Portraits: Genevieve

I've been doing more portraits lately as you may have noticed. It's been an interesting process for me, one that has not come naturally. I think one of the reasons I like food photography is that I can take time to plan and control my shot. Yep there it is - that word - control. I like knowing that I'm in control of the situation. And with people, well sometimes you're not...Right?

But that's where the process has become interesting for me. The more I do of  these, the more I realize that actually, I get better shots if I get out of my own way and just allow things to unfold naturally. When I started doing these portraits, I was less comfortable giving direction to my subjects and while I've become more comfortable with that, the most successful portraits I've done always seem to involve some collaboration with the subject. 

Recently I was lucky enough to make some pictures with this lovely lady. Genevieve is the owner of Violet Boutique in Vancouver and we profiled her recently on South Granville Inhabiter. These are some of my favourite shots from the shoot. Her light filled space was so inspiring to work in and after spending some time with her chatting about her business, we spent about an hour making pictures together. And of course, how could we not include her adorable best friend and assistant shopkeeper Bea.

Colonial Seed Cake

Sometimes you stumble upon buried treasure.

An old friend was in town recently. I've known her for more than 40 years. Our fathers worked together and her family lived in Spain when we did and then our families both lived near each other in the North of Canada. She was at my parent's wedding when she was just 4 years old. We grew up together. Now adults, we don't live in the same city or even the same country but we've managed to stay in touch over the years. Sometimes the bond of shared history is one of the strongest. 

So when we met recently,with our extended families over dim-sum, there was lots of reminiscing. And lots of those memories involved food. My friend's mother was always hosting us for tea or organizing gourmet picnics in the snow, and I remember many a happy hour spent at her house with tea and biscuits and delicious things of all kinds. Sadly her mum passed on far too young. She was a lovely lady and taught me a lot about food and flowers and enjoying life for the simple things. She taught us to make antipasto with a recipe that we still use today.  I remembered that we had some of her recipes in among my mum's recipe collection.

I went looking for a few of them and came across this one that I hadn't remembered. The name intrigued me: Colonial Seed Cake. It seemed such a thing of the past. I had visions of ladies in India making this cake in the 1800s. It is in fact a poppy seed cake and tastes just as good today. It was lovely to find the hand-written recipe. Today we share our recipes on twitter, on blogs on instagram,  but it's not as if we invented it. Sharing was going on on long before - the old-fashioned way. The yellowed and stained paper is a testament to that.

The method is simple and not quite usual for most cakes I've made. The poppy seeds are steeped in milk for 3-4 hours, presumably for both flavour and a softening effect. There's no creaming together of sugar and butter first. The ingredients are simply mixed together all at once. Would it make a difference to do it the other way? Probably. But I have no complaints about the results of this method. It is perfectly scrumptious.

Colonial Seed Cake
Colonial Seed Cake


I haven't edited the recipe at all, except to add the bracketed metric measurements.

I know we have loved it for the sense of rediscovery as well as the memories of the lady who made it but the taste is pretty good too. I hope you enjoy it.

Colonial Seed Cake

1/2 cup (2 oz)* poppy seeds

3/4 cup (180 ml) milk

3/4 cup (180 g) butter

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsps baking powder

2 cups  (304 g) sifted flour

Combine poppy seeds and milk in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for three to four hours. Let butter and eggs warm to room temperature for easy mixing.

Grease and flour an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 pan. Preheat oven to 350.

Add butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, baking powder and flour to poppy seeds and milk. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 1 minute, scraping side of bowl with plastic spatula. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350) for 1 1/4 hours or until centre springs back when lightly pressed with fingertips. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Loosen around edges, turn out to cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

*my friend's handwritten recipe called for 1/2 cup  or (2 oz) but when I measured out 1/2 cup poppy seeds  I found this to be closer to 3 oz or 85 grams. All other bracketed measurements in grams are my own conversions using the volume amounts provided in the original recipe.

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Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup with Kale

I sort of feel like it's unfair to call this soup cooking because it's really repurposing a bunch of leftovers. But that doesn't make it any less delicious.


This chicken soup has been developed over time after countless chicken dinners and it more often than not involves a store-bought roast chicken. The kale was a 'what happened to be in the garden at the time' addition and there may be more or less vegetables depending on what happens to be in my fridge at any given time.

Kale_HelenaMcMurdo Photography

As for the chicken stock. I often end up using a mixture of my own quick stock, made from the chicken carcass topped up with some store-bought variety.

The special touch is a spoonful of homemade sofrito which I make in big batches and freeze in ice cube trays for when I need it. Sofrito is the onion and tomato base used for many a Spanish dish and I find to have this on hand is a wonderful thing. I use it constantly to add flavour to paella, soups or even to give extra dimension to a quick spaghetti sauce.  I use Ferran Adrià's recipe from The Family Meal, which you can find hereIf you don't have the sofrito on hand, you can substitute a spoonful of tomato paste.


Finally I give this soup a shot of spice with pimentón picante, Spanish spicy smoked paprika.

The result is a robust, nourishing, soup that will take the chill off any day.


Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup with Kale and Sofrito

Chicken Stock Ingredients:

Leftover cooked chicken with the equivalent of 1 breast and 1 leg remaining
10 peppercorns
1 bunch of parsley
1 bay leaf
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots in large chunks
1 onion, skin on, split in half

Soup Ingredients:

2 litres chicken stock
1 stalk celery, finely diced
3 medium carrots, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 to 2 TBSP sofrito
1 bunch of Kale
2 cups angel hair egg noodles
1 tsp pimentón picante (spicy smoked paprika)
Leftover cooked chicken with the equivalent of 1 breast and 1 leg remaining
Grated parmesan to garnish


1. Make the stock.

Remove the bulk of the meat from the chicken carcass and set aside in the fridge while you make the soup.

