Thursday, February 7, 2019

Last Words

In May of 1998, I met a guy who for some inexplicable reason was interested in being more than friends with me, so we were more than friends. He will always occupy a special place in my memory because he was the very first man that gave me the gift of intimacy more than once. I was 32.

We were quite poorly suited, but I was oblivious to that. Someone had been cast in the role of Boyfriend and that was a huge check mark on my list.

Time, however, had no issue with showing both of us the flaws in our current situation and I was then back into my Mum's orbit for council. The following is the last thing Catherine Bolan ever wrote to me. I keep it folded up in a heart-shaped box with a heart-shaped stone on top.

There is nothing for you to be afraid of. You have achieved such a lot through work and perseverance, that it is impossible to conceive that you should be afraid of failure of any kind. This situation you are in is not the beginning or the end of anything. Don't take things at face value. There's very little in life that is as it appears. Q & A; that's what you need and you need it now, for your own peace of mind. Do not put it off.

Still working on the complete fulfillment of this advice, Mum, and I will never give up. You are still my shining star, and by the way, I did actually find the One True Love of my Life. You would have loved him.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Saag Paneer: An Instant Pot Story

After more failed attempts than I care to admit, I just managed to hit on the spice formulation I like for a saag dish. There are so many different saag recipes out there with wildly different proportions that I just had to keep experimenting. You, however, don't have to:

Saag Paneer

1/4 pound fresh paneer
1 medium onion diced
2-3 tablespoons ghee
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 bunches fresh spinach
2 bunches mustard greens
1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons chile powder (less if you don't like spicy food)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons garam masala


  • Wash the spinach and mustard greens thoroughly. No, like really thoroughly. Now spin them dry.
  • Cube the paneer and sauté it in ghee until it turns golden brown
  • Toast the cumin seeds in a non-stick pan until they darken
  • Measure your garam masala into a bowl to add at the end
  • Measure your remaining dry spices into a bowl
  • Measure your garlic and ginger into a bowl
  • Dice your onion


  • Turn your Instant Pot onto the sauté setting and add the remaining ghee and onions.
  • Sauté until the onions are beginning to turn brown.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté.
  • Add the remaining dry spices and stir until well combined.
  • Add the chicken stock and deglaze the bottom of the pot.
  • Add all the greens and squash them down so they fit.
  • Cook on high pressure for 8 minutes.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree the greens.
  • Add the paneer, garam masala, and unsalted butter
  • Simmer for ten minutes or so.
Serve with rice or naan.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Gagne Family Sukiyaki: This is going to be complicated

My Dad was born in Ontario, Canada, and my Mum was born in Lincolnshire, England. That's already a somewhat complicated life. Now take all that and move it to Bainbridge Island, Washington. That places the ingredients of my background into a cultural mix that includes people from the Philippines, and Japan, not to mention others.

My Mum converted to Roman Catholicism in order to marry my Dad, and that put her into a community by default. She may have been utterly rejected by her new in-laws (she was) but she had a built-in community at Saint Cecelia's Church. I suppose that's where this story really starts.

My God-mother was a woman named Kimiko Sakai, but we all grew up knowing her as Auntie Kim. She and her husband Toshiro (Uncle Tosh) went to our same church, and she and my Mum built a friendship out of their shared sense of being alien. Despite having been born and raised on Vashon Island, Kimiko knew she would alway be 'other' because of her Japanese heritage. To her credit, my Mum understood that, though her own English background was much more palatable to the Bainbridge Island sensibility, that she would also always be 'other.'

I'm not very good at remembering things. I get pictures and feelings, but I'm not the kind of person who can tell you the colour of my sweater on the first day of third grade. I remember being in Auntie Kim's house many times. I remember her beautiful Japanese garden. I remember Uncle Tosh lifting weights in the basement of their house and praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary for strength before hand. I remember her mother-in-law (Botchan) working in the fields. I remember being in the kitchen while Botchan prepared food and helping a little.

So, when I had my very first kitchen of my own, what did I make? Sukiyaki! It was a favourite growing up, and I wanted comfort! I called Mum for the details. How much soy sauce? How much aji-mirin? Never mind the fact that there wasn't a soul within miles who knew what aji-mirin was. I made do.

