The Feed of Nations

I know I cannot do my angst justice, but I will try anyway. You see, I am not rational. Nobody is, if you think about it. Think about it.

But we try to be, don’t we? We’ve taught ourselves and our children and the children of other children to believe that more is more, that bigger is better, and that if indeed you are better and more, you must have what is bigger and more.

And because time is money, and land is money, and labour is money, we maximize them like the swollen udders of a commercial dairy cow and yank them hard and fast – but wait, why get people to do that when you have robots that cost less than people and can do a better job?

The fault of our rationality is that it cannot be corrected. Because we assume our own rationality, this forbids us from looking back and asking if we’ve done anything wrong. The logic goes like this: “if at every step I’ve exercised my rationality to make the optimal decision, then everything I have done up until now must be correct and needs not be given a second thought. I am at the best place I can be, and all I need to do is continue to use my rationality and make even more of today than I did yesterday.”

With blinding naivety, we forget that the scaling of rationality across time necessitates omniscience. There are two pieces to this: scalability and being omniscient. Scalability, as defined by Wikipedia, is “the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged in order to accommodate that growth.” Omniscient, a word you would have likely heard in either Bible Study or your grade 8 English class means all-knowing regardless of time. Since rationality exercised in a single point in time requires and is restricted to knowledge of all information up to and possibly including that point in time it excludes any information about the future. In other words, the validity of each decision you make stands only in the moment of your decision.

And this isn’t hard to understand. We’ve all done something we’ve regretted, but of course we didn’t regret it in the moment. The regret came only after we realized what we missed out on, or the costs we didn’t anticipate.

Except, even the best decisions we make can be overturned by just a single piece of information.

Consider the case against of antibiotics, which were heralded as miracle drugs in the 1940’s when they were first widely introduced. It cannot be disputed that millions today owe their lives to Alexander Fleming’s discovery, but as Princeton’s Bonnie Bassler points out, “no one thought that bacteria were going to become resistant.” And that single fact has changed the way we look at antibiotics ever since it was uncovered.

Due to this discontinuous nature of decisions (that their validity expire as soon as they’re made), a series of decisions has a tendency to paint itself into a corner. This happens despite the continuous spawning of new information because under the rationality assumption, all past decisions are indisputable and therefore will continue to govern future decisions even with their deteriorating validity. Consequently, our ability to make rational decisions becomes impaired due to limited choice and inability to admit new information into our model.

We thought the Earth was flat, so we thought the oceans were limitless.

We thought the oceans were limitless, so the number of fish in there must be as well.

We discovered the Earth was not flat, but round. But we still believed the oceans to be limitless, and the number of fish in it, too.

We built the biggest cities by the ocean, because that’s where the fish were.

We sailed from one end of the ocean to another. But we still believed that the fish in it were endless.

Fish were becoming harder to catch, so we thought bigger boats to take us further out would solve the problem.

It did, so bigger boats were built to chase the infinite number of fish in the sea.

But it became hard again, so we brought bigger nets along. There were always more fish to catch.

There would always be more fish to catch. There needs to always be more fish to catch.

Otherwise, what were our big nets for? What were our big boats for? What were our big cities for?

Yes, there are more fish to catch still.

In a nutshell, we’re all deep f*cked.

So can we get unstuck again? Yes, by admitting that even the best of our intentions will fail to be sufficient, that we being humans in our puny three dimensions cannot know all things hidden and yet to unravel in the universe. By admitting that our assumption of rationality is itself irrational.

Then will we be released from the shortfalls of our yesterdays. Then we can begin to try to fix the world we’ve torn apart.

The secret things belong

to the LORD our God,

but the things revealed belong

to us and to our sons forever,

that we may observe all

the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29

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Clementine Almond Torte

Now that I’ve depressed the heck out of you and stripped you of your faith in humanity, you can have your cake. And the name basically sums it up. There’s whole clementines, almonds, sugar, egg, almond liqueur, and a pinch of salt. That’s it. It’s super moist, with variations of texture throughout, from a crisp edge to a japanese honey kasutera interior. It gets better with time, so leave it overnight in the fridge before you cut into it. A dusting of sugar is all you need, really, but a dollop of amaretto-spiked mascarpone or clementine curd doesn’t hurt either.

