01 July 2015

Mmm...Canada: Lemon Rhubarb Pound Cake


150626 Lemon Rhubarb Poundcake 2

Happy Canada Day!

This year I offer one of my favourite spring/summer cakes to ring in my country's 148th birthday. A lemon rhubarb pound cake.

When I was little I wasn't very fond of rhubarb -- it was just too sour.  My neighbour grew it in her garden and would give my mum jewel-like stalks.  Experiments ensued.  A strawberry-rhubarb something was by far my favourite, but I thought it would have been better sans the stalks.  I'm not sure I'd come to the same conclusion today.

Time passed and now I look forward to spring and summer, if not for the long ruby and green stems that I see thrusting from the ground, or bundled at my favourite country market.  Neither my parents nor I grow rhubarb--so I can't just amble out and harvest some for my kitchen. One of these days I'll either plant some or befriend someone with a surfeit of the stuff.

I must admit I do find rhubarb a bit of an unwieldy venture.  The stalks sometimes feel as long as I am tall, and finding an out-of-the-way storage space can be an adventure.  They balance on top of refrigerated containers of leftovers and bottles of milk or weave and precarious path between bottles and packets.  If I'm not paying attention and let the lie on the counter, the cats bat at the tips and occasionally tear off the remnants of the (poisonous) leaves.  Yes, I have cleaned up the evidence of their taste testing. Yes (again), I should be better about trimming off the leaves if the stalks are going to lie about for any amount of time.

I'm not sure why, but in spring and early summer I tend to crave sharp flavours--lemon, lime, vinegary coleslaws--which is probably why I spend much of that time baking lemon and buttermilk cakes. Rhubarb seemed to be a natural addition to the batter, and a very good one.  Slightly damp and just tart enough, this loaf is a more than welcome accompaniment to my afternoon tea.


150626 Lemon Rhubarb Poundcake 1Lemon Rhubarb Pound cake

Yield 1 loaf

Ingredients
zest of half a lemon (see notes)
200g/250ml/1c sugar
100ml/0.33c+1Tbsp buttermilk
20ml/2dspn/1.5Tbsp lemon juice
170g/280ml/1c+2Tbsp all purpose flour
1/4tsp/1.25ml baking powder
1/4tsp/1.25ml salt
85g/90ml/6Tbsp soft butter
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla (optional)
250g/500ml/2c finely chopped rhubarb

Method
Line an 8-1/2" or 8" loaf tin
Preheat oven to 170C/325F.

Rub the lemon zest into the sugar in your mixing bowl.

Mix the lemon juice into the buttermilk and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

Cream together the lemon sugar and butter.  Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.  Mix in the vanilla, if using.

Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down bowl after incorporating each buttermilk addition.  Fold in the rhubarb.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.  Tap the pan a few times to release any trapped air bubbles.

Bake for 90 minutes, or until the top is golden brown, the sides pull away from the tin and an inserted skewer is clean-ish (see notes).

Notes:

  • You can use the zest of the whole lemon, if you wish.
  • This is a damp cake--the skewer won't reveal crumbs, as with many other cakes, but a *slight* stickiness.
  • I prefer this cake without icing or glaze, but if you prefer it enrobed, try a lemon glaze or cream cheese icing.


Variation

  • This cake can be made with sour cherries instead of rhubarb


cheers!
jasmine
I'm a quill for hire!

01 June 2015

On taking the cake crumb’d path more interesting

I Saw a Heffalump Today Piglet

I like the Internet’s capability to support a jumble of voices. Different viewpoints. Different beliefs. Different experiences. Many work hard to quash that multiplicity. Many more work hard to keep it. I don’t agree with everything I read, but then again, in a democracy, I don’t expect to.

Social media's allure rests in the fact that it empowers 
Social Media wrests authority from states, institutions, and corporations – the structures that traditionally (try to) control people and information. It gives marginalised and disenfranchised people both voice and community through discussion and collaboration. For better or for worse, it removes physical, educational, experiential or geopolitical restraints that traditionally precede accomplishment and recognition. It also blossoms friendships and reconnects long lost loves.

