Wednesday
Apr012015

Scones from The Prince George Hotel

I've mentioned this before but for the last 8 years, I've been teaching a volunteer cooking class at Adsum Center, a transitional home for women and children. A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of speaking in front of friends, advocates and long time supporters of this amazing organization at their annual Blooming Tea Fundraiser. Although I'm a fairly comfortable public speaker ( because I'm a chatter box by nature I imagine,) I was a little nervous this time around. Speaking publically about things that are meaningful is difficult for me, mostly because I'm afraid I'll hit a note that will make me cry and I'm not particularly emotional by nature. I show emotion and feel emotion, but I prefer to let it simmer quietly rather than make a big fuss about it. It makes me feel exposed and vulnerable to think I might fall apart in front of others.

Do you know what helped though? My daughter. She cupped my face with her little hands right before I stepped up to the podium and looked me straight in the eyes. Mommy, when you feel really nervous, just look over at me and yiayia and Emily and Ellina and baby Harrison and baby Elias. We'll smile and you'll keep going! And that's the very best advice you can give someone who is about to give an emotional talk. Look at the people who are there to support you when you feel fragile. Their familar faces are exactly what you need when your voice is beginning to crack and your eyes are welling with tears. 

When I first began my journey at Adsum Center, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my life. The staff. The residents. Their children. I couldn’t have imagined what an imprint they would all leave on my heart. It has been a privilege, a life changing experience to witness the power of community and how it fits together like an intricate puzzle. A puzzle with a million details and a million pieces and a million colors. And it is this power of community that sustains love and growth and fosters a sense of renewal. It is this unity that gives meaning to our plight as members of society. As people with a need to do more and see more and be more.

My time at Adsum has given me a new perspective on the world, on the resilience of the human spirit, on the strength that is present every single day as a result of tireless efforts, committed staff and leadership that is steadfast and strong. What it really teaches me week after week is that we are all the same. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Friends. People with hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions. People who want to run and taste and live and breath.

People who support and want to be supported.

People who love and want to be loved. 

We are united as we travel along this amazing journey of life together, armed with the knowledge that small words or gestures can indeed change the world. What a grand impact it makes to help one person who helps one person who helps one person. And before we know it, we have a world of helpers and believers. A world where change is viable and doable and sustainable.

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the entire staff at Adsum Center who welcomed me with open arms from the very beginning and who've worked diligently for the Lunch With Nic program. I want to thank the residents for allowing me to come into their home every week, allowing me to witness what strength looks like. What hope looks like. What real courage looks like.

I couldn't possibly end this post without mentioning how completely in love I am with The Prince George Hotel. It has been the venue of choice for the Adsum Blooming Tea since inception and every year, they host the grandest and most spectacular tea party. They served dainty finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, an assortment of delectable desserts and of course, traditional English tea. It reminds me of a boutique Hotel in New York City- avant-garde and absolutely breathtaking on every front. I first got to know Penny Mackinnon, the catering manager, a few years ago when my mom, sister and I hosted a bridal shower at the hotel for my sister-in-law. They were in the midst of a massive renovation project at the time but she still found the energy to entertain my never-ending questions and requests. She was incredibly helpful and accommodating and she made the entire planning process effortless. You can imagine my delight when I saw her again at the fundraiser doing what she does best- facilitating and organizing and making sure everything was perfect.

I e-mailed her the very next day and asked if she could give me the recipe for the scones because they are the very best scones I have ever tasted. In a selfish attempt to secure the recipe, I promised Penny I would take it to the grave and not breath a word of it to any living soul ( stick a needle in my eye kind of promise.) She assured me that wasn’t necessary and even gave me permission to share it with all of you, right here on this little blog. So here it is. Straight from Jennifer Turner, the talented pastry chef at The Prince George Hotel.

We are lucky my friends.

You'll notice that she uses metric units of measurement but since I don't have a food scale (what kind of food blogger am I anyway?!) I converted everything to volume. 

Don't do that.

My scones were a little tough and that's because I didn't adhere to the recipe exactly as it was written. Don't tamper. Get yourselves a food scale and measure everything the way it was intended. I’m planning to do just that this week.  

