before it's over: a soup for summer

As August begins to reach its end each year I begin to pick up my pace. Everything feels slightly more accelerated and slightly more pressing. I begin buying fruit in bulk. My kitchen would suggest that I am preparing for some long days of industrial canning, or for a situation in which the several fruit markets down the street are forced to shut down. In all actuality I'm not preserving or freezing or saving any fruit (or at least not much of it) for when the days become colder. Instead I am just eating it all. And a lot of it. You know what they say about living in the moment. My version of living in late summer moments is eating as much watermelon and as many peaches as I possibly can. 

In addition to fruit, I am enjoying all other raw foods before I preheat my oven and keep it busy over the next few months with vegetables to roast and pies to bake. The weather has been cooperating almost perfectly with this venture. A few minutes out on my balcony and I break into a sweat. These hot temperatures are destined to leave Munich in a few days, but for as long as they last you can find me sitting in the sun eating avocado buttermilk soup. I'll probably be wearing cut-offs and I'll most likely be drinking a cold beer or some lemonade. 

Cold soup is a funny thing. I automatically associate soup with blankets, scarves and Russian literature. Just the word itself makes me want to curl up and light a candle or two. It makes me want to toast some bread and brew some tea. The mention of soup doesn't necessarily make me think of cut-offs or beer. In my mind soup is branded as a winter dish so as the weather warms up each year I find myself being reminded that soup does not need to be hot. No matter how much gazpacho or cold cucumber cream soup I eat in a summer as soon as fall comes around I forget about summer soup.

However, I'm sure that I won't forget about avocado buttermilk soup even when I am wearing snow boots. Avocados are certainly one of my staples. You'll rarely not find one in my kitchen. I eat them more days than not. My fondness for them should be obvious enough that I can skip words like love and addicted and dependent. All those adjectives, however, can also be applied to how I feel about buttermilk so my feelings for avocado and buttermilk soup are a no-brainer. 

This soup is refreshing yet creamy. It is cold in temperature and rich in flavour. It is simply all that anyone could ever ask a summer soup to be. Go make it now before autumn whisks summer away.

Chilled Avocado Buttermilk Soup

serves 2 as an appetizer or 1 as a main


1 ripe avocado 
 1/2 cup buttermilk
sea salt
1/3 of a shallot, diced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
juice of half a lime
1 heaping tsp pumpkin seeds, plus more for garnish
1/2 - 2/3 cup water 
black pepper

Cut the avocado in half. Scoop out the flesh and reserve about a third of one half. Set that third aside (if you keep the pit with the avocado it will prevent it from turning brown).

In a blender mix together the avocado, buttermilk, salt, shallot, cayenne pepper, lime juice, pumpkin seeds and 1/2 cup water. Blend until completely smooth and then check for consistency. If you want a thinner soup add more water.

Pour the soup into two glasses or one bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving.

When the soup is ready to serve, dice the remaining avocado. Garnish the soup with avocado chunks, pumpkin seeds, salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne (and some fresh herbs if you please). Serve immediately while it is still cold.



the geography of canadian food: summer in toronto

I have been an international exchange student. When studying in another country, amongst a group of classmates that are culturally diverse, one inevitably encounters the international potluck. Such a potluck entails that one brings a dish from one's home country. It is the United Nations of dinners. With your hands you're tearing into a piece of fresh pita and smothering it with hummus and with your spoon your scooping up Yuanxiao. German students bring Bratwurst. Senegalese students bring groundnut stew. American students bring hamburgers. Lebanese students bring tabbouleh. Vietnamese students bring coffee with sweetened condensed milk. And Canadian students might bring any of the above. 

Canadian food is rather tricky to describe. It can be everything and anything. It is Chinese hot pot one night and grilled cheese the next. It is pupusas for lunch and then fried chicken for dinner. It is Japanese tapas before a concert and then it is poutine (maybe even with foie gras) after. It is a smoked meat sandwich with a pickle on the side.