Through all my years of being a vegetarian, I could deal with missing bacon, but missing Sukiyaki was a lacuna I couldn't accept.

So here, my dear reader, is my current Gagne Family Sukiyaki recipe based on half-remembered formulas and strange emotional attachments but I will promise you one thing: there's nothing but fucking love in the bottom of that pot. I'll wager my soul on that.

Gagne Family Sukiyaki


1 cup soy sauce
1 cup aji-mirin
1 cup sake
1/3 cup erythritol (working on the carbs, eh?)
2 eggs beaten

Warm the sauce ingredients until the erythritol is melted. Allow to cool, then add the beaten eggs.


Brown the beef
1lb sukiyaki meat
(if that's a mystery to your grocer, move on. There's no substitute for paper-thin marbled beef)
3 scant pinches of aji-no-moto
1 white onion
1 bundle green onion
1 bundle celery
3 bundles bok choi
1 carrot made into flowers
(because that's what Grandma Sakai fucking DID, Carole)
1 can water chestnuts
3-4 mushrooms
Add onions

Brown the beef. Add three slant pinches of aji-no-moto
Add the onions and stir until they start to soften
Add the non-green ingredients
Add the sauce
Add the green ingredients
Cover the pot and start to blog about your background.

Then it's all good.

The white layer

Add the sauce

It takes a lot of green

 Bubble bubble in progress

Yup. That's the stuff.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Creamy Garlic Brussels Sprouts

1. Ingredients (sans parmesan)
This recipe was inspired by one that I found through Facebook. I executed it per instructions on a weekday evening, and I found it cumbersome. I'm willing to deal with one or two phases in a weeknight recipe, but not four. I don't really have time or attention for that level of fuss when I have my outfit to plan for the next day.

I did, however, love the basic flavour profile, so started think of ways to modify and simplify. This is the result. Even starting from un-touched Brussels sprouts, I would do this on a weeknight. It takes about 20 minutes from melting butter to that-look-in-his-eye from the boyfriend.

Creamy Garlic Brussels Sprouts

  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half a stick, yo?)
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 4 cups peeled Brussels sprouts sliced in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 generous tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
  • Grated parmesan to taste
  • 2. Onions seconds before becoming black
Melt the butter over low heat, then add the onions. Turn your burner up to high, and within about four minutes your onions will start to brown and crisp. Add the dry spices and stir thoroughly. (photo 2)

Add the Brussels sprouts. Stir constantly as the onions become blackened and the edges of the sprouts start to caramelize. When most of the spouts show some crisping, add the garlic and stir. (photo 3)

Add water to the corn starch to make a slurry. Add to the whipping cream and pour over the sprouts. Return the pan to low heat. Cover and simmer for about five minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan prior to serving. (photo 3)

Prepare for marriage proposals.
3. Ready for simmering!
4 Please, don't beg. I'm taken.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Welsh Rarebit

Once upon a time there was a very nice woman from Sussex who with her equally nice and Sussex-y husband ran a tea shop in a small seaside town. The very strange thing about this teashop was that it was not in England. It was, in fact, in Poulsbo, Washington, where I was raised. My English mother was so enamored of this place and the couple who ran it that she and I would go there at least once a week. For their part, I'm sure that the proprietors were entirely delighted to have a local ex-pat as such an enthusiastic patron and promoter.

Pronunciation tip: In many if not most English accents the letter 'r' is only pronounced at the beginning of a word. In the middle and end, it is silent, but changes the quality of the vowel before it. So, Americans usually hear "rabbit" when someone says "rarebit." If you're lucky like me and have someone who can read International Phonetic Alphabet it's /ˌwelʃ ˈreəbɪt/

Learn more about it here: Welsh Rarebit
Her menu was a straight-forward one. High tea, scones with Devonshire cream, ploughman's lunch, etc. My personal favourite was the Welsh rarebit. It's a kind of cheese sauce made with... well, you'll see what it's made with in the recipe below. I hadn't had it for perhaps thirty years when for some reason weekend before last I decided to try to make it for Doug and me.

