Category Archives: Uncategorized

Books, read

Books read, fiction:

An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Books read, non-fiction:

Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto by Shawn Micallef.
Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon
Boosypants by Tina Fey
Last Call by Daniel Okrent
Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

What I’ve learned from the kitchen.

Recently, as I made a second batch of triple coconut muffins, I gave grave consideration to all the things that the kitchen has taught me over the last decade. I remember in grade 10, taking a home economics course on food that required meal planning, grocery lists, and as a final project making dinner for my small family of three. How much has changed.

The kitchen has taught me to be patient. To measure. To follow instructions. To ignore instructions. To have a plan.

The kitchen has taught me when to cut corners, when to abandon all hope, and when to roll up your sleeves and make more of a good thing. The kitchen has taught me to be creative, to be playful, to be more considerate of others. The kitchen has taught me to share. The kitchen has taught me to not be selfish. The kitchen has taught me that everything will be alright, eventually. The kitchen has taught me that it is a constant.

I met up with Laura of Zahlicious yesterday afternoon for drinks. She asked whether I was still blogging. I answered no. Like me, Laura moved to Toronto from Ottawa, but unlike me, she has found a way to keep writing about food. Meanwhile, I’m finding trouble cooking every night of the week or baking on weekends. But when I do, I go all out, I make more of a good thing, and I am reminded that the kitchen is a constant in my life.

Doughnuts

Doughnuts. They're what's for brunch

When we lived in Ottawa, in Lowertown, Andrew would visit Rideau Bakery regularly for their apple fritter doughnuts. Doughnuts became the hot new thing after cupcakes, or at least tried to. I can think of a half dozen spots in Ottawa (more in Toronto) that have doughnuts on their menu, and all of them have one thing in common: They’re best when fresh.

In Montreal, there’s a delightful Greek bakery on St Laurent, north of Schwartz’s. I won’t lie to you: Our gluttonous selves often visited Schwartz’s for smoked meat sandwiches, pickles, and cherry soda before heading north for a fresh, creme filled dessert.

As good as any of these is Joanne Chang’s recipe: The dough can be done up the night before or first thing in the morning and left to set until a few hours before rolling, cutting and leaving to rise. Then, they have quick dip in a bath of hot oil and are tossed with sugar. You can fill them or not, as you please. You could also slice them in half and fill to make giant cream puffs. Brunch demands so many other things, so here we simply left them as they were, sinful enough to be sure.

Doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 2/3 ounce fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup milk, room temperature
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 large eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir together yeast and milk; let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add flour, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, and eggs; mix on low speed until dough comes together, about 1 minute. Continue mixing on low 2 to 3 minutes more. Add butter, a few pieces at a time, mixing after each addition and until butter is fully incorporated and dough is soft, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove dough from bowl and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet; set aside. On a well-floured work surface, roll out dough into 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2-to-4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot until they’ve doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy, 2 to 3 hours.

Fill a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with oil to a depth of 3 inches; heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, place doughnuts in the hot oil, taking care not to crowd them. Fry until golden brown on one side, 2 to 3 minutes; turn and continue frying on remaining side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to a paper towel-lined baking sheet until cool enough to handle.

Place remaining cup of sugar in a small bowl. Toss doughnuts in sugar, one at a time, to evenly coat. Serve immediately, or allow to cool for 30 minutes before filling each with about 1/3 cup filling.

A New Year’s State of Mind.

Springbank Park, Christmas.

The second of January. In which I prepare a whole lot of food, most healthy; go running; and consider and reconsider and reconsider (again) all the things that I want to do. Always. Talk to me in March, when I’ve forgotten most of the things that I want to do this year and am struggling with the other half.

Twenty-seven things seems like a good number, if ambitious. It’s a start.

Trying to Resolve

Ani Difranco has a very catchy song called “Evolve”, from her 2003 album of the same name. The chorus of it is “she’s trying to evolve.” Consider this title a riff on that.

I’ve kinda always been big on resolutions, on New Year’s Day and otherwise. New school year, new city, what have you. It’s an opportunity to start over, start fresh, and make the most of whatever. It’s a blank slate. I fancy myself a success-oriented person. I cannot stop. It’s not a good thing, often times. When I have downtime, I get bored, I get anxious. The past two weeks, we were travelling to our families, first in London and then in Ottawa. There was simply not enough for me to do. I went stark mad. Resolutions are a special sort of hell when you are the type of person who overextends themselves a lot and finds themselves planning trips three and a half years in advance.*

So, I’m trying to resolve. I can’t seem to come up with remarkable resolutions that I’ll actually LOVE, though. Maybe to knit more? Goals? Goals, I can handle.

