Thursday's Child: Whale Watching, Twillingate, Newfoundland

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Of all the outdoor adventures we've had as a family, one of the most memorable for the girls was our whale-watching expedition in Twillingate, Newfoundland.

We visited Twillingate in early August of 2007, in prime whale-watching season. Many whales spend their summer in the rich waters surrounding Newfoundland before heading south to the Caribbean for the winter. The province is summer home to the world's largest population of humpbacks, and Twillingate is one of the best places to see them. There are 22 species in the area, but the humpbacks are the most popular.

The afternoon we went out, only two tourist boats were on the water. We both quickly migrated to the same area when it became clear where the whales were.




We were dazzled by our proximity to the whales. And when one swam directly under our boat, then reappeared on the other side, we tried not to think about the size of an average humpback - up to 50 feet long, and weighing 30 tons or more. We were relieved he gave himself plenty of clearance.

A humpback's tail is as distinctive as a fingerprint is for humans. Although we weren't savvy enough to distinguish between the whales we saw that day, we were grateful for the chance to see such spectacular animals from a very close vantage point.



Photo taken before our whale-watching expedition.
We were a little more windswept on our return!


April

Sunday, April 12, 2015
"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain."

- from "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot

"In April one seldom feels cheerful;
Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
Clairvoyantes distress me,
Commuters depress me --
Met Stetson and gave him an earful."

- from "The Waste Land: Five Limericks" by Wendy Cope
Contrary to Eliot's dire prediction, today is the loveliest April day you could imagine. I don't know whether the rest of the month will be cruel or cheerful, dull or depressing: spring is a notoriously fickle season, and we'll probably get a bit of all those things.

Regardless of the weather, I do know that the leeks that make this fusilli so wonderful are at their best right now. You've probably noticed that I post more recipes by Susie Middleton than anyone else. It's because every recipe I've ever tried of hers is loaded with vegetables, and over-the-top delicious. She uses the freshest of each season's ingredients - in this case, leeks - and adds the flavours that will keep you coming back for more.

Now I'm off to enjoy this beautiful April day - dry stones, sun, dust and all.

Fusilli with Leeks, Baby Spinach and Mushrooms
(from Fresh & Green Table, by Susie Middleton)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 Tbsp heavy cream
kosher salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups thickly-sliced leeks (white and light green parts only), from 3 – 4 large leeks
8 ounces (225 grams) cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 1/2 cups dried fusilli, or other small corkscrew pasta
1 Tbsp butter (second amount)
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
5 ounces (140 grams) baby spinach leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

Directions:

Combine the orange juice and cream. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put a colander in the sink and place a measuring cup next to it.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick stir-fry pan, heat 2 Tbsp butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the leeks, mushrooms, and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently when browning begins, until the leeks are very soft and the mushrooms are browned, about 16 minutes.

Add the fusilli to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Take the pasta pot off the heat and before draining the pasta, pour 1/3 cup of the pasta water into the measuring cup. Drain the pasta and let sit, loosely covered. Add the pasta water to the orange-cream mixture and stir well.

Reduce the heat under the stir-fry pan to medium and add the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, garlic, and ginger. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add orange juice mixture and bring to a simmer (this will only take a few seconds). Remove pan from the heat.


Add drained pasta to the pan and season to taste. Add parmigiano and stir until well-combined.

An end to Lent

Sunday, April 5, 2015
You may remember, six weeks ago in this space, I shared that I was giving up sweets for Lent. I'm happy to say that I stuck to it faithfully, although it seemed to get more challenging as we approached Easter. I must admit that this week, I googled "when is Lent over" so I didn't accidentally give up sweets for a day - or an hour - too long. One of my ministers confirmed that Lent extended to sundown on Saturday. (I may have eaten a celebratory blondie at the stroke of sundown last night.)

The only way I can bid farewell to Lent properly is to post a dessert recipe worthy of a six-plus week wait. I received my Easter issue of Canadian Living in the mail around the first of March, and have been waiting ever since to make these Mini Carrot Cake Trifles. I served them for our Easter dessert tonight, and in so doing, found a new classic.

A poem to celebrate Easter, and spring, and new beginnings:

"Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies
and trip over the roots
of a sweet gum tree,
in search of medieval
plants whose leaves,
when they drop off
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they
plop into water.

