Sometimes I feel like I am being followed around by my own personal fail whale, and I am not Ahab. Or, “Coconut Layer Cake: A delicious summer treat.”

-51

As a 1930s wife, I am

Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

And I am reminded again of my many failings. And though I don’t put too much stock in this one – Nick took the husband version of the test and was also slapped with a big fat FAIL – it does remind me that I do suck at a great many things. This does, and the cake I made for Sooin.

The cake was delicious: coconut, sweet, and frosted with goat cheese icing. But it was fugly as all get-out, and by now, I’ve run through all the different ways in which it was not my fault (I lost my round cake pans, my apartment was too hot and the icing didn’t set, there was not enough time, there’s never enough time). Tasty though it was, if we’re judging on appearance, I get another big fat FAIL. I wish I made cakes that look like this:

SuperStock_1555R-191028But I make cakes that look like this:

Cake (not pretty).My cake has personality. And character. That other cake is probably made with Splenda and ground-up babies. And it will probably give you cancer. It’s too pretty – you can’t trust it.

Make my cake. Use your round cake pans, cut each layer in half and stack them together, and ice the thing when the weather is cooler. As I mentioned, I made a frosting with goat cheese, and it was lovely – just make cream cheese icing, but instead of cream cheese, use goat cheese. It’s tart and wonderful and will make a rich, delicious frosting that you’ll want to eat with your fingers. But I was thinking about it today, and I think it would have been even better as a layer cake frosted and filled with whipped cream. It would have been effortless, and beautiful if sprinkled with a smattering of toasted coconut.

Coconut Layer Cake

(Two 8-inch round cake pans. Or one 9×13 slab.)

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream together your butter and sugar until the mixture is lighter in colour and fluffy. Drop in your yolks (reserve your whites in a separate bowl), and continue to beat.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. While still beating the butter/sugar/egg mixture, add the flour in by the cup. After the first cup of flour, add in about half of the coconut milk. And then add another cup of the flour, and then the other half of the coconut milk. Add in the vanilla, and then the final cup of flour. Beat it.

In that other bowl, whip your egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Once these are all ready to go, fold these into the batter.

Egg whites being folded into batter.What’s folding? It’s easier than maybe it sounds. You’ll literally be folding the batter over the egg whites, combining the two substances gently until one is integrated into the other.

Pour into your cake pans, which you will, of course, have lined along the bottom with perfectly fitted parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of the centre clean. Let rest in pans for five minutes, then turn onto racks to cool. I really think you should frost this with too much whipped cream.

Serve. Enjoy. Personality goes a long way.

Blurry photo of cake.

Bacon fat cookiestravaganza. Or, how to make you fall in love with me. Except that I probably wouldn’t tell you what was in these if I was trying to woo you.

I hadn’t had a peanut butter cookie in a really long time.

And when Nick went out to get dinner stuff, he mentioned that maybe I should do the dishes, and I was like, “If I’m helpful, maybe he’ll come home with a present!” So I did the dishes, and Nick came home, and I pointed out the four dishes I washed, and he wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped, and then he asked if I bothered to clean out the fridge yet. Of course I didn’t. But I thought, I could at least open it and see what happens. And then it happened. The bacon fat resurfaced!

Mmmm!Please don’t quit on me yet. I promise you, this is worth your while.

Bacon fat is better for you than margarine, if you haven’t heard, and while I can’t actually back that up, it’s a fact, and if you want proof then I would be happy to recommend some literature that will help you along. And we’re in a recession. And I’m saving the butter for mashed potatoes. My grandmother used to make the best peanut butter cookies in the world using schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat), which would have been left over anyway, which she kept in the freezer just for baking. And being (constantly) broke, my cold little heart breaks when I have to throw stuff out. I always save my bacon fat.

The peanut butter cookie recipe I like the best comes from Fannie Farmer. I have long been a fan of Marion Cunningham, who is like everybody in the world’s grandmother’s cookbook (but not my grandmother, the story of who’s cookbook is a novel for another time) mashed into one divine being who makes everything you want to eat and is tall (I imagine) and regal and is friends with Jeffrey Steingarten, who is another kind of hero. I make half-batches of this recipe, because two dozen cookies is quite enough for me. The recipe in its full measure claims that it will produce 120 cookies, which I have never found to be true. This is either a gross miscalculation or they’re supposed to be tiny little cookies, and I hate little cookies because they’re a tease and before you know it you’ve eaten two bags of mini rainbow Chips Ahoy and you’re drunk and it’s 3:42 am and you’re crying on the kitchen floor (again) and the reason is embarrassing but also you wish you could carry on a conversation with normal people without saying something wildly inappropriate or them thinking you had tourette’s syndrome, for once, and who the hell let you have the phone in the first place?

