Water & Wood and Easy Apple Cake.

You know that feeling where you just want to run away from it all to someplace pretty but that also has a well-stocked liquor store and decent restaurants? It can’t just be me who fantasizes about living somewhere almost-remote but almost not, somewhere you can reach into the sand and pull out a fistful of clams in the morning for that night’s dinner, and then head into town for tandoori sockeye salmon and a nice cup of chai for lunch. Such a place exists, five hours away from where I live, and I think about it all the time.

The drawback to these almost-remote places is that the kind of work that I do (the work that pays my bills, anyway) doesn’t exactly exist outside of urban centres or university towns, or when it does, there is one position that never becomes vacant. This is why we are not there now, wandering shorelines up the coast with Base Camp Coffee in a travel mug, and are staring out apartment windows at the traffic on Broadway instead.

But when you can’t be somewhere, it’s a comforting thing to be able to cook the food of a place instead. Whenever I get an itch to be somewhere, I turn to cookbooks.

I have picked up a few regional cookbooks lately – Christine Hanlon’s Out of Old Manitoba Kitchens has been a delight to flip through – but one in particular, Water & Wood: Recipes from a Coastal Community, a project of the Powell River Public Library, has been making my feet itchy once again.  

The thing I like about Water & Wood is that it has that spiral-bound community cookbook feel, but it’s also very beautiful in its design and photography, so that while it feels very “of the place,” offering local history and divided into sections by categories of Ocean, Lakes & Rivers, Farms & Gardens, and Forest & Mountains, it is also the kind of book you could leave out on your coffee table and thumb through with a cup of tea in the evening. And while the recipes are from the community and have a very strong west-coast feel, they’re also a bit more modern than you might expect.

Water & Wood offers a good mix of vegan and gluten-free recipes – there’s a recipe for raw, vegan, gluten-free Nanaimo bars, which honestly could not be more British Columbian unless you were to make them and walk them over to your neighbourhood bike repair shop while wearing Gore-Tex and rain boots. A nod to the multiculturalism of the area, the book also features international flavours using local ingredients, like the asparagus goma-ae and the beef tongue bitterballen (there are a couple of Dutch recipes, from the Van Es family farm archives). More regional recipes like Foraged Salmon Berry Shoots & Fiddleheads, Bladderwrack Egg Drop Soup, or the Pan Roasted White Sturgeon with Fir Tip Butter may not be the kind of thing you have the ingredients to make in your own kitchen, but that’s okay – what you can’t make at home may have you making travel plans.

And best of all, sales of the book support the Powell River Public Library (PRPL). The PRPL serves the residents of the City of Powell River and the Tla’amin Nation and Regional District.

I’ve asked for permission to share a recipe from the book, a very simple apple cake that served me well for several days – this thing does not seem to go stale, and so I was able to make it breakfast for nearly an entire workweek! Maybe the only thing better than running away to Powell River is eating cake for breakfast every day.

Easy Apple Cake

(Makes one 8″ cake.)

  • 2 cups peeled and finely diced apple (about two medium apples)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil*
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped**
  • 1/2 cup raisins**

*I used grapeseed oil – any neutral oil will do.

**Raisins are bad and we keep running out of walnuts as I keep eating handfuls of them, so I subbed one cup of currants.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of an 8″ baking pan (square or round will do) with parchment and set aside.

Place apples in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar. Stir, then set aside for half an hour, or until the sugar becomes liquid.

Add beaten egg, oil and vanilla, and stir to combine.

In another bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients.

Add raisins and walnuts (or currants), and stir to combine.

Pour batter into your prepared baking pan, and bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate to serve.

To purchase a copy of Water & Wood, visit the PRPL website. (This is not a sponsored post, though they did send me a copy of the book.)

