chard, chestnut & za’atar quiche + corn & kimchi quiche

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I returned from a summer back at home in trepidation of seeing the state of the front yard garden. I had been sent a photo update partway through the summer – not being around to weed the yard, it had become a mass of grass, strangling spindly pea plants, and with the odd orange tomato standing out from the undifferentiated conglomerate of green.

When I had first arrived back, it was early in the morning, but the next day I was eager to start clearing out some of the grass choking the vegetables.

Looking at the yard, it appeared so much tamer than I expected –  there wasn’t quite the height or bulk that I had been expecting. Then I realized that was because there was nothing. Apart from the expansive raspberry bushes, the yard was a flattened pad of dead, cut grass. A new pad of weeds, mostly clover, had begun to poke up like post-buzzcut fuzz in between the yellowed grass stems.

A chive plant waved jollily from the corner. The chive plant was spared.

Looking more closely, I found some more remnants of a (questionable) garden that once was. A handful of red cherry tomatoes and a couple green beefsteaks lolling on the ground in the shade of the raspberries… and a small, prickly field cucumber over in the other corner of the yard.

I collected and bagged the evidence.

“Dear roommate.” I said, as we sat down for dinner, “I was looking at – or rather – looking for my garden,”

“HAHAHA.” She said in the sort of despondent laugh just as telling as the explanation. “Yes. Um, there is a story there.”

It goes something like this: our landlord’s wife plants medicinal herbs in the yard. The roommate is warned not to pull up anything stick-like – and so given all the stick-like crabgrass taking over, leaves everything well alone. Until one day she comes back to a mowed lawn.

The garden was a unfortunate bystander caught in a confluence of factors. The sequence of events all started with me, when the garden was abandoned by its caretaker (i.e. me), then was watched over by a considerate roommate, and inevitably met its end at the blades of a landlord trying to keep his property relatively presentable and law-abiding instead of a crab-grass and dandelion cultivation centre.

I am pretty chuffed that at least I still have chives!

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dill pollen, cardamom & lemon ice cream

ice cream infused with dill plus some cardamom to round it all out, along with lemon and dill pollen. an ice cream? a curiosity?  

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My love of ice cream has grown to new heights over the past summer. Admittedly, the old hand-crank canister does not make particularly excellent ice cream and it certainly takes some focused elbow work to achieve some degree of creamy aeration. But in ice cream there is a whole new breadth of opportunity for incorporating flavours – infuse the milk, add a puree, or other mix-ins.

Dill has conveniently spread throughout the community garden like a far more benign purple loosestrife. When we noticed it was flowering, heads encircled by golden pollen granules, making ice cream was one of the first things that came to mind.

I concede that the dill is not for everyone, relegating this ice cream more so to an enjoyable curiosity than an ice cream that even I would choose to eat several litres of. But I often aim for that sort of thing anyhow. Besides, it’s a lovely way to celebrate dill in both frond and pollen-forms and commemorate the end of summer as the dill passes through its life cycle with cardamom hinting at the warming spices coming up in fall.

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jasmine lychee mousse cake

a light jasmine tea mousse cake with a lychee jelly insert – and a speedy trip in the taxi

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Much delayed, my flight arrived around 4:30 am, and in a blearily bedraggled state I succumbed to the convenient but costly allure of a taxi – a rare occasion considering the state of my net worth. At that hour the wide-multilane roadways leading into the city were dimly lit and only sparsely populated.

Sitting in cars often induces a trance-like state for me, but I couldn’t help but notice that the road seemed to be going past exceptionally quickly. As the taxi driver turned up the volume of his choral music to be heard over the grind of the taxi and the air came to be perfused with a smell quite reminiscent of burning plastic, I got to experience living life very speedily – in a very literal sense. Glancing at the speedometer, we were persistently 10km/h over the speed limit, coasting entirely unhindered down a nearly empty road.

My sleepiness was replaced with a healthy rise in blood pressure.

It was only as we approached vehicles ahead that we gently slowed, though just as we did so, a white taxi soared by in the adjacent lane. The driver’s discordant humming halted. He began to switch from one to another, weaving between the modestly spaced vehicles as though they were pylons. My healthy rise in blood pressure was not feeling quite so healthy anymore.

The two taxis switched positions – the white car darting ahead of us until it was blocked by a more law-abiding driver in front of them and vice versa — until, while driving neck-to-neck, the other taxi began to slow, a gesture of submission perhaps, or condescension. I was half-certain that this whole “race” was actually a product of coincidences and my overactive imagination until the taxi driver scoffed and flapped his hand grumpily through his window. And thankfully, now lacking an opponent, the taxi driver seemed to lose his passion for racing.

