Category — Seasonal

On Beauty 0

October 19, 2017

 

 

From where I’m sitting, October just got serious. Waves of storm fronts are sweeping down from the Gulf of Alaska and the puddles are toddler-splash-worthy on the driveway.  But the sudden shift to dark, wet, autumn weather feels a little harder to take this time. I’m not talking about the seasonal shift from summer to fall I went on about before. Apple cake fixed that right up.

I’m talking about this new, deeper, more inward shift, one that still happens every year with the rains, but feels…less stitched with hope now. Yesterday we learned that a Canadian music and culture icon died. Women everywhere are having to be brave in ways that make my heart ache. Environmental destruction seems to be so ever-present that it keeps jumping up the list of chronic stressors. I won’t go on.

I found myself staring at a spear of kale this morning. It was about to be chopped up for a soup, but the onion I’d diced had left its noxious fumes in the air and my eyes were watering, so I left the kitchen with the kale leaf in one hand and blinked away the sting by the feeble grey light of the back door.

This leaf. Dinosaur kale. Lacinato. Brassica oleracea sabellica.  Tall with a slightly sad tilt to the top. Rippling bubbles of chorophylled tissue. I held it up to the light. What a revelation, I thought. What a strange piece of matter this is.

How beautiful.

I wasn’t sure why. There was something about its absurdity, its prehistoric-ness, it’s unexpected tastiness, that made it striking. Which made me think: what is beauty? Yes, it’s personal, yes, it’s culturally seeded in us, yes, we are biologically drawn to it. But what if it’s something I never thought about before this moment with this piece of kale?

What if our perception of beauty is a kind of hope?

 

 

I thought about the reasons I found this stalk of a plant beautiful–this thing we’ve bred into existence. This leaf that looks diseased and genetically doomed. This combination of atoms from long ago stars that I will feed to my family later. There’s hope in all of that. A wish for the future.

Could that be part of why it’s beautiful to me? Its own improbable, magical existence?

Hope is something that’s been flagging in me lately. (See above non-inclusive list of this week’s terrible news.) The biggest hope machines I have are my kids, who haven’t yet learned to doubt or be cynical or let the world get them down. That’s part of their beauty too. So, hope makes me happier. It protects me from the darkness. When I think about how hope makes me feel–the warm upward tug of it in my body, it doesn’t feel very distinguishable from the experience of beauty. Maybe not at all. A field of red poppies. A puppy. A perfect story. A stack of pancakes. Beauty and hope. Hope and beauty. Maybe it’s better to talk about them both as part of the same thing. Maybe.

And the soup was delicious, by the way.

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Seasonal

A Brave Apple Cake 3

October 3, 2017

 

 

Early the other morning, Little E and The Tiger rushed into our room to report that one of the windows was broken. Broken? we asked. Yes, it’s all wet on the inside, maybe the inside-inside, they said.

 

Hmm.

 

So we dragged ourselves into the living room to find our picture window all fogged up. And it did look like it was on the inside-inside. For a moment DH and I wondered if the seal on the window had broken.  I felt a sleepy kind of pride that the kids might have got it right without any knowledge of window anatomy. So we sent Little e outside (no shoes necessary, she insisted) to check from that side, and when she couldn’t give us a satisfactory report (It still looks broken!), D went out (also barefooted) and jumped like a basketball player to reach the window with his finger.

 

Nope. Not broken. Just dewy on the outside. The outside-outside.

 

 

Just the undeniable start of autumn.

 

I have to admit I don’t love it. It’s not that it’s not gorgeous and colourful and full of a season’s worth of fruit and veggies. It’s that it’s not summer anymore. Okay, so maybe I should say, I don’t love the end of summer, and I blame autumn for it. There’s dew on the house and grass and car. It’s funny because once I get used to the idea of sweaters and cold mornings and darkness coming down swiftly after dinner, I’m alright. Autumn’s a great season, once it gets going (well, maybe until the endless rain hits…). But the start of it? Ugh, that’s tough for me. It feels a little broken on the inside-inside.

 

And what makes me feel a little less seasonally broken? Yup, baking.

 

 

I have a list of late summer/early autumn recipes I make just this time of year, and as you can probably guess by the huge number of seasonal delights on this site, those are where our hearts lie.

