An ode to coconut flour

It's quiet in here. I've been on a bit of a hiatus lately.

Part I is best called, "Weeks where I worked entirely too much and burnt myself out." Around here, Part II is titled, "...and then I got sick and was forced to relax and recharge." There may have been good food and some wine involved. I won't tell you how many glasses were consumed in the interest of keeping scorn and judgement at bay, but suffice to say there was plenty of spirited recklessness around these parts and it was whole-heartedly deserved. And, suffice to say, not a whole lot of writing has been going on. I'm sorry. On the plus side, I give you Kurt Elling. Swoon away.

Part III, I'm calling: "coconut flour, you scoundrel!"

My sister came to visit a couple of weekends ago. I gave her a tour of Toronto, which to me means a day at the beach and an afternoon shopping, nights spent eating and drinking and generally having a good time. I found a casual black dress to wear frolicking about town, and a rug for my living room, and I ate ice cream while walking through Pride. I watched the fireworks, and I read voraciously, and mostly I sat back and let life happen for a little while. La vie est belle, non?

And I made these pancakes. Now, I'm not much of a sweets-for-breakfast kind of girl. Mostly I eat granola and plain yogurt for breakfast, topped perhaps with some (fabulous) local peanut butter or chia seeds or fresh fruit. Sometimes I'll eat eggs in some form or another. In the cooler months, I'm partial to oatmeal and hot cereal. But every now and again, like clockwork, invariably a craving for pancakes takes up residence and I'm forced to submit. Unlike traditional pancakes made with bleached all-purpose flour, this version is healthy, slightly fluffy and full of fantastic flavour (even before the maple syrup.) Not much surprises me anymore. I don't feel like every turn in the kitchen automatically enlists me in some game-changing event. I don't need to re-invent classics or develop innovative dishes. A good meal is always worth celebrating, whether it is enjoyed at a four-star restaurant made at the hands of talented chefs, or a humble, simple meal prepared at home and eaten among old friends. I like cool techniques, well-considered approaches, fresh flavours. I'm always thrown when asked to prepare a dish. Most of what I make is simple fare, hardly impressive. But every now and then something comes around and changes my life, and let me tell you, coconut flour is one of those things. Now, I've known about it for a while. I've heard others sing its praises and virtues. But, like most things, it took me a while to catch on. You needn't wait for a special occasion. Wake up on a lazy weekend morning, start the coffee (or the tea!), and make these pancakes while the sun is dancing in your kitchen and your body is full of energy. Proceed with an adventurous spirit, head held high, and act, even if you don't believe in it, optimistic for a moment. Eat these pancakes with a smile, day ahead of you, and surrender to the next part, whatever form it takes.

(Photo credit: Laura Berneche)

Coconut Flour Pancakes with Blueberries
Adapted from Erica Kerwien
Yields 6 silver dollar-sized pancakes, or 2-3 servings

3 (room temperature) large eggs
1 tsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder (make sure it's gluten-free!)
1 tsp maple syrup
2-3 tbsp coconut flour
1/8 tsp kosher or sea salt
Handful of fresh or frozen (defrosted) blueberries

Additional maple syrup and/or butter for serving

1. Separate your egg yolks from your egg whites. Beat the egg whites until they develop soft peaks. Set aside.
2. Combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt) and whisk together thoroughly to incorporate.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together all wet ingredients (lightly beaten egg yolks, maple syrup, vanilla and oil), leaving the blueberries out.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Slowly add the wet ingredients. Beat everything together on a low until just combined. Carefully fold in the egg whites, followed by the blueberries.
5. Heat a skillet, preferably a cast iron one, to medium-high. Add the batter. Unlike traditional pancakes, you may not get the bubbles on these pancakes that signify they've finished cooking. Instead, you'll have to check the bottoms to see if they've crisped up enough. I find that you can tell if they're finished because the ends will curl up a little.

Serve immediately with maple syrup, butter and additional blueberries if desired.

*Note: these do not re-heat well.


Mulling, mulberries

Tonight I picked mulberries for the first time.

