Down the Donut Hole*

February 12, 2008

*Or, Chasing That Rabbit Seems the Easier Option Right About Now

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So what’s a blog that focuses primarily on healthy foods doing with an entry on donuts?

I may not have consumed any of these sweet treats in the past 8 years or so, but I am a lifelong member of the “I Love Donuts” fan club. Well, cake donuts, anyway. As everyone knows, there are two types of donuts in the world: the airy, yeasty kind, and the denser, cakey kind.  (Which basically means that, as a donut lover, you can be either an airhead or dense.). 

In our house, for instance, the HH is the light, yeast-based aficionado while I’m the fan of heavier, cakelike donuts.  Several years ago, I came across a recipe for yeast-free blueberry donuts on Emeril’s webpage.  I immediately printed it off and made them that very night, and, I can honestly attest, they were fabulous.  With the tender, cakelike interior and thick, slightly crunchy-pebbly glazed exterior, each one offered up sweetness and a succession of juicy, tart mini-explosions courtesy of the berries scattered throughout.  I enjoyed every mouthful of that sugary, fried yumminess, knowing it was likely the last “conventional” donut I’d eat. 

Now, it’s not as if I dream about donuts or anything. I don’t consciously yearn for them on a regular basis, nor do I even emit a little whine in their general direction whenever I drive past a donut shop.  No, once I determined to change my diet several years ago (even though I couldn’t bear to give up desserts entirely), I simply put donuts out of my mind.  I set them aside in the little back room of my memory, where they remained in storage next to other items in that mental locker, like my pair of old, hand-embroidered overalls; my undergrad essays on The Canterbury Tales or Blake; the childhood birthday cards from my aunts and uncles; or the cassette tape of songs that Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants) wrote, and gave to me as a gift the week before he went back to his old girlfriend. 

In other words, I was still aware of the existence of donuts somewhere in the universe,  but the thought of them didn’t really infiltrate any of my conscious thoughts.

Until yesterday.  Ah, that was when I happened upon the blog event hosted by Peabody and Tartelette called Time to Make the Donuts.  Devotees of The Secret and its new-age philosophy would say I brought this upon myself, that I set an INTENTION to call donuts back into my life–that I had a deep seated, unrelenting, subliminal desire to once again taste at least one more teeny morsel of that cakey, dense, nutmeg-dusted confection.

But naw.  I just felt like baking donuts.

And so the challenge began.  Like Alice in her Wonderland, I found myself surrounded by concepts that at first glance seemed familiar, yet were not as they were supposed to be:  my fantasty donut was tender and cakelike like the “real” thing, but baked rather than fried (I knew I couldn’t wander that far from my newfound eating habits); and it had to have organic, whole ingredients while still being vegan. 

And so, there I went, down the donut hole!

Attempt Number One: 

hardonuts.jpg  I started out by adapting a basic recipe for “Cake Donuts” from Joy of Cooking, making the usual substitutions for the eggs, flour, and sugar. This initial result gave me what were essentially hard, circular cookies.  Not very sweet or tasty cookies, either. Verdict:  trash ’em.

 Attempt Number Two:

On to the next batch! These, too, were flat, hard, and yes, dense; not donuts, exactly, but more like horseshoes that had somehow been forged incorrectly and melded together on the open end.  Verdict: Into the garbage!

Was it time to give in, and just fry the damn things?  But no, I’d come this far. I couldn’t give up now!

In a bit of a tizzy, I let my mind wander toward other donut-shaped foods to see if I couldn’t come up with something novel (I really didn’t want to relent and just bake donut “holes”).  Just give it up, I thought, the deadline is February 12thAre you crazy? You don’t have time to reinvent the donut by then.

But then, it hit me: Rue St. Viateur.

St. Viateur Street in Montreal is home of a small, cramped  bakery that my dad would take us to every Sunday morning. This was the shop we’d drive for 40 minutes across the city to reach, through one suburb after another until we finally came upon the small wooden door set in grey stone. 

