*Or, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. Now Eat Some Delicious Spread.

[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.  ]

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I know that pretty much everyone in the blogosphere (well, and the rest of the galaxy, too, come to think of it) has already made this spread.  But hey, I’ve always been a late bloomer.  And now, I’ve finally tried it, too.  And it is so *&$@!% good that I had to include it as this (penultimate) Gastronomic Gift this year.  (I’ve got one more planned, as long as we can shovel ourselves out of the *&$@!% 25 cm. (just under a foot) of snow that battered the city yesterday and I can get to the store).

Pumpkin butter is the perfect means to use up cooked pumpkin (or squash, to those of us in North America).  It’s a great nut butter substitute if you’re trying to reduce fat and calories.  Or if, like me, you’ve once again allowed the insidious holiday-time profusion of chocolate and chocolate-coated/ chocolate studded/ chocolate-molded/ chocolate-frosted/ chocolate flavored/ chocolate filled/ chocolate-related-in-any-way desserts that seem to reproduce of their own accord on countertops and dining room tables and candy dishes and office desks and buffets and coffee tables and bar tops and glove compartments and pockets and dessert menus to override your (wobbly at the best of times) self control, and you find that you’ve now consumed more chocolate in the past two weeks than the entire GDP of a small country, more than Big Brother’s secret stash in 1984, more than the exports from Switzerland at Valentine’s Day, more than the full contents of Willie Wonka’s factory–more, really than you’d rightfully expect any normal human being to ingest under any circumstances whatsoever in a lifetime, except maybe under threat of torture. 

What? You mean it’s just me?

For some strange reason, I felt the need for a break from chocolate for a while (ahem). Now that I’ve made my own pumpkin butter, I can join the chorus and say that I, too,  am  smitten.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any carbohydrate with a flat surface (or even a somewhat bumpy one–have you tried this on rice cakes? Divine.) 

But I must admit that my favorite use for the butter isn’t on toast, or a muffin, or pancakes, or any other solid food.  I think I love it most blended (using my hand blender) in a tall, cold glass of almond or soymilk.  Yum-mers!

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It also makes a fabulous hostess gift, of course, and a wonderful last-minute present; it’s the perfect way to use up that final can of pumpkin purée that’s been biding its time in your cupboard since Thanksgiving. 

This recipe (the ubiquitous allrecipes version) makes a pretty big batch, so you can scoop some away for home use and still fill two or three pretty little gift jars with the stuff to give away.   If you can bear to part with it.

Oh, and there are still four more days to bid on some amazing prizes from Menu for Hope! Hop on over to the main donation page and give it a go!

Pumpkin Butter

adapted from AllRecipes.com

pumpkinbutter

 Try this lovely alternative butter anywhere you’d spread jam or nut butter.  It’s got no fat, with the bonus of holiday spices all year round.

3-1/2 cups (about 820 g.) cooked, puréed pumpkin

3/4 cup (180 ml.) apple juice [but personally I think OJ would be great in this]

2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground ginger

1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground cloves

2/3 cup (160 ml.) agave nectar (light or dark)

2 tsp. (10 ml.) ground cinnamon

1 tsp. (5 ml.) ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized pot.  Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils; reduce heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring very frequently, until the mixture is thick and has darkened (the original recipe said 30 minutes, but mine took a bit more than an hour).  This might also be a good time to pull out that old splatter screen if you have one, as the mixture tends to boil and pop a bit (my walls needed a good wipe-down after I was done).

Pour into clean glass jars and store in the refrigerator.  Makes about 2 cups (500 ml.). Will keep at least 3 weeks in the refrigerator.

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 V: Tutti Fruiti Christmas Cookies

GG VII: Chocolate Macaroons in a Flash

Last Year at this Time: Holiday Cranberry Chippers

© 2008 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Recently, I was tagged by Kelly at The Pink Apron and River of Wing It Vegan to share 7 random facts about myself, and Giz at Equal Opportunity Kitchen to do a blog-related meme.

