Backseat Adventure - Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Down a street lined with offices, carpet stores, and body shops you can find, arguably, the best bakery in Calgary. It isn't so large that the smell of fresh bread comes through your air conditioning. But the line of cars and bikes outside the nondescript entrance on a Saturday morning, opposite the line of smashed up cars, is your giveaway that you've arrived.

Then you step in the door. It all seems so sterile and clinical because you walk right into the kitchen. There are bags of flour, sometimes loaves being kneaded, large ovens, and racks of trays. Then you see Aviv and his partner. The warmth emanates from them before they've even smiled a greeting. Before you've finished saying hello a hunk of bread, buttered and salted, is placed in your hand. And before you've finished that bread you're already calculating just how much of the other goodies you can fit in the paltry one shopping bag you brought.

If you're lucky you arrived at the bakery location early enough to grab a danish, cinnamon bun, and a cheese stick. Or maybe a scone is more your speed. Or, if you are my family, all of the above, plus a brioche, some bread, and a macaron from M for Macarons (They share the commercial kitchen space).

If you're really lucky, and you are my husband, and you ask nicely for raspberries there will be danishes covered with a crabapple and maple syrup cream topped with raspberries waiting for you when you arrive. And you will buy 4 of them.

Taking a weekend trip to see Aviv has become such a family ritual for us that it is the first thing the Evil Genius asks about once her Saturday morning cartoons are on. Sadly, for her and us, she does not sleep in that much, so we have a few hours to wait until the 10 am opening. My kind of bakery - it's not open ridiculously early. But don't wait too late or you might find yourself fighting over the last baguette and that's it. Sidewalk Citizen Bakery is only open 10-2/3 on Friday and Saturdays.

If you can't make the weekend trip to the bakery there are still options for gathering the incredible goods. In fact, you can find their stuff all over town! I first met Aviv when he started out delivering bread to offices off the back of his bike. My office all became addicted to his bread and I've been following him since. He still does office deliveries. He's also got a pop-up cargo cart that sets up downtown (check out his Twitter stream for times and locations) as well as selling at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Market on Wednesdays in season. For a full list of locations that sell his amazing products check out his site.
We are still making the journey as a family to the bakery. We love the chance for a visit, to buy more bread that one should eat in a day, a journey that takes us away from the manufactured markets and yuppie food we're used to finding. This is honest food, served by enthusiastic and kind people. It is kneaded and baked with love, full of the best things that can be found around Calgary (from Silk Road spices to crab apples from down the street). And damn, it's all so good.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
5524-1A Street SW

One Year

I can usually hear the footsteps the second the feet hit the ground. A tiny body sliding out of her giant bed, stepping around the dog sleeping on the floor, blankets and Tiger in hand. She sometimes opens the blinds, the creak of the roller a dead giveaway, just to make sure it's morning. Then she stomps down the hall. It sounds like stomping, even though she barely weighs 30 pounds. Her hand grasps the knob on the door to my room. A short turn and she peeks in. If she sees me awake she quickly pops in the room, slams the door behind her, props her crap on the bed, and climbs in.

She usually doesn't say a word. Not until she is settled and snuggled beside me. Her face is glowing with a morning smile and she practically purrs with delight. We lay like that for a what is probably only seconds. Then she pops her head up.

"Mama, can we bake today?"


One year ago I marked my first day as a stay at home parent. My husband left for work, to return more or less almost 4 months later. I was thrust into the role of full-time parent with no regular paycheque. It was an initiation, almost hazing, that no college student would ever survive. 24 hours a day, alone, with my kids.

Being home with my kids was never a reality I imagined. I was going to either save the world or make a lot of money working hard. For a while I thought I could combine the two. Then these little creatures emerged, growing with me, and encouraging a sense of self I never knew was there. Our family changed and the needs of the whole outweighed my desire to save the world. Instead I needed to work on just saving us.

So, here I am. A year in. Much calmer now - most days - and still working on keeping us all sane. I've had to revise my own expectations about what can be achieved by the family and by me, in our time. I've also blown apart my own thoughts about the pleasure this would bring me and the peace it gives my husband. I still wonder what the hell I'm doing and I don't love it every day. But I like it. A lot.

In this past year I've developed a whole new relationship with the girls, worked to define this new thing with my husband, and searched for a balance to my own desires and goals. It's been HARD. And that's not counting the disappointments, struggles, grief, and disorder that the last year also brought.

And I wouldn't change a thing. As hard as this life is, it is better. Much, much better.