It took a few experiments, but at last I have a recipe that closely matches the one I enjoyed so often with my dear mother in Mrs. Sussex's tea room. No, that wasn't really her name; play along, OK?

Welsh Rarebit

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup India pale ale
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 slices of bread for serving
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook until the mixture starts to brown.

Remove from heat and whisk in the cream and beer. Add the mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.

Return the pan to the burner and turn up to medium-high. Whisk the sauce continuously until fully thickened.

Add the shredded cheese in small handfuls, adding more as it melts into the sauce. Toast the bread and pour the rarebit over top. For an extra bit of fun, put the plates under a broiler for a few minutes to slightly brown the sauce.

Serves four generously as a side dish.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Beef, Barley, and Mushroom Soup: An Instant Pot Story

One of my all time favourite Winter soups is Beef Barley. I'd never made it before, but it was always my first choice when it was gloomy and gray outside. After going on my low carbohydrate diet to get my diabetes in remission, I learned to just not think about the foods that I needed to avoid, so as to not let myself feel the kind of self-pity that leads to unhealthy choices.

Today, however, as I am approaching my fourth anniversary in diabetic remission I decided to just go look up how much carbohydrate is barley. Quite a lot, but lots of fibre too. I tentatively did some searching for Instant Pot recipes and to my surprise, discovered that many of them had as little as 2/3 of a cup of uncooked barley. That's only 80 grams in an entire pot of soup!

So, my usual routine: I read six or seven different recipes and then went off on my own. The result was a smashing success and I have my favourite Winter soup again!

Fifteen minutes prep and 30 under pressure.

Beef, Barley, and Mushroom Soup

  • 1 diced onion
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 sliced carrot
  • 1 sliced celery stalk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 lb beef stew meat
  • 1  lb pureed Roma tomatoes
  • 64 oz beef stock
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 2/3 cup pearled barley
Set the Instant Pot to sauté and when the display reads "Hot" pour in the olive oil and diced onion. Sauté for about five minutes, then add the beef and continue until it is browned. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Put the lid on the pot and hit the "Meat / Stew" button and go watch an episode of The Crown.

When the buzzer goes, do a quick pressure release, remove the bay leaves, and go to town!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Project 57: Retirement Aloha Shirt

Early in 2017, a longtime co-worker announced his plans to retire at the end of the year. He had often commented on a particular one of my Aloha shirts, and asked me if I would make one for him. Tailors choice of design, etc. I was quite happy to accept the commission, especially since we're the same size and I wouldn't have to create a one-time use pattern.

The fabric that I had used had shiny gold ink in the design, which though fabulous for a showy person like myself, would have been too much for the laid-back retiring scientist. I decided to do some color blocking to reduce the overall shine and told him that his shirt would be hand-wash / hang dry. He said that was fine.

I love it. He loves it.

Happy retirement, Mark!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Project 56: Tartan Dress

True confession time: It was supposed to be a long jacket over a black flowing skirt and blouse, but things happened.

For many years, Penny and I co-directed the Gaelic music program for Slighe nan Gaidheal. A couple of years ago I decided to retire and she took over on her own. This last year, they took on the project of assembling a four-part choir to compete in Scotland at the Royal National Mòd.

Penny came to me about six months ago and asked for an outfit to wear while conducting the choir. I had an immediate vision of a knee-length tartan jacket over a black silk blouse and flowing black skirt.

She gave me a list of the tartan designs that would be acceptable in descending order, and very luckily, I was able to find the second choice in sufficient supply of poly-viscose fabric at Fabricana in Richmond for a fraction of what wool tartan would cost in Scotland.

After producing several unsuccessful muslins, I finally got enough of the geometry right to proceed in fabric. The original design had just one button in front and functioned as a jacket, but I wasn't entirely pleased with the overall silhouette, so I gave it a serious think.

The solution that presented itself to me was to button all the way down the front, lose the skirt, and treat the jacket as a dress.

The only aspect of the original vision that I question is insisting on doing all the contour shaping at the side seams to avoid disruption to the tartan pattern in the front. I think I could have made it slightly more flattering if I had let myself add contour seams to the front at least.

Anyway, she got lots of compliments, so I feel good about the final product.