I know, I know, shocking to realise it’s been six months since I last posted here. It’s been one of those years: busy with work, plus my father has been unwell again, so I’ve spent a lot of time helping out at my parents’ and somehow time has just flown.
Then, joy of joys, I’ve finally managed to fly out to New England to visit my son, daughter-in-law and adorable new granddaughter Emma, not forgetting granddog Callie, another pandemic new arrival. I may have had to come via a circuitous route, spending 14 days in Canada first to get around the fact that most Europeans, vaccinated or otherwise, are still not allowed to enter the US if they’ve been in the Schengen zone, UK or Ireland for the past 14 days. In the event, my cousin and his wife kindly invited me to stay with them in North Vancouver and house-sit for part of the time they were away. They were the most generous hosts, taking me to see some jaw-droppingly beautiful sites up and around the North Shore and beyond, but I also enjoyed exploring British Columbia myself via the excellent public transport system. My unexpected diversion definitely turned into an adventure in its own right. I was absolutely blown away by the stunning scenery and Vancouver is a very special city, surrounded by water and mountains, beautiful gardens, friendly people and a great vibe.
Needless to say, I had to do a PCR test before flying – so stressful even though I knew I was double-vaccinated, had really not been anywhere and had been very careful when mixing with other people. The 24-hour wait before my results felt like one of the longest in my life! I think I was more nervous than before any exam I’ve ever taken! Waiting at Border Control on arrival in Canada was another anxious wait, just in case some part of my vaccination or test certification didn’t pass muster… Then I had to do it all over again before flying to the US, although this time I only needed a rapid antigen test, with results available after 20 (still anxious) minutes. I didn’t need proof of vaccination to get into the US, but I was still worried as the Canadian border officials hadn’t stamped my passport on arrival. In the event, although there was a huge queue for US Border Control in Vancouver Airport, it was primarily down to there being only two staff on duty and a lot of people travelling that day. I’m sure many people will have missed their flights as a result, but thankfully I’d allowed plenty of time and the friendly officer didn’t even ask how long I’d been in Canada! Mission accomplished – what a relief! I don’t think either my son or I stopped smiling or talking for the entire drive home after he picked me up at Boston Airport….
Now I’ve been here a week or so, I’ve finally got to know my beautiful granddaughter and it’s so nice to see their house and garden for real, as opposed to through the Facetime lens. They bought their first home in Beverly, on Boston’s North Shore, last summer, at the height of the pandemic, and have done amazingly well with the garden, sowing salvias, zinnias, echinaceas and many other flowers from seed and planting dahlias as tubers to superb effect, even if the varied colour mix they’d hoped for turned out to be just purple and crimson!
Of course, I couldn’t be here and not get stuck into cooking, gardening and flower arranging as well as cuddling the baby! They’ve had excellent crops of tomatoes (no blight here, unlike at home where my crop has been devastated this year), mounds of courgettes (zucchini!) and a fair number of aubergines (or should I say eggplants?!), both purple and white. Cue for me to make roast tomato soup, baba ghanoush and aubergine parmigiana, plus adapt a vegan zucchini soup recipe I found online to include lemon and thyme to great effect. The courgette soups I’ve tried in the past have often been fairly insipid, but the use of coconut oil in this one and the tang added by the lemon and thyme made it extremely good.
Courgette, Lemon & Thyme Soup
serves 4-6 (depending on portion size!)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (or use a generous bunch of spring onions / couple of leeks)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful of fresh thyme, tied with string (remember to remove when blending)
1-2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 kg courgettes, roughly chopped (you can even use courgettes that have turned into sneaky marrows!)
1 litre vegetable stock (or chicken stock if that’s all you have)
1 can coconut milk
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated Parmesan and fresh thyme leaves to serve
Warm the olive oil, then add the chopped onion and garlic and cook gently until softened. Add the chopped courgettes, bay leaves, bunch of thyme and continue to cook gently for 15 minutes or so. Add the stock and coconut milk, plus the juice and zest of half a lemon, and season to taste. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes, covered. Allow to cool slightly, then remove thyme and bay leaves before blending with a stick blender until smooth. If you prefer, transfer to a liquidiser goblet to blend, but it shouldn’t need sieving either way – unless, like me, you forget to remove the thyme first time round and need to sieve to make sure you remove any string/stems!.
The soup was perfect served with the cheese scones my cousin’s wife made for me in Vancouver – light and fluffy, plus very easy to make. The original recipe came from a guest house they stayed in where the hostess insisted on receiving a recipe in exchange for this one, but it’s well worth the barter – not that any cook worth his/her salt ever minds trading recipes! They can also be made without the cheese and served with jam for afternoon tea or breakfast. My cousin and his son raved about them lightly toasted for breakfast, and I’m sure that a dollop of clotted cream wouldn’t go amiss with jam either….
Sally’s Canadian Scones – makes 8
2 cups plain/all-purpose flour (330g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (110g – 1 stick!)
1 cup milk or 1/2 milk & orange juice
2 tbsp grated Parmesan (or Cheddar), optional
1 tsp thyme leaves (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 425 F/200 C/Gas 6.
Sift or mix first three ingredients. Rub in butter. Add milk/juice and knead gently. Roll or pat out to desired thickness. Cut into 8 squares. Bake for approx. 12-15 mins. Cool and split before buttering to serve.
If making the cheese version, add cheese to the dry ingredients or brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with cheese before baking.