Watermelon salad

In the centre of Canada

The sky seems to be endless. And underneath the blue sky, which is broken up by ribbons of clouds, the wheat and canola fields are stretching out as far as the eye can see, seemingly going on till infinity. This is the centre of Canada.

I am on my way from the east to the west coast. I decided to travel over land, to get a good feeling of how big this country actually is. And to get to know what is in between the two, much more famous, coastal areas.

The first observation is simple: the distances are gigantic. The trip from Montréal to Vancouver is over 4500 kilometers, but it is interesting to experience the enormity of this country. Crossing Ontario takes a long time, it feels like this province will never end. Parts of the landscape are beautiful, with wetlands and small lakes surrounded by rocks and plenty of trees. Other parts of the road are just lined with trees, and that´s all there is. When finally driving into Manitoba, one of the prairie provinces, the landscape changes. It is flat, there are still some lakes, but also lots of grassland filled with cattle and agriculture. This type of landscape continues into Saskatchewan and Alberta. The cities in the region are quiet and maybe not particularly spectacular, but seem friendly and relaxed. And there are some surprises, like a tiny but amazing Mexican restaurant in Regina and a lively (maybe a bit too aggressive at the end) nightlife in Winnipeg. As is usually the case, meeting people is a large part of the experience. The fact that there are not that many other tourists always seems to help. Not only because you continue bumping into the same people in hostels so that there is some time to get to know each other better, but it also seems easier to get in touch with locals. Like the friendly Mexican chef in Regina who was very interested in seeing Europeans in town. Or the time in Thunder Bay that the owner of the guesthouse was celebrating the birthday of her sister with a barbecue, and the other person in the guesthouse and me were invited as well. It was cool to have a barbecue party with those ladies, with a fire in the backyard after.

Arriving in the province of Alberta I could stay for a weekend with a girl I know from back in the days, from elementary school. It is always great to see old friends, and it was nice to stay in a small village and get a bit of a taste of the life there. Together we went to two nature parks that were more than amazing. It is an almost surreal sight to see the mountains suddenly rising up in the middle of all those flat, agricultural plains. The splendours of nature…
I´m excited to see what will happen once I go even more westwards.

Traveling towards the west not only the landscape has changed. Over time it has also gotten warmer. Where I still had rain and twelve degrees in Thunder Bay, it is over the thirty degrees now. And especially on the days that I´m traveling long distances by bus I have cravings for something that is refreshing, light, and healthy. This salad is definitely perfect for warm summer days. I love it because of the combination of the fresh and sweet watermelon with salty ingredients like the cheese and the olives, and the acidity of the lime. Of course, it is great when having a barbecue or a picnic. But I also used to take it to work for lunch sometimes when I lived in Barcelona.

Watermelon salad

IMG_3351
Ingredients (for about 4 portions as a side dish, or 2 as main meal)

  • Watermelon – a piece of around 1500 grams
  • Red onion – a small one, or half if it´s a large one
  • Black olives – a good handful
  • A crumbly goats cheese – around 100 grams
  • Olive oil – preferably a good extra virgin one
  • 1 Lime
  • Small bunch of fresh basil or mint
  • Salt and black pepper

This is a very simple recipe, with not much work involved. Start by taking the rind of the watermelon and chopping the fruit in small cubes, about the size of a dice. If it has a lot of the black seeds, try to remove some of them. Peel the onion, cut it in half and slice into very thin half rings. When you are using black olives with the stone in, squeeze them with the flat side of a knife and take out the stone. When you use the pitted ones, slice them in half. Roughly chop the fresh herbs and squeeze the juice out of the lime.

Mix the watermelon, the onion, and the olives together. Add a small pinch of salt and black pepper, and toss most of the fresh herbs through the salad. Dress with about two tablespoons of olive oil, and the juice of the lime. Make sure to taste, in order to see if it has the right amount of sweetness, saltiness, and acidity. Finally, crumble the cheese over the salad, and top off with the rest of the fresh herbs. Serve with some good bread, and enjoy the freshness!

