I spent a few hours in Claresholm – sunny small town Alberta – eating well this afternoon. Having driven out to deliver my bowl to the highest bidder I stayed for awhile, chatting at the kitchen table, listening to ABBA and being fed lunch by U, who went so far as to make homemade mayonnaise for her open-faced chicken salad on homemade focaccia. (Which, by the way, was far better than any I’ve ever made. And she didn’t even know I am a particularly enthusiastic fan of chicken salad.)
Hers was a fine and uniformly chopped, crunchy, flavourful blend of chicken, toasted almonds, celery, green onions, wee bits of purple onion and tart apple, all dressed with the aforementioned homemade mayo. It’s the sort of thing I adore, and yet it never occurs to me to actually make. Of course, this is also precisely the kind of dish that tastes far better when someone else makes it, when you haven’t been the catalyst that brings all those ingredients together, and don’t really know exactly what’s in there or how it came to be. (The fact that there are also no dishes to wash is a bonus.)
For dessert she baked a high, dense, not-too-sweet lemon-scented cornmeal cake studded with blueberries and topped with floppy whipped cream – right up my alley. (She said it came from The Wednesday Chef, but I couldn’t find anything like it there – you may have more luck if you go poke around.) I ate two pieces, drove home, pointing my camera out the window at the grain elevators, and walked in the door at 5:30. M and W had Raisin Bran for dinner.
Over lunch, our conversation kept veering back to the role our food plays in our everyday lives, in ways deeper than we often consider, particularly when it comes to feeding the family. The mom of teenagers, U had some wise words; most notably, you can tell your kids I love you seven times in a row, but it won’t matter as much as a panful of warm cinnamon buns coming out of the oven when they get home from school. I am already dreading the day that W decides snuggles are uncool and shrinks from hugs and kisses; it’s a good thing fresh baking is such an effective delivery method. U even times hers so that they are being pulled out of the oven as the kids arrive home from school, for maximum sensory effectiveness. Such a seemingly simple thing, and with such an impact. Not much else makes one feel so worth the effort, and there is something to be said for that feeling, particularly when one is distracted by the task of growing up.
I don’t have her cinnamon bun recipe, but she did generously pass on her formula for focaccia, which is deeper, softer, richer and less pizza dough-like than my standby. We ate it torn in chunks and dragged through a puddle of olive oil and balsamic. I could have easily polished off the entire loaf, had it been within my reach.
2 packages rapid-rise yeast
2 cups warm water
3 cups purpose flour – add more to make smooth and slightly sticky dough.
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Additional olive oil, Parmesan cheese, ground rosemary and salt for topping.
Combine yeast with warm water; let stand until foamy – about 5 mins.
In bowl combine flour, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper and stir in the yeast mixture. Mix until dough forms. On lightly floured surface knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Cover, let rest 5 minutes. Coat 9 x 13 baking pan with olive oil. Evenly press dough into pan.
Cover; let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using thumb press indentations about 2 inches apart into dough; do not press through to bottom. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup olive oil, allowing it to pool in indentations. Bake 15 minutes or until almost golden. Remove from oven and sprinkle with rosemary, Parmesan cheese and kosher salt and bake an additional 5 minutes. Cool on rack for 15 minutes and remove from pan.
One Year Ago: Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce