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.)

 

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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.

Something to Read: Fannie Farmer Cookbook & Baking Book

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Yesterday we spent the day in Porteau Cove and it was rainy and everyone ended up damp to their skin but it was fun and Toddler had a fabulous day and when we got home I still had to put Easter together so last night, I didn’t end up posting (I did watch a few cooking shows off the PVR and eat about a pound of Easter candy though, so that’s got to count for something).

Easter prep

I had meant to tell you about the Fannie Farmer cookbooks, which you likely already know about as they’re classics but if not, you should know about because they’re classics. So I might as well tell you about the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, which are two of my most essential kitchen resources (both edited by Marion Cunningham). My aunt had asked for the recipe for Lazy Daisy cake, as she’s celebrating her PhD candidacy and it’s her favourite cake, so the timing is all kinds of right.

The Fannie Farmer cookbooks are pretty much the family cookbook where I grew up; my grandmother used them and I inherited her three copies; my mom has several copies (since I ruined her first one as I’m messy and irresponsible and not careful with things). If I’ve ever wondered how to make anything, even before Googling it, I check in with Fannie. Chances are the answers are all in there, probably with my grandmother’s notes.

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The thing I like about the cookbooks is that they’re reference as much as they are books of recipes; there are instructions on selecting cuts of meat and what each cut means, information and recipes for cooking for the sick, and a great many recipes that can be made on even the tightest budget. If you know someone about to move into his or her first home away from home, Fannie Farmer is a great gift.

I have a couple of really old versions of the books, and I keep them because they were my grandmother’s, but also because they’re pretty funny. For example, from my 1973 version which purports to be a facsimile of the original (circa 1896):

Banana Salad

Remove one section of skin from each of four bananas. Take out fruit, scrape, and cut fruit from one banana in thin slices, fruit from other three bananas in one-half inch cubes. Marinate cubes with French Dressing. Refill skins and garnish each with slices of banana. Stack around a mound of lettuce leaves.

I love recipes like these. So gross. So delightful to imagine someone serving banana salad in French Dressing to company.

But seriously, Fannie Farmer.

Here’s the recipe for Lazy Daisy Cake, followed by a recipe for Lazy Daisy Topping, both from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book. “Because this light and delicate cake is so easy to make, it is an ideal dessert for a lazy day. The topping is a rich butter-caramel glaze, and it is good.”

Lazy Daisy Cake

(Makes one 8-inch square cake.)

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Lazy Daisy Topping (see below)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8″ square cake pan.

Warm the milk with the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs until they are foamy and feel like they’ve thickened slightly. Slowly whisk in the sugar, then add the vanilla.

Sift your dry ingredients into another bowl. Stir the dry mix into the egg mixture and beat until the batter is smooth.

Check that the butter has melted into the milk; if it has, stir into the batter and mix well. If it hasn’t, give it another minute or so.

Pour your batter into your pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

While your cake is baking, prepare the Lazy Daisy Topping (recipe below).

Spread the topping over the warm cake and brown slightly under the broiler for about one minute, paying attention all the while so that it doesn’t burn. Serve the cake from the pan.

Lazy Daisy Topping

(Makes about 1 1/4 cups, enough for one Lazy Daisy Cake)

  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted if you wish

Combine butter, cream and sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir over medium heat until melted. Add the coconut. Pour the frosting over the baked cake; cook under a hot broiler for about a minute, until it bubbles and browns slightly.

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.

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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.

 

Guest post: Taslim Jaffer’s Extreme Chocolate Cake

It’s just about time for the holidays – Hanukkah starts this weekend! – and while we’ve moved in and are just about finished with living out of boxes and garbage bags, we’re not fully settled yet. With moving and work and not having done anything festive yet, I’m just not feeling the seasonal buzz  … so to remedy this, and to add a little sweetness to this now-neglected part of the web, I’ve invited another local blogger to share a treat she makes for her family during the Christmas season – her name is Taslim, and she blogs about inspiration and creativity at Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self. We met at an event for Vancouver mom bloggers this past spring, and I was impressed by her enthusiasm. I don’t think she even owns crankypants! I guess I wouldn’t either if there was more cake in my life.

***

The Cake That Makes Me Look Like the Goddess of Baking

Another Christmas potluck – possibly the fourth of the season, thus far. While digging through my wardrobe, trying to find the most elastic waist on a pair of pants, a skirt, a dress (anything really, at this point) I thank my lucky stars that finding a recipe to please a crowd is infinitely easier than this. One year, I will find a dress that’s as rich as the ganache on my Extreme Chocolate Cake. One year, I will find a skirt that slips on as easily as this cake slips out of a bundt pan.

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But this year, the ooohs and aaaahs as I enter a party will all be for the gorgeous hunk of chocolate I carry in my hands. And rightly so. I slaved over it for hours and needed to call in a cleaning crew to help with the aftermath…

NOT!

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Here’s my easy-peasy, make-em-think-you’re-a-goddess recipe.

Extreme Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of dark chocolate cake mix (515g) – I usually use Devil’s Food
  • 1 package of instant chocolate pudding (4 serving size)
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup cooking oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 ½ cup chocolate chips (I don’t usually add these. Seriously, not needed, though you may beg to differ!)

For the ganache (glaze):

  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 squares of bittersweet chocolate (1 oz or 28 g each)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 12-cup bundt pan.

Beat together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a large bowl on low for 2 minutes, scraping down sides twice or three times. Beat on medium for about 2 minutes until smooth.

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Stir in the chocolate chips. Turn into prepared pan. Spread evenly.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (although if you use the chocolate chips, you will end up with chocolate on the toothpick). Let stand in pan on cooling rack for 20 minutes before turning over on to a plate to cool completely.

To make the ganache, heat whipping cream in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

Add chocolate. Stir slowly until the chocolate has melted completely. Let sit – after a few minutes it will be a little thicker, but still pourable.

Slowly pour over the top of the cake, allowing some to run partially down sides. Let set before cutting. Serves 16 very happy people, or 1 lucky husband and 2 ecstatic kids. (Maybe I had a couple slices, too!)

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About the author

Taslim Jaffer

Taslim Jaffer is the voice behind the inspirational blog Let ME Out!! Releasing Your Creative Self and author of the Let ME Out!! workbook series. She also shares her motivational stories in the Heartmind Wisdom Collection anthologies.  Recently, Taslim combined her two loves of art and social change in her new line of inspirational, pay-it-forward type cards called Make-A-Wave cards.  She is happiest at home in her wool socks and sweats with her husband and two beautiful children where she writes and raises funds for the literary arts. You can also find her on stage sharing life-gained wisdom and joy. Connect with Taslim on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Canadian Pudding.

Our 2011 was a busy year, and many of its outcomes were unexpected. Nick was diagnosed with late-onset Type 1 diabetes. I found myself pregnant and then had a baby. We needed a bigger apartment, and a  two-bedroom opened up across the hall. Nick and I agreed on paint colours and the apartment got painted and nobody cried. I didn’t gain weight over Christmas. There were surprises at every turn, and we handled them surprisingly well – I’m impressed with us.

How was your year? I hear grumblings every now and then, and read them in blogs and on Facebook, about how 2011 was a hard year for a lot of people. It was a year of change and no money and tumult and bad weather, and the overwhelming sentiment last night and this morning seemed to be “Good grief, it’s finally over.” (We didn’t all go to Paris. We all deserved to, though.)

Maybe 2012 will be easier. My hope is that it’s a year of creativity and learning to do more with less – I hope this for me, and for all of us, because it doesn’t seem like life is going to get cheaper or easier for anyone anytime soon. I want to write more. I want to spend fewer dollars. I have to do both, but it’s becoming woefully apparent that I am unable to do either without serious focus and discipline. I want to find opportunities to write for money, which would solve both of my problems.

I want to fit into a smaller dress size without eating less cheese. I want to expand my repertoire of home-cured meats. I want the baby’s first word to be guanciale. These are lesser goals, perhaps, but smaller challenges make the bigger ones seem less daunting. Lara at Food. Soil. Thread. has a great take on resolution-making, and is in the process of achieving 101 of her own personal goals – I encourage you to check out what she’s doing and find your own inspiration.

And in the meantime, a goal that’s totally doable: eat more bacon. Let me help you with that.

Canadian Pudding

If this seems weird, I promise you that it is but in the most worthwhile way. It’s sweet and salty and maple and bacon and bourbon all play so nicely together, and when I served it to my friend Tracy she said that the bacon was a pleasant surprise, because she didn’t know what the taste was at first, and she liked it. You can scrap the bacon if your guests aren’t daring, I suppose.

(Serves four to six.)

Cake:

  • 2 strips thick-sliced smoked bacon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup hot water

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a pan over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towel, and then chop into bits.

In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, pecans, bacon bits, and nutmeg. Stir in milk and butter until dry ingredients are just moistened.

In a separate bowl, mix butter, bourbon, maple syrup, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.

Bake for one hour. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Happy New Year. I hope 2012 is good to you.