 

Speculaas blondies

speculaasjesI live in Vancouver, which is in Canada but not typically Canadian in many ways, the most disgraceful of which is our complete inability to function in the presence of even a tiny bit of snow. It doesn’t snow much here – some years, it doesn’t snow at all. I can’t remember my last snowy Christmas. We do not have the infrastructure to support this kind of weather, and so a couple of centimeters of snow on the streets sends us into turmoil.

It snowed today. I worked from home.

We are planning our next adventure, and we’ve booked our flights – we’ll be in the Netherlands in late January. I am working on a new book, Dutch Feast, and it will be in bookstores and online in fall 2017, and the thing about Dutch food that is so lovely is that a lot of it is sugary carbs. And so even though it’s cold outside and my toes have yet to defrost from this morning’s failed attempt at finding a bus to work, I’m eating Dutch sweets and my home smells like speculaas spices. I mean, it’s an absolute disaster because recipe testing is messy and I’m usually remiss in cleaning up, but it smells nice and if I don’t look in the kitchen this whole scene is pretty cozy.

These speculaas blondies are an adaptation of a recipe in Heleen AM Halverhout’s Dutch Cooking (©1972); she suggests baking speculaas cookie dough “like brownies,” which she called speculaasjes. I like this idea quite a lot, because everyone knows brownies are better than cookies. We can debate this, but I’m not likely to entertain opposing viewpoints in this case. The nice thing about these speculaasjes is that they require no special equipment (no cutters or rolling pins required!), so if you start right now, you can have chewy, sweet speculaas blondies in time for this evening’s cup of tea.

Speculaas blondies

(Makes 16 pieces.)

  • 1/2 cup room-temperature butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. dark rum
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup candied ginger (about two ounces), chopped
  • 1 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar, for garnish

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease an 8″ x 8″ square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, and beat until the mixture looks smooth. Add rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, cloves, and salt, and mix until combined.

Gently fold flour into the spiced butter mixture until just moistened. Add chopped candied ginger, then spoon the mix into your prepared baking pan.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean (a few clingy crumbs = perfect). You want these just shy of totally baked, so that they are still chewy.

Cool the blondies in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes, then turn them out onto the rack to cool completely.

Once cool, sift confectioner’s sugar over top. Cut into sixteen pieces.

Serve with tea or coffee and your feet in fuzzy socks or slippers.

 

 

Coconut caramel pound cake.

pound cake

This was one of those weeks that really makes one appreciate the simple things; the kind of week where at the end of it, my salvation came from the basics – eggs and butter and sugar and flour, a bit of pasta, a bag of onions, and a few frozen sausages. The week started with some debit card fraud that cost me most of what was in my bank account, and an unavoidable trip to the local mechanic that threatened to eat up the rest.

It is also December, as you might have noticed – on top of everything, I’ve got places to go and potlucks to participate in and when you’ve got a cookbook pending, it is poor form to show up at these things with a two-liter bottle of store-brand pop and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. If you’re not going to bother washing your hair or dressing like an adult, you should at least show up with a salad, I guess.

But I haven’t been to a grocery store all week, which is silly because there’s one half a block away and I’ve managed to hit up the liquor store in the same vicinity twice. I am a caricature of a woman unraveling. Imagine a lot of leggings and cat hair.

December is reason enough to unravel and as a good a time as any. ‘Tis the season for demands on top of demands and far more debits than credits. And it’s so easy to fall into an exasperated funk and find yourself yelling at everyone; this is not what the season is all about, I’m told. I know it’s hard advice to take sometimes, but we need to go easy on ourselves. Take breaks. Take shortcuts. Make pound cake.

Pound cake will solve a great many of your December problems. It’s cheap – at its most basic it is literally just butter, sugar, flour and eggs – and it benefits from sitting around a while, so it’s best to make it a day ahead. It’s cake, so people will think that you tried. It’s cake, so everyone will like it.

This is grandma-level stuff right here, the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. A glazed pound cake recipe in your back pocket will get you through all kinds of things, and up to 98 per cent of what December can throw at you.

This is not one of those Bundt-pan pound cakes; make this in a loaf pan. Make it the night before you want to serve it, and then plop it out onto a plate or into a container and take it wherever you need to go. This is not fancy. Let someone else handle fancy – your job is to get through the holidays, deliciously.

Coconut caramel pound cake

Cake:

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Sauce:

  • 1 14-oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan, then line it with parchment paper so that the paper peeks over the sides by a couple of inches.

Using either a stand mixer or an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs one at a time while continuing to beat the mixture. Once you’ve added your last egg, add the vanilla and salt, and continue to beat until thoroughly mixed.

Using a spatula, fold the flour into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, a third of a cup at a time until just moistened. Pour the batter into your loaf pan, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, simmer coconut milk over medium heat with brown sugar until the mixture reduces by half. Add the vanilla and the salt, and set aside.

Using a toothpick, poke many holes into the top of the still-hot cake. Pour the coconut milk mixture over top, and let sit until cool. Cover, and let rest at room temperature for at least eight (up to 24) hours before serving.

To serve, reheat in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate, peel away the parchment, and cut into slices. Serve as is, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Garlic-scape fergazza bread.

fergazza bread

My last memory of a proper loaf of fergazza bread is hazy – I was with my parents, on Granville Island, and I can’t remember the circumstances or anything else about the day, but we bought a loaf from one of the bakeries there and they put it in a bag and for some reason the bag was handed to me and I ate the entire loaf while we were wandering around and then I didn’t poop for four days. It’s weird what lives on in the mind.

Fergazza bread seems to be a local thing, or a Canadian thing, and not particularly common – you see it in the occasional bakery, but I’ve never seen a recipe for it and to be honest, I’m just guessing at the spelling. It’s not fougasse, though there are similarities. It’s a loaf of bread that’s crammed full of Cheddar cheese and green onions, with a herbs and a whisper of hot sauce. It’s wonderful toasted with a bit of butter, and you really could just mindlessly eat a whole loaf. Don’t do that, unless you’re prepared to have a lot more free time and a heavy abdominal sadness for a few days after.

img_5611

It’s pretty wonderful with green onions, and you could certainly use those if that’s what you have or if it’s not garlic scape season, but it’s garlic scape season right now so I’m just garlicking everything even more than usual – this might be my favourite application of garlic scapes yet.

I’ve found that by adding just a bit of beer to the dough, the result is a bread that’s just breadier. You can omit it if you prefer – just replace with water, and put the full amount of liquid in with the yeast at the beginning.

Fergazza Bread with Garlic Scapes

(Makes one 9″x5″ loaf)

  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour as needed for kneading
  • 1/4 cup beer
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. cubed aged Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. sambal oelek or sriracha (or other chili paste or hot sauce)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Additional coarse salt, to top loaf

Combine water with sugar and yeast in a bowl and let rest for five minutes, until yeast is foamy.

Add yeast mixture to flour, with beer, one tablespoon of olive oil, salt, oregano, and pepper. Mix until a shaggy dough forms, then knead for eight minutes or until the dough is smooth and stretches when pulled. Form the dough into a ball. Place it into a greased bowl, cover with greased plastic wrap and a dishtowel, and let rest in a warm, draft-free space until doubled in size, about two hours.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with sambal oelek and garlic.

Once the dough has risen, spread it out over a clean, floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it to about 10″x14″. Paint the oil-sambal mixture over top, leaving about a half inch border all the way around. Sprinkle with garlic scapes, and scatter with cheese cubes. Form as tight and firm a roll as you can.

Fold the edges of the roll under, then place into a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan. Cover again, and let rise another hour to hour and a half.

Using a sharp knife, cut slits into the top of the loaf. Paint the top of the loaf with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle with additional coarse salt. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350°F. Check the bread halfway through baking – turn the pan, and if the loaf is browning too quickly cover it with foil for the remainder of your cooking time.

Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a rack for at least an hour before serving.

bread

Something to Read: How to Cook a Wolf

30days

There are times when helpful hints about turning off the gas when not in use are foolish, because the gas has been turned off permanently, or until you can pay the bill. And you don’t care about knowing the trick of keeping bread fresh by putting a cut apple in the box because you don’t have any bread and certainly not an apple, cut or uncut. And there is no point in planning to save the juice from canned vegetables because they, and therefore their juices, do not exist.

In other words, the wolf has one paw wedged firmly into what looks like a widening crack at the door. (How to Cook a Wolf, page 66)

No other book has been as inspirational or as significant in both my cooking and my desire to write about food as MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. It’s a book about cooking (and remaining happy) in the absolute bleakest of times – during war, under ration, or when one is limited by finances, shortages, or long, cold seasons. It was written in 1942, then revised in 1954, and it remains timeless in its advice and good sense. It’s also beautifully written.

mfkfisher

It’s not very long – you could probably read it in a weekend. And it’s just so sensible. Gas and electricity are expensive – why not spend one evening making enough soup to last a week? Meat and eggs aren’t always affordable – why not make a meal of corn grits and vegetables? What we’d now call vegan cooking is, in this book, just what you do when you don’t have much else. There are also good tips for working with cheap cuts of meat and offal, recipes for dinners in which eggs are the main course, and instructions for making mouthwash and soap.

Even if you don’t make the recipes, they are a great jumping-off point. Many of the recipes call for things like rabbit and pigeon, which are expensive proteins now and not likely to be in your fridge or freezer anyway. But you can adapt, and stew a tough bit of beef, or cook up chicken thighs or make a meatball or turn your leftovers into something else entirely with a long cook in a bright sauce and a low oven.

It’s also about redefining dinner – dinner does not have to be meat, potatoes, and some boiled vegetable. I don’t know how many times our dinner has been some manner of grain porridge topped with steamed spinach or asparagus and a poached egg; it’s something we eat all the time, not just when we’re broke (but also when I’m lazy, when it’s raining too much to walk to the store, when I just feel like a poached egg and something green …). It’s a good book, and a short book, and not preachy. Where some of Fisher’s other writing is more indulgent, How to Cook a Wolf is a reflection of the time it was written and quite sensible.

I’ve actually made her War Cake a few times, while not at war but certainly without eggs or milk or butter. It’s a nice thing to have when you are 22 and your parents are coming to your damp basement apartment for tea and you want to look like a grown-up but can only afford half the illusion.

If you already have a bit of fat and buy just what you need for this recipe out of the bulk bins, it will cost you just a few dollars to make and you’ll end up with a loaf you can slice and toast or muffins you can freeze. It’s very adaptable as well, so feel free to make substitutions based on what you have in your cupboards already.

War Cake

  • 2 cups flour, white or whole wheat
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup shortening, oil or bacon fat (always save your bacon fat)
  • 1 cup sugar, brown or white
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. other spices, such as ginger, cloves, mace, etc.
  • 1 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins or prunes

Lightly grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. Set aside.

Sift together your flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a pan over medium-high heat, combine the rest of your ingredients, and bring them to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for five minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and cool its contents completely.

Add the dry ingredients to your cooled wet ingredients, stir to combine, and pour into your prepared loaf pan. Bake at 325°F for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

You can also make this recipe as muffins; reduce your cooking time to 20-25 minutes.

 

Peanut butter banana cookies.

Cookie monster.

He’s got my nose, but pretty much nothing else. This picky-eating business is flummoxing at best – the kid would live entirely on Nutri-Grain bars if given the option. I don’t get it. There is no “just try it,” no “just one bite.” He must get this stubbornness from his father.

Occasionally it’s nice to save ourselves a fight and just give in and give him what he wants. He wants cookies.

Fortunately he likes things like raisins and bananas, so I can make him cookies and not be tempted to eat every single one. To be honest, baking’s been a bit weird around here. It’s rare that we have a purely decadent baked good, as Toddler adjusts his standard of living very quickly and we’re trying to maintain some standards by keeping him off white flour … at least until he’s reached the age of reason and can be convinced to eat actual food. (The white flour is for me, because I have a lot of feelings to eat.)

2014-02-16 13.02.28

Peanut butter and banana cookies

(Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.)

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed overripe bananas (about two medium)
  • 2 tbsp. ground flax seed
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Optional: 2 tbsp. hemp hearts or chia seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, peanut butter, and both sugars together until the mixture is fluffy and paler in colour than when you started. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add banana, flax, raisins, and chocolate chips, and hemp or chia seeds if using, and mix well.

Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and mix until thoroughly combined,

Roll into balls about an inch in diameter, and placed on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each ball. Press with a fork, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly golden. You don’t want to over-bake these, as they should be a bit soft and chewy. Serve warm, with milk.

Store in a container with a lid, or portion them off into smaller containers or baggies and freeze.

cookies

Spaghetti squash muffins.

spaghetti squash muffins

I make a lot of muffins.

Not on purpose, really; I have a picky eater and more produce than I know what to do with and I’ve got to get something that grows into him somehow and he’ll eat baked goods. All the baked goods. So, over the past year or so, I have honed my muffin-making prowess to the point where I believe I could now fill a book with deceptively healthy muffin recipes. When did I get so dull?

If it makes me seem any cooler, I am currently drinking a vodka and soda out of a topless sippy cup because we have a ran-out-of-clean-dishes situation.

Vodka. Topless. There you go, there’s some good stuff, right?

And we have reached that part of the year where all my good intentions in June have manifested in abundance come late-September, and now we’re into October and I have to do something with all the squash. “Good intentions” might be the wrong way to put it – I was a little more delusional than well-intended, I think, because while I love spaghetti squash, I don’t love having to eat a dozen of them all at once, but I never think about that when I’m enthusiastically thumbing seeds into the ground. So, between what grew in the garden and what I couldn’t resist at the farmer’s market, I am forced to get creative.

One does not simply feed a picky eater stringy bits of yellow squash. No.

Fortunately, I’m acing muffins these days and you can put spaghetti squash in muffins. You can. And it’s pretty good.

This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of cooked spaghetti squash; most of the time, that’s one whole spaghetti squash. If you’re a little short, just add a bit of applesauce to make up the difference.

Spaghetti squash muffins

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. flax seed
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked and drained spaghetti squash
  • 1 cup grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or maple extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Cook your spaghetti squash. There are a bunch of ways you can do this – I usually just throw the whole thing into a 400-degree oven and let it go until it’s soft, but that’s not terribly helpful. You can also microwave it, which is faster. Check this list out, and cook it however you like; just be sure to discard the seeds and scrape the flesh into a colander in the sink to drain it; drain for about 15 minutes, after which the squash should be cool enough to work with.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. If you have two muffin pans, you are very lucky – grease them both, or line the little cups with whatever kind of liner you like. I’m cheap, so one muffin pan plus grease it is.

In a large bowl, combine your flours, oats, sugars, flax, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix well.

In another bowl, mix squash, oil, eggs, and extract. Fold into your dry ingredients until they are just moistened; add your walnuts and fold again.

Spoon your batter into muffin tins until each muffin cup is about three-quarters full. You should get between 21 and 24 muffins.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Whoever you’re deceiving with these will never notice that these are kind of good for them, I promise.

Picky.

Toddler muffins.

Never eats.

I read the books about French babies and how they eat everything, and I assumed that mine would be an enthusiastic omnivore – how could he not be?! And in the beginning, he was – he ate his purees, grains and yogurts happily, lapping up anything I put in front of him and smacking his lips with great delight. Around the time we began to introduce textures, though, something went horribly awry.

The kid doesn’t eat.

Well, he doesn’t eat much, I should say. He’ll eat oatmeal, and applesauce, and yogurt, and peanut butter toast, and all the crackers. He likes cookies, and will eat just about anything I blend into a mush, except for purple things. He likes watermelon in slices, but won’t eat a sliced strawberry. Blueberries and grapes are untouchable, potatoes and pasta an insult. He was handed a hot dog at a birthday party and abhorred it. He tasted a bite of hummus off a cracker at Costco and burst into tears.

Needless to say, he is not an adventurous eater, though he did taste a snow pea the other day and took two bites before throwing it on the ground, which I think was progress. One day he might eat a green bean! One can hope. I keep handing him things, and putting food in front of him, which is about the best I can do, right? I don’t know.

His daycare requires us to send him meals, and I am told that he eats brilliantly when he’s there, so I send him nutrient-dense soups and things to make up for what he doesn’t eat at home. For breakfast, I send him muffins.

He gets all kinds – I made some pink ones for him last week that used up a pound of strawberries and the rest of my rolled oats. He’s had peach muffins, and subtly cheesy corn muffins, and gluten-free coconut flour muffins for something a little different; he likes a meal he can cart around, and a handful of carbs meets his almost all of his needs. My peanut butter-banana-chocolate muffins though, those are his favourite. And even though they aren’t a seasonal thing – I make them whenever the bananas at the little natural foods store on the corner are brown and sad-looking (and cheap).

Gross bananas.

I finally got a photo of him eating one today (after posting on Facebook that I figured it would be impossible). So here’s the recipe. I like to think these are reasonably healthy.

Any of the weird ingredients can be subbed for stuff you have; I bought a lifetime supply of coconut sugar when Nick was diagnosed with diabetes because it’s a low-GI sweetener, even though it later turned out that all sugar acts like refined white sugar in the blood for a diabetic no matter how pure my intentions. You can use brown sugar. Any other oil will work fine in place of the grapeseed. You can omit the ground flax if you don’t have it, but I find that by using entirely whole wheat flour in these, the recipe benefits from the bit of leavening the flax provides; if don’t have flax and like a lighter muffin, use half whole-wheat and half white all-purpose flour.

Toddler_MuffinToddler muffins (or: Peanut butter banana muffins)

Makes 12.

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 or 3 ripe – brown – bananas (if you have smaller bananas, use 3; if you only have those giant monster ones that are like a foot long, two will suffice), mashed
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth, whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Grease a muffin tin, or fill the tin with 12 paper liners. I am cheap, so I just grease.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In another larger bowl, mix bananas, peanut butter, coconut sugar, cocoa powder, egg, and oil until thoroughly combined. Stir in chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed – mix well.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon into your prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the middle ones comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for five minutes before turning the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool. If you are going to freeze these for daycare, let them cool all the way before putting them into a large freezer bag. If you like bananas and are just going to eat these yourself, go nuts.

Peanut butter chocolate banana muffins

Here are the B-sides – a handful of this morning’s attempts to catch the toddler in action.

A recipe for apple cake.

My mom sent me home with big bag of apples last Sunday, and though I eat a lot of fruit and put apples in Nick’s lunch bag each morning this week, I still have quite a few left over. I also had the last of a bag of oatmeal in my cupboard, and a few handfuls of pecans left in my freezer. I have currants, and they’re drying out. And Nick’s dad called to ask if he could come see the little pork chop this afternoon, as it’d been awhile and he was headed out of town so it would be a while longer before we’d see Nick’s parents again. Last night some friends came over for fried chicken, and this morning my apartment smelled like fried grease and dirty dishes.

The situation was ripe for cake-baking, and oh, I thought I was clever. I would whip up a quick cake batter, toss in a couple of those apples and nuts and maybe the currants, and maybe throw an oaty, streusely topping on the whole thing so when Nick’s dad arrived at least there would be something to go with a cup of tea, and maybe it would seem like Nick and I have our shit together a little more than we actually do. I shoved most of the dishes into the sink and covered them with soapy water and got to baking.

