The newest café in Norman Wells has been quite a hit, and a heck of a lot of fun. Improvisation and creativity have become the most powerful tools.
Actually , no – passion has been the most powerful tool, the drive behind taking such a ridiculous risk to try and feed people other than friends and family. People who pay money. And have standards. Eek!
The last week has been an emotional rollercoaster. Each day I cycle the emotions; anticipation for what will be baked that day. Terror that it will be a disaster. Adrenaline to provide for the hungry queue of customers that arrive at 12.05pm. And immense satisfaction to have fed my friends and community with nourishing, real, homemade food.
Baking from scratch for a café is about utilising downtime wisely. Letting dough rise in the fridge overnight. Making the most of no-knead ciabatta doughs. Letting tomatoes simmer into a pizza sauce while mixing up a cake.
Outside of the café, these skills are pretty handy. Like preparing dessert for an evening party first thing in the morning, to save the stress that always comes with running late.
Ever noticed that those with the best food at the party have the worst makeup, and never smell that great? That’s me. Or, was until I realised food prep didn’t have to be left until the last minute. Whip these up in the morning and let them rest the day in the fridge. Curl those lashes, spray the perfume, forget about rushing around the kitchen in a panic, and turn up with a killer treat that will actually nourish your friends. These black bean chocolate mousse tarts offer fibre to clean out unwanted waste (sugars and fats) from the colon, coconut oil (to help overthrow the 50 year trend that fats are bad) and the combo of hazelnuts and dark chocolate ’cause who doesn’t love Ferrero Rocher.
Hazelnut & Chocolate Mousse Tarts
Inspired by Meghan Telpner
100g dark chocolate (Dark Ghana 72%)
2.5 cups cooked (or canned) black beans
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup honey (or agave syrup, add more to taste)
1 tbsp ground chia seeds (mixed with 1/4 warm water)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Melt chocolate in a bowl set over a small pot of boiling water. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Place all ingredients, along with melted chocolate into high powered blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If too thick add a little water.
Inspired by Green Kitchen Stories
I did improvise a fair bit here and you can too. If it looks a little wet, add more flour of any sort – I used coconut as these were for a gluten-intolerant friend, but oats or wheat flour would be fine. If it’s super dry and not coming together, add a little water until tacky.
2.5 cups hazelnuts
2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp ground chia seeds (mixed with 1/4 cup warm water)
cacao nibs or roasted hazelnuts, chopped
Toast the hazelnuts on a baking tray on 180°C (350°F) in the oven, for 10 – 15 minutes or until skin cracks. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove skin by rubbing the nuts between a rough kitchen towel. Place in food processor with coconut oil, flour, honey, chia seed mix and a pinch of salt. Once it starts to come together, roll tablespoon-sized balls and push into the holes of a lightly greased muffin tin. Repeat until all the hazelnut mixture is used – it should make about 12. Dollop over the mousse, smoothing it to the edges. Sprinkle over cacao nibs, or chopped hazelnuts and leave in fridge to set for at least an hour (using the freezer will speed this up). Any leftovers freeze well.
A common saying around here is “it’s so hard to eat well in the North!”
It is. That’s a fact. It’s also hard getting up in the mornings. It’s hard to remember to send a gift for Mother’s Day 3 weeks in advance. It’s hard to bring up children (apparently). My point being, it’s not a legitimate excuse to stop trying.
It might mean a little more research, a little more planning, a little more creativity.
We get stuck in the rut of fresh is best. To help you understand life in the North, these are our options for fresh fruit/vegetables:
1) Tomatoes, picked at the prime, spend a week traveling from South America and waiting on the tarmac in Yellowknife, arriving over-ripe, squished and starting to rot (with signs of freezer burn having passed through -30˚C outside).
2) Tomatoes, picked green before the nutrients have developed, arrive here firm and just starting to redden, but lacking nutritional value and, most unfortunately, flavour.
Conclusion: the best option for us in regards to fruits and vegetables, is frozen. Canned (not in syrup) is great. And picked straight from your garden is a luxury. A luxury that, come summer, is totally possible.
Oh, you don’t know how to grow plants? No worries! Just like planting babies, knowledge is overrated – just plant the seeds and miraculously it does it’s thing.