In case you want to take this salad somewhere on a picnic, or take it for lunch to work like I used to do, it is better not to add the lime juice yet. Just take the lime separately and squeeze it over when you are ready to eat.

Advertisements

Golden beet and carrot salad

Time flies

When I settle down somewhere and start working, it seems like the time suddenly passes by very fast. The past two months in the working rhythm in Montréal have honestly flown by. It seems to be a contrast to the two months before, traveling around Canada without a fixed schedule and having so many new experiences every day. I think the unpredictability of those traveling days makes you experience the time in a different way, with a bit more awareness, than the structured working life. But having said that, I certainly enjoy living in Montréal and seeing what life is really like here. The area in which I live has an exciting combination of beautiful architecture, cool street art, and nice bars and restaurants. When the sun is out, everybody seems to be hanging around in the parks, making music or just having some drinks or a picnic with friends. And close to my room is Mont Royal, a hill with an amazing view over the city that is a very nice place to go for a walk or to go running and where, during summer, the Tam-Tams take place every Sunday. The Tam-Tam is basically an informal festival that is based around a jam session with drums. When you arrive at the location it is quite a funny sight. There is such a random mixture of people, from the curious tourists to complete hippies and everything in between. The drummers are gathered around an old monument and are also people from all walks of life, just coming together to make music and enjoy the vibes. In the grass around the drummers friends gather, the atmosphere is very relaxed and public drinking and even marijuana are tolerated. The perfect place to just enjoy life.

Surely, an important reason for me to be living in Montréal for a while is earning some money to continue my trip through Canada. But besides that, I am also trying to get a feel of real life in Canada and to get to know as much of the city of Montréal as possible. One of my favourite places to go to, besides Mont Royal and its Tam-Tams, is a large fresh food market in Little Italy. It is a partially covered, lively market space that is open all year long. There are so many market stalls with fresh fruits and vegetables, most of them grown regionally. The amount of colours and textures is overwhelming and inspiring. Many of the stalls have samples of their products. And a lot of the people working there whom I spoke with are happy to help you find the best produce and share some ideas about cooking. Around the markets there are other shops with good produce as well. This includes a good bakery, which you can´t always find in North America in my opinion. I really enjoy the inspiration this place gives me, and strolling over the market is a good way for me to calm down after a busy day at work.

Because of their beautiful colours, the golden beets and heirloom carrots were begging to be bought during the past few weeks. So I could not resist them, and paired them into this simple warm salad with the sweet and juicy clementines I found as well.

Golden beet and carrot salad

IMG_2423

This salad can be eaten as a side dish or a lunch, but also as a full main dish if you just feel like some vegetables and good bread.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 8 small golden beets – or one of the really large ones
  • 8 – 10 small carrots – preferably the heirloom carrots in different colours
  • Black olives with stone – a good handful
  • Garlic – 1 small clove
  • 4 clementines
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bread, for serving

Start by prepping the beets and carrots. Peel the beets and chop in quarters. Sometimes you can only find large beets. In this case, peel them and chop them in bite size pieces. When you have found very small carrots, just take the upper part off and wash them. In case the peel of the carrots doesn´t look good, scrape it off. Chop the carrots lengthwise in half, or in quarters for the larger ones. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and the beets to the boiling water and parboil them for five minutes.

Meanwhile, take the stones out of the olives and half them. The easiest way for me is just to squeeze them with the flat side of a knife, and use your hands to take out the stone. Of course, you can use the ones where the stone has been taken out already. But I prefer this little bit of work, since I think the olives that still have the stone usually taste better. Next, peel the garlic and slice into very thin slices.
Cut the clementines in half and press the juice out of them. Add the honey to the clementine juice and mix it through well before seasoning with a good pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.

