Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

mapleflaxcookies

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Coombs Family Farms, an organic farm in Vermont that specializes in “all things maple,” to see if I’d like to sample some of their syrup.  Since maple syrup is a well-loved staple in my kitchen and many of my baked goods feature it as a key sweetener,  I was delighted to accept their offer and eagerly awaited the package.

A few days later, I received this:

coombssyrup

A bottle of their certified organic syrup, along with a maple-leaf shaped piece of maple candy!

Anyone who’s ever consumed real maple syrup can attest to its unique flavor–sweet, slightly smoky, with an appealing, earthy aroma.  Made from the sap of maple trees, it’s naturally rich in minerals (per volume, higher in calcium than dairy milk!). The syrup is available for purchase in three grades of A (light, medium and dark) and one of  B–each darker and more intensely flavored than the last. I was sent a bottle of grade B, an intense, soulful auburn that was so thick and deep it was nearly opaque.  As soon as I removed the cap, the maple perfume escaped to envelop the room with that distinctive scent. 

Now, I’ve enjoyed maple syrup for many years.  Like pretty much everyone raised in Quebec–the heart of Canada’s maple country–I consider myself a maple aficionado, if not an expert.  Maple syrup is ubiquitous in La Belle Province: you can find it on every checkered tablecloth in every greasy-spoon breakfast diner, cheerily lining the shelves in corner grocery stores, awaiting the call in every kitchen cupboard.  When I was in grade school, each spring our class would make an annual trek up north for “sugaring off” parties, where freshly tapped, warmed maple syrup was poured over vast expanses of pristine snow to create a kind of maple taffy that we kids scrambled to scoop up with plastic spoons.  I might even classify myself as a bit of a maple syrup snob, in fact, one who’d never even consider trying the artificially flavored stuff from that iconic slender-waisted bottle.

Still, despite my fine maple sensibilities, I’ve never really thought it essential to buy organic maple syrup.  For one thing, the price is usually, shall we say, immoderate.  In addition, I’ve always recalled a conversation I had with a student once in a sociology of food course I was teaching.  She mentioned that her family owned a local maple tree farm.  There was really no difference between organic and non-organic syrup, she explained, since most maple trees aren’t sprayed with pesticides anyway (unless infected by some vermin or another). I filed away that bit of information and continued to purchase my regular (non-organic) variety.

Well, let me tell you, that student got it wrong (luckily, she wasn’t writing a test at the time). Now that I’ve tasted the Coomb’s organic version, I’m not sure I can go back to my generic brand.  Their syrup is outstanding, with a rich, deep amber color and more intense maple flavor than I’ve ever tasted.  It’s perfectly sweet and subtly smoky, with a heightened maple essence that lingers gently on the palate, enduring like an unexpected compliment. 

Seriously, I may not be able to tolerate my old brand any more.  To heck with the price–I’ll just have to be more judicious in my use of it, I reckon.  Or else use a bit less and savor every drop more.  Or simply ignore the cost entirely (I suspect that a pawn shop may come into play at some point).  Seriously, it’s that good.

My first taste of the syrup was straight, poured onto the Lemony Almond Pancakes I wrote about a few days ago (I wanted to sample the delicacy in its pure, unadulterated state before combining it with other ingredients).  The flavors melded beautifully, the maple’s presence strong enough to match the zesty lemon while counterbalancing the slight sourness of it.  The HH practically asked to drink the stuff straight out of the bottle (but I wouldn’t let him, of course, as I was saving it for my subsequent kitchen experiments). He did manage to polish off the maple candy in one sitting, however–I got barely a nibble!

With such a winning flavor, I opted to design a cookie that would really showcase the unique taste that is “maple.”  I concocted these Maple Flax cookies (sorry, the two of you who are also on the ACD; these are NOT ACD-friendly–I created this recipe a couple of weeks ago).  They are naturally gluten free (and even flour-free, in fact).  In this case, the light, chewy texture was a natural outgrowth of my desire to minimize other ingredients  in order to allow the natural maple to shine through.  And you will most definitely taste it, with every chewy, sticky, sweet and maple-y bite.

Thanks again to everyone at Coombs Family Farms for allowing me to sample this extraordinary product.  Now my only lament is that I can’t find any more of it here in Toronto!

