Thursday's Child: Ihlara Gorge, Turkey

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The last walk I’m writing about this month is our trek through the gorgeous Ihlara Gorge in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Although it wasn’t a strenuous walk, it required a descent of 360 steps to make our way into the valley.  This beautiful gorge was formed by the Melendez River carving its way through the volcanic rock in central Turkey.

We spent about four hours walking through the valley.  Our time in Cappadocia was chilly, but that day was warm enough to walk without our coats.  It was early spring, and the valley was just beginning to come to life. 

So much of Cappadocia was barren, but the gorge was fertile and full of vegetation.  The trees were just beginning to bud.  Both sides of the path were bordered with grass and wild flowers.

The previous week had been mild, and the cherry blossoms had just begun to bloom.

The walk was culturally significant, too. The Ihlara Gorge was the hiding place for early Christians fleeing their persecutors because of the large number of caves that could be used for refuge.  Some of these caves were among the earliest Christian churches in the area.  The gorge was home to over 100 churches.

Just next to the entrance to the valley, Agacalti Kilise (Church Under the Tree) is thought to have been used for worship in the 10th or 11th century.  Its stunning frescoes depict Daniel in the Lions’ Den and the visit of the Magi, among other Biblical scenes.

Tea and cookies with our guide.

The Grey Cup

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Canada’s answer to the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup is the championship of the two best CFL (Canadian Football League) teams.  But where the Super Bowl always looks like a perfect, professionally-run show, the Grey Cup is smaller and less formal, with a thousand stories to tell. 

Weather is an integral part of the Canadian psyche, so it’s no wonder that the history of Grey Cup games includes all kinds of strange weather occurrences.  The 1962 game between Winnipeg and Hamilton is fondly referred to as the Fog Bowl.  Spectators at Exhibition Stadium had no idea what was happening, because the fog was so thick they couldn’t see the field.  Even more unfortunately, neither could the announcers.  The game was eventually suspended, and the remaining nine minutes played the following day.

Stranger still was the 1950 Mud Bowl, in which players competed on a quagmire of a field at Varsity Stadium.  Even cleats were of little help as a snowfall followed by a thaw turned the field into a swamp.  One injured player nearly asphyxiated lying face down on the field before a referee pulled him to safety.

Lest this game sound like a quaint rivalry between gentlemanly players, let me share the story of two fierce rivals.  Angelo Mosca of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Joe Kapp of the B.C. Lions, had feuded since 1963, due to a controversial hit in that year's Grey Cup game.  Last year they appeared together at a CFL fundraiser, the intention being to bury the hatchet.  But it soon became obvious that the bad blood lingered, as the 74-year old Mosca hit Kapp with his cane, which was followed by Kapp punching Mosca in the jaw.

This year’s Grey Cup returns to Toronto for its 100th anniversary, and the big scandal was whether Marty the horse – Calgary’s unofficial Grey Cup mascot – would be allowed to parade through Toronto’s Royal York hotel.  Although Marty was originally denied entry, the Royal York backed down and allowed him into the lobby, thereby recreating a famous moment from the 1948 pre-game festivities.

I am making up none of this.

Closer to home, Andrew remembers watching the 1971 Grey Cup with his father, the first televised sporting event he ever watched.  Painful memories of Leon McQuay fumbling the ball with less than two minutes left to play precluded him from sharing more details of that game.

CFL players don’t earn much money, and some even take part-time jobs in the off-season.  It’s probably no surprise, then, that it they are some of the most down-to-earth and likable athletes you’ll ever meet.  Andrew’s best friend Ross once saw Pinball Clemens – perhaps the best-loved Toronto Argonaut ever – in a Florida airport.  Ross went over to introduce himself and tell him how much he enjoyed watching him play.  Their conversation continued as Clemens helped Ross carry his luggage off the conveyor and out of the airport.

Later today, we’ll be cheering on the hometown Argos as they vie for the championship against the mighty Calgary Stampeders.  The game may not be as flashy as the Super Bowl.  But it’s as Canadian as hockey, bad weather and butter tarts, and we wouldn’t miss it for anything.

