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.

Nectarine kuchen.

This week has been my first week off work, and the days are long. Where last week I spent my days in a panic that I wouldn’t get everything done before this kid arrives, now I am beginning to think he’s never coming. The doctor assures me that “we’re close,” but that all I can do now is wait.

Patience is not my virtue, and “any day now” is not enough information to make plans around.

It’s a weird feeling, this lack of a sense of purpose or structure. In the absence of a real to-do list, I don’t do much of anything. I should probably finish addressing the thank-you cards from my shower. I should put the laundry away and do something about the kitchen floor.

I was proud of myself yesterday because I made dinner, a word that if I were being totally honest would be placed in quotation marks. We eat a lot of take-out. During the day, when the light in this place is most oppressive, I wander up and down Granville Street because I am told that walking will help speed things along. At home the cat no longer feigns interest in our conversation, though we do spend long hours napping.

The evenings are much nicer. The light is softer, and people come over. I feel most like myself in the evenings.

My parents called on Saturday to tell us they were going to come over on Sunday to bring baby things and dinner. There are still local peaches and nectarines at the markets, because the season was late this year, so I grabbed the last few big nectarines in the bin and decided to make dessert, which counts toward my total productivity for the week and also means cake for breakfast until the leftovers run out – double win.

The nice thing about this dessert is that you do it in bursts with long stretches of sitting down in between. You make the batter, and then it rises, and then you put the batter in a pan, and it rises again. You make the topping, and it macerates, and then you bake the thing. Not much standing, at least not for too long.

It’s also fun to say – kuchen, or “kooken,” and oh how I wish I spoke German. And while I wasn’t sure of it as an after-dinner treat, this kuchen would certainly be lovely with tea in the middle of the day if you were going to have company some Sunday afternoon. It’s not too sweet, with a coarse, bread-like crumb and slightly yeasty taste that was nice (but not what I was in the mood for post-pasta). You’ll want to serve it warm, ideally the day it’s made, but it does reheat well.

I’ve made minor adaptations to the Gourmet Today recipe, as I didn’t like the lemon in it and wanted a touch more vanilla. And while the Gourmet recipe calls for those cute little Italian prune plums, I am not ready to bid farewell to sweeter, muskier stone fruit just yet. In winter this would be nice with a whisper of cinnamon and topped with poached pears or thin slices of orange.

Nectarine kuchen

(Based on plum kuchen recipe from Gourmet Today, page 733; serves 8.)

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, warmed to about 110°F
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into tablespoons (room temperature)

Topping:

  • 1 lb. nectarines, pitted and sliced to between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick
  • Half of one vanilla bean, scraped
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar

Butter a 9″x13″ baking pan.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and water and let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

In a large bowl, beat 1 3/4 cups flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, vanilla, and yeast mixture at medium-low until smooth. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, sprinkle dough with remaining 1/4 cup of flour, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Leave to rise somewhere warm for 45 to 60 minutes (until doubled in bulk).

Stir batter until flour is thoroughly mixed. Pour batter into prepared pan, cover, and let rise until doubled, another 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine nectarine slices with vanilla bean and brown sugar. Toss to coat, and let stand at room temperature, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Drain liquid from nectarines, and arrange nectarine slices over top of dough. They can overlap. Bake until cake is golden and fruit is tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

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.

 

 

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings.

I have a lot of opinions lately, though Nick is quick to point out that they are not opinions as much as they are hormonal outbursts. I have evaluated the pros and cons of keeping him and at this point it seems like his potential future usefulness trumps his “helpful” suggestions so for now, he lives.

Though many of my opinions have been unsavoury and not appropriate to share under “if you don’t have anything nice to say” guidelines, at least one has been food-related and that opinion has been that rhubarb is fantastic and it ought to be mixed with vanilla bean at my earliest opportunity.

Today, just such an opportunity presented itself.

What follows is a recipe for rhubarb stew with dumplings; I used the last of my frozen raspberries to stretch the rhubarb (I thought I had more than I did), and it turned out to be the correct move. I’ve suggested one half cup of honey because I like my rhubarb tart, but taste as you go; you might like yours sweeter.

It’s not a beautiful dish – it’s the kind of thing you might serve after a weeknight family dinner, or for breakfast when you have more time in the morning. But it’s tasty. Dumplings are always tasty.

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings

(Serves four to six.)

Fruit:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb
  • 1 lb. frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Dumplings:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, combine rhubarb, raspberries, honey, vanilla bean seeds, and salt. Allow raspberries to melt, then bump heat up a notch or two and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently for about ten minutes. Rhubarb should soften and begin to break down. Return heat to medium.

Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add milk and butter to form a soft dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dough into the hot fruit mixture; you should end up with about eight dumplings. Place a lid firmly over the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, with ice cream.

Grandpa’s Radio Pudding.

Every so often I find myself going too easily from reflective to sentimental, especially at this time of year when it seems like every beverage is seasonally … uh, “enhanced.” It goes against my nature, which is perhaps why I find sentimentality embarrassing, and even more perhaps why I’ve avoided lengthy ramblings on the holidays and significance and touching heartfelt somethingorothers in general. But I have been thinking a lot about tradition, because it’s December and because I have reached a strange point in my existence, one where “tradition” is less the thing you do each year and more the thing you try to replicate now that key pieces are missing.

One of the lessons of my first married Christmas is that I do not cope well with change. It would be marvellous if every holiday went exactly as I’d like it to, but the annoying thing about traditions is that they tend to involve other people. Now that Nick is one of my people, I have to care about him too, even though he doesn’t do Christmas the way I want him to. One year real soon I am going to have to get over the fact that he never believed in Santa Claus. What do I care if he’s on the naughty list? I’m on the nice list, so I’ll be getting a gift this year. And maybe it’s still possible to stab some magic into his heart.

This year we lost my Grandpa. Grandpa was funny, a veteran of the Korean war, a proud Canadian, and probably the only good dancer in the gene pool. When he was young he looked like James Garner and was just as cool as Jim Rockford, at least to me. Every time I visited, he was just about to head off on some grand adventure, often driving. And making him proud was something I very much wanted to do; I won a scholarship from the Korean Veteran’s Association when I was 18, and he was literally pink with delight. I remember the rum drinks, and thinking about how I would have to walk to collect my award deliberately, without stumbling, because there were a lot of old men there, and cameras. When Grandpa poured the drinks the Coke was just for colour.

I adapted reluctantly to changes over the course of nearly a decade of Christmases, where one grandparent or the other was sick or had passed away; I remember cooking holiday feasts while my parents visited my mom’s dad in the hospital, or cramming shortbread in my mouth as Cuddles and Auntie Lynn and I snorted with laughter at the kitchen table over three decades of holiday gossip, remembering Grampa with humour. When my grandma Cuddles died, we adapted again. But as long as there was Grandpa, my dad’s dad, a piece of my smaller self’s Christmas remained intact.

This is the year when all the things are officially different – no grandparents will be at our dinner table. That doesn’t mean that Christmas will be any less magical (except it won’t be for Nick because he doesn’t believe in flying reindeer either), but it does mean that I am at a temporary loss for describing the traditions I’ve held for my whole life so far. I’ve celebrated a few this year and they have been as joyous as always, and I’ve made quite a few new ones.

Many of these new traditions are due in large part to the fact that there are small children around now, and because none of them are mine I don’t have to be an adult. Some are because of Nick and Nick’s family, where there are many more small children and where I am also not required (or expected?) to act my age.

And there is still Sandi, who I think of as Grandma and who is very much family, who was good to my Grandpa until the last, and who I will still make a trip out Pitt Meadows in the coming week to visit. I believe she’s spending Christmas with her kids this year.

So even though there is lots to look forward to this year, I’d like to also think about Grandpa and the past. And because I do most of my thinking in the kitchen, I’d like to share with you a recipe of his, the origins of which are “the radio.” He heard the recipe on the radio at some point a very long time ago, but as far as anyone’s concerned it’s his. It’s his like Continental Chicken and garlic sausage and cheese on crackers. It’s called, quite simply, “Grandpa’s Radio Pudding.” Make it for yourself if you could use a warm hug or a bit of holiday cheer.

Grandpa’s Radio Pudding

Cake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cocoa
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. melted butter or shortening
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Sauce:

  • 4 tbsp. cocoa
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, whisk together flour, salt, cocoa, baking powder, sugar, and nuts or chocolate chips. Stir in milk, butter or shortening, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, mix cocoa, brown sugar, and water. Pour over cake mixture. Do not stir.

Bake for one hour.

Serve hot, with ice cream or whipped cream.

Stout hot chocolate.

We put up the tree a week or so ago, and the cat is just thrilled. It was cute at first, the way she’d clamber up the middle and make a nest of her own legs and tail in the branches. We didn’t put ornaments on at first, because we thought that we could get her used to the tree so she’d ignore it, but it turns out she intends to do no such thing.

