Cobblestone farm: Day 1

The first day I woke up at the farmhouse was quite wonderful, although strangely quiet.

The combination of excitement, anticipation, and habitual early wake-ups led to a 5:30am start to the day.

Mackenzie and I explored the dewy fields and watched the fog slowly lift away. The horses were there to welcome us on our first day at the farm. We even heard a distant cockadoodle-doo.

I knew I had a whole day of preparation ahead of me, but it was an awful shame not to run out into the field, arms stretched out, my head cocked to the sky, proclaiming to the world that the hills were alive with the sound of music.

My to-do list could wait. This was some rare time to myself in I-don't-know-how-many acres of quiet farmland.

After the outdoor exploring, my early morning was spent sitting in all the various spots around the farmhouse enjoying my Moonbean coffee and My Berlin Kitchen. In the open family room there were a pair of wonderfully comfortable couches that gently hugged you as if to say "thank you" for choosing this seat. There were also two nailhead-trimmed, leather chairs by the sunny patio door.  There was another living room near the front of the house, a little creakier and cozier, with an equally welcoming couch and armchair. The back deck had patio seating; the front porch had a bench and some Muskoka chairs.

I probably could have played musical chairs all day, changing seats with every couple pages. But there was work to be done.

I baked my favourite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for weekend snacking, I made two batches of pie crust ready for the quiches planned for lunch on Sunday, and I prepped a rainbow of peppers and zucchini for grilling -- to round out the charcuterie and cheese "light dinner" planned for that evening when retreaters arrived.

The dinner spread was nothing short of spectacular. All the charcuterie was from Sanagan's Meat Locker in Kensington Market, where they support the small-farms in the nearby Ontario area. The cheese was a spread of Ontario cheddar, Ontario honeyed goat cheese, Quebec Brie, and a not-so-closeby smoked gouda (I can't get over my love for smoked gouda). And then I went nuts with the pickles. Taking the advice of many wise friends, I forwent the homemade route and just purchased a variety of deliciously tangy pickled vegetables. Local choices included spicy pickled cauliflower, giant green olives stuffed with garlic, and Matt and Steve's spicy beans. Not so local choices were some Italian pickled baby onions and the famous Maille cornichons. But I think the unexpected dark horse of the night were the grilled vegetables, in particular, the zucchini.

I dare not say that a humble grilled zucchini was the star of the night. It was simply the surprise contender. One of the most satisfying things in life is convincing someone that a food that they barely tolerated is, in fact, delicious.  Zucchini is one of those foods that can be unmemorable or downright mushy, but when cooked properly, it can be one of the tastiest. The secret is high heat, simple seasoning, short cooktime. It's surprising how soon the zucchini is ready to be taken off the heat.

Whenever I cook zucchini, I make too much. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes because I'm Chinese and too-much is just-enough. The leftovers taste great reheated, or cold in a salad. At the retreat, I actually used the leftovers to make a grilled vegetable quiche.

"Grilled" Zucchini

I put "grilled" in quotations because at the retreat, and often at home, I pan-fried my zucchini. You can fire up your grill and cook the same way, I find they both taste great but the stovetop is easier to control your heat.

2 zucchinis
2 tablespoons of good olive oil
1 tsp of kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

Wash and trim your zucchini. On an angle, slice your zucchini into ovals, about 1cm or 1.5 cm thick. If you cut them thinner, they may cook too quickly.

In a large bowl -- I like to use a stainless steel prep bowl because it is lighter than glass -- toss your zucchini with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can adjust the amount of oil to your liking. Excess can be left behind during "grilling" or you can likely use less oil if using a good non-stick pan.

Fire up your grill, or heat a frypan on the stove on high heat.

When the grill or pan is hot, add your zucchini in a single layer. You will likely need to do a couple batches. When it starts to brown, after about 2 minutes, flip and cook for another minute or two. Although they may look a little firm and you think they need longer cook time, they are actually perfectly ready.

Serves 4 sides, depending on the size of your zucchini.