Peach pie, lemon cupcakes, muffins, scones, cookies, bread... We're baking it all. Practically something new every day.

The Monster isn't as thrilled with being in the kitchen as she used to be. If there is the prospect of chocolate she will join us. Otherwise, The Evil Genius pulls up her bright orange chair, rifles through the cupboard for her apron, and says to me, "So, what should we bake today, Chef?"

With the Monster starting Kindergarten this morning I see even more baking in my future. That kid will have the best snacks in her heart covered backpack. Full of love and most likely chocolate.

Nectarine, White Chocolate and Cardamom Scones
(adapted from the basic English Cream Scone recipe in the original Five Roses Flour cookbook)
Makes 16-18 kid-size scones

1 nectarine, chopped into 1/2'' chunks
3 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped
2 cups flour (you can mix whole wheat with regular, but don't go 100% whole wheat)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 cup cold butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a silicon mat.

Make sure your nectarine and white chocolate are chopped. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour. Frankly, we use our hands. 3 years olds are very, very good at this. You could also use a pastry cutter. Stir in the nectarine and white chocolate

Reserve 1 tbsp of egg whites in a small bowl, then beat the eggs with the cream. Add to the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough will be wet and sticky. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto your prepared baking sheet. Leave 1'' between scones.

Brush the tops with reserved egg white and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 10-13 minutes until lightly golden.


When my father-in-law died seven years ago and we used a lot of humor to cope with our grief we would joke that we could say, "My Dad just died," and get what we wanted in any negotiation or to get out of something we didn't want to do. My girls are already picking up on this and when they cry because I won't let them have another Mini Egg they scream, "I'm just sad because Dido died." I can't help but laugh, then still refuse to give them another chocolate. I need to accept their own process of grieving and settling back home, but that includes losing the bad diet of our time away. Besides, Mama needs those Mini Eggs.

My Dad died and we buried him last week. After nearly 2 months of not being at home, of daily trips to the hospital, of more candy that I thought possible, of captured meals, of the chaos of 6 little cousins getting together more than they ever have before, of the comfort of cookie it is time to get back to a routine.

There is a lot to be said for routine and kids.

To be honest, though, I used to scoff at the parenting advice that practically shouted out the value of ROUTINE! for kids. Most kids are resilient and adaptable. Not all, but most. And I certainly didn't want to become a slave to my kids routine. Wake. Eat. Play. Sleep. Repeat.

Right now, though, we're craving routine.

We watch PBS Kids while we eat our bread with butter and honey, as we do every single morning. (Okay, so they did this at my parents' place every morning too.) Now we can stay in our pajamas longer. We can soak in the sun streaming through the windows. We can pet our dogs. We can peek out the front window and spy on the neighbours. We are home.

So long as there is bread, butter, and honey we can eat. We can be boring and routine.

Nutella is Evil

Don't let that fake mom on the commercial fool you - Nutella is evil.

I don't care if you tell me there is a cup of skim milk in an entire jar. Turns out I'm not spreading an entire jar on toast. In reality I'm eating it by the spoonful and keeping the children from even knowing Nutella exists.

Let me make it clear that I've got nothing against treats for my kids. We bake at least once a week, they love their honey sticks, and sugar is not a bad word in this house. But Nutella is like crack. Highly addictive and good for giving you a rush. That rush does not belong on toast - that sounds disgusting - because no kid needs to get used to the idea of a chocolate filling for breakfast.

We are considered strict parents among our family and friends. I've got no problem saying no when my kids ask for something repeatedly. But if they knew Nutella existed a whole new world of begging would emerge. Seeing as I don't have the will power to keep a teaspoon out of the jar then I expect a distinct challenge in the same for my children. They also know how to climb on the counters. Keeping Nutella in the house is simply too dangerous.
Then again, I might ask my husband to hide a jar just so I can make these brownies periodically. Rich and fudgy and the recipe makes the perfect amount to satisfy the craving without leaving you with a pound of baking laying around.

That Abby Dodge is a genius when it comes to the easy dessert. She gave me the permission to share this recipe to you. You may have seen it a million times over already since Desserts 4 Today came out. Maybe not. Either way, you should dig out your own jar of Nutella and scrape out what you've managed to leave behind after your midnight snack.

Nutella Brownies
Makes 12 mini brownies

1/2 cup Nutella
1 egg
5 tbsp flour
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a mini muffin tin with 12 papers or liners. (Or spray with non-stick spray.)
2. Whisk the Nutella and egg together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the flour until smooth.
3. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Top with chopped nuts.
4. Bake for 11-12 minutes. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool completely.

