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.

02/09/2014

On Summer's End

And just like that, September came knocking. Fall may be my favourite season but its coming is always bittersweet. I mourn summer's end just like anyone else: the long days, the languid pace, the cold beers and sweet smoke of the BBQ. Is it really over? It seems that way. I hope you, like I, made the most of these final days.

I said goodbye to summer with a road trip. AP's band is on tour right now and I joined them for the first leg, hitching a ride back to Nova Scotia to spend the end with my family. The car packed full to the seams, I squeezed in in the back seat and watched the world pass by in a hazy blur: deep woods, yellowed fields, the occasional sombre cow. Much of the same, really, like an endless loop. We napped with our heads resting on bulky luggage, waking up to the same scenes we fell asleep to.

At one point, just as the sky grew dark, the moon high and bright, we stopped on the side of the road for a quick stretch and the cool wind had us reaching for our sweaters (at least those of us who thought to bring one). I realised then that we must accept the inevitable: early darkness, revised wardrobes. Best to wear the bright and the summery as much as possible while we still can.

I bought these fun patterned shorts at an end of summer sale just last week. While I had coveted them all summer, I wasn't ready or willing to fork over a ton for another pair of shorts. When I saw them on sale, I snatched them up quick. I love their '60s vibe, especially when paired with pale sea green, a pop of lobster red and sunglasses that look like they were made fifty years prior. The season for this outfit is mostly over, I admit, but I wore it to death this past weekend for one last hurrah. Go out with a bang, as they say. 
worn: Zara shorts, Twik top, Anthropologie sunglasses (similar), Calvin Klein flats, H&M bag

And now I find myself home. I must say: being here with my family in Nova Scotia this time of year feels incredibly right. I guess it's because I spent most of my life heading "back to school" in this town, from this house, something I always loved. I'll be keeping watch for that big yellow school bus this week, envying that first day adrenaline and the new school supplies stuffed into backpacks, swinging as they run.

My first night home, we toasted the end of the season with a true summer feast: bright red lobster fresh from the Atlantic. For me, it is the epitome of summer food and I only eat it here in the Maritimes where it's best. After devouring every last morsel of sweet meat, my mother and I used the shells to make a lobster stock. It's our way of preserving the feeling of the season, of holding on to the now for just a little bit longer. We'll use it in seafood risotto or chowder in the months to come and remember what it was like when the days were long and the nights were hot. See you later, summer.
Stock of Lobster
adapted from here

you will need...
bodies and shells from 2-4 lobsters
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), sliced
3 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 a pound of white mushrooms, chopped
4-5 plum tomatoes (or an equal amount of any other tomato variety), chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh herbs: we used a combination of thyme and tarragon
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup of dry white wine
salt
water

special equipment...
large stock pot
fine mesh sieve
cheesecloth

Break the lobster shells into small pieces. Open up the bodies and remove the feathery gills and the sand sac between the eyes. Crush the bodies to ensure they will fit in a large stock pot.

In the stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion, celery, leeks and carrots for 3-4 minutes until onion and leek are soft. Add lobster shells and bodies and stir, cooking for an additional 3 minutes. 

Add the garlic and mushrooms. Stir to combine and cook for another 2-3 minutes (garlic will be fragrant). Add the tomatoes, fresh herbs and bay leaves. Add the wine. Mix well and cook until most of the alcohol has burned off (this will take 3-4 minutes). Add enough water to cover your ingredients by 2 inches. 

Bring to a boil and then simmer for 90 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Once your stock is full flavoured and properly seasoned, turn off the heat and remove and discard any big shells and vegetable pieces with tongs. Strain the rest of the broth through a fine mesh sieve with a piece of cheese cloth set inside of it. 

Pour into resealable glass jars or containers. Your stock will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.

25/08/2014

On Contrast

The figure of the teacher who changes lives, makes a difference and has the power to touch and inspire all of his or her students (even that one lost soul at the back of the classroom) seems to me to be pure myth. In my many years as a student, I encountered quite a few fantastic educators but their status as fantastic was never a unanimous certainty. In fact, more often than not, those teachers who were the best in my mind were often the worst in the minds of many others. They were controversial, bold and brilliant, and therefore divisive, difficult and not always easy to agree with.

