Tag Archives: Friendship

“Grate” Tomato Sauce

forkful of pasta 2Last week, it occurred to me that my husband has become much more sociable, while I am have become considerably less so. It seems like every few months he comes home regaling me with a tale about a recently acquired friend. Our kids joke about dad’s new BFFs.

I don’t think I have made a new friend in over 25 years, unless you count Kelly Rippa. My daughter tells me that Kelly is only my friend in my mind. I believe that Kelly would really like me if only she knew me. We have so much in common. Both of us fly into a rage when our husbands chew fruit in close proximity to our ears. It’s a documented disorder, check it out.

I was reading an interesting article about how smartphones have destroyed a generation and it got me thinking about what constitutes a real friend. Do you have to have face to face contact to be real friends? Over the past few years, I have gotten to know a fellow blogger, Wendy (The Monday Box) through reading and commenting on each others blogs. I consider her to be a new friend.

Last weekend, one of my husband’s new friends came to visit us at the cottage. He and his wife arrived bearing a huge basket of vegetables from their garden. It was such a thoughtful gift. I have been cooking with it all week. There were 4 huge heirloom tomatoes in the basket and a few bulbs of garlic. I was inspired to make a batch of quick tomato sauce. When mother nature gives you gorgeous produce, don’t mess with it too much.

I have only made my own tomato sauce once, and that was many years ago with my friend Marla. We bought a few bushels of plum tomatoes from the market and spent all day peeling and seeding them and then proceeded to cook them down for hours. The kitchen looked like a crime scene. There was red pulp and juice everywhere. It cured me of canning forever.

When I saw in Bon Appetit magazine, how Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen makes her tomato sauce, I was encouraged to try making it again. No peeling or seeding. She just grates the tomatoes on a box grater and cooks them very briefly. No fuss or muss.grating tomatoes A generous amount of garlic and olive oil meet in the pan for a few minutes. A few sprigs of rosemary are added and then in goes the grated pulp from 4 large tomatoes. Make sure to salt with abandon. Tomatoes and salt are best friends and depend on each other to shine. sauteeing garlic and rosemarycooking tomatoesI added a small squeeze of Mike’s Hot Honey. I seem to be possessed with a desire to add it to everything I can. Chef Ashley finishes her sauce with 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter. I whisked in just 2 teaspoons and felt it was delicious with just that small amount. Enriching tomato sauce with butter is Marcella Hazan‘s trick and it’s glorious. spagettiI kept it simple and added just a few tiny fresh tomatoes, basil and Parmesan cheese.tomatoesbasil

3 bowls of pasta 2

spagetti and sauce in bowl 2Click here to print recipe for _Grate_ Tomato Sauce.

stick a fork in it


Friendship and Barcelona Part 1.

I met one of my very best friends at summer camp when we were 13 years old. We first bonded over giggling about a certain boy we both had a crush on while washing our hair in the rain with Herbal Essence Shampoo. This was way before the days of acid rain, and our camp was in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario, so the rainwater, while a little cold, was fairly clean. Our friendship, like the shampoo, has endured. Not sure what became of that boy!

In 1991 we both discovered we were pregnant and expecting within several months of each other. She with her fourth child (she already had three boys) and me with my second child (I already had one son). We joked that it would be so cute if we both had girls and they ended up becoming friends. Since I was living in Ottawa at the time and she was in Toronto, it seemed unlikely, but we wished for it anyways.

Fast forward 21 years and yes indeed we both had girls. Her daughter became my god-daughter  and these girls of ours did indeed become friends. To celebrate this milestone birthday of our daughters, we decided to take a trip to mark the occasion. After much lobbying back and forth, Barcelona became the destination of choice. For the record, the moms lobbied hard for a beach holiday where we could just park ourselves under a big palm tree and read and drink Prosecco all day, but the girls lobbied harder for a cultural European city.

