Eggnog chocolate pudding.

Three days before Christmas, can you believe it? Where did the fall go? Are you ready for these next few days? I think I lost a few months somewhere, and I really should be packing in some last-minute holiday shopping, but instead I’m sitting in my new living room, listening to the rain against my window and the dishwasher – no sweeter music than the sound of your first dishwasher cleaning dishes you’d otherwise be scrubbing on Saturday – and the cat and baby batting ornaments off the tree. We are festive, sort of.

Whisking.

Pudding

The baby is more festive than the rest of us, and he has taken to holiday eating with vigor and enthusiasm. No truffle, cookie or eggnog escapes his sticky grasp, and I’ve stepped in crumbs and smears and tacky patches of floor all over the apartment – his theory seems to be that if he can’t see you, then you can’t know what snack he’s stolen. With his reach he’s just shy of three feet tall, but he can get at anything, and has not figured out yet that his silence works against him – he’s only quiet when he’s up to no good. That goes for all of us, but I am not big on self-discipline.

He loves eggnog, and since introducing him to it we have found it challenging to get him to drink anything else. But he is starting to understand the concept of dessert, and that if he endures his bowl of broccoli and carrots, there might be something sweet in it for him. And so, on occasion we throw him a bowl of something sugary and then there is no happier person in the world. Last night, after a day of squishy stomach and bouts of whining, I made him a bowl of eggnog pudding, warm and creamy and exactly what a little boy needs after a big bowl of mushy green despair. I gave him a taste as he crawled by while I was making it, and he scaled the cupboards and tried desperately to climb up my leg for more.

A taste.

 

MOAR PLS.

This recipe is the easiest thing in the world, but it is very rough – the eggnog I buy is very sweet, so I have never had to add sugar. Sweeten to your taste with maple syrup, if you have it, or a bit of brown sugar if you prefer. If your baby can hold his liquor, a tablespoon of rum or bourbon is very nice.

Yes do want.

Chocolate eggnog pudding

  • 2 cups eggnog (not light or reduced fat)
  • 4 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1 tbsp. spiced dark rum (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tbsp. butter

In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, whisk together half a cup of the eggnog and cornstarch until a slurry forms and no lumps remain, then add the cocoa, whisking again, before adding the remaining eggnog, rum, and vanilla. Maintain medium heat, and whisk continuously until the mixture thickens until just bubbling – don’t bring to a rolling boil (or you’ll end up with a gross scrambly egg pudding which ew). Once mixture has thickened – it should coat the back of a spoon – remove from heat, season with salt, and whisk in butter. Pour into four ramekins, cover with plastic, and cool until set, 1 to 2 hours.

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! I hope your next few days are warm and delicious.

Eggnog chocolate pudding

Errbody loves pudding.

A maple-scented pudding and a quiet moment alone.

It’s finally quiet, except for the squeak-bark of some cat-infuriating miniature dog or giant rodent on its leash and squatting beneath the wilted rhododendron bush beside the street. Nick is out for a nerdy night of board games with his friends. The baby is sleeping. I have sent out all the resumés I feel like sending out for today, and am no longer wearing pants (as is my preference). There are dried smears of yogurt and vegetable purée all over everything including the washable high chair I keep not washing, but I am not going to let that be my problem. That is why I have Nick.

We are spending a lot of time together now that neither of us is required at an office every day, and though the ratio of arms to babies is now 4:1, I’m still finding myself busy most of the time. There are cover letters to write and my resumé to tweak for each job application. Every time I click “submit” or “send” on some application I panic that I accidentally typed the bad words I’m always thinking, or that I used the wrong homonym, or that I spelled the word “editor” with two Ds.

There are meals to make: minimally spiced purées for the baby and interestingly spiced lunches and dinners for the diabetic, who answers “I’m not really excited about that” to most of what I suggest we eat. We keep producing dirty laundry. I spend a lot of time shaving my legs in case someone calls for a last-minute interview and there’s no time to find or buy pantyhose. I always have to go to the store.

But when there is no one around to bug me, I eat pudding.

