letter

Here is where I confess an unpopular opinion: I don’t really love summer, at least not the way all other people I know seem to. Food-wise it’s the best — fresh fruit, ripe tomatoes, barbecuing, cold Hefeweizens — but here’s the thing: I HATE BEING HOT. It makes me terribly grouchy. This summer we’ve already had an especially hot and sticky stretch (okay, we live in western Canada, so I know it’s not that bad but the HUMIDITY, BLERGH).

I’m much more into fall, mostly because I love wearing sweaters and drinking dark beer. That being said, we have been eating some delicious things this summer and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

My friends Liz and Claudia came over for a weekend, and we planned their entire visit around Saturday night dinner. After much email discussion, we settled on the most amazing burgers of all time, which are extremely labour-intensive, but completely worth it. Once a year or so, at least. We made the romesco sauce and the aioli from scratch as well, and sought out the softest, sweetest brioche buns. I may have peaked in terms of meals for 2014. We paired it with a very simple tomato and burrata salad and had some delicious raspberry custard cups for dessert, though we subbed in tiny, juicy strawberries. All in all, an A+, 10/10, totally unforgettable meal.

burrata

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Other things:

– Since March 7, when Sona was born, I have had one of these granola bars every single day. Actually, technically, I eat them in the middle of the night when I’m ravenous and nursing the baby. It gets me out of bed. That, and Sona’s unignorable crying. I’ve settled on a combination of pecans, almonds, wheat germ, coconut flakes, dried cranberries and chocolate chips. I don’t use the corn syrup and sub in maple syrup or honey instead, and I leave out the sugar entirely. I don’t forsee ever quitting baking these.

Iced coffee is a must these days. I keep a big Mason jar of the concentrate in the fridge and mix it with milk and simple syrup as needed. If you’re feeling especially decadent, sub in some sweetened condensed milk for a faux-Vietnamese-iced-coffee-type drink.

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– I’ve had hardly any time to read since March, and when I do read it’s usually frantic research about baby sleep habits, but I purchased Waiting for Birdy for my Kindle the week after Sona was born, and by the time she was two months old, I had read it three times. I am officially in love with Catherine Newman and her lovely family. That book struck such a chord for me in those first, hazy weeks, when it seemed like all I did was nurse and eat. I love the book so much that I ended up ordering a paperback copy of it so I had one to lend to friends. I could not recommend this book any more highly and feel envious for anyone who gets to read it for the first time.

– We’re listening to a lot of kids’ music these days, mainly They Might Be Giants, and the amazing Laura Veirs album Tumblebee. I especially love this song, which is about (spoiler alert!) a fox raiding a farmers’ pen, stealing a goose and a duck, and bringing them home for his cubs to nosh on. I especially love the way she cheerfully sings, “and the little ones chewed on the bones-o”. Stellar.

Some snapshots from life these days:

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Elyse came to visit again! And her parents, but let’s get real, she was the real attraction. She and Sona together make my heart go pitter-patter. Sweet sweet girls.

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Heidi and Alex adopted the cutest puppy in the world and named him Renly for a very gay Baratheon. He loves Sona, and he looooooves Luka, but unfortunately neither of them reciprocate much affection for him. But that’s okay, because I follow him around trying to squeeze him all the time. LOOK at this FACE!

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We took some family photos outside. Most of them were a bit chaotic, but I look at them and all I see is luck, luck, luck.

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family

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No, really. Look at my people.

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I had meant to update during Christmas, show off pictures of our (very miniscule amounts of) decorations, our little tree, etc., but December got away from me in a rather lovely way. This year, for the first time in ages (maybe ever?) I truly felt relaxed, not stressed about gifts, not overwhelmed by malls and awful music, and crazy consumerism. Mostly that’s because we ordered a lot of gifts online, drew names within Mark’s extended family, and just chilled the eff out. The baby was a good distraction because I didn’t have the energy to do a lot of shopping, and anyway, we’re both trying very hard to slow down and be in the moment. I feel like my new year really began at that mindfulness class we took in November.

