tackling ‘the overwhelm’ one bowl at a time


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“Ninety percent of writing is simply the pot boiling.  The real work is letting it boil for hours and patiently distilling its essence.” (Camilla Gibb)    

I’m not sure how long my pot has been boiling, or when its

essence will be distilled.  But it’s back on the burner. Writing and thinking happen more at a simmer than a boil in my experience. Low and slow have served me well in my kitchen and at my desk.  

Winter is a good time to find yourself caught in overwhelm’s clutches.  You can seek solace in socially sanctioned hibernation.  You can putter and ponder and warm body and soul with bottomless bowls of soup.  And, when the time is right, you can embrace the renewal offered by winter’s close in principle if not in practice.    


Spring is more of a theoretical category than a lived reality on my side of the Atlantic.  I imagine I’ll be eating this hearty soup for a few more weeks before our not-quite-winter-or-spring finally concedes defeat and I retire it for the summer.  

Until then, may as well keep the pot on a little longer while I continue to distill the essence of my winter work.   


Not Too Spicy Lentil Soup  

adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion diced
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 and 1/4 cup red lentils
3 and 1/2 cups water
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil at medium heat in a medium/large pot.
Add the diced onion and cook for 4-5 minutes.  
Add the spice mix (cumin, coriander, garam masala, ginger & turmeric). Cook for 1 minute.
Add the diced tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add the lentils and stir well.
Add the 3 and 1/2 cups of water and increase heat to bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and bring to a low simmer. Add the salt and pepper.  Let simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes.  
Remove from heat and ladle half of the soup into a blender and blend until smooth. Return the blended soup to the pot and stir to combine.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve alone or with a dollop of greek yogurt.  

remembering the great war with a cake recipe & a query


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                                       (recipe for War Cake handwritten by my mother)

Today marks …

the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

A few months ago I came across a recipe for War Cake written in my mother’s hand and shared with her by my grandmother who was left at home with small children on Cape Breton Island while my grandfather fought in the Second World War. Tonight seemed like the right time to share the recipe and remember those lost and wounded in wars past and present, in places near and far.

When I first glanced at this recipe I was perplexed by the presence (and abundance) of sugar and flour, and was curious how this cake could have been created out of necessity in the context of food rationing. After a little investigation, I quickly learned that what characterizes most variations of War Cake is the absence of milk, eggs and butter. Although sugar was often in short supply, ration stamps could be collected and used to acquire enough sugar to make this sizeable and satisfying cake.

Celebrated for its rich spiced raisin flavour, War Cake continued to be enjoyed long after WWII and it is possible that once ingredients like sugar and dried fruit & nuts were more readily available, the recipe was adapted to reflect changing circumstances.

War Cake
recipe handed from my grandmother to my mother
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 pound seeded raisins
2 tablespoons shortening
2 cups water
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
Optional ingredients:
1 cup mixed red and green cherries OR
1/2 cup nuts and 1/2 cup currants
Boil the sugar, raisins, shortening, water, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg for 5 minutes or longer.
Let cool and then add the baking soda, salt and flour.  Cooling the mixture completely may take several hours.  
Add optional ingredients if desired.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in a greased and floured tube pan (or bundt pan).

If you have an old family recipe for War Cake or know more about the history of its adaptation, I’d love to hear from you! Please share a comment.


fault lines


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Winter is a season of remembrance.  A season of wistful glances into the future, rooted in the geography of things past.

I have been drawn to things past for as long as I can remember. Photographs, recipes, pottery, rocks and stones smoothed and worn by the crash of waves and the passage of time. Things that you can come back to again and again, knowing that they were once part of the daily rituals and observances of those who may (or may not) have been just like us. Who, at the very least, shared the same place on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite the extraordinary length of our Newfoundland winter this year, it remains my favourite season, intellectually if not practically, and after several non-wintery winters on Vancouver Island, I was sad to see its stark beauty come to a close.

So I’ve been ruminating on discontinuity lately. Disconnection, disjuncture, fault lines.          

fault line
noun Geology.
the intersection of a fault with the surface of the earth or other plane of reference.
1. a defect or imperfection
2. responsibility for failure or a wrongful act
3. Sports. a) a ball that when served does not land in the proper section of an opponent’s court b) a failure to serve the ball according to the rules
4. Geology. a break in the continuity of a body of rock or of a vein, with dislocation along the plane of the fracture 
Winter  …
Warm knits and glimpses of the not so distant past.
Cold hands and missed deadlines.
Maple syrup and melted butter.
Failure to serve the ball according to the rules.
Break in continuity.
Dislocation …
Summer …
Mala beads and glimpses of the not so distant future.
Hand-written notes and submitted drafts.
Iced coffee and (more) iced coffee.  
Embraced imperfection(s).
Serving the ball according to (some) of the rules …
Continuity resumed.
Dislocation dislocated.  

(sorta) super natural granola


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The wonderful thing about curating a small (but growing) collection of cookbooks is knowing that the most delicious discoveries are just a cup of coffee and a page-turn away. There when you need them, and asking nothing more of you than the time and inclination to feed yourself well in body, mind & spirit. 
This granola bridges the seasonal gap between winter & spring with just enough warmth to offer comfort in the final throes of winter and just enough citrus to warrant thoughts of spring. Inspired by Heidi Swanson’s recipe in Super Natural Every Day, the essence of this granola’s goodness lies in its maple-butter-orange infused toasted oats. The original recipe calls for currants, coconut and a more generous hand with the walnuts.  I opted for cashews and apricots and was not disappointed. 
Granola with Walnuts, Cashews, Apricots & Orange Zest
adapted from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup whole cashews
2 clementines (zest)
1/4 cup of butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
Place rolled oats, walnuts, cashews and orange zest in a medium bowl and mix. 
Put butter and maple syrup in a small pot and melt on low heat until the butter has melted and been fully combined with the syrup.
Pour the butter and maple syrup mixture over the oats and nuts. Stir until all of the oats and nuts are covered. 
Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 225 degrees for approximately 1 hour or until granola is lightly browned and toasted.  
Let cool and then add as many diced dried apricots as you like.
Store in a sealed container in the cupboard.
Best served with a spoonful of greek yogurt and the promise of spring … 

celebrate international women’s day !


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MARCH 8 is INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY.  To celebrate how far we’ve come, and remember how far we still need to go, here’s some food for (gendered) thought …


Women Shopping photographed by Sol Libsohn in New York City 1938. CREDIT: From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Women in the developing world represent 43% of the agricultural labour force and comprise two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers … See The Female Face of Farming, an INFOGRAPHIC published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

More women than men are now entering farming in the United States.  See PHOTOGRAPHING the Female Face of Farming, a profile of FarmHer published on Modern Farmer. 

Women were not always (and in some places still aren’t) permitted the same freedom as men in public space.  See Ladies Invited: Food & Public Space – previously published here on COOKLORE.