They’re not quite Irish, but since they contain oats, I can claim a Celtic connection, anyway. . . Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

P.S.  It’s time for another Sweet Freedom giveaway. . . stay tuned for details next post! :)

Maple Flax Cookies

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 mapleflaxcookieinside

Looking somewhat like oatmeal cookies, with a crunchy exterior and chewy center, these intesely maple-flavored treats will please everyone.  Whole flax seeds add bulk, while the oatmeal and flax meal both contribute heart-healthy soluble fiber.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Last Year at This Time:   Katie’s Creamy Aspara-Dip

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! Please visit us at the shiny new home of DDD, by clicking here.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  Here's the last post in the series.]

chocmacaroontower

Can it be possible that there are only TWO DAYS LEFT before Christmas??  The last few months seem to have flashed by–faster than the scenery outside a train window. Or  your waiter at a busy New York bistro. Or the chaps on a Chippendale dancer. Or even Taylor Hicks’s 15 seconds of fame. Where have the langorous, sunny days of summer gone? Whence the flip-flops, the frayed T-shirts, the cutoffs, the rain-stained Keds? To what secret destination have all the squirrels sequestered themselves (to the great dismay of The Girls)?  How did I miss entirely the red and gold and sepia-emblazoned maple trees of autumn? 

Instead, we’re suddenly faced with pummeling snow, jarring, backward-beeping snowplows outside our bedroom window at 5:47 AM, innumerable layers of socks, long underwear, undershirts, turtlenecks, polar fleece, scarves, hats, earmuffs (yes, those last two at the same time), mini-gloves inside bigger gloves, boots, cleats on boots–basically, about 14 extra pounds to lug around on our bodies between December and March.  (And that’s not even taking into account any of the chocolate I’ve eaten.)

Well, as promised, here’s the final Gastronomic Gift that, like the days just passed, can be completed in a flash.  These are not ornate, sugar-coated  or piped with brightly colored icing for the holidays, but nevertheless, they were so good that I felt it would be Scrooge-like to withold these gems.

I don’t know why, but macaroons spell “holiday” to me (maybe somebody should lend me a dictionary).  This recipe for amazingly chewy, chocolatey, irresistible macaroon-like cookies is taken (almost) verbatim from the brilliant Ellen Abraham’s Simple Treats, and it is a defnite winner.  At a recent pot luck supper at my place (post to come anon), all eight of the women present raved over these and the cookies were gone, well, in a flash.

Properly named Chocolate Coconut Cookies by their creator, these yummy bites came together easily and quickly with the aid of my trusty food processor (which, I’ve discovered as I transcribe the final recipes for the cookbook,  has become quite the fixture in my baking these days). Once baked and cooled, the cookies can be stored and packaged without worry, as they are fairly sturdy as well. 

Since the CFO is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, I’ll be taking a break from blogging between now and some time after Christmas (except for an already pre-scheduled post on the 25th).

Our celebration this year will be quiet and intimate, but special nonetheless.  And, for the first time, with just more than a year of blogging under my belt (and see? without even leaping on that opportunity for a fat-belt joke), I feel very lucky to be sharing this first holiday season with all of you, my readers and other bloggers I’ve “met” in the past 13 months.  I couldn’t have imagined how much I’d come to love and appreciate this amazing community back in November 2007, when I started this blog.

So thank you, all, for reading, for commenting, for offering your own blog posts, recipes, and ideas on a regular basis.  Here’s wishing you all a peaceful, restful, joyful holiday season.  I hope you are able to spend time with those you love, those you care about, and those who make you laugh.  And throw in some great food and gifts while you’re at it, too.

* * *   Happy Holidays!  * * *

Um, Mum, did we hear you correctly?  Did you just mention that Auntie CFO is coming to visit–?? All-RIGHT!  New Nylabones!”

[And don't forget: There's still one day left to bid on any of the fabulous prizes for Menu for Hope.  Just go to the main donation page and pick something you like, for only $10 per ticket--proceeds go to the UN World Food Programme.  My prize is a year's subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine, plus a one kilo (2 lb.) jar of Omega Nutrtion organic coconut oil.  Prize code: CA 05.]

Chewy Chocolate Macaroons

adapted from Simple Treats

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

chocmacaroon1

These spectacular treats are deceptively simple to make, and totally addictive. If you manage to save enough to give away, be sure to print a warning on the package.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

* Or, Ricki Finally Decides to Get Political

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

tuttifruitimany

[Dig those green threads of lime zest in there!  Red and green--how festive!]

I bet you can tell from the title alone that this is a retro recipe.  For me, the name “Tutti Fruiti” brings to mind Mrs. Cunningham’s kitchen on Happy Days, or Leave it to Beaver, or Doris Day. I mean, it just sounds so Barbie doll. . .so potroast-and-mashed-potatoes. . . so poodle skirts and bobbysocks. . . so 1950s Housewife.  Or does it?