After circling the block for 15 or so minutes to find a parking spot, we’d head to the old, grimy building and join the lineup along with scores of other people standing shoulder to shoulder, the vibrating queue snaking out of the store and round the block. There, we’d wait for almost an hour as heat escaped out the door in excited bursts and brought with it a mist made of honey-water, creating its own billowing breeze of sweetness in the air.

All this, just to receive the ultimate prize: our very own brown paper bag filled with a dozen fresh, steaming, soft and glossy bagels that had just been pulled from an old-fashioned wood burning oven on a huge and well-worn wooden paddle.   

Eureka!  That was it!  I’d do a sweet variation on those bagels!  A donut-bagel!  A dogel! (Of course, I loved this new invention immediately; how could I not, what with the its first syllable being “dog,” and all?).

So I took my mind for another quick stroll and recalled how those sooty, sweaty, paddle-toting bagel bakers performed their magic at the tiny outlet that was St. Viateur Bagels. With one flick of the fingers, they’d expertly twist a roll of dough into a bagel shape. With a swift pinch to hold the ends together, the men dropped the dough into simmering vats of honey-water, just for a minute, which sealed the exterior “skin” of the bagel and also bathed it in a light, subtle sweet glaze that offered up the most golden, glorious sheen once baked. 

Dogels, here I come.

Attempt Number Three:

donutplain.jpg The result of this final venture, I’m happy to say, far outshone the other two, and produced a donut that was almost authentic in its cakelike texture. I’m still working out the details, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a couple of these fragrant, soft and tempting delights.  Verdict:  A keeper!

As far as hybrids go, I’d say the dogel was one of my favorites. In fact, I loved it almost as much as a similar hybrid in my house, the Borador. Though there’s no denying that I’m partial to the latter.

(“What a great adventure, MumBut, um, where’s this rabbit we’re supposed to be chasing?”)

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P.S.  I’m still actively soliciting recipe ideas for my Valentine’s Day dinner, so if you’ve got a salad, entree, or dessert idea, please let me know in a comment, and I might just use it for my romantic evening with the HH! 

No, this isn’t a contest and there’s no prize.  But you’ll have my undying gratitude PLUS the satisfaction of knowing that you encouraged the HH to actually cook something (and that you saved me from a lifetime of doing so if we end up cooking the boring recipes I’ve chosen on my own).

*Or, How Our Puppy Got Her Name 

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 Once, several years ago, I read in a women’s magazine that the best time to discuss “serious” issues with your male partner is when you’re in the car, preferably going for a long drive. That way, you are in close contact with each other, it’s quiet and private, he can’t escape, and he doesn’t have to look you in the eye (always an intimacy-buster for men).  I have absolutely no doubt that writer knew whereof she wrote.  With that in mind, here’s a little glimpse into my past. 

(Scene One: Early morning. Ricki and her HH, driving in the car, circa February, 2006.)

Ricki  (sweetly, with a quiet, loving tone): I just love Elsie so much. But you know, she’s lonely.  She lies on her pillow all day, moping and sighing, or else she just wanders over to the window and stares yearningly at the birds and squirrels outside. And I feel so guilty going off to work and leaving her alone for such long stretches of time.  Dogs are pack animals, you know. They’re not meant to be alone.  It’s so hard on her. She needs a sibling.  What do you say let’s get another dog?

HH: No.

(Scene Two:  Mid-Afternoon. Ricki and her HH, driving in the car, circa May, 2006.)

Ricki (gesturing expressively):  Oh, come on, why can’t we get another dog?  You know that you love Elsie.  You know  you do. Okay, okay, fine; I promise to take full responsibility for house training.  I’ll even be the one who gets up in the middle of the night to let her out to pee until she’s trained.  Oh, come on, honey, you’ll love it, I know you will.  And isn’t Elsie great? Isn’t she? Isn’t she just the cutest thing in the universe? Don’t you just adore her?

