Hope and Pho.

September 30, 2010 § 5 Comments

 

Staying positive.

Last Wednesday started off the same as any other Wednesday.  I woke up, did the morning routine of rushing everything so we’d have time to stop for coffee and made my way to work.   The end of my lunch break was when the balance started shifting.  I called my mom to see how she was feeling, she’d had a dentist appointment the day before and had sounded off when I’d called to see how it went.  Now something about my mom you must know before I continue is that she often sounds funny, she’s a bit of a scatter brain at the best of times and she can focus about as well as a 6-year-old at Disneyland, but we love her for it.  I thought this increase in funniness was from a sedative I assumed the dentist had given her, he hadn’t.  When I called on Wednesday she didn’t sound off she was incomprehensible .  Two and a half hours later at the end of my shift, she sounded worse and I could feel the stability of the ground beneath me start to soften, my knees became a little week.  Sometimes instinct opens the door to panic and sometimes that panic completely removes you from reality, I could feel it coming but I stopped it in its tracks, I asked it to come back another time because when I got there and saw how bad she was, I needed to stay firmly planted in the now.  Pale.  Sallow.  Incoherent.  She felt hot, she couldn’t remember the last two days or even the last 5 minutes.  Stroke, was all I could think and I rushed to call 911.  Now I”m pretty good in an emergency and by the time the results from her CT scan were back and my husband had arrived at the hospital I was ready to hear “stroke”, I had wrestled with and cried over my guilt at not trusting my instinct the day before and moved forward, I’d prepared myself for months of appointments with speech pathologists and physiotherapists, I’d already decided she’d move in with us until she was well.  When the neurologist brought us in to the “quiet room” the door to panic had been sealed up and reality was were I resided.  “It’s bad news” the doctor said.  Yup, bring it on I thought, I’m the good daughter and I’ve already signed up for the long haul.

“It’s a tumor, and it looks bad”…insert profanity…I was not prepared for that…now this didn’t happen in slow motion, it was instantaneous.  The door to panic that instinct had unlocked was ripped right off it’s hinges and reality was long gone and with it were the ground and the forces that held me to it.  Everything started to fall around me and I desperately needed something to hang on to, my mind needed something to hold on to…  I slipped off the edge of that place where bad things don’t happen to good people, the place where breath comes easily and it doesn’t hurt to be alive…I was desperate for a place of refuge and it would not come.   But then there were arms around me, just in the nick of time, they held the pieces of me together, Shanes arms, tight around me, no words…tight enough for me to lose control and let the sobs consume me, quiet enough for me to know I was safe to do so and strong enough to remind me that I too, could be strong.  It wasn’t just a hug, it was the first gasp of air when your sure you can’t hold your breath any longer,  it was a life-preserver in a terrifying, roaring, swelling ocean of things unseen, of things unknown.

17 hours, an ambulance transfer, another neurologist and multiple specifically timed doses of the miracle drug that brought down the swelling in her brain, only after all that, she started to come around.  Her words were less slurred and she struggled less to find them.  It’s amazing what beacons of light,of hope can be found in a word like “soup”.  She wanted soup…case in point…at our most basic, our most vulnerable it is comfort that we seek.  So back over the Port Mann bridge I went, having had 3 sporadic hours of sleep but feeling euphoric I arrived at our favorite place for Pho, and bless their hearts, at 945am they’d been open for 15 minutes.

It’s been one week and one pretty successful surgery.  They didn’t get it all, but they gave us time.  I’ll take it.  She’s not back to normal, but she’s still here.  I’ll take that too.  Tonight, at my most basic and my absolute most vulnerable, I’m craving comfort with a vengeance.  Rice noodles swimming in a flavorful broth, allspice and chillies lingering on my tongue, flecked with the brightness of fresh mint,cilantro and a squeeze of lime, the beacons of light in this hurricane.  It’s probably about as far from traditional as this Canadian girl in Chilliwack can get, but I don’t care.  It will bring me comfort, a brief release from this all-consuming fear.  With Shanes arms around me and a steaming bowl of spicy Pho in my lap, it will still hurt to be alive, but I am, alive.  And tonight, so is my mom.  There is an immense amount of comfort in that, I’ll bring her a bowl of it tomorrow.

