2011 Goodbye

2011 in on it's 365th day which means it's time to say goodbye to this year and hello to the next.  I'm not big on sentimentality but since everybody else is doing it I thought that I might as well jump on the band wagon... 'cause I'm a wagon jumper kinda person.  Here are some highlights (the ones I can remember), some inspirations and some struggles that have hit me this year...

This movie blew me away this year.

Hoisin Sauce.  I heard a chef on tv the other day remarking that he could eat hoisin sauce straight from the jar.  Yup.  It's been a huge discovery for me this year.  What... RAD.

I'm still coveting a tattoo by Alice.

Bread became a regular part of my life this year.  I can't say that I'm good at it.  I can't say that I make nice looking loaves.  I can say that it's pretty easy and is worth the effort.  Most importantly I can say... 'Yeast!  Hey!  I'm not afraid of you anymore.'  We're cool.

Music is always a big part of my life.  I'm currently over-dosing on these guys... canadians no less.  I'm also loving this and this and this.  Sometimes I look pretty funny when I'm running and doing a kind of arm dance at the same time.  I just can't help it, sometimes music really does transport me.  Oh and take a listen to this stuff.  Mind blowing.

 In 2011 I took an awesome trip with the fam and  another short one with my BFF.  Both were awesome and I'm a lucky human being.

This year I learned that things you could never have predicted can come along and change your world view completely if you let them.  Sometimes it doesn't just help you become a better person but helps the people around you too.  For that I say a big Thanks.

I learned that good relationships can still get better even after 16 years.  Awesome.

I'm grappling with my sense of self in the midst of environmentalism.  I'm wondering what it means to give a shit in this current politically correct ecology dialogue.  I'm wondering if that dialogue is even a good thing.  I'm grappling.  Reading an article in the latest Orion Magazine by Paul Kingsnorth really hit the issues I'm struggling with on the head.

I'm crossing my fingers and praying hard to whoever will listen that 2012 be a better, brighter, happier, more fulfilling year for all of us... now let's get it started!!!

Oat and Seed Crackers

This is it.  It's truly winter.
We have had our first real snowfall of the year.  The one that stays for at least 24 hours.  The one that starts slowly over 3 or 4 hours and then gets heavier for another 3 hours and then just becomes flurries for another 4 hours.  The kind where you don't have to guess whether it's rain or snow.  The one where you are definitely cold when you go outside, the wind is unmistakable and your hands are frozen in a couple of minutes.  Yup.  It's winter.
It came 3 days after Christmas here in Toronto.  That's ok though because I'm kind of still celebrating.  I'm still cooking away and baking for friends.  Right now D and I are in the kitchen cooking our annual ham.  This year it's happening in Coke which is kinda funny because we are against drinking it (look I'm no saint - I'll have it once in a while).  So while the ham is getting a coke bath I'm making crackers.

Sometimes I have this weird experience where I'm reading my own blog, I'm reading what I wrote not much earlier, and it feels like I'm reading someone else's stuff.  That's weird right?  I sound different when I read me.  Maybe it's like hearing your voice back after a recording (super-weird) or seeing photos of yourself that look nothing like you do when you look in the mirror.  When I read me it feels to me like I'm reading about this person who is really funny and smart, who is probably feeling pretty confident about herself, who believes strongly in things (true), has it pretty together (hmmmmmm) and is highly energetic.  The only problem is that it's just not me.  I was never one of the super-smart kids in school.  In fact, I don't think that I fell into the 'reasonably smart' category.  I guess I was funny but that was only to my friends who I cared enough to be funny for.  My confidence levels vary daily and sometimes multiple times daily (is that normal?).  I do believe in things strongly but not so strongly that I'll get angry with you about it which probably would make me a terrible activist.  'Has it pretty together'... let's not even go there.  And highly energetic?  Well, since the holidays have started afternoon naps have become highly valued and since the snow has fallen and it's gotten like mega-cold (Ok - not that cold) I've been too lazy to run... but I am getting out there tomorrow.  That laziness has caused me to procrastinate making these crackers by at least 3 days.  But not any more... they're done and they were easy.  The results very tasty.

This recipe would easily lend itself to all kinds of variations as well.  I would happily add something peppery or parmesan or herb.  I'm definitely making these again with some variations.  I have a BFF who loves oatmeal and needs some homemade Christmas gifts in her life.    I tried a little one with some cheese on top and it was great.  KT is going to love these.

Seeded Oat Crackers adapted from GoodFood UK Magazine
makes about 12 - 15 medium/large crackers

50 g (between 1/4 and 1/3 cup) butter, melted
100g (1 cup) oatmeal
100g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp poppy seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/4 tsp salt
dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicone.
Bring a little water to a boil.
Combine the oatmeal, flour, baking soda, seeds, salt and nutmeg together in a bowl.
Add to the flour mixture the melted butter and enough boiling water (about 5 - 6 tbsp) to form a stiff dough.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness (.5 cm).
Cut out the shapes that you want and place on baking sheet.  Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.
Remove and cool on wire racks.

Brussel Sprouts and Mushrooms with Hoisin Sauce... Easy Side

The holiday is firmly behind me.  I'm ok with that.  The fanfare.  The rush.  The dinners.  The schedule changes.  It's all wonderful... and then I want to get back to normal.  Vacation normal mind you.
We had a wonderful Christmas dinner with family.  The best part was on Christmas Eve though.  We went out with the kids and saw 'Tintin' in the theatre.  We had thought that going at 7:15 would be awesome because then we could just head home afterwards and the kids could hop into bed.  No fuss.  What happened though was quite different.
After the movie we realized that an old teacher of kid #1's was in the theatre with us.  She was there with her two kids.  We had a great chat in the lobby and then she suggested that we find somewhere open so that we could get a drink and a late night snack.  Trust me, there isn't a whole lot going on out there on Christmas Eve in this part of the world.  We found this place still open and hit it with gusto.  It was really great to catch up with her and meet her two kids.  The things we learn about and from each other are amazing.  I love getting to know people.
This teacher is from Iran.  She left just before the revolution in the early eighties.  Her father barely escaped with his life a few years later.  She was educated in France as an architect but has somehow ended up here as a teacher.  Once her kids are both old enough she's getting back into architecture.  We started to talk about holidays and celebrations.  Me, being a bit of a humbug, commenting on how much we overdo things and blow them wildly out of proportion.  Her, commenting on how nuclear our celebrations are.  In her part of the world when there is a celebration it's out there.  Shops are open, restaurants are open, people are outside, there is music and noise and lots and lots of people.  Here, it's quiet.  Granted, it's cold and that makes a huge difference.  Also, it gets dark here at about 4:45 p.m. right now which can put a damper on things as well.  Still, she's kinda got something there.  We're all inside with our families.  It's not a community thing.  We are all celebrating but we are doing it largely in small groups in our homes.  Interesting perspective.
Having been christian all my life it's always interesting for to get someone else's perspective.  What do you do on a day when no one is out and about and nothing is open.  What if there is nothing that you even care to celebrate.  Traditions are cool.  Christmas traditions are cool.  I wonder though if we just make them up ourselves most of the time.  Like in my last post when I said that my new tradition is going to be 'screw linzer cookies, spend time with friends'.  Is there anything about Christmas that we could decisively say that everyone participates in.  It all got me thinking which is cool 'cause since everything is closed there isn't a whole lot else to do.

I made scalloped potatoes as my contribution to christmas dinner.  There were leftovers (thank god) that I brought home.  I made this side dish to go with them here at home.  We had a completely vegetarian day-after-christmas.  I can tell you that not only is this really good for you, it's easy and tastes absolutely out of this world.  I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday, if you celebrate it at all.  I hope that you were able to stop and enjoy those around you with gusto.  I hope that you could eat some great food without pangs of guilt.  I hope that you laughed a lot and played some stupid games after the great food.  I hope for you that something deep and meaningful has been fed with richness and love.  (jeez that got all weird and mushy... yikes).