The surest way to ensure that no one else touches my pudding is to make it with tapioca.

Stirring a sweet-smelling pot of goo can be relaxing, helping to erase the little panics and trifles that so often take up the days. The goo will burble softly, in a way that is wholly unlike something tedious like oatmeal or hot cereal (which splatters and plops and lacks euphony). You can make pudding for other people, and sometimes I do, but a small amount of pudding is the sort of easy indulgence that suits a night alone, in a room barely lit by a lamp in the corner that’s just bright enough to read a book beside.

The tapioca pudding recipe I like to use is at Simply Recipes, though once you make it the recipe will stick in your head forever (it’s that easy). I don’t know enough people who like tapioca pudding to have ever made a full batch, so I can tell you that a half-batch works quite nicely – it will make enough to fill four ramekins or two soup bowls (I always eat one serving warm, and then another much later after it’s been in the fridge for awhile).

I am not going to bother reprinting the recipe here as it’s all right there, but I will tell you that I make a few changes.

  • Instead of white sugar, I use maple syrup, and rather than add it after the pot comes to a boil, I add it at the beginning. It’s less sweet this way, but more complex. If you don’t have maple syrup, use honey, or brown sugar.
  • At the end, rather than add a drop of vanilla extract, I like a scrape of half of one vanilla bean.

When you are making something that is just for you, use good ingredients (tapioca costs so little anyway) – you will be more inclined to savour if you use the good stuff, and it will be the good kind of eating alone (there is a bad kind of eating alone, which I also enjoy, but for that just use the cheap stuff).

This is a good for-now recipe, for while we’re still not into the abundant-fruit season. Do you realize that in just a few short weeks and we’ll be having conversations like this one over lightly sugared local strawberries? And reading our books in patches of summer sunlight. I can’t wait.

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.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

When you have a baby in BC, they send a public health nurse to come and make sure you know what you’re doing and that your living room isn’t a meth lab, and with the little pork chop, things were no different. And while the nurses at the hospital were amazing and lovely and I wanted to bring each of them home to live with me, the public health nurse sucked.

I am sure that she meant well. She contradicted everything the hospital nurses said, and then went on to list the things I was doing wrong and the things I shouldn’t do wrong in the future. And then she gave me some pamphlets, and a DVD about purple crying, and told me I should let the baby decide our schedule because wanting to get more than an hour’s sleep in one go is selfish and his needs are sensitive. Did I want him to have abandonment issues? Did I want him to be an emotional eater, a problem drinker, or an Adam Sandler fan? I am sure that she meant well. Or maybe she was just kind of an asshole.

Either way, figuring that she knew best, I tried to follow her instructions so as not to permanently ruin the boy. I was never able to get him off the bottle so he will probably be obese and emotionally distant. One thing you find out pretty quickly is that every nurse, doctor, or person with children is an expert and is happy to offer his or her opinion, and each of those opinions contradicts all of the other opinions you’ve already heard. And that everything you do wrong will eventually be the reason why your child grows up to be a nihilist or a crackhead.

Piece by piece the public health nurse’s advice unravelled. He preferred the bottle, and we preferred sleeping three hours at a time, and then four hours, and now sometimes seven. We run the bath a little warmer and he doesn’t cry, and we let him watch TV sometimes when one of us is making dinner and the other has to go to the bathroom. The last warning she offered was about putting the baby to sleep on his stomach – you’re never supposed to put a baby to sleep on his stomach.

The kid wouldn’t nap. He was tired, and he would cry and cry about it, and it was, quite frankly, tiresome. We both knew that he needed to sleep, but he had to sleep on his back which was the rule. And so every single day, we would battle over naptime, and I would put him down to sleep as he rubbed his eyes and his fat bottom lip quivered. And he would cry and I would give it 25 or 30 minutes and then I would pick him up and the two of us would sit down on the couch and he would complain about how I was mistreating him and I would agree that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.

We did the whole nap-on-the-back thing today, and it went the way it always does. But today, after I picked him up and pat his back and told him that we do like him, we just like him better when he’s rested, I put him back in his crib, down on his stomach, and within 30 seconds he was asleep, and though I checked him every five minutes to make sure he wasn’t dead, he slept nearly three hours.