Laticia’s untraditional Pho

serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1-500g package rice noodles
  • 1 jar hoisin sauce
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • half an onion, diced or sliced (however you like them)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 thin slices fresh ginger, I like to mince half and leave the rest in match stick slices, but do what ever you’d like.
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 8-10 cups chicken broth, depends how brothy you want yours.  It’s all about the noodles for me.
  • leaves from one bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • leaves from one bunch of mint, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 or 2 limes cut into wedges

This is really a recommendation more than a recipe, so tweak what you want to.  When I cook I often wing it and this is one of those times, feel free to wing it yourself.  Add more or less of the things you like or don’t like, add things I haven’t even listed if you want.  It’s your soup.  I like to add hoisin sauce to my individual bowl of soup, hot sauce too.

  1. In a large bowl, cover noodles with warm water until pliable, about 20 minutes.
  2. I like to get the BBQ good and hot and grill the chicken breast, basting frequently with hoisin sauce.  Grill about 5-7 minutes per side, until juices run clear.  Let rest on a plate covered with foil while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  3. While chicken grills heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot, mince your onion, garlic and ginger and add to heated oil.  Let everything soften and get aromatic, it’s ready when the onions start to look translucent and golden, 7-10 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle on allspice and saute another minute or two.
  5. Pour broth into pot, scraping up any bits of yumminess from the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a boil then turn it off.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Chop up the cilantro and mint and slice your lime(s) into wedges, set aside.

To assemble:  Put serving of noodles into individual bowls, cover with broth.  Add a hand full of bean sprouts.  Slice chicken and place on top of noodles.  Sprinkle with fresh herbs, squeeze on some lime juice and add  hoisin and/or hot sauce to taste.

Side note: We ended up cooking the chicken in a frying pan tonight, ran out of propane.  Wingin it, still yummy.

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Impatience and chocolate chip cookies.

September 22, 2010 § 3 Comments

I’m not a good student, never have been.  When I decide I’d like to know how to do something and set out to learn, I want to get it right away.  I would like to pick up a book, read a little, look at the pictures and then knock one out of the park after my first trial run.  I can admit it, I’m about as impatient as a two-year old.  I can stomp my foot, glare and get teary eyed alongside the best of them.  Just ask Sam and Shane to tell you about the time I tried to roller skate, let’s just say it was a good thing I had a book in the car.  Some things I abandon; dance classes and learning dutch, some things I revisit after a bout of unreasonable pouting; snowboarding and chocolate pate, some things get put on “The List”.  “The List” is a compilation of things I’d like to learn as soon as I stop sulking over the fact that I wont get it right away, the things that are going to take a real investment of my time before I figure them out;  playing the piano (one of my closest friends GAVE me hers, it was her moms, a gift she got from her parents when she was a teenager.  I know, crazy right?  It’s part of why I love her), knit (I make a decent scarf, but so can a lot of 12 year olds), quilt (okay, okay, just finish the one I started two three years ago).  Photography got put on The List back in the 11th grade, as did baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  I know I need to respect the process, but I can’t help wanting to know how to do it. Right.  Now.  The down side of this are the few and crappy photos you’ll find here as I learn, but the upside, the upside is the probability of a lot of chocolate chip cookies, I hope that’s an even trade.

The cookie I’ve been dreaming about, obsessing about,  is rich and buttery, soft  and chewy in the middle but crispy at the edges, with a not to chocolaty chip to dough ratio.  You would think that’s not too much to ask but you’d be surprised, or rather, you will be!

I needed to wear a sweater around the house over the weekend, I even considered socks, I had goose bumps!  I can’t bring myself to entertain the idea it might be time to ignite the pilot light on the furnace or fireplaces, that would be accepting the inevitable end of summer.  The brief breakthroughs of gorgeous light that snuck through the clouds this weekend were just enough to keep me hanging on a little longer.  But the all to frequent fluctuation between misting and downpours convinced me it was safe to turn the oven on in the afternoon, baking in the toaster oven on the back porch, as to avoid raising the temperature in the house by even half a degree, will no longer be necessary.  It’s a bitter-sweet concession and I refuse to retire my flip-flops yet.  The most logical thing to do on a sweater around the house/safe to turn the oven on at 1pm day was to of course make my first batch of chocolate chip cookies since…(insert sigh of defeat creeping in)…last fall.  I found this recipe at smittenkitchen.com.