This experience most certainly confirmed that a slow life is most certainly the type of life for me.

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strawberry cake with browned butter cream

strawberry chiffon layer cake piled with browned butter whipped cream – the most intensely browned butter-flavoured cake that I’ve made by far

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The transformation of browned butter is a heady aromatic experience: first of melted butter, like popcorn, then as it cooks and the solids break down a bit more, of all the good things fried in butter like eggs and pancakes and toasted bread, finishing on an intense concentration of toast and caramelization.

I find it comes out immensely in butter-heavy financiers and is a fair contributor to other cakes and cookies. Though as intense as brown butter is in its unadulterated form, sometimes I struggle to coax it to step beyond team player (which it is terribly wonderful at) to be a primary flavour.

This cake is the most intensely browned butter cake that I’ve made. It doesn’t appear so at first – a soft elderflower chiffon layered with strawberries and piles of cream. However, it has no problem in demonstrating its browned butter allegiance through the piles of cream being piles of browned butter cream, made using an old Bel cream-maker.

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swiss chard phyllo pies

more ways to consume the end-of-season deluge of swiss chard, this time some packed feta, herb and swiss chard phyllo pies. plus, waxing poetic on the wonders of phyllo

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Perhaps you too have had a massive end-of-the-season influx of Swiss chard, and perhaps there was also this 2-for-1 deal for frozen phyllo pastry that caught your eye. And as well, it is certainly possible there was also a conveniently-timed get together coming up which probably entails bringing some food or another. In such a situation, this would be a helpful recipe.

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roasted peach, lavender & chamomile ice cream

roasted peach, lavender and chamomile-infused ice cream strewn through with chunks of whole wheat lavender shortbread and roasted peach

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Going on trips to the west coast, summer became a season of lavender and specifically lavender shortbread.

In the warmer climes of the west coast, we would marvel over how herbs grew bountifully into literal shrubs and bushes, established sizes which I suspect truly fulfilled their promise as perennials that wake up again with each growing cycle. Lavender was sort of a mythical herb to us; the plants we grew would rarely ever flower. But! Basking in the humid warmth of the sun – and er, brake lights – lavender flourished even in the little concrete medians of the grocery store parking lot. I still have a bit of dried lavender left from the parking lot, several years old now, but still fragrant.

My lavender-flavoured go-to was shortbread, though often the texture lay closer to crackers as I would toss together guessed proportions of butter and flour (without the experience for those guessed proportions to be even marginally correct) and then require some added milk to bring the dough together. While occasionally I would use lavender flowers, I most often made it with the leaves, enabling myself to make use of the small flowerless plants we grew in our garden. I find it still imparts much of the same flavour – perhaps its moreso the lavender that I know in fact – and given the leeway to use more, often a stronger flavour as well.

When considering a lavender ice cream, the thought of shortbread came to mind as it often does with lavender – and I surprised myself about how much the taste of the shortbread I made reminded me of past summers and the grocery store parking lot.

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pistachio rare cheesecake with yuzu posset

a rare pistachio cheesecake (rare in the sense of no-bake that is; relatively commonplace pistachios) with a molded yuzu posset, and oh gee, kijiji 

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I had a terrible history with Kijiji. It began during the naivety of being a first year in university. Opening up my course outlines ahead of time (ahead of time!) I divined that “required textbooks” were required (when in fact it is very course-dependent), and also that I was actually meant to buy them. They were horrifically expensive, as textbooks are apt to be, but at least by sourcing them from the used bookstore and Kijiji, they were only terribly expensive – one step down from horrific.

I put the most effort into the recreation of a three book set for my chemistry course – a textbook, a workbook, and an addition book called Chemistry for Engineers, and all of which had to be the current updated editions. Why I would need Chemistry for Engineers when I was not in engineering escaped me, but I knew the booklist didn’t lie. It said “required” after all.

I bought Chemistry for Engineers off of Kijiji from an upper year student. As we stood in a quiet campus hallway near the foodcourt, she kindly asked whether I was taking engineering.

“No, it’s just required for my chemistry course,” I told her. She looked confused. I refused to doubt myself.

By the time I managed to track the three components down from different sources, the total sum amounted to marginally less than the cost of new books – with travel costs in public transit tickets included, I just about broke even.

I never opened Chemistry for Engineers and to this day still do not know what engineers should know about chemistry. The last time I checked, it lingers, melancholic and unsold, on the shelves of the university consignment store … though I’m being a bit hard on Chemistry for Engineers as I also never opened up the general chemistry textbook, nor the workbook.

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