I do enjoy memes (and love reading about others through their memes), but I must admit that I am finding it more and more difficult to come up with new facts about myself.  That, and I suspect some of you are growing a little weary of reading about me and my various eccentricities, when what you’re really here for is the food! 😉

“Um, Mum, your readers may be a bit overloaded on YOUR memes, but what about us?  There are still plenty of random facts we could tell you about the two of us. . . .”

“Yeah, right! Hey, Elsie, how about that we love to play!  And that the yellow ball is my favorite!  Oh, oh, and that we LOVE to jump up on people!  And what about that we bark at cars that drive by outside!  Or that we love Greenies!  Or how about the way I pull on your ear every 30 seconds–“

“Zip it, Chaser. I am sure they get the idea. But there will be no ear-pulling for the next ten days, at least.”

Ah, yes, that reminds me: before I get to the meme, I should also mention the “Injury” referred to in the post title.  Once again, our accident-prone Elsie Girl has had a brush with the law  mortality a metal post. While frolicking with her sister the other day, sweet Elsie ran too close to a steel goal post at the park and whacked her side against it, ripping off a chunk of her haunch.  Poor baby!  And so the HH and I (and Chaser, who, after all, couldn’t be left all alone at home) spent our Saturday evening at the Vet Emergency clinic, where Elsie was treated to a bit of a shave, a cleansing of the wound, some staples to reconnect the skin, and a lovely cone on her head, which she absolutely abhors, poor thing.

Here she is, in all her misery:

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[“Help. . . . me. . . . . “]

The worst part is that Chaser is terrified of the cone and won’t go near Elsie right now.  No more ear-biting, indeed.

And now, on to the meme, and seven random facts about me.  I won’t tag anyone else (it seems many of you have already done this one), but please do feel free to participate if you’d like.  

1) I didn’t learn to drive a car until I was about 30.  Well, I first acquired my license at 16 like the rest of my friends, but then moved away to university and didn’t have the opportunity to drive again until I was married.  I’d taken lessons for about a week when my husband and I decided to separate, which meant I was driving myself to work (about an hour each way) along busy provincial highways long before I felt ready to do so.  Talk about baptism by fire! (In this case, by ice, actually, as it was mid-winter when all this transpired).  A couple of dents to the fender and more than a decade later, and I’m finally comfortable behind the wheel.

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2) I collect odd cups and saucers, and champagne flutes.    When I was a kid, my mom had a collection of odd cups and saucers that seemed to exist just outside our awareness in a glass cabinet in the kitchen. When I moved out on my own, however, my sisters starting giving me similar items as gifts, and I began to really appreciate them.  I love the varying patterns one finds on the older designs, the delicate structure of the cup and saucer, the nearly transparent quality of the fine china, and the elegance they exude (I always feel I should raise my pinkie when I sip out of one of them). 

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A few years after I began to collect the cups and saucers, I was introduced to champagne (or, at least, sparkling wine) when a friend served me a glass of Segura Viudas.  Well, I was so impressed that shortly thereafter, I began to collect champagne flutes, too.  I’ll often buy them on sale at the end of the season–who wants to buy just one flute, right?–and have amassed about 3 dozen so far. 

champflute  My favorites are a couple I received for birthdays, the voluptuous pewter-stemmed one the HH gave me the first year we were together (see left), and the Waterford crystal pair the HH and I purchased for the turn of the century. 

3) I memorized every word of Beowulf in the original Old English during my PhD.  For our final exam, we were given a random passage in Old English and had to translate it.  Not wanting to take any chances, I decided to memorize the entire poem.  How much do I remember today?  This much: “Hwat! we, Gar-dena, in yeor dayum. . .”  Yep, the first five words. Well, it got me an “A” on the exam, anyway.

4) I was asked to be Valedictorian at my high school graduation, but I was too shy and said no.  Decades later, I’m still shy, but when I was given the opportunity again for my graduation from nutrition school in 2003, I decided I couldn’t pass it up twice, and said yes.  Very happy that I did!