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Clementine Almond Torte

Clementine Almond Torte, serves 12-16

  • 6 clementines
  • 6 free range eggs, separated
  • 250 g ground almonds
  • 200 g sugar and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract or 1 tsp almond liqueur
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  1. Place the clementines in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Continue simmering for 30 minutes until the clementines are puffed up and soft. Let cool, but do not discard the liquid.
  2. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan with parchment paper and grease the sides with olive oil or butter.
  3. Place the cooled clementines, egg yolks, ground almonds, salt, and almond extract in the blender or food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides occasionally. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Meanwhile in a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually tip in the sugar and cream of tartar, until fully incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the egg whites are glossy and form firm peaks.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved clementine liquid to the clementine almond mixture and stir until fully combined. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites to loosen the mixture, then fold in the remainder of the egg whites until even.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan, tap to release any large air bubbles, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out with moist crumbs.
  7. Cool completely, cover, and chill overnight in the fridge. Don’t worry if the cake sags in the middle – that’s what you’re going for, and it means the middle’s still nice and moist!
  8. Dust with icing sugar and serve, with a cup of joe or orange pekoe.

Enjoy!

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Clementine Almond Torte

Ground Rules

Yesterday morning as I reached into my bag of cherries, my index fingertip was greeted by a dreadful, wet, squishiness that could only mean one thing: cherry season was over. In a desperate attempt to salvage the remaining cherries from those plagued with sickly brown craters, I quickly separated the good from the bad and ugly and refreshed the good ones under cold water.

And as much as I loved popping cherries into my mouth like munching on Mrs. Vickies salt and vinegar chips, I didn’t have it in me too demolish two cups out of obligation. With my soon-to-visit mother having recently uncovered her annually renewed passion for making preserves, I passed on the idea of a compote.

Now, having finished all of my exams, I had strange urge to purge and get rid of anything that reminded me of this past term. I couldn’t burn my books, of course, because I live in an apartment, and because textbooks these days are worth a rather considerable fortune. But I had all these odds and ends sitting around my pantry and fridge: random ends of butter, almonds, and oats, in particular. The last time I recall reaching for these was at four months ago, when the weather still nibbled at my nose slightly with its evening chill.

So, to celebrate the end of what seemed like an endless barrage of quizzes, papers, tests, and exams, I decided to – yes – continue down the path of productiveness and make a cake from scratch, and by that, I mean I milled the flours too.

and walk in love,

just as Christ also loved you

and gave Himself up for us,

an offering and a sacrifice to God

as a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:2

Cherry Almond Crumb Cake
Cherry Almond Crumb Cake

For as long as I can remember, I’ve avoided the use of almond flour. I saw it as a fad, a way for companies to jack up the price of the same mass of product, much like the coconut flour and asparagus water type deal. Part of me still thinks that it is, especially when recipes religiously call for it in overwhelming amounts. I mean, seriously, going nuts over nuts isn’t exactly ‘healthy’ if that’s your goal. As they say, too much of a good thing is still just…too much. Part of me also secretly thinks I can do a better job at making flavour flours, in this case, almond and oat. The combination of homemade flours in this cake is what makes it impossibly light and airy. Another trick that you should pay attention to while making this cake? Make sure you beat the heck out of the butter-egg mixture with a stand mixer for the full 25 minutes, which also aerates the crumb.

Ingredients for the cherry almond crumb cake (serves 8):

  • 75 g softened butter
  • 30 g extra virgin olive oil
  • 85 g sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp Kirsch, optional
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 115 g sifted whole almond flour*
  • 115 g oat flour**
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 4 tbsp ground almonds*
  • 2 tbsp coarse raw sugar
  1. To make the cherry almond cake, put the butter, olive oil, sugar, salt, and flavourings in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes until completely smooth and creamy.
  2. Add one egg and continue to beat on medium speed for 5 more minutes until the mixture is pale, silky, and fully emulsified.
  3. Add the remaining eggs, one at a time, taking time to beat thoroughly until the mixture is fully emulsified before each addition and scraping the bowl from time to time with a spatula.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack placed in the center of the oven. Line a 9-inch cake tin with parchment paper.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond and oat flours, baking powder, and cardamom.
  6. Stop the mixer and add in half of the flour mixture. Beat on low until just incorporated, then dump in the rest of the flour. Beat on low until incorporated, then bring the speed up to as high as it will go without splashing liquid cake all up your walls for 5 seconds.
  7. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in half of the cherry halves. Scrape the batter into the cake tin and top with the remaining cherries.
  8. To make the almond crumb, stir together the ground almonds and raw sugar and sprinkle it over the cake.
  9. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until golden, the cherries have collapsed, and the cake is pulling away from the pan slightly. Cool completely, cover, and serve at room temperature the next day.