Brussel Sprouts and Mushrooms with Hoisin Sauce (made it up, in my head, just like that)
serves 4

1 lb brussel sprouts (bottoms marked with an 'X' using a knife
3 cups button mushrooms halved
1 small onion diced (I used green onion bottoms cause that's all I had)
3 lg tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari

Blanch the brussel sprouts for about 4 minutes.  Drain and set aside.
Heat a wok over medium heat.
Throw in about 3 tbsp (maybe a bit more) of your oil of choice.  You will need to use a little more oil because the mushrooms absorb a lot.  Throw the onion and mushrooms into the hot oil and sauté for about 3 minutes or until the mushrooms just start to soften a little.
Throw in the brussel sprouts.  Toss around for about 3 minutes.
Add the soy sauce or tamari and the hoisin sauce.  Cook together just long enough for the sauce to cook down a little bit but there is still some nice juice.  About 3 - 4 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve.

Stupid Linzer Cookies

I officially hate making Linzer Cookies.
There I've said it.  I feel better.... Dang, I just thought about making them again and lost it.  Well, I gave it my best shot.
I nearly threw in the towel with these things.  I was losing my religion (not that I have any to speak of at the moment) and my mood was threatening to send Kid #1 and 2 into therapy sooner rather than later.  I remember in the middle of the process thinking that doing this and being this way really sucks at Christmas time.

The experience has kinda got me thinking about the Christmas traditions that we all seem to get so hung up about.  I make a certain kind of cookie every year.  Cappuccino Flats.  You can find them here.  They're awesome.  I don't know why I only make them at Christmas but I do.  It's become a tradition because somehow it just seems wrong to dip cookies in melted chocolate in the middle of the summer... but I could still totally do it.  But then I can't stop there.  I have to make all kinds of stupid cookies... try new ones (because repeating a recipe is like wearing the same underwear two days in a row for me or something), try making crackers, throwing in some gingerbread ('cause they go well with the lemon curd that I made, right - that actually makes sense)... then my students give me stuff.  This year I got chocolate and more chocolate, jams, jellies and a gingerbread house... more stuff than I know what to do with.  I regift - there I said it.  I donate.  I share.  I eat some of it.  Then I've got all this other crap that I give away 'cause I made it and I know full well that everybody else is overwhelmed with stuff too but I'm giving some to them anyway... it's dumb.
Why don't we do this in February when nobody has any crap left and we would all really appreciate a little pick me up to get through the rest of winter.  This cookie tradition has to get amended for my own sanity, my kid's sense of well-being and my pocket book.
The christmas tree is a tradition right?  We get one every year and the kids love it.  I could take it or leave it.  I'm not sure that I would care if I didn't have it.  Might even be a relief.
Christmas dinner?  Yup - feel the same way.
Here's the only tradition that gives me any true satisfaction:  Having time with people that I care about and that I really want to spend time with.  Not worrying about what I bought for them and whether they'll like it but just being with them.  I don't want them buying me any gifts.  I don't need stuff.  I need them.  Having the time to do that is more precious than anything I make or buy or get.  Done.

So I've put my foot down about stupid linzer cookies that don't make as many as their recipe promised and dough that wouldn't roll out whether I begged or pleaded and wayyyyyy more time and mental anguish than they could ever give me back.  Not again.  They taste good... but not good enough.
Here is my new Official Christmas Tradition:  Hello Friends... Goodbye stupid Linzer Cookies.
Merry Christmas

(Stupid) Linzer Cookies adapted from Martha Stewart 'Cookies'
makes about 13 if you are me, recipe called for 2 dozen (!)

2 cups all purpose flour (plus some for rolling)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup pecan halves toasted lightly
2 tbsp icing sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 lg egg
1/2 cup jam of your choice (something red is nice)

Sift flour and baking powder together in a bowl.  Combine the pecans, icing sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground (in retrospect I would just buy ground pecans and be done with it... too much additional bother)
Add the butter and sugar to the pecan stuff and beat at medium speed until fluffy.  Mix in vanilla and egg.  Beat just until incorporated.  Continuing to beat, add in the flour mixture and mix until combined.
Halve the dough and shape into disks.  Refrigerate at least 2 hrs (Mine went overnight).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment or some kind of non-stick arrangement.
Roll out one disk of dough until it's about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Refrigerate another 20 minutes (really?!)
Remove from fridge and cut the cookies leaving half of them intact and the other half with a hole in the middle.  Re-roll the scraps, refrigerate and use again.
Place on the baking sheets and bake until pale golden - 8 - 10 minutes.
Cool on wire racks.
Heat the jam in a small pan over med/low heat just until it liquifies and thickens a bit (if needed) - about 7 minutes.
Sprinkle icing sugar on the cookies with the cut out in the middle.
Spread jam on the intact cookies.
Place the cut out cookies on top of each.
Take some pictures and thank the gods that you don't have to do this again for another year (maybe never)

Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd is Christmas in a jar.  It's pure yum.  It's the absolute perfection of sweet and sour.  I love lemon curd so much that I would marry it if I could.

