Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pavlova and Potluck Party Etiquette

We all love Pavlova here. Pavlova is not the name of a Russian dog, it is not Anna Karenina’s perfume, it is not a flower from Gorky Park. It is a dessert from New Zealand (they call it a “pav”) that involves meringue baked to a marshmallowy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside gorgeousness and topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Other fruit can be used, but it should be juicy and a bit acidic. Kiwi fruit, raspberries, passionfruit, da! Apples, bananas, apricots, nyet! Blackberries, mmmmm. It is remarkably easy to make and even easier to suck down.


  • 6 egg whites at room temperature (I put them in a bowl of warm water while I arrange everything else)
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cold water
  • 2 t. white vinegar
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 6 t. cornstarch

Start by finding the serving dish(es) you want to use. This recipe makes two round 8-10 inch pavlovas. I’m often bringing this dessert to dinner parties so I use my carrying server. Cut parchment to fit two half-sheet aluminum pans and use the dish as a template so that you can pencil an outline of the border of your pavlova so it’s not too big. It will expand when it bakes, so be conservative. Place the pencil-side of the parchment paper down on the pans. Preheat the oven to 300F.

Whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the water and whip some more. Add the sugar very slowly, in a very narrow constant stream while you whip (KitchenAid mixers are good for this), scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Then add the vinegar, vanilla and cornstarch.

Divide the pavlova mixture between your two pans. I make a round and then scoop out the middle a bit so the cream and fruit has somewhere to go.

Pavlova before baking

Bake for 45 minutes, then turn the oven off and let cool 4-5 hours or overnight.

Pavlova after baking

To serve, scoop on whipped cream (each pavlova will require 2 c. of cream, whipped, and many many sliced strawberries macerated in sugar (or agave syrup, yum)! About 2-3 lbs berries per pavlova because people always want more to scoop on top.

Madame Pavlova all dressed up and ready to go!

I have in the past used the whole half-sheet pan to make a big rectangular pavlova that I’ve just served straight from the parchment paper for a crowd. It works.

A note on bringing food to potlucks: If you want to make your hostess’ blood pressure shoot up, by all means, arrive with bags of groceries instead of a finished dish. Hostesses love this. It’s right up there with arriving with a big bunch of flowers in paper so that the hostess has to drop everything to find a vase and cut and arrange flowers just when she’s got 14 dishes to finish and guests arriving at the rate of 2 per minute. It’s really relaxing to arrange flowers in the middle of all that. Go ahead and assemble your dish there in your hostess’ kitchen. She has nothing better to do than find you a cutting board, a knife, a mixing bowl, and a serving bowl and spoon. She’s more than happy to alter the temperature of her oven for your dish, even if it burns the expensive roast and casserole she’s already got cooking inside. Fridge space? No problem. She’ll put her salad and dessert out on the back porch to make room for your stuff. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have cider vinegar, so you better bring your own. Seriously? Make the dish, entire, in your own kitchen. Use your own serving dishes and spoons because your hostess may not have extra to spare. If your dish needs time in the oven or fridge space, inquire well ahead of time if that will be possible because maybe it won’t be.

Just my experience. I learned from my mom – we always brought everything ready to go. If we brought a cake, we brought a knife and cake server as well as ice cream and a scoop. You can never assume that your hostess will have ingredients or tools that you need. My mom also taught me to label my serving dishes for big dinners with yellow sticky notes – the big platter has a note that says “turkey”, the large bowl with lid is labeled “mashed potatoes” and so on (of course we heated serving dishes with boiling water before we added the food). That way every serving dish has an allotted food item and you don’t run out. Also, your guest who wanted to bring something but neglected to bring a serving dish can’t steal one of yours, forcing you to serve cranberry sauce from a cereal bowl.

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Books: Augusten Burroughs’ This is How

I love Augusten Burroughs. He’s written a few novels which I’ve enjoyed but he is a towering personality in his superbly-written memoirs: Running with Scissors and Dry, and also in his essays collections, Magical Thinking and Possible Side Effects. He is always brutally honest, totally unsparing of himself and others and always laugh-so-hard-you-weep funny. With every book that comes out I am amazed afresh at his ability to deliver the truth in beautifully written and penetrating prose. It’s never this received-wisdom-cliché stuff that we often call truth, it’s always fresh and surprising, as though he has a special lens through which to see the world which is denied the rest of us, yet once we’ve read his description we too can see through this lens and be enlightened. Every book of his I read changes the way I think.

