a short season: cranberry pear tart

Cranberry season is short. And when they are being imported from across an ocean, it is even shorter. 

Here in Germany the season isn't as strongly on my radar as when I was living in Canada. So when I see fresh cranberries for sale at markets in Munich each year, it feels like a surprise. A good one.  And I buy some, regardless of what I was planning to make.

This bright red berry helps to brighten up a month that too often feels grey.
And this cranberry pear tart, sweetened with maple syrup, does exactly that. There isn't much this tart wouldn't brighten up. Breakfast, dessert, that sweet snack you need to make it through the last hour of the work day? Name it and it's got you covered.

The crust is crumbly, the cranberries bring just the right amount of sour and the pear is sweet and a tad crunchy. 

I first made this tart a couple of years ago and remember wanting to eat it at all of the times mentioned above and then some. I made it again yesterday and it probably won't be around to see tomorrow. It's that good.

I changed the recipe a little bit, using maple syrup instead of honey and brown rice syrup. I'm Canadian - I just can't help myself. Besides, maple syrup and cranberries have the same roots. They make sense together. Sorry brown rice syrup. 

Coconut oil costs a small fortune in Germany, so instead of using it both for the crust and the filling I used olive oil for the crust. Use one or the other or both.

Cranberry Pear Tart

serves 8-10


For the Crust

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
75 g flour

For the Filling

2 pears, thinly sliced
2 and1/3 cups (250 g) fresh cranberries 
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp chia seeds
6 tbsp water
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
zest of 1 organic lemon

Preheat oven to 350 F / 190 C / gas mark 4.

In a food processor, pulse together all of the ingredients for the crust until well mixed.

With either olive oil or coconut oil, grease a tart pan (about 9") and then press the crust along the bottom of the pan with the back of spoon. Make sure that it is even. 

Layer the pear slices over the crust.

For the filling, begin by mixing the chia seeds with the water. Set aside until it forms a gel. In the meantime, mix the cranberries with the remaining ingredients, stirring to make sure everything is well combined. Add the chia seed gel and fold to mix. Pour the cranberry filling on top of the pear and crust layer, making sure to spread it evenly.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cranberries shrivel up and the crust looks firm.

Allow to cool completely before removing from the tart pan.

Serve with ice cream, a dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt.

* * * * *

The winter issue of Gather is now out and, just like this tart, it knows a thing or two about magic. That's right - this issue is all about alchemy, magical herbs, fairy tales and potions. I've shared a magic trick of my Babcai's: getting unloved ingredients to perform disappearing acts at the dinner table. 

With the holidays fast approaching, it is good to have a reminder to not let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Rub & Stub, a restaurant in Copenhagen, is exactly that reminder with their inspiring efforts to decrease food waste. I've written about them over at MUNCHIES


remembering + roasted grapes

Yesterday was Remembrance Day in Canada. When I lived there, I used to always buy a poppy and wear it on the left breast of my autumn coat. I wore mine with extra pride, since I actually called my grandfather, a veteran, Poppy. 

I remember how the red of the poppies would always pop against autumn's rusty colours. I remember the drama of November's leaves being the background of the outdoor ceremony in Ottawa that I sometimes watched on TV. I remember veterans selling poppies, in exchange for a small donation, their boots buried beneath fall's leaves.

Occasionally I remember the red of the poppy looking so bright against the whiteness of the early snow. 

My grandfather kept all of his papers from when he served in the Canadian Army and, years later, my Nana compiled them into a photo album. That album is now in my living room in Munich. It is charming and curious and full of handsome black and white photographs of my relatives and specific instructions about writing letters (that says things such as "Wisecracks and jokes. Sterilized." can be included in NEWS and E. - THE ENDING "Never end without a "God bless You."). 

The paper that I'm drawn to most falls between yellow and brown in the colour spectrum. It has three columns: German, Phonetic and English and includes words such as Angetreten - Fall in!, Marsch - Quick March, and Nicht Schiessen - Don't Shoot.  

As a child I was always fascinated with this album. I flipped through its pages and it brought all of my grandfather's stories to life. I never paid much attention to this one piece of paper with German translations, until I was flipping through it as an adult and realized that I could now read the German. I also realized that based on the phonetic description, this was a north German accent being deciphered (Nickt Sheeson). 

Remembering is important. But it is also complicated and sometimes challenging. It changes with your geography, your politics.  

Roasted grapes, on the other hand, are simple, uncomplicated. And thank goodness there are simple things to provide a break from the complexity of politics.

Roasted grapes are delicious wherever you are, whatever your politics. They are ridiculously easy to make and versatile. Roast them with olive oil, ghee, or coconut oil. Roast them until they are just hot, or keep them in the oven until they are about to burst.

Eat them hot in a bowl of yogurt with a sprinkle of sea salt. Throw them into salads, or add them, like I have here, to rice pilaf.

Rice Pilaf with Roasted Grapes 

serves 3-4 


1 cup brown basmati rice, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in water
 1 tbsp of ghee
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
zest of 1 small organic clementine or orange
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of saffron
1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
fresh lemon juice, to serve
salt, to taste

350 g grapes (3/4 of a pound), preferably seedless
a knob of ghee or coconut oil

Rinse the rice and then soak it in water for a couple of hours or overnight. Rinse well again and then drain. Set aside. 

