23/09/2014

Women in Clothes Making Soup

I approached this post in a different way than I have any other. I was inspired by a talk I attended last week, promoting the new book Women in Clothes, a compilation of interviews, conversations and thoughts about how women relate to clothes, dressing and style. This is not your typical fashion book. In fact, fashion seems to have little to do with what the editors of Women in Clothes are trying to accomplish. It's a book about the why instead of the what of dressing; the general premise is that what you wear isn't as important as why you wear it.

At the heart of the book is a survey of 83 questions, which you can check out and fill out on the Women in Clothes website. I decided to answer a few of these questions and share some of my more interesting replies. The outfit and recipe in this post are inspired by my answers.
1. WHEN DO YOU FEEL AT YOUR MOST ATTRACTIVE?

WHEN I CONNECT WITH ANOTHER PERSON. HONEST CONVERSATION between two people SUGGESTs MUTUAL ATTRACTION AND INTEREST. 

2. DO YOU NOTICE WOMEN ON THE STREET? IF SO, WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU TEND TO NOTICE OR ADMIRE?

Most often, I notice women who look Polished but at ease. These individuals look like they put thought and care into dressing, but don't really think or care about they look Once they are dressed. Dressing for these women is not an effortless process but it has a care-free conclusion.

3. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU ADMIRE ABOUT HOW OTHER WOMEN PRESENT THEMSELVES?

I always admire when other women can pull off looks that I cannot.

4. ARE THERE ANY CLOTHING (OR RELATED) ITEMS THAT YOU HAVE IN MULTIPLE? WHY DO YOU THINK YOU KEEP BUYING THIS THING?

Coats and blazers. I have far too many (closets full) and I've realized, in a given year, I barely have time to wear them all. So why do I keep buying them? I think I like what they represent: structure.

5. WHAT ARE SOME RULES ABOUT DRESSING YOU FOLLOW, BUT YOU WOULDN'T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS?

For some reason, I tend to abide by the rule "Don't wear more than one piece of jewelry at a time." I've never been a jewelry person (i rarely buy jewelry and when i do it's only because I really, really love something) and the idea of wearing more than one piece seems too busy to me. Of course, tons of women pull off wearing multiple pieces and it looks great; it's just not for me. Also, i've never pierced my ears and don't plan to. "No earrings" is another one.

6. WHAT IS AN ARCHETYPAL OUTFIT FOR YOU; ONE THAT YOU COULD HAVE HAPPILY WORN AT ANY POINT IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

Jeans, t shirt, blazer, flats. I like this outfit because it feels timeless, not only in terms of fashion history, but also in terms of my own historical relation to fashion. I hated sneakers and hoodies as a child; I would have much preferred to have worn flats and a blazer, though they were hard to find in my size at the time.

7. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS GETTING DRESSED IN THE MORNING? WHAT ARE YOU CONSIDERING?

In order of most to least importAnt, i consider: the weather, what I'll be doing on a particular day (who I'll be meeting, where I'll be going), my mood, what I've neglected to wear recently.

8. DO YOU HAVE STYLE IN ANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE ASIDE FROM FASHION?

I definitely have a Cooking Style. My instincts in the kitchen are to make hearty dishes reminiscent of comfort or peasant food, but always with the freshest ingredients I can find. I like to make food that's best tackled on a Sunday, when there's time for it to simmer on the stovetop and nothing is too rushed. When I cook food that isn't of this style, I feel slightly uncomfortable/out of my element, as if I was wearing someone else's clothes.

wearing: limited edition "I See You" t shirt by Judith Henderson, 
Theory blazer, Guess JeansBCBG flats (similar)

There are 75 more questions in the survey and I encourage you to take a look at them. This was quite a revealing process for me and I think it would be for any woman. Though I put a lot of thought into what I wear and how I dress, I had never really considered why I make the style choices I do. I was especially interested by my response to the question of multiples in my closet. I've always known I have a penchant for blazers and coats but I had never deliberated why. It's interesting that the blazer also features in my archetypal outfit. Clearly, I've always craved structure.

The last question is a fun one because I most definitely do have a style of cooking. I like to think that my blog's recipe index is indicative of what this style is, but I also wanted to share with you a recipe that is the perfect expression of how I like to cook. It could only be one thing: French Onion Soup. Does it get any more hearty and comforting? I love the process: slow-cook the onions, develop the flavour of the broth, top with bread and cheese and broil until brown. It's the type of food that demands a glass of wine but could also cure a cold, indulgent and nourishing all at once. I like my soup spicy so I add a big spoonful of dijon mustard to the onions just after they caramelize. Think of it as my personal take on a classic style.
French Onion Soup
makes enough for four generous helpings (plus a little extra)

you will need...
2 pounds of yellow onions, sliced thinly
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
plenty of fresh thyme (6-8 full sprigs)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons flour
1 cup of dry white wine (preferably French)
4 cups of beef stock
2 cups water
salt and pepper

baguette, sliced to fit into oven-proof bowls
gruyere, grated (plan to use up to 1/3 cup of grated cheese per bowl)

In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, thyme and bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary, for 30-35 minutes, or until onions are caramelized and deep amber in colour. Add mustard and stir to combine. Add flour and stir, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add wine; allow to bubble away for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. I usually make this soup ahead of time so it can have at least an hour or so to sit off the heat, allowing the flavour to deepen (overnight is even better!).

Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves; discard. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat broiler. Toast sliced baguette on baking sheet until browned. Divide soup between heat-proof bowls on the baking sheet. Top with bread and cheese (use as much as you like). Melt cheese in the oven until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

16/09/2014

Autumn, Apples and a Slice of Humble Cake

After summer ends, there always seems to be a brief period in September when we return to school and work but the weather fails to cooperate with our renewed allegiance to busyness. I recall many first days of school spent in sweaty longing, all students wishing for the same thing: that we were either outside enjoying the still-summer weather or inside studying on a cool, crisp autumn day. Well, maybe the latter was just me...

This year, it seems the weather gods finally got the memo. Almost overnight, a welcome change occurred in my corner of the world: time for layered sweaters and plenty of cozy cooking, fall harvests and thoughts of winter stores. I'm embracing it all and don't plan on looking back. Autumn, I'm glad you're here.


I can very clearly remember the first time I realised autumn was my season. I was nine years old and had reached a point in my development when I considered books to be the best company. Though I had plenty of friends, I had come to find that fictional characters were much more interesting than any of my actual, in-the-flesh companions. Sad, perhaps, but very true.

After school, I loved to sit in my backyard, a blanket wrapped around me, and read until it got dark. One day in September, my grandmother approached. "I love the way the air changes this time of year," she remarked. "So crisp and cool. So refreshing!" I nodded eagerly in agreement. I liked that too, I realised. I liked that I needed a blanket to sit outside. I liked that the evenings grew dark a little earlier every day. I liked that summer was over and something new had started. And so began my love affair with fall.

During my recent visit to Nova Scotia, I took full advantage of the seasonal change. Long walks revealed subtle tweaks in the landscape from day to day—a yellowed field here, curled, fallen leaves there—and though we kept up our summer ritual of a glass of wine outside in the late afternoon, we had to chase the sun, dragging our chairs behind us, as it moved to the back of the garden earlier and earlier. The best part? I treated my family to a bit of fall baking: a hearty cake recipe worthy of the season.
Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, where my family lives, is famous for its apples. September is harvest time and the first pickings pop up in the markets in every colour, size and variety just as the season hits its stride. Gravenstein apples are grown widely in the area and they're the perfect fruit for cooking and baking. Firm and crisp (there's that word again), they hold their own when met with heat.

This Gravenstein Apple Cake is a real beauty. It's quite a big cake—tall and full of flavour—but it lacks the pretension we associate with other show stoppers. No layers or intricate buttercream here! Instead, cinnamon, pecans, shredded coconut, grated apple and the unexpected addition of orange juice make for a moist crumb with some spicy warmth. And why not gild the lily? A spoonful of buttermilk sauce keeps things perfectly gooey.

I should mention that this recipe strikes me as being quite old fashioned. It was written by the late Nova Scotian food writer Marie Nightingale and the proportions of sugar and oil, as you will see, are quite generous, reminiscent of how cakes were made twenty years ago, but not unwelcome. Go with it. It works! Also, for those who aren't familiar with the term "unpared" (I wasn't), it means unpeeled. When you grate the apples for the cake, leave the peel on.
Gravenstein Apple Cake with Buttermilk Sauce
adapted from here
makes one large bundt cake

for the cake, you will need...
three cups of all-purpose (unbleached) flour
one teaspoon of baking soda
one teaspoon ground cinnamon
two cups of granulated sugar
three eggs
one and one-quarter cups of canola oil
one teaspoon vanilla
one-quarter cup orange juice
two cups grated, unpared Garvenstein apples (three to four apples should do it)
one cup chopped pecans
one cup flaked coconut

for the buttermilk sauce, you will need...
one cup granulated sugar
one-half cup unsalted butter
one half teaspoon baking soda
one-half cup buttermilk (make your own!)