"Suddenly the archetypal
human desire for peace
with every other species
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,
queen of the weeds, revives
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt
there is a leaf to cure it."

- "In Perpetual Spring", Amy Gerstler

Mini Carrot Cake Trifles
(from Canadian Living magazine)
Makes 12 servings

Cream Cheese Custard:
 6 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk (first amount)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk (second amount)
1 package (250 grams, 8 ounces) cream cheese, cubed and softened
1 tsp vanilla

Carrot Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups grated peeled carrots (about 2 large)

Assembly:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1 can (400 mL) pineapple chunks
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup whipping cream (35%)

1. For the Cream Cheese custard:

In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, 1/2 cup milk, sugar and cornstarch. In heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 1/2 cups milk and three-quarters of the cream cheese over medium heat, whisking, just until smooth and bubbles form around edge. Gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture. Return to saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring, until thick enough to mound on spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Strain through fine-mesh sieve into clean bowl; stir in vanilla. Place plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Make up to 24 hours in advance.

2. For the Carrot Cake:

While custard is chilling, in large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and nutmeg. In separate bowl, beat together eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil and vanilla; stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Stir in carrots. Scrape into 2 parchment paper-lined 8" x 4" loaf pans. Bake in 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until cooked through. Make up to 24 hours in advance, wrapping in plastic wrap and storing at room temperature.

3. For the Assembly:

Cut carrot cake into 3/4 inch cubes.

Cook brown sugar, butter and cinnamon over medium heat, stirring, until melted. Stir in walnuts. Cook, stirring, until walnuts are toasted and coated, about 4 minutes. Reserve 12 pieces for garnish; coarsely chop remaining walnuts. Reserving 1/2 cup of the juice, drain pineapple and coarsely chop.

In each of twelve 12-ounce glasses, add scant 1/2 cup of the cake; drizzle 1 tsp pineapple juice into each glass. Top each with scant 2 Tbsp pineapple and 2 tsp chopped walnuts. Spoon rounded 2 Tbsp custard over each. Repeat layers once. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours, or up to 24 hours.

Just before serving, beat remaining cream cheese with 2 Tbsp granulated sugar until fluffy. Slowly beat in cream until stiff peaks form. Spoon over trifle and top each with a reserved walnut.



Thursday's Child: Wawel Hill, Krakow, Poland

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wawel Hill is home to a castle, a cathedral, and (according to legend) a ferocious dragon who terrorized the city before a brave young shoemaker saved the day.

A royal castle was first built on Wawel Hill in 1038, when King Casimir the Restorer moved the capital of Poland to Krakow. Over the centuries the castle was rebuilt and enlarged, but when it was destroyed in a fire, King Zygmunt began construction on a new castle and courtyard that still stand today.
 
Castle courtyard
When the capital moved to Warsaw in 1596, Wawel lost some of its importance, but was still used for ceremonial purposes. In the years that followed, the castle was sacked by one army after another. It was looted: by the Swedes in the Swedish Invasions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; by the Prussians and Austrians following the Poland Partitions; by the Germans in the Second World War. 


Restorations to the castle began after the war, and the treasures that were shipped out of the country prior to the German invasion were returned.

Christians have worshipped at the site of Wawel Cathedral for over 900 years; the current cathedral was built in the fourteenth century. Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II, was ordained here in 1946. In addition to its stately exterior and beautiful interiors, it hosts St. Leonard’s Crypt, burial site for Polish kings since the fourteenth century, and other Polish luminaries. Although the famous Polish composer, Frederic Chopin, is not buried here (his remains reside at Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery), a memorial was built in his honour.

We left Wawel Hill by a steep set of stairs, to visit the Wawel Dragon sculpture. (Although we didn’t catch it on our camera, the dragon actually breathes "fire".)

According to legend, in the twelfth century Krakow was demonized by a terrifying dragon that destroyed property and killed residents. The king offered his daughter in marriage to anyone who could kill the dragon or drive him from the city. Many knights attempted, but every one of them failed in his quest.

