Sunday, January 26, 2014
"The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between
The dark and dark."

- from "January", by John Updike

There isn't much that's new to write about these days. It's still cold. It's still snowing.

It's still January.

It's inconceivable that we aren't at least a month further into the winter. Surely I've already done a full season's worth of shovelling, of scraping ice off my car, of walking with my shoulders up to my ears in a futile attempt to stay warm.

It's still January.

I do what I can to defy the weather. If I'm walking with my ears up to my shoulders, at least I'm still walking. I take some comfort from William Carlos Williams' tribute to the month:

"Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music."

- "January", by William Carlos Williams

Perhaps most pertinent to this cooking blog is Maurice Sendak's take on the month:

"In January it's so nice,
While slipping on the sliding ice,
To sip hot chicken soup with rice.
Sipping once, sipping twice,
Sipping chicken soup with rice."

- "Chicken Soup with Rice", by Maurice Sendak

On those days when I feel bookended between dark and dark, when I have to summon the strength to shake my fist at winter, there's nothing I want more than to make soup. You'll find my Chicken Soup with Rice recipe here; read on to find out how I defied winter this week with a bowl of Vegetable Beef Noodle Soup.

Vegetable Beef Noodle Soup
(from Canadian Living)

1 pound (450 grams) stewing beef cubes
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups sodium-reduced beef broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 cup large curly egg noodles
1/2 frozen peas
3 cups baby spinach

Sprinkle beef with pepper and salt. In Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook beef, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 6 minutes. Stir in carrots, celery, onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 6 minutes.

Stir in broth, 3 cups water, tomato paste, herbes de Provence and vinegar. Bring to boil; reduce heat, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until beef is tender, about 2 hours.

Stir in noodles and peas. Cook over medium heat until noodles are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach.

Thursday's Child: Kafka in Prague

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Artists can often be defined by the places in which they lived, and that's one of the reasons we love finding tributes to local writers and musicians when we travel. That was never more true than when we visited Prague and followed the trail of Franz Kafka.

Kafka spent most of his life living in Prague's Jewish Quarter, but it wasn't until eighty years after his death that a statue was built in his honour. That statue, shown above, features Kafka sitting on the shoulders of a headless man. It seems an appropriate tribute because, as one of the few authors to have inspired an adjective, it truly is Kafka-esque.

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."
- Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Although he lived most of his life in the aforementioned Jewish Ghetto, he lived for two years with his sister in Golden Lane. This short street of medieval buildings is next to Prague Castle, and was named for the goldsmiths that used to live near the castle.  According to legend, Emperor Rudolf II housed his alchemists here, as they searched for the Philosopher's Stone, an elixir that would grant the drinker eternal life.

Fittingly, Kafka was inspired by his time there to write the novel The Castle.

"It was late in the evening when K. arrived. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village, K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him."
- Franz Kafka, The Castle

And Parable with a Skull, located on the Castle grounds, was inspired by one of Kafka's characters. The representation of a beggar on all fours, carrying a skull on its back, is rendered slightly less ghoulish when swarmed by enthusiastic young tourists.

"Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old."
-Franz Kafka

The compliment

Sunday, January 19, 2014
When you get to a certain age, you realize you aren't cool anymore.

You get song titles mixed up, you mispronounce band names.

You listen to the wrong radio stations.

Sometimes you even know their school teachers on a first-name basis.

That why's you appreciate compliments any way they come. And I got one of those yesterday from a friend of my sixteen-year-old daughter. A few girls had come over to work on a project, and I was trying to stay out of their way. But when I finally came downstairs, one of them looked at me and said, approvingly, "You dress like a normal person!"

I assume that is the opposite of dressing like a mother. And I will remind my daughter of that compliment the next time she catches me listening to the wrong radio station.

Nobody minds me being a mother when I bake cookies like these. Delightfully old-fashioned, they're spicy and soft, and a perfect after-school snack for daughters, mothers, and anyone else who loves a good cookie.

By the way, I asked my daughter to proofread this post before I put it up. She suggested I change the word 'hip' (which I originally used in the first sentence) to 'cool'. Because apparently hip isn't cool anymore, at least if you're a mother.

Molasses Raisin Cookies
(adapted from Robin Hood Flour)


3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar (first amount)
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup raisins
granulated sugar for rolling (second amount)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter and 1 cup sugar in large mixing bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, until light and creamy in texture. Add molasses and egg. Beat until well-blended.

Combine flours, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl. Gradually add to creamed mixture. Mix well and stir in raisins. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour. Shape dough into 1" balls, and roll in sugar to coat well.

Place on prepared baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes.


Sunday, January 12, 2014
"Alligator soup, Alligator soup,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna droop.
Give away my hockey stick, give away my hoop,
But don't give away my alligator soup."

