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Shepherd’s Lunch // Fresh Ricotta

In EAT

The Wholesome Handbook - Fresh Ricotta

Ricotta is an optimistic cheese, a bucolic one, wet and springy and feminine. It’s a cheese you eat with olive oil or honeycomb on a hillside in the sun. It’s a poor man’s cheese, a country bumpkin cheese, a dish for shepherds and milkmaids and ploughmen.

The ancestors of ricotta date back to the bronze age, but the modern iteration is a lovechild born a thousand years ago in Sicily, when the island was under Arabic rule. Ricotta is gold wrung from wastewater – traditionally made from leftover sheep’s cheese whey, a literal peasant’s portion, an ingenuity born of necessity. The wealthy caught on eventually and claimed it for themselves, as they do, and ricotta’s current culinary rep is much more bijou than it perhaps deserves. Ricotta is, at the heart of it, wholesome countryside food, easy to make, easier to eat.

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Eat Your Heart Out // Steamed Artichokes

In EAT

Steamed Spring Artichokes - The Wholesome Handbook

The first artichoke was a woman.

A Greek beauty with fuzzy eyebrows and long black hair, heavy and slick with olive oil. The kind of woman who bathed naked in the ocean froth and loved to feel the grit of wet sand between her toes, the kind of woman who swam in thunderstorms and baked herself to a burnished copper on black rocks in the sun. The kind of woman with many lovers and many daughters. The kind of woman who loved, more than anything, to laugh.

Her name was Cynara.

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Aloe Vera Moon Juice

In CREATE, EAT

Aloe Vera Moon Juice - The Wholesome Handbook

It has been a mercurial summer. The rains seem forever locked in a cosmic battle with the sun, wrestling for dominance, throwing the prairie skies into turmoil as they cycle endlessly from searing, blue-hued heat to murderous black rainclouds and back again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Titans themselves ripped open the surface of the earth to rise again. But even amongst the mayhem of the heavens, there is calm to be found. The moon is still wears her cool white face, and silent, glacial lakes still shine turquoise with limestone. The earth still offers up refuge and healing, medicine both spiritual and physical, very often hidden in plant life.

After a rather bacchanalian weekend, I’ve emerged with a wicked sunburn and a body in dire need of some gentle recalibrating. My husband’s grandparents recently celebrated their 60th anniversary, and Reists from all corners of the nation descended upon the mountains for three days to mark the occasion. Nazarene hymns were sung in four-part harmonies, caramel cakes were devoured, several exploratory miles were walked, and Andrew was somehow convinced to carry on the family legacy of playing the musical saw.

We snuck off for a cocktail party at our dear friend Brittany’s place, and I ended up moon-gazing and soul-baring with a new girlfriend until the wee hours of the morning, fueled by a king’s portion of creme de violette and gin. An actor friend lulled us to sleep with a dramatic reading of the first act of Hamlet, in full Scottish brogue. Four hours of fitful sleep later, we were on the road again, weaving through the purplish, sunrise-kissed Rockies and back to the family.

Between the punishing weather and the abundance of activity, I’m very much in the market for some cooling down, both literally and metaphorically. The aloe vera plant is one of earth’s most glorious remedial offerings, the perfect champion for the task.

Besides the well-known properties of aloe as a powerful cooling salve for the skin, it is also rich in antioxidants, helpful in balancing blood sugar, and intensely nutritious, boasting vitamins A, C, E, and B’s 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12. A little aloe juice in some ice water is the perfect detoxifying drink after a weekend of heavy reunion food, very little sleep, and a little more sun and gin than my body would thank me for. It’s as soothing and rejuvenating as the glow of the moon.

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Edible Flowers & A Beltane Bowl

In EAT

Beltane Bowl - The Wholesome Handbook
It’s Beltane, and spring is full in her glory.

This ancient Gaelic festival celebrates an earth suffused in her own beauty – fertile, sensual, and so very alive. The deer are rutting, the clover is fragrant, and the fae are afoot.

It is a time for leaping over bonfires and dancing ribbons ‘round the Maypole, weaving rosemary into your braids and wandering barefoot through new moss. It’s a time for handfastings, a time for lovemaking, for honouring our awakening wildness, and of course, a time for flowers.

Flowers are the quintessential symbol of Beltane and spring – colourful, fragrant, and sensual. We weave them into crowns, tuck them into buttonholes, soak in floral baths, shred petals for confetti, and yes – even eat them. There is something so poetic and primal about eating flowers, don’t you think?

This Beltane bowl is a little offering to spring, an edible hymn to life’s return. It’s chock full of peppery goodness, insanely gorgeous to behold, and leaves you feeling as fresh and youthful as the Maiden herself.

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DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters

In CREATE, EAT

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

I’ve never quite managed to keep a garden alive. I have all the best intentions, a potent bloodline of earth-working women to draw knowledge from, and a deep and abiding love for all things green – but most of my gardening experiments end in sad, wilted shoots that I pull up for the neighbourhood jackrabbits.

I don’t know why the green thumb gene skipped me. My mother has a gorgeous carpet of thyme in her garden that I jealously run my fingers through every chance I get, and buxom white peonies every June. My aunt is an absurdly talented florist. When I was young, my grandmother’s little house boasted a wilderness of flowers in the front, and a tangled, fairy-tale mass of pumpkin vines in the back. By all accounts, I should be an ancestral earth sage, Radagast-like, with herbs tucked behind my ear and dirt on my knees.

