When I was a child, my mother and her friends would pop over to each other’s homes at a moment’s notice, stopping by without any embellishment (never any makeup, and sometimes still in their slippers and “housedresses,” which were basically just glorified pyjamas). Because, after all, it was just mom and the kids, and for whom would they need to get all decked out, anyway, if the men weren’t around?
In those days, people lived closer together, women were friends with their neighbors, coffee was always on, and there was invariably something home-baked on the counter. Mom’s best friend–who also happened to be her cousin–lived only 3 blocks away. Ms. Cuz could call up at 9:20 AM and be at our house by 9:40. In the interim, my mother would put up a fresh pot of coffee and get a cake mixed and into the oven. By the time Cuzzy arrived, the cake would be just about ready to come out of the oven; the women would sit down, light up a cig, pour a cup of coffee and catch up on respective kids and husbands–and by then it was time for cake.
Nowadays, it seems, that’s all changed. Everything in our lives is faster, everything requires instant gratification and everything is immediate–everything, that is, except human contact. I mean, you know it’s gotten bad when couples have to make an appointment just to have a date with each other. Gah!
A while back , I was asked by Marly of Namely Marly to join today’s “Our Panera’s Gluten Free Dream Day” event, which she co-created with Allyson of Manifest Vegan. The idea was to create a gluten free (and in my case, sugar free, egg free and dairy free) baked good based on something from the Panera menu. Well, needless to say, I was totally chuffed and couldn’t wait to get started! I took a gander through the online list and immediately hit upon “Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake.”
Why did I choose this particular cake? Well, it was one of my mom’s specialities when I was a kid, and even just thinking about it brought back a flood of memories. My parents played cards every weekend with a group of friends, and when it was my mom’s turn to hostess, she always baked at least two sweet offerings for the socializing portion of the evening, after the game. Without fail, the table held her “famous” Chiffon Cake, often paired with Farmer’s Cheesecake or perhaps fancy cookies, or–this coffee cake.
Well, okay, not exactly “this” coffee cake. My mom’s version was made with white (wheat) flour, white sugar, eggs, and Crisco shortening. It became a staple in my own home when I first moved out on my own, because it was cheap to make, tasted good, and could go from “idea-in-your-head” to “slice-on-your-plate” in under 30 minutes.
My modernized, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, ACD-friendly version is perfectly compatible with today’s fast-paced lifestyle, however. As soon as you hang up from that impromptu invitation you issued to your neighbor, just start on the cake. This one takes a wee bit longer to execute than my mom’s–40 minutes versus my mom’s 30–but these days, it will take your friend that long to drive from her place over to yours, anyway.
When she arrives, be sure to offer her some cake.
“Mum, you know that Chaser and I could get there much faster than that if you ever invited us over for cake. And we won’t need to put on makeup first, either.”
Cinnamon Crumb Cake (Gluten Free, Sugar Free, Anti-Candida, Vegan; can be nut-free)
1-1/2 Tbsp (1 Tbsp plus 1-1/2 tsp, or 22.5 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1-3/4 tsp (8.5 ml) xanthan gum
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8-inch (20 cm) square pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
Make the topping: In a medium bowl, combine the oats, coconut sugar, coconut flour, cinnamon and salt. Stir to combine. Add the coconut oil and pinch the mixture between your thumb and fingers until it’s evenly moistened and crumbly. Add the walnuts and toss to combine. Set aside.
Make the cake: In a small bowl, whisk together the applesauce, flax, vinegar, stevia, coconut sugar, soymilk, oil, vanilla and lemon extract. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, sift together the all purpose flour, baking powder, soda, xanthan gum and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk just until blended (do not overmix!).
Spread about half the batter in the bottom of the pan (you can measure it, or just estimate). Sprinkle with about half the topping mixture. Scooping out heaping tablespoonsful of the remaining batter, dot the top of the cake with the rest of the batter in spoonfuls, covering as much as you can. Use the back of the spoon to carefully spread the top layer of batter evenly over the cake, filling any spaces as best you can. Sprinkle with the remainder of the topping, covering the batter as evenly as possible (it’s okay if there are a few blank spots here and there). Press the topping lightly into the top of the cake.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool at least 20 minutes before serving. Makes 9 large or 12 more reasonable servings. May be frozen.
**Note: I’ve made the cake nut-free by simply removing the walnuts–it worked beautifully! It will bake up a little faster, but that’s the only difference I noticed.
Here’s a list of the entire group of bloggers (and their recipes) who are part of today’s Dream Day (recipes will appear during the day):
Y’all are familiar with oxymorons, right? (no, I’m not referring to your neighbor who fires up that buzz saw at 6:30 AM all summer; or your coworker who spilled coffee all over your crucial report; or your Aunt Edna who practically yodelled the news that you were pregnant even before you told your best friend–those are all just plain “morons.”). Oxymorons are those odd-but-true figures of speech that encapsulate two apparently contradictory terms (or opposites) in what turns out to contain actuality:
That metal post was so cold that it burned my fingers.
After his speech, the silence was deafening.
(a gem from Woody Allen): “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering–and it’s all over much too soon.”
(on the same theme, from Ashley Montagu): “I want to die young at a ripe old age.”
(. . . and, the classic from George Carlin): Jumbo Shrimp.
For me, one of the most memorable oxymorons in real life was what I call The Summer of Uncertainty. It was the summer I met an incredibly gorgeous, incredibly romantic man.
During the second summer of my PhD, I found myself living in the university residence. While all my friends were occupied with their current boyfriends, I, as usual, was single. Why couldn’t I find a boyfriend, I wondered? I mean, wasn’t I as smart as my friends? Wasn’t I as funny? Wasn’t I (almost) as good looking? It just didn’t seem fair: they all had beaux, and I–none. (Why, it was sort of like an oxymoron!). I resigned myself to yet another summer alone.
And then, on a whim, I went with an old friend to a Saturday night bash at another friend’s house. Almost as soon as we arrived, I was approached by a tall, astonishingly handsome man (let’s call him “Rock.”) Towering over me in a dusty blue T-shirt and black jeans, a tousle of slick, onxy-black hair and a jaw even more square than your grandparents morals, Rock beguiled me from the first instant, and didn’t leave my side all evening. I could barely concentrate on our witty repartee, I was so taken by his good looks. Could he–was it possible?–be interested in l’il ole me? Naw, I thought, which freed me up for a great evening of conversation. At the end of the night, I said my goodbye. Rock smiled and murmured that it had been great to meet me.
The following Monday, when I sauntered into the graduate English department, the secretary beckoned me to her desk. ”There’s this guy who keeps calling and asking for your number,” she said. “He says he met you last Saturday–his name is Rock.” My cheeks flushed crimson. ” Who the heck is this guy, anyway?” she asked. “Well, I told him I’d give his number to you if you wanted it.” She handed me a piece of paper. If I wanted it?! Was she kidding??!!
Maybe it was my scintillating conversational skills that had prompted him to track me down. Or perhaps it was our mutual love of Modern American Literature. Most likely it was the hot pink mini dress and white fishnet stockings I wore that evening. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care–I called him back immediately. That call prompted a summer of romantic, entertaining, intense, exciting and confusing evenings.
“Confusing”? Why, yes. You see, I never did quite figure out Rock’s motives. Let me give you an example: for our first date, Rock took me to a Bruce Springsteen concert (believe it or not, I didn’t know who The Boss was before that evening. Of course, I realized immediately that I was familar with every single song he sang. Thrill!). After the concert ended, Rock walked me back to residence, rode up the elevator to my room, stood outside the door and gazed down into my (entirely mesmerized) eyes. And then. . . he said, “This was fun. Goodnight.” And walked away! No “can I come in?” No attempt to make a pass. No kiss on the forehead. No hug, even! “Okay,” I reasoned, “first date.” No biggie.
Another rendez-vous was a custom picnic in Earle Bales Park, one of the largest and most beautiful parks in the city. Rock’s basket was brimming with glass wine goblets, real silverware and china plates. The food was from Toronto’s premier upper-crust shop at the time, Bersani & Carlevale. (Before that evening, I’d often passed by the shop and lingered, longingly, at the window, knowing I could never afford anything inside). Rock’s culinary choices included a good cabernet sauvignon, crusty bread with all manner of spreads and dips (artichoke-caper compote, oozy cambozola, giant, spicy, brined green olives and rabbit pâté–my first–and only–encounter with rabbit as food, which I declined to try, though I chose not to hold it against him). We ate our feast on a blanket on the grass, then watched a live performance of Romeo and Juliet in the park. Seriously, what could be more romantic?
Or imagine this: after an hour-long, meandering midnight phone call (topics included TS Eliot, American Literature, Hemingway, the fact that Rock had had a poem published–good thing he couldn’t see me swoon over the phone–and Ezra Pound), I returned to my campus residence the next afternoon to discover my mailbox overflowing with a hand-painted card, a copy of Eliot’s The Wasteland, and one perfect red rose. ”I thought you might enjoy this,” Rock had written inside. “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee/ With a shower of rain.“ Swoon, Take Two.
And yet. . . every shared evening ended the same way, with Rock gazing into my eyes, thanking me–and promptly leaving. By the end of August, I was more than perplexed; I was downright frustrated. One evening, I couldn’t resist posing The Question: just what, I wondered aloud, were his feelings toward me? (any woman who’s ever posed the question already knows it as “The Relationship Kiss of Death”). Now he was the one who seemed perplexed. “Well, I like you,” he stammered. Yep, clear as mud. Shortly thereafter, I returned to my PhD and Rock returned to his job; fairly quickly, the connection faded. It wasn’t until many years later, my girlish naiveté finally evaporated, that it struck me: holy moly! What if Rock were gay?
