Just a quick note on Eggplant

A vendor at our market sells the tinest, most beautiful eggplant YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. They are green, white and deep purple and TASTE LIKE SOMETHING, that's right I said TASTE LIKE SOMETHING.

Dad grilled some up on his Midwest excursion (more to come on this), and they were so delightful, I repeated myself this week. We had them for dinner last night, and I ate the leftovers off of plastic wrap, cold, for lunch today. So delightful.

Grilled Eggplant Fit for Gods
3 firm, small (no more than 1 inch thick) eggplants
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Wash eggplants, slice thinly at a diagonal. Toss in bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill until charred and soft. Toss again in olive oil, serve.

SIMPLY AND DELICIOUS. Just the way we like it.

Date Squares

I'm getting back on track. Alix is home! And since I'm staying at her house until I can move into my new apartment, we were able to spend the whole day together yesterday making scones, going to the market, eating MORE broccoli salad, making crisp, going to Libby's Grandmother's house for dinner, eating crisp. What a culinary day! and executed with such peace and ease.

But even before Alix arrived I was able to pull myself together and make some date squares. My friends Katie and Eric invited me for dinner and I thought they'd be a wonderful, travel friendly finale to the evening. We started with a homemade, homegrown tomato salsa on french bread toasted in the oven, accompanied by a glass of rather delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Then, Eric grilled delicious pork tenderloin marinated in Katie's homemade barbecue sauce, sauteed zucchini and red pepper and cooked rice. The experience was spectacularly relaxing. I am beginning to feel very at home in this city that seems to be filling by the minute with new friends, while older friendships just continue growing, growing, growing. We ended with the date squares, devouring the sweet smooth filling, sandwiched in buttery oat crumble; we ate them licking our fingers, smacking our lips, slurping milk and wanting more - but our bellies were full.

Leigh, who I worked with all summer at the outdoors store and who now has left us to take on bigger and better things like climbing up mountains and teaching, was kind enough to share this coveted family recipe for date squares before she took off into the new blue. You can hold back as much as you like when you make date squares, replacing butter with sunflower seed oil, or sugar with honey, or not adding very much of either... I understand the sugar, but I think it's best if you don't hold back on the butter. It's kinda like the crisp recipe: if you don't use enough butter, you won't get a good crunchy crust. Date squares need a good crust.

Date Squares

as adapted from Leigh's grandmother (who I have never, sadly, met)

For these squares I used 1/2 canola oil and 1/2 butter for the amount of butter called for in the recipe, simply because I didn't have enough butter. I have a feeling that if you wanted to save your body from the horrifying toxins found in most canola oils, (like GMO modified everything, pesticides you name it etc), coconut oil would be a Delicious Substitute. Also, I added orange zest, but not enough, so I recommend finding yourself a thick-skinned orange and adding the zest to the crust and topping mixture. On another note, I definitely added all the sugar the recipe called for, but the next time I won't add it to the dates because dates are sweet enough already.

Alright Alright, here's the recipe:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

1 - 1 1/2 C chopped dates (use more for a thicker filling)
1 C water (orange juice)
1/2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
(some salt if you want)
1 C brown sugar
1 1/2 C oatmeal
1 C butter

- boil the dates and water (or with some orange juice) until thick and syrupy
- whisk together dry ingredients
- add butter (You can melt it and stir it in, or you can cut it in. I melted it because I was using oil as well.)
- use a square pan, or whatever else you find to bake this in, and pack in a good thick layer of the dry mixture (about half)
- pour the date filling over the crust
- sprinkle on the rest of the mixture (the other half)

Then, buy yourself some creme fraiche, if it's around at the grocery store, and dollop a bit of that delicious slightly sour but oh-so-creamy and rich on top.

Eat with a spoon!

- murph

For when we are completely uninspired.

Dear Friends:

I haven't been cooking. Just eating cereal every day for breakfast, ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, sometimes various salads, and scrambled eggs with toast for dinner : I am totally uninspired. My over exuberant lifestyle has left me with a state of exhaustion similar to the end of a tree-planting season, a bum knee, and a fairly low moral. Turns out I was trying to do too much. Anyone who knows me personally will probably kinda grin at this and say Really? You were over-doing it? No! You? Never... I really can't help it; I just get so damn excited!