Canadian food doesn't take geographical borders too seriously and it is certainly not afraid of fusion. Case in point: the Hungary Thai in Toronto's Kensington Market. You just read Hungary as in the country and not hungry as in wanting to eat (although the Hungry Thai is also the name of a chain of Thai food restaurants in Toronto). The menu offers a combo of Hungarian and Thai food. It serves spring rolls and cabbage rolls, pad-thai and Schnitzel. Like I said, Canadian food can be everything and anything.

I am certainly not going to be able to offer a single definition of Canadian food and I don't think that anyone can. It really is quite personal. What is considered Canadian food will depend on where one lives in Canada (the West coast or the East, on the prairies or next to the ocean, in a city or on a farm), one's family background (Persian or Polish, Ojibwe or Mexican, Pakistani or Haitian). 

All I can say about food in Canada is that for my family and I it is based more on ingredients than it is on specific dishes (with the exception of a few Polish staples that the family keeps alive generation after generation). Sweet wild blueberries in the summer. Aged steak on the barbecue. Peaches n' cream corn with nothing more than butter and salt. Pumpkin in the fall. West coast smoked salmon on Montreal bagels. And oysters whenever.

I can also say that during the three weeks I spent in Toronto and Honey Harbour this summer I ate extremely well. 

Good Eats, Toronto Style

lots and lots of peaches n' cream corn

patty pan squash at the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market 

grilled peaches that we ate with candied walnuts and Kawartha Dairy's vanilla ice cream 

grilled scapes with olive oil and lemon juice

fish tacos and sangria at The Bellevue in Kensington Market

churros in Kensington Market

chicken liver pate and East Coast oysters at the Ceili Cottage in Leslieville 

poutine at St. Jacobs (a lot of the farmers are Mennonites) 

* * * *

David Rakoff, the humorist and writer, recently died. He was a long time contributor to This American Life and as an ode to his life and the great wit with which he lived it the show put out an episode in remembrance of David. David happened to be Canadian and the first act of the episode is about the sixth sense that all Canadian have: knowing who else is Canadian. I've listened to it twice. It is that good. Furthermore, it is so Canadian. Listen to it here.  

I was in Kassel over the weekend to see Documenta. The exhibition includes works by a handful of Canadian artists including Brian Jungen, Emily Carr, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Gareth Moore, Tamara Henderson and Geoffrey Farmer. When I encountered any of their work I found myself saying ". He is Canadian. She is Canadian. They're Canadian." It is like an automatic reflex. I just can't help it. Just like David, there must be a chip in my head.


for another season

I am a canning convert. 

And if you are also a canning convert I certainly recommend rushing out to buy the rest of this summer's cherries and then preserving them in brandy. Need I say more? That alone would convince me. 

Brandied cherries are incredibly gratifying to make. They are also simple and you do not even have to process the jars to preserve. The cherries will keep in the fridge for up to a year.

I got an early start on autumn eating already a month ago when Munich's weather took a turn from bad to worse. I rescued some chilled escarole growing on my balcony and served it with brandied cherries, toasted walnuts, and slices of hot duck breast. This was before I went to tropical Canada. Now it appears that I brought the tropical temperatures back to Munich. However, these cherries go just as well with late summer as they do with autumn. Warm them slightly and eat them with vanilla ice cream or mascarpone.

Or add them to a cheese plate and combine them with chevre. Or make a brandied cherry sauce for roasted poultry. They're versatile and they're worth it. Plus, you can be lazy like me and not bother with their pits and stems.

Brandied Cherries 

adapted from Skye Gyngell's 'My Favourite Ingredients'

yields 3 1/4 pint jars


3 cups cherries (330g / 3/4 pound)
200 ml good brandy - I used apple brandy
1/2 cup sugar
130 ml water

Wash cherries well, leaving their stems on, and then lay them to dry on a clean cloth.

