August 18, 2012

A little trip to Canmore

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I was happy I got to go back to Canmore this year. Jacques and I visited the little rocky mountain town for the first time last summer and really enjoyed ourselves. Canmore is right on the edge of Banff National Park, so you don’t have to pay the park fees to stay there. Though it’s a small town, it has a definite yuppie and hippie feel, and we find it’s more diverse and interesting than Banff.

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We were in Canmore for three days in July with Jacques’ show. It was so nice to be among the mountains, though with a 6-week old baby we didn’t do any hiking. But you get spectacular views from right within town. It’s truly a beautiful place. Our hotel was right along the train tracks, a short walk to the downtown, which is a fun place to stroll around.

Last summer I discovered a pizza restaurant there with gluten-free pizza, the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company. Unfortunately, this time around the restaurant was a disappointment, with pizza that I found overly salty, and really bad service. But I was able to scout out some other gluten-free options this time as well.

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Once I started looking around Nutter’s Bulk and Natural Foods store, I couldn’t believe I had never been there before. It’s a real shame the store doesn’t have a location in Edmonton, because Nutter’s (at least the one in Canmore) sells a cornucopia of gluten-free products.  They had many brands and products I have never seen before, and I found the selection better than at Planet Organic, which is where I usually buy specialty GF items. I picked up some GF instant miso soup packets, which I thought would be helpful on the road, and a really yummy granola bar made by Canmore company Fiddlehead Foods.

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Our last day in town, Jacques heard about a cafe that had GF baked goods. Of course I had to go try them out. The Rocky Mountain Bagel Cafe has gluten-free cheesecake, brownies and at least one other item that I’ve forgotten. I tried the brownie, which was tasty but super-sweet, which is not my favourite.

While sitting in that cafe I read something in a dining guide about another cafe in town with GF options. So I continued my cafe-hopping while Lucie snoozed in her carrier.

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I visited the Communitea Cafe, a beautiful space with a modern interior, lots of natural light, couches, and several people working on laptops. They had some delicious-sounding food, including several GF lunch options, and a large tea selection provided by Edmonton’s Steeps Tea. I went straight to the sweets again. There were many to choose from, including the same granola bars from Fiddlehead Foods, and some of the same baked goods they carry at Wild Flour Bakery in Banff (the two cafes have the same supplier for their GF products).

I ended up going for a Chai cupcake, since GF cupcakes are a rare find (though actually very easy to make). It was light, fluffy, and delicious, though the frosting had the greasy mouth feel of margarine or shortening.

While in town, we also stumbled across the Canmore Farmers’ Market and had some delicious Indian food there. I was surprised by how many vendors were at the market, including several fruit and vegetable vendors and lots of prepared foods. There was even a booth selling homemade, organic dog food. Like I said, it’s a yuppie town …

I’ve visited many Alberta towns this summer with Jacques as he tours the province, and Canmore was probably my favourite place of all. It makes me even happier to know that I’ve discovered some more great GF choices there too.

August 6, 2012

A summer feast and a gluten-free cookie

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The other night, Jacques and I invited our friend Bethany over for a meal celebrating summer. It was really fantastic. Jacques chose all of the recipes from the great cookbook I bought him last Christmas – Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. This book is a keeper. Everything we’ve made from it so far is really wonderful.

We went to the farmers’ market in the morning to collect our ingredients for the meal – eggs, bacon, green beans, tomatoes, rhubarb, and a delicious rhubarb wine. This time of year at the market is magical – the stands are overflowing with an abundance of beautiful vegetables and fruit. I particularly can’t resist buying a ton of fruit. This week we brought home peaches, cherries and little golden plums that we are enjoying. So far I’ve turned some of them into smoothies and popsicles.

We cooked four courses. The appetizer was a chickpea flour flatbread from Nice called Socca, and the main course was a deconstructed BLT salad with hard-boiled eggs. We did a cheese course of cheesy creme brulee with green beans, and dessert (which I forgot to photograph) was a salted buttery shortbread with roasted rhubarb.

Thinking back on this meal, I wish I could eat everything all over again. It was sublime. I think our favourite was the salad, which was outstanding. Arugula, crispy bacon, homemade croutons, juicy cherry tomatoes, topped with hard-boiled eggs, those topped with dollops of homemade mayonnaise. The blend of flavours and textures all came together into bitefuls of fresh summer flavour. Making your own mayonnaise makes all the difference. It is so, so good, and so easy.

The cheesy creme brulee is ingenious, salty and delicious, and also very easy to make. And I was stunned by how amazing the roasted rhubarb was. It breaks down into s silky tangle of tangy but sweet fruit. I think I’ll be roasting rhubarb lots more from now on.

The cookies is called a salted butter break-up, and it’s basically a large shortbread cookie that you bake in one piece and then take to the table for people to break off their own hunks. It has French grey salt in it, which gives a wonderful granular crunch of salt along with the sweetness. It easily converted to gluten-free, which was wonderful. You can see my recipe below.

None of the food on this menu screams “French” to me, except maybe the creme brulee. That’s the great thing about this cookbook. The recipes are incredibly diverse and mostly uncomplicated, including a delicious Vietnamese chicken soup and a fantastically rich cauliflower bacon gratin. And Dorie Greenspan is an exacting recipe writer, giving you precise instructions, telling you what you can make in advance, and including lots of variations on each recipe. There are so many more we’d like to try.

Lucie hung out with us on the balcony in her bouncy chair and on her activity mat, enjoying the fresh air. So far she is proving to be very amenable to most of our plans, and she is a great sleeper. Now that there is a baby in our lives, I’m sure we’ll be spending even more time at home cooking, and inviting friends over to share the meal.

Gluten-free Salted Butter Break-Ups
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table

Dorie tells us this recipe is traditional in the Poitou region of France, where butter is prized. If you can’t find sel gris (grey salt), which is slightly moist, grey salt, you can use another coarse salt. We bought a bag of sel gris at the Italian Centre, and it was delicious in these cookies.

127 g/4.5 oz tapioca starch
42 g/1.5 oz sweet rice flour
42 g/1.5 oz sorghum flour
3/4 – 1 tsp. sel gris
127 g/4.5 oz cold unsalted butter, cut into 18 pieces
3 to 5 tablespoons cold water
1 egg yolk, for the glaze

Mix together the starch and the flours and the salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter, and cut it into the flours using a pastry cutter. The mixture should end up looking like coarse meal, with some pea-sized chunks of butter and some smaller flakes. Add the water one tablespoon at a time and mix together with a wooden spoon. After a few tablespoons, start mixing with your hands so you can feel when the dough starts to come together. It should be fairly sticky and malleable, and almost form a ball.

Scrape the dough onto a work surface, form it into a square, and pat it down. Wrap the dough in a large square of plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Dorie tells us the dough can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for two months.

When you’re ready to bake, centre a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the fridge, and, if it’s very hard, bash it a few times with your rolling pin to soften it. Put the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper and roll it out to about a 1/4 inch thickness, about 5 by 11 inches. It doesn’t have to be an exact rectangle. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet.

Beat the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water and, using a pastry brush, paint the top of the dough with the egg glaze. Dorie’s recipe asks you to then score the dough in a crosshatch pattern. I tried this, but it doesn’t seem to stay scored in the oven with the GF dough, and doesn’t look great when it comes out, so I wouldn’t bother.

Bake the cookie for 30 to 40 minutes. In our oven, 35 minutes was perfect. It should be golden and firm to the touch, but have a little spring when pressed in the centre. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and allow the cookie to cool to room temperature.

Serve whole and allow your guests to break pieces off. It will be messy but fun!

August 5, 2012

Introducing Lucie!


Here is our daughter Lucie when she was one day old. Hard to believe that day, May 27, is more than two months ago. Having a baby sure does change a lot of things. Including blogging frequency!

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Here is Lucie again last week, when she was 9 weeks old. Jacques and I think she is pretty awesome.

More food posts to come. I really miss writing here and I’m hoping to do it more soon. Once life got a little bit back to normal Lucie and I started doing some traveling around Alberta with Jacques, who is touring in a play this summer. I want to write a bit about some of the food I ate, and about a magnificent meal we made the other night. Here’s to summer!