Saturday, August 8, 2015

"You have given me everything I need."

Retirement isn't 'all about us'. In its essence it means we are of a certain age. Everyone around us has also reached a certain age. Friends are our reflection, children are our soul and parents our conscience. Frail, reflective on their accomplishments and worrisome of what they have not given and what they can still give, parents are the embodiment of love. They forever give.

My father is still alive at 89 and I wonder, if I will be so lucky to be present, what he would say on his deathbed. Would he feel he failed us in any way? Would he be proud of us? Would he rest that we are okay?

Death becomes personal and selfish. We feel a great loss, I imagine. We can never be truly prepared. But, honestly, we only think of ourselves. Our loss.

Perhaps this is why I was so touched by my cousin's simple remark. "Dad, you have given me everything I need." I had to turn away in fear tears would stream down my cheeks. I had no words. But isn't that the most cherished thing a child could say to a parent? A gift beyond measure. A gift that would allow them to pass feeling proud and fulfilled.

My family is a proud clan of fishermen. We enjoy line caught fish as often as beef or chicken. My uncle, Doc as everyone called him, was the master of all fishermen. It was befitting that after his funeral we enjoyed pan fried pickerel cheeks.

The legacy has been picked up by my cousin, his son, Cary. This recipe handed down by my uncle and tweaked by my cousin will be my 'go to' way to prepare walleye.

Pan Fried Walleye

walleye fillets
panko bread crumbs
slightly beaten egg
salt, pepper

Dredge fish fillets in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Dip in beaten egg thinned with a bit of milk and dredge in panko bread crumbs. Pan fry in butter that has been heated to bubbling. Turn once and serve.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Advice...Have Something to Look Forward To

I grew up on a homesteaded grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan during the 1960's. Our history was tilled as regularly as our land. My father didn't sit around telling stories; they were a part of our every day farm life.

Winters were long. And cold. We looked forward to summer. Summer meant Sundays swimming at Sandy Beach at White Bear Lake, or Carlyle Lake as it was called back then. Summer meant fresh shelled peas and corn on the cob.

Summer meant fresh B.C. fruit. We were so excited when our cases of cherries, peaches, apricots and pears arrived, ordered through the grocery store in town. I watched and later helped my Mom preserve these fruits. Our taste was simple. Whole and sliced fruits were cold packed with hot sugar syrup. We had a canner but we also had a boiler. I have no idea how many jars this oblong copper vessel held. It was intended for serious canning and we used it every summer.

We especially loved cherries. We jarred them whole with pit and stem on and enjoyed the end of the meal eating them like finger food and slurping up the syrupy juice.

Years later I am surprised to find myself forgetting the little things that bring joy. Something to look forward to is just as important now as when I was a child. I wonder if that is the void I am feeling. I long for the naive wonder of a child ecstatic over a jar of preserved cherries.

Summer meant watching the aurora borealis and fireflies. Summer was when my younger sister and I would run away from the farmhouse and play under a thatch of bushes in a bluff in the middle of a wheat field. We made it our secret hideaway.

In a few days I will be vacationing with a cousin and his family at Emma Lake. It is taking me back to the wonderful anticipation I held for summer. I fondly remember his father, my uncle, taking us in his motor boat across to the other side of Carlyle Lake. There is a nice little beach with big rocks where we sunned like a turn of turtles. There are big tree trunks completely submerged in the water offering proof that the lake had been dry at one time and for a very long time, my father avowed.

"It has been said that we need just three things in life: something to do, something to look forward to, someone to love."  Maya Angelou