The baby napped today. THE BABY NAPPED TODAY.

So I did what I like to do when I have some time alone. I made a little treat, and read a little bit of book, and had a full sandwich uninterrupted and it was everything I thought it would be.

The little treat was a little bit of jelly. The sun has come out the past few days this week, and there are Meyer lemons at the public market, and for the first time in months I felt like something cool and fruity instead of something hot and chocolate. A little lemon juice, some sugar, and a pot of green tea turned into something pleasantly bitter and refreshingly tart – the kind of thing one might enjoy during a few fleeting moments of quiet.

If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons but increase the sugar to a full cup.

Green tea and Meyer lemon jelly

  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 packets of unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 teabags of green tea
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (from two or three Meyer lemons)

Bloom gelatin in 1/2 cup of cold water. Scrape into a pot with the rest of the water, the sugar, and the tea bags. Heat until sugar and gelatin have dissolved, but do not allow the liquid to boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let sit for five to ten minutes, so that the tea can steep to taste.

Divide between six ramekins, and refrigerate until set, two to six hours.

And if you have the time, a nap and a treat will brighten your mood right up.

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.

 

Roasted grapes.

Four o’clock in the morning is cold even when all the windows are closed and you’re wearing flannel jammies and slipper socks. 4:00 a.m. used to be different, maybe because anytime I found myself there it was because I had been having too much fun, and my veins were warmed by the coursing of so much rum through them. I remember dancing until my clothes were soaked through with sweat, then packing into the always-busy 24-hour pho place on Broadway for a bowl of rice noodles and beef wontons. It is less fun to be awake now than it used to be.

At four there is no traffic on the street outside. There is little activity on Facebook or Twitter to serve as a distraction. Even the cat will not be coaxed awake.

The baby sleeps long hours through the night now, waking only briefly every now and then – he sighs heavily and his eyes flutter, but his fussiness is mostly gone. He’s a bottle baby, so he gets to sleep while I wake every three hours to pump his meals. I keep a lamp on in the living room at night, so when I wake up I can see Nick’s face and the baby’s in the shadows, both of their mouths wide as they breathe deeply, right arms at ninety-degree angles above their heads, snarfling and snoring in their separate beds.

When I sleep I dream about sleeping.

On the one hand, I am very tired. On the other, these moments alone in the lamplight are mine, and I savour the time on my own. Also, four o’clock is a peckish hour, and I always need a snack.

Roasted grapes

This idea comes from Fine Cooking, with some adaptation. I prefer to use seedless red globe grapes, and to roast them longer than the original recipe calls for. Some olive oil, some maple syrup, and a pinch of salt are all you need. They will take on a jammy, almost molasses taste. Serve these over ice cream.

  • 1 large handful of seedless red globe grapes
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • Pinch salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small baking dish, toss grapes with oil, maple syrup, and salt.

Roast 20 to 25 minutes, turning the grapes occasionally, until they are soft and their skins have ruptured.

Serve hot, over ice cream.

These are easy to make ahead and reheat, if you’d prefer. They are great as they are, or as a side for roast pork, or as part of a fancier dessert that you might serve to company. But in those cold hours before dawn when you’re wearing flannel pants, they are at their best.

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.

Roasted peach sorbet.

It’s chaos in here as our move-in date was bumped up to September 15. Nick wants to paint the new place, because when we moved in here no one had and it has driven him insane for most of two years, so he’s been wandering the hall between our two places for weeks, looking at paint chips and trying to determine how dark is too dark for an accent wall and exhausting me with so many questions about so many shades of blue. He made a monster out of the cat, who had previously not known that there are other apartments (and therefore, grand adventures) to be had in this building, and now she sits most of the time crying by the door, begging to be let out into the world.

We’re all pretty pathetic, and between the cat’s howling and whining and Nick’s puttering and pacing and me we’re not finding the energy to pull ourselves together and get properly sorted and packed. There are stacks of things, “go through it” piles that don’t get gone through, and Nick keeps saying horrible things like “you don’t need all these books, maybe get rid of some?” I’d like if we never have to move again.