The first weekend of December, I whisked Mark away to nearby Salt Spring Island, one of our favourite places and a short 35-minute ferry ride from home. I had been wanting to do something nice for him for many reasons, but mostly because he has been a rockstar these past few months. There have been many times when I’ve felt him holding me together, and though that sounds gross and co-dependent, all I mean is that he has been a true partner in every sense of the word. I am so happy to be married to him, and I see how hard he tries all the time, and how he sneaks into the baby’s room to sit in the glider, how he talks to her every day and suggested we learn “Two of Us” on the mandoline and guitar so she could hear it in utero and then maybe recognize it out here in the real world, how he is always the first one at a dinner party washing dishes, and how all children flock to him because they can sense his genuine radness. I love him, yes, but I just also like him so much. I wanted to say thank you in some small miniscule way, so I booked a room at a beautiful, tucked-away bed and breakfast. We had such a relaxing time, and just wandered around the town, went to a Christmas craft fair, contemplated attending the chili cookoff and Raffi concert (!!!) but decided against it, enjoyed the soaker tub in our room and ate schnitzel. Weird and wonderful. We also visited the ridiculously amazing headquarters of the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, where we met a little friend and bought a few snacks.

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Also in December:

Luka slept. A lot.

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My grandmother called from India with a list of girls names for us (I can’t read my writing on a lot of these):

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I bought more fabric and started making baby things like a crazy person. More on that in an upcoming post, but I made several of these super adorable and very easy owls. These things came together incredibly fast and were very satisfying to make.

stuffedowls

fabric

I made and drank a lot of hot chocolate. I use this recipe but usually add some cinnamon, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Don’t skip the immersion blender step — it seems fussy but transforms the texture of the milk into pure velvety goodness.

hotchocolate

We rang in the new year with two of our best friends, a dog that had made his way up to bed several hours earlier, and four and a half pounds of Pok Pok chicken wings. I stayed up until almost two, which is almost unheard of for me even when not pregnant. I woke up the next morning to the smells of the best breakfast ever, and in fact I may already have peaked in terms of breakfasts for 2014. Thank you H & A.

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2013 was a very good year in many respects, especially from June on, but I have a sneaking suspicion that 2014 will be even better.

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Tomorrow I’ll be 29 weeks pregnant, and I have to say that it’s been mostly a pleasant experience. I did have a few weeks of absolutely dreadful morning sickness, but some Diclectin and a healthy dose of milking the situation for sympathy helped. I haven’t had any super strong cravings, so despite the fact that I had always sort of fantasized about sending Mark out for french fries in the middle of the night, I haven’t needed to do it yet. (YET.) I have, however, had some pretty strong aversions to certain types of food, and this has been a bit challenging. We’re not big meat-eaters in general, but our meat consumption has dwindled considerably since June. Just the smell of most types of meat cooking has been enough to turn my stomach. Chicken in particular, which is like the least offensive, blandest animal protein I can think of, has been a huge trigger for me. This has made meal planning a bit tricky at times, but luckily I have a black binder full of tried-and-true recipes that we’ve been relying on pretty heavily these last few months. These are sourced from many random places, but all of them have saved my ass in the last six months.

I am a bit of an oatmeal whore, and constantly on the lookout for new recipes and topping ideas. This recipe for April Bloomfield’s porridge incorporates both steel-cut and regular oats and I think it might be my new standard against which all other oatmeals must measure up. One thing: do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, use the same amount of salt listed here. I can’t quite figure out how that measurement could possibly be correct, and I looooooove salt. I used Maldon and decreased it to a 1/2 teaspoon, one-third (!) of the original suggestion. I followed the recipe exactly the first time and it was so overly salty I couldn’t finish it, and Mark wouldn’t even touch it. I like it with a number of different toppings, but the other morning I had it with milk, maple syrup, and toasted pecans (pictured above) and it put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

This butternut squash and chickpea salad makes for one of my favourite winter lunches. Since there is little I detest more than trying to peel a raw butternut squash, I always just poke a few holes in it and roast it at 425 F for 45 minutes or so, and then it’s much more accommodating. Also, I have tried many, many brands of tahini over the years, and now swear by this brand, based on a hot tip from the owner of the Middle Eastern grocery store I frequent. It somehow manages to stay soft and creamy, and doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that  a lot of commercial brands of tahini have.

Another recipe I picked up from Orangette is this devastatingly delicious pan of brownies. Julia Child’s brownies; need I say more? The list of ingredients is a little shocking to behold, so I make them maybe twice a year, and only when I can give them away real fast, but if you want to make someone fall in love with you and/or stop crying, this should do the trick, especially if you slightly underbake them and also use Maldon sea salt in the place of regular salt.

I’ve been yearning for a lot of vegetarian Indian food lately, but haven’t had a lot of energy to make anything too fussy. This aloo gobi and this dahl have hit the spot with minimal effort. I find the key with Indian cooking (actually, many types of cooking) is to take spice measurements lightly, and in fact, I often double the amounts of spices listed. Obviously don’t do this with, like, dried red chilies or something, but in general, I err on the side of whatever the opposite of caution is. Carelessness?

