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

[How about that red and white background?  Pretty patriotic, eh?]

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.” 

There’s an annual event in Montreal called The High Lights Festival in which (among other things) La Belle Ville invites chefs from other world-class cities to cook alongside the Quebeçois culinary masters and exchange ideas. This year (2008), the guest city was the very one yours truly calls home: Toronto. 

Toronto?  Some of the French hosts, apparently, almost refused to participate.  After all, every other location in Canada is entirely inferior to well, anywhere in Quebec when it comes to cuisine, non?  I mean, the rest of us are simply les bêtes sans a mote of culinary imagination or refinement, n’est-ce pas?

Well, it may be true that the phrases “Canadian gourmet” or “Canadian cuisine” are, like the iconic “jumbo shrimp,” simply oxymorons.  (And boo hoo, we’ve now lost one of the great comedians of all time along with the originator of that wordplay).  I mean, for most of my life, the mere idea of a uniquely Canadian cuisine was pretty much a joke.  As in so many other areas, our gastronomy is often eclipsed by that of our overseas ancestors.  Pizza?  Nope–that was Italy.  Crêpes Suzette?  France, of course.  Schwarzwald torte?  Germany beat us to it.  Haggis? Scotland claimed that one. Chocolate-covered bacon?  Well, turns out that was the creation of none other than our older and more populous neighbor, the good ole U. S. of A.

And what about us here in Canuck Country? A quick excursion to Wikipedia reveals several “Canadian-made” foodstuffs, many of which are cooked forms of indigenous plants.  There are Saskatoon berries out west, Nanaimo bars way out west, cloudberries (also known as bakeapple) and cod tongues way out east, or fine wines of Ontario (no, seriously. Apparently, the Niagara region shares the same microclimate as parts of California). 

But for truly singular creations that seem to roar “Canada,” like it or not, we’ve routinely turned to Quebec.  No wonder those guys have swelled heads when it comes to food. Quebec–where the language is different (bien sûr!), the aesthetic is different (ah, those couture‘d demoiselles!), the zeitgeist is different (4-hour dinners? de rigeur!), the beer is definitely different (um, 12 per cent?), and the cuisine is nonpareil.  

Tortière?  Quebec.  Poutine?  Quebec.  Sugar pie?  Quebec. Hamburger with truffles and foie gras?  Quebec.  Yep; they may have crazy gas prices, draconian language laws and a love-hate relationship with the rest of the country, but those Québecois sure do know how to cook!

And so, when I read about Jasmine (of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict) and Jennifer’s (of The Domestic Goddess) Mmmm. . . .Canada event  in honor of our July 1st Canada Day celebration, I knew I was in!  The event asks us to prepare something quintessentially “Canadian,” and it was Ontario’s original butter tart that immediately came to mind.  (Take that, cretons!)

According to Bill Casselman in his Canadian Food Words, “butter tart” is “a phrase and a confection that is 100% Canadian.”  He goes on to write,

There is even a proper Canuck way to ingest this northern nectar of the oven. One holds the butter tart in one hand at lip height. One does not bring the flaky-doughed cuplet with its inner pool of sugared gold to the mouth. No. One stoops slightly inward toward the butter tart, not only to take an encompassing chomp but also to do obeisance to the gooey rills of embuttered ambrosia soon to trickle in sweet streamlets down the eater’s gullet . . . .

 Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Just a couple of minor problems: (a) I’ve never even tasted a butter tart, let alone baked one; (b) with a filling made primarily of butter and eggs, they are decidedly not vegan.  What to do?

I consulted my trusty human encylopedia (that would be the HH) as well as my world’s biggest butter tart aficionado (ditto).  From what he tells me, the filling is very much the consistency of that in a pecan pie (probably why I never tasted them)–only about 1,462,873.05 times sweeter. 

I examined various online photos of the things and got a sense of the density required: a filling firm enough to hold its shape, spongy around the edges yet soft and oozing in the middle, all enclosed by a buttery tart crust.  With this exemplar in mind, I went to work in the kitchen.

The first round, with a serviceable shell and not entirely unpleasant taste, were nonetheless a wee bit too gooey and glossy–sort of like heavy, sugared shellac poured over raisins (too much like a stealth weapon in a James Bond movie, I’m afraid). Given the preponderance of eggs in the original recipe, I knew I’d have to reproduce the same airy, slightly bubbly consistency that results when whites are beaten until foamy.  A few extra filling ingredients and a pinch of baking powder later, and–zut alors!–I had it.

The HH tells me that these are extremely close to the real thing.  They’re everything you’d want in a butter tart: flaky pastry crust, with a rich, sticky, firmer-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside filling.  All they’re missing is the cholesterol, animal fat, and refined sugars (quel domage!)

I know what I’ll be baking for the upcoming long weekend, as we sit out back sipping Mojitos (decidedly not Canadian–well, except for the mint), shield the dogs from neighbours’ fireworks, hope the rain takes a hike, and enjoy our all-Ontario meal.  We’ll look up at the stars and be thankful to live in such a diverse, scenic, and placid country (and let’s not forget–“polite.”)  Now, if only the snow were a little less abundant, it would be perfect. . . ..

Bon Fête, Canada!

(“Um, Mum, we beg to differ on the ” world’s biggest butter tart aficionado” point.  You know we’d be the biggest fans. . . except you never let us eat them.  Oh, to taste something with sugar. . .   And what was that about fireworks?“)

Vegan Butter Tarts

[Note the “embuttered ambrosia” as it trickles out, glorious and free, from the center of that tart!]

TO VIEW THE FULL RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS BY CLICKING HERE.

 [This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]