So I did what I do whenever I don’t want to do any of the things I’m supposed to. I made a project out of the fruit in the fridge, and sorbet resulted, and it reminded me of desserts I ate in Paris and so I went back there in my mind. Once I had black currant sorbet with cold fresh strawberries dressed with just a whisper of brandy, and it was soft on the tongue and pure fruit – better than ice cream, if you can believe it.

I adapted David Lebovitz’s recipe for nectarine sorbet. It’s peach season now, and because Okanagan peaches are perfect we only ever eat peaches when Okanagan peaches are available. For a few weeks every summer, we have peaches in our oatmeal, on our salads, and sliced over vanilla ice cream. I buy too many, and the peaches at the bottom of the bag turn soft, not good for eating raw but ideal for roasting. So this is a roasted peach sorbet, and it is as fruity and clean as a French sorbet and it will help you enjoy what’s left of the summer or forget about how many things you have to do this fall.

Roasted peach sorbet

  • 2 lbs. fresh peaches, halved, stones removed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Zest and juice of one large lemon

Heat oven to 400°F. Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.

Place peaches cut side down in dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the fleshy sides have turned golden. Remove from the oven, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest five to 10 minutes.

Remove foil, and peel skins off peaches. Discard skins. Place peaches in a blender with remaining ingredients, pulse until smooth, and then strain into a bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cool.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve on its own, with assorted other fresh fruits, or with a touch of your favourite liqueur.

And then after that, go look at the cutest cat on the Internet.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

The reality of how little time we have left is starting to hit us now that Month 7 is upon us.

I have not been making much food at home because suddenly there is urgency to experiencing every patio and new restaurant, or to savouring the experience of doing absolutely nothing which mostly involves take-out or huge containers of fresh berries and ice cream and marathon sessions of 30 Rock. The laundry piles up and the bathtub stays grubby. But that seems to be the case regardless of the distraction.

There have been bursts of productivity in spite of us both, and everything seems to be coming up Emily. We were despairing the lack of reasonably priced but not disgusting two-bedroom apartments in the city while the walls in our current apartment began to close in on us when a spacious, many-windowed two-bedroom opened up in our own building, just across the hall. We move in October 1, so for the first time we don’t have to rush to pack, and we even have time to paint the new place to our liking.

At long last, we’re having ourselves a summer, but not a painfully hot one – outside the temperature has seldom exceeded 27 degrees (Celsius). Which has meant long afternoons in the sun, eating cherries and watching the barges in Burrard Inlet or feeding the birds tasty bites of fresh doughnut on the boardwalk at Granville Island, or cool evenings picnicking on Jericho Beach or walking to Cambie Street for the good tacos (and some lecherous staring at the beautiful blue-eyed taco man).

The sun is bright but the breeze is comfortable, and this does not feel like the same city I dream about running away from in the winter after 40 consecutive days of rain.

And, most importantly, still no stretch marks. I am so slick with lotion and cocoa butter that I’d be lethal on a Slip ‘n Slide. You keep your fingers crossed good and tight for me.

All this going and doing and lotion application has kept me out of the kitchen most of the time, and I can’t say that I mind. We eat a lot of 10-minutes-or-less dinners, a lot of berries in cream, and a refreshing number of salads. I like to think that summer’s slacking is an excuse to go out and make the stories we tell all winter, that somewhere in the season’s casual outdoor feasts there is something important, or, at the very least, something to dream on.

Like pink wine and sunshine in Grace’s wine glasses: important.

The aroma of a trout Paul that caught as it cooks with lemon and dill on the barbecue: important.

The chewy texture of oatmeal sourdough made by Grace from a starter with natural yeast: important.

A simple meal shared on a blanket on the beach: important.

People you are fond of in good moods and summer clothes: important.

Eating dessert outside at sunset: important.

Cake and peaches and raspberries and brown sugar topping: important.

