Saskatoon Berry Crumble

When I was little I went camping at Miquelon Lake Provincial Park with my aunt and uncle. It was just before they had their first baby. I guess they were trying out what it would be like to camp with kids. Obviously exhausting – have you met me and my brother? Imagine two Tasmanian devils spinning around like a Bugs Bunny cartoon for three days. My uncle took us on a hike to pick berries while my aunt ‘made lunch’ a euphemism for “OMG I am going to wring their necks if I don’t get some quiet time and NOW.” Or she just dropped to her knees and fell asleep. Either way, we are A LOT.

This moment in my life was the first time I ever picked berries and ate them off the tree without fear of being poisoned. I always thought I would die by quicksand or fruit poisoning. Obviously, I watched a lot of Gilligan’s Island and Disney movies. I found some raspberries that day, but mostly saskatoons (also known as June or serviceberries). We went back for lunch and had a bowl of berries with thick heavy cream. Damn – that is the best way to eat them. Or one of the best.

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I came home on Friday to a one-gallon pail of saskatoons sitting on the kitchen counter! The hubs took a pail to the dog park and spent about an hour cleaning off only one bush. (The City of Edmonton has planted various fruit trees around the city. I have found crab apple, pear and saskatoons. I have heard of a secret grove of Apricots in the river valley that I am still looking for – although it may be a myth.) I immediately went to work cleaning the berries.

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Back in the dark days, I had a friend who canned just about all her food. She would harvest berries and wild mushrooms, then work in her garden to supply food for most of the winter. She taught me about cleaning berries to minimize the amount of protein or bugs found in your desserts. Her method was simple, in the pail of berries add two tablespoons of vinegar and fill with water until the berries just begin to float. Let soak for one hour. The spiders will immediately climb to the top. I scooped them out and set them outside. FREE THE SPIDERS PEOPLE! Then any little flies or worms will also float to the top but they will be dead – drowned or pickled – whichever – I skimmed those off then rinsed the berries one handful at a time and placed them in a colander to drain. Once completed I placed on a clean towel to dry.

At this point, you can do one of two things, place in the fridge to chill and use up during the week or place on a parchment-lined cookie tin to freeze individually. Then place in an air-tight container. They will keep in your freezer for at least six months – may be longer but they don’t last that long in my house. If you just put berries in a bag and freeze before you individualize them, they will juice and you bet a big block of berries. You then have to use them all at once when they thaw. Individually, you can have one or ninety.

I decided to make a pie. But I didn’t feel like making a crust. So I made a crustless pie and called it crumble. After eating my crustless pie, I decided I will likely never make crusts again because they are never as delicious and straight-up filling. Here is my recipe for Saskatoon Crumble, or use your favourite pie crust and make a few pies.

Saskatoon Berry Crumble (or pie)

This recipe uses 1 gallon of berries. It divides well. Most berries can be substituted.

Ingredients:

Filling

  • one gallon of cleaned berries
  • 2 cups of white sugar
  • 8 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp of kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp of butter – not margarine or oil or spray – butter.

Mix together the sugar, flour, salt and zest of lemon. I add a layer of berries and a layer of dry ingredients and give them a toss to evenly coat the berries. I do this in stages to coat everything.

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Butter a 9 x 13 pan or larger if you have one. Get into all the corners and up the sides. If you skip this step or aren’t thorough, you will be frustrated with berry stickage.

Pour your berries into the pan in an even layer. I used two smaller pans so I could give some to my papa bear. But this will make four human-sized square pans for freezing, sharing or eating – the choice is yours.

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Streusel Topping

I use this recipe for peach pie, apple pie, strawberry- rhubarb and all my cobblers. I think a double crust is too much crust. When I make a pie I use 1/4 of this recipe. I increased it by 4 for this crumble thing.

  • 1 cup of butter – not margarine – use the good stuff. I like salted but unsalted is fine – just add a pinch of salt to the bowl.
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 cups of flour.

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Everything goes into the bowl and get your hands in there. You want this to be a crumble so don’t mix it with a spoon. Use your thumb and forefinger and mash/slide the two together. You want the butter-sugar mixture to look like small peas or coarse sand.

Pour over your berries and lightly pat it to the berries so it forms a crust. Alternatively, you could just use your hands to distribute evenly and call it a day. I prefer a crust-like texture and have deep regret that I didn’t do this. Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet because you will get spillage and berry pops. If you can’t be bothered, that’s your deal and at Christmas, you will wonder why your oven is smoking. Your welcome.