5) When I was a teen, some of my friends and I worked as cashiers at the local drugstore (called a “pharmacy” in Montreal, even though the actual pharmacy dispensary was a small space at the back of the store).  We used to call it “The Phunny Pharm.”  My friends Babe, Sterlin, Phil and Angel also all worked there, so on any given day, it was guaranteed that I’d be working alongside one of my best friends.  We often created code words to alert each other when a cute guy came in the store. The names were connected to various cigarette brands (which, in those days, were sold out in the open from shelves behind the cash).  The cuter the guy, the stronger the brand we chose for his nickname.  When we saw a REALLY cute guy, we’d call across the aisle to each other, “Hey, Ric, do you have any packs of Rothmans at your cash?” or, “Um, Sterlin, I think I’ve run out of Du Maurier over here. . . ” The men never twigged in to it, even though sometimes three of us would come running to the counter at the same time, all ostensibly “looking for a pack of Rothmans.”

6) I started smoking in my 20s and didn’t quit until I met the HH in 1997 (at which point I was smoking about 1/2 pack a day–though nothing as strong as Rothman’s, of course).  Now, don’t go thinking that he was such a great influence on me, or anything. . . I quit because of my various health issues, not for love (how very unromantic of me, I know).  When I revamped my diet, I figured I should give my lungs a break, too.  The only smoke I’ve inhaled since then is second-hand. 

7) I once got to meet Chris de Burgh in person (true, not very exciting to all of you out there too young to recognize the name!).  At the height of his popularity, some friends and I went to one of his concerts in Montreal.  Because my friend Angel had met him while traveling in Ireland and they’d become correspondents (in the days before email, folks), he arranged backstage passes for her and five of her friends.  Somewhere in a box in my basement is a wine-stained scrap of paper on which is scrawled something to the effect of, “For Ricki, With all best wishes, Chris de Burgh.”  (Hey–maybe I can sell it and become one of those mansion-people I wrote about in the last post?)

So there you go, seven random facts.  I know I mentioned yet another meme to post, but I think I’ll save that for another day and avert a real Meme Overload.  And on the subject of overloading, I’ve got a nice, light and not-too-filling post-Thanksgiving recipe for you next time round.

To those of you in the U.S., hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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[“I bet all those people outside are having a great holiday weekend. . . and all I can do is stare out this window. . . *sigh*.”]

Dog Day: Happy Halloween

October 31, 2008

Possible Captions:

“”We are peasant babooshkas who have toiled in the fields and lost our fortunes, so please give us some food.”

“We are cute little homeless girls and we have lost our fortunes, so please give us some food.”

“We are (food)bank robbers here to get our fortunes, so give us some food–or else.”

“Mum, we are humiliated having to wear these costumes, so please stop this silly trick and just give us the treats.”

“Mum, we are kinda freaked out by these tight-fitting costumes, so please stop this silly trick and just give us the treats.”

“Mum, why must you anthropomorphize us and make us wear these silly costumes?  We deserve our canine dignity!  Now, give us some treats.”

“Mum, is this the best you could do for costumes?  An old hat and a scarf?  Really, Mum, this is beneath us.  I think you’d better just give us our treats.”

“Wow, look how monstrous our eyes seem with the yellow and green shiny glow in the center!  MWWHOOOHAAAA,  Scary! Okay, now give us some treats.”

“I think this brown and orange ensemble is rather fetching on me, don’t you, Elsie?” “I’ll fetch YOU, Chaser. Sure, you get the vibrant colors and I get the dowdy gray.  I think I need some treats.”

“Oooh, Mr. Demille, I think I’m ready for my close up!” “Oh, great, Chaser, now we might never get out of these horrible things. Couldn’t you just zip it? Those treats are taking forever. . .  *sigh*.”

And please feel free to add more captions in the comments section . . . .

and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Holiday Bundt Apple Cake

September 23, 2008

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One of the shared quirks of most Canadians is our propensity to focus on the weather (well, that, and our internationally-recognized, world-renowned politeness. Oh, but please do excuse me for interrupting that train of thought with a parenthesis–how very rude! I do apologize). 

We tend to talk about the weather, attempt to predict the weather, fume about the weather, complain vociferously about the weather, aim to forestall the weather, dread the weather, boast about surviving the weather, try desperately to ignore the weather, occasionally (like two days a year) rejoice at the weather, discuss and ponder and ruminate about the weather. . . basically, we are obsessed by the weather. Why? 