I never did find out. Instead, Rock left me with some unique memories of a summer filled with music, poetry, culture, and great food. In fact, it was he who served me one of the best pasta salads I’ve ever tasted, a combination of pesto, garlicky bruschetta tomatoes, and finely chopped vegetables, all mixed with Italian spices and a sprinkling of sass. I had never tasted pesto before, and I was besotted.
This 2011 iteration offers a creamy alternative highlighting the flavors of basil and cilantro. The smooth sauce hugs the pasta with just the right hint of richness and a little heat from the sriracha. With the occasional crunch from fresh vegetables and a touch of citrus, the salad is delicious either cold or at room temperature. It’s the perfect dish for a buffet, or a quick dinner for two.
Rock, this one’s for you. As you savor it, I hope you’ll experience both cool delight and the spark of spicy heat, all at the same time. Think of it as my gift for that summer long ago, my own gastonomic oxymoron made just for you.
Easy to throw together yet robust and flavorful, this pasta salad is perfect for a summer evening lounging on the patio, or–dare I say it?–a picnic in the park. [Note: if you prefer to make a soy-free salad, you can use the Avocado Pesto dressing from this recipe, adding the sriracha, lemon zest and cilantro as described below.]
For the salad:
1/2 pound (225 g) dry pasta of choice (elbows or spirals work best)
1 medium chopped sweet bell pepper (any color, though I prefer orange or red)
1 small red onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 cups (480 ml) baby grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup (80 ml) cilantro, chopped
For the dressing:
1 package (12 oz or 350 g) firm silken tofu (I used Mori Nu) or medium tofu
1.5 oz (40 g) fresh basil leaves (50-60 leaves)
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh cilantro, unpacked
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp (5 ml) sriracha, 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) hot pepper sauce, or 1/2-1 small jalapeno, minced
2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
fine sea salt and pepper, to taste
To make the salad: Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse with cold water, drain well, and place in a large bowl. Add the chopped pepper, onion, celery, tomatoes and 1/3 cup (80 ml) cilantro and toss to mix.
While the pasta cooks, make the dressing: place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour about 2/3 of the dressing over the pasta and toss to coat; add more dressing if a creamier pasta salad is desired (you can save any extra dressing in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 days; use as a dip, with more pasta, or as a spread in wraps or sandwiches). Makes 6-8 servings. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Soy-Free Variation: Make the Avocado Pesto dressing from this recipe, then add the sriracha, lemon juice and lemon zest from the dressing recipe above.
[For those who missed it, there's a mega-giveaway going on until Friday: Win one of FOUR amazing books (cookbooks and more. . . ). Check it out here!]
Despite our reputation as perhaps the most polite and tolerant folks on the face of the planet (and let’s not forget “the funniest,” too), we Canadians are still divided on certain issues. For instance, which is the better team, the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs? (What? Did I hear someone say, ”Canucks“?). Does my Canada include Quebec, or not? (Many Quebeckers think not). And which one is it–is our summer vacation getaway a ”country house,” a “cottage” or “camp”? Well, if you were born in Montreal, as I was, it’s definitely a “country house.”
Throughout my childhood during July and August, that’s where my parents took me and my sisters while we were on vacation from school. Our country houses were seasonal rentals in a little French town called Val Morin, nestled in the Laurentian mountains. My parents would pack up the station wagon with boxes of summer clothes, pots, pans, dishes, towels and toys for the kids, and we’d make the 2-1/2 hour trek up north (always stopping in St. Jerome for ice cream, of course) before slowing to a stop in front a nondescript wooden edifice that could barely be called a “house.” As children, though, we didn’t mind–we loved the musty, woody smell of the walls, the rusted bathroom water that flowed for 5 minutes before we could brush our teeth, the flecks of grass strewn across the living room floor where we’d tracked them in with our bare feet (since we almost never donned shoes during the entire two months there).
Once the boxes were unpacked and the kitchen set up, Dad would linger for the day and then, next morning, make the trip back to Montreal for the work week. From then on, we saw him on weekends only.
Our last summer up north, we rented one of six identical houses laid out in a horseshoe, in a meadow not too far from the beach. That house stands out in my mind for its lack of hot water during the first two weeks we lived there (Mom was not too happy, let me tell you), the wasps’ nest right beside the front door (which we learned to avoid by bending low to the ground as if scouting anthills, then swerving round from the waist and ducking through the open door with our hands clasped to our heads), and the bunk beds I shared with The Nurse. In fact, it was that very summer when I first began to appreciate literature courtesy of my older sister: each night after we got into bed, The Nurse used a flashlight to read one chapter aloud from Little Women, complete with different accents for each character. It was there in the dark that I fell in love with Jo and Laurie and Marmie, their disembodied voices wafting down from above, a beam of light flickering above me like a beacon transporting their words in the dark.
Val Morin was also remarkable for the few attractions in or near the village. For instance, did you know that Val David was the summer residence of Santa Claus? It’s true: his eponymous Village was situated just before the final highway exit to the town. I never did manage to catch of glimpse of the rotund Red One during the summer (I was likely too busy making sand castles on the beach or toasting marshmallows in the evenings), but I did manage to enjoy the other major attraction, a huge Go-Kart track along the roadside which I was always too young to ride until the very last summer we spent there. When I finally did whirl around the track a few times, I thought it hadn’t been worth all the hype (sort of like when I finally got my first boyfriend after being jealous of my friends all those years).
The end of town was also where we found Blueberry Hill, one of the rolling hillsides that rose up suddenly like a movie set behind the post office and corner store. On weekends when my dad was in town, the CFO and I would each grab a plastic sandpail and trot along behind him along the dirt road, through the village to the foot of the hill. Then we’d climb along the path to the top and work our way down, picking wild blueberrise as we went. Our intention was to each fill a pail with the tiny indigo gems and bring them back to my mom so she could bake up her famous Blueberry Coffee Cake for the weekend.
Of course, the CFO and I couldn’t resist eating the supplies along the way, and inevitably we’d reach the bottom of the hill with our pails only half full, and our distended stomachs already in full protest after being stuffed with all the juicy, matte berries we could shove into our mouths (which were now unevenly lined with deep purple dye). Luckily, my dad always managed to fill his own large basket to the brim, so we never did without cake.
Even though my favorite way to consume blueberries is still fresh, on their own, I thought I’d re-create a favorite of the HH’s for this month’s SOS Challenge focusing on blueberries. After he takes The Girls for their weekend jaunt through the local trails, the HH stops at Tim Hortons for a large coffee and a baked good; sometimes (but not too often) a Carrot Muffin, occasionally a croissant, or, most often, a blueberry and cream cheese danish. Aha!
Those of you who follow me on Facebook or twitter may remember that I had been working on a bean-based pizza crust. As I mentioned on Facebook, the flavor was great, but the texture was a bit too soft and cakelike for pizza. Well, I decided that the dough would be much more suited to a sweet treat than a pizza–and adding blueberries seemed like a great idea. Since the dough was too soft to roll out, I opted for a freeform shape.
Once baked up, these pastries have a somewhat scone-like, somewhat cake-like texture: dense but not overly so, yet the perfect level of firmness to support a layer of cream cheese topped with a heap of blueberries. When baked, the bottoms become deep golden, while the tops retain their pale hue (you can brush them with oil or milk if you prefer a browner surface). They’re not overly sweet–just a dusting of coconut sugar over the berries–but I loved the contrast of the fresh, juicy berry topper against the silky smooth “cheese” filling.
Although I wouldn’t say that these are actually much like ”real” danish–they aren’t flaky in the least–these confections are substantially fruity, creamy, and crusty in a way that evokes rural evenings in country, a lakeside breeze kissing your cheeks, sand between your toes. Serve these up in the evening after a long day spent at the beach, or riding Go-Karts, or picking berries. Paired with a pitcher of fresh lemonade, they’re great served up to family and friends as they lounge out on the deck of your country house. Or cottage.
If you plan to make the “cream cheese” from scratch, you will need to start this recipe the day before you bake it in order for the cashews to soak. If you have a brand of cream cheese that you like and wish to use instead, it should work fine here. Similarly, you can use regular brown sugar instead of coconut sugar for the topping.
For the Filling and Topping:
6 Tbsp (90 ml) already-made sweet “cream cheese” (see below, or use your favorite recipe)
1 cup (240 ml) frozen blueberries (wild would be great, but any kind is good)
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp (8 tsp or 40 ml) coconut or palm sugar, divided
For the dough:
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) white beans (such as navy, white kidney, Great Northern, etc), rinsed well and drained (or use 2-1/4 cups/540 ml well cooked beans, drained)
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) fragrant nut oil (such as almond, walnut or macadamia) or extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/4-1/3 cup (60-80 ml) unsweetened almond, soy or rice milk, as needed
4 tsp (1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp, or 20 ml) apple cider vinegar
15-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) potato starch (or use tapioca or arrowroot starch)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
3/4 tsp (4 ml) baking powder
1/8 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the beans until they break up and begin to form a paste. Add the flax, oil, milk, vinegar and stevia and process until very smooth and no lumps of bean are visible. Add the remaining ingredients and process just until blended. It should resemble a very wet, soft dough. (If it’s too dry and won’t hold together, add a bit more milk, about 1 Tbsp/15 ml at a time).
Divide dough into 8 equal portions and place 4 on each sheet. Wet your palms with water, or grease with a bit of the oil, then flatten each mound of dough to a round disk about 1/4 inch (.5 ml) thick (they will be 4-5 inches/10-12 cm in diameter).
