Archive | June, 2011

Lunch with Sophie

30 Jun

This past weekend we drove to Toronto to have lunch with Sophie.  Sophie is one of many amazing children who are in my life, yet belong to other people.  I am a step-mother, and an aunt.  Being an aunt is easy, being a step-mother is not.  No little girl ever grows up thinking ” I can’t wait until I have step-children.”  It is a role that comes with even fewer training manuals than being a birth parent.  Someone should write one, I have a title; What to expect when you’re helping raise other people’s children who have so far been raised with completely different morals, values and expectations (including curfews) than your own.”  I know it’s a bit wordy, but it’s a start.  I’m a step-mother and as far as I can tell, I’m not evil, although at times…it’s not easy.  Often step parents try their best only to have their good intentions mistrusted and questioned by those who are sometimes only able to see through the lens of hurt and disappointment.  And then there are the kids themselves?   if I  didn’t grow up wanting to be a step-mom, they for sure didn’t grow up wanting one. Usually the battle lines were drawn at the table.  I am a cook, a cook who trained at the Stratford Chef’s school my trade is something that I am so proud of; the refusal to eat my food, to even try my food was more painful than a bad restaurant review.  At one time in my life I cooked for people who like what I made and who actually paid for it, yet the kids wouldn’t budge ,weren’t impressed and refused to believe that I hadn’t poisoned anyone, yet.  I was once well known for making “the best lemon tart” outside of California, only to find out that no one likes  lemons, even the sight of them would make them gag, (insert kid gagging sounds anywhere here.)  But somehow, we have all survived. I have toned it down, they have grown up and somehow we have met in the middle.  And now we choose to spend time together, which is why we were in Toronto to see Sophie.

Sophie has moved to Toronto to pursue her dream of becoming a top-notch super talented hair stylist, something that she has wanted to do since I first met her when she was in grade school.  A wrong turn along the way landed her at university in a program that she hated.  Sophie had the courage and the wisdom to change her path before she became someone else, before she lost her passion and her dream.  So now she’s in Toronto at a good school in a program suited for her, and she loves her life.  It’s not easy, she says she “eats a lot of pancakes because pancake mix is cheap.”   Listening to her talk at the restaurant about how happy she is and how she feels she’s really learned so much already, filled me with a sense of awe and a new-found respect.  At nineteen Sophie had the guts to choose her own way.  How many of us were/are able to do that?  How many of us are living an authentic life and are living true to our dreams?

So to Sophie, I want to say I know that you will be successful because this is what you want.  And the next time you come home, I promise I’ll cook you whatever you want, just no pancakes right?

Here’s the food part of this post, we ate at a great wood oven  pizza restaurant on Queen St. East, Queen Margherita pizza, Sunday lunch, three course prix fixe $20.00 per person.  There was a choice of three apps., any pizza off of the menu and a choice of two desserts.  I had an arugula salad, my favorite pizza, the Margherita and a yummy super creamy Nutella mousse for dessert.  Sophie ordered the homemade ricotta has a starter, then had the four cheese.  DJR ordered the salad as well and then a mushroom, spicy sausage pizza.  The food was very good, and the room was fantastic. It was filled with light, the original casement windows lined one wall of the dining room,  and wood fired oven anchored one end of the space.  The floors were paint spattered concrete.  It felt hip and urban and welcoming.  Everything seemed to work; the food, the space, the wait staff, the company.  We had a really good lunch at a restaurant that I can’t wait to go back to with Sophie, who I can’t wait to see again.

Fresh strawberry tart for a brand new day.

26 Jun

“…if not now, when?”

Today, June 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm EST.

