From Coast to Coast

Happy Canada Day

Native edible plants are, for the average consumer, not necessarily cheap or accessible, and as a result they have acquired something of an exotic cast.  But at least they still exist, and as well as serving as a blessing to their respective environments, they provide some measure of income to what gatherers there are.   In Newfoundland there is someone traipsing through peat bogs plucking Cloudberries, one at a time, just as they grow, one fruit per plant.  And these are not at what would be a comfortable hip-height.  That would be too easy.  One must bend over and reach down to their level, at just a few inches off the ground.  I can’t imagine how long it would take to fill a decent sized pail.  Over on the other coast, in British Columbia where the living is easier, great hunks of Sea Asparagus (aka Salicornia) might be clipped from  a salt marsh, a tidal flat, or even a beach, and although they’re not much higher than the Cloudberries, I’ll bet you could make good time in mowing down a few bushels.  Lucky for us, Forbes Wild Foods marshals the fruits of these labors and brings them to Toronto markets that we may grace our tables with something special, possibly exotic, definitely wonderful.

Sea Asparagus

Sea Asparagus

I never meant to like Sea Asparagus.  I thought it would taste brackish and that made me squeamish, but it was love at first bite.  Maybe the crisp texture lends a hand so that the saltiness seems just the thing.  It evokes childhood memories of salted fried food on the beach.  The surf.  The breeze.  Give me more.  It is classically paired with fish.  I had some leftover broiled salmon in the freezer that I’ve been meaning to deal with and what came to mind was a flan.  That’s gourmese for crustless quiche.  I just used what I had on hand; feel free to make substitutions.

Recipe:  Sea Asparagus and Salmon Flan

1 leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 to 3 garlic scapes, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
6 large eggs
5 oz. fresh goat cheese
½ c milk
5 to 6 oz. salmon (I used cooked; I’m sure raw would be fine)
1 c sea asparagus, rinsed well
small knob of butter

Place oil in heated skillet and sauté leeks and garlic scapes on medium heat.
Beat eggs in large bowl.  In smaller bowl whisk together the goat cheese and milk.  Add these to eggs.  Whisk until smooth.
Butter a pie plate or similar dish.  Place leeks and scapes in bottom.  Break up the fish and scatter evenly.  Put about half of the sea asparagus on top.  Pour the egg mixture over all and place remaining sea asparagus on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 min.  Serves 6.


Sea Asparagus and Salmon Flan

Serve it with Land Asparagus for a new take on Surf ‘n Turf…..

I think of Cloudberries as the Boreal version of Passionfruit.  Forbes Wild Foods offers a compote, made simply with the berries and organic sugar.  Just a spoonful will get you a cushy spot on one of  those clouds; combine it with coffee granita and whipped cream for the expressway to heaven.

Public Domain (Philipum: Hjortron.jpg)

Recipe:  Coffee Granita

Make some really strong espresso and sweeten to your liking.  Freeze it in an ice cube tray, but only to the ‘al dente’ stage.  Remove to a bowl and break up with a fork.
Divide into dishes and top with whipped cream.  And of course, something special like Cloudberry Compote.

Coffee Granita, Cloudberry Compote, Whipped Cream

Posted in asparagus, cloudberry, coffee, DESSERT, savory flan, sea asparagus, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Garlicky Escapade

We once had a garden on the upper backside of a large lot that held the first house we owned.   Although neighboring trees provided serious competition for nutrients and water, at least there was enough sunlight to satisfy the needs of many perennial flowers and some food plants too, including currants, horseradish, rhubarb, and garlic.  Acquainting ourselves with these treasures was quite a delight.  The garlic scapes were the most foreign of all and we beheld them as would children, wide-eyed at the latest fresh new thing.   With their thick goose-neck coils and curlicues, they stood like sentinels carrying oddly curved bayonets.  Had we fallen into Alice’s Wonderland?  Initially we were ignorant of their culinary worth.  Visuals and victuals too!  And we hardly suspected that a decade later, we would happily stand in line to pay for a small bunch, in the short window of their season.  Fortunately, it seems that supply is increasingly in step with demand, and they are easier to find each year at farmers’ markets as well as Asian produce stands.

Garlic Scapes

Here are some ideas for using them, with a minimum of instruction in place of formal recipes……..make sure to trim the latent flowery top and an inch or so off of the stem……..

Garlic Scape Pesto

The Simplest Garlic Scape Pesto…….

Pulse the chopped stems in a mini food processor with some olive oil.  Fiddle with the proportions to your heart’s content.  Put on bread, fish, chicken, meat, in soup, salad dressing…..go crazy.

Try topping broiled portobello mushrooms with the pesto and re-broil for a few minutes more….

