I had a Date with a Date: Apple Date Nut Bread

I have to be honest. Lately I’ve been having some trouble figuring out what day it is. From what I can tell, yesterday was Bakingday, today is Cleaningday, or to be more precise, Kitchencleaningday and tomorrow could be Gardeningday but I can’t say for sure. This is the best I can do at the moment and I’m guessing that many of you are feeling the same way. Especially those of you who, like me, have retired from the “daily grind” as we were wont to call it, even when some of us really liked what we were grinding. Let’s face it, this pandemic of ours, (that would be the royal “our”), has screwed up time for us. Things have become muddled. It’s hard enough to remember what month it is let alone what day of the week. Heck! If the deer hadn’t shown up to eat my tulips I’d still be wondering if Spring had sprung. On the one hand it seems that we have been locked up in our houses, not seeing family or friends for an incomprehensible amount of time and yet, each day is over before we know it. It’s confusing.

Take me for instance. I get up in the morning at what I consider to be a reasonable hour, given that I’m a bit of a night owl, eat breakfast, catch up on the morning news and the next thing I know someone comes bounding down the stairs to throw a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches on the fire and I start to worry about the prospect of getting crumbs on my pjs. Where did the morning go? And the rest of the day for that matter. Seems like when I eventually do get dressed, before I know it I’m putting those pjs back on, crumbs and all. Don’t even get me started on whatever a “week-end” might be. As far as I’m concerned, there are two days of the week that we don’t get mail and five that we do. Except for long week-ends of course. Those are special. No mail for three days. Beyond that, and I really hate to say this, right now one day is pretty much the same as the next.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and finally came to the conclusion that the problem is I no longer have any markers. My days have no real distinguishing features. It’s not that I was ever a social butterfly but I did some stuff. Like on Tuesday mornings. I always knew it was Tuesday because somehow I found myself washed, dressed and out the door at the rather ungodly hour of 8:30 (that’s am) so I could go walking with the walking ladies. And Thursday. Thursdays found me getting gussied up for my morning stint at the local museum where I spent much of my time chit chatting to visitors from almost everywhere in this great big world of ours. Now there’s no walking, no visitors, and a world that has gotten very much smaller for most of us. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I know I’m very lucky to be where I am. Which doesn’t mean I can’t kvetch a little about how life has changed in the pandemic. Out loud.  

Anyway, with nothing else on the calendar, the other day I decided to make a date. With a date. Honestly, I never really liked dates (either kind) but this one turned out pretty well. My date brought along a couple of apples and some nuts. Nothing wrong with a few nuts (I substituted pecans for walnuts. Think Costco!) in the mix. And just in case things got a little boring, a little cinnamon was added just to spice things up. All in all I would say things worked out between me and my date. So much so that I’m thinking about calling back for a second date with my date. Not sure who the date will bring along next time but I’m always open to suggestions. As you can imagine, it’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact day when this might happen. But I’m sure that it will. And this time I might even get myself a little gussied up for the occasion. 

Apple Nut Date Bread

Recipe: Prep time: Quick. Apparently that’s why they call it a “quick bread”. Cook time: 50 – 60 minutes
Me: Not so quick. 42 minutes to get all of the stuff chopped, diced and mixed. Baked for 62 minutes. 
Favourite thing about this recipe: After all that I’ve just written I suppose I better say the date.
Least favourite thing about this recipe: It was still in the oven at coffee time.
What I learned: It’s great to have a date on Bakingday. That was one too many, wasn’t it! 

It’s a messy situation: Cinnamon Buns

It’s true, I haven’t been here for quite some time. But unlike my absence from the shallow blog (in case you don’t know) where I made the case that it is, in fact, difficult to be shallow during a pandemic, I can’t use that excuse for this one. Au contraire. We know by now that the pandemic, beyond everything else it has done, has turned all of us (pretty much) into expert home bakers. So it would be foolish of me to even try to use the pandemic as an explanation for my tardiness. Leaving me with the only plausible reason I can give you for seeming to have abandoned this blog. My freezer. It’s full. That’s right. I no longer have room in my freezer for the overflow of baked goods that come out of my kitchen. You see there are only two of us in this abode and we’re both of an age where a few extra pounds are a little difficult to shed. Coupled with not being able to have anyone in house, and no houses to go to, the number of people we can share treats with has been severely limited. Hence an abundance of baked goods. And when that happens, the only way out is to stop baking. Hence the lack of baking blogs. Seems quite logical to me.

Ok. I’ll be honest. The freezer doesn’t get all the blame. There could also be some procrastination involved. You see, even at the best of times I bake more than I write which means I have quite the backlog of baking blogs residing somewhere on little posted notes scattered around my house. So now that I think of it, maybe I can blame the pandemic. You see, with nothing much to do and nowhere to go, it just seems like there is so much time to get to what we have to get to. Which means we often do things we really don’t need to be doing to fill in the time we could be using for the things we should be doing. Because when you have lots of time to do something, what’s the hurry? So I will recant. It’s not just my freezer. It’s also the pandemic. Given a few more minutes I’m sure I could come up with more excuses but, as you can see, I’m here now so I won’t waste anymore time talking about why I haven’t been writing about baking and start writing about baking. 

Let me start by telling you that I pride myself in being a rather orderly and methodical baker. Typically when embarking on a baking project I map everything out, take extensive notes, monitor my time to a fraction of a second and take copious photographs of each and every step all in an effort to pass on my real baking experience in this blog. I gather all of my ingredients on the counter to ensure I don’t leave anything out. I put each item away once used so hoping there will be nothing left when I am done. Because, unlike my Auntie Fanny (may her memory be for a blessing) I would be horrified to find two eggs sitting on my counter after placing my coffee cake in the oven. But not my Auntie Fanny! Z”l. Without a blink of an eye when that happened in my kitchen of old, she grabbed that cake, cracked those eggs, mixed everything up and put that cake back in the oven. Now that’s a baker! I’m not. So I check not once, but twice, sometimes three times to make sure what’s supposed to go in, goes in. In the proper order. If I were to find an ingredient left on the counter once all was supposedly done I would, well I don’t actually know what I would do. Which is why when I decided I needed to try my hand at cinnamon rolls I found the whole thing just a little bit overwhelming. Because to be honest, it turned out to be quite a messy situation. 

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Even though everything was in place. Phone. Pen. Notes. Ingredients. All right where they should be. My first hint that this wasn’t going to be smooth sailing was when I realized that my batch of dough was not going to rise, no matter how many tea towels I wrapped around it. Ever the optimist, I decided that perhaps if I just left it a “little” longer I would find a bowl full of light and airy goodness. So I went to bed despite the voice in my head telling me leaving would play havoc with my prep times. Alas, the morning sun brought with it one small and very rock like ball of dough which, I decided, meant I was back at square one. A brand new package of yeast seemed to do the trick (I always said yeast scared me). Second batch was malleable and so began the marathon of kneading, measuring, filling, rolling, cutting, and baking. Not to mention the making of the icing which is a whole other story. Suffice to say, time had taken its toll. My little posted note was long gone, ingredients were scattered across my counters, dirty bowls, mixers, utensils filled my sinks and my phone had long ago run for cover lest it find itself amongst the chaos. All of which is my explanation for why this post is not quite as informative as my others. I will say though, they were tasty. Come to think of it. I think I might pull a couple out of my freezer for lunch.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (Cinnabon Copycat)
Recipe: Prep time: 30 minutes; Cook time: 22 minutes; Rise time: 1 hour 10 minutes; Total time: 1 hour 59 minutes. 
Me: I lost count after the first day.
Favourite thing about this recipe: Who doesn’t love an ooey, gooey cinnamon roll?
Least favourite thing about this recipe: I think I made myself clear about that.
What I learned: It’s true. Yeast really dies. Always check for a pulse before moving on.

It All Started on the 401: Rugelach

As I look back on what has become a somewhat longish life, there are adventures I’ve had with predictable endings from the get go and others that brought a few surprises. Those of you who know me well know that I didn’t always live in the frigid north-west of this vast country of ours. Nope. I started out in the “big city” and, to tell you the truth, was perfectly content there until it became apparent that, after much hard work and study, there was going to be little demand for someone with degrees in sociology and english (who would have thought!) in what could only be described as a challenging employment market. So what does one do when hard times hit? If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. You “go west young man”. And while that sentiment doesn’t exactly fit, I did in fact, go west. And stayed there for over 40 years so as you can see, there’s potential here for a very long story which I will do my best to truncate. 

It all started on Highway 401 in a 1970 fuel injection, Volkswagen Squareback Station wagon whose name, if I remember correctly, was Frodo. Northern Ontario is scenic, at least for the first day or so, at which point driving through miles and miles of forest with not even the remote possibility of passing a flush toilet, or any other kind for that matter, does get a little tedious. As we waved goodbye to Ontariairio, we stopped for a quick boo around Winnipeg which, because it was not yet winter, was tolerable. From there our plan was to head for the mountains before making our way to our final destination where we had heard that jobs were aplenty. Ok. So you know what they say about the best laid plans. That’s right. Not long after leaving “the Peg” as the locals know it, our little Frodo decided he was no longer going to accompany us on this journey of ours and he just stopped. That’s right. Stopped dead. Right there in the middle of the Trans Canada Highway for seemingly no reason at all. Unless you consider throwing a piston through the engine block reason enough. Which left us just shy of Elie Manitoba.

Now many of you may not have been to Elie in the late 1970s so let me tell you a little bit about it. It won’t take long. Elie was, and perhaps still is although I can’t say for sure not ever having revisited, a railway town about 30 miles west of Winnipeg. On one side of the highway there was a gas station (thankfully) and on the other side was Elie, with its approximately one hundred houses (honestly I never counted) and one hotel. You’ll just have to believe me when I say this was no Motel 6. This was the kind of hotel where people lived full-time, but not because they really wanted to. And where we were to spend the next three days, fortunately in one of the few “bathroom adjoined” rooms, while the very lovely people at the aforementioned gas station worked tirelessly to try to find us a solution to our problem. Alas to no avail. There were just no 1970 Volkswagen Squareback Station Wagon fuel injection rebuilt engines to be had no matter how many trips to Winnipeg our new friends at Esso made. So it was in Elie that our plans fell off the rails (swidt?) and onto a bus which carried us to our final destination, Edmonton. Thankfully, despite the rather dubious start, we enjoyed our many years there with our growing family, wonderful friends and yes, those jobs that enticed us on our journey in the first place. Until recently when we landed on this little Island of ours. 