If you’re looking for the ultimate comfort food to enjoy while you’re watching football, you couldn’t do better than old-fashioned, homemade macaroni and cheese.  I’ve made this recipe in individual ramekins (pictured here) and also in a big casserole.  Whether you’re rooting for the Argos or the Stampeders, Green Bay or the Giants, or any team in any sport, nothing will cheer you more than piping hot mac and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese

2 1/2 to 3 cups raw macaroni
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded cheese (I use aged cheddar)

Additional salt (optional)
Additional shredded cheese (optional)

Cook macaroni as directed on package.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan.  Stir in flour and salt.  Add milk slowly, then cook and stir until sauce thickens.  Add cheese and stir to melt.  Combine with macaroni, and add salt to taste.  Pour into a 2-quart casserole or individual ramekins.  If you like, cover with extra shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbly (25 – 30 minutes if cooking in a casserole, 15 minutes if cooking in ramekins).  Enjoy with your favourite fans.

Thursday's Child: Twillingate, Newfoundland

Thursday, November 22, 2012

“I’se the B’y that builds the boat
And I’se the B’y that sails her.
I’se the B’y that catches the fish
And brings ‘em home to Liza.

“Hip yer partner, Sally Tibbo,
Hip yer partner, Sally Brown,
Fogo, Twillingate, Morton’s Harbour
All around the circle.”

It’s safe to say that every Canadian knows this folk song from Newfoundland, our easternmost province.  I remember singing it boisterously as an 8-year old, proud that I could translate “I’se the B’y” as “I’m the boy”.  Newfoundland’s psyche is wrapped up in the sea, and many young boys would indeed sail the boat and catch the fish.  (Take a minute and check out the song on Youtube.  I dare you not to sing along.)

When we planned our family trip to Newfoundland in 2007, there were a few things we couldn’t miss.  Ches’s Fish and Chips in St. John’s.  The pageant in Trinity.  And visiting one of those magical destinations that the song alludes to – Fogo, Twillingate or Morton’s Harbour.  I’m sure they’re all lovely, but we had the wonderful fortune to visit Twillingate in northeast Newfoundland and to take its marvellous Top of Twillingate trail.

This beautiful walk, part boardwalk and part forest trail, took us through the wooded areas just outside of town.  We climbed the lookout towers for a wonderful vista over the whole area.  Ocean, trees, town and even a far-off iceberg (yes, in August!) were all part of the view.  The hike gave two lively young girls a chance to stretch their legs after a long drive, and their parents a chance to admire the natural beauty of this small town and the wilderness that surrounds it.

And there may even have been a verse or two of “I’se the B’y” sung on our way back to the house.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

I think of zucchini as a summer vegetable, but in reality I use it all year.  It’s one of the most versatile vegetables I cook with.  This gratin, a Barefoot Contessa recipe, is a perfect way to serve it.  The flavours – zucchini, onion, nutmeg – are very simple, but they meld together beautifully. And the Gruyère and bread crumb topping makes the dish special enough to serve for company.  But my family is very happy when I make it just for them!

Zucchini Gratin
(from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten)

6 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
3 large yellow onions, cut in half and sliced (1 pound)
4 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick (2 pounds)
1 tsp kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (second amount)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in a very large (12”) saucepan and cook the onions over low heat for 20 minutes, or until tender but not browned.  Add the zucchini and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, or until tender.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg, and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes.  Stir in the flour.  Add the hot milk and cook over low heat for a few minutes, until it makes a sauce.  Pour the mixture into an 8 x 10” baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Gruyère and sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture.  Dot with 1 Tbsp butter cut into small bits.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and browned.

Thursday's Child: Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One of the most beautiful walks we’ve ever taken was a hike in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.  We were treated to three of the loveliest aspects of this area: the cool, clean air; the stunning views; and the gentle hospitality of the Berber natives.

We took one of the moderate-level walks to a region northeast of where we were staying.  The destination was the Tizi n’Tamatert pass, and it was roughly a five hour trek.  We hired a guide and two mules to make the walk, and each of the mules came with its own minder.  Although the girls did most of the riding, Andrew and I took turns too.  I actually preferred walking, as the mules walk close to the edge of the path and I hated looking down!

After a long glorious hike, we arrived at the summit and looked for miles in every direction.  We had a clear view of two valleys, Ait Mizane and Imane.  Although you can’t see it in these pictures, we were amazed that most of the tiny homes we saw in this remote area had a satellite dish.

There was a snack bar at the top where we relaxed and gathered strangth for the walk back down.  Apparently, in the Atlas Mountains you can order Pepsi in at least two languages.

We headed down, full of energy now that we had refueled and were descending.