Maybe it’s just me, but just when did feminism get such a bad rap? (Oh oh–I’ve uttered the “F-Word”!! I can hear the roar of footsteps as droves of my readers hightail it for the exit).  But seriously.  I happened to grow up during a time of great social change for women, when being able to make our own choices and earn our own money was still a novelty, one that was both thrilling, and ground-breaking.  (Hmm.  Sort of reminds me of the excitement in the air over recent political developments, too).

These days, I’m sensing a backward shift in attitude all over the media. It makes me sad to think that young women today feel they can’t embrace independence and self-sufficiency without giving up everything old-fashioned at the same time.  Claims of Grrrrrrl power from hyper-sexed, no-unmentionable-flaunting, party-hardy starlets who trumpet liberation but are really just craving male attention are just one facet of the problem. You know that social attitudes have really shifted when they hit your soap opera.  As The World Turns (my own indulgence, as I may have mentioned before) may have one of the first gay story lines on daytime, but they seem to have abandoned their women back in the fifties.  

Case in Point: Jack and Carly. Here’s a sample:

Carly [to her ex-husband, Jack]: What?  You spent the $5000 intended for our son’s boarding school tuition on your new wife-to-be’s wedding dress??!!

Jack: Don’t worry, Carly, I will make sure our kids are taken care of.

Carly: I’m warning you, Jack, you’d better not squander your money on that woman.  If our kids have to suffer because you can’t pay for them. . . well, I promise you, I will make your life a living hell.

Jack: I told you I’d take care of it, Carly, and I will!  [storms off in a huff.]

Does anyone else read that dialogue and wonder, “Um, excuse me, but where is Carly’s portion of that tuition?” Why isn’t she also contributing to her son’s schooling?  And before you hurl epithets at my insensitivity to the woman’s dilemma, consider that Carly’s character is supposedly a millionaire.  That’s right: as a former high-flying fashion designer, she has way more money than her honest-cop ex-husband. Yet despite rolling in dough, she expects the man to pay for everything. Poor old Gloria Steinem (and I suppose she really is old, nowadays) is probably rolling over in her Playboy bunny suit.

I don’t see any conflict of interest in calling myself a feminist and still enjoying all the activities that take place in the kitchen (no, not those activities, people! I was referring to cooking, baking, eating and the like!)  In fact, I’ve always been proud to use the title “Ms.” (and no, it’s not just a title for divorced women).  Another shock:  I also retained my name when I got married (to the first one, not the HH). I mean, I’d had the name since I was born, didn’t I? I was pretty attached to it. My ex-husband argued that we were more of a coherent “team” with the same last name.  Okay, I countered, then let “the team” carry my last name. (I’m afraid I can’t reprint what he said in response to that.)  

And what does this sudden pro-feminist rant have to do with cookies, you may wonder? 

Well, in high school, one of the greatest feminist role models I’ve ever known was Mrs. Jennings.  Mrs. J was quite a powerhouse: she held a full-time job as a high school teacher; she was on various academic boards; she had a part-time freelance gig outside of school; and she was one all around tough cookie (no pun intended). Probably only about 10 years my senior at the time, Mrs. J certainly looked the part: she was rather strident in her manner, with a mile-high ‘do that bore a striking resemblance to a rusted Brillo pad.  Her shoes were sensible, her suits stiff and straight-cut in that “must-emulate-male-businessmen” way, and her demeanor was always entirely humorless. At the same time, she showed us girls what could be accomplished by women who were smart and self-sufficient.

Oh, and she taught Home Economics.

Home Economics!  Even the name sounds anachronistic.  But it was in Mrs. J’s class that I learned how to measure dry ingedients in the metal cups and wet ingredients in the glass cups; how to level my baking powder with the back of a knife; how to roll dough from the center outward; how to distinguish between a selection of six different kinds of milk**; and how to make Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies. That woman really could do it all! And she taught us it was okay to be a feminist and still love all the old-fashioned female virtues, too.

Of course, the original recipe wasn’t vegan (Mrs. J wasn’t that liberated).  But I’ve retained it all these years because these were just the perfect holiday cookie in every way: they are delicious, they are incredibly easy to make (of course, any woman with all that going on had to find ways to save time in the kitchen), they travel well, and they seem to appeal to everyone.  The original recipe also contained old-fashioned gumdrops, chopped up.  Well, darned if I didn’t have the perfect substitute right on hand–the yummy gummies I got as a gift in my swap package from Neil!  The lime zest is my own addition, to round out the Christmassy colors.