A Run-In, With Eggs

Every now and then you have one of those eerie, weird run-ins with your past. The kind that remind you of just how far you've come in life and how happy you are with that journey. And sometimes you just run into a friend's ex girlfriend.

Sunday morning I gave the girls their bread with butter and honey. That wasn't going to cut it for me. I was also facing a surfeit of eggs. Instead of my usual scrambled eggs with salsa I pulled out a memory from our long ago partying days. We still lived in Edmonton and would drive down to Calgary on a regular basis to go out drinking with friends. For a while there we would stay at the house of our friend's girlfriend. One morning she made us these scrambled eggs.

They were the best scrambled eggs ever.

Normally I shun from such platitudes that involve the expression best ever. More than once I've been disappointed. But I've been more frequently disappointed with bad scrambled eggs.

A's technique was also very simple and perfect for lazy, hungover people. Now, as I'm older and wholly unable to manage a hangover, it is still perfect. Perfect for lazy mornings while the girls sit, mesmerized by Cat in the Hat, and I sip tea. Perfect for long brunches with friends or little girls.

Eggs and butter on low heat. Stir a lot. Cook very slowly. Eat the creamiest scrambled eggs ever.

Now that I'm kind of getting the hang of the single parenting thing I can, without too much stress, take two highly energetic and dramatic girls to the farmers' market by myself. This week we faced our usual challenges of impatience and spilled drinks. But we also embraced the energy of the bouncy castle, meeting an Olympian, loading up on Honeycrisp apples and brussels sprouts, and dancing like maniacs to the buskers. There my kids were, one moving her hips like a 4 year old shouldn't and the other nuzzled into me because it was past naptime, when A walks by.

The same A that showed me how to make those scrambled eggs. We haven't seen each other in at least 5 years. The relationship with our friend long since ended and our two kids later, it was a somewhat shocking reunion. We chatted and shared a quick story or two. I found myself only mildly freaked out by seeing my history and my past all together there. Mostly I found that I was proud of where I was - a mom with a hardworking husband and my crazy kids. Pleased that I wasn't waking up hungover in a sort of stranger's townhouse anymore, but by two kids bounding in to cry about bad dreams and lost blankies and could I please turn on their shows?

I never told her that I'd made her eggs just that morning.

The Maybe Almost Best Scrambled Eggs Ever
Serves how ever many you want, just multiply the recipe accordingly. Your cooking time will increase with more eggs and you may want to use a pot accordingly sized to the eggs you use.

1 tbsp butter
3 eggs
salt and pepper

1. In a small saucepan on low heat melt the butter. As soon as it is melted crack in your eggs. Stir well with a fork to beat the eggs well.
2. Cook over low heat, stirring quite frequently with the fork. Total cook time may take anywhere from 20-30 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Optional - top with sauteed mushrooms, greens, or slow roasted tomatoes, if desired. Just please don't top with ketchup.

Peel Me a Grape

There are times in the kitchen where experimentation fails in a colossal way (note to self: stay away from the curry) and other times where a little 'why not?' turns into 'why have I never?' With a pile of Coronation grapes being snubbed by The Monster I needed that why not.

Why not put grapes in muffins? We put raspberries, peaches, apples, and even pineapple in muffins, so why not grapes? You really don't see it much though. And I'm not sure why.

Hopefully, after you see these muffins you will change your mind. There was some Twitter chatter about this a day after I made the muffins, with Jennie going all out to seed her Concord grapes.  I am far too lazy for that, so thank goodness the Coronation grapes are seedless. 

The base for this recipe is my basic muffin recipe (find it here) with some grapes and roasted, skinned, and chopped hazelnuts added in. With the the girls I have much better luck with muffins when I bake the mini kind. Mama doesn't like that because I eat a lot more that way! This recipe will make 12 regular sized muffins or 24 mini muffins.

Grape and Hazelnut Muffins

1 cup hazelnuts
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup small grapes (I used Coronation)
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray or grease with butter.
2. Roast the hazelnuts (unless already roasted) in the oven on a cookie sheet.  Roast for 10-15 minutes, giving the pan a shake every now and then. Be careful not to burn them. Pour them into a clean kitchen towel. Wrap it up loosely and rub the nuts with the towel. The skins should come off easily. Don't worry if not every bit of skin comes off. Aim for most of it. Le the hazelnuts cool while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
3. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Combine the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla in another bowl.
4. Chop the hazelnuts coarsely, on the smaller side, but don't worry about any larger chunks.
5. Toss the chopped hazelnuts and grapes with the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
6. Scoop into prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes, until tops are rounded and golden.

