Delicious Tarte Tatin

Butter, sugar, puff pastry and apples. That’s all that’s needed for this delicious recipe. Oh and some amazing vanilla ice cream to top it off.

I would seriously encourage anyone to give this tarte tatin recipe a try. It’s categorized as ‘a challenge’ but it’s really not. Well, so long as you watch the sugar to make sure it doesn’t burn, it cooks really fast and I of course thought I could do a couple of other things whilst it was on the stove top. Short cut to smoke filling our tiny kitchen, me panicking and turning cold water onto it, which instantly hardened it (half of which was already down the drain). I had to run a lot of hot water to disintegrate it. I apologised to the sink drain. What else can you do. Scott just looked pained, he’d suggested I keep an eye on it and I rebuffed his concern with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders. Humble pie anyone?

I know my tarte tatin doesn’t look at all like the perfect rendition that is Raymond Blanc’s, but that’s okay, it tasted fantastic. Even my long-suffering friends, on whom I tend to inflict my baking adventures on a regular basis, were supportive – there were some appreciative lip smacking and plate scraping sounds. You have to flip the skillet when the tarte is finished to get the apple right side up. Here’s where I diverge from the recipe, DO NOT wait until the tarte has cooled (at least with a cast iron skillet). Flip it if you can whilst it’s still warm, it’ll come out of the pan way easier that way.

Bon appetit!

Before the flip…..

Successfully flipped tarte tatin. Add ice cream and enjoy.

 

Forest Man

I was originally scheduled to write an article about the amazing story of the ‘Forest Man of India’ for Wisdom Pills, a lovely site I’ve written for a few times. The site is currently on hold and I’m hoping one day it will start publishing again. In the meantime  I felt I should share a post about this story. It’s not new, the short documentary film Forest Man was made in 2013, but it may be a new story to many. It’s a lovely film and well worth watching all the way through.

In the northeastern region of India in the state of Assam lies Majuli, one of the largest river islands in the world. A wetland rich in flora and fauna and virtually pollution free, it is also home to around 150,000 people. The island is relatively unknown to tourists although, as a 2015 article in The Guardian revealed, it is slowly being discovered. It is also however being systematically and irrevocably eroded by the ebb and flow of the mighty Brahmaputra river. Exacerbated by climate change, each monsoon more of the island is washed away; the villagers’ homes are literally disappearing from under their feet. Much of Majuli’s riverbank is now made up of barren sandbars.

One man however has been quietly taking on the river since the 1970’s, a sapling at a time, in an effort to stem the erosion and provide a home to indigenous plants and animals. Thirty years later the forest that he has planted, by himself, is often cited as being larger than Central Park. Fabulously the forest is now home to tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, apes, deer and many varieties of birds. It has been named Molai Forest after Jadav ‘Molai’ Payeng, the man who single-handedly created it.

Jadav Payeng was only a teenager in 1979 when he witnessed hundreds of snakes washed ashore die on a sandbar in the merciless sun. Clearly a man of deep empathy, he decided to do something about it. With the advice of elders he started to plant tall-growing, shade-giving bamboo, digging holes one at a time with a stick to plant the shoots in. He gradually added in other indigenous seedlings of plants and trees. It was tortuous work, and as the amount of saplings grew he was faced with the difficulty of watering them all by himself.  Ingeniously he devised a method of drip irrigation by balancing water-filled urns with small holes near the base of the new growth.

Payeng has confronted poachers and faced down island inhabitants angry at tigers and elephants making forays into villages for food. His answer to the latter problem was to plant banana trees in the forest, a favourite food of the elephants, encouraging them to stay away from the villages. As the amount of deer in the forest have increased, the number of  visits by tigers to snatch the villagers’ livestock have decreased. Payeng himself has had cattle taken but doesn’t blame the tigers, rather he blames the encroachment on their natural habitat.

A natural-born environmentalist, Payeng has been honored with the fourth highest civilian award in India, the Padma Shri. Local media portrayed Payeng’s work and William D. McMaster’s 2013 documentary introduced an international audience to this incredible story. Even the making of the documentary is inspiring. To complete the venture and bring Payeng’s story to the wider public it was launched as a Kickstarter project, received the funding it needed to complete filming and went on to win the Emerging  Filmmaker Showcase– Best Documentary prize at the American Pavilion in Cannes 2014.

In the chaos of all the assaults on the natural environment Forest Man is a timely reminder that we can all do something to pitch in and attempt to save our planet, one sapling at a time. I love his story, hope you do too.

