I’m in a Starbucks, sitting at a window seat from which my field of vision spills out like the sun onto a lightly bleached lower Spadina. It’s hard to believe the Thursday rain, the February pain. It feels, even if it’s not the case, that summer’s speaking. It just feels that way. But I still have my soft-spun sweater on, my hair still cascades my lower back. No, my closet hasn’t moulted, and my hair’s still a winter mane. I might be hesitant. I just might.
What am I waiting for? Rather, what do I hope awaits me? Or take hope from the equation and let’s be real.
What now? What then?
If I wished time would stop, it wouldn’t, not for me. Because the clouds won’t stay up forever. They all fall from their little heaven. Because seeds don’t sleep forever. They all come back alive from the dead.
Yes, there’s a foot still for the asparagus to grow. A few more hues until the rhubarb is red. A couple nights before the ramps go hide. And a blink of eye before fiddlehead becomes fern.
Yes, time’s on its way. And since it won’t stop for me, then it may as well be. Be, for me. Yes, I know it. It’s coming, a time just for me. I just don’t know when.
Like spring. Like seasons. We know it’s coming. Just not exactly when.
500 ml heavy cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
In a sauce pan, heat the cream gently to a low simmer (180°F), and keep it at that state for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the lemon juice and continue simmering and stirring for another 3 minutes. Be careful not to boil the cream.
Remove from the heat and pour into a mason jar for a loose mascarpone, or pour into a sieve with a double-layer of cheesecloth set over a large bowl if you want a thicker consistency.
Cool completely then refrigerate overnight to set. Discard any excess whey that may have accumulated. This will keep nicely for about a week in your fridge.
1 bunch, about 2lbs fresh rhubarb, cut into 2-inch batons
2 tsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp sugar
Pinch sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss the rhubarb with oil, sugar, and salt.
Arranger the rhubarb, concave side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle any leftover sugar on top.
Bake for 30 minutes or until caramelized and flattened.
Cool completely and store in the fridge.
Dried Rose Dust
1/2 c dried rosehips
Place the rosehips in a clean spice grinder and blitz ti as fine as possible.
Gently tap the powder through a fine sieve and discard any larger bits or leftover fuzz.
Store the passed rose powder in a small clean jar and seal tightly. Use within a month.
Caramelized Rhubarb with Whipped Mascarpone, and Dried Rose
Dried Rose Dust
honey, preferably lavender or orange blossom
your favourite granola
Lift the rhubarb gently from the baking dish and arrange on serving plates.
Whip the mascarpone to stiff peaks (I used the loose version). Spoon dollops of this onto the rhubarb.
Add a light dusting of rose by tapping it through a sieve over the mascarpone.
Garnish with granola and a generous drizzle of honey.
Ube Cheesecake with Toasted Coconut Crust and Blackberries
Makes a moderately tall, 9-inch cake – serves 12
Toasted Coconut Crust:
1 c unsweetened dessicated coconut
1 sleeve Maria biscuits, roughly broken up
1/3 c coconut oil, melted
In a skillet, stir the coconut over medium heat until golden, crisp, and aromatic. Transfer to a plate, spreading it out evenly, and let cool completely.
Add the toasted coconut and Maria biscuits to a blender or food processor and blend do a sand consistency.
Transfer the crumb mixture to a bowl and stir in the coconut oil until the mixture resembles damp sand.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and press the crumb mixture firmly into the pan to form the crust.
Chill the crust thoroughly in the fridge, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake the crust for 20 minutes, or until golden and lightly browned along the edge.
Cool completely while you make the cheesecake batter.
Ube Cheesecake Filling
2 small ube or purple sweet potato – scrubbed clean and steamed until tender
750 g 2% cottage cheese
500 g full fat cream cheese, room temperature
3 eggs, room temperature
2/3 c sugar
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with a rack set at the lowest part of the oven and a rack at the center. Place a sheet pan on the lower rack.
Break the steamed ube into pieces and blend on LOW SPEED until smooth and thick with the cottage cheese. (Vigorous blending may destroy the protein structure of the curds and prevent your cheesecake from setting properly. You’ll know you’ve taken it too far when you’ve essentially liquefied the mixture.)
