the left coast

I always knew that someday I would return to the west coast. Toronto winters were wearing me down. My little house in Leslieville sat on the corner of my street with 130-150 ft of sidewalk that had to be cleared all too regularly through the winter months. This Vancouver girl never quite adapted to the task…but I tried, oh I tried! I suppose hiring someone or moving to a condo may have sufficed but eventual escape was on my mind. I dreamed of all of my girls converging to closer geographical locations.

I took a hard look at the life I wanted going forward. I stumbled upon a quote that resonated with me by Doris Lessing…

“whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

It seemed to me that I had a daughter that desperately needed to fly on her own that had been living with me and another one in the west who could use some help. My middle kid is also in flux as her little family will be searching for a new job post-graduation.  I had also long dreamed of spending time in France with my sister…( more on that later)

I wanted to have a little place near Stanley Park that could be rented out if needed. Living in Manhattan for a year had taught me I could nest in a tiny space as long as I had a big park close by and the city at my doorstep.

On top of it all, I needed to figure out how to stretch the $$. I worked hard to find the “perfect for me” little apartment that will be undergoing a makeover, with a new kitchen and bathroom. I am now in the middle of an urban garden, just steps from the ocean and my favourite park in the world. Restaurants, shops and bike paths are at my doorstep.

I loved another quote I came across today….”There are three things we cry about in life, things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.” Douglas Coupland
BRAINY QUOTES

So when I start to feel bummed out, like when I found all this amazing Christmas stuff on sale and there is NO MORE ROOM at my little INN–I remind myself there are still many good things to come. IMG_1720

 

 

catching up on last summer…

It’s been another long gap since I last posted. So much has happened and I am intent on drinking it all in and savouring all the details…even the not so fun ones. Packing up the last of my things, throwing out, selling off and handing over my home was far more difficult than I ever imagined, both emotionally and physically. Could not have managed without so many people there to help. How grateful I am for all of them.

Every once in a while a sadness hits me of leaving behind so much in Toronto. It was an intensely rich time in my life. Leaving friends and neighbours and most of all my youngest daughter and my eldest granddaughter has been hard but it felt like the right time to move on. I’ve focused on living in the present,  while honouring my past and I’m working for a new future. I remind myself that I’m grateful to have put down roots deep enough that Toronto actually does feel like home to me in many ways. ( Some western Canadians can imagine such a declaration.)

By the skin of my teeth the house was cleared out, with my Lindsay and friend Piotr clearing up the last items and giving the house a high gloss finish. I had a plane to board for Marseille on June 29, 2015.

I arrived at my sisters lovely villa in an ancient town in the Luberon, Provence. The village built into the mountainside is Saignon. My sisters paradise in France. We spent a week together and she was off to Canada, leaving me to take care of business ( which was great fun ) more tk

Mother’s day weekend and collateral baking damage

The sun stayed out for Mother’s Day in Toronto and it was a pure decadence to wander around the neighbourhood and be treated to 2 dinners out. I began the morning with a breakfast experiment that had been setting up from the night before. The recipe claimed to be some sort of fancy french toast- but really it was bread pudding dolled up with lots of berries and some creme fresh. I tried to cheap out with the whole wheat bread sitting on the counter, and it was OK,  but I do think using a nice italian bread or brioche or old croissants would have been much more satisfying. I still have plenty of leftovers and I can’t think of where/whom I can pass them on to. Here is the full recipe and it looks great–I suppose I should stop fiddling with things and go by the book at some point. (warning- just don’t try to make it healthy with whole grain bread!) FRENCH TOAST- Overnight

Later, Lindsay treated me to lunch. We have found an “all you can eat Sushi” spot that is actually quite amazing. At $12.99 it is hard to beat. If you are in Toronto, try it out– California Roll on Bayview.  Even Maddie the 2 year old loves the seaweed salad , edemame and rice. She handles chop sticks better than some adults I know.

In the evening we took a neighbourhood stroll and ended up at one of those fresh ground, organic and locally sourced burger joints that opened up last year next to some grotty old school noodle joints. Still it’s fun to see all the variety out there. Madeline insisted on pedalling her miniature bike the entire way. Since she is still pretty shrimpy and the bike is very low, it was quite a feat to keep her on track through the craggy sidewalks and over the street car tracks. 