Enjoy!

*To make your own almond flour and ground almonds, place 3 cups of whole, raw, room temperature almonds in a dry food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse on high speed in short bursts at the start, scraping the sides of the bowl with a chopstick. As the nuts become more of a coarse meal, use longer pulses, still scraping the sides after each pulse. Stop as soon as you reach a fine meal consistency. Sift the almond meal in a few batches. The fine powder that manages to fall through the mesh is the almond flour, and what’s left in the mesh is the ground almonds. Store them separately in airtight bags either in the fridge for a month, of in the freezer for even longer.

**To make your own oat flour, place 2 cups rolled oats in your blender (or a smaller amount in your coffee or spice grinder). Blend to as fine as you can manage. I don’t need to sift the flour my Vitamix makes, but if your flour doesn’t come out looking like whole wheat flour, I suggest sifting it to get rid of the chunky bits. Of course, you can re-grind the chunky bits as many times as you’d like until they’re all fine enough to pass through the mesh.

all in eh?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the result of other peoples’ thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

-Steve Jobs

It’s that awkward time of the year where the skies are churning thickly with blobs and streaks of saturated grey and the air is heavy like an underground parking lot on a rainy day. In the morning I look out the window and glumly pull out the next season’s clothing, which I didn’t think I’d need for another three weeks.

I slip into brick red jeans, and wiggle my head through the peppered sweater. Two seconds later, both articles of clothing are scrunched and stranded beneath my bare feet as I grope in dull frustration for the familiarity of nude shorts and a faded T.

Such a curiously bland event has happened more times than necessary in this past week. Indeed, summer being washed away by an early arrival of autumnal shower.

There is no time as melodramatic, though hardly sorrowful, as the current: the thriving green of summer sent upwards in vibrant splashes as the heft of autumn’s amber abundance falls into place.

Gremolata and kabocha, there is not a better time for the two of them to marry. Of course, goat cheese would be more than welcome, as always.

Love colour. Send those sparks flying against the walls raining down.

Let no one despise you for your youth,

but set the believers and example

in speech, in conduct,

in love, in faith,

in purity. 

1 Timothy 4:22

 

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Ingredients for the gremolata:

8 almonds

1 lemon, zested

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

1 c lightly packed flat-leaf parsley

1 large garlic clove

sea salt, to taste

To make the gremolata, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a textured sauce. Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover and set aside as you roast the squash and onions.

Ingredients for the roasted kabocha and onions:

1/2 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into 1-inch thick wedges

2 small brown onions, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges

3 tbsp avocado oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

few dried rosemary needles

To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 410 degrees F, with the rack placed in the middle of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the vegetables gently with oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Arrange on the baking sheet and sprinkle on the rosemary needles.

Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are caramelized and tender.

To serve, drizzle the gremolata over the roasted squash and crumble on some goat cheese, if using, to finish.

Enjoy!

Ain’t No Outrunning the Potato

Under normal circumstances I’m calm and umm… perhaps disconnected (not sure it’s the right word, but that’s not remotely important). ANYWAYS, oh my foodness gracious I can’ t wait to share this salad with you. And for you meat-and-potato guys out there, yeah you, I’m feeling pretty solid on this one. I mean, filled with crispy roasted purple potatoes, caramelized eggplant, toasted almonds, plump sultana raisins, surely something in that list must have hit your sweet spot.

Or maybe you’re wondering if you’d like that combination. But hey, practically everything in life is trial and error (don’t do drugs, kids). Yes, of course a homogeneous bunch of people will get along, but that’s probably the most they’ll ever be. As for me, I feel blessed to have someone sweet to lift my heart, someone spicy to tickle my mind, and someone to act as salt – whom I can’t live without.

Life is a potato salad; you can put whatever you want in it. It can be a side, it can be a show. It can ruin you, it can make you. I take chances with my potato salad. I take time with each component I’ve chosen. I don’t start with a recipe – so it won’t ever be wrong.

It’s just that you want it to fulfill its purpose of providing joy and nourishment to those you love, and not have it end up in the trash.