As more opportunities appeared online, more people and organisations took notice. Social media didn’t so much grow as explode. On the way to being the easy and quick path to the magic jellybeans of audience, authority, and money, those restrictive structures – from which early adopters tried to escape – became part of the online fabric’s warp and weft. But just as those states, institutions and corporations continue to try to impose their biases and rules on the Internet, some people feel entitled to do the same. Whether they act alone, band together in an association or align with traditional seats of power, they attempt to shape others’ behaviours and standards.

What empowers the bad also empowers the good 
I see and understand both sides. It’s not that I have to, but I choose to. That choice was born of 23 years traipsing through Usenet, newsgroups and blogs; years before marketers and self-styled visionaries coined the term “social media.” In that time, I’ve learned that regardless of online controversy or development, social media thrives because of creators, facilitators, learners, and doers. They continue to build on ideas and create communities, despite what thieves, nay-sayers, poseurs, and slackers may say or do. In other words, the online world mirrors the real life world.

Individuals shape a community, and that community changes as people flow in and out. While many are oblivious to inner machinations and movements, emotions can run high as people rise, fall or feel stuck in neutral. It’s like any schoolyard, workplace, little theatre group or beauty pageant.

Things evolve 
September 2015 marks my tenth year food blogging as Confessions of a Cardamom Addict. My focus was and remains personal food-based storytelling. I wasn’t alone. In those early days, many of us shared our voices and formed a community that celebrated diversity and encouraged individual expression and growth.

A Golden Age? Maybe.

Soon, the world took notice: publishers bound our work; filmmakers adapted our lives, and marketeers descended on us. Our community grew. And grew. And grew.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose 
It was hard for some of us not to notice an emerging subgroup that coalesced around authority’s new standards: reach, keywords and brand-building. They sought and claimed underexploited niches. They pursued exposure as fervently as they courted product and giveaways.

In this brave new world, new structures appeared. They rallied and organised. Their conferences and workshops taught participants about monetisation, SEO, and how to work with marketers and agencies. Biases spread through best practices; preferences became rules of engagement. While some new bloggers were diarists or simply wanted to share food, other newcomers searched for legitimacy through fame, fortune and free things. Part by part, great swaths of food blogging’s elaborate cacophonic chorus began to converge into a simple auto-tuned melody.

When we join a community, we join it for what it is, not necessarily what it will become 
When some join a community, they join it for what they hope to become.

As with politics, one clique’s view isn’t always embraced by everybody. Regardless of what happens within food blogging’s teacup – and it is a teacup – there is no agreed common purpose:
  • Is it about presenting original recipes or documenting an entire cookery volume?
  • Do we chase fads or talk about long-time favourites?
  • Is it about eating locally or promoting factory-made foods?
  • Is it about recreating a famous dinner or sharing a family supper?
  • Does the story support the photograph or is it the other way around?
  • Should bloggers talk to the reality of their flawed lives and splattered kitchens, or project an idyllic fantasy of influence or culinary perfection?
  • Is it about growing as home cooks or is it one tactic in an elaborate marketing strategy to manufacture food experts? 
Here lie the dichotomies that are food blogging.

Here's the important part: these same differences in approach indicate a vibrant ecosystem.  It's one that's supportive of disparate voices and pursuits.  No one view is correct; no one view is incorrect.

Some people get it; others don’t.

Those who tout a monoculture can cast a pall over our community. Those questions from 2007 that focussed on writing, inspiration and food are replaced in 2015 with investigations into traffic levels, received offers, and how to contrive a personal publicity gambit. It’s both hilarious and maddening to read their comments and hear their chatter. When they blurble “smartest person in the room” chestnuts or become imperious with “Queen/King of the playground” popcorn, it becomes second nature to reach for a grain or two of salt.