Pesto Portobellos, Escaped

Get some hummus, or make your own.  I made mine with a ‘new to me’ bean called Mayocoba which I got at Whole Foods.  It’s from Peru.  With a color something like ochre, it has a nice nutty flavor and texture that inclines it well to a dip.  Top it with the pesto and some hot sauce.  Serve with veggies and pita, or spread on toasted bread.

Mayocoba Beans, Soaked

Hummus with Garlic Scape Pesto and Hot Sauce

Recently I found a useful method for frying tofu and you can check it out here.  This will lead you to the discovery of another great blog, if you’re looking for more inspiration.

After frying the tofu, I spread on some barbecue sauce (homemade from odds and ends in the fridge, never to be duplicated again) and the pesto.  A quick visit under the broiler and voila!  There’s dinner, with broccoli, portobellos, potato cakes (more on these later), and a cold beer.  The hommus tasted good on the tofu too.

Tofu That Really Schmecks

Dinner al Fresco



Linden Buds

Linden in Bloom

Linden Blossoms

Pine in Bloom

Catalpa in Bloom

Catalpa Blossoms

Posted in Garlic Scapes, Pesto, Portobellos, TOFU, Uncategorized, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Desserts for Dads (and Dieters Too)

My dad was a great food and cooking enthusiast.  He was Captain of the Kitchen and my mother was only too happy to defer to his initiative.  Except in the sweets department, which was clearly her domain.  She merrily kept him plied with cream puffs, chocolate cake, and homemade fudge until eventually the piper needed paying, and sadly,“D” no longer stood for dessert.  Given her penchant for cream and sugar, it seems odd that the concept of trifle did not enter my consciousness until I was manning my own kitchen  and the folks were well into the dieting stage.  This was obviously a gaping hole in her Collected Dessert Wisdom.  I’m sure that if my mother had had it once, she would have hastened to have it again.  Dad would have loved it too.  Here is my sort of, kind of Trifle that has been toyed and tampered with to blasphemous extents, but with results that still bring smiles of gratification.

Kind of a Trifle

Recipe:  A Strawberry-Rhubarb Kind of a Trifle

4 c chopped rhubarb
½ c sugar
¼ c water
2 c milk                                    
½ c sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp butter
1 ½ to 2 c whipping cream
3 Tbsp sugar
½ of a 400 gm. pkg. of lady fingers, aka, ‘savoiardi’ biscuits
(equivalent to 2 dozen)
1 c white wine, or white grape juice (somewhat diluted with water and
lemon juice)
2 to 3 c sliced strawberries

Whisk together in a saucepan the milk, sugar, and cornstarch, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Once the boil is reached, continue stirring for one more minute, then turn off heat.  Stir in the vanilla and butter.  Pour into bowl, cover, and cool in fridge for at least a few hours.  I prefer to do this the day before.
In another saucepan bring to a near boil the rhubarb, sugar, and water.  Lower heat, stir, and simmer until tender, between 5 and 10 min.  Allow to cool.
Whip cream w/ 3 Tbsp sugar to almost stiff peaks.
Whisk the milk pudding to a smooth consistency.  Fold in about 2/3 of the whipped cream.
Place wine or grape juice in a shallow dish.  Briefly dip lady fingers, both sides and make a single layer of these in a trifle or comparable dessert dish.
Top with some of the rhubarb, strawberries, and pudding.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Top finally with the reserved whipped cream.  Refrigerate for at least a few hours.
When serving, you may simply spoon into bowls.  Or, if you have any of the rhubarb and berries left, layer these with the trifle in glass goblets for a more attractive effect.  Makes about 8 to 10 portions, depending.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Kind of a Trifle

For those in the market for a less rich dessert (yikes, even vegan), here is a seaweed based sweet.  Keep in mind that although there may always be ‘room for Jello’, kanten is another matter.  It is made from agar agar which is reputed to have a suppressant effect on the appetite.  (I suppose this supports the case for having dessert before the meal.)   More information about agar agar is available here and also in my post of Aug. 14, 2011.  The following recipe contains Earl Grey tea.  I like how the tannins connect with the cherries.  If you have none, or have an aversion to it, you could use another kind of tea.  Or you could skip it altogether and just use more juice.  Wine might be nice too.

Recipe:  The Earl of Kanten’s Fruited Gel

2 Tbsp agar agar flakes (try the health food store)
1 ½ cups grape and/or apple juice
½ cup steeped Earl Grey tea
1 c cherries, halved and pitted
1 pear, peeled and chopped

Bring to a boil the agar and juice, whisking frequently to dissolve the flakes.  Turn heat down, add tea, and simmer for 5 minutes, continuing to whisk.
Remove from heat.  Cool slightly.  You may now stir in fruit, or add fruit later after kanten is set.
Pour the kanten into a bowl or individual serving dishes, with or without the fruit.  It will gel, just sitting out on the counter, but it’s quicker to do it in the fridge.   Makes 4 to 6 servings.

