Identifying My Canadian Voice

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I began the journey of blogging in February 2013, with the intention of it being an outlet for writing whatever might be on my mind, and in particular to explore my love of poetry. I never intended to write about food, and I also never considered that writing about food could actually fit well with my objective of sharing, without boundaries, from my soul.

I was intrigued by the Canadian Food Experience Project because I do love food and cooking, but also because of its purpose: to identify a Canadian voice for culinary arts and facilitate a clearer perspective on our culture, via food. I’ve always been intrigued by our Canadian “culture” and am drawn to any initiative that unites people and builds relationships.

It seemed to me, at first, that these CFEP challenges and the resultant writing would be misfit with the rest of my blog. It could even alienate readers that follow my blog mainly for the poetry. What I’ve found instead is that it has been simply a different way of exploring who I am at my core. Some of my monthly posts really got at the foundations of who I am as an extension of my family and my heritage, as well as the food I grew up on. This helped me to recognize the crucial influences in my life. Others were focused on my own creativity as I set about inventing recipes from scratch; something I’ve not done much of. I have realized through a year of focus just how much I relish the process of creating interesting food, and it emphasized how much I really love baking.

My Canadian voice, vis-à-vis food, is no different than my voice as it relates to my other writing and take on life in general. So in this last post of the project, I have defined this voice by means of a few self-identified characteristics that this blog and the CFEP have allowed me to reveal.

My Canadian voice is broadminded and exploratory, multi-dimensional and exciting.

My family is from Hungary and I very much identify with this heritage. I like to experiment with new flavours, spices, ingredients and even lifestyles (i.e.: vegan, raw, etc.). I believe the multi-dimensional nature of our country makes it a fascinating place to live. I have always had friends who themselves, or their families, hailed from distant lands – India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, and so on and have eaten traditional foods from many parts of the world, right here at home. These opportunities to ‘taste the world’ represent the wonderful compendium of flavours that come together to create a diverse and special ‘food nation’ here in Canada. Together with our country’s First Nations, Canadians are fortunate to have a world of culinary possibilities at our fingertips.

My Canadian voice is colourful, loyal and holistic.

I enjoy delicious food but I also enjoy healthy food. I want to make and eat meals that are not only tempting to the eye and satisfying to the palate, but also make the body healthy and strong. Some of my posts have evidenced my love of fresh and wholesome ingredients, which stimulate the senses and nourish body, mind and soul. If these fresh ingredients can be obtained locally and their purchase supports nearby producers in the process, then the benefits are double. When I support dedicated growers nearby, I can even visit their farms and feel confident about the products I’m eating . In season, I can literally create a rainbow on my dinner plate and connect with a greater good in the process.

My Canadian voice is creative and courageous.

I am not afraid to try new things, inside and outside the kitchen. Without the courage to allow ourselves new experiences, even if failure or pain is an option, we do not grow and learn in the same way. We would be denying ourselves rich opportunities to be better, stronger, fuller people. Cooking is both an art and a science. With copious websites and cookbooks out there, the number of available recipes is boundless. To go beyond and create something unique requires creativity. I’ve pushed myself out of my box in order to start from scratch with spontaneous inspiration and a few key ingredients, to create recipes that put smiles on people’s faces. The writing that goes along with my recipes shows a glimpse of who I am, and I’ve tried to be courageous in sharing transparently, as I do with my poetry.

My Canadian voice is open, honest, caring and relational.

In large part, I cook and bake for others. Sharing my baking with family and friends makes me happy; knowing I have brought them joy. It is key element of relationship-building for me, being a natural nurturer and someone who strives to influence others’ lives positively. In all kinds of relationships, my goal is to always be transparent about my values, feelings and priorities, honest in my communication, compassionate and loving in my actions and present and active in helping the relationship flourish. It is also crucial to admit mistakes in order to open yourself up to learning, and this is the same for cooking as for almost anything in life.

I believe that my commitment to this project and all that I have written about has exemplified these characteristics of my voice – things I strive for, even if not always successful. It has taught me that no matter what I am writing about, I must relentlessly pursue the identification and communication of who I am at my core and a life that allows me to live it authentically.

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A final note to cap off this year-long project, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Valerie for challenging Canadian foodies and chefs to contemplate their food identity. She lives her passion so evidently and has created and collected so much enthusiasm, ingenuity and fellowship amongst us in the process.

The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

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Fresh Inspiration

Spring is here, though in Ottawa it is still cooler than most of us would like it to be. Still, I’m grateful for the sunshine and even the showers that washed away the snow and salt and are bringing us spring flowers. The Byward Market is blooming into its spring/summer look, with farmers beginning to set up their booths. Last week, some delightful fresh herbs could be purchased there.

Spring is a time of brightness, fresh scents and the return of vibrancy. It is a period of renewal, light, life and hope. Springtime lends itself to considering new opportunities and to challenging all that may seem impossible. My move to Ottawa from Vancouver Island occurred around this time nearly four years ago, and I remember how wide I smiled when I saw the beautiful spring bulbs of Parliament Hill. I knew there held some exciting promises for me in my new home; little did I know what the next four years would bring.

This month’s CFEP theme is the Canadian garden. I don’t currently have my own garden, and in fact, I’ve not grown any food plants other than in containers for a few years. I’ve been greatly inspired by family gardens in my life, and I wrote about this in my September post when I reflected on poignant food memories.