Reading between the lines 
Whenever you do something, you leave yourself open to reaction. Some compliments are deserved – a beautiful photograph, words that evoke forgotten memories. Some complaints are just as warranted – factual inaccuracies, a missed oven temperature.

Frankly, it’s the undeserved jeers I receive, which interest me. Caustic comments try to diminish me and puff up the speaker; “encouraging” suggestions masque condescension; narrow-focus subjectivity is guised as broad-stroke objectivity. Clearly their words aren’t about my improvement or a healthy online food community.  Their words focus on their convenience by curbing my approach or whittling the depth and breadth of voiced ideas:

“The things that make me different are the things that make me me.” 
Yes. I quote Winnie-the-Pooh. I also quote Doctor Who, Shakespeare and Homer J. Simpson.

1. I use my own words and draw from my experiences. 
I read widely and voraciously. My everyday language includes words such as schmecks, unfettered and primrose. I love the onomatopoeia of squidgy and clatter. Just as my experiences reflect my eclectic words, my words reflect my eclectic experiences. I reference dictionaries and conduct Google searches – and I assume my audience can do the same. Being bullied into adopting an artifice where everything’s in Flavour Town (sorry, Flavor Town), yum-o, dripping in awesomesauce, or stripping down my vocabulary, so a batter is merely “yellow,” is unfairly restrictive and, I think, insults my audience.

2. My content reflects what I eat. 
Home cooks trained my palate. I write about the foods I was raised with and what I share with friends, research, or experience. I don’t have ethical or severe medically-induced food restrictions. I don’t follow groupthink, and I would be hard pressed to identify a food trend. While I respect others’ food choices, I am not responsible for someone else’s failed gluten-free-vegan-carob’d recipe reformulation for a different pan size of my wheat flour-butter-egg chocolate cake. Contrary to the speaker’s intention, comments that my foods aren’t like cello-wrapped gas station offerings are compliments.

3. I’m old school. Sort of. 
The way I cook reflects what family and Home Ec teachers taught with wooden cutting boards, sharp knives and box graters. Some of my techniques and practices were birthed before cookery shows, food processors, and before European mathematicians adopted “zero.” Some of my tricks are from those whose authority comes from expertise, not camera tests. I use all my senses, including common sense. My kitchen would be less fun to be in if I stopped using my fingertips to rub grated frozen butter into flour. My blog would be less satisfying to write if I could never mention the song of a roasting chicken, but only talk to a flashing digit on a thermometer.

4. Game playing is for game players. 
 I appreciate my readers. They aren’t stepping-stones, and I don’t reduce them to a number. I think it’s dishonest to buy mailing lists to tell product marketeers 50 bajillion people receive my newsletter. I question the ethics of telling publicists to let me into their exclusive event because I blog. Those “my baubles are sparklier than your baubles” -type pissing matches are pointless and demeaning. I believe in growth through an honest voice combined with engaging words, not through algorithmic sorcery to pump up a projected (and often artificial) persona. I measure success through adventures with ingredients, broadened horizons, and heartfelt words.

5. I let the quality of my work speak for itself. 
I’m an adept writer and middling photographer, whose recipes work. What I offer attracts some and repels others—that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Kind notes received from someone who stumbles upon my blog are valued just as much as recognition through speaking invitations, publishing offers, screen test requests, and newspaper interviews. I don’t envy bloggers who find themselves in a beam of sunshine, and I won’t treat them as undeserving of media attention or other recognition. I believe journalists, publishers, and readers are discerning and smart, and can see through brand-building and other contrived attention-seeking campaigns.

I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing, my way. It’s far more interesting.

jasmine
I'm a quill for hire!


Image credit: Paul K/Flickr. I Saw A Heffalump Today, Piglet. Used under CC2.0


23 May 2015

Happy Victoria Day: My Seoulful supper

2015 Victoria Day Supper


Victoria Day fell early this year.  May Two-Four as it's known in some circles, is a moveable feast that occurs on the Monday before 25 May.  For monarchists, it marks Queen Victoria's birthday and marks Canadian celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II's birthday. For others, the long weekend is the day cottages open, gardens are turned over, and summer (unofficially) begins.