HH: Elsie, stop nipping my ear! Get off me! Back! Go on, get into that back seat!

(Scene Three: Evening.  Ricki and her HH, driving in the car, circa January, 2007)

Ricki  (Despondent.  She pouts.):  But I have to have another dog.  You know how much I love dogs.  I am bitterly unhappy!  I simply cannot envision my life without another dog in it!  Two, two is all I want.  Really. I need a puppy.  Elsie needs a sister.  Seriously, I don’t think I can live without another dog.  I will never have another happy moment in my entire life unless we get another dog. (She sheds a tear.)

HH: Elsie, I said get back!  This dog is driving me crazy. Go on, get away, I can’t see where I’m—

(Screeching noises.  The car lurches to a stop, millimeters from a tree.  Silence.  The HH glowers.)

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(Scene Four.  Ricki and her HH. Mid-morning, driving in the car, circa May, 2007)

Ricki (from the back seat): Oooh, look at this little angel! Isn’t she just the sweetest little thing?? Ohhh, hello my little fuzzy wuzzy, ooooh you are so cutesie wootsie, what a darling little puppy wuppy kiss kiss pat pat. . . .

HH:  She hasn’t shut up since we got back in the car. Can’t you make her stop crying?

Ricki:  Just ignore her.  Besides, we can’t really get her attention until she knows her name.

HH: But she doesn’t have a name yet.

Ricki:  Well, I’ve got some excellent ideas!  How about–

HH: Wait a sec, YOU named Elsie/L.C.  You said I could come up with a name for this one.

Ricki:  (Suspiciously) Okayyyyy. . . . what’s your idea for a name?

HH: I don’t have one.

Ricki: Well, then, let ME pick one!

HH: No.

Ricki (after a pause): Okay, well, let’s brainstorm.  I’m sure we can come up with something.  How about related to your hobbies.  I know, what about a cute car name, like Bentley, since you love cars?

HH:  You mean, like, “Come here, Ferrari!”  Naw, too stupid sounding.

Ricki:  Well, what about a famous musician’s name, then?

HH:  What, like, “Come here, Rachmaninov!”  Really stupid sounding.

Ricki:  Okay, let’s look at some of our favorite televison shows.  What about Star Trek?

HH:  Oh, yeah, like, “Come here, Seven of Nine!”  Right.  Mega stupid. As if we’re going to find a name in a television show!

Ricki: Hmmmm.  What about House?  Who are our favorite characters. . . .let’s see. . . .Gregory House, Dr. Foreman. . . .

HH:  Really, this is not going to work.

Ricki:  There’s Dr. Chase. . . Hey!  How about Chaser?

HH:  Hmmmnnn.  (Pause). Perhaps, perhaps.

Ricki:  Yeah, that’s kinda cute, actually, little Chaser. . . .

HH:  Sort of like a “chaser” after a drink. . . yeah!  Hmm!  VERY cute!

Ricki:  Yes!  And she’s so energetic and bouncy, I bet she’ll be chasing Elsie all over the place–

HH:  Okay.  I think I like it!

(They arrive home, and, as they both cradle the puppy in their arms, they kiss.  They enter the house as a family unit).

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(Scene Five.  Morning.  Ricki and her HH, driving in the car, circa January, 2008)

Ricki:  See, I told you they’d get along eventually!  See how Chaser just loves Elsie. . . she doesn’t leave her alone, in fact.  Actually,  I think the only one that Chaser loves more than Elsie is yo–

HH:  Chaser, off!  Stop nipping my ear!  Get back in the– 

(Screeching noises.  The car comes to a stop millimeters from a flowerbed in someone’s front yard.  Silence, followed by loud and enthusiastic barking.  The scene fades to black.)

Well, if I learned anything from the experience, it’s this:  we sure could use a chauffeur.  

(“Um, sorry about that last part, Mum.  But since you already told Elsie’s story, thanks for telling mine, too!”)

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