Of all the fancy, frosted, cookie-cut or filled cookies I make at the holiday season, these remain my very favorites (and they’re not even chocolate!!).  Soft yet slightly crumbly with a light, citrus, almond-perfumed aroma and dotted throughout with brilliant bits of shiny color like fragments of stained glass, these cookies are a treat to eat. 

And when you don the frilly apron to serve these to friends and family, hold up your feminist head with pride! Real women bake cookies, too. :)

Mum, we love all the activities that go on in the kitchen, too.  And we would love to be self-sufficient with free access to our food.”

On a Final Note: I’ve also been totally remiss about a lovely award I received a while back from Georgia.    I meant to post about it then, and of course it slipped my mind until now (I may be a feminist, but my memory sucks).  Thanks so much, Georgia, for this Proximity Award!  Here are the award details:

“This blog invests and believes in PROXIMITY – nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.”

I won’t tag anyone specific, but will open this up to anyone who’s willing to proudly call herself (or himself) a feminist!  

** That would be whole, 2%, 1%, skim, sweetened condensed, evaporated, and dried-reconstituted. Nobody had even heard of alternative milks back then!

As a much healthier version of the original, this recipe is my contribution to Michelle of The Accidental Scientist for her Heart of the Matter “December Full of Heart-Healthy Decadence” event.  (And yes, coconut oil is considered heart-healthy!). :)

Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies

 tuttifruitiplate

The perfect holiday cookie:  quick and easy, and with a light texture and fruity flavor, easy to eat as well.

1/2 cup (90 g.) Sucanat

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) water

1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) EACH: almond extract, lemon extract, pure vanilla extract

zest of 1/2 lime

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds

1/3 cup (80 ml.) melted coconut oil (such as Omega Nutrition, which you can win through the Menu for Hope!)

1/2 cup (120 ml.) chopped candied fruit, gummy candies, chopped dried cranberries, or any other small chopped festive food of your choice

1-1/4 cups (175 g.) light spelt flour

3/4 tsp. (7.5 ml) baking powder

1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) baking soda

1/8 tsp. (.5 ml.) fine sea salt

In a large bowl, mix together the Sucanat, water, extracts and lime zest.  Stir to dissolve the Sucanat as much as possible.  Add the flax seeds and melted oil, then stir in the chopped fruit or candies.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt over the liquid ingredients and stir to blend.  You will have a soft dough. 

Shape the dough into two logs about 1-1/2 inches (4 cm.) in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F (190C).  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.

Unwrap the cookie logs and cut them into disks about 3/8 inch (3/4 cm.) thick and place about 2 inches (5 cm.) apart on cookie sheets. 

Bake in preheated oven 10-13 minutes, rotating the sheets once about halfway through, until golden brown.  Allow to cool 5 minutes on sheets before removing to a rack to cool completely.  Makes about 30 cookies.  May be frozen.

Other Gastronomic Gifts:

GG I: Fudge Two Ways

GG II:  Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread

GG III: Marzipan-Topped Shortbread **Note: the original recipe was somehow transcribed incorrectly–please use the current version with the correct amount of flour!!

GG IV: Jam-Filled Turnovers

GG VI: Pumpkin Butter

GG VII: Chocolate Macaroons in a Flash

Last Year at this Time: Quick and Easy Tofu Masala

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!  PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

turnovercloseup

First, a Menu for Hope update:  As I mentioned last time, Menu for Hope is a fundraiser that continues until December 24th.  Buy tickets at $10 each, and you can bid on any of the fabulous prizes offered by bloggers from all over the world! 

The prize I’m offering, a year’s subscription to Martha Stewart Living, has just been bumped up a notch!  Since so many of my recent cookie creations feature coconut oil, the nice folks at Omega Nutrition have donated a large (one-kilo/2 pound) jar of their Organic Coconut Oil to the prize.  That way, you can convert all those butter-laden recipes in Martha’s mag to healthier versions! 

If you’d like to bid on my prize (a year’s subscription PLUS organic coconut oil), head on over to the main donation page and cite prize code CA 05.  And if you’re not keen on Martha, there are loads of other amazing prizes there as well!

And now, on to today’s Gastronomic Gift. . .

These are the cookies that inspired the creation of My Life in Balance Buttery Spread the other day.  This recipe goes way back in my cookie repertoire. . . waaaay back.  (Did anyone else just have an image of the Friendly Giant pop into their heads?  “Look up. . . . waaay up!”). 

