There might not be a Partridge

I’m the first to admit that there are some things I am and some things I am not. If you are reading this, you already know that I am not a baker. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like baking. Au contraire. I love baking. It’s just, as I have explained over many pages, that I don’t really know much about baking. Because of that, I simply take the authors of all those recipes I use at their word. I trust they know what, when and how stuff goes together and, with only a few exceptions, they have been mostly right. For this I am quite grateful as it lets me do pretty well what I don’t really know how to do at all. 

Here’s the thing. I may have mentioned this once or twice before in my other blog (yes blatant self-promotion. So sue me!) here I go again. I am also not a gardener. But unlike baking, I actually don’t really like gardening at all. And while, as an adult, I am willing to take some responsibility for my lack of interest and capabilities for this endeavour, I feel that some blame lies with my upbringing. You see, I grew up in the middle of the big city where the only plants that were planted, grass that was cut and trees that were pruned, was done by a small army of men (yes, I am that old) who drove up in their trucks once a week to descend upon a dozen or so unkempt lawns and flower beds and return them to their well manicured, not to mention rather uniform, splendour. There was no borrowing the neighbours lawn mower or pruning shears as there was nary a garage that housed any of those implements of destruction. Which is exactly what they would have become in the hands of us and those around us. Geraniums, petunias and cedars summed up the extent of my rather limited knowledge of the local flora. No admonitions here. Or judgements. Just telling it like it was for me. Enough said. I figure I’m somewhat absolved.

You can imagine then, it was with some wonder that one morning I watched my Dad come home carrying what appeared to be a rather large twig in a bucket. Intrigued, I followed him to the backyard where, after some careful consideration, he very methodically cleared a spot among the cedars and began to dig a hole, presumably to house the twig. To make a long story short, as I am sure you will appreciate, it turns out that, for whatever reason, my Dad had decided that what we needed in our backyard was a pear tree, so he planted one. A pear tree. I hate to admit this but, up until that very moment we all assumed that pears came from the grocers in little cardboard containers. Somehow (and I attribute this again to growing up in the big city) we never really made a connection between the fruit and the fruit’s origins. The fact that there might be orchards full of trees bearing pears seemed to have escaped us. Again, not judging or wanting to be judged. But here we were now with a pear tree right in our own backyard. Which was kind of nice.

It took a few years but eventually our little twig grew up to be quite a formidable size. Each year, as we watched our tree get bigger and taller, we were overcome with anticipation as we thought this might be the one. The year that one of those little white flowers would produce a piece of fruit. Alas, for many, many years it was not to be. Until one year when it was. A little white flower magically turned into a pear. Granted, there was only one, but each year after that the tree came through for us until we found ourselves asking people to come and relieve us of the fruits of our labours. Well my Dad’s labours really. 

Fast forward 50 years or thereabouts. When we moved into our new home on this Island of ours where unlike me, everyone is a gardener, we felt compelled to add a pear tree to our yard. For old times sake. And for my Dad. Little did I know that in order for one tree to bear fruit you need to plant two, which although doesn’t really explain how pears ever appeared on our little tree in the big city could possibly explain why it took so long to do so. Never one to question the experts (hence the recipe thing), we of course have two lovely pear trees in our yard. While it has taken some time, there might not be a partridge in our pear trees but this year there sure are a whole lot of pears. Which brings me to what I wanted to write about today. Pear recipes. Because for the past few weeks I have had no choice but to focus all my baking efforts on using up the abundance of pears our lovely little trees have provided. So if like me, you are not a baker or a gardener, or even if you are, and you too have a circumstance that has resulted in an overabundance of pears, you might want to try one or more of these. 

Yogurt Cake with Pear and Dark Chocolate

Recipe: Prep time: None given. Smart. I wouldn’t have come anywhere close.
Me: 47 minutes. That’s not so bad.
Favourite thing about this recipe: Chocolate. Did I really need to answer that question?
Least favourite thing about this recipe: Licking the grated chocolate off my fingers. Just kidding!
What I learned: Whether you call this a cake or a loaf (I’d call it a loaf) pears with chocolate are delish!

And here’s a few more.
Pear, date and walnut loaf
Pear and blueberry cobbler
Pear and Blueberry Muffins


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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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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