What to say about mulberry picking? I walked up the house at the end of the street. "Local, local, it's the buzz word. Everyone keeps saying to eat local," the man tells me, offering me water or tea. "But where is local? A  lot comes from South America, some from African countries, from China, from Europe. Where is Canada?" I nod my head in agreement. Who knows what's in season anymore? Peppers are in season, but the only ones you'll find at the superstores around here at from the U.S.A. What about peas? I see English cucumbers from Ontario, I see onions, potatoes. An apple here or there if you're lucky. But Ontario berries are slim and I rarely see cherries.

Many are under the impression, so it appears, that we don't grow much in Canada. It's kind of absurd how little we know about our own unique culinary landscape. Have you heard of serviceberries, also known as Saskatoon berries? They grow freely in parks. Free food! There's various mushroom varieties, and apple varieties of course. But we grow other things. Chicory, wild rice, other wild edibles. A landscape that produces asparagus, lettuce, pears, apples, plums, apricots, crabapples, mulberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb. I remember growing up in my Nan's backyard and feasting on ripe rhubarb, straight from the garden, eaten without sugar. I remember picking crabapples from her tree and picking out the worms, savoring their tart flesh. I remember running through the cornfields. I remember picking our Halloween pumpkins at a nearby local farm, and buying fresh sweet corn from roadside stops. I know the taste of fresh peppers and the delicious earthiness of a fresh mushroom, and I know what a good potato can do to a person.

We shook the mulberry tree collectively over a couple sheets, trying to get the fruit down. Together we managed to get about five pounds, each taking home a little under half a pound. It's hardly worth it, maybe, to pick mulberries. You don't get much at a time. But I saw the sun set over the ravine, and I managed to forge bonds with perfect strangers over similar interests and convictions. Why were we there? To help out a local charity? To indulge in a few mulberries? I was there because I am dedicated to becoming more connected to my environment and to my food, to learning more about where things come from and how they grow. There's a lot of lessons to be gleaned from nature, I think. And there's something to be said for simple living. I could do without a lot of things. I'd be willing to give it all up. But at the end of the day, I want a future where people are sitting around eating good, local food; I want to live in a present where the local food scene is thriving, and people understand what it means to "eat Canadian". And most importantly, at least to me, I want to appreciate what's on my plate, never take it for granted, and treat the world I live in with respect and gratitude, cherishing each delicious bite and each special moment.

Where the living is easy

Nights in spent catching up with an old friend. Watching Mad Men over a meal of salty canned clams and corn pasta, arugula standing in for the black pepper. It's common food around here, delicious and economical, but it kind of sings in its own way. I like the taste of clams with corn pasta done al dente, the way the parmesan interacts with the arugula and the chili flakes. I love the garlic butter that resonates in the background, the way it pulls all of the ingredients together, and I like the bite of the pasta against the softness of the sauce. Consumed with a glass of VQA red wine while sprawled on the couch, it feels absolutely luxurious. A couple of dark chocolate squares for dessert? Mais oui!

There've been many good moments lately. My sister came to visit this past weekend and I made her coconut blueberry pancakes, a recipe I'll share later this week. Blueberries aren't in season quite yet around these parts of what I can tell, and the crappy ones from Oregon made for a lousy substitute, but I can envision them being made with good blueberries, the tart-sweet variety, the kind that leaves blueberry juice stained on your clothes. I've been reading more these days, and trying to catch more films, and find myself taking short walks in the early evening just as people finish their al fresco dinners, gulp back that last taste of wine. It's nice to breathe in the summer air, a little humid and still but gentler this year. It's nice to walk aimlessly and conjure up wishes. Romantic, isn't it? I like to listen to jazz while making dinner, glass of wine in hand, or to country music as I mop my floors. This is summertime in Toronto. Drinking mediocre sangria on a large patio with an old friend. Walking around and witnessing the Pride festivities over the weekend, eating a small scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream and happily lapping up the sunshine. Reading about M.F.K. Fisher's life over a lunch hour; reading about women who eat over another. Gearing up to pick mulberries. Contemplating the fall, considering my future. Making lists and planning projects. Is this what happiness looks like? I think so, indeed I do, and I am glad for it.
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