Heaven is chocolate and peanut butter flavoured.

This grueling month is drawing to a close.   In August we have back to back to back 8 day silent retreats and they are all full!  The kitchen staff is tired.  The housekeeping staff is tired.  Even Pauline – our normally unflappable registrar – was heard to raise her voice slightly.  (I have been trying to fit in a literary joke in here – perhaps a T.S. Eliot reference – but “August is the gruelest month”  just doesn’t set the right tone….)

In times like this, feedback is what keeps the kitchen going.  We can always turn to “the Box”.  The Box contains all our notes and cards from the past four years.  We have purchased cards, hand made cards  (sometimes lavishly illustrated) and simple (or elaborate) letters.  Some are addressed to “chefs” or “cooks” or “kitchen angels”.  Sometimes people have taken the time to learn some of our names or all of our names.  Sometimes people have taken the time to mis-spell our names.  The communications are as different as the variety of people who come here but they all say “thank you” and they all feed our souls.   This gratitude makes it reasonable, possible,  necessary to ensure the soup tastes just right, to garnish a platter, to cook a gluten and dairy-free dessert for one person out of forty, to come in early to cut chive blossoms, research pithy sayings for the menu boards or to post a requested recipe on the blog.

We get other communications as well.  We’ve had smiles and hugs and furtive “thank you”s in the hallway from retreatants greatly daring to break silence.  We’ve been applauded and sung to … in French, no less!  Sometimes comments are funny … “Even if I lost my faith, I’d come back for the food.”  Sometimes they are heart-rending – like the man who told Kate that the meals were so good that they made him cry.  What do you do with a compliment like that?!?  The only possible answer is to let it inspire you and strive to be worthy of it.

And so, Pat v. V., this recipe is for you.  Thank you for your kind words and thank you for knowing about our little blog!

Patty’s Addictive Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Mix together …

1 ½ c graham wafer crumbs

1 c smooth peanut butter

1 ¾ c icing sugar

½ c melted margarine

Press into a parchment lined, 9 x 13 inch pan.

Melt together…

1 c chocolate chips

¾ c peanut butter

Spread over base. 

Cool completely before cutting. 

These are irresistible.   Sometimes I have to request that Patty NOT make them!  One of those might be all I need right now … and some sleep and maybe just a bit of Georgian Bay…

Dashing off to the kitchen now… thank you for reading and thank you for all your thank yous!

Molasses Cookies

 

photo by Kate Hendry

I love my job. It’s not “just a job” that I have to drag myself to each day. I love creating meals. I love that we emphasize simple, comforting, and healthy food at Loyola House. I love that we nourish and positively impact so many people with our creations from the kitchen.  There is a unique relationship between cook and guest, that is difficult for me to articulate, this is maybe draft number 7, but I will try. I put my passion, love, and prayers into the food I create for you. And you trust my skills as a cook and eat what I’ve created. We may never speak to each other, but a bond is created nevertheless. I care about you as a guest at Loyola House, whether you’re here for a season or an afternoon.

On the Ignatius Jesuit Centre property in Guelph, where Loyola House is located, there is also a Jesuit cemetery. Jesuits who die in this area are buried on the property. After the burial, friends and family come to Loyola House to sit and mourn or celebrate the life of their loved one, and we provide coffee and cookies. So often I want to offer a hug, but I am shy, and they are strangers, so instead I put the hug into the food and hope it translates.

And so, with that lengthy preamble, comes the news that there will be the funeral and then the burial for Jim Webb, previous Provincial of the Jesuits of English Canada, this afternoon. I did not know Jim well, but I am saddened by his death.

When I first heard he had died, my instinct was to bake. My favourite cookies are our Molasses Cookies. I don’t even have to try to imbue them with hugs. Comfort is released with every bite. It’s a wonderful dough that can be made ahead of time and left in the fridge until fresh cookies are desired. For a chewy texture, they only need 12 minutes in a 350 F oven. Eat them slowly to savour the orange flavour – they are excellent!

