*No, we haven’t hired servants, silly! I’m talking about bread.


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“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

Well, last night the HH and I returned from a pre-Canada Day junket to Montreal, where, along with the CFO and the Nurse and her husband, we took my dad out to dinner for his (you may wish to sit down) eighty-seventh birthday.  Eighty seven!  Much like George Burns when it comes to longevity (and, come to think of it, humor as well), my dad is one of those people who’s always eaten well and exercised daily (now, why wasn’t I lucky enough to inherit that body-care ethic?).  All that, and he also looks great for his age, sporting a full head of hair (his own, I might note). 

It was a lovely, albeit short, visit, with a brunch stop at one of my favorite Montreal restaurants, Aux Vivres, where the HH and I enjoyed smoothies, a “Plat Complet” (tofu scramble, tempeh bacon, salad, sweet potato wedges, and home-baked cornbread) and some amazing banana-chocolate pie to cap it all off.   In dire need of a walk after all the grub, we squeezed in some alone time to take in a few beats at the Montreal Jazz Festival, then meandered along rue Sainte-Catherine for some window shopping. After dinner with friends that involved much chatter and clinking of wine glasses, we headed back to Toronto yesterday morning and arrived home in good time (only 5 hours!).

Because of my peculiar dietary restrictions in recent years, I’ve learned when traveling to always tote along a cooler of food whenever I venture into unknown culinary territory.  This time, we lugged a veritable feast with us: leftover salad, bread, scones, and fruits from the previous week.  And with bar fridges now standard in most hotel rooms, I was able to keep the stash relatively fresh until departure time, so we could once again partake of the cooler’s bounty on our way home.  The best of which was Olive and Sundried Tomato Bread–baked by yours truly!

Now, many of you know that I have a dread fear of baking bread. Not only because I was diagnosed with candidiasis years ago and had to forgo the stuff (along with anything else that contained yeast, living or dead) for two full years. Not only because baking with yeast is an art as well as a craft, for which it sometimes takes years of practise to develop a true “feel” (as much as I like the idea of a machine, that isn’t “real” homemade bread to me). Not only because I was privileged to grow up in a house where we never once were served the soft styrofoam that is Wonder Bread; with an immigrant father and a Russian-descended mother, we had the real, peasant-stock, brown-as-clay, authentic stuff: dense, dark, moist and infused with with rye, molasses, and seeds. And (perhaps most especially), because my sole attempt at baking bread from scratch resulted in a loaf the top of which was so flat and heavy, it could have been called the Australopithecus of breads. 

So you see, there’s a good reason why I’m a tad bread-bashful. But this past weekend, we savored the remnants of a loaf I’d baked the previous week–a loaf which was already number two in a series. I may not have overcome my yeast phobia just yet, but in the meantime, I’ve discovered an alternative that does a mean impersonation and is, in my opinion, maybe even better tasting.  The recipe is a little less intimidating than yeast-based breads, and a little more foolproof. 

Its secret ingredient?  Beer! (Besides, it’s Canada Day today, and beer is just so. . . Canadian).

I’ve never been much of a beer drinker (unless you count that one starry-eyed lunch at the local pub with my mentor, when I naively attempted to keep pace with his more practised consumption. . . 13 beers later, I lost track of the number, but I do remember some fairly maudlin entries in my journal that evening).  I have, however, been familiar with the concept of beer bread for quite some time. I first learned about this delicacy from the CFO way back in the 1980s, when she read about it in Bon Appétit magazine and immediately proceeded to bake a basic beer-based loaf (which she should have sold along with seashells down by the seashore, but that would have been one too many tongue-twisters in the same sentence).

I don’t know its origin, but beer bread is definitely considered a classic in the recipe canon by now. Since I use spelt in most of my baking, however, I decided to alter the generic version just a tad. Spelt is both more hearty and more heavy than regular all purpose flour, so I included some other full-bodied additions for more gustatory dimension to the bread, tossing in some chopped olives and sundried tomatoes, then sprinkling the top with rosemary. For the second incarnation, I added dried basil right into the batter instead.

And how did it turn out? As it happened, my friend the Eternal Optimist joined us for dinner that night, before she and I headed off to a movie (Sex and the City, finally; yes, the audience was entirely female, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and yes, I’m revealing my advanced age by admitting this). Along with a dinner of lentil-pistachio patties, raw kale salad, and spicy sweet potato “fries“, I served up some freshly baked olive and sundried tomato bread. Well, the EO couldn’t stop raving about it!  With a moist, yeasty interior studded with salty, briny olives and chewy tomato, the bread provides a perfect balance between rustic and au courant.  Though I’m not much of a sandwich lover, I could happily subsist on this bread alone. 

