May 21, 2012

Watermelon Ginger Popsicles


The weather in Edmonton has been absolutely lovely. It really couldn’t have been more perfect for the three weeks of my mini waiting-for-baby vacation. We’re still not sure how long this vacation will last. The baby is due tomorrow, but who knows when it will actually decide to show up? We’re hoping sooner rather than later. We’re so excited to meet it!


I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors, walking to and from various errands and sitting on the balcony soaking up the sun. I was telling J the other day that it’s amazing how much Edmonton transforms itself at this time of year. All of sudden green is everywhere you look – vibrant, pulsating green. We live right near the river valley, and it becomes a haven of greenery, the complete opposite of the brown and white we see most of the year. I love all the flowers covering the tree branches right now – to me, it’s one of the most beautiful sights in this climate. The air is so fragrant. It’s wonderful.


I’ve also been spending a lot of my free time in the kitchen, and with the warm weather, thoughts turned to summer treats like homemade popsicles. They are so easy to make, and there are so many delicious combinations. I’m inspired by a brilliant cookbook I have about Mexican popsicles, called paletas, written by Fany Gerson. She runs a paleta business in New York City. The book is beautiful and filled with recipes for all kinds of various popsicles, shaved ices, and aguas frescas. My first batch was grapefruit popsicles, which were fantastic. A blend of fresh grapefruit juice and simple syrup, they had a perfect tartness.


These watermelon popsicles were an inspiration from J. I bought a big watermelon on sale at the grocery store earlier this week and was planning to turn some of it into popsicles, using the recipe in Fany’s book. I also made ginger syrup this week, and J suggested combining the two. They turned out great. So refreshing from the watermelon, and the ginger adds a really nice little kick. J said the ginger came through as an aroma for him. I made my ginger syrup really strong and spicy, but feel free to play it down if you like. Know, however, that if you make it too weak you might not taste ginger in the popsicles at all.

You could also easily make these with a plain simple syrup, as the original recipe suggests. If you’re a fan of popsicles and other frozen treats I highly recommend this book. Most recipes look very easy and take advantage of summer’s bounty. There are a few Mexican ingredients that might be hard to find, but that could be a fun challenge too (depending on where you live).


Watermelon Ginger Popsicles

1/2 cup ginger syrup (recipe follows)
1.5 pounds peeled and diced watermelon (about 4 cups)
1 Tablespoon lime juice

Put the watermelon in a blender (I actually used an immersion blender) and blend until smooth. Add the syrup and lime juice and mix again until blended.

Pour into your popsicle molds and freeze until solid.

Makes about ten 2.5 oz-popsicles (the mold in the first picture above is a smaller one – I used two different-sized molds. )

To make the ginger syrup:

2 cups chopped ginger (from a few large hunks fresh ginger root)
4.5 cups water
1.5 cups sugar

These amounts will make about 2 cups very strong, spicy, not very sweet ginger syrup. If you don’t want it so spicy, use less ginger or more sugar. It’s great to have on hand to add to water or mixed drinks, but you only need 1/2 cup for the popsicles.

The ginger should be chopped into small pieces. Put it into a pot with the sugar and water and bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves. Simmer for about 30 minutes so the ginger flavour infuses the water. The longer you let it simmer, the stronger it gets. Let cool, strain the ginger and pour the syrup into a jar or bottle.

May 11, 2012

Gluten-free Eats at “Truck Stop”


The words “truck stop” bring to mind the Irving gas station in Aulac, New Brunswick. It’s a traditional stopping-place on the drive between Halifax, NS, and PEI, a drive my family made many times during my childhood and one I later made many times on my own.

I believe the gas station/restaurant combo in Aulac is officially called a “big stop”, but there were always many long-haul semi-trailers parked there when you pulled in, drawn by the enormous and super-high Irving sign beckoning you off the highway just past the NB border.

We rarely ate in the restaurant in Aulac, usually pulling in just to gas up, go for a pee break, and grab some road trip snacks. But as soon as you walk in the door to the convenience store and restaurant, you’re greeted by a tall glass case filled with mile-high cakes and pies, topped with clouds of puffy meringue or frosted with drifts of white curlicues. Strangely, even when we did eat at the diner, I don’t remember ever tasting one of those concoctions.


The truck stop I attended yesterday was of an entirely different nature. It involved food trucks rather than semi-trailers. These truck stops are organized by two local foodies, Sharon Yeo and Mack Male, the team behind last summer’s super-popular What the Truck?! festivals. This season they’ve expanded and teamed up with the Old Strathcona Business Association here in Edmonton to offer smaller, weekly food truck events throughout the month of May. The larger festivals will return this summer.

I think Sharon and Mack have done an awesome job capitalizing on the burgeoning food truck scene here in Edmonton, making more people aware of these trucks, and giving the truck owners a chance to meet and serve new customers.


I was especially excited about the event when I saw the menu posted online. It’s not always easy to find gluten-free options at food trucks (there are usually lots of sandwiches), but Molly’s Eats was offering an almost entirely GF menu. Checking back to the May 3 event, Molly’s had some delicious-sounding GF items then too. Go Molly! My friend Kathryn, who also eats GF, and I were pumped to try the food.

The truck stops are held at Wilbert McIntyre Park, right next to the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market just off Whyte Ave. It’s a great location, with plenty of room for people to line up and benches to sit and eat. Though it was a chilly evening on Thursday, there was a pretty good turnout, and when the sun shone it wasn’t too cold. I’m sure the event would attract even more people in really nice weather.


Kathryn and I both ordered the spicy tomato seafood soup ($6.50 for a small), and I also tried the hush puppies ($5) while she went for the fries duo ($5). At the last minute I decided to splurge on a chocolate sandwich cookie ($4). They looked divine.

After a 10-minute wait, our food came out and we went to sit on a bench to eat. The soup was delicious, with just the right amount of spice and several tiny shrimp. I expected more visible clams and crab, but I think they were chopped up quite finely. The hush puppies had a great texture, crunchy without being greasy, though they were a little bland in spite of the green onions, bacon and cheese. They came with a tiny cup of pesto, which helped amp up the flavour of the balls of dough. Kathryn’s fries were good, though some were soggy instead of crispy.


My favourite item was the sandwich cookie. Just the right amount of chocolatey sweetness, with a perfectly firm, chewy texture. The filling was a white chocolate ganache, but I thought I tasted mint, which I love. I haven’t yet been able to make a GF cookie like this and I really wish I could.


By the time we finished eating my hands were freezing and despite the sun, it was pretty cold. So we retreated to a cafe for tea for the rest of the evening.

It was a great outing, more of the kind I’ve been enjoying with all my free time lately. If this baby hasn’t popped out by next Thursday I may go to the truck stop again! Check out the schedule here – there is some change in which trucks are there from week to week.

May 5, 2012

Elm Café, Edmonton

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My first week of mat leave has been awesome. It feels kind of weird and surreal to have so much free time – it’s like this strange transition period between my old life and my new life.

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I’m really enjoying being able to decide exactly what I want to do with my days. This week we got a lot of stuff done around the house, including organizing all of our files and reorganizing the closets to make room for baby stuff. The baby’s room is almost entirely ready, which is so exciting!

I also did a bunch of grocery shopping and stocked up on staple pantry items and ingredients for all the freezer meals I plan to make – that’s on next week’s agenda. Our pantry has never been so full, and it feels great.

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We also took some time to relax together this week since J wasn’t working much either. On Tuesday we went to Elm Café for breakfast. This is one of J’s favourite spot in the whole city. It’s a tiny cafe in the Oliver neighbourhood, opened a few years ago by Edmonton chef Nate Box. It’s been getting a lot of attention lately – both in a feature in Vue Weekly and on Avenue Magazine’s 25 Best Things To Eat in Edmonton list.

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I suggested to J that he go to Elm for his espresso fix when he started working at the Edmonton General hospital last year. Though it’s six blocks away from the hospital, it has the best coffee in the neighbourhood. J fell in love with their sandwiches, and now he often leaves for work 45 minutes early just to walk to Elm.

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The sandwiches are made on crusty, glutenous bread, so no tastes for me, but they look and sound divine. J will come home from work with a dreamy look on his face, remembering his breakfast sandwich: fried egg cooked perfectly, with the yolk slightly runny, Irving’s farm bacon or sausage, arugula, sometimes pickles, cheese, or some other enticing combination of ingredients.

Besides sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, Elm offers a daily soup and salad, yogurt with fruit and granola, muffins, coffee from 49th Parallel in Vancouver, and other hot and cold drinks. And they serve it all from a 195-square-foot-storefront tucked just off Jasper Avenue. There are a few chairs at a narrow wooden counter inside the cafe, and in nice weather there are several tables set up outside too.

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The other morning J chose the Early Sandwich with fried egg, Irvings’ Smokies, horseradish mayo, cheddar, and spinach, and a pina colada muffin. I went for one of the only GF things on the menu, local Bleswold Yogurt with grapes and blackberries, and a cappuccino. It was all delicious.

It was such a treat to share a meal in the middle of the morning, and to eat it outside – I think our first outside meal of the year. It was one of many small, sweet moments this week as we savour our last days as a childless couple.

Tonight a few friends are coming over to celebrate J’s birthday, and I took advantage of my time off to prepare a dessert extravaganza: two kinds of cookies, whoopie pies, and homemade gelato. I’m pretty excited! Hopefully I can share the results with you in the next little while.

Elm Café
10140 117 st, Unit 100
Edmonton, AB