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Surviving, one bake at a time

I’m going on a bit of a rant – if you’d just like the foodie part of this tale, skip over the section in italics. I won’t mind, really.

It’s been 65 days since the covid-19 pandemic was officially declared. Hubbie and I went into self-isolation then, having already started to prepare for some of the challenges.

We are movie fans; you’d think we would have seen the signs. But then the characters in the movie never see the signs until it’s too late to do anything.

I’m a mostly optimistic person. Our lifestyle was already one that involved trying to be grateful and make the most of moments, so we looked for the positives:

  • Canada is a relatively safe place, with universal health care and plenty of infrastructure
  • We live in a smaller community where there were initially no outbreaks
  • Spring is traditionally slow for our business, so the initial lack of work was manageable

Following the movie analogy though, everyone knows that a Polly Anna story doesn’t sell. And Mother Nature loves that guy Murphy.

You know the rest of the story after this point – it hit the fan. Once we passed into the third month of this with no real end in sight, I decided that I need to regroup. I can’t listen to more news or read more articles or see more memes – I need a chance for my brain to focus on something else, something that involves an accomplishment. A bit of that will refuel me for what comes next.

I am so very thankful one of my passions is something as essential as food. It’s easy to lose myself in the garden or the kitchen.

At Rabbit Hollow we have the garden and the kitchen together in summer!

Spring is the beginning of gardening season – my grubby green thumbs could not be luckier. I have weeded my heart out and transplanted all my seedlings, the first time ever on schedule. But the garden takes months to deliver its bounty.

My real saving grace has been baking. Okay, and working out – ‘cause someone has to eat all those goodies once they come out of the oven 😁

I have to give a shout-out here, to Matthew & Erika and their team at Bread Ahead Bakery in London. I stumbled upon them early in the lockdown and quickly became a “breadaheader”, watching their live Instagram baking tutorials. I learned about sourdough and pastries, got recipes for numerous classics, and found a way to mark my days with the accomplishments of treats to share with my guy, and anyone else whose doorstep was willing.

Sourdough – and amaretti
Sourdough – and cinnamon buns
Sourdough, and chocolate chip cookies (are you getting the theme here?)

It may sound silly that following baking videos kept me sane, but it’s true. The sense of community I feel with food is truly magical. Cooking and eating allows us to experience all our senses, and sharing food is the most basic gesture of gratitude and respect.

What is my point to all this rambling? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. But I do know that food brings people together – even when they have to be apart.

I wish I had the finances to provide meals or even snacks for those less fortunate. All I can manage is to offer smiles to friends and loved ones, and share my passion in hopes it will spark someone else’s fire. At least in sharing we have a sense of camaraderie. If we are all in this together for the pandemic, why not be in something together that offers hope and a smile?

So, I’ll get up tomorrow and decide what I’m cooking (after I work out 😉) Tonight my chef hubby and I filmed our dinner prep on Facebook and it felt good, to wave at friends and share little tips. Life finds a way to persevere.

We will keep going, a few weeks at a time, just like they tell us now. Where will it lead? To the table, for another meal, more sustenance. Each season has its purpose. I have faith that in practicing my skills I will find a way through.

Does it seem logical to anyone else that if Murphy’s Law is consistent, then if anything is going to go right, it will do so at the best possible moment? As Matthew kept saying in all those tutorials, “Practice, practice, practice!”

Busy baking away in my first online cooking class. Boy, were those doughnuts good! 😋

Chocolate and Nuts, in a New Way

Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.

Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!

Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.

I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.

To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”

I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.

 

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Biscuit in a Basket

I know, I’m sorry – I didn’t post anything all weekend, not even on Monday. In my defense, I was busy being a gourmand – in the garden planting and pruning during the day and at a table enjoying food and drink with friends at night. There simply was no time left to catalog it all. But I took pictures, so here I am catching up.

We love brunch. Everything about this blended meal appeals to us, and so we work it into our schedule whenever we can. Since we work on many Sundays, it’s a particularly joyous treat when we do get the time to lounge over all the flavours. Brunch is a foodie’s meal.