Which brings me to the next chapter in this longish story of mine. Rugelach. As you are well aware, I am not a baker. In all those 40+ years in the north country I can count the number of times I baked anything on one finger. I might have mentioned this once or twice before so I won’t go into it here but if anyone had asked me what I thought my future would look like, the last thing I would have said was chocolate chips and cookie dough. So this is as much a surprise to me as it is to you. The thing is, all it took was one afternoon, baking rugelach with the walking ladies for this new journey to begin. Maybe it was the camaraderie. Or perhaps the realization that my cobalt blue, Kitchenaid mixer could do more than just look pretty on my counter. I’m pretty sure it didn’t hurt that everyone who tasted these cute little crescent rolls marvelled at their deliciousness. Whatever it was, the one thing I know for sure is that it all started with the rugelach and now here I am. Baking up a storm and loving it!  It’s a whole new adventure for me and with any luck, my engine won’t conk out before I get to wherever it is this road is going. 

Ina Garten’s Rugelach

Recipe: Prep time: 10 min; Inactive: 1 hr 30 min; Cook: 15 min; Total: 1 hr. 55 min.
Me: Those times? In your dreams! I make these over two days (dough one day, fillings and construction the next) but otherwise I would suggest you keep your whole morning or afternoon free.
Favourite thing about this recipe: Everyone loves rugelach! And even if like me, you are not a baker, you can concoct interesting and delicious fillings  which will make you feel like a baker.
Least favourite thing about this recipe: Talk to my back.
What I learned: You never know what adventures life will take you on, so hop into that Volkswagen and see where it goes. Just be prepared for a little dead yeast along the way. (And that’s a whole other story.) 

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Times Up! Yogurt based loaves

Banana Chocolate Chip Pecan LoafWondering where I’ve been? No worries. I’m exactly where I was last time we spoke. Which now that I think about it was quite some time ago. Here’s the thing. If you’ve ever lived through a pandemic you know that the concept of time has entered a whole new paradigm. Days feel like months, months like days. Remember last March when we all figured we’d be in the house for a couple of weeks while we waited for this whole thing to blow over? At first it seemed like a long time. Stuck in the house all day with nothing to do but source out lysol wipes and toilet paper. But then we realized it was just a couple of weeks. Who can’t stay home for a couple of weeks? There were fridges to clean and closets to sort. And what a great time to catch up on that reading we couldn’t find time for in our endlessly busy days. Surely those weeks would go by in no time. But as the weeks turned into months the paradigm shifted again. We had to adapt and some of us started to lose our perspective.

One day you get up in the morning and somehow, before you even realize what’s happening, the clock strikes five pm, you look down and realize, much to your chagrin, that you are still in your pjs. The next day, resolved not to let time pass you by, you wake up raring to go, eat a hearty breakfast and start to cross those “to do” items off your list. What seems like eons later, and feeling a little peckish, you check your watch only to discover that a mere hour has passed since those bacon and eggs settled in your gut. How, you ask, can that be? How is it that some days and weeks fly by while others seem to move at a snail’s pace? How did Christmas sneak up on us when we can hardly remember what we ate for dinner last night? Has it really been almost a whole year since we first had an inkling that “something was rotten in Denmark”? (his words, not mine)  And, if you don’t mind me saying so, in most other places across this wide world of ours as well. Did Mother Earth forget to remind Father Time to put a fresh battery in that clock of his and now the whole damn world has gone haywire? 

All of this time shifting is compounded if you happen to be, like me, a retired person. Because the least of my concern is what hour it might be on any given day. What I really need to know is what day it is and, if we happen to be near enough to a cusp, in what month. You see we no longer have any anchors. I mean I know I have to watch the Amazing Race on Wednesday evening but beyond that, what clues do I have? No more Thursday morning volunteer work. No more Tuesdays with the walking ladies. So how am I supposed to keep track? These days I often find myself asking why is this night different from any other night? Which I believe, is why I have run into my current problem and explains my need to bake an rather inordinate number of loaves. With yogurt. 

You see, about 6 weeks ago, give or take a few, there was a sale on yogurt at my local grocers. Now while those who know me know I love a sale, I’m not so enamoured with saving a few shekels that I would risk the perils of loading up on perishable goods. But on this day the deals were great and the expiry dates long. So long that I could not even imagine the contents going bad before we had a chance to use them all up. Between all the smoothie making and baking going on in this house these days we can literally go through buckets of the stuff before you can say “Jack Robinson”. So I went out on a limb and tossed not one, but two cartons of plain greek yogurt into the cart. Now I can’t even begin to explain how it happened but in the shake of a lamb’s tail I was faced with the stark reality that my calendar had caught up with that yogurts’ best before date. Hence the proliferation of yogurt based loaves currently taking up space in my freezer. The ones I’ve tasted are delish so if you have some time on your hands you might want to try one or two of these. The good thing is life should get back to normal soon. That vaccine is right around the corner. They say it could be here in a month or two. And if you ask me, that’s just a couple of buckets of yogurt away.