This is How is a series of essays, a sort of instruction manual for important moments in life: how to overcome alcoholism (“How to Finish Your Drink”) or obesity (“How to Be Fat”), how to present yourself at a job interview (“How to Get the Job”), and an incredible essay on grief and how to be with a dying loved one (“How to Lose Someone You Love”) which took my breath away. I tried to read some of this brilliant chapter to Justin, and I broke down and cried so hard I could hardly speak. I am not the weepy type, so when I say I actually cried, and I don’t mean a single glistening tear kind of crying, but actual needing-a-Kleenex, embarrassing gulping kind of crying, it is really something. It is so real, so true – Burroughs has clearly gone through this immense pain more than once. There are funny parts where he counsels the use of good food to counteract the shock of bad news. Doctor wants to talk to you about your test results? You get fries. Doctor wants to talk to you in person and not on the phone? Cheese fries. (I’m paraphrasing, not directly quoting because Justin is using my Reader to read Rick Riordan to the girls right now.) I just love that. But he’s not being facetious or flip; he’s funny, but he’s not kidding. This book is full of thoughtful, truthful and touching advice that I have taken to my heart. And it was great fun to read; even when I was crying I was smiling with the joy that his writing gives me. Pure gold.

Enough gushing – read it. He is my god.

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Quinoa Salad Part 2: Southwest Quinoa Salad

Luckily for me, my husband will eat whatever I cook and put in front of him, so when I made two quinoa salads within about 4 days he did not complain. Also he has perceived that it is healthy eating and he’s starting to come on board with that concept.

I got this recipe from a friend – and cousin by marriage – who I wish lived in Vancouver, I only see her once a year when we visit Vancouver Island. She’s very cool to hang out with, and also an awesome cook. She made this salad when she came to Bowser and very graciously gave me the recipe. I have named it Southwest Quinoa Salad because that’s how it strikes me. I’ve made a few alterations for my kitchen as her recipe was written for a commercial kitchen (she used to own a café). So yummy!

Southwest Quinoa Salad

Southwest Quinoa Salad

  • 1 1/3 c. quinoa – cooked in rice cooker like white rice on the quick cook 20-minute setting, completely cooled
  • 1/2 c. corn – frozen or canned
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 c. red onion, minced and blanched under boiling water then shocked with cold and drained
  • 1 c. tinned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • handful fresh cilantro, chopped

You can roast the corn and red pepper if you like. Cool before adding.


  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 t. chilli powder
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional)

You essentially mix everything together! I love this kind of salad. It lasts a couple of days in the fridge as well. The original recipe included the zest of the limes but I found my limes were quite strong so I didn’t need it. Obviously you can adjust the dressing to suit your own tastes as I’ve done.

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So how was the picnic?

It was great! Um, I hear it was great. We were almost two hours late so we essentially missed most of it and then when we did arrive I was so stressed by being late that I was not feeling very social. I had all this food that I was too late to share. Talk about feeling foolish. So we had our nice teriyaki chicken/rice/salad meal, followed by cherries, then the kids took off to go swimming and coat themselves with sand. The sun went down at about eight and then the temperature was lovely and it was good for taking pictures. But by eight-thirty the last few people were gone. Awwwww…..

Beach Volleyball at Jericho Beach


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Hottest Day of the Year

So far, anyway. So I thought I’d turn on my oven to make Blueberry Coffee Cake – I found the recipe on the web and I’m going to have to apologize to wherever it came from because I forgot to make a note of it. But it needs lemon anyway and I made a few more modifications = new recipe?