In a medium to large pot over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of ghee. Add the onion, a pinch of salt and then cook until brown, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the onion does not burn. Once the onion has browned, remove about half of it from the pot and set aside. 

While the onion is browning, give the clementine a good wash and then slice its rind into thick strips, trying to not get any of the white pith. Set aside.

Put the saffron into a small cup and add 2 tbsp of hot water. This will make a "saffron tea" to add later to the rice. 

Keep the rest of the onion in the pot over medium heat and add the orange zest, cardamom pods and cinnamon. Saute until fragrant. Then add the rice and give it a good stir, so that it is thoroughly coated with the ghee and onion. Add two cups of water and the saffron tea. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked, about 40 minutes.

While the rice cooks, preheat the oven to 400 F / 200 C / gas mark 6. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spread the grapes out on the baking sheet. Melt the ghee and then drizzle the grapes with it and a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the grapes are soft and shriveled and about to burst. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. 

Once the rice has finished cooking, remove it from the heat and season to taste with salt. Add the chopped parsley, roasted grapes, the rest of the browned onions and a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice to taste. Serve warm.


* * * * *
I'm thrilled to announce that I'm now contributing to MUNCHIES, Vice's food website. You can read my first article here.  


"send the rice down"

When I got home from Moscow, I found myself craving spicy food. The weather in Munich felt tropical compared to the Russian capital, and yet this craving for chilies did not wane. 

Specifically I wanted Chinese food. I guess I was missing Toronto's several China Towns that spoiled me with steamed fish made Cantonese style, mapo tofu, and Chinese pancakes.

Although I never made it to a Chinese restaurant in Moscow (I was too busy trying pre-revolution Russian cuisine and drinking tea), I got the feeling that Moscow must have good Chinese food.

Upon my return I bought Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice, which celebrates simple Chinese home cooking. It is a charming and approachable book that I plan to spend a lot of time with this winter. The first recipe I made was Sichuanese "Send-the-rice-down" Chopped Celery with Minced Beef, which has already been lovingly praised over on the Wednesday Chef.

I've made it twice in the past week and, if I wasn't sick and far too lazy to dress myself let alone walk over to the butcher shop, I'd be tempted to make this for dinner tonight. Both times I've served it with black rice, which adds a little extra drama to the plate, but of course brown or white rice would be fine.

If you like, you can add a splash of light soy sauce to taste. I skipped this as I thought the flavour of the dish was so perfect, so complete, that it didn't need anything else.

 Chopping the celery is the only part of this recipe that requires a bit of time. Other than that, this meal is weeknight eating at its best. I had to make two new additions to my pantry: Sichuan chili bean paste and Chinkiang vinegar. But I have a whole book to cook my way through and a whole winter to spice up, so they'll surely be put to frequent use.

Fuchsia writes that this dish is typical of Sichuanese home cooking because it has a strong flavour and is a perfect companion to a bowl of rice, hence "sending the rice down". 

 Sichuanese  "Send-the-rice-down" Chopped Celery with Minced Beef 

adapted from 'Every Grain of Rice' by Fuchsia Dunlop

serves 2 as a main

300g celery
3 tbsp cooking oil, such as peanut
100g minced beef
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste
1 1/2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar 

Cut each celery stick lengthways and then chop into thin strips. You want the celery to be finely chopped.

While you prepare the celery, bring a pot of water to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, add the celery and blanch it for about 30 seconds and then drain immediately. You don't want to cook the celery, you just want to take away its rawness.

In a wok or frying pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the minced beef and with a wooden spoon or wok scoop or ladle, break up the strands. Stir-fry the meat until it is fragrant and cooked. Then add the chili bean paste. Continue to give it a good stir until the oil has reddened and the bean paste is fragrant. Then add the minced ginger and fry it for a few moments until it is fragrant. 

Finally add the celery and let the whole dish cook until the celery is piping hot. Add a little soy sauce now, if you wish. Stir in the Chinkiang vinegar and serve right away with rice. 


* * * * *

In other news, last week a text that I had written about my grandfather was published in the Globe and Mail's Lives Lived section. It is a real honour to share his life in Canada's national newspaper and if you are interested in reading it, you can find it here.  


postcards from moscow

Don't be tempted to see these black and white postcards as representative of the colour palette of Moscow. The Russian capital was anything but shades of Soviet grey. So although these postcards are the best ones I found, they are misleading.

Moscow was full of pastel greens and pale yellows. Its temperatures were freezing (down to -8C), but its sky was sunny and bright. And the food was just as bright. More on that soon, but first I'll be back with a recipe that I could cook every night. 


edible souvenirs: the canada edition

Just as I'm packing my suitcase to fly to Moscow, a city that I've never been to and am very eager to get to know, I realized that it was just a few weeks ago that I was unpacking my suitcase after visiting a city that I know very well.

We all know that when you travel to Italy you bring home espresso, pecorino and good olive oil. When you travel to France you pick up raw butter, creamy cheese and pastries. And, if I wasn't already living in Germany, I would bring home a loaf of dark sourdough bread, Lebkuchen and Quark. But what culinary souvenirs does one bring back from Canada, other than maple syrup of course? 

Well let's start with mustard. It might seem unnecessary and even silly to lug mustard all the way from Canada to Germany, but Kozlik's is so good that I would even risk paying (and probably pay) the overweight baggage fee for this mustard. The maple mustard is my personal favourite, but they also produce other sexy flavours, such as balsamic fig & dates, and lime and honey. This family-run, Toronto-based company has been making mustard since 1948. 

Another Toronto gem is Delight, a chocolate shop based in the Junction. Once again, it might seem counter-intuitive to bring chocolate back to Europe, but have you ever seen a Quebec blue cheese (or any blue cheese) chocolate truffle in Europe? Exactly. 

I filled the rest of my suitcase with sea salt from Vancouver Island, Raincoast Crisps - the best crackers I know, pickled fiddleheads, ginger syrup for making lots of ginger ale and, of course, more maple syrup.


plums, effort and giving thanks

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. Although I do have pumpkin roasting in my oven, I want to talk about plums. The first of the pumpkins may be showing off at markets these days, but I'm still trying to get my fill of the last of the plums. 

I made a simple plum cake last week and I hope to make it again this week. It takes only a couple of minutes to mix everything together and with Italian prune plums and olive oil instead of butter, it is incredibly moist, but still with a little bit of crunch. It is the type of cake that you are tempted to eat for breakfast and could easily commit to as your number one afternoon pick-me-up.

I listened to the instructions and managed to resist cutting into it until the day after I had baked it. Because I miraculously didn't sneak a slice the day of, I cannot say how the day after compares. However, I can say that the cake lived up to all of its praise on Lottie and Doof, Smitten Kitchen and Bon Appetempt.  

What I like most about this recipe is that it could not be easier. It takes very little effort, labour and time, yet what it yields is excellent. It is the type of cake that you think about when you are waiting for the bus and thinking about what to eat when you get home. I also like its history: the New York Times published this recipe every September from 1982 to 1989! I like that this encourage repetition, the establishment of a ritual and I will do my best to bake this cake every year when summer turns to fall. 

The recipe calls for a spring form pan which, alas, I do not have. I used a regular cake pan and it worked out fine. Depending on the size of the plums, you might need more or less. The recipe calls for 12, but mine were on the smaller side so I ended up using 14. Also, if your plums are very ripe and already quite sweet, cut back on the amount of sugar. 

On a different note, if you haven't already I highly recommend reading this article about a woman who decides to stop cooking and how cooking for others can be selfish. Cooking can be a chore, a resented obligation, a means of getting people to like you (which connects thematically to the excellent article "Learning to Love Criticism") and, for some like myself, a source of pleasure. Just because I enthusiastically derive joy from the act of cooking, doesn't make cooking any less complicated for me. This is because I'm acutely aware of the issues that it ties into and how it connects to politics, gender and society. That said, I'm thankful that I am in the position to enjoy cooking even though I am in no way obligated to.

So, if you are like me and enjoy the heat of the kitchen, make this plum torte and dig into these two articles. And if you use your oven to store books and sweaters, go buy yourself a piece of cake to keep you company while reading. 

Plum Torte

adapted from the New York Times

serves 8


125 grams (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 grams baking powder
large pinch of salt
200 grams (1 cup) unrefined sugar + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
67 grams (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) virgin olive oil + a knob more to grease the pan
2 organic eggs
 12-14 small Italian prune plums, pitted and cut in half
1 tsp cinnamon 
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F / 190 C / gas mark 4.

Grease a cake pan with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, stir together the sugar and olive oil and then add the eggs, one egg at a time. Add the flour mixture to the olive oil and sugar mixture and stir until combined.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and give the pan a little shake, side to side, to make sure the batter is evenly distrubuted. Arrange the plums on top of the batter, with the skin side facing down. Sprinkle with cinnamon, 1 tbsp of sugar and lemon juice.

Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the batter (and not a plum!) come out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving. 



the bread exchange

First in Sweden, then the rest of Europe and, as of today, North America - The Bread Exchange has been released! 

Malin bakes bread and travels the world trading her sourdough for anything other than money. By doing so, she collects stories and her first book puts that collection on display. From growing a sourdough starter in the Sinai desert to borrowing an oven from a star chef in New York and from the rituals of community baking in Afghanistan to winter soups in Poland, Malin's book is a collection of recipes and stories that are equally delicious.

I leave the bread baking up to Malin but to those curious about baking with sourdough, the book includes her signature recipe, plus some adaptations including a loaf with goji berries and rosemary. 
The subsequent chapters feature recipes from her trades and travels and I had the absolute honour of contributing two recipes for winter jams (not with plum, but one is with blood orange and the other pear), which you can read a bit more about here

In addition to the usual suspects and (hopefully) your local bookstore, you can also order the book on her website.

Good bread and good stories seem like the right essentials to prioritize and the Bread Exchange celebrates both. 

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