the cherry(s) on the cake

cherry tree

The cherry tree which hangs over our back deck seems to be doing a lot better than last year, showing fuller foliage and yielding a great deal more fruit. Problem is....as the cherries ripen it becomes a competitive race against the birds to pick the fruit. I've been on high alert these last few days, often running out the back door, shouting and waving my arms in the air in (not entirely successful) attempts to scare away the crows who have mistaken our backyard for an all-you-can-eat buffet. One thing I have never been able to understand about birds......when they find food, why do they always have to tell all their friends? They make such a big noisy deal about it and, before they know it, gee....there is hardly anything left for them....or for me.

Sure, I could have made my life much easier if I just went and purchased some from the farmers market, but where's the fun in that? By hook or by crook, I was determined to make one thing from our backyard bounty, something in particular....Cherry Upside Down Cake.

Diane Thompson's Cherry Upside Down Cake

Cherry Upside Down Cake

1/4 c butter
1/4 c sugar
2 c fresh, pitted cherries

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp grated orange rind
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c milk

Preheat oven to 350°. In an 8” x 8” baking pan melt (first) ¼ c butter over stove top, using low heat. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar and then with cherries. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream (second) ¼ c butter in a medium size bowl, then beat in the sugar. Next blend in eggs, vanilla and orange zest. At low speed beat in the sifted dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Combine until well blended. Spoon batter over top of the cherries and butter/brown sugar mixture, spreading evenly. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched with your finger. Loosen sides and carefully invert onto a serving plate or cake server. Allow to cool. Serve with fresh whipped cream or try with 'Liberte Mediterranee Yogurt'. Any flavour would work well, but I tried it with 'Orange & Mango'. Yum! I think that finishing with a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds wouldn't be such a bad idea, either.


a garden good enough to eat

"The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow." -Author Unknown

Just as a kitchen is often the heart of a home, a vegetable garden can also bring people together…..family, friends, neighbours and sometimes even strangers. Though my pal, Heather is an urban gal like myself, she is fortunate enough to have direct access to the farm experience through her own immediate family. And because she is my pal, last weekend I was fortunate enough to see it for myself, as she had kindly invited me to join her in visiting her sister, Moira and brother-in-law, Brent. For the past 18 years, they have been living on a picturesque 14.5 acre spread in the equally picturesque area of Courtenay / Comox. Located about half way up the east coast of Vancouver Island, the journey from Vancouver involves a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Nanaimo, followed by a 112 km drive up island….making for a total travel time of about 5 hours, door to door.

When approaching their property, it is a garden that is the first to greet visitors. When first meeting Moira and Brent, their connection to the land and its rhythms become immediately apparent, in their pace and in their communication style. Somehow, they seem graciously direct, more thoughtful than your average urbanite in their (un)natural setting. On the second day of our visit, Brent led Sunday afternoon’s lunch guests on a walking tour of the land. As we made our way through the beautifully scenic wooded trails towards the Tsolum River and the family swimming hole, I asked him when he had last been on this particular walk. After an unhurried pause to recollect, his response was charming and typical of someone so in harmony with their environment, “During the last full moon”.

Occupying some 1/4 acre (about 10,000 plus sq. ft.), they have created 2 separate gardens mostly to grow food for themselves. They supplement their diet with other foods such as eggs from the neighbours and venison salami (yum), which is processed locally from deer that Brent has hunted. Trade within the community is practiced simply for good will, friendliness and enjoyment. As I walked around the garden to make note of all that they grew, I realized that there were far too many items for me to list them all: A= arugula, B= blueberries, C= Carrots, D= Dill, E= Echinacea, F= Fennel, G=Green Onion…..all the way to Z= Zucchini. Because the garden yields far more than they could ever eat fresh, much of it is preserved for later use through freezing, canning (relish, chutney, fruit and tomato sauce), pickling and some drying. Other food, such as root vegetables and apples, are kept over the winter months in dry storage. While processing some food is neccessary, Brent says that the focus is still very much about eating fresh and extending the harvest. With proper planning and plant selection, fresh food can be made available from the garden almost year round. They have also developed a tea to sell; a blend of their own grown echinacea, ginger and mint. It is available at The Tea Centre in Courtenay (where it is sold as ‘Glacier Blend’) and also at Teaz in Vancouver (where it is sold as ‘Echinacea Blend’). For the last 15 years, they have run a large scale fish composting business which has not only provided an income, but has also greatly supporting their soil fertility and food production. Today, they continue to make compost on a smaller scale.