When my sisters and I were still tweens, we’d eagerly await the holiday season because it meant an entire day bake-a-thon with my mom.  The CFO and I would usually be stationed at the kitchen table chopping nuts in an old-fashioned, spring-loaded manual nut chopper (in my twenties, I found one at a garage sale for 25 cents–twenty-five cents!–and have used it on many occasion since, with great success). There’s nothing quite like the visceral satisfaction one gets after repeatedly pumping that windmill-shaped blade up and down inside the glass jar, watching the whole nuts jump and dance like water sizzling on a hot skillet.  Looking at the tiny, uniform crumbs that are created, you can think, wow–I just made that, by hand (and also, “wow, my biceps sure are sore now.”).  And of course in those days, no one had even heard of food processors!

My sister and I also acted as sous pastry chefs, slicing up maraschino cherries, zesting oranges or lemons, souring milk with lemon juice or vinegar, or meting out chocolate or butterscotch chips.  Over at the counter (where the Sunbeam Mixmaster was parked), my mom would cream butter, blend eggs, stir milk and cocoa and flour and then scoop the final product onto ancient cookie sheets that looked like picture frames with their still-shiny silver centers, bordered with the charred remains of cookies past. 

When she was done scooping, Mom would proffer the bowl and wooden spoon, its buttery, sugary amber batter still clinging in spots.  At that piont, The Nurse also joined in for the Licking of the Bowl ritual.  We all agreed that for certain recipes, the raw mixture tasted even better than the final baked product; and so the yield for those cookies was always reduced by about 30% by the time the cookies were done.

When I was finally established in my own apartment some 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from home, I determined I’d uphold the tradition by making my own tins of cookies for friends and colleagues at Christmas time.  cookiebooks To amass a fresh collection of soon-to-be treasured cookie recipes, I’d scour the supermarket checkout each year to purchase the annual mini cookbooks with titles like “Holiday Baking” or “Christmas Treasures” of “101 Cookies for the Holidays”–pamphlets published by Pillsbury, Crisco (gasp!), Betty Crocker, General Mills, and the like.  I’d pore over each page and meticulously mark the recipes I wanted to try with ripped up sticky notes (I mean, why waste a whole one, just as a bookmark?). 

Then I’d set up the ingredients assembly-line style and bake away for the entire day, re-creating the buzz and activity of my mother’s erstwhile home bakery.   Unfortunately, I discovered that the yield of each recipe in my own kitchen was still reduced by about 30% before the cookies were baked (one of life’s unsolved mysteries, I guess).  

These jam-filled turnovers are one of the treats that became a holiday staple back then.  Deceptively simple to make, they embody sleek sophistication with their half-moon contour, fluted edge and glossy, drizzled glaze; and each turnover enfolds a dollop of glistening, fruity filling.  The original recipe called for cream cheese and butter, with a filling  of regular (high-sugar) raspberry jam, its brilliant fucshia glinting with each bite. I subbed coconut oil and silken tofu for the crust (that is, the prototype of the buttery spread), and used slightly less sparkly fillings of Brandied Apricot-Ginger spread or all-fruit strawberry jam.  

turnoverinside

Perhaps not as rich as the original, this recipe still results in a very malleable, easily rolled dough that bakes up crispy and even a tad flaky on the edges, filled with bright, sweet jam of choice. 

These treasures are really impressive when glazed, and I’d recommend doing so if you are comfortable using confectoner’s sugar.  I wasn’t happy with the agave-based version I created (it ended up with a texture like chewy candy), but would still suggest brushing these with a mixture of equal parts agave nectar and orange juice or soymilk to provide extra sweetness and a glossy finish to the crust if you don’t glaze them.

Since the cookies are baked on cookie sheets (though mine, of course, are scrubbed meticulously, even around the border), I’m submitting this recipe to Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.  The Tasty Tool she’s profiling this month is Baking Sheets.

Jam-Filled Turnovers

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

turnoverplate1

The first word that comes to mind when you see these cookies is “dainty.”  With their fluted edges and delicate shape, these little pockets of sweetness are perfect for a holiday celebration table or as take-away gifts for guests.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE 

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

DIET DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

[There's just nothing like a homemade gift for the holidays.  This year, with the purse strings a little tighter than usual, I'm determined to make at least a few in my kitchen--and thought I'd share my ideas in case you'd like to partake, too.  ]

marzipanshortbreadplate

Isn’t synchronicity the darndest thing?  You know, that phenomenon when things just seem to occur around the same time. . . because. . . well, just because.  Like when you learn a new word, and suddenly “schadenfreude seems to pop up in all the newspapers you read.  Or “pecuniary” makes its appearance in every magazine article you see about the faltering economy.  Save money with a “stay-cation”? It was mentioned at least once on every financial-advice show that aired in the past week. (And how about antediluvian, lachrymose, arachibutyrophobia?  Okay, maybe not so much.)

I love synchronicity; I figure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to having intuition.  Years ago, during a carefree Christmas shopping spree (entirely unlike this year, what with all the pecuniary limitations to my budget), I was meandering along a downtown Toronto street engrossed in a lachrymose daydream, probably about being bullied in gradeschool.  For some unknown reason, I remembered a former classmate, and wondered what had become of her.  In the midst of my reverie, there came from behind me a sudden, staccato warbling, like the sound an antique radio makes when being tuned: “Ricki?! Eeeeoooooouuuuwwww! RICKI HELLER, is that you–??” 

Yep, you guessed it: that very classmate, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.  We hugged,  we excitedly exchanged updates on our lives, we traded phone numbers and swore to keep in touch–then never heard from each other again. But that sure was some synchronicity in action!

If you’ve ever thought about someone you haven’t seen in a while, only to receive a phone call from them that day; if you’ve ever had a dream about finding a $20 bill and later picked up a stray piece of paper in a parking lot that happened to be a $20 bill; if you’ve ever loved a novel by a particular author and then happened to be seated next to that author on your next flight across the country; if you’ve ever been reminded of an old love while surfing the internet only to discover the profile of said love on your Classmates page–well, if you’ve ever experienced a seemingly unrelated coexistence of two meaningfully related things in any context at all, then you, too, have experienced synchronicity.  And last weekend, there it was again!

In my previous Gastronomic Gift post last week, I mentioned a pioneer of the now-booming Toronto culinary scene, Bonnie Stern. That long-ago (seems positively antediluvian, in fact) cooking class was my only encounter with Ms. Stern in person; and her recipe for Brandied Apricot-Ginger Spread was, it turns out, the only recipe of hers I’ve ever reproduced at home. 

Until now.

Why, just this past weekend, there she was again, peering out at me from the crinkled pages of our weekend National Post!  Not only that; in the photo, she proffered some startlingly attractive shortbread cookies: rich, buttery freeform mounds topped with shards of  Toblerone chocolate bars.  I decided on the spot that I had to re-create those bars, but what to use instead of the Toblerone?  I wanted something similar–a mix of chocolate and a sweet filling–but nothing quite as sticky (and nothing producing any arachibutyrophobia, of course).  Aha!  Marzipan-filled Ritter Sport!

In response to  Amanda’s comment in the last post, I used my own Life in Balance Buttery Spread in place of the butter in these cookies.  The result was a slightly-sandy-on-the-outside, slightly-chewy-on-the-inside, not-too-sweet and very decadent-tasting cookie.  And while they don’t melt in your mouth like tradtional shortbread, the combination of  rich dough and chunks of chocolate-covered marzipan is truly enchanting.  The HH said he thought they weren’t “really” like shortbread as they didn’t taste “buttery” enough, but that didn’t stop him from scarfing down three of these babies in quick succession.

And while this recipe is a bit more decadent than my usual baked good, hey, it’s the holidays!  Gotta live a little.  Which, of course, will lead to the inevitable overindulging and weight gain. . . so as you bake up your own batch of these, you can think of me, smile, and enjoy a satisfying little taste of schadenfreude.

Mum, you know your readers would never do that!  Besides, I think I’ve had enough schadenfreude to last a lifetime, what with Chaser smirking at my cone over the past three weeks.”

Oh, and since these are intended as a holiday gift, after all, I thought they’d be a perfect submission to the Eat Christmas Cookies event hosted by Food Blogga this month. There’s already a huge array of cookies posted on the site for you to check out!

And since Holler and Lisa are asking for festive photos this month for their No Croutons Required event, I’m going to submit this Santa-bordered photo as my contribution as well. 

 Marzipan-Topped Shortbread Cookies

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW BLOG, BY CLICKING HERE.

marzipanshortbread

You needn’t stick with marzipan chocolates for these cookies; in fact, they’d be great with many other kinds of chocolate bar–the Ritter Sport Peppermint comes to mind.

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW BLOG, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

My American Thanksgiving

November 28, 2008

I know it’s often said that Canada is a mere appendage of the U.S., the 51st state, the spleen of the continent that no one really knows exists and seems to have no necessary function, blah blah blah.  Maybe it’s true; maybe we are like the unassuming cousin from out of town who never speaks at the holiday table, or the scrawny kid at the beach the girls never notice.  And, like many underdogs, we in Canada seem to know more about our more powerful, more popular, more infamous neighbor than they know about us (I will never forget the time, as a teen, that I visited cousins in New Jersey–about 560 miles/900 km. from where I lived at the time.  A friend of my cousin’s, learning that I was Canadian, blurted out, “Oh! I know a Canadian!  Do you know Steven Ruttenberg?”  To which, astonishingly, I was obliged to reply, “Um, why yes, yes, I do know Steven Ruttenberg. . .”–for as it turned out, he went to my high school!  And so now, for ever more, that poor girl will believe that Canada really is, after all, a pinhead of a backwater, underdeveloped country where everyone knows each other!). 

How about a little quiz?  Okay, Americans out there! Quick, answer these:  Who’s the Canadian Prime Minister?  How many provinces in Canada?  What’s our official language?*  What does our flag look like?  Pick any Canadian on any streetcorner in pretty much any Canadian city, and s/he will know the answers to all those questions as they relate to the U.S.  Why?  Because, first of all, we sort of have to (see above); but also, because those rumors are, to a great extent, true: we are influenced by the US, we do follow their culture more than they follow ours, and we really do depend on that comforting, protective, bear-paw of an embrace from our bigger, more powerful cousins to the south. 

I know this notion (that we are unduly influenced by and, to some extent even dominated by, the U.S.) bothers some of my compatriots.  For my part, I have to admit, I’ve always felt a great affection and affinity toward the States.  First, several of my relatives live in America, from California to New York and New Jersey to Massachusetts, and they are some of my favorite people in the world.  I spent many idyllic childhood summers with my Boston cousins.  Second, having completed both an MA and a PhD in Modern American Literature, I’ve probably read more American than Canadian fiction and consider many of the US authors as role models (and, for those of you who notice such things, that’s also the reason why I, a proud Canadian, use predominantly “American” spelling on this blog–writing about American authors for American professors for many years, that spelling now feels natural to me).  Third, just as the “they’re so polite” clichés about Canadians happen to be (for the most part) true, so are the “they’re so friendly and hospitable” or “they’re incredibly generous” clichés about Americans. (And, as the HH is always quick to point out, customer service in the US runs circles–CIRCLES–around its Canadian counterpart (and counter person).

And so, it made perfect sense that yesterday, on American Thanksgiving, I, too, was extremely grateful along with y’all–and, in particular, grateful for the existing U.S.-Canada connections. 

Why, you ask?  Well, I arrived home to discover that I’d received a skillfully wrapped and well-taped brown paper package in the mail (ooh, that sounds rather salacious somehow, doesn’t it?), boasting American postage and filled with amazing vegan goodies! 

I’d signed up to be part of Lindsay (from Cooking for a Vegan Lover)’s blogging Care Package Swap event and there was my box of treats!  I discovered Lindsay’s blog when she commented on mine a while back, and am so glad she did!  I’ve been enjoying the posts from Lindsay and her hubby Neil, who live and write in Vermont. They include recipes, restaurant reviews, and other foodie tidbits like CSA news and animal-friendly events.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to rip off the brown paper and tape to reveal the following:

 swappackage

Look at that haul!  Neil (my exchange partner) sent an incredible array of fantastic and organic treats–and–how thoughtful is this???–everything is wheat-free!  swaplizlovelyThe products are also made in Vermont or environs.  I literally jumped up and down when I saw the Liz Lovely cookies–I’d read so much over the years about Liz Lovely,   and finally got to sample my very own (GF) Chocolate Fudge cookie (which I did the second I opened the box, of course).  The package also included the following delectables (left to right):

  • Road’s End organic Savory Herb Gravy Mix;
  • a Cashew Vanilla WaGuRu Chew (smothered in Vanilla Caramel–doesn’t that just sound irresistible??);
  • (slightly hidden behind the shampoo bottle) Zootons Organic Gummies candy in a variety of fruity flavors;
  • All Natural Elmore Mountain Farm Lavender shampoo (smells heavenly);
  • the amazing Liz Lovely cookies, with, in the foreground–
  • a Dan’s Chocolates “The Caffeinator” truffle;
  • a bar of Montpelier Chocolate Factory’s Dark Strawberry and Coconut chocolate (strawberry!  Cannot wait to try that one!), and behind it–
  • a bottle of Vermont Pepper Works Chocolate Chipotle Pepper Sauce (rated XX Hot–will be diving into that asap!);
  • a box of Road’s End Organics Mac and Chreese–with rice pasta!;
  • a piece of Pure Vermont Maple Candy from Brookfield Sugarmakers (which, despite being raised in Quebec, I have never tried–so looking forward to this, too!); and–somehow left out of the photo (perhaps because they were already gobbled up??)–
  • two–one for each of The Girls–packs of organic, handmade dog biscuits!