Beat the cream cheese, sugar, coconut extract, and vanilla extract in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.
Pour the ube mixture into the cream cheese mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.
Once your oven is preheated, pour water into the preheated sheet pan (step 1) to quickly create steam.
Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared crust, place on another sheet pan, and bake on the top rack for 50-60 minutes, or until the edge is slightly puffed and only the center has a slight jiggle.
Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool until warm enough to touch with the oven door slightly ajar.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before covering with foil and chilling completely in the fridge (preferably overnight).
Run a thin blade between the cheesecake edge and sides of the pan before unmolding.
Top with blackberries, whipped coconut cream, diced mango, or any other topping that you feel like.
Slice with a sharp chef’s knife dipped in hot water, cleaning and reheating the blade between each slice.
It’s been a while since I last posted, so forgive me if my words seem a little rusty. And no, I haven’t forgotten the whole debate thing, but when I have a recipe that really excites me, I don’t want any distraction – I just want to get it on the table.
As many of you know, dessert-for-breakfast is a pretty standard card on my table. From apple pie, to pain au chocolat, to honey kasutera, and black sesame tang yuan – you see why I have no trouble waking up each morning.
This week, it’s been brownies. The first batch had crisp, crumbly edges and a dense interior. I ate these for breakfast for five days straight, and they were fine, but far from perfect. They were a little too tall, a little too crumbly, and they didn’t have the shiny craggle-top. So I changed a few things – same ingredients, same measurements, different technique, and these came out.
I tried to give as much detail as possible and as much reasoning as possible to demystify what makes a ‘perfect’ brownie and in a way that you’d remember. And by the way, these are gluten free – not because I was trying to go for a GF recipe, but because I love the combination of dark chocolate and buckwheat, and believe it or not, I find it much easier to work with.
“I have always loved you,”
says the Lord.
Dark Chocolate Buckwheat Brownies – makes 1 8 by 8 inch slab
4 free range eggs, at room temperature
180 ml packed golden sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
60 ml olive oil
125 ml unsalted butter
300 ml chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
240 ml buckwheat flour
Place the eggs, sugar, salt, and olive oil in a mixing bowl and beat with a fork until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside. (Using a fork instead of a whisk or electric beaters will minimize the amount of air incorporated into the batter, giving you denser and fudgier brownies. The dissolved sugar that binds with the egg forms a skin as it dries during the beginning stages of baking – similar to the smooth shell of macarons.)
In a small saucepot, melt the butter over medium low heat, swirling occasionally. As soon as the butter is melted, add all of the chocolate and turn off the heat. Let the mixture sit for 30 seconds, then stir gently for about 2 minutes until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. (Butter melts at 35°C, and chocolate melts at 30°C. Since the eggs only coagulate at around 60°C, you should have no problem combining the two directly.)
Pour all of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and mix with a fork until smooth and shiny. Add all of the buckwheat flour and fold it in gently with a fork, making sure you get rid of any lumps. (The finished batter should be smooth, shiny, and considerably runny for a brownie. Don’t worry, it only seems very runny because it has tons of melted fat and un-coagulated protein.)
Line an 8-by-8 inch square baking pan with parchment extending up the sides and pour in the batter. Tap it firmly against your counter for 5-7 times to get rid of any air bubbles. (Air bubbles will rise to the surface during baking and break the craggly skin you want.)
Allow the mixture to rest for 20-30 minutes as you preheat the oven to 325°F, placing the rack slightly above the middle of the oven. (Most recipes will give 350°F as the temperature setting, but the same ingredient transformations such as proteins denaturing, sugars rearranging, and starches gelatinizing can all happen at a lower temperature. In addition, the low temperature ensures that the cooking is more even since heat travels through mediums at a constant speed regardless of the difference between the surrounding temperature and the medium’s temperature, and a slower and lesser rise which will not disturb the delicate wafer-thin skin that forms at the top nor turn the brownie cake-y.)
Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until the middle is puffed up, shiny, but still jiggles when you shake it gently. (The middle only puffs up because the moisture there is heated through, becoming steam which rises, but it is still wobbly which means that the starches haven’t completely expanded and set up. In other words, it’s cooked but not over-baked.)
