Blue Cheese, Fig and Arugula Mini-Pizzas

Sunday, August 25, 2013

You know me.  I’m the one who sits beside the fig jam at book club and glares at anyone who helps themselves a little too enthusiastically.  Because really, it’s mine. 

And hopefully, that fig jam is perched next to some blue cheese (in a perfect scenario, it’s Saint Agur, but I’ll happily eat whatever you’re serving).  While the rest of you are discussing the book, I’ll be eating for three.

So you can guess how I reacted when I saw this recipe for blue cheese, fig and arugula mini-pizzas.  Yup, it makes a recipe out of things I normally just dip into, and it tosses in my beloved arugula.  The beauty of this recipe isn’t that it’s so easy, or that it’s so good: it’s that now I can make it, and call it dinner.

Blue Cheese, Fig and Arugula Mini-Pizzas
(adapted from Canadian Living)

3 Tbsp fig jam
12 mini whole grain pitas
1/2 cup crumbled Saint Agur, or other blue cheese
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme (optional)
1 cup arugula, chopped
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Spread fig jam on each pita; top with blue cheese and thyme.  Bake on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is melted, 4 to 6 minutes.  Transfer to serving platter.

Meanwhile, toss together arugula, oil and lemon juice.  Arrange over pizzas.

Thursday's Child: Destination Pittsburgh

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Destination: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When we visited: February 2011 and August 2013

Why to go:  Pittsburgh is a great destination for anyone who loves sports and culture.

What to see:

We've been to Pittsburgh twice in the last couple of years: two years ago to see a hockey game, and this summer for baseball.  Both venues were terrific, but PNC Park gets high grades for a retro-style stadium, great city views, statues honouring team heroes (Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski) and post-game fireworks.
Roberto Clemente, great ballplayer and humanitarian
Pittsburgh is much more than sports, though.  The Carnegie Science Center was fun, and its SportsWorks exhibit brought out the competitor in my daughter and husband.  The Andy Warhol museum pays tribute to the father of pop art, who spent much of his youth in Pittsburgh.  Phipps Conservatory was full of stunning plants and flowers, with one room dedicated to butterflies.  And one of my favourite stops was at the Mr. Rogers' statue, dedicated to another famous Pittsburgh native, Fred Rogers.

Where to stay:

On each visit, we chose a hotel as close as possible to the sporting venue we were visiting. Cambria Suites are located next to the Consol Energy Center (where the Penguins play), and the Pittsburgh Renaissance is directly over the bridge from PNC Park.  They were both excellent choices.

Breakfast at De Luca's
Where to eat:

Cherries Diner in Market Square and De Luca's in the Strip were awesome choices for a diner breakfast.  Il Pizzaiolo, also in Market Square, served great Italian food for dinner.  And whether you enjoy it at the ballpark or one of their restaurants, don't miss a sandwich from Primanti Brothers.

Our final stop, the lovely Phipps Conservatory

Camp friends

Monday, August 19, 2013
Oh, to be a teenager again.

After spending a month at camp as a leader-in-training, my youngest daughter was desperately missing the two other L.I.T. girls she spent July with.  So what was to be done except spend a week together in August, split between two of their houses?

We hosted them this past weekend, and it was a great reminder of the intensity of camp friendships.  There really is something special about bonding over campfires, the craft cabin, and canoe trips.  Not having seen each other in three weeks, of course they had hundreds of things to catch up on.  And it was wonderful to see the love and kindness they shared with each other.

I made these veggie burgers for the girls and they were a huge hit.  Although we aren't a vegetarian family, I thought the burgers were delicious and I can't wait to make them again!

Black Bean Burgers
(from Bake Your Day)

Black Bean Burgers

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
pinch black pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce (optional)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, plus more if necessary
1 egg
2 tsp olive oil, for frying
6 burger buns

Cook the quinoa according to package directions using vegetable stock in place of water.

While the quinoa cooks, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small skillet.  Add carrots, onion and garlic, and saute until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes.

While the vegetables cook, mix the paprika, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

Pour the rinsed black beans into a large bowl.  Add the cooked carrot mixture.  Using a pastry blender or two forks, smash the mixture to break down the black beans.  Don't mash them completely, just until the mixture is cohesive.