Turns out I can't conquer the world in a day. So here I sit with ice on my knee, getting no exercise, waiting to move into my new apartment, living at a friends house because my roommate was and still is (I'm sure) totally insane (I have a feeling she feels similarly about me....), just kinda waiting, waiting, waiting. While I wait for the endless string of transitions to end, and I'm sure it won't because life is just one huge transition from where we were before to where we might be going, I think I'll console myself with grilled cheese and broccoli salads. Here's a delicious summer salad PACKED with vitamins which, if you ate nothing but cereal, eggs, yogurt, muffins and peanut butter for four days straight like I did, well, you're going to need a bit of a boost.

Broccoli Salad with feta, cranberries and toasted slivered almonds

This recipe was inspired by a terrific woman named Teryl who is the mother of a mutual tree-planting friend of Fabienne and I, Keagan. On our days off our first summer tree-planting, Fabienne and I hung out at their house on the Telkwa River near Smithers, B.C and ate delicious meals from her garden. I remember eating this salad on the deck thinking, god, I could just eat this for hours without stopping. Afterwards, driving back into camp with a full belly I thought to myself, well, now anything is possible....

So for a perfect moral booster that takes very little time do the following:

- wash and cut up a head of broccoli into very thin small spears
- toast 1/2 C slivered almonds under the broiler until you smell them (this happens quick)
- dump the broccoli into a bowl, add the almonds, about 1/2 C cranberries and a big chunk of feta cheese, crumbled.
- make a vinaigrette with 1 TBS mustard, 1 TBS red wine vinegar (or balsamic), 1 TBS honey (or maple syrup) and 3 TBS olive oil (slowly add the olive oil to the vinegar and mustard mixture.
- toss the salad
- eat

PSST! Tonight I made this for the second time, because I ate it last night for dinner, and the leftovers for lunch, but I added edamame (soybeans), only adding to the brilliant green scream of health and protein that this salad offers.

Feeds about two..or three..

*the proportions will really vary, so please adjust them. You want the salad to look well-balanced and colourful.

A note on vinaigrettes: I always make my vinaigrettes using the 1:3 ratio. 1 part vinegar (or other additions) to 3 parts olive oil. Fresh herbs or garlic are also excellent additions. A lot of people operate on a to-taste basis, but I find this magic ratio (thank you Sal!) never ever fails to yield a delicious, well-balanced vinaigrette. It's very important to first mix together your flavours (vinegar, mustard etc) before adding the olive oil, which should be added in a very slow stream while beating the mixture rapidly with a whisk.

PS Thank you Kelsey for your coleslaw inspiration. The cranberries and almonds are definitely a nice touch here as well!

Why the West Coast Rules and Why Skimping on Butter is Silly and even Foolish (Part 3)

Blackberry crisp is my favourite dessert. Whether it be after a meal out on the deck with vanilla ice cream in the summer, for breakfast with yogurt in the winter, scooped out of a tiny round Tupperwear container after lunch sitting outside between classes in the fall, or out of the pan when I come home from school, errands, work etc., a berry crisp is a beautiful thing.

However, what crisp is varies for many people. I've tried a couple of different recipes over these past few months, but each time I find myself licking my spoon going hmmmm.....not quite what I expected! What is amiss?

The recipes I've followed or looked at mostly called for more flour than oats, or equal part oats and equal parts flour. I am of the camp that uses more oats than flour. However, the main problem I've been having is that I've been skimping on the butter! What a crime! My crisps were coming out of the oven with these loose floury toppings. Sure, they were good....but we're striving for GREAT over here in Chef Murphy Land. Plus, since crisp is all about the topping (good berries help too, but a mass of boiling berries is jam and if we wanted to eat jars of jam we would), it's very important to find a way to make a topping that suits your fancy best.

When I made a blackberry crisp from 3 different types of local-as-you-can-get blackberries (marion, inch and another kind I forget the name of) down in Oregon I, with confidence, loosely followed a recipe that we often use for crisp; but when I peeked in the oven, to my dismay I saw a sea of floating dry oats: clearly a lack of butter. I knew it! I always do that! I skimp on the butter thinking I'm saving us all, and no no no! Dry oats are terrible no matter how you take them. So I whisked the crisp out of the oven mid-bake (knowing that no harm would come to it) and added dollops of butter all over the top of my little baking beauty. And it was worth it. The end result was a crunchy but not too thick topping loaded with oats, brown sugar and cinnamon, covering gently bubbling sugary blackberries.

