Kat eats local

Not Far From the Tree is a Toronto group that organizes volunteer pickings of residential fruit trees when the owners are unwilling or unable to do it themselves – and you wouldn’t believe how many trees there are in this city. This is, I think, my third year volunteer-picking for them – I never do tons of picks, just a few to keep in the loop and get some fruit.

This morning I helped out with a cherry pick at a house near Bloor and Christie. There were seven of us plus two kids helping out. The tree was huge, and we knew when we started we would have to leave some for the birds.

We always start by clearing the ground of branches, windfall and fruit half eaten by birds or squirrels. Then it’s time to pick. This morning involved a lot of reaching:

And climbing:

And sorting:

But we all agreed the result was worth it.

One-third of the cherries picked go to charity, one-third to the homeowner (though they often give that up), and one-third to the volunteers. I ate many cherries today.

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When I spotted this homemade fudgesicle recipe on Smitten Kitchen, I had to have it, especially since I’d recently received some awesome rocket-shaped popsicle molds. But… I’m currently on an elimination diet that means no dairy. I put on my thinking cap and decided I could veganize them easily with my favourite friend, coconut milk.

They taste amazing, probably better than with just dairy milk. I did find them hard to get out – maybe I was in a hurry, maybe it’s the molds, maybe the mixture is stickier with coconut – but hot water and squeezing did the trick. (Pulling resulted in a popsicle-free stick, which is just sad.) The unfrozen mixture also makes an amazing pudding – I had the leftovers from my pot on top of sliced banana.

As I’m not actually vegan, I wasn’t picky about the vegan-ness of some ingredients. These are more dairy-free, I guess. The level of detail is up to you.

Homemade vegan fudgesicles
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

21 g chopped dark chocolate (I used Denman Island Simply Dark, which may or may not be vegan, actually)
1/3 cup sugar (I used raw sugar and you could probably cut this amount back a bit.)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Navitas raw cacao powder)
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (the kind from a can. If it’s almost solid like mine was, thin it out with a bit of water)
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil

Gently melt the chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring. Stir in sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, coconut milk and salt and increase heat to medium, whisking mixture until smooth. Continuing to whisk frequently, cook until mixture is thick, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and coconut oil. Let cool slightly, stirring occasionally, then pour into molds. Use spatula to lick pot clean.

(Want your own rocket-shaped popsicles? The molds are available at Amazon.)

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And you should make it too. Before all the local strawberries are gone. (Mine purchased at the Vernon Friday night farmers’ market.)

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My parents live in BC’s Okanagan valley and have a cherry tree in their yard, which provides pounds and pounds of delicious cherries to be eaten fresh, baked with, dried and canned. (The home-dried cherries, which are quite hard, are perfect added to oatmeal while it cooks.)

The cherries are so delicious that the birds love them, too. This week, as I’ve been visiting, tons of birds have been pecking away at the cherries, which aren’t quite ripe yet (but are getting there fast). So last night, we took preventive measures and performed the annual putting up of the net.

The net doesn’t entirely stop the birds (there are three out there on top of the tree as I type) but it makes it hard for them to land on the tree, as they don’t like standing on the net. So it’s a good compromise – some cherries for them, some for us. (I might have nibbled some not-quite-ripe cherries myself while we were doing the work.)

Putting up the net involves long sticks, finesse and a bit of ladder time. It likes to stick to the tree, you see. But it’s worth it to see the tasty fruit protected.

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After last week’s rhubarb tart success I was inspired to try another new rhubarb recipe – this one from Victoria chef Heidi Fink, whose blog I discovered while working on Best Health’s 2011 Blog Awards (she was one of the finalists). I dropped by the other day and discovered this bar (or “pie thing”) recipe, which looked like a clafoutis on top of shortbread. Sold.

It’s super easy to make, especially if you use a food processor for the crust. I did a half recipe, with a whole egg and two egg whites (because I had them left over), 2/3 the sugar and no cream, and lined the pan with parchment paper to make it easier to cut afterward.

The verdict? Everything is better with a shortbread crust, and you should make these asap. And I could have cut the sugar in the crust, too.

Edited to add: I recommend storing these on a plate or something, not entirely sealed. I cut them up and put them in a container (how organized!) and predictably they’re a little soggy. Still delicious, but you lose the crunch of the crust.

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These are Smitten Kitchen’s interpretation of the cover recipe from Good to the Grain, and they’re delicious. I made them as per the recipe with one modification: half the sugar (in the compote) that she calls for. Don’t worry, they’re fine. They’re more than fine as I’m having them for breakfast. Oh, and I only got nine out of the compote recipe, which was fine since nine fit better on the pan.

As someone who’s rather pastry-phobic (not because I can’t do it, but because of the high PITA-factor), I really enjoyed making these. The pastry comes together quickly in the food processor and you just smush it together (technical term), divide and press out into circles.

They have an amazing make-ahead quotient, too. The compote can be made up to a week ahead of time – not a bad idea as otherwise you have to wait around for it before making the pastry. Then the formed tarts are frozen for at least an hour and, Deb says, up to two weeks, though I can’t imagine leaving these in my freezer for so long.

I promised my friend (and vegan chef) Doug McNish I’d attempt a vegan version, so watch out for that soon.

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If you’ve never had kelp noodles before, you’re in for a treat, if only for the cool factor. They’re clear, slightly smaller than spaghetti, don’t need cooking and come in a plastic package. Very easy to use. I picked some up at Live recently and made them into this salad, adapted quite loosely from Live’s Thai Vibe salad recipe in Brendan Brazier’s new book Whole Foods to Thrive. Adapt it yourself with whatever ingredients you have on hand.

1 cup almond butter
2 tbsp chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
2 red or orange peppers
1 bird’s eye chili
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp maca
salt to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Best to put the almond butter in last. You could increase the garlic if you want it more garlicky, but remember you’re eating it raw!

1/2 package kelp noodles
1 zucchini, spiralized (or make into ribbon noodles with a vegetable peeler)
1/2 red pepper, sliced into strips
handful mustard greens, sliced into strips
handful pea shoots, torn into pieces

Toss together salad ingredients with sauce (you won’t need all of it by any means). Garnish with hemp seeds, almonds or cashews.

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Last year, I came across the idea of a shaved raw asparagus salad – and came to the conclusion that I much prefer raw asparagus to cooked. In fact, I’m kind of over steamed asparagus. If it has to be cooked, I like it roasted, rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.

If you’ve never tried raw asparagus salad before, this Smitten Kitchen recipe is a good place to start. I had five stalks to myself and could have eaten twice as much. Enjoy!

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My newest prize possession is a copy of Heidi Swanson‘s Super Natural Every Day (thanks, Random House!), which works as well as a coffee-table book as a cookbook. Between bouts of just browsing through the pretty pictures, I’ve tried a few recipes this weekend as well. The Chanterelle Tacos were so good I forgot to take pictures, despite my missing both the serrano chile (I used a bird’s eye) and the Mexican oregano she raves about. (Local note: I used an Ontario mushroom I can’t recall the name of instead of chanterelles). The Harissa Ravioli was also delicious, and pretty quick to prepare once you actually have harissa in the house (I’ve had a jar hanging around for ages, which made this a good go-to recipe, though on another note, what’s the best premade ravioli in Toronto?). But – and maybe it’s my post-race hunger speaking – what I keep craving is the Wild Rice Casserole with mushrooms.

It’s kind of a joke in my house (a true one) that I’ll gravitate toward any menu item or recipe with mushrooms in it. So it wasn’t a surprise I picked this one. Here they are, step one in the recipe (after preparing cooked rice):

You mix up the rice (either all wild or a mixture of brown and wild, which is what I did) with the fried mushroom/onion/garlic mixture and some eggs, sour cream and cottage cheese. Naturally, I substituted both yogurt (Pinehedge Farms) and sheep ricotta (Ewenity) to satisfy my need for yuppie dairy products. The flavour was definitely good, but I think the ricotta was drier than the recipe had intended, so next time I might add another egg or some extra yogurt.

It’s topped with fresh thyme – don’t leave it out. The flavour is worth the fiddliness.

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