Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Walking in the forest

Fog weaving through the towering heights of the giant sequoias. Sequoia National Park, April 19, 2011.

"I was thinking thoughts that fit me, walking in the forest,
raindrops dropping on me from the trees.
I found myself arriving here and there, and always,
everywhere, I knew, was the right place for me."
—Pentti Saarikoski I wander where I wander, 1965

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


No, I love YOU more!
Giant in Sequoia National Park. April 19, 2011.

“There’s so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder,
so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when we are surrounded by nature...  

yes, that’s it: just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them

teaches us how ridiculous we are—vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth—

and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor

this beauty that owes us nothing.”

— Muriel Barbery The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Friday, April 15, 2011

First hike of the season

Opposing slopes revealing the daily pattern of the sun's path and strength.

There is always that awkward time between snowshoeing and hiking seasons where the paths are not yet solid, still soft and muddy with the last of the melting snow, but temperatures lure us out of our dens and make us yearn for the hills.

This was one such weekend. It was a glorious 13 degrees, pleasantly warm and cool at the same time. Delicious. Still cool enough to need a jacket, but at times warm enough to be able to leave said jacket unzipped. Saucy.

The road through Gatineau Park is still not open, and there was enough snow lingering, for diehard skiers to squeeze in a last ski. So we hiked up the road around Lac Fortune, sticking to the very edge to allow the skiers full access to the road, although it was nearly slush, and very bare in many parts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monday Night Dinner: Risotto alla Puttanesca

With luscious photos of the Italian countryside as tasty as the recipes inside, David Rocco's Dolce Vita is a fail-safe option for some of the best meals you will ever have. Everything in this book is so scrumptious, you will probably have that no-words-mmmm-eyes-roll-back-mmm!-fork-suspended-mid-chew-mmm!! kind of reaction that will cause others to have the I'll-have-what-she's-having kind of response. Yeah. That good.

The nature of Italian cooking is to use (relatively) few ingredients that are paired so exquisitely, the integrity of each ingredient shines through. Something as simple as tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, becomes the most beautiful thing, especially with a drizzle of olive oil. Oh, olive oil, how I love thee. I could easily wander off on an ode to olive oil, but I'll refrain. Point is, the quality of the ingredients matters. Don't plan on being able to disguise those slightly mealy tomatoes in these recipes—save those for a soup where they can hide better.

I truly appreciate Rocco's approach to cooking. Marked by a flexible, imprecise style, his recipes are forgiving. (I get the impression that he's a non-measurer, like myself, although his easy-going style comes from years of experience and centuries of innate Italian knowledge in his veins, and mine predominantly laziness and a mere yearning for that intrinsic mastery.) I decided to make his Risotto alla Puttanesca, and serve it with baked trout and sautéed vegetables. Couldn't find a version of his risotto online, but here's nearly the same thing, as spaghetti.

I wish I could have captured the sounds that accompanied the production of this meal: the splash of the cooking wine into the measuring cup, the sharp, frantic sizzle of the onions, the "applause" of the hot risotto after each ladle of liquid, or the increasingly gloopy shlurp of the thickening risotto.

I love making risotto. When all the other components of the meal are under control, and I can just stand there and stir, and pay mindful attention to the rice, I find it quite meditative and calming to just stir and stir and stir. 

Re: the process: he calls for heating the stock, which I had never done before, but obviously makes sense to keep the heat, rather than cool the dish down each time you add more liquid.

Re: ingredients: Some people are iffy about anchovies, and though I wouldn't eat one straight from the can, they contribute a great flavour to a recipe, and if you cook them at the beginning with the onions, they practically dissolve. Another reason to love these small fry: I read this article recently that described how anchovy and sardine populations have increased as we've been overfishing larger, more "desirable" fish, like tuna, and we should give them more consideration. So there you go: a tasty AND environmentally conscious decision.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cabane à sucre

Mural in Vanier honouring the local sugarbush; and me, trying my best to cut pancakes with mittens...

As if spring needed anything else to make it sweeter. There's already so many things to lift my spirits and set my heart singing. Brighter days, warmer air, that renewed feeling of hope. The earth is ready to exhale. We have reached that delicate point of equilibrium where things shift from stasis to motion. Red-bellied birds scamper along the ground in fits and starts as they listen to the earth, searching for sounds of movement below. And liquid gold starts to flow again, in the veins of the trees. Right from the trees to my belly. That's right, my friends, it's maple syrup season.

Mark and I went to the Festival des Sucres in Parc Richelieu, in the middle of the city, to celebrate this wonderful time of year. (Another reason to love Ottawa: what other city has a sugar shack within the city core, where you might otherwise find a condo?) It was actually a shockingly cold day, but the sun was warm, and it was well worth it to sit outside in the sun and enjoy some pancakes, the mere purveyor (or sponge) for the object of our collective adoration and celebration.

Really, I'm totally into any festival that celebrates a single, specific food item, like cheese curds, or garlic, but maple syrup has a special place in my heart. Because of it's distinctly Canadian roots (or pre-Canadian really; it's one of the few agricultural processes not introduced by European settlers), the way it reminds me of happy times when I was a kid, visiting the local sugar shacks, or the fact that it comes from trees, not to mention it's oh-so-scrumptious qualities, or the magnificent range of amber hues it can be!

Yes, there are many reasons to love maple syrup. It's the product of a beautifully harmonious relationship with a naturally occuring process. We can't force or fool the tree into producing sap. Only the weather can do that. It takes a knowledgeable producer who knows the rhythm of the trees and the seasons to understand the variations year to year. 

There's really just no substitution. Tables just don't make good syrup. ;)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yummy flax-bran-carrot-apple muffins

This is my favourite muffin recipe. Hearty, nutty, sweet, full of all sorts of good stuff, and an excellent use of that rogue apple that is too soft to eat.

Bob's Red Mill Bran Flax Muffins
1 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup flaxseed meal
3/4 cup oat bran
1 cup brown sugar (you can do it with about half this amount, if you want)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cup carrots shredded
2 apples peeled and shredded
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup nuts chopped
3/4 cup soy milk (I use regular milk)
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour to cinnamon) in a large bowl. Stir in carrots, apples, raisins, and nuts. Combine milk, beaten eggs and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake at 350ºF for 15-20 minutes. Yields 15 medium muffins.