As has become habitual for me in this project, I was left considering what I might write about and create, only a couple of days before this post was due. I’m always a bit of a strategic procrastinator: I leave things until late, but not usually because I dread the task or am lazy. On the contrary, I wait until passion and inspiration seize me, and then I run with it.

 
Yesterday, I was reflecting on this month’s theme with a friend, and remarked to him that through this project, I’ve discovered that as much as I truly enjoy cooking, I love baking even more. I really savour the process of creating baked goods for others’ enjoyment. I feel a sort of artistic connection to inventing and designing desserts. I also derive a lot of peace and relaxation from baking in silence; the slow, systematic process of combining ingredients, applying both literal and symbolic warmth to them, and then constructing the final product….Baked Therapy.

 
So, my friend suggested I make lavender shortbread. It was an awesome idea, but I’ve made lavender shortbread and sugar cookies countless times, and lavender isn’t in bloom yet. Nevertheless, his suggestion did stimulate me in the way all good inspiration should: to consider the things I love and derive enjoyment from and to create something beautiful and unique. With his idea as my starting point, I decided that I would in fact use shortbread as my foundation; one of my most favourite treats. I then thought about the container gardening I have done over the last few years, and my primary product: fresh herbs. Finally, I thought excitedly about the approaching summer season and one of nature’s best gifts: fresh berries. All of this, and lots of love, were brought together to make this month’s creation: Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches, the esthetics of which were slightly inspired by a timeless French confection: the Macaron.

 
Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches

 
Fresh Mint Shortbread Cookies

 
~ 1.5 cups butter, softened
~ 1 cup cornstarch
~ 1 cup icing sugar
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 ½ tablespoons fresh mint, very finely chopped

Mix together dry ingredients. Add softened butter and use wooden spoon or hands to combine until smooth. Place in fridge for 30 minutes if you used your hands and the dough is too soft.

 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

 
Roll out dough on smooth, floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. Use small round cookie cutter to cut out circles and place on cookie sheet about an inch apart.

 

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Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until edges/bottoms get just golden. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool completely.

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Strawberry-Mint Filling

(Note: this makes a good quantity of purée, probably about 250ml, which is way more than you need for the recipe. I then freeze it for later use. If you don’t wish to have extra, cut the recipe in half)

 
~ 4 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped
~ 2/3 cup white sugar
~ 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
~ 6 fresh mint leaves (or more if you desire)

 

Place strawberries and mint leaves into food processor. Process until very smooth.

 

Pour purée into medium saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. Heat over low-medium and simmer until purée becomes darker and thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

 

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, either on the counter or in the fridge. May be made a day or two in advance.

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Construction

When cookies and filling are cooled, create sandwiches by placing about a ½-1 teaspoon of filling on top of one cookie and placing another on top. Voilà!

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I cut out my cookies about 1.5 inches wide, which produced about 40 sandwiches.

The finished cookies have such a beautiful, sweet and summery fragrance. I hope these cookies put a little spring in your step. 🙂

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

Local Deliciousness

It’s April. I can’t believe it’s already April. I’m glad it’s April, but my goodness, how time flies.

 
I hate to disappoint or to be unable to follow through on something I’ve committed to. In joining the Canadian Food Experience Project, the task was relatively simple from the start. Every month, tackle a previously established challenge involving a food-related theme, write about it and post a recipe. With a month between challenges, such a task should be very achievable. But, as those who know me can attest to, I often take on too much, which sometimes leaves the simplest tasks to be accomplished at the very last minute. And while I’m pretty adept at multi-tasking and accomplishing said tasks at the last minute, throw a nasty virus my way, and my procrastination-based plan is thoroughly foiled.

 
This month’s challenge was to write about a local producer or grower. Again, I found myself a week before the post was due, wondering who I should write about. I immediately came up with an answer and an inspired idea. However, the local grower I wished to interview wasn’t able to honour such a short notice request to visit, and so I had left myself with nothing to write about. And, being quite ill at present, I’m sorry to say I don’t have the energy or creativity to come up with something new and do the leg work involved.

 
I thought about what could inspire me to write and also lead to a fairly low-effort recipe. I considered two of the most important things in my life: my son, and my friends. Both of those ideas also lead me to think about comfort.

 
It seems a lot of my CFEP posts have ended up being sweet, baked recipes, and this month’s is no different. I swear to my readers that I really can cook too, but I suppose in some ways I get a tad more personal enjoyment out of baking and sharing desserts or sweet treats. I’m aware that it’s a bit of a cop-out to use the same key ingredient this month as I did last month, but it fits the bill for both a seasonal, locally produced ingredient and a comfort food: maple syrup. I am also happy to share the local maple producer whose farm we have visited every year since moving to the Ottawa area, and where we have enjoyed many a pancake breakfast and walk amongst the maple trees: http://www.sandroadsugarcamp.com/

 
I have made some wonderful friends since coming to Ottawa. I don’t have a large group of friends, but I have been blessed with a few, very close and trusted friends in my life. I have always believed in quality over quantity, especially as life gets fuller and one can only share time with a finite number of people. One of the key ingredients in a strong and lasting friendship is comfort; the ability to be oneself, authentic, without judgment, and also knowing our friends are truly there for us.

 
This past Saturday, I spent the evening with a wonderful girlfriend, enjoying intimate conversation over beautiful food and wine, and all with great ease. Then, Sunday morning, I was fortunate to spend the morning with another close friend of mine, having breakfast and walking along the Rideau river, watching the spring ice flows. During our walk, I remarked to him just how nice it was to have such a comfortable friendship. Both of these friends left me with a real feeling of contentedness, and I left them with a jar full of the treat described below.