Maybe I'll see if Jennifer Turner can have me to The Prince George kitchen and show me how it’s really done? 

xo

Thursday
Mar122015

penne sorrentino

I’ve learned a lot about the practice of photographing food and documenting the entire process from start to finish because of this little blog. I’ve realized that it’s the little things, the fine details, the props and linens and silverware that bring a story to life and a lot of the time, it’s the scenes behind the finished product that really tell the story. It brings authenticity to the experience and makes the story come alive since it often verifies what we all know to be true- that cooking can be chaotic and incredibly untidy and full of crumbs and splatters and spills. 

A couple of months ago, I travelled to the north shore for a creative retreat with three wonderful women that I've gotten to know over the last year. We shared stories and experiences and had informative discussions about writing and picture-taking and the panache involved in narrating through photographs. There was a lot of wine-drinking and cheese-eating and oyster-shucking and conversations unfolded that really solidified our newfound friendships. I think what draws people together sometimes isn't only the common interestes that seem to just fit, but rather the desire to learn from each other. To gather information from our trusted friends and be open to new methods and new discoveries and new ways of thinking.

And now, these three lovelies have become cherished friends. We do all the food fest circuits together. Attend food film festivals. Meet for prosecco and burgers in the middle of the afternoon. Brainstorm about special projects that make us want to scream with excitement. (Only real food nerds do that apparently. Who knew?) And the best part, is that they are all self-taught which makes them so approachable because they've learned through trial and error and hands on experience. Real life experience. That's pretty marvelousl I think.

Truth be told, I didn’t think I had room in my adult life to nurture new friendships. To commit and foster and take the time to cultivate the kinds of relationships that have come to mean so much to me.

But I was wrong.

Check out these remarkable Halifax-based artists and the spectacular work they bring forth every single day. Gabby, Kathy and Kelly are writers, stylists and photographers but most importantly, wonderful people with explosive hearts and creative minds and an eye for truly beautiful things.  

Wednesday
Feb182015

Daniel Boulud's Madeleins- adapted from bon appetit 

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on my way to visit my dear friend Emily, I found myself on a little north end street stuck in an enormous pile of snow. I ignored the fact that the street had not been plowed and believed that with some gentle force, I could get through the thick blanket of snow. This was about 20 minutes after I had gotten into a very minor fender bender.

It was just one of those days.

The back seat was as follows: Niko sitting on one side holding two cups of scalding coffee, Raphaelia in the middle, holding a box of squished muffins, complaining about how hot it was in the car and my little 10 month old niece, peacefully sleeping in her car seat on the other side.

The grinding and spinning of the tires must have caused people to stop and stare and most likely, feel a bit sorry for me because before I knew it, a lovely young woman came out with a shovel and a pail of salt. We shoveled around the car and underneath it. We sprinkled salt along the perimeter and under the tires. Her mother came out with another pail, this time, filled with gritty sand. At this point, the hot coffee had spilled all over Niko’s new jacket, Raphaelia had taken off her hat and coat and was fanning herself, the muffins had fallen to the ground and had been accidentally stepped on and the baby started to wake up- hungry. And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, I realized I was going to run out of gas. Why hadn’t I stopped 10 min before like I had planned? 

Emily arrived just in the nick of time and whisked all three children to her home. She also has two little ones of her own so I can only imagine the fun that ensued while she was alone with all five. Thanks Em.

The sweet mother-daughter team, realizing there was nothing more they could do, retreated to their home but left the salt and sand buckets as well their shovel. Another elderly neighbor saw my struggle and tried to assist by using his snow blower to create a path around me. But nothing dear friends. I was stuck on a snowy little island with no hope of getting off. (A bit dramatic yes, but it really was awful at the time.) Other residents on the street stopped and tried to push the car. They got on their hands and knees and used miniature hand- shovels to try and loosen the tightly packed snow under the car.

A Leaheys Landscaping sidewalk plow stopped to help.

The postman stopped to help.

A tow truck stopped to help.

An enormous street plow stopped to help. (Thank you to the bearded driver of a G & R Kelly truck who plowed the entire street and guided me to rock the car back and forth.)

All of these strangers took time out of their busy day to help me and with their collective effort, I was finally able to free myself.

Lessons learned: Keep a shovel and a bag of salt with me at all times.

Do not allow your children to hold hot coffee. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Never liken your small car to a massive 4x4 that can make it through anything.

