s that time of year on the West Coast, when the sun has been shining for so long that you forget what the rain feels like.  You can almost hear yourself begging for a bit of rain, to rinse off the city, and water the parched trees.  But you enjoy this time, because we West Coasters know that it will come to an end, soon.  And the with the beautiful summer sunshine, you need a worthy cocktail companion to keep you company on the patio.  Here are a few of my favourites!

Pimm’s No. 1 Cup Cocktail

Think Wimbledon and posh Brits. This cocktail is gin based, but tastes distinctly of citrus and spice.  Mix 2 parts Pimm’s, 3 parts ginger ale or citrus soda (sprite etc.), garnish with any mix of strawberries, lemon, lime, orange and definitely don’t forget the cucumber.  Stir and enjoy; it’s always Pimm’s O’Clock!

Pimms_jug(1)

Watermelon Margarita

Cactus Club had these on special last summer and I fell in love (who wouldn’t fall for a drink only costing $4.50 at Cactus!).  I recently discovered the secret and the result is a sweet and refreshing twist on the traditional lime marg.  Blend up some seedless watermelon and strain it to remove the small white seeds and pulp.  You will be left with watermelon juice…careful this stuff is sticky!  Mix the juice with 1-2 oz. of tequila (blanco will be your best bet) a teaspoon of simple syrup and garnish with a lime wedge.  It’s so good, you’ll forget all about the fact that you haven’t drank tequila since your university days.

watermelon marg

The Aperol Spritz

This has to be my all-time hot day favourite; discovered on my trip to Italy last summer. Italians drink these for aperitivo, or happy hour, usually with some light snacks, in the afternoon or before dinner.   Aperol is like Campari, but less bitter and with a lower alcohol content.  I find it difficult to order these in North America, but some bars are starting to stock Aperol.  To make yours at home, mix 2 parts Aperol with 3 parts prosecco (or other sparkling wine), a splash of soda water and garnish with an orange wedge.

aperol

Hendricks Gin Cuke Cocktail

I’m sure this has a proper name and has been enjoyed the world over, but I like to think it’s my own creation.  I rediscovered my love for gin this past winter and went on a bit of a Bombay martini kick.  And then I wised up and switched to Hendricks, which I’ve been informed is ‘girlie’ gin. It has a hint of cucumber and rose petal and I find it mixes better with soda than tonic.  But gin and soda is boring, so I add some muddled mint, cucumber slices, and a twist of lemon.  I like to think this is what Lady Mary of Downtown Abbey sits around sipping all afternoon.

hendricks_gin_adventuremary

So there you have it, four of my favourite summer sippers.  Perfect for the patio, probably pretty good on a boat, and definitely worthy of the beach with a little pre-mixing at home.