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When I was growing up in Toronto we used to be members at a place called The Granite Club. It was every bit as stuffy as the name implies, but for our athletically inclined family it was our home away from home.

The Granite Club sits on the edge of a ravine, and offers a smattering of waspy sports – lawn bowling, squash, badminton, and the like. And of course, that curious cult-like Canadian sport: curling. Although I never curled regularly, I did try it a few times, and can tell you convincingly that it’s not my thing. Sweeping floors seems more like a chore, not a sport. I hope I haven’t offended anyone.

Although I dabbled in skating and swimming, my favorite activity was tennis, where I took lessons each week with my coach Gary.

Gary was an affable guy with furry legs and tight white shorts that fell within the club’s 10% color regulation. I’m still prudishly judgmental when I see Serena Williams take to the courts wearing black and neon pink. This type of violation would have been punishable by law at The Granite Club. Security guards would have whisked you away like some kind of White Collar criminal.

Maybe The Granite Club was too clean cut for my image because I fought back with some early stage rebellion. On my 10th birthday I begged my mom for a short haircut and a triple piercing in each ear.

She gave in. I appreciate the fact that she was so supportive of my personal style choices, however misguided. The problem arose when I asked my hairdresser to leave a rat tail in the back. “Keep it short, but please leave a long stringy tail” I suggested to Gerald as the manly haircut took shape.

The end result wasn’t pretty. Rating lower than a mullet on the Hairstyle Attractiveness Index, it was the kind of cut that would have gotten me laughed straight out of middle school.

Which is why Gary saved my life. Hours after the cut, I arrived for my lesson and was greeted by a blank stare. “Wow, that’s a horrible haircut.”

I was crushed. I liked Gary; I respected his opinion. We were usually all business on the tennis court. I was there to improve my game and beat my nemesis, who was lazy but precise. Style wasn’t ever a topic of conversation, nor did I want it to be. Here I was with a foolish haircut that was distracting both of us from the job at hand. It was like playing a game of Chess with whipped cream on the end of my nose.

I had to put a stop to my self-inflicted mortification. As soon as I got home, I snipped the tail.

Tennis was the name of the game at our next session. I still had the short hair that would take me a nearly a year to re-grow, but my other, more serious transgression had been eliminated.

Also back to normal was my after-tennis routine, which involved heading upstairs to the cafeteria for some cinnamon toast and a Peach Snapple chaser.

For a club full of women in knee-length plaid skirts and muted locker room conversations, the cafeteria packed some heat. Greasy burgers, sloppy grilled cheese, and of course the cinnamon toast, which was two pieces of Wonder bread, toasted and slathered in a chocolate-colored cinnamon spread.

I hadn’t eaten this cinnamon toast for 20+ years, and last week had the sudden urge to make it .The kids will be at day camp this summer and tennis is on the agenda. In a reverse Proustian moment, Lauren’s Junior-sized tennis racquet triggered a flood of Granite Club food memories.

Why hadn’t I made this in over 20 years? I’m still berating myself.

It’s so easy a caveman could do it! If they weren’t so busy buying GEICO insurance, they’d be making cinnamon butter all day long.

And hide those thoughts of buttered bread with a delicate sprinkling of cinnamon sugar.

This is Texas-style cinnamon butter. To be honest, I don’t know if they make it in Texas, but I’m pretty sure that if I asked Tim Love to make me some cinnamon toast it would look just like this:

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buckeyes-landscapeLauren showed me a pen right before Valentine’s day. “Look mom, it says ‘Buckeyes’”.

Once I got past my initial panic that she was turning into a college basketball fan, I asked her where she’d gotten the pen. Apparently it was a gift from school. Some caring soul had brought Buckeyes into the classroom, and while her classmates snacked on treats, she and the two other nut-free kids sat in a corner and played with their new pens.

Fortunately she wasn’t traumatized, but she seemed to be genuinely curious about these mystery cookies that she’ll never be able to sample.

“Girl, I’ll make you a nut free Buckeye” I said as I started to dig around online for a similar recipe without peanut butter.

The problem is that she’s also allergic to Sunbutter, the sunflower seed butter that most recipes use as a substitute.

I was just about to call it a day, when I came across a recipe from The Spatularette that used Biscoff spread, a cookie-based butter, in place of the peanut butter.

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I hadn’t heard of cookie butter until recently. But all of a sudden it was an in product, causing near-stampedes at Trader Joe’s over the holidays.

With this country’s fixation on all things cookie dough, I’d jumped to the erroneous conclusion that it was some kind of peanut butter studded with cookie dough. Sounds horrible and gag-inducing, but I wouldn’t put it past some people. If you need further proof, I give you the cookie dough martini.

