T-minus 60

The sight of cardboard boxes and the sound of packing tape unraveling off the roll still make my skin crawl.  The process of moving house is no fun, even locally, but moving to another city, state, country, or continent brings on different levels of preparations and stress.  I will never forget the generosity of our friends in LA when we moved to Toronto.  Every little thing was a HUGE help, from inviting the boys over for a playdate, to packing up some boxes, to taking foodstuffs from the fridge and pantry, to vacuuming, to just being there for moral support, to feeding us.

I’ve been thinking about the moving process lately because our very dear friends here in Toronto are leaving tomorrow and moving house to Sydney, Australia–no small endeavor, indeed!   They have been in North America for the past 12 years with stints in Richmond, Los…

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Birthdays and French Toast…..

Well, you have to laugh in the end! I sprang out of bed as I do on family birthdays, to cook breakfast for your sister on her seventeenth birthday yesterday. But to my dismay, the cupboards were close to bare.  There were only THREE eggs in the fridge ( when has that ever happened), and a packet of bacon in the fridge.

I dashed out to the ‘Apple’ store on the corner of Dupont, and quickly got some fresh strawberries, buttermilk and a wonderful fresh baguette. I would make your sister’s favourite buttermilk pancakes!

Long story short, I had to change plans even after I got home with the ‘right’ ingredients, and make  French toast, as I really did not have all the items needed for even simple pancakes.  It is a very strange thing to be trying to live a ‘normal’ life at one end of the house, while at the other, a group of men are slowly packing everything up. We all thought of you at the breakfast table: a soft spot for a plate of good French toast, and I must say, these turned out beautifully.  It was a lovely birthday breakfast after all!

The rest of the day passed in a blur, packing frenzy, and a delightful birthday party lunch sojourn which Little C’s friends had organized up at a beautiful Russell Hill Road house. What a kind family to open their house and host Claudia so wonderfully, with a large group of friends.  The Fabulous Four were in top form: salads, party decorations, LOTS of food. We brought along a cake which I had ordered from a place called The Flaky Tart. It was about all I could do on a crazy day. The cake was just beautiful. They called it ‘The Road Map of Life” and put little icons on it that were relevant to C. So sweet!

Little’s  C’s friend Hanna has been here quite a bit as moral support. The girls have been helping me with chores this morning: driving around Toronto picking up laundry, posting letters, etc. So much to do, but glad to have the help! Another good mate up on Dunvegan is running around doing some other chores for me: what would we all do without  our friends? Thank goodness, and I love your guys!

French Toast

Best made with a fresh baguette: the chewy, airy texture is best for mopping up the eggy mix, but doesn’t collapse once soaked.

  1. 4 fresh eggs
  2. 1 long fresh baguette
  3. 1/4 cup milk
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  6. butter or oil for greasing the frypan
  7. 3 tablespoons sugar


  • Cut baguette into inch thick slices.
  • Beat the eggs with the milk, salt, sugar and vanilla.
  • Soak a few pieces of bread at a time in the egg mix.
  • Place in a shallow frypan which is nicely greased, and hot.
  • Turn down the heat or else the sugar in the mixture will make the bread burn. 
  • Cook on both sides for about two minutes each or until golden.

Serve with bacon, berries and maple syrup.

Together Again

Dearest Izzy, imagine how pleased I was when I saw the pictures you sent today of all the chocolate treats you’d cooked at Grouse! It looks like a pretty successful outcome too: chocolate cupcakes with tiny teddies for decorations, and chocolate brownies! Well done!

Cooking chocolate treats at Grouse

I am now thinking of what the essentials are for the air freight consignment which will come to the apartment we will perch in temporarily in Sydney. Definitely the teapot and the tablecloth. We are soooo excited you will be with us over term break!  How fun to be all four around the dinner table again; we cannot wait to catch up with you! xoxo

Five Minute Chicken

Haha! I’m sorry I HAVE to call it this silly name because we ate it so quickly! Apart from being delicious, I think we were just so tired and hungry, the meal was gone in a flash! You know how we always take a bit of time over dinner: exchanging news, a glass of wine, lots of chit chat. This super fast meal was uncharacteristic, and we all laughed!