In My Dreams

When I started blogging I had only in mind a medium in which to practice writing, something I hadn't done regularly since I was a teenager. My on-line presence was a chance to share my creativity, getting it out there in the hopes that someone else was inspired. 

About a year ago, however, things changed for me. Writing, creating, and thinking about those things became a compulsion. I attended the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop last September. And while I was blown away by the food and highly entertained by the company, the experience gave me a clarity and focus to my future. I was driven to find a way to change my life to make this my work, not designing energy efficiency programs. 

Today marks the first day of that life full-time. Over the past 8 months I've been building up a freelance writing base. Have you seen me at What's Up Family yet? Or at Simple Bites?  What about Babble? But it is time to do more, to be more. I've quit my job and my networking chops are already being tested. I will now call myself a freelance writer.

But not only this, I also be home with my girls. You could call me a work at home mom. (In all honesty, I hate that term.) In between bed time and morning, and during the naps that still occur you will find me writing, creating. When my girls are awake you will find us in the kitchen together, or around the table creating, reading, chatting, living.

To celebrate this momentous morning I turned to another of my dreams. Quite literally, this was a dream.  The more I've been on line the more I've found myself dreaming of people I've never met. It seems I'm some sort of unconscious stalker. The last dream I had involved Kim, her in-my-dreams-only rooftop garden in NYC, and these peach basil pancakes.

It seemed only fitting that I pull out everything from my dreams on a day when my dreams are becoming a living reality.

Peach Basil Pancakes
Makes 12 small/medium pancakes

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn flour or light corn meal
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped basil
1 peach, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup butter
1 egg

1. Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Toss the basil and peaches in with the dry ingredients.
2. Stir together the wet ingredients. Mix the wet into the dry. Stir until just combined.  Let rest while your griddle or frying pan heats up on medium/low heat.
3. Pour the batter into the griddle 1/3 cup at a time. Cook until the bubbles on the surface form and start popping.  Flip and cook on the other side for another minute or so.
4. Serve with cherries or syrup of choice.

No line-ups

It's Stampede Week in Calgary. That means the locals and tourists alike are dressed in their ugliest Western wear and worn once a year cowboy boots. If you are under the drinking age you've eaten too much sugar. If you are close to or over the drinking age you've likely drank far too much. Maybe you actually went to the Rodeo or the Chuckwagon Races. Maybe. But most definitely you've eaten pancakes at some point this week.

A long standing Stampede tradition  is the pancake breakfast. Nearly every church, business, mall, and charity seems to have a pancake breakfast during the 10 days of Stampede. You could literally eat your way across the city in carbs. You might be lucky and get a strip of bacon embedded in your pancake, but no syrup. Or you might get fantastic Indian food on the side. But 99% of the time you are going to get a flat, insipid pancake. And only after standing in line being jostled by the impatient and hungover.

It is my personal mission to keep the girls from knowing Stampede even exists for as long as possible. This means I can avoid early mornings to beat the crowds at the Parade, the expense and crowds of the midway, the crowds of people dressed badly, and the inevitable questions about why that girl has no shirt on and can I take mine off too?

Call me a spoil sport. Tell me I have bad civic pride (I wasn't raised here, I'm allowed to judge - I'm from Edmonton after all). Heck, you can even call me a mean mom. I'll take it. And then I will turn around and make my girls pancakes at home - with real maple syrup and no crowds.

There is a mystique around pancakes. It is quite easy to make them well, yet there is a proliferation of bad pancakes in the world. This is the basic recipe, the one you make for dinner when you have no energy, the one you make for a weekday breakfast, the one you dress up with blueberries and rainbow sprinkles for Sunday brunch. You can easily swap out half the flour with whole wheat, change the sugar to brown, and use whatever kind of milk you have on hand. They will be golden and fluffy every time.

Easiest Pancakes Ever

Makes 1 dozen medium sized pancakes

1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 heaping tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

1. Mix together dry ingredients.
2. Mix together melted butter with milk and egg. Add to dry ingredients and whisk well. Let it sit while you heat up your frying pan.
3. Heat frying pan on medium-low heat. You should be able to hold your hand over the pan for at least 5 seconds without it being too hot. Spray the pan with oil, non-stick spray, or melt some butter. 
4. Spoon batter into hot pan into desired pancake size. Then leave them alone until the bubbles that form on the surface start to pop. Flip them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
5. Serve with soft butter and maple syrup. Or jam, or fruit, or any syrup of choice.

