Special Dish for the Week: Bouillabaisse

The seafood medley bag in my freezer inspires this Special Dish for the Week:

Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

I loosely follow a couple of online recipes, mainly just going from my memory of what goes into this seafood fest.

I also pleasantly discover that this fish stew is a Provençal specialty from Marseille.

It brings me back in my memory to the time in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue when a good friend and I made this dish with fresh ingredients from the local market.

Bouillabaisse Ingredients

Bouillabaisse Ingredients

The ingredients include:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, for sautéeing the onions and garlic
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 3 bay leaves
  • cilantro stems, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp wakame flakes
  • 1 tsp Sambal Oelek or red Thai chili pepper, finely chopped with seeds in (quantity and seeds in or out dependent on desired spiciness)
  • 1 large can of tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2-1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
  • generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • salmon fillet, chunked
  • seafood medley of squid, mussels, octopus, shrimp

I serve the seafood stew garnished with chopped cilantro and accompanied by a French rosé, Le Petit Chat.

Bouillabaisse Dish

Bouillabaisse Dish

Meal ideas & recipes from http://www.canadianliving.com/food/classic_bouillabaisse.php and http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/classic-bouillabaisse.aspx.

Special Dish for the Week: Savoury Fig Cake

This week I do another instalment of being French in Vancouver, inspired by a “Lunch in Paris” recipe for my Special Dish for the Week—which thus far has been getting great reviews from all my friends and neighbours with whom I shared a slice:

Savoury Fig Cake

Savoury Fig Cake

Savoury Fig Cake

I find myself with an abundance of organic eggs in my fridge this week, and contemplate making quiche, but then I discover that a French savoury cake takes a good number of eggs—and I even double up on the recipe.

As usual, not being a great baker on account of not sticking to recipes too closely, I “Maggify” the suggested ingredients—and surprisingly, the savoury cake turns out really well—it sets, doesn’t crumble, and cooks through evenly.

It even tastes delicious, with a good balance between sweet, salty, spicy, and creamy.

Success!

Savoury Fig Cake Ingredients

Savoury Fig Cake Ingredients

The batter ingredients include:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 1/4 cup flour (spelt, whole wheat, unbleached white, etc.)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder

The recipe calls for first whisking the eggs on their own, then adding the fluids and whisking until light and foamy. I achieve some foam, but would not call the mixture light. I proceed regardless, adding the flour and baking soda next, not overworking the batter (some lumps are apparently just fine).

As in a quiche, various veggies and cheeses provide the hardiness of the dish.

Savoury Fig Cakes when Baked

Savoury Fig Cakes when Baked

The veggies include:

  • 8 dried figs, thinly sliced
  • onion, thinly sliced and sautéed in some olive oil
  • broccoli, finely chopped
  • cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • feta cheese, crumbled
  • kalamata olives, sliced
  • smoked cheddar cheese (optional, pan fried bacon bits could be used instead)
  • thyme
  • black pepper, to taste
  • red Thai chili pepper

The suggested baking time and heat is 1 hour at 325F, and it works for me, even with two baking dishes in the oven at once.

Savoury Fig Cake Dish

Savoury Fig Cake Dish

For one of my meals, I add a side salad of spinachcilantro, whole kalamata olives, and dry crumbled cottage cheese in a vinaigrette of apple cider vinegarolive oil, and a splash of habanero chili sauce and another of maple syrup—once again balancing the flavours for a taste sensation. On the side, I serve a small piece of smoked mackerel—from a whole fish is best, but for a last minute compilation, canned smoked mackerel stands its ground.

With this meal, I enjoy my recent favourite roasted dandelion root tea that helps support the liver cleanse the body—and with its delicious and lightly sweet flavour of graham crackers, it is also a treat for the palate.

Meal ideas & recipes from “Lunch in Paris” book.

Special Dish for the Week: Creamy Carrot Soup

With a little delay in posting as a result of travelling to the Pacific Gulf Islands for my birthday week, for this extra Special Dish for the Week that is close to being in paradise, I make another “Lunch in Paris” inspired recipe:

Creamy Carrot Soup

Creamy Carrot Soup

Creamy Carrot Soup

As I plan to travel with some of the soup to share it for our meals with my travel companion and Island host, I opt for a vegetarian version of the soup, using lentils for the base, while the recipe calls for chicken broth.

The secret ingredients of this soup are TLC and one cashew nut for that extra special touch!

