After a long string of unrelated career choices in my early youth, including a detective (ages 8-10), a freelance spy/mercenary who resembled the comic book hero Punisher (ages 10-11), a professional baseball player/owner of baseball card store (age 11), a writer of paranormal fiction (age 12), I finally decided on horticulture (ages 13-18). I was obsessed with plants. I filled my dad’s house with so many potted plants that the windows would fog up. I couldn’t eat a fruit without planting its seeds, or enjoy an avocado without removing the pit and placing it in a glass of water to entice its roots to grow. Our kitchen looked like a mad science laboratory and windowsills became expensive real estate.
Looking back, it was a little eccentric that I spent several minutes each day breathing on each houseplant, to give them more air; or that I flipped yearningly through plant books while my friends were reading Batman comics or Playboys. I knew the Latin name for every potted plant and became irritatingly pedantic when visiting friends, if I came across a neglected or ill specimen. Nitrogen deficiency, I would say; or don’t give this guy a south facing window – shade is preferable; or, your fern needs watering (with a condemning scowl). I didn’t get invited out much.
During my last year of high school I was given a shiitake log by someone who knew of my love of growing things. These logs are pretty remarkable if you’ve never seen one before. It is a small log that has been coated, I’m guessing, by spores from this delicious fungi. After a few weeks sitting in a cool damp place, mushrooms begin to grow on and off for several months. I hadn’t really been a huge lover of fungi until then, but there is something wonderfully meaty and exotic with shiitake. Ranging anywhere from $4 to $8 a pound, I don’t often buy these expensive ingredients; although they are always a welcome treat in my kitchen, especially in this ginger-shiitake glaze paired with salmon which I know you’ll love.
I first tasted this dish – known as Khao Niaow Ma Muang – in Kanchanaburi, a city in Thailand notable for its Bridge on the river Kwai, otherwise known as the Death Railway. Despite its murky past, where during World War II the Japanese forced Allied prisoners to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, the city is now very quaint: scenic river views, internet cafes, outdoor night markets and elephants that will pose for food or money.
It is most likely in Kanchanaburi that Sonia contracted Dengue Fever, though she wouldn’t know about it until a few days later once we had already left town. The mosquitos there were kamikaze-crazy and they marauded through the humid streets in thick swarms with an electric, infuriating hum. Oblivious to the impending “break bone fever” that was to come, Sonia and I both dined at a restaurant that resembled a tiki jungle hut, where our guidebook recommended mango and sticky rice for dessert. Before then, I had never conceived of rice being eaten with mangos – and certainly not as a dessert. I haven’t tasted it again in a restaurant since returning home, though looking through photos of the trip recently a Pavlovian response ensued, which left me salivating and craving the sweet and salty sticky rice with a side of cool, freshly sliced mango. Enjoy!
Last night my friend Janelle requested a soup recipe so that she could have something hearty to eat during her long hospital shiftwork this week. I’m not envious of nurses for many reasons, particularly because they have to handle needles, catheters and are exposed to dangerously high levels of Jello. My poor stomach couldn’t handle the ever-changing meal schedule, week to week, of rotating shift workers. Even with the time change of one hour a few weeks ago, my stomach was left gurgling in confused exasperation for much too long.
During my cleanse a few weeks ago I made this delicious lentil soup twice within a matter of days. Lentil soup is one of my favourites – I love its consistency, colour and wonderful earthy flavours. I also feel very self-righteous when eating something as nutritionally rich as lentils. This is a spicier version of a basic lentil recipe, which gives a slight tingle to the esophagus on the way down. Not in a reach-for-the-pepto-bismal kind of way, but rather like the sensation of eating chicken tandoori; the subtle heat has an addictive quality and the curry powder nicely complements the lentils. You may want to double the batch to be safe, as it will go quickly.
I spent this weekend on Saltspring Island visiting my folks and playing with their new Suffolk lambs that were born last week. Lambs are very docile within the first few weeks, letting themselves be picked up and cuddled; but they’re voraciously hungry, nibbling on clothing, shoelaces, an extended finger, or the dog’s tail. Thankfully, my mom’s sheep are for wool only, not for serving with mint sauce. She would just as soon make a stew from her Golden Doodle than send her sheep down the Green Mile.