Molasses cookies

Beat together until smooth – continue beating at high speed until fluffy…

1 c brown sugar

¾ c butter or becel

½ c molasses

Stir in….

1 T lemon juice

2 t vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 2 oranges

Sift together and stir in to wet ingredients…

2 ½ c whole wheat flour

2 ½ t baking soda

1 t each of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves

2 t ginger

(1/2 t cardamom – optional)

¼ t salt

Let dough sit for at least half an hour so it is not sticky.  (If it is sticky, stir in a little more flour).  Roll into small balls and roll balls in coarse sugar.  These cookies are designed to rise and then fall, giving them their distinctive crinkled surface.

 

Fennel and Orange Salad

photo by Kate Hendry

Fennel is a vegetable I only began eating in the past couple of years. And now that I know about it’s mildly licorice flavour, I am making up for lost time.

Making fennel salad is also a good way to practice and hone one’s knife skills. I think fennel is best when thinly sliced – almost shaved – so give yourself some extra prep time to put those skills to use. The oranges need to be zested, peeled, and segmented with care so as to remove all the white pith and membranes. This takes a while as well, so while this isn’t a salad to make when strapped for time, it is well worth the effort.

To prep the fennel, cut off the fronds (the dark green, feathery leaves). Some of the younger and finer fronds can be used as a garnish, but generally I find them to be bitter and with an unpleasant texture, so use sparingly. Trim the stems, cut the bulb in half, and remove the core with a paring knife.

The acid in the vinaigrette is lime juice, along with the orange zest. Whisk this together with honey, mustard, salt and pepper, and then slowly add the oil. (See my Cucumber Watermelon Salad post for vinaigrette ratio information).

Thinly slice the fennel and some celery. Segment the oranges, and mix everything together. Enjoy!

Date Squares

photo by Kate Hendry

It has been a busy week here at the Loyola House Kitchen, and I have finally found a few moments to post one of my favourite dessert recipes. Still on the to-do list is to photograph the pre-butterflies, which will have to wait for tomorrow as the evening light is quickly coming to a close. We had a very successful Ignatius Day dinner Tuesday night. Susan ordered local, well treated chicken and pork ribs, and worked her culinary genius to create one of the best meals I have ever eaten. To be a part of the magic is an honour indeed. A quick 24 hours later brought a new group of retreatants, and we are back into the busy swing of things!

At lunch we served Date Squares for dessert, and this is a recipe not to be missed. At the end of a retreat, the retreatants are asked to fill out an evaluation form about their stay. In the section that asks about the food, we often find comments similar to, “your food/desserts are too good. I think I gained 5 lbs!” I’m sure these date squares factor into those comments, so be warned: from experience I can tell you they are delicious, and it is hard to eat just one.  Fortunately, with the dates, whole wheat flour, oats, and spices we can be sure we are getting some nutritional value along with the comfort. They also freeze really well, so they are pretty much the perfect dessert! (I got so excited writing about these date squares that EVERY sentence in this paragraph ended with an exclamation point. I’ve edited myself down to two three, but trust me when I say these points are warranted!)

Date Squares:

(For two  12 x 20 inch pans)

3 c white flour

2 c whole wheat flour

4 c oats

4 c brown sugar

4 t baking soda

2 t salt

4 c soft butter

2 t cinnamon

1 t each of ginger, nutmeg, cloves

Mix dry ingredients and cut in butter until crumbly.  Press ½ of the mix firmly into the greased pans.

9 c chopped dates – look at them closely and remove any pits!

1 c brown sugar

2 c apple cider (or juice)

2 c coffee

1 t vanilla extract

Simmer until dates are soft and liquid is absorbed.  Spread over bottom crumb layer.  Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture over top.  You want to achieve full coverage of dates and to make sure all the crumbs are anchored in the filling whilst maintaining as much fluffiness in the top layer as possible.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or longer until a nice golden brown colour.  Chill (covered) overnight before cutting.