Sources:

Colossal

UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Kickstarter

Huffington Post

 

Gâteau Breton

Gâteau Breton

I had fun baking a fabulously simple gâteau the other day. I should confess that it was  emphatically not vegan (we’re trying to eat vegan more often than not). Yes, we fell spectacularly off the vegan wagon and landed with a buttery splash onto a vegetarian one. I feel a bit bad about that. But I do have to say this is one delicious gâteau and, well, if you’re going to use butter, then really use butter.

It felt like baking would be a good idea on a rainy, grey day – those warm, comforting aromas that emanate from an oven are like substitute sunshine – and chose a recipe from Mimi Thorisson’s French Country Cooking, her second cookbook. I love her books, they’re full of lovely recipes (no surprise there) and fabulous photographs but also great vignettes of how she and her family bought and renovated a big old house in a small French village and their adventures with their pop-up restaurant. I love how their lifestyle and work has positively affected the local businesses and economy, it’s an inspiring story that she also recounts in her wildly successful blog Manger, which needs no introduction from me.

The amount of butter? 16 tablespoons, or 225g, or approximately 1 cup depending on where you are. And lots of eggs and some dark rum. I can’t repeat the whole recipe I’m sure without permission, but you get the idea. It was delicious. And rich. And a very little goes a long long way. Gratifyingly my gâteau ended up looking very like the photo of the one in the cookbook. This doesn’t always happen, to me at least, so it’s nice when it does.

So after a long day of amazing snowshoeing a little over a week ago (the weather is far from spring here still)…..

It’s really nice to still have a little of the gâteau left to munch on….

Sometimes cooking is a chore, but sometimes, ummm, not so much.

 

An Aromatherapy Book Review

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Lavender about to bloom, France

I recently wrote a book review for my aromatherapy association and thought I’d share it on my blog. As with any book, recipe, blog, article or whatever I ever refer to, I don’t receive payment, have an affiliate agreement etc. etc. I just enjoy sharing information that I find interesting or useful and if someone else does too, then that’s great. There’s a lot of really excellent aromatherapy books out there and I’m happy to add this latest resource to my collection. Plus, posting this is an excuse to find a photo of some lavender about to burst into bloom, an antidote to the annoyance I’m feeling as I look at the window and see snow falling, again. Spring isn’t that far away!! We should be noticing daffodils and crocuses and extra frenzied birdsong by now!

The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele (2014)

I would hesitate to say that any book on aromatherapy and essential oils is ‘complete’. It’s a bold statement that implies there is no more work to be done. As our understanding of these wonderful essences evolve, so too will printed resources. What The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness manages to do is straddle an interesting midline between introducing aromatherapy to readers who are learning about essential oils for the first time and providing valuable information that professional aromatherapists must surely appreciate, without however diving fully into clinical aromatherapy. I myself hover in that middle ground –  not learning about essential oils for the first time, but certainly not as experienced as the authors of this useful and informative book.

This is clearly a well written and generous (at 480 pages, very generous) handbook on the properties and uses of essential oils, succeeding in its stated aim to provide ‘sound information, based on both tradition and contemporary research’. The authorial pedigree is impressive: trained nurse Nerys Purchon (who passed away in 2011), established Rivendell Farm in Western Australia, studying natural medicine, growing herbs and becoming the country’s first producer of a cruelty-free line of cosmetics.The conducive climate of Australia seemed to inspire her practice with its abundance of therapeutic and perfumed plants. Lora Cantele, registered clinical aromatherapist, aromatherapy educator, lecturer and writer discovered aromatherapy by chance after suffering continual pain following two car accidents. Serendipitous gifts of healing essential oil blends from caring friends appeared to have triggered her commitment to aromatherapy and to spreading the word of this powerful practice.

The book begins with a general introduction to essential oils, explaining what they are, how they are used and safety guidelines to follow, then splits into four parts. Useful ‘tips’ are abundantly scattered throughout while cautions are highlighted in a box with a grey background in the sidebars, cleverly catching the eye to impart crucial safety information and precautions. My only caveat here would be the ‘tip’ p.36 on dosages for ‘children, the elderly and the frail’ which I think would do better highlighted as a ‘caution’.

