Community (And Pickled Chioggia Beets)

"Anti-social media."

That's what my husband says when you bring up Twitter, Facebook, Google + or anything that incites or requires interaction through a computer or smartphone. He is, at heart, a huge people person. His business requires near constant contact with people - all of which he prefers to do face-to-face or at least on the phone.

His argument is that people think they have friends that they make or maintain friendships through social media, but that it's just superficial. Indeed, he merely tolerates my stories of people I've never actually met. He's not discounting that, once you've met in person, a friendship can grow.

I'll admit, some days I completely agree with him. Then I get a note from someone who reads the blog that is full of more support than a friend I've had for years has given. Or someone I only know from on-line shows up at my door with food, when no one else does on a bad day. Or I am heavily impacted by a tragedy that rocked the world of someone else.

Always remember, there is a real person behind that on-line presence.

That means you can indeed form a relationship with someone you've never met. Will it be as close as the one you have with your best friend since high school? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will still be valuable and important for its own reasons.

On the days that I do see merit in what he says, I take a step forward into my community. Not my on-line world, but the one that is literally outside my door. I take a walk and chat with the neighbour. I grab a beer with another mom from the preschool. I call my brother or sister to just chat about our kids. Nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation.

Because of those conversations I have beet pickles today.

There we were, minding our own business, devouring my husband's hamburgers in the backyard. Our front door was wide open, the dog was probably sound asleep, and the kids were already performing after dinner hula hoop tricks. Suddenly the back door opens and one of our neighbours walks through. In her hands was a grocery bag full of chioggia beets and a big bowl of apricots.

With family in warmer climates and friends coming through she was left with a pile of produce from her folks' backyard. Too much for her and her husband, she brought them over to share. And she knows I would happily accept because we've actually talked before. We live on a street where most of us make an effort to know each other. So she knew I would tackle the colourful produce with gusto and none would go to waste. (There is an apricot crisp in the oven for another neighbour who just had a baby.)

This is my community. Embrace the friends you have when they need it, whether with a quiet note or the full force of your arms. Embrace the shared journeys. Embrace the beets they bring to your backyard.

This was my first time making beet pickles. Inspired by the Pickling Party, hosted by Shauna Ahern from Gluten-Free Girl, and my neighbour. The recipe is a mish mash of ideas from memory, Aimee from Simple Bites, and the Harrow Fair Cookbook. Even my cooking is an amalgamation of my many communities!

Pickled Chioggia Beets
Makes 3 500 ml jars

2 1/2 pounds scrubbed beets, tops and stems removed
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp pickling salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic
rosemary (optional)

1. Boil the beets in a large pot of water for 25 minutes. Make sure a fork will go through the largest beets easily. Drain and immediately place in a sink or bowlful of cold water. Once cooled use your hands and, if necessary, a knife, to trim the skin from the beets. Slice and set aside in a clean bowl.
2. While the beets are cooking clean and process 3 jars and the screw lids in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes. Keep hot in the water while you clean and slice the cooked beets.
3. While you prep the beets combine the vinegars, water, sugar, salt, and seeds in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and keep hot, hot until ready to use.
4. Quickly drain your sterilized jars. Keep the water boiling.
5. While they are still hot add a garlic clove to the bottom of each jar, then fill with beets. Stop filling 1/2'' from the top. Carefully pour in the pickling liquid, leaving at least a 1/4'' from the top of the jar of space. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth and screw on the lid.
6. Process for 20 minutes in a boiling water canner. Do not start timing until the water comes to a boil after you add your jars.

(Why didn't the skeleton cross the road? Because he had no guts!)
(Said skeleton keeping the almost pickles company.)

Asparagus Pico de Gallo

My Mom used to live in Texas. That isn't useful information to anyone, really. It does, however, explain how I came to know of Pico de Gallo. Until I went and spent my last university spring break with her in South Texas I thought that what you scooped up with nacho chips was salsa. In fact, at that point in time nachos were only served in bars, drenched in cheese, olives, and green onions with a side of insipid salsa and sour cream.

Oh how South Texas showed me the way.