Alas. I just don’t have the knack. But I dearly hope to challenge that this year – I’ve meticulously sorted through seed packets of five-colour beets and heirloom kohlrabi to find creatures that might actually cooperate with me (torpedo onions and black cherry tomatoes). I’ve consulted the Farmer’s Almanac, the moon phases, the historical weather patterns, and several lovely women in my life who have beautiful gardens. Mark my words – I’ll be eating those onions come August.

I’m starting my seedlings in last week’s leftover eggshells. I love this no-waste alternative to plastic seedling trays, and once the seedling has outgrown its nursery, it’s easy to crack the egg a little and plant it right into the ground. The eggshell will decompose and provide a lovely source of calcium for your plant-babies.

DIY Eggshell Seedling Starters - The Wholesome Handbook

 

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Four Ways to Kick Up Your Coffee

In EAT

The Wholesome Handbook

I love my coffee black. I love it with cream, I love it Vietnamese style, I love it hot and cold, spiced and milky. I may be a one-cup-a-day kind of gal, but that one cup is my most sacred morning ritual. There’s nothing more intoxicating than the earthy smell of freshly roasted beans, pulsed in a burr grinder seconds before brewing. One of my favourite days from my honeymoon in Bali involved a trip to a local roaster and a thick, sweet cup of kopi luwak, the beans harvested from the droppings of wild civets.

There’s a pretty pervasive narrative out there that extols those of us who take our coffee black. But sometimes you just don’t have the best craft beans on hand, or you’re feeling something creamy and sweet, or you just want a change. There’s no shame in experimenting with your morning brew, and your status as a Cool Person doesn’t hinge on how you take your coffee. Of course, I would never disrespect a truly amazing cup of coffee by drowning it in sugar and cream – but we live in the real world, where sometimes we buy and drink the crappy stuff. Besides, its fun to experiment. I highly encourage play in all areas of life, especially in the kitchen. Here are some of my favourite ways to kick up an otherwise mediocre brew!

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St. Valentine’s Beet Soup

In EAT

St Valentine's Beet Soup - The Wholesome Handbook
“The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

– Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Beets are incredibly sexy. They’re vibrant, earthy, and bold, completely unique and intense. They’re an aphrodisiac, a favourite treat for amorous Greek goddesses and their devotees alike. They grew in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and were immortalized on the frescoes of brothels in Pompeii. What could be more perfect, more sensual, for St. Valentine’s?

This soup is as warm, invigorating, and unforgettable as the first blush of love.

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Oven-Roasted Chestnuts

In EAT

Oven-Roasted Chestnuts - The Wholesome Handbook

We often forget how important pleasure is. Maybe it’s our North American puritanical roots, but somewhere along the line, pleasure became associated with shame. It became synonymous with gluttony, lust, greed, debauchery. But pleasure, true and pure pleasure, is sacred. It is a crushed blackberry between your teeth, it is dipping your feet into the cool river, it is an hour alone with a favourite novel. A pleasure does not corrupt. A pleasure does not enslave.

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Crafting the Perfect Cheese Board

In EAT

The Wholesome Handbook

I remember experiencing my very first cheese board, at a great little Calgary restaurant called Farm. Before then, I liked cheese well enough – a bit of cheddar in my morning mushroom omelette, a melty slice of baked brie every now and then – but this cheese board changed everything. It was gorgeous, simple, clever, sensual. I was hooked.

The Wholesome Handbook

Thus began a long love affair with cheese. I tend towards the more pungent blues, the crumbliest reggianitos, the smokiest of goudas. I bring some sort of cheese dish to almost every potluck I’m invited to. I’m a woman obsessed.

The Wholesome Handbook
If you want to impress guests, have a romantic night, bring a picnic to the mountains, you name it – the cheese board is your best friend, and here’s all you need to know to make a damn good one.

Crafting the Perfect Cheese Board 
1. Keep it simple! Three to five cheeses are all you need. There’s a little cheese board mantra out there that goes “something old, something new, something goat, something blue”. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb, I find – you should have a variety of flavours and textures to explore, but there’s no need to go crazy with your selections. A hearty aged gouda or cheddar, a soft wheel of double-cream brie, a tangy log of chèvre, and of course, a crumbly, fragrant triangle of your favourite blue. Don’t be afraid to talk to your local cheesemonger if you’re not confident with your selections – they’re there to help you (and will probably jump at the chance to wax poetic about the camembert)!

2. Cheese should be eaten at room temperature – the flavours bloom, the textures ring true, and the deliciousness factor is turned all the way up. Take your cheese out of your refrigerator about an hour before you plan on serving it.

3. Savoury pairings work best in small quantities and with the milder cheeses. I love walnuts, pistachios, olives, onion jam, salametti, prosciutto, and Spanish chorizo.

4. Sweet pairings are fantastic with the stronger cheeses. Honey, dried or fresh figs, blackberries, apples, pears, grapes, chutneys, and jams are all lovely.

5. Your vessel is just as important as your pairings! I always have a fresh baguette on hand, but often include artisan crackers, biscuits, and glutino crackers (for the folks among us with a gluten intolerance).

After you’ve made your selections, arrange everything on a medium-sized slate or wooden cutting board. I always garnish with an herb or two – rosemary, sage, or even cilantro – and having that little bit of freshness really kicks things up a notch.

Happy cheesing!