Creamy Carrot Soup with TLC and One Cashew Nut

Creamy Carrot Soup with TLC and One Cashew Nut

Creamy Carrot Soup Ingredients

Creamy Carrot Soup Ingredients

The other ingredients include:

  • red lentils, pre-soaked and cooked in the main soup pot (alternative to bone broth for a vegetarian version of this soup)
  • coconut oil, for sautéeing the onions
  • onions, coarsely chopped
  • garlic, minced
  • ginger, finely chopped
  • finely shredded wakame
  • carrots, diced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • broccoli flowerettes, finely chopped and added raw as garnish
  • cilantro as garnish
  • black sesame seeds as garnish
Creamy Carrot Soup Dish

Creamy Carrot Soup Dish

I use my hand blender to purée the soup, adding extra coconut milk to obtain the desired consistency.

I try a little of the soup for my evening meal before heading out for my birthday week trip with more of the soup in a jar, packing the broccoli flowerettes, cilantro and black sesame seeds to assemble as garnish.

Naturally, I serve it with a glass of red wine and flowers!

Creamy Carrot Soup Birthday Week Feast

Creamy Carrot Soup Birthday Week Feast

The soup is delicious and hardy, and tastes even better during the week when enjoyed with my host after frolicking around in the Island outdoors—and as the first course to my birthday week feast of smoked mackerel and olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipped artisan bread.

We sip on a thimbleful of Insomnia Red Wine for the flavour and medicinal benefits of resveratrol in the skins of red grapes.

Creamy Carrot Soup in the Pacific Gulf Islands

Creamy Carrot Soup in the Pacific Gulf Islands

Meal ideas & recipes from “Lunch in Paris” book.

Special Dish for the Week: Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad

Another dose of French inspiration is presented to me by a friend during our rendez-vous at a local French café in Vancouver when she hands me to read her new copy of “Lunch in Paris”, which includes a chapter with a recipe from the author’s next book, “Picnic in Provence”, from which I concoct the second of this week’s two Special Dishes for the Week:

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad

As I prepare this dish to marinade in the spice-infused olive oil over night, I can nearly taste how much even more alive and delicious it would be with these ingredients picked up in season at a Provençal market.

But alas, I make do with what I currently have available to me, incorporating organic and local ingredients where possible, adding an extra dose of TLC to fill in for the Provençal freshness.

I do treat this dish to authentic herbes de Provence, and serve it with a rosé wine from the south of France, Le Petit Chat Malin (the cunning little cat).

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Ingredients

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Ingredients

The marinade for this warm salad includes:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, infused with a few spices
  • red Thai chili pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • black pepper and sea salt, to taste

The spice-infused olive oil marinade could be made one day before, or simply on the day of marinading the veggies.

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Marinading

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Marinading

I tenderly douse the salad ingredients in the marinade, putting my heart as well as my hands into the heap of veggie morsels, consisting of:

  • large can of organic chickpeas
  • 1 of each yellow and red onions, chopped and sliced to different thicknesses and sizes
  • 1 of each green, orange and red peppers, coarsely chopped
  • cilantro, on the side for garnish

I leave the marinading veggies over night in the fridge, loosely covering the oven glass dish with a baking sheet to let the veggies breathe but not dry out.

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Dish

Chickpea and Sweet Peppers Salad Dish

The next day, I bring the marinaded veggies to room temperature, and shortly before my lunch guest arrives, I place dish in the oven for about 1 hour at 350F (180C).

I suspect that the cooking time could be decreased when the veggies have marinaded over night, resulting in a more crispy onions and peppers. As it is, the “salad” turns out to be more of a “stew”.

Nonetheless, it is very tasty, and where lacking in crispness, the spiciness gives this warm salad a kick. Garnished with chopped raw cilantro, it is both a taste and visual sensation!

Peanut Butter Apple Crumble

Peanut Butter Apple Crumble

Though it is a rainy and chilly day in Vancouver, the colours and spices of this Provençal dish, enhanced further by the rosé, bring out the sunshine from within the feasting diners.

The dessert of gluten- and dairy-free peanut butter apple crumble—my lunch guest’s creation—rounds out this delicious meal, one that begins with a short guided meditation and ends with a lovely walk through Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood when the rain subsides for the afternoon.

Meal ideas & recipes from “Picnic in Provence” book.

Six Weeks of Birthday and Chance Encounters

My six weeks of birthday celebrations (turned into seven!) are nearing their end, but hopefully the serendipitous chance encounters I am also experiencing lately are not. And I am having lot of fun with both. These and other life, job and health goings-on are more or less connected with my book writing endeavour—and they certainly keep me sufficiently busy to not be also writing about them more regularly in my story posts. Some I now recount in this post, and others will perhaps be shared in future posts or will form more content for my book.