The Sacrifices Made

My house has smelled like a chai latte for the last two nights. I go to sleep with ginger and cardamom wafting through our tiny, crowded house. Not a bad smell to fall asleep to when your bed has been empty for two weeks.

Hubby is arriving home just in time for the Food Blogger Bake Sale as part of the Market Collective this Saturday. A huge line-up of Calgary and area based food bloggers are uniting to sell their donated treats all in support of Calgary Meals on Wheels.

To be perfectly honest, I had no idea there were this many local bloggers! And this isn't even a complete list. There will be a range of delicious treats. Vegan treats, gluten free treats, delicious treats, and plain old decadent treats. A giant thank-you to Vincci at Ceci N'est pas un Food Blog for wrangling us.

This bake sale is why my house smells so yummy. My contribution is my Chai Spiced Granola (With Pistachios and Almonds). If you have the Blog Aid:Haiti book you've seen it. Vincci has made it, as has Aimee. So, if you want to try it, you could make it yourself. Or, you could come down to the Market Collective (148-10th Street NW - the old Ant Hill Fabrics building) and pick up a bag. And if you come first thing on Saturday morning I'll be there too.

Chai Spiced Granola (With Pistachios and Almonds)
Makes 10 cups

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
5 cups rolled oat flakes
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup sesame seeds, flax seeds, or quinoa

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Prepare two large cookie sheets with parchment paper or non-stick spray.
2. Mix together the honey, sugar, water, oil, and spices in a small saucepan. Heat  until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. It's okay if it comes to a boil, but don't leave it there.
3. Stir together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry.  Mix together well. Split between the two cookiesheets.
4. Bake at 300 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 degrees F and rotate pans. Bake another 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave to cool completely.
5. Store in an airtight container.

Babka is a Family Affair

It's only fitting that I felt compelled to make Babka on the day of the bake sale at my parents' church. They would have sold Babka by the hundreds there. Not surprising since every single recipe I had seemed to make enough to feed an entire Ukrainian village. 10 eggs! 3 packages of yeast! 10 cups of flour! Oi vey.

So I did what any good Ukrainian would do. I called my mom. Unfortunately, she was at that bakesale, but my dad totally came through for me. He referred me to another cookbook in the family collection, where we found a recipe that could easily be adapted for a normal family size. And he said it looked a lot like the Babka that he was familiar with.

Did I mention that I've never made Babka before?

Traditionally served at Easter, and part of the required items in the Easter basket to be blessed at church, Babka is a sweet, eggy bread. Our family likes our studded with raisins or currants. A lot of descriptions  online call it something between a cake and a bread. Not so in my world. I always think of Babka as a sweet, rich bread, baked tall and best with creamy butter. Keep your cinnamon and chocolate and your Jerry Seinfeld, Babka is for spring, with a touch of citrus.

So the girls and I gathered our ingredients, put on our aprons, and set about to make a big giant mess. The good thing about making Babka is that it needs a lot of eggs, perfect for little hands. And what gorgeous little hands. I adore watching my girls' attack dough in their attempts to knead it. The Monster even has the push - turn - fold technique down now. And so long as we can keep Smilosaurus from snitching bits of raw dough we end up with a nice piece set to rise. And rise. And rise again. Be forewarned, from start to finish this is a full day affair.

This recipe starts out quite wet, what with all those eggs, milk, and a juiced orange. You will have to play with the flour, adding as much as necessary.  Just go slow, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Your dough is ready when it is smooth, aside from the raisins, no longer sticky, and relaxes a little, just a little, when you stop kneading.

Babka is traditionally made into a tall, round loaf. You do this by baking it in cleaned out cleaned tin cans. You could bake it in a loaf pan, but that doesn't seem quite as fun, or traditional. If, like me, you don't have a lot of cans in your house you can ask a neighbour. Failing that, make plans to make sauce later and use the cans from some tinned tomatoes. Just make sure they are washed well. Then buttered quite well. If you are worried about the bread releasing from the can, line it with a strip of parchment paper, and more butter. 

And when you are all done, make sure you call your parents to share your success. Then butter some slices for the next generation and enjoy with tea. Church blessings optional.