Actually, that might mean I would get sick of it and then that would suck.  You know how it is right?  You meet this person - or maybe you've known this person for a long time - and suddenly you want to be around them like all the time.  You wish that you could talk and hang and eat and get high and sleep and work with this person right there with you all the time.  You can't help yourself from getting off the subway one or two stops early just to see if they're home so that you can knock on their door and come up with some lame excuse about being nearby and needing a walk home.  You find out what time they're getting out of class or leaving work and conveniently find yourself walking by there and... OMG, what are you doing here... I had no idea... well... wanna go grab a drink or a movie or have a sleep-over for a few years or something.  You're not stalking at all because a few weeks, too many late phone calls, a couple too many drinks and some 'I'm-just-a-little-too-tipsy-to-be-coherent' emails later you're pretty much done.  You just over-dosed on that beautiful beautiful person that you couldn't get enough of and it will take another 16 years to decide that you were probably a jerk.  You'll see your mistake and have serious regret.  You'll try to find them on FB or something cause you'd really like to apologize for being such a dweeb.  You google them and come up short.  You start asking around to see if any old friends have info about the person.  You even write some letters to explain but you never send them.  You finally realize that the past is done and you have to truly own the fact that your obsessiveness and crazy expectations destroyed something that you really loved...

Yeah... I don't want that to happen with Lemon curd because it's pretty much the awesomest thing going right now.  At this moment, I'm eating a little bit out of the jar because it's so awesome.

I made 7 jars and I guess that I'd better give away most of them because otherwise we all know what road I'm going down.
This recipe is mad easy and if you want to make it then just make sure you have some really awesome friends to share it with.  Don't let the above story happen with you and lemon curd.  Tragic.

Lemon Curd adapted from GoodFood Magazine
makes about 7 250 ml jars

8 oz unsalted butter
zest and juice from 8 lemons
12 oz sugar
12 eggs, well beaten
2 - 3 tbsp corn starch

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan melt the butter over medium/low heat.
Add in the zest and juice from the lemons.  Heat to warm.
Add in the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Add a couple of ladles full of the warm lemon mixture into the beaten eggs, stirring constantly.
Gradually add the egg mixture back into the lemon/sugar mixture, whisking constantly.  Stir together for about 10 minutes or so or until the mixture thickens.
Add in the corn starch and mix well.
Pour the mixture into small jars to cool.
Place the lids on the jars and cool completely.
Refrigerate until using or giving away.
Will last for about 3 weeks in the fridge.

Oatmeal Bran Bread

Nothing says Christmas like Bran.

Haha - had you on that one.  Yeah, I know.  I've never heard anyone say that before.  Trust me though after baking all afternoon yesterday and suffering through that stupid linzer cookie recipe that you're going to be seeing very soon, I'm totally 'sweeted' out.  Damn - too much.
On Sunday I took all these pictures of this bread.  I didn't know when my internet connection would be back up and running but the thought of being able to post bread instead of some stupid sweet cookie right now really appealed.  There is something calming to both the mind and the soul when you have bread happening in your house.
I found this cook book hiding in the back of my shelf.  I bought it in Montreal.  The cookbook was written by the Mom of a girl in my friends choir  - that sounds way more complicated than it really was.  I thought the cookbook was pretty cool and used it a lot back in university.  I haven't pulled it out in recent years - hence it being in the back of the bookshelf - and seeing it again kinda woke something up.  I'm always on the hunt for interesting bread.  I'm always looking for another excuse to get to know yeast - it's a quest for me that yeast and I become friends.  Not being one to repeat recipes very often (which makes me the consummate food blogger I guess but really bad when it comes to repeating peoples favourite recipes) I need to find new ones to fuel my mission.   This little recipe book has bread recipes in it.  This one caught my eye.  It looked easy and contained both oatmeal and bran - great!