What is the story behind the six weeks of birthday, I have been asked a few times? Usually, I “just” celebrate birthday month, but the idea behind both is to make the birthday target big enough so that my birthday wishes are never early and never belated, and by making my birthday celebrations virtually impossible to miss, everyone can just feel good about my birthday!

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

BIrthday Potluck Mexican Dinner

This year, my birthday celebrations begin mid-February with a potluck Mexican dinner prepared with a couple of friends, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2014 Barra de Navidad, from which I had just returned.

We feast on spicy tomato and avocado guacamole and sweet corn and black bean salad as appetiser. For the main course, we enjoy corn tortillas filled with deeply green spinach and cilantro rice, sweet peppers stir fry, grated cheese and sour cream (Americanised Mexican food variation). Dessert turns out to be extra-rum flambé bananas. It truly is a feast for all senses!

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

Birthday Thai Dinner Fit for a Queen

For another birthday celebration, a friend treats me like a queen, allowing me to assume my position in a strategically placed arm chair—which feels more like a throne—while she prepares for me a Thai curry dinner and showers me with the most thoughtful gifts of two kinds of dark chocolate, red French wine, handmade porcelain clay dish, and a hand crafted Pisces-themed birthday card. Not being one for accepting or giving material presents, I delight at my friend’s thoughtfulness on this occasion. During the evening we also enjoy a brisk walk down to the Fraser River to whet our appetites.

On my actual birthday day, I invite a friend and prepare a French Charcuterie Board dish, in commemoration of the Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, from which I had returned earlier in the year.

On another evening, two friends join me for an adventurous experience of dining in complete darkness at the Dark Table restaurant. The experience is designed to emulate performing all but one activity without the sense of vision, allowing a new perception of reality, where the senses of touch, taste, hearing and smell are intensified. I experience a temporary sensation of vertigo when I sit down, before I regain my sense of balance through the sense of touch by feeling my way to what is vertical (the wall beside me) and what is horizontal (the table in front of me). I also find that it is my sense of hearing rather than taste that is the most intensified. I complete my experience of walking in other people’s shoes by taking a trip to the washroom, where I need to be lead by a visually impaired waiter, much more skilled at finding their way without seeing with their eyes than me—and I redouble my gratefulness for my sight when I reach the toilets, which are fortunately, for me, fully lit. No meal pictures from this experience as they would have been rather dull without an infrared feature on my camera.

A steady supply of wine and tea with various friends nearby, as well as wishes and gift packages from friends abroad, see me through to the end of March.

Why would anyone ever stop celebrating their birthday just because they don’t like the number attributed to a particular year’s festivities?!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a self-publishing fair, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. There, I meet and listen to an apparently successful self-published author, Martin Crosbie, who very generously shares his discoveries of strategies to dramatically increase his books’ sales on Amazon. It is a little too early in the process for me to apply any of his findings, although it is encouraging to know that Amazon is not such a book selling mystery after all.

The Writer's Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

The Writer’s Workplace at Just Write Vancouver Meetup Weekend Retreat

I also partake in an in-town, 1-day Writing Retreat, organized as part of the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group. I am grateful for the chance and for giving myself permission to dedicate this day to writing, which I rather enjoy, but sometimes—with a lot of other life going on—I find it a challenge to get to. I have a chance to network with other writers, sharing writing craft and industry tips over refreshment breaks and a healthful, delicious, seasonal, mainly local and organic lunch at Tractor Foods restaurant.

Keeping up my French ameliorations is one of the many activities competing for my time, attention, and sense of enjoyment—I really do enjoy learning and using this fabulous and romantic language. One evening, I go with a friend—with a similar passion for French—to see the movie entitled “Gare du Nord”. This movie is naturally quite artistic (i.e., a little confusing), and incredibly well done. It tells a story of the people, the ghosts, and the people who feel or are made to feel like ghosts, whose lives intersect at this Parisian jewel of a cross-roads that is Gare du Nord. On another evening, I head to a Vancouver French Meetup event for some conversational practice after work, only to find myself crashing a retirement party for a Federal Government colleague and serendipitously connecting with a Francophone acquaintance, with whom I parler en français for a good 45 minutes.

The Writer's Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

The Writer’s Garden Cottage at Xenia Retreat Centre

My serendipitous encounters also take me on a search for the Celestine Prophecy book—which fortuitously is about apparent coincidences, their meanings, and possible ways of living life if one chooses to follow the path that these reveal.