 
The recipe I am sharing this month is one that I would consider comfort food, for a few reasons. First, it is naturally sweet. Second, it is high in good fats. Third it is high in protein and fibre. Fourth, it smells wonderful when baked and fills your home with a hearty, nutty and spicy aroma. Fifth, it can be eaten plain or accompanied by a number of other comfort foods. Sixth, it can be easily shared with friends. And finally, and most importantly, it tastes delicious!

 

This month, I give you my recipe for homemade granola.

 

Notes:
• This recipe is also vegan and gluten-free.
• This recipe can be easily multiplied to make large batches which store well in air-tight containers.
• You can substitute or add other nuts, seeds and dried fruit as desired, but keep the ratio of oats to additional ingredients relatively the same.

 

Maple-Almond-Cranberry Granola

 
2 cups large-flake oats
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8th teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or avocado oil – this worked well in my latest experiment)
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
-Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper.
-Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
-Mix wet ingredients in small bowl and whisk until well combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well.
-Spread evenly onto cookie sheet.
-Bake until golden brown, approximately 35 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to prevent burning.
-Remove from oven and allow to cool and harden completely.
-Break up into desired size granola. Store in airtight containers or jars.
-Eat plain by the handful, or with milk, yogourt, ice cream, fruit compote, or any other way your creative mind desires!

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

Maple – With a Side of Cin

Go big, or go home. I suggest that most activities in life are not worth participating in if you’re not going to give it your all. Hopefully, all that effort pays off in the form of some pleasure, either through the activity itself, its outcomes, or the sense of accomplishment. There’s not much in my life I engage in ‘half-assed’, and this month’s CFEP post is big in size, flavour and meaning, and also generally scores big on the pleasure-meter.

Maple season in Ontario is soon upon us, though the cold temperatures may stall or lessen production this year. Still, the sugar bushes are starting to advertise their annual activities, and I’m still recalling the lovely taste of maple taffy from Winterlude. Having moved to Eastern Ontario almost 4 years ago, I’ve learned a bit about maple syrup production and have been amazed at the complex extraction systems set up by some of the local producers.

When we moved to this area we bought a 120 year old house, which boasted two massive, centuries-old maple trees on the front lawn. Their lovely canopies provided expansive shade in summertime and were the impressive centerpieces of the surrounding flower beds. A couple of years ago, we actually tapped them and extracted some sap. Of course, the amount we obtained in our inexperience was hardly enough to produce much syrup in the end, but it was nonetheless tasty and a cool experiment. Unfortunately, those beautiful, mature trees had to come down the following summer for significant safety reasons and it was a mournful occasion indeed. We were glad we had gotten the opportunity to taste their exquisite delicacy. (As a side note, those trees provided an enormous quantity of firewood with which to heat our home as well as friends’.)

In honour of all the maple syrup producers of Eastern Ontario and Canada, and our fallen trees, I thought it appropriate to use local maple syrup as one of the ingredients in my recipe for this month.

Cinnamon is a very sensual and passionate spice: fiery and intense, but also sweet and comforting. It’s one of my favourite spices for a number of reasons, but ultimately, the scent and taste (and physical sensation, but I digress…) of cinnamon drives me a little wild. I’d proffer that there are few people that dislike cinnamon-sugar or maple syrup, and this month I combined the two with home-made pastry to make an undeniable crowd pleaser: buttery, delectable, sinful, giant maple-glazed cinnamon rolls.

I have to say that I shamelessly licked every last drop of the glaze from the pans before washing them. It is just too good to waste.

Giant Maple-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

INGREDIENTS

Pastry
• 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 1/3 cup butter, melted
• 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup white sugar
• 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

Filling
• 1/3 cup butter (I used salted to give a touch of salty taste to the filling)
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
• ¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Glaze
• 1 cup pure maple syrup
• ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• ½ cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional) for topping (do not add when cooking glaze)

INSTRUCTIONS

Add pastry ingredients in order listed into bread machine pan and set to ‘dough’ setting. Machine will mix and raise your dough for you.

If you do not have a bread machine or wish to make your pastry by hand, follow the next 5 steps:
1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.
2. Mix in sugar, butter, salt and eggs.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. With flour-dusted hands, knead the dough on floured countertop, forming into a large ball.
5. Place dough into greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow it to rise in a warm, draft-free location for about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter in maple syrup. Once melted, turn off heat and add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.
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Pour mixture evenly into two 9×13 cake pans.

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After dough has risen, turn it out onto floured surface and allow to rest a further 10 minutes.
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Roll dough out into a large rectangle, until dough is about 1cm thick.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl and brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar liberally over dough. Sprinkle chopped walnuts evenly, if desired

Roll up dough from long side, as tightly as you can. Using a heavy, sharp knife, gently cut into 12-14 rolls, about ¾-1 inch thick. Place rolls in pans, on top of syrup mixture. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area for a further 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pans in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and syrup is bubbling nicely. Immediately place a cookie sheet upside-down over the top of the pan and using oven mitts, quickly flip the pans over, so the cookie sheet becomes the bottom.

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Place on safe surface for 2 minutes to allow glaze to fall. Remove cake pans, and sprinkle tops of rolls with toasted walnuts if desired.