Pickled Cherries with Five Spice
I still wait in awesome wonder for the beautiful British Columbia tree fruits. My palate has changed over the years but the love of the fruit endures.
Traditional Chinese Five Spice is a combination of star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and fennel. This works well with the sweetness of cherries. Frozen cherries work as well as fresh. Use non-reactive bowls and pots, such as glass or stainless steel, when working with acids such as vinegar. Serve these cherries with pork, duck or with a cheese and charcuterie plate.
4 c. bing cherries 1 L
2 c. cider vinegar 50 mL
1 c. sugar 250 mL
2/3 c. water 150 mL
1 small cinnamon stick
2 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, optional 10 mL
5-6 whole cloves
3-4 whole star anise
2 tsp. fennel seeds 10 mL
4 pint jars (500 mL)
Stem and pit cherries and let sit overnight in the vinegar.
Prepare jars by washing in clean soapy water. Place sealer lid in a pot of hot water to soften the rubber seal.
In a saucepan add sugar, water and spices. Drain the vinegar from the cherries and add it to the saucepan. Set cherries aside.
Heat vinegar mixture and simmer for 10 minutes. Let the liquid cool to room temperature then pour over the cherries. Cover with a plate to submerge and put a towel or plastic wrap over the bowl. Let sit at room temperature for two to three days.
Using a slotted spoon remove the cherries first and rinse them in a colander to remove as much of the spices as possible.  Then strain the liquid through a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Bring the liquid to a boil. Fill jars with cherries leaving room for a quite a bit of liquid. Pour liquid over the cherries leaving a headspace of 1/4 inch. Top with a new canning lid and finger tighten a ring. Process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Remove from water bath and cool overnight. Store in a cold room or pantry for a month before using. Makes about 3 pints (3 – 500 mL jars).

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mumbled and Jumbled Days

I did not visualize retirement. I had no mind's eye picture. In fact, it wasn't on my radar.

Even now after almost six years life seems surreal. I relax in my back garden wondering who planted the delphiniums. Why did they not let the fallen pine cones accumulate rather than attempting to grow grass where grass doesn't want to grow?

I sit in my wicker chair beneath towering pines whose boughs nearly touch the earth and listen to the mournful call of doves, wondering if any bird will ever make the little house on said pine, gifted to me by children on the Colony, home as I sip on a glass of chianti.

I sit here in the quietness of a summer's warm evening and ponder my lot in life. I am fortunate to have the freedom to follow my whims but at the same time I don't know what for I wish. I ask, I seek, I listen. Nothing. Am I to be here without direction? When? When will the message arrive?

Most of all I yearn for socializing. How much longer must I wait or am I overlooking the obvious?

Fortunately I have met interesting people in cyberspace. Elisabeth Poscher of Prairie Infusions is one of those people. She is a professional forager in northern Saskatchewan. Her chanterelles and morels grace the finest tables in Canada and the States.

This year she has begun a CSF, Community Supported Foraging, subscription. Once a month a box of freshly plucked produce arrives from the boreal forests of Saskatchewan. I love the challenge. Last month a few of the items in my box were wild rose petals, Labrador tea, morels, SK maple syrup, stinging nettles and fiddleheads.

This box is my Christmas gift to myself. I await with great anticipation.

Tomato Salad with Ricotta and Wild Mint
Wild mint is to garden mint as rose petals are to gardenias. The delicate flavour adds that "je ne sais quoi" to salads and side dishes. 

If you make your own ricotta, this is the time to use it. Also choose the juiciest and most flavourful tomatoes you can find. Birch syrup takes on a flavour similar to aged balsamic vinegar. Camelina oil has an earthy flavour.
2 tomatoes
1/2 c. fresh ricotta 125 mL
camelina oil
birch syrup
wild mint leaves
sea salt
Cut tomatoes in thick slices and place one in the centre of each plate. Top with a small scoop of fresh ricotta. Drizzle with camelina oil. Garnish with sea salt, mint leaves and a drizzle of birch syrup. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Farmers' Market Love and a Potato Sorrel Salad

Summer brings me out of my cold, dark days of winter funk. It is not only the warmth and sunshine but our bustling Farmers' Market that makes the difference for me.

I am amused by a person's first bite into one of my Saskatoon Berry and White Chocolate scones. The eyes roll into the back of their head and a generous nature turns to greed. "Go buy your own! I'm not sharing!"

Or Susan, who told me yesterday how she loves my hand pies, whether saskatoon, strawberry rhubarb or peach.

Or Derrick from Black Bridge Brewery admiring my artisan breads. And he offered me spent grains from the brewery. I will be experimenting with those grains in my breads.

Summer brings out our innate cheer and generosity. I love it when people at the market are free with their appreciation, comments and ideas. Fellow vendors gift me snap peas, baby carrots and microgreens with the biggest smiles. A much appreciated cup of iced water arrives from another vendor on the 30 C day.

In return I walk around sharing my closing time cinnamon buns to thank those cheery people that "made my day".

Potato Sorrel Salad

I remind myself, especially in market season, that there is no excuse big enough to eat fast food. If you keep a few boiled eggs in the fridge there is no end to the healthy meals you can create. This took me 15 minutes. Don't worry if the potatoes aren't chilled. When they are warm they absord the vinaigrette more easily.

