Rhubarb and Sour Cream Crumb Cake

It hot as hades here in Toronto.  Hot like July.  And dry.  Dry like... I don't know.  It doesn't often get this dry here.  All this hot, dry weather is making me feel like school should be done... like now.  It's making me feel like I need a sleep in the afternoon - yeah, I don't know why the summer makes me want to sleep in the afternoon.  The hot weather makes me want to run like crazy and get all my canning stuff out.  The problem is... it's May.
It's the end of May, I'll grant you that.  But it's still just May.  It's pretty early for 28 degrees.  It feels weird baking with rhubarb in 30 degree weather but here I am baking with rhubarb.  And it's 30 degrees.  Three.  Zero.
I'm not going to get into the whole scary/disturbing side of it being hot like crazy in May.  It's been hot before, right?  I'm not going to get into all the stuff that puts a knot in my stomach and makes me fear for my kids and especially my grandkids.  I'm not going to dwell on the notice that has come with the last two or three food boxes.  The notice that informs us all about this seasons tree crops or the lack thereof.
Needless to say, school is not over yet.  Not for a good little while.  I can't sleep in the afternoon because I have work to do or am in the middle of doing work.  Because of that work I can't just go and run like crazy, I have to be reasonable about the amount of time I spend doing fun things (yes, running is fun for me).  And, because it's May, I could get all my canning stuff out but there isn't a hell of a lot to can just yet.  Except for Rhubarb.

Rhubarb.  I got some in the food box this week because my own poor little rhubarb plant is being overtaken by the raspberries that I unwisely planted too close years ago.  It's struggling and I have to move it and I don't know where to move it to.  So while I'm pondering I decided to just go ahead and get some rhubarb in the foodbox.  Rhubarb is weird.  Rhubarb makes me wonder how anybody thought of eating it.  Rhubarb makes me think that it's a good thing it's a fruit/veg (?) that is best in the early spring because honestly if it had to compete with fruit later in the growing season it would be no contest.  It doesn't even taste that good unless you do something to it.  It's not like a fresh tomato or green bean that you can just pick and enjoy.  Rhubarb needs some TLC.  Once you do cook it, it's got this strange texture that only reminds me of rhubarb.  Nothing else.   Although the stuff made me want to gag as a kid, now I'm using it and eating it like it's my favourite.  I think that it's what rhubarb represents that makes me love it so much now.  A new season.  New growth, new planting and better things to come.  The start of a whole new cycle.  I've still got a couple more rhubarb recipes up my sleeve and I want to make sure that I've got a little in the freezer to mix with some strawberries for some kick ass jam.  Whenever strawberry season hits.  For now though I'm going to sweat it out in my kitchen.

Rhubarb and Sour Cream Cake adapted from 'Delicious Magazine UK'
1 8x8 square cake

3 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp all-purpose flour

Mix the chopped rhubarb, sugar and flour together in a bowl and set aside.

Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 generous tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup less 2 tbsp sugar
1 vanilla bean with the vanilla scraped out
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt.

Melt together the butter and both sugars.  stir well over med/low heat until the butter is melted.  remove from the heat.  Add the vanilla bean scrapings and stir well.  In a separate bowl mix together the salt and flour.  Add the flour to the melted butter.  Mix together until it forms a crumbly texture.  Set aside.

6 tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt
1 lg egg + 1 yolk
1tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/8 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature

Grease an 8x8 square baking pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla.  Whisk until everything is mixed together well.  Set aside.
Mix together the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.  Add the butter and cream together until everything is well mixed and not dry anymore.  Add the egg/sour cream mixture.  Whisk together until light and fluffy.  The dough will be quite thick.  Spread into the prepared pan.
Using a slotted spoon, spoon the rhubarb onto the top of the cake batter.  Spread evenly.
Sprinkle the crumb topping on the whole mess.  I pressed it in just a little but you don't have to do that.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the sides of the cake are just lightly browned.
Cool for about 10 minutes before cutting.

Baked Asparagus and Stinging Nettles Risotto

I hate it when bloggers write this: 'I want to thank you all for waiting so patiently.  I know it's been hard.  I'm pretty sure that this blog has become a big part of what gives your life meaning.  You've probably been waiting with bated breath (for the meaning of that phrase check here).  I didn't mean to spurn you or to shut you out.  It's just, I was busy.'  Whatever people.  We don't really care that it's been 2 weeks since you posted.  We like it when you do but we're not dying when you don't.  Suck it up and move on.  Having said that, I have had posts to put up here but I just couldn't get to it... because, well...

I went with 89 boys (ages 9 - 12) on tour to Ottawa.  We did 3 concerts, 1 Mass and 1 national anthem in 3 days.  That's a lot of singing for these guys.  We performed at a national choral symposium called Podium - which is a huge honour for these boys.  We went to the Museum of Civilization in between.  We performed our National Anthem in the Rotunda of our Parliament buildings.  In case you were wondering, getting 89 boys and accompanying teacher/chaperones through security in one piece isn't nearly as stress free as it sounds.  We also managed to fit some mini-putt and go-carting in there too.  All in all it was a pretty big deal for these young boys.  They were happy and exhausted by the end of the weekend.  As fun as it all was it was beyond exhausting.  I've been finding that this week at work I'm fine for the morning but by the afternoon I hit a wall that it's really hard to peel myself off of.
To add insult to injury, D has left for 10 days off to Europe.  One of the bands he plays in is doing a tour of France/Germany/Holland.  Lucky.  I'm home with the kids juggling work and end of year concert craziness.

I've decided not to get stressed out.  I've told myself that it's just that easy.  If I tell myself that I'm not getting stressed out then I won't.  I'm not thinking about my garden and all the crap that I haven't gotten to yet.  I haven't freaked out that my tomatoes aren't planted or that I haven't gotten my potatoes started - a project that I really want to get into.  I'll keep you up on that one.  I'm just rolling with the rhubarb that is sitting in the fridge looking forlorn and the recipe binder that contains all those gorgeous rhubarb recipes is still closed and on the bookshelf.  It's all going to happen.  It's just going to have to happen on a different timeline than the one that I would like to have.  I've decided to stay positive.

I've looked at the computer.  I've gone through the motions of checking some things and doing some recipe research and all that but I haven't even had the energy to think about putting the fingers to the keys and getting some words out.  Until now.  This weeks food box brought me two beautiful bunches of locally grown asparagus.  Gorgeous.  It also brought some more stinging nettles, baby leeks, baby spinach and fiddleheads but we'll not go into all that just now.  I saw this recipe in my favourite BBC GoodFood magazine and decided to try it out.  I think that honestly I would add a little more flavour to the boullion/broth - maybe an extra cube of boullion or a little dijon or both.  That kind of thing - and a little extra parmesan.  The recipe though turned out well and it's beyond easy.  Just do a little saute, stirring, throwing in oven and stirring again.

Baked Asparagus and Stinging Nettles Risotto adapted from BBC GoodFood Magazine
serves 6 - 8

4 cups Stinging Nettles (or spinach), stems remove and coarsely chopped
25 or so asparagus (two small bunches) with the hard bottom part taken off
1/2 cup onion (I used baby leek) chopped or diced
2 rashers bacon, diced
2 1/4 cups arborio rice
4 1/2 cups warm boullion (I used veggie)
1 cup cream
1 tbsp basil
1 tbsp oregano
2 tsp salt
pinch pepper
1 tsp pepper sauce (optional)
1 cup parmesan, shredded plus a little extra to sprinkle on the top

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Get a large, shallow baking dish out (I used a large 9x13 pyrex dish) and ready.
Heat a large pot over medium heat and saute together the chopped nettles, bacon and the onion in about 3 tbsp of the oil of your choice for about 4 - 5 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Mix in the arborio rice, stir a little so that the rice is coated well.  Pour the rice mixture into the baking dish.
In another bowl mix together the heated boullion, basil, oregano, salt and pepper.
Pour the boullion mixture into the baking dish and stir well to combine everything.  Carefully place the baking dish in the heated oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven.  Give everything a good stir.  Add in the cream and the parmesan (reserving a little parmesan to sprinkle over the top) and stir again to mix.  Place the asparagus over the risotto mixture.  You can get creative here but I was in a hurry and went the easy route.
Sprinkle with the reserved parmesan cheese.
Bake for another 15 minutes.  Check that the rice is done.
Cool slightly and serve.

Asparagus and Fiddle Head Pasta

I've started watching this show called 'Luther'.  It's a BBC show.  As you might have read in earlier posts, I've stopped watching a whole lot of tv.  I've got netflix and I don't mind paying for my tv if I really want to watch something.  Otherwise, cable tv at the moment is just not giving me what I'm looking for.  Now the BBC is something completely different.  If that's what tax supported tv is all about then I'm in.  All in. 100%.  It's a good think that I don't live in the UK because I'm 90% sure I would get pretty much nothing done other than keeping my couch company while I watched tv.
Either way, Luther is about a dude... ack, I'm not going to get into the whole thing now.  You can look it up.  I'm blown away.  It's providing me with all kinds of teachable moments.  Deep thoughts.  Words to ponder.  I don't really know if it's meant to do that or if it's just where I am in life that is causing some things to resonate deeply for me.  In the last episode of season 1 (which I just finished) Alice, this brilliant sociopath/friend of Luther's, rhyme's off the finding of some or other study that she has read about which kind of blew me away.

Three self delusions most people hold to:
1. Implausibly positive view of themselves.
2. That the future will be better for them than evidence of the present can possibly justify.
3. That they have far more control over their lives than they really do.

Number 3 was profound for me.  Number 2 wasn't far behind but Number 3 was the front runner.  I started thinking about what would happen if we all stopped trying so hard to control our lives.  To gain more control, to feel in control.  In fact, one of the major goals in life for me up to know would have to be gaining control.  It's a big part of what defines me - probably all of us.  But what if it's a delusion or a facade.  When you think about it, the things that we do to 'gain control' really just isolate us.  The only way that we could be truly in control would be to live in a vacuum.  What would happen if we accepted that a whole lot of things were beyond our control and just lived our life without the worry.
I know that the whole thing seems kind of bleak but I'm not going for a defeatest kind of thing here.  The opposite is what's in my head.  Something liberating.  Something that doesn't confine me to searching for this illusive 'control' thing.  That frees me to just 'be'.  After reading this book about how seeking to 'control' our food supply and therefor moving from a hunter/gatherer society to an agrarian one has had permanent and damaging effects on our DNA or psyche and our environment, I'm completely willing to believe that 'control' is just an illusion.  However, unlike the brilliant,sociopathic and paper-created 'Alice', I have a full life with kids and jobs and stuff and it's getting in the way of me lying in the grass to think at the moment.  This conversation is going to be rolling around in my head for quite a while...

It's spring and in spring ferns start to grow and if you are a heartless forager then you pick those fern strands before they have a chance to become something inedible.  They taste amazing and probably make you DNA correct itself or something but they taste great so who cares.  Just be warned that when you eat a lot of asparagus your pee really smells weird.  So if you pee and you think that maybe you've come down with some terrible disease because the smell is so overwhelmingly weird and disturbing then just ask yourself if just maybe you had some asparagus say about 2 hrs or so before that.  If so... don't worry, You're Fine.

Asparagus and Fiddle Head Pasta adapted from 'Simply in Season'
serves 4 - 6

4 cups fiddle heads (any brown parts of the stems removed)
3 cups asparagus (bottoms removed and then cut into 1 1/2 inch sections)
1/2 cup onion
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup milk (I mixed regular milk and some cream together)
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
5 cups pasta (I used penne - rigatoni would be nice too) cooked al dente, drained and set aside
1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Heat a largish pot over medium heat, add a little oil.  Add in the onion, the asparagus and fiddleheads.  Turn the heat down just a little.  Stir regularly so that it doesn't burn and turn down the heat if necessary.  The asparagus and fiddleheads should sear just a bit.  This should take about 7 - 10 minutes.
In a bowl mix together the eggs and milk using a whisk until the eggs are completely mixed into the milk.  Add the lemon juice and salt to the milk mixture.
Once the asparagus/fiddleheads mixture is seared sufficiently turn the heat down to low and add in the milk/egg mixture.  Stir well.  Allow the mixture to heat for another 5 minutes or so.  Do not let the mixture come to a boil.  Add in the parmesan cheese and let the sauce heat for another few minutes to let the cheese melt.
Once the cheese has melted add the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce.  Add in the reserved pasta water just until the sauce get to the consistency that you are happy with.
Serve immediately.  Sprinkle with a little more parmesan and/or chili flakes if you choose.

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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.

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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.
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