Well, I suppose, it has something to do with our ancestors and early settlers whose lives really were ruled by the vagaries of snow, sleet and wind, or the whims of Mother Nature–one false move in January in Peterborough, and you ended up dead.  These days, of course, we’ve got heating and insulation during the winter months, but it seems we’ve inherited the predilection to stress about the weather all year round.

This past weekend, for instance, the air was gloriously warm but maddeningly humid.  Now, why couldn’t we simply combine the temperatures with the sunshine of a crisp February morning, and call it a summer’s day?  I’m really a warm-weather gal, despite my lack of any athletic or outdoorsy skills or prowess.  I am happy to sit outside in the back yard, read a book or magazine, or simply watch The Girls wrestle on the grass when the weather is felicitous. 

When people first find out that I was born and raised in Montreal, they inevitably comment, “Oh, well, then, you MUST be a skier, right, with all that snow you get over there?”  Sadly, no.  I do not ski.  I do not skate. I do not snowmobile on a lake. I do not like the snow on ground, I do not like it where it’s found. I do not like the cold or snow–I do not like it, I wish it would GO.  (Ah, yes, once again, I must apologize for going off on a rant.  And to Dr. Seuss, too, of course.)

Now that fall has almost arrived, the climate is beginning to evoke thoughts of cosy sweaters, fuzzy blankets, knees tucked up before the fireplace. When we take The Girls for their walks along the trails, the barren trees on either side of the paths span above our heads, branches reaching across to touch each other as if holding hands. Carpets of brown, red, and orange leaves crinkle below our feet as we stroll along. There is, I must admit, something rather appealing about it all. In addition, autumn is the harbinger of Holiday Season–for some, as early as the end of the month.

The other day, my friend Eternal Optimist asked about recipes for Rosh Hashanah.  The Jewish New Year falls on September 28th this year, and she was looking for new recipes for baked goods, as her son recently became vegan and most of her current recipes contain eggs and dairy.  I thought about the traditional Rosh Hashanah recipes focusing on apples and honey, and remembered a cake my mom used to bake when we were kids. The recipe was from a Mazola Corn Oil recipe card, and (along with a hefty portion of corn oil) featured both apples and honey in a huge bundt cake embracing thinly sliced Macintoshes between layers of fragrant, moist honey cake, so that it kind of resembled a cross-section of the Canadian Shield when cut, the strata of golden, caramelized fruit nestled between tender, tawny cake.  Well, of course, once I thought of it, I simply had to re-create that cake.

I couldn’t find my mum’s recipe, so I made one up based on a vanilla cake I created a few years ago, adding brown rice syrup as a stand-in for honey, paired with cinnamon and Sucanat-dusted apples.  Here, then, is my version of the childhood favorite.  This cake is perfect for any holiday celebration, as it could easily serve a crowd. It’s not overly fancy, so if you’d like to dress it up a bit, glaze it with your favorite glaze or dust with confectioner’s sugar, if you choose.  The fruit filling is generous and bountiful, just like the harvest in autumn, and might even make you forget the cloudy, stormy, chilly air outside while you indulge. 

Since this cake was based on one my mom used to make, I’m submitting it to the “Making History” event hosted by Allan at Recovered Recipes.  The event asks you to find (and photograph) an old recipe card and post the outcome of the recipe.  My version of the old recipe is one that my mom used to make, which I found in a handwritten baking book:

[Yep, that’s an old recipe, all right. . . ]

And here’s the updated version!

Holiday Apple Bundt Cake

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

I’ve been known to enjoy a slice of this for breakfast–add a handful of nuts and really, isn’t that a balanced meal?

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

Having lost my own mother over 15 years ago (yes, far too young, for both of us) and never having personally enjoyed the tangle of emotions that is motherhood, I tend to overlook today’s particular holiday, celebrated by the bulk of the Western world.