Brunch was invented by an Englishman in the late 19th century. Believe it or not, Guy Beringer first publicized the idea in an essay defending the case for weary social butterflies suffering from a successful Saturday party. A traditional English breakfast which started with heavy meat pies and other rich proteins was too drastic, so brunch allowed people to ease into a meal, and the day. The idea was to start with “tea pastries”, and perhaps even have a bit of hair of the dog with a cocktail. If brunch was a real thing, he proposed, people wouldn’t be judged harshly for proceeding this way. Interestingly, the concept didn’t catch on in North America for more than thirty years.

Even when we do have a big work day ahead, we have been known to salvage a component of a brunch meal to raise our spirits. Even without a Caesar or a glass of bubbly, a bit of brunch works wonders to make me feel spoiled even on a work day.

Last weekend was hectic with yard projects and deck building so there was no time to waste. Saturday we went all out, and Sunday we dragged our tired selves out of bed to get back at it. My hubbie decided we deserved a treat and so he whipped up some biscuits with the first of the fresh herbs in the back garden. Thanks to Ina Garten’s fantastic biscuit recipe and some of our chili grape jelly, I got to feel spoiled if only for a mere half hour.

Pulling a warm biscuit out of the basket was a highlight of my day.


I might not have had a hangover on Sunday morning but my sore muscles were grateful for the chance to ease into the day. Mr. Beringer was so right:

“Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling,” Beringer wrote. “It makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”

 

Start the week with a bang!

We are rebuilding our front deck. Yesterday was demolition day, and today we loaded all the wood and other debris into a trailer for the landfill. And it’s Monday. There are always loose ends, and surprises, and a big to-do list on Mondays. So I decided we needed a boost.

One of my favourite desserts as a kid was my mom’s Chocolate Pudding Cake. I have spoken of Mom’s Lemon Pudding Cake before; it is a delicate, tangy soufflé. The chocolate version is on the other end of the scale – rich with oozing decadence, the original lava cake.


The good news is, pudding cake is easier to manage than lava cake, being a bigger entity. It’s a straightforward recipe to assemble. The trickiest part is planning to have the first portion warm, but to wait long enough so you don’t burn your tongue. 

As I finish this last paragraph, my tummy is all warm inside. I feel a bit like Winnie the Pooh after polishing off a pot of honey. The muscles I worked out lifting boards and branches feel a bit better. I am sure I will have pleasant dreams.

I hope you do too. If not, try making Chocolate Pudding Cake tomorrow.

 

Filling a Hole

It’s a day off today, so we made a plan for our free kitchen time. In the spirit of Sunday morning, a day of traditionally indulgent eating, we chose to make donuts.


My dad and I made cake donuts a few times when I was a kid and it was a very fond memory. We did it again years later when I was in my thirties; we couldn’t find the original recipe so we worked out another one. We called the recipe “Born Again Donuts“, as it was a resounding success.

Today I went wild and created a new variation (it’s listed with the recipe in the link). My dad loved an adventure; I’m pretty sure he would have approved of the new chocolate orange flavour. I got a kick out of the new Rabbit Hollow-inspired shape, too.

My hubbie decided to make a yeast donut, so that we could have a variety of flavours. He created a chocolate caramel glaze for the usual donuts with holes, and then filled some round donuts with strawberry jam we had in the fridge (not a house-made preserve, but strawberry is the kind of jam you need to put in a donut). I also made a rosewater honey glaze that we dunked a few twists into, just for a bit of sticky fun. All those flavours covered the retro and foodie angles nicely.



Donuts are certainly not a healthy food, what with being deep-fried and coated in sugar or honey. However, homemade with no chemicals or preservatives they are at least natural. And they can provide a sense of emotional wellness.

My dad would have been tickled pink if he could have sat down with us to sip on a cup of fresh coffee and a homemade jam buster.

Here’s looking at you, Daddy!

 

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