Steel cut oats, 3 ways

brown butter chocolate oatmeal

brown butter chocolate oatmeal

Winter is still in full force in Yorkshire, which is totally not what I signed up for when I moved here from Canada. That means oatmeal, made from steel cut oats, continues to be my daily choice for breakfast – it’s not quite time for the refreshing chill of frozen berry smoothies yet.

I switched to steel cut oats years ago. Less processing makes for a lower glycemic index, which means my breakfast truly lasts until lunchtime. They take longer to cook than instant rolled oats, but make 4 servings at a time – just add a splash of water to a portion of the fridge-cold cooked oatmeal, and nuke in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. They’re called pinhead oats in the UK, which my phone hilariously auto-corrects to ‘pinheaded oafs’.

The first recipe is the one I use the most often:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. As you add the oats, reduce the temperature to low and stir constantly at first, making sure the oats don’t boil over. Add salt after about 5 minutes of cooking. Simmer on low for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is thick and creamy.

Add your choice of toppings – I usually sprinkle on cinnamon, maple syrup, toasted pecans, banana slices and milk.

But as delicious as this is, I’ve got two other recipes up my sleeve:

If it’s autumn and you’re jumping on the Pumpkin Spice bandwagon, give The Kitchn’s Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal a go. They’ve updated the recipe for slow cookers as well. Flavoured with pumpkin puree, brown sugar, vanilla, and scented with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, it’s everything nice about the advent of falling leaves (and temperatures).

This next recipe steers directly into chocolate land, but manages to stay healthy. With a name like Brown Butter Chocolate Oatmeal you’ll feel like you should save this for a special occasion, but don’t. It perked up my Monday morning in no small way. You’ll need to sign up for NYT Cooking to get the recipe, but it’s worth it. Basically you brown butter in a saucepan, toast your steel cut oats in it for a few minutes, and then stir cocoa powder into the boiling water before adding in the buttery oats and a smidge of salt. I topped mine with a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts, demerara sugar and a little milk.



A Canadian’s thoughts on British snow

#snow #leeds what a day to be commuting t’werk in the snuh #beastfromtheeast

A post shared by Heather Hewer (@heather.hewer) on

Many people asked me what I thought of the snow this week in Yorkshire. On one hand, it’s been a laughable amount to this intrepid Canadian, but on the other hand, I can’t join in to the jokes that colder, snowier countries are making.

People have died. People have been stranded in their cars, stranded on trains, stranded at home.

It all boils down to infrastructure. Countries and cities that regularly experience heavy snowfall have the means to remove it and melt it, while I can only guess that many parts of the UK have a seriously limited contingency plan. In contrast, Montreal’s snow-removal budget for 2017 was $159 million. When we lived in Ottawa, I remember seeing special snow melting trucks slowly rumbling down our street during particularly heavy snowfalls.

But you simply can’t expect a nation that rarely has to deal with snow to have a good handle on things when it does. And it doesn’t matter how familiar I am with walking on snowy and icy sidewalks – when I’m on the bus, I’m still at the mercy of the driver’s abilities. I distinctly felt my bus slide to a stop a couple of times at red lights. An in-town journey that usually takes 15 minutes took 40 minutes on Thursday morning. I can completely understand why people commuting from further away chose to take snow days.

And why not? Why endanger themselves when something a bit unusual is happening? Schools and nurseries were closed for part of the week, so many people had no choice but to stay home. I heard stories of families playing in the snow – tobogganing in Chapel Allerton Park, making snowmen, making memories with their kids.

And who doesn’t love a snow day? I was really impressed with how seriously the office I temped in handled various staff members’ decisions to stay home. There was no shaming, no ridicule, no sarcastic  ‘air quotes’ about working from home. If I’m honest, I was a bit sad that I didn’t live far away enough to have a snow day myself!