2 boiled eggs
4 cooked medium potatoes, boiled with kosher salt
small bunch of sorrel leaves
small handful of fresh chives
6 snap peas
1 tbsp. Gravelbourg Mustard grainy mustard
4 tbsp. Three Farmers camelina oil
2 tbsp. Petrofka Bridge Orchard apple cider vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Peel and roughly chop the boiled eggs. Add roughly chopped cooked potatoes.

In a jar add mustard, oil and vinegar. Shake well to mix.

Steam sorrel leaves and roughly chop. Slice raw snap peas, pod and all, on the diagonal in smallish pieces. These will add crunch to the salad. Snip chives. Add to the potato egg mixture.

Toss with vinaigrette and top with microgreens. Serve immediately. Serves 2 - 4.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Unplugged in a Plugged in World

"All the goodwill you bank over a lifetime is poof, gone, when you retire and move to a new community. That's a hard pill to swallow and one I hadn't considered in my plan. I have expectations. I am accustomed to a certain level of treatment. But how would these people know I am a marketing genius and well learned in life's lessons. Too often they simply treat me like an old lady."     Sarah

It all started when one day I mentioned in the staff room that I don't text.

No, that is not true actually. Shortly after I moved into my house I began planning the renovation. This dear old soul of a home was a total fixer upper and needed everything. The story starts when I hired a neighbourhood man to take out my half dead crabapple tree.

As all conversations begin with small talk I eventually mentioned my plan to paint the exterior of my 1960's stucco and wood sided home. "You can't do that. The paint won't stick. It'll all peel off," a man about my age avowed. In my mind, I said, "Really? I sold real estate for 30 years and have seen hundreds of renovations. Of course stucco can be painted." I really did say this to myself in my mind. I'm new in town and also a woman in the wild west. There was no point in challenging the wisdom of the locals. Especially a local man.

"It's just an age thing,"  says a teacher at the high school. Pardon me? Are you talking down to me because I appear to be older than you? You know nothing about me. If you have a few hours let me tell you a little bit about myself. This was about texting.   

I spent 30 years of my life selling real estate in a city of a million people. I was at my client's beckoned call 24/7 for 7,950 days or 190,800 hours. You all might think texting is necessary but actually, it isn't. Very few of us are so important that we need to be in constant touch with the outside world. Children will survive, friends will get back to you, the world really does not need your two cents with your every breathing thought.

Slow Food Saskatoon Porchetta

I have been a member of Slow Food International for a full two years now. I heard about the Slow Food organization while I lived in Calgary. It felt rather elitist. The Canadian National Conference was in Osoyoos and I had been coveting a food tour in the Okanagan. That was the clencher to make me a member, elitist or otherwise.

I have no regrets. Slow Food is all about fair... fair prices for the farmers and farm workers, clean ... real food without complications of excessive chemicals, genetic modifying and good ... yes, it is okay to enjoy food. Slow Food encourages the pure enjoyment of clean, fair food.

The Slow Food movement began in Rome at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. McDonalds was opening their first European restaurant, in Italy of all places. Italy is renowned for its food.

I know this because my former neighbour's girlfriend's young children told me so. They love their nonna and quite unapologetically told me one day that Italian food is the best food in the world.  I have held Italian food in high regard since I heard those sage words from the mouths of a babes.

There is more to it than enjoyment of real food. There is the Ark of Taste. It is a throw back to Noah when every species boarded the ark in pairs. This Ark is a depository of unique regional food. For example, saskatoon berries and red fife wheat are on board from the prairies. This Ark brings attention to historical and indigenous foods. Foods that should not be lost.

You might not think that foods can be lost but just take a look at rhinos. Their numbers are dangerously low. Think, if no one buys the Berkshire pig would anyone be able to afford to raise them? If no one raises them, they will be lost. So you don't think it matters if we lose 30 varieties of apples. Biodiversity is more important than ever. It is a fact that we are experiencing climate change. If the five varieties of apples that are the current favourites cannot survive the changing weather, then what? I can't imagine a world without apples.

Recently I volunteered at the Saskatoon convivium's annual fundraiser dinner. Porchetta was the entree and it was absolutely, without a doubt delicious. This is my rendition of their recipe.