Generously grease and flour a large bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon and whisk to sift. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, canola oil, vanilla and orange juice. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until well blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined.

By hand, fold in apple, pecans and coconut, making sure everything is evenly distributed. Spoon batter (it's thick!) into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 15-25 minutes, or until cake top springs back when lightly pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes and then remove cake from pan, flipping out onto cake plate. Serve cake warm with buttermilk sauce (below).

To make the sauce, combine sugar, butter, baking soda and buttermilk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

Serve each slice of cake with a generous drizzle of sauce and a bit of maple syrup-sweetened whipped cream.

08/09/2014

On Home

It seems to be a running joke with some of my friends that I travel home from Montreal to visit my family in Nova Scotia at least once a month. While this is definitely false (and mildly annoying), it's probably not a completely unfair exaggeration. The truth is: I come home a lot. I work from home, so I can basically work from anywhere in the world, and more than a few times a year that anywhere is Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

Can you blame me? Anyone who has spent any time in this area knows of its beauty and its bounty, its welcome quiet and its humble charm. I can't count the times I've met someone who's lived or visited here with whom I've formed an instant connection. We all agree it's a very special place and though I'm not ready to move back quite yet, I do envision myself settling into a big old farm house by the Gaspereau River in the distant future. For now, I'm content with my quarterly visits.
A major part of the Annapolis Valley's allure is that it feels like a well-kept secret. We get tourists but never many, and the population doesn't seem to grow in any noticeable way, likely due to the lack of employment in the area (another topic for another day). It feels untouched, discounted, missed by those just scanning the surface. The result is lots of space, not too many people, and a feeling of hushed appreciation for what we know is ours.

Am I spilling the beans with this post? Perhaps. But as this blog claims to be about my experiences with domesticity, I thought it was due time I shared with you the place I feel most at home.

My family lives in the village of Port Williams, a sleepy little community nestled amongst a series of farmers' fields. We are small (population just over 1000 last time someone checked) but we are mighty: we have a pub, a microbrewery (soon to be two), a fresh pasta shop, a cheese house and a winery. Clearly, we have our priorities in order.

My family frequents all the local establishments: we get our milk and gelato from Fox Hill Cheese House, our fresh pasta from The Noodle Guy, our beer from Sea Level Brewing and the occasional bottle of wine from Planters Ridge. And on hot afternoons, my family loves nothing more than heading down to the Port Pub. Perched on the bank of the Cornwallis river, we sip on something tasty and watch the tide come in or go out depending on the day (though more often than not, it's hard to tell the difference).
More than the community itself, my family home is what I miss most when I'm away. It's where I first learned to cook and truly appreciate what food can be: a connector, a life force, an art form. Whenever I'm in town, my mother and I spend half of our time in the kitchen, the other half eating or planning what we'll eat next. On clear summer nights, we dine in our garden room, a small wooden structure tucked behind the greenery at the back of our yard.

What does a night at home look like? I carry down the necessities (wine, cutlery, napkins, sea salt and pepper) in a wicker basket to ensure our summer table is set in one go. We watch the sun go down while we eat good food, something simple like grilled salmon, and the temperature drops. We head in when it's too cold to stay out, full and happy and ready for bed.
George's Grilled Salmon
While my mother and I do most of the cooking at home, my stepfather is an expert griller. Salmon is his specialty (seared on the outside, buttery and moist on the inside) and a "convection-style" method is his claim to fame. Here's how he does it...

Remove salmon (portions or fillet) from fridge 30 minutes before grilling. Allow to air-dry on a large plate and season with plenty of salt and pepper. If using grill baskets (George recommends it), grease with olive oil to ensure your fish doesn't stick. Ignite the grill and allow it to reach a high heat before beginning.

Place salmon skin-side down on the grill baskets. If your fillet is big, you'll need to cut it into smaller portions so it fits easily. Cook over high heat until skin becomes crisp. Flip salmon and peel off skin. Season with salt and pepper on this side. Put down lid and cook for 5 minutes.

Flip salmon again. Turn off half of the grill's flame and transfer salmon to the non-ignited area. Keep one half of the grill ignited and hot. Put down lid to create a convection effect. Allow to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until salmon is done.