Blueberry Coffee Cake (low fat)

oven: 375, 9 x 9 pan sprayed with nonstick and lined with parchment paper

You mix this up as you mix up muffins:

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour (I used Nutriflour)
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 c. plain nonfat yogurt
  • 3 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • juice and grated rind of 1 small lemon or 1/2 large lemon


  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. quick oats
  • 2 t. melted butter

1 1/2 c. blueberries

Make the streusel, mixing all ingredients together until crumbly.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mix until barely combined, add blueberries and mix until just combined. Pour into pan and sprinkle with streusel. Bake 35 minutes (test). Let cool before cutting as it’s a very soft cake.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

We are going to the beach today to surprise a friend for her birthday – her husband organized it and coincidentally it’s on the hottest day of the year. Each family is going to bring our own food but the husband is providing some treats also. What food is he providing for the hottest day of the year? Sushi and ice cream cake!!! He’s going to keep the sushi in our restaurant fridge, instead of in his car, so good thing there was space. But the ice cream cake is going to be very exciting in 30+ degree temperature. So like a guy, I love it. Also like a guy: Justin made it home alive from the White Cruise….but he lost his shoes. Not on the boat, at a house party afterwards. I could almost understand the boat, well, not really, but  – at someone’s house? How do you do that?

So I’ve spent my day preparing picnic food: o-nigiri rice balls, teriyaki chicken, salad, cucumber sticks, cherries, and blueberry coffee cake. I’ve just realized that I haven’t figured out drinks at all. I suppose that’s just like a girl. O well. At least I know where all my shoes are.

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Maybe the Canadian athletes’ outfits will be better in the Closing Ceremonies…

Or maybe not. Sigh. More pics here. Jean jackets. With patches on. My hand actually went up to cover my mouth when I saw these. This pic is my favourite because of the tie-worn-as-bandanna. Awesome.

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Quinoa Salad for a Hot Day


So, Vancouver is being hit with a heat wave! I know it doesn’t get as hot as other parts of the country, but that’s why we live here, because you can wear the same clothes year-round. So when the temperature gets to 26 Celsius I’m all, Seriously? And I used to live on the equator. But in very hot places everyone has air-conditioning. In Vancouver we only need it a few days a year so it’s not worth it, but when it’s hot, it’s awful. In the summer I watch the forecast and get anxious days in advance if high temperatures are predicted. Our house gets really hot and I can’t sleep in the heat. My office is upstairs and it’s horrible to work with your body parts sticking to your chair and desk. So I prepared Quinoa Salad so we’d have something cool and light to eat for dinner and also so I’m not dealing with a hot stove. I’d barbecue but our barbecue isn’t working and we haven’t fixed it yet because, I don’t know. Maybe it’s really comforting to have yet another nonfunctioning piece of equipment in our garage.

My friend C introduced me to quinoa last year – I bought some, but  I didn’t get into it in a big way because I wasn’t sure how to use it, my mother can’t tolerate it, and I was pretty sure the kids would refuse to eat it. But we were eating it in Bowser and I love it so I’m going to force the kids to eat it. I felt really stupid saying “Oh, the girls won’t eat that,” when we were organizing menus. So I’d make them rice and steamed vegetables when the rest of us are having these gourmet meals. It felt really neurotic, like I have poodles instead of children, so I’m going to make an effort to have them eat what we eat.

I’ve now had two kinds of quinoa salad – one is dressed with a basic vinaigrette and has feta cheese, and the other is a kind of Southwest flavoured one. I’m going to post this first kind because that’s the one I just made so it’s fresh in my mind.

Quinoa Salad with Feta

I use a rice cooker to cook quinoa – two “rice cooker” cups is about 1 1/3 c. and I use the water measurement in the pot. But you can cook about 1 1/2 c. quinoa in 3 cups of water – bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Then remove the quinoa to a large bowl and spread it into a thin layer so it cools down quickly. I put this in the fridge and stir it a few times until it’s completely cool.

While the quinoa cooks, prepare vegetables by dicing quite small:

  • 2 medium tomatoes – I remove the seeds and juice first
  • 1/3 long English cucumber
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 1/4 c. red onion – mince this, put in a  small bowl and pour boiling water over it. Let sit a minute then drain and rinse well with cold water, drain again.
  • small handfuls of: cilantro and flat leaf parsley, and a smaller handful of mint leaves – mince these
  • 1/2 c. corn (frozen or canned)
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese – in very small dice or crumbled if it’s the really crumbly kind


  • 3 T. white wine or red wine vinegar
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1 t. grainy mustard

Shake together in a jar or whisk in a bowl.

When the quinoa is totally cool, add all the ingredients and toss gently together.


It’s not actually as hot as I was afraid it was going to be. There’s a nice breeze….



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