And then I pulled my well-worn copy of Fannie Farmer off the bookshelf to check one little thing, and the book flipped open to a spot I use quite a bit, to a recipe for an apple cake with raisins and walnuts, one so close to what I was doing that I am certain I didn’t invent it after all. I make the sour cream spice cake on page 344 quite often, and there was the apple cake, just the other side of the page on 343 where it’s been all this time, where I must have seen it a million times but never thought about it.

In high school, Hunter S. Thompson was my favourite writer. I bought every single one of his books, including an exorbitantly priced used copy of Curse of Lono – illustrated by Ralph Steadman, it cost a little more than I made in four weekends working the cash register at Farmer Ken’s. Every night I would fall asleep watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I replaced my VHS copy three times, and the DVD twice. I own a copy of the not-popular Where the Buffalo Roam, and even if it isn’t brilliant, it’s still important to me.

It was reading Hunter S. Thompson that I began to understand how a literary voice could be distinct, and I poured myself so deeply into his writing that when I typed my own words, they were accented with his. Without practice and spending the time to figure out my own voice, I emulated his (poorly). I became editor of my high school paper as part of my journalism class in Grade 12, and though it started as a respectable publication, I was unjustly handed a C+ at mid-term for my efforts by a teacher who graded on personality. I stopped caring about journalistic integrity and by the end it was my own personal tabloid and rant rag, a tribute to my misunderstanding of Gonzo Journalism. The school’s administration refused to approve publication the last issue due to the amount of questionable content, which I thought meant I was totally badass. In hindsight, I was probably just a jackass.

By the time I finished university, I had fallen under the sway of Kerouac and Vonnegut and Whitman and Ginsberg, as one does, and went through phases of trying to be more like each of them, with predictably little success. The hardest thing about learning to write is learning to write simply and honestly, and to learn to distinguish the difference between being influenced and copying outright.

Like a lot of people, until 2008 I was pretty certain the Internet was for nerds (forgetting how big a nerd I have always been). I didn’t know what blogging was, but it sounded lame. And then I discovered The Bloggess, and I related again to a weird person doing awesome things with words, and it was like I was 17 again – “I can do that!” I thought. And so I started this blog, and again couldn’t help but copy another writer’s tone, her syntax, her delicious use of profanity and run-on sentences and sentence fragments. I am a little embarrassed about the whole first year or so of this site, because I was trying so hard to write in a way that I thought sounded good and that I thought people would like.

I feel like I have grown with this little blog, and now the words you read are written the way I would speak them. If in three years this embarrasses me, I’ll let you know.

Learning to cook is a lot like learning to write. You find recipes that suit you and what you have in the fridge, and you practice them, and eventually you think you have what it takes to ditch recipes and go it alone. And maybe you do. But if you are passionate about something you immerse yourself in the culture of the thing and soon you are using what you’ve learned, applying other people’s ideas and techniques and style to your work.

Every day I learn something new about food by eating in restaurants and watching the Food Network and reading food writing in magazines and books and on blogs. I cook almost every day, and I often write about it, but I would be lying if I said that every dish I’ve ever posted here is a complete original. Maybe there was no recipe in front of me, and maybe I wasn’t even thinking of a specific thing I’d seen or read about or tasted, but the influences are there. I’ve used thousands of recipes, and I don’t know the point at which the ones I’ve memorized and remade hundreds of times and tweaked and recreated become mine. Any recipe I’ve written myself has likely been touched by something I experienced somewhere else, or something I saw but thought I could do better.

Maybe you own a recipe the first time you change the recipe. Maybe a recipe is just a list of ingredients, and the ownership comes with the instructions and the presentation and the story you tell alongside the dish. Recipe ownership has been a topic of discussion on Twitter and at Dianne Jacob’s website (here, here, and here) about this, and I don’t know what’s right. There are only so many recipes for any one thing (for example, lemon bars), and chances are that if you search the ingredients for the thing you invented or that you make all the time without a recipe, Google will produce a match. Cooking is derivative. Writing can be too. And if you knowingly reproduce a recipe on your blog, you have a responsibility to give credit and link back to the original (or to where you can buy the book online) the same way that if you use prose that someone else has written, you would place the text in quotation marks and provide a reference.