Slow Food Saskatoon Porchetta

1 whole pork butt, boneless
 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons fresh ground fennel seed
2 tablespoons fresh zest of lemon and orange
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, slice open the butt, following the fat cap, until you are able to roll it flat.

Make a paste with the olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, fennel seeds and zest. Take half of the salt and sprinkle the exposed inside of the butt. Do the same with half of the black pepper. Pour the herb paste onto the butt. Spread evenly into the meat. Roll the meat up back onto itself creating a large pinwheel of pork and herbs. Secure the roast together using butchers twine. Sprinkle the outside of the roast with the remaining salt and pepper.

Place the butt onto a roasting rack inside of a roasting pan. Place the butt into the oven and cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until the inside is 140 degrees F. Let cool and slice. Serve with jus.

1 tbsp. olive oil
pan drippings
2 c. beef stock
1 tbsp. each dried thyme, rosemary, sage
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, coarsely chopped

Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into a medium sized pot. Saute onion and add garlic. Saute for a minute. Add rest of herbs. After a minute or two add beef stock. Simmer and reduce stock by one half. Pass through a sieve.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Honeymoon and A Honey Cake

"The honeymoon is over after a scant five years. The unique quirkiness that first attracted me is now nothing more than a mere annoyance. I can’t precisely pinpoint when it happened. It was a gradual and slow shift from being utterly rapt to now, where I look for opportunities to get away."       Sarah

My first two years in this windy prairie town were surreal. Here I was, in a ranch and cowboy scene straight out of a Hollywood oater. As a child growing up in the farmed southeastern Saskatchewan prairieland I longed to visit Val Marie and the infamous prairie dogs of the southwest. Well, here I am. Pinch me. 

I wiled away my Sundays on long drives through the glacier carved Frenchman River valley beautifully juxtaposed with the alpine Cypress bench creating a natural diorama. I passed by a little-known gurgling world class trout stream, on a road where the road sign tells me that chains are highly recommended in the winter (the prairies are not so flat after all, in the Cypress Hills) and down to into the valley where in 1991 an excavation found one of the largest and most complete T. Rex skeletons in the world. Rodeos, both professional and deeply hidden local treasures, were my weekend entertainment.

In the beginning I found it rather quaint that businesses closed at lunchtime. And restaurants still served 'super juice'. Soup or juice is some kind of prairie meal formality I grew up with.  Just as every diner meal comes with dessert, which is usually jello or ice cream. The same old 70's tunes still blared on the car radio. It was kinda like I never left. This return to my home province was a real-life walk down memory lane some three decades later.

It was bound to happen. I mean it is rare for the honeymoon phase to last forever. I don't even think it is healthy. Now after five years of living in the middle of nowhere I am feeling disoriented. If you can call Calgary (previously my home for more than 30 years) a city in step with the world, then I no longer feel I have a touchstone to reality from this prairie outpost. I see myself as a grown up version of my small town teenage fashionista self who idolized the likes of fashion guru, Jeanne Beker. I feel as though I am hopelessly sinking in quicksand without Jeanne to buoy me.

Brenda’s Honey Citrus Pound Cake

Brenda and Kevin Epp sold the farm. I mean, they sold the farm. And went into the bee business. Kevin is driving a truck and Brenda is a nurse while they build the honey business and raise their children. They have three boys, one is a foster child. Her table is two down from mine at the farmers' market. 

They are the first to admit it has been a learning curve. When I asked for honeycomb they thought, oh, yeah, I guess we could give you some. No, Brenda, you sell honeycomb. People love it. I have watched their market table grow from a little six foot table to this year, where they will have a 20 foot stall. Her standard polyester tablecloth is now a fitted earthy jute drape adorned with a fresh bouquet every week. In addition to liquid and creamed honey, they have added beeswax candles, beeswax by the block and lip balm.

This is one of her honey recipes. Be careful. It's addictively delicious. Bake it in two loaf pans or in a bundt pan. Don't you think this honeybee bundt pan is the most adorable cake pan?

1c. butter
1 1 /2 c. honey
5 eggs
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. lemon lime soda
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. lime zest   

2 c. icing sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. lime zest
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. water   

Cream butter and honey, beat in eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients and zests. Slowly incorporate the lemon lime soda. Pour into a bundt pan or two loaf pans. Bake at 325 F for about an hour.