Part 1: The Oils includes over a hundred detailed descriptions of different oils, including latin names, chemotype if appropriate, uses and precautions. Some interesting new oils, new to me at any rate, are described; Fragonia, Plai and Saro jumped out. Nor does the book shy away from mentioning oils that are not yet clinically evaluated and carry cautions, but which could prove useful such as Kanuka and the aforementioned Fragonia. There are descriptions of hydrolats in this section as well as carrier and infused oils. The latter made for particularly enjoyable reading – infused oils are a cost effective and usually safe way to experience the benefits of helpful plants and the authors provide clear and easy instructions to follow should you feel inspired to make delicious sounding concoctions such as elderflower or passionflower oil.

Part 2: Remedies offers copious recipes for various ailments, in an alphabetic range from abrasions to workplace stress. Specific men’s and women’s issues are covered here as are – and this is where the book also hovers in that middle ground – baby massages, pregnancy, douches, even cancer. In such cases however the authors stress  following professional advice from doctors and aromatherapists who specialize in, for instance, cancer care; following the recipes to the letter, and repeatedly caution the home practitioner to be thoroughly acquainted with any criteria that might prevent treatment.

Part 3: Aromatherapy for Daily Living we move onto frankly delicious sounding recipes for face – Satin Skin Gel springs to mind – hair, and body. (I question the inclusion of Rosewood essential oil in several recipes. In the profile of the oil, having mentioned the threat to the continued existence of the Rosewood tree – from environmental issues and over-harvesting – and the difficulty of sourcing the oil ethically, why indicate its use?). Further recipes include natural cleaning products for the home and the best oils to use for massages.

Part 4: Practicalities.The book rounds up a detailed, enjoyable and instructing trip through the essential oil landscape, offering equipment suggestions, how to measure and store oils and resources from around the world including oil suppliers and aromatherapy organizations.

A valuable and educational addition to any aspiring or current aromatherapists library, The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness is a book that easily communicates the dedication of its authors to the wonderful world of aromatherapy, their generosity of spirit in sharing their expertise and the creative means to pursue a healthier way of life.

 

Ode To The Bicycle

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu

Apologies to those who love fishing! But I think you get my gist. Once upon a time I would have rated my hiking boots my most prized possession, followed by my cross-country skis followed by books and photos, then, well, not much else actually. I don’t have a lot of things – partly out of necessity, two of us live in a shoebox-sized apartment – but also because I don’t want to feel too weighed down with stuff.

Travelling in New Zealand years ago I discovered the joy of moving forward on your own two feet for extended periods while hiking the Routeburn, Greenstone and Abel Tasman trails. I’ve worn out a couple of pairs of boots over the years, my last pair stood me in good stead on some long hauls here in British Columbia, finally coming apart at the heel. I got blisters for the first time ever in twelve years or so of wearing them. They’ve been replaced but their hierarchy has changed. I’ll never not love hiking, but cycling, well, that’s taken over for the last few years and my bikes have precociously shouldered my humble boots aside to take top spot.

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Bicycle on display, Design Museum, London UK

It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike. Start cycling at the beginning of the day and you could end up in a totally different environment at the end of it. Zipping around town to run errands and collect groceries often takes a fraction of the time than on foot or in a car on congested roads. Freedom, self-containment, fresh air, exercise, the soothing whirr of wheels – unless of course there’s an unexpected and frustrating click, clank or hiss necessitating a usually infuriating session of ad hoc bike maintenance, this is when I don’t love my bike.

Cycling has made me feel stronger than I thought I could possibly be. At times when I’ve despaired getting up a trail on a mountain bike, I’ve had to relax, take my time and just plug away at it. I’ve surprised myself at my tenacity and felt a real sense of achievement when I’ve crested a hill. I’ve also learned to read my energy levels much better. If I’ve had enough, that’s ok too. And there’s not many times a bike ride doesn’t put things into perspective.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking” – Arthur Conan Doyle

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Chilling out on a leisurely trail

Oh, and here’s a few fun facts and figures in an article at Climate Central.  By undertaking just 10% of urban trips in cities worldwide by bicycle instead of motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 11%. The article concedes the potential difficulties of installing infrastructure for bikes in certain areas and the cultural shift towards bikes needed in others, but the general agreement seems to be that the science behind those figures is sound. And I don’t think there’s much dispute that exercise is good for you, I’m not saying that cycling is the reason Robert Marchand is still riding a bike at 105 years old, but I don’t think it hurts either.

“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.”
Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, January 2010

bicycles

 

Snowshoeing Joy

Winter shadows

Winter shadows

Generally speaking I don’t tend to get too down, a bit flat occasionally and that’s enough to make me feel uncomfortable and a bit despondent about how the world is behaving. I should qualify that and say how the human species is behaving and affecting the world – the latter is just doing its thing.

Above all, getting outside is one of my first choices to alleviate this sense of unbidden  dispiritedness, and I recognize (how could I not?) how very, very lucky I am to be able to do so.

Before the holidays hit, we tramped up to nearby Seymour Mountain where temperatures had started out in the morning at around -11c. I had on two pairs of thermal leggings under waterproof trousers, a thermal top, fleece, jacket, ridiculously massive gloves that I’d normally use skiing, hat, thick socks, sturdy hiking boots etc. I had no intention of getting more cold than I needed to thank you very much.

Snowshoeing is a madly active sport depending on how you approach it and calories burned range from 300 to 500 or so an hour (with some reports of 1000 calories burned per hour but that would be for extreme athletes I think). I’m not interested in the calories, just that working that hard does keep you warm.

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Looking into the sun

Looking into the sun

Once you’re up the mountain, all I can say is….the light! The blueness of the blue sky! The sharp, crystalline air that you gasp in! That ineffable, pervasive scent of snow! And then you look down and in a moment of stillness notice the intricate, delicate and unbelievable complexity of a single snowflake and how different it might be from that other snowflake (I just read that despite all the different snowflakes they are all six-sided – extraordinary, to me at least since I didn’t know that). Then you’re off again, running or stomping or whooshing through the snow.

We were flattened over the holidays by a fierce flu that, as it did to many, burnt through us like a fire leaving us drained and perpetually tired. We’re recovering now and headed up to another local mountain a couple of days ago to test our lungs. It was cold again, but it was a tad warmer and it showed in snow-free trees.

Photo by Scott

Photo by Scott

Looking out to Bowen. Photo by Scott

Bowen Island lookout, Cypress Mountain. Photo by Scott

We tramped with some effort through a patch of old growth forest, testing our strength and happy to feel our muscles respond as we expected them too, if a little slower, stopping to admire a stand of old growth that we’ve seen so many times before but are always awed by.

Winter light, photo by Scott

Winter light, photo by Scott

Old growth forest

Old growth forest

After a couple of hours we headed home, in a state approaching something like relaxed alertness. Dinner that night was home-made pizza accompanied by a glass of wine and it tasted as good as anything I’ve ever eaten and drunk. It’s the small moments stitched together that end up creating a sense of contentment.

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Seymour Mountain

Autumn Goodness

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It feels good to fly a little free and figure out the colours needed for a drawing, like this one of an autumn leaf, rather than copy faithfully from a book. The latter is a great way to learn and I’ll refer to those same books for suggestions when I get stumped, but the training wheels had to come off at some point (as they did with the plum).

The clocks have recently gone back and I never quite know how to feel about this, waking up is a little easier with more light, rather than burrowing back down into the duvet whilst the darkness lingers. But then it gets darker in the evening so much sooner, which is not really appealing to me. Perhaps though the autumn/winter seasons are some of the potentially most creative times? The energy is more withdrawn, less exuberantly outward, which can feel like a kind of loss at first, but if you can channel that saved energy it might actually be replenishing. With less time to be outside there’s more time to rest, to draw, cook, read, learn more about photography, to write…. (I’m just talking about what I enjoy, insert your own particular interests and hobbies).

Speaking of comfort food (we were weren’t we?!), I tried making a pumpkin pie, which I haven’t done for a few years. I used the same pastry recipe as I did for a fruit pie – once again omitting added salt as I used salted butter – and my own recipe for the pumpkin filling, which is as follows:

1 14oz (or 400mls) can of organic pumpkin

I cup of soy milk

2 eggs

1/4 – 1/2 cup of maple syrup

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all together, pour into a nine inch pie dish lined with the pastry, cook at approx 350f for about 45-50mins or until the pumpkin is set. Voila! Delish with added whipped cream.

pumpkin-pie

“It was one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins.” P.G.Wodehouse.

Enjoy the rest of the autumn!

Plum Pie With Coffee Ice Cream

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Prune plum

Autumn means many things to people. Windswept streets, leaves turning vibrant copper and red hues, falling rain. It also means for many, myself included, warm pies using the last of the summer fruit before segueing into pumpkin pies – a very North American tradition that we’ve just enjoyed with the Thanksgiving weekend (I also often turn to frozen fruit once the summer is over, it works well too).

There seemed to be an abundance of prune plums around in the late summer and I got the chance to not only draw one (see above) but also to make a couple of pies with them. For one pie I added in a couple of late season nectarines that couldn’t be eaten raw – they’d become very mealy.

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Plum pie, with a couple of nectarines thrown in

I also made coffee ice cream from a great recipe by Nigella Lawson, no ice cream maker needed. Unfortunately I made a tactical error by adding in not espresso powder, but espresso coffee I’d ground myself. A rookie mistake, the ice cream had the oddest granular texture. It tasted good though.

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Pie and grainy coffee ice cream

The only problem with making ice cream in Canada is the difficulty in finding fatty enough cream. I had tried to make a lemon & saffron ice cream recipe from a favourite food/living in France blog I follow called Manger. I couldn’t get the cream to thicken. Perplexed I emailed the author, Mimi Thorisson, for her advice. She very kindly wrote  back and suggested the lack of fat might be the issue. Hmm, what to do? And then I had a brainwave. In a recipe using 300ml of cream, I used 200ml of the thickest cream I could find here (whipping cream at a mere 33% fat) and added the final 100ml using imported English Double Devon Cream which can be found in quite a few stores (I found mine at Wholefoods). It’s so whoppingly high in fat, 48%, that it more than made up the balance. Not very scientific but it worked.

I used this pastry recipe, omitting the salt since I used salted butter. I cut the plums roughly into quarters and placed in the pie dish, removing the stones of course; added a little orange juice for moisture and about a tablespoon of sugar to the fruit then covered with the remaining pastry. I cooked the pie in a preheated oven at 350f for about 45mins or until the fruit seemed to be bubbling and the pastry was golden. Our oven runs hot so I may not have cooked it as long as some might need to.

Oh, and I remade the coffee ice cream with powdered coffee the next time! It was delicious. And, yes, smoother.

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Successful coffee ice cream

Fresh Watermelon and Lime Juice

I don’t normally publish another post so quickly, my average seems to be about every two to four weeks, but, I do have to share a fantastic juice recipe. I sort of collated it from several different sources and then adjusted it a bit to make it my own (no sugar added, and an extra lime).

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It is completely delicious. I used a jar that originally had ice cream in it to drink from. I hadn’t yet done the washing-up and we’re majorly down on glasses because I am, how can I say, quite clumsy. I break things, or burn things, or spill things onto things, quite a lot. I know, it’s not good, I’m working on it.

For the juice I used as much chopped watermelon as I felt like, in this case about a third of a mini watermelon and the juice of two fresh squeezed limes. That’s it. Nothing else. I try to use organic watermelons and limes if I can. Watermelon has of course tons of water in it (!) but apparently also good amounts of vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants and amino acids, it appears pretty much the same could be said of limes. I threw the watermelon and lime juice in a blender, and that was it. Refreshing and very, very good.

 

Where the Wild Things Are

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Picture if you will a spout of water blown forcefully from the surface of the water in the distance, followed by the graceful arc of a dense, dark back and fin carving through chilly ocean.

Or an almost imperceptible rustle before a large black bear drops onto a path behind you barely twenty feet away and saunters off in the opposite direction, confidently turning its back but with one ear flicked back to track your progress, then just as quietly reaches up into a berry bush on a nearby slope and disappears.

The first encounter (barely a word you could use here) was of a distant view of whales, I’m not even sure if they were Humpbacks or orcas, from a ferry as we made our way to the Sunshine Coast, and the other of a bear, up close and personal, as we mountain biked in nearby Squamish. A minute later riding down a foot-wide board walk and we’d have bumped into our furry friend. I was almost tempted to take a photo as he ambled away, but I didn’t want to be that person, he/she knew we were there and he/she was making sure we didn’t hang around.

More prosaically, walking out of our apartment building one day, I stopped and stared, not sure if I was seeing what I was seeing. A marmot, equally frozen, staring back at me. A marmot, in Vancouver! Coyotes, yes, a significant variety of bird life, yes. Even a Humpback Whale in the Burrard Inlet (how magnificent and hopeful is that). But a marmot? Finally the furry critter took off before I could move, I can only hope he found his way to a less hostile environment (marmots have been known to hitch rides from the Okanagan in trucks and railway cars).

I love to be near where the wild things are, knowing they still have a chance, however depressingly slim, to survive and dare I say perhaps to thrive if we can get our act together.

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Distant shot of a bald eagle.