Pour the brandy, water and sugar into a small saucepan and heat it over medium heat to dissolve the sugar and to warm the mixture. Stir occasionally.

Pack the cherries into three sterilized jars. Pour the warmed brandy over the cherries and make sure that the cherries are submerged. Seal the jars. 

Let the jars sit in a dark place for about a week for the flavours to develop and then store the jars in the fridge for up to one year.



for the love of kale

There is a lot of talk about kale these days. Kale in soups. Raw kale massaged until it is soft enough to become a salad. Kale crisps. Pesto made with kale instead of the usual basil. And, of course, kale smoothies. It is as if kale is the new poster-girl for healthy eating. She is strong, that Kale, and she makes spinach look weak in comparison. People just can't get enough of her.

Although you'll find recipes on Paper Doll Parade that further support the powerful tradition that is the holy trinity of flour, butter and sugar, I'm all for healthy eating. Let us not forget Julia Child's sound advice: "Everything in moderation . . . including moderation." So in addition to my love of baking, I too am crazy about kale. 

However, that crazy took a while to develop. I first tried kale when I was living in Copenhagen. Curly kale is an important part of any Danish julbord. My first encounter was with kale stew. Let's say that it tasted much better than it looked (although this is the usual case for kale with the exception of maybe Tuscan kale soup). Kale didn't come up again in my life until a few years later when I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn. It was the day after Halloween and we decided to treat ourselves and our very dehydrated bodies to a hefty brunch in Bushwick. Each main came with the option of a side or two and the waiter listed massaged kale as an option. "Excuse me," I said, "massaged kale?" With rather suggestive hand gestures, he explained that with the assistance of some salt, lemon juice and olive oil, the kale is massaged until the leaves shine a shinier green and it is much easier to chew. "Sold," I said. That massaged kale was a turning point and ever since I have looked at this funky variety of cabbage all the more suggestively.

Even though kale may be a superstar of a vegetable it still has a season and that season is autumn and winter. At least this is the case in Europe as in Canada it somehow grows all year round. Oh Canada, another reason why I miss you. That said, because kale is eaten only in a particular season in Germany it has more rituals attached to it. Take for instance the North German example of a Gruenkohlfahrt, a kale tour of sorts. Germans celebrate the kale season by eating large quantities of it alongside sausages and schnapps. Anyone care to join me on one next year? Oh Germany, this is why I love living here. Is there anything you can't make into a celebration with sausages and schnapps?

If you are not able to celebrate kale with a Gruenkohlfahrt perhaps just celebrate its nutritious qualities and vibrant green colour by making it into a smoothie. This summer I have gotten hooked on the combination of fresh peach, greens and coconut water. In Germany I usually make this smoothie with Swiss Chard, but while I was in Canada I took full advantage of being able to buy kale all year round.  

A Peachy Green Smoothie

serves 1-2


1 peach
a handful of kale (or Swiss Chard or spinach)
1 frozen banana (or 1 banana + 2 ice cubes)
a small knob of fresh ginger, grated (or 1/4 tsp ground ginger)
1 cup coconut water
honey or agave to taste

Wash the kale and peach well. Chop both into chunks. Combine the peach, kale, banana, ginger and coconut water in a blender and blend until smooth. Add honey and agave to taste and then blend some more.



from peaches to plums

Canada spoiled me. From food to friends and from family to fresh cut french fries, my visit back home had me bursting with love and gratitude (as well as a belly full of early cobs of Ontario peaches n' cream corn). 

In fact I'm still bursting as I settle back into life in southern Germany. I already miss Ontario and its peaches, but Europe's plums are just beginning to peak and a weekend road trip to Saarland might just find me with my hands and mouth full of Mirabelle plums. Another reason to burst! I'll be on the road for the next few days - hoping to encounter Reine Claudes plums in addition to tiny yellow ones - but I will be back next week with tales from a hot Canadian summer as well as a recipe.

Happy weekend.

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