I used potentially the last warm Saturday of the year to ride my bike, cursing and panting, halfway up the mountain to the farmers’ market (living in North Van has its disadvantages). Afterwards I took the trail through the patch of forest nearby (living in North Van also has its advantages). I teared up almost instantly when the scent of the trees and the forest floor hit me, watching the sunlight filter through maples and cedars. It’s easy to feel like you have enough nature around you when your yard is full of trees and you live spitting distance from a park with a creek in it, and you can see the ocean from your window, but it’s clear I’ve been away from the wilderness for too long.
Most of this week was in fact still September, but it had distinctly October-ish vibes. I’m not a ~spooooky aesthetic~ person, but I did make a list of seasonally-appropriate movies for people who are babies when it comes to real horror (me), and am looking forward to watching or re-watching a few this month while I start knitting some Christmas gifts. Feel free to comment there or reply here if you have any suggestions. I’ve also been using my oven a lot more, baking things and roasting vegetables, now that the house is significantly colder but it’s not quite time to put the heat on. And it’s now, happily, time to enjoy dark beers again. I’ll drink IPA year round, but just like I won’t glance at a radler in November, I also can’t bring myself to crack open a stout in July.
It’s been stormy and cool this week, as fall seems to have arrived with the force of the old THX title screen. Although I’m sad my supply of garden tomatoes has ended, I had been looking forward to making some comforting fall foods for rainy weather. I found corn stock in the freezer that I’d made awhile back and decided to use it for corn chowder, which I’d never made before, mostly because “chowder” as a concept always sounds kind of lacklustre, and the idea of corn chowder in particularly seemed like it could be oddly sweet. But searching trusted sources for recipes revealed almost as many variations as there are heirloom varieties of corn itself. I landed on this Smitten Kitchen recipe for inspiration, but didn’t use the recipe while cooking— soup is usually a way to use up what you’ve got on hand, so it’s fine to wing it sometimes (or all the time)!
While taking the stock out of the freezer I found some One Arrow bacon, and took that out too since bacon is a fairly common addition to chowders. I chopped and fried the bacon first so that I could use the extra fat for cooking, and so that I could set the pieces aside to keep them crisp until serving. The rest of the soup came together easily: onions, carrots, and jalapeños seasoned with chili powder, garlic and cumin, and then potatoes and corn to simmer in a mix of vegetable and corn stock. I didn’t have any cream so I made cashew cream to thicken the soup instead.
I did make a version of the crema suggested in Deb’s recipe to garnish the soup— the sourness of the lime and feta with the salty bacon and creamy, spicy soup dotted with sweet pieces of corn was a perfect combo. Also I apologize for making you read the word “chowder” so much just now— because if you’re anything like me, it’s been playing in your head each time in the voice of the French waiter from The Simpsons.
This past weekend, I made my first sourdough boule using my new starter. I had initially planned to make one during the week on a day I was at home, but since the process generally takes close to 24 hours, I just don’t think it’s going to work out that way. There is simply so much information out there about how to use and maintain your starter, and how to make a good loaf, I felt kind of overwhelmed by it all. I used roughly the method outlined here, although I used a 3:1 ratio of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, since I was out of bread flour at the time. I also didn’t use foil (?) to cover the dough in the rest periods, just two clean dish towels on top of each other to limit the amount of air getting in and keep it from drying out.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth noting again that when I first tried making dough, probably close to ten years ago now, I found it frustrating and uncooperative. But now that I’ve learned the nuances of how it behaves for different projects, I find the process immensely satisfying, and the tactile nature of it soothing. With the sourdough, once I recovered from information overload and was able to find a clear focus, the main factor in making it was quite obviously just time, and a little bit of attention. A few hours’ resting with stretches and folds of the dough interspersed, an overnight ferment in the fridge, and some rising time the next day, and it’s ready to bake.
For baking, I opted for the dutch oven lid on/lid off method I got used to with no-knead bread, but for a crispier, darker crust, the shorter uncovered baking time in the recipe would also be good. The whole wheat in this loaf made for a less impressive rise than bread flour, but it still came out of the oven looking beautiful: round top, browned and crisp, with a soft, airy interior that was as chewy and flavourful as any bakery loaf. We ate it fresh with eggs poached in puttanesca, toasted with tomatoes the next day, and dipped in soup the day after that. Finally, I made the last of it into croutons when it started to get too hard to enjoy.
The King Arthur Baking site is a wealth of knowledge for what to do with your sourdough discard (the leftovers from when you need to feed your starter, but aren’t planning to make bread the same day). Of course you can just compost it, but this week, on a day I was working from home, I tried out their sourdough cinnamon buns. I’ll begin by saying that similar to making bread, it does require a fair bit of time, but very little work aside from the initial dough mixing and eventual assembly of the buns. However I want you to know that it is absolutely, 100% worth it: these cinnamon buns were the best I’ve ever made in my life, and, not to toot my own horn, likely as good as any you’ve ever had at a bakery or café. The sourdough aspect of these really balances the dough flavour and keeps the whole thing from feeling too sweet, and the long rise time creates a fabulous texture.
I think you could safely half this if you don’t want to be responsible for a dozen buns, just by using a smaller size egg or subbing with a lesser amount of flax egg. I made the full recipe and have been trying to share with my coworkers, however I’m still eating one at breakfast and another half of one after dinner. But life’s too short for regrets. A note for those in humid climates, I needed about a quarter cup more flour than listed to get the dough to come together, and an extra few minutes’ baking time.
Also this week I was feeling the call of this portobello mushroom shawarma (described here), but didn’t have any mushrooms. I made a similar pita sandwich using eggplant roasted in smoked paprika, cumin, and za’atar. Much like the portobello mushroom burger, eggplant and zucchini have been basically blacklisted for use in sandwiches, because of the prevalence of the slimy, bland “roasted vegetable” fillings provided to vegans and vegetarians by restaurants with no imagination. There are good uses for both of these in sandwiches, though! Zucchini is best when it’s used raw and very thinly sliced, and eggplant is nice when it’s roasted to the point of having crispy, dry edges instead of in larger slabs that tend to end up soggy in the middle.
I cut the eggplant in cubes and roasted, with oil and seasoning, for about 35 minutes, until they appeared just slightly overdone (they looked quite dark due to the seasoning, but they were perfect). Inside the pita, I used some hummus whipped up from frozen and thawed chickpeas, pickled cabbage, fresh tomato and cucumber, as well as some lettuce, hot sauce, and cilantro. No photo of the sandwich because it was a mess, but I’m sure you get the idea. It’s a quick dinner that will reasonably satisfy your shawarma cravings, and make you feel ok about eggplant again.
Nothing food-related to share this week— in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation I urge settlers to read (or revisit) the 94 Calls to Action, if you weren’t able to take the time to do so yesterday. I also encourage you to read and listen to this CBC radio account by Martha Troian about retracing the steps of her mother’s escape from residential school, with the help of another survivor, Lucy Angeconeb. It’s important to remember that this happened to her mother and Lucy in the 1960s, a time recent enough for my own mother to have memories of. The last residential school closed in 1996— a year I have memories of, too.
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, and this week I would love for settlers to donate to the IRSSS, as I have, or another of the organizations on One Day’s Pay. You can also visit this thread for individuals you can help directly. Indigenous people, I hope your day was healing and peaceful. We have a long way to go and I hope all settlers are ready to put in the necessary work on this road.