Ukrainian Babka
Makes 5 large tin size loaves, more or less depending on the size of container

1 tsp  plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla
4-5 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 egg, beaten

1. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
2. Soak raisins in warm water. Drain well.
3. Beat eggs and yolks until light - 4 minutes with stand mixer, about 8 minutes by hand. Stir in remaining sugar and beat 30 seconds more. Add melted butter, milk, salt, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients to the 4 cups flour in a large bowl. Mix together well.  Add flour, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until you get a wet dough. 
5. Turn out onto a floured countertop and knead.  Add flour in small bits until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 4 minutes or so. In two batches knead the drained raisins into the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, buttered bowl, rub a bit more butter on the dough and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise.
6. Let rise until double in size.  Punch down and let rise again.
7. Butter cleaned tins, dish, or pans. If preferred, line with a strip of parchment paper, then butter that as well. Form dough into balls that will fill container of choice to 1/3. Place in container and let rise again.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the babka with beaten egg.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your container. It should be nicely browned and have a hollow sound when you tap it.

Texas Sunshine

I once smuggled a 10 pound bag of grapefruits on a trip from Brownsville, Texas to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Actually, I'm not sure smuggled is the right word considering that there is no easy way to tuck in grapefruits around your body. I could have gone for the fake pregnancy, but that would have been one lumpy baby. In the end I got through customs without any trouble. The officer probably smelled the citrus on the university student (I also had key limes) and was just relieved it wasn't pot.

How could I not bring them back with me? I'd just spent a week with my mom in Texas. She was living and working there courtesy of the 1990s health care cuts in Alberta. I spent Reading Week there, soaking up some sun, food, mom love, and absorbing the mystery of South Texas culture. Seriously, that is an odd place. Full of Winter Texans on golf and shopping trips, Mexicans coming across the border to have American babies, and every manner of poverty and riches on the same street.

I'd happily eaten grapefruits growing up in cold Canada, a winter staple in our house. But something about buying them from a roadside stand, still warm from the sun ,elevated them to smuggle-worthy status.

Sadly, we aren't in Texas this February. But with the quality of organic produce available in some stores, and the morning light streaming through the white dining room curtains I can fool myself into believing that this half circle of sunshine is actually still warm from the Texas sun. Sort of.

Besides, the fact that my mom used to live in Texas makes it local, right? How about the direct flight between here and Houston? Oh whatever. It's Canada in the winter and if I want a grapefruit I'm going to eat it.

Actually, we usually go through about 3 in the morning because the girls insist on climbing up next to me and sharing the segments as I cut them out of the fruit. I don't mind sharing. And one day I'll take them South to pick the fruit themselves, once my mom moves back. But I'm keeping them away from the crazy people who talk about buying handguns while they tan their feet.

Just Friday

If you've seen my mojo can you please give it back?

Maybe it was the turn in weather from our snippet of fall to pretty much winter.  Generally I would enjoy that, but this has just been a week to get me down.  The one thing keeping me going is the thought of Thanksgiving this weekend. Hands down, it is my favourite holiday. And I had grand plans for sharing recipes all week for some lovely dishes. Instead, I'm going to send you off to this site for breakfast. One day I will get the chance to really enjoy that first cup of hot tea and some hand pies in quiet contemplation of the last issue of Gourmet.  For now I'll scarf the pies, burn my tongue on the tea, and read a paragraph or two in the midst of screaming, Super Why, and dirty bums.

More Confessions

The very nature of a blog is part confessional.  It's time for me to 'fess up.  I've never been able to make Rice Krispie Squares.   Yup, the laziest, kid friendly treat and I've never been able to make them properly.   If you want rocks filled with rice cereal then I'm your girl.  That is, until last week.  

My mom loves to make them for the grandkids and thus The Monster was asking for them.  It hurt a little, but only a little, to buy the marshmallows and boxed cereal.  I try to limit the processed food in the house, but I have to stop beating myself up for a few little treats. Besides, it is great dessert time fun for us to throw mini marshmallows across the table in an attempt to score one in a waiting, open mouth. 

And ultimately, score one for this mom - I've finally mastered the Rice Krispie square.  My mom told me to add a bit more marshmallows than the recipe calls for and to take it off the heat as soon as those fluffy bits of corn syrup melt.  It worked.  Squares that stayed together but weren't like rocks.  Oh, and The Monster was happy.  So happy.  Such simple pleasures.

I'm all for treats and baking. I have no qualms with them having too much sugar, they actually self-regulate pretty well.  But I didn't want the cereal hanging around, constantly teasing her and inviting the ceaseless begging of a nearly three-year old.

