Kids in the Kitchen: Mexican Garlic-Oregano Bolillo Buns || Simple Bites

Kids in the Kitchen: Mexican Garlic-Oregano Bolillo Buns

Where I grew up in the frozen Yukon Territory, winter arrived early and stayed late, so the best way to cope was to embrace the snow.

Once a year our family hosted a sledding party that lasted all day; the crunch of our guests’ tires on snow beginning after breakfast and lasting into the night, when the Northern Lights flickered overhead.

Before the party, my mother and I would make bolillos, traditional Mexican crusty rolls, to serve with my mother’s hearty soup, and the pots of chili that guests brought. It was my job to shape the buns, making sure the ends were twisted and placing them on cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheets.

After the second rising, we would slash the tops lengthwise from end to end, and slide the pans into the oven to rise gloriously and turn brown all over.

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Cinnamon Shortbread with Chocolate Ganche | Simple Bites

Cinnamon Shortbread Bars with Chocolate Ganache

It was a last-minute decision, but I cancelled my highly anticipated annual cookie swap to make a trip out East last week.

Instead of an afternoon of conversation over coffee and literally hundreds of cookies, I stood rooted to the ground in front of an incubator in the NICU of a Halifax hospital, transfixed by a wee wonder that was my new nephew.

I had traveled back to support my sister, who delivered a darling little premature boy of just over 3lbs. The days and nights we spent together were a complete blur, yet some moments replay in my thoughts as clearly as HD video clips, both the highs and the lows.

My dear friends were ever so understanding about the cancelled cookie swap. Suffice it to say, all the cookies in Canada couldn’t have enticed me away from that sweet baby. Some choices in life are easily made.

However, even though my plans to bake and exchange dozens of cookies went awry, Christmas is yet a week away and there is still enough time to break out the mixing bowls and bake a batch of these beloved shortbread bars, to share or to keep.

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Christmas Stollen Madeleines with Preserved Lemon || Simple Bites

Christmas Stollen Madeleines with Preserved Lemon

Here’s a buttery, soft-spiced cake, studded with currants, slivers of almonds and a hint of candied orange peel, that makesa perfectly elegant holiday treat for breakfast, afternoon tea or dessert. Chopped preserved lemon adds a wonderfully tart touch to these stollen-inspired madeleines.

For me, Christmas preparations begin in the aisles of a gourmet bulk foods store with a wire basket slung over my arm studying arrays of tantalizing baking supplies.

I might be shopping for rolled oats and walnut halves so that we can make granola to gift to the school teachers. Other times my basket could hold a colourful assortment of candy for our after-school gingerbread project. There are always dried apricots and hazelnuts for my essential holiday fruit and nut crisps and loads of whole cloves so we can spend a snowy afternoon making orange pomander balls.

This year, I found myself stopping in front of a bin of beautiful candied orange peel that was sandwiched between the slightly more garish fruitcake mixed peel and the much-too-sweet candied pineapple chunks. My thoughts traveled back to a December afternoon long ago when Danny and I had worked side-by-side to produce a dozen stollen loaves straight out of the Joy of Cooking. We coated those beauties in powdered sugar, wrapped them in cellophane, and delivered them on Christmas Eve to loved ones. The German fruitcake makes a delicious breakfast, sliced and lightly toasted, with coffee, of course.

On an impulse, I scooped out a small bag of the perfectly cubed orange peel and added it my basket. I sought out dried currants and slivered almonds, too. Perhaps this would be the year I’d revisit a once-beloved holiday loaf.

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Triple Berry Scones || Simple Bites #baking

Eat Seasonal: Triple Berry Scones

It is a known fact that things don’t always go according to plan, and that includes gardening, weather and the seasons.

By now, early August, we should be hauling in tomatoes and cucumbers by the pounds, but the lack of heat has slowed everything down. My garden feels about a month behind; it’s looking ‘filled in’ but not quite ‘exploded’.

That’s all okay; I’m in no rush for those Romas or striped zucchini, because local berries are still front and centre. U-picks up and down the lanes are broadcasting blueberries and raspberries for the harvesting, and Quebec strawberries abound in the markets. Seasonal eating for us right now means gorgeous, jewel-hued berries enjoyed every which way. From salads to focaccia, pancake syrups to pies — and these breakfast scones, enjoyed on a recent Sunday morning.

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A simple, rustic wedding cake with fresh fruit and blackberry sauce

An island rental kitchen and a wedding cake

Come with me, if you will, for an afternoon at a sprawling rental cottage on a remote Pacific Northwest island called Cortes. My extended family and I have gathered here for a reunion and the wedding of my younger sister; the last Wimbush sibling is to be married.

For the most part, this is to be a handmade wedding, made entirely possible by our family unit coming together out of love. (Well that, and pound after pound of strong coffee.) It’s the day before the wedding and everywhere you look, people are preparing. In a shady patio, under the weave of kiwi vines, my brother and elder sister are hand painting wedding signs on smooth lengths of driftwood. On a nearby table, the bride is arranging sweet peas and foxglove into simple bouquets, rounded out with wild ivy and purple yarrow.

Down on the beach, my brother-in-law is gathering pearly white oyster shells to lay for an aisle and the groom is flexing his muscles while moving driftwood aside for a path. Over by the blackberry bushes that frame our ocean view, Danny is picking berries for the cake, a task only for the brave of heart. He gathers me a great big bowlful, and I simmer the berries with brown sugar and butter into a dark, jammy sauce to serve alongside the cake.

My mother is slicing eggplant, browning lamb, and whisking a bechamel for her famous moussaka, a dish that will feed us all at the end of this busy day. In a back bedroom, tucked away from sight, my mother-in-law is ironing a long white dress with lace and an elegant linen suit. My father is showing a few guests his favourite haunts around the island, and thus doing his bit to keep them out of our hair until dinnertime.

On the balcony overlooking the sea, my sister-in-law is plucking away at a ukulele and rehearsing “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” for the intimate beach ceremony. A few children are hard at work on handmade cards for the bride and groom, and the rest are hovering around my workspace, hoping for a taste of cake batter. I’ve got some leftover, so I bake off ten cupcakes and hand them around, much to their delight. First taste of the wedding cake!

The spacious kitchen looks out over a calm ocean inlet, where a few fishing boats are anchored and the tide rises and falls to show off a world-class oyster bed. I’ve just beat a dozen pale blue and green eggs with sugar and vanilla bean, folded in the flour together with the buttermilk and placed 8 round cakes pans in the oven. I’ve crossed my fingers that they will bake evenly, and I am flapping my arms at the herd of children that want to run through the kitchen at top speed. “These cakes will fall with all this stomping!” I holler, and shoo them outdoors where they will climb trees for apples and play Duck, Duck Goose on the grounds.

Soon enough I join the cousins under the hot July sun, armed with a wide-brimmed hat and a sharp knife. I walk the gardens of our VRBO and discover enough fruit growing that I decided to garnish the wedding cake with the bounty. My sister and her fiancé are expecting a wee little one in January, and the fruit symbolizes that beautiful new life. [Read more…]