I decided to journal our adventure here in my blog, so that one day, when our daughters have daughters, they can look back on this holiday adventure and reminisce! Of course, the journalling will have a culinary bent. This is a food blog after all. Had we been thinking clearly, when planning this trip, perhaps Barcelona was not the best choice from a food perspective. My daughter is a vegetarian and my girlfriend and her daughter keep kosher. Barcelona is a haven for pork lovers!

We arrived around noon, Barcelona time, which was 6:00 a.m. for us. While our comfy beds at The Grand Hotel Central, were calling to us, we thought it would be wiser to try to stay awake and get on Barcelona time as soon as possible. We went for lunch and had our first tapas meal. We were quite jet lagged so I can’t really remember where this was, but there was one little bocadillo (sandwich) that stood out from all the others. It featured breaded and deep-fried goat cheese that was topped with a blueberry compote. Crispy on the outside, creamy, tangy and salty inside, with the sweetness of the blueberry topping, this was a little bite of perfection.                            first tapas lunchWe spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and getting our bearings. It quickly became apparent that only one of us would ever be able to list map reading skills on our resumes. My god-daughter has a keen sense of direction, and she became our North Star. We took a walk down Las Ramblas, a 1.2 kilometer long tree lined pedestrian mall that is in the center of the city. We had heard that the city was rife with pickpockets so we kept our purses close to us, but we had no problems at all. Right in the center of the sidewalk we ran into a cat that charmed us all! El Gato del Raval, is a bronze sculpture by artist  Fernando Botero.El gato del Raval We stumbled upon La Boqueria, the enormous food market, featuring over 200 food stalls, shops and tapas bars. The lattice wrought iron entrance to the market is a beautiful example of Catalonian Art Nouveau. The market has been here since 1857!market 3The sheer volume of stalls and selection at each stall was astounding. It was all quite overwhelming. It took us over 20 minutes to decide which fruit drink to order. I have purchased a  car in less time than that! We blamed our indecision on the jet lag. Pineapple coconut was finally chosen.fruit drinks 2

sharing a drink 2The displays were pure culinary art.chocolate at marketThe candy and dried fruit displays reminded me of the Shuk (Machane Yehuda) in Jerusalem.candyBaby avocados, just slightly larger than strawberries stopped me in my tracks.mini avocadoesThe next day dawned cold and rainy, but we came prepared. Dressed in raincoats, rubber boots and armed with umbrellas, we took an Architectural Walking Tour of the city. The walk, organized by Context Tours focuses on the fantastic architecture of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona’s most important architect. Gaudi’s work can best be described as a cross between Willy Wonka and Dr. Seuss. He was at the forefront of the Modernista style of architecture so prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This style of architecture is perfectly described by author Francois Loyer in his book “Art Nouveau in Catalonia.”

Modernista architecture can be characterized by the use of the curve over the straight line, organic and botanical shapes and motifs, a great richness of ornamentation, bright colours, a disregard of symmetry and a wide use of symbolism….The overall effect is a style of architecture which is very dynamic, very human, very colourful and often absurdly over-the-top when it comes to details and adornment.

Our guide, the charming, enthusiastic and extremely knowledgable Celia (she is an associate professor at the Barcelona School of Architecture) explained that during this time period Barcelona expanded exponentially in size from the medieval Old Town and became a breeding ground for the modernist movement. While this over-the-top, whimsical style may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they certainly make for great photo ops.Casa Batllo


Casa Mila (La Pedrera)After viewing many of his buildings, I was convinced that the term “gaudy” derived from Antoine Gaudi’s over the top style. Apparently not. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the word gaudy dates back to the 16th century, well before our Antoine Gaudi was born (1852). It described a joke, plaything or showy ornament.

Gaudi died tragically in 1926. He was run over by a tram. He had spent the last 16 years of his life devoted to the construction of a massive church, The Sagrada Familia Basilica. It remains under construction to this day. There are plans underway to complete the building by 2026, the centenary of his death. Gaudi was fond of saying, “My client his in no hurry.” He was, of course, referring to God! I suspect that not too many clients would be happy with this pace of development.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStay tuned for Part 2 of Friendship in Barcelona, in which we work our way through numerous brands of Spanish Cavas (in alphabetical order) and the girls get pulled over by the police while driving up to Olympic Park.