Crispy, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from AllRecipes.com 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time (for giant cookies) or a tablespoon at a time (for smaller cookies) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake larger cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones (check your cookies before they’re done; depending on your scoop size, your baking time will vary) in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Side note:  I made 3 dozen smaller cookies but still had to cook them 15-17 minutes.  Just watch them closely, over cooking makes them all crispy, no chew. 

So obviously the title had me intrigued, could it be this easy?  Could this be the one?  The answer, sadly was….no.  The cookies delivered on their “Crispy, Chewy” claim, wich is impressive in its self,  but I’m looking for more depth of flavour.  I only had 1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips but still found the chocolate chip to dough ratio to high (sounds crazy I know, but it makes me sad and frustrated when there are chips left in the bowl because there wasn’t enough dough for them to snuggle into.  It’s a kind of crime in my kitchen to waste chocolate).  I’m not saying they’re not worthy, just not The One, I’m even committing to try again, next time I’m thinking of  using brown sugar alone, browning the butter not just melting it and using 1 and 1/4 cups chocolate chips. 

When I whined about my misfortune at work (come on, you knew I would.  I warned you) , my boss recommended her grandmothers recipe.  My hope has been temporarily restored, we’ll see.

The long version and lemon roast chicken.

September 18, 2010 § 3 Comments

I guess if your reading this blog I should tell you more about  why I called it “4 The Love of Lemons” and what a sensuous life means to me. Technically this should have been my first post, I started writing  it in June, but there’s no rules for blogging, is there?  Well, here it is.  The long version.

 Honestly I started writing “posts” and named the blog months before I found the courage to start it, and by courage I mean you, and you all know who you are!   I tried to think of some sentimental reason I started it of with “4” and not “For” but the reason is not so, it’s really just because “For” was already taken.  I did however, start with a memory of turning 4, so we could say that too!  

As far as the lemons go, I don’t actually love them, not more than any other fruit or vegetable, although, I will note that I HATE okra…ew…What I do love are the images a lemon can conjure in my mind, the inspiration ( I can find it anywhere, really); the view from my deck on a clear day, a cool Sauvignon blanc, the gift of quiet solitude, Oma.  Lemons, like any or all foods for that matter, have the ability to transcend  nutritional value and give way to uninhibited comfort, think lemon roast chicken.  I’ve given a lot of thought to the definition of comfort, my current favorites are; “enjoyment of freedom from mental or physical discomfort, the  contentment resulting from the satisfying of wants; also, the things that produce such a state” (dictionary.reference.com).  “The satisfying of wants”, sounds taboo doesn’t it?  Sounds like a state of perfection that I’d like to linger in as often as possible.  So I cook,sometimes with lemons, to satisfy and occasionally overindulged my wants, to experience uninhibited comfort.  To feel free of physical and mental discomfort.  To feel. Physically and mentally. 

A dear friend of mine once described an experience eating as sensuous, the dinner party laughed at his innuendo so he explained that the term sensuous has gotten an adults only connotation, we’ve made it synonyms with sexual gratification when it in fact means to appeal to the senses.  He was right, it’s also defined as; “being readily affected through the senses and being highly appreciative of the pleasures of sensation” (yourdictionary.com).  Being affected by and appreciative of  the things that make you happy, sounds comforting to me!  How could I  not connect the two?   The ultimate state of comfort should appeal to all our senses and for me lemons are one of the things that do.  In feeding our cravings, satisfying our wants, be it with food or how we chose to live our lives, we are able to create sensuous experiences.  “Attempts at a sensuous life” means to notice the gifts, from the minute to the magnificent, experience them in every possible way, and to appreciate and share the opportunities I have to do that.