Place directly on the counter and cool to room temperature. If you would like, now is the time to sprinkle on some fleur de sel – while it’s hot and still giving off steam so it sticks. (You want to cool the brownie down as quickly as possible so that the center stops cooking immediately, contracts back down, and turns the smooth shiny skin into the craggle-top. Air is a poor conductor of heat, so cooling it on a rack is about as ineffective as you can do. If you have a marble countertop that is the best way to go.)
Chill completely in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Once chilled, lift the brownie slab from the pan by holding the extended sides of parchment. Cut into 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, or 16 slices – whatever you fancy. I like to cut them into 6 pieces, makes the perfect breakfast size for me. (Chilling the brownies before slicing solidifies the butter and chocolate fats, giving you cleaner edges.)
You can bring them back to room temperature to serve once you’ve cut them, pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds so they get all gooey, or have them straight from the fridge. I prefer the last one.
America’s large, loud trumpet that is Trump knows only one tune: “Wrong.”
The following is an excerpt from his speech on trade, corrected by me so that it actually addresses trade.
“We allowed foreign countries to subsidize their goods, devalue their currencies, violate their agreements and cheat in every way imaginable, and our politicians did nothing about it. Because these countries are sovereign states and as a sovereign state ourselves, we respect that fact and have no right, nor power to tell them otherwise. Trillions of our dollars and millions of our jobs flowed overseas, while trillions of dollars flowed into and millions more jobs were created in this country as a result of globalization, an unstoppable wave that crashes against the walls that separate the Us and Them. At the same time I have visited cities and towns across this country where one-third or even half of manufacturing jobs have been wiped out in the last 20 years, to be replaced by even more jobs in high-paying tech, finance, and service sectors.
Today, we import nearly $800 billion more in goods than we export because we are a major consumption power and have a huge economy that generates enough income to support this spending (or have established enough credit to be able to finance it). We can’t continue to pretend as if we can stand to be an autarky, as if we can survive the world we are in now by raising up walls made of taxes and restrictions. This is not some natural disaster, it’s a hodge-podge of globalization, technology, and cultural evolution. Very simple. And it need not be corrected because trying to do so would endorse isolation, reversion, and the undoing of everything the years after the two World Wars and the Cold War has taught us. It would mean turning our greatest trading partners, China, Mexico, and the European Union into our adversaries and losing out on over 40% of our country’s total trade volume. It would be the consequence… It would be the consequence of a leadership class that worships Americanism and perversely sacrifices its diverse economy and position as a world economic superpower to satisfy its dream of becoming an endless field of corn as yellow as Donald’s hair. This would be a direct affront to our founding fathers, who wanted America to be strong. They wanted this country to be strong. They wanted to be independent and they wanted it to be free. This means not building a cage around ourselves.
Our founding fathers understood trade much better than Donald, believe me.
George Washington said that the promotion of domestic manufacturing will be among the first consequences to flow from an energetic government. That was in the 18th century, in an era where the posterchild of the world was Britain due to the first industrial revolution. Alexander Hamilton spoke frequently of the expediency of encouraging manufacturing in, in, in the United States. He died in 1804, had he witnessed the birth of the Internet, and the dawn of Big Data, he might have focused on that instead. Might I remind you, that we live in the 21st Century?
And listen to this. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that, quote, “the abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.” This was under the context of an American torn and shattered by the Civil War that lasted during his presidency. And as anyone who has taken a political science or history course, Abraham understood that in order to hold America together, resources must be focused inward to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, economy, and cohesion. He understood it much better than Trump, that’s why he was Abraham Lincoln, I guess.
Yes, our original Constitution did not even have an income tax. Instead, it had tariffs emphasizing taxation of foreign, not domestic, production. Yes, because the original Constitution was signed in 1787, when America just hopped onto the industrial revolution choo-choo train and it needed to protect its fledgling manufacturing sector from its major competitor, Britain.
Today, 240 years after the Revolution, we’ve turned things completely upside down for good. We tax and regulate and restrict our companies because they are the biggest users of the America’s resources, and we allow foreign countries to export their goods to us tax-free so the American people can enjoy a higher abundance of goods at a lower cost.