Shredded carrot salad with harissa and feta, from the archives of my all-time favourite food blog, Smitten Kitchen. This is another lunchtime standard for me, and is so incredibly fresh and zippy and tasty. I don’t always have mint around, so I often leave that out. I use super creamy Macedonian feta which is weirdly the only kind of feta I’m really into. This, plus pita and hummus, or some dolmades, or a hard-boiled egg, is the perfect lunch.

I have many, many more recipes I could share with you, and I will another day. Please cross your fingers that this baby is not a picky eater, though I know that resistance is futile.

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We’ve had two solid months of travelling to see friends, and other friends in town to visit. It’s been one of the best falls I can remember, and every day as I’m walking around I remember the little buddy I’m carrying with me all the time and I feel so, so happy.

Incidentally, that little buddy is a lady (buddette?)! No one was more surprised by this news than I was, having for years pictured myself surrounded by dudes. Girls kind of scare me, but also I have tons of beautiful handmade clothes from my grandmother, but then there’s the teenage years, but I had a rough time as an adolescent so I know I’ll be able to relate, and also…okay, I’m just gonna stop here. This could go on for a while.

Our friends Radka and Allan came to visit for a whole week, though with a brief getaway to Quadra Island. They have the cutest Wheaton Terrier named Boston (Allan’s a hardcore runner) and we got to dogsit while they were gone. It took all of my basic human decency not to steal him for myself. Luka was in heaven.

lukaboston

Canadian Thanksgiving happened while they were here, and we decided to host this year. Probably because of that, our oven chose to break four days before we had to cook a 17-pound turkey, but thankfully between my research skillz and Mark’s amazing handiness, we bought a replacement part and fixed the problem. We had so much help — my mother-in-law brought about four dishes — and we used this foolproof turkey recipe. There’s a reason why it has so many 5-star reviews. I finished this Purl Bee quilted table runner right before Thanksgiving, and Mark had made a beautiful new top for our dining room table, so we had lots to show off.

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After our friends left, we took a quick trip down the Oregon Coast. We both wanted to have one last pre-baby vacation, and had at first considered using our Air Miles and flying to San Francisco or New York and just eating delicious foods, but decided instead to do something a little more spontaneous and easier to cancel in case of an emergency. We hopped in our sexy red minivan, and hit the road. First we made a pit stop at Trader Joe’s, the holy grail of grocery stores (at least to me). We had to pick up road snacks, you know.

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The coast was beautiful, but to be honest, not dissimilar to our own gorgeous coastline. We meandered for a few days, but after several small towns, realized we both wanted the same thing: to make our way home. Not gonna lie, missing Luka was a huge part of this.

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 We ended up in Portland for a day and half, and stayed in Nob Hill, right around the corner from my new favourite bakery, St. Honore. THAT PLACE WAS BONKERS. I have half a mind to drive back and/or move there for the kouign-amann alone. We ended up booting it home from Portland on Halloween day, and as we pulled into our driveway with our stinky, exhausted dog in the back of the van, I realized again how much I love where I live. Two years ago we were on the road trip, eating in crappy restaurants or cobbling together meals from the grocery store every night, sleeping in a van. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, but I’m also so grateful for where we are now.

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This blog has been light on crafts lately, mostly because I’ve been very very awful about adding things to my store. I am making things, just not really documenting them. I have several new products for the store next week, and of course I’m making special items for futurebaby. Here’s a sneak peek at something Mark and I have been dreaming about and working on for her room. Only 113 days to go, but right now that seems like forever.

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Oh hai blog! I vaguely remember you. I got so distracted by road trips and choir and baby things and visits from friends. September and the first half of October have kind of gone by in a huge blur, to be honest. I hope time keeps moving this swiftly until the end of February, because it feels like an eternity away from now.

We drove out to Shuswap Lake (fun fact: I was conceived there!) towards the end of September and met up with some very dear friends. Our friend Jeremy’s family owns the most beautiful cabin on Little Shuswap lake — calling it a cabin is actually ridiculous; it’s a newly-built, five-bedroom house — and we met up with five of our closest friends there.

 

We spent two blissful days doing pretty much nothing. Two of us were pregnant and needed frequent naps. We watched my favourite movie, made and ate delicious food, sat out on the deck, some of us kayaked, I read Archie comics. We even had a pie-tasting competition. Shuswap Pie Company blew the other pies out of the water. We had the chance to visit their restaurant as well and OH MY GOD BUTTERMILK LEMON PIE. We bought two frozen pies to take home and I’m almost scared to actually eat them because then they’ll be gone.