When the vegetables are parboiled, take them off the stove and drain. Heat a frying pan over a medium fire and add a good knob of butter. Once the bubbles in the butter start to disappear, add the beets and carrots. Fry the vegetables until they are starting to turn golden brown and to soften up. Then, add the clementine juice mixture to the pan. Toss the vegetables through the sauce to coat evenly. Leave this over high heat, and keep stirring until the mandarin and honey mixture starts to thicken up and caramelize. When the sauce is almost thickened up, add the garlic slices and the black olives. Fry until the sauce has caramelized and the vegetables look shiny and are still firm but soft inside. Make sure to check the seasoning in the end, you will probably need an additional pinch of salt.

Serve the vegetables with some good bread, and enjoy!

Meatballs with egg, artichokes and tomato

The Maritimes: lighthouses, people, and one-pan meals

Canada is not just a large country, it is massive. Of course, I am aware that it is the second largest country in the world. Still, every time the distances are a surprise again. Going down from Québec to The Maritimes took a good part of a day. But even though hanging around in buses and on bus stations can be tiring, the results were more than worth the effort. The Maritimes, consisting of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, are truly beautiful.

My first stop in this region was Saint John in New Brunswick. The town is small and the buildings are relatively old. The entire city seems sort of run-down. Not the gloomy and sad kind of run-down, but the way that makes the architecture more interesting, as if the place wants to tell you about its history. As an extra plus, it has the oldest continuing farmers´ market in Canada. Following a beautiful day in Saint John I traveled further south, down to Nova Scotia where I first visited the region around Halifax. The area is amazing, especially the rocky coast with scenic lighthouses scattered all along. The houses in the area are made out of wood and painted in bright colours that contrast with the blue water. And there are plenty of small harbours with fishing tools like lobster and crab nets laying around, ready for the fishing season to start. More to the east, on Cape Breton Island, the coast is not just rocky but there are actual mountains. The scenic road around the island, the Cabot Trail, has quite steep parts with stunning views over the ocean. Even on a foggy day when half of the mountains are hidden in the clouds, the views are amazing. The last province of the Maritimes, Prince Edward Island, is equally interesting. The island is known for the red earth, the colour of which especially pops out due to the blue sea and the white snow. Spectacular views all around!

But even when I thoroughly enjoyed the nature, the most amazing part were the people along the way. This already started in Saint John, where a Canadian and a French chef cooked an amazing dinner with fresh New Brunswick seafood for all people in the hostel (four including them and myself). In Halifax I went on a roadtrip with a girl I had met earlier in Québec City. And I bumped into the same French chef again. Since there are not so many people traveling in this area in winter, you do often meet the same travelers again in different places, and it is great to catch up and share experiences. Finally, the hostel I staid in on Cape Breton was actually more of a home-stay. I was the only guest, and the host took me around for a day to show me the highlights of her island. She was even surprised when I took her out for lunch as a thank you. In the end, those kind of meetings are the things that make traveling truly enriching.
Only on Prince Edward Island I staid in an Air BnB accomodation instead of a hostel, since the hostel there was still closed. The host was friendly, but he was busy working so I saw him only twice. Now this was clearly a bachelor house, and when I wanted to cook it turned out that there was just one frying pan as equipment. So this shows that one-pan meals, like the one here, can be very useful at times. And when you can make it for more people and actually share with people you met, even better! Because in my case, there were many more interesting and exciting meetings than the ones described here.

Meatballs with egg, artichokes and tomato

IMG_1939
Ingredients (for 2, but multiply if you want)

  • 300 grams of minced meat – the type of meat you prefer
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 kg of tomatoes, or a large can
  • 4 artichokes – either fresh or from a jar
  • 2 eggs
  • Lemon
  • 1 red chillipepper
  • Thyme – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Small bunch of fresh basil – although in the pictures I used mint since I couldn´t get basil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Bread, for serving

Start off by chopping the onion very finely. Place the minced meat in a bowl, and add a little less than half of the chopped onion to the meat. Also add a good pinch of salt, black pepper, and the thyme. Mix this together well. If you do not feel sure about the seasoning, you can fry a little bit of the meat mixture as a test. When you are satisfied with the flavours, shape the meat into small meatballs, about the size of a ping-pong ball.
Heat a dash of olive oil in your frying pan over a medium fire, the only pan you´ll need to use for this recipe. Add the meatballs and fry them until they have a nice brown colour all around. Take them out of the pan and set aside.

To prepare the tomato sauce, mince the garlic and chop the chilli first. If you don´t want the sauce too spicy, take the seeds out of the chilli. When you use fresh tomatoes, chop them finely. Wipe the pan you used to fry the meatballs, and add a small amount of olive oil. Fry the onion that you kept aside with a pinch of sugar. When the onion starts to soften, add the garlic and the chilli. Once the garlic becomes fragrant, add the tomatoes and the bay leaves to the pan and season with a good pinch of salt. In case you use canned artichokes, simply slice the artichokes in quarters and add them to the sauce. When you use the fresh ones, peel the outer leaves off until you are left with just the soft core. Cut off the hard tips of the leaves, and peel the stem. Half them and take the furry core out. Then slice them up and add them to the sauce straight away. Leave the sauce to simmer over a low fire for at least 15 minutes, but preferably longer, until it starts thickening up and becomes tasty. When you use fresh artichokes, check that they are tender, this will take a bit longer. Check the seasoning of the sauce and add a splash of lemon juice to taste.

Now it is time to take the meatballs you set aside and add them to the sauce. Leave this to simmer for another 10 minutes so that the flavours can combine and the meatballs can cook through. Take the bay leaves out of the pan. As a final step, crack the eggs in different places in the sauce between the meatballs. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top of each egg and cover the pan. Let this cook until the egg whites are solid but the yolks are still runny. It usually takes around 4 minutes. But since it also depends on the heat and the size of your eggs, just make sure you check so that you don´t overcook the eggs. Tear the fresh basil up and sprinkle over the top of the dish.

Serve the dish with some fresh bread to dip in the sauce. Enjoy!

IMG_1944

Vegetarian quesadillas

Snowstorms

After having arrived in Toronto I continued my travels through Canada via Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City. But then I decided it was time to try to go a bit off the standard big-city tour. As much as I like cities, I did feel like the nature and the smaller towns and villages in Canada would give me a better knowledge of the country.

So I took the bus up to Tadoussac. A small town, a bit northeast of Quebec City. In the summer it´s busy with people visiting for the whale watching tours. During winter, some people go there on snowmobile trips but it is much more quiet. The town itself has some pretty wooden houses, and the bay is beautiful, surrounded by hills with plenty of opportunities for snowshoeing. There is one hostel in Tadoussac. This is not your regular hostel but almost a small community. It is very chilled out, there are no locks to be found anywhere else than on the bathrooms and if you want you can have dinner with the people who live there as volunteers. And not just any dinner. The day before I arrived, a large group of people on snowmobiles had apparently visited the hostel and they had a big dinner. From what was left over of the meat of that evening we had a stew when I was there: including seal meat! There really is a first time for everything. And of course I know: poor seals…

After leaving Tadoussac I went a bit further up the coast, to Sept-Iles. Here it seemed like the houses were trying to play hide-and-seek behind the big piles of snow separating them from the street. I don´t think I´ve ever seen that much snow, but while I was there another snowstorm brought even more of it. Since not far after this town the normal road stops, I was forced to go down again. Regardless of many people advising me not to travel during winter (too cold, places are closed, etc) I rented a car to discover the Gaspésie peninsula. And yes, maybe it is the wrong time of the year to travel. On the day I was supposed to return my rental car I was completely stuck in the hostel due to a snowstorm, apparently one of the largest blizzards in Québec in a long time. In many places I have felt like I might have been the only foreigner there at that moment. The only other people in the hostels are usually Canadians, that have to be there for work. In the hostel I staid in Gaspé most of the other people were men that worked on placing the cables for fiber internet. But then again, the people are very friendly and helpful. And when you´re standing at a beautiful spot in nature, in complete silence, with the contrast between the white snow and the blue sky, it is just magical. So for now I´ll take the cold and the added difficulty of winter travel gladly for granted. But the cold temperatures, I think the coldest it has been for me was a real temperature of -25°C that felt like -35°C, and the hikes in the snow do make me hungry. And when I´m not in a place where they cook you dinner, I do feel like making something easy and comforting. And in the end, what is more comforting than molten cheese?