I cook inspired by lemons,the weather,my mood, my loved ones.  I cook because I love to, because it brings me comfort through all my senses.  I cook and eat the way I want to live; for comfort, for love, to spoil and be spoiled, to take time, to notice.  It’s what we all want, at our most basic, our most vulnerable; to enjoy and have appreciation for a life free from physical and mental discomfort.  To hear it, touch it, see it, to smell it, to taste it.  It is for the love of lemons, the love of comfort and a desire to experience life with all of my senses, that I cook, that I’ll cook for you…with the hopes that you find some comfort too, living a life that appeals to all of your senses.

Tonight I’ll eat alone, I have the house to myself and I intend to take advantage of that luxury.  I’m planning to overdose on comfort in the form of an entire lemon roast chicken, yup I cooked one just for me!  And if that’s not enough to put me over the edge, I bought myself a  Pinot Blanc and some  Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream for dessert.  Excessive?  A bit.  Indulgent?  Sure is.  Sensuous?  Absolutely, that’s kind of the point.  As I type I can hear the butter and olive oil dancing in the pan as the hot juices ooze from the sliced lemon, and the smell? I can’t even tell you.  Theres something reassuring about the crispy, golden warmth of a roast chicken and I guess that’s what I needed tonight.

Lemon Roast Chicken, From Nigella Lawsons’  “Feast”, serves 2-4

1 x 1.5kg chicken

1 lemon

1 Tbs Maldon salt or 1/2 Tbs table salt

20-25g butter

dribble olive oil

Pre heat oven to gas mark 7/220c  (yeah, yeah, I know.  Typing like I read it.  I go with 425F).  Make sure your chicken is at room temperature, and cut off any string or rubber bands (my craving didn’t allow for this today so it got as close to room temp as it could between the butcher and my house, with a wine and ice cream stop too.  Still delicious).  Sit the chicken in a roasting tin.  Put 1/2 the lemon into the chicken cavity, and sprinkle a little bit of salt in there as well.  Rub the butter over the skin and dribble with a little oil.  Put in the oven and cook for 1hr and 15min.  Let the chicken rest in the roasting tin for 15 minutes, sprinkling over the remaining salt and squeezing over the remaining half of lemon while it sits.

Deglaze the roasting tin with a little water, letting the juices and caramelized bits from the roast chicken make a small-volume but intensely-flavoured gravy to spoon over the carved bird.  (I didn’t do this tonight, there was a ton of juice in the bottom of the pan but I just went with the lemon juice, I also threw in a few peeled carrots cut in big chunks drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt to roast alongside the bird).

Side note:  Ridiculously simple, ridiculously delicious.  It’s doesn’t have to be an exact science.  The first time I try a recipe I try to stay as close to the original as possible but this was easily my 20th time, I’m sure I used more butter, no, I didn’t measure, and I stuffed it with a whole lemon. 

P.S.  I promise, there will be pictures.  Some time soon.  Maybe.

Update.  If you find yourself up at 4am staring into the fridge like I was this morning, unable to sleep because you may or may not have had too much wine, this chicken is also good cold and pairs well with ginger ale 😉

 

31

September 14, 2010 § 6 Comments

 

September 8th

Almost all my childhood memories are anchored by food.  My first is of my 4th birthday spent in Inglewood California at my Aunt Evelyns’ house.  I never saw her again after that, sadly I can’t say I had the chance to really know her, she passed away a short time later.  But there are a few precious things about her that I held on to, that are a part of me.  She smiled a lot and when her body was more full of happiness than a simple smile could confess her shoulders would hunch, up, like the corners of her mouth, like her whole body was smiling too.  This, I got from her. 