Have food readily available for teeny tiny nieces who might wake up  starving.

Never leave the house in anything but water-proof boots on stormy days. Goodbye exepensive, stylish booties.

Good people exist everywhere. Honest to goodness, wonderful, helpful, good people.

Thank you residents and friends of Roome Street. You are all gems. I’m thinking of making dozens and dozens of muffins for all of you so if any of you read this, be sure to let me know what your favorite kinds are. I promise they won’t be squished or stepped on. Or, alternatively, these French madeleines perhaps? They taste like a ray of sunshine.

People of Halifax, I love you. xo

Thursday
Feb122015

old school doughnuts

Almost daily, I find myself writing down recipe ideas in a little notebook I keep tucked away in my purse. Most of them are savory, family-style meals because that's what I'm drawn to the most but every once in a while, a recipe for something sweet and decadent sneaks in. Doughnuts seem to pop up quite often. The old fashioned variety, with cinnnamon-sugar sprinkled on top, were my grandmother's favorite. 

I'm pretty good at providing my little family with healthy, no- fuss dinners but as far as my culinary exploration goes, I rarely venture out of my comfort zone (which is to say, make complicated pastries.) Items requiring fancy piping techniques and biscuits filled with oozing custard or croissants that require elaborate folding and twisting. I've always believed my tolerance just wasn't built for intricate recipes. This stems from my inability to adhere to strict measuring which, by all accounts, is a requirement for baking. I try to resist the urge to add just a touch more sugar/lemon/vanilla/honey/maple syrup and remember that those cups of flour should be sifted and leveled and not just added haphazardly without regard for accuracy.

If you've ever felt intimidated by the idea of making homemade doughnuts, don't be. For most people, ones who are used to making bread for example, this recipe will seem simple and straightforward. It took me a while to get the dough just right and I found them a bit finicky when it came time for frying. Leaving them in the hot oil for even a few seconds longer than they should, yielded donuts that were too dark for my liking. The recipe I used was adapted from one of my mom's old Woman's Day magazines (listed online here.) 

Oh, Happy ( early) Valentines Day! We're not big V-Day people but we do enjoy a nice dinner and wine and this year, if there's any left, homemade doughnuts.

xoxo

Friday
Jan302015

yiayias pound cake

I am happy to report that I am back dear friends. After having the most dreadful cold for nearly three weeks!? I finally see the clouds parting and a bit of sun peering over the horizon. It's amazing how much we take for granted. Being able to actually taste food or sleeping comfortably without an intermittent cycle of vicious coughing. There only seemed to be enough energy to accomplish really important tasks like climbing into bed while balancing a hot cup of tea and a box of tissues in one hand. I'm not 100% just yet but there is improvement and for that, I am grateful. Being at home for the last little bit, trying hard to nurse myself back to health with an influx of soups and stews and homemade ginger/lemon/honey tea has given me the opportunity to read some amazing books, skim through my grandmother’s old recipes, tear through the latest issue of Bon Appétit ( the perfect Christmas gift from my darling Ellina,) watch a marathon of Game of Thrones and snuggle in tight to read with my children. A new library recently opened in our little city and it is magnificent. Over Christmas, we spent the day there and signed out a stack of great little reads. They are certainly old enough to read by themselves but they still enjoy piling under a fluffy blanket and having me read to them. And I love it too.

While flipping through my grandmother’s book, I found her recipe for citrus pound cake. It’s perfect in every way and is quite possibly the easiest cake recipe I’ve ever come across. She explicitly states in her notes to NOT USE A MIXER OF ANY KIND. Everything is to be blended using a whisk and wooden spoon.

Two bowls. One pan. 7 ingredients (all of which I bet you have in your house right at this very moment.) Topped with a sprinkling of icing sugar, it’s the perfect snacking cake but also  forms a wonderful base for baby trifle cups filled with fruit and cream and citrus zest.

Now that I am feeling better, I've been busy preparing for a catering job I've taken on for this coming weekend. I’m undecided if this pound cake will make an appearance. Maybe? The fine details are all-consuming. Those teeny tiny things nobody but me would really notice but are important nonetheless. Anyway, I hope this small party of 10 enjoys it all. It's certainly something I've given a lot of thought to and I've come up with a menu I think will be quite lovely. Fingers Crossed?