While catching up on my ever-expanding list of blogs on Google Reader, I happened upon Ashasarala’s poignant post for today.  It got me thinking:  aren’t I still a daughter?  And what about those other “mothers” I’ve known in my life (both actual and figurative), from my beloved CBC to my older sister to a couple of my best friends? This seems the perfect day to connect with those mothers, whether through birth, adoption, extended family, or simply psychological ties.

So here’s a wish for all of you who are, have been, or just feel like mothers today: may you enjoy meaningful, happy and loving encounters on this day, with the people (and pets) who mean the most to you–whoever they are. 

[“See, Chaser, I told you you were adopted!”

Um, hate to tell you, Elsie, but with that shnoz, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t be sounding so smug, either.”]

Wishes for a Wonderful Day

December 25, 2007

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Whether you’ve just woken up to find the Big Guy has already arrived, or whether you’re spending your day in some other way, here’s wishing you a day filled with fun, happiness, and the love of friends and family.

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s wonderful. 

If not, enjoy the nearly empty movie theatres today.

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Every year, when my sisters and I were kids, for our birthdays we each got a made-from-scratch, personally decorated birthday cake for our party.  One year it was Little Bo Peep, another it was Barbie, still others it was a pretty array of colorful frosting flowers splashed across a chocolate rectangle.  Cake, always cake; but never can I recall having cupcakes for my birthday.

Well, times have changed. In just a few years, cupcakes have become all the rage.  Little cupcake-only shops have sprouted in every major city; and my friend Angie tells me that, in Dallas, they’ve reached a peak of price and exculsivity. One might even say that cupcakes are poised to take over the world!

And so, this season, though I’ve been asked to bake for several children’s parties and an at-home Christmas celebration, in every case I’ve been asked to bake up a batch of cupcakes. 

As a vegan baker who uses neither refined sugar nor margarine, I can sometimes find it incredibly difficult to come up with substitutions that will approximate the same look and taste as conventional recipes (even though I own, and have carefully persued, every page of Isa and Terry’s phenomenal book, and send major kudos their way–especially for the agave-based vanilla cupcakes).  I find it fairly easy to substitute organic coconut butter for margarine, but sugar really is one of a kind, especially when you’re talking buttercream.

So, while I continue to experiment with an agave-based buttercream frosting (and to post to Holidailies), I am left with my old standby, agave fudgy frosting, for cupcakes.  Though delicious and thoroughly chocolatey, it’s not airy in the least, and not as easy to pipe into ruffles or scallops or drop flowers. It tends to sport a high-gloss finish, and can be a bit stiff, sometimes firming up so much that it won’t agree to be piped at all.  When the vanilla version is colored for decorations, it resembles the type of gel-like icings you buy in little tubes in the grocery store–not much fine detail to work with, there. 

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[cupcakes with a scoop of frosting, waiting to be transformed. . .

So, when I received an order for some last-minute cupcakes decorated with a holiday theme, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Without any formal training in cake decorating (which, I’m fairly sure, wouldn’t be much help with this type of frosting, anyway), I had to improvise.  So I thought about simple line drawings of bells or bows that I could pipe onto the cupcakes, or how I might fill in an outline with colored frosting, which would then be smoothed flat, with something like a stained glass effect.

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[The blank canvas waiting for inspiration] 

Well, in the end, I would say the experiment was a semi-success.  You can tell what I was trying to achieve, but the icing just wouldn’t smooth out, so my holly leaves have little bumpy ridges on them.  Still, they tasted great (what? I couldn’t very well give them away without sampling to ensure quality, now, could I?), and I know that the kids who’ll be eating them will be thrilled. 

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[chocolate and agave holiday cheer] 

With precious little time left before the holiday and so many people on the lookout for Christmas recipes, I’ll contribute one more festive cookie.  These are a dense, chewy round that combines a peanut butter base with chocolate chips and cranberries.  If you bake them the full suggested time, they’ll be crispy on the edges and soft but dry inside.  Bake a little less, and they’ll cool to a moist and chewy goodness.  These are actually better the second day, as the PB flavor intensifies.

Hmm.  Peanut butter, chocolate and cranberries. . . I may just have to bake some of these myself. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on that sugarless vegan buttercream.

Holiday Cranberry Chippers

 

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