Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Everything's Coming Up Morgenstern, And Fragrant Chicken.

It's something Husband noticed the other day about me, when I was feeling tender and full of uncertainty about my future due to the Situation I Will No Longer Talk About (rhymes with shmoblessness.) Something I didn't even notice about myself. It seems that
when I'm thinking heavily about my mother, I break out my "As Time Goes By" DVDs and watch them obsessively, because Dame Judi Dench looks exactly like my mother, and Lionel Palmer is so much like my father. And when I'm feeling nervous about life and unsettled about myself, I tend to gravitate towards my 'Best Of Rhoda' VHS tapes, or my newest Rhoda treasure, Season 1 on DVD.

Rhoda Morgenstern. Patron saint of needless insecurity. Famed wearer of headscarves and often-questionable polyester garments. Wild hand gesticulator. Wisecracker with perfect delivery. A woman with such a hefty guilt complex, she actually felt responsible for World War II.

A woman after my own heart.

Why Rhoda? What is it about her that I find so reassuring in times of personal crisis? Perhaps it's seeing this woman, so beautiful, firecrackery and independent still working out the demons of a chubby childhood and a freakishly overbearing but loving mother. Maybe it's seeing someone who is so openly neurotic and still loving her so completely; something you don't see on television much anymore. I watch her and I see someone fighting herself and I breathe a deep breath of relief because here, at last, is someone I can relate to.
She reminds me that it's okay to be unsure, but that you have to keep going, regardless of whether you feel capable of it. And you can't lose heart.

Watching Rhoda also reminds me that the 1970's was the most awesome decade ever. Woodstock and bra-lessness. (I would kill to go bra-less) Annie Hall and Kris Kristofferson. A man on the moon! But the foundation of my crush on the seventies is built primarily on its fashions - Gypsy tops and peasant blouses, sundresses and stacked heel boots . And my fondness for bellbottoms goes unabated; not only are they figure-flattering, but they offer the opportunity to wear an ankle holster, so you can hold up a convenient store in total comfort and inconspicuousness. Or, if you're not a thug, you could put some breath mints or your house keys in the holster, thus eliminating the need for a purse. Which is an ongoing goal in my life because I am missing the 'I buy good purses' gene and instead rely heavily on my sister's generosity with her good taste.

Another ongoing goal in my life? Simple food. A chronic over-complicator, I am still doing battle with my impulse to add another flavour, another layer, to any recipe. In aid of my affliction, I purchased a tiny cookbook that I'd flipped through at my sister's house, called "Just 10 Minutes", by Carol Wilson. Although the '10 minutes' claim makes me laugh - clearly this woman isn't a food blogger who stops to take photos and strategically arrange foodstuffs every 3 minutes - the recipes are clear and innovative. (And I was attracted to the book because its cover is a gorgeous metallic teal colour and I am in some ways perpetually 12 years old and drawn to sparkly, shiny things.)

I'd settled on a recipe called Fragrant Chicken.
To me, chicken is the versatile meat. It is the little black dress of the animal-protein world. There is nothing simpler than making chicken taste good (other than over-cooking it and making it taste awful.) And on a day where I went through yet another awful job interview (seriously, asking me when I plan on having babies is NONE of your business, Potential Employer!) all I wanted was to make something tasty that wouldn't ask too much of me.

The recipe called for 1 fresh red chili. Fact: fresh red chilies are virtually impossible to find in Bloorcourt village. I've now been to over 7 grocery stores and fruit markets, and it's like searching for the vegetable Polkaroo. Where are they?!? Anyone?

So instead, I stocked up on some jalapenos; I fell in love with the sunset colour of this one:

I was also supposed to cut a knob of ginger in wafer thin slices, but after an attempt that left me with too-thick pieces and fearing for my fingertips, I decided to dice them finely instead.

I used pine nuts for the first time ever. These pale, creamy beauties aren't cheap! But then I looked them up on Wikipedia and apparently, in the United States, they are primarily harvested by Native American tribes, and so I hope with all my naivety that they receive a fair share of the profits.