When I asked Moira how all this began, she said that before she and Brent had ever met, each of them already held a keen interest in owning their own land, growing their own food and feeding their (eventual) children well. When they finally did meet, their individual dreams became a collective one which they naturally incorporated into their new lives; first as a couple and, eventually, as a family with two boys. She chose to home school their children, which proved conducive to maintaining a large garden. This lifestyle was a commitment that required a great deal of time and hard work, void of financial reward. However, the experience worked out well, having provided a different kind of wealth, one without job burnout and poor eating habits, and one where teaching their children how to grow and appreciate good, healthy, fresh food has been just as important as any course in mathematics or chemistry.

According to Moira, as long as you grow food, you will never be lonely. I believe that she is right, and look forward to a return visit at the end of this summer, just as the garden’s bounty is ready for harvest. It will be exciting to see such growth, especially after witnessing its June beginnings. I also look forward to visiting my new friends.....and eating some more of that venison salami.

As a side bar, we were joined by another visitor that weekend. Third sister, Hornby Island based painter Coral Barclay, was in town to attend the Saturday night opening of her show of paintings at the Comox Valley Art Gallery. That evening we all joined her in celebrating her latest body of work, later going out for a glass of wine and....something to eat!


behind the scenes @ CityCooks

CityCooks, City TV

Ever wonder what it would be like to hang out on the set of a television cooking show? Last week I was fortunate enough to have that very experience. I had phoned CityCooks producer Catherine Petersen to request an opportunity to job shadow at the station, hoping to get some insight into just how the process works. She proved to be very accommodating, arranging a date and time for me to come to the Citytv studios.

Hosted by Simi Sara, each 30 minute program is filmed ‘live to tape’, meaning that they approach it as if they are live, even though they are not. The taping of each segment is kept very close to assigned time lines and there seem to be no ‘redos’ or miles of extra footage to edit later. All this is done with the intent of capturing a more live, dynamic feel to the finished product. On the day of my visit the guest was Chef ‘Charlie’ Yang, who has been cooking with the Mark James Group for 8 years, most recently as head chef at The Yaletown Brew Pub, where he describes his food to be an ‘Asian Flair’ style of cooking. CityCooks formats its programming to allow each day’s guest to demonstrate 3 dishes, plus ‘on site’ footage is shown during the introduction of each episode to give the viewer a visual feel for the establishment where he or she is from. Chef Charlie’s menu for the day went as follows:

1) Manturian Chicken
2) Shanghai Ginger Beef
3) Schezuan Style Chicken Chow Fun (‘Ho Fun’= “Flat Rice Noodles”)

The feeling on the set was friendly and informal, while still retaining a keen sense of timing and professional efficiency. There is no live audience, only two camera operators plus 'Camera 1', 'Camera 2' and an 'Iso (isolation)-Cam' for more detailed close up shots. One of the cameramen joined Simi in knicking bits of food from the back of Chef Charlie's most recently completed 'Manturian Chicken' dish, just as the commercial break began. I was impressed when she admitted this to her future audience during the taping that followed, the 'Shanghai Ginger Beef' segment.

Catherine Pedersen is not only the supervising producer and writer, but also the person to find and screen each guest plus their featured recipes before the taping even begins. She is also very closely involved with all details of the taping process itself. While clearly a busy woman, she was gracious enough to tour me through Citytv’s studios, control rooms and tape archives….all the while explaining the responsibilities of her own job, as well as the process of how an episode of CityCooks is made. The episode I observed will air in about one month.. According to Petersen, the station likes to keep about one month ahead with their taping schedule, creating between one and four programs per week.

I was surprised to see just how hands on the creating of an episode actually is. Back in October of 2005, Harpers Magazine had published a hilariously provocative article titled ‘Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography’. It begins by bringing the reader into a scene where we are shown just how time consuming, tedious, largely staffed and, one can assume, costly the taping of a cooking show can be:

Early this morning the team had gathered at the Food Network’s new 13,000-square-foot studios on Manhattan’s West Side and proceeded to shoot three episodes of Moulton’s show, Sara’s Secrets. Now it was late in the day, and fatigue had set in”……. “More than a dozen people huddled around the star. There were the executive, assistant, associate, and culinary producers; the director and technical director; and the camera operators, production assistants, and food stylists.”

