Thursday, August 08, 2013

Summer Bucket List: Make a cookbook


It's August. That sticky month where summer exhales in a warm breath on your neck, smelling of freshly mowed grass and rich dark compost.

Normally I'd be writing about the latest backyard barbecue or late night canning session, but this summer is scripted completely differently than the last, oh, thirty-four or so. Social events, garden work and home preserving have taken a backseat to my latest occupation: book writing.

I've been so busy and completely immersed in this project, that I've neglected to share with you just exactly what ate up part of June and most of July.

It's called Brown Eggs and Jam Jars and is slated for release in Spring of 2015 by Penguin Random House. You can read more about the cookbook on Simple Bites - and even sign up for a nifty newsletter of sorts.

 Image by Tim Chin

While book-writing sounds like I am ensconced all day at a private (and tidy) desk in my sunny loft, dreamily tapping out my food memoirs, what actually is happening is much more frantic.

Any given week could involve pages and pages of list-making-recipe-scribbling-ingredient-brainstorming-headnote-musing, dashing all over the city sourcing ingredients, recipe testing with three kids around and underfoot, eating and testing again, dishesdishesdishes, hurried antique prop shopping with very unhurried shop owners, more dishes, more eating, and then writing, some, but never enough.

Then there are the weekends of the photo shoots, which we are doing one chapter at a time, to capture our family food life directly amid the seasons of this produce-driven cookbook. Again, lists and more lists. Staying up late to iron the linens, buff the props, and clean up my gardening nails - if I'm lucky.

The morning of the shoot comes quickly and I am in the kitchen preparing each dish for its turn in the spotlight, looking for the heroes among the ingredients - that ruby red tomato, a perfect cluster of radishes, the evenly browned bun, and the diamond-shaped grill marks on the featured protein.


Image by Tim Chin

At some point in the day, I'll rush out of the kitchen, round up my kids, dig feverishly through their drawers for something- anything- that doesn't clash terribly or have Ninjago on the front (pre-laid out outfits for the whole family? Haha, I wish), scrub their faces, and march them outside to the garden, or wherever we are shooting that day.

I'll draw a curtain at what happens after that, but lets be honest and admit that a small amount of bribery is offered and a good number of stern words are emitted before the shoot is half over. They'll thank me later.

I had big plans to hire a virtual assistant, send my kids to day-camps and recruit guest bloggers for Simple Bites, but of course none of that happened. Instead I am fitting this new project into our life, weaving it into the day to day, and giving up other time consuming things.

I've relinquished my garden to nature (not entirely by choice, though that is another story completely), I won't watch another minute of TV until Downton Abbey returns, and I have a tidy set of auto responses written to ship out to inquiries, invitations and opportunities that come into my inbox.

No more. Not now. This is my season to put my head down and write this book. 

It could very well be Christmas before I post here again. It is yet another area where I am giving myself grace to lay aside until time permits. You know where to find me in the meantime.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Time Out

 

The lights of The Strip from the window of my limo, a mesmerizing fountain that moved to the music of ‪Andrea Bocelli‬, sipping bubbly ‪V‬euve Clicquot while touring a private collection of Picasso’s work – last week was just a little out of the ordinary for this urban homesteader.


I’ve just returned from Las Vegas, where Saveur and the Bellagio hosted a group of food bloggers for the BFBA’s awards. What an amazing time.

Catch the story and the back story over on Simple Bites.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mother's Day in four (food) photos

Last Sunday was a good day for eating and of course I had my iPhone handy for capturing the plates and tablescapes. They were too pretty not to share here.

Now why can't every day include breakfast in bed, seared scallops and macarons?


First up: a simply beautiful breakfast tray prepared by Danny and the boys, and delivered to my sunny bedroom on  Mother's Day morning. Noah had whipped the cream by hand (he's a pro) and made the crepe flower. Mateo arranged raspberries and a chocolatine (warmed) on a plate, while Danny prepared the all-important cafe latte.

Can you tell this was a brunch prepared by five brothers? We connected with Danny's family later in the morning for an epic spread. There was a healthy component - a full on juice and smoothie bar - it's just not pictured. Kudos, guys.


 

Dinner, chez moi, in honour of my (other) mother-in-law, and a delightful excuse to set a spring tablescape. Seared scallops with an orange-carrot puree. Asparagus with a warm raspberry vinaigrette. Buttermilk potatoes with ramps. Wild cherry blossoms for a simple , seasonal centerpiece.






Ending dinner on a sweet note with strawberry frozen yogurt, fruit, and macarons contributed by our guests. And French press coffee, dark and full-bodied.

Not Pictured: fierce hugs from wiry little boy arms. the lightest of kisses from a baby girl. handmade cards with notes in French. a clean kitchen.