I pan fried the chicken slices, then added the chili/jalapeno-spice mixture and the smell! Fragrant indeed! I was in for a good dinner.

Husband was out at band practice, so I had the house to myself. I poured a glass of wine, curled up on the couch with my dog and what was indeed a freaking delicious dinner and watched the movie "Sunshine Cleaning". During one bittersweet scene, I found myself choked up and started crying a little. And it dawned on me that this, my sensitivity, my resistance to becoming a hard person when life has handed me one or two reasons to be, is something rare and valuable, something essentially good in me. And perhaps that's all I truly need to get by in life; an undamaged heart.

And maybe a headscarf.

Fragrant Chicken, from "Just 10 Minutes" by Carol Wilson:

1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped (or a jalapeno if, like me, you can't find red chilies)
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped ( I left these out, as usual)
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into wafer thin slices (I finely chopped mine)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly crushed
salt and pepper
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin slices
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
avocado, for garnish, if desired


1. Combine the chili/jalapeno, garlic, scallions, ginger, ground cumin and coriander, 2 tbsp of oil and the pine nuts in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the remaining oil in a wok or large skillet and when it's very hot, add the chicken slices. Cook over high heat for about 4 minutes, or until the chicken is browned on both sides, stirring frequently.

3. Add the chili/jalapeno mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked.

4. Stir in the fresh cilantro and avocado, if using and serve immediately, on a bed of basmati rice, or you could use this as a pita or tortilla wrap filling.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Northern Underexposure, And Corn Salad With Zucchini Bread

I do this thing that drives Husband crazy, and not in a good way. Whenever we're driving out of town, I'll usually find myself saying something like "Let's go visit a local dairy!" with the hopes of picking up some freshly churned ice cream, or a few pint glass bottles full of local milk that came from long lashed cows named Bitsy and Dotty Jo, milked by kindly-dispositioned farmers sitting on wooden stools. I think I'm labouring under the misapprehension that there are dairies and creameries dotting the province's northern landscape like stars in the night sky, just waiting for wide-eyed city folk like me to come by. Husband usually rolls his eyes and does this deep exhalation thing, "Hhhhaaaaa", and I'm left to contemplate why my fairytale vision of rural Ontario is so ridiculously out of touch with reality.

There's a part of me that's sure it's not like this at all. I'm quite confident the Rockwellian version of farming I've internalized through movies and fiction is all wrong, is just another faraway idea I've built in my head to escape to when city life sometimes loses its lustre.
But even more so, I think at heart I romanticize because I want to forge some kind of connection with the food that's grown here, in our country. I want to believe that the produce, the meats, the milks and cheeses and grains I buy have been lovingly tended, produced and sold by the folks who yielded them. I want to rinse my imagination of the realities of industrial-sized farms, unnaturally fattened animals in cages, hormone-injected meat, pesticide run-offs.

So I suppose for someone like me who eschews what is for what should be, getting my Good Food Box is the perfect compromise. I get mostly local produce to play with, the farmers get a fair deal and Husband gets to keep his sanity on road trips. (Actually, he doesn't. I don't foresee a point in the future where I don't ask about local dairies. I can't help myself.)

So with last week's box and a lunch date with my best friend, I decided to make a corn and zucchini salad and some zucchini bread. I want to note that this was NOT the most awesome corn I've ever eaten. While I'm a firm believer that fresh is always better than frozen or canned, I don't think we're yet in the heart of corn season, and these cobs were a little ornery, a little stingy with the flavour. These cobs had been woken up too early and were fighting deliciousness all the way.

I pan-fried the corn kernels I'd sliced off with some chopped up zucchinis in some olive oil and a dash of oregano, just until everything was a bit softened. I set it aside to cool while I made the zingy dressing;

I put it together with some avocados, a bit of tomato, a mountain of fresh cilantro and green onions and set it aside. While the flavours sat around getting to know each other, I got the zucchini bread ready with some arm-aching grating;

My KitchenAid mixer in Cobalt Blue was a flurry of motion;

And after a spell in the oven (who's been behaving quite well indeed lately, necessitating, for now, the removal of the descriptor "Demonic") out came a lovely little loaf with flecks of the green zucchini and a tasty texture that hovered between muffin and cake;

I packed everything up and biked over to my best friend's workplace, now ravenous from my morning's industriousness; a hunger that makes food taste like a miracle when you finally sit down to eat. And I realized that the life cycle of a meal - from raw ingredients and recipe, to preparing, to cooking and eating with a beloved friend - was perhaps the most heartfelt connection I could make with my food.

