light n' hearty pancakes

We recently went out to a nearby maple festival -- complete with wagon rides, sapping and tapping, pure maple syrup, and pancakes. And while I loved feeling like a pioneer out collecting maple, I have to admit that the pancakes left me wanting. A thick mound of heavy dough is a disappointing excuse for a pancake.

So I'll share the pancakes that have spoiled me -- my dad's light and fluffy pancakes. They've raised the bar for all other jacks wishing to be flapjacks.

light n' hearty pancakes
serves 4

2 1/2 C milk
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
2 teas salt
6 Tbs sugar
3 1/2 teas baking powder
1 1/4 C whole wheat flour
1 C all purpose flour
3 Tbs butter, melted
3 Tbs canola or vegetable oil

The order of the ingredients is important -- don't start with dry ingredients and then pour in the wet, as most recipes have you do. Start by pouring the milk into a large bowl. Add 2 egg yolks, setting aside the whites. Whisk in the salt, sugar, and baking powder. Then slowly add the flours -- adding a bit more if the dough looks too runny. Then stir in the butter and oil (if you want, substitute the oil for 3 more tablespoons of butter, but don't substitute the butter for oil or you'll lose some flavour.) In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whites into your batter.

When the griddle is good and hot (throw a few droplets of water on to test if they sizzle), ladle on the batter. Don't use the back of the ladle to smoosh the batter flat into a circle-- you'll pop valuable air bubbles! Then, wait patiently until the pancake is cooked through.

How can you tell your pancakes are ready to be flipped? By watching these bubbles. When the ones that have formed towards the center of the pancake pop and remain open (like the one on the right), the pancake is cooked through. Just flip and brown on the other side.

Serve warm with plenty of options -- pure maple syrup (of course), fruit and yogurt, honey and warm pears -- whatever you fancy. Enjoy!


finding order in a world of recipes

A few years ago I subscribed to Gourmet and Martha Stewart Living. When my year was almost up I was getting overwhelmed with my growing pile of slippery magazines, and annoyed that I couldn't ever find that recipe (or good idea) that I'd wanted to try.

So, I started cutting up the magazines for all the recipes, quotes, and articles that I wanted to keep. I sorted them into type of recipe or whatever, then pasted 'em down and put the pages in page protectors for easy clean up (and to keep all the pasted edges from peeling away.)

The system has worked well for me and I've cut 'n paste every magazine I've bought since. These binders are definitely my go-to cookbook for dinner ideas. Besides the recipes, I now have an entire binder for miscellaneous stuff -- including gift ideas, holiday decorations, and how-tos on everything from removing stains to DIY hardware.

This isn't exactly a new or unique idea, or even a craft, but since I spend a lot of relaxing time clipping and gluing, I wanted to share. Maybe someone out there is getting fed up with their stack of unruly magazines...


the original berry and pecan french toast

Back when I made eggnog french toast, I included a mention of its variation -- berry and pecan french toast. But really, since I make the version with nuts and berries much more often, it really deserves to be called the original version and the eggnog version is its holiday cousin. Besides, if the version a la nuts and berries is the original, I have a good excuse to post the yummy pictures of our Sunday brunch.

the original berry and pecan french toast
1 french baguette or 3/4 loaf Italian loaf, stale or dried
eggs (7-8 eggs for a 9x13 pan, more if you're using more bread)
approx. 2 C milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 C fresh or frozen berries -- blueberries*, raspberries, and/or blackberries
a couple handfuls of pecan pieces
unsalted butter
maple syrup

*as a variation on this original version -- use 2C blueberries, and flavour with 1 tsp nutmeg in place of the cinnamon

Butter pan well (trust me, whoever is washing the dishes will thank you). Cut bread in large cubes -- actually a variation of sizes works best so you can fill all nooks and crannies. Let bread dry out for a few hours if it's not already stale. In a bowl, whisk eggs well and add milk, vanilla, and cinnamon, as you would for a normal "egg dip" for french toast. Pour over bread, press down with the palms of your hands, and let soak overnight.

In the morning, sprinkle 2 cups of berries and pecan pieces over the egg/bread mixture (poking some berries into pockets in the bread...mmm.)

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. If it starts to brown too quickly, cover loosely with tinfoil for part of the time. Although, the crusty golden bits on the top are the best part (in my opinion), so don't keep the foil on for long.

To make berry syrup, warm some regular maple syrup and a handful of berries (the remaining 1/2 C) in a saucepan on the stove. Crush the berries once they are warm. Serve over golden french toast with a dollop of whipped cream.


road trip countdown

My brother and his family are going for a lovely drive over the river and through the woods to our house. Last time Jeff and I made the trek we took some notes about when we were at what landmark, so we could pass along the info. Hopefully this little accordion book will help them count down the hours and get here quick!
First things first -- I had to make a little pickup truck!

the first couple pages

a few pages from the middle of the first side

and a few pages from the back side

We got excited about another idea for kids a bit older than my niece and nephew -- a customized i-spy game! We'd take pictures of landmarks or billboards from a trip (the ones visible from the road), put them in a book, and give it to a family that's about to take the same trip. I, for one, would love trying to spy everything.