Friendship and French Fries

Just over 21 years ago, I moved to Ottawa from Toronto. At that time I was the proud mom of a sweet little boy, aged 15 months, and was hugely pregnant with my second child.  I missed my family and friends in Toronto and was very unhappy to be living here.  One rainy day I took my son outside to get the mail from our superbox.  Right by the mailbox was a huge and very deep rain puddle.  My little one decided to take a bath in that puddle.  He laid down and started rolling around in the muddy puddle.  My arms were full of mail and I couldn’t pick him up.  I was just about to panic when I heard a voice calling out, “Would you like some help?”  Without waiting for my answer, a very stylishly dressed woman scooped him up out of the puddle and carried him to my front door.  A lasting friendship was born that day.

Her name was Brigitte, and she was my across the road neighbour.  She was Belgian and had the odd custom, when greeting you, of kissing first the right cheek, then the left and then the right cheek again – 3 kisses! The Belgian people are very affectionate.  She introduced me to french fries with mayonnaise as well as all the other stay-at-home moms on our street.  Once a week we would get together at someone’s house, with our kids, for coffee and a play date.  Eventually, that turned into lunch, with wine for the moms and Kraft dinner and apple juice for the kids.  Within 6 months we dumped the kids with their dads for a fall girl’s weekend at the cottage.  This fall marked our  20th annual get together.

I have learned many things from this group of women, most importantly, that it’s ok to be a less than perfect mother.  They have been a wonderful source of support and inspiration for me over the years.  And while we don’t see each other weekly any longer, when we do get together, it’s almost as if no time has passed.  For our girl’s weekends, meals are assigned and everyone takes a turn in the kitchen.  We eat and drink way too much and by the end of the weekend our heads hurt from laughing so much. Everyone feels safe to vent and complain and spill her sorrows, as we know that what happens on the girl’s weekend stays on a girl’s weekend.

Many things have changed over the years. We tend to drink less now, go to bed earlier, and no one worries about buying new P.J’s for the weekend. What hasn’t changed is how much we all love to eat and laugh.

Two weeks ago we gathered at my cottage for our weekend. There were 9 of us, all still living within 2 blocks of each other in the neighbourhood where we raised our families. As we all assembled for Friday night dinner, we couldn’t help but remark how we are not getting any older, just better. Of course, it helped that I had dimmed the lights and no one was wearing her reading glasses. My friends are quite generous and treat me to such lovely hostess gifts. This year I decided to buy presents for all of them.

The girls were thrilled by their new coffee mugs. I love these mugs from Anthropologie. I have to admit, my gift giving was not entirely altruistic. I have my own Anthro mug, to which I wake up every morning looking forward to drinking latte out of. It has the perfect weight and feel in my hand. Sometimes when we have guests at the cottage, and they wake up earlier than me, they will think nothing of taking my favourite mug (with the letter C on it) from the mug drawer to have their coffee in. There is a drawer full of perfectly wonderful other mugs to choose from, why do they have to take mine? I know I sound like a petty crank, but I have a morning ritual that I look forward to and if my mug is missing, I feel off-balance for the entire day. So, I decided to give everyone their own mug and felt very secure in the knowledge that my own mug would still be sitting in the drawer waiting for me tomorrow morning!

My mug has a small chip in the base. My husband and daughter were in the Anthropologie store in Scotland this summer and they called me to see if I wanted them to buy me a replacement. I declined, saying that I liked my chipped mug. It was slightly flawed but perfectly functional, just like me!

Friday night dinner, brought to us bu Brigitte, Jana and Jana was a delicious tomato soup , salad and lasagna. The dessert was a show stopper! Three mini jars of deliciousness. Panna cotta topped with raspberry sauce, chocolate mousse and lemon mousse. My girlfriend found these little jars and white platters at the dollar store! It was such an adorable presentation and a perfect idea for a make ahead dessert that will wow your guests.