Then I recalled a recipe that I saw from my favourite bow-tie wearing baldy, Christopher Kimball. Have I mentioned my geek crush on him before?  I'm sure I have.  He's so damn nerdy and cute. I digress.  I remembered America's Test Kitchen doing a bit on perfect, crispy waffles. Guess what the secret ingredient was?  Hell yeah, Rice Krispies!  A perfect use for the cereal.

The recipe uses cornstarch to help lighten the batter.  Whipping the egg whites separately is not a new notion in waffle recipes, but the combination of the cornstarch, whipped whites, and cereal makes a very light batter.  The cereal essentially melts, leaving pockets of crispy throughout the cooked waffle.  I've changed the recipe a bit, adding some whole wheat flour to make myself feel better.  And I prefer brown sugar for the extra flavour, but it works perfectly well with white sugar too. 

We've now made the waffles a few times.  After so many attempts to find a light waffle that doesn't turn into a brick the second it comes out of the waffle iron I've finally found one. Seriously, these are crispy, light, and perfect for toaster leftovers.  I can make a batch on Sunday morning and the girls have a few breakfasts during the week. This is a great week for mom - dinnertime laughs, afternoon treats, and pre-made breakfasts.  And all from a box of cereal.

Perfect Waffles
(Adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

1 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup Rice Krispie cereal
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup canola oil

1.  Preheat a waffle iron.
2.  Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Whisk the egg yolks, milk, oil, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.
3.  Beat the egg whites with a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until just combined.  Fold in the whites gently.  Do not overmix.
4. Cook according the instructions with your waffle maker.

Christmas Morning

Certain traditions cannot be shelved in the name of vacation. Sadly, we didn't chop down a tree this year. Hands down, tree chopping is my favourite part of the year. Coming in a very close second is the Christmas Tree Bun.

Originating in Hubby's family (thanks Susan) the Christmas Tree Bun is a sweet bread dough, formed into this cute tree. Drizzled with icing and rainbow sprinkles it serves as a carrier for the all important honey butter. Mimosas, sausage, and bacon on the side.

On the now rare occasions where the A clan gets together for Christmas morning, er... noon hour, we have to sit through the gift-opening to get to the Tree Bun. After the kids have torn through their gifts and we adults opened our present from Susan we have to wait for Susan to finish opening all the presents her friends and family send her. We aren't very patient with her, to be honest, as she stops her opening to chat and watch the kids. Yes, they are cute and the excitement is contagious, but we need her to finish in order to eat. And eat is what we want to do.

When Hubby and I spent our first Christmas alone in the new city - five years ago! - the only thing he asked for was Christmas Tree Bun. We sat in our dining room, devouring bread with honey butter and downing mimosas. I think people got a few tipsy phone calls that morning. Ah, the days before kids. The tradition carries on, minus all the champagne.

I would share the recipe, but I don't think I am allowed - until my daughters are married off and then, only to their partners. But pick your favourite soft or sweet bread recipe and form it into buns to rise. Bake together and enjoy.

This year we are off to Mexico for two weeks, with my family. While I can make no promises regarding rainbow sprinkles I do intend to bake on Christmas morning, 30 degree C weather be damned!

Have a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. We'll see you in a few weeks.

Despair is Setting In

My lunch just consisted of tea and cookies. Just that, nothing else.

As happy as I am about the cookies, however, there is a little bit of sadness in our house today. We're out of maple syrup. Between the cookies and the baked beans I made for dinner - and the numerous breakfast of waffles over the past year - we finally polished off the 2 Litres of maple syrup we bought on vacation last autumn.

My love of maple syrup means I could never be a true locovore. Sure, I've tried birch syrup, saskatoon, and even made my own blackcurrent syrup. None of it compares to the simple maple goodness of a rich maple syrup. I've tried to describe the taste, but failed. You can only taste it for yourself and be enveloped by that golden brown elixir of the forest.

I love it so much that I pushed for our first dog to be named Maple - and won. (The other dog is Buster.)

In the morning, as the Monster's waffles are cooking she is asked if she wants syrup or jam. Well, that's not entirely true. Hubby always puts raspberry jam on them because that's what he likes. I usually ask, and she always picks syrup. And when I started being specific about it being maple syrup she started responding, "No, Buster Syrup!"

With the days getting shorter at an alarming rate it is tough to make it to the park after dinner. And when Hubby is out of town, as he is this week, I try to stay home in the evenings to save my sanity. Oddly, baking cookies with the Monster is generally a sanity saving activity. I just have to keep her hands out of the mixing bowl while it is turned on because she so desperately wants to lick the batter.