But maybe I'd like it 'cause I'm part of the generation that had to make do with "car games." Those newfangled portable video games and movies would probably outshine a homemade i-spy game. sigh. I guess I'll just have to make one for kids a lot older than my niece and nephew.


pappa al pomodoro

In Italy, pappa al pomodoro is the ultimate "poor man's food." Tomato and bread soup with lots of fresh basil -- simplicity never tasted so good.

pappa al pomodoro
serves 4

about 2 C stale bread, cut into cubes
1/2 teas (or as much or little as you can handle) dried red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 sweet onion, diced fine
fresh tomatoes, (or if it's winter time, you can get away with using 2 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes)
4 Tbs fresh basil, chopped
6 C low sodium chicken stock

In a large saucepan, over med-high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the dried red pepper flakes and cubed bread. Cook, stirring occasionally until the bread is golden. Transfer bread to a plate lined with a paper towel; set aside.

Add a bit more olive oil to the pan and saute the onions until translucent. Add garlic and cook until you can smell 'em (usually less than a minute). Next, add the tomatoes, basil, and prepared bread. Stir to combine and heat to a simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Add the broth (best if it's already hot) and mix well. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the flavours have had the chance to blend. Mash the tomatoes and bread together with a fork . Season with pepper and more salt if necessary -- I find that the stock makes the soup plenty salty. Buon appetito!


bustin'-my-stash baby blanket

A while back I was digging through my stash and realized I had a lot of red, black, and white yarns. I got the idea from this lovely project, to use some of it up by making a baby blanket.

So far, I've used three shades of navy merino wool, white and black superwash wools, and the red merino extra fine wool -- knitting it all up on the same 4 1/2 mm needles. The red is most unlike the others -- it knits up with more volume which may cause some trouble when I go to sew the strips together. To get the black and white variegated squares, I knit together the white superwash with a black mohair.

I'm using a basket weave stitch throughout -- giving these randomly arranged colours a more coherent, integrated look. I'm getting kind of excited about the finished product, but there's still lots to do -- finish the fourth strip, knit up the fifth (which will attach on the left side), block the strips, sew them together, and back it with a soft navy flannel. I'll keep you posted...

You know how babies are more stimulated by high contrast colours (such as, ahem, black, white, and red) -- yeah, Oops! The babe in this blanket will never get any sleep!


veggie fried rice

Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something.

~Mitch Hedberg

I saw someone eating fried rice and orange chicken on the bus today and that was all it took for me to become fixated on having fried rice for dinner. I hadn't made it before, but I knew I wanted my version to have peas, carrots, eggs, and bean sprouts -- and lots of flavour. After looking up fried rice hints in my favourite cookbook and checking out real simple's recipe, I started chopping. As for the measurements, I'm trying to remember how much I put in of something after the fact (after it's been eaten, in fact) so please adjust for personal taste.

veggie fried rice
serves 4

1 1/2 C brown rice (I used a mix of brown and long grain white, but only 'cause I ran out of brown)
1/3 C low sodium soy sauce
1/4 C oyster sauce
1 Tbs ginger root, minced
dash of seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 Tbs brown sugar
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/2- 3/4 C frozen peas, slightly thawed
3 scallions, diced
a few handfuls bean sprouts*
4 eggs
canola or vegetable oil

*bean sprouts are best cold and crispy. Try soaking them in cold water in the fridge while preparing the meal, so they get nice and crunchy.

Cook the rice according to package directions and set aside. (Doh! This step was a bit cumbersome for me since I had to use two types of rice with vastly different cooking times.) Meanwhile, mix together soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, rice vinegar, and brown sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and drizzle a bit of oil. Crack four eggs into the pan and when they just start to set, break the yolks and lightly scramble with a flat wooden spoon or spatula. When eggs are mostly done, but still moist, remove from pan and set aside.

Drizzle a bit more oil into the same pan and add carrots, peas, and a couple tablespoons of the soy/oyster sauce mix. Saute for a couple minutes until the carrots are cooked to your desired crunchiness. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the hot pan, then add the rice, scallions, and remainder of the sauce. Stir to coat the rice. Heat for a minute, then stir in the vegetables and the eggs. Serve with crisp bean sprouts on top.


spring notecards

Here's a little notecard set I made for Jeff's aunt's birthday. She lives in sunny southern California -- where I'm sure spring has already sprung, or rather, where the flowers and birds never left. Spring apparently comes every year to Toronto, but I'll believe that when the snow stops falling.