One day a young shoemaker approached the king and promised to rid the city of this fire-breathing menace. Since Krakow was falling into ruin, the king decided he had nothing to lose, and encouraged the young man to do his best. The shoemaker took a lambskin, stuffed it with sulpher, and stitched it up with his tools so it resembled a live sheep. When the dragon next emerged from his lair, he pounced on the lambskin, ate it in one gulp, and then exploded from the sulpher. The young shoemaker married the king’s daughter and - presumably - they lived happily ever after.

View from Wawel Hill

Lunch

Sunday, March 29, 2015
Andrew's out of town for a few days, so my youngest daughter and I have been on our own. With just the two of us, our meals have been a little more relaxed than usual.

Because Andrew took the camera with him (he's at his cousin's wedding, in England) I asked my daughter to take a picture of lunch on her phone to post here. And she obliged:

Should I have been more specific?

Yes, my fabulous lunch of sweet potatoes appealed to her so much, she opted for leftover takeout pizza rather than share my delicious homemade meal. (I'm still working hard, trying to convince her how awesome sweet potatoes are.) But with a little coaxing, she did indeed photograph my lunch, so I could share this wonderful recipe with you:

It doesn't make up for missing a wedding, but it's a start.

Congratulations to Sarah and Matt, the happy newlyweds. Hope to see you soon! xo

Photo courtesy of Facebook
Gingery Sweet Potato and Apple Saute with Toasted Almonds
(from Fast, Fresh and Green, by Susie Middleton)

1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp low-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (first amount)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 medium sweet potatoes (12 to 13 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2” dice (about 2 3/4 cups)
1 small yellow onion, cut into 1/2” dice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Golden Delicious apple (6 to 7 ounces), unpeeled, cored and cut into 1/2” dice
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 Tbsp butter (second amount)
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp roughly chopped toasted sliced almonds

Combine the cider vinegar and chicken broth in a small bowl and set aside.

In a 10” sauté pan, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes, onion, and salt. Turn the heat down to medium-low. (The pan should still sizzle; if your stove is less powerful, you can stay on medium and lower the heat later if needed.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and lightly browned and the sweet potatoes have turned bright orange and are starting to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (The bottom of the pan will be lightly browned, and the sweet potatoes will have started to soften.)

Add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and the apple. Turn the heat down just a tiny bit more and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sweet potatoes are tender (test with a paring knife) and the apple and onion are browned, 8 to 12 minutes.

Add the ginger and stir to incorporate. Remove the pan from the heat, clear a small spot in the pan, and add the vinegar-broth mixture (it will sizzle) and the remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter. Stir well immediately to incorporate the butter and any browned bits loosened from the bottom of the pan (most will remain). Add the parsley and almonds, stir, and transfer to a serving dish.



Thursday's Child: Silent Witness Memorial

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Silent Witness Memorial near Gander, Newfoundland, was erected to commemorate the deaths of 256 people in the Arrow Air crash of December 12, 1985. Victims included 248 U.S. troops returning from a peacekeeping mission in the Middle East, and eight crew members. The flight had stopped in Gander for refuelling before leaving for its final destination in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. When the plane took off again, it struggled to gain altitude and eventually crashed about 3000 feet from the runway, killing everyone aboard.

The crash occurred in the dark hours of the early morning. The site this memorial was built on, a rocky, wooded area, was the Silent Witness to the tragic crash.


With prayers for the family and friends of the victims of Flight 4U9525, on March 24, 2015.


Dinner in 15 Minutes

Sunday, March 22, 2015

If you're like me, sometimes you like spending time preparing a thoughtful dinner. And sometimes life is such a whirlwind, you're challenged to get anything on the table before everyone gives up and eats cheese and crackers.

This recipe is so simple, it's barely a recipe at all. When I say you can have dinner on the table in fifteen minutes, I mean it - start the countdown when you put the pasta water on the boil. If you don't have leftover cooked chicken in the fridge, it'll take a little longer, but if you cut the breasts in quarters and cook them while the pasta is cooking, it won't be much longer. And you can save the cheese and crackers for another occasion.


Fusilli with chicken, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 1/2 cups dry fusilli (if you’re using a larger pasta, you’ll need more)
1/3 cup basil pesto
6 Tbsp diced oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes, drained
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of boiling water to a boil, and cook the fusilli for 8 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.

Add cubed chicken, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir and serve. Can be served warm or at room temperature.


Season to taste.