The Earl of Kanten’s Fruited Gel

Happy Father’s Day!

A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP…… The Ant and the Peony…….

Ant ‘Likes’ Peony


Posted in agar agar, DESSERT, Jello, kanten, RHUBARB, strawberries, Uncategorized, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Presto Spelto!

Mr. Rabbit of Casa Loma

Afflicted as I am with White Food Fatigue, I have been on a hunt, long-term, for some whole grain orzo.  It just wasn’t turning up.  Not at Whole Foods, not at the Little League health food stores, certainly not at the local supermarket.  I was losing steam.  My fixation slackening, I let go of the quest, and then, magically, the object appeared before me.  Isn’t that the way?  At an unassuming specialty food shop on Yonge St. in Toronto called La Salumeria.  Eccola!  A box of spelt orzo!  You’d think I’d won a box of chocolates.   (Which actually did happen recently, for a recipe I submitted to a contest over at Aurora Importing.)  But back to the big prize……….. Spelt is a grain similar to wheat, older, and some think wiser, as it has more protein and is easier to digest.  Orzo is a form of pasta that is shaped like an oversized grain of rice.  Like a cat with a canary, I was grinning all the way home and promptly put the orzo to work in a pilaf with vegetables.  This is very quick to prepare and can serve as a side dish or, presto change-o, as a main course when stuffed into another vegetable such as squash or eggplant.

Orzo Pesto Primavera

Recipe:  Orzo Pesto Primavera

1 cup spelt orzo
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups vegetables, chopped small (e.g., green beans, mushrooms, peppers,
asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ c vegetable broth
½ c pesto
lemon zest and parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil and stir in the orzo.  Cook for 10 min.   Stir a few times to help keep grains separate.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil on med-high.
Stir in vegetables and sauté briefly, stirring frequently, only to just cooked.  Stir in garlic.  Turn off heat.
Drain orzo.  Add to skillet and stir in broth and pesto.
Heat for a few minutes, stirring.  Turn into serving dish and top with lemon and parmesan.  Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Spelt Orzo

Spelt Orzo

Orzo Pesto Primavera

African Daisy

African Daisy

Posted in Orzo, spelt, Uncategorized, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Lion with Teeth

Diving into the Dandelion

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
–Pablo Picasso

A child is like an extraterrestrial.  Or, at least, my idea of one.  The newness of everything it comes into contact with on this planet describes an experience different from what we adults are typically capable of, or even of recalling to some extent.

The first dandelion:  to a young child, a toddler perhaps, it can be a hard-hitting piece of art.  I still have a clear memory of that primal encounter.  It shocked me with its yellowness, its brilliance exploding before my eyes and reverberating throughout my being.  This was love.  I cling to this early impression with some sense of loss……Of innocence?  Naiveté?

Here on the other side, the grown-up one, there’s so little patience for this plant as to inspire pathos.  I could be accused of ‘lionizing’ but I wouldn’t be the first.  The name itself derives from the French, dent-de-lion, or, tooth of the lion.  Granted, this is in reference to the shape of the leaves.  But it is a powerful source of nutrition and medicine.  The greens are purifying to the blood and high in minerals and vitamins.  Both the leaves and the roots have been used traditionally for problems with the liver, kidneys, and stomach.  It is anti-inflammatory and also possibly anti-carcinogenic.  And you can’t beat the price.

The roasted root can be found in coffee substitutes.  I once read (somewhere?!) about an application for the dried, unroasted root which was quite interesting.  It promised to thicken milk to a cream-like texture.  I tried it and it worked very well.  But then, repeated attempts had no effect.  This is definitely worth more research.  And some day, perhaps I’ll try my hand at dandelion wine, which is made with a thousand or so blossoms.  That shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Dandelion Leaves

The leaves are the most commonly used part.   They resemble, and are closely related to, chicory and endive.  They may be steamed or sautéed with garlic and olive oil.  Here I have added them to a composed salad……
Asparagus, steamed
Dandelion greens, chopped
Pine nuts
Dressing of oil, vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper

Composed Salad with Dandelion Greens

Dandelion (Taraxacum)



Make a Wish!