Judy's Blackberry Crisp

What's a good crisp? Well, I love a crisp that isn't too sweet and definitely not juicy or runny. Fruit differs in its sweetness, so taste the fruit you're going to use before you sweeten it; in other words, sweeten to taste. I just dump some sugar on, mix it around and see if the fruit is well covered. If it is, I stop dumping. Then, very important, I do the same with instant tapioca. Some people like to use flour to thicken their crisps, but I find that it gives the fruit a gluey colour. If you're using very ripe berries, you'll need more tapioca. I go by the main principle which is to use enough tapioca to cover the fruit, but not thickly, just well dispersed. Then, very important, let this mixture sit for 15 minutes or so while you make the topping. Following these two guidelines have often produced an excellently thick and succulent fruit filling, especially in the old days of living under the apprentice of dad and mum. Now for the topping: I love a crunchy topping laden with oats, a bit of flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and ENOUGH butter. To this you can add lemon/orange zest, nuts, other spices, or whatever your creativity spurs upon you.

The proportions below will be rather rough....but they should be precise enough to give you satisfying results until you find a way that you like best. Maybe you like your fruit sweeter? Maybe you like more flour? Maybe you want nuts in your topping? Maybe you even prefer cobblers....but that's another subject for another day.

- OVEN: 350 degrees F

- Dump enough berries into a 9 X 13 baking dish to cover the bottom and fill the dish half way (probably around 4-6 C)
- Add at least 3/4 C sugar (or less, or more)
- Add at least 2 TBS of instant tapioca (add this, have a look, maybe add a bit more especially if the fruit is super juicy).
- Let this sit for a while (15 min).

- Add at least 2 C of oats into a bowl
- Add 3/4 C flour
- Add 3/4 C brown sugar (maybe more? I'll let you use your better judgement).
- Add 1 TBS cinnamon
- Add at least 1/2 stick of butter - cut in with a pastry blender or your trusty fingers (or use more! No seriously, if after adding this stick of butter you see that there aren't enough little tiny balls to match the ratio of oats, flour and sugar, add another couple TBS - nothing bad will happen, I promise. If all else fails, add some mid-bake).
- Sprinkle this topping over the fruit.
- Bake until bubbling IN THE CENTER at 350 for about.....40-45 minutes.
- Let sit for at least 15 minutes before you eat it so your ice cream doesn't turn the whole thing to a creamy berry soup, unless of course you like this kinda thing, which would be fine, of course.

Also, seeing as life is all about the learning process, if anyone has anything to say about crisp toppings, or a comment on my very LOOSE recipe that I more or less invented from memory, I would be more than delighted to read your words.

Happy Crisping and Stay Tuned For Next Time.

Cold Turkey.

Matt and I are currently without in-home internet, which is drawing to light the depth of our addiction to said modern convenience.

Thus, my post will be brief as I am trying to squeeze it into my morning hour at the library.

In the last week:
12 jars of dilly beans
12 jars of dill pickles
2 jars of zucchini with mint in oil
2 jars of onions with bay leaves in oil
2 jars of olive oil pickles with fennel
2 jars of fennel in oil (which I may have tragically ruined by forgetting to boil the fennel in brine first - DAMN).
1 jar of carrots (for Sissy, should I decide to decieve the postal system and mail something not only breakable but also perishable).

In other news:
1 dutch baby made with dehydrated milk (decent).
1 pan of brownies (to which Matt said, "These aren't as good as last time, what did you do differently?" which is what he says every time. Contrary to popular belief, Matt is 25, not 5.)
Many ears of corn
1 more round of everyone's favorite cole slaw.
1 loaf of flavorless Foccacia bread (too impatient).

Yet to come:
Biscuits for the freezer
Zucchini bread
Tzaziki (I hope).