This, in turn, leads me to finding my amazing, past yoga teacher, and to partaking in the Ocean Breath yoga retreat, which she leads the following month on Bowen Island near Vancouver. This turns out to be precisely the relaxing, meditative, peaceful, and insightful weekend getaway that I crave at the point that it takes place. I stay in this amazing little Garden Cottage that reminds me that “Everyday is a Gift”.

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

The Writer at Her Garden Cottage

Between some relaxing and some invigorating yoga sessions; fantastic and healthy meals with inspiring conversations; nature walks that include a visit with Opa—the 1000 year old cedar—a walk around a secluded lake through a forest, and a walking meditation at a rock labyrinth: I spend time at my little cottage writing through my thoughts and working on my book, as I am kept company by a pretty pewter ferry and a friendly pewter humming bird in the windows.

Opa - The 1000 Year Old Cedar

Opa – The 1000 Year Old Cedar

I experience a new for me sensation while hovering my left hand over a round of white crystals—the air between the underside of my hand and the crystals feels cold, but only with my left hand. On the other hand, the air feels the same temperature below and above my hand when I try this with my right hand. I am not sure what, if anything, this tries to tell me.

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

The Writer in Her Natural Environment at Xenia

My healing energies are invigorated by a resident energy healer and a couple of sociable sessions in a wood burning sauna. Having recently read another kindred spirit’s mantra about “When cloudy pool of water settles, it becomes clear”, I make it my intention for the retreat weekend. Though clarity does not fully crystallise just then, my time and encounters at Xenia make space for my spirit to breathe and calm my mind and body.

Back at home in Vancouver, I continue to inspire my senses with Special Dishes for the Week that include Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa and Red Lentil Dhal with Smoked Paprika Eggplant.

What a delicious six weeks of birthday this has been!

Special Dish for the Week: Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Not feeling like eating much lately (which I know is hardly believable, but true), I was happy to have my appetite revived by seeing some awesome super salads at a healthy restaurant I recently snacked at, and by a friend’s suggested recipe for this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Ingredients

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Ingredients

The rainbow salad is really quite life evoking! Loving my black for my clothing, in my food I do love my colour, and this dish certainly provides plenty. My 2-hour preparation adventure begins with laying out the fabulous ingredients.

I also make the dressing for this salad in advance. Using generous amounts of grated garlic and ginger, three types of mustard (organic Canadian Dijon, authentic spicy French Dijon, and semi-authentic French dark mustard from London’s Saintsbury’s), authentic French herbes de Provence, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and two types of oil: cold pressed virgin olive oil and unrefined toasted sesame oil, I manage to whip the dressing without making too much of mess of my kitchen this time! I am learning to do the whipping of oil and herb containing dressing with my electric whisk inside my sink, and to hold tight onto the container (after a couple of previous kitchen disasters).

Rinsing and putting on some tri-coloured quinoa in my rice cooker, I begin chopping my veggies. I commence with chopping some onion and cilantro stems, which I sautée together in some virgin coconut oil, adding a little salt and black pepper. I also thinly slice some red cabbage in preparation for a few minutes of steaming, as I am not too fond of entirely raw cabbage.

I julienne my four colours of peppers: green, yellow, orange, and red. I shred some carrots, for more orange, and because I love carrots! In the meantime, I roast in my toaster oven some raw green pumpkin seeds. I continue chopping more cilantro, and slicing half an avocado. I open an organic can of chickpeas, for some more protein, and prepare a handful of alfalfa sprouts.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa

I assemble these, in turn, on my plate, in a rainbow arrangement of colours, with the quinoa as the base at the centre. Counter-clockwise, the assortment presents: whitish green alfalfa sprouts; green peppers; yellow peppers; orange peppers; red peppers; purple cabbage; beige chickpeas. White onion and green cilantro stems bring in the full outer circle to the whitish green alfalfa sprouts. The top layer continues with mostly greenness from the cilantro; green pumpkin seeds; avocado; and the pièce de résistance carrots. These are all generously sprinkled with the sweet and sour garlicky-gingery-maple-syrupy dressing.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Dish

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Dish

I thoroughly enjoy this diverse sensation of textures and flavours. At last, after some days / weeks (?), it is a dish I feel like eating! A French Longue-Dog red wine enhances further the superbly flavourful dish, and once more I rejoice at the feeling of company that my Santé, machine à manger wine glass brings me. While I savour these flavours and the memories that the glass inspires, I listen to oldies but goodies from the “Songs for Maggie – Luvafair Favourites” CD. I am feeling quite alive!