And near the end of our walk, we stopped in the small village of Tamatert to share mint tea at the home of one of the villagers.  The simplicity of his home was overwhelmed by the effusiveness of his welcome, and we were honoured to be his guest.

Movie Group

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Does anyone else belong to a movie group?

A movie group is like a book club, except every month we watch a movie then meet to discuss it.  The movie part of the group is fun, but we’ve evolved into much more than that.  Among the eight of us, we have 18 kids between the ages of 14 and 19.  So whenever we get together, the subject of families comes up.  No matter what stage someone is going through, somebody else has either lived through it or is experiencing it at the same time. 

Even more importantly, this is a genuinely nice group of women.  In the time we’ve known each other, there has never been any gossip or pettiness.  When I spend time with them I feel completely loved and accepted.

And that’s why, when I marked a certain milestone birthday this week, it was so special when they helped me celebrate.  When they planned the evening, they incorporated all the things I love to do.  We started by gathering at Carla’s parents’ house to watch an old movie (Woody Allen’s Manhattan), then we walked a short block to attend a cooking class (more about that another week), and returned to the house for cake and conversation.  I had an absolutely wonderful time, and the evening was made even more fun when they gave me a gift they knew I’d love – a KitchenAid stand mixer!  Thanks to Carla, Trish, Kim, Karen, Barb, Marlie and Jan for a great birthday celebration and for your amazing friendships.

I’ve made these cookies without a stand mixer, but they’re much easier to make now that I have one.  Fifteen minutes of beating is a long time when you’re using a hand mixer.  I relish using that time to do other things while an appliance does the work for me.

Snickerdoodles can seem a bit plain when stacked up against cookies filled with chocolate, peanut butter or other worthwhile additions.  But these cookies are taken over the top with brown butter, and have become a hugely popular addition to my cookie repertoire.  And now that I can use my new stand mixer, they’ll become a more frequent addition to my cookie repertoire.

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

(recipe from Baked Elements)


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (first amount)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp milk (or half and half cream)
1 cup sugar (first amount)
1/2 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon (second amount)
3 Tbsp sugar (second amount)

Place butter in a medium saucepan and brown it.  (For directions on browning butter, see here.)  Once browned, pour it into a large bowl and beat on medium-low speed until it cools to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Set aside.

Once the butter has cooled to room temperature, turn off the mixer and add 1 cup sugar and the brown sugar.  Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes.  On low speed add the egg mixture in a slow steady stream.  Once all of the mixture has been added, beat on medium speed for about 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture in three separate parts, stirring to incorporate.

Refrigerate dough for at least one hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a small bowl, mix together 3 Tbsp sugar and 1 Tbsp cinnamon.

Shape the dough into balls, then roll them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture until they’re evenly coated.  Place on cookie sheets, leaving at least one and a half inches between them.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Thursday's Child: Soufriere, St. Lucia

Thursday, November 8, 2012

This month, I’m writing about memorable walks we’ve taken on our travels.  Although we stayed at a resort when we visited St. Lucia, we didn’t want to miss visiting the nearby town of Soufriere, so we took a Saturday morning walk to see the town, its market, and its buildings.

The hike into town was truly lovely.  The day was already warm by mid-morning, and we had a different view of the Pitons (the island’s twin peaks) every time we turned a corner.  It was a pleasant downhill walk, although the grade was steep at times and we had to watch our footing.

In Soufriere we visited the bustling market, watching the locals barter with the vendors for fish, fruit, and household goods.  We didn’t take many photos here because most of the salespeople asked us not to, but I won’t forget the vibrant colours of the produce and the lively banter that we overheard. 

We enjoyed exploring the rest of town, too.  The lovely church, which was built in the 1950s, sits next to the town square where a guillotine was once stationed.  The church was simple and lovely, and I was sorry that we weren’t there on a Sunday to hear their beautiful choirs.

At the end of the tour, we stopped in a few local shops and the grocery store.  The latter had a good selection of both international and local goods, and we saw locals and tourists shopping there.  And at the end of our walk, given the midday heat and the long uphill climb, we were happy to take a boat back to our resort.

Celebrations and blessings

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It was a weekend of celebrations.