There are two junk stores that we pass by everyday. It’s hard to believe that purchases have ever taken place in either store, but I must say the fully lit windows in the evening looked weirdly magical tonight. It’s difficult to assertion any regular retail hours since the hand lettered signage is spare on details, but every once in a while a pile of junk ends up on the sidewalk signalling they are open for business.

And finally, bedtime brought out the Gramma Wood wig. It’s a family favorite. This legendary matriarch of the Harker Family, Ione Wood, dyed her hair red almost to her last days on earth. She was one amazing woman and  she always sported good shoes, a matching purse and a professionally styled hair-do that had been sprayed to last a week. The wig apparently came in handy after swimming. For some reason little kids cannot resist it’s charms. She was Gramma Wood to all who knew her, regardless of actual family ties. I miss her always and suspect that she is somehow watching over all the kids still, and likely squirrelling away liquorice and quarters for the next time we all meet. 

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school dazed

This is DAY 2 of Culinary School . Last fall I applied to the Integrated Learning Program: Culinary Management H116 at George Brown College. Conveniently 10 minutes from my house in downtown Toronto, and ironically next door to my former long time employer’s (Simon and Schuster) newest office digs. I must confess that I am carefully containing my excitement. I’m not really sure where this all leads me but it is the perfect time to stretch myself and I am trying to let the world unfold as it should.  

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I’ve been purchasing and organizing all my equipment for class and I just picked up the most beautiful Japanese knife this afternoon. I am practically overflowing with giddiness. I’m also scrounging around the kitchen for anything that I can pack up so I don’t overflow with duplicates in my already overstuffed house… but happily there are still some mandatory indulgences that I can add to my stockpile. Yesterday was Kitchen Management class and Hospitality Math. Today was English class and I got to hand in my first essay on HOW I AM TOTALLY UN-COOL. Each class is at least 3 hours long and it’s been fun to meet my new class mates and get the scoop on everyone’s raison d’etre. So far every instructor has been exceptionally pleasant and impressive. This is a 2 year diploma and with around 30 to 60 (?-bad with estimating numbers in crowds) people each class with a fairly diverse age range–although I think I may be the 2nd oldest. One dude talked about cooking in the 70’s. I guess technically I ( and Juli) did a stint with crazy Mrs Dean in the Kootenay‘s in 1977, but that’s a whole other story.

Tomorrow will be my first time in the baking kitchen lab and I am definitely psyched!! I hope we make something other than cookies. I’ve been living on a steady diet of them for 2 days. BTW- I will be avoiding full body shots of my chef outfit until the time is right. Tomorrow is my first day wearing this charming outfit. For now, you’ll just have to imagine it.

Turning over a new leaf I plan to cook at home as much as possible. I did not plan well but luckily I had roasted cauliflower , onions and tomatoes on the weekend.

easy dinner with leftovers in fridge- roasted cauliflower soup
easy dinner with leftovers in fridge- roasted cauliflower soup

5 minute ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP

  • Throw a bunch of cauliflower and onions into a blender with some cold chicken stock (measure carefully hah!)
  • Season with salt, lemon zest, horseradish and rooster sauce to taste
  • Blend till smooth

Heat on stove and then serve with:

  • a spoon of thick yogurt
  • roasted tomatoes /lemon squeeze /capers  and FRESH CILANTRO!

Of course season to your liking– if you prefer to mix it up a bit….

Cauliflower is pretty accommodating. The rich colour is really just a result of the roasting and a wee squirt of Hot Sauce.

Terroni Pizza knock-off faster than you can order take-out!

I fell in love with Terroni’s years before I moved to Toronto.

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The Queen West location was chosen by a beloved couple’s wedding rehearsal family dinner and it was love at first bite! Seriously–If you come to Toronto, you must GO TO TERRONI’S !

http://terroni.com/Gallery

Our personal favorite:                 C’t Mang                                           16.95

white pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, fresh pears, walnuts, speck (smoked prosciutto), honey

Since then I have been on a quest to recreate the perfect thin crust pizza at home.

SO LET’S GET STARTED!