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Bake in a pre-heated 375 Degree oven for 35 – 45 minutes.

Serve warm with ice cream or heavy cream or plain. I also like it cold for breakfast.

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Let me know what you think. The lemon zest is the secret ingredient.

 

Edmonton Tourist: Bountiful Farmers’ Market

There is a new indoor market in Edmonton I was curious about it. I have been to other cities with indoor markets like Seattle or Vancouver. I like the atmosphere of these places. Edmonton has a year-round indoor market in Old Strathcona. The Strathcona Farmers Market is busy and bustling with long-time favourite vendors. The new Bountiful Market is similar but not as bustling as the other ones I had been to. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the lack of people crashing into me. I think this is because of the wide isles. The number of people there had to be as many as found in Strathcona. The cars were parked as far as the eye could see in either direction on 97 street plus the parking lot was full.

The place smelled clean and not of fish or farm. It was bright and airy with a variety of stalls that I hadn’t seen before. Often you go to the City market or 124 street and you can find the same vendors. This all seemed new.

I arrived as it opened with my pal Andie in tow. Our first stop was coffee for here but I just looked around and chatted with her when she wasn’t chatting with people she already knew. People say I know a lot of people but Andie knows twice as many as me. The crowds hadn’t begun to build so it was easy to talk to vendors. I liked the way the stalls were built. Each had a frame and a sign. It was consistent and pretty. I had no idea how important that was until I experienced it. It made the space inviting.

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Most vendors were set up for taste samples. I tried everything from gin – deep regret that I didn’t buy it. I will need to go back to buy some- to gelato. There were pretzels and perogies plus endless fruit and vegetables. The flower vendor had the loveliest peonies available. It made me think of a friend of mine and her lovely garden. She should consider selling cut flowers at different markets.

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We stopped often and spoke to everyone. I sampled things that were delicious and tried some things that I wish never entered my mouth. But that’s how it goes and why you should taste before you buy. My taste isn’t for everyone.

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It excites me that we have another indoor market in Edmonton and on the south side that’s close to me. Soon all the stalls should be filled and then this place will really be hopping!

You can find it here:

  • 3696 97 Street, Edmonton
  • 9am – 5pm every Friday, Saturday, Sunday — all year.

For more information visit Bountiful Farmers’ Market and say hey to the Trouble Monk people, their gin is delicious.

Peasant life

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I read a column in the New York Times by Ann Patchett. If you have never read any of her, treat yourself and put one of her books on your reading list this year. When I read her columns, it’s like chatting with one of my pals. I thoroughly enjoy her style.

She wrote My Year of No Shopping in 2017. I read it then and revisited it over Christmas week 2018. She discusses how she outlined her year of no spending. No clothes, which seemed hard for her, she stopped various other spending but allowed books (although you can visit your local library) and discussed gift giving. She decided to only give books except for her editor who married and thought that a book wasn’t right for that situation. But if someone gave me a book for my wedding, they would be at the top of my list of favourite people. Can you imagine a collection of lovely books to start a library of your own as a newlywed? It sounds divine but that might just be me.

I gave no spending some serious thought in 2017. Then I met my friend. She sets aside several weeks throughout the year to live frugally. She calls it Peasant Week. The biggest change she makes is to not buy groceries for an extended period and uses up all the food in her freezer and pantry. I am guilty of having a well-stocked cupboard and replenish it often. She has a monthly allowance and does not spend over that limit – ever. She has a budget. $xxx for gifts comes off her paycheque monthly along with other items that come up unexpectedly throughout the year. All of this is because she has a goal of retiring at 55. Her house will be paid off and she has some tidy investments so she can live the life she desires. That isn’t saying she doesn’t love every moment of her life now. She is humble and grateful and refuses to do chores on the weekend because those are her play days. That is what she calls them, play days. She will only do what feels fun on those two days and does all her chores after work throughout the week. Her life is lovely.

I did that to some extent only with a different goal in mind. It wasn’t about saving money for me, only at first but that changed over time. I went through a financial crisis and curbed travel spending for three years. (But Tourist, you travelled a lot in the last three years! I did, but I will get to that.) My goal was to live a simple life not complicate it by financial obligations. I have to admit it was hard watching friends travel to Disney when I could not. I unfollowed most acquaintances on facebook because I needed to change my thought patterns of jealousy and envy to appreciation and gratitude. Hard to be grateful for what I have when I am longing for what I don’t have.

Simplify is what I call it. I simplified everything from facebook followers to items in my home.

The first thing I did was join a facebook group that gave things away, didn’t sell them. That was important to me. It wasn’t about the money. It was giving things to people who needed them far more than I did. It was about helping people who are starting out in life. I gave away a dumpster full of things. A side benefit, I don’t miss a thing. I have more to give this year. I want to come home to a minimalist house. I live with three other adults. two of them have a hard time parting with things because they don’t know what to do with it. We are also working on that, so this is a process. I have all the time in the world to remove things, there is no rush. I check the site daily to see if anyone is looking for something when I have it, I give it. Simple. Occasionally I see something I need. Like a crockpot. I never had one before and am grateful for one!

Before the tree comes down this year I am getting out four small boxes to sort. One for my son, he has a collection of Santas for his grown-up tree starter kit. One for my daughter, she has an angel grown-up tree starter kit. Decorations I want to keep for a small adult tree of my own and then a give-a-way pile. I do not need an entire storage room of Christmas decorations. clutter around the house stresses me now. Those will go to a new home or Good-will.

Last summer my daughter went to Disneyland. Her first adult trip without her mom. She had travelled with her school and for work, but this felt different. She stayed on Disney property and understood how much I wanted to do that. She knew how much I love the soaps and creams so she saved them daily and brought home a giant bag full of sample sizes. I have travelled a lot for work and was gifted trips when the hubs retired. I collected some of those fantastic smelling items and brought them home. I enjoy ‘free’ souvenirs. When she returned, I went through my cupboard and discovered several bags of these things. I consolidated all of them and decided I needed to use them up instead of buying any new product. Five months later I am one-third of the way through the bag of beauty products. I haven’t bought anything including toothpaste since August. Toothpaste will run out next month but the soap and shampoo will last me until summer.

I brought this lifestyle into my work-life. We had a Secret Santa exchange. There were three rules, one for each week:

  1. The first gift must be from the dollar store and cannot cost more than $3.
  2. The second gift must be something from your home that you no longer use and can be re-gifted.
  3. The third must be home-made.

Surprisingly, everyone participated. People received amazing things. Re-gifting was magical. It felt like we did more with less. This was a huge validation for me. I did the same thing with items in our warehouse. I used up what we had before we bought new. That is important to the bottom line, but more importantly to the environment.

As I think about 2019, I know I don’t need any new clothes. I would like new boots, but mine are fine and not worn out yet. I had a hole in my puffer jacket but taped it with black electrical tape and now its fine for at least another winter so it will take me through until 2020 and I will reassess then.

I have more sheets and towels than I know what to do with, so I will sort through those and put them in the give-away pile. I went through appliances and utensils and gave them to my nephew, but I think I can do better. My pantry is the real challenge for me. I will work my way through the freezer and see what I can do with those items. I want to start a standing garden so I can easily harvest my own food. I think that will be my project for this year. I will focus on food.

Back to the “but you travelled extensively Tourist, what gives? I thought you didn’t want to spend money on travel?” Truth and I didn’t spend money on travel – sort-of.

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My hubs was given a lovely retirement gift of travel. Boom, that was how I travelled. I have a new job that lets me travel across Alberta. Boom, I saw parts of the province I had never been to before. On my down time while away for work, I would explore the towns and areas. Alberta’s Coulees are gorgeous. Prairies are beautiful. I learned that appreciating your own backyard has significant benefits and is just as beautiful and wonderful as exploring towns and villages in Europe, Australia or the US. People travel far and wide to come here. I live three hours from a world-class destination. I am lucky. I get to see Northern Lights regularly – as in ALL THE DAMN TIME. Very few people will ever see those in their lifetime. Grandpa was right, Canada is awesome.

2018 taught me about appreciation. The more I appreciated what I had, the more I received. It was crazy but true. People gave me stuff for being kind. I won things like small lottery wins, books, dinner out and movie tickets.  I learned joy doesn’t come from things, it comes from experience. Help those who need it. Don’t put a price tag on things, just give it away because you can. You will receive more in ways you never thought possible.

Abundance is a gift.

Happy New Year, may 2019 be abundant for you.

Perfect Poach

It was a Christmas miracle. The most perfect poached egg I have ever created. My daughter let me know it was better than the one she had for breakfast Christmas Eve morning at a restaurant. It was visually beautiful, tender and tasty. All the things you hope for your own poached egg when making Eggs Benedict.

Fun Fact: In 1894, Lemuel Benedict, a Wall Street broker, who was suffering from a hangover, ordered“some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. *Does anyone know what a hooker is in reference to hollandaise? A vessel? A measurement? A gal to join at breakfast?