Peanut-Butter Bacon Fat Cookies

(Adapted from the recipe for Peanut-Butter Butter Cookies from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, circa 1984. Makes about two-dozen cookies.)

  • 1/2 cup bacon fat
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat your bacon fat, peanut butter, and sugar together in a large bowl. You want the colour of the goop in the bowl to lighten and get creamy. Once it’s there, crack open your egg and drop the contents in, and keep beating the mixture.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, mix well, and then slowly add it to the mixture in the bowl, beating until all your ingredients are combined.

Cookie doughIf you’re like me and you’ve never been disappointed by a hunk of cookie dough in your mouth, then sample away. At first you may think it’s a little weird – and it is. But in a good way. The bacon fat makes the peanut butter seem peanut-butterier.

Roll the dough out into balls about an inch or so in diameter. Place about an inch apart on a cookie sheet, and press the tops down with a fork dipped in granulated sugar.

Raw cookie deliciousnessBake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, and cool for a bit on a wire rack before eating.

I have to say I was pretty pleased with myself/these cookies, and not just because I used something in the fridge and therefore made progress toward a cleaner tomorrow. They are TASTY. You really ought to try this. I’m pretty sure a pound or so of bacon will produce enough fat for these, and then some, if you don’t already save your fat. Don’t waste fat. Baby Jesus cries when you wash the fat of the pig down the drain.

COOKIES!Seriously. You need to try these. Go render some pork fat, and then let me know how it all works out. Or, just come over for cookies and milk, and inhale my good baking stink.

There is nothing more beautiful than a wine-fridge filled-to-bursting with overstock in racks on the floor. Or, Touring Langley Wineries: A Good Idea.

Oh wow. Big day.

It started with dim sum, and just the right amount of food – going into a wine tour on an empty stomach only seems like a good idea. It’s actually a recipe for disaster that ends in all kinds of crankiness and tears. Nick and I met Grace and James at 11:00. We ate Chinese donut, shrimp-and-duck dumplings, rice noodle with scallops and asparagus, and excellent sticky rice. We had the little spring-roll-looking pastries filled with sweet red pork. It was all very delicious, and a generous spread of food (and a morning beer for Nick and James) came to $15.00 per person (including tip). So we were off to a good start.

Unfortunately, I drove.

Grace and James navigate from the back seat, armed with a map of the region and an epic book of BC wineries.
Grace and James navigate from the back seat, armed with a map of the region and an epic book of BC wineries.

Confusion over the exits and a detour off the highway about 35 kilometers from where we needed to be aside, we made it to The Fort Wine Co. in Fort Langley by 12:45.  Fort is a fruit winery, and they make excellent dessert wines that smell exactly like the fruit that’s in them. I bought a bottle of their raspberry dessert wine, and it smelled like sunshine and a pint of fresh raspberries and everything good in the world. Nick bought a bottle of the blueberry table wine, and I got a bottle of their apple-pear wine, which will be perfect when chilled and stuffed into a cooler and dragged off for a picnic on the beach at some point this summer. One of the nice things about The Fort Wine Co. is that they have a little patio and some picnic tables in their garden where you can order a glass of wine or sangria and enjoy snacks, such as a platter of delicious local cheeses and crackers. We skipped that this time (dim sum – too full). Nick took over the driving at this point, so we made it to our next location with far greater ease.

We had a delightful time at Lotusland. They have lots of different kinds of wines, and because it’s a bit out of the way, they are not very busy if you show up there on a Sunday afternoon. Which means that you can try all the wines, and also probably that they will pour you a bigger glass of each and generally be a lot of fun to talk to. I wasn’t super impressed with all the wines there – the whites were, by and large, very sweet and not to my particular liking, although James bought a bottle of the Gewürztraminer. Nick liked the Pinot Grigio, so he acquired one of those, and I was tickled by a low-tannin red called Zweigelt, which I had never tried before and immediately fell in love with (and mispronounced the name of). It’s very light. A breakfast red, you might say. Now five and three bottles in, respectively, we were pretty pleased with ourselves.

Thanks, Lotusland!
Thanks, Lotusland!

While we were at Lotusland, our wine-tasting host told us about this odd little winery about a fifteen minute drive away. Grace consulted the book, and soon we were on our way to Vista D’Oro, a place where they make wine fortified with green walnuts macerated in brandy. If they had been open, I think we might have learned something. Note to Vista D’Oro: Sunday is Wine Tour Day. It always has been. Be open next time.