I am adamant that there is never, and never will be, an excuse for Kraft Dinner, commercial freezer meals or processed box-food. Real food is always available. It might be more pricey. It might be in a form different to what you are used to. It might require a little more preparation. It’s difficult, but not excusable.
You know you live in the North when onion is considered a nutritious vegetable.
Quick dinner when no fresh vegetables exist
Recipe from my head
Defrost a chicken breast. Rub with a dab of mustard and some sprigs of dried rosemary. Place breast on lightly oiled oven tray, cover with foil and bake in hot oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil half way through to allow the top to colour. Chop one red onion and a kumara (sweet potato) or pumpkin (squash) and toss 2 unpeeled cloves of garlic, a dash of olive oil and more rosemary. Bake until soft. Squeeze the garlic into a dish of yogurt along with some fresh picked herbs. Season well and serve over the roast vegetables. I’d already had a bunch of greens at lunch but frozen broccoli dropped briefly into boiling water until bright green and hot, would perfectly complete this.
Don’t open the door, is the trick to a good pavlova. This is far more difficult than it sounds – when the temperature just won’t drop, when you talk yourself into the idea that it’s completely burnt because of the way the oven light bounces of the top, when you need it to cool – fast. And this, this is exactly why pavlovas have a reputation for being difficult to make and are prone to collapsing. Patience, and obedience (just don’t open it!) always have their place in the kitchen.
Despite being an iconic Kiwi dessert, I’d never previously tried my hand at this dessert of much cultural debate. I’ve always thought of it as too light, passing over it at Christmas for the heavier, filling, fruit-packed Christmas Cake.
But, as they say, there is a time and a place for everything. An exceptionally warm day (finally!) allowing for snow melt. Physical, back-bending scrubbing to prepare the new kitchen. Learning into a hot oven testing batches of muffins. The sun blazing through the dining room window at 10pm. Light, marshmellowy pavlova with cool (real) whipped cream has it’s place there, especially in celebration of a Canadian friend’s birthday.
Pavlova with Passion Fruit & Kiwi Fruit
Recipe adapted from Cuisine magazine (thank you to NZ friends for the subscription!)
I doubled this recipe to get a more impressive layered cake, (and because – for some reason I cannot possibly fathom – my first layer collapsed) but traditionally it is just the one high pavlova topped with cream and fruit. I chose kiwifruit over strawberries simply because Canadians associate us ‘kiwis’ with the fruit way more than the bird (or kiwibird as they say). And because kiwifruit are so good here! Clearly New Zealand exports their best.
3 large egg whites
pinch of salt
200g caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
250ml whipping cream*
dash icing sugar
passion fruit (fresh or pulp in syrup)
*If preferred, for a tangier taste and less fat, use 150ml whipped cream and fold through 100ml natural Greek yogurt.
Preheat the oven to 150°C and draw a 20cm-diameter circle on a piece of baking paper.
Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Add the sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat until very thick and glossy. Sieve the cornflour over then gently fold in, along with the vanilla and vinegar. Do not over mix.
Lightly dampen the piece of baking paper and place on a baking tray. Spoon the meringue on to the circle then spread out to the edges. Using a spatula or knife, sweep up the sides of the meringue, from the bottom to top all around – this strengthens the sides so that they won’t collapse. Smooth the top of the meringue.
Bake for 20 minutes then reduce the temperature to 130°C and cook for a further 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven. Do not open the door at all during baking and cooling.
Carefully remove the pavlova from the baking paper and place on serving plate. Do not worry if pavlova has collapsed or cracked – this adds to the character. Whip the cream, adding enough icing sugar (and a dash of vanilla) to sweeten to your liking. Dollop on top of pavlova and load up with fresh sliced kiwi, berries and passion fruit pulp.
Norman Wells has been home to us a year now. This day, one year ago, we flew overhead the tiny town, landed on snow and stepped out into a blizzard.
What better way to celebrate a year in Norman Wells with another blizzard, two weeks spent apart from Jesse, and a daunting feeling of homesickness.
It’s not bad, it’s just reality. We didn’t expect smooth sailing when we decided to move from New Zealand to the far North of Canada. Which is precisely why we did it.
