Saturday, October 10, 2009


"...we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast grey fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.

Bridgeport? - said I
Camelot. - said He."

Well, we're in Dublin. We managed to get our lives sorted out and folded into 4 overstuffed suitcases (in true tradition I forgot to pack my toothbrush, toothpaste, and running shoes) - and arrived in Dublin on a grey non-rainy day. I could go on about mixed emotions, giant bouts of happiness fused with a slight claustrophobia at such a densely populated city, but instead I'll do what I'm good at - list making.

Edible, Fantastic things in Dublin:

i) Laduree apparently opened here over the summer, which is happiness beyond words! the packaging alone does me in, nevermind the macaroons.

ii) Coco and Busyfeet cafe - small, unpretentious, friendly, wonderful soup and chai.

iii) The Bald Barista / Milk and Honey Cafe - haven't decided which one I like better, but astoundingly good coffee at both, and located serendipitously next to my morning bus stop...

iv) Fallon and Byrne - foodies unite! Imported goods from all over the place, the only place you can get your hands on both Aunt Jemima's syrup (and other north american fare) and balsamic vinegar from an obscure village in Cyprus. Amazing take-away food.

v) Butler's. All I need to say is this - they melt down best-quality chocolate and sell it under the guise of 'hot chocolate'. Heavens.

vi) General, fantastic ethnic food. Really really. The influx of ethnicities in the past decade makes Dublin an interesting city for food - the whole first year I was here, I don't think I tasted 'Irish food', as everything edible down the road is Bengali, Punjabi, Persian, Arabic, Polish, French...

vii) Avoca. Their bread and scones have gotten me through dire exams - gastronomically and emotionally.

We definitely miss Canada though. There are too many things I could list on that one, family and Tim Hortons being in the top 5. But being back on this side of the ocean is exciting, I suddenly slip into new skin and feel braver here, as silly as that sounds.

We wandered down Grafton and up and down the wee side-streets and came across a beautiful old bookstore, with first edition James Joyce all over the place. All I could think of was my first experiences with literature when I was younger - we lived through Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Asterix and Obelix, and Tintin. Vicariously.

Enid Blyton's writing was optimistic in the most absolute way - you could always identify with someone in her stories, and the adventures and general tomfoolery that was had was relentlessly cheery and so very pure. We always had an Enid Blyton in our school bag, and on our bedside tables. Things seemed to base around either a group of children at boarding school (The Malory Towers series, the St. Clare's series) or a group of kids that happened to come across, and solve, mysteries of every nature (The Fantastic Five, The Five Find-Outers).

I realize that trends change, and that we're apparently in the middle of a vampire-literature-frenzy, but I hope Blyton's writing isn't being replaced - all her novels were reliable to us as children, steady anchors in the ocean of adolescence.

This is a recipe from the summer - the most optimistic dessert I can think of at the moment, bright and clean. If you have pastry crust in the fridge, this really doesn't take long to make, and nectarines really should be roasted more often as the results are spectacular.

Nectarine and Coconut Galette.

The Crust -
1 cup APF
1/2 tsp sugar
18 tsp salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Filling -
1 tablespoon ground almonds
1 tablespoon flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
4 large nectarines, quartered
1 tablespoon melted butter

The Crust - Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter in with your fingers, or a pastry cutter. Add about 4 tablespoons of ice cold water, mixing until the dough just comes together. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough briefly for about a minute. Cover in cling-film and let rest in the fridge for a good 1-2 hours. When it's ready, roll out into a 14 inch disc.

Assembly - Mix the ground almond, flour, sugar and coconut together. Sprinkle into the center of the 14 inch pastry disc, leaving a 2 inch border. Arrange the nectarine wedges on the dough however you like, I did concentric circles with the skin-side down:

Sprinkle the nectarines with the 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Rotate the tart slowly, and fold up the edges of the dough over the nectarines, crimping the dough as you go. It's fine (and prettier!) if the pieces of dough overlap eachother. Brush the entire thing with some melted butter and bake in a hot oven (400 F) for about 30 minutes. If you find the edges browning too quickly, lower the heat slightly and tent the nectarine with foil to make sure the center of the dough cooks through.

Personally I like it best while it's still fairly warm, and a giant dollop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side isn't bad either. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

measuring my life in coffee spoons

I'm not sure how other people handle stress/change, but I seem to:

I) Make lists, usually with roman numerals and subheadings
i) Rewrite said lists, which is oddly therapeutic
II) Bake.