With its dead-easy method and incredible final product, this loaf has eradicated my fear of bread baking.  At the same time, however, it’s also eliminated any need to venture into yeast-based varieties. . . I’d be happy to consume just beer bread for the rest of my days.  And even though I still have no desire to drink the stuff, each time I pour a bottleful into my bread batter, I feel just a little more patriotic.    

Happy Canada Day, all.  And to our American cousins, both literal and figurative–hope you all have a wonderful July 4th holiday! 

Beer Bread with Olives and Sundried Tomatoes


This is a bread with substance, one that will fill your belly and satisfy your taste buds at the same time. Because spelt flour can dry out quickly, I stored this in a plastic bag in the fridge.  If you don’t consume the bread within about 4 days, wrap the rest and freeze it for later.





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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

In the past, I’ve always thought of radishes as kind of a poor cousin to beets: smaller and more anemic, they obviously missed out on the family jewels.  Without well-heeled connections or an established vocation, they’re much like the street punk with the pugilistic attitude, slamming your jaw with a peppery punch every time you dare take a bite.

And besides, radishes seem to me more or less a one-hit wonder:  like the obnoxious neighbour (you know the guy: loud, grating voice; beer belly) who always gets drunk at the annual Bar B Q and tells the same joke every year, radishes were used for one thing and one thing only: salad.  And they were always raw.  And they were always sliced.  Not horrible, but not exactly inspiring, either.  Sort of like Julia Roberts: no matter what the context, no matter what else surrounds them, no matter what time of year, they’re always pretty much exactly themselves.  Even when carved into one of those fancy garnish “roses”–a radish is a radish is a radish.

Well, last week, I intended to change all that. 

I’ve been hanging on to this recipe, originally from the LCBO’s  Food and Drink Magazine from early 2004 (LCBO is “Liquor Control Board of Ontario”–that’s right, the government is the sole purveyor of alcohol in our time-warped province), since I first saw it. I’d kept it all this time simply because I loved the photo in the magazine so much (have you ever seen the production values of that mag?  No wonder the Ontario government is short on cash).  Well, I can thank my blogging habit once again for prompting me to finally make the dish and take my own shot of the colorful mix.

It must have been some weird synergy in the not-quite-summer air, but in the interim since I made this salad, I’ve noticed two other bloggers with radish recipes as well: Lisa just whipped up some fabulous looking Potato and Radish Salad, and Karen actually roasted the little roots, something I’ve never thought to do (she swears they’re pretty darned good that way).

This salad was deceptively simple–only seven ingredients–but it was the particular combination that sounded so enticing.  Radishes, sliced paper-thin (unfortunatelly, not in my case–must get that mandoline!), embraced by thick, juicy wedges of grapefruit; with thin rounds of young green onion and glossy olives tinted like black plums scattered throughout. Like a little dinner party with your most eclectic group of friends, all in one place!

It came together in no time at all, and didn’t disappoint.  The result was unusual, yes, but oddly pleasing: tart, salty, peppery, juicy–the perfect side to a light summer dinner of lentil patties (more on those anon).

Based on this salad, I’d say the lowly radish has finally broken free from the previously predictable, nondescript dishes it’s graced in the past.  I actually enjoyed experiencing the radish in a starring role in this dish.

Now, if only I could say the same for Ms. Roberts.

Radish and Grapefruit Salad

from Food and Drink, Spring 2004


Crisp and light, this will remind you of summer, even though it can be prepared any time of year.  The singular mix of flavors and textures creates a uniquely appealing salad. The original instructions advise: “Do not add the dressing until just before serving or else the salad will give off too much liquid.”



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As always, thank you for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new home of Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”

It’s a truism when discussing the era of flower children and Woodstock to say, “If you remember the ’60s, you probably weren’t there.”  When it comes to the 1980s, however, those of us who lived through it are more likely to lament, “I remember it all–if only I could forget!” Still, the Era of All Things Excessive (also known as the “Me” Decade) did have its touchstones.   

Let’s see: if you (a) know what a “social X-Ray” refers to; (b) can name the performers who sang “Ebony and Ivory“; (c) own one of the original Cabbage Patch Dolls; (d) know where Expo ’86 took place; and (e) have seen the only movie in which Julia Roberts was actually any good, then you, like I, were most likely cognizant of the 1980s–like it or not. 