One professor from my time as an undergraduate especially comes to mind. I took two classes with him and observed in each the way his students would either love or hate him. It was as if his classes were split right down the middle and it was always very obvious to me who responded to his unusual teaching style and who did not.
Unusual may be putting it mildly... Eccentric is probably a better word, as this prof was truly unlike any other. He had been teaching since the dawn of time, not atypical in academia, but he was not the stodgy conservative we had come to expect from the elder professorial set. Instead, he was free-thinking to the point of absurdity. Though he taught us about art, film and literature, it was all just context, an excuse to discuss what he really wanted: his views about life and living and being in the world. And what views they were!

Some of it I took with a grain of salt (his belief in reincarnation, for instance, didn't win me over), but some of it has stayed with me and informed how I live (and cook and dress) in my everyday life.

He believed strongly in contrast. He spoke of the beauty inherent in opposites, the necessity of bad for the sake of good, of dark for the sake of light. It may seem an obvious notion, but the way he explained it helped me to appreciate even the worst moments. They exist, he would say, so as to magnify, enhance and accentuate the best moments.
And so I started seeing the harmony in all contrasting forces. Not just in philosophical notions of good and bad, but in the small details of the everyday. Think of style. I realised I often conjure a sense of contrariety in the way I dress: feminine and masculine, structured and structureless. Or, in the case of this outfit, converse patterns (stripes and dots) find expression in foiled shades (black and white).

And think of food: many of the best mouthfuls include contrasting textures, colours and flavours. Salt and sweet, vanilla and chocolate, though commonly considered opposite pairings, both exist at the heart of a good chocolate chip cookie. You can't achieve that balanced bite, so iconic, without contrast. I took it all one step further with this recipe and chose to highlight the vanilla of the chocolate chip cookie, usually a haunting, imperceptible presence, and added vanilla ice cream to the mix. An ice cream sandwich as an emblem of beautiful opposition.

There's something quite amazing about harnessing difference to make a harmonious whole and as I write this I realise that perhaps that's why the best teachers, creators, artists and people, or even foods, drinks, styles and trends, are both loved and hated, adored and feared. Though they embody contrast, they also invoke it. I love that about them.
details of dress: Paulista Ruffle Skirt (on sale), Project Social T Ribbed Shirt, Dolce Vita sandals (similar), Alberta di Canio clutch, Anthropologie sunglasses (similar), vintage bracelet

Chocolate Chip-Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich
cookie recipe adapted from the Joy the Baker Cookbook
makes plenty (about a dozen sandwiches, or twenty-four cookies)

you will need...

two and one-quarter cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

one teaspoon salt

one teaspoon baking soda

one cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

one cup packed light brown sugar (make your own!)

two teaspoons pure vanilla extract

one teaspoon molasses

one-half cup granulated sugar

one large egg

one large egg yolk

one cup bittersweet chocolate chips

to make the cookies...

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside for later.

Next, brown 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter. How do you do this? Put the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted, continue cooking. When the foam disappears and your butter is brown and fragrant, remove from heat and immediately transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool slightly (for about 15 minutes).

In a large bowl fitted with a stand mixer, combine remaining 1/2 cup of room temperature butter and brown sugar. Cream together on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add vanilla and molasses and beat on medium until incorporated.

Is your brown butter slightly cooled? Add it to the creamed brown sugar and butter, making sure to scrape in any brown bits that may have settled at the bottom of the small bowl. Add the granulated sugar and cream together (about 2 minutes). Add the egg and the egg yolk and beat for 1 minute more.

Stop the machine and add the flour, salt and baking soda mixture. Beat on low until flour is just incorporated. Remove bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the star of the show, your chocolate chips, by hand.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. While dough is chilling, pre-heat oven to 350 with racks in the the centre and upper third of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment and once dough is cool, scoop tablespoons onto each baking sheet. Leave 2 inches between each cookie.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until cookies turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

to make the ice cream sandwiches...

Sandwich vanilla ice cream between two cooled chocolate chip cookies. Eat immediately or wrap and return to the freezer to keep safe (and cold!) for later. When ready to consume, remove from the freezer and allow to defrost for a few minutes so as not to break a tooth.