I have been trying for years to achieve the perfect egg to lay across my back bacon (Candian Bacon for you out-of-towners. No, we do not call it Canadian Bacon, its back bacon and its nothing like bacon. Its ham.) I have tried the vortex method – stirring the water to create a vortex, but you can only cook two eggs at most using this method. I have tried baking them in ham cups in the oven, delicious but easily overcooked plus I miss the tang from the vinegar in the cooking water. My eggs always come out shaggy. Then one day I found the secret!

I was watching Bon Appetite on Facebook – I love the test kitchen videos. Brad from It’s Alive is hilarious. Priya is new but is my favourite. I love Carla and her blind instructions. Andy is just really great to look at. Don’t even get me start on Claire and her series on replicating store-bought stuff. She made Skittles from scratch people, FROM SCRATCH! Then there is Molly. She is pretentious, but she is always right, so I listen to her. She was bang-on about the Caesar salad so I figured she would be correct about eggs benedict for a crowd. Who can poach a dozen eggs at once? Molly can. She is a genius.

You can watch the video like I did. I didn’t expect it to be so spectacular. Cracking the egg over a sieve was amazing. You lose the watery bits of the egg white but not enough to lose the egg.

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I dropped it into the water (laced with salt and vinegar). It was just six eggs I was making, only three of us for breakfast Christmas morning, I cooked them for longer than three minutes. I like my eggs almost firm. My girl likes them runny – so that was fairly easy until her egg kept cooking and wasn’t running at all. So she will get a three-minute egg when I make Christmas Breakfast for my parents when they return home from Europe.

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LOOK AT THAT PERFECTION!!! This was an egg without the sauce. I made more the next day and used up the back bacon and added cheese. I put another half English muffin on top and called it a breakfast sandwich. Eggs done this way are magical.

Thanks, Molly!

 

Honey

I had a boyfriend once who called me honey.  We were casually dating and called each other normal names then boom, he called me honey and I felt weird about it. It was as if that was the name he used for his wife. Turns out I was right.

Honey was a favourite food of my son. Part of that had to do with his relationship with Winnie the Pooh. If honey was good enough for Pooh Bear, then honey was good enough for him.  Plus eating local honey has the added benefit of building up your immune system to ward against hay fever.  

I love honey. I especially love local honey. So much so that I think I want to become an urban beekeeper.  Save the bees, eat local honey and grow an amazing garden. All things I think I want for me. Or at the very least it is a romanticized version of what I want for me.  

Disneyland had this great popcorn cart over in Pooh Corner. They served honey popcorn. The smell was amazing. Warm honey gives off a pleasant sweet fragrance that has a blend of clover mixed in. The popcorn was a crisp and sweet blend of honey caramel. I loved it. It was one of my favourite treats available at the park until it was gone. Now they appear to have just a plain popcorn cart, but it has been years since I have darkened the doorstep of any Disney Park, but I like to do little things that remind me of great vacations past. 

After I first tried the honey popcorn at Pooh Corner, I went home to try to recreate it. It took me several attempts but I finally got the proportions right.  It has become my signature recipe that I make only once a year.  Usually, my mom makes the popcorn for me and I do the rest. Making popcorn is not something I am good at but I figured out another way to do it while she is in Ireland.  Here is my Honey popcorn the way Pooh Bear likes it. Don’t blame me if you have a sudden urge to play Pooh Sticks or search for Heffalumps and Woozles. Eat at your own risk. 

Robyn’s Pooh Corner inspired Honey Popcorn

  • 4 qt popped popcorn (I use Orville’s microwave with butter and salt)
  • 1 cup nuts (almonds and pecans are what I prefer but anything will work)
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (I have used dark brown but light gives a better colour)
  • 1/4 cup of honey (local clover honey not creamed – regular drippy honey)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla (the best you can get your hands on. The Barefoot Contessa is correct)

Pop your popcorn and place it in a prepared roaster. I spray it with pam but if you don’t so that, grease it or you will be frustrated when its time to stir the popcorn. Sprinkle nuts over the top of the popcorn.

In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sugar and honey. Stir consistently until it comes to a gentle boil. Turn heat down to medium and let it gently boil for 5 minutes without stirring. You do not want the sugar to become grainy – so leave it alone! After 5 minutes, remove from heat and add vanilla. It will bubble up and appear angry. Beware. Then give it a stir to incorporate the vanilla throughout. 