- from "Alligator Pie" by Dennis Lee

It's hard to know what to make of the weather. We've gone from record low temperatures on Tuesday to a day of rain yesterday. Tomorrow they're calling for unseasonable warmth. At this point, I think the only thing we can count on is that it'll last for about twenty-four hours, after which we'll be hit with a completely different weather pattern.

The only constant for me this month has been the soup. We started the year by eating Stone Soup at our friends' cottage, an annual tradition. And since we've come home, I've made soup three times for dinner.

This corn and bacon soup is a great choice for cold weather, but don't hesitate to try it even if you're enjoying warmer weather now. It's hearty and nourishing, and there were leftovers for a delicious second meal. It may not have the literary merit of Alligator Soup, but I'd definitely give away my hockey stick for a bowl of this.

(By the way, Alligator Pie, a wonderful collection of poetry by Dennis Lee, was one of my favourite read-aloud books when the girls were small. When I told them I was posting this verse, they recited "Rattlesnake Skipping Song", another poem from the collection, in unison. If I ever post a rattlesnake recipe, I'll be sure to quote that one.)

Corn and Bacon Soup
(adapted from Canadian Living)
Note: the original recipe made a thicker, creamier chowder, so check out the original recipe if that appeals.


3 strips bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 potatoes
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese


In large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Add onions and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Meanwhile, peel and cube potatoes. Add to pan along with 2 cups of the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add remaining broth, corn and broccoli; simmer until broccoli is tender, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add salt to taste.

Sprinkle each serving with cheese and serve.

Thursday's Child: Anse Chastanet Beach, Saint Lucia

Thursday, January 9, 2014
Sometimes I have a complex reason for choosing a travel post to write about. Maybe I've read a poem that reminds me of a trip we've taken. Maybe a country is in the news because of politics or natural disaster, and I'm thinking about the people we met there. Some months I've chosen a theme (like places of worship, or museums) and written about four experiences we've had on that theme.

The motivation in choosing today's post was pretty straightforward. I had never even heard of the phrase "polar vortex" until a week or two ago, and now my life is defined by it.  When we visited our friends on Lake Simcoe last week, the thermometer read minus thirty two degrees. Earlier this week in Toronto, the wind chill hit minus forty degrees. I wore snow pants on my five minute walk to Pilates class. It is very cold.

All I wanted to do today was remember a time when I was warm. It's that simple. So, ladies and gentleman, welcome to the beach in St. Lucia. Wish I was there now.

The Snow Man

Sunday, January 5, 2014
"One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."

- Wallace Stevens, "The Snow Man"

The first recipe I posted in 2013 was an arugula salad, and I couldn't think of a better way to start 2014 than with another one. I made a few substitutions to Ina Garten's original recipe, so I've noted both the original and revised ingredients below. Whether you've made a resolution to eat more healthy food, or are simply looking for a delicious salad recipe, Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese and Arugula is a perfect way to start the year.

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese and Arugula
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten)


3 ripe but firm Anjou pears
freshly squeezed lemon juice, about half a lemon's worth (first amount)
3 ounces coarsely crumbled sharp blue cheese
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I used dried cherries)
1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped (I used pecan halves)
1/2 cup apple cider
3 Tablespoons port (I used brandy)
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about two lemons' worth (second amount)
6 ounces baby arugula
a pinch of kosher salt


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. Remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling. Trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so they can sit in a baking dish without wobbling. Toss the pears with lemon juice (first amount) to prevent browning. Arrange them core side up in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.

Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries and walnuts together in a small bowl. Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it on top of the indentation.

In the same small bowl, combine the apple cider, port and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake pears, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes or until tender. Set aside until warm or at room temperature.

Just before serving, whisk together the olive oil, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the basting liquid in a large bowl. Add the arugula and toss well. Divide the arugula among 6 plates and top each with a pear half. Drizzle each pear with some of the basting liquid, sprinkle with salt, and serve warm.

Thursday's Child: New Year's in Nicaragua

Thursday, January 2, 2014
No matter what we did this year for New Year's Eve, it wasn't going to surpass how we spent it last year.

As I write this, it's minus 17 degrees Celsius in Toronto. Last New Year's was spent on the beach in Nicaragua. I can't tell you what the temperature was there, but I know we spent most of the day in or around the ocean.

That night, we had a festive dinner in the open-air restaurant, and headed down to the beach around 11:00 when the first set of fireworks went off. By then, the beach area was pitch black, and we made our way to the celebration tent with the help of lit torches that lined the path. We were given celebratory drinks and party masks, and spent the next hour listening to music, waving sparklers, and wading in the ocean. We were curious about a stuffed effigy that resembled an old man sitting in the middle of a circle of torches, but were told we'd find out more at midnight.

The evening went on, and staff counted down the seconds until midnight, when a second set of fireworks were set off. At the same time, one of the employees set fire to the effigy, also known as Ano Viejo. It represents all the sorrows and disappointments of the last year. As it burned, we were invited to let go of any negative feelings associated with the previous year, and welcome hope and change for the coming year.

Happy New Year!