Vegetarian quesadillas

IMG_1514

Of course, there are many different possibilities for quesadilla fillings. When traveling, I usually make those two vegetarian fillings since the ingredients are not too expensive and they are easy to make.
If you happen to have all the spices mentioned below, great! That would always be the prefered situation. But the last time I made those quesadillas I realized the only thing for free in the kitchen was salt. No oil, no herbs, no spices. Unfortunately I discovered this a bit too late: somewhere around 8 pm in a place in a national park, where the nearest grocery store was some 15 km away. But without anything, it still worked out fine.

Ingredients (for 6 quesadillas)

  • 12 tortillas
  • A cheese that melts easily, like cheddar – 150 grams
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Mushroom filling:

  • Mushrooms – 200 grams
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tomatoes
  • Cilantro – a good bunch

Spicy bean filling:

  • Black beans or kidney beans – 1 can
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 dried chilli
  • Cumin – 3 heaped teaspoons
  • Cinnamon – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Oregano – 3 heaped teaspoons

If you are making both types of fillings, start by preparing the spicy bean filling. Finely chop the onion and tomato and mince the garlic. Add a dash of olive oil to a small pot and place this over medium fire. Cook the onion until it´s soft, and add the garlic. Also mix in the chilli, cumin, and cinnamon. When the garlic is fragrant, add the chopped tomato and a good pinch of salt. Mix it through well before adding the beans and the oregano. Poor in a quarter of a glass of water. If you have it, you can add a splash of beer as well. Leave this to simmer over a medium to high heat. When the beans are soft, this usually takes some 10 minutes, mash most of them using a fork. Turn the fire down to low and leave the beans mixture on the stove while stirring now and then, until all the liquid has evaporated. And of course, check in between to see if you need any adjustments to the flavouring.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of the onion and the tomato for the mushroom filling. Also chop the mushrooms in quarters and cut the cilantro. Place a frying pan, of the size in which the tortillas will fit later, over a medium hot fire with a bit of olive oil. Fry the onion until soft, and add the mushrooms, the tomato, half of the cilantro, and a pinch of salt. Fry this for about 7 to 10 minutes while stirring regularly.

While the both fillings are cooking, grate your cheese. When the mushrooms are ready, take them out of the pan and set aside. Clean the frying pan and place it over a medium fire, without any oil. Now the time has come to start assembling the quesadillas. Place one tortilla on a chopping board. Add an even layer of the mushroom filling (not too much). Just leave the edges free. Spread some cheese over it as well and some of the remaining cilantro. Place another tortilla on top, and transfer this to the frying pan. Fry for around 3 minutes, or until the tortilla that is on the bottom is golden and crispy. Then carefully flip it over and fry on the other side as well. When ready, take it out of the pan and divide in quarters. Repeat the same process, so spread out one of the fillings evenly over a tortilla, top with cheese and another tortilla, and fry in the dry pan on both sides until golden brown. Continue until both fillings are finished.

Of course, if you want to you can make a complete feast out of it by serving the quesadillas with sides like guacamole, sour cream, salsas, etc. In any case, enjoy!