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Allow to cool only slightly, as these rolls are best eaten fresh and warm. If I were you, I wouldn’t let any of that precious glaze go to waste. It will harden on the pan quickly and become a sticky, gooey mess which, for some of us, makes it even more luscious. If you do choose to allow them to fully cool in order to transport them, the glaze will harden and make it easier to pack. They should be reheated in the oven at your destination for best results.

Enjoy this maple-cinnamon kiss!

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

A Canadian Love Affair

Well, this month’s CFEP theme is a loaded one, Valerie!

Of course, I spent many moments considering what I might write about with this theme: ‘A Canadian Love Affair’. I found no shortage of inspiration. I thought about foods inspired by love: the love of my mother, the love of my grandmothers, the love I have for my son, the romantic loves I have had in my life. But, I found myself erring on the side of caution, and favouring harmony.

Without cause for stirring any pots, I can safely talk about my Canadian love affair with a place; a place I have written about before. This is a place I’ll always be in love with and will always miss with my heart and soul, so long as I live at a distance (for good or for a time). That place, perhaps predictably now, is Vancouver Island and the Comox Valley in particular. Never have I visited or lived in a place that so touched me to the core and changed who I was in such multidimensional ways.

Indeed, I experienced heartbreak and love there, but it’s not the love of a man and a woman I’m speaking of in this post. I’m communicating the love of nature’s miracles; of glacial peaks, ocean straights, the expanse of pacific coast beaches and year-round temperate weather. I’m speaking of the love of a brief commute along a dyke road with outstanding views few have been fortunate to experience. I’m sharing my fondness of the sincere smiles of friendly people welcoming conversation with a stranger. I’m imparting my love affair with a turn-of-the-century house in what used to be a bustling mining town; a home that exuded the love and relationships of almost a dozen decades of life, boasting hand-made kitchen cabinets made from local lumber, and a back porch with views of the nearby mountains. I’m conveying the beauty of spotting deer resting in residential flower gardens, and getting so close you can almost touch them. And, I’m connecting you to my fondness of living a 4 hour drive from Tofino, one of the most majestic places in Canada that arguably competes on a world stage for beauty.
Cumberland House 3
comox valley
Deer on Road

Having grown up in the Toronto area, I wasn’t much exposed to Native Canadian culture. British Columbia is rich with native culture and on Vancouver Island, this is intensified by a large population of Native Canadians. The Island abounds with Native arts and culture and even food. This culture became even more significant when I married a man who was part Native Canadian and had a son. Although my son is only about 1/16 Native, it’s still a part of who he is (and boy was that wonderfully evident in his appearance when he was born with a head full of thick black hair and gorgeous olive-toned skin).

So, as a tribute to the place that holds my heart in its warm, salty hands, and to the originating cultures of this country, this month I’m making Bannock. And, since fresh bread is one of my absolute favourite foods, this month’s challenge was again both meaningful and pleasing to my taste buds and belly and hopefully yours, too.

Bannock is a simple flatbread, which I’ve discovered is actually found in varieties across the world. The type of bannock I was interested in learning more about was Native Canadian bannock. It was customarily cooked over an open fire, and still is in some cases today. Although some recipes do call for oven baking, most modern ones I came across ask for deep frying. Some of my readings indicated that cornmeal was one of the main flours originally used, but today’s recipes typically employ all-purpose flour. There are many variations and recipes out there, savory and sweet. I turned to my sister-in-law Jocelyn, and asked for her recipe, tried and true. My technique was a little different than hers, but it turned out simply delicious. And, although I opted to stray from my often influential Hungarian roots for this month’s post, there exists a very similar Hungarian food called Lángos, so making this bread had me reminiscing about my childhood foods once more.

Native Canadian Bannock (Fried)

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.5-2 cups cold water
Raisins or currants, if desired. (I opted to keep mine savory – if you’d like a sweeter bread, add 1-2 tsp sugar with the dry ingredients as well)
Vegetable oil appropriate for deep frying

Directions

Combine dry ingredients well in a large bowl. Whisk in water slowly, to make a pasty batter. You can add enough water to be reminiscent of thick pancake batter if you’re looking for larger, flatbread-like results. Or, add less water for more of a fritter-type preparation.

Heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan until a small amount of batter dropped into pan begins to bubble vigorously. Drop batter by tablespoonful (or larger if desired) into the hot oil, and fry until golden on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Can be eaten as an accompaniment to soup or stew, as a snack with jam and crème fraiche, or on its own!

Note: Like most deep-fried breads, these really do not keep fresh long, so they should be eaten right away and preferably warm.

Many different recipes can be found online, with origination in different Native communities.

Enjoy!

Two preparations:

You could make these flatter and larger
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fritter-style
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

Slowing Down, Easing Up – Resolutions

The last few months have been made up of trying times, and plenty of change. I’ve described before that I tend to like my life busy. But, as we all know, when busyness is combined with complication and difficulty, this can result in overwhelm. In addition, while I welcome change in my life, it can mean carrying more around on my little shoulders for a period of time. And although one of the purposes of the changes in my life is to finally do something good and right for me, I’m yet again booking too much into my already busy schedule. So much to experience, so few hours in the day!

As I’ve moved into a new chapter in my life and also start a new year, I don’t have the typical New Year’s resolution to lose weight or get fit. I’m pretty fit and eat healthily, and will continue to work hard at taking care of myself physically. Instead, my resolution is to slow down, take time for more recreation, respite and tranquility.