Greek Yogurt Banana Bread

Recipe: Prep time:  15 minutes; Cook Time: 1 hour; Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Me: Prep time: 29 minutes; Cook Time: 61 minutes; Total: 1 hour 30 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: Using up some of that yogurt
Least favourite thing about this recipe: Waiting for my bananas to ripen before I could bake it. (See below)
What I learned: You can teach an old dog new tricks. I learned that you can ripen bananas by baking them in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  Who knew?

 

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Here’s a couple more to try if, like me, you have some yogurt to burn through:

Zucchini Carrot Bread
The Best Zucchini Bread

It’s A Bagel! 

For those of you who don’t know, I’m originally from Toronto. Now, in and of itself, that’s neither here nor there. What I can tell you is that the big city wasn’t quite so big when I was there. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a village, although I did live in one for a while. But it was definitely a small big city and quite possibly a kinder, gentler place than it is now. “Toronto the Good” was a place where a gaggle of twelve year old girls could take the subway downtown to do a little shopping and the only thing the Moms and Dads really had to worry about was how much money they might spend. There was a rush hour but it was exactly that. One hour. No road rage. Just a little inconvenience. The CN Tower was a really big deal and no one, anywhere lived above the 34th floor. As you can well imagine, things have changed since those days. Which isn’t too much of a surprise to me as, so have I. And although Toronto has gotten bigger and badder, and I have gotten older, there’s one thing that has stayed the same over all of these many years. Bagels. Toronto loves its bagels!

In anticipation of what you are thinking, yes I have heard of Montreal and New York but since I didn’t sow my oats in either of those cities I can only speak from my own experiences. And I know Toronto. And its bagels. But here’s the thing. Bagels in the “Big Smoke” are a rather contentious issue. Because in Hogtown this is a one sided affair. Never both. In the “6” you’re either going to frequent Gryfe’s or Harbord Bakery. What a Bagel or Open Window. Bagel World or Bagel House. It’s always one but never the other. Not that you have a choice. Like Democrats and Republicans, albeit with less vitriol. And malice. Ok. Lots less these days. It’s a family tradition. You’re born into it. Try bringing home a dozen from any of the competition and you’ll find out exactly what I mean. One will be too chewy, another not chewy enough. One’s like a brick, another’s just bread with a hole in it. And don’t even get me started on flavours. I mean who ever came up with the cockamame idea that blueberries, or worse yet, chocolate chips, belong in a bagel? Repeat after me. Poppy (but only if you can avoid having them stuck in your teeth). Sesame. Period.

No doubt about it. In my hometown, bagels are serious business. Which leaves both you and me wondering what the heck possessed me to decide to try to bake them. Maybe it was muffin fatigue. Maybe I got a little carried away with baking hubris. Maybe it was just that the recipe assured me it would be “easy”. There were only 5 (6 if you count the topping of choice) ingredients. What could go wrong? Whatever the reason, late one afternoon I donned my apron, gathered up all of my baking accoutrements and got to work. I was going to make bagels. For dinner no less.

I suppose I should have known. Things didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. Before long I found myself elbow deep in what can only be described, in pro baking lingo, as a gooey mess. With the equivalent of the dough of an entire bagel glued (there’s no other word for it) to my hands, my inside voice urged me to dump the whole damn thing, run down to my local bagelry and bag myself a baker’s dozen. After all, who would know? Suffice to say I soldiered on, deciding that the only thing left to do was wash off the detritus, dump copious amounts of flour on the remaining dough and get these puppies into the oven. You know. When life throws you lemons. To make what has become a long story shorter, 25 minutes later dinner was being served. On my bagels. Did they live up to expectations? They weren’t terrible. Although I’ll be the first to admit, maybe they were a little chewy.

Oh yeah. In case you’re wondering where my allegiance lies in the T.O. bagel controversy, I’m afraid I’ve been away for much too long to voice a valid opinion. Unlike my brethren to the south who I strongly encourage to exercise their right to vote in November, I will sit this one out on the political fence.  Next time I’m back in the big city you’ll likely find me in line at the closest bagel joint, whichever and wherever that may be. I’m sure much to the chagrin and distaste of my family. 

Easy Bagel Recipe

The Recipe: Prep time: 5 minutes! Cook time: 25 minutes; Rest time: 15 minutes; Total: 45 minutes
Me: Prep time: 37 minutes! Cook time: 25 minutes; Rest time: 15 minutes; Total: 1 hour and 17 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: I made bagels!
Least favourite thing about this recipe: My little inner voice telling me over and over again I was going to fail.
Lesson Learned: Read the comments before starting out (I think I learned this once before). Had I done so I would have known that many people ended up adding lots more flour to their very sticky dough.

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Baking: Not Always a Bowl of Cherries

If you are anything like me, and I’m not suggesting you are, you know that no matter what you do, sometimes things go right and sometimes they go wrong. The thing is, from the get go you never know exactly how it’s all going to end up. Hopefully for all of us, we have more “rights” than “wrongs”, “goods” than “bads”, but it’s my experience that the best laid plans, as they say, can most certainly go awry. Of course no one starts out thinking that whatever it is they are doing or making might turn out to be a disaster. Most of us embark on our projects with a modicum of optimism and at least some confidence that things will turn out a-ok. It’s just that it ain’t always so. Even when you do your best to follow all of the instructions. 

