Guest Post–Figs

FigsToday’s post is a guest post written by my 11 year-old daughter about the figs she picked and processed today:

Last week I ate a fig for the first time ever. We have one fig tree. It started looking the most decimated of all the small fruit trees, but now it’s the only one that has given us fruit.

I noticed the figs were being eaten by birds so decided to pick one and try it. It tasted sweet and somewhat like Neptune’s necklace (a seaweed), but unlike Neptune’s necklace, it was quite tasty.

Today we picked the rest of the figs because the tree was getting frosted. We then boiled them and put them in a syrup. They are meant to be let sit for three weeks, but now they taste like somewhere between a fig and a sweet gherkin.

Queen’s Birthday Cake

100_3280 copyIt is Queen’s Birthday weekend, so naturally I had to make a cake. Something out of the ordinary, and fitting for Her Royal Majesty.

As fortune would have it, the neighbour dropped off a large sack of grapefruit from his tree yesterday, so I made Citrus Surprise Cake from The King Arthur Flour Baking book. The surprise is grapefruit—lots of it—in the cake, in the icing, and also serving as the decoration.

It was just on afternoon tea time when I put the final touches on the cake. We sang a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to Her Majesty, and tucked in.

The bitter/sour grapefruit was as surprising as the name suggests, and the cream cheese frosting flecked with grapefruit peel looked as good as it tasted. Overall, a delightful cake, and one I will make again.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty! Thanks for giving me an excuse to make cake!

Best compliments ever

My bread can't compare to these beauties of Ian's.

My bread can’t compare to these beauties of Ian’s.

“Ugh! Their house smells like wet dog!” commented a friend’s sassy teenage daughter about a mutual acquaintance.

“I don’t want to know what you think my house smells like,” I teased.

“Oh! Your house smells wonderful! Like fresh bread and cinnamon!”

____________

“Is this homemade, too?!” asked Son’s Friend #1 in astonishment.

Everything here is homemade!” answered Son’s Friend #2 with glee.

Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche

100_3267 copyWhen the book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche came out in the early ‘80s, many of us had a laugh about the gender stereotypes portrayed in the book. Unfortunately, the satire was lost on some of my acquaintances, who truly believed that to eat quiche (or to try any foods with foreign-sounding names for that matter) was to lose their masculinity.

They were, of course, way off base, but I understand the importance of food to our identity. “You are what you eat,” after all. Foods can be tribal affiliations—Coke vs. Pepsi, vegans vs. meat eaters, carbs vs. protein.

Even if we eat the same things, the vocabulary of food defines and divides us. Soda or pop? Hoagie or sub? Chips or fries? Biscuits or cookies? Casserole or hot dish? Brownies or bars?

But for the adventuresome, those differences quickly resolve into similarities. Cook enough different foods, and the divisions become connections.

Take quiche lorraine, for example. It is just the French version of the English bacon and egg pie. The variations within “quiche” and “pie” are greater than the differences between them.

A gallette is just a tart with a French accent.

Mexican tortillas are almost the same as Indian roti.

Greek pita bread could be mistaken for Indian naan.

French ragout, Indian curry, and Latin American sancocho are all just stew by a different name.

Sweet, sour, bitter, salt, umame. Starch, sugar, protein. It all comes down to biology, and we all need the same nutrients to keep us going. The protein in my burgers may come from soybeans, and yours from beef, but we both love that slab of umame-rich protein on a nest of carbohydrates (a bun, some rice, some bulgher) and dripping with sweet/sour catsup (or ketchup, or sauce…).

The spicing may differ, but the essence is the same. Just like us. We are what we eat, after all.

Eating Local

100_3263 copyThere was excitement in the house this week when I brought home the groceries. I had bought grapes! It generally only happens once a year, during the short Australian grape season. By the time I next go to the store, in three or four weeks, the season will be over, and the grapes will be from California.

There’s nothing wrong with Californian grapes, but I cringe at the idea of buying fresh produce that’s been transported all that way. True, the Australian grapes have travelled quite a distance, but they are the closest commercial table grapes available, and I reckon once a year I can splurge on them.

I’m not a locavore zealot, but I try to minimise the environmental impact of my food choices, and minimising the distance my food has travelled is part of that. So I gaze dreamily as I pass by the Ecuadorean mangoes and American pecans in the store. I use the Canadian maple syrup sparingly, and spend twice as much to buy canned tomatoes from New Zealand rather than Italy. When I do buy food from distant lands, I try to make my purchases as responsible as possible, mentally making up for the food miles expended—buying fair trade, organic products wherever possible.

In making these choices, I’ve discovered some wonderful things. Homemade jam and fruit butters are much better on pancakes than maple syrup. Locally produced olive oil is among the best I’ve ever tasted. Honey is a nicely flavourful substitute for cane sugar. And New Zealand oranges knock the socks off anything grown by Sunkist.

Would I still love a big, meaty mango? Yep, and some days I’m sorely tempted by them. But I’ve eaten mangoes in Panama, where they grew on a tree overhanging the house. My memory of mangoes is almost certainly better than a mango that was picked several months ago and hauled half way round the world. Do I long for grapes more than once a year? Of course, but perhaps, by restricting myself to the most local grapes possible, I enjoy them more when I do have them. And do I occasionally just say, “to hell with it,” and buy a pineapple from who knows where? Absolutely, but I like to think of those environmentally costly things as the treats they probably should be, and spend most of my time enjoying my local riches instead.

Favourite Kitchen Tools: wooden spoons

Lia's spoonsmWe have a good half dozen wooden spoons sitting in the crock on the kitchen counter. They are some of the most heavily used tools in the kitchen, and the first thing I reach for whether I’m stirring pasta, potato soup, or sizzling onions.

The very best spoon is the one my daughter carved for me. Its smooth finish, beautifully rounded bowl, and attractive handle speak to her perseverance and attention to detail. It is a lovely, functional piece of art, and it makes me smile every time I use it. Can’t ask more of a spoon!

Speculaas

100_3249 copyA couple of years ago, I got The Gourmet Cookie Book for Christmas. I immediately loved the book just for its stunningly elegant graphic design. It’s a book worth having, even if you never make a single recipe out of it, because it is a piece of art all by itself. It took me a while to get around to making the cookies, but every recipe I’ve tried has been good so far.

Yesterday, I made Speculaas (Saint Nicholas Cookies) from this book. I think I’ve found my new favourite cookie. These lovely biscuits combine the best of biscotti, rusks, and gingerbread in a highly dunkable package! I made the recipe straight from the book:

Combine in a medium bowl:

3 cups flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp nutmeg

½ tsp ground aniseed

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

Beat in a large bowl until light and fluffy:

1 cup butter

1 ½ cups brown sugar

Stir in:

3 Tbsp milk

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring until it is well combined. Form the dough into a ball and knead on a well floured board. Roll into a rectangle ¼-inch thick, and cut into rectangles 2 ½ inches by 1 ½ inches with a knife or cutter (I used my bench scraper, and it did a lovely job). Place the rectangles on a buttered cookie sheet, decorate with blanched almonds, halved or slivered (press the almonds gently into the dough), and brush them with lightly beaten egg white.

Bake at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes, or until browned and firm.