For the CFEP post this month, my plan was to cook something ‘slow’; something that takes hours to cook, and something rich and decadent. But alas, I very ironically found no time this month. So, instead, I’m posting a recipe for a simple creation that takes little time to make: a dessert that requires no baking. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen (something I do love), this month I’ve spent a short while enjoying the process of making something decadent, yet simple, and which mimics one of my favourite things – raw cookie dough! Ah, sweet indulgence, with little effort.

If you sneak raw cookie dough or even prefer it to your baked results, you’ll love this recipe too. Enjoy! I know these won’t last long around my house!

Cookie Dough Squares

Ingredients

•1/2 cup butter, softened
•3/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
•2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

1.Line a square baking pan with parchment paper so it hangs over the edges of the pan in order to lift the squares out of the pan when ready.

2.In a large bowl, using electric mixer, whip the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.

3.Add half the flour and mix until just combined. Mix in sweetened condensed milk. Add remaining flour and mix until incorporated.

4.Fold in 1.5 cups chocolate chips. Scrape dough into prepared pan and press mixture evenly into pan using silicone spatula. Dough will be very sticky.

cookie dough bars

5.Refrigerate overnight until firm.

6.Melt remaining ½ cup chocolate chips and drizzle over bars. Refrigerate until set. Cut into 16-20 squares. Serve while firm.

Store in airtight container in cool room or fridge. Allow to warm slightly before serving but not too much or they will be to soft and sticky (unless you like to lick your fingers, in which case, go for it!).

cookie dough squares 2
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

Full Plate of Christmas

Since I joined the Canadian Food Experience Project, writing about Canadian food traditions and memories, I have consistently followed a theme: bringing my Hungarian heritage into my Canadian identity. And, since food has played such an integral and meaningful part of my life and one which has been literally and figuratively fed by this heritage, it has seemed so natural all along. And so, this month, as we prepare for Christmas, the traditional food I bring to the forefront is once again a Hungarian dish.

Being from a family that is Hungarian on both sides, I was fortunate enough to enjoy this amazingly tasty food basically twice a week during my entire childhood. But, as I have alluded to before, my paternal grandmother was the true culinary matriarch. My CFEP posts have been as much a tribute to her as they have been to the foods themselves.

My parents divorced when I was 13, and since that time we have had two annual Christmas celebrations. In some ways, this has proven to be a bonus, including two Christmas dinners. Christmas Eve dinner is reserved for the celebration of my Dad’s family, and this meal was cooked by my Grandma until she was too ill to live in her home. Since she passed away, my aunt took over the meal. And, the traditional Christmas Eve meal includes copious quantities of delicious Hungarian foods. And, anyone who knows Hungarian (or most Eastern European) menus, knows that they often include dishes made with cabbage of various types. So, since cabbage is a vegetable that is grown in Ontario and available fresh and local until December, it seemed an opportune time to showcase such a dish.

I love cabbage, raw or cooked. I ate A LOT of cabbage as a kid in many forms, and quite often it was prepared by first being grated. I remember the smell of the kitchen as my maternal grandmother grated green cabbage for the Sunday meal and I always got the best treat to munch on – the raw heart of the cabbage, so sweet, sprinkled with salt. I find dishes that include cabbage to be very comforting and warming. As I sit here writing by the fire with a belly full of Hungarian food, I feel full.

I could have chosen a number of cabbage dishes to make for this month’s challenge, and I did go back and forth a few times, but ended up settling on one that could be used as a main course, or a side dish. For most Canadians, the richness and heaviness of this dish would definitely constitute a main course, but in my family, it forms only one element of the Christmas meal. This dish is called Székely Káposta, a stew made with tender pork and wine sauerkraut, and of course lots of Hungarian paprika. Káposta means cabbage and the Székely are a subgroup of Hungarians who possibly originated as the people of King Attila the Hun. (If you enjoy Eastern European history and wish to read more about this, you can visit this well-referenced Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Sz%C3%A9kely_people)

And so, I once again pay homage to my Grandma, which leaves me recalling abundant memories with a warm heart. I have such gratitude for the years we had with her and the incredible, complex meals she so tirelessly prepared for those she loved. I can only hope those I love enjoy my food even half as much.

Székely Káposta (Hungarian Pork and Sauerkraut Stew)

Ingredients

• 1, 1L jar wine sauerkraut
• 2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (or lard, if you really want to go authentic)
• One extra large (or two medium) yellow onion, chopped
• 3 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (do not buy grocery store paprika – you need to
purchase the good stuff at a European delicatessen, like Szeged brand)
• 2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed
• ¾ cup water
• 1 cup full-fat sour cream
• 1-2 tsp salt

Directions

Empty sauerkraut from jar into a strainer and rinse lightly. Set aside to drain excess water.
Heat oil over medium-low heat in medium dutch oven.

Add onion and sautée gently until fully browned and soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon paprika as the onions are cooking and stir frequently to ensure paprika doesn’t burn.

Add pork, water and another tablespoon of paprika. Stir well and cover, stewing over low heat, about 7-8 minutes until pork is just cooked.

Stir in remaining paprika, the sauerkraut and sour cream. Combine well, place lid on, and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. As with any stew, the longer you cook over low heat, the more flavour is infused. Salt to taste.

Serve immediately or place in oven to keep warm and the flavours will continue to intensify. Add a dollup (or more!) of sour cream to each serving, if desired.