Add the ketchup, soy sauce, Sriracha (if using) and the spice mixture, and stir well.  Add the cooked quinoa, 1/2 cup panko and the egg, and mix to combine.  If needed, add enough additional panko so the mixture will easily hold together when formed into a patty.  Form mixture into six patties and refrigerate for a minimum of 20 minutes, up to a day before cooking.

Heat 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet.  Place patties in the skillet and cook until browned, about 4 minutes per side.

Thursday's Child: Destination Stillwater, Minnesota

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Destination: Stillwater, Minnesota

When we visited:  July, 2013

Why to go:  A short twenty-minute drive from Saint Paul, or half an hour from downtown Minneapolis, it’s a wonderful way to enjoy a taste of rural Minnesota.

What to see

The river really is the centre of the town.  Our first stop here was lunch at a café overlooking the St. Croix River.  We loved watching the boat traffic pass by, including this paddlewheel riverboat.  The sidewalk that runs along the river is a beautiful way to explore the town.

The lift bridge is unique, with a middle section that raises and lowers to allow boat traffic through.  We couldn't get enough of this beautiful bridge, and walked across it to the state of Wisconsin. 

Although Stillwater is now a popular tourist destination, it keeps enough of its rural heritage to remain a charming town.  And I don’t normally love shopping, but who could resist the great kitchenware, stationery and book stores?  Andrew was equally thrilled to find an antique shop with an enormous selection of baseball cards.

Where to eat:  Don’t miss The Green Room if you’re in town for dinner.  I had the walleye, a local specialty, and it was incredible.  We also enjoyed lunch at the Dock Café, with a beautiful view of the river from our table on the patio.

Relaxing at our B & B.

Baking with love

Sunday, August 11, 2013

There are lots of reasons why I think homemade food is the best.  It’s fresh, the ingredients have names you recognize and, for ingredients like salt, I control the amount I put in.

But I’ve always thought the most important reason homemade food tastes best is that it’s made with love.  And there was no better demonstration of that than the cookies that Catherine and Victoria baked for me two weekends ago when we visited their cottage. 

We’ve been friends with their family since Garth and Andrew worked together over twenty years ago.  Garth, Colleen, Andrew and I spent a weekend in New York when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter.  Many years later our family visited theirs when they were living in China.  And now that they’re in Switzerland and spend their summer and Christmas holidays in Canada, we visit them twice a year at their cottage on Lake Simcoe.  We’ve shared many wonderful memories with them, like ongoing Bocce Ball tournaments, morning polar bear swims and pancake breakfasts – sometimes made over an open fire.

Our girls and theirs (including little sister Madeleine) have known each other since birth, and despite spending most of their lives in different countries, have tight-knit friendships that will last forever.

So I was completely flattered when Catherine and Victoria told me they’d baked something special in my honour.  I was humbled when Garth told me they spent a couple of hours in the kitchen working on it – because they wanted it to live up to my blog.  And I was blown away when I saw these amazing hamburger cookies, with individual layers depicting top and bottom buns (with toffee bit "sesame seeds" on top), cheese, burger, lettuce, ketchup and mustard.  These cookies were one of the highlights of our visit.  Catherine and Victoria – thank you for your amazing gift!  And thanks to your whole family for the priceless gift of your friendship.

Although I don’t have that recipe to share, I’ll give you my recipe for Brown Butter Peach Crumble Bars.  They may not have the visual impact of those gorgeous hamburger cookies but, made with love, they're pretty good too.

Brown Butter Peach Crumble Bars
(inspired by Brown-Eyed Baker)

For the base:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

For the filling:

3 large or 4 small peaches, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger


Brown the butter by melting it in a saucepan over medium heat.  Continue to cook, swirling pan occasionally, until the butter turns brown and smells nutty.  Put in the fridge for an hour to solidify.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a 8” x 8” baking pan with parchment paper.

When the butter is firm, scrape it into a mixing bowl and add sugar.  Beat for one minute.  Add egg and beat one minute more.  Remove the beaters and stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Pat two-thirds of the mixture into the baking pan and set aside.