You can make this now, and eat it on the beach as the sweet finale to a picnic, or you can use whatever fruit you’ve frozen and make in the winter when you’re cold and missing the smell of the ocean and that flattering summer evening light. I made this with peaches and raspberries, but it’s based on a recipe that calls for blueberries. It would be beautiful with blackberries.

Peach and raspberry streusel cake

(Adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book)

Cake

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice (this is wonderful with Meyer lemon if you can get one)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup diced peaches
  • 1 cup raspberries

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.

Beat butter and sugar until thoroughly combined, then add egg, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Mix.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture with milk, and beat until smooth. Spread evenly in baking dish.

Top batter with fruit.

In another bowl (so many dishes! Fun!), mix sugar and flour. Add butter and vanilla, and squish between your fingers until a dry, crumbly crumb has formed. Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Serve warm.

 

Strawberries.

In France when Grace and I were there, it was strawberry season. At the market in Lyon, I could barely choose from three or four different kinds, and eventually settled on a container of tiny fraise du bois, which smell like those sparkly red strawberry marshmallows from the penny candy bin and taste like the concentrated musk of spring, like dew and flower petals and the nectar sucked off clover tips, and like deep, dirty red – if a colour can have a taste, those thumbnail-sized ruddy berries were vermillion.

Before we left, Grace plotted out the best places for us to eat, and I nodded happily along as she prattled off the names of places we would go to in the France that belongs to David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, and Clotilde Dusoulier. We followed them all over Paris and Lyon to markets and bistros and crêperies, devouring as much as we could.

In many of those places, there were strawberries, and wherever there were strawberries a meal felt French, like a postcard picture of how France has always been in some memory you may or may not have but know just the same. I wish my story could begin with some treacly revelation about how “I found myself in Paris,” but myself and I have been familiar far longer than is noteworthy; you might not be impressed, but I’ve been this way all along. It’s truer and far more romantic to say that “I found strawberries in Paris.”

The best place for strawberries was a restaurant called Spring. It’s an expensive little restaurant, and Grace made a reservation online before we left and then never heard back from them, and she worried that we would not have a table for lunch. She attempted to confirm the reservation, in French, which proved inconclusive. We decided to meet there at the scheduled hour after wandering separately in the morning as we had disparate destinations (mine involved the purchase of seeds to one day grow fraise du bois of my own), and though my inability to read a map pulled me the opposite direction a long way down Rue de Rivoli, we were both able to make it in time.

At Spring we had a perfect meal – cool tuna belly with chilled asparagus, sorrel, and tonnato sauce; cold white wine; crisp fried anchovies; masterfully seared filet of acorn-fed, bushy-banged black pork with grilled wild fennel; five cheeses, tiny bites but more than enough to know everything important about – or at least to imagine in detail – five different terroirs; chocolate sorbet with cocoa nibs and white pepper; pistachio cream stuffed between two homemade chocolate wafers. And strawberries, orangey red and topped with a dome of sweetened crème fraîche and dusted with ground pistachios and sugar. They could have served it in a bucket and I still wouldn’t have had enough, and I’ve been dreaming of those berries ever since.

When we returned to Vancouver, almost nothing was in season yet. I’d have to wait a month, at least, for the first berries of summer. More than six weeks have passed since we’ve been back, and finally this past weekend I got my fix. Tracy and I made a date and drove to Westham Island, to Bissett Farms, and picked as many strawberries we could in one afternoon.

It’s been chilly for an unseasonably long time on the coast, so the berries are more tart than I was expecting. This year you may want to sweeten your crème fraîche more than you might otherwise. To recreate my dish, select as many small strawberries as you can fit into four handfuls. Wash and hull the berries, and put them into four ramekins or parfait cups. Stack them jauntily. This is important.

Sweeten one cup of crème fraîche with one to two tablespoons of honey and a drop of orange flower water, if you’ve got it. Grind freshly roasted pistachios, about 1/3 cup, with a heaping tablespoon of sugar in a food processor. Spoon crème fraîche over strawberries, then sprinkle each serving with as much pistachio sugar as you feel like. Imagine Paris.