Test for doneness with a skewer that comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert on a cake plate while still warm. Drizzle with glaze while warm.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We're born alone...

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”    Orson Welles

Of late I have had a pervasive feeling of loneliness. At times I have felt abandoned or betrayed by new friends. I call this loneliness and not aloneness. Welles speaks of aloneness of which I am also very familiar.

I have travelled alone and know the feeling of wanting another human being for simple conversation. I know the carefulness I practice in foreign countries after dark. Now I know aloneness in a new context. I am alone in a small town, a small town where everyone knows everyone, and I know no one.

It’s true what they say about small towns. I will never belong. I will always be that woman who moved here from Calgary and lives on Bothwell Drive, in the Elkink house. I will forever be referred to as the woman who lives in the Elkink house.

Everything is referred to by a previous local owner’s name or business name. For example, you know the market in the museum building, meet me there. Or it’s in the location of the old Peavey Mart. Or that restaurant is in the old Casey’s location. Meanwhile, I have no term of reference for any of these names or places. It isn't as though I can look it up somewhere.

I am not quite sure how I would have navigated this without my dear friend, Miss Sugar. She consoles me with her kisses, reasons with me with her meows and sedates me with her purrs. In this moment of illusion I am not alone.

Lamb Loin Chops with Farro Salad Dinner for One

I have been intrigued with farro since I had it in a salad back in the spring while I was in Kelowna. The grains have a slightly nutty flavour and when cooked al dente add nice texture to the meal. However, it isn't easy to find farro. When I was in the city I visited the health food store and found a few packages in the sale bin. I wish I had purchased more than one.

Farro is an ancient grain that is popular in the Mediterranean. Finding exact details is about as difficult as finding the grain itself. Most information tells me it is an ancient wheat. One source says that spelt, emmer and einkorn are called farro in Italy. The difference mainly is the size of the kernel. These three grains are considered farro. So don't be surprised if the farro you buy today is a little different from the farro you buy tomorrow.

I cook this like I cook all my grains and rice, in plenty of water. I cook until almost al dente, strain it and place a clean tea towel over so it can steam for awhile. I like a clean grain so if it is still a bit sticky, rinse under cold water, strain and let air dry.

The lamb loin chops are simply seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and seared in a pan with olive oil on both sides. Remove from pan and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Serve.

Farro Salad
1 cup farro
1/2 tomato, cubed
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tarragon wine vinegar

Cook farro as described above. When it is dry add the remainder of the ingredients and toss to coat. Serve.

Friday, May 1, 2015

"Why Swift Current?" they ask.

“Of all the questions I field from curious locals and friends alike the most common is, “Why Swift Current?"  I am not sure if they are wanting validation of the attractiveness of this community or if in doubt of its virtues. For me it was neither deep nor philosophical. Simply, this is where I was when I grew weary of my search.”            Sarah

How do you choose a new home after being firmly rooted for over 30 years? I didn’t engage in a raft of soul-searching questionnaires or value polls. I knew I wanted a smaller community and in Canada. So the adventure began. I was free to explore. Canada was my oyster.

From Greenwood, BC to Annapolis Royal, NS I scoured this land of ours. I felt a little like Goldilocks. Too far, too much the same, too different. My longest trip by far was to Nova Scotia. Fortunately I had plenty of time to ponder my predicament during my return drive. If not there, then where? It was not until I crossed into Manitoba that I considered returning home. Not necessarily home to Saskatchewan but home to the prairies. My new adventure was possibly Manitoba.

Yet it took me a full three years before I eventually made the decision to return to Saskatchewan.

Cheticamp, Cape Breton Island

Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia

My father in an apple tree.

Peggy's Cove

Peggy's Cove

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Kindness of a Small Town Doctor

"As I walked home from the medical clinic I couldn’t help myself. Tears traced down my pallid skin. What is this all about?"           Sarah

I have finally found a doctor. After six years of marginal medical care in this windy prairie town I am laying claim to my own doctor. She is a delightful, full of personality woman who has doctored from South Africa to Australia and I can’t remember where else she said. No kidding she isn’t accepting new patients (sarcasm). She is a breath of fresh air. Her dance card is filled.

I am sure she read my stress. I feared tearing up in her office. I tell everyone that I have no family doctor even though my file is at a clinic and assigned. 

We enjoyed a quiet and personal visit during this first meeting. She shared, I shared. We are both from away. We both know a bigger world than this small town and both learning to navigate our way through the hazards in our new home. 

