Shortly after giving birth to her son, Reed, two years ago, chef Alexandra Feswick found herself craving adult interaction but she wanted an alternative to the typical lullaby-filled, singalong parent groups.
“I found a group of moms that would meet at a bar on Bloor during the day where everyone could breastfeed and be in an environment without any judgment and just hang out and do normal things,” says Feswick, longtime chef at the Drake Hotel on Queen St. W. who is starting a new post this month as the executive chef of the Drake Devonshire Inn in Prince Edward County. “The Drake wanted to create something like that here, so shortly after I came back from maternity leave they created the Highchair Hangout program.”
Every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Mondays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Drake Devonshire Inn), the Drake becomes a baby and toddler-friendly hangout. Parents can park their strollers at the hotel bar, eat with their kids and partake in rotating activities, such as kiddie dance parties and portrait sessions with a professional photographer, or listen to guest speakers talk about self-care and parenting. There’s also a prix-fixe lunch designed for multi-tasking parents and their kids.
“We’ve done avocado toast, grilled naan with toppings and soups. We also have baby food like blueberry chickpea or minted peas,” Feswick says. “We make things that people can eat with one hand while holding a baby in the other. We’ll have a starter and a main all on one plate so if parents have to leave early, that’s OK. We can also pack dessert to go. It’s just a place where parents can be adults while doing things with their babies.”
One of the dishes Feswick made for the Highchair Hangout is a creamy white bean and vegetable chowder that her son loves.
“It’s stick-to-your-ribs and something that’ll warm you up when you come in from the cold,” she says. “I’m not going to make separate meals for Reed and myself and my husband so what I like about this soup is that I can keep it simple for Reed or add in other toppings we have on hand, like pulled duck, kale chips and puffed rice.”
This soup takes a bit of time to simmer, but it yields a lot and can be frozen for future ready-to-heat meals. For cooks short on time, replace the from-scratch vegetable broth with 1 1/2 litres (6 cups) of store-bought broth. Just a heads up that in a side-by-side taste test at The Star, the soup with the homemade broth won out, but the supermarket broth version is good nonetheless (you could also buy higher quality broth at specialty food shops).
If you forgot to soak the beans and want to start with dried beans, start with 2 L (8 cups) of store-bought broth or add an extra 2 cups (500 mL) of water to the homemade broth, and have extra water or broth handy in case the beans soak up most of the liquid when cooking. If you forgot to soak the beans overnight, simmer dried beans for an extra 40 to 50 minutes in the broth before puréeing.
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 (2 mL) kosher salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) chili flakes
2 L (8 cups) water, plus more as necessary
1 lb (16oz) dried white beans, soaked overnight
In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add onion, fennel, celery, thyme, bay leaf, salt and chili flakes. Sauté until fragrant and vegetables are soft and translucent. Add water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and let cook for an hour, adding more water if necessary.
Strain broth through a mesh strainer, using a spoon to press out as much broth as possible from vegetables. Return strained broth (about 1 1/2 litres) to pot. Discard vegetables. Add soaked beans. Bring to a boil and simmer for an additional hour, or until beans are soft. Set aside 1/3 of beans (about 2 cups) to add at end when making soup. Using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender, purée rest of beans and stock. Set aside.
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 star anise
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 tsp (2 mL) kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup (125 mL) 35 per cent whipping cream, plus more as necessary
Lemon juice, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté onion, fennel, celery, star anise, garlic and salt until vegetables are translucent and soft. Discard star anise. Stir in reserved cooked beans. Stir in puréed bean mixture and cream. Bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. If soup is too thick, add more cream as necessary.
Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, black pepper and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
By Karon Liu Food Writer