A Mother's Day for the books.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

12 things to do at a food bloggers conference (that you can’t do at home)



Check in.

Conference organizers Mardi, Ethan and Melissa did their homework with the location of the very first Canadian food bloggers conference. Hockley Valley Resort provided us with a rustic, yet comfortable setting, stellar service, and hand’s down the best food I’ve enjoyed at any conference.
Fires flickering in the foyer set a warm, welcoming tone that continued throughout the entire weekend - even when we lost power for a few hours.
It is safe to say that Hockley will be seeing me again, perhaps on a future anniversary getaway, ideally when the garden is bursting and the grapes are ripe on the vine.

Leave the bed unmade.

This part was kind of how I imagine life would be like at Downton Abbey. The clothes I left of the floor were picked up and folded and the bed was made for me – not to mention adorned with a bag of molasses cookies.
Speaking of bed, I wanted to add the whole package - sheets, canopy, douvet, mattress - to my tab and bring it all home. Is a bed considered an incidental? Gosh. That bed was dreamy.
And the view from my balcony? Like Narnia.

Help yourself by helping out

I spent most of Friday playing Santa and channeling Oprah while laughing with a fantastic community of food bloggers from coast to coast. At least that’s what it felt like. It certainly didn’t feel like work. 
We volunteered to help the conference organizers with some of the behind-the-scenes tasks such as stuffing swag bags (above) and registering some 90 attendees (below).
It was humbling to work with these strong Canadian women, each as unique as the province they represented. The conference hadn't even started and I already felt enriched just by knowing them.

Smile, and greet Canada’s finest food bloggers in one afternoon

As registrants trickled up the stairs and over to our table to pick up their name tag and badge, I had to pinch myself to make sure this was really happening. So many familiar faces that I usually see in my Twitter stream were materializing before our booth.

Their excitement was palpable. I'm sure mine was too.

What else can you do at a food blogging conference? Let's keep going.


Kick off dinner with a poutine starter - pommes frites, cheese curd and a red wine reduction. Eat two bowls and treat yo self.


Enjoy some of the finest wine Ontario has to offer, while you listen to gentlemen from the wineries eloquently share their stories of success. Appreciate their Bradly Cooper-ish good looks - and toast with another glass.


Get goofy in the Kitchen Aid photo booth with Canada's Queen of Cookie. Hit up their milkshake bar afterward, because poutine and roast beef dinner isn't excessive enough for one night.


Geek out over session after session of stellar speakers. Appreciate the militia-like manner in which moderator, Allison, keeps everything on track.

Breathe a sigh of relief when your own panel is over. Realize that sharing 9 photos that show your culinary journey wasn't a totally dorky move.


Eat way too many Cherry Bourbon Blondies right before dinner, accompanied by a bottle or two of wine. Relish in friendships that span the country and stand the test of time, yet never grow cold.


Sit next to Corey Mintz at dinner and laugh uproariously for two hours with Jan, Danny, Corey and Marian. Discus making lunch for Ruth Reichl, how Craigslist was the demise of newspapers, dinner parties with kids, and your least favorite body features.

Witness Mairlyn throw food and carry out other capers. Listen to Corey and Dana discuss the merits of horse meat.


Gawk over cookies by Art to Eat. Realize that Adell is even sweeter than her cookies, and that you kind of want to be just like her when you grow up.

Also be impressed by these absolutely incredible Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer Cookies made and distributed by Marian of Sweetopia.


Fall asleep on someone's shoulder, but only if you are under two feet tall.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 > 2013



Most memories start as a impersonal note on the calendar: Baby Due Date. Easter. 10th Anniversary. Photography Workshop. School Out. Blogging Conference. Birthday Dinner. Thanksgiving. Cookie Swap. Christmas...

Before you know it, you've swept through all the dates, snapped the photos, kept the mementos, and these moments are threaded together to make a full year of memories.

The uncomfortable bits - like labor, humidity, and waiting in line - tend to fade away, and the really important parts, such as holding one's teeny newborn girl, are recalled as clearly as the day they took place.

At the start of a new year, it is as important to look at where we've come from, as it is to project where we'd like to go. I've been doing plenty of both this week, as we step out of holiday mode, and back into routine.

Here's a short look back on some of my favorite holiday moments (all iPhone images). This year seemed extra special for some reason. Maybe it was the drifts of powder (I adore a white Christmas), or maybe because it was Clara's first Christmas and that is just magical.



The wrapping is always far more interesting than the actual gifts when you are 9 months old.


You go ahead and slurp oysters, I'm just fine over herewith my felt food and Trumpette Mary Janes socks.
 

Mmm. Oysters.


A new generation of snow bunnies, sporting hand knit woollies from the Wimbush aunties and Nana.