Pour over popcorn and nuts, stir until well coated. Bake at 250 F for 1 hour. This is the secret to the perfect texture. Skipping this step makes the popcorn soggy and gooey. Every 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir. The honey caramel settles to the bottom and you want it to coat the popcorn evenly. Cover your counter with parchment paper. Once the popcorn is done (one hour in the oven!!!) turn it out on the parchment to cool. This prevents it from sticking to the pan. Soak the pan in water for easy cleanup.

Variations: I have substituted pure maple syrup for the honey. Maple popcorn is decedent. It is expensive but so good. 

 

Peanut Butter

Who was the person that taught you to bake? I had many teachers. Mostly my mom was my teacher. Sundays were spent in a high volume extreme bake-off. We would make a list the previous week and then shop for all the ingredients. The list would include dinners for weeknights and several batches of tarts and cookies. You could easily find 20 things in the freezer before nightfall. Organization skills were my mom’s superpower. I take after her. I can knock off 150 cookies 4 dozen tarts and a pot of soup before noon.  Well, that was today. I drove home from a Red Deer work thing, called my mom and rolled up my sleeves to power bake. I was done by 1:00 pm and started at 11:00 am. 

Fast paced was not something that described my grandmother. She was slow and methodical. She did one thing at a time. Multi-tasking was not something she was interested in. Where my mom taught me how to knock off a lot of things to save time in the future, my grandmother taught me about relaxing as you do one thing. Both methods have a place in my life. I have to admit to following my mom’s method at work and at home the most. But every now and then a slowed relaxed baking session is delightful. 

My grandma made little step stools from mandarin orange boxes that were available at Christmas. We used them for sitting in front of the TV, standing to reach things in the pantry but I used it to raise me up at the counter so I could ‘help’ bake. 

My mom let me use tools like beaters, crack eggs and measure milk. Grandma never let me do those things, but she did let me watch. Mom let me lick the beaters or sample the batter. Grandma didn’t but I stole batter when she wasn’t looking. Mom let me open the oven door so she could put trays of cookies in the oven. Grandma made me stand back far from the hot oven. The experiences were polar opposite but there was one thing grandma let me do and that was to press cookies. 

Very carefully she rolled out peanut butter cookies on a baking sheet. they were all the exact same size and evenly spaced. It always looked as if she used a ruler to measure the distance for consistency. Once all the round balls were on the sheet, it was my turn. She had a set of glasses that my aunt thinks were duralux. Small juice glasses with a starburst pattern on the bottom. It was my job to dip the glass in flour and press the cookies evenly – not too hard and not too soft. When I made these cookies with my little gram, we used a fork dipped in flour. I pressed the fork into the dough, dip in flour and press again in a cross fashion. This was more fun than eating the cookies. I have been searching ebay and vintage glass sites forever trying to find that particular pattern. My aunt told me they shattered easily so maybe there are none left in existence? At any rate, in my mind’s eye, all peanut butter cookies ever made have that pattern.  I made some today using grandma’s recipe. Because I love you, I am sharing the recipe – and all the variations with you. This isn’t the Kraft Peanut Butter recipe that uses egg, sugar and peanut butter. My recipe has flour to make it a proper cookie with a subtle flavour of peanut butter because let’s get serious, too much peanut butter is too much is too much peanut butter and who needs that? 

Grandma’s Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup salted butter (does anyone use unsalted?)
  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter (smooth because my son always thought the crunchy part was bees – save the bees people!)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar – I use dark, not golden. 
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375F
  2. Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars together in a bowl; beat in eggs. (I use a mixer to get the right texture. Mix until it looks fluffy and is lighter in colour than when you started. 
  3. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir into butter mixture. Put dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour. (I sift directly into the butter mixture. I don’t usually refrigerate unless the dough is too soft and I can’t roll into a ball,)
  4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and put on baking sheets. (I use an ice cream scoop and don’t roll) Flatten each ball with a fork (dipped in flour to prevent sticking), making a crisscross pattern. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 10 minutes or until cookies begin to brown. (Forget the brown part – 10 minutes or until you can smell them.) One sheet at a time please!

This recipe makes 110 cookies. So I like to mix it up. The first tray of 35 is traditional with fork pressed method. The second tray I roll the balls in sugar then flatten with a flat-bottomed mug or cup. The third tray I add chocolate chips and drop without flattening. 

Pirate Cookies were a favourite of mine, to recreate those, mix 1/2 cup peanut butter and 2 cups icing sugar for a buttercream frosting and thin as needed with milk. Sandwich the cookies with the frosting in the middle. So sweet but extra decadent. Serve with milk and a splash of tea unless you are an adult, then its tea with a splash of milk. 