We then made a very hasty trip out to Calgary to pick up some of my childhood belongings, like the most beautiful smocked dresses that warrant their own post, and a set of 1950s china that travelled from Singapore to India to Calgary to Victoria in order to be used for the first time. We put it to good use at Thanksgiving and it made me so happy.

The day after getting back, two of my closest girlfriends from high school came out for the weekend. It was great to see them and all but the real star was one Brooklyn Marie, six months old and practically edible. Mark and I basically fought to hold her all weekend.

Luka wasn’t really that into her, but we figured it was good practice for next year.

So much to say and show you and write about. We’re heading down the Oregon coast this week for our last baby-free holiday. Life is changing, but I like it.

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We’re back from 17 days in Ireland, and I don’t really know where to begin. This trip was wonderful on so many levels, and I’m still feeling the effects of it, four days after returning. I suspect I will be for a long time.

We started out with a few days in Dublin, then picked up our rental car from an extremely irritable guy who I bluntly told, “You seem really grouchy!” Poor Mark had to do all the driving because I am apparently incapable of driving a stick shift, having tried to learn in Heidi and Alex’s car, during an evening that ended with a trip to the mechanic, and a thousand spluttered apologies.

Before we left, I had really wanted to book all of our places ahead of time. This is due to many factors, but mostly my paranoia about not having a place to stay and also maybe I’m a bit of a control freak? Mark gently persuaded me that it would be better to just get there and go with the flow. I am so, so glad we did this. It meant that we had the freedom to listen to people’s recommendations, and to go anywhere on a whim. We had our GPS, Scout. We had a car to sleep in in the extremely unlikely event that we couldn’t find a bed for the night. We had the small log of sweet Irish butter I insisted on carting around. We were fine.

Galway was definitely my favourite larger town. I had “Fairytale of New York” in my head for two days straight (I wanted this to be the first song we danced to at our wedding but was roundly vetoed by Mark, who insisted that the lyric “you’re an old slut on junk” was not terribly romantic BUT I BEG TO DIFFER). Magic happened in Galway, but we’ll get to that later. The second night we were there, we found a pub having a trad session, grabbed ourselves a couple of pints of Guiness, and soaked it in. We met a very sweet local couple who gave us a bunch of ideas for our trip. The husband asked us, “So, what part of America are you from?” and after telling them we were Canadian, Mark shot back, “I don’t know, what part of England are you from?” They were pretty amused. Also that night: Mark tried some Bushmills 16-year-old whiskey and looked as happy as I’d ever seen him.

We sort of followed the coast, meandering and stopping to take pictures of the stunning views. It was slightly overcast and there were a couple of times it absolutely poured, but that was okay. I kind of liked it.

We took a daytrip to Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. The water was so rough that people were throwing up left, right and centre. It was worth the horrendous boat trip, though. The island is only about 12 km in circumference, only 300 people live there, and we pretty much walked around all of it.

Towards the end of the day, we got absolutely pelted with rain and wind. Using the flimsy umbrellas we had brought was futile, so we didn’t even bother, and by the time we stumbled into the local pub, we were completely soaked through. We still had a couple of hours to go before the ferry would come for us, so we ordered some food and drinks, and sat at a table, playing crib and drying off. A group of three very drunk Irish fishermen joined us and it was one of the best afternoons in recent history, resulting in my new favourite phrase (said in a drunken Irish accent): “Aye, Ronan, you’re a failure of a man.”

The Dingle Peninsula was as stunning as everyone had said it would be. At one point we pulled over, climbed up a giant hill, and had a 360-degree view of the water all around us.

We pulled off a hat trick and made it to all three Murphys Ice Cream locations. I am not really an ice cream person — I would take a warm dessert over a cold one any day — but this stuff pretty much blew my mind. Mark kept laughing at the expression on my face the first time I tried it, because I looked so distraught and happy. I got the sea salt flavour every single time and switched up my other scoop. Caramelized brown bread was stunning. I would go back for this ice cream. Mark left this note at the Dublin location:

We found an old deserted castle on the side of the road and snuck inside. For goody two-shoes, rule-abiding Canadians like us, this was very exciting.

I could say so much more, but I don’t really need to. I was in a really anxious, sad state before leaving, and I came back a different person. I know it’s not as easy as saying that Ireland helped me feel better, but what if it is?

(P.S. After repeatedly trying to persuade Mark to buy a bottle of that 16-year-old Bushmills in Ireland, he finally broke down and purchased it…in the Calgary airport.)