Christmas Day, 2012. I love them so much.

Oh and ties from The Pleated Poppy? Adore.

An outing to the Nutcracker ballet with Noah.  He later described the ballerinas as 'scrumptious'. Heaven help us in ten years.


What else to do when you are snowed in? With homemade gingerbread, this template, and help together with homemade marshmallow fluff.


Christmas morning. Overnight cinnamon rolls, peach preserves, fruit, and Prosecco. (Should I post this cinnamon roll recipe? It's amazing.)


The cookies were beautiful this year. Not too rich or gooey. Perfect with tea.


The canine cousins came for a stay and whipped the boys through the snow on a sled. Talk about a thrill.


















Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year and the very best for 2013.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December Days


Not everyone understood my last rant post. My own mum gave me flack about it, "I thought Under the High Chair was a food blog" she said. It was, I defended, and gave the short version of how it has morphed into my personal blog. (Clearly Simple Bites is the 'all food, all the time' blog of the two.) "Well your aunt thinks you're pregnant," she sniffed.

However, unfounded baby rumors aside, a lot of people related to my sound off. A lot. Even one guy is sick and tired of being asked when he's going to start having kids. And he's a guy.

It's all very interesting. In a nutshell, we'd all wish people would stop asking us about how we are (or are not) building our families.

Now it isn't my intention for a second post to be about pregnancy, but I did want to mention that I received a lot of comments, emails and remarks in response to the post, before we move onto something a tad less serious.

Like cookies.

Here we are, two weeks away from Christmas, and this little family is deep into holiday prep. Before I sat down to write this post, I piled a plate high with cookies for Danny as a bribe to address our Christmas cards. It's a task I loathe; I hope my bribe works.

Stockings have been hung, a twig tree decorated, and the last few gifts stashed in the top of the closet. If only we had snow, I might really believe that the season of good tidings was upon us, but it is elusive this year save for a thin blanket of ice.

While we wait for the late-coming white drifts, the last days of the school year are getting crossed off the calendar, one-by-one, and we keep a growing list of activities we want to visit over the holidays.

My annual cookie swap has come and gone, and my freezer is lined with long plastic containers of fresh baked goodies. I organize them by similar flavors, so they maintain their cookie integrity. Everything chocolate in one flat, shortbread and vanilla cookies in another, and all gingerbread and spiced goodies are grouped together. It's a good system.

My girls baked some beautiful cookies, fudge and chocolate-dipped caramels.

We barely fit everything on the table - over 1000 cookies -and my simple, festive centerpiece of tea lights in jam jars bathed the heaping plates in a warm glow. It's a little bit like a beautiful dream, wouldn't you agree?


I captured a few moments via Instagram just to prove it wasn't all a dream.


This also could have been a scene from a reverie: a break from work and the kids to have an uninterrupted dinner with friends? Yes, please.

Let the holidays come. We're ready for them and we fully intend to take the hustle and bustle at our own pace. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.



Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays wherever you may find yourself this December.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Baby News (ask me about my kids)


 Psst! I’ve got pregnancy news. 
 You’re about to get the scoop, straight from the horse’s mouth. Ready?
I MAY OR MAY NOT BE HAVING ANOTHER BABY.
Am I pregnant now? No. Could it happen, though, eventually? I suppose anything could happen. It has three times already.
Why am I sharing this? Oh, because you asked. Yes, you, and every one else, pretty much since the same day I birthed Clara, coincidentally. 
In fact, I am asked so often if I am having more kids that I am thinking of having a T-shirt made with the above all-caps quote blazed on it.
You asked.
You asked if we’re ‘done’.
You asked if we were going for an even-numbered four.
You asked if we’re planning for another girl.  For another boy. (As if we ‘plan’ those details.)
You asked if Danny wanted more kids....If I did......If I didn’t.
You asked if we wanted a big family.
You asked if I was ready to be finished with pregnancy and birthing.
Ummmmmmmmmmmm.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is: Stop Asking. It’s personal. It’s not really any of your business. And it’s awkward.
I probably wouldn’t give you an honest answer anyway.
Instead, ask me about the three children that I DO have. That’s much more interesting. 

I’ll tell you how Noah reads and writes better French than I am capable of and can spell words like ‘heureuse’ and ‘baladeur’. You might smile to learn he crafted Justin Bieber out of play dough this afternoon. You’d certainly smile to see him sitting and reading to his baby sister.
Ask me about my kids.
I’ll tell you how Mateo talks my ear off and blows my mind daily with his astute observations, carefully sorted and ejected from his puzzle-loving beautiful mind. I'll tell you that his nickname "Snacks" is honestly earned.
Ask me if Clara melts my heart and I’ll tell you yes, twelve times a day. Ask me how I feel about her and I won’t be able to answer. Instead I’ll duck my head to kiss her soft hair to hide my emotions.
Ask me if she’s a good baby and I’ll tell you of her ever-present smile, her jolly good-natured personality, and her insatiable curiosity.    
    