Remember that first time you bought furniture from Ikea? It all looked so simple while you were in the store. Mostly because it had already been assembled by someone other than you. As you carefully scrutinized each and every angle of what you thought could finally be the culmination of your endless search for that perfect wall unit, one that could hold all of your tchotchkes, not to mention your brand new flat screen TV, you noted that the joints fit exactly as they should, the drawers opened and closed like butter, and the doors actually met in the middle. No gaps. Get that sucker home and it’s a horse of a completely different colour. I mean who ever heard of instructions with no words? Does the screw go in from the front or the back? And which screw exactly do you use? The one that’s a millimetre shorter? Or two millimetres longer? And what’s with the red and blue thingamajigs? The instructions are black and white! As you peruse your hard work, hoping that the tiny beads of sweat on your forehead don’t stain the wood, if that’s what you can call it, you realize the shelves aren’t quite as level as you’d like and there’s that dastardly gap between the doors. And even though you did the best you could, and followed all of the instructions, such as they were, it just didn’t work out exactly as you had planned because, as we all know, things don’t always go the way we would like. Sometimes it just is what it is. (Remind me. Did someone else say that lately?) 

Take my latest passion. Baking. For someone like me, who is not really a baker, instructions are my life raft. You know by now that without a recipe I’m dead in the water. I follow my baking instructions to a tee. Not only that. I check out all of the comments in an effort to make sure that everything turned out hunky dory for all of the people I have never, and likely never will meet. Not 5 stars? You won’t find it in my oven. I need all the help I can get. Admittedly, on very rare occasions, I do add a splash of lemon, especially if blueberries are involved, or a little red fife flour for a bit of panache. But for the very most part I leave well enough alone and keep my fingers crossed that “god willing and the creek don’t rise” things will turn out as they should. Unfortunately, as with all things in life, baking is not always a bowl of cherries.  Not so much for me but rather for the innocents who partake in my never before tasted goodies. To date I’d estimate I have about an 80% approval rating, mostly because people have a propensity towards politeness. Nonetheless, at the outset of this blog I committed to sharing with you all of my baking experiences so it’s only fair that you hear about the “ugly” along with the good and the bad. Please note: Unlike the current prez of the US of A I absolve the recipe providers of any fault and take full responsibility for these failures. My poor results should not deter you from trying these out for yourself.

 Rhubarb Almond Chevron Cake

Let me just say that I should have known better.
The Recipe: Prep Time: Undisclosed and I think I know why. Cook time: 30 minutes
Me: Prep Time: 1 hour and 23 minutes. Cook time: 42 minutes Total time: 2 hours and 5 minutes. Seems to me that nothing you are going to eat for dessert should take that long!
Favourite thing about this recipe: The picture of her cake
Least favourite thing about this recipe: Having to come to grips with the fact that I have a complete lack of spatial intelligence
Lesson learned: Friends will always be polite but when your husband’s first reaction is “it’s a little dry” you gotta know who’s telling you the truth.

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

I call these my “salty muffins” which I suppose says it all.
The Recipe: Prep time: 15 minutes; Cook time: 22 minutes Total:37 minutes
Me: Prep time: 44 minutes not including the shredding; Cook time: 24 minutes Total: 66 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: More veggies, less guilt
Least favourite thing about this recipe: I really don’t like grating carrots by hand
Lesson Learned: You know you have a problem when you crunch down on a grain of salt. When even your polite friends admit they’re a little salty, they’re really salty.
My suggestion (not that I’m a baker): Substitute table salt for kosher salt in this one. And tread lightly.

Carrot Zucchini Walnut Loaf: Stuck in a Rut? So What!

It has occurred to me lately that I might be in a bit of a rut. Even before this pandemic. Now I realize that those of you who only read this blog and not my “other” one don’t know all that much about me. So let me start by telling you that, while I don’t consider myself a creature of habit, I do have a few. Like breakfast. I eat yogurt for breakfast. Have been doing so for longer than I can remember. But it’s not like I eat the same yogurt everyday. I like lots of different flavours. And fruit. Sometimes I add fruit. Lately I’ve taken to making parfaits. Yogurt, fruit, a little granola, a bit of chia and flax, some honey. The whole kit and caboodle. I’m certainly aware there are other options for the first meal of the day, but I’m happy with my choice. So not really a rut. Just my choice. There’s a difference.

I suppose my movie watching has rut potential. Sure. I have a slight bias towards the Romcom. At least that’s apparently what Netflix thinks since it seems to me they have whittled down my recommendations to one category now. I admit. I’ve watched more than my share of Hallmark fluff. But why not? The thing is, once you’ve seen one you’ve really seen them all. I know that. I know there’s going to be a trip from the big city to the small hometown where the old flame still resides. That at some point the new guy will pale in comparison with the old one. That there will be a missed kiss before the sparks really fly which makes the realization that there is “no place like home” absolutely indisputable. I know all of that which means I can get a whole lot of other things done while keeping one eye on the telly.  More of a timesaver and less of a rut if you ask me. 