I pulled out my the last of my Sugar Moon Farm syrup, my Highwood Crossing Oats, and the jumbo pack of chocolate chips (we were out of raisins). We mixed, she poured, we snuck chocolate chips, and we baked. She obviously liked the batter too because that paddle was licked like it just came out of the dishwasher. And when she was done she announced that she was going to eat her hands as well. It was all I could do to keep her occupied with a dizzying amount of Ring-Around-The-Rosie while the cookies cooled so she didn't burn her tongue.

After years of testing recipes and getting used to the crappy oven that came with the house I finally got an oatmeal cookie recipe that makes my heart happy. I can't lay claim to anything original about it, other than using less coconut than called for last night because I ran out. Martha strikes again. When I found this cookie recipe I had to try it. Not shockingly, it was a clear winner for me. Even if it takes away from my precious maply syrup supply.

I do have a call in to Sugar Moon to see if they will ship to me. Maybe if I get the Monster to say please in her tiny but emphatic voice with a drawn out plea they will say yes...

Oatmeal Raisin/Chocolate Chip Cookies
(slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 pure maple syrup
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins/chocolate chips/dried apricots/dried cherries or any combination

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the coconut. Set aside.
3. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the maple syrup and mix well to combine.
4. Add the egg and vanilla, beating well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
5. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When combined add the oats and raisin/chocolate chips.
6. Form 1 tbsp in a ball and place on a greased/line cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

A Breakfast of Memories

When people leave it is often the simplest things that you miss. Yes, they may have been war veterans, strong supporters of community service, or the most mischievious senior citizen you've ever met. But it is the rituals of hospitality, the conversations over greek salad and gin & tonic, and the breakfasts that you miss.

Hubby's Grandpa passed away last week and we were in Kelowna on the weekend for his funeral. Only a short 18 months after Grandma passed away we had to say goodbye to another kind, loving soul.

When I arrived in my husband's life he spoke fondly of his grandparents, their home in the Okanagan, and the sheer kindness of these two important people. The first time I met them they welcomed me with a shot of frozen vodka and a debate about the perfect martini. The first morning in their home came early - I was sleeping alone because Hubby and I were only dating and still young - but Grandpa was already up.

Every single morning Grandpa would be the first one up to ready breakfast. He would grind coffee beans and boil water to make coffee. He would set out plum or strawberry jam, the bread, and cereal. The table would be set for all of us, Hubby included, even though he never eats breakfast. Sleeping in wasn't an option, but mornings were never too early. Every setting would have a tiny juice glass and a mug for coffee. And always on the table was the English crockery jug filled with milk, frosting with the cold liquid in the morning sun.

As my relationship with Hubby deepened and we eventually married we made at least two trips a year to visit Grandma and Grandpa. We shared meals on the deck, happy hour, one particularly stressful trip where our car was rebuilt in the car port, and road trips to local foodie haunts. But I always welcomed breakfast there more than any other place in my life. From the giant kitchen in their retirement home to the bright kitchen of their final home, I would sip my tea while the rest drank coffee and we would talk and nibble for hours. I would tease them about those tiny juice glasses. We would discuss business and politics and history. Hubby and I would get lectures about when we were going to first, get married, and then, have kids. When the coffee ran out we would plan our daily adventures and clean up, only to get ready for lunch.

Breakfast will never be the same.

At the funeral one of their granddaughters spoke about her relationship with her Grandpa. She brought up something that struck home for me, in particular. Grandpa was the person who taught me how to make oatmeal - porridge, as he called it. I grew up on Cream of Wheat, but that's it. Other than some packets of instant oatmeal I'd never had the real thing until last year. When C discussed her Grandpa she reminisced about how she was forced to eat oatmeal as a kid and the shock in Grandpa when she started requesting it as she grew older. It may only be porridge, but we can always learn from those before us.

Grandpa showed me that the perfect bowl of oatmeal starts with simmering water and a generous pinch of salt. Put in half the amount of oats as water and cook ever so slowly to bring out the creaminess of the oats. Don't rush it, even if you are using the quick cooking oats. I've evolved a little and both the Monster and I enjoy our steel cut oats with some brown sugar, milk, and a little fruit.

We returned home late on Sunday and today I am quite sick. But the baby needs to be fed, which means I need to eat. Oatmeal seemed perfect. I sat, buried under a quilt with one baby napping and the other at daycare and thought of some pretty amazing people while I ate my soulful breakfast.