Works well as a main dish on its own, or with potatoes or rice. Or, may be a side dish to accompany a dozen other foods like in my family! This is very truly comfort food which warms from the inside-out.

SZKELY~1
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

Harvesting Warmth

Truth be told, this month’s Canadian Food Experience Project creation was a last-minute decision. My life, at present, is in a state of immense change and these changes happen to have created an inordinate amount of busyness. I was travelling for work earlier this week, and on Wednesday the 6th, I suddenly realized my post was due the next day. &%*$!

So, my creation and post may not hold the same amount of emotion and memoirs as is customary for my writing, and certainly I didn’t put the same level of advanced thought and planning into this one. But, as I rode the train home on Wednesday night, I knew one thing for sure: my food creation had to arouse a feeling of warmth in me and in those I would be feeding.

I love autumn. It is a time of year when many marvelous things happen outside our homes. I wrote a poem called Autumn Symphony about the beauty of fall a few weeks back, because for me, autumn is a deeply evocative time. In Ontario, we see an incredible kaleidoscope of colour that paints the leaves of the trees amazing hues of orange, red and yellow. And, as plants die off, the scent emitted reminds me of roasted winter vegetables. The air becomes crisp, but is not yet uncomfortably cold, and so a brisk walk doesn’t require heavy outdoor clothing and is so enlivening. Despite the fact that autumn is often themed a season of death and decay, I find it to be exhilarating and beautiful, because plants or their component parts must die off to leave room for magnificent new growth, come spring. Similarly, it is at a time in my life when painful and challenging change is occurring, that I hold onto great hope that the difficulties will give way to great joy, opportunity and beauty.

After an active day outdoors, perhaps a vigorous hike amongst those exquisite fall colours, there is nothing like curling up by a fire with a good book or even better, with great company. A hot glass of mulled apple cider, four bare feet under a wool blanket and a tender embrace all make hearts and souls warm, too. These are some of the things I think of when I imagine an ideal autumn day.

When thoughts then turn to fall food and the harvest in Ontario, there are a few products I think of: apples, root vegetables, and squash of various kinds. However, there is one squash that particularly speaks of autumn to me, and that is the pumpkin: those jolly, brightly coloured, rotund squash which all North American children fondly associate with Hallowe’en. They come in so many shapes and sizes and with lovely variation and character. I love the diversity of uses for pumpkins: from roasting, to pie, to soup and even delicious spiced, roasted pumpkin seeds. As a child, I used to eat the raw pumpkin flesh when we carved our Hallowe’en pumpkins. There is something very special about waltzing through a pumpkin patch to pick your very own, unique specimen amongst hundreds.

So, when I thought about this month’s challenge, I knew I had to include pumpkin. What’s more, I was certain the recipe I chose to create had to invoke a sense of warmth and richness. I first thought of pumpkin soup, but I make soups a lot and thought I would challenge myself with something different. I considered pumpkin ice cream, but realized it wouldn’t quite capture the warmth I was going for. And then it hit me – crème brûlée! And so, this month, I chose to roast some lovely pie pumpkins, but rather than make pie, I made spiced pumpkin crème brûlée. I feel it turned out well, and those I shared it with certainly seemed to enjoy it. This was especially true for my exuberant 2 year old son, Elijah, who practically licked his ramekin clean and then emphatically, asked for more. An excellent critique indeed!

    Spiced Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Ingredients:

• 1 medium pie pumpkin or enough to make 1 ½ cups puree once baked
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
• 2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
• 8 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Directions:

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

• Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts. (Reserve seeds to roast later if desired!)

• Set cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 45 minutes or until fork tender (but not overly soft)

• Remove skin from baked pumpkin and put flesh into a blender or food processor. Process until the purée is smooth. If your particular pumpkin is quite dry and isn’t processing properly, add some water, a tablespoon at a time, to assist. Be careful to only add what is necessary to get it puréed, as you do not want your purée to contain too much water.

• In a large bowl, combine pumpkin purée, vanilla, and spices; set aside.

• In small saucepan, heat cream until steaming.

• Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with granulated sugar.

• Slowly and gradually whisk in cream so as not to cook yolks. Whisk this mixture into pumpkin mixture.

• Place eight 175ml ramekins in a large pan with sides. Pour custard mixture evenly into ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the pan that it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.

• Bake in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the edges are set but the center still jiggles slightly.

• Remove from water and let cool on wire racks.

• Cover and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can make these ahead and refrigerate for up to 2 days, covered.

• When ready to serve, remove custard cups from fridge about an hour before serving to warm to at or near room temperature.

• Sprinkle with brown sugar (lumps removed), and use brûlée torch to gently heat sugar until it bubbles and turns dark amber. If you don’t have a torch, you can carefully broil on the top rack of your oven until the sugar turns this same dark amber colour.

The colour and flavour of the resulting dessert is enough to make anyone feel like they’re receiving a big warm hug. Enjoy!

brulee

Note: After separating all those eggs, you’ll have 8 egg whites leftover. Of course there are many uses for them, but I opted to make some simple meringue cookies as well.