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Ingredients for the roasted eggplant and zucchini:

1 large round eggplant, diced

1 medium zucchini, quartered then sliced 1/2 inch thick

2/3 tsp sea salt

few rounds freshly cracked black pepper

2 tbsp grape seed oil

To roast the eggplant and zucchini, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with one rack placed at the lower third of the oven and the other at the upper third. Toss all ingredients together very well, spread in a single layer onto a clean baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven on the top rack for 15 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the centers are tender. Let it rest for 5 minutes before lifting them from the pan. The 5 minutes of rest will allow steam to permeate beneath the vegetables so they don’t stick and you can get them out of the pan with their beautiful caramelized bottoms intact effortlessly.

Ingredients for the crispy blue potatoes:

1 litre water

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp sea salt, divided

500g blue new potatoes, scrubbed clean and halved

lots of freshly cracked black pepper

glug of grape seed oil, about 3-4 tbsp

To make the roasted potatoes, combine the water and vinegar in a pot, cover, and bring to the boil. Add 1 tsp of the salt and the potatoes. Cover and boil for 5-8 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and rinse under cool water only until cool enough to handle, then cut each half in half again, to get quarters.

Observe the skin, and once it loses its sheen from the moisture, toss the potatoes with the remaining salt, pepper, and oil.

Place the potatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet (you don’t need to line it or anything – this way you can get the spuds super-crispy). Bake in the hot oven (450 degrees) for 15~20 minutes, until they whistle and puff (literally) and get, of course, super-crispy.

Ingredients for the salad:

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves torn, tender stems chopped, and tough stems discarded

20 almonds, toasted and chopped

1 handful sultana raisins

2 tbsp grainy mustard

big splash, 4-5 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

To assemble the salad, whisk together the mustard and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Toss together the roasted eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, parsley, almonds and raisins in a large salad bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine.

Serve with a fresh baguette or a steak for a rounded meal, or just have it all by itself, which is the way I have mine.

Enjoy!

RAWRrrr

It’s officially half a year since Christmas, and there is absolutely no sign of me missing glazed ham, pumpkin pie, nor cider. I mean, at the time, in the holiday spirit I did enjoy these things, but darling summer, who’s crept up on me as if playing hide and seek here in the Valley, has waved good-bye on my behalf, to all feelings for these beastly feasts.

Suddenly, I find my heart skip beat as I stand beside my Vitamix, counting down the 30 seconds of waiting on my tomato and cucumber mocktail with plum salt. Suddenly, I find myself running six days a week instead of four. Suddenly I find my feet are three shades paler than my legs.

However many changes there have been, one thing has stuck with me like the flaked-off remnants of beige nail polish; it doesn’t really bother you, it’s invisible to everyone around you, but once in a while when you sid down and have your coffee break, you realize “I should really do something about this..”.

I want nanaimo bars.

We all know how these things are sold – in econo-sized slabs. And I know all too well that my mother and I, two little women, will never maw our way through the two pounds of butter and sugar that went into that slab. Hence, for months, I’ve been walking past the chilled display case faintly aware of my numerous sighs.

But then I found this recipe at Noms for the Poor and I thought, “My Daddy in Heaven you spoil me so much! Even to a tiny little thing like my nanaimo bar craving you pay such close attention!”.

And might I say, that this is the best gluten free/vegan dessert I have ever tasted in my life. Actually, let me rephrase that, this is the BEST dessert I’ve ever had. (period.)

Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.

– Isaiah 7:15

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Adapted from Noms for the Poor

Ingredients for the coconut brownie base:

1 cup raw whole almonds

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup cocoa

1 tsp fine sea salt

18 medjool dates, pitted

To make the brownie base, line a square brownie pan with parchment paper extending over the sides. Put the almonds, coconut, and walnuts in the food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the cocoa and salt, then continue with longer pulses until the mixture becomes a coarse sand. Add the dates and pulse until the mixture becomes a moist crumb.

Press this mixture very firmly into the prepared pan and chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or overnight while you soak the cashews.

Ingredients for the coconut custard:

2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight, drained

4 tbsp honey, maple syrup or agave if vegan

4 tbsp virgin coconut oil

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

To make the coconut custard, put all ingredients in the blender (I used my Vitamix) and blend, starting on low speed, then gradually increasing it to the highest speed. Use the tamper to press in any ingredients that are not getting whizzed up.