First off, nachos are indeed what they serve in the bar. Fried tortillas are what nachos pretend to be. The tortillas that didn't get eaten that morning get cut into triangles and fried for snacks. Pico de Gallo is a bowl of finely chopped and uncooked tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, garlic, and lime. Pico de Gallo is always served with those fried tortillas. Sit on the beach in South Texas where you can order any beer and it will come with fried tortillas and Pico de Gallo. It is about the most perfect bar food, beach or not.

I'm nowhere near a sandy beach and I'm pretty sure any Texan would shoot me for this addition, but here you go: Asparagus Pico de Gallo. I was craving the spice, I had the fried tortillas, and I was staring at a large bunch of asparagus in the fridge. All that was left was the beer. And, of course, the beach.

Asparagus Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 cups

10 stalks asparagus (choose the skinny ones)
2 plum tomatoes
1/4 medium red onion
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
1/2 lime
1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Steam the asparagus for 1 minute, if you prefer not to eat it raw.
2. Finely chop the asparagus and tomatoes into 1/2 dice or smaller. Keep the tips of the asparagus intact. Finely chop the onion, garlic, and pepper. Toss them all together in a bowl.
3. Juice the lime and add the juice to the vegetables. Add cilantro if you're using. Stir once more and serve.

Taste Adventure - Coconut Jam and Pandan

Every book in our house is read a minimum of 4 times an hour.  Each day it might be a different rotation of books, if I am fortunate enough to sneak in a repertoire, but each book will be read ad infinitum.  Generally this causes intense boredom on the part of us parents, sometimes to the point of irritation.  There is one book, however, that doesn't drive me completely insane to read: Munch by Emma McCann.

In this story of a toast and jam loving monster named Munch fighting off an enormous monster with an enormous appetite the strangest jams are highlighted as favourites of Munch: coconut, broccoli, and banana jam. While I had no interest in broccoli or banana jam, I was always intensely curious about the thought of coconut jam. So my Monster and I googled it one day only to discover what apparently most of South East Asia has already known.  Coconut jam, more generally known as Kaya is a little bit of tropical heaven in a jar.

This morning I managed a quick escape from our self-imposed quarantine (still not sure if the flu is really here or not) for a trip to the Loriz Bakery, a Phillipino bakery and convenience store not to far from our house to pick up pandan.  Also known by the horribly bad name of screw pine leaves, pandan is common on Thai, Malaysian, and Phillipino cuisine.  Honestly, to me it smelled like a type of grass.  Tasted bland too.  But combined with coconut it tasted And smelled like our house was transported into somewhere far more tropical than Calgary for an hour. Remind me to get Thai of dinner tomorrow.

I blitzed my screw pine leaves with a bit of water and strained the mess.  Then I set to carmelizing sugar, beating eggs, and cooking it all together with some thick coconut milk.  It turns out coconut jam is more like a custard.  But damn, it is good.

Sadly, The Monster refused to try it and Smilosaurus did not like it at all.  I am blaming it all on the sickness and not on the odd colour that this ends up.  Putting green goop on your toast is not appetizing to the eyes, but to the nose and tongue it was fantastic!  Seriously, it was so good. And one of the best things is that I have A LOT more pandan leaves in the freezer and you can always get coconut milk. Even though the recipe only makes about 3 jars of jam you can make it at any time of the year.

In my research I discovered recipes with or without the pandan  I decided to go for the pandan to make it a bit more authentic.  A lot of the recipes had up to 10 eggs too.  It seemed like it would be a bit too eggy so I found another recipe and adapted it because my can of coconut milk was bigger than the one in the original. It worked for me, it definitely worked for me.

Coconut Jam
Adapted from Almost Bourdain
(makes 3 250 ml jars)

5 pandan leaves
250 grams sugar
1 can coconut milk (not light) or cream
5 eggs, beaten well

1. Blitz the pandan leaves with 1/4 cup of water.  Push the liquid through a sieve and measure 50 ml.
2. Melt sugar and pandan juice in a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat until carmelized.  it will be green, so don't let it go much more than a couple of minutes once the sugar is melted.
3. Remove from heat, stir in the coconut milk and eggs.
4. Return to heat and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and cooked, approximately 20-25 minutes.
5. Place in sterilized jars and seal.  Alternatively, let cool and serve that day. (I did not process my jars, but they did seal.)

Make sure to visit Under the High Chair for her virtual jam swap, there are going to be some fantastic submissions!