 

 

I’ve shamelessly tinkered with Deb Perelman’s awesome apple cake recipe because I can’t not tinker when I bake—it’s a compulsion. I used a mix of white, whole wheat and oat flour, added rolled oats, and in the one I made last week I used pecans instead of walnuts and it was GLORIOUS for all except Little e, who gives nuts a wide berth on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings and any other time when you start to think she’s reverted back to liking them. I also bake the cake in a rectangular pan, not a tube pan, which the recipe calls for. It wasn’t on purpose. I just cannot find my tube pan.

 

 

Apple Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe

 

6 apples (I used macs from our tree), peeled and chopped into small bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp cinnamon

3 tbsp brown or granulated sugar

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup oat flour

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup rolled oats

1 ½ tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

¼ cup orange juice or buttermilk

2 1/2 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts or pecans

 

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a tube pan like Deb does, or a rectangular cake pan like I do. Toss the apples with the cinnamon and 3 tablespoons sugar and set this bowl aside. Combine the flours, baking powder, oats and salt together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl or jug, whisk together oil, juice or buttermilk, remaining sugar, vanilla and eggs. Stir wet ingredients into dry, and then fold in the nuts.

 

Pour the batter into the cake pan and top with the apples, pressing them down into the batter so it rises up a little around them. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, but do take it out when the toothpick tester is just a little damp with cake–otherwise it may be too dry when it cools. Let it cool completely in the pan and then cut into squares (I keep mine in the pan and serve from there).

 

XO

Ria

In: Food, From Ria, Includes a recipe!, Kids and Parenting, Seasonal

Anatomy of a Birthday Cake VI 2

July 6, 2017

 

I just realised the last time I posted in this birthday cake series was a year ago. Oops. Guess I missed a kid’s birthday in between. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t recall what cake we made Little e–because she had a cake, you can be sure of that. It was good, I’m sure. Probably so complex I couldn’t find a spare second to take out the camera and get decent process photos.

This year, The Tiger was too busy playing cars and having Paw Patrol adventures on the living room floor to tell me what cake he wanted (or, actually, in reply to the question, he said, “Train. Boat. Dine-saur. Have a snack?”). So I made an executive decision. Actually several.

1. It would be a lion. I have no idea why.

 

 

Since we just moved and haven’t fully unpacked the kitchen (our old place was bigger), I simply could not locate the large sheet pan I use for birthday cakes and spend a crazed ten minutes wondering how on earth I was going to manage. Enter one life-saving revelation: cupcakes. Suddenly I was (quietly) brilliant. A round layer cake in the middle and a circle of cupcakes around it to make it larger–and serve as the mane! And the ears! I fricking was brilliant! And Google showed me several other brilliant people who had had the same brainwave. I felt kinship with these anonymous folk.

2. It would have ermine icing.

I knew I wanted to cut back on as much sugar as possible but still make a sponge cake and a generous amount of icing. I started experimenting with a kind of icing I’d had years before, when visiting my sister in Ohio when she was at university. It’s called ermine icing or boiled milk frosting (to which I say the former name definitely gets my vote, since ermine are possibly the cutest kind of weasel there ever could be). It’s an unusual concotion and method for someone used to buttercreams, but oh my goodness, does it make a nice light icing–and with much less sugar, since the sugar is not the ingredient providing structure; the milk and flour are. Yes, milk and flour. Are you still with me?

I added a freeze-dried mango powder I’d been saving for ages, which Hannah had sent me upon my astonished comment that such a marvel existed. For the mane I added almost a whole melted bar of Lindt milk chocolate (chocolate-mango icing: yes please, right?) to the remainder after covering the lion’s face.

3. It would feature a mango curd filling. Just because.

 

 

And even though it was, as usual, a mad dash to the end and I was still finishing the piping as our guests arrived, it did, as usual, work out. And it was tasty. Thank goodness (as usual).

Cake: Nigella Lawson’s buttermilk birthday cake (also see this cake I made last year)

Icing: Ermine Icing from The New York Times but flavoured with freeze-dried mango powder (sent lovingly by Hannah!)

Filling: Mango curd from Smitten Kitchen.

Whiskers, etc: natural liquorice, half-square of milk chocolate (nose) and dried cherries (eyes)

 

XO

Ria

 

 

In: Food, From Ria, Kids and Parenting, Seasonal

The Rhubarb’s Farewell 1

May 17, 2017

This week we left our house to begin life in a new one. A whole new garden of woodbugs, as it were. But before we left, our sturdy, reliable old rhubarb plant gave us a final farewell. Before I moved to that house, I had never seen a rhubarb flower. I didn’t even know it did, or maybe hadn’t considered that such a leafy, quietly steadfast anchor of the vegetable patch could put blooms out.