I grew up in the country, on an unpaved rural road. If I heard my parents listening to the local radio station before 6:30 am, I knew it was only a matter of time before my bus and/or school would be cancelled. We’d also get an early-morning phone call if the buses weren’t running. I would snuggle back down under the covers, grateful for a reprieve from math quizzes and science projects; smug in the knowledge that my brothers and I would likely spend most of the day tobogganing. Turning on the radio in the mornings this week transported me straight back to that feeling, except I had to continue putting on my makeup and checking bus times.

I also have a happy memory of my father from when I was about 16. One icy, snowy night he picked me up in town, but we had to ditch our car on an icy road about a mile from our house. We left my shopping bags in the car, and walked hand in hand to keep each other from slipping. It was nice to have my dad take such good care of me.

So it doesn’t matter that the phrases ‘freezing rain’ and ‘ice storm’ strike more fear in my heart than the prospect of snow. All that matters is that everyone does their best to stay safe and warm.

Lost your cooking mojo? 5 ways to get it back

pIzza fella

if only pizza could be the answer every day

If you usually love to cook, ending up in a slump can be difficult. You might be recovering from an illness or suffering from burnout at work. Maybe the last few recipes you tried didn’t quite do it for you or your family, or perhaps these days you just. don’t. feel. like. cooking.

Unlike other creative pastimes, cooking is also a means to an end, and even though you don’t want to do it, you’ve still got to eat. What’s worse, if part of your identity is wrapped up in being proud of your cooking skills, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a shame-spiral that can make coming back to the kitchen even more difficult.

I’m here to say it’s ok, it’s normal, and it happens to everyone.

Here are 5 ways to get your mojo back:

  1. Can’t someone else do it? Sometimes you just need a break. Is there anyone else in your household who can pick up the slack? Every adult needs to know how to cook simple meals, even if they don’t like to. It’s just part of life. Can you order in? Pick up a ready-made meal? These aren’t long-term solutions, as they will hit you in your wallet, along with filling you up with sodium, fat and hidden sugars. But if you need a night or two off, go easy and give yourself some room to breathe.
  2. Watch or read (the right kind of) food porn. Don’t tune in to shows, cookbooks or websites featuring aspirational, gourmet cooking with tons of ingredients and fussy, time-consuming techniques. It will only make you feel worse about your slump. Instead, stick to simple recipes designed to get food on the table – fast, with short ingredient lists and time-saving suggestions.
    • Some favourites:
      • The Kitchn. This link goes straight to their videos page – I’m much more likely to be entranced by something if I watch a video rather than reading a recipe. At very least I need an awesome photo.
      • Jamie Oliver’s latest Channel 4 series, Jamie’s Quick & Easy Food and tie-in book 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food didn’t just get me out of my recent slump, they inspired this post as well.
      • Buzzfeed Food. I can’t think of a better place to watch cooking videos, find recipes or simply remember that food is supposed to be fun. Also good for silly quizzes, if nothing else grabs you.
  3. Cook in advance on the weekend. Truth time – I absolutely detest cooking from scratch on a weeknight when I work in an office. I’m often tired and cranky when I get home from my commute, so my cooking mojo is always at its lowest ebb. A recipe that may have sounded amazing on Saturday afternoon will probably be too much work for me by the time Tuesday evening rolls around. Thanks to this prized piece of self-knowledge, I do most of my cooking on the weekend – usually big pots of soup, chili or stew for portioning and freezing, roasting a large chicken for lots of leftovers, and roasting trays of vegetables to use throughout the week. And low-key weekends are also ideal for trying new recipes.
  4. Fall back in love with your kitchen. Go through your pantry staples, organise your spice rack, de-clutter your cupboards. Clean out the fridge and freezer. You may rediscover ingredients you bought with the best of intentions. If they are non-perishable, use them as a jumping off point for a future recipe. If they have gone bad, chuck them out and remember to go easy on yourself. This decluttering task can be a bigger job than you think – definitely order pizza that night.
  5. Get some new gear. Once your kitchen is feeling organised and calm, consider rewarding yourself with a new piece of equipment – anything that you’ve always meant to get to make things easier. A mortar & pestle? A new blender? It could be as simple and cheap as replacing a cookie sheet, or as luxurious as a top-of-the-line food processor. Celebrate your new purchase with that recipe you’ve been meaning to make for ages.