Finally I am awarded a kindness that somehow you expect but don’t always find in a small prairie town. I’m not a hypochondriac, after all. I'm only in once or twice a year. But dammit, when I see a doctor I want to be shown consideration, respect and be listened to. 

As she talked she couldn’t help but expose her passion for medicine. "Wish I was a dermatologist, I'd  make a killing." Just not her thing to look at skin rashes all day. "We all get along with our specialties. It works just fine," she confides.

It was as if she was applying for a job rather than me begging to be her client. She can’t help but profess her passion for medicine. She reminds me of myself when I wax poetic on food and recipes. Or in my previous life, obsessing on houses. Houses still excite me.

Sour Cherry Jam

How do you say thank you? I find myself giving food. The Evans cherry is an orchard berry in my region. This sour cherry makes a most amazing pie and I also love it in this jam. I don't know if doctors are allowed bribes, er I mean gifts, but I left my sour cherry jam with her on our official "meet and greet" interview. I really want to be sure this deal is sealed. I'll deliver bread all summer long if it pleases her. I am at her service.

I made this jam for a Christmas market a year or two ago. It is amazing how the bright sour cherry colour develops into rich burgundy. There is no pectin used so it is thick but not jellied. 
4 lbs. of pitted and mashed sour cherries
an equal volume of sugar
2 tbsp. kirsch liqueur, if desired 

Combine fruit and sugar in a heavy, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and let bubble for a good twenty minutes, occasionally skimming the foam from the surface of the fruit as it develops. Continue to cook until a thermometer measures 220 F. Add kirsch.

Remove from the heat, fill the jars, wipe rims, apply the lids and rings. Process in a water bath. Water in the pot should cover the jars by at least one inch. Bring to a boil and maintain the boil for 20 minutes. Remove from the water bath.

When the jars are cool, remove the rings and test the seal. Wipe clean and replace ring.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Father's Wise Words

"My father is not an obviously philosophical man. His life has been tempered by being born in the Roaring Twenties only to spend his childhood enduring the Great Depression. He saw his oldest brother off to the War. His Wisconsin born and educated mother died when he was barely 20. My father worked the family farm most of his life. Deep conversation is not his thing. However, he did surprise me one day as I shared my considerations on retiring. He succinctly summed up his thoughts in seven simple words. "You have to have something to do." He should know. He left the farm at the young age of 57 years and moved to a new community."                      Sarah 

My mind's eye picture of retirement as sitting under the canopy of a fifth wheel in the Arizona desert counting down to five o'clock happy hour with a flock of Snowbirds scares the hell out of me. Shrivelling to a raisin in the desert is a fate worse than death itself. 

Most people envision travel when they retire. My agenda during my career was to live every day to its fullest. I wholeheartedly worked seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. The reward was a vacation for a solid month or more every year. I travelled the world. 

My craving now isn't travel and seeing the world. My craving is to make a home. A home, and something to do.

Butter Tarts with Canadian Fleur de Sel

Butter tarts are a family favourite. Although Ontario lays claim to its origin, this "made in Canada" recipe is also very popular in the West. To my horror I have actually heard that some bakers make it without raisins or perhaps use nuts. Pure heresy, I say. In the West butter tarts are always made with raisins.

Any type of raisin can be used - golden, Thompson or sultanas - however, sultanas are traditional in this recipe. If they are very large raisins, like mine are today, coarsely chop them before adding to the filling.

There are also two camps when it comes to the texture of the filling. Some like it runny while others like it more firm. For a runnier filling use the shorter recommended cooking time and reduce the heat by 25 degrees.

Most recipes add a pinch of salt to the filling mixture. I like the idea of using a premium Canadian fleur de sel to top each tart. 

Fleur de sel or 'flower of the salt' is hand harvested sea salt with a very intricate crystal structure. It has a more complex flavour than table salt and no additives. There are now two companies harvesting Canadian sea salt. The original is Vancouver Island Salt Company. Andrew Shepard is a former chef who moved to the Island in the midst of an already successful career. On a challenge, he began experimenting and harvesting sea salt.