Corn And Zucchini Salad With Zingy Dressing:

2-3 ears of corn, kernels shaved off the cob
1 large zucchini, diced
1-2 tbsp olive oil
A healthy pinch of oregano
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tomato cut into small pieces (if you like tomato, use more! I only had a half.)
1 ripe avocado, diced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste


1. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm up the olive oil. Add the corn and zucchini, oregano and cayenne and stir frequently till the corn and zucchini are softened but not too broken down. Set aside to come to room temperature.

2. Once cooled, add the rest of the ingredients and top with the dressing. It's best to let this sit a few hours, and is even better the next day.

Zingy Dressing:

2-3 tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lime
dash of honey
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less, to your taste)
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Whisk till well mixed and pour over salad.

Zucchini Bread, from Joy Of Baking: (I didn't use the nuts or frosting that was part of the original recipe, but I bet they'd taste amazing with this loaf)

1 cup zucchini, grated
1/2 cup apple, peeled and grated
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable, safflower, corn or canola oil
1 cup white sugar (I cut it down to 3/4 cup and it was great)
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a regular sized loaf pan. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients; from the flour to the nutmeg.

2. In stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the grated zucchini and apple; then the flour mixture, beating till just combined. Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for approximately 50-60 minutes, or until a tester knife comes out clean. Let cool properly before slicing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My 12-Step Recovery Program, And Pumpkin Tortilla Soup With Scallion Cornbread.

Things to do when you have a rampant case of unemployment:

1.) Stay in bed with the covers over your head. Brood. Feel like crap and let everyone know it, especially your significant other. Let yourself get stinky, shed any and all sex appeal and see how long you can stand it. (Or how long your significant other can stand it.)

2.) Talk to your animals, they have big eyes and sweet faces and if you give them cookies, they will stick around to listen. Make them understand in great detail how crummy and jobless you feel. They may be supportive. Or, cookies now eaten, they may roll over and pretend to die of boredom, hoping you'll stop talking about yourself.

3.) Resist the urge to eat large amounts of inappropriate foodstuffs to the point of personal injury. It will not make you feel better.

4.) Get some fresh air. Even if it means going out onto the deck in your pajamas with a large cocktail and a good book. Even if it means pretending to read so you can drink and listen to your neighbours' conversations without feeling like a complete wiener.

5.) When you are feeling a little bit better, or a little bit drunk, whichever comes first, find a recipe and make something good for dinner. Like Tortilla Soup with Scallion Cornbread muffins. Get to work. Slice up some tortillas;

6.) Open up some tins of colourful things and be cheered - a little bit, not too much. You don't want to rush happiness.

7.) Chop up a bunch of onions, scallions and cilantro and accidentally benefit from some aromatherapy. It's like springtime in a bowl. Start cooking them down and adding the broth and getting the soup going.

8.) Time to start the scallion cornbread. Waste about 10 minutes photographing the scallions because the light is hitting them 'just so' and it makes you feel arty.

9.) Measure out your ingredients, like the cornmeal. Get a batter together and pop those muffins in the oven.

10.) While the muffins are baking, if you have the desire to make some guacamole, don't fight it. Add some tomatoes, lime juice and zest, red pepper flakes, cilantro, whatever you want in there. It will make those muffins sing.

11.) The soup should now be ready. Pour yourself a big, warm bowl and take one of the hot muffins and slather it with the guacamole. Find a seat, maybe at your large kitchen table. Turn on some music, put away the computer, books, the gazillion to-do lists you make for yourself and sit still. Taste your food. Shut up about the joblessness. Stop 'managing' your feelings. Just sit still and eat and be okay with where you are in life, even though it's nowhere near where you'd like to be.