Four years ago I wrote a ’100 things to do before I die’ list. So far I have ticked off perhaps 5 things. Most of which I had added to the list knowing I would soon be achieving. Will I ever enter a surf competition? Backpack through Asia? Become a topiarist? Enter a bodybuilding comp? Perform in a band in front of 20,000 people? Study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris?
I know that if I sit in my cozy zone of comfort I won’t. So I remind myself, the only way I am able to tick off ‘live overseas for a year’, ‘journey the width and height of Canada’, ‘have tea in an igloo’ and even ‘start my own business’ is by throwing caution to the wind. Everyday. To dream big, but more importantly, to just do it.
Thinking about it is helpful, but at some point you just have to do it.
I didn’t post this with the intention of being inspirational, or telling you to just do it. I started reflecting on the year and this was the outcome. So be it.
On a lighter note, these energy balls are quite the pick me up. Need mind fuel to ponder your life’s aspirations? Need physical fuel to power through that workout
and achieve that bodybuilding goal? These are balls of goodness, using all three of the specialty ingredients I scoured Quebec for while on vacations – chia seeds for antioxidants, protein and fibre, hemp hearts for their Essential Fatty Acids and pro-inflammatory properties, and cacao nibs for that hit of raw, unsweetened chocolate. These are sweet, hearty and satiating – one ball, a meal in itself.
Chocolate Chia Energy Balls
Recipe from Guilty Kitchen
Makes 25 – 30
6 pitted large medjool dates
1/4 agave nectar or honey
3 tbsp chia seeds, ground
1/4 cup hemp hearts
1/3 cup (1 scoop) Chocolate Protein Powder*
3 tbsp dried fruit (I used craisins)
1/2 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp cacao nibs
1/2 cup rolled oats
*If using unflavoured (I used Ergogenics Natural Protein Powder) use just shy of a scoop and top up with dark cocoa powder.
In the bowl of a food processor, blend all the ingredients except the cacao nibs and oats. Make sure the paste is evenly mixed and all the dried fruit is chopped up. Add nibs and oats and pulse briefly until incorporated (alternatively transfer the paste to a bowl and knead in the nibs and oats until evenly combined). Scoop out tablespoon size portions and roll into balls. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
And we’re back! Six cities in two weeks. We scaled the height of Canada and most of the width, soaking up the romantic French culture in Quebec, being hugely overstimulated in Toronto (the fourth biggest city in North America, a city half the size of my home country!) and doing the first in-person grocery shop in 3 months in Yellowknife enroute North.
Quebec city was the top spot; for food, language, history and coffee. In Sutton, an hour south of Montreal, we were blessed with two days to relax in the countryside with the most beautiful French couple. The language barrier was in no way a hindrance to our enjoyment of French wine, local cheeses, homemade maple pie and a tour of the cabane à sucre in their backyard.
We hiked, cycled and walked a lot. We also indulged a lot. Quebec’s pain au chocolate could not be beat, the fragile tang of local sheep’s milk fromage was ineffable, Montreal’s bagels were rings of perfection, and maple syrup does not get any fresher than what we had in Sutton.
By the end of the vacation I was well and truly ready for some lighter fare.
I arrived in Edmonton with quite a list of specialty ingredients to source before returning home: Tahini, cacao nibs, hemp seeds, Valrhona dark chocolate, chia seeds, dark unprocessed cocoa and miso paste. I found them all, bar the miso. This Japanese paste seems to be very hard to come across in Canada! (Any advice?)
I tried my hand at recreating a simple miso soup (based on an outstanding Japanese meal we had in Quebec city). Vegetable stock with a dash of soy brings the savoury flavour I was after, not quite replicating that of miso, but close enough. The tofu and mushrooms are gently panfried to give texture and avoid the gumminess tofu seems to get when boiled.
This is a lovely, light but warming broth. And considering as we are still getting evenings as cold as -20˚C (despite an 11pm sunset) it is perfect suitable for Springtime in the North.
Udon Noodles with Mushrooms & Pak Choy
2 cups low sodium vegetable stock (high quality is best as you will be pretty much drinking it straight)
1 teaspoon soy sauce (low sodium will help with taste control)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
a handful mushrooms, sliced thickly
100g extra firm tofu, cubed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 small pak choy, ends trimmed
1 pouch udon noodles (or rice noodles/vermicelli)
1 spring onion
cilantro to garnish
In a medium sized pot, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Meanwhile heat sesame oil in a pan until hot. Add mushrooms and tofu, a dash of salt and pepper and the cayenne pepper. Toss until browned on outside.
Once stock has reached a boil, add soy sauce, noodles, mushrooms, tofu and pak choy and simmer until heated through and pak choy has wilted.
Divide into two serving bowls, pouring the stock over. Garnish with cilantro and sliced spring onion.
Things are going to be a little quiet around here for a bit. Jesse and I are off to Quebec for our 2 week vacation, to explore the old towns and wonderful architecture, enjoy le fromage et le pain and evaluate coffee and boutique cafes. Most importantly we will take some time out together away from snow, Goose parkas and our strict daily habits of working, learning French, lifting weights and trialling recipes.
On our return I will be leaving my office job at the airline and establishing a small cafe & bakery here. In our community of 900 there are 3 restaurants, one of which (the Chinese restaurant) is closing down next week. Unfortunately the other two which are both based in the local hotels are not at all appealing to us and many of our friends.
At the moment, there is nowhere one can purchase a freshly baked brioche or a caramel slice from the display cabinet, and enjoy a relaxed morning over a good magazine and a strong, fresh
flat white coffee, amidst a hub of community activity. Sure, this is indeed a very small, isolated Northern town. But almost every resident has moved here from the city, where coffee shops and boutique cafes are in abundance. And, like any city folk, we crave it. Cafe-style food. Fresh, homebaked goods. Nutritious, hearty salads. Good quality, freshly ground and properly brewed coffee. And the only way to get this is to create it.
A big change and a big risk to pursue a passion I haven’t been able to satisfy through my 8 – 5 office job.
This audio clip by Alan Watts also had a part to play in having the confidence to take a risk and do something out of passion rather than obligation.
Lemon Glazed Baked Donuts
Recipe adapted from Leanne Bakes
I have made two sorts of donuts with my recently aquired donut pan – Chocolate & Orange and Lemon & Nutmeg. Both were wonderful – light, citrusy and fresh. Baked donuts are basically muffins. But shaped in a ring they are much more fun.
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk with a dash of vinegar to sour and thicken)
1/4 cup honey
2 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
zest from 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
juice from 1 lemon
Lightly grease a donut pan and preheat the oven to 425F. In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. In another bowl thoroughly mix together the wet ingredients.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients fold with a spatula until just combined, taking care not to overmix. You might see tiny pockets of flour – this is okay.
Spoon the batter into the greased donut pan, filling them 2/3 full. It may be easier to transfer batter to a piping bag and pipe into the rings. Bake for 8 minutes until they’re lightly golden and springy when gently pressed. Let cool on wire rack. Repeat with second batch, unless you have a 12 hole pan.
To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth and glossy. Dip the donuts while they’re slightly warm into the glaze, or drizzle overtop.
This is a deliciously hearty and nutritious take on the traditional risotto, using the less-commonly used wholegrain; barley. Toasted first, the barley maintains a beautiful nuttiness in this risotto, taking on the flavours of a good quality vegetable stock, the sweetest of squashes, and a mix of aromatic herbs.
Pot barley seems to be more available here than pearl barley; it takes longer to cook but it still has its bran and germ, making it less refined and more nutritious. It can easily be ground in a grinder to make barley flour, a tasty alternative to wheat flour for use in bannock, pancakes and breads.
With only a couple of days until our two week escape from the cold (still white) North, we are forced to create meals that don’t require fresh ingredients. This is one such; a budget friendly meal for the middle of winter or when the groceries are running low. We are so looking forward to strolling the local markets in Quebec, making the most of real food, fresh produce and French bread!
Barley Risotto with Toasted Chicken & Squash
2 large chicken breasts
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup pot barley
1L (4 cups) low sodium vegetable stock (plus water as necessary)
1 acorn squash, skinned and diced
2 tsp mixed herbs (basil, thyme, parsley)
handful frozen (or 2 handfuls fresh) baby spinach
1 cup chickpeas
Slice or dice the chicken breast. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and stir fry chicken over high heat until toasted all over. Remove from pan and set aside.
Rinse barley and drain well. Heat another Tbsp of oil in the same (unwashed) large frying pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic, barley and squash and stir until coated and toasted. Barley might start to pop as it toasts – this is good. Season with herbs, salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, bring vegetable stock to a boil in a small saucepan. Add stock, one cupful at a time, to the large pan of barley, stirring thoroughly until absorbed. Continue until all the stock has been absorbed, adding more water if barley is still nutty. With the final cupful, add the spinach, the toasted chicken and the chickpeas and stir until heated thoroughly. Risotto should be loose without being watery.
Season to taste and serve with a good grating of Parmesan cheese.
When we lived in Cambridge, New Zealand, we had a Saturday morning pastime of walking through the morning markets for an authentic French crêpe. Beneath the red and blue striped umbrella l’homme français would pour his mix over the great flat plates, smoothing it out with his wooden tool, flipping it not a moment too early with his long spatula.
With a steaming fresh espresso in his hand (double shot flat white no less) Jesse’s eyes would light up as the crêpier spread over the thick Nutella and slices of banana, fold it in half and in half again, and pass the crêpe of goodness to his outstretched hand.
This was date morning.
We recreate it here in Norman Wells, in our home. There is no crêpier in town. No great hotplates where batter bubbles beneath the French flag. No perfectly pressured espresso from a local cafe. Instead we walk around the block, thick scarves and fur hoods pressed close to our faces as we brave the -20˚ winds that Spring brings, and return to our home where the Italian press bubbles away and the crêpes come fresh off our own cast iron pan, to be topped with lemon and sugar (mine) or Nutella and banana (his).
For his birthday last week, we celebrated with all his favorites. Mille crêpe, a stack of banana crêpes layered between a tangy but sweet cream cheese Nutella mix, topped with dark chocolate shavings and candied hazelnuts. Served, of course, with freshly pressed Italian espresso.
I made a similar mille crêpe over a year ago, that time it had a crisp bruléed top and a chocolate liqueur syrup to pour over. That was back when we first began learning French. Now, we have a week to go until we travel through French Quebec, hoping to converse in what little French we have picked up, and enjoy some fresh crêpes and decent espresso on our morning date.
Banana & Nutella Crêpe Cake with Candied Hazelnuts
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing pan
1 large ripe banana, pureed (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup (235 ml) milk
3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons (25 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Nutella cream cheese yogurt filling
8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese, well-softened
1 cup natural, unsweetened yogurt
1/3 cup Nutella
Make the crêpe batter: Blend banana in a food processor until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend until well combined. Transfer batter, which will look pretty thin, to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour, preferably overnight, and up to two days. When you remove the batter, it will seem surprisingly thick. Stir it to redistribute the ingredients before using it.
Cook the crêpes: Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, brush pan thinly with melted butter. Pour 1/4 cup batter into skillet, swirling it until it evenly coats the bottom and cook, undisturbed, until the bottom is golden and the top is set, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the crêpe and cook it for 30 seconds on the other side, before transferring it to a plate to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. You can stack your crepes and they should not stick together. Let crepes cool completely.
Make filling: Whip cream cheese until fluffy, then beat in yogurt. When fully combined, fold in the Nutella and whisk until smooth and fluffy.
Assemble crepe cake: Lay first crepe on a cake plate or serving platter. Spread with 1/4 cup of the Nutella-cream cheese filling. Repeat until all crepes have been used. Top the final crepe with Nutella, shaved chocolate and candied hazelnuts.
Recipe from Martha Stewart
5 – 8 hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Thread each hazelnut onto tip of a long wooden skewer; set aside. Place a cutting board or a stack of heavy books along the edge of a countertop; this is to hold the skewers while the caramel hardens on the hazelnuts.
Cook sugar and water in a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, until syrup comes to a boil, washing down sides with a wet brush to prevent crystals from forming. Let boil until syrup turns light amber, about 5 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand until slightly cooled, 8 to 10 minutes.
Dip 1 skewered hazelnut into syrup, coating completely and letting excess syrup drip back into pan. When dripping syrup becomes a thin string, secure end of skewer under cutting board, letting caramel string drip over edge onto sheet. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. Let stand until caramel has hardened, about 5 minutes. Break strings to about 4 inches. Carefully remove skewers and place atop crêpe cake.