Taking my joy from… 5


Winter can be charming if you look at it a certain way. There’s less pressure to be social, and I can’t think of a better time of year to pick up a book, make a cup of tea (or pour a nice whisky), and listen to the wind howl. It’s a time for dreaming, planning, and quietly working on projects. Here’s what’s been making this chilly season A-OK with me:

  • This Scheepjes gradient yarn, World Scoop Whirl in Licorice Yumyum – is slowly being knitted into a simple poncho, with hopes that it will be ready by spring. I can’t wait until the yarn starts to change from white to silver, and then to a rich purple.
  • Yotam Ottolenghi’s Curried Lentil and Coconut soup. I’m obsessed. I want to cook it for everyone. And I can, because it’s vegan for god’s sake.
  • I don’t think I’ve raved about The Good Place yet. Such a good show, with lots of great dialogue and fantastic sight gags that reward a re-watch. Netflix.
  • Also being a mega nerd by re-watching Battlestar Galactica –  it’s been perfect for getting over a nasty bout of bronchitis. Amazon Prime UK
  • Picked up Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food and binged his Channel 4 programme. I have been extra busy lately, so the simple ingredient lists and quick techniques are really winning me over.
    • If you would like to watch Channel 4 online in Canada or the US, there are lots of fantastic VPN options out there – my favourite is TunnelBear.  Phil, if you’re reading, it will work for the BEEB as well.

My favourite cold and flu remedies


honey – the superstar in my cold-fighting arsenal

Hola! While everyone I know has been in Mexico lately, Jeff and I have been trying to recover from forking bad colds while huddling under blankets and catching up with The Good Place.

I don’t want to sound like a baby, but man oh man, British colds hit me way harder than Canadian viruses and tend to linger for weeks. In my Toronto life, it was usually enough to get extra rest and fluids right when I first felt the ‘impending doom’ feeling hit my sinuses and expect to ride out a miserable two or three days if I caught it fast enough.

But when I’m ill here in England, I’m constantly looking for a Victorian fainting chaise longue and coughing like a consumptive. I keep expecting my doctor to prescribe a month at the seaside.

It’s no surprise that I’ve had to ramp up my approach to recovery and healing. I realise there isn’t anything super groundbreaking in this post, but if you’re anything like me, the stuffier my head gets, the foggier my brain gets, so I thought it would be helpful for my next cold to have all my favourite remedies listed in one place.

Toronto me felt that merely staying home and taking it easy was enough when I would begin to feel ill; now I literally take to my bed whenever I can. I find a book or box set that’s interesting-ish but also won’t be a big deal if I nod off. Podcasts are great for when I want to rest my eyes but worry about getting bored.

So that’s the resting part of the equation. On to the fluids:

  • Tea, and lots of it. Caffeinated black tea if I simply must be awake and alert for a while, but more often I switch to a lemon-ginger infusion. Twinings Lemon & Ginger is a staple here at Casa Hewer, but Pukka Lemon Ginger & Manuka Honey is another recent fave. If I have a persistent cough, I prefer adding a squeeze of actual honey to the Twinings version.
  • If I haven’t had any painkillers for a number of hours, a shot of bourbon added to the lemon-ginger-honey tea is a nice send-off for a nap.
  • Sparkling mineral water has lots of fizz and bubbles to soothe my sore, scratchy throat. I avoid soft drinks these days, although I might consider ginger ale for an upset stomach.
  • Chicken broth, chicken noodle soup, vegetable broth if you’re vegetarian. I wish I had a ramen or pho place nearby.
  • And when I am beyond tired of not being able to breathe through my nose, I go for some sinus-clearing Thai Tom Yum soup, or Chinese Hot and Sour soup.
  • During particularly bad bout of bronchitis, I went online to look for home remedies for a cough, and found out that avoiding dairy was the wrong plan for me – a cup of warm milk with honey at bedtime is a very effective way to stop coughing long enough to fall, and stay, asleep.
  • And also on the liquids continuum – nothing beats a long, hot shower if I’m able to stand upright without feeling faint or dizzy. Sometimes it’s easier to sit in front of a bowl of steaming hot water with a towel draped over my head.

I don’t go in for drugstore cold remedies as a rule, but lately I’ve had no choice but to pull out a classic from my childhood: Vicks VapoRub.  I completely forgot how soothing this stuff is. I make sure I’m wearing pajamas I don’t care too much about. Not that I can smell anything anyway, but that stuff is as greasy as the day is long.

I recently discovered the trick of taking a teaspoon of honey to stop coughing, so now I do that instead of having a lozenge. I save hard candies for coughing jags when I am out and about in the world.

I always forget to do this until it’s too late, but getting a couple of boxes of extra soft tissues is a necessity when I’m constantly blowing my nose. And I wash my hands every single time I blow my nose or touch my face.

And it may be obvious, but these super bad colds have scared me into taking even better care of myself when I am healthy – eating properly, getting enough sleep, and paying attention to my body’s early warning signs.

If you’ve got a favourite cold or flu tip, please feel free to share in the comments. And has anyone ever tried the trick of applying Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet to stop coughing? I’m super curious.

Paris, encore

Paris in winter.jpgExcept this time, I didn’t have jet lag.

This won’t be a super long post. If you plan to visit Paris, you already know what you want to see. There are enough amazing resources out there, and your imagination has already been captivated by films, books and tv shows. Just go with it. And don’t forget to wander.

Instead, let me tell you about some favourite little experiences that made this trip sing. It will soon be clear that we stayed in the Marais district.

  • Bonjour Vietnam: Reader, I am not ashamed to say I actually shed a happy tear upon tasting their pho. That delicate broth had perfectly balanced flavours, better even than anything in Toronto. I thought I’d been eating pho in Leeds, but I was wrong. It’s a tiny spot. We lucked out by arriving at 6:59 pm on a Monday evening in January, but make a reservation. 5th arrondissement
  • La Chaise Et Le Vin: A lovely wine merchant with lots of space to relax with a glass or two, steps from Place des Vosges. Incredibly knowledgeable proprietor will steer you to a great glass or bottle. Le Marais
  • America and Paris have strong emotional and historical ties, and this extends to their food as well. We didn’t bother with bistros for the most part, especially the overpriced ones that appear on almost every corner. (Make Yelp your friend to avoid the worst). Being a bit homesick for North America led us to Breakfast in America and Schwartz’s (no affiliation with the venerable institution of smoked meat in Montréal). Both great spots for unpretentious, belly-busting meals, perfect for long walks in chilly weather. Le Marais
  • There is one bistro we bothered with – Vin des Pyrénées – based on this rave review from TimeOut, and I’m very glad we did. I’m still thinking about those fondant leeks. We went back the following night to their beautiful, über cool cocktail bar upstairs. Le Marais

We went ever-so-slightly off the beaten track with our art gallery and ancient cathedral choices, choosing Musée de l’Orangerie and Musée d’Orsay over the Louvre, and Sainte Chapelle instead of Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle.jpg


Finding my creative balance

The Kicker

The Kicker – great photo subjects

Whenever life has been quiet enough for contemplation, I spend time thinking about finding the right creative balance. I think about what it means for me, what it means for Jeff, and I either ask or observe the creative people in my life. I’ve noticed four broad camps:

  1. Work a soul-crushing job out of necessity; do nothing creative, fall asleep in front of TV each night out of emotional exhaustion.

  2. Have job that is both lucrative enough and enjoyable enough for the foreseeable future; do side-hustle in free time.

  3. The dream (for some): a full-time job in their field, with full-on creativity and regular pay and benefits.

  4. Freelance: all the freedom and most of the creativity, worry about money.

I have experienced all four camps over the years and they have all shaped me.

For the purpose of my following ramble, let’s put money aside. Whatever camp you fall into, the importance of money and meeting your responsibilities is a given.

