Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer beauty

Summer has arrived in earnest around here. We've been berry picking three times now. We have survived the first heat wave, when every day tempts you to the beach to float in the cool ocean water. And the early, succulent spring flowers have given way to feathery, wiry, gaudy summer flowers that bob and nod in the sweltering afternoons and the blissfully cool evenings.

Construction and garden maintenance are also in full swing. One day, a chainsaw buzzed all day just outside our living room windows. The next day, a jackhammer... well, hammered all day across the street. The next day, we heard the incessant thump, thump, plonk! of a basketball in the alley, followed by distressed or celebratory "oohhh!"s from the dozen 18 year olds who are subletting the big house next door. And the next? A weedblower. Right under the bedroom window. Really, is using a broom or a rake so difficult?

Despite that, we've had family visiting, and have enjoyed showing off our beautiful city in the summertime. Jordan's brother, and then parents, have come out to visit us. We took them to the glistening Shannon Falls, hiked the Chief, and took the gondola to the top of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Oh yes, and went blueberry picking. Jordan's dad, a Manitoban farmboy at heart, especially loved blueberry picking. But who's kidding who? We loved it too.

And we've been grilling, cooking, eating well. Blueberry tarts with a sweet-crunchy shortbread crust, spiked with lemon zest and topped with floppy, just-sweet whipped cream. Ice cream with brandied-rhubarb compote. Barbequed pork chops with last summer's applesauce. Perfectly-roasted rosemary-scented potatoes.

Yes, summer has been good to us so far. Un vraiment bon été.

Has it been so for you?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

You Can Make That!? Strawberry Freezer Jam and Nutella

To me, summer means picking berries. I relish the days that find me driving out of the city, into the ag-belt surrounding Vancouver, and spending the morning on my knees among berry bushes and vines, picking hundreds and hundreds of fresh ripe berries. Out on the farms, there are always young children exclaiming to their parents over their latest, biggest, juiciest find. There are always newly-retired couples coming out to buy their flats of berries. And there's me, dropping one berry in the bucket, popping one berry in my mouth, dreaming of berry crisps, smoothies, and jam.

Right now, it's strawberry season in Vancouver. Jordan and I went out to Westham Island on Saturday. And in a matter of what seemed like minutes, we came away with pink-stained fingers and mouths and five big buckets of beautiful strawberries.

The next evening, we put up more than 20 jars of freezer jam.

This jam will last a year of breakfasts: poached eggs on toasty english muffins, with strong coffee and fresh orange juice.

Making freezer jam is surprisingly simple. Here's what you do:
* pick strawberries at a local farm
* buy packages of Certo pectin
* follow Certo instructions for making "No Cook" strawberry jam

Basically, you mash the cleaned berries in a big bowl. Stir in an obscene amount of sugar and let it sit for 10 minutes while you boil the pectin powder in some water. Pour the pectin into the berries. Ladle the jam into clean jars with tight-fitting lids, and let sit overnight. Store in your freezer until you're ready to crack open that first jar of jam. Presto!

Speaking of things that you spread on toast... This morning I am also making our own version of nutella. Most people love the smooth, nutty-chocolate-y concoction. But, if you're into reading the labels of your packaged food, Nutella will shock and stun you. It is filled with partially-hydrogenated junk, which is of course what makes it silky and delicious. I first found a recipe on I Made That! and have since been making it at home. It is also surprisingly simple, and requires an oven and a food processor. (Which, by the way, is the best kitchen appliance ever, second only to my KitchenAid stand mixer.) And if you are anything like my German friends who expect Nutella to taste more chocolate-y than the North American version they've found here, by making your own you can adjust the balance of flavors to your own taste.

I hope you enjoy making your own toast-toppings as much as Jordan and I do. Our refrigerator is jam-packed (oh Tora, haha) with homemade almond butter, jam, and nutella. And it makes our breakfasts that much tastier.

Homemade Nutella

2 cups hazelnuts
7 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 canola oil

Roast the hazelnuts at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Let cool. When cool, roll the hazelnuts in a dishtowel to remove the brown skins (which can give the hazelnuts a bitter taste).

Process the hazelnuts in the food processor until it is a smooth butter. This will take about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides a couple of times while you're doing this.

Add the cocoa, sugar, salt, and vanilla to the processor bowl. Process 15 seconds, until just incorporated. While the processor is running, pour the canola oil in a thin stream. Puree until you get the consistency you want.

Taste the nutella for balance of flavors and texture. Spoon it into jars and keep in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before using.

Makes 2 cups.