Frozen

Apparently, I am not the only person in the world who loved to eat their Christmas baking directly from the freezer.  I wrote about eating my shortbread that way and I received so many emails and messages telling me I wasn’t alone. I guess its a thing, here in Canada anyway. 

One gal told me how her mom kept all their Christmas baking in a box on the porch. That’s the thing about Canada, you don’t have a shortage of freezer space at Christmas time. My family has stored food in the trunk of the car, in a cooler on the deck, in the unheated garage and believe it or not, an actual freezer. 

When my dad and his four siblings lived on Evergreen Street, there was a bedroom in the basement. My dad shared it with his brother and when they moved out, my two aunts moved into that room. I remember that room because I had sleep-overs in there. Outside that room was a 1960’s style rec room complete with bar stools and a pool table. Behind the bar area by the stairs was a storage room with a freezer. This was easily accessible to the bedroom. Midnight trips to the freezer we common because that is where grandma stored her baking.

Fast forward to my childhood.

My brother and I lived in our basement on Georgian Way. We had a 1970’s style ‘rumpus room’. It was aptly named because a lot of rumpusing occurred in that room. We watched cable tv, played intelevision and atari, build forts and goofed around on the piano. We didn’t have a bar but we did have a  fireplace. I never remember sitting on the sofa to watch tv, we would stack cushions on the floor so we could recline and snuggle under blankets as we watched Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Women, or Charlies Angels and sneak in a little Soap after everyone went to bed. It was as if we had our own apartment with mom, dad and our sister living upstairs. 

At Christmas time our freezer would be stocked with Christmas baking for parties. Dad would often have his fellow teachers over for a Christmas party, we would invite Santa over for a family party and we always had Christmas brunch where everyone we knew would come for breakfast. After all the savoury food was consumed the baking would come ut on three-tiered cake plates for dessert service.  Provided my brother and I had left any in the freezer.

Here’s the thing. Imagine a gripping game of Frogger, Donkey Kong or Galactica late on a Friday night when suddenly you are hungry. The ‘hangry’ kind of hunger that needs to be satisfied so you can beat your little weasel of a brother who will cheat as soon as the opportunity arises. Anger bubbles up with such intensity that food is the only thing that will sooth that beast. Its a thing, the Snicker’s commercial proves it. 

Luckily, the deep freezer chest was located in the next room beside the laundry. It was deep. When we were small I would hold my brother’s legs so he could reach the bottom. As we grew taller, I could bend at the waist with my feet dangling so I could reach those Tupperware containers that were located on the bottom, hidden under roasts and loaves of bread in an effort to conceal the baking intended for guests. 

Sucka….

I could always find the Butter Tart or Shortbread. 

The secret to not getting in trouble immediately was to leave evidence that made the containers appear full.  For example, the layers of wax paper that separated the cookies were never removed. That way when you opened the container to take a peek, it appeared as if the cookies were still on the bottom. With the butter tarts it was even easier, leave the foil tins in the container and none would be the wiser…until it was party day. 

Mom would ask dad to bring the containers upstairs to the kitchen. He would leave stacks of containers on the counter. Mom had been busy all fall building up the reserves.  Anything with coconut or cherries would still be there because … ew. The butter tarts and cookies were not. just empty packages.  This is when mom would 

lose

her 

mind.

My brother and I were always accused of the crime. He would deny it and she would believe him. I got the blame. To be fair, I was the mastermind behind the cookie caper, and likely did eat the majority of the baking but he often got away with things because he was an expert level liar.  As soon as his back was turned and mom couldn’t see him, he would smile at me and stick his tongue out. A sure sign that he was lying to her and mocking me at the same time. 

Until recently I assumed everyone ate butter tarts and no one ate frozen baking. I had no idea butter tarts were a Canadian thing. I did a little research on the confection and some regions put milk or cream in the recipe. All I can say is you are wrong. That is not the way to make them. My dad says a good butter tart must drip on your chin while eating it. I agree. That is the way to do it. I feel so strongly about this, I will share with you my family recipe. Do not put the following in your recipe and say it came from me. These ingredients are WRONG and belong in some other recipe I do not have to eat.

  1. Coconut – just don’t
  2. Raisins – my daughter says it’s like eating old people, save a senior and keep raisins out.
  3. Currents/cranberries/fruit in general
  4. Nuts – especially walnuts. WRONG

Butter Tarts are syrupy and gooey. The better the pastry the better the tart. Here you go:

Butter Tarts

Pastry

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 cup cold butter cubed
  •  egg yolk
  •  1 teaspoon vinegar
  •  ice water

In a large bowl, whisk flour with salt. With pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces. 