Place a heaping Tbsp (20 ml) of the cream cheese in the center of each disk and spread with the back of a spoon to cover the disk, leaving about 1/2 inch (1 cm) dough all around the edge.
Next, pile about 2 Tbsp (30 ml) frozen berries on top of the cheese, creating a bit of a mound in the middle. Using cupped hands, carefully push up the edge all around to form a rim encasing the berries and holding them in place (you’re just creating a “wall” around the outside edge of each danish; leave the berries uncovered in the middle). Pinch the dough with your fingers if it cracks or if there are any holes in the “rim” through which berry juice can flow once the danish begin to bake. Sprinkle the berries in each danish with 1 tsp (5 ml) of coconut sugar.
Bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes, rotating about halfway through, until bottoms are deep golden brown and berries are beginning to wrinkle. For browner crusts, brush the crust on top of the danish with more oil or milk after about 30 minutes, then continue to bake. May be served warm (allow to cool at least 10 minutes before eating), at room temperature, or cold. Makes 8 danish. Store in the refrigerator in airtight container up to 3 days. May be frozen.
To freeze, place unwrapped danish in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet in the freezer and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. Then wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and place the wrapped danish in a ziploc bag in the freezer until ready to use. Defrost, wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.
Lower-Fat Sweet Cashew “Cream Cheese“
Adding some white beans to the cashew mix lowers the overall fat content, and no additional oil is included here. You won’t miss it: this is still a rich-tasting, creamy spread. The recipe makes more than you will need for the danish; leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and are heavenly spread on muffins, scones, biscuits, rice cakes, etc.
1 cup (155 g) raw natural cashews, soaked in room temperature water for 4-6 hours, rinsed well and drained
1/2 cup (120 ml) well cooked, rinsed and drained white beans (canned are fine)
6 Tbsp (90 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahini
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) water
pinch fine sea salt
10-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
To make with a high-speed blender (VitaMix or Blendtec): Combine cashews and remaining ingredients in your blender, using the wand to push the mixture toward the blades, until silky smooth. This may take a bit of work; the cheese will be thick. Set aside.
To make with a regular blender: first blend all ingredients in a food processor until they are quite smooth. Transfer in small batches to your blender and blend until silky. After blending each batch, transfer it to a medium bowl; once all the mix is blended, stir the contents of the bowl well so that the flavor and texture is uniform.
Store the cheese in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Show of hands: who watched the Royal Wedding this morning? (I won’t tell anyone.) I had set the PVR for 3:00 AM (Toronto time) just in case I slept through the alarm. . . which, of course, I did. But even pre-recorded, it was a lovely affair, and Kate did look rather smashing in her Sarah Burton-designed wedding gown, didn’t she? And wasn’t it touching when Wills whispered, “You look lovely–you look beautiful” to her and then when she turned to him in the carriage and said, “Are you happy?” (thanks, lip readers)–because really, what person in their right mind in that situation wouldn’t be deliriously happy–I mean, seriously, people, she is going to be queen. Oh, and kudos to her for not snorting through her nose when she uttered the “in richer or in poorer” part of the vows.
Although I made this dish for the HH and my Easter dinner, I thought it was perfectly fitting as a tribute to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In my mind, nut roasts are decidedly British. Why? Well, I think it has to do with one of my first cookbooks, bought from the remainder bin at Book City (English cookbooks are always cheap in Toronto, since most people still resist cooking exclusively in grams and millileters). In fact, most of the nut roast recipes I’ve encountered (except those on blogs, of course) were from UK-based cookbooks–one doesn’t see the term “nut roast” too much in North American tomes.
This particular recipe is a throwback to the 1990s, when I cooked up a what was definitely an American take on the classic loaf, for a very artsy dinner party. You see, back ithen I had the opportunity to teach English at the acclaimed OCA (later OCAD), or Ontario College of Art and Design, at one time welcoming institution to JEH MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Michael Snow, and many other famous Canadian artists. Situated in the heart of the university district downtown and abutting Chinatown, it is a wellspring of creativity, eccentricity, emotional immaturity and oil paint.
I remember vividly the day of my interview. I had applied for a one-year replacement position while the regular English teacher was on sabbatical. Knowing that OCA was an art college and, therefore, the polar opposite of my usual place of employ (where I dealt mostly with computer studies students), I determined to jazz up my typical “interview uniform” consisting of black blazer, black knee-length skirt, black tights, black pumps, gold stud earrings (with black stones) and subdued makeup (black mascara but definitely no black nailpolish). Instead, I donned my one and only patterned suit jacket, a fitted collarless button-down featuring muted floral print in shades of beige, maroon. . . and black.
As I waited outside the boardroom in which a six-member panel interrogatedgrilled humiliated met with candidates, I could hear muffled chatter of the previous interview in progress. Every now and then, punctuating the murmurs and dull buzz came an eruption of laughter so sharp and so drawn out that I imagined Robin Williams had dropped in for some impromptu entertainment between questions about curriculum.
Finally, the door swung open and the previous candidate sashayed out, her face flush with victory. She barely glanced my way as she strode by, raised her eyebrowns and wrinkled her nose as if to say, “Sorry, sweetie, this one’s in the bag.” Before I could worry too much, I was ushered in to the room and accosted with a barrage of questions. I walked away feeling as if I’d done my best–but sure my best was not enough. The following day, I received the call–I was hired!
I worked at OCA for two years, during which time I helped to launch the first Writing Center at the college (though I never did find out what happened to that other job applicant). I loved all the unconventional, offbeat students and professors there, with their scraggly hair that hung like tassels to their shoulders, their landscape tatoos, asymmetrical skirts, spiked hair and piercings in noses and eyebrows and lips and various other appendages that seemed just too bizarre at the time.
I often lunched with one of my colleagues (I’ll just call him “Roman à Clef) when we wanted to escape the maelstrom of the college and have a proper chat. Everything about Roman was soft and gentle, from his whisper-quiet voice to his pale blue eyes to his salt-and-pepper beard, full and plush like moss on a tree trunk. Roman was also a vegetarian, a perfect lunch companion.
Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to throw a dinner party for some of my OCA colleagues, but I still fretted about what I’d serve that could please everyone. I turned to my first (vegetarian) culinary hero, Mollie Katzen, and the original Moosewood Cookbook. In the book, Katzen offers a dish she calls “Carrot-Mushroom Loaf.” Except it’s not a loaf; it’s baked in a rectangular pan and is more like a kugel, made with something like five eggs. Nevertheless, I made the recipe and it was a collosal hit, not only with Roman (who wolfed down three pieces–each with a glass of wine–and then remarked, ”that was the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever had. . . if I were only twenty years younger, I’d ask you out about now”), but also with all the omnivores as well.
Naturally, when I sought out a superb nutroast recipe for my submission to Johanna’s A Neb at Nut Roast II event, I returned to the Katzen recipe. But I’d forgotten about the mushrooms in the loaf (verboten on the ACD); and there seemed no feasible way to replace all those eggs with ground flax. So I began with the concept of “carrot + loaf” and took it from there. I added pecans, a beloved but underused nut, and fresh dill, one of my favorite herbs to pair with carrots. For binding, I ground up a bunch of gluten free crackers, well, just to get rid of the broken ones hanging out at the bottom of the box.
I loved this loaf with its decidedly veggie slant. If you’re expecting a meat analogue, this is not the loaf for you. Still, even the flesh-loving HH enjoyed his slice with some caramelized onion gravy and a healthy serving of celeri rémoulade. Once baked, the slightly sweet carrots meld perfectly with the toasty nuts and herbs; and the slices hold up well the next day, perfect for sandwiches. The cooked carrots also imbue the loaf with a lovely golden hue that’s rather festive–in fact, one might even say, somewhat royal.
You’ve still got time to submit your own nutroast creations to the Neb at Nutroast II event–ongoing until May 5th!
This loaf is an ideal make-ahead main course, as the flavors mature and the texture firms up overnight in the refrigerator. It’s still great straight from the oven, too, slathered with gravy and served alongside mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable.
1/2 medium onion, cut in half and then thinly sliced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/3 cup (80 ml) gluten-free cracker crumbs (I used 25 Mary’s plain crackers)
3 cups (300 g or 10.5 oz) toasted pecans
1/4 cup (60 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt
pepper, to taste
1 pound (455 g) trimmed and peeled carrots (about 6 large), cut in chunks
1 large celery stalk, cut in chunks
2 large garlic cloves, cut in half
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh dill or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried dill
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh parsley
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce (use Bragg’s for ACD)
1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable broth or stock
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line an 8 or 9 inch (20-22.5 cm) loaf pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray and set aside.
In a medium frypan, heat the oil; add onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the crackers until they become fine crumbs. Add the pecans, flax seeds, salt and pepper and process until you have what looks like a fine meal. Turn into a large bowl and set aside.
To the same processor bowl (no need to wash it), add the carrots, celery, garlic, dill, parsley, Bragg’s, broth and cooked onions from the pan along with any oil left in the frypan. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary (there should be no lumps of vegetables visible). Add the mixture to the bowl with the nuts and stir together by hand. It should be fairly thick.
Spread the batter in the loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven for 60-70 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until deeply browned on the bottom and sides and a knife inserted in the center comes out moist but clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing. Makes about 8 servings. Serve with gravy, if desired. Will keep, wrapped in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. May be frozen: allow to cool, then slice and wrap slices individually; freeze, then store wrapped slices in a plastic bag in freezer.
Whew–where has the last week gone? Between end-of-term marking and a long holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy here in the DDD household. I hope you all enjoyed a stellar Passover and/or Easter holiday! This year, the HH and I celebrated both holidays, first with friends (we were invited to two seders this year) and then on our own (a holiday Easter dinner for just the two of us).