Another savage u-turn, and we set a course for Domaine de Chaberton, which I think is French for “awesome.” Their wines are amazing, and you can buy six of them, including a double bottle, for under $100. (In Canada, that many wines for that amount is a good deal. Which is kind of sad. I once bought as many bottles at the Target in Bellingham, WA, for much less. But the wine wasn’t as good. So there.)

My favourite stop on the tour.
My favourite stop on the tour.

Domaine de Chaberton is always very busy, so you get to taste not very much of four wines. That’s okay. I am fairly certain that you can buy any one of their wines and not be disappointed.

I'll bet these don't suck.
I'll bet these don't suck.

This is also Nick’s favourite place, so we bought stuff we both like. Usually we try to get wines we both like, because we’re poor and occasionally we like to make sound financial decisions. But we both like all the wines here. Disappointingly, they were out of Ortega, the best one (it’s grown in the Fraser Valley), and they told us there wouldn’t be a batch this year. Sad face. We got these wines:

It's pretty clear that my next career move should be toward graphic design.
It's pretty clear that my next career move should be toward graphic design.

And we were so happy.

All our hearts grew three sizes that day.
All our hearts grew three sizes that day.

Our final stop on the tour was Township 7. We didn’t mean for it to be the last stop, but we got lost in White Rock (where, did you know, there’s a Tracycakes?!), and then got very hungry, and, after that, very tired.

At Township 7, there are excellent wines. Go there before you go to Domaine de Chaberton though, because going the other way results in a bit of sticker shock. But the reds are good here, and I am quite fond of the Syrah. Only one bottle for Nick and I (and I think two for Grace and James) here, but to be fair, that brought us to 12 (each) for the day. When you get there, try the Merlot – they offer you a piece of salt-and-pepper chocolate to try it with, and the combination is oddly amazing. The chocolate really brings out the red part of the wine.

Wine shop.
Wine shop.
Wine vines.
Wine vines.
Wine.
Wine.

The great thing about BC is that there are so many wonderful places that will give you alcohol just for showing up and looking eager to buy. There are a couple of wineries on the other side of the river that I want to try – Sanduz Estate Wines, in particular – and the Okanagan is a vast and wonderful winestravaganza. The current plan is to spend a weekend up there this summer acquiring as much wine and fruit as we can fit into the car, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But that’s a tale for another time, and this one is already exceedingly long.

I am tickled and pleased and all kinds of happy rolled into one. Thanks, Langley.

Oh! If you have any suggestions for wine, wineries, or places where I can learn to drive, please do let me know. Learning is fun!

I know what love is.
I know what love is.

Sweet potatoes are the best thing ever for you. Even if you get swine flu. Though if you get swine flu, call me, because I’d like to lick your door knobs.

I woke up this morning and was dying (again). Rheumatoid arthritis is a pain and I go through a lot of Kleenex and am all kinds of sexy. Fingers crossed for swine flu, though, which I actually want because I’m pretty sure I could lose, like, twelve pounds just throwing up, not to mention all the wasting away. Very convenient, much easier than fitness.

So I decided to spend the evening in pajamas watching the best movie ever and eating soup in an attempt to be fully recovered by the weekend, which is supposed to be hot and sunny, which means I won’t feel like soup at all, and you should embrace desire when it strikes you. So soup today, and then fish and chips and hefeweizen on a patio on the weekend. Oh, I’ve got dreams.

I’ve decided to share my feel-better recipe for sweet potato soup, because there’s a reasonable chance that other people are feeling battered by this weather, and because maybe you’ll make the soup and with any luck it will be the last time you’ll need hot soup until November.

This recipe makes about four bowls. Enough for tonight and lunch tomorrow anyway, even if my math is wrong.

Sweet Potato Soup

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, chopped (about three cups’ worth)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek (or more, to taste. No sambal oelek? Use hot sauce.)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot with a bit of oil, heat your onions, garlic, and ginger until golden. Add in your carrot and sweet potato, and toss until coated in all that garlic/ginger goodness. Pour in your liquids, zest and juice your lime into the pot, and throw in the sambal oelek so that it can eke it’s spicy glory all over the place.

Fan out the base of your stalk of lemongrass, and let it sit in the pot. I find that too much lemongrass makes stuff taste like dying, but doing it this way lets you get just a whiff and a taste of it, which is all you really need.

Soup!

sdc102211

Simmer this all together until the sweet potatoes and carrots are tender, about ten minutes. Maybe less. You should probably test for yourself.

Once everything is tender and smells good, you’re going to want to purée this. Part of feeling better quickly is not expending extra energy on chewing. Also, smooth soups taste better, because all the tastes get jumbled together. Glorious!