I also turn into a sort of indecisive, nervous creature, and then scurry around worrying that I'm being indecisive and nervous. Hmm. We read 'The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock' in grade 12 I think, and later again in first year English at the university, and while I loved it, I was a bit horrified at identifying so much with this self-scrutinizing, harried man. It was a little awkward, especially if you're known to read a tad too much into poetry (ahem). The entire time we were packing up for Dublin, Prufrock was all I could think about as I packed and repacked and made lists and walked in circles.

It really is an interesting poem. T.S. Eliot does the whole disenchanted-with-modernism thing so well - when Thoreau said 'What is called resignation is confirmed desperation', I always wonder what he would have thought of Prufrock, or of The Wasteland (that's a whole other story, good grief). I love how Eliot references absolutely everything in each of his poems - from the Bible to Buddha, Shakespeare to Khayyim, Hesiod to St. Augustine - and how you can find something different in his poems each time you read it.

Everything is interpretive. The epigraph from Dante's Inferno sums up how trapped Prufrock feels by his own thoughts and inaction, while setting up the narrative in storyteller to audience form - in the beginning this is between Guido and Dante, later in the actual poem it becomes ' and I', Prufrock and the reader. You're suddenly inside his head and it's...resigned - he can't make decisions, he's terribly self-conscious, he wants to say things but spends the entire poem in his head instead of in life. I love the lines 'the women come and go, speaking of Michaelangelo...' - I imagine him awkwardly standing there, neurotic and a little sad, thinking that everyone around him is aristocratic and knowledgeable, the complete opposite of how he sees himself.

A later publication of the poem was in a tiny booklet named 'Prufrock, and other observatioins' - and that's really what it is, an observation on a person that sums up so many other people, captives of their insecurities.

Of course if you're Freudian, the entire thing is about sex and impotence of some kind, and that's that.

[I don't think i'm Freudian.]

So all of this was really to say - I love the poem, and I bake when I'm nervous. Case in point: in the four days before moving to Dublin, I was elbow-high in batter making...

3 dozen strawberry cupcakes with strawberry buttercream icing
1 dozen mini chai cupcakes
1 dozen almond and raspberry teacakes (current favourite)
3 loaves of saffron sultana bread
2 loaves of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread (one regular, one whole wheat)
a dozen banana pancakes with banana caramel sauce
3 dozen ginger-molasses cookies
2 dozen chocolate madeleines
1 chocolate cake

The cupcakes and teacakes are from Martha's Cupcake book which is absurd and fantastic. It's hard not to squeal with glee looking through it - cupcakes that look like tiny sheep, giant sunflowers, blooming roses - I have cupcake fever, and it's fierce. The strawberry cupcake recipe was spot on - not too sweet, fluffy, written clearly. The mini chai's ended up quite dry for some reason, they tasted lovely although decidedly unchai-like (I'm a bit of a tea snob, so there's a slight bias there perhaps).

The teacakes are my favourite so far, hands down - I've made them thrice since then and feel little-to-no guilt in devouring them one after another. I think it's the brown butter - it makes them smell Fantastic and keeps everything ridiculously moist (the almond flour helps with this a lot too). I hope putting the recipe up doesn't incur the wrath of Martha (and what a wrath that would be!) - it's just too good.

Fruit and Almond Tea Cakes

* The recipe uses cherries (the stems stick out the top, totally unnecessary and extremely cute), of which I had none, so raspberries it was!

1 and 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
5 large egg whites
1 tablespoon kirsch, if you have it
about 20 raspberries

Preheat the oven to 400F / 205C. Brush the muffin tin with melted butter, and dust lightly with flour. In a small saucepan melt the butter over high heat, leave it (swirling occasionally) for about 15 minutes. You'll know when it's done - it smells nutty and kind of like toffee (refrain from drinking it).

Mix the ground almonds, flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and whisk until you have a smooth batter. Add the kirsch if you have it. Pour in the brown butter, whisk until it comes together, and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Fill each muffin cup about halfway full, and add one or two raspberries to the center. With a spoon, push some of the batter over top of the raspberries (don't add more batter on top - it makes the teacakes puff up monstrously). Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, consume with a cup of tea.