When I got into it and started to knead this bread I was convinced that I had done something wrong.  This dough was stiff.  I added another half cup of water.  It was still really stiff.  I was working hard to get this stuff to the smooth and silky stage - I'll be honest with you, after about 8 minutes or so of hard-slog-kneading I just gave up.  I buttered a bowl and plopped the dough in and thought that if it actually rose I would pour myself a drink and buy a lottery ticket.  If it didn't rise then I would make the Challah that was on the other page.  No loss.

Low and behold, after an hour the dough ball had doubled but it didn't like to be reshaped.  It told me flat out that if I tried to shape it into a loaf pan that it would revolt and turn into a hockey puck.  I obliged and Put the bread dome onto a buttered cookie sheet (pizza pan to be exact) and crossed my fingers.
Well, look at this - I have an artisan looking dome of bread.  It's a pretty damn dense loaf and I don't want to see what it will be like after a few days but it worked and it doesn't look like some kind of weird, goopy monster that so many of my other loaves have looked like.

I didn't listen to Christmas Music while the bread was baking.
I didn't even think about Christmas.  I listened to Mozart's Requiem and the washing machine.  It was magical.

Oat, Whole Wheat and Bran Bread adapted from 'Almonds and Raisins' by Evelyne Pytka
makes 1 large, dense round loaf

3 cups warm water
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp (2 pkg) yeast
1 cup oats
6 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bran
2 cups all purpose flour

Combine the warm water, salt, sugar, yeast and oats.  Stir and let it stand for ten minutes to let the yeast bloom.
In another  bowl combine the whole wheat flour, break dn 1 cup of all purpose flour.
Add the flour to the water/yeast mixture and mix well.
Turn the dough out onto a flour surface and knead in the other cup of all purpose flour.  Knead for about 10 minutes or until silky and smooth (ish).
Place in a large greased bowl and cover with a clean cloth.  Let it rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled (about 1 hr).
Place the dome onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Slice the top of the dome 3 times (or so - it's just to look pretty I think).  Let it sit for 5 minutes.
Boil some water and place boiling water into an oven proof bowl.  Place the boiling water in the COLD oven.  Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake the bread for about 40 minutes or until brown on the top and it sounds hollow when you knock on it.

The Waiting.

It seems that advent has decided to make itself more poignant for me this year.
Advent is not something I was terribly aware of previous to working in a Catholic school and Cathedral.  I don't know if I could have told you all about the 'waiting' period before the arrival of the Messiah... the one waited for.  Well, these few years later I know all about those weeks before Christmas and the significance of waiting.  And waiting is exactly what the last while has been like for me.
Allow me to illustrate:
I'm waiting to finish working... which will be the 23rd of this month and in the meantime I'm hanging on to sanity and calm with the most tenuous of strings.

I have this pile of food sitting in bags waiting to turn into something munchy and yummy.  I'm waiting to have time to hover over the oven for the couple of hours that making chex mex demands.

This beautiful turnip is sitting on the counter.  It's waiting so patiently.  It looks at me so innocently and meekly.  It's not screaming for my attention but it desperately wants to be turned into something beautiful and braised with cabbage... my turnip is part of my advent celebration.

These ribbons are strewn around waiting to grace the tops of jars of gifts and tied around bags of nuts and munchies to give away.

These cookies managed to get baked because I was desperate and these are my favourite christmas tradition bar none... now these cookies are waiting to be eaten.

This star represents my hope that the internet connection which died on me last week and somehow magically restored itself this a.m. will remain connected.  I don't like waiting.  Now that the internet gods have decided that I've paid for my internet sins sufficiently I will be posting the 20 or so posts that have been brewing since last week... I guess that you could say that by waiting for my new posts I have been helping you better celebrate the season of advent too.

December thus far....

I'm not going to get all weird and mushy about December because of Christmas and all that.  I am going to get all weird and mushy about getting two weeks off though.  Dang - that can't come fast enough.  D is away in a very warm, dry, dusty part of the world drumming his hands off and learning to be the next croc-whisperer.  I am here in sun-less, wet, cold Toronto pulling myself out of the dumps.  Here are some of the things that have given and will give me purpose over the next two weeks:

1.  Me, Kid #1 and #2 got up embarrassingly early two days ago to take advantage of a Christmas tree drive hosted by one of our local tv stations.  You donate $10 to a local food bank and you get a Christmas tree.  The only catch... you have to get there early.  We were there by 6:45 a.m.  yeah... that's right.  But we got the damn tree people.

2.  Not sitting through another Christmas concert rehearsal for about 360 days is something that definitely brings a smile to my face.  I'm not going to elaborate beyond saying 4 down and 3 more to go.

3.  Learning that I don't have to sit all the way through a concert/show if I don't want to has been a most freeing discovery for me.  My BFF KT and I went to the Opera about a year and a half ago.  We had ludicrously expensive seats - if I had sneezed it might have thrown off the leads, at least they could've handed me a tissue.  Neither one of us are heavy opera fans so KT told me that if we had seen enough after a while and decided to go out for drinks instead then that was fine with her.  AND that's what we did.  We sat through an hour, got our fill and left... had a great evening with a couple of drinks and great conversation.  Now if a concert (especially the not too exciting ones) is going past the 1 1/2 hour mark I start to get antsy.  I almost feel claustrophobic - like I need to leave very soon, get out any way possible.

4.  I don't and never will understand why every single concert happening at Christmas must be obligated to perform only and exclusively Christmas music.

5.  I'm very much looking forward to making gifts this year.  Soon to come - homemade Chex Mex, homemade lemon curd and cookies and scones in a jar... what the hell let's throw some homemade crackers in there too.

6.  I've finally been able to start running again.  Plantar Fasciitis has had me down but not out for the last 6 weeks (!).  I've started small with 1 km and will gradually build myself back up to my regular routine.  I'm planning to run two half marathons next year.  In the meantime,  I'm still doing yoga like crazy, biking to work and rolling my foot over a little ball to encourage healing... it's finally working.

7.  I love that you all read this and wish I could send all of you some Chex Mex (well... if it doesn't totally bite) and Lemon curd.

Squash Cupcakes? That sounds weird.

Let me just start by saying that just a couple of years ago I would not in a million years have even thought about this happening let alone thinking that it might taste good... good enough to get the squash and actually do it.  Never.
Things change.
Here we are two years later and me trying to get more in touch with food reality - as opposed to the fiction that we've managed to turn it into - means that for me I'm now not only considering putting squash in a dessert but actually really truly going and doing it.  Here's the kicker for me... it didn't just come with my food box this week - meaning that once it was included I had to find something to do with it and all - no, no... I ordered it... specifically to make pureed squash... specifically to try making these cupcakes.  I get a little confused if I think about it for too long.  Sometimes I get too proud of my awesome 'sustainable', 'seasonal' efforts... I want to pat myself on the back for being so damn amazing.  I just need to walk away from myself.
One of the reasons that this whole squash thing is a surprise to me is that I've never been a fan of the pumpkin pie.  I have these vague memories of trying my great Aunt Ina's pumpkin pie when I was a kid.  Here's a cool story:
Great Aunt Ina - who isn't just a vague memory but someone whom I remember very well - was the youngest of a family of four.  She had a brother very close to her in age (my great Grandad) and two sisters about eighteen (yup - for reals) years older.  The two older sisters basically brought up the younger two siblings.  Those two sisters ran the family farm and did crazy crap like make their own recipes and publish them and stuff.  I know, right.  So Aunt Ina inheirited her baking skills honestly.  She made this seriously sick candy popcorn every year for christmas.  Seriously.  She brought it in these huge bags - I could have easily skipped the whole meal just to gorge on that stuff.  That's just the beginning.  She was also pretty weird sometimes - like she always just stashed our gifts away in a trunk and didn't even take them out of the packaging... actually, maybe that's not so weird.  Anyway, I remember trying some of the pumpkin pie that she baked and thinking that it didn't totally suck but then I never ate it again.   I don't regret not eating pumpkin pie or anything because there is probably a whole lot of other crap that I can do with pumpkin that blows the pie thing outta the water - I just have to discover it.

Recently I saw a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes and it called for using shredded squash - so I don't even have to cook the stuff - I'm going to try that too... or I could use parsnips or something... oh yeah.  I got thinking about the idea of squash and spices and cream cheese icing and it just sounded appealing.  However, I've been kinda craving beets lately though so I'm seriously starting to doubt my ability to gauge what is truly 'a treat'.

Squash Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
adapted from Canadian Living and Ina Garten
makes about 12 lg cupcakes

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
dash or two of allspice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or whatever oil you want so long as it's fairly tasteless)
2 lg eggs
1 cup squash puree

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line a muffin tin with 12 liners.
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and sugar together in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs and squash puree in another bowl and whisk together until they're completely mixed.
Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir until combined and everything is wet.  Laddle into the lined muffin tins until each is at least 3/4's full.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out of the middle cupcakes without anything sticking to it.
Cool completely

Cream Cheese icing:

1 pkg (4 oz) cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups icing sugar

Combine the cream cheese and the butter together just until blended and smooth.  Add in the vanilla and blend.
Add the icing sugar by a 1/2 cup at a time.  Mix well after each addition.  Add more only until it reaches the thickness that you like.
Dollop onto the top of each completely cooled cupcake.

Oatmeal, Molasses Snacking Bread

I had this moment of complete panic.  It was followed very closely by another moment of utter resignation. Then I remembered that this is not me.
I'm not the person who freaks out at having the perfect gift... for everyone.  At making sure that every decorating details has been seen to.  At having a perfect meal on Christmas day.  I'm not that person.  There is nothing wrong with that person.  I like those people.  I even envy them a little... it's just that it's not me.  What prompted my short term meltdown was a food blog I was reading.  The blogger was listing her holiday to do's for gifts and cooking and baking and general jobs that needed to be done... it looked exhausting.  I was exhausted just reading it and then I had to reach for a paper bag to breath into because I think that I started to hyperventilate... and that's when all that crap went through my head and then I remembered... I'm not that person.
Good God - how completely and utterly freeing to remember that.  If I had to deal with my own expectations around gift buying/baking/cooking/decorating/card sending/etc as well as work (up to the 23rd no less)/survive concert season (the next two weekends are completely blacked out on my calendar)/be a single mom/refrain from becoming an alcoholic then I'm sure I would have to be committed by the 25th.
As it goes, we are getting a tree and we will decorate it.  There will be lights on it.  I might stick something up on my door.  I have sent one Christmas card (to the UK) and that will probably be it.
I will do some baking - I might participate in (but not host - ack) a cookie exchange where I have to make two batches of something.  For gift giving, I will be making:

Chex Mex
Lemon Curd
Cranberry scones in a jar
Oat Crackers

I will not be buying a lot of gifts.  At All.
I think that should just about cover it.  Any other cooking and/or baking I do will 100% be for my pleasure.  To be honest, the Chex Mex and Lemon Curd are for my pleasure too because I'll be keeping some of it to enjoy myself.
So I guess that my little breakdown accomplished something.  I've now completely and rationally thought through my own expectations and limitations around the christmas season.  If I exceed expectations then it's a bonus and if I don't then I don't really care.  I've listed publicly what I'm going to make and decorate and now I feel a lot better.  Thanks.

As a side note.  My Bestie KT has lent me her camera while D is in Burkina Faso with mine.  All these pics are because of her (you can send your thanks so me and I'll forward it along) so I decided to make her some bread as payment for the rental.  Since molasses and oatmeal are two of her favourite things in the whole world (after Mr G, her beautiful Kitties and ME of course) then I figured that this bread would be perfect for her.  XOXO  It turned out really weird looking but I think that's because of the loaf pan that I used - it was too small.

Oatmeal Molasses Snacking Bread adapted from Technicolour Kitchen
makes one large loaf

2 1/4 tsp (1 pkg) active dry yeast
3 tbsp molasses (I use unsulphured)
2 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour or all purpose (I used all purpose)
1 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and set aside
1 1/2 tsp salt

Combine the yeast, molasses and warm water together.  Mix and set aside for about 5 minutes - enough time for the yeast to bloom on top of the mixture.
Combine the flours (both), salt and the oats.  Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture.  Add the melted butter to everything and mix until all is well combined.  Cover with a clean cloth and set side for about 30 minutes.
Turn the flour out to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7 minutes or so (add flour if needed but no more than about a 1/4 cup).
Place the kneaded dough in a lightly buttered bowl (stainless steal is what I use), cover with a clean cloth (the same one maybe) and let it rise in a draft-free place for about 1 hour.
Once the dough has risen, remove from the bowl and knead just until you can form it into a loaf/rectangle shape.  Place in a large, buttered loaf pan.  Cover again with a clean cloth and let rise until doubled - about 1 hr.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake the bread for about 40 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when you knock on it (that's so weird but it works).
Cool and slice or share or give as a gift or make yourself some toast right then and there.

Another Chocolate Birthday Cake

Save the sighs.  It was good and I bet you wish you were here to have some too.  Actually, I wish that you were here right now.
Here's why...

D and I have a good relationship.  We've been together for a lot of years and we're happy to have had them.  yeah, there've been downs.  That's normal.  Times when we've wanted to throw in the towel, forget it all happened, shake hands and walk away... but we didn't.  Having weathered enough crap between the two of us and with life in general we can both honestly confess our good fortune at spending this time together.
Tomorrow is D's birthday.  It's not a big one - no big landmarks, 'Oh jeez, I can't believe you're that old' or 'You know, I always thought that by the time I got this old that I would be on my way out' or anything like that.  It's just a birthday.
What's making this birthday a little extra special and/or odd is that D will be on a plane.  He's going to Burkina Faso for about 18 days give or take.  I'm not so sure that being on a plane is like being at a restaurant on your birthday.  I'm kinda skeptical that the air host's (or whatever you call them) will be convening by D's seat to sing him a birthday song and present him with a cupcake and candle.  So I'm making sure that we send him off with something before his birthday.  It's only the night before so at least it's close.  I'm gonna make him something slightly more up his alley once he's back and can enjoy it for a couple of days.  For now this simple chocolate cake with simple chocolate icing is just the thing.  That's all the upside.
The downside is that I'm all alone with two kids for the next 18 days give or take and concert season is just kicking off for this household and birthday month has descended and work continues right up to the 23rd and then it's this big holiday that everyone kinda freaks out about.  I'm not feeling sorry for myself but I'll definitely miss him.

I guess that this cake is both a birthday and a goodbye thing... a little send off.
On a side note: I'm not going to bitch for long about this but this whole 'dark-by-4:15-p.m.-thing' is getting a bit old for me.  I'm pretty dang tired of making something when I come home from work and by the time I'm ready for pictures it's too dark to get a decent shot.  I'll be damned if I'm going to set up a light-box and get into all that.  I must keep telling myself that in another 6 - 8 weeks things will already feel a little different 'cause we're almost at the solstice, right?  For now please excuse the crappy shots and try to enjoy the spirit of the evening with us.

Chocolate Mud Cake adapted from Delicious Magazine (UK)
makes 1 9 inch round cake
(I'll try to give accurate equivalents here but it's not exact)

250g (1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
200g dark chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp espresso powder
100 ml milk
250g (about 2 cups or just a little less) self raising flour (you can make your own)
40g (a little less than a half cup) dark cocoa
250g (about 1 cup) sugar
4 lg eggs beaten
1 tsp vanilla
150 ml sour cream


1 1/2 cups icing sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa
1 tsp espresso powder
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup (give to take) cream

Grease and flour a 9 inch round springform pan
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Melt the butter, chocolate, espresso powder and milk together in a double boiler and then set aside.  Cool for about 15 minutes.
Sift the flour, dark cocoa and sugar together.
Add the chocolate mixture to the flour mixture.
Add the beaten eggs, vanilla and sour cream and mix well.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out.
Bake for about 65 - 70 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with just wet crumbs on it.
Cool completely in the pan.


Sift together the icing sugar and cocoa powder.
Add in the espresso powder.
Add the butter and enough cream to mix it together.  Continue adding cream until the icing gets to the thickness and consistency that you like.
Continue mixing out all the lumps.
Smooth over completely cooled cake.

Powered by Blogger.

Archivo del blog

About Me

My photo
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

My Favourite Cookbooks

  • Naparima Girls High School Cookbook
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook
  • More-with-Less Cookbook
  • Moosewood Cookbook

About Me

My Photo
Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
View my complete profile



Blog Archive



FBC Member