Making your own dough is sooo easy–but sometimes I just grab a bag of dough from the grocery store and shove it in the fridge so it is even easier to make pizza in the blink of an eye. (you MUST MUST MUST warm to room temp before working the dough)

HOMEMADE DOUGH: I love my food processor for this- insert the plastic blade (or use your mixer , by hand or plan ahead and use that old bread maker in the back of your cupboard)

RECIPE— 2 tsp yeast mixed in * 1 c of warm water with * 1 T of sugar

Throw in 2 c of flour | mix MIX mix|  Remove lid & add in 1 tsp of SALT*

**DO NOT FORGET THE SALT!!! I have done this and believe me, it is tasteless without it. (think tender cardboard)

Not needed, but I add olive oil–a splash or more  | and add up to
*1 more cup of flour and run processor again. Dough is very hardy. Balance out wet and dry if texture is too wet or too crumbly

The dough should be elastic and formed into a ball.  Take out and knead a couple of times to smooth out. Sprinkle counter with a little flour before kneading. Let rest for several hours or even just a few minutes.  Divide into 3 balls if using right away. You do not have to let it rise at all if you are in a hurry. Letting it rise will produce a bit chewier tender crust.

ASSEMBLE YOUR TOPPINGS and HEAT the OVEN to 500 Degrees F. * If you are using a PIZZA STONE throw this in to heat up as well.

Grate Mozza- plan on a light hand with the cheese.  I use less that 1 c per pizza*

BE PREPARED TO IMPROVISE

No Pears?- Use Apples

No Speck?- Go meatless or use what you have on hand–I used sliced corned beef

No Gorgonzola I often use Feta or whatever I have on hand–but I try to keep a bit of blue cheese around. ( Fragile soft cheeses go on after you take out of oven )

OF COURSE–you can add any combo of ingredients you want–Fresh Tomatoes, Basil, and Unripened cheese | Sausage, Mushroom garlic | Caramelized Onions, and anything!

For soft cheeses, just add after you have removed pizza from the oven. Otherwise it will melt and drip away into oblivion.

I also throw some more EVOO on the surface. Sometimes I squirt a little honey or balsamic glaze. Yummy to bite into an unexpected flavour pop of sweetness. 

VERY IMPORTANT—Veggies need to be pre cooked to produce a good outcome unless they are sliced paper thin.  For Red Pizzas use sauces sparingly. A light hand with toppings make the best thin crust pizzas.

Pay attention to your favourite flavours when you eat out and recreate them at home.

ASSEMBLE

My favourite platform to cook the pizza is the stone. I bought this for $10 . You DO NOT need an expensive stone. I also have a pizza pan with holes in the bottom and plain old cookie sheets. A crisp thin crust is possible on all of them and I have the pictures to prove it.

I spray with Pam or use a swipe of olive oil cause it SUCKS when it sticks!

ROLL YOUR DOUGH- Ssstttrrreettcchh YOUR DOUGH and make it as thin as you can. I use a rolling pin but if the dough is super soft, you might be able to use  just plain hands. If your dough has been chilled you MUST WAIT UNTIL IT IS ROOM TEMP for this process. This is one time I do not ignore the rules. It will not WORK COLD!!

NEXT–Place your dough on the stone or pans. If you have a heated stone your crust will start cooking immediately!

DRIZZLE with a little OLIVE OIL and salt and pepper

Add CHEESE next

Place toppings on next and you can sprinkle with some Romano or Parmesan or Feta or ?  if desired.

Place as low on the oven rack as possible but you can rotate around if you are doing more that one pizza. I often put the stone in and start it baking and assemble the next one while it’s bubbling away.

You can even place the stone right on the OVEN FLOOR if you have a gas or hidden burner. This is amazing but can be awkward to remove without a pizza peel .

Your pizza will be done in approx 10 to 15 min. Keep checking to make sure it is crisp on the bottom. Nothing screams crappy pizza more than a moist, wet bottomed  crust …almost impossible if you also used fat uncooked veggie chunks and a bunch of red sauce.

For a great pizza tutorial check out this Stone soup video. Jules does a great job showcasing her own process. of turning your home oven into a PIZZA OVEN.