As in other areas, when it comes to celebrating holidays, the HH is, shall we say, rather laissez-faire. In other words, if not for me, we would probably have eaten cereal for dinner on Sunday instead of the fantastic repast we did have (nutroast and céléri remoulade, about which I’ll post in a day or two). To top off our weekend, we went to see Water for Elephantswith my friend Nutritionista and her hubby last night. Since I had no preconceived notions about Robert Pattinson (having never seen any of the Twilight films) and since I love Reese Witherspoon, I really enjoyed the movie (though, is it just me, or is there something vaguely simian about his looks?).
Well, after all the heavy, rich foods of the past long weekend, I am so ready for something fresh, light, crisp–and raw!
I was delighted a while back when Brittany of Real Sustenance asked if I’d like to participate in her month-long tribute to raw foods, April in the Raw. You see, raw foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and a few others), consumed in the same state as we’d find them in nature (technically, nothing heated above 115F46 C), are considered to provide optimum nutritional value while retaining the natural enzymes that may help us to digest those same foods (when foods are cooked, your pancreas must take on this monumental task on its own–not too much fun for the l’il pancreas).
With spring in the air (okay, maybe not literally–what is it with the never ending winter this year?–but it’s coming, I just know it), this is as good a time as any to try out some raw recipes. Besides, raw foods are ideal for those of us who plan to detox around this time of year–and I’ve decided that I really need to detox. How much do I need a cleanse right now? In a show of hands, I’d have to throw in not just my hand, but probably the whole deck. Yep, a cleanse is definitely in order for this gal.
(“Mum, you don’t think we need a cleanse, do you? Because, you know, we go swimming at least once a week in the pond, so that keeps us cleansed, doesn’t it?. On the other hand, if you want to throw a little raw food our way, we’re all for it!’)
[Raw Asparagus, Romaine and Grapefruit Salad--who knew?]
Most days, I aim for something raw at each meal, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I didn’t discover the joy of raw foods until I was in nutrition school, during the “Alternative Diets” course. The entire class was inspired by our prof, Miss Serenity (in opposition to my friends and me, collectively Misses Anxiety, Dissatisfaction, Self-Doubt, Insecurity, Impatience, Grumpy and Sleepy). Miss Serenity was, herself, a raw foodist, and we all wanted to be like her.
Miss Serenity was the image of radiant health, with a strong, toned physicque, luxurious hair the color of milk chocolate and the whitest smile I’ve ever seen; she was also the polar opposite of the stereotypical “vegan.” Her skin shone with the pink glow of iron and oxygen-rich blood, she guffawed with great glee and was the last person one would consider “stuffy” or “preachy.” Yet she also taught yoga and meditated every day, she grew her own wheat grass and she owned a house painted in bold colors of the seven chakras. As soon as she announced that she was teaching a “Raw Foods Fundamentals” course in her home, I signed up.
Because of Miss Serenity, I decided to “go raw” for a month. As a full-time student, I had the luxury to prepare all my food from scratch and could spend hours chopping, grating, puréeing, blending, processing, soaking, and juicing as I made recipe after recipe from Miss Serenity’s cookbook. The food was delicious, but ultimately I abandoned the idea–I just didn’t have 2-3 extra hours a day to devote to food prep.
Since then, I’ve discovered that “uncooking” need not take exorbitant amounts of time. The “original” raw foods–fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds–can be eaten out of hand, exactly as they are the instant you pick them or shell them. Somewhere between fresh-picked and three-hour prep is a happy medium: a bit of chopping, perhaps some peeling or prepping, along with fewer ingredients or foods eaten fresh and whole. (Even Miss Serenity occasionally brought a “mono-meal” for her lunch: we’d watch, mesmerized, as she peeled and ate 4-5 mangoes at a sitting–and nothing else for that meal).
Today’s offering is meant to show you that raw food can be both simple and delicious. First up, I’m including the quintessential raw dish: salad (but with a new twist). Then, once you’ve eaten your greens, I think you deserve a fantastic dessert: these raw Frosted Lemon-Poppyseed Bars! Even the HH loved them.
The salad does a bit of double-duty, as it also contains this month’s SOS Kitchen Challenge ingredient, asparagus. I had no idea one could eat raw asparagus until I came across a recipe for “Shaved Asparagus Salad with Orange-Tarragon Vinaigrette” in the May/June 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times. Well, that was all the incentive I needed to start playing with the recipe and come up with my own adaptation. The ACD doesn’t allow oranges but does allow grapefruit for some bizarre reason, so that was the substitution I used.
The resulting salad was crisp, fresh, and juicy, the slightly sweet shards of asparagus lending a decidedly springlike air (something we sorely need these rainy days!). Fragrant with tarragon and grapefruit zest, the salad was a lively start to our meal. I didn’t tell the HH it contained raw asparagus until he’d already dug in and proclaimed the dish “fantastic.” I’d suggest you do the same when you serve this.
Shaved Asparagus Salad with Grapefruit-Tarragon Vinaigrette (adapted from Vegetarian Times, May/June 2009)
about 3/4 pound (12 oz or 375 g) fresh asparagus, washed and woody ends broken off
1 small head romaine lettuce, washed, trimmed, and torn into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup (120 ml) toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1 large grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments, membrane removed if desired (grate the zest before cutting the fruit)
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly grated grapefruit zest
1 Tbsp (15 ml) minced onion
1 tsp (5 ml) dried tarragon or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh, chopped fine
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 large lemon)
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
6-8 drops plain stevia liquid, to your taste
Shave the asparagus by using a vegetable peeler and peeling into long strands. Alternately, grate the asparagus in a food processor with the grating blade (this is what I did). Place the asparagus, lettuce, grapefruit segments and hazelnuts in a large salad bowl.
In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the grapefruit zest, onion, tarragon, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and stevia. Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss well to coat. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.
To cap off your meal, how about these dazzling Lemon-Poppyseed Bars with Lemon Frosting? All raw, of course! Lemon and Poppyseed is one of the HH’s favorite combinations, so I decided to create a raw dessert that he’d love even more than the salad. These little confections are firm and chewy with a sparkling crunch of poppyseeds in every bite. The frosting firms up in the fridge, but left at room temperature softens to a creamy, smooth, entirely alluring topping. Because they’re so rich, you can cut these into small cubes of one or two bites a piece, and you’ll still be satisfied.
Raw Frosted Lemon Poppyseed Bars
Suitable for ACD Stage 1 and beyond
These bars are adapted from a recipe in my Desserts without Compromise Ebook for Raw Lemon-Coconut Bars. When I was hosting a friend’s birthday party in our house a while back, I made these so that I’d have something to eat while everyone else feasted on the conventional (white flour and white sugar) cake that my friend’s husband had bought. When I brought out my plate of lemon bars, someone asked to taste them–and within minutes the plate was empty! This is definitely tasty and impressive enough to serve to anyone, ACD or not.
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup/60 ml), divided in half (2 Tbsp/30 ml each)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable glycerin, yacon syrup or agave syrup (for ACD Stage 1, don’t use agave)
15-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raw poppy seeds
For the Frosting:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) whole chia seeds, or heaping 1/4 cup (70 ml) pre-ground
1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) raw cashew or macadamia nut butter (or use regular if you’re not concerned about it being raw)
Remainder of lemon zest and juice from making the base, above
15-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to taste
extra lemon zest and poppy seeds for garnish, if desired
Make the base: Line a regular loaf pan with plastic wrap. Set aside.
If using whole chia seeds, grind them to a powder in a coffee grinder. Combine the ground chia, almonds, cashews and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture looks like a fairly fine meal (no pieces of almond should be visible).
In a small bowl, mix together half the lemon zest, half the lemon juice (about 2 Tbsp/30 ml), vegetable glycerin, stevia and vanilla until everything is well combined. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients in the processor and blend until it comes together in what looks like a sticky dough (if it’s too dry, add up to 1 Tbsp/15 ml water). Sprinkle with the poppy seeds and pulse just until they are incorporated.
Turn the base into the prepared loaf pan and, using wet hands or a silicon spatula, press it down firmly and evenly. Place in fridge while you prepare the frosting.
Make the frosting: In the bowl of a food processor or using a hand blender, blend all ingredients until perfectly smooth. The mixture may liquefy as the coconut oil melts; this is fine.
Pour the frosting over the base in the pan and swirl the top. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. (Note: if the frosting is too liquid to hold a shape when you first pour it over the base, refrigerate about 15 minutes until it firms up a bit, and then add any swirls that you like).
Once the top is firm, fold the plastic wrap over it to cover. To unmold, peel back the plastic on top and invert the bars onto a cutting board; turn right-side up and cut into 12 or more pieces (they should be relatively small). Serve immediately; store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Makes about 12 servings.
Thanks again to Brittany for allowing me to play along with April in the Raw this year! It’s been so much fun focusing more on the raw foods in my diet. In fact, I plan to keep up with more raw over the next few months.
To see the lineup of all the April in the Raw posts as well as links to readers’ recipes (or to link up your own), check out the April in the Raw main page!
[Perhaps imperfect, but recognizably egg-like in shape, right?]
One of my first paying jobs was working as a cashier at the local drugstore in a strip mall near my house, where, as it happened, three of my closest friends and I all got jobs. It wasn’t unusual for all four of us to work the same shift on a Saturday, two stationed on one side of the exit door, two on the other. We’d stand looking across at each other, our nonstop chatter filling the store like sound effects to rival the piped-in Muzak, as the sun streamed in through huge picture windows on the wall beside us.
