Tag Archives: cooking

Breaking Bread

Growing up, when I would arrive home from school my mom would often have a few loaves of bread on the cooling rack or be well into making a batch of dough. Fresh bread with butter and honey makes the best after-school snack imaginable. I used to love to watch and sometimes help my mom knead the dough. I loved to see her silver rings covered in flour, feel the cool, beautiful marble bread slab and rolling-pin, punch down the airy dough after the first rise and finally smell the loaves when they emerged from the oven. I loved the ritual that I was lucky enough to share with my mom.

I’ve made bread over the years, though sporadically; I had a bread machine for a while, but I found the process of making bread kind of boring when it just involved throwing everything into a machine and pushing a few buttons. I don’t even eat much bread (though I suspect this will change) so the most enjoyable part for me is the process. I knead bread when I’m feeling tense or anxious and sometimes I bake it just for the smell.

I recently purchased a bag of locally  grown and milled whole wheat flour from the Saanich farm stand where I buy my vegetables in the winter and early spring. This flour inspired me to finally start learning bread making earnestly. I want to make bread often enough that I will actually learn from my mistakes and perfect techniques and recipes. So far, my efforts have been consistently rewarding and the resulting loaves have definitely tasted better than the average store or even bakery purchased loaf but not as good as my favourite artisan bakery loaves (I’m looking at you Wildfire and Fol Epi). I’m working on it. Last week I made a recipe from Happiness is a Kitchen in Maine with honey, egg and almond milk; the week before, I tried this baguette recipe, which I am attempting again tonight.*

If you have a recipe or even a special trick or technique to kneading, rising, baking, cooling, etc that you would care to share, I would love to hear about it!

whole wheat honey loaf

whole wheat honey loaf

my cute little mishapen French baguettes

my cute little mishapen French baguettes

* My baguettes tonight turned out completely differently than my first attempt. Here is what I did differently: I kneaded the dough and put it through its first rise on Friday, then put the dough in the fridge for two days; I really improved my shaping technique, thanks to these videos, which made for a cleaner crease; I used unbleached flour from Millstream Natural Foods; I placed the baguettes by the fireplace for a second rise; I made tiny slashes instead of larger ones. I am really pleased with the results – can’t wait to test them with the homemade pasta sauce simmering on the stove!

baguettes: attempt number two

baguettes: attempt number two

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Reskilling a Generation

This post is dedicated to the wonderful and wise women in my life – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and friends – who have inspired me to nurture a creative life and ensure that their skills are passed on.

My Grandmother and my Neice

My Grandmother and my Neice

I grew up with a very creative and talented mother who grew every imaginable vegetable for our family of five, sewed our clothes when we were young, and made all kinds of our food from scratch, from loaves of bread to ice cream. As a child, I took these skills somewhat for granted, though I did often note while visiting friends that this type of lifestyle was somewhat exceptional. In recent years, I have lamented that I did not make more of an effort to learn these skills. While I spent a lot of time doing my own crafting on the floor while watching my mothers foot press down on the sewing machine’s pedal; hovering over (while, really below) her marble slab while she kneaded bread; and weeding upon request, I never really asked for lessons. I certainly picked up a lot through osmosis but I was never exactly an apprentice.

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La Belle, Belle Patate

Everyone has a food weakness; mine is potatoes. Potatoes make me weak in the knees, especially when they are fried in oil, and all the better if smothered in cheese and gravy. I first tasted authentic poutine when I visited Montreal for the first time at age 16. The tiny hole-in-the-wall franchise I visited, called “Frites Alors!” served dozens of varieties, from pink peppercorn to smoked meat. If you’ve ever been to Montreal,  you know that everything tastes better there, especially bagels and smoked meat, and definitely poutine. Real poutine is made from hand-cut fries deep fried in oil, fresh cheese curds and homemade beef or duck gravy. I’ve had both good and bad poutine since. I was very excited when a couple of Quebeqois guys opened La Belle Patate here in Esquimalt (reviews here & here), where they serve authentic “Smoke Meat” sandwiches, great poutine and spruce beer. My boyfriend is from Quebec and he says their hamburgers remind him of the ones he enjoyed as a kid. Fortunately (or not) La Belle Patate is located opposite the pool, so I am usually confronted by temptation right after I’ve happily swam a dozen or more lengths and don’t want to set myself back. Poutine is so delicious, but I find it usually isn’t worth the fat and calorie hangover and it takes a lot for me to part with my hard-earned money (A writer on a budget you say?!).

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Beet the System

On Saturday night, I got together with a few friends to join in a book club discussion and potlock. The book was How to be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson (and there will be a blog post to follow on our inspiring and open discussion) and the potluck included homemade dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. Our lovely host Jackie, inspired by the book, made delicious bread loaves to go with hearty winter soups and stews. The downstairs neighbours brought up pecan encrusted baked brie and cinnamon apples (after having just finished a post-holiday dairy-free cleanse, I truly savoured this treat). I decided to pioneer a new culinary invention, Beet and Greens Barley Risotto.

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