As a side bar, author Frederick Kaufman’s premise throughout the article is to draw parallels between the formulas and presentation styles of the two industries, at one point even teaming up with porn still photographer Barbara Nitke to discuss their often not so subtle similarities…….though I can assure you, Simi and CityCooks do not subscribe to such antics. They provide a bright, upbeat program that directs itself mostly towards local community and its production is done with a reasonable amount of time, resources and staff.

I finished my visit by joining the 8 or so friendly CityCooks staff in gathering around the studio's kitchen island, as we collectively nibbled on the 3 tasty dishes Chef Charlie had created for the show.....a great finish to a very enjoyable and informative experience. CityCooks airs Monday to Friday at 6:00 pm (on channel 13) in Vancouver and Monday to Friday at 6:30 pm in Winnipeg.


happy belated birthday

birthday cake

I'm not quite sure how I missed it, but 4 days ago, on June 12, global peasant turned 1 year old. Seems like just yesterday......


12b- an underground restaurant

Todd of 12B
Artwork in the interior hallway of 12B.

Todd of 12B
Sitting pretty for the Halibut & Short Ribs course.

Underground Restaurant:
An illegal eating establishment, generally operated out of homes or apartments by people looking to offer something that isn't available in the legitimate restaurants of the community, generally bypassing local zoning and health code regulations. Most such places are advertised by word of mouth or guerilla advertising, and often require references to make a reservation.”

Last Saturday I joined 9 other diners, some of them friends and some of them strangers, for a much anticipated dinner at apartment 12B. Located somewhere in Vancouver, its occupant is not only a talented chef, but also a generous host who expresses himself creativity through his own interpretation of underground dining.

Certainly, a private location brings with it more liberty to be playful and less conventional, both for the host and for his or her guests. Todd’s food is thoughtful in its combinations and sublime in its flavours....and his home is a feast for the eyes; much of it full of vivid original artwork and scads of funky details. With each of the five courses served, he took the time to explain to us what we were eating as well as any special details about the ingredients and preparations. This, of course, is in sharp contrast to the experience of a conventional restaurant where it is rare that there be any direct contact at all between the kitchen and the very diners they are cooking for. During Todd's dinner events, guests are encouraged to experience his home free range, to feel comfortable choosing (and bringing) their own music, wandering between rooms to stretch their legs, lingering in the gallery-style hallway, smoking! in the living room-lounge or even making their own short film as we did (see below) before returning to the large picnic style dining table to tuck into the next scrumptious course, uncork another bottle or two of wine and, if you are as lucky as we were, enjoy listening to someone like diner Brad spontaneously break out in song at some point during each course.

Todd of 12B
Plating up the Tomato & Asparagus Salad course.

Todd of 12B

Seared Duck with Pea Tops, Baby Carrots & ‘Nectums’

Todd of 12B

Mocha Cheesecake with Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream before the White Chocolate Drizzle.

I’d say that we were a slightly boisterous group. Much of our behaviour would not have been tolerated in a public restaurant, nor would the turnaround time of our table….. 7:30 pm to midnight on a Saturday. Some of our party got extra creative in the 'tipping' department.....one guest left behind her bra and panties, accompanied by a written comment in the guest book explaining "....because your food got me so hot and bothered". Our menu went as follows:

Heirloom Tomato, Asparagus & Goat Cheese Salad
Shallot & Champagne Vinaigrette

Seared Duck with Pea Tops, Baby Carrots & ‘Nectums’ (1/2 Nectarine / 1/2 Plum)
Soy-Citrus Sauce

Lemon-Seared Halibut & Beer-Braised Short Ribs
Swiss Chard & Esplette Butter Sauce

Grilled Lamb Chop with Parsnip & Yam Purees
Green Curry Sauce

Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Melted ‘Roaring 40’s Blue Cheese’
Morel Mushrooms in Cognac Cream Sauce
Roasted Garlic Baby Nugget Potatoes

Mocha Cheesecake
Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream & White Chocolate Drizzle

Six course set menus for 6-10 guests start at $50 per person plus B.Y.O. Booze.
To book a reservation call Todd @ 778.389.7295.