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Melange

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Melange

For the left overs, I make a rainbow mélange of the veggies and dressing. The bowl does not allow for mixing in the left over quinoa, so I mix in some of the dressing in separately with the quinoa. These will make for some awesome lunches and dinners throughout the week. I am already looking forward to tomorrow’s lunch: it is so pretty! Joy and life bundled in pyrex, sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Lunch

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Lunch

Tonight, though, my meal ends with a cup of Pau d’Arco Tea that I unearthed on the weekend, and half a slice of French apple tart (a little too sweet for the body, but decadent for the soul!).

French Apple Tart and Pau d'Arco Tea Dessert

French Apple Tart and Pau d’Arco Tea Dessert

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore

Within about a month, I crave this colourful and tasty salad again. I am also curious about how much time and effort I can save by using my electric chopper (blender) for some of the veggies. I use the chopper for my carrots and onions, but get stomped on the cilantro—it seems to mangle it but not reduce it in size, so I now need to chop the mangled cilantro by hand. Perhaps it needs to be dry to chop? The carrots turn quite to mush, so I return to hand chopping of the cabbage, the peppers, and avocado.

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore Dish

Rainbow Life Salad with Quinoa Encore Dish

I slightly vary the ingredients from the original salad: I omit the alfalfa sprouts and reduce the number of colours in my peppers. I also mix the veggie ingredients together and add the dressing to the veggie mélange before serving over the  tri-coloured quinoa. Otherwise, I follow the original salad recipe, and marvel in its deliciousness once more for another week. A cheerful yellow gerbera accompanies my meal, beeswax candlelight, and a glass of red wine (naturally).

Special Dish for the Week: Birthday Charcuterie Board

This week my Special Dish for the Week is for the official birthday-day of my 2014 six-weeks-of-birthday celebrations, and for the occasion I invite a friend and prepare a French dish:

Birthday Charcuterie Board

It is such a delight to gather the ingredients and assemble them in a dish that includes some authentic French ingredients, “smuggled in” from France on the way back from my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice; some local French ingredients from Faubourg Parisian bakery café; and some other French imitation stand-ins as it is simply impossible to reasonably find all the authentic ingredients in Vancouver within my cycling radius — so I roll with what I can get, and it works out great!

Birthday 2014 Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Birthday 2014 Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

We start off the festive meal with hors-d’oeuvre of authentic olives à la méditerranéenne avec ail et fines herbes, while sipping a glass of authentic red Châteauneuf-du-Pape Héritages wine. I serve the olives in my new birthday gift, porcelain-clay bowl, hand-made by another good friend of mine. I get to relish the thoughtful gift while I relish its olive contents.

First course consists of Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, which my French-speaking German friend introduced to me to during my Book Writing Tour 2013. The soup is once more a hit, with its flavourful and texture combination of sweet, savoury, gritty and creamy.

Birthday 2014 French Charcuterie Board

Birthday 2014 French Charcuterie Board

Second course is my adaptation of a more traditional meat & cheese charcuterie board and add a few non-pickled veggies. One of the veggies is thickly sliced avocado sprinkled with unrefined toasted sesame oil, black sesame seeds, sea salt, and a balsamic glaze, while the other veggie is thickly sliced tomato dashed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, with sides of cilantro and lime wedges. Definitely a lighter refreshment to offset the more traditional ingredients.

Of the more traditional ingredients, I serve thinly sliced Italian prosciutto, not being able to reasonably find French jambon cru — which is just fine, since that is what we also had for our charcuterie board New Year’s Eve dinner during my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice. I also share my authentic medallion of foie gras (thank you duckies!). Two types of goat cheese (chèvre) round out the dish: fine herb and fig flavours.

All these delights are enjoyed with a baguette tradtionelle, from the local French bakery café, which sadly disappoints in its lack of crispness on the outside and softness on the inside by the time we have our evening meal. But my mind reaches back for memories of the real thing in Paris and Nice, and it stands in nicely to make this birthday charcuterie board fully enjoyable. Organic butter and authentic Dijon mustard intensify the textures and the flavours of the main ingredients.

For dessert, I serve several different flavours of macarons, also acquired from the local French bakery café, and enjoyed with rooibos tea lightly flavoured with authentic eucalyptus essential oil infused honey also from Nice.

What a feast! What great company! And to think: this is but one of the experiences of my six-weeks-of-birthday celebrations!