12.) And finally, if all else fails, make sure you spend some time with someone who makes you laugh. It will fix what's broken, even if only for a moment.

Scallion Cornbread Muffins, from Everyday Food Magazine, with additions from me:

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (my add-in)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (my add-in)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk
2 tbsp oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup corn, canned or fresh or frozen (my add-in)


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. (I only heated mine to 350) Lightly grease 6 cups of a regular sized muffin pan with vegetable oil or butter. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, smoke paprika and red pepper flakes. Make a well in the center.

2. Stir in the buttermilk, oil, egg, scallions and corn till well combined. Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full (I made mine completely full and had one less muffin. ) Bake till tester knife comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven.

Pumpkin Tortilla Soup, adapted from The Kitchn:

3 small corn tortillas, sliced and cut into smallish squares
3-4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion
2 garlic cloves (I didn't use these)
2 large scallions, finely chopped (my add-in)
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsp chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (to your taste, really)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup corn, canned or frozen
1/2 - 1 cup medium-spicy salsa, like Herdez (my add-in)
5 cups unsalted vegetable stock (I only used 3 cups - it seemed to make a LARGE amount of soup)
1/2 tsp salt


1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan or soup pot. Add onions, garlic, scallions, cilantro, chopped tortillas and cook, stirring frequently until onion is cooked.

2. Add the cumin and cayenne and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the chipotle pepper in sauce, the pumpkin, diced tomatoes, corn, salsa and the veg stock. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Let stand for a few minutes and serve hot, with tortilla chips and cilantro for garnish.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kitchen Crime # 6: Back Away From The Condiments.

Maybe this is normal. Maybe everyone has four different kinds of hot sauces to go along with the four different kinds of mustards they have in the fridge, which complements so nicely the ketchup, the relish, the mayo, the tahini and the seventeen different kinds of jams in there too.

Oh, no? It's just me? Terrific.

I suppose if you're one of those people who knows how to use them in moderation, a condiment adds a subtle nuance, a whisper of flavour. But if you're like me, a condiment is nothing if not the promise of an improvement to a mediocre meal; a ketchupy camouflage to a bland burger, a tahini-ish beard to an uninspired rice pilaf, a jammy knight on a white horse to a dry, failed scone.

This collection is actually the sparest I've ever had in my fridge and cupboards. I've been trying to ease my reliance on sauces and spreads, so I'll remember what food actually tastes like, on it's own, or with the sort of seasoning that enhances flavour instead of masking it. But I still have moments where I can't help myself. Where I'm making something, sans recipe, and I'm uncertain of what I'm making and the impulse to drown out the doubt with the addition of more condiments gets ever stronger.

I figure it's a sign of my enduring optimism; my belief that things can always get better. And if they can't, just add a dash more sugar.

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Your Eyes Are Bigger Than Your Wallet, And A Roasted Broccoli Salad

I think it's fair to say that about 37% of my student loan was spent buying vintage clothing online. E.bay and various independent sellers profited from my pursuit of education far more than my brain ever did. The sad fact is that many of those clothes are gone; some donated because they didn't fit, some of them unspeakably ugly and never even worn. An amateur to vintage style, I fell prey to the assumption that if it looked good on the model, who'd been styled to bohemian perfection, it would look good on me too. Despite having an entirely different body type. Despite not having a designer haircut that implied insouciance and a lifestyle that included trips to Prague and frequent attendance at gallery openings. Despite not living in an enchanted forest.

(side note: seriously, why did so many online vintage shops have forests as their showcasing backdrop? What looks normal in a forest among tall pines and bluebirds often looks quite batty in a city, amidst 'office casual' and a strong impatience for whimsy. Like capes. Or Victorian collars.)

Is this a look we should bring back?

There were also the unfortunate online spending sprees at Forever 21 that I embarked on while at a really boring job. These occurred when, having read through my lengthy
'blogs-I-love' list and checking my email and Facebook profile 17 times, I was near tears at the 4-plus hours that remained of my workday.