To make the filling, place the peaches in a medium bowl.  Sprinkle with lemon juice.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger, then add to peaches and combine just to blend.  Spread over the prepared base.  Sprinkle the rest of the dough over the peaches and pat gently into place.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Thursday's Child: Destination Saint Paul

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Destination:  Saint Paul, Minnesota

When we visited: July 2013

Why to go: Saint Paul does a great job of paying homage to its famous citizens.

What to see:

We covered a lot of ground in half a day in Saint Paul.  The first famous citizen we tracked was 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who grew up there.  Rice Park is home to a statue built in his honour, depicting the artist as a young man.  Garrison Keillor has said, “This sculpture was conceived as a figure in the midst of things, a figure you could walk up to and talk to.” 

Having seen the sculpture, we wanted to retrace some of Fitzgerald's steps.  Both his birthplace (two photos up) and the house in which he wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise, (photo immediately above) are beautifully maintained and marked with commemorative plaques.  Fitzgerald spent much of his childhood in the city and, after spending time in Montgomery, Alabama and New York City, he moved back to rewrite his book.  He had met Zelda Sayre in Alabama and was smitten; he devoted himself to the novel hoping he could convince her that he could support her in marriage.  He did, and they married in New York in 1920.  (I've always thought there was a bit of Zelda in Daisy Buchanan.  What do you think?)

My sports-fan husband couldn’t pass up the chance to see the statue of Herb Brooks in downtown Saint Paul.  Brooks will always be remembered as the man who guided the U.S. hockey team to a gold medal in 1980, as the coach of the Miracle on Ice hockey team.

Notwithstanding my love of The Great Gatsby, I have to concede that Saint Paul’s most beloved son is probably Charles Schultz.  Peanuts was the first comic strip I remember reading, and A Charlie Brown Christmas was an annual part of my childhood.  What other comic strip has inspired TV specials, stage shows, jazz recordings, Thanksgiving parade balloons, and a skating revue?  A series of sculptures in Rice Park pay tribute to some of Peanuts most beloved characters, including Sally and Linus, above, and Charlie Brown and Snoopy, below.  Elsewhere in the park we saw Schroeder playing the piano, Marcie reading on a park bench, and Peppermint Patty kicking a football.

Thursday's Child: Destination Minneapolis

Thursday, August 1, 2013

You’ve probably guessed that I plan my trips well in advance.  Half the fun of travel is the anticipation, and I usually spend months (or at least weeks) thinking about where to go and what we’ll do on holidays.

This summer was a little different.  Andrew and I indeed had our plans ready a couple of months in advance, but a little floodwater meant we had to cancel.  Still, we wanted to get away for a long weekend, and that’s how I found myself booking airplane tickets on a Tuesday for a Friday getaway. 

Destination: Minneapolis, Minnesota

When we visited:  July 2013

Why to go:

To pay homage to my favourite TV character ever; to play a round of mini golf with holes designed by artists; to enjoy music in one of the best jazz clubs in North America.

What to see:

You may have guessed from the lead photo that Minneapolis has a statue to honour its most beloved fictional resident, Mary Richards from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Having watched this show throughout my childhood and teens, I was thrilled to see her statue, and to pose beside it.  The pouring rain barely dampened my enthusiasm, and my good-natured husband took photo after photo until we had one that was perfect.

Andrew and I love visiting new ballparks, and that was one of the reasons we chose Minneapolis for this trip.  (The other was the availability of last-minute plane tickets on points.)  We loved the game we saw at Target Field – the venue was intimate and the sightlines were excellent.  A Twins win meant fireworks after the game and a crowd of happy Minnesotans (and at least two happy Canadians).

The artist-inspired mini golf course was located in Minneapolis's lovely Sculpture Garden.  One hole depicted all eighteen holes at the Augusta National; another provided a pinball game through a facsimile of Paris’s Chateau de Bagatelle.

And one of our favourite experiences was an evening at Dakota Jazz Club, hearing the lovely Sarah Morris sing.

Where to eat:

We ate well in Minneapolis.  From Kramarczuk sausages at the ballpark to vegetarian tacos at World Street Kitchen, we enjoyed a fabulous selection of great food.  If you’re in town, don’t miss Huevos Rancheros at Hell’s Kitchen for brunch.  And not only was the entertainment great at Dakota, the halibut was terrific too, and the cherry crisp for dessert finished a perfect evening.