So I’d turned a blind eye to cookie butter. I hadn’t given it a second thought until confronted with the Buckeye challenge.

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chili 245

My dad sent me a recipe the other day titled “The best chili ever”.

Sensationalist links aren’t usually my thing. But chili, now you’re speaking my language; anything food-related is immediately worthy of attention. Especially chili, which I consider to be a distinct sub-category in my recipe arsenal. I’ve done the time, I’ve studied it like a fine art, I’ve Dutch ovened it, Crock potted it, made it with black beans and pinto, ground beef and cubed chuck. I even made a pretty killer vegan version earlier this year.

But the one thing I’d never tried….Texas chili.

I’ve always thought that bean-free chili would taste a little bit like meat sauce. But when I clicked the link, I was surprised and excited to see that it was a recipe from Tim Love. Tim’s not a household name, but a few years ago he did a stint on Top Chef Masters and I was impressed by his big and bold Texas style.

Given that I don’t spend much time in Texas, I figured that his chili is the closest I’ll come to Tim Love and his cooking.

In true-to-form fashion, I felt compelled to source the exact ingredients called for in the recipe. Lone Star beer? Check. Guajillo and chipotle chilies, check and check. Normally I campaign against laborious, painstaking steps like toasting and grinding my own chilies, but when you’re going for something authentic, cutting corners isn’t an option.

Out came the electric spice grinder from the far left corner of my uppermost cabinet, behind the dishtowels and the citrus juicer. The last time I used my grinder, Y2K was our country’s most pressing issue, and American Pie was #1 at the box office. It still smelled faintly of old spices.

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chili 227

I got a message on Facebook last week from a relative. “Hey, we’re going to be in town for the Super Bowl, are you around that weekend?”

Two questions: 1. The Super Bowl is in New York this year? 2. What weekend?

To give you an analogy, this kind of question is like me writing to a friend in San Francisco to say “Hey, I’m showing up for the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Festival, are you around that weekend?”

I did consider asking him for specific dates, but remembered my trusty resource Google. Google is that friend to whom you direct all of your embarrassing questions. As long as you clear your history. You don’t want your significant other to see that you’ve been researching Syphilis. That happened to good friends of mine (it was an honest mix up, I won’t get into it) but it serves as a cautionary tale: keep that history clean.

I’ve formed a strong relationship with Google over the years, sometimes I think I expect a little too much; I’ve caught myself asking open-ended questions, like “will I have another baby?” or “will my dinner guests like salt cod?” But for the garden variety questions, Google’s always had my back.

Armed with information, I quickly responded “we’re in town!”

It’s not that I was completely unaware that something vaguely footballish was going on. Facebook was abuzz. Taunts were thrown. My sister’s update on Jan 19 read: “Are you watching Brady peeing in his Gucci panties? #BRONCOSSSSSSSSSS”.

So I did what any smart person with a food blog would do – I immediately logged onto Pinterest and created a Super Bowl board, and started collecting recipes for all of those manly dishes that people seem to eat at this time of year. The wings, dips, chilis, nachos, and of course the little football-shaped deviled eggs.

Who knows, maybe I’ll throw my own Super Bowl party down the road. It sounds like fun. I’ll just wear earplugs so that I won’t have to listen to the sound of football on TV. Am I the only one who feels this way? I’d watch golf over football any day. I don’t even golf, but I love the velvet hills, the soothing voices, and the conspicuous absence of sweat.

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pierogies

It was 1990 in Banff, Alberta, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies when I had my first kiss. I remember it vividly. The Banff Mountain Ski Academy was hosting our team for a set of races at Nakiska. We’d be racing the same downhill course that had been used for the Women’s Olympics just two years before. I was terrified.

But I was turning 15, that tender age when you morph from innocent kid into hormonal teenager. Boys were a good distraction, and there was a kid on our team who stood out. He was strong and confident, cocky even. I was downright attracted. What girl wouldn’t be?  At least in the early teenage years, when the concept of boy-girl attraction is so new. The nice guys were a blip in my rearview mirror.

With a few days to kill before the race, we arrived in Banff ready to eat, sleep and train. We bunked up with our hosts and settled into our new schedule.

And then it happened. Out of nowhere, the kid started to flirt. I must have spun around in surprise. He hadn’t spoken a word to me all season long. But here he was, trying to make me laugh. I welcomed the attention. I had a huge crush on him after all.

So, one night after a Polish-themed dinner, we crept upstairs. With the smell of ski wax and the sound of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon filling the air, we kissed. It should have been an incredible moment, but it wasn’t. I expected romance and here was this guy, groping like he was searching for something.

Fortunately, I’d fallen in love with something else that night: pierogies.

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