Saturday morning dawned cold and dreary and my mug was waiting for me! So was an incredible decadent breakfast lovingly prepared by Paula. Scones, croissants, sticky buns, bagels,  three kinds of yogurt, granola and fruit.

Some of the girls went shopping on saturday afternoon at Kilbournes. This is a country store in the town of Newboro, Ontario, about a 20 minute drive from my cottage. When you first walk in you see Tilley hats, fudge, wooden ducks and all the usual country store suspects. This place has over 26,000 square feet and is filled with gourmet foods, local cheeses, kitchen ware, toys, clothing, furniture, kitchen appliances, top end ovens and stoves and shoes! And what a shoe department they have. In  this tiny little town, in the middle of nowhere they have well over 10,000 pairs of shoes, sandals and boots ranging from Clarks, Frye, Fit Flops, Anne Klein and Stuart Weitzman! I will warn you however, the longer you stay in the store, the better the merchandise starts to look!

The rest of us stayed back at the cottage and made a fire, read and napped.

We all gathered together for cocktails and cheese biscuits before dinner. Our friend Christine introduced us to a ginger liqueur called Domaine de Canton. A splash of this over a piece of candied ginger and topped off with some Prosecco makes for a lively aperitivo hour!

Saturday night dinner was grilled rib steaks and french fries. I own a deep fryer which I keep at the cottage and use about twice a year. Frying in an open pot, scares me, and so for $139.00 I have peace of mind that I will not burn the house down. If you have never made your own fries, you must do it at least once in your life. You will not be sorry. It has become a girls weekend tradition that we all look forward to. My friend Paula bought me a french fry cutter which was mounted and holds a place of honour on the laundry room wall. It took us about a year to figure out that this was not a tabletop appliance! Here is a video demonstrating its use! This machine, while quite amusing, is not necessary to have if you decide to make your own fries.

Once the potatoes are cut, they are soaked in cold water for about an hour. This rinses the starch off them. Dry the potatoes very well in some kitchen towels.
Then, heat the oil in the fryer to 325° F. Cook fries, in batches for about 7-8 minutes until they are soft and limp but not golden.Transfer from fry basket to paper towel lined baking sheet and set aside.
Crank up the heat on the fryer up the fryer to 375° F for the second frying. In small batches, cook the fries for a second time. Two fryings are the classic way to make french fries. The first fry cooks the fries through on the inside and the second fry, crisps them up on the outside. You can do the first fry up to 2 days ahead and store the cooked potatoes in the fridge until ready to cook for the final fry. We made two kinds of fries. regular, using Russett potatoes, and then sweet potato fries.
You must salt them as soon as they come out of the fryer.
The smell of freshly fried potatoes brought everyone into the kitchen. That crisp, salty crackle between your teeth as you take your first bite, almost burning your tongue on that hot salty goodness is irresistible. To accompany the fries we made a dipping sauce of chipotle mayo. The smoky heat was fantastic with the fries. Kale salad and grilled rib steaks, cooked to medium rare finished off our meal. Although we all proclaimed we were too full for dessert, we polished off most of a chocolate caramel tart, baked by our friend Christine.
Sunday morning brunch is always a quiet subdued meal. Aware that our time together is coming to an end, I always feel a little melancholy. We clean up from brunch, pack our coolers and divide up the empty wine bottles so no one at home realizes how much wine we have actually drunk in less than 48 hours. Hugs and kisses and promises to email pictures and recipes, along with plans for the next get together fill our chatter.

Click here to print recipe for Classic French Fries.

Beetroot and Chickpea Salad

I am very fortunate that I get to spend my summers at our cottage by the lake. We entertain guests all summer long and really enjoy being hosts. However, there is something so nice about being a guest every once in a while. Last weekend we got to play the role of guests as we headed off to visit friends at their cottage in The Muskokas.