So, Isabel: its really is terribly straightforward, you could make this meal with your eyes closed.  I rummaged around in the fridge and came up with golden beets, some shallots, a few carrots and potatoes. Tossed them in oil, and put them in  a hot oven.

While they were roasting away happily, I marinated the chicken for ten minutes, popped them onto a rack, and put them in the oven too.

Fifteen mnitues later, it was all ready. I lay baby rocket on a platter. the roasted veggies went on top with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of olive oil. The vegetables would have roasted for thirty minutes. It was a good accompaniment to the chicken, but of course you could eat the chicken with some rice, or wrapped up in a roti .

Here’s the chicken recipe for you to try:

Five Minute Chicken

  • 6 to 8 pieces skinless and boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup low fat yogurt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  1. With the sharp point of a knife, prick the chicken pieces all over.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together well and leave to stand for ten minutes. 
  3. Place chicken pieces on a grilling rack and the rack on a  baking tray lined with foil.
  4. Bake for ten minutes in a hot oven.
  5. Turn over with tongs and bake on the other side for another five to ten minutes.
Served hot or cold, the’ll go quickly ( maybe even in five minutes) !

Pictorial Food Diary From The Past Week

At the end of a rainy week-end, the sun peeked out over our neighbourhood friends’ rooftop terrace this evening. It was a perfect place for a drink and an overdue catch up. Dinner which followed was a delicious cold meat dish, green salad, and fresh St. Lawrence Markets bread.

Green Goddess Dressing made a salad special.

Shortbread cookies accompanied lemon posset topped with fresh blueberries: dessert for when Little C’s friends and their parents came to dinner last Sunday.

Birthday pressies! The Spode lidded  bowl is perfect for keeping rice warm. New earrings are so glam!

Bacon and eggs for the start of the Victoria Day long week-end: perfect! Thank you, breakfast chef MB.

Exam Time Comfort : Chocolate, Perhaps ?

Even though you live in different hemispheres ( but not for much longer!!), crunch time for you and your sister coincide. You are in the throes of many long essays due one after another, and here, after a week of tests, your sister goes into her final week of EXAMS. Stress levels high all round.

With so much distraction here as we pack up, I am infinitely grateful to a couple of ‘aunties’ who have come to your rescue when you needed a change of scene from Grouse while you wrote essays. You stayed last week in Middle Park, by the Bay in a household of people you have known virtually all your life. They cooked and fussed and teased, and chatted, and left you alone to write, write,write. D’s chief form of showing her love is to cook, and I’m sure you got your fair share of it!

This week-end, you are in Albert Park, in another comfortingand familiar household, with a newly installed desk in your girl friend’s bedroom to accommodate your studies. How kind of JC. Somehow the distant hum of a household in motion ( dogs mooching from room to room, washing machines whirring, and the occasional telephone ring) is a comforting backdrop to an intense moment of research and writing. I know that feeling. Both you and you sister never wanted to study at your desks, always preferring the kitchen table.

Well no matter where you girls are, one things is for certain: there are always a few snacks handy to munch on while you work.  You like halved avocados with balsamic dressing, or hummus and pita chips. Claudia likes almonds, rice paper rolls and…..CHOCOLATE.  Izzy, you almost never eat anything sweet at all, but if you do, it is chocolate too. And neither of you gals ever say no to a milky Milo drink when you are deep in work. Haha! Good old Milo! I’m usually whipping one up for you at some unearthly hour as you burn the midnight candle.

The chocolate brownie recipe is one I have had for a very long time.  The recipe comes from a gorgeous little deli I used to frequent in Manuka. Dad and I had bought lovely crunchy bread and cheese and baby quiches to take on our first picnic (at Lillypilly on the South Coast)……I am sure one of their delicious brownies was tucked into the basket too.

