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Strawberry Vanilla Curd and The Summer Everything Changed

The summer I was 13 was one of the best and one of the worst of my life. The best because I was finally old enough to be a counsellor at the sleep-away camp my sister and I went to each summer. The worst because that's the summer my parents broke up.

The day we got home from camp, we knew right away something was wrong.

 'Mum, where are all of Dad's clothes?', we asked.

Looking back now, I realize how devastated and scared my Mum must have been, and so, she lied.

'Your father's away at a hockey tournament'.

At 13 and 11 years old, we were still naive and trusting, never questioning that it wasn't true. 

Two weeks later we were still asking, 'When is Dad coming home?'. I can only imagine how it must have felt for Mum to have to say the words, 'Your father moved out. He's not coming home.'

The words that changed everything.

Before my parent's separated my Mum would cook and bake all of the time - roast beef dinner with Yorkshire puddings, homemade strawberry rhubarb jam, chocolate cake with boiled icing, lemon meringue pie and the best homemade meatballs in the world. She's a wonderful cook and baker and to this day, my Dad still says that about her. But that summer, after he left, it wasn't just their marriage that ended. After he left, my mum didn't cook or bake anymore.

From that point on, and until I was 18, my sister and I lived on an endless supply of processed meats, grilled cheese sandwiches, Mr. Noodles, fast food, frozen microwave dinners and hot dogs. My Mum would fill the fridge with stuff that could be assembled quickly and easily by her two teenaged daughters as she went back to school, for the first time since before I was born, trying desperately to get her new life on track.

Strawberry season in Nova Scotia always reminds me of happy times. When I was a kid you couldn't buy strawberries year round - it wasn't an option. You had to wait for strawberry season. I have clear memories of being a kid, holding a plate of my Mum's homemade strawberry shortcake, luscious red Nova Scotia strawberries piled high, sugary pink syrup soaking the cake, whipped cream billowing from the sides.  It's one of the best food memories I have. This Strawberry Curd recipe is a small tribute to my deep love for Nova Scotia strawberries and the deeper love and admiration I have for my Mum, who has experienced more struggle and heartache in her life than anyone rightly deserves. 

Strawberry Vanilla Curd

1 box Nova Scotia strawberries

1 Tbsp Port

1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 C sugar, divided in half

5 egg yolks

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 C butter

- wash, hull and rough chop strawberries - place in medium sized pot on med/low heat with Port, Vanilla Bean scrapings and 1/2 C sugar - cook 7-10 minutes until strawberries are soft

- in a med/large bowl, whisk remaining 1/2 C sugar, egg yolks and salt

- when strawberries are soft, drain the juice from the berries into a heat proof vessel (you only need 1/2 C juice for the curd - if you have extra, mix it with club soda for a refreshing summer drink - make sure you scoop out your vanilla bean seeds into your 1/2 C juice - most of mine ended up in my soda) - while whisking yolks, drizzle in 1/2 C hot strawberry juice, a little at a time, whisking constantly, until all juice is incorporated

- add egg yolk mixture back to pot with cooked strawberries and cook over med/low heat for about 10 minutes, or until thick and creamy - pour into heatproof jars and cool - I served mine (pictured above) on a slice of Julien's baguette with some Hug Your Nanny Goat Cheese

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Rhubarb Curd Pudding Cups

 I owe my love of lemon curd to Aimée White - Food Je t'Aimée. It was during a tea party at her house that I had my first encounter with this gorgeous tart and creamy spread.

It's been an ongoing love affair and since that afternoon, I've played with recipes for lemon, lime and Clementine curds. Walking through the farmer's market the other day, I noticed that Noggins had lush bunches of fresh pink and green spring rhubarb. After the obligatory rhubarb crisp for Sean, my thoughts turned toward curd and I thought, why not?

Totally winging it, as I normally do, I used my favourite lemon curd recipe and just substituted a pound of washed, chopped rhubarb for the lemon juice and zest. I thought about straining out the chunks of rhubarb but in the end said screw it and decided to leave them in for flavour and texture.

Oh my.

You want to make this. Trust me.

I made this Vanilla Pudding Recipe from CHOW.com and layered it in cups with the rhubarb curd and a sweet little Amaretti cookie on top.

Rhubarb Curd

1 pound (454g) fresh rhubarb, washed, chopped (use as many bright pink pieces as possible including the parts around the bottom of the stalks)

1 Tbsp water

1 C sugar

4 egg yolks

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 C butter

- combine rhubarb, water and 1/2 C sugar in a pot - cook on medium-low heat until rhubarb is very soft, about 14 minutes - smoosh all pieces with the back of a rubber spatula or mash with a potato masher

- whisk egg yolks, kosher salt and remaining 1/2 C sugar - scoop out about 1/2 to 1 Cup hot rhubarb and whisk it into the egg yolk mixture a little bit at a time to temper the yolks and then add everything back to the pot with the remaining hot rhubarb - whisk together

- add butter and cook over med-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until thick and creamy

- dish into clean Mason jars or other airtight storage containers

*I usually halve this recipe and it makes two 250mL Mason jars full of curd

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Orange Cardamom Olive Oil Cupcakes with Orange Blossom Water Buttercream

After spending the last two weeks developing and cooking savoury dishes, yesterday I heard the call of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and... olive oil?!?

I was going to make these because a) they look amazing and b) my friend Carlo keeps asking me to make them, but, seeing as I had no whipping cream in the house (a highly unusual occurrence) I had to work with what I had.

I used this recipe from the Food Network for the cake and I added one teaspoon of freshly crushed cardamom seeds. I filled mini Martha Stewart cupcake liners 3/4 full with cake batter and baked for 10 minutes at 350.

Now, many of you know I use Nanny Burke's Buttercream as my go to, but I felt like trying something different yesterday, and besides, who doesn't love Sweetapolita?!? (If you don't know Sweetapolita, go there, right now. She is amazing!!!) I used her recipe for Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting and I added one teaspoon of Orange Blossom Water which I bought at the Mid-East Food Centre on the corner of North and Agricola. Oh my it was good.

My piping skills still need work, but I still thought these were cute, and far too tasty, not to share.