A change in the weather

This past weekend – a day at the beach, a morning at the farmer’s market, a lazy day spent leisurely cooking – has totally put me in the summer mood. There’s still plenty of work going on around here; I’m dusting my boots off as we speak. But a year in and I’m finally getting settled in my apartment. I’m looking at paint chips and searching for fabric and it’s all very fun and exciting, at least to me. This “fun and exciting” bit includes, but is not limited to, drooling over The Rug Company website, browsing pages of beautiful furniture I can’t afford, and dreaming up a little writer’s spot, which I envision will pretty well look the way it does now – a chair, a dining table and a laptop – but with peonies and a magical and amazing coffee genie. It’s the little things.
I digress.

When I search for recipes, I cull through blogs and pages for ones that are, as clichéd as it sounds, fresh, simple and innovative. I’m interested in new methods and techniques, in adding a little charm to the everyday. It’s the French toast dipped in orange blossom water, or a vibrant spice blend, or a tablespoon of vinegar that cuts through the richness of a stew, enlivening it with a new dimension. I’m not really into long preparation times or multiple steps. Sometimes it’s nice to devote an entire day to prepping and cooking, but it doesn’t usually interest me. I probably pass over most of the recipes I would have gobbled up hungrily just a couple short years ago.

This recipe is adapted from Kary Osmond’s show. If I could come back as someone else, I might like to come back as Kary Osmond.

This one is a true winner. It’s filling and tasty, full of vibrant colours and comforting textures. Last week I threw together salads on the fly for my lunches, and one day I landed on a stunning and somewhat surprising combination: shredded leftover chicken Diablo, black beans, avocado, and mango tossed in a quick white wine vinaigrette. I loved the way the mango and the avocado played off each other – the tanginess of the mango with the buttery, mellow flavor of the avocado. Mashed with the chicken and black beans, it was fantastic. This one is pretty good, too, but a little more economical and less fussy to put together.

Basically, you open a couple of cans, rinse, and do a bit of chopping. It requires a bit of effort, but it’s worth it. I’ve been taking this salad for lunch, but I imagine it would also be quite nice served up next to some roasted chicken or grilled fish. Alternatively, you could throw a scoopful on some greens or on a baked sweet potato. I thought that might grab your attention.

Black Bean, Chickpea and Avocado Salad with Mango
Adapted from Canadian Living
Yields 4-6 servings

1 – 16oz can of black beans, or about 1.5 cups cooked and salted
1 – 16oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), or about 1.5 cooked and salted
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cubed
½ mango, diced (optional)
1 jalapeno, diced, or to taste
1 brightly coloured bell pepper, cleaned and diced
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
Zest (rind) of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss everything except for the lime juice and olive oil in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and oil. Add to the salad. Chill for at least one hour.


The girl who emerged from the fourteenth century

When you are almost virtually alone in a large city, sometimes the loneliness is palpable. Certainly being employed is comforting. The routine of the everyday provides its own rhythms. But as anyone who works the cubicle life knows, work alone is hardly enough to sustain a person. Well, most people. My grandfather might’ve been an exception to the rule.

But, as they say, in life, change is the only constant. And so on a bright Saturday morning, I found myself bartering for used dining chairs, chairs that remind me of sitting around my Nan’s table eating roast pork and fruit salad. It was the kind of Saturday where you drink entirely too much coffee and spend entirely too long looking through clothing racks trying to differentiate the tops from the dresses. The kind of Saturday where you race to the subway only to find you’ve missed the latest train, but spot a friend there instead. “Hey!” you say, greeting him. You lend a sympathetic ear. When he approaches the topic of texting, he mocks you for not having a cell phone. “I’m a little old-fashioned,” I say. “You’re from the fourteenth century,” he tells you.

“Except that I wear pants,” I retort, smiling.

It’s the kind of weekend that involves movies and popcorn. In particular, air-popped popcorn with chili flakes, sea salt and olive oil.

Popcorn with Chili Flakes, Sea Salt and Olive Oil

Yields 1 good-sized bowl

Popcorn kernels, about ½ cup
Sea salt
Chili flakes
Drizzle of olive oil

Pop kernels according to the direction s on your air-popper. Alternatively, you could pop the kernels on the stove or opt for plain microwave popcorn. Drizzle in olive oil and mix thoroughly to coat all kernels. Sprinkle generously with sea salt and as many chili flakes as you’d like. Serve immediately. Makes good leftovers (in my opinion.)


New hopes

Maybe it’s the election, or the Royal Wedding, or finally rejoicing the end of winter (!), but I’m starting to feel a little like myself again. I have a series of self-improvement projects on the go and I have plans. Plans, people. And yes, these plans include more than just sampling every bottle of wine currently carried at my local LCBO. Speaking of wine, I currently have a glass of Chianti in hand, and it is mighty fine indeed.

I'm collecting new hopes, dear readers; I'm list-making and wishing and wanting. I'm listening to Ingrid Michaelson and printing photographs and feeling inspired. Maybe there's something to this April showers business after all.

Speaking of spring -- we're over the cabbage/root vegetable hump that swallowed me up throughout the last couple of months. I'm ready for this next season. I wonder what spring will hold this time. I spent last year -- my first spring out of school -- traveling and seeing friends I'd missed and hadn't seen in far too long, and generally panicking as much as I could and growing as neurotic as I am capable, and I'm anxious to see a different spring: one equally filled with good people and all-encompassing laughter, but with fewer anxieties and a greater degree of self-acceptance. Life-acceptance. More breathing.

I often hear of “these people” who grow summer squash, or even winter squash, and end up with massive piles of them during peak season. Apparently soups are made and salads are eaten; zucchini is stuffed and roasted, or tossed into pasta, or pickled. “These people” give some away to their neighbours, who are initially grateful but later run for their lives when they see “these people” coming in fear of ending up recipients of unwanted and unneeded squash. It’s uttered like a bad word, whispered under someone’s breath: SQUASH.

Let me tell you, I don’t know who “these people” are, but they can make an appearance in my kitchen – nay, my life – at any time. I welcome squash gifts the way most women welcome free fragrance samples at The Bay, and trust me when I say I will flock to you like the good ol’ moth to the flame if you were to come three feet near me with a bundle of fresh farm squash. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, apparently mine is by way of surprise produce, preferably organic and homegrown.

It wasn’t always this way. I can’t say I always appreciated the beauty that is smooth skin and seeds rendered delicious upon roasting. The relationship was slow to start, I’ll admit, but soon, like any good addict, I fell hard. Butternut squash, cubed and roasted with maple syrup. A risotto with puréed squash and Creole-spiced shrimp. A squash torte (!) or zucchini filled with Italian sausage or crookneck sautéed with fresh dill and olive oil or sliced thinly and tossed with feta cheese. I could go on, but I’ll spare you the details of my torrid love affairs and head straight to the heart of the matter.

I’m being courted by Sir Spaghetti Squash and am not put off in the least by his name. He is dashing and daring and looks so good in the little glass bowl that sits out on my island. Tonight, plagued by the disease known as Recipe Rut (FYI: unrelated to squash), I came home after a long day and a couple of hours of putzying around Yorkville and posed myself that age old question: What’s for dinner? I think sometimes I even ask myself this question aloud, hoping to find a genie hidden in the cupboard. So I stood there, drinking a glass of something that begins with the letter “w” (hint: not water) and eating carrots (err, baked tortilla chips and mashed avocado with lime) and glanced down at my petite yellow darling.

If you are one of “these people”, we need to talk. A friend with too much squash is a friend indeed.

Spaghetti Squash with Roasted Red Peppers, Olives and Kale
Serves one very hungry girl or two as a side dish

½ small Spaghetti squash (yields about 2-2.5 cups cooked squash)
3 tbsp grated Grana Padano, or to taste (or another hard, salty cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago)
4-6 kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 generous handful of frozen or leftover kale
2 roasted red pepper sections, about ½ a pepper, roughly chopped (or roast and use your own)
¼ tsp ground smoked paprika
A pinch of red chili flakes
Sea salt, to taste
Olive oil

Add spaghetti squash half to a big pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Cook for twenty minutes or until the squash becomes fork-tender. Remove from the water and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, defrost or re-heat your kale. Feel free to substitute a different green such as spinach if that is what you have on hand.

Return to your squash. With a fork, shred the squash – it will come apart in the form of “noodles”. You may wish to let this stand for a bit over a colander to remove some of the water. I was impatient and skipped this step, but I’d recommend doing it for the best result.

Toss spaghetti squash with heated kale, fresh garlic, olives, chili flakes, salt, cheese and smoked paprika. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Toss to coat and combine. Serve immediately.

This might also be nice with a bit of pesto or shredded basil, or topped with an egg, feta cheese, shrimp, chicken, or pine nuts.

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