My sister has been sick for a few days, so my mom proposed a cooking marathon on Sunday to prepare some healthy food to bring over. Cooking there is always a pleasure, except when baking is involved; my mom’s Aga stove, with its many compartments of varying temperatures, perplexes me and thwarts any attempt to adhere to standard cooking times. She has an immense, well-lit kitchen with ample counter space and breath-taking ocean views. Every few hours a ferry will trod past, weaving in and out of the Gulf Islands, or a pair of eagles will careen in the wind as they eye up waterfowl.
Aga stove: each compartment is a different temperature which I still can't figure out
This healthy and tasty meal has loose ties to a recipe my mom found in the Flat Belly Diet book that’s she’s been carrying around like a holy text. She’s been on a fitness kick for the past few months and has been very proud of the results. The epitome of modest, when someone comes to visit she’ll say something like “Feel my arms,” as she flexes her biceps and scowls. “The beach is that way.”
We’ve added the yogourt here, for a healthier alternative to coconut milk, and the pineapple gives the dish a surprisingly sweet taste that compliments the heat of the curry. Enjoy!
I’ve been begging my friend Luke for a few months now to let me post some of his recipes. Although you might never guess it by hearing him talk excitedly about hockey or speaking in his gruff manner, Luke is one of the biggest foodies I know and the embodiment of the word “gourmet”. He cooks like a master chef and takes great pride in his kitchen, his ingredients and in the thoughtful presentation of his dishes. He is also one of the few people I know who makes an effort to properly pair his food with wines and he always asks for the freshest catch when selecting his fish, unlike normal people who normally don’t think twice.
When he phoned me up yesterday night to try some of his chicken curry dish that he had been sweating over for the afternoon, I knew better than to decline. He is a wonderful chef when it comes to regular meals, but with Indian food he has a remarkable skill. I’ll hand things off to Luke to share this flavourful, exotic recipe.
I’m not a chef by any means, but I do like to eat well, which to me means healthy, seasonal food cooked fresh — therefore I cook. I am also tired of eating out at restaurants and suffering the consequences, both financial and gastro-intestinal.
After a recent trip to India, and in light of our recent cold weather, I find myself craving hearty, healthy dishes that instantly warm me and maybe even make me sweat a little. This particular recipe stems from a past relationship with a woman of Indian descent who, after my persistent begging and pleading, explained the general guidelines and instructions — because no such “recipe” exists — to create the flavours that never quite resemble her mom’s wonderful and traditional Saturday night meal. That being said, it is a close rendition that I am proud to make and I believe the taste exceeds that of any “authentic” Indian restaurant in my little city.
I don’t know what it’s like where you come from, but here in Victoria, British Columbia we have seen some strange health trends over the past few years (Vancouverites, I know you’ll agree): a cult-like obsession with yoga and form-fitting Lululemon pants, a substantial market of people who are willing to pay over $6 for a small loaf of organic bread containing enough seeds to keep the local bird population thriving through the winter…and then there is Sushimania, where the health-conscious pay through the nose for rice, seaweed and fish that the chef was too lazy to cook. Although I do enjoy things Japanese – the food, the tea ceremonies, the culture – and have voraciously read the novel Shogun, I have a difficult time paying such a hefty bill for something so inexpensive to make at home. I do that with coffee already and feel guilty enough.
A Japanese friend of mine showed me how to make very basic tuna sushi rolls which take under 30 minutes to prepare and only cost about $5 for enough rolls to plump up a roomful of hungry Victorians. There are many different ways to prepare Sushi, but this is one of the simplest rolls I’ve found, so it’s a good entry-level dish before attempting the preparation of eel, puffer fish or fish roe that pop in your mouth and set off the gag reflex.
Although sushi is relatively cheap to make, you’ll have to invest in a few inexpensive tools and ingredients that should last you a while: Continue reading