Oh Forever 21. Why you? Why you, when I didn't much enjoy being 21 the first time around, and would never, ever willingly sign up to repeat that age in perpetuity?

Here again, money, time and hope was wasted on impulsively bought clothing that really should have been tried on. It's easy to dismiss this wastage when it's a $12 polyester top; you just cut your losses. But when you are without a job and down to your last few dollars, as I currently find myself, waste of anything takes on a whole new significance. It becomes a personal shame.

In taking quick stock of what was in my fridge a few days ago, I was alarmed at the amount of food that had been forgotten about. An ear of corn. A foil-wrapped packet of crumbled old cheddar. Sagging Swiss chard. An entire head of lettuce. How could I let this happen? But I knew how. In my foodie enthusiasm, I kept trying new recipes that required me to buy little bits of this and that, and the actual contents of my fridge were being cast aside.

Determined to stop my wasteful ways, I decided to work with what near-perishing produce I had on hand for dinner last night. I wanted something light and filling, so I cut up some apples,

Rinsed off some broccoli,

And pondered whether I was dangerously nerdy or only endearingly nerdy for finding some beauty in backlit bacon.

I cobbled together some kind of roasted salad with toasted cubes of time-ripened baguette and a honey-Dijon vinaigrette. It was a pretty delicious creation actually, considering its headlining ingredients were creeping towards their winter years.

'Waste not, want not' has surely been one of my life's most important lessons. It's taught me how to stretch a dollar well beyond its elastic limits. And just think; all I had to do was go to college, drop out of college and cripple myself with debt to learn it.

Hmm. Maybe I should reconsider being 21 again.

Moni's Roasted Apple and Broccoli Salad With Bacon And Croutons:

4 small apples, cut into smallish cubes
3 small heads/1 smallish bunch of broccoli
8 thin slices of double smoked bacon (deli counter)
1/4 baguette, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp chili powder

Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (could also use apple cider vinegar)
2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (could also use pure maple syrup)
salt and pepper to taste
a few dashes of hot sauce (I used a chipotle hot sauce to give a bit of smokiness)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss apples and broccoli with a few splashes of neutral flavoured oil (vegetable, canola) and roast till softened and browned, about 40 minutes.

2. In the meantime, assemble the dressing, whisking all the ingredients till well combined. In a large skillet, lay out the bacon strips with a splash of water (helps bacon cook more evenly) and cook till well done and easily crumbled. Drain on paper towels, and if you want to be really decadent, pour the bacon fat onto the roasting broccoli and apples. Oh yes. I. Did.

3. Toss the bread cubes into a frying pan with a touch of oil and dust with chili powder. Toast them till lightly browned, watching carefully that they don't burn.

4. When apples and broccoli are ready, pour into serving bowl and add crumbled bacon. Add as much dressing as you like and then add the croutons, mixing lightly so everything is combined. Serve immediately!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Town Is Too Hot, And A Grilled Pizza Non-Recipe

What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance. ~Jane Austen

Despite the ongoing irritability, the near-constant sweat mustache I'm sporting, the lethargy and the raging cabin fever I'm getting from not being able to go on walks with my dog, I actually don't hate heat waves as much as I should. Because they remind me of that time, many, many years ago (actually only 7 years) when I went backpacking through the south of France and up to Paris with my best friend. It was during one of the hottest summers ever recorded in Europe, particularly in France. My mother, a world traveller herself, afflicted with lifelong wanderlust, had wanted me to get away and see some of the world, so she paid for my whole trip.

We stayed at hostels housed in rundown villas, walked for miles with our cumbersome knapsacks in well-worn flip flops and drank
rosé on the beach every day. We ate Salade Niçoise and fresh fruit, paninis and chocolate with roasted hazelnuts and all kinds of local cheeses. We even sunbathed in scandalous near-nudity, and did very little that could be classified as cultural or educational. I'd only really learned several new French phrases over the course of that summer, one of them being "I'd like to buy a packet of Lucky Strikes". I was 25 years old, tanned, fit and making terrible decisions about the men I chose to be seduced by; I didn't think about things like sunstroke, dehydration or carcinogenic melanomas. I was too preoccupied trying to be the French version of myself.