Reasons Why the West Coast [and scones!] Rule (Part 2)

Whenever I talk to my sister I often exclaim loudly, Hey! I wish we were eating scones on the back porch with your strawberry jam and a huge pot of Golden Jubilee tea. She kinda sighs and says, yes Jude, that would be amazing. But sadly we are both left to drool and dream about the day when we will be reunited and can eat scones together again. We've shared many a great breakfast over my dad's earthy almond and cranberry spelt scones while the West coast rain pours down outside, or the July sun streams in the windows. In my mind it's usually Saturday and dad is getting ready for track practice, Sal has a rehearsal to go to, or a garden to weed, I have a paper to write, Katherine is off to some dance or capeoira class, but for a blissful hour we can guffaw, chuckle and snort about how funny we are.

My greatest fantasy about scones definitely involves the lake house in Oregon. Last summer I made cherry scones on my birthday and ate about 3, accompanying them with more jam and coffee than acceptable. During the most recent visit I was jet-lagged and waking up at 7 every morning or earlier. One of these mornings I decided fresh scones would benefit every one. They're my favourite breakfast treat to make and share with other people (with muffins it's a tie!). Eaten out there on the deck among the scattered newspaper, various home decorating magazines, Nana's collected rocks and seashells, multi-coloured woven place mats, and extinguished tea-lights from the night before, it's (as I've said before) paradise.

Now, I'm going to have to talk about Molly Wizenburg again (my deepest apologies! but she is so adored over here). During the course of my recent food-blog browsing, I've seen countless other foodies who have written about her scone recipe with enthusiasm and success. I've been dreaming of plain cream scones that would be the perfect canvas for Katherine's homemade strawberry jam. So I made some. And oooh boy! They were perfect. I feel justified in announcing such perfection because my FATHER! said they were the best scones he'd ever eaten. And then shortly after Uncle Peter, his brother, came in from the deck and said, wow, those scones are the best ever! Hmmmm....something tells me they were collectively adored. I tried to humbly conceal my through-the-roof delight - inside I was throwing my hands up in the air and saying HOLY COW THESE SCONES ARE AMAZING!!!!

I will provide below two recipes. The first one is Molly's and the second one is my version. I've had a lot of anxiety and constant change in my life over the past year and although things are improving, my stomach seems to have suffered. I eliminated wheat from my diet and then brought it back in a couple of weeks ago. However, it makes me sick and irritates my skin. So from now I'm cooking with spelt flour (an ancient form of wheat). The only difference between the two is that spelt flour is finer and takes less liquid. Otherwise, they perform the same. I even like spelt better for baked goods because it produces a lighter and more delicate crumb.

Molly's Scones

They're what scones should be : light, flaky with a good delicate crunch on the outside and heavens to Betsy, not dry. Add whatever you like (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, lemon zest etc) to the flour before adding the milk and egg. The flour will coat your addition of choice and make mixing easier.

Preheat oven to 425 F

1/2 C milk
1 egg
2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter (if you use salted, leave out salt)
3 TBS sugar
any additional flavours

- Beat together milk and egg
- In another bowl mix together dry ingredients
- Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender, or use your fingers to rub it in until you have tiny pea shaped balls
- Add additions
- Pour wet into dry. Note: only add about 3/4 of the liquid and mix together gently with a fork until big lumps form. If you have a lot of flour left, add the rest of the liquid. You want the dough to just come together. Right when you think you might-maybe-possibly need more liquid, and there isn't tons of flour left in the bowl, STOP, and use your hands to bring the dough together.
-NOW, listen carefully. Knead the dough 12 times (you can do this in the bowl). Molly demands this with exactitude and I followed her instructions. The kneading lightly melts the butter and incorporates any flour left stranded in the bowl.
- Press the dough out into a circle (of about 3/4 of an inch thick - to yield big puffy scones) onto lightly floured cutting board and cut into wedges.
- Brush with left over milk and egg mixture, or just with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Yields about 12 big scones

Bake for 10-15 min or until golden

Judy's Wheat-free Happy Belly Scones

I found white spelt flour and it tastes more authentic than whole spelt flour. The difference is equal to white flour and whole-wheat flour.

3/4 C milk
1 egg
3 C white spelt flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
6 TBS butter (3/4 stick)
5 TBS sugar

Follow instructions as written above.

Last note: Because spelt flour usually makes less than a recipe will call for, my one and a half recipe made only 10 big scones. For 6 people, we needed more.

Happy breakfasting! Or brunching! Hopefully you share them with family or friends, but I bet a solo accompaniment would be quite acceptable if you find yourself in a rare moment of peaceful confident solitary bliss.

- murph