In a separate bowl – I use my pyrex measuring cup  – whisk egg yolk with vinegar; add enough ice water to make 1/3 cup (75 mL). Sprinkle over flour mixture, stirring briskly with a fork until pastry holds together. Press into disc; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.  Remove from fridge and let it come to room temperature. Roll very thin, like 1/8″  – this prevents pastry folds in your in and you can get more filling in the tart – and cut with a 4″ glass, can or cookie cutter. My grandma used an empty tomato tin, I have a cookie cutter. $1.25 and lasts forever. This makes 12, place in a muffin tin or tart tin. 

Filling

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  •  1/2 cup corn syrup
  •  egg
  •  2 tablespoons butter softened
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  1 teaspoon vinegar
  •  1 pinch salt
  •  1/4 cup currants
  •  1/4 cup raisin
  •  1/4 cup chopped pecans
  •  1/4 cup shredded coconut

In a bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended. Pour the filling into a measuring cup with a spout or scoop with an ice cream scoop into the tart shells. Back at 450F for about 12 minutes. I always place my tarts on a cookie sheet that has been pre-heating in the oven. This ensures the pastry is fully cooked on the bottom because no one wants to eat raw pastry dough, ask Mary Berry or Martha Stewart.  

Send one to my dad and you can eat the rest. I recommend freezing them because they will taste like my childhood. Or eat them they way my kids do, straight from the oven because it tastes like their childhood. 

Comfort

Grey Cup Sunday came and went without any fanfare in my home. As a child, I spent the day at the movies with my mom and aunty taking us to the local theatre to watch Old Yeller, That Darn Cat or a multitude of other Disney movies at the Capilano Cinema. After the movie, we went back to my grandma’s house where the rest of the family was watching the game. Food was laid out on trays and plates for everyone to nibble. The adults had Black Lable or Lethbridge Pilsners in their hands while cheering for the Rough Riders or Eskimos. We would enter and would go to the closet to pull out the basket of lego or pencil crayons and build or colour until the half-time show where grandpa would call us for a roast dinner. The table was set up buffet style so everyone could get back to the game. I can still smell the spiciness of the roast and the aromatics of the beer bread. I loved his Sunday roasts. 

This was Grey Cup to me. Not a football game. I began watching football as I grew older and my team was in it every year. It was something that became expected, Edmonton would be in the game and would win…always. It was comforting. 

When I became an adult with children of my own, Grey Cup parties became less appealing. Edmonton was not in it as frequent. Managing children among non-child friendly events were stressful. Eventually, I decided to stay home with my kids and let the hubs decide if he wanted to go or not. Grey Cup Sunday became a day filled with Christmas baking. Both my children have commented to me how great it felt to have me in the kitchen with the cookie smells wafting from the kitchen and they were close by on the sofa reading or playing and sampling the food coming out of the kitchen. It was comforting. 

Now that my kids are adults and I can only tell you who is playing in the Grey Cup this year because it is in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa – FYI, and I can tell you it is still the day I do the bulk of the baking. I make less because I don’t go to Christmas parties so I don’t feel the need to bring things to people’s homes. I made a batch of shortbread for my brother. A few mincemeat and butter tarts because on Christmas Eve it is a nice treat. Ginger sparklers and chocolate chip were the main event this year because I only make what my children will eat.  I may still make honey popcorn because it is my favourite, but I eat fewer sweets now than I used to but it is a great treat to mail away to friends to let them know I am thinking of them. It is always comforting when you know you have someone far away who thinks about you. 

It was a long week and I pampered myself with comforting things. I pulled out a book that I only read when I need an escape. I first read this book during Christmas break in University back in the day. I read it again when I went back to work after my kids were older and I hated every second of my day and longed for an escape. I read it again when I was in the hospital after having surgery and needed to get my mind off the pain. This book came out again this week to help me relax and transport me away to England where I like to think I want to live until I am actually there and remember I love it here in Canada best. Books so comforting to me. 

My daughter gave me a box of bath bombs from Lush last Christmas. I love a good soak in a hot tub with a book. Wednesday, my day started at 5 in the dark in a parking lot setting up for a work event. It was dark but surprisingly mild for a November morning.  By Noon I was done and went home. I was so glad I saved that last bath bomb. It was a Dragon’s Egg. It hissed and sizzled and stained my body blue. The fragrant steam relaxed me and I read my book for four hours, only moving to add more hot water. It was so comforting for me! It was the perfect way to end my day.