Last Christmas the Newly Weds in our family gave me a gorgeous cook book by Anna Gare. I must have spent the whole first half of this year cooking constantly from her book ‘Homemade‘. The book and I just clicked, you know?  Gare has a great choc cake recipe she calls ‘Neverfail’ which is pretty much what it is: I have made it a few times, and it is TRUSTY!  I have even experimented with it, and substituted the flour with almond meal: excellent too! You won’t have a bad result with it, Izzy. So go ahead and try it!

I am thinking of you in Albert Park, in that lovely airy family home of our good friends, and I hope you are inspired to work hard and write well: you are in the finally stretch, darling. Hang in there!

And since you said when we were texting yesterday, that you missed the dogs, I have added a picture of Alice.  She was out in the front garden recently sniffing gently at a newly bloomed peony. I always said she looked like a chocolate brownie dusted with icing sugar! And if you really don’t have  the time to make anything yourself right now, a good slab of chocolate from the milk bar down the road will do the trick!

Chocolate Brownies

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups castor sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 500 g. chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup toasted and roughly chopped walnuts
  • icing sugar for dusting


  1. Beat the eggs, castor sugar and vanilla together.
  2. Melt over a very low heat and in a heavy based saucepan, the chocolate and butter, and leave to cool.
  3. Mix 1 and 2 together.
  4. Add the flour gradually, finally add the walnuts.
  5. Pour into a shallow greased and floured baking pan.
  6. Bake on a moderate heat for about 25 minutes.
  7. Cool and dust with icing sugar.

Anna Gare’s Neverfail Chocolate Cake

  • 400g dark chocolate
  • 360g unsalted butter
  • 360g caster sugar
  • 6 heaped tablespoons plain flour (or I’ve used almond meal)
  • 6 eggs
  • icing sugar for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 200degrees C
  2. Melt the chocolate, butter and sugar in a heavy pan over a gentle heat, stirring often until the mixture is smooth, and then remove from heat.
  3. Add the flour and stir until smooth.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture well with a whisk or an electric beater.
  5. Pour the mixture into a lined, 20 cm square cake tin.
  6. Bake the cake for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 150 degrees C, and bake further for 40 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat, leave oven door closed and allow the cake to cook slowly.
  8. Turn the cake out of the tin when completely cooled and dust with icing sugar.

Soup Weather Down Under

I was almost surprised when we skyped yesterday and saw you bundled in your favourite sweater. Of course, its COLD in Australia! i’ve been waaay too distracted to remember, I am sorry! Hope you are keeping up your vitamin C and wearing a scarf when you head outside.

I came across some of my Virginia Living articles, and thought the one on soup might be of interest: good to warm the cockles of your heart, dear girl.

A few favorites for the chilly season.


Selling Soup
A vintage collection of sterling makes the meal

“We’re having soup again?” you often hear. The “again” tacked on the end, as if to eat soup were some poorer option. I suppose it is, because, like all the other food we cook regularly, we stick to the tried and true that we can turn out quickly and without too much thought. But when all is said and done, to stamp out your shivers at the door on a cold winter’s day and enter a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of a slowly cooked pot of soup is pure joy.

I put soup up there as one of the ultimate comfort foods, especially accompanied by a thick melted cheese sandwich. By itself, it can be your healthiest option, when you choose the ingredients thoughtfully and go easy on the cream garnish. Here we are just past the indulgent holiday season, and many of us are anxiously seeking those sensible alternatives. But then, who needs the misery of diet food, especially when that cold wind’s just whipped up and Jack Frost is wreaking havoc? Perish the thought of cottage cheese and a tiny pile of greens on a freezing day! Bring on a healthy soup, I say, to fill the belly and warm you to the ends of your toes, anytime.

We do all tend have our favorite chicken noodle soup option, and most cooks have a good minestrone recipe tucked away somewhere, but for a bit of adventure in these long cold months, venture further to discover the myriad of options to ladle into a dinner bowl. I’ve collected some examples from other countries in the hope that this will spur you on to explore even further. These recipes are all tried and true, and, without too much preparation time, you can have them sitting on your stove and bubbling away gently ’til dinner time.

From Mexico, pozole (pronounced ‘pot-zol-lay’) is a mighty soup to conquer the chills. The rustic taste of pork and hominy is punched up with the addition of dried chipotle chili peppers. The hominy thickens the soup, and a deep rich color makes it wonderfully pleasing to the eye. Ladled into a bowl of chopped, crunchy radishes and fresh green arugula, this is a soup to impress dinner guests, too. The straightforward preparations could make it a standard favorite. All kinds of pork cuts can be used; in fact, traditionally, it was the pig’s head! I’ve tried tenderloin, but the lengthy cooking time does not do well with the tender meat, which dries out quickly. Choose a piece of pork that has some fat and some bone — the flavors are deeper and richer. I use country back ribs, which work perfectly. Dried chipotle peppers are available at any well-stocked grocery store.

 In Southeast Asian countries, the soups tend to be lighter and more tangy. The thinner consistency is easier on the palate in warmer climates, and citrus flavors are refreshing and cleansing. In Thailand, one of the most common soups ischicken in coconut broth. The lemongrass and lime balance the coconut milk soup, and although it is light in texture, the addition of steamed rice or a few strands of rice noodles will satisfy a mean hunger. In fact, this Thai chicken soup makes the perfect complete meal when poured over some warm cellophane noodles tossed with sesame oil, lime juice, toasted sesame seeds and a generous handful of fresh cilantro. To make sure it’s healthy, I only ever use reduced fat coconut milk. You would never know the restriction, all the flavors are so pleasing.

Traveling north to the subcontinent, Mulligatawny is what comes to mind. The word is a bastardization of two Tamil words, ‘mulagu’ (pepper) and ‘thani’ (water) and this can be a fair warning of its spiciness. Made famous during the British Raj, the stew has many interpretations. In its purest form, it is a thin broth with peppercorns and tomatoes. It is sometimes vegetarian, but here I share my South Indian variation made hearty with chunks of beef and potato. In fact, it is so hearty and robust you can stand your spoon in it. This dish was traditionally eaten by the Christian community, a favorite lunch after Sunday service. The British influence has been the addition of milk to tone down the heat level. So the result is a fragrantly spiced stew, with some heat, but never overwhelming. Perfect after a cold day’s tramp in the country or a weekend working in the yard, as it cooks gently, the fragrance of exotic spices will waft through the house with the promise of an exciting meal to come. I have to admit enjoying this dish best with nothing more sophisticated than a hunk of crusty white bread. But if you want to be faithful to the theme, any Indian bread, like naan, found at most good Indian grocery stores, is a great accompaniment. Just follow the instructions on the packet for heating. All the spices for the stew can be found at an Indian grocery store as well.

So much for the exotic. Don’t you find a jaded appetite is unfailingly refreshed by a simple green soup of energy-packed vegetables? In the antipodes, an unfashionable root vegetable, the parsnip, has made a popular comeback. Served up in smart Australian bistros, even as a tasty mash with grilled meat, this underrated vegetable has found great new uses with innovative chefs. The nutty sweet flavor has a depth unattained by the humble potato, and it also acts as a perfect building block for a glorious soup. Pair it with spinach, and you marry a distinct taste with an elegant and mild green leaf. For a more gutsy flavor, substitute the spinach with collard greens. While I really do try to practice healthy cooking and eating, some recipes just cry out for a little leniency, and this soup is it. A vegetable soup is somehow richer when you start off the cooking process with butter. I use it sparingly, but this base is so worthwhile to the final product. So instead of sautéing the onion and garlic in olive oil as I usually do, it’s butter for this recipe.

Do let yourself be inspired this winter with something a little different on soup night. It is so easy to slip into a winter routine where you hate to cook because you’ve run out of ideas, and your diners are unenthusiastic because of your half-hearted attempts: Write up an ingredient list right away, and get started on a foreign (soup) adventure.


Mexican Pozole

Thai Chicken in Coconut Broth

Beef Mulligatawny

Parsnip and Collard Greens Soup