Get healthy: Lose 25 pounds. Run two half-marathons (Toronto – May 5; Detroit/Windsor – October 20). Stretch daily.

Fiscal cliffs: Be austere this year. (That part about planning a trip three years ahead of time? If it’s anything like I’m envisioning it, it’s going to need some savings.)

Forge my career path: Do more amazing things in my field of expertise with my knowledge and skills, both for pay and for experience. And for the sheer joy of it.

Relatedly, this seems like an opportune time to let you know (all three of you that are still hangin’ in there!) that I’m planning on blogging more often, but far less about food. I think I’ve been letting you know this for the past seven months, so I should probably act on this. That middle part about the crazy trip will probably come up at some point, among other things.

*This is apparently what I do on vacation, when left to my own devices and when none of those devices are particularly helpful in the research work that I should be doing.

And then, I had made lunch.

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Not having time to yourself can kinda destroy a person. I love what I do, but there’s a bit of a transition that happens when you go from working 2 or 3 days a week, in a city that’s familiar, with a huge apartment and spacious kitchen (with a dishwasher and full-sized oven) to working full-time, in an unfamiliar space, with cramped quarters. Our dining room table, which in Ottawa would fit ten people with ease, now fits only five or six, seven at most, squeezed into the tightest of nooks and crannies and with worries that one might fall backwards and go down the stairs. Oof.

Yesterday, I had a sort of meltdown about this. I’ll spare you all the details, but to say that it was solved in part by going for a run, and in part by my darling husband taking our dear dog for her afternoon walk alone. I stayed it. And chopped. And washed. And toasted. And smacked. And tasted. And then, I had made lunch.

Pomegranate/Walnut/Olive Salad
Makes enough for 4 lunches

The seeds of 2 pomegranates (See this life-changing blog post about how to get said seeds out of said fruit)
1 cup walnuts (or pistachios), toasted and chopped
1 cup pitted green olives, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup bulgar wheat, cooked

Juice of 1 lemon
2-4 tbsp olive oil (to taste)
1 tsp. oregano or zaatar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the things together. Cover. Eat.

Ish, Fuh, and White-Chocolate Blueberry Cake

Blueberry and White Chocolate Cake

As maybe I alluded to in my last post (see below), it’s kind of a rough and patchy ride at the moment. When I’m not working, I’m hitting the refresh button on a series of sites that maybe will have a gig that is what I’m looking for in the long term. Except, the problem is, that I still don’t know at all what I’m looking for in the long term. What do we want to be, when we grow up? We are asked at 3, at 5, at 10, and maybe again at 12. Sometimes the answer changes. Sometimes it doesn’t. For me, from the time I was 8 until I was 18, I wanted to be a print journalist. There was a brief stretch where I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. That wasn’t long after the Blue Jays won the World Series. But, in general, I thought that a working life in media was the working life for me.

The trouble is, that I have never been as sure about what I want to do with my 9-5 as I was when I was 18, right after I accepted a scholarship from Carleton’s Journalism program, and right before I left for Germany. I bailed on that opportunity, and I don’t regret it, because I don’t think it was the right decision at the time. But there is something to be said for security and certainty. Whereas, now, I have six years of post-secondary education and all I know is that I want to improve communities and engage people in the process of placemaking. That’s not exactly a career.

On the one hand, this is exciting. It’s an adventure, to have the world in front of you. On the other hand, I’m lacking in both a map and compass. But, I have cake. And cake makes adventures better, right? That’s why we have wedding cakes.

This isn’t a wedding cake. It’s a birthday cake. Or, it was. Then we ate it and now there are photographs, and recipes, and memories. It’s okay though – this birthday cake starts the Season of Cake, in which each the entirety of my husband’s family, plus my husband and myself, have birthdays. There are, between March 29 and June 26, five birthdays, plus Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Easter. There will be a lot of cake.

I’m just getting started.

White-Chocolate Blueberry Cake

For the cake
4 cups tablespoons pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
In a large bowl (or stand mixer), beat together the butter and sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Alternately mix in the buttermilk and the dry ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, ensuring that air bubbles are eliminated. Bake until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan and inverting it.

Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing. Alternatively, they can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and thrown in the freezer for up to a week or so.

For the blueberry filling

Take 250 mL of your favourite blueberry jam. (For me, it’s the Blueberry & Lavender one from Michael’s Dolce, a local confectioner.)
If the jam is not a spreadable consistency, if it drizzles off the spoon quite quickly, you’ll want to heat it in a saucepan, over a low heat to thicken it. I heated mine for about 15 minutes, then removed it from the stove and kept it in jar in the fridge until she was ready to go.

For the white-chocolate frosting

2 cups icing sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
8 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons milk

With a mixer, blend together the icing sugar and butter. Slowly add the white chocolate and mix until combined. Add the milk to thin it out a little, and mix until smooth. Use immediately.

Milk Crumb
adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar

1/2 cup milk powder
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup milk powder
3 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 250F. Mix together the first five ingredients and add the melted butter, mixing until clusters form. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until just golden.
Allow these to cool completely. Toss with milk powder, coat with the white chocolate, and let set on a sheet pan
or plate covered in wax paper. They will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Putting the cake together

This should be self-explanatory. But, in case it’s not:

Slice the cakes in half. I reserved one of the four halves, and made homemade twinkies with them.
Place a half on your cake plate/workspace and spread 1/2 of the jam on to it, leaving about an inch border.
Repeat with the second cake layer, and the second half of the jam.
Top with the third cake layer and ice the cake beautifully. (You can do it!)
Sprinkle the milk crumb and dried blueberries on top.


Image from Angela Anderson-Cobb

When the economy first collapsed, in 2008-2009, my mother told me that I was lucky. I was still young. I still have time to build a nest egg. The city that I live in, Ottawa, was mostly safe from the fallout. It had curled up under a blanket of a minority government, covered its eyes, and threw a bit of a money at the problem, in the hopes of making it okay. The blanket was thrown off this week, those underneath had their eyes uncovered.

Her Majesty’s government released its first budget as a majority government yesterday. I know people who say that it could have been worse. I know people who say that public servants should be fired, the lot of them, that they’re overpaid and underworked. I think this is demeaning, cruel, and untrue, to say the least. It can always be worse. But, these are the first serious austerity measures that Ottawa has seen in quite some time. The numbers are there, if you’re so inclined.

The point is, that Ottawa this morning is eerily quiet. So quiet, you could hear a penny drop, except that the government has also vowed to get rid of those. There are tumbleweeds rolling across the government campuses and the atmosphere is dim. It’s reminiscent–though not to the same degree–of the rust belt. The government cuts are not so severe that Ottawa will be hanging signs asking the last one to leave to turn off the lights.

It’s a rather depressing air that surrounds the town, though. And I’m not quite sure what to do about it.

Stocking the freezer.

Stocking the freezer and fridge with baking goodness; consequently, there’s been a lot of meals in bowls of late.

Nobody tells you that when you start baking as a business – rather than for friends and family – that you will have questions. Lots of questions. Or at least, nobody told me. Also, I was not informed at the inordinate amount of thinking involved. Thank heavens for Rachel and her spreadsheet system for organizing all the things.

My big fret at the moment is how much stock will I need? It’s the type of thing that is a little bit paralysing, particularly (I suspect) the first time. I don’t know how many sales to expect per hour. I don’t know which things are going to be the most popular, the best loved, and which people are going to look at like it has a head growing from it. (Disclaimer: There are no heads growing out of anything that comes from my kitchen.) It’s also a lot of putting-oneself-out-there. Which, as someone with a bit of training in theatre, and a past that included running for political office, is something that I’m generally alright with, once I get past the stage fright. (Also paralyzing? This article, which Kelly of The Gouda Life posted, which made me think “OMG! This isn’t going to work.” And then I remembered to breathe. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay. Sort of.)

My full menu for Urban Craft will be posted as a separate page shortly, but I’m happy to provide you with a sneak peek of what you might find on my table:

Cookies
Homemade Oreos
Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

Meltaways
(Packages of six small, truffle-like cookies)
Earl-Grey Meltaways
Lime-Coconut Meltaways

Bars
Lemon Bars with Milk Crumb Crust
Carmelized Chocolate Almond Bars

Mini Loaves
Brown Butter Banana Cardamom Chocolate Chip Loaf
Maple Carrot Loaf
Chocolate Tea Loaf

Spreads
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce

I have my favourites, but I’m wondering, which among these appeal to you the most? I don’t know if anyone can predict a best seller, but I think it’s difficult the closer you are to the product.