Posted in DANDELIONS, salad, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful Dastards

My first encounter with the Stinging Nettle was in France on a motor-trip in Burgundy.  A little stopover in the bushes by the side of the road added an ‘embellishment’ to the relief I’d been seeking.  Is there a more vulnerable feeling to be had, than from squatting with legs splayed and exposing one’s delicate rumpskin (yes I made that up, you know what I’m saying) to all manner of elements?  And then to be flagellated with a hundred thousand tiny needles!  Talk about negative reinforcement.  Do I have PTSD, or are there really that many sightings these days of snakes in toilets?  It’s a long recovery.  Whenever I chance upon Them, the nettles, on a walk in the woods, I automatically yield a wide berth.  Now I see them actually for sale (really!) in the farmers’ markets and I have to think that there must be something extraordinarily redeeming about them for people to willingly, and for good money, engage in any kind of relationship with them.  Trepidation is my middle name, but so is curiosity.  So I went out on a limb yesterday at the market, made the transaction for this risky venture, and gave the third degree to the Wild Food Gatherer regarding the protocol of messing with the greens.  Having now dealt with the dastards, my breathing has returned to normal and a truce is in the air.  All will be well as long as one avoids contact prior to cooking.  This, it turns out, is easy enough.  Rubber gloves or tongs can be used to swish them in a bowl of water, dislodging any dirt.  They should be dropped into a large pot of boiling water and drained after 3 minutes.  Then they are ready to be trimmed off of the stems (gloves no longer necessary).  Their slightly minty taste bodes well.  They can be used as a side dish unto themselves by sautéing with olive oil and garlic.  Put into an egg dish.  Or made into a simple soup with potatoes.  Here is my rendition with green garlic, which is all the rage at the markets right now.

Green Garlic, Tops Removed

Stinging Nettles

Nettles, Blanched and Trimmed

Recipe:  Nettle and Green Garlic Soup

1 large pot boiling water
2 cups of nettle leaves, washed as described above
2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, or 2 shallots, chopped
2 potatoes, scrubbed, peeled if you wish, and chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
2 or 3 green garlics, including tops, chopped
1 c milk, or more, to personal taste
salt and pepper
perhaps a little butter
yogurt and minced green garlic for garnish

Drop nettles into boiling water for 3 minutes and drain.
Remove from stems and chop coarsely.
Heat olive oil in soup pot on medium.  Add the onion and stir.
Add potatoes, stir; add stock, stir.
Cook until tender.  Add nettles and green garlic and cook for another few minutes.  Puree in a blender.  Add milk (or more stock for vegan) and blend some more.
Serve in bowls either hot or cold, garnished with yogurt, green garlic, salt and pepper.
Makes more than a liter.

Nettle and Green Garlic Soup

Solomon’s Seal

Solomon’s Seal

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea

Horse Chestnut

Horse Chestnut

Toujours Gai!

Posted in Green Garlic, Nettles, Soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Something Special for Your Mother


I spent a summer some years ago on Mount Desert Island in Maine, working at a funky natural foods restaurant in Bar Harbor.  What a kick I got out of hiking the trails, cycling, moped-ing, and exploring the many coves and villages.  My mother, Marguerite, lived in Blue Hill, which is just a little piece down the coast.  Close enough to allow for regular get-togethers.  We had some good times.  One in particular that we liked to repeat was the Jordan Pond House experience.  This teahouse originated in the late 1800’s and has a charming perch amidst forest and mountains, overlooking the pond.  Wooden tables and chairs are scattered on the lawn and a waiter brings coffee in a ceramic pot and freshly baked popovers with butter and homemade strawberry jam.  All this under a massive blue sky and breezy cumulous clouds.  (Yes Virginia, there really is a god.)  If my mother was not part of this memory, it would still hold up, but she so enriched it with her presence, it is only apt to bring it out for this Mother’s Day.

If you were thinking of making pancakes for your mother this weekend, you might want to go the extra mile and make something really special, like these popovers.  They are a lot like Yorkshire Pudding.  Puffy and eggy.  Often served with jam, they can be tweeked in a savory direction instead, incorporating herbs and parmesan.  In that case, they would go nicely later in the day with soup.  They’re fairly simple to make, with a few caveats….I do use a special pan which is like a muffin tin with very deep cups.  Try using a large muffin tin if that’s all you have.  Fill only half-way.   And you don’t want them to be done too soon.  Allow enough time to bring the oven to 450 degrees and add roughly 35 minutes for baking.  The diner must be at the table when they come out of the oven.  They are in their prime for only a short period of time and then it’s a rapid decline.  A word about the jam…..I hardly ever eat jam.  It’s usually too sweet.  But there is one brand that I am glad to have discovered, and that is Les Comtes de Provence, from France.  The organic strawberry is incroyable.

Recipe:  Popovers

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sift together the flour and the salt.
In a separate bowl beat together the eggs and the milk.
Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and beat until smooth.
Butter the popover or large muffin tin and place in hot oven for a few minutes.  Remove and brush the melted butter up the sides.  Stir the batter once more in case it settled and pour halfway into the six ‘cups’.
Bake the popovers in the middle of the 450°F. oven for 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 375°F., and continue baking for another 10 to 15 minutes.  Do not open oven (this is very important) until the last 5 minutes to check on them.  Remove to plates and slit open to let steam escape.  Makes six.


Popover, Strawberries, Jam



Rose Geranium


Lily of the Valley

First Roses

Bleeding Hearts


Posted in Popovers, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment