Rhubarb Rediscovery

It still seems strange to me to pay for rhubarb. Don't get me wrong, I'll gladly do it. But I can't help remembering when we were kids and it grew wild and in our parents' gardens like a weed that couldn't be got rid of. We plucked it and ate it with nothing more than sugar, making our own home-make "Lik-A-Stix" (anyone out there remember those?), with ziplock bags of sugar which allowed us to roam free with this mobile dessert. The most exotic it got was a pie. But this most versatile ingredient really never got used to it's full potential in my world. And then one day on Instagram you see people making beautiful tarts with rhubarb arranged so perfectly and you say - I'm getting in on that. So you roast the rhubarb with some vanilla and orange juice and you almost forget about the rhubarb itself because the resulting syrup is so sweet and tart. So you make yourself a little cocktail and then you start arranging things over a rich vanilla custard in the shape of the flooring you will have one day when you live in Paris. 

Roasted Rhubarb
Rhubarb Tart Making
Checkered Rhubarb Tart
Rhubarb Marquetry Tart

And while you are proud of your work as a budding "rhubarchitect", what starts out as an obsession with geometry, changes quickly to an obsession with flavour and pairings. Would this roasted rhubarb be better with vanilla or ginger? Are pistachios a worthy addition to a tart? How can I mass produce this syrup to have it on demand for cocktails. Would it go better with gin or bourbon? And soon things are spiralling out of control and you are making rhubarb popsicles in the middle of day between photo editing sessions, (and photographing them of course because they are so darned pretty). 

But back to the cocktail because that's the real discovery on this rhubarb journey.

Rhubarb Whiskey Sour

Rhubarb Whiskey Sour

1.5 oz bourbon

1.5 oz lemon

1 oz rhubarb ginger syrup *

1/2 an egg white

Pour all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with generous portion of ice, shake together, strain and serve.

* For the rhubarb syrup, mix 4 cups rhubarb,  1 cup sugar , 1 cup water and some fresh sliced ginger sliced in a small saucepan.  Boil for 5 mins and strain reserving rhubarb for another use (like on top of yogurt or porridge).

Cheers to Rhubarb!

 


If you enjoyed that cocktail and want to be surrounded by rhubarb all year long you might be interested in having a look at my Limited Edition Photographic Prints featuring some of my other rhubarb creations.

Happy Victoria Day: Victoria Sponge

In honour of Victoria Day, here's my not-so-classic take on a Victoria Sponge.

A Victoria Sponge also known as a Victoria Sandwich is a typical British teatime treat made with strawberry jam and butter icing, sandwiched between two layers of sponge cake. It was said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria's, and popular during her reign, hence the name.

 Marmalade Victoria Sponge. Photography and Styling by Helena McMurdo, My Endless Picnic.

Instead of strawberry jam, I went with marmalade. I am a marmalade addict and lately my favourite comes from Le Meadows Pantry.  Her Grapefruit and Sea Salt Marmalade is absolutely divine.

  Marmalade Victoria Sponge. Photography and Styling by Helena McMurdo, My Endless Picnic.

 

Marmalade Victoria Sponge

For the cake:

150 g butter

3 eggs

150 g flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp salt

 

For the  filling:

60 g butter, soft

125 g icing sugar

3 teaspoons warm water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

4-6 tablespoons of your favourite marmalade

Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees and baseline a 7 inch cake tin with parchment paper.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream the butter and eggs together until fluffy and then add the dry ingredients a little at a time. When mixed through, pour into the cake tin.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. In the meantime, make the filling

Put butter, sugar, water and vanilla in a bowl. Beginning slowly at first and gradually increasing speed, beat with an electric stand or hand held mixer until the mixture is very light.

Slice the cooled cake through the middle so you have two layers. Spread the butter icing on to the cut side of the bottom half of cake and spread the jam on the cut side of the top half. Sandwich the two halves together and then dust with icing sugar.

Pour yourself your favourite blend of tea and enjoy like a Queen.

 

 

How Does My Garden Garden Grow?

It's been a strange summer - very hot initially - and now in August, things are cooling off. But that hasn't stopped me in the garden. When I say garden, I'm probably taking a bit of a liberty. I have a few containers on my balcony but it's a garden to me. I've just planted a few more snap peas. I'm not sure if there will be time for them to mature, but they look pretty growing up the balcony. My first batch this year gave a grand total of 13, not exactly a huge number, but it didn't stop us from enjoying them.

I made a little pea salad (emphasis on the little) from Dana Cowin's new book with the snap peas and walla walla onions instead of shallots and a simple vinaigrette. I served it tapas style with a tinto de verano. Pretty nice actually.

My pole beans were not wonderful this year. Our initial early heat didn't sit well with them so they were curled and gnarled and not as plentiful as in other years. But again, I love seeing the leaves climb up the balcony railing. They are putting out a second round now, which seems to be a bit better.  

I'm also growing a bush bean Romano which is coming ready now. It looks promising.

The lettuce has been the most satisfying plant and that's saying something because I don't even like lettuce. Well let's say that there are about 100 things I could think of to eat before lettuce. But garden lettuce is just so much nicer. I harvest a little bit every few days and that's enough for me.

Morning is my favourite time in the garden. I have my coffee on the balcony, do my watering, harvest anything that wants harvesting before the heat of the day has taken over. This morning the light was so lovely I just had to snap a few shots to share. Are you growing anything this year? What's working for you? Leave me a note in the comments below.

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.

 

 

Breaking Bread: Pan do Seixo

Last May when I was in Galicia I spent some time with a local bread man. To my grandmother and the neighbours he is referred to as Seixo (pronounced say-show), a name that reflects the town where he is from rather than any name his mother gave him. Seixo is a little town in the mountains, not far the ancient village of Cebreiro on the Camino de Santiago. The bread that this man makes is called Pan do Seixo. 

 Pan do Seixo Loaves ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The bread is crusty and chewy and filling. When the locals cut it, they hold it tightly between their arm and their body and cut off a slice, one-handed, as if it could somehow get away from them.

 Pan Do Seixo © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Seixo is a daily visitor, showing up around 10 o'clock in his little van and beeping his horn. If you want bread, you're ready and waiting with your euro in hand. If you don't you wave him off and he continues on his journey through the green hills of this part of Lugo province. 

 Near O Cebreiro © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I asked him if I could spend some time with him and see how this bread was made. He generously obliged. After spending most of the morning delivering, he starts baking at around 4pm. My mum and I made the short trip into the hills through some pretty windy roads to a most unlikely place for a bakery. And not any bakery. One that in addition to servicing restaurants and locals, ships bread, twice a week, more than 900 km to shops in Barcelona. The authentic Galician character of his bread is much sought after by Gallegos living in the city. He told me he started out just shipping bread to a few friends that had a shop. The bread became known by other Gallegos living in the Barcelona and the demand grew.

Despite the rustic surroundings, and the artisanal nature of the bread, the bakery itself is fairly modern.  But some traditional touches remain.

The oven is a state-of-the-art, modern one, with a rotating conveyer belt allowing Seixo to cook 80 loaves at a time. But then you see how it's fired. With wood. A delightful mix of old and new technology.

He uses a mixture of yeast and ferment (what we would know as a starter or biga ), as well as a blend of commercial wheat flour and a locally grown Galician flour. He makes two main loves a wheat loaf and a rye loaf.  

130604_092013_4294.jpg

Once the dough is mixed in a modern, commercial mixer, it is cut into portions and left to proof in a traditional dough trough called an artesa. My mum remembers that in the old days when everyone made their own bread at home, every house had one of these. It's sort of a coffin shaped box on legs with a wood cover.

 Cutting the dough ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Artesa first proofing © 2013 Helena McMurdo

After an initial proofing in the artesa, the dough is weighed and divided into individual portions and formed into balls (bollas) which are placed on a board for a second proofing.

 Forming the bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo
 Proofing the Loaves © 2014 Helena McMurdo

After the second proof, of approximately 40 minutes, it's time for the oven. This is rapid fire, co-ordinated team work. With Roberto, bringing out the wood trays, and Seixo forming the bollas into their final shape, slashing the tops where necessary, the two men entered into a rhythmic dance. 

 Pan do Seixo Bollas ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Working in batches they used a conveyer belt to load the bread into the oven, depositing it on the shelves. In no-time, approximately 80 loaves were in the oven and browning nicely.

 Loading the Conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

The thing that struck me most in the 4 hours I spent with Seixo and Roberto was the pace of work. It was non-stop. And they work hard. When he wasn't actively making bread and sometimes when he was, Seixo was fielding calls on his mobile phone, taking orders, doing business.  A man in demand.

 Seixo on the Phone © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When the bread was ready, Seixo asked me if I wanted to try a treat from the old days. He explained this was a traditional snack that he had as a kid. He ripped into a warm loaf and sprinkled it with sugar and olive oil. Heaven. 

 On the conveyer ©2013 Helena McMurdo

We left his home at nine at night, dead on our feet but with smiles on our faces. The next day he was back at our house, beeping his horn. No rest for him.

 

The Full Irish

Irish Breakfast. There's much discussion of what items constitute the essential components of an Irish Fry. Eggs, bacon, sausage, white and black pudding certainly but after that there is debate about beans, mushrooms, tomatoes. 

 Eggs in the early morning light  © 2014 Helena McMurdo

I will choose to use a description that I came upon one day about 12 years ago, while I was still living in Ireland. I was travelling down from the west of the country to Dublin, as I did quite often for my job. What was different on this occasion is that I was on the Galway road, the N6, a route I rarely took and so I didn't have access to my usual trusted stopping points. Somewhere between Mullingar and Dublin, Enfield perhaps, I decided to stop for breakfast. To be honest, I don't remember where it was. I just remember that I was starving...and when I came across a row of houses and a small sandwich board stuck out on the road, I didn't care where I was. I was stopping. It was one of those houses that you knew by the outside, you might find anyone or anything inside. I held my breath and stepped inside, the low roof dangling over my head and although the room was dark, which was disconcerting, I was pleased to see a few burly builder types inside. In Ireland, their very presence is taken as an indication of a good breakfast so I was immediately reassured. The lady of the house seemed to be an old woman. I say seemed because she didn't show herself.

 Eggs with Irish Bacon © 2014 Helena McMurdo

"Just sit down wherever you like", she yelled from behind the swinging door of her kitchen. "The only thing is, we've got no breakfast".

No breakfast? I was confused as I watched the burly builders dip their sausages and bacon into their eggs and stuff them in their mouths.

"Well", she continued, "the power's gone out and we've no 'lectricity. So I've got no toast. But I can make you bacon, eggs, sausage, pudding".  

"Isn't that breakfast?", I queried.  

Deadly serious, "Of course not, there's no toast!"

So there you have it. The essential component of an Irish Fry at least the breakfast version is toast.  Or Irish brown bread. Or both.

Because you don't make this as much as prepare it, it's essential to have the best quality ingredients you can. Something about the quality of ingredients in Ireland makes this dish extra special. They have long been at the forefront of the idea of eating local and producing food in a sustainable way. But I'm pleased to say that as knowledge of locally produced foods has grown here in Canada, I'm more easily able to find beautiful locally produced substitutes, done in the Irish style.

Knowing that St. Patrick's Day is on it's way, and deeming that a reasonable excuse,  I ventured to The British Butcher in North Vancouver, knowing that I would find the essential ingredients I required.

Their Irish bacon is from BC pork and dry cured in house. One of the things I find when buying this style of bacon here is that not every type crisps up nicely. Sometimes it has too much water and it just doesn't brown nicely. Not the case here. The flavour was great and it crisped up beautifully. Black and White Pudding are made here locally, also from BC pork. I love the white pudding particularly. I tend to cook it quite a lot so that the oats inside get crunchy. Delicious. I also enjoy the black pudding although I probably don't hanker it for the same way. Yes, it's got blood in it but if you've read this far, I'm guessing you already know that.

 Black and White Pudding © 2014 Helena McMurdo

The pro tip that I learned from the Irish is that as far as the bacon goes - better to grill than fry. Two reasons: one is less grease. The second is that you can make more all at once. In fact I often also put the sausages and the black and white pudding on the grill pan and under the broiler vs frying them in a pan. This is especially helpful when cooking for a crowd.

 Full Irish © 2014 Helena McMurdo

For me, an essential component of the Full Irish, is a roasted tomato. After all a vegetable or two couldn't hurt. Happy St. Patrick's Day! Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

CranberrySauce Mise © 2013 Helena McMurdo

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Or at least to my fellow Canadians. Yes, we do it a month earlier than our friends in the US.  Maybe it's because we just can't wait to get into the cranberry sauce. Our family recipe contains just two ingredients: sugar and cranberries, (and it is very good) but for a change I thought I'd add some orange zest and cinnamon with very pleasing results.

684 g cranberries (about the equivalent of 3,  4 oz bags)

345 grams (1.5 cups) sugar

Zest of 2 oranges and the juice of 1

2 small cinnamon sticks

Wash the cranberries thoroughly and then put them in a large pan along with the other ingredients. Heat on high until the mixture begins to foam and the cranberries have popped open.  That's it. You are done. In our family we often make this on the day of the meal, (yep we are that organized!) so we just refrigerate it until we need it. Inevitably someone forgets to take it out of the fridge and actually put it on the table....but that's another story. If you want to can some, to keep for later, keep the mixture warm and pour into scalded jars, then process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes if you are at sea level, (20 mins for other climes). This recipe makes two 500ml jars. One for this weekend and one to give away or to save for Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pimientos de Padrón

Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non - Galician Saying Translation: Some are hot. Some are not.

I love these. Perhaps I'm biased. They are pretty much considered the national dish from the land of my birth. That's Galicia - in the northwest of Spain. Notice the quote? Not quite Spanish is it? Yep, that's Galego. Named for the town of Padrón, most of these tiny peppers are sweet and mild. The odd one is not. It's  hot. Very hot. There may be tears. Consider yourselves warned.

On a recent trip to Galicia, I ate these little beauties almost every day. Next to jamón, they are probably my favourite local thing. At a bar in the spa town of Caldas de Reis, after arriving a little too late for lunch we were offered a lovely plate of these and a massive mountain of bread. A satisfying meal with an element of gambling thrown in. What is not to love? At the time it was early spring, when typically the peppers contain less of the spicy compound capsaicin,  and we were hard pressed to find a hot one among the batch we ate. Even though we had no "winners", they were delicious nonetheless.

Pimientos del Padrón y Pan

Up until recently, it was hard to find these outside of Spain. Lately I've seen them regularly in blog posts from New York and yearn for them wistfully. I  chanced upon some in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago at Toro Bravo.  I saw them in Seattle for sale. But I had never seen them in Vancouver.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across them at the Trout Lake Farmer's market. The lovely people from Klippers Organics of Cawston BC had a load of them. And I am told, they are the only ones growing them in Canada.  Fill me up. I was a pretty happy girl leaving the market with my peppers in tow.

Pimientos de Padrón

Fry them quickly in olive oil, toss them with some sea salt. Nothing more is required.

Fried Pimientos de Padrón
Pimientos de Padrón with Maldon

It's September or maybe it's the way they are grown here but I found the majority of these were hot and yes there were some tense moments. But they were good. So good. When can I get more?


Want to receive posts like this, right to your inbox? Just enter your email address below and it shall be done.

Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

Blueberry&Apricot Tarts_1_©2013 Helena McMurdo

So I'm sitting here writing this and there is literally sweat pouring down my temples and I'm wondering who in their right mind would attempt to bake anything on a day such as this. I arose early and was actually glad to see a cloudy sky thinking...ahhh some coolness.  This combined with an unexpected and very welcome gift of local blueberries on Friday night and the presence of a couple of apricots on my counter which in the words of my mother 'needed eating' sparked the idea.  Add to this the fact that I knew that way back, in the depths of my freezer,  were two beautiful previously prepped tart shells and we now had the perfect storm of conditions for my baking madness. So the oven was already preheating by the time I realized this was not going to be the cool day I had imagined. Oh well suck it up. I love it when conditions and and ingredients spring up to magically provide a recipe so here's what I came up with. Blueberry and Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts. A mouthful, you say? Yes it is. And you will like it.

I recently made a lovely lemon tart using a pâte sablée from one of my favourite books Classic Artisan Baking by Julian Day. This has become my new very favourite pastry. It is rich and buttery and almondy and well, it's just perfect. And it freezes very well so when I had some leftovers I immediately pressed them into two tart shells for future use and popped them in the freezer...where I found them today.

The other gift that allowed this to happen today was a crumble mixture that I also keep on standby in the freezer. I inevitably have too much of it whenever I make it and the first time this happened I froze it. It happened by accident the first time but the results were so good that I admit that now I make it in advance and always have some on stand by. I mean who knows when you could be called upon to provide a crumble at a moment's notice.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Finally, this dessert makes use of a custard filling which I think is one of the loveliest parts of this dessert. It gives it a kind of bread-puddingy-ness (Yes, of course it's a word).

Blueberry&Apricot Tarts_2_©2013 Helena McMurdo

Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

For 4 tarts you will need:

Pastry

4  (4 inch) tart shells lined with your favourite pastry. I used pâte sablée from Classic Artisan Baking.  Before discovering this pastry I had no qualms of buying store-bought pastry (shock-horror!)  from people who were far better at pastry making than I was.  I like a sablée pastry for the almond flour which gives it such a richness.

You will need to follow the directions for your pastry and blind bake it. Usually this involves covering the shells with parchment or foil  and filling with baking beans before baking for about 15-20 minutes. (Depending on your pastry). Remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 5 minutes or so to slightly brown the pastry.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Custard Filling

1 egg

1/4 cup / 6o ml whipping cream

1 TBSP sugar

pinch of cinnamon

dash of vanilla or almond extract

Lightly beat the egg, add the cream and other ingredients, whisk and then set aside until needed.

Crumb Topping 

(makes more than enough to save for later)

1 cup / 227 grams sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 lb / 113 grams cold butter

1/4 cups / 156 grams all-purpose flour

Combine first three ingredients cutting in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the flour and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside until ready to use. Freeze what you don't use to for the crumbles of your future. (Just top your fruit with the mixture and you are good to go).

Fruit Filling

about 1  cup of blueberries

3 apricots, sliced

To assemble:

Once cool, fill the tart shells with a single layer of blueberries, then arrange the apricots on top to your liking. I used 5 apricot slices per tart but you could use more. Then fill in the holes/gaps with more blueberries.  Depending on how sweet your fruit is, you may want to sprinkle some sugar on the fruit at this stage. Taste it and make a call. Now pour the custard mixture over the tarts until the level of custard is just shy of the top of the pastry case. (Stir the custard before pouring as it may have settled). Finally sprinkle some of the crumble mixture on top. Really this part is up to you depending on how much crumble you prefer but I used about 2 TBSP per tart.

Bake at 350 until the crumb topping is golden brown and the custard and fruit juices are bubbling up through the top of the crumb.

Eat and enjoy while mopping the sweat from your brow and thinking how very clever you are!

Inspiration: Peas and Ham

 Image

Image

So all this revisiting of my recent trip has given me a craving for some simple Spanish cooking here at home in Vancouver. I was at Granville Island yesterday and spotted some lovely English Peas and thought - peas and ham. And by ham, I mean Serrano. Claro. I can always count on Oyama Sausage Company for some of the good stuff.

There is something so simple and  satisfying about this dish. Fresh peas are boiled and then tossed with bits of ham in a sauce of nothing more than olive oil, pimentón and garlic. A bit of bread to mop of the smoky, scented oil and a glass of wine and you've got something truly delicious.

You will need:

About 3 Cups fresh, shelled English peas

100 grams Jamón Serrano cut into little bits (like lardons) (I bought these pre-cut from Oyama Sausage Company which saved me lots of time).

3-4 TBSP Olive Oil or more

2 Garlic Cloves, flattened and blistered with the back of a knife

Approx 1 TBSP Hot Smoked Paprika (Pimentón Picante)

Ok. So now we have to talk about Pimentón. You may or may not know that there are three types of Smoked Paprika from Spain: Dulce (Sweet), Agridulce (Bittersweet) and Picante (Hot). Where I live in Vancouver, I find it is more often the Dulce or Agridulce varieties that are on shelves. Picante can be hard to find but it is my preference in this recipe. In our family, this item is something that tucked into a Christmas stocking, can make someone very happy. So grab it when you see it.

The method is simple.

Boil the shelled peas until they are tender. How long? I have no idea. Keep tasting them until they taste good to you.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil and fry the garlic and ham very gently, just browning the ham. When the ham is done, remove it and let it drain on some paper towel (or not). Keep frying the garlic, pressing on it with a back of a spoon to mush it up. The purpose here is simply to flavour the oil. You will actually remove the garlic when serving. I know it can seem like a lot of oil. It is. But most of it is going to settle to the bottom of the dish and you are going to mop it up with your bread. You'd eat as much when you dip your bread in oil at an Italian restaurant and you wouldn't even think about it.

Just before the peas are about to be ready, remove the pan with the oil from the heat, remove the garlic and add the pimentón. The pimentón will fry very vast in the hot oil so keep stirring constantly. Quite quickly the oil will cool. At this point, you can set the pan aside. Now the peas will be done. Drain them and combine with the pimentón oil mixture. Easy peasy. Did I just say that? Oh boy.

PeasandHam2 ©2013 Helena McMurdo

So there you have it. I hope you will try this with some fresh local peas. Let me know how it goes. I would love to know.

Pulpo a Feira

Pulpo A Feira ©2013 Helena McMurdo

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-"Market Style". In my grandmother's local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it's amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It's drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That's it!) Meaty deliciousness.

Galicia: Te gusta?

I'm back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically - as my relatives remind me often - in Galicia. Which is different. When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a 'Farmer's' Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma's chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, "they have more paperwork than we do".

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was 'Te gusta?'" Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. "No me gusta". We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!