The one constant theme/comfort in my life has been food.  I remember making mud pies in my grandparents back yard with eggs that I had “borrowed” from my Nana’s fridge.  I was four?  I spent my early years living with my grandparents, Steve and Betty Ivanski, our lives were lived in the kitchen.  The front room was for company  and after Mass on Christmas Eve.  We never had company though, when my aunts, uncles and cousins came over, and they were there often, it was always the kitchen that everyone crowded, with a pot of tea on the table,  there was always something to snack on with it, even if it was a plate piled high with hot buttered toast.  Then my Mom remarried and we moved to Toronto and I learned to make bread with my stepfather who came from a long line of professional restaurant/hotel people and he took food seriously.    But I would still spend summer holidays in London On with my grandparents.  From June to the end of August, their small kitchen was full of fruit and vegetables that needed to be sorted washed and sliced to be “put up” for when winter came.  On a dark, cold January day, opening a jar of Nana’s strawberries in syrup was a reminder that winter wouldn’t last forever.  Every strawberry in that jar and their juice, mopped up with buttered white bread was like a warm summer afternoon, right there in front of you on a miserable winters day.

I have always wanted to cook, I have always cooked, I continue to cook.

Fast Forward a lot of years to today.  I live in South Western Ontario Canada.  Where is that?  Well, as I always tell people when I’m away, near Toronto, and no, I don’t know your sister in Vancouver.  Vancouver is approx. 4412 km or 2742 miles away.  I am only about 200 km or 150 miles away from Detroit, but I don’t know your other sister there either.  However, I do live in a part of our amazing country that grows/produces beautiful fruits, vegetables, thirst-quenching wines (lots about wine to come) and terrific cheeses; here’s to you Ruth at Monforte Dairy.  As a cook, southwestern Ontario is a bountiful place to live.

Today, I was at the Western Fair farmer’s market.  A market in London On, about 25 min. from house.  The Western fair is an annual fall fair that takes place starting the first weekend in September, after Labour Day, (we Canadians spell “labor” as labour and “color” as colour).  I never really minded going back to school as it meant it was “fair time.”  When not hosting the fall fair, the grounds, hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday from 7am to 3pm.  Today, I bought strawberries, new potatoes the first of the crop and sadly what might be the last of the asparagus, the farmer told me.  Today, was also the day that I wanted to start my blog.  But being a bit nervous, I hit the kitchen first and made this easy strawberry tart, and then I kept cooking; espresso pannacotta and wholewheat  bread, I guess I was more than a bit nervous. However,  this strawberry tart is a good place to start.  It looks better in real life (I need to get a better camera) it smells like a sweet summer day and reminds me of my grandparents kitchen where I started my lifelong love of food.  I have made a promise to myself;

I will fill in the blanks as I go, I will start out small, but dream big, I will try to set an example, I will learn as I go and will make many mistakes, I will try really super hard to not be so impatient when DJR tries to help me with technical difficulties.   I will be appreciative of the opportunities that the Universe provides.

In the meantime, as in tonight, I’m going to eat my strawberry tart, well not the entire tart.  I’ll share with my IT guy.  I might even toast with a glass of something bubbly happy that I actually started this blog, and even if no one ever reads it, it’s still a good thing.

Free-Form Strwberry Tart (from Chatelaine magazine Summer cookbook)

all purpose flour for dusting counter top and rolling ping

1/2 pkg. frozen puff pastry dough, thawed

5 cups of strawberries, washed and halved

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling over tart

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 egg mixed with 1 tbsp. of cold water for an eggwash.

1 tbsp. apricot, or seedless raspberry jam or apple jelly for glazing finished tart, I didn’t bother with this step as I only had pineapple or grape jelly, ???

Preheat oven to 475F. position rack in bottom third of the oven.  On lightly floured surface, roll our puff pastry into a thin circle, about 14 to 16 cm (12inches) in diameter, don’t worry it it’s an ugly circle, it just adds to the charm of the finished tart.  Transfer to either a greased or parchment lined baking tray, pastry ban overhang for now.

In a large bowl combine the sugar and cornstarch, mix with a fork, gently stir in berries.  Mound in the centre of the dough and fold pastry over the fruit.  the centre of the tart should not be covered.

Egg wash the tart and place in the oven, immediately lowering the temperature to 375F and bake until the pastry is crispy and golden brown, approx. 40 to 45 minutes.  After 30 min. if the strawberries look as if they’re drying out, cover a circle of foil for the last 15.  If you decide to glaze the tart, melt the jam or jelly in a microwave and brush on pastry.  let tart stand 10 minutes to cool before serving,  serve warm with whipped cream, ice cream, yogurt or anything else that make you happy.

Serves 8