As a result, we have become more dependent on foreign countries than ever before, just as they have become more dependent on us. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to embrace co-operation and winning together.
That means not voting for Donald Trump.”
Now, I say this because I love you, America. And also because I want you to keep making cream cheese and apple pie.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
but with humility of mind regard one another
as more important than yourselves;
Creme Brulee Apple Pie-Stuffed Cheesecake
Butter Biscuit Crust:
1 sleeve maria biscuits, broken into pieces
1/2 c butter, melted
1 tsp salt
Place the maria biscuits into a food processor, and pulse until they become uniform fine crumbs.
Add the butter and salt and pulse until mixture is moistened.
Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and press the cookie mixture firmly into the pan to form the crust. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Cool.
500 g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese, cubed (2 bricks)
1 kg cottage cheese
1 tsp salt
3/4 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 8-inch apple pie (store-bought)
Place cottage cheese in a blender and blend on medium speed until thick and creamy. Add the salt, sugar, vanilla, and cream cheese brick by brick, then the eggs, one at a time.
Divide the batter in half, and whisk in the cinnamon into one half.
Pour the cinnamon cheesecake batter over the crust. Gently put in the apple pie, and pour the plain vanilla cheesecake batter on top to completely cover the pie.
Bake at 300 degrees F on the middle rack for 45-50 minutes, or until almost set (with a slight jiggle in the center). Place a tray of water in the lower rack to prevent cracks from forming.
Cool completely before chilling overnight.
Brulee Sugar Top:
To serve, slice the cheesecake into 12 slices, running the blade under hot water between each cut to get the cleanest slices.
Sprinkle the top of each slice generously with 2 tsp white sugar. Using a blowtorch, brulee the top until sugar is melted and caramelized.
Chill for another 15 minutes to let the sugar harden a bit more for extra crunch.
My mother speaks the language of flowers. Put a few fresh stems in her hands, and her eyes will light up behind her lashes like the morning sun – warm and sparkling between tall slender blades of grass. “Orchids like to talk to one another, so you have to listen to their conversation and find out who’s speaking to who”, she once told me.
I don’t speak flowers, ___ I don’t need to in order to see their beauty.
I speak Mandarin, French, and English, ___ Canada is home. My grandmother says girls should not be muscular, ___ I run marathons. I’m an actuarial analyst, ___ art comes naturally. My mother allows the men in our family to speak over her, ___ I scrutinize every word. I love Christ, ___ my best friends do not.
If I asked you if I am an artist, could you answer? Sure you could. Whether you chose to insert “and” or “but” into the above statements doesn’t change who I am or what I do. Your choice reflects you and only you. How would you rather choose?
If one gives an answer
before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.
Espresso Olive Oil Chocolate Cake with 70% Ganache, Merlot Salt, and Honeycomb
Espresso Olive Oil Sponge – Serves 12
1 c sugar
7/8 c AP flour
1/2 c Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 c buttermilk
1/2 c espresso or strong coffee
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°F, with the rack in the bottom third of the oven. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Repeat this step.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, espresso, oil, and vanilla until homogeneous.
Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until smooth – the batter will be quite thin.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Cool completely then chill in in the fridge.
70% Ganache Glaze
150 g dark eating chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids, finely chopped
125 g heavy cream (at least 34% milk fat)
1/2 tbsp glucose, optional but makes the ganache shinier
Place the chocolate and glucose in a large bowl.
Heat the cream in the microwave until just starting to foam on the surface.
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 3-4 minutes, to allow the chocolate to heat through.
Stir the mixture until completely smooth.
1 Espresso Olive Oil Chocolate Sponge, chilled
1 recipe 70% Ganache Glaze, still warm
finishing salt, such as fleur de sel or flaked sea salt (I used 424’s Merlot Salt), as needed
Not because of any particular scornful or contemptuous experience, but straight-up that I never even tried. Surrounding this strange celery-chard looking vegetable that bears as much resemblance to a fruit as a tomato does to a vegetable but which somehow passes as one in all of the best baked offerings in this balmy season were too many questions for this me of a stranger.