And it’s not because we have coffee everyday at 2:00 pm that makes me feel as though I could be in a rut. Seems to me it’s only natural to want a bit of a break in the afternoon. Since I rarely eat lunch (that’s rarely not never) I’m usually a little peckish right around mid-afternoon so a granola bar (I have several varieties) and a cuppa hits the spot. And now, due to the pandemic, we’ve actually experienced a seismic shift (and I use that term reluctantly living here on the west coast), moving our afternoon repast from the local cafe to our very own backyard. Where, if I do say so myself, no two days are the same. One day it’s a hummingbird bathing in the fountain, the next it’s a crow. I suppose due to the caffeine involvement this one could be considered a habit. But with all that wildlife action, certainly not a rut. 

But here’s where I must concede. As I continue to bake and to write this baking blog it has occurred to me that I might be drifting into rut territory. You may not know this, and how would you, but I have baked way more than I have blogged mostly because, and this should go without saying, it’s much easier to bake than to blog. Besides, with baking I get to eat the results. A quick review of my endeavours over these past few months however, revealed a distinct pattern. It would seem that if I’m not baking muffins I’m baking loaves. Different muffins and different loaves, but no cookies, no cakes, no croissant, pies, cinnamon buns, bagels or pretty much anything else. Just muffins and loaves. Honestly, I have never in my entire life baked a cake which should not really be a surprise since, as you know, I never claimed to be a baker. I suppose I could surmise there’s some value in developing expertise in a particular genre. And I’m prepared to go with that excuse for my singularity. But I would like to try my hand at something else. So here’s my promise. For my next blog, or perhaps the one after that, I will bake something other than a loaf or muffins. For no other reason than to make sure I don’t fall completely into this rut. 

In the meantime, my latest kick at the can. A zucchini carrot walnut loaf mostly because I had zucchinis and carrots that were either going to end up as a side dish or desert. I do have one admission to make. As you know, I normally follow recipes to the tee but I made a couple of changes to this one. Nothing drastic of course. First I went out on a limb and used my 8×4 loaf pan mostly because I like it more than my larger one but also because the author did suggest that the loaf is not very tall and personally, I like a taller loaf myself. Turned out not to be too tall in the smaller pan either. Second, I heeded the recipes’ advice and “watched my bread, not the clock” taking it out slightly before the stated 52-58 minutes. I must say that caused me some distress but it looked done and many, many jabs with a toothpick convinced me it was the right thing to do. Finally, and this was quite a leap for me, I substituted some of the all-purpose flour with Red Fife. Despite all of these changes, it was delish. And now that I think about it, maybe I’m not in a rut after all. And if I am, well so what!

Carrot Zucchini Bread

The Recipe: Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 58 minutes
Additional time (what’s that?) 22 minutes; Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Me: Prep time: 43 minutes; Cook time: 50 minutes Total time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: Great way to get your daily veggie requirement
Least Favourite thing about this recipe: Grating carrots by hand
Lesson learned: Zucchini is way easier to grate by hand than carrots. Also, a little Red Fife never hurt anyone.

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Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread: It’s no Sour Dough but…

Quite some time ago I decided it would be a good idea for me to learn to bake bread. I certainly wasn’t a baker back then so can’t say I know why. Seems to me, the last time I looked there was plenty of the stuff on the shelves of my local grocer. Besides, nothing compares to walking into your local patisserie and getting accosted by the heavenly aromas of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. Hearty whole wheats, delectable sourdoughs, crusty baguettes and chewy ryes. The biggest problem is choosing which one to take home. Knowing all of this didn’t prevent me however, from enrolling in a “how to bake bread” course offered through my very favourite kitchen shop. It wasn’t a long course. Just three hours. So I was in no way under the misconception that I would become proficient at the task. What I did figure is that I would come home with enough enthusiasm to put together a loaf or two. Which, somehow, I never did. No fault of the course. It was fine and dandy. But I had a fear.

Yeast. I don’t know about you but there’s something about yeast that scares me. I’ve thought lots about this but it’s kinda hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that yeast needs to come alive in my kitchen. Not that I have never eaten anything that was once alive. The thing is, typically by the time I have to deal with it, it’s not. Yeast is a totally different story. Apparently it becomes my responsibility to activate it, at which point it will “start eating the sugar and fermenting into alcohol and carbon dioxide”*. I don’t know. It just seems a little creepy to have an organism that does that right before my very eyes. Which is why I hesitated to add bread to my baking repertoire. That is, until I discovered an alternative. And not such a bad one at that. 

As I often do, I’ll digress for a moment. If you’ve been reading my blog(s) for some time, you already know quite a bit about me. What you may not know is, I don’t drink. Well perhaps I should be more precise. I don’t drink alcohol. No reason in particular. Certainly no moral imperative. I just don’t. Not that I never did. But I don’t now. Can’t say whether that’s good or bad but I do know one thing. The fact that I no longer imbibe has pretty much left me in the dark about spirits in general. Ask me to pick you up a good scotch at your own peril. I readily admit that I can’t tell the difference between whiskey and rye and as far as I’m concerned vodka and gin might as well be one in the same as they are both just clear liquids to me. Southern Comfort? Well I do know a little something about that but, from what I can recall, most of you don’t care. Nor, quite frankly, should you. When asked if I prefer white, red or rose I can confidently say all have caused me to have monumental headaches in the past so it’s all the same to me. And the last beer I had cost two bits and was delivered in a glass with a “fill line”. 