And yet, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for those times.  I mean, how can anyone forget the heady 80s, with their typical Yuppie motto of “More is More”?  As a PhD student on her own in the Big City of Toronto, it was in the 80s that I finally became comfortable perceiving myself as an “adult.”  Working as both a don in residence and a teaching assistant at university, I supported myself while studying and carrying on an active social life, as only someone in the early throes of adulthood can do. With a built-in social network (three of my close friends from childhood had already moved here years before) and PhD seminars filled with interesting new classmates (as well as the occasional crush), I was happy to spend my time memorizing Beowulf by day, then taking on the town by night. 

80s urban professionals were regularly amused by showy sportscars, massive parties, both private and public (raves made their appearance in the 80s), big hair (remember Boy George?), big fashion (ah, yes, Amazonian shoulder pads) and even bigger earrings.  I recall encountering a colleague in the hallway at work one day, feeling pretty snappy, bedecked as I was with a pair of my favorite gold-wire earrings. He took one glance my way and sniped, “Wow, how’d you get those hamster wheels to stay attached to your earlobes?”. 

Ah, yes, pretty much everything from the 1980s was excessive and self-indulgent.  And the food?  Oh, my, the food. . . .

The 1980s were epitomized by everything rich, from Gordon Gekko to Double-Chocolate-Hazelnut-Caramel-Cream Cheesecake.  Foods were elaborate and multi-layered, and nobody ever worried about saturated fat, cream, too much red meat, organic, or whether the tiramisu was made with whole-grain ladyfingers. No one had ever heard of Omega 3s, let alone ingested them, and restaurants were just getting their fingers wet with the new food architecture that mandated aesthetics over taste.  In those days, I’d spend hours cooking and baking for dinner parties, multiple courses and desserts that could, on their own, drain the stock of an entire dairy farm for a day.  

One of the best-selling cookbooks of the time was The Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  Two regular New York gals who’d made a name for themselves by operating one of the most successful little gourmet shops in the city’s history, these women finally collaborated on a cookbook and were instantly rewarded with an overwhelming, almost cult-like following. 

Like most of my friends, I possess a well-worn copy of the maroon and white-covered tome, its edges fraying a little and pages splotched with grease stains.  From the side, my book appears to have donned a jagged, fringed winter scarf, as little strips of sticky-notes, marking recipes I wished to try, peek out from almost every page.   One in particular, Chicken Marbella, was cooked so many times that I had to replace the sticky note on more than one occasion.

Well, for some reason, while I lay supine in bed for ten days, my mind kept wandering back to that darned Chicken Marbella.  Maybe I was a little delirious; maybe the muscle relaxants brought with them delusions of poultry; or maybe I was just ravenous since I couldn’t get up to feed myself, subsisting on the meager, dried-out muffin the HH left on the bed each morning before he trotted off to work.  Whatever the catalyst, I craved that dish.  So, as soon as I was up and about, I pulled out my trusty copy of The Silver Palate, and set about adapting.

The original recipe turned out to be slightly different from what I remembered (in my idealized version, it was aromatic with a variety of Moroccan spices, rather than the lone oregano it does contain), but it was still alluring.  Certain that quinoa would partner perfectly with the other ingredients, and after a little tinkering, I came up with this recipe.

I must tell you, this was astonishingly good.  Next time, I’ll begin with a little more quinoa and chickpeas, as the original marinade was aimed at 4 chickens (I’ve adjusted the recipe, below, accordingly). As in the original dish, the unconventional combination of baked prunes and olives is spectacular, and the quinoa provides a perfect base to soak up and then showcase the flavorful marinade. Even if you’re not normally a fan of prunes, I think you will enjoy them here.

I love this dish as a main course casserole, but the HH still yearns for the chicken and prefers this as a side dish.  He ate it, sighing, wishing aloud that if only we’d met in the 1980s when I was still throwing elaborate dinner parties with dishes like Chicken Marbella or some excessively rich cheesecake, he could have sampled the “real” recipe.

But of course, that would never have happened.  Even if, by some weird karmic commingling of our (then) diametrically opposed lifestyles, we had actually met back then, the HH would have taken one glance at my bouffant hairdo, while I took one glance at his erstwhile “business associates,” and we would both have run screaming in opposite directions. It wasn’t until the end of the 90s, after having both matured considerably, that fate ultimately brought us together with a coup de foudre. . . followed, inevitably, by our current calm, somewhat predictable, and rather domestic existence. 

Amazing, isn’t it, what changes just one decade can bring?

With its fragrant oregano, olives, and prunes, this dish is my submission to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi.

Tagine of Quinoa with Chickpeas, Olives and Prunes

Adapted from this original recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook

Slightly sweet, slightly salty, and warmly spiced, this dish is a delectable treat.  Because it is rather rich and filling, if served as a main course, a simple, light salad would be the perfect accompaniment.