THANKS SO MUCH, Neil!  I can’t wait to try out all the goodies, all the while gratefully basking in the glow of my American neighbour’s generosity and hospitality. :) What fun it was to participate in this swap!

elsieconehead

And Neil, Chaser and I thank you, too!  It was especially nice to have such delicious dog biscuits while I’m convalescing. . . if you were here, I’d thank you properly, of course, but for now you’ll just have to accept a virtual lick to the ear.”

* Perhaps that was a trick question.  There are, in reality, two official languages (muffle, muffle, guffaw, cackle):  English and French.

Such a Tease

November 11, 2008

I’ve never been what I’d call a “good” flirt.  In high school, I hung out with the nerdy crowd (hard to believe, I know!), so there wasn’t really any opportunity to flirt.  Then, when I was finally old enough to attract the opposite sex in my 20s, it seemed too late to get the hang of it. I do remember loathing, admiring and envying (all at the same time) the most popular girls in my high school.  It seemed as if their hair, or their eyelashes, or their limp wrists somehow possessed an invisible male adhesive as they giggled and nodded and caressed the guys, just so, on their forearms; or maybe it was just the pheromones they exuded. 

In any case, the flirty girls would always be surrounded by an inverse seraglio, an ever-shifting, amorphous cloud of doting males.  The boys would fawn over them, open doors for them, carry their books, offer them lifts, or request their phone numbers in a continuous stream.  Just how did the girls manage that, I wondered?  How did they get away with teasing the guys so overtly, implying lace and perfume and breathless embraces, yet, in reality, yield nothing?  These girls were whip-smart as well as beautiful, or they couldn’t have perfected their technique; yet they appeared vacuous and helpless and fragile all at the same time, thereby rendering themselves irresistible to the guys around them.

I had the opportunity to observe a consummate tease after my divorce, when I lived in the same flat as another woman who had previously been married to two of the richest men in Canada (and she was only 32 when I met her).  She was one of the smartest cookies I’ve ever known (and funny, witty, sweet and fun to be with, too) yet, the moment she came within a few feet of any attractive male, she appeared to devolve into–how shall I say this?–a helpless, needy, pouting little girl.  She’d bat her eyelashes at the nearest specimen and feign incompetence with the lock on the car trunk, the dial on the stereo or the squeaky door on the kitchen cabinet.  Then she’d throw up her hands in mock despair and emit a giggle that resonated across the room, like the clang of forks on wine glasses at a wedding, encouraging the newlyweds to kiss. 

There must have been something to it, too, because by the time I moved out, she’d snagged yet another of Canada’s wealthiest bachelors (they’ve since divorced, but let’s just say she’ll never have to work again–no, scratch that, she’ll never even have to brush her own teeth again).  

My own efforts at flirting have produced less than stellar results. True, some playful flirting resulted in four months dating Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants); as it turned out, Rocker Guy himself really enjoyed flirting, too–he enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he continued to do so throughout the time we were dating. And his definition of “flirting,” unfortunately, encompassed “sleeping with.” 

Thus ended my flirtation with flirting.

Today, however, I’m afraid I’m going to play the tease once again.  After finding out at the last minute that I’d be away at a conference all day today, I wasn’t able to photograph the dish I’d originally intended to post about. Instead, there’s a slew of goodies I’ve been working on for the cookbook, and with the holiday season almost upon us, I thought it might be a good way to get in the mood for holiday baking. (Oh, so how’s the book coming along?  Well, I’m still working on the manuscript, which should be complete in less than a month, after which the materials are shipped off to the printer.  Ultimately, I’m still aiming for a release date in early 2009–February or March.  Whoo!). 

Some of these sweets have already been published elsewhere on this blog, with recipes included. You may have also seen some on the testers’ blogs (ie, the absolute BEST TESTERS any cookbook author–or baker–could ever want). 

Following are some of my recent favorites from the book, and those that would make good holiday treats. And even if it’s not out in time for this year, you may wish to make some of these next time round.

Chocolate Covered Caramels:

cashewcaramel1

Old Fashioned Spice Cake:

tspicecakepan

Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies (plus recipe–great for decorating):

sugarfreesugarcookie1

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies:

mintchocchip2

Cupcakes with Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Chocolate Buttercream:

cupcakegffrost

Chocolate Satin Tarts:

silktart1.jpg

Dalmatian “Cheesecake” Brownies:

Vegan Butter Tarts: (plus recipe):

And here’s a little preview of tomorrow’s sweet treat (recipe to follow).  I know, what a tease. . . 

chocpecanpie

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