You said it’s your birthday…

…well it’s my birthday, too.

The sun is shining, it feels like spring, and it’s a holiday. What more can you ask for on your birthday?

Birthday breakfast.
Birthday breakfast.

Well, maybe a delicious breakfast. It doesn’t need to be fancy to be delicious. Here is the simplicity I put in my bowl this morning:

a sprinkling of granola
several dollops of plain Greek yogurt
sliced strawberries
a drizzle of honey

The only thing that could make it better is sweet, fresh local Nova Scotia strawberries. But since I’m a spring chicken, the berries aren’t ready yet.

How old am I today? Well, I just said I’m a spring chicken and most of the time I still feel like one. And that’s all that really matters.

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Ouchless Maple Mustard Chicken

Mmmmmaple mustard chicken.
Mmmmmaple mustard chicken.

I have this Cooking Light recipe for maple mustard glazed chicken that makes me feel like a rock star. It’s not that hard to make, and pretty quick, too. Yet it tastes like something you’d get at a fancy restaurant.

Tonight, I served it with mashed sweet potatoes and string beans from our garden that I’d blanched and frozen late last summer.

H said, “I could eat a bucket of this.”

A ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.

The game plan? Take a look at the recipe first, then come back and see how to get it all on the table nice and hot.

OK, here goes…

Peel and chop sweet potatoes and get them boiling. Get the beans ready for steaming or boiling and set aside. Mix the maple syrup, broth, garlic and thyme in one bowl, and the mustard and vinegar in another. Get the chicken ready for the pan.

Once you start cooking the chicken, you’ll have to stick with it until it’s in the oven, so wait until your sweet potatoes are cooked before moving on to the chicken. You could use this time to do something like setting the table or changing over the laundry or whatever needs doing that can be done in 5 or 10 minutes.

When sweet potatoes are soft, take them off the burner, turn it off, and put the beans on the hot burner to start warming the water. Start following the instructions to cook the chicken.

Once the chicken is in the oven, turn up the heat under the beans. Drain the sweet potatoes and mash them up with some butter, pepper, a wee bit of salt, and a wee bit of blend cream if you have it. The beans won’t take long. When they’re crisp tender, drain and add a bit of butter, pepper and salt.

When the chicken is done, you need to remember this, the single most important pointer for preparing this glorious meal: use a potholder.

Avoid this by using a potholder.
Avoid this by using a potholder.

I’m smart enough to use a potholder to remove a frying pan from a hot oven. I do not seem to be smart enough to remember that the handle is still hot two minutes later when I grab it to serve the chicken.

Ow.

Lucky for me, we have a little ice pack that’s roughly the same shape as a frying pan handle. I hope you won’t need one.

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John’s Soup

Red lentil apricot soup with grilled ham and cheese and apple slices. John would approve.
Red lentil apricot soup with grilled ham and cheese and apple slices. John would approve.

Soup is a feel good food. A warm bowl of soup on a chilly winter night. A thick hearty soup for lunch to keep you going through the day. Warm, comforting soup.

I turned to a particular soup recipe for comfort a few months ago. It was October 29, the day my older brother would have turned 43 if he were still with us. So grief was already with me that day, albeit a somewhat mellowed grief compared with the deep dark pain we felt almost nine years ago.

I went through my day, with my brother never far from my thoughts. I taught my fitness class at the Y and played some Kiss in his honour. (He always dressed up as Gene Simmons at Halloween.) I was heading to the shower afterwards when a cycling friend stopped me and told me that John Smith had died.

John enjoying a feast with friends.
John enjoying a feast with friends.

I was speechless. John was one of the most vibrant, life-loving, passionate people I’d ever met. His wife, Karen, is an avid cyclist. After recovering from a hip replacement, John wanted to join her on two-wheeled adventures. I remember the first half kilometre he rode with our cycling club. In no time, his zeal had him going the distance with the rest of us. He had a big smile and a bigger personality. He loved food. He loved yoga. He loved all things Chinese. He loved his family fiercely.

He was only 59.

I went home that night and headed straight to my computer to find this recipe for soup. John had made batches and batches of it to feed to hungry cyclists at the lunch stop on the Joe Howe Century – a 160-km bike ride our club holds every September. He’d emailed me the recipe, and I’d saved the whole message because it was so John. He wanted me to enjoy the soup as much as he did, to share something delicious with me.

Here’s what he wrote:

Adèle:

You must make this soup.

John

Red Lentil Apricot Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dried apricots
1 ½ cups red lentils
5 cups chicken stock
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, sauté onion, garlic and apricots in olive oil. Add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and seasonings. Stir in lemon juice.

Pour half the soup into a blender and purée. Return to pot and serve.