We considered our boss, the Evil “Mr. M—r” (let’s just call him “Mr,” in a Color Purple sort of way), to be a veritable task master. If he caught us talking to each other–or simply standing idle for more than 30 seconds (even if no customers were in sight),–we’d be instantly reprimanded. “Go restock the toilet paper,” MR would bark, or “here, price this case of toothpaste tubes,” or “Face the antacid shelves.” If the store was really quiet, he’d have us do something even more demeaning, like mopping the floors in the back.
We had our own methods of entertaining ourselves, of course, to which MR was never privy. We’d assign code names to cute guys (“Rothmans,” the heavy-duty cigarettes smoked by steely blue-eyed cowboy types, was a favorite) or roll our eyes knowingly when the uppity girls from our high school sashayed into the store and stocked up on hair gel and mousses. Or we’d sing our favorite duets, like “I Got You, Babe,” or imitate MR’s nasal drawl (when he was out of the store, of course). Years later, Sterlin and I decided we’d write a screenplay about our experiences there called The Phunny Pharm (as in, “pharmacy,” get it? Oh, my, weren’t we just too hilarious!–I mean, phunny!).
Holiday weekends, with so many people off work, were notoriously unpredictable; they were either deadly boring or incredibly busy. One Easter Saturday, Sterlin and I were assigned opposite cashes. By 8:15 AM, we’d already tidied the countertops, re-folded newspapers into neat piles and straightened out the candy bars.
“MR will kill us if he comes in and sees that we’re not doing anything,” I mused. But then we noticed the recent shipment of chocolate Easter bunnies piled unceremoniously on the floor near our cashes. Even though there was a perfectly good display table at the end of the aisle, with a perfectly good tabletop on which they could have been stacked, most of the boxes had been strewn on the floor or worse, pushed right under it.
Each box housed a cute little brown or white molded rabbit, some with blue candy eyes or pink candy noses, some with perky ears pointing straight up, others with one ear up and one pressed back against their heads. They were all made of that high-gloss, waxy compound “chocolatey” substance that, truth be told, I just loved; I could have eaten an entire (3/4 pound/340 g), $12.99-a-box, confection all by myself. In fact, my love of chocolate bunnies was matched only by my love of Cadbury Creme Eggs, another Easter staple.
“Let’s fix the display!” Sterlin suggested. So we spent the good part of an hour (there were no customers that early–we barely served a single “Rothmans” the entire time) carefully stacking the boxes in neat rows, pyramid-style, taking care to alternate between dark and light bunnies or those looking to the left and those looking to the right so they’d present incoming customers with an interesting tableau of shapes and sizes.
We had just congratulated ourselves on our initiative when the hoards suddenly appeared. Our friends Babe and Angel were called into service as well, while I was deployed to the cosmetics department to help Claudette, the Parisian cosmetician who had immigrated to Montreal to be with her beau. Glamorous and exotic (at least, to me), Claudette wore thick false eyelashes and eyelids frosted in baby blue, her platinum blond hair slicked back to reveal her perfect, model-like features. For some reason, Claudette took a liking to me, so I was often gifted with samples of perfume, lipstick or eye shadow (actually intended for paying customers) to take home.
The hours flew by; by 8:30 PM when the store closed, we were all exhausted. I was relieved that I’d spent the day in cosmetics, which meant I didn’t have money to count (though I had managed to score a free lipstick and aluminum-lined pouch of hand lotion). While I waited for my friends to count up their tills, I wandered up and down the aisles. Should I bring home some newly-priced toothpaste, I wondered? Or maybe my parents were out of Kleenex. . . as I strolled over to the cash registers at the front, I my eyes glanced toward the Easter bunny display.
Only. . .
There was no bunny display any longer.
Oh, the boxes were still there, all right, still stacked in perfect rows, just as Sterlin and I had placed them that morning. But the little plastic windows appeared empty. On closer examination, I witnessed cwhat an only be described as “a bunny massacre.”
[The easier option: cubes instead of ovoids. Still delicious.]
All of the perkly little rabbits in their boxes appeared deformed, morphed into shapeless blobs with awkward lumps and bumps where their ears had once been. Others had completely lost their tails or their hind legs, flowing into puddles of muddy chocolate under them.
It took me a second to realize what had precipitated that scene of lupin carnage: the huge, ceiling-to-floor, all-glass picture windows! An entire day of brilliant sunshine! The sun had been shining for the better part of ten hours–directly on those boxes. The poor rabbits had all succumbed to the heat and melted, like Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. No wonder all those boxes had previously been placed under the table–in the shade.
I must have shrieked, before I myself succumbed to hystrical laughter. By then, Sterlin had come running over and spied the scene, screeching her hilarity. Even Herbert, the normally staid pharmacist, couldn’t help but emit a snort and guffaw.
The entire front row of chocolate bunnies (those that Sterlin and I had so meticulously placed on the shelf that morning) were ruined. I mean, who would be willing to purchase a blob of shapeless melted chocolate for $12.99? And although the maneuver had been unintentional, Sterlin and I couldn’t help but smirk at the thought that this error in our judgment would, in the end, mean that the Evil MR received his just desserts (so to speak).
That night, I arrived home with three chocolate brnnnesss (that’s “Melted” for “bunnies.”) I didn’t mind that my rabbits were deformed, looking like rejects from a GMO product-development experiment. Later that evening, after dinner, everyone enjoyed a big blob of smooth, shapeless, waxy chocolate for dessert.
When I heard about Kelly’s Our Spunky Holiday event, in which readers were invited to submit a dessert for Easter or Passover, I immediately thought of those bunnies. Sure, I realize I could never concoct something similar in my own kitchen (let alone reproduce that favorite waxy texture). Instead, I opted for chocolate covered Easter eggs with a “cream cheese” filling, as close as I could get to the iconic Cadbury Creme eggs.
Unlike those unfortunate bunnies, these Easter Ovoids are only slightly misshapen, however. Because I don’t own egg molds (and because I am basically lazy), my “eggs” turned out, oh, just a wee bit lumpy and bumpy. But have no fear; just like the bunnies of yore, these confections still taste delicious. Housing a soft, smooth, lemony “cream cheese” filling, they are perfect Easter treats.
And–I promise you–no bunnies were harmed in the making of these eggs.
[Soft, creamy "cheesecake" interior. ]
[RECIPE UDATE, APRIL 20: Ack! I just noticed that I typed "orange juice' in the filling by mistake! While that's fine (it will taste great), for a more "cream cheese" like taste, use the lemon juice option (and if you're on the ACD, you're not allowed orange juice. What was I thinking?!]
Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Easter Eggs, suitable for ACD Stage 3 and beyond
If you don’t have egg molds or don’t feel like taking the trouble to make these egg-shaped, you can just pour the “cheese” filling into a square container, then cut in cubes and coat in chocolate, as I do in this recipe.
For the “Cheesecake” Filling:
1 heaping cup (160 g) raw natural cashews
2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice (use lemon for ACD)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut sugar or agave nectar
10-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 ml) lemon extract, optional
1/4 cup (60 ml) full-fat coconut milk (from a can–I use Thai Kitchen)
1 tsp (5 ml) whole chia seeds, ground in a coffee grinder to a fine powder (about 2 heaping tsp or 10 ml powder)
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) lemon zest
For the Chocolate Coating**:
4 ounces (110 g) good quality unsweetened chocolate (I find Baker’s too bitter for this purpose)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin coconut oil, preferably organic (use refined if you want no coconut flavor)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) carob powder, sifted
20-30 drops plain or vanilla stevia, to your taste (don’t overdo the stevia–better to keep it bittersweet)
Make the filling: If you have egg-shaped silicone molds (or other shapes that would be easy to coat in chocolate), set them aside. Otherwise, line a small square container (about 2 cups/480 ml capacity) with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a glass or ceramic bowl, cover the cashews with room temperature water and soak for 6-10 hours; drain. (Alternately, pour boiling water over the cashews in the bowl and allow to soak for 30 minutes to an hour; drain).
Place the cashews and remaining cheesecake ingredients in a high-powered blender (such as a VitaMix) and blend until perfectly smooth. The mixture will be thick and you’ll need to scrape down the sides of the blender container repeatedly. Transfer to the molds or container, then freeze until just firm, 3-4 hours.
For eggs (if you don’t have molds), use a small ice cream scoop and scoop the firm mixture onto a cutting board or plastic-lined plate. Using your hands or two tablespoons, shape each ball into an oval and place back on the board; return to the freezer. Otherwise, invert the entire block of filling onto the cutting board and cut into small cubes; return the cubes to the freezer. Freeze the eggs or cubes until very hard, another 2-4 hours.
Make the coating: In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the chocolate with the coconut oil over very low heat. Whisk in the carob powder and stevia until smooth. Transfer to a small, deep bowl.
Finish the eggs: Have a clean, plastic-lined board or plate at the ready. Working quickly, take the eggs (or cubes) one at a time and dip the bottom in the chocolate. Then place the egg gently on the tines of a large fork over the bowl (chocolate dipped side down) and, using a teaspoon, spoon melted chocolate over the top of the egg so that it runs down the top and sides and coats the entire egg. Tap the handle of the fork against the side of the bowl so that excess chocolate drips into the bowl. Gently push the egg off the fork and onto the plastic-lined plate. Depending on how quickly you work, you may want to keep the uncoated eggs in the freezer and just take them out one at a time.
Once all the eggs are coated, use any extra chocolate in the bowl to touch up little holes or spots on the eggs that aren’t well-coated in chocolate (any cracks or white spots will allow the cheesecake filling to seep through the coating later, once it is no longer frozen). Place the plate with the coated eggs in the refrigerator to allow the filling inside to defrost. Once the middle is no longer frozen (several hours to overnight), the cheesecake interior will be soft, creamy and smooth when you bite into it. For frozen cheesecake treats, keep the eggs in the freezer rather than the refrigerator. Makes 6-8 eggs.