Spicy bacon and tomato pasta

Traveling and Toronto

After two years of working in a full time job and living in an – in my opinion very nice – apartment, I felt the time had come to quit all of it and go traveling again. So, having canceled all the contracts and stored some boxes in a storage space in Barcelona, it is just me and my backpack here in Canada. It is the most amazing feeling to have this sense of freedom, to be able to go where you want to go, be inspired by new places, and meet new people every day. Of course, there are also things to get used to again; on the one hand you´re constantly surrounded by people in the hostels, but on the other hand solo travel has its lonely and stressful moments as well. And, there is no private kitchen to cook your meals. One day you might be in a hostel with awesome equipment and free herbs and spices, and the next day you can find yourself in a place with just one pan and a stove that doesn´t quite heat up. So not surprisingly, I always see a lot of people falling back to one-minute noodles and soup from a can. And there´s nothing wrong with that, once in a while. But since it is important to me to eat fresh and, more or less, healthy food, I did decide to start adding some hostel-proof recipes here. Because after all, going out for dinner every evening can be quite expensive, especially in a country like Canada (and let´s not even start about the price of a glass of wine).

So regarding my trip, after I left Barcelona I first flew to London and staid there for the night. Just in a hotel at the airport. With meat-pie, chips, and peas for dinner. Accompanied by a very popular – and in my opinion very stupid – reality show. After this evening of high-class culture I continued to Toronto the next morning. And honestly, after the flight it was nice to be in the hostel, quite a cozy place with a decent kitchen and a supermarket nearby. All I wanted at that moment was a big plate of pasta and a good sleep after. The first part worked out well. But when I was just in bed, I was woken up by the fire alarm. The dorm was on the 9th floor, and my roommates and I were wondering for a moment what was going on. Then we went down all the stairs and saw four large firefighter cars outside, and several firefighters with full equipment and big axes going into the hostel. Welcome to Canada! Fortunately, nothing was really wrong. I still don´t know why the alarm went off, but after half an hour of standing outside in the snow in my flipflops we could go back up again.


The days that followed I had plenty of time to discover the city. Toronto is actually nicer than I expected it to be. It is in a way very American, with a large business district and a lot of high-rise. Even though this makes for an impressive skyline when you go to Toronto Island, that is just in front of the city on lake Ontario, it is not my preferred style for a city. But then there are the areas like Chinatown and Korea town, where you can find amazing food. And Queen street west, where the houses are smaller and older and have some quirky boutiques and cafes. And of course the St Lawrence market, the pride of food-lovers from the city. It is a large market building with a combination of fresh food and restaurants, where I did have some good lunches. And like this I found some more nice areas in the city, and started to like Toronto.

Spicy bacon and tomato pasta

img_0845
This is one of the dishes I make very often in hostels. The first reason is simple, I love pasta and this is a warming and hearty dish. Also, you don´t need many ingredients or tools. And finally, you can also make this when there is no olive oil, or other cooking oil, available and you don´t feel like buying oil for just one evening.

Ingredients (for two)

  • 6 thick rashes of bacon
  • A small onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A small dried chilli
  • 6 large tomatoes
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of oregano (if available, or otherwise other herbs)
  • Salt
  • 200 to 300 grams of spaghetti

First of all, chop the bacon and the onion in small pieces. Mince the garlic, and also chop to tomatoes. Regarding the tomatoes, you can leave the skin on but it´s good to make sure the pieces are small so that you won´t notice this in the sauce.

Place a frying pan over medium fire and add the bacon. Let this heat up until the fat comes out of the bacon and it starts frying. Add the onion as well as a pinch of salt. If there is a lot of fat in the bacon, scoop the surplus of fat out of the pan. When the onion is soft and the bacon starts turning golden brown, add the garlic and crumble the dried chilli in. Fry this until you start to smell the garlic. Then add the tomatoes and oregano to the pan. If you happen to have some wine, you can add a bit as well. Leave the sauce on a low fire, and if possible cover the pan while the sauce is simmering away.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. When it boils, cook the spaghetti until it´s al dente. Taste the sauce that has been simmering all this time. Try if you need some extra salt, this really depends on the bacon that you used. When the spaghetti is ready, drain it and mix it through the sauce.

Enjoy, and hopefully you´ll have a good glass of wine and some nice people to talk to.