But back to the issue at hand. I was pretty excited to find this recipe for Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread. For some reason it was remarkably comforting for me to know that whatever needed to happen to the yeast had already been accomplished in the making of the beer.  My problem? Finding a Guinness. Now I’m guessing you know this, but the world of beer has expanded exponentially since the last time I found myself picking up a two-four (linked provided for my American friends). To say I was taken aback during my first foray into my local purveyor of spirits would be an understatement! Who knew? Well you did but I did not and so it was that I found myself back on the sidewalk empty handed having been utterly confused by the enormous selection of ales. Pale, IPA, Stouts, Crafts, Canadian, German, Irish. How the heck was I supposed to find a Guinness amongst all of those bottles and cans? To make what is already a long story shorter, suffice to say I enlisted my trusty partner to go in and find me a Guinness. Any Guinness. After all. I wasn’t going to drink it. I was finally going to make bread.

Bottom line. I know.  It’s no sour dough, but it is a bread. And for a non-baker like me, a pretty good one at that. No kneading. No proofing. No waiting. Just throw everything in a bowl, mix it up and toss it (carefully) in the oven. With very little effort it can be on your table, in all it’s cheesy glory, in a little over an hour.  Best of all, you don’t have to make anything come alive. 

Cheddar and Chive Guinness Bread

The Recipe: Prep time undisclosed
Me: Prep time: 31 minutes; Cook time: 41 minutes
Favourite thing about the recipe: No yeast!
Least favourite thing: Finding a Guinness
Lesson Learned: Even someone like me, who is definitely not a baker, can bake bread

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*https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-proof-yeast-1388313

Banana Sour Cream Loaf: Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

It’s just the way it is. There are times, no matter how hard you try, or think you might like to try, when you really have very little choice about what you can do. Like now. How many of us would like to be doing whatever it was we were doing around the beginning of March? I mean who doesn’t want to go outside? Or have a little dinner party with a few close friends. Or never again have to hear “it’s the new normal” when you weren’t aware there was an “old normal”? But right now for the sake of all of us, we simply have no choice but to stay in, eat on our own, and resign ourselves to the distinct possibility that the next time we Zoom, someone will inevitably utter that dastardly phrase and you will resolve, when this whole thing is over, and all of the commercials tell me that one day it will be, that you will never, not ever, allow anyone to tell you what’s normal, be it old or new. Yes, I digress, but I felt I needed to illustrate why it was that I made this Banana Sour Cream loaf. It was, simply, because I had no other choice. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like a decent slice of banana bread every once in a while. But that’s not why I chose this specific recipe. It wasn’t even the two overripe bananas sitting on my counter that were quickly reaching the point of no return. Nope. What motivated me to search out this particular treat was the approximately half cup of sour cream left over from some other baking exploit of the past few weeks which was more quickly than I realized, approaching its best before date. Which might not be a problem in some homes but it certainly is in ours. I suppose I should explain.

A long, long time ago in a land so far away there was a young lad that worked in a cheese factory. And while it was a good job with the added benefit of all the free cheese one could reasonably eat, as the sun set on each day this lad found himself smack dab in the middle of a very large vat that earlier in the day had held, you guessed it, sour cream. Unfortunately, it was the job of this Cinderfella to ensure that not a speck of cream lingered, lest some tiny critters find their way in to feast on the remains. And so it was that he toiled away at this rather distasteful, yet very important task, with nary a thought of the consequence. At least not at the time. 

Now you might only be able to imagine what it would be like to find yourself in this situation, but since I know this fella quite well I can tell you, from countless hours of hearing about it, that this experience can lead to a distinct dislike of sour cream. Just the smell of it seems to be enough to set off an endless stream of stories recounting those days in the vat. And so it is, when sour cream comes into this house, and let me say it very rarely does, the only way for it to exit is in disguise. It must find a way to leave the premises with not even the tiniest hint of its heretofore existence. And there you have it. As you can plainly see I had no choice but to make this Banana Sour Cream loaf. Luckily for all of us, no one was the wiser.

Ok. I know exactly what you real bakers are thinking. You’re thinking, “why the heck doesn’t she just use plain yogurt instead of sour cream? That way she can avoid the problem altogether!” This is a new blog and many of you have just joined so I get that you might not yet completely understand where I’m coming from. Let me just say this once again. Even though you know, and deep down in my heart I know, that yogurt makes perfectly good sense, I am not a baker. And because of that, I make no substitutions. Yeah. You probably noticed, or soon enough will, that I added nuts to the recipe. Technically that’s an addition not a substitution but nonetheless deserves an explanation. So Mel, this is Mel’s recipe, kind of left a door open when she mentioned there’s a banana bread controversy which has divided aficionados into two camps. Those who add nuts and those who don’t. Far be it from me to take sides. I had some so I threw them in. 

BTW…If I do say so myself, it was delish!