WARNING! The following short film contains some cussin' and immature subject matter.


korea nite @ jang mo jib

When eating at any busy Asian eatery in my hometown....I must admit that I take secret delight when noticing that I am one of the only round eyes in the room. Such a realization usually makes me feel as though I am on vacation somewhere far from home, and I tend to let my imagination run with it....enjoying an exotic adventure without the costly 17 hour flight and accompanying jet lag. My friend, Pedro , and I found just such a place last Sunday night. Owned and operated by the Moon family, Jang Mo Jib offers up spicy, authentic dishes that are fresh, healthy and homemade. The mother runs the kitchen while the father takes care of the floor and the business end of the operation. Both their son and daughter are also involved. Located at the foot of Vancouver's Robson Street, this three block stretch of the city has become well populated with a generous presence of Korean eateries. Click here to learn more about the Moon family's restaurant business from the 'Eating Global Vancouver' student film series.

Left: GAHL BEE SAL BOOL GO GEE- Korean style B.B.Q. beef short rib meat with house special B.B.Q. sauce. Right: KIM CHEE SOON DOO BOO- kimchi, radish, onion, green onion, egg and beef tofu in a clay hot pot.

HAE MOOL PAHJUN- Assorted seafood, green onion and crab meat Korean style pancake.

All entres are served with complimentary steamed rice plus a wide assortment of in-house fermented vegetables such as cabbage (kimchi), potato, seaweed and bean sprouts with carrots. Prices are affordable. Pedro and I dined on all that you see (with loads of leftovers) for $43 before beer. Jang Mo Jib also has two other locations; one on Kingsway in Vancouver and the other in Richmond.

Curtains outside the restrooms.


tree hugger

Pecan Tree in Austin, Texas
Pecans in Austin, Texas

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
- Hermann Hesse, from ‘Wandering’

When I was still a child, my maternal grandfather gave me the biggest gift anyone has ever bestowed upon me. He taught me how to love trees. I learned how to respect and appreciate these perennial woody plants through his lessons and his stories, most often as we walked close to the very trees he loved so much. He explained how they provided shade, food, shelter and oxygen to both animals and humans alike, as well as great beauty for anyone who cared to notice. I was also taught that trees served as a very popular building material. Life is rarely without its ironies. He had spent his career as a consultant to lumber mills all over the world, assisting them in achieving maximum yield from their harvested wood. He left out any references to the ancient symbolic use of trees in spirituality and mythology, I suppose figuring that such concepts were beyond the grasp of a six year old girl. As I have grown to be an adult and my relationship with trees has evolved to become more complex, trees are now my grounding, my deity, my unofficial religion and my place of worship. What brought such richness and meaning to Grandpa L. has, in turn, given me the same.

Therefore, it has always seemed nothing short of a miracle for me to see exotic food actually growing on trees....lemons in San Francisco, papayas in Bali, coconuts in Mexico. Such sights always fill me with giddiness and childlike glee.

The grand, sweeping canopy of green that is the tree in Kenneth's backyard in Austin, Texas not only provides shade and inviting habitat for birds and squirrels....it actually grows real, live pecans (see above photos)....with shells thin enough to crack open with the light lean of my heel against the wooden back porch, revealing their soft, fresh nutty flesh which can, in turn, be used to create....

Diane Thompson's Pecan and Arugula Pesto

Pecan & Arugula Pesto

With its bright green colour and peppery flavour, this quick pesto is a great addition to pasta, salad dressing, pizza, bruscetta or sandwiches.

2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh arugula
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor except for the olive oil and puree until smooth. With the food processor still running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until pesto thickens. Yields 2 cups of pesto, which can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container.

A few more tree quotes.....

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
- Basil

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!"
- Joseph Campbell

And see the peaceful trees extend their myriad leaves in leisured dance—
they bear the weight of sky and cloud upon the fountain of their veins.
- Kathleen Raine, from ‘Envoi’

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees,
then names the streets after them.
- Bill Vaughan

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.
- Hal Borland, from ‘Countryman: A Summary of Belief’

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider,
every green tree is far more glorious
than if it were made of gold and silver.
- Martin Luther

A tree never hits an automobile except in self-defense.
- Author Unknown