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.