Sour Cream Banana Bread (from Mel)
The Recipe: Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 1 hour; Total: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Me: Prep time: 37 minutes; Cook time: 1 hour; Total: 1 hour and 37 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: In the comments someone actually explained that the darker brown colour (as opposed to light) was a result of the Maillard reaction. It was heartwarming to learn there are actually people who know all about that!  Not to mention you can make the whole thing in one bowl.
Least favourite thing: The instructions could have been a little more precise.
Lesson learned: There’s a video! I suggest you watch it before putting the loaf in the oven. Would have helped with the instructions for sure. 

 

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Morning Glory Muffins: What the heck is Red Fife flour?

This was never meant to be an ordinary baking blog. I don’t have any nostalgic stories about how I spent my childhood learning the “ins and outs” of baking from my dear, departed Grandmother, or recalling the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen as I came through the door, tired and hungry, looking for just a little respite after a difficult and busy day at school. Real bakers have stories like that. I don’t. I come from a long line of non-bakers which doesn’t mean I didn’t have cookies. I did. They just came from the store. And I have stories too. They’re just a little different. So here goes nothing. I am not a baker and this is my story.  

I was pretty excited when Jed from “Cook Culture, one of my fav shops in downtown Victoria, sent me (well not only me) a recipe for Morning Glory Muffins with no coconut bits included. I can’t tell you why or when, but at some point I decided I really don’t like coconut bits and since many MG muffins seem to include them, I have given most a pass, opting instead for blueberry, apple, banana, rhubarb, nuts, well just about anything else. This no coconut recipe originated with “Flourist”(formerly known as Grains), a Vancouver shop that specializes in fresh milled grains. I suppose that should have been my first clue when I noticed the recipe required something called Sifted Red Fife flour. Not only that, it also listed just plain old Red Fife flour. So there I was. Desperately wanting to try my hand at these muffins all the while wondering, what the heck was Red Fife flour? Sifted or not. 

As a non-baker my familiarity with flour comes primarily from that well-known fella who lives in the forest and robs the rich to give to the poor. Varieties, as far as I was concerned, included white, whole wheat, pastry, and bread although, truth be told,  my pantry most frequently housed “all-purpose” because after all, how can you go wrong with something that works for everything? Little did I know there was a whole new world of grains out there just waiting for me to discover. My search for Red Fife started on the internet. I soon found out that Red Fife is a heritage flour, arriving in Canada in 1842, and considered to be the oldest wheat variety in this country of ours. Unbeknownst to me, and I’m guessing many of you, Red Fife has enjoyed a resurgence in Canada when, in 1988, Sharon Rempel planted half a pound of the seed and by 2007 over 500 tons a year were being harvested. Trust me. There’s nothing you can’t learn from the world wide web, or from this blog.

Ok. So now that I knew what it was I had to figure out where to get it. I started with my new friend Jed who kindly responded to my rather frantic email with some possible local suppliers and next thing I know I found myself at a tiny little sustainable grocers where the lovely store owner explained that I had to mill the little bag of grain I found on their shelves into the flour I was seeking. Really? I’m not even a baker and now I’m grinding wheat into flour? Suffice to say I left that store with a rather small but pricey bag of freshly ground, Red Fife flour which, my kind shopkeeper explained, was definitely not sifted. Which means I’m only halfway there. 

Sure seems it never rains but it pours. So I’m COVID-19 shopping online at my local bulk store and what do you think I find as I scroll down their very comprehensive list of stuff I need to order by the gram? That’s right. Red Fife flour. Now I know deep down in my heart that this is likely not the sifted variety but since I have pretty much otherwise exhausted my search I decide to add a few hundred grams to my list, sight unseen. Picking up my order I’m not too surprised, but perhaps slightly dismayed to discover my new bag of flour looks exactly the same as my old one. And since I was assured that my old bag was not sifted the only plausible conclusion was neither was this.

Now you and I both know I am not in the habit of making any recipe substitutions but I really wanted to make these muffins and without a “Plan B” finally came to the conclusion that for better or worse, I was going to have to make due with only one kind of Red Fife flour. Then, just when I’m ready to throw caution to the wind, this happens. Not at the specialty health food store. Not at the bulk store and not at the “grind my own grain” store but at my very ordinary grocery store where I quite unexpectedly stumbled upon a small, but as you can imagine, expensive bag of sifted, Red Fife flour. I could hardly contain my excitement and without even a moment’s pause added my new found treasure to what was very quickly becoming a rather ample, and costly supply of Red Fife. No matter. As Mr. Cruise would say, mission accomplished.

Morning Glory Muffins. Worth the trouble and expense? You better believe it!
My suggestion? Give yourself lots of extra time.

Here’s how it went for me. With a fancy schmancy slide show. 

Morning Glory Muffins
The Recipe: Prep time 15 minutes; Cook time 23 minutes; Total 38 minutes
Me: Prep time 60 minutes; Cook time 25 minutes; Total 1 hour 25 minutes
Favourite thing about this recipe: When you set the quantity you are making, the recipe automatically adjusts the ingredients. No math required!
Least Favourite thing: Zesting
Lesson Learned: Never store coconut oil in the fridge!

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