To be honest, it was hard to see last weekend as the start of the hot season.  After days of warming weather and sunshine, I was reminded that I live in Canada.  Days after filling my planter with twizzled corkscrew grass, bursting fuchsia, and trailing plants, the skies greyed and the wind blew cold.

I've lurked in nurseries for about a month, looking for inspiration and a promise of warmer weather.  I fully admit to not knowing what I'm doing in the garden and I rarely know what's in the trays and containers loaded into my cart.  Whenever those green-aproned attendants ask to assist, I hand over my BlackBerry's trove of pictures of flowers and plants I've seen in other people's gardens.  My soil type is dirt--the kind that has worms deep down, beyond the miner bees.  The amount of light my patch receives is better predicted by a roulette wheel than experience, thanks to the condo manager's tree butchers.  My garden faces front, sort of.

A few weeks ago I looked wistfully at a display of hundreds of fluffy petaled flowers, their colours reminiscent of hot climate countries: blooms of saffron, cerise, beet, mango and mustard reminded me that what was under a coverlet of white, and is now a muddy brown will be alive with brilliant colours.  An aproned guide whispered it was too cold to plant them.  I should have bought some anyway and kept them in my dining room window. One week later those pots were gone and replaced  beacons of yet-to-come frost warnings: snow white, blush white, apple white, and pallid, slightly greyed shades of lavender, lemon and underripe cherry.

I left with two dahlias -- one that looked like an exploding yellow-tinged pink grapefruit, and another of the deepest and most lascivious pink.

No sooner were they in the ground than I scrambled to protect my prizes from yet more frost.  My neighbours are used to my eccentricities, but I'm certain I raised some eyebrows by protecting my front garden's latest inhabitants with upturned pots and basins.

This weekend the extended forecast has lulled me into believing Spring frosts are history. The protective covers gone and my potted herbs and decorative containers are back in the sunshine.   I don't want to have to play the protect the plants jig until autumn. But I will.  If I have to.

But that's this weekend, not last.

Victoria Day weekend's bright, beautiful skies masqued cooler temperatures.  Normally I'd keep to a simple holiday weekend menu of seared burgers, salad and fries.  A Victoria sponge and fruity scones also make an almost obligatory appearance.

But not this year.  In my mind, it was just too cold for any of it.  My mind remained with those lost sari-coloured blooms as I rummaged through my freezer.

The bundle of Jacob's Ladders of beef short ribs thawed as I found some red-spined Swiss chard in the bigscarymegamart.  For whatever reason, I fixated on a Korean-inspired supper.  While Korea's climate strictly isn't tropical, I don't believe they endure -30C temps for weeks at a time, as we do in here in the Great White North.

Feeling rather lazy and in an "it's close enough" mood, I springboarded (sprungboard?) off this Asian-Style Braised Short Ribs recipe. Don't let the unexciting umber fool you--it belies a memory of south east Asia, borrowing from several territories.  One of my favourite Korean side dishes is a cold, sesame'd spinach dish called "sigeumchi namul." It's just as easy to make as the the short ribs, and adaptable to any green leafy that flutters by.  Served with rice and a vinegary cucumber and radish salad it made a rather lovely supper.

2015 Victoria Day Supper
Korean-style Swiss chard
Adapted from Maangchi's sigeumchi namul recipe

1 bunch of Swiss Chard, chopped into 3-5cm widths
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green onion, finely sliced
2dspn/2tsp  20ml soy sauce
1tsp  5ml nam pla
1 Tbsp  15ml sesame oil
pinch sugar
a spoonful of sesame seeds

Blanch the greens in salted water.  After rinsing in ice water, gently squeeze out the water.

Mix the garlic, green onion, soy sauce, nam pla, sesame oil and sugar.  Add the greens and mix by hand.  Sprinkle in the seeds and toss by hand.

cheers!
jasmine
I'm a quill for hire!