Ask me about the family I do have, because it's kinda great.    

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Harvest Dinner

Posts aren't exactly tumbling out themselves from the cracks and crevices of my laptop and self-publishing, so until that happens (wait, that would be some strange content) we're just going to play catch up for a bit.

It’s no secret that I’ve been grasping at summer, not wanting to let it slip away, so last month we hauled our dining room table out onto the freshly mown grass, added the picnic table, plus a table I use for photography, and hosted a harvest dinner party under the trees.

I invited over 60 people (what was I thinking?), and in the end we were 44, kids and all.

Check out the full recap with pictures and tips over on Simple Bites, but for now here are a few Instagrams images I managed to snap.


These tomatoes were the inspiration for a simple tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, fresh torn basil, and a sherry vinaigrette.


The gathering place of friends at it conception, with 23 indoor and outdoor chairs that we managed to round up.


There were simple place cards on apples for the guests, and jam jars for water glasses; wildflower bouquets and red wine for all.


 Kids corner: a self-serve snacking station complete with wraps, drinks, muffins, fruit & vegetables.


Dinner under the willow tree. There may have been a few babies present.


The only dish I managed to snap a photo of, and my favorite of the day: poached salmon, homemade tarragon aioli, dill, pickled ramps, and our own eggs.


In the middle of winter I'm going to gaze at this photo and remember the warm night air, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the rippling laughter...and then start planning the next event.


Friends brought desserts of all kinds - cherry clafouti, apple bundt cake, blueberry pie, peach crisp and much more. We ended the evening on a sweet note, to be sure.

Here is a one-minute recap of the event with Danny’s first attempt at timelapse photography. ..The end is a natural fade-to-black, as we lingered outside until it was nearly night...

Until next summer...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grasping at summer



I've never been one to usher in the arrival of fall with whoops and cheers, eagerly abandoning the over-ripening tomatoes and mammoth zucchinis for early apples and taut leeks.

I know the fall produce season is a good long one, so these days I overlook the (howbeit, beautiful) bushels of oval Roma tomatoes at the market, and pass over the heaps of Spartan apples in favor of yet another basket of peaches, a flat of berries (perhaps the last for many months), a dozen ears of corn, and the largest bundle of basil to be found.

Back in the kitchen, I turn the basil into pesto and freeze it in muffin cups for use during the winter. The boys hunker down by the compost pile and shuck the corn for me, so I can cut it off the cob and add it to the freezer as well.

I serve up salad after salad for dinner, followed by generous slices of melon, which we all -even Clara- eat until the floor under the table is sticky and the rinds are heaped on our plates.

I understand that autumn's arrival is inevitable. I don't pretend to ignore the landscape of school supplies spreading across the buffet. I'm aware, painfully so, of the faint tint of gold on the leaves in the back forest.

Even today, as we picnicked with lemonade and cookies on the grass (an undeniable attempt to salvage summer), I felt a chill in the air. Clara's bare feet felt clammy. And I shivered even though the sun was shining.


Yes, August hangs by mere moments, but I'm choosing to live in them, deliberately.

On Sunday I cannon-balled off the diving board at my in-laws, amid shrieks from my boys. I let myself sink to the bottom of the pool, relished the cool quiet, then surfaced in the sun. Perhaps it would be the last swim of the season.

I stripped Clara naked and dunked her in the clear blue salt water as well. She's only going to have a soft teeny dimpled bottom to appreciate for so long. At five months she's sitting and nearly crawling. In as much as I'm aware of the season's turning, I'm as painfully aware of how quickly she is growing up, transforming from infant to little girl.


Christmas products are in stores and holiday baking is starting to plaster Pinterest, yet I'm firmly stuck on summer. I'm buying up stone fruit and baking desserts like Vanilla-Biscuit Peach & Plum Cobbler, which Danny and I consume together after the children are in bed, our spoons congenially scraping the bottoms of our bowls together.

The best way I can come to terms with the approaching autumn (and subsequent winter) is to preserve the summer season in jars. This week I roasted trays and trays of peaches slowly in the oven, and as they perfumed the house, they reduced into a thick, rich butter. I seasoned the butter with a dusting of fresh cinnamon, tipped it into hot jars, and gave them the hot water canner treatment for 15 minutes.

Once cooled, the pints of cinnamon-peach butter join the other jars in my pantry: sweet zucchini relish, pickles, cherry-plum jam, strawberry jam, blueberry butter, sliced peaches, cherries in vanilla syrup, and more.

Slowly, one jar at a time, I am conceding the end of summer.

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