Why is it sometimes pale green dirtied with half hearted contours of muddied red? And does that mean it’s unripe and therefore toxic to eat (in parallel with tomatoes)? Do I roast or stew it first before incorporating it into recipes, or does it soften at a compatible rate as the rate at which most pastries and batters cook? How well does it retain its bright red colour under heat? How acidic is it really? And this last one which for some odd reason gives me a level of unrest borderlining the societal anxiety associated with the oatmeal cookie raisin-vs-chocolate debate: are strawberries a must?
As you can see, in the time I spent deliberating each of these questions, the following two recipes could have been sent well on their way in the oven. To further the iron content in all this, all of those questions were answered only after I got my hands gritty with two pounds of rhubarb.
And the fruits of this new-found friendship, as you will soon discover in the recipes to follow, are worth the labour.
So that got me thinking, maybe people are (just) like rhubarb? Such that as one actually makes the simple effort of adding a bit of warmth and sweetness to the equation, it solves itself, and the questions either melt away and become negligible, or are answered in the process?
Oil and perfume
make the heart glad,
so a man’s counsel
to his friend.
Rhubarb Shortbread Bars – makes 1 9-inch square pan
For the butter shortbread
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 c icing sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 c cold unsalted butter, cubed
2-3 tbsp cold water
Line a square baking pan with parchment paper extending past the sides by at least 1 inch (this will act as ‘handles’ by which you can lift out the entire piece later for slicing).
Place the flour, sugar, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is even and very pale yellow throughout.
With the motor running, add the water one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture begins to clump together.
Dump the crumbly dough into the prepared pan and press it down firmly to form an even layer right to the edges.
Stick the pan in the freezer to chill for 10~15 minutes as you preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden and the top no longer appears wet.
Take it out to cool as you make the rhubarb curd.
For the rhubarb curd
1 lb rhubarb, chopped
1 can (355ml) cranberry juice concentrate
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c cornstarch
few drops red food coloring, optional
Place the rhubarb, cranberry juice concentrate, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to simmer until the rhubarb is very tender, about 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool completely.
In a blender, blend together the rhubarb mixture (including all the liquid), cornstarch, eggs, and food coloring until smooth.
Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until very thick (the mixture is quite thick to begin with, so it’s safe to bring the mixture to a sure simmer, which also ensures that the starch-destroying enzyme alpha-amylase is gotten rid of).
Pour the curd onto the baked shortbread base, smooth out the top with a spatula, and bake at 300 degrees F on the lowest rack for a further 30-35 minutes, or until only a slight jiggle remains in the center.
Cool completely on a rack before putting it in the fridge to set overnight.
To serve, loosen the edges by sliding a thin knife right along the sides of the pan. Grab the extended parchment handles firmly and lift the entire bar out onto a cutting board. Make neat slices with a straight-edged knife by running the blade under hot water and quickly wiping it dry before every slice. There’s no need to dust it with icing sugar as the bars will have produced a nice glaze on its own.
And east is east and
west is west
and if you take cranberries
and stew them
they taste much more like prunes
than rhubarb does.
~ Groucho Marx, 1890-1977
Rhubarb Frangipane Tarte Fine – makes 2 tarts as pictured above, adapted from the Bojon Gourmet’s Rustic Rhubarb, Almond, and Honey Tart
For the Almond Frangipane:
90 g ground almonds
75 g sugar
40 g rice flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
85 g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender (if you are using a blender, make sure you put the eggs in first so the blender can run smoothly) and blend until as smooth and even as it will go. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days if not using immediately.
For the rest of the Rhubarb Tart:
2 sheets puff pastry
6 rhubarb stalks cut in half crosswise (so that it fits on the pastry), about 1 pound
1 beaten egg, for brushing
2 tbsp sugar
icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, with the rack placed in the top third of the oven.
Dust the pastry with flour and roll it out to fit the pan. Prick the pastry all over with a fork, leaving only the outer 1 inch un-pricked.
Divide the almond cream between the two rolled sheets of dough and spread evenly, leaving the outer 1-inch bare.
Arrange the rhubarb over the almond cream.
Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg and sprinkle sugar on the rhubarb and the brushed edges.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the rhubarb is tender.
Let cool before dusting with icing sugar and slicing.