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

Canadian Food Experiences, Poignant Memories

A late start in the Canadian Food Experience Project meant I didn’t intend to go backwards and complete previous months’ challenges. This was due to two factors: first, a lack of spare time at present and second, a difficulty in thinking of authentic “Canadian” food memories. Then, I read the blog entry of a friend of mine who gave me an entirely different perspective on this challenge. The creative juices started flowing and lo and behold, so did the memories.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I did not grow up in a traditionally Canadian family. Though my paternal grandmother was actually born in Czechoslovakia and my maternal grandfather in Transylvania (Romania), they eventually ended up in Hungary. I consider my whole family Hungarian since Hungary is where they spent most of their lives preceding World War II, Hungarian is the only language aside from English spoken in the family, and Hungarian food formed the foundation of my childhood nourishment. In our own home, my mother was (and still is) a very skilled cook, and experimented with delicious foods from around the globe. Thus, when I read that the June challenge for the CFEP was to write about an authentic Canadian food memory, I turned up nothing at first. Then, as I said, I found new perspective in the idea that as Canadians, we are very much a collection of interesting, multicultural and multiethnic people who found themselves in this wonderful country of Canada. Our identity is largely founded in our weaving together so many heritages and experiences into a beautiful tapestry. My Hungarian heritage and my family traditions have helped to form who I am, so this is undeniably part of my Canadian identity. Moreover, the childhood memories I have of food are inspired by a vast array of culinary treats, techniques and attitudes that were themselves founded in European ideals. These shaped me while I matured, surrounded by the landscape, people and collective culture of Canada.

My early food memoirs are poignant, and it is difficult to chronicle one particular event or circumstance. Accordingly, I will share two collections of experiences that induce a great, emotional response in me.

My paternal grandmother was not the warmest woman; she did not show much physical affection and she could be critical and even harsh at times. This was unquestionably as a result of the thorny life she had experienced before coming to Canada. Where she was extremely gifted was in the art of cooking, and she showed her love for her family through her food. In return, she expected her family to eat multiple helpings of her heavy, rich Hungarian meals, in fine stereotypical form. Every Saturday afternoon, the family would gather around her dining table to enjoy a mid-afternoon three-course meal. There were ten of us in total before my grandfather died, and then more once my cousins starting bringing their girlfriends home to Grandma’s house for approval. If they did not eat enough, they were not fit for the family.

This table was the heart of enthusiastic dining, conversation and debate. I loved being surrounded by my family, though oblivious at that time to the conflictual undercurrents I was yet too young to recognize. My grandmother’s meals were simply mouthwatering, always authentic, and eternally consistent. As well, her dishes were ultimately inimitable because she never used a single recipe. Though I have a few Hungarian dishes in my own repertoire that are pretty delicious, they will never compare to hers, nor will any dish eaten in a restaurant. I even have a few scribbled recipes in my collection that I attempted to record while watching her create in the kitchen. These include ridiculous directions like: “pile a bunch of flour on the countertop and crack three eggs into the center…..” with no measurements to speak of. Somehow, that “recipe” for Beigli (a walnut or poppy seed filled, rolled cake) has turned out, thanks only to my years of observation and tasting.

My grandmother’s appreciation for fresh, local ingredients was also immense, as I reflect back now. Though she did not have space for her own garden, my mother would take her every Friday to the enormous local farmer’s market, where she would purchase all her produce for the weekend gathering. She made friends with many of the farmers, who knew her by name. When she got older and weaker, some of them would pull up a chair and she would sit down and chat for a few minutes while my mom ran some of her own errands. Contrary to the unaffectionate demeanor she usually bore, she was actually very sociable with strangers and developed some very strong and lasting friendships.

My sister and I took turns having separate sleepovers at our grandparents’ houses every Saturday night until we were in our mid-teens and started wanting to see our friends instead. I loved that time with all of my grandparents, and during those evenings spent alone with them I was spoiled with attention and food. On no other occasions in my childhood was I so free to eat so many sweets, to snack as often as I liked, to be waited on hand and foot, and even to eat butter with a spoon (no, not peanut butter, creamery butter).

If I really concentrate, I can still taste some of my Grandma’s food, years after her death. She was the true matriarch of the family, and after she moved into a long term care home, the family Saturday dinners ceased. The foundation of my grandmother’s love and the legacy she left behind was almost exclusively centered on food. And even though I initially developed some less healthy eating habits via poor examples of nutrition and self-control, I also recognize some of her positive traits in myself. Though my fundamental personality and desire to openly express love make me very dissimilar to her, I did acquire her passion for making others happy through food. I do in many respects equate happiness and loving relationships with gathering together to enjoy a meal.

This second collection of memories explains my love of fresh, natural ingredients and in particular, local or home-grown vegetables and fruit. My maternal grandfather’s ancestry was founded on food; his parents owned and ran a food production and canning business out of an outbuilding on their property in Hungary. They made dill pickles, vegetable marrow and other prized delicacies in large quantities, selling to local families and commercial businesses alike. He was actually a baker by trade, and so was put to work in this capacity while serving in the Navy. He hated the war so much that he never baked again, so sadly we never saw his skill in action. My Granny was the primary cook in the household despite her detestation of cooking. I’m convinced that the powerful love she had for those she was cooking for pushed her to persevere and learn to prepare tasty meals for us all.