I serve mine with a poached egg in the centre, which you may recall is how I served the pea soup, but don’t worry – there isn’t a poached egg in every soup we eat around here. I like it for the richness the yolk gives, and the extra bit of protein. And also, I like eggs. We buy them by the 30-pack. For the two of us.

soup in bowls, with eggsAnd you know, I do feel better. Sweet potatoes, ginger, and the spicy hot sambal are all terrific when you feel the weight of a thousand pounds of symptoms rattling around in your chest.

Tomorrow is my Friday, so I’d best be getting to bed so I can rest up and endure it – after that, it’ll be all feasting and frivolity and feeling fantastic. Also tomorrow, I’ll sign up for bootcamp. I really think some violent influenza would be easier to stomach.

Beets: Adventure roots!

The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.
The one on the right was supposed to be magical, but it had the blight. I had to throw it out.

Beets are pretty much the best ever. Fact.

I had to go to Granville Island on Sunday, because Grace bought me a ticket to Rosé Revival and I asked Nick to put it in his pocket so I wouldn’t forget it and then Grace fed us red wine slurpees and then we had regular wine and then she brought out the whiskey and it was late-late-late when we left her apartment and staggered home, and somewhere between sitting on her couch and flopping into bed, the ticket escaped. So I went to Granville Island to go to Liberty to buy a new ticket. Long story short? They said, “we have lots of tickets. See if you can find yours, and if you still can’t, come back tomorrow. You’re awesome.” So I bought a bottle of Pink Elephant, because I’m on a sparkling wine kick at the moment, and wandered the market getting all love-bubbly about produce and cheeses and Oyama Sausage and the dreamy fishmonger who talked me into buying his fresh-fresh-fresh halibut.

But we’re not into shortening long stories around here. No. In the immortal words of my grandmother, “to make a dull story long:” Beets.

Beets are largely misunderstood. I believe it’s because they come in cans and $1.09 tins of beets are kind of gross and when you’re a kid and your parents are poor and don’t notice that there’s a whole section in grocery stores with fresh vegetables, you get shit in cans, or in bags that you keep in the freezer. I kind of wonder if grocery stores didn’t have produce sections in the 1980s. I’ll bet they didn’t. Not everyone was lucky enough to have a grandmother who pickled beets in magic. I have been a beet fan since my first magenta pickle.

It’s important to me that beet biggots be shown the light. There is no vegetable that cannot be made holy: it’s all in the preparation. And for beets, that means roasting.

To roast a beet, treat it like you would a potato you intend to bake. Give it a rinse, scrub off any crud, but don’t peel it. Put it on a piece of tin foil big enough to cover the beet. Salt. Pepper. A drizzle of olive oil. Wrap it up, and then throw it right on the rack of your oven, which should be a balmy 425°F. Depending on the size of your beet, the thing will roast for 60 to 90 minutes before it’s done. My beets were a bit bigger than my fist (I have adorable little paws), and took just under an hour and a half to become tender.

Prepare an ice bath. Once the beets are good and tender (stick a fork in one), pull them out of the oven and unwrap them immediately, dropping them directly into the ice bath. Let them cool there until you can handle them comfortably. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to rub the skins right off.

What do you do now? Well, that depends. If you’ve just spent the day being enticed by fish mongers and all the ways to fritter away the last of that paycheque you just got, you may want to make a salad out of them. You have all that halibut, after all.

Beets have mad sex appeal.
Beets have mad sex appeal.

I made that picture humongous because I wanted you to see all the beautiful colours. You can’t see them though. They’re there. Maybe there’s too much cheese.

So what do you need to make this happen? Two large beets. Or a bunch of smaller ones. Golden AND regular if you can find both. I also had a candy cane beet that was supposed to really make this lovely, but it was diseased. Don’t eat diseased beets.

A handful of very small tomatoes. I found these little orange heirloom cherry tomatoes and immediately felt that deep spiritual connection that one does when all atwitter at the sight of little tiny vine fruits and the joy of an impending feast.

Bocconcini. The amount you need will vary depending on the size. Mine were about the size of purple summer plums, so I used two.

Basil. Fresh. Chopped.

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Pairs excellently with halibut (pan-fried in butter with a capers and garlic, and seasoned sprinkling of salt, pepper, and lime zest), asparagus wrapped in bacon, and minty potatoes (roast new potatoes or chopped white, red, or purple potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes in a bit of olive oil, and toss with a tablespoon or two of fresh mint).

Do you hate my table cloth too?
Do you hate my table cloth too?
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I used the spearmint that's growing wildly on my deck.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.
I love all the little fishies. Them's tasty.

Anyway, for a great meal, start with beets. Also, maybe stick a Post-It to your bathroom mirror with a reminder that you ate beets the night before so that the next morning you don’t freak out a little and think you’re hemorrhaging or dying or something. That’s no way to start your day. Beets: Exciting!