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Portland, I love you. I love your adorable half-size city blocks and your fancy drinking fountains at every street corner. I love your Saturday Market with personalized garden gnomes and too many jewelry booths to count. I love your book store, the best one in the world, I think. Most of all, I love your abundance of delicious restaurants and incredible breweries.

We did Portland up right, but I have no pictures to show you because I’m usually super embarrassed about taking photos at restaurants. Instead I offer up a very specific list of things we tried, because I’m a nerd and want to remember this for later.

Pok Pok: I was almost scared to go here because I didn’t want it to disappoint…but it really, really didn’t. Chicken wings were the absolute highlight, of course. I looked like an absolute savage idiot while eating them, but I cared not a whit. They were phenomenal in every way — crispy, sticky, spicy, tender. I feel like an asshole when I try to describe food but holy crap, they were ridiculous. They knocked Phnom Penh right off my carefully plotted chicken wing chart. The other stuff we ordered was good, but next time I would just get two orders of the chicken wings and not have to share with Mark.

Pine State Biscuits: We had this incredible day that started at Pine State Biscuits and ended at Kenny and Zuke’s, with three stops in the middle. It was pretty phenomenal. Believe the hype about this place. It really doesn’t matter what you order as long as it involves fried chicken and a biscuit in some capacity.

Salt & Straw: Directly across from Pine State Biscuits is Salt & Straw. Did my huge biscuity breakfast mean I couldn’t have breakfast dessert? I am insulted that you would even insinuate that, fake invisible reader. Deeply insulted. To be completely honest, I couldn’t even finish half of the single scoop I ordered (and Mark didn’t help at all because he had ordered bacon and cheese on top his fried chicken biscuit and therefore was out of commission for like three hours, which sucked but also gave me the golden opportunity to say, “I told you so”), but that coffee and bourbon ice cream was incredible. I also had a sample of their pad thai iced tea flavour, which sounds absolutely bonkers, but was subtle and so refreshing, and laced with sweetened condensed milk. Yum.

-Then we ate some apple pie at Random Order which was delicious and used an all-butter crust (something I am picky and bossy about) and involved vanilla and salted caramel. I would have enjoyed it more had I not been so full (see: previous two bullet points).

-Drinkwise, we had a lot of great cocktails, but my hands-down favourite was at Teardrop Lounge, a place we were quite obviously not cool/well-dressed enough for, but whatever. I’m really a cocktail novice, and thought about asking the bartender to make me a surprise drink, but then I spotted the Salt-n-Pepa on the menu: chili-infused aquavit, tequila, lime, agave nectar, and fennel salt. I’ve never had a drink like it — it was spicy, but also super smooth, and the fennel salt was so good I would put it on pretty much anything. Shoop shoop.

-I think Mark’s favourite place in PDX is Bailey’s Taproom, a small bar that has 20 rotating taps and serves no other type of alcohol or food. There’s an adorable bartender who looks just like Seth Rogen, and there’s so much thought put into the draught list. It’s the kind of place where you can order pretty much anything at random and it’ll definitely be the best beer ever.

-I could totally keep going, but I have to mention my personal favourite meal, at Grüner. We sat at the bar and had fantastic cocktails, and then shared a plate of malfatti — ricotta and nettle dumplings that were so ethereal and light that they pretty much melted in your mouth. I could have stopped there and been totally satisfied, but we also ordered their famous burger, which was exactly as good as I’d anticipated, and we also ordered a kale salad. That sounds super boring, and when Mark pointed it out, I was like, “Hell no! I don’t have time for salads!” but the bartender recommended it as well, and it turned out to be one of my favourite dishes from the trip. It was composed of ribboned kale with farro, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, asiago and this perfectly creamy lemon-thyme dressing. It was so springy and nutty and fresh and utterly delicious. Of all the foods we ate on our brief trip, this is the one I wanted to replicate the most, and after a bit of snooping around the Internet, found this recipe, which is based on a Grüner salad, though a slight variation of one, I think. I made it last night for some girlfriends (a totally cliché lady dinner party that involved SO MUCH baby talk and also eating chocolate cake straight from the platter before dinner was served) and though it wasn’t quite spot-on, it was pretty damn good. I added a couple tablespoons of sour cream to the dressing, since I remember the Grüner one being quite creamy. This is a perfect spring salad! Make and eat.

All that food and booze was great, but coming home was the best. We picked up our sweet dog from the kennel, and resumed real life. Real, mundane, utterly fantastic life. With a dog in a hoodie.

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