Irritating as she is about the tree, the cat has had a calming effect on our holiday season. This will be our third Christmas married to each other, and so far it has not been marked with the usual bickering, moping, or scrambling to get everything done once we’ve decided we can save the fighting for February because we’re bored then anyway. It’s still early, but I’m optimistic. We’ve committed to fewer events this year, and we’re not spending so many evenings and weekends running around. We’re spending our time eating comfort food and entertaining friends and petting the cat, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

And with the exception of the dinner I ruined tonight, which was not salvageable and which I and subsequently pouted about for an hour and a half, this evening was fairly relaxing. We watched a holiday movie, and I made hot chocolate.

I love hot chocolate, but don’t make it very often – it’s a treat, and the last time I made it was this time last year. Tonight’s batch was made with stout,  just enough melted dark chocolate, a bit of milk, and cream to fill the whole thing out. It was rich and dark like coffee, and its effect verged on sedation. Nick was in bed by 9:45, suddenly overcome by feelings of warm snuggliness and a desperate need for his pillow.

The recipe will make enough for two to four people, depending on how big your mugs are. It’s rich, so you will not need a lot. It’s not too sweet, but pleasantly  bitter with that dark chocolate and beer. We drank it as dessert after Nick finally made grilled cheese sandwiches to make up for dinner.

Stout hot chocolate

  • 1 1/2 cups stout or your favourite dark beer, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Put chocolate into a saucepan over medium-high heat, and pour over stout, whisking briskly to knock out any bubbles and to ensure the chocolate melts without burning. When chocolate appears to have melted, add milk. Stir occasionally until the whole thing comes just to a simmer – you don’t want it to boil, but it doesn’t hurt to have it come close.

Taste. Depending on the beer you use, you may find this a touch too bitter. If that’s the case, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar (or to taste).

Whisk in cream and vanilla. Serve in mugs, with a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling saucy (or sulky).

Blueberry crisp and a lot of procrastination.

This post is a little overdue – I bought many pounds of blueberries a few weeks ago at the UBC Blueberry Festival, but I put them all in the freezer  in order to procrastinate … because I don’t like blueberries. Or so I often think.

Blueberries, picked at their seasonal peak under the warm July sun are really very nice. They’re sweet-tart, not mealy little perfume balls, which is how they taste to me whenever I have them at any point during the rest of the year. I get cranky when I find them in muffins where they usually turn out to be flavourless little wet spots in what would otherwise be a perfectly edible baked good. And their unusually floral musk turns up in smoothies and juice – there was awhile there, before manufacturers started whoring out pomegranate or açai, when blueberries were deemed the healthiest thing ever and they were in everything. I had a tantrum one morning when I went to put my lunch together and found that Nick had eaten all the other flavours of yogurt, leaving only blueberry behind.

But they’re not all bad, and I forget that, and then July comes and I eat one and it’s a surprise every time. Oh! These aren’t yucky at all! I think, and then I enjoy blueberries for two weeks until there are none left and then disregard them again until the following year. That’s what happened here – I was afraid of them, then I ate some, and then blueberry crisp.

The recipe that follows has lived in my head for as many years as I can remember – for a long time, “crisps” were the only dessert I knew how to make. It’s a crisp like my parents would make, and there are no oats in it. No nuts, because my Dad is allergic, though if you’re not feeding him you can go right ahead and toss a handful into the crumble and he won’t mind. Just butter and sugar, and some flour to keep it all together, and that’s really all you need. You can make this with apples, peaches – any fruit you like. When I was a kid it often contained rhubarb from the plant out back, and that was very good. You can make anything tasty, even a blueberry, by simply topping it with butter and brown sugar.

Blueberry crisp

  • 4 to 5 cups blueberries
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup (if your blueberries are very sweet, you might like a squish of lemon and a sprinkle of white sugar instead)
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour (all-purpose is totally fine if that’s all you’ve got, but I like the deeper flavour that whole wheat gives)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Lightly grease a 1.5-quart baking dish. Preheat oven to 375°F.

Create a slurry out of the cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the maple syrup, then pour over blueberries and toss to coat. Put blueberries in baking dish.

Combine flour, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, butter, and cinnamon, and crumble with your fingers to create a lumpy, streusel-looking mixture. Dump on top of blueberries, pressing down gently do ensure your crumble stays put.

Put the whole lovely mess into the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden and blueberry goo is bubbling up on the sides. Serve warm, with ice cream. Though if, like me, you are bad at planning ahead and don’t have ice cream, it’s just as delicious without.