We made a cake.  I remember how special she made me feel, it was my birthday.  I swear it’s as if I can remember the exact taste of the vanilla icing, the shade of yellow she drew the happy face with and the bright blue that wrote out Happy Birthday.  She let me help, and then, she let me lick my fingers.  In those small gestures, in those small moments a gift of immeasurable worth was given, a passion was being nurtured.  Aunt Evelyn gave me the priceless gift of her undivided attention, her time.  And then, we ate cake!  But before candles were lit and wishes made I knew I was special, worthy, loved and loving.  My tiny hands, my tiny heart felt free, so eager to touch and taste, to become part of the process, which in the end was so much more important than the finished product.  I remember that little girl so clearly it makes my heart swell and ache for such pure moments.  It’s for me, the birth place of nostalgia, my ever-present desire to re-create over and over again the way I felt on days like that and pour it onto my friends and family.

So this September I turn 31, I’ll have cake.  I’ll lick icing from my fingers and think of aunt Evelyn smiling with her shoulders, at me, towering over our cake from my stool at the counter so filled up with love and anticipation I’m bursting at the seams.  I’ll make a wish, blow out my candles and appreciate this life and all the gifts of time, of thought that I’ve been given.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

September14th                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Saturday was the day, I turned 31.  Surrounded by the ocean, with my first pumpkin spice latte of the season and a chocolate quinoa (yes I said quinoa, amazing) cupcake I was filled up with gratitude (and apple french toast from The Blue Fox YUM!).  I was overcome with a sense of appreciation for that and those which inspire me, for what has propelled me to move forward into this unfamiliar world of blogging.

So on the evening of the 11th with the sound of an electric mixer, laughter and chatter coming from a kitchen not my own, people I care about, people who care about me, tequila cupcakes and a lit  tea light  to wish on, I took notice of the fact that this is what it’s all for, why I move forward through the days.  It’s to feel connected to the places and people who are important to me, the desire to seek them out and soak them in, to take them where ever I go.

It may seem strange that the first recipe I’m posting is one I didn’t even participate in making, but people I love did.  You’ll soon see that for as passionate about food and cooking as I am , it would be nothing without the people I love.   With all the hours I’ve spent in the kitchen, alone, with friends and family, once with aunt Evelyn, I’ve come to recognize that the time it takes to mark a celebration is the celebration it’s self and food is all about celebrating, for me anyway.  So thankyou Shane, Cory and Kerianne for taking the time to mark the celebration of my 31st the way you did and then topping it off with homemade tequila cupcakes.  Thankyou aunt Evelyn.  Happy Birthday to me.

So welcome to my party. I can guarantee there will be  type o’s, botched grammar and poor sentence structure, but it’s all part of this place, this thing I feel connected to; for food and friends, pumpkin spice lattes, memories steeped in contentment, it’s 4 the love of lemons.

 

Coco Loco Tequila Cupcakes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    From the book Tequila by Joanne Weir, yields 2 dozen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 Tbs fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Coconut Cream Frosting

  • 1/2 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbs unsweetened coconut milk, or more as needed
  • 2 Tbs tequila
  • 2 tsp coconut extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, or more as needed
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

I can’t say much about the process of working through the steps of this recipe, I was kicked out of the kitchen while the baking went on.  I can tell you it sounded like a lot of fun.  You should try to have all the ingredients on hand, although the stealth and coded trips to the grocery store seemed like half the fun.

Steps

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour 12-cupcake pans or line with paper liners.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.  Add the coconut milk, ginger and coconut extract and beat for one minute at high speed until well blended.
  4. In a measuring pitcher, stir together the tequila and buttermilk.  Add the dry ingredients in three batches to the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture in two batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing well after each addition.  Fold in the coconut.  (Geesh, there must be a better way to explain that.  But, I’m typing it as I see it,  for a moment I went back to that place in the 9th grade where I was sure my head might explode if I had to read one more math problem.  It was however, worth it)
  5. Fill each cupcake well about three-fourths full with batter.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.
  6. Let the cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto a rack and let cool completely before frosting.
  7. Meanwhile, using the electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on high speed until smooth.  With the mixer on high, slowly add the coconut milk, tequila and coconut extract.  Continue beating until thoroughly combined and smooth, about 5 minutes.  Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating on high speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.  The frosting should be smooth and spreadable.  Adjust with more coconut milk if the consistency is too thick, or more confectioners, sugar if it’s too runny.
  8. To assemble, spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

 P.S  Pictures to come.

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