Philippe Marill and Carolyn Kvajic founded Salt Spring Sea Salt. Philippe brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the south of France where his love for harvesting sea salt was born. They are on Salt Spring Island.

pie pastry 
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup soft butter 
1/4 cup packed golden brown sugar
fleur de sel
1/2 cup corn syrup 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Roll out pastry and cut into rounds that will fit in your muffin pans. Place the pastry filled pans in the refrigerator until ready to fill. Meanwhile, plump the raisins in boiling water, to cover, for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl cream the soft butter with the brown sugar and salt with a hand mixer. Add the corn syrup and blend. Add egg and vanilla and mix again until slightly bubbly. Drain raisins and add.

Take the tart shells out of the refrigerator and fill them with the raisin mixture. Don't overfill the pastry because the filling will bubble and possibly bubble over onto the pan making it more difficult to remove the tarts from the pan. Place a few grains of fleur de sel on top of each tart.

Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes. If you are using a 'one bite' size muffin pan, then the cooking time can be reduced to 9-12 minutes. The filling will be lightly browned but still bubbling.

Immediately upon removing the tarts from the oven take a table knife and loosen any that have bubbled up and might appear to be difficult to remove from the pan. Then let cooked butter tarts cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from the pans while still warm or they will be a devil to get out. Place on racks until completely cool. Makes 18 regular sized tarts or 36 one bite tarts.

Buttery Pie Pastry     adapted from Bon Appetit

Although we usually made lard pastry I really like this buttery crust. It is well suited to butter tarts.

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c. very cold water

Add dry ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Blend for a minute.  Add cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a very coarse meal. Add cold water slowly while pulsing.

Form into a flattened circle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or up to three days. Leave at room temperature for about 20 minutes before rolling out.

Friday, April 10, 2015

From Sea to Sea to Sea

"A close friend said to me, "One day it will be over. Simple as that." That advice either stayed with me or planted a seed. But it was true. One day I had enough of showing houses. I had seen enough houses. I had enough kids kicking their muddy shoes on the back of my car seat. I loved my real estate career. I truly loved my job. But on that day there was no regret. I was done."        Sarah

Now what. I drove east. East to the Atlantic. I had previously visited Nova Scotia and was taken by the differentness of it all. In the end I didn't move to Nova Scotia but I lived there for two months. That is another story. With endless time to analyze my situation on the long drive back, I came to the conclusion that returning home to the prairies was the solution I was seeking.

Winnipeg intrigued me. I loved the multicultural and cultural tone of the city. My Calgary neighbours, two doors down, moved there and loved it. That was it. I was moving to Winnipeg.

My transition plan was to rent a furnished house for a couple of months. Do you believe in coincidence? The house I rented was owned by the conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony, Alexander Mickelthwate.

Winnipeg is a wonderful city but I couldn't commit. So the journey continued.

Oven Roasted Arctic Char with Sorrel

One of my sisters was living in Nunuvut while I was in Winnipeg. Her daughter, my niece, made the journey north to visit. All flights to the western Hudson Bay area of the north are out of Winnipeg. Upon coming out of Chesterfield Inlet Julie brought me a wonderful package.

 I was graced with a fresh wild caught Arctic char. Honouring this beautiful fish was a thrill I will never forget. They also sent me cariboo sausage. My Calgary friends and I enjoyed this meal.

Baked Arctic Char

Make diagonal cuts through the skin and flesh but not through the bone and insert a slice of lemon in each cut. Stuff the fish with whole basil, flat leaf parsley, sliced onion and herbes de Provence.  Rub the skin with olive oil and generously season with fresh ground pepper and sea salt.  Bake for 30-40 minutes at 400 F or cook on a hot grill.

Braised Sorrel & Chard

Saute chopped shallots in a generous amount of olive oil.  Add chopped swiss chard and whole sorrel leaves.  Cook until tender.  Add sea salt and serve hot.

Potato Salad

Scrub new baby potatoes and cut in half if they are larger.  Boil until soft.  In a bowl, mix olive oil, grainy mustard, a splash of red wine vinegar.  Combine chopped flat leaf parsley, cooked smoked sausage with the meat removed from the casing and the boiled potatoes.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In the beginning

I left my life to create anew. I had no exact plan even though at the time I thought I had it all in place.

I left a lifetime and a career and moved away. I have no idea what I was thinking. Well, that's not totally true. I thought I was invincible. I had been successful in my career for such a long time that I forgot the work it took to get there.

When I arrived here in my new home I was obsessing over violets. I am a rabid kitchen type and desired violets.