Place the chicken carcass in a pot with peppercorns, bay leaf, onion, carrot and celery and cover with water.

2. Simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes

Pick any remaining meat and set aside. Dispose of the carcass and the vegetables. Drain the stock and set aside.

3. Sauté the mirepoix.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and carrots. 

4. Add stock.
Add your stock and top up with purchased chicken stock to make up the required quantity.

5. When the vegetables are cooked, add a tablespoon of sofrito (or tomato paste) and the kale. About 5 minutes later, add the noodles.

6. Cook until both the kale and the noodles are almost tender (about 5 minutes more).

7. Dice the chicken meat and add it to the soup.

8. Add the pimentón and season with salt and pepper.

9. Heat for an additional 5 minutes.

10. Serve with grated parmesan.

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The Nostalgia of Food

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be participating in the first public showing of my work as part of a group show called The Nostalgia of Food which opened on February 5th at Studio 126 in Vancouver's Chinatown. The show features a number of Vancouver food photographers, illustrators, and other artists all contemplating the theme of Nostalgia of Food. In total there are 15 artists showing more than 30 works, three of which I'm very pleased to say are by yours truly.

It was lovely to see such a great turnout for the opening night. I was truly overwhelmed by the great turnout  of Vancouverites that came out to support the show, on what was possibly one of the rainiest nights of the year. It was a night of  was good food, wine, conversation, friends, family and beautiful art from all the participants.

Naturally, the theme appealed to me. As readers of this blog will know, I do tend toward the nostalgic from time to time. It's sometimes said that nostalgia can hold us back and I'm very conscious of that but somehow I've found a way to make nostalgia drive me forward. Many of my own food memories are the subjects of this blog and they inspire both my writing and my photography work. In a way, I could say my own sense of nostalgia has opened up new avenues for me. I'm frequently surprised and delighted how often people respond to my posts with "my mum used to make that" or "that makes me remember".

I’m also interested by the cultural iconography of nostalgia as it relates to food. Does a home-made pickle made by a grandmother taste better than one made by a professional in a state-of-the art facility? Are we responding to the taste of the pickle or the experience or memory? How is that we can imagine these cues from experiences that may or may not have occurred. Are we being true to the real experience?  Or do we all attribute meaning to our memories that may not be there? No one in my family ever made pickles but I imagine them in an old-fashioned way. Why is that? 

One of my works on display, shown above, is called Rashers and Eggs. With this piece as with much of my photography, I'm exploring the simplicity of these ingredients which recalls a simpler time, when these items were the product of the farmhouse, not the factory. How many of us have actual memories of eating this way? Or are we responding to a collective imagined experience? Why do we long for that simpler time? Is it because it is just that? Simpler.

The whole experience of showing was an interesting one, from selecting the works to be included, to determining how I wanted them to be framed or even if I wanted to frame them. In the end, I decided that as they were to be offered for sale, I wanted to offer them as I envisioned them being hung on the wall. Because my photographs are printed on a fine art paper with a lot of texture, I wanted the edge of the piece to be visible and so I decided to float them on a back matt. I really like this effect because it feels natural and in keeping with my work.

One of the best  parts  in this whole process was being introduced to Anna and Ryan at Studio 126. Not only do they promote local artists and artisans but they are also artisans themselves, making the most stunning furniture out of reclaimed wood and welded metal, which is also for sale in their shop. They have created a beautiful space to sell and show not only their own work but the work of others. Being in their space is a nostalgic experience in itself. The room is stripped to the bare bones highlighting the old exposed brick and steel beams and it makes me think of the secrets of history that live within those walls. It's a lovely place to stop in, say hi and just enjoy a quiet moment looking at beautiful things. 

So all in all, the experience has been a lovely one which in years to come I know I'll look back on with a new sense of nostalgia for that time when I put up work for my first art show.

The Nostalgia of Food runs until March 1st at Studio 126, 126 Pender Street, Vancouver

Opening Times: Wednesday - Saturday 12-6pm

There's also a series of workshops associated with the event involving pattern making with food and preserving. More details are available on the Studio 126 website.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you with your thoughts on nostalgia. Are there any foods or eating experiences that spark particular memories for you? Does nostalgia hold you back or drive you forward?


UPDATE: The show has concluded. If you are interested in purchasing one of my fine art prints, you can contact me helena@myendlesspicnic.com.


Kale Salad with Candied Walnuts, Dates & Preserved Lemons

Our preserved lemons are done. And by done I mean ready. Back in January we made two beautiful batches. I was introduced to these a few years ago by Mourad Lahlou. I reviewed his cookbook and subsequently had the great pleasure to interview him as well. We talked about food's ability to bring people together and the role of food and memory, themes that seem to pop up all the time for me. 

Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

Before this, I'd never eaten preserved lemons, let alone considered making them, but once I tried them, I was hooked and so was G. In fact, in our house, because he likes them so much, it's now G who takes charge of this process in early January when the citrus is beautiful and lovely. Basically the scrubbed, quartered lemons are packed with kosher salt. They are squeezed into a litre size jar and then topped with lemon juice. Then they sit to and you wait for the magic to happen. The rind becomes beautifully tender and packs a salty, lemony punch. If you have never made preserved lemons, I encourage you to consult Mourad's excellent book for more details about how to prepare them and give it a go.

Removing the rind from the flesh. Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

Now that ours are done we've been digging into them in every possible way. I'm popping a slice of the rind in my gin and tonic, we're using them to top little anchovy toasts, (I prefer white anchovies in vinegar. G prefers the regular kind), and to make magical mouthwatering devilled eggs. 

Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on My Endless Picnic.

The subject of today's post is born out of a desire to put my preserved lemons to good use and to find yet another way to consume them, although, let's face it, I would be perfectly happy to eat the rinds straight out of the jar whilst watching television.

My inspiration comes from my friend Wendy, with whom I've shared many an interesting food conversation and who in her turn has convinced me to try an ingredient I already love in a new way. Kale. 

Kale. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.
Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.
Massaging the kale. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

 I love Kale. I do. But up until recently I wasn't big on the raw version. I mean what's the point, when it tastes so good cooked with bacon or chorizo or in a hearty soup? But Wendy turned my head to the raw version when she introduced me to a fabulous kale salad that she featured last summer on her blog, The Garden Next Door, which is all about growing and eating your own produce. 

Since I found her salad I've made it in its original format and adapted it many times. And while I'm hardly going to go out and buy myself a kale smoothie, (sorry juicers - I don't get it), this salad has opened my eyes to a new way to enjoy kale. It's a salad that is extremely versatile with a nut component and a dried fruit component that can be easily switched out with other options. My desire to adapt it has very little to do with the quality of the original which is excellent but more to do with what might be in my cupboard at any given time. Wendy's original version calls for dates and almonds but I've used dried cranberries, raisins, pine nuts, walnuts and so on.

Honey Kissed Walnuts. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

For today's version, I'm keeping the dates, substituting the lemon juice for the liquid from the preserved lemons and using a little more honey and a little more heat  than the original recipe, to counteract the salty punch of the lemons. Finally I'm adding a finishing touch of sweetness with the addition of honey-kissed walnuts.

I love to make this salad any time, but it's perfect for a pot-luck or party because so much of the preparation can be done the day before.

Kale Salad with Dates, Candied Walnuts & Preserved Lemons.
Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

So that's the story of how we got to here, by sharing stories and learning from others, checking our cupboard stores and finding out what works. So with that in mind, I give you the following. 


Kale Salad with Dates, Candied Walnuts & Preserved Lemons

Kale Salad with Dates, Candied Walnuts & Preserved Lemons. Helena McMurdo Photography on Endless Picnic.

3 TBSP preserving liquid from preserved lemons
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tsp honey (plus additional below)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
kosher salt to taste

2 bunches kale 
3 TBSP olive oil 
4 quarters preserved lemons, rind only

40 grams (1/2 cup) walnuts
1 TBSP honey
8 dates, pitted and chopped 
70 grams (1/2 cup) finely grated parmesan

1. Prepare the dressing.

In a small bowl, combine the preserving liquid, shallot, honey and the red pepper flakes. At this point, taste the liquid and if required, add additional kosher salt to taste. The preserving liquid is already quite salty so you may find you won't need any additional salt. Set the dressing aside.

2. Prepare the kale.

Begin by washing the kale and removing the central rib. Chop the kale into bite-size pieces and make sure it is well dried. Yes, I often chop the kale first and then spin it in a salad spinner to dry. It seems to be easier to handle this way. Now tip the kale into a large bowl along with the olive oil. Now massage it. Yes massage it. Now repeat. You can read all about what Wendy says about massaging and it's true. It helps to soften up the kale and makes it more palatable in its raw format.

3. Prepare the preserved lemons.

Separate the rind from each of the lemon quarters with a sharp knife. Discard the flesh of the lemon or set aside for another use. Slice the rind into thin strips or dice finely as you prefer.

4. Dress the salad and refrigerate.

Combine the kale, dressing and preserved lemons and refrigerate for at least one hour. Ideally make the salad to this point the day before you wish to serve and it will be beautifully flavourful and the kale will have softened up nicely by the time you are ready to eat it.

5. Prepare the nuts

Chop the nuts into small pieces, quarters should do it. In a dry, hot frying pan, stirring all the time so they do not burn, toast the walnuts until golden. Remove the pan from heat, add 1 generous  TBP honey and stir rapidly to coat while the pan is still hot.  Tip the nuts out on to a sheet of parchment and set aside to cool.  

6. Finish the salad.

Add the cooled walnuts, dates,and parmesan to salad and toss it gently until it all leaves are thoroughly coated.

Enjoy.  I hope you will try it and please let me know in the comments how it works for you or what other ingredients you would make this with.

Hope you are all having a lovely weekend.

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Portraits: Shannon

Here's another portrait from the South Granville Inhabiter, In their Habitat series - the lovely Shannon. I first met Shannon about 10 years ago in the local. I was new to the neighbourhood she immediately made me feel welcome. When the opportunity came up last year to photograph her for South Granville Inhabiter, the answer was easy. 


You can visit the whole series of In Their Habitat Portaits on South Granville Inhabiter.

A New Year and Nostalgia

This will be the my first post of the new year and while custom tells me I should be looking forward to things ahead (more on that later), it is in fact nostalgia that occupies my mind. 

Two weeks ago my family celebrated a special anniversary – 40 years since our arrival in Canada. Naturally, this has brought on lots of memories and we have been reminiscing with my parents about what it was like to travel to Canada from Europe with 3 little kids and to begin a new life in a new land. We arrived in Edmonton en route to Yellowknife, north of the 60th Parallel, and the first order of business was to go to the Hudson’s Bay and buy snowsuits for all and our new life as Canadians in the North.

Yellowknife was filled with interesting people who all seemed to be from other parts and brought with them their food and traditions. My character being what it is, my thoughts turn to the things that we ate. With relatively less fresh food available north of 60°, we ate a lot of frozen things and a salad meant iceberg lettuce and a pale beef steak tomato.(Readers of this blog will know I'm not a particular fan of salad anyway). But there were some spectacular things as well. We had a lovely friend who taught us how to make rose petal jelly from the pink petals of the wild roses that grew rampant along the roads. We ate them on tiny scotch pancakes as kids and I long for the taste of them still, all these years later.

Reliving more recent history, I’ve also been making empanada, trying desperately to replicate the most excellent crust the ones we had last summer in Spain. While the testing is enjoyable, I’m not there yet. I hope to share soon. For now here’s a peek at some of the process. Why is it we try to recapture that experience?

The dough, before kneading.
My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

My version of Empanada Gallega pre-oven.

La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

La empanada de Begoña. The one I dream about.

As for what lies ahead? More nostalgia actually.

I’m thrilled to be participating in The Nostalgia of Food, a group art exhibition exploring the theme of nostalgia as it relates to our food and food experiences, featuring photography, painting, illustration and sculpture.

The show was imagined by Joey Armstrong, herself a talented photographer,  responsible for curating the show along with Anna of Studio 126, a furniture studio and gallery in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Although Joey and I had been following each other on Instagram, we’d never met until I attended an exhibition of her work during the East Van Culture Crawl. When she mentioned the theme of this new show to me, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Because like come on, nostalgia is sort of my whole thing. Right? I’m honoured to be a part of this show, of the new relationships it has opened up and excited to see the work from the other artists attending. We've had some interesting conversations about the personal nature of nostalgia - what may be nostalgic for one person, may not be for another. 

I’ll have three works for sale, one of which, Pickling, is featured on the show’s poster below,designed by Joey. I’m touched that this image was picked to promote the show.

The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

The Nostalgia of Food - Mark your calendars. Photo by Helena McMurdo / Design by Joey Armstrong

For me, pickles are in their very essence a nostalgic food item. They reflect a former time where preserving food in this way was a necessary part of life. It seems like everyone has story about their Grandma’s pickles and how good they were. In fact, I never made pickles growing up, but this image reflects much of the way I expected that experience would have been if I had.  That’s the funny thing about nostalgia – how much of it is real? How much of it is imagined or borrowed? Certain foods just seem to be imbued with more nostalgia than others. Today we have other ways of preserving food and we may make pickles for different reasons. Perhaps one of them is to recollect part of that way of life and recall a simpler time. They still taste pretty good too.

The Nostalgia of Food's opening reception takes place on February 5th at Studio 126, 126 E Pender, Vancouver from 7-10 pm. The show will continue until March 1st. I hope that those of you in Vancouver can drop by. For more info and to register for free tickets, visit the Eventbrite page.

So here's to nostalgia and good things ahead.



May all the Pleasures of the Season Be Yours

At this time of year, we often have a list of jobs that drive us. Between rounds of shopping, meal making and organizing, and the added stress of unexpected events, it's fair to wonder if it's all worth it.

Holiday Wreath © 2014 Helena McMurdo

So this is my wish for you...that you have time to enjoy some of the simple pleasures that the season brings. A day on your own, making cookies away from the crowds. A day making cookies with someone you love. A drink with a friend you haven't seen in a while. A mandarin orange in the toe of your stocking. 

Peace. Love. Joy.


Chocolate Panettone Pudding

Those who live in my neighbourhood will know about a certain store. Every year around this time, the already cramped aisles of said store become nearly impossible to navigate due to what I like to call the Great Panettone Invasion. Hundreds of the boxes appear from one day to the next. No one sees them going in. All of a sudden they are there. Until I had moved to this neighbourhood, I didn't even know what a panettone was. But then suddenly there I was trying to fight my way through a mountain of them just to get a carton of milk.

 I asked an Italian friend of mine about them. "Very dry", she said.

"Actually we Italians joke about them. It's the traditional gift you bring to someone when you go to their house at Christmas, so the rumour has it that there is really only one panettone that just makes the rounds between the families".

Aha. That it explains why there are so many panettone in the store.

I tried one a few years ago, and I was inclined to agree with my friend's assessment. But since then I have come to conclusion that it has much to do with the quality of the item. I have since found others to be moist and delicious and I think I might love them. Like the one I bought last week and almost ate up as I was making this. 

Whether you like them or not, one thing I believe to be indisputable is the panettone's suitability for bread pudding. I made this and it was perfect.

Chocolate Panettone Pudding

1  750 gram panettone

100 to 125 grams good quality chocolate (in chunks or chips as you prefer)

950 ml milk

8 eggs

175 grams sugar

1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Slice the panettone and arrange it in a shallow 9 x 9 baking dish. If the panettone is very fresh, you may want to leave it to dry overnight or let it dry in low oven. Sprinkle with chocolate chips or nestle pieces of  your favourite chocolate bar evenly throughout. (I use a Green and Blacks 70% Dark.) To make the custard, beat the eggs and milk together with a whisk or a fork.

Pour the custard over the mixture, allowing it to soak into the bread for about 15 minutes.  If you find it too dry, add an additional 1 egg and 3/4 cup milk and repeat until you are happy.

Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake in a water bath a 325 oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour for a moist, gooey pudding. Serve warm with cream or as is. Eat the leftovers out of the fridge directly from the pan the next day. 



Salsa Brava

I went to the first of the Vancouver Winter Farmer's Markets last week and bought some beautiful cayenne. I will hang it and dry it to use later but this got me thinking about something to use it with. Salsa brava is the spicy Spanish sauce most will recognize as the accompaniment for Patatas Bravas, a dish of gorgeous fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce.

This dish emphasizes what seems to be the rule with most Spanish food. Simplicity and quality of ingredients are the key. Because really the ingredients aren't that fancy: tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic and a whole cayenne pepper. The heat in this Salsa Brava is subtle, developed over time by letting the cayenne pepper stew in  the sauce while cooking.

The onions and garlic must be cooked slowly until they almost melt We're going for translucence, and mellowing, not browning. The tomatoes can be fresh or canned but save yourself some trouble and use some good quality canned ones. I used some of my own making that had been put in jars early in the fall. Olive oil is used to smooth the mixture. 

I like to divide the sauce batch up in portions for freezing so that I can easily make Patatas Bravas when the mood strikes. The sauce is also great on other things - like eggs. I even add leftover sauce to a chicken soup for some spicy tomato flavour.


Salsa Brava

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1 litre canned tomatoes

1 whole dried cayenne pepper, split in half

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for thickening

Chop the onion and sauté on low heat in about 1/4 cup of olive oil. Yes, it's more than you'd probably usually use, but we're going for a slow fry here so it's almost more like making a garlic confit. The olive oil will get absorbed into he sauce and make it smooth. Add the garlic after a few minutes, keeping an eye on everything so that you avoid browning. Keep the mixture going for about 1/2 an hour until everything is translucent and the onions have a melting texture.

Add the tomatoes and both halves of the cayenne pepper. Cook on low heat and slowly let the flavours develop. Keep tasting, adding salt and pepper to taste and checking the heat levels imparted by the cayenne. If you find it's getting too hot, take half or both peppers out. When the flavour is where you want it, put the sauce into the blender (with he cayenne pepper) and blend until smooth. Add a bit more olive oil to smooth the sauce as required.

To make Patatas Bravas: Chop potatoes in large dice. Use 2 small potatoes per person. Shallow fry the potatoes in olive oil until lovely and brown.Yes I fry in Olive oil and so does every other Spanish person. Does it make your house smelly? Yes. Is it delicious?  Yes. Once cooked, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt before transferring to serving dish. Spoon Salsa Brava over the potatoes. Refrigerate or freeze any leftover sauce for another use.

Buen provecho! 



Portraits: James

With South Granville Inhabiter's recent birthday, I thought I'd like to feature some  of portraits I shot for our In Their Habitat Series.  These feature some of the people in my neighbourhood. It was great to work with Heather and Ženija on these and to get a chance to meet and get to know some of my neighbours in the process.

James is a local architect and you can find out more about him in his profile on South Granville Inhabiter.

Happy Birthday South Granville Inhabiter

Last year around this time, I joined with two talented friends to start South Granville Inhabiter, a blog about living in our lovely Vancouver  neighbourhood of South Granville. This past week, we marked our one year anniversary, and you know me, I'm never one to pass up an excuse for cake.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

In the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favourite images made for South Granville Inhabiter here on Endless Picnic, but for now, I'll revert to my usual subject matter and share the portraits of our birthday cake.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

We chose a classic Victoria Sponge...well maybe not so classic. Rather than strawberry filling I used a mixture of blueberry jam and whole blueberries sandwiched with buttercream between two layers of sponge cake. I think the shot below is my favourite of the lot. It's so luscious and jammy.

Blueberry Jam and fresh blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Blueberry jam and  whole blueberry filling for Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The finishing touch was provided by our logo dusted in sugar.  For that I had the able assistance of my South Granville Inhabiter colleague and talented illustrator Ženija Esmits who helped me by cutting out a fine template of the logo she had designed for the blog while I carefully went about the dusting.

Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake dusted with South Granville Inhabiter Logo © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Blueberry Victoria Sponge Birthday Cake © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Almost too pretty to eat. Almost. 

Mine's a Gin and Tonic

I like gin and tonic. I've been drinking it forever.  I drank my first not on a sunny patio overlooking the sea, or watching Wimbledon, but in a a nightclub called Luv-A-Fair and if you know Vancouver, I've already given away too much. I remember how the tonic glowed under the black lights but to be honest, at that time, it didn't stick. Later, when I lived in Ireland, I learned to drink gin and tonic properly with a group of fabulous girls who remain my friends today. There were two choices, Cork Dry Gin or Gordon's. We drank Gordon's until Bombay Sapphire came along. Yes, that pretty blue bottle turned our heads. Tonic came in little bottles on the side (as it should be) allowing us to mix our own. Lemon was standard issue in Ireland except for our favourite pub, whose proprietor bought limes just for a few of us girlfriends that preferred it thus. It helped that she was one of us. Good times were had by all.

Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic © 2014 Helena McMurdo

As I returned to Canada, so did my habit for Sapphire and Schweppes. At least at home. There was never any way of knowing what you were getting when you went out with that tonic in a gun stuff. Call me unpatriotic, but Canada Dry is not my favourite.

In my local, not many drink gin and tonic. Fancy cocktails come and go but I stick with my old lady drink. I've realized that others have noticed my devotion to this particular spirit. One of the fine barmen in my local puts it down in my place when he sees me at the door. Again, I've told you too much. Still it's nice to go where everybody knows your name, or at least your drink.

But my comforting G and T world was tipped upside down this summer on my trip to Spain.  "Cuál ginebra? Cuál tonic? Which gin? Which tonic?" asked the waiter as he handed me a list of no fewer than 12 choices of Gin.  Well,when in Spain, have a Spanish gin. Enter Gin Mare, Mediterranean Gin. Flavoured with traditional botanicals like juniper, coriander and cardamom, it also employs the less traditional in the form of Aberquina olives, thyme, rosemary and basil. This gives it an almost savoury backbone, but it's still most definitely a gin. That juniper flavour is there, just complemented and warmed up and I think it's my new favourite thing.

Gin Mare © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The other thing we noticed during our trip to Spain was a certain proclivity to garnish. In fact, considering the things they were putting into a G and T, I felt rather silly over my previous preoccupation over lemon or lime. Bars were laid out with little pinch bowls of coriander, peppercorns, juniper berries, cardamom pods, star anise and the rocks glass was eschewed for a huge goblet style. My Gin Mare came with juniper berries and a few lime twists.

Gin Mare © 2014 Helena McMurdo

While I can readily embrace the garnishes and I love the flavour they impart, the British side of my gin-and-tonic-loving personality cannot get on board with those big bulbous glasses. They just make me feel silly. Sorry, but gin and tonic is a serious drink and it requires a serious glass.

Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic Preparation © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Since this inculcation, I've started branching out with my Sapphire, introducing different tonics like Fever Tree or Fentimans although I wish Fentimans came in smaller bottles. And I'm noticing that the Spanish G and T craze is catching on here too. At Prontino on Cambie Street in Vancouver, they have an excellent selection of  interesting local and international gins and I can say that I've been there more than once to sample. 

But imagine my delight when my lovely fella came home with a bottle of the coveted Gin Mare and lovely delicious Fentimans tonic the other day. Some special garnishing seemed appropriate.

Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic Preparation © 2014 Helena McMurdo

With the fresh rosemary on my balcony, I had the perfect inspiration.

Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic Preparation © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Rosemary and Orange Gin Mare and Tonic

Add ice, orange zest and rosemary sprig to a rocks glass.

Pour 2 oz Gin Mare

Add Fentimans Tonic to Taste

I fear I may not be able to go back. 

Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Rosemary and Orange Zest Gin Tonic © 2014 Helena McMurdo

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Cookbook Review: The Preservation Kitchen

I'm excited to share a cookbook review that I did a little while ago and that is being published now over on cookthatbook.com. As some of you know, I've been lucky enough to enjoy a great collaborative working relationship with Jasmine over at Cookthatbook.com, having been a regular contributor over on her site and having a wonderful opportunity to indulge my love of cookbooks.

The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant & Kate Leahy, is a fabulous book that I discovered a few years ago and it really re-ignited my love of canning and preserving, the results of which have been seen on this blog recently.

But it all started back with this book and the recipe for Pear Vanilla Aigre-Doux, a delicious sweet and sour concoction whose liquor I could drink by the glassful.

The book is a mixture of canning and preserving recipes as well as planned menus that allow you to put your bounty of preserves to good use. Here are a few shots from my review. 

I hope that you'll check out the full review here.

Custard & Crumble Plum Tart

The rain is here but there are still plums in the markets and this tart is a perfect way to say goodbye to summer and hello to the fall. The custard cooks into the tart and gives it a certain, shall we say, gooey-ness. This is based on a recipe from an old Martha Stewart book. My favourite thing about the original recipe was the almond flavour imparted by the almond extract. My version increases the amount of almond extract and doesn't use any vanilla extract. I use prune plums because I like the way the little sliced pieces look when I arrange them on the top of the tart, but  but larger ones will do.

Plum Custard Crumble Tart © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Plum Custard Crumble Tart © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Plum Custard Crumble Tart © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Pieces of Plum Custard Crumble Tart © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Custard & Crumble Plum Tart

Crust & Crumble Base

218 g sugar

1/4 tsp salt

114 g (4 oz) cold butter, cut into cubes

Mix and rub together the above ingredients until you have a coarse meal. Divide the mixture in half  (about 257 grams each half) and set aside. To the remaining half add the following:

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 egg

Press the wet mixture into a 9 inch tart pan. Bake in 320 oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

While the tart is baking, prepare the custard as follows:


Filling & Custard

1 1/2 lbs plums, sliced in half or in quarters

1 egg

125 ml whipping cream

56 g sugar

2 tsp almond extract

Additional sugar for sprinkling.

Arrange the plums in a pattern of your choosing on the surface of the cooled tart crust.

Combine the egg, cream, sugar and almond extract in a bowl and beat slightly with a fork or whisk. Pour over the plums. Sprinkle the crumb topping you set aside earlier over the plums. Sprinkle approximately 2 tsp sugar over that.  Bake in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and watching carefully, brown the top .

(Use your judgement - I sometimes feel like the remaining topping is more than enough so I often freeze any remaining crumb topping. It's great to have on hand for those times when you need an instant dessert - Just sprinkle over some fruit and your are done!)




Apricot Sultana Chutney

I may have come slightly obsessed with canning. Boiling water, glass and hot metal would normally be associated with danger and fear but for some reason, when these elements are employed in the processes of preserving, I find it all very relaxing. There is something very rhythmic and orderly about preserving. Yet it is unpredictable at the same time. A transformation happens, as you cook down your preserve, and you wonder,

"What will this be like in a few months?"

What can I say? I'm hooked. When I troll the farmer's markets these days I'm looking for anything that I can stuff into a jar. When I saw these amazing apricots I began dreaming up something I could do with them.

Beautiful fresh apricots © 2014 Helena McMurdo

While apricot jam would be the obvious and assuredly delicious choice, to be honest, I'm not a huge jam consumer. (If we are talking marmalade, that's a different story).

In this instance, something more savoury appealed. G and I  had made a tomato relish earlier this month and I liked the process, and the results, so I thought a chutney might be more on track. I will look forward to eating this with a beef curry recipe I often make during the winter.

Fresh apricots in mason jar © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I found a recipe on Canadian Living that I liked the sounds of, but I fancied a slightly spicer version so I altered the spices a bit, increasing the cayenne pepper called for in their recipe and using turmeric and cloves along with the cinnamon and ground coriander.

Spice mixture and sultanas in Apricot Sultana Chutney © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The preparation couldn't be easier. The most difficult task is to chop the apricots. And that's not hard. Invite a friend to make this with you and you'll save yourself some work and have a fun time too.

Chopping apricots for Apricot Sultana Chutney © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Apricots and Sultanas ©2014 Helena McMurdo

The ingredients all get put into one pot and heated. C'est tout! After my chutney had cooked down, I tasted it and decided it still needed a little something. I liked the idea of adding some smoky flavour and even more spice so I added some Pimentón Picante (Spicy Smoked Paprika). That said, the flavour mellows out a lot, so there is just a touch of nice heat combined with the sweetness.

Making Apricot Sultana Chutney © 2014 Helena McMurdo

This chutney smells absolutely amazing while it cooks. After you bring the ingredients to the boil, you will have a lovely hour and half of beautiful, sweet, spicy fragrance filling up your kitchen.

Simmering Apricot Sultana Chutney © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Filling jars with Apricot Sultana  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I made this about mid August, and yes I should have waited, but I've already tried some. And I'm liking it.  If I'm being completely honest, whenever I'm canning, I secretly hope that one or two jars won't seal during the water bath because then I'll get to pop them in the fridge and eat them sooner rather than later. I also like comparing how things change as time goes on. Hope you enjoy this.

Apricot Chutney 9 ©2014 HelenaMcMurdo

Apricot Raisin Chutney

1 kg (9 1/2 cups) fresh chopped apricots

165 grams (1 cup) red peppers

165 grams (1 cup) sultanas

130 grams (1 cup) chopped red onion 

416 grams sugar (2 cups)

2 tsp mustard seeds

1/2 tsp each of: 


ground coriander


1/4 tsp each of:

cayenne pepper


ground cloves

smoked paprika (optional)

This recipe makes  8 - 125ml jars which I feel is a good size for gifts or for use in a short time once opened. Chop the apricots and add to a large heavy bottomed pot with all of the other ingredients. Turn on the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. Once the mixture comes to the boil, reduce the heat and keep it simmering for about an hour until all the apricots have dissolved into the mixture and it is suitably thick. What is suitably thick? I say that is up to you, but if you want to get technical, use the chilled plate method to test the chutney. Spoon a small amount onto a chilled plate and let stand for a few seconds. Then tilt the plate and make sure the chutney runs slowly. The hour cooking time is a guideline only. Keep an eye on it and keep checking.  I ended up cooking mine down for and hour and a half. Once the chutney is done, it's time to can. Just before you are ready, put your lids in a pan of hot (not boiling) water and sterilize your jars in boiling water. (Have the water close to boiling beforehand so you can time everything just right). Remove the jars from the boiling water and set on a wooden board or a countertop covered with a cloth. (You want to avoid a hard surface that could damage the glass jars). While both the chutney and jars are still hot, fill the jars leaving 1 cm headspace. Wipe the edge of the jars with a clean cloth and place the lids on top, securing the bands to what is called fingertip tight. To do this. I place the index finger of my left hand in the centre of the lid and then with a light touch, secure the band with just my thumb and second finger. This will make the band, just tight enough, to allow the expansion that will happen during the water bath. With a set of canning tongs, lift the jars into a boiling water bath. The water must completely cover the jars. The water temperature will descent with the addition of the jars. Once the water has reached the boiling once again, leave the jars in the water bath for 15 minutes. Once the time has elapsed, remove the jars from the water to the wooden board. The lids should pop and curve down very quickly (2-3 minutes) indicating that the jars are sealed. Refrigerate any jars that do not seal and use within about 2 weeks.  Put the rest away and use them up within 6 months. 

Dahlia Still Life

Here's the result of a little bit of play today. These dahlias caught my eye at the Kerrisdale Farmer's Market and I couldn't say no to them.

Dahlia Still Life © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Tarta de Santiago

I've said it before. I don't really need an excuse to make a cake but in case you do, here's one. It's the  25th of July which is the Día de Santiago  (Feast of St. James), and also Galicia's National Day. It seems like an opportune moment to share this recipe for one of my favourite desserts: Tarta de Santiago.

Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Every pastry shop you pass in Galicia, is sure to have one in the window, no matter what time of year, the top dusted in confectioners sugar save for the the distinctive cross of Santiago.

In Spanish St. James is called Santiago. Yes I know. It's confusing and I could probably do another post just on the variations of the name James. That's St. James the Great, one of the 12 Apostles of Christ and the patron saint not only of Galicia but also of Spain. 

Tarta de Santiago in a La Coruña cake shop. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

St. James has had a long association with Galicia. Tradition and legend has it that after St. James' death in 44 AD his relics were taken secretly to Galicia where whoever did the taking, seems to have forgotten about them for some time. But in the 9th Century AD, his burial place was rediscovered in what legend says involved a spectacular display of lights in the night sky. On the same site, several chapels and the present day Cathedral of Santiago were built which has since become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Christian world, surpassed only by Jerusalem and Rome. Today, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims religious and otherwise make their way to Santiago along the route that bears his name.

But back to the cake, because that's why you are really here. Isn't it?

I'm not sure I remember the first Tarta de Santiago I ever had. I've been eating them for too long. But it almost certainly came out of the ubiquitous blue box, found all over Galicia,  of the Tartas Ancano. They are available in every supermarket and gas station in Galicia. On our recent holiday, as we stopped to say goodbye to some neighbours and one of the slim packages was pressed firmly into my hands with the words, "this fits easily in the suitcase". I found this to be quite appropriate as, some say, the recipe for the cake originated with a pilgrim on a his way to Santiago. A travel cake! This makes sense because it keeps well and I would imagine if you found yourself walking for days from France to Spain you'd be pretty happy for a piece of this.

In May 2010, the EU gave Tarta de Santiago Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status within Europe which allows only cakes made within the Autonomous Community of Galicia and containing at least 33% almonds, to be marketed as Tarta de Santiago meaning  that if you were thinking of starting up your own Tarta de Santiago bakery,  anywhere other than Galicia, think again.

Metal Cross of Santiago for making Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

But fear not, your physical location won't diminish your enjoyment of this cake. If you believe the British newspaper reports, even HRH Prince George had one for his birthday. Even if you are not Galician or Spanish, or aren't lucky enough to have a Spanish nanny, you can still enjoy this one.

With nothing but eggs, sugar, almonds, and a pinch of cinnamon and a zest of lemon, this cake appeals to me based on its pure simplicity. It is  filling and satisfying. I love to eat this on its own but topped with some fresh cheese it is truly divine. Some recipes call for a separate crust which is then filled with the cake mixture but I prefer this version - all cake!

Tarta de Santiago © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I finally bought one of the special cross templates this year in Spain but you can easily substitute a printed piece of paper which is what I did for many years before I had the fancy template. I've made a template for you to use which you can download here.

Tarta de Santiago

250 grams sugar

250 grams ground almonds, preferably Marcona

5 eggs, yolks and whites separated

pinch of cinnamon

zest of one lemon

Grease one ten-inch or two seven-inch springform pans and set aside. Preheat the oven to 320 F/ 160 C.  Beat the yolks and sugar together until they are well mixed. Add the almonds to this mixture along with the the cinnamon and lemon zest and mix until the almond is evenly incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Beat the egg whites until they have stiff peaks and then fold this into the yolk/almond mixture. The batter will remain slightly lumpy, but it should be evenly lumpy. Spread the mixture into the cake tin, place on a baking sheet and cook for approximately 40-50 minutes. The top of the cake should be a beautiful golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely before removing from the pan. To decorate, place the template on the top of the cake and lightly dust with confectioner's sugar. If you decide to use another design, don't worry, it will taste the same. But it won't be a Tarta de Santiago. Enjoy!

Hoguera de San Juan

Galician Saying: Nas meigas non creo, pero haberlas hailas

Translation: I don't believe in witches, but there are definitely some of them around.

On the night of the 23rd of June, my Abuela had the doors of the house decorated with garlands of flowers. You know, to keep out the evil spirits. Obviously. Some of us were staying in another house nearby and I was informed with a wink from my mother that I would be responsible for adorning it in the same fashion, and absolutely, by no later than midnight. My grandmother assured me as long as I had it done by morning, I'd be OK. Phew. Good to know that the evil spirits take it easy on newcomers.  

Enramada de San Juan. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Our trip to Spain this year coincided with something that I hadn't experienced before, the Fiesta de San Juan. While it is held on the Christian festival of St. John the Baptist it is really a pagan festival to celebrate the summer solstice. And in Galicia they take it particularly seriously. It is marked with the lighting of bonfires (hogueras), the burning of old things, eating of sardines and drinking of Queimada. We'll get to that.

My brother and sister got to making our fire. As Canadians, we have some experience with campfire which we found to be transferrable to the Galician bonfire situation. We had some problems with shifting wind and intermittent rain but before long, our fire was burning bright.

Shifting winds © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Hoguera de San Juan © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Traditionally, the men and boys jump over the fire three times and make a wish. Just guessing but maybe they are wishing they don't fall in the fire? The women in our family were not to be outdone and we all took turns jumping the coals (once the fire had diminished to reasonable size of course) and I'm glad to report we are all still here to tell the tale. But don't try this at home. I can't be responsible for accidents.

Fantasma de San Juan © 2014 Helena McMurdo

And now for the queimada, the typical drink of the night of San Juan. I have written about this before. Yes, here in the safety of our Canadian family home, we have been known to light some high proof alcohol on fire at least once or twice. But doing this in the open air, in the home of queimada was very special. We used a large shallow pot, a bottle of Aguardiente de Orujo, (sort of like Grappa), and flavoured it with coffee beans, and lemon and orange peel. We all took turns stirring the pot, as is tradition, and our cousin Tereixa, a wonderful orator, read the conjuro or spell to ward off the evil spirits and to invite the departed souls to join in with us.

El Conjuro de La Queimada © 2014 Helena McMurdo

 And looking at the picture above, I'm pretty sure that some of them did. Yes, there are definitely some of them around.