Sadly, I’ve spent the longest amount of time in #1. But I can’t be too hard on that experience. I made some of my best friends at that place. The regular pay wasn’t fantastic, but it was solid and covered my needs. After a while I could do my job so well that it freed up my brain for other things. When I started having trouble sleeping and wondering when life would get more interesting and fun, going back to school in the evenings was the answer – it’s not a coincidence that I started sleeping better the same night I enrolled for journalism courses. And being treated badly by my managers got me in touch with my anger. Instead of losing my temper, I plotted my escape. It took ages, but the day it finally happened was one of the happiest days of my life.

Camp #2 is something I’ve experienced less often, but I know others who have done this for most of their careers. Sometimes their day job inspires their creative side-hustle, especially comedians and satirists who collect the ridiculous things they overhear or experience and mine them for all their worth. Sometimes they use a pseudonym. They can retain more creative control because they don’t have to make a client happy. This blog fits that category. I need an outlet where I can write whatever I want, without feedback and change requests.

I’ve also lived the dream of #3, except that I didn’t find a fully creative job to be all that it was cracked up to be. Trying to be creative first thing in the morning or on demand is not something I’m great at – especially when I’m doing an overwhelming number of creative things all at once, all with terrifically tight deadlines. I found myself longing for quiet admin tasks to calm the ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!’ my mind was screaming while juggling. To be fair, I was in charge of photography, graphic design, web design, reporting, writing, and social media, so the whole experience was a big trial by fire. Looking back I learned so much, mainly how to breathe, focus, and learn how to do new things under pressure. I continue to have the utmost respect for graphic designers. Give me that same type of job again but with only writing and editing, and I think I would thrive – there is a part of my brain that loved the rapid-fire, never-a-dull-moment nature of that gig.

It’s not a surprise that #4 is my favourite, although I have to come to it rather cautiously, and after much planning and saving, in order to cut down on the stresses. I love being able to go for a walk on a beautiful afternoon, plan a trip when prices are low, go out on weeknights without worrying about tomorrow morning. But, the flipside of that spontaneity is unpredictability.

I haven’t mentioned camp #5 yet, mainly because it’s the hardest one to manage – having a substantial chunk of time off. The absolute dream for creatives. Used properly, it can change your life. I’ve also had fruitless time off, when I was still blocked creatively out of lack of confidence, and did nothing of note with the experience, except maybe to overcome burnout – which is not nothing. I’ve also had incredible inspiration that comes from the quiet, and yes, the boredom, of not working. This move to England was inspired by a few months of unemployment and a frustrating job search. It became clear that Toronto was not the place for us, but I would have never come up with those insights while working full time and only having three weeks off each year.

I also didn’t rush back into the workforce upon moving to Leeds, and while it made me uncomfortable, I’m now glad I took that time to settle in slowly and figure out my next steps. I was tired of taking whatever came up and was finally in a position to find the right fit.

It’s interesting, and not surprising, that my time in Leeds has been the most creative of my life. Whether it’s writing about the places we travel to, or my stranger-in-a-strange-land experiences here, I’ve also had more fun with photography, learned how to knit, and have dabbled in the world of soapmaking. I have small business ideas constantly flitting through my head, for both myself and friends. My creativity finally has time to talk to me and I am listening.

Take the above photo. This photo represents everything I hoped to change about my life once moving to Leeds. While in Toronto, as I divested myself of most of my worldly belongings, except for my favourite clothes, a few treasured books and my trusted, dependable cooking gear, I bought a proper DSLR camera. I pictured myself bringing it to Jeff’s gigs, all part of this new, bohemian spirit that was flowing through both of us, alive with possibilities of such a big change.

Put simply, this photo wouldn’t have happened if I was in a soul-crushing job. I would have begged off, not wanting to go out on a ‘school night’. I would have been too tired or might have had a migraine. Instead, I was well up for a Tuesday night in a pub, we had time to relax, have a pint and chat. Everyone had great ideas for the shoot. I felt like I could take my time and I’m proud of the result.

I don’t think I could have had a better start to 2018. Happy New Year!