If you’ve never seen it before, a rhubarb’s flowering can catch you by surprise. There’s something prehistoric about it, something bordering on unseemly. It looks like a kind of plant brain on top of a thick stalk. It’s bold and unembarrassed.

 

 

And when it emerged, it felt a little celebratory. Maybe not in a congratulations-you’ve-sold-your-house-and-are-moving-on-to-exciting-things kind of way, but the timing had me reaching for that sentiment. Go rhurbarb. Go us. Let’s flower the hell out of this season, whatever it brings.

And now we are in our new home and there is a small rhubarb plant in the garden. It isn’t flowering, or even doing as well as our old one. But, bless it, it’s there. The potential for a towering brain-full of rhubarb blossoms is there. Maybe next year. You never know.

 

 

This same rhubarb plant gave us this a few years ago, and Hannah blogged about this yummy recipe a year before that.

XO

Ria

In: From Ria, Seasonal

Our Anzac baby 2

April 25, 2017

 

The sun has set on another Anzac Day, the day New Zealanders and Australians commemorate those who served in wars. It is a public holiday and always rather special – even aside from the important acknowledgment of our forces and our country’s current peace – it is the beginning of autumn, often a bright, bluebird kind of a day, close to Easter and the last public holiday for some time. The meaning and beauty of the day lends itself to family catch-ups, walks, feeling grateful and baking. But five years ago someone made this day significantly more special for us.

 

 

B2 was born before dawn, in time to see the sun rise, in a manner that is just like her: on time and textbook perfect. B2 is a stickler for rules. She’s also the only one of my births that went to some kind of plan and didn’t require assistance, as B2 hardly ever requires assistance. I still remember my sleepless, post-birth elation, staring at this perfect being – smooth, flawless skin and rosebud lips, bundled up like a glowworm. B2 was the baby of the family for some time but we should have known she wasn’t destined to stay that way with her resolute independence, huge roar and ceaseless curiosity. She was born in the year of the dragon and has lived up to that creature too – both fierce and shiny, full of fire and magic; something you can’t help but stare at. I cannot wait to see the life she leads. For now she’s off to school and not half-excited about it. She’s been begging for homework for months, literally climbing the walls (well, the columns in the hallways, shimmies up them with her feet like a monkey) when we drop big sister off to her classroom and is busting to join the ranks of the big girls in the playground at lunchtime. I really hope she thrives there. I hope they are prepared for handling her particular brand of firework.

 

 

In honour of our joyful, full-of-life, always singing / giggling / roaring Anzac baby and because they happen to be the best version of an Anzac biscuit I have ever eaten, I am sharing this recipe for Anzac squares. These biscuits are caramel and oat, crunch and chew, in exactly the right balance. The trick, in my opinion, is the addition of walnuts, which don’t often feature in an Anzac biscuit but, quite frankly SHOULD. I’m sure you’ll agree after you taste them. They give the biscuit an edge. A complex, resin-y, tannin-y, all-round-pleasing kind of an edge.  Drizzling your squares with chocolate is entirely optional and I won’t judge you for doing so. Share these with your babies and the ones that are no longer babies, those that are lurching off on their own new adventures.

 

 

Anzac Squares

Ingredients

1 cup flour

1 cup coconut

2 cups rolled oats

120g walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

230g butter

4 tsp golden syrup

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla paste / essence

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / 350 fahrenheit and line a shallow baking tin (approx 30cm x 45cm)

Combine flour, coconut, rolled oats, salt and walnuts in a large bowl. Add the sugars and mix well.

Put the butter, golden syrup, sifted baking soda in a saucepan and melt gently together over a medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to froth. Pour into dry ingredients and add vanilla paste / essence.

Stir until well combined and then press mixture evenly into your shallow baking tin.

Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the tin. Bake for a further 5 – 10 minutes until it is golden brown.

Cut into squares while it is still hot. Cool till warm before transferring to a container and storing airtight. Will last up to a month, if they are not all devoured within 24 hours. Can be drizzled with melted chocolate, if you are that way inclined.

Makes 40+ squares

 

With love,

Hannah

In: Food, From Hannah, Includes a recipe!, Seasonal, Sweet Little Something