**NOTE: if you are not on the ACD or don’t mind sugar, you can just use chocolate chips melted with 1 tsp (5 ml) coconut oil for the coating.
[Voilà--homemade, veggie-based "beef" jerky. Well, it looks like beef. . . ]
The other day, I was bemoaning the fact that there are a bunch of coolbloggerconferences coming up this spring—none of which I’m attending. Then I noticed a tweet for five (five!) scholarships to the upcoming Eat, Write, Retreat event. I was about to kick up my heels and dance a little jig when I noticed that the scholarships were sponsored by Canadian Beef.
Pouting, I fired off a twitter retort: “Too bad you have to eat meat to qualify.”
Well, couldn’t you have just knocked me over with a steak knife when I spied the following response: “not necessarily. . . . . Would love to see your entry !:)”
I quickly re-read the contest rules and discovered that I could still enter by writing about a memory of Canadian Beef. And really, who better to write about “memories of beef” than the daughter of a butcher, someone who ate beef virtually every day of her childhood and adolescence—and who now lives with a meat-eater? Why, none other than moi, of course!
I just couldn’t resist. So here’s my “Best Memories of Beef from My Childhood” entry.
Hoping to see y’all at Eat, Write, Retreat!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
[My dad and me, circa 2000, when he was 78.]
When I was a child, there was never any doubt about who was the boss in our family. With one disappointed glance, my father could cause my heart to ache for days. Conversely, he could also spark days of elation, my heart soaring, when I knew he was pleased with something I’d done.
More than anything, my father was defined by the work he did. He spent six days a week at his little butcher shop on Jean Talon West in the Park Extension area of Montreal, leaving for the store long before we children even woke for school and returning after the rest of the family had finished our dinners. On the odd morning when I couldn’t sleep and the clinking of his coffee mug drew me in the direction of the kitchen, I’d stumble onto a scene of my dad, his windbreaker already zipped up, hunched over the kitchen table sipping his tea and snapping at his toast before he grabbed the lunch bag my mother had prepared and rushed out the door.
On Thursdays and Fridays, when the store was open until 8:00 PM, my younger sister and I were often already in bed when he finally returned home. The other nights, he’d arrive between 6:30 and 8:00 PM, his pant legs smeared with dried blood and the smell of sweat on his shirt, sawdust still clinging to his shoes. He’d go straight to the kitchen table, where my mother dished out the remnants of whatever we’d already eaten for dinner—a dried-up hamburger, veal chops, salmon patties and “potato boats,” or, if his stomach were acting up (as it often did when he felt stress), a bowl of rice and warm milk with honey.
I began to resent that my father never seemed to have much time for us kids when he was home. I learned at a young age that if I wanted to interact with him any day but Sunday, I had to see him at work. Since his store was en route between our house in St. Laurent and the Jean Talon Metro (in those days, the gateway to downtown shopping), my best friends Gemini I, Gemini II and I often dropped in at dad’s store on the way home after a day spent browsing at Simpsons, Eatons, and Ogilvie’s. As eleven or twelve year-olds in those days, the hour-long bus and subway ride was a huge adventure, one our parents allowed without any 21st-Century angst, and a short pit stop at the butcher shop made the trip even more palatable in our minds.
[Jerky in the making: about halfway there.]
As soon as we pushed open the heavy glass door and the bell suspended above it announced our arrival, my father would stop what he was doing, wipe his palms on his apron and point in my direction. “Ah, it’s Rick!” he’d declare, like an emcee calling out the team captain skating onto the ice at the Forum. Then he began to crow. He would boast to whomever was around—Mrs. Lubov (one of the rich customers) as she placed her weekend order; or Vasili, the owner of the Greek bakery down the way; or Joe, the hobo who always seemed to be sitting on the plastic stool in the corner no matter the day or time, as if he were a permanent store mascot in the window. “This is my middle daughter,” my father would say, “she’s going to be a Professor.” The customers nodded and smiled, the way parents do when their three year-old proffers an imaginary teacup.
Within seconds, my friends and I were ushered to the back of the store behind the counter, between the freezer and wooden cutting block where the floor was cushioned with sawdust to absorb drips, grease and bloodstains from the meat. We knew the drill: we sat quietly on the old kitchen chairs against the wall until the store emptied out, whether it took 5, 10 or 25 minutes for my father to finish up with any customers who were waiting. Then he turned his attention to us.
“Okay, so what do you want to eat?” he’d ask with audible delight, as our eyes lit up with anticipation. He’d grab two Kaiser rolls from under the counter. Gemini I always asked for something unassuming like sliced turkey, but I’d go for my favorite, Montreal Smoked meat (made from Canadian Beef, of course). My father would slice the hunk of preternaturally pink flesh, its outside sheathed in a coating of slick black peppercorns softened by the smoking process, the thin sheets sliding out from beneath the swirling blade and onto his outstretched palm. With the rhythm of a dancer, he’d turn his hand over and slap each slice onto the open roll until he’d achieved a pile almost as thick as one of my school textbooks. Then he’d march into the freezer and pull out the jar of mustard he kept there for his own lunches, smear the meat with the yellow topping, and replace the rest of the roll over it.
[My dad on his 89th birthday, last year.]
The sandwiches were always too big for our gaping mouths no matter how wide we tried to open them, so we’d withdraw a few slices and eat them plain before turning back to the rest of the meal. When we were done, if we were still hungry (and even if we weren’t), my father would treat each of us to a piece of karnatzel, the long, cigar-shaped, spicy salami that hung suspended from hooks above the meat counter, drying out in the air and sweating drops of pink-tinged oil on the ground beneath them. With one snap of the thin log, we were each handed a hunk of the stuff to savor for another few minutes. The meat was crunchy, chewy and spicy, and I loved it back then.
With thanks and a pat on the back of the head, we headed out to the bus and the long ride home.
What I didn’t realize in those days, of course, was that my father’s absence at home grew from his desire to provide for his family, and in the store, he was expressing his love for me in the only way he knew how—by giving me food, the spoils of his labor. When I arrived for my occasional visits at the shop, I offered him the chance not only to show me off to his customers, but also to show me how he spent his days making a living.
Even though I don’t eat meat any more, I miss the times when I could drop in on my dad and observe him in his element; where he felt confident, efficient, capable and strong. These days, he struggles to regain his former vigor as his body ages even while his mind remains sharp and vibrant. I watch my elderly dad slowly shuffling across the hallway from bedroom to kitchen, where he hunches over the same kitchen table of my childhood, slowly cutting his dinner into small, manageable pieces.
These days, beef is scarce on his own plate, too. But the memories of those idyllic afternoons in the shop, when my father was still the boss of our house and king of the butcher shop, will forever remain in my heart. And with that memory, it still soars.
[Wouldn't you just love a bite?]
** For all you non-Ontario residents out there, the popular President’s Choice brand offers a line of sauces called “Memories Of. . . “
Veggie-Based, Gluten Free, Soy Free ”Beef” Jerky
This recipe is my tribute to the karnatzel in my dad’s shop, with a taste and texture very much like the spicy, chewy meat I remember. Don’t be deterred by the long ingredient list–this comes together very quickly and then sits in the oven while you can do other things.
These strips would make a great snack on the road, as, once they’re dried, they will keep for a long time. Having made this recipe twice now, I am convinced that it would be even better in a dehydrator. However, if you don’t have one, this oven method still produces a pretty stellar result.
1 medium beet, peeled and cut in chunks (about 4 oz/110 g unpeeled or 3.5 oz/95 g peeled)
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in chunks(about 3.5 oz or 95 g unpeeled, or 3 oz/85 g peeled)
1/2 small onion, cut in chunks
1 large clove garlic
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Bragg’s liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce (use coconut aminos for a soy-free version)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) paprika (or smoked paprika, if you don’t use liquid smoke)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt, or less, to your taste
Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Line a 9-inch (22.5 cm) square pan and a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until very smooth–there should be no pieces visible. It will take some time, about 5 minutes, and you will have to scrape the sides several times, but eventually the veggies will release their juices and it will come together in a sort of paste, like this:
Spread the paste over the parchment in the pan, taking care not to extend the mixture beyond the edges of the parchment. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is dry. Remove from oven and lower heat to 325 F ( C).
Invert a wooden (or other heatproof) cutting board over the pan and flip the jerky and parchment onto it. Peel off the parchment and cut the square into strips about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide (the crinkly texture you see in the photos is due to the parchment paper wrinkling as the jerky mixture bakes). Place them on the parchment-lined cookie sheet and return to the oven for about 30 more minutes, until the strips are dried out but still flexible. If some of the strips dry out faster than others, remove those first and allow the rest to keep baking until they all reach the desired texture. Allow to cool completely before eating. Store, covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days. Makes about 8 strips.
The expression, “it’s complicated” is often enough to make the blood drain from my face and my forehead break out in a cold sweat.
Scene One: Ricki and her then-boyfriend, Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants) at Rocker Guy’s apartment, shortly after Ricki stumbles upon RG sitting a little too close to a buxom woman in a restaurant booth.
Ricki: So, who was that woman you were canoodling with?
Rocker Guy (smooth as rayon-polyethylene-nylon blend faux silk): Um, er, well. . . it’s complicated.
Scene Two: Ricki snuggles up to the HH, who is reclining on the couch and has been watching a movie for the past fifteen minutes.
Ricki: So, what did I miss?
HH: I can’t really summarize it for you at this point–you’ve just missed too much. It’s complicated.
Scene Three: Ricki is on the telephone with the customer service rep at Bosch (the company that made her gas range) asking about why, when she has a five-year warranty and the range is only three months old and has already had four repairs to a convection fan that is still working incorrectly, she can’t get a refund or a new oven.
Ricki: So, if I have a full warranty with money-back guarantee, and my oven refuses to work no matter how many times you repair it, why can’t I get my money back?
Rep: Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. . .
Clearly, not the most auspicious phrase in my life. (And just in case you’re wondering, Rocker Guy was, indeed, cheating with that woman; the HH never did explain Mementoto me; and I am still using the same, convection-less, oven–four years later).
But when it comes to food and cooking, “it’s complicated” doesn’t strike me as the least bit intimidating–in fact, it doesn’t phase me at all. I can summarize the same recipe with both adjectives, ”complicated” and “simple” simultaneously.
For example, a crisp, green, veggie-rich salad can be both complicated and easy at the same time. It may take a lot of space on the counter, a cutting board, sharp knife and some dexterity to create a multi-veggie, multicolored salad, but the actual work involved is fairly simple: peel the carrots, grate the beet, slice the tomato, tear up the greens. Voilà!–delicious, textured, flavorful salad.
Similarly, mixing up something like this Kale and Potato Lasagna may require a complicated symphony of individual components (making the sauce, cooking the filling, etc), but once you’ve got the parts together, it’s a simple matter of layering ingredients and baking the whole shebang while you go ahead and attend to something else. Easy peasy!
Have you ever seeded a pomegranate? It’s a little complicated, but not in the least difficult. All you need is a sharp knife, a big bowl of water, skimming action, and a colander or slotted spoon. The reward is a bowlful of glistening, plump arils, providing an abundance of ruby, juice-filled pearls, which, when popped in your mouth, squirt their sublime liquid like those childhood wax pop bottles filled with sweet syrup.
I file these Potato Boats (more commonly referred to as “twice baked potatoes”) in that same category of “complicated, yet simple.” Potato Boats (as my mom called them) were an end-of-week tradition in our house. Every Friday for supper my mother would serve baked potatoes with the flesh scooped out, then mashed with either sour cream and butter or milk and butter, returned to the skins and re-baked. My mother always topped ours with neon orange shards of grated Kraft Cheese slices, which, when melted, eerily resembled the finish on those plastic Halloween pumpkins that kids tote around for trick or treating. The meal was always rounded out with salmon patties, served up with a big dollop of ketchup.
My version of the childhood favorite is significantly less processed and a bit more elegant, filled with “sour cream” and herb mashed potatoes and omitting the tacky orange topper. With a creamy, slightly tangy filling punctuated by flecks of your favorite fresh herbs, these potatoes would be suitable for a holiday meal or a side dish at a dinner party. The HH and I enjoyed them served with a prototype of my next nut roast (I’ve been experimenting in honor of Johanna’s latest Neb at Nutroast event) and the HH was entirely smitten. Knowing his penchant for all things “cheese,” I inquired if he wanted his topped with some melted cheddar, but he said he thought they didn’t need it. (Wheeeee!)
The recipe does require a bit of advance preparation, soaking the nuts and starting the “sour cream” in the morning, while the potatoes themselves need enough time to bake until very tender before you scoop out their insides. But once the ingredients are assembled, the final preparation is remarkably simple.
I was even able to freeze the two leftover halves, which stood up well when reheated. When I served the remainder of the nutroast to the HH for dinner a few days later, he requested the last of the Potato Boats alongside it.
Ricki: Um, there are no more potato boats.
HH: But didn’t you put two of them in the freezer just a couple of days ago?
HH: So, what happened to them?
Ricki : Well, it’s complicated. . .
Potato Boats with “Sour Cream” and Herbs (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
Besides being the perfect comfort food, these mashed potato-filled potato skins also offer up good amounts of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. If you can’t have cashews, try using about a cup of silken tofu in their stead.
4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed (leave skins on)
1 cup (165 g) raw cashews, soaked in room temperature water for 6-8 hours and drained
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame tahini
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) mustard powder
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened plain soy or almond milk (rice milk is too sweet for this recipe)
2-3 Tbsp (30-45 ml) chopped fresh herbs of choice (I used dill and cilantro; chives would be fabulous in these, of course, but I didn’t have any)
fine sea salt, to taste
Bake the potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Wrap each whole potato in aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet (or just place the potatoes as-is on the sheet; they will be a bit dryer but will still bake up nicely). Bake until very soft, 1-1.5 hours. Remove the potatoes from the oven and increase the heat to 400F (205C). Unwrap the potatoes and allow to cool a bit, until cool enough to handle.
Cut off about 1/4 of each potato, slicing across the length of the potato (you will have a smaller cap on top and a larger “boat” underneath). Scoop out the flesh from the large portion of each potato and put it into a medium bowl, leaving a shell with a border of 1/8-1/4 inch (.3-.6 cm) on the bottom and sides. Scoop any flesh from the caps as well and discard the skin from the caps (or make potato skins with them).
While the potatoes bake, make the “sour cream” sauce: in a powerful blender, combine the cashews, lemon juice, tahini, mustard and soy milk; blend until perfectly smooth and silky.
Assemble the potato boats: Add the “cream” to the potato flesh in the bowl and whip with electric beaters until smooth and creamy (the HH likes his potatoes a little lumpy, as in my photos, but if you keep blending, it will become smoother). Gently stir in the herbs.
Fill the potato shells with the whipped potato mixture, dividing it evenly among the 4 potatoes. If desired, sprinkle the tops wtih paprika.
Bake in preheated oven until warmed through and beginning to brown on top, 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 4 potato boats. To freeze, place any leftover boats uncovered on a flat surface (like a cookie sheet or cutting board) in the freezer; freeze until solid. Then wrap in plastic wrap and store in a covered container or ziploc bag. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then sprinkle with water and reheat in a 350F (180C) oven for about 20 minutes.
With the accent on herbs in these babies, I thought this would be a great submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, the weekly event founded by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen and now being run by Haalo of Cook Anything. I haven’t participated in a long time, so I’m glad to be submitting this recipe this time round! This week the event is hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. I’m also submitting this to Amy’s weekly Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays (event though these do taste *very* indulgent!).
Okay, Mother Nature, this is really getting old. I mean, we’ve been tortured bysuffering withenduring tolerating winter since October 21, 2010 (should I feel guilty that that’s my birthday?). Time for some warmer temps, dry streets, green buds poking their happy noses out of the ground. Time for some plus-size temperatures (not to be confused with plus-size clothing, about which I wouldn’t be too happy). Time for the sun to persist through post-dinnertime, cajoling us to peel off our scarves, gloves, overcoats.
Time for SPRING, already!
But okay, since we’re expecting upwards of 15 cm (6 inches) of snow today, and since the temperatures are -5C (23 F) instead of the seasonal +6C (43 F) today, I will treat you to this last bowl of winter stew for the season.
You know how, sometimes, you make serendipitous discoveries at the least expected times? I’m not talking about the kind of discovery where you perchance leave a beaker of staphylococci bacteria lying around the lab and then, lo and behold, a day later you have. . . pennicilin! Nor the kind where you decide to cut your business trip short because you miss your hubby, hurry home, then barge in on said hubby and his secretary in flagrante delicto. And certainly not the kind where a bunch of science nerds all decide at the same time, “Hey! I think there’s an extra planet up there! Who knew?”
No, those are all examples of monumental discoveries–and I’m not talking about those.
I’m referring to the little quotidien discoveries that can happen to anyone, the types that add a little burst of excitement to your otherwise mundane day. Like when you pull out your spring blazer for the first time after a long winter (and how I dream of that day) and find an unexpected $20 bill inside the pocket. Or when you’re packing up the house for a move to your new place and (as happened to the HH and me when we moved to our current place) you reach to grab the last mug in the cupboard and come across that hand-knit tea cozy you received as a Christmas present from your first boyfriend’s mother, 25 years ago–the one you had been certain was lost forever. That’s the kind of everyday discovery that makes you smile, that adds a little bit of joy to the day.
I experienced one of those happy discoveries this past week. You see, I had completely forgotten about my recipe for Chickpea and Potato Stew with Tomatoes, a recipe I cooked up almost every week throughout my 20s and 30s. As a newbie cook, I came across the original recipe in an old Canadian Living Magazine, and it couldn’t be simpler. It was the perfect dish for a single vegan just learning to cook: everyday ingredients, simple preparation, no special tools or equipment required. The components came together quickly, then took care of themselves as they simmered quietly in a corner while you went about your business for 30 minutes or so. Afterward, they greeted you with a robust, warming, perfectly seasoned stew containing a wonderful balance of protein, carbs, and sauciness.
How had I forgotten all about this stew? It came back to me after we received a five-pound (2 kg) sack of potatoes in our organic produce box last week. What to do with them all? And that’s when I remembered. I pulled out my “Veg Main Meals” recipe folder from the bookcase and began to leaf through the hundreds of pages in it, each one clipped from a magazine or newspaper, or printed from a website or blog.
Forty minutes later, I still hadn’t found the recipe. I knew it was there, somewhere–but another glance through the clippings still didn’t uncover it. Determined, I decided to look for a similar base online, from which I could build a reasonable replica. A quick Google search–and up came dozens of similar recipes!
Okay, so maybe my old stew wasn’t unique. But with the help of a good memory jog, I put this together. At the last minute, I added some tahini–not in the original–to create a thicker, creamier sauce. It worked beautifully, and produced a rich gravy that is perfect for sopping up with crusty bread (as the HH ate it) or ladling over cooked rice or quinoa.
I’m so happy to have rediscovered my old favorite–especially today, when a warming stew is perfectly in order to bid winter “adieu.” I still have a feeling that the original recipe will show up some day, though–most likely, the next time we move.
“Mum, you know we love those serendipitous discoveries, too. Like, say, when you drop an extra treat under the kitchen table. Score!”
This is a delicious, simple, savory stew, the kind without extra spice or unnecessary bells and whistles. It’s filling, satisfying, warming and flavorful with a hint of sweet basil and oregano in the tomato base. Perfect for a hot meal toward the end of winter.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce (796 ml) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1-1 1/4 cups (240-300 ml) vegetable broth or stock (see instructions)
3 medium potatoes, diced small (about 1/2 inch or 1 cm cubes)–peel if desired*
1 tsp (5 ml) dried oregano
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil (or use 2 Tbsp/30 ml fresh, chopped)
1 tsp (5 ml) dried parsley
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt, or to taste
2 cups (480 ml) cooked chickpeas, drained
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sesame tahini, at room temperature
In a large nonstick pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Drain the tomatoes and reserve the drained liquid. Add broth to the drained liquid to make a total of 1-1/2 cups (360 ml). Add the tomatoes, the liquid with broth, potatoes, oregano, basil, parsley and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, 20-25 minutes.
Add the chickpeas to the pot as well. Spoon off about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pot and mix it with the tahini in a small bowl. Pour the mixture back into the pot and stir to mix well, ensuring that the tahini is incorporated throughout. This will create a thick, creamy sauce.
Adjust seasonings and serve over rice or other grains, or alongside a crusty bread. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
*Note: for ACD Stage 1, you can substitute sweet potato or cauliflower for the potato.
When I was growing up, “Chinese Food” meant gelatinous, hot pink chicken and pineapple balls, chop suey (bean sprouts, frozen peas and carrots and some white rice in soy sauce), and egg rolls as greasy as Elvis’s pompadour. It wasn’t until my undergraduate years at the University of Windsor that I first tasted authentic Chinese food.
I know, Windsor, Ontario doesn’t exactly strike one as the hub of all things Oriental. In those days, though, Windsor was (and for all I know, may still be) the Canadian college with the largest percentage of Chinese students (at about 45%). Why? There were many theories (such as “ it’s a great way to get into the States, being so close”; or “it has the lowest standard for English-as-a-second-language requirements”), but my favorite was “it’s the southernmost city in Canada (further south than its American cousin, Detroit), so when potential students consulted a map, they likely decided it must also be the warmest city and chose it before all others.
(All I can say is, it’s been winter since the end of October. So, how do you like Windsor now?)
Perhaps surprisingly, my entrée into the world of authentic Chinese dining was facilitated not by a Chinese person, but a native (Caucasian) Windsorite.
RB, a fellow undergraduate English major, was much taller than I at 5 feet 7 inches (just over 170 cm) and had what we call “big-bones.” Yet she also somehow always struck me as fragile. With impeccable posture, she trailed a mane of undulating, naturally auburn hair; and her skin was so pale, smooth and translucent it reminded me of my mom’s antique teacups. While not classically “pretty,” RB was certainly uniquely attractive. Even her voice, quiet and steady like a breeze in autumn, seemed too soft for the heft of her body. When she spoke it was barely above a whisper.
But it wasn’t her physical attributes of which I was envious; it was her mind. You see, RB was another protégé of my mentor, Dr. Ditsky, and he frequently called on her in class to “save us” when no one volunteered to answer his question (when he called on me for the same purpose, my cheeks usually flushed red and I stammered something unintelligible). But RB always rose to the challenge, fairly offering a lecture of her own on occasion.
RB was, quite simply, brilliant. Like, Bill Gates brilliant. Mozart brilliant. Marilyn Vos Savant brilliant. A Beautiful Mindbrilliant (well, without the encrypted magazine articles and hallucinatory FBI agents, of course).
I will never forget her final essay for our Faulkner course: a 50-odd page treatise on “Deconstructing The Sound and the Fury: Parallels and Pedantry in Godel, Escher, Bach.” Well, I, too, had purchased Godel, Escher, Bach out of curiosity (like the rest of the academic population in the 1980s) and could barely get through the first 10 pages (even that took me a couple of hours). Yet here was RB, composing an entire essay (which, presumably, she actually understood!) that used it as a basis for comparison.
RB also had the ability to acquire information–particularly languages–as easily as I acquired cookbooks. She loved the fact that Windsor was an “international” city welcoming people from all over the world. One day, she decided that she loved Chinese culture the most. Within a couple of months, she was teaching herself Cantonese with the aid of tapes and a book. I’d notice her hunched over a table in the cafeteria, madly scribbling little curlicues and pictograms across her notebooks. She’d emit guttural sounds in the back of her throat as she walked by in the hallways. After another couple of months, her gorgeous auburn hair had been shorn in a tight pageboy and dyed jet black. If there had existed a counterpart to gender reassignment surgery called “Cultural Reassignment surgery,”her name would have been at the top of the list.
Eventually, RB married a man from Hong Kong whom she’d met at a dim sum restaurant. (She was writing a postcard–in Chinese–to a friend as he walked by; he glanced at the card, asked, “Do you actually understand that stuff?” and when she nodded, he sat down to join her. Less than a year later they were married.)
[It may not be a whole lotus bean inside, but it's still delicious.]
Given her affinity for all things Chinese, it’s no wonder that RB eventually took me to her favorite spot for Dim Sum. Right there on Wyandotte Street, just steps from the university dormitory, was a fantastic dim sum restaurant. It was so authentic, in fact, that none of the servers really spoke English, and orders were given by patrons who wrote their choices (in Chinese) on little slips of paper. Of course, RB was proficient in the language, so she served as translator and placed the order.
I won’t dwell on the meal itself, which involved various steamed buns, pan-fried dumplings, noodles and RB’s favorite–chicken feet. (The image of her sucking on their splayed, pointy tips will forever be branded in my memory). But it was the dessert that proved to be a revelation. That day was the first time I tried steamed lotus seed buns, and I ate them every time I could after that. The white, spongey and barely sweet buns encased a whole lotus bean, cooked until soft and squishy. Imagine, if you will, a medjool date that’s even softer and sweeter than normal, served slightly warm and caramelized–that’s what the lotus bean tasted like. I loved them instantly. When I moved to Toronto with its three Chinatowns, I anticipated more of the same, and was sadly disappointed to learn that the buns made here, while tasty, contained red bean paste instead of lotus seeds.
Well, today’s SOS offering is my take on that pastry. I had actually attempted a steamed bun first (based on this recipe–which, I later realized, is Japanese), but steaming instead of frying resulted in a mess of white and red goo, a little too reminiscent of the goo splattered all over Tommy Lee Jones when Will Smith shoots the alien at the end of Men in Black. Attempt number two involved actually frying the balls as directed–I was going to beg your forgiveness if they worked out–but those, alas, were also fairly gooey inside, very greasy on the outside, and clearly not orb-like.
So, I went back to what I do better: cookies! In keeping with the Asian theme, I used rice flour (two types) filled with red bean paste. The cookie itself is crisp and light, while the dense paste inside provides a pleasant surprise with its textural contrast. And while they’re not authentic, they were delicious. I bet even RB would approve.
Chinese-Style Bean Pastry Cookies (ACD Stage 3 and beyond)
These cookies provide a little pocket of smooth, sweet bean paste inside a crisp, light cookie casing. To make them this small may seem too fussy for everyday cookies; if you’d rather, place a layer of dough in a parchment-lined loaf pan, spread with paste, then more dough; bake and cut in squares for an easier treat.
For the bean filling:
1 cup (240 ml) cooked adzuki beans, well drained
1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar or vegetable glycerin
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
10-20 drops vanilla or plain stevia liquid, to your taste
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened plain or vanilla soy, almond or rice milk
1/4 tsp (1 ml) pure stevia powder or 15-20 drops liquid, to your taste
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp (20 ml) ground chia seeds or meal (if you grind your own, use 2 tsp/10 ml whole seeds)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut oil, preferably organic, soft (I prefer refined for this as it is tasteless; but unrefined is nice, too)
1/2 cup (70 g) brown rice flour
1/4 cup (30 g) sweet rice flour
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sesame seeds, optional
Make the filling:
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Turn the mixture into a small pot and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add the coconut oil, stir well to combine evenly, and keep stirring until you have a thick paste that begins to look slightly glossy. Remove from heat and allow to cool. NOTE: This makes about twice as much filling as you’ll need. You can try halving the recipe, but when I did so, it didn’t cook up quite the same way. Instead, you can form the filling into a disk, freeze it, and use it for cookies later on. Or, form into balls, coat in melted unsweetened chocolate, and enjoy red bean truffles!
Make the dough:
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line two cookie sheets with parchment or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, mix the coconut sugar, soymilk, stevia, vanilla, chia and vinegar. Stir for 30 seconds or so to allow the sugar to begin to dissolve. Add the coconut oil and cream well. Sift in the remaining ingredients and stir to form a fairly firm dough (you may need to knead it with your hands). It should be moist but fairly firm.
Assemble the cookies:
Roll out the dough until it is very thin, about 1/8 inch (3 mm). Cut into small circles about 1-1/2 inches (3.75 cm) big. You should have about 32 circles.
Place about 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) of the paste in the center of one circle of dough; top with another circle. Pinch edges all around to seal in the bean paste (be sure there are no openings or your cookies will leak when they bake!). Gently form into a round disk. Dip one side of the disk in the seeds; place seed side up on cookie sheets. Bake in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, until bottoms are deep golden brown and cookies are firm. Remove from oven and cool completely before transferring to a covered container. Makes 16 pastries. May be frozen.