My Grandpa had a passion for gardening. His colourful, fragrant rose bushes were the most beautiful I’ve seen to this day. They lined their driveway and passersby would often stop to admire them. He had a massive back garden, mostly devoted to an impressive collection of food plants. He grew raspberries, red currants and green wine grapes; cherries, pears, apples and plums; carrots, parsnips, potatoes and horseradish; lettuce, scallions and tomatoes; on the list goes. He was so incredibly proud of his annual harvest, and rightly so. His beautiful, colourful garden was organic before organic ever became a buzz-word. Grandpa’s passion was contagious, and at the age of 3 or 4, I was already fascinated. Every Sunday, we would spend the day with my Granny and Grandpa and eat our Sunday dinner there. Grandpa would take my hand and walk me through his vegetable plot, teaching me all about each plant. And every week, I would excitedly ask if the vegetables were ready to pick and eat. For weeks, he would explain to me that they were not yet ready, and that perhaps the following week I could eat some. The next week would come, and I’d be disappointed to hear that the veggies were still not ready to pick. My mother figures this was his way of ensuring I would want to come back, not that there should ever have been any doubt as I was extremely close to my maternal grandparents. Occasionally, I would mischievously grab a tomato and injure a branch, or go for a bunch of carrots. He would scold me and instruct me again on garden etiquette and how to gently remove fruit from the vine. Finally, after much patience, I would get to munch on the fresh fruit and vegetables at each plant’s harvest time. Back then, a whole, fresh scallion dipped in salt was a perfect snack to me, and I can still remember sitting with my little dipping bowl and resulting onion breath. I therefore grew up knowing the amazing taste of produce straight from the source, and the value of such magnificent products of hard work and care. Those gorgeous vegetables would then get incorporated into our many Hungarian family meals, and the flavour of those dishes was heightened by such incomparable freshness.

We have the immense benefit in Canada of being able to safely and freely grow so many varieties of food plants in our backyards, and my hands-on exposure to this at a young age, while bonding with my Grandpa, was an authentic and infinitely memorable Canadian experience.

So many memories come flooding back as I write and most do not belong here. Nevertheless, my life has been touched in many ways by the love of my grandparents, in many cases shown to me through food. I am eternally grateful for all that they taught me, including the way that meals inspired by great love touch the heart and soul, as well as nourish the body. Indeed, through their many examples, I learned the invaluable ethic of hard work, and the way in which our effort is evident in the products of our endeavors, be they edible or not.

The following photos are of my Grandpa, Granny, Mom and Uncle Gabe. I could not get my hands on an old photo of my paternal grandmother in time.

GrandpaGrannyGabeLidia

GrandpaGrannyGabeLidia2.jpeg
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

A Cherished Canadian Meal

Evolution of a Sandwich

Sometimes the best comfort foods are in fact extremely uncomplicated. While I do enjoy complex, interwoven flavours in a meal, I also appreciate minimalism. When I considered September’s Canadian Food Experience Project challenge to write about a cherished Canadian recipe, I had difficulty thinking of one. The reason was not because I don’t have a large repertoire and memory bank full of delicious meals to draw on, but because I couldn’t pinpoint one that was convincingly Canadian. This is in part due to the fact that I did not grow up in a typically Canadian family and so when I think of meals that I have cherished most, my thoughts turn to the traditional Hungarian dinners prepared by my Grandmother.

As I searched the past, I pieced together a few precious memories from my childhood, along with some of my favourite adult foods, to create this month’s CFEP post.

My cherished meal is something quite humble: grilled cheese. Growing up, grilled cheese sandwiches made with good quality, aged cheddar were a lunchtime staple. My mother would cut my sandwiches into little, crustless, bite sized pieces we affectionately called “soldiers”. Continuing to sift through childhood memories, I also recalled my family’s Christmas morning breakfast tradition of peameal bacon sandwiches, one which we maintain to this day.

Though I grew out of crustless soldiers, I never grew out of grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, when I began a new job 9 months ago and learned of their occasional grilled cheese staff lunches, I knew I was in the right place. And, as I have evolved tastes for mature, flavourful and healthy ingredients over the years, I have found complimentary ingredients to highlight the foundational elements I grew up on.

I am not gifted at writing out the recipes I create, and grilled cheese is something anyone can make. So, since there are really no rules as to how you should make your own grilled cheese sandwich, I’m not sharing recipes, but rather two of my favourite grilled cheese formulations. This post certainly doesn’t showcase my cooking ability, but it draws on cherished memories and unites ingredients in a way that makes both my belly and soul happy.

Here are two perfectly decadent grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve enjoyed creating and eating. You can really add as much or as little of the ingredients as you like, or get creative and modify as you wish! These are further elevated if you can find all or most of the ingredients locally or homemade and grown.

Note: I always use real butter on the outside (sometimes the inside, too) of my grilled cheese sandwiches. Also, I place my vegetable and meat ingredients between layers of cheese so that the sandwich stays together. It’s also a great excuse to add more cheese.

    Rainy Saturday Afternoon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

• Locally baked artisan sourdough bread, such as Art Is In Boulangerie’s roasted garlic and rosemary sourdough. (http://www.artisinbakery.com/menu/breads)
• Applewood smoked cheddar cheese
• Caramelized onions
• Peameal bacon (cured ham, rolled in cornmeal), thinly sliced and pan-fried. (Note: DO NOT overcook or the meat will become dry. It takes very little time, perhaps 2 minutes per side, to cook thinly sliced peameal bacon through). I admit this part is not so healthy unless you can find a naturally cured and preservative-free version.

    Summertime Backyard Picnic Grilled Cheese Sandwich


• Olive bread (such as ACE Bakery’s)
• Homemade basil pesto
• Havarti cheese (not low fat)
• Tomato, thinly sliced
• Baby spinach

IMG_4482
The above rendition uses roasted garlic sourdough and is accompanied by a trio of greens salad (spinach, chard and kale) with my pesto turned into a vinaigrette.
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.