For the purpose of this post, I will call our friends, “Mr. and  Mrs. Monkey.” Of course, that is not their real names, but I am reluctant to reveal their identity for fear that once everyone learns what generous hosts they are,  they will soon be over run with guests and will no longer have space for us.

I have nicknamed them “Mr. and Mrs. Monkey” as they share a certain personality trait with that animal.

“Tests in Capuchin monkeys showed the animals consistently chose to share food with another monkey if given the option, suggesting they are capable of empathy, the team at the Yerkes Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta found.

“They seem to care for the welfare of those they know,” Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at Yerkes, said in a statement.

His team tested eight female brown Capuchin monkeys in pairs. They could choose a token that gave only themselves a treat or an option that rewarded both of them, called a pro-social option.

“The fact the Capuchins predominantly selected the pro-social option must mean seeing another monkey receive food is satisfying or rewarding for them,” said de Waal.

Our friends are indeed generous and gracious hosts, just like those Capuchin Monkeys. When we arrived, hot and tired, after a 5 hour drive, Mrs. Monkey had the Prosecco chilled and ready to open. She immediately ushered us to the dock for cocktails.

While we were in the kitchen, getting the Angus Bear Paw Burgers ready for dinner, I noticed that the fridge had a chalkboard panel where Mr. Monkee had written “Dad’s 10 Statements”. One of his rules to live by is further evidence that my friends are caring about the welfare of others.

“In life there are givers and takers, always be a giver!”

The next morning, my husband and The Monkees decided to go for a 60 km bike ride. I opted out and offered to have lunch ready when they returned. When I mentioned that I was going to go out for a power walk, Mrs. Monkee loaned me  a hat, some sunblock, headphones for my i-pod (I had forgotten mine), some Bounce dryer sheets (excellent to clip onto your hat as the scent keeps the deer flies away) and a bear whistle.

WHAT??? A bear whistle? She explained that there had been a bear citing a few weeks ago so runners were advised to blow a whistle every so often to keep bears away. Like I said, she is so giving and generous. Off they went on their bike ride and I went for my walk, blowing that whistle every 30 seconds. While I did not have a bear sighting, I did attract every dog within a 30 mile radius!

After I got back from my walk and cooled off in the lake, I got to work on lunch. Mrs. Monkee had thoughtfully left the recipe out for me. I looked at the open page of the beautiful cookbook she left out for me. “Beetroot and Chickpea Salad.”

Okay, here was my dilemma. I hate beets. I want so badly to like them, because they are so beautiful, but every time I try to eat one, I gag. They have a certain earthiness that I just can’t deal with. I have tried them roasted,steamed and grilled. I have tried, golden beets, candy cane (striped)beets, and baby beets.  I just can’t stand them.  So, what to do? Do I accidentally throw the beets out, and say I couldn’t find them or do I just suck it up like a gracious guest and make the beet salad.

Of course I did the right thing and made the salad, beets and all. (Mom, you raised me right!) Mrs. Monkee had already gone to the trouble of roasting and peeling the beets, so all I had to do was slice them up and prepare the dressing and other salad ingredients.

The dressing was the most unusual combination of ingredients I had ever seen. Chickpeas, beets, lemon juice, garlic, mint, sugar and olive oil, all blended to make a smooth dressing. It was just so strange that I had to taste it. Say… I do like beets, well beet salad dressing,… after all. The other ingredients mellowed the beet taste and just a hint of beet was all I could taste in the dressing.

I added some water and a bit more oil than the recipe called for, to thin out the dressing. I also pureed the heck out of it so it was quite smooth. I washed some spinach, diced some celery and cucumbers and soaked some red onions to add to the salad.

The salad is topped with additional chick peas, beets and some feta. Mrs. Monkee arrived home just in time to toss.

At lunch, I politely ate around the beets, leaving a little hill of them at the side of my plate. Mrs. Monkey, politely ate the beets off my plate. After 38 years of friendship, no words were necessary.

Click here to print the recipe for Beetroot and Chickpea Salad.