But being sweaty in Europe seems inherently more sexy than it is at home in downtown Toronto. It is not natural or sexy when gnats adhere themselves to my damp body as I'm riding my bike and die their undignified little deaths by drowning in my perspiration. Nor is it earthily attractive having my hair plastered hotly and wetly to my head within ten minutes of being outdoors.

So today, I felt like cooking but I didn't feel like turning on a single kitchen appliance. I took a pizza dough I had made, using this recipe and frozen a month or two ago and defrosted it on the kitchen counter. I decided I'd roast some tomatoes on the barbeque, wilt a bit of Swiss chard and add some barbequed sausage and goat cheese to my dough for a grilled pizza dinner. Husband came home, took off his shirt and started drinking refreshingly cold beers while watching Germany and Spain duke it out on the soccer field. I stared dreamily at the frosty glasses filled with Asian Sling cocktails on the cover of the newest issue of Food and Drink he'd gotten for me at the liquor store and got to work slicing some tomatoes;

And washing some Swiss chard;

Then I cooked them with the sausages on the grill and assembled the pizza, which took very little time to cook. It was gluttonously heaped with toppings. This was a full assault of dominant flavours. This was not a shrinking violet pizza. This was an aggressive, salty, juicy pie. Oh, and my brilliant plan to barbeque instead of heating up the kitchen? Well, I forgot about one important fact - that I'd have to be outside in a heatwave with a 500 degree heat source. Fark.

It was worth it though. I took my dinner to the cool bedroom and started watching a movie. A little bit later, Husband came in, furious and full of swears, and hugged me tightly. He told me he'd read the resulting comments of this blog I'd had a bit of a skirmish with a few days ago, and he couldn't believe how mean they were to me. Of course, I had to go and read them for myself.

I couldn't believe that my one little comment caused such a defensive reaction. It was even addressed in the newest post! Oh, there were some nasty things said about me and my blog. Here's the thing though; I don't expect to be everyone's cup of tea and it's okay if you don't like what I do here. But grow up. Seriously. We're not in high school anymore. And there's enough cruelty in the world without adding to it.

Let's move on, shall we?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Pod People, And A Fresh Pea Tart.

A lot of people say that when folks start coupling off, they tend to stop socializing as much with their friends. They become more insular, happy to shrink their universe down to two. Well, there are lots of ways to be a couple, I suppose, and none of them are wrong. Husband and I have never really subscribed to the universe-shrinking practice, though. We have some separate friends and interests and we don't really believe we've become 'one mind, one heart' or morphed into a singular organism now that we're married. We've always been keen to maintain not just a tiny sense of personal autonomy within our relationship, but a small sense of belonging to the world beyond the 'Us'.

But as expansive as this makes our lives seem, we're curiously underactive when it comes to socializing with others. It's not out of lack of want. It's just that miraculously, two lone wolves found each other and formed a pack, where the love of one's own company was no longer a personality flaw or social disorder. It was a trait indicative of an independent streak and an imagination vivid enough to cure any fever of boredom. So our default location is home. And our default company is our own.

For Canada Day, we had a plan to go and hang out with some acquaintances of Husband's whom he'd known over the years through a mutual love of music. One of them was in a band that was playing a free concert at a park in the east end. The day before, we'd surprised ourselves by accepting the invitation, a preventative action taken to avoid becoming Crashing Bores Who Never Do Anything. We'd both been looking forward to it, but as the hour of departure approached, I found myself doing that thing, that "I'm tired, and my stomach feels funny...maybe we should just stay in?" thing. That I do
every time there's a social engagement, because I'm shy and can't help getting nervous.

But somehow, we found ourselves in the car, driving on a road that seemed designed for car commercials, with canopies of tall trees overhead and smooth asphalt curves to glide around. We arrived at the house of the musician friend, only in time to drink half a beer and head over to the park; the band was going on shortly.

A brief walk later and we were there. And wouldn't you know it; the Lone Wolves separated from everyone else. We found a spot near the bandstand and sat on the damp grass, taking in our surroundings as the country music started. Teenagers walked several paces ahead of their parents, the girls flipping their hair incessantly and tugging their tops down over their midriffs, wondering if anyone was noticing them. A group of toddlers held hands with each other and jumped up and down to the music, unbearably endearing in their pure expressions of delight. The smell of hot dogs, burnt sugar and fried dough mingled with the fresh air as the setting sun gilded everything in its wake.

I was near-drunk on the wholesomeness, the beauty, the innocence of it all. I felt weepy with joy.

We left shortly after; Husband was getting cold and Home, Home as always, beckoned us back. But the best had yet to come. After a dinner of hot dogs and beer, we stood out on our balcony watching the neighbourhood fireworks, our heads turning this way and that, trying not to miss any of the colourful sneezes being fired from all different directions. And then, suddenly, as we looked to our left, there it was. A clear view of the professional fireworks show down by the lakeshore; a half hour spell of the most spectacular explosions the night sky could hold. Husband put his arms around me, and we felt like kids again, oohing and ahhing at the magnificent display. It was a night I suspect will forever linger around the edges of my memory.

In the spirit of finding myself one of the two peas in a rather content little pod, (and also, for getting a huge pile of fresh peas in my Good Food Box) I decided to make a pea tart from a recipe I found here
at 101 Cookbooks, with a few additions and changes of my own.

I wasn't as adept at shelling those peas as I thought I'd be. It took a while. And peeling the skins off canned chickpeas? Never. Again. When I whirred the peas and green onions, chickpeas and pistachios together in the food processor and poured the mixture out into a bowl with a light dusting of cayenne, well, I discovered something:

Blue, you've been bumped as my favourite colour. Green has stolen my heart away from you.

I used puff pastry for the first time ever. I asked myself why it was the first time ever. It's so easy! You just thaw and unroll a sheet, singular! No bumbling about with a billion delicate layers, butter and damp towels! (that means you, phyllo) I grated a generous handful of Parmesan and Swiss cheese, smoothed the pea mixture out onto the dough and surveyed my handiwork...Not bad.

Despite sweltering temperatures inside the apartment, I popped the tart in Demonic Oven and sipped a glass of white wine as I waited. And what came out was a sublime taste combination of flaky, buttery crust and a salty, earthy, nutty filling with a tiny bit of heat. I loved every bite.
As I dusted the pastry flakes off my chin and top and skirt, I wondered whether there were lots of other homebodies out there like me. I wondered if I'd be able to pick you out on the street, from a tentative smile, or maybe a radiant sort of quietness.

I think I could. And I bet I'd like you.

Fresh Pea Tart, from 101 Cookbooks, with some adaptation from me:

Approximately 1 1/2 cups of fresh shelled peas
Approximately 3/4 cup of chickpeas (I used canned, rinsed and skinned)
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup pistachios
zest of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper
loads of fresh ground pepper, a touch of salt to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup finely grates Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Swiss, Emmenthal or Gruyere cheese
1 sheet of thawed puff pastry


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a saucepan of water to boil. Add the peas and boil for about 30 seconds - they'll all start floating to the top of the pan. Remove from heat and drain. Put in the food processor with the chopped green onions and the juice of 1/2 a lemon and pulse till well combined. Add the pistachios and pulse till they're in small pieces. Add the juice of the other half lemon, along with the olive oil and pulse till the mixture is smooth. Turn out into a bowl.

2. In the food processor, pulse the chickpeas till they're coarsely chopped. Add them to the bowl and stir till well combined. Add the cayenne pepper, salt and fresh ground pepper and taste. When it's seasoned to your liking, add the egg and stir till combined. Then put in the Parmesan cheese.

3. Unroll the sheet of pastry and place gently on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Fold the edges up a bit, so they make a bit of a barrier for the filling. Smooth the pea mixture onto the pastry and top with the Gruyere cheese. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is firm and the pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven, top with more cheese and a few pieces of chopped green onion if you like. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve!