Healthy-ish

Mock Orange

A neighbour told me today that mock orange only blooms every three years and I should enjoy the fragrant blossoms while I can. It’s not true, but it’s a pretty story and their season is so short that I think I’ll spend as much time lingering near them as I can in the next little while.

Everything, lately, seems especially ephemeral and I’m trying to take as much notice of my surroundings and its inhabitants as I can. That means walking Roxy a little farther than my tiredness would rather, so that she can make the most of a summer’s evening sniff, then talking softly to the skunk we encountered (while rapidly backing away). It means setting up a long-distance telephone visit with a friend, instead of putting it off for a few more weeks. And planting squash in the garden rather than working down the list of tasks waiting for me at my desk.

It also means doing a little baking, which I’ve not had much time for, so that I can drop off a banana blueberry oat loaf for a neighbour who isn’t well.

I think when someone is recovering from an illness or an injury, there is a lot of love and friendship that can be offered through helping with chores and errands, spending time watching a movie or playing a game, and bringing over food so that there’s always a meal at hand. I also believe in the healing power of treats, especially if they’re packing a nutritional punch.

If I had a recipe box, I’d have a section labelled ‘Almost Health Food’ because I think a little indulgence while one’s on the mend can speed a recovery up, or at least make it feel like it’s dragging on a little less. I think a loaf like this is especially good for seniors, because it’s full of nutrients, with some fat and protein along for the ride to keep them going.

It’s also one of those infinitely variable recipes that can accommodate almost anything you’ve got in your pantry. Soak some dried cherries and replace the blueberries, skip the oats and add bran or wheat germ instead, play around with the flours or sweeteners, go for chocolate and coffee instead of fruit.

In this version, I added a little yogurt, because I thought whole wheat flour and rolled oats might be too much for even the moistest of bananas. They came out perfectly.

Banana Blueberry Oat Loaf

BANANA BLUEBERRY OAT LOAVES

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup mashed banana (about 3 medium)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 350°. Butter four 5¾” × 3½” × 2¼” mini-loaf pans and set aside. (You can flour or sugar them afterward, but I find these loaves come out of the pan quite easily.)

Toss the blueberries in half a tablespoon of flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, making a well in the centre. Then, in a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, then stir in the blueberries.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and then place them in the oven for 35 minutes. (Start checking at 20 minutes.) I like mine to be a slightly toasty brown around the edges, but you might like yours a little less done.

Let the pans rest on baking racks for five minutes, then turn them out, turn them over, and let them cool completely. Once they’re cool, you can wrap a couple well for the freezer, wrap another in brown paper to bring to a friend, and slice into the one you’ve saved for yourself. I find they keep quite well in a parchment-lined cookie tin, if you’re not into sharing, but why wouldn’t you? These are too good to keep to yourself.

Banana Blueberry Oat Loaf

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Cook the Book Fridays – Buckwheat Madeleines

Buckwheat Madeleines

I’ve made madeleines twice in the past week – once for Tuesdays with Dorie and now for Cook the Book Fridays. Both recipes involved browned butter, but they part ways there. The ones I made earlier in the week were not far off traditional, with a rich, buttery vanilla flavour. The ones I made today are mostly buckwheat flour, with egg whites for lightness and cocoa nibs for a subtle, crunchy chocolate surprise. Not at all traditional, but delicious nevertheless.

I used to bring big baskets of snickerdoodles and chocolate crinkles to meetings, partly because I thought the flavours made a nice contrast, but also for the visual impact. I think I might start doing the same with madeleines, too. The nuttiness of the buckwheat and the chocolate crunch of the cocoa nibs would contrast nicely with the traditional cakes.

Ghost Chocolate ice cream at Earnest Ice Cream

I also wish I’d picked up a pint of the ice cream I tried today. Ghost Chocolate, a collaboration between Earnest Ice Cream and East Van Roasters, is made from steeping cocoa shells (that would otherwise be discarded) in cream to make a subtle chocolate ice cream that would complement these buckwheat madeleines perfectly.

I’ll have to make do (happily) with warm madeleines and a cup of tea. C’est la vie.

Buckwheat Madeleines with cocoa nibs

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.

Baking Chez Moi – Apple Matafan

Apple Matafan

There is a store near me that bundles up the produce that’s about to be replaced by the next shipment and puts it on sale. I have to be careful, because those bags of apples, tomatoes, potatoes or bananas always convince me that it’s time for a kitchen project. When it’s a big bag of tomatoes or potatoes, it’s simple – they go into the oven with some seasoning and do their thing. The large quantity of apples and bananas I picked up last week are another matter altogether. I’ve been baking all week.

 Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins

So far, my freezer is full of apple cake and I’m going to spend the next day or two dropping off Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Muffins to friends.

The Apple Matafan I made tonight, though, isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to be breakfast for the next several days, accompanied by yogurt and maple syrup, or perhaps a bit of jam. It’s meant to be eaten within a day, but I enjoy using this kind of pancake as a sort of breakfast trifle. It’s stuffed with apples and flavoured with vanilla and brandy (or apple jack or brandy). It will fortify me as I continue to fill my freezer with apple and banana treats.

Which reminds me, it’s finally time to buy a really big bag of rhubarb. I need to buy a bigger freezer…

Apple Matafan with maple syrup

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this month’s recipes from Baking Chez Moi here.

Tuesdays With Dorie – Viennese Shortbread & Some Catching Up

Viennese Sablés

Viennese Sablés

Hot on the heels of my Cook the Book Fridays catch up, here is the Tuesdays with Dorie edition.

Today’s treat is Viennese Sablés from Baking Chez Moi, though I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to guess from my photo above. During some spring cleaning and organizing, I decided to move my box of piping tips from the drawer that they’ve never quite fit into – trouble is, I don’t remember where I decided to move them. So, after a quick attempt at piping them through a snipped zip bag, which did not make for an appetizing presentation, I decided to lightly shape them into rounds. They don’t have quite the lightness that they would if I’d piped them properly, but they still have that Danish cookie-from-the-tin flavour and even that texture, in their pillowy interiors.

Apple Weekend Cake

Apple Weekend Cake

Just before going out to visit family for the Easter weekend, I baked one large loaf and four small loaves of Dorie’s Apple Weekend Cake from Baking Chez Moi. One of the small loaves disappeared before I made it out of town (I had help from friends, I swear), and the rest of the mini-loaves were eaten by ravenous relatives. The large loaf got popped into the freezer, awaiting my mother’s next Board meeting. Along with the carrot cake I told you about on Friday from My Paris Kitchen, and a generous slathering of cream cheese-mascarpone icing on everything, this apple cake may have assured my mother another Presidential term. Apple Weekend Cake is similar to family favourite, Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake, but this cake is sturdy enough to bring on a picnic or pack in a lunch box while still being tender and moist.

Crumb-Topped Apple Bars

Crumb-Topped Apple Bars

Thank goodness for citrus season and really good storage apples. They get me through that last little bit of winter/early spring before the rhubarb shows up in the markets. (The rhubarb in my garden takes a bit longer to grow, so it will be some time before I’m picking it.) I picked up a bag of fantastic Pink Lady apples a few weeks ago, when my longing for rhubarb and spring was at its height and the perfect tartness of these apples helped, eaten out of hand and as the star of these bars from Dorie’s Cookies. Of course, they also put me in mind of Hungarian Shortbread with its rhubarb filling, so I’m glad it’s finally rhubarb season now.

Sebastian's Remarkably Wonderful Brownies

Sebastian’s Remarkably Wonderful Brownies

I froze these brownies right after making them, then pulled them out for a game day (board games, not team sports). By the end of our session of all ages Telestrations, the brownies had disappeared. These are fudgey, but they also have a little of the quality of the centre of a pavlova. I think it’s because the eggs are whipped for five minutes with the butter, sugar, and salt. It’s hard to stop at one of these, as my fellow game-players can attest. You can find the recipe here or in your copy of Dorie’s Cookies.

Bee's Sneeze Nuggets

Bee’s Sneeze Nuggets

The TwD group hasn’t delved too deeply into the savoury cookie section of Dorie’s Cookies as yet, but if these biscuit-y cookies are any indication, we should be spending more time there. Based on a cocktail, they make a great accompaniment to one. They’re also a great alternative to a cocktail, if you’re in the mood for the flavour without the buzz (so to speak). They’ve got all the botanical notes of gin, braced with lemon and subtly sweetened with honey. I took Dorie’s suggestion and served them with a bowl of honey for dipping and wouldn’t have them any other way.

It's blossom time in Vancouver

I’ll leave you with a shot of my neighbourhood in its spring finery. Walking the dog is even more of a pleasure than usual these days.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this month’s recipes here.

Safely Spring

I think we can safely say it’s spring. The snowdrops are still going strong in my garden, but daffodils, crocuses and even cherry blossoms are appearing here and there, too. More importantly, my rhubarb is starting to get going. It won’t be long before I can start using it and picking up more at the market, because I always need more than I produce.

I’m making a list of new rhubarb recipes to try, along with my perennial favourites. I’ve posted about a few on the blog, here are some highlights:

A crumb topping and a cookie crust that hold a rhubarb-lime treasure.

Who needs pineapple when there’s rhubarb around? For another take on this theme, you can try these.

Roasted rhubarb equals rhubarb in/on/instead of everything.

Incredible jam leads to even more incredible jammers.

An epic rhubarb adventure with my nieces.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying peak citrus and even the apples that are still quite good at this time of year. I managed to quell my impatience for spring by catching up on the Crumb-Topped Apple Bars that the Tuesdays with Dorie crew tackled in October. They didn’t last long, so I’m going to make some time for the spring-like meringues everyone (organized) made for this week’s recipe. Then, perhaps, it will be time to start harvesting the first stalks of rhubarb. One can hope.

Dorie’s Cookies – Chunkers

Chunkers from Dorie's CookiesIn some ways, I’ve been old all my life. Physically, I was born with a slight hearing deficit, near-sightedness has been with me since Grade Four, and my hair started turning grey when I was still in high school. My behaviour has often been grannyish, too – tea-drinking since twelve, defiantly knitting in my twenties and thirties, and pushing baked goods on all comers since I was old enough to stir a batter. For most of my life, those aspects of myself were characterized as quirks and sometimes even adorable emblems of my individuality. More recently, they’ve become evidence of my status as an oldster.

Now it’s my politics, my way of life, and many of my experiences that are seen as incongruous. Feminism in those over forty is getting a drubbing this week, in particular, thanks to Caitlin Flanagan and her disavowal of any understanding of how young women date these days.

At least I can take solace in baking, which is where this particular train of thought began. (You were wondering when I’d get to the cookies, weren’t you?) Taking a photo of these proved challenging and I’m once again impressed with the production team behind Dorie’s Cookies – the photo in the book is tantalizing.

However, these cookies are much more than they seem. They’re brownie-like in the centre surrounded by a shatteringly thin, crisp crust. They’re filled with chopped milk and dark chocolate, plump dried cherries, and cashews. Every bite is a tiny bit different, though equally delicious.

All this and more went into the cookies!The worst thing about these cookies is that you have to wait for about 30 minutes for them to set after coming out of the oven. The best thing about them is that the unbaked cookies freeze well, so I’ve got a bag full of them in the freezer awaiting my next chocolate craving.

So, to wrap everything up in a neat bow, don’t reject a cookie because it doesn’t photograph well. Remember that there is a diversity of experience and belief at every age. And looking ahead, don’t dismiss a senior’s quirks and foibles as a symptom of age. It’s pretty likely they’ve been that way all along and that their life experiences might seem as up-to-date as your own, upon closer examination.

January’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Dorie’s Cookies – Crash-O Cookies

Oatmeal raisin milk chocolate Crash-O cookies

This month’s Cookies and Kindness selection from Dorie Greenspan is the very last one of the series, though Dorie hopes that everyone who bakes her recipes will continue making sharing and goodwill part of the mix.

This is a cookie that will be welcomed by just about anyone – even those of us who are usually fussy about raisins (like me) and those who really only care for milk chocolate, like my niece and reportedly, the entire Republic of Ireland.

Which is fitting, in a week when kindness is the very least of what should be expected of us. My suggestion is to take some cookies to one of the anti-racist marches and rallies that are being held all over this weekend, or eat some with your kids while you answer their questions about nuclear proliferation, or bring them to your grandparents (or great-grandparents) who remember the fight against 20th Century fascism.

There is power in sharing food, just as there is power in standing up together, talking about what’s important, and learning how to make a world that truly does move toward justice and love.

August’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here and here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Mid-Summer Ambitions

Roxy's summer style

My ambitions this summer are modest: making the best of summer produce, experiencing what the arts and culture scene has to offer in the off-season, and keeping cool (though not as stylishly as Roxy, as you can see in the photo at the top of the post).

Old-fashioned blueberry bars

I feel a little behind on stone fruits this year, but I did a heroic job with berries and rhubarb, with some more blueberries waiting for this weekend’s baking. I got a small harvest of figs from my five-year-old back yard tree this year (beating last year’s inaugural harvest of exactly one) and celebrated with a fig tart and some very tasty jam. There’s also plenty of kale, cucumber, beets, and homegrown lettuce in the refrigerator, which will make for a very healthy weekend of lunches and dinners. I’ve scattered photos of some of my recent kitchen projects through this post – let me know in the comments if you think I’ve been giving summer fruits their due.

<Frangipane fig tart

As for my second summer ambition, there is plenty going on this weekend and for the rest of the summer.

If you can get yourself out to UBC tomorrow night, the Blackout: Night Sky Festival would be a wonderful way to spend the evening. It reminds me of my childhood trips to the lake country around Kamloops, when we would set out lawn chairs in our campsite and stay up late watching the Perseid show.

Fig, balsamic, honey, and vanilla jam

If your idea of making the most of this hot, muggy, smoky summer is finding something to do indoors, you’ve got lots of choices. Movie theatres are great places to hide from high summer and they provide their own kind of visual feast. I’d start with The Cinematheque‘s annual Film Noir program, then move on to the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

Or you can embrace the elements, heading out to sea with Caravan Stage Company’s Nomadic Tempest, then enter a salmon stream in the middle of the city with Uninterrupted: A Cinematic Spectacle.

Chocolate cookies and a whole lot of blueberries

If you want to get out of town, you can head over to the Sunshine Coast for the Rogue Arts Festival or out to the Shuswap for the Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival. And if you’d like to skip the organized activities, you can DIY your own Okanagan wine tour, explore the Fraser Valley’s Circle Farm Tour destinations, or spend August the way my family did when I was a kid and find your favourite fishing spots in the Thompson-Nicola region.

I’ll bring the treats.

Dorie’s Cookies – Classic Jammers

This spring and summer have been punishingly busy, but not so much so that I couldn’t find time to bake some cookies for dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever. Dorie’s Classic Jammers are perfect for sharing and for baking in small batches. The dough and the streusel freeze very well and you can fill them with whatever jam you happen to have on hand.

Freshly made rhubarb jam

I chose a terrific rhubarb, candied ginger, and cardamom jam that I made with Melissa of Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach when we visited The Preservatory at Vista D’oro Winery for a book launch. (I’ll be reviewing the book in my summer cookbook review series and telling you a bit more about our visit then.)

I had just enough jam left for two-and-a-half batches, sharing them with friends and family a dozen or half-dozen at a time. Later in the week, I made another batch with some grape jelly I’d gotten as a gift, and though it was a bit runnier than jam, it was just as tasty in this cookie. I still have some circles of dough in the freezer, along with some leftover streusel, awaiting the next occasion for sharing some cookies and kindness.

Classic Jammers, with jelly

July’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here at Tuesdays with Dorie.

Baking Chez Moi – Streusel-Topped Rhubarb Lime Tart

Streusel-Topped Rhubarb Lime Tart

I know I was extolling the virtues of sharing all over Instagram last week, but I realized today that for all the baking I did last week, I didn’t have any treats (savoury or sweet) left in the house. I remedied that by picking up a pint of strawberries this afternoon and am now battling the urge to re-purpose the goat’s cheese I’ve got saved for Cook the Book Fridays – there’s nothing nicer than a goat cheese and strawberry tartine at this time of year. Except maybe fresh summer strawberries all on their own. So, the goat cheese is safe for now.

I do admit to hanging on to more of this rhubarb tart than I usually do for the baked goods I make. Rhubarb is one of my favourite things in the garden and my estimation of my fair share of a rhubarb dish may be a little skewed. This was wonderful the day it was baked and it was still good for breakfast the next day (or so). Its base is Dorie’s sweet tart dough, cookie-ish without being overly sweet. The filling is rhubarb brightened with lime juice and zest and covered in custard, then topped with streusel.

I could eat variations of this tart with whatever happens to be in season and enjoy them very much, but I’d always be counting down the months to when it’s time to harvest the rhubarb from the garden.

Luckily, there’s still some rhubarb to be had, though I rarely make the same thing twice with it in the same season – my rhubarb recipe file is ridiculously large. Once it’s gone, I’ll console myself with all the other berries and stone fruits to come.

I’ll also start getting to know my new friend – a very kind Co-op neighbour gave me some sourdough starter at a meeting tonight. So, if you have any sourdough advice, let me know. I’m determined not to let it die!

Sourdough starter

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this month’s recipes here.