My oldest daughter’s high school commencement was on Friday night. It’s probably the latest commencement of any school in the city, but it gave her and her friends the chance to see each other and share stories from university.  And if I may be permitted to boast a little, she won a General Proficiency award (third-highest average in her graduating class of 260), as well as an award for School Leadership and Citizenship, and highest marks in her English, Writer’s Craft, Philosophy and Chemistry courses.  I was so happy for her; she worked very hard in high school and it was wonderful to see that effort pay off.

We also celebrated my birthday on Saturday, as neither she nor my mother will be here on my actual birthday.  I thought about how lucky I was to be surrounded by my loved ones as I prepare to turn a year older.  I truly couldn’t be more blessed.

Today in church, we marked All Saints’ Sunday by remembering loved ones who have died.  I couldn’t help but think how proud my father, Paul Baker, and Andrew’s parents, Gwyneth and Roy Pollock, would have been – not only of her academic achievements, but of what kind and caring girls both of our daughters are.

There isn’t really a link between that story and this week’s recipe, other than to say that my daughter has asked for a loaf of this whole wheat bread to take back to university the next time she’s home.  I’ll be happy to do that, especially if it brings her home again soon!  This bread was surprisingly easy and delicious, and I’ll be happy to bake two loaves next time, one for her and one for us.  The recipe says to wait until the loaf is completely cool before slicing, but try to enjoy at least one slice while it’s warm – it’s absolutely amazing.  Make this loaf of bread for your family, and you too may be reminded of your blessings.

All-Purpose Whole Wheat Bread
(from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour (first amount)
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
Generous 1 3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant, fast-rising or bread machine yeast
3 Tbsp canola oil or corn oil (plus extra for coating dough top and baking pan)
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp ice water, plus more if needed
1 Tbsp whole wheat flour (second amount)

First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the white flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, salt and yeast.  In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk the oil into the water.  Then vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flour, scraping down the sides and mixing until thoroughly blended.  If too dry to mix together, add just enough additional water to facilitate mixing but don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff.  If necessary, stir in enough additional flour to stiffen it.  Brush or spray the top with oil.  Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  If desired, for best flavour or for convenience, refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours.  Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, vigorously stir once during the rise.

Second rise:  Vigorously stir the dough.  If it is not stiff, stir in enough additional white flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough.  Using an oiled rubber spatula, gently lift and fold the dough in towards the centre all the way around.  (This organizes the gluten for shaping the dough into a loaf.)  Invert it into a very well-greased 9” x 5” loaf pan.  Using an oiled rubber spatula or fingertips, smooth out the top and press the dough out into the pan.  Brush or pray the dough top with oil.  Evenly sprinkle the top with 1 Tbsp whole wheat flour.  Using a well-oiled serrated knife or kitchen shears, make 3 to 4 evenly spaced diagonal ½-inch-deep slashes down the loaf.  Cover the pan with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap.

Let rise:  For a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature.  (Alternately, for a 1 to 1 1/2 hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling hot water.)  When the dough nears the plastic, remove it and continue the rise until the dough extends 1/8 inch above the pan rim or doubles from its deflated size.

Baking: 15 minutes before baking time, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  When oven is heated, bake loaf for 50 to 60 minutes; as necessary cover with foil to prevent over-browning.  Bake for 10 to 20 minutes more, until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few particles on the end.  Then bake for 5 minutes longer to make sure the centre is done.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Turn the loaf onto a rack and cool thoroughly.

Serving and storing: Serve warm, cool or toasted; the bread slices best when cool.  Cool thoroughly before storing in plastic or foil.  Keeps at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.  May be frozen, airtight for up to 2 months.

Thursday's Child: The High Line, New York City

Thursday, November 1, 2012

One of our favourite ways to explore when we’re on holidays is by going for a walk.  Walking slows everything down, and helps us see what we might miss if we were in a cab, subway or car.  This month I’ll be reminiscing about some of the beautiful walks we’ve taken around the world.
One of my favourites was on New York City’s High Line.  The High Line was originally an elevated railroad track, built to keep freight trains safely away from ground level.  After being closed in 1980, various interest groups sparred over its possible demolition.  The decision was made to turn it into an urban park and, now that I’ve seen it, I can’t imagine it ever being anything else.  This pastoral haven in the middle of a busy city is both a true respite and a gorgeous walk. 

We climbed up to the High Line just outside of Chelsea Market, and continued the walk north to 30th Street.  It was a beautiful summer day, and we were happy to stroll its length, enjoying the flowers, the view and the serenity.