I have a teapot that my little gram used. When I think of her I like to make a pot of Red Rose tea and sip away from the Royal Albert petit point patterned cup. Sipping from the set she used always made me feel grown up and sophisticated. It is a ritual I share with my kids and hopefully one day any grandchildren I might have. Tea Parties are a guilty pleasure of my childhood that I still indulge in today. I am happy to share this ritual with anyone who is interested. Cookies and tea are my favourite comfort food. 

One of my best pals lives in California. They celebrated their birthday this week and I called them to say ‘HEY! You are old now!’. I find long newsy phone chats comforting. My mom called this morning from England and we video chatted. I saw my dad and my daughter hopped on the call. We caught up on the weekly things and reminisced about older things and then we made plans for future things. My dad misses family rituals and I think I will recreate Christmas breakfast for him when he returns because it isn’t about the day, it’s about the event itself. Sweet and savoury with coffee and juice is how we always ate breakfast Christmas morning. We don’t know when that will be because they decide last minute when they will be home. But when they do arrive, Christmas breakfast will be waiting because it’s comforting for my dad. 

I think that is what relationships are all about. Finding comfort in our day to day and enjoying it. 

No gifts for you

Last week I talked about the shift and how I have changed because of my meditation practice. Something else has happened too. My need or desire for things has vanished. I lived a long time wanting things or needing money so I could acquire things. Part of that was being married to someone who controlled all the money that came and went from the bank account. I never had money and I never was allowed to spend it. I was dressed pretty much in rags and my mom took pity on me. She would buy me new clothes. I had to lie about them. If he wasn’t letting me buy clothes, no one else could either. It was just a long line of experiences I went through. In my new life when I had money, I wanted to buy things I never had before. I bought jewelry I liked, not jewelry that I was told to like or should like or was even allowed to have, I bought Tiffany. Eventually, money was spent on experiences. I travelled more and bought less crap. Now I hardly buy anything. My dishwasher burst into flames in the spring and I still haven’t replaced it. It doesn’t matter to me.

My point is, I feel different. I don’t want things. I just get what I need. I was told this would happen when you practiced meditation regularly. So now I know.

I also don’t want to buy things for other people. We aren’t exchanging Christmas gifts this year. I don’t want anyone to buy me anything because this feels different.

But…

I like doing things for people and will do that as gifts. My friend’s birthday is coming up and we were chatting about their new goal of cooking more and eating out less. So they were making an effort to learn to cook. Their favourite cookie is chocolate chip, so I was inspired to build a cookie kit with my tried and true cookie recipe and mail it to them.

I filled a cookie jar with 3 bags of premeasured ingredients ( flour mixture, sugar mixture and chocolate chips) and a small container of pure vanilla. I added a whisk and small spatula in case they didn’t have one. All they needed was a cookie sheet, butter and eggs.

From the photos they sent, it seems they turned out great. They had never made cookies from scratch and it was so much easier than they thought it would be. Now I think they will bake more often. Since I shared my recipe with them, I thought I would share it with you because Sharing is Caring.

This is a variation of the Nestle Toll House Cookie. I changed it to reflect the texture I like. It took me a year of experimenting with the ingredients but I settled on this one. It is my son’s favourite cookie of all time. Baking for him makes me happy. Mostly because he walks into the kitchen, sees the cookies and says “oooooooooooooooh” and immediately steals cookie dough and a baked cookie.

Edmonton Tourist’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature and salted, not that unsalted stuff. The flavour of the salt contrasts with the sweet and makes it AMAZING
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar – dark brown gives a deeper flavour but light brown will work!
  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of PURE vanilla extract ( the Barefoot Contessa is correct –  use the good stuff. The best you can buy or make your own using vodka and vanilla bean.)
  • large eggs
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet but go to town on your favourite – broken chocolate bars are great too)

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift or whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl ( I sift over the sugar mixture and only use one bowl) beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

(I use a cookie scoop that measures 1 tablespoon and parchment paper.)

BAKE 375° F a for 9 to 11 minutes (9 minutes for a soft chewie cookie, 11 minutes for a crisper texture I always bake for 9 minutes). Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes ( this is important! Leave the cookie too long on the hot sheet and it overcooks); remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Pro-Tip: Freeze dough in tablespoon portions and bake one or two for freshly baked cookies whenever you want them. My kids eat the cookie dough before they get into the oven so this is a wasted step for me. I will freeze baked cookies but they also go missing when I look for them.

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These don’t double well but they go great with milk. Best gift ever.