When the mixture is completely smooth with a consistency of extremely thick sweetened condensed milk, scrape it oover the brownie base. Smooth it out with a spatula (an offset spatula is best for the job), cover, and chill for at least 4 hours to set.

Ingredients for the chocolate covering:

200 g dark chocolate, chopped

Melt the chocolate either in a bowl set over a simmering pan of water or in the microwave (which I do, I must say, and works every time). Spread the melted chocolate over the set custard layer evenly, with a spatula. Chill until hardened.

Before serving, if you wand nice pretty slices that are cleanly cut on the edge, then freeze the nanaimo slab thoroughly. Lift the slab out of the pan by the parchment “handles”. Set it on a firm cutting board and cut it with a sharp, heated knife (turn on the gas stove and hover your blade just over the flames 8-10 seconds). You will need to wash and reheat the knife after a maximum of 2 incisions. Then, thaw the slices so the custard is not frozen, store the rest in the fridge.

OR do as I did, and save yourself the hassle and just cut straight out of the pan. This will give you slices studded with broken chocolate shards and showcase the rich creaminess of the coconut custard. Nobody will ever guess that this glorious mess was vegan.

Enjoy!

Honey Honey

A weekend is always a breath of fresh air a midst a stuffy itinerary of papers, events, and due dates; and I am not about to let it slip by without the addition of some sweet memories. Something wintry and bright, and maybe with a bit of spice would be surely very nice, but continuing with my love for simplicity, the flavours are kept to the bare minimum, and as whole as possible. The ingredient list has five bullets: whole almonds, whole clementines, and whole free-range eggs with naturally sweet honey and organic agave nectar.

I’ve been planning this cake for a long time now, the almonds had been ground a month ago, and the clementines boiled last week (they’ve been chillin’ in the fridge), and finally thanks to, and in celebration of a long weekend, the cake materialized.

This cake reminds me much of a Japanese honey castella cake because of its moist, saturated crumb that’s simultaneously airy and spongy. Yet, because of the ground almonds, the texture gains a rustic personality. The honey’s floral tones are subtle, but more importantly gives the cake a deceptive mouth feel of having been soaked in syrup. Whole clementines not only contribute to the citrus fragrance and a warm color, but also adds spiciness bearing resemblance to that of cardamom and cinnamon. The whipped egg whites give the cake structure and lightness, making it almost a chiffon.

To serve, I included a garnish of candied clementines, which can be baked with the cake.

It’s always nice to have oranges in the New Year (and in general), for good luck (and good health)!

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Ingredients for the clementine cake:

5 to 6 clementines (454 g), boiled for 2 hrs, cooled

1/2 cup honey

2 tbsp organic agave nectar

2 1/3 cups ground almonds (from whole almonds, not blanched)*

6 eggs at room temperature, separated

1 tsp white vinegar (optional, this stabilizes the meringue)

To make the clementine cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with the rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Remove the seeds from the boiled clementines, then place in the blender with honey, agave, ground almonds, and the egg yolks and puree until smooth and pour into a large bowl, set aside. Beat the egg whites (with the vinegar, if using) until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture a third at a time, working quickly but gently so as to not deflate the meringue, until even.

Pour into the prepared pan, then draw a big circle, using a skewer, in the batter. This will help rearrange the air pockets to ensure even rising. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until the center is set when gently jiggled. Let cool for 2 minutes before running a knife along the side of the pan to loosen the cake; this prevents the cake from tearing. Cool completely.

Ingredients for the candied clementines:

2 clementines, thinly sliced crosswise

1/2 cup white granulated sugar

pinch of ground cardamom

Begin making the candied clementines as soon as you put the cake in the oven. Position a second rack just below the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle the sugar into a shallow bowl. Dip the clementine slices in the sugar, three times per side, and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a pinch of cardamom. Bake on the lower rack for 50~55 minutes (also at 325 degrees F), or until crisp and caramelized. Cool completely.

Serve the cake the day after you make it at room temperature; as with most cakes it tastes better once it’s rested. Garnish with a candied clementine slice and  a drizzle of chocolate sauce (stir together dutch cocoa powder with agave nectar to desired consistency).

*to make your own ground almonds, roughly chop raw whole almonds roughly and pulse in a food processor until it reaches the texture of cornmeal. Store in an airtight container. You don’t need it for this recipe, but you can also make your own almond flour by sifting ground almonds – the extra fine grains that manage to pass the sieve would be the almond flour.