Every English teacher I ever had claimed that there are only seven plots. In spite of this, people keep telling stories. So maybe there are no original recipes, and maybe every dish is just a creative re-telling. Maybe all cooks and all artists steal and the magic is not in making it look like you have created something when you haven’t, but in showing the way in which you’ve made something old new.

Anyway, here’s a recipe for apple cake. It’s kind of like this other apple cake I know. If you’ve got the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, it’s on page 343.

Apple Cake

Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book

Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. maple extract (no maple? Vanilla’s fine)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 medium firm-fleshed apples (such as Gala, Granny Smith, or Red Delicious), diced to 1/4″
  • 1 cup whole pecans, toasted and roughly chopped (divided)
  • 1/2 cup dried currants

Streusel:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8″x 8″ cake pan.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, sugar, oats, and half of the pecans. Mix with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating continuously until batter is smooth. Add maple extract.

In yet another bowl, add both types of flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Whisk to combine.

Stir flour mixture into wet ingredients until just moistened. Fold in apples, remaining pecans, and currants.

Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle oat mixture over top of the batter, and then bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm, with tea or coffee. You can say you invented it, if you like.

Fudge brownies.

Okay. So I was totally going to take artful photos of these brownies that I made and then share with you some delightful tale of how they came to be. But it didn’t work out. Because these brownies are a visceral experience, and I got carried away.

Ordinarily I don’t care about brownies because the only good brownies are the ones my Dad makes but he hardly ever makes them, so I forget about them most of the time. Last year someone told me to try the vegan brownies at the food co-op across the concourse from my office, and they tasted like the sadness you’d feel if someone told you your baked goods could never have butter in them ever again. I am pretty sure they contained legumes. I am pretty sure they were baked by a raging misanthropist.

There are some things that I cannot be open-minded about. Since then, I haven’t thought much about brownies.

That is, until my parents were going to come over to drop off the baby’s new crib. We were going to have lunch, which I had hoped would make their 90-minute roundtrip with a car full of huge boxes worthwhile. I made butter chicken meatballs, and that New York Times no-knead bread, and the timing of the meal – and this new thing I’m trying where I “clean as I go,” which has reduced the number of times Nick threatens divorce in a day by nearly half – made it so that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in dessert.

Enter the recipe for these brownies. The recipe comes from The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook, but I noticed a few things wrong with it, so this is an update (I fixed the cooking time, and added frosting which is something all brownies need, no exceptions).

They are a miracle of butter, chocolate, flour, and eggs, in that they almost lack structural integrity. They are chewy. Perfectly moist, even at the edges. They are rich, but the slight sourness of the cream cheese frosting makes them totally snarfable. The recipe makes sixteen; I ate nine all by myself.

You probably have everything you need to make them just sitting in your cupboards or fridge, possibly except for the maple extract, which you can swap for vanilla in a pinch. They do not contain a single legume.

Fudge Brownies

Brownies:

  • 1/2 lb. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Frosting:

  • 4 oz. (1/2 package) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa, sifted
  • 1 tsp. maple extract

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″x8″ baking pan, then line it with parchment paper, which has also been lightly greased on both sides.

Using a double boiler, a glass bowl over just-simmering water, or a microwave (three rounds of 30 seconds, stirring each time), gently melt chocolate chips and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth.

Beat the sugar, salt, and maple extract into the melted chocolate, then beat the eggs in one at a time. Add the flour and stir until just moistened; batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Pour batter into your prepared pan, and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out mostly clean; you want a few moist crumbs to cling to the toothpick, not batter.

Let brownies rest in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and maple extract together until smooth and spreadable. Frost cooled brownies.

Cut into 16 pieces.