CHOCOLATEY CHOCOLATE CAKE . . . WITH FLUFFY BUTTERCREAM CHOCOLATE FROSTING

This rich,dense, spectacularly chocolate cake is my absolute favourite of all cakes.    It has a delicate moist crumb and the dream-like chocolate buttercream frosting stays light and fluffy to the very last slice .   This is the cake I make for any and every occasion. 

  For every day snacking I make it as a one layer cake or loaf cake.    You can double the recipe for a two layer cake or a sheet cake.   I have made a magnificent three layer birthday cake using this recipe.  Baking is a science and one can not always double a recipe successfully.    This sweetheart of a cake does allow you to double the ingredients ( but no further).  For a three layer cake I bake a double cake and then the single cake.  All this belies that fact that it is incredibly easy to make. 

This most chocolate of cakes uses unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder in the cake and the frosting. It has a smoother, more mellow flavour than cocoa but you can use either.  Buttermilk adds a suggestion of tangy flavour and a small amount of coffee brings a deeper note of richness to the cake.  If you don’t have a mixer you a generous sized whip will do the trick.   The icing does require a mixer so the chocolate glaze would be the answer.

The recipe for my favourite chocolate cake, fluffy icing and chocolate glaze can be found in the kitchen of

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.  Bon Appetit dear friends.

(this recipe adapted from Snacking Cakes Yossy Arefi)

 

 

ZEN AND THE ART OF GROWING SWEET PEAS

This is how a dream begins. Pouring over a seed catalogue on a gray and dismal winter day I discovered a variety of sweet peas called “Cuthbertson Blend”. My grandfather was an avid gardener. He imported his seeds from Cuthbertson in England. His sweet peas regularly took first prize at the Prince Albert Horticulture Show, and in recognition it was named for him. The Fred Henderson Sweet Pea Cup.

I have been rather casual about planting sweet peas. I plant the seeds directly into the garden a week or so after the last frost. It is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Some seeds don’t germinate and others suffer an early death as insects and birds enjoy their oh so tender leaves. I thought of my Grandfather and how he would start has plants indoors. He didn’t have a lot of space and spring in Northern Saskatchewan is one of bitter cold and frequently snow. Growing plants indoors was a challenge.

I bought the Cuthbertson sweet peas. They promised me heavenly fragrance and flowers the colours of dreams. I nicked the hard coating of the seeds. All 68 of them. I mixed the potting soil. I planted the seeds and calmly, quietly and patiently I waited for them to sprout. The first sight of a tiny green shoot was pure joy. I was following my grandfather’s footsteps.

I remembered my Grandfather always planted two seeds. The weaker seed to be nipped off. It was difficult for me to do this. I had been nurturing these sweet things and I left a few pots to see how these double plants would grow. I counted the leaves on the stem of the sweet pea and when the fourth one made an appearance I nipped part of it off. The plant would slow its spindly growth and spout side leaves. I planted the seeds March 6th. It is April 26th. The lack of sun shine is evident in these spindly plants. They are growing in south and west windows but it is clearly not enough. Here on the West Coast of British Columbia I do not have the brilliant clear skies and endless days of sunshine of Northern Saskatchewan. This is the zen of gardening. A learning experience. Patience. Understanding. Acceptance.

In a few weeks these plants, tenderly cared for, will be ready to set out in the garden. They will climb towards the sky filling the air with their fragrance. I will continue to care for them. Rising early in the morning to water, weed, and dead head flowers. Then to cut glorious bouquets to fill my home with their beauty.

This is the zen of garden. It is not always perfect but these past two years have required one to remain calm and take the happiness each day as it is given.

THE DELICIOUS UBIQUITOUS ITALIAN TART … SPICED BLUEBERRY CROSTATA

If I could make only one type of pie a crostata would be my choice. It is spectacular in presentation with a sublime choice of fillings. Its professional appearance belies the simplicity of its construction. A dessert to swoon over at the end of dinner.

A crostata is a tart filled with fruit or cream or even both. A crostata is shallower than a pie but has more structure than a galette. It is made with pasta frolla, a sweet, buttery, forgivable pastry, The sweet pastry dough is typically enriched with butter and egg yolk. The dough is easy to roll out and easily patched together if it tears. The dough is so forgiving and tender that I rolled out leftover scraps of pasty and cut out rounds for miniature fruits tarts. The much handled dough baked beautifully tender.

In Italy the basic crostata is made with a thick layer of good jam, preferably homemade, sandwiched between the bottom crust and a lattice top. Summer is a delicious season for crostatas. One can use fresh fruit cooked down a bit with sugar to make a quick jam. Almost any fruit, fresh or frozen, from strawberries, peaches and blueberries to figs can be used for the fillings. The jam for the filling can be stored in an airtight container for up to two 2 weeks. I like to make the pastry the day before and refrigerate it overnight night. This is a very accommodating recipe. A joy to make. The perfect dessert.

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS has the print recipe. Bon Appetit dear friends.

( recipe Domenica Marchetti from Fine Cooking )

SHE TAMED THE WOLF WITH CAKE . . . Apple, Cinnamon and Cardamon Cake

A wind like wolves prowling across the fields. Growling at windows and doors. Snarling down the fireplace chimney. The kind of rainy, dark, dismal day that cried out for a kitchen perfumed with the fragrance of exotic spices. A cake! A cake to be consumed still warm from the oven. A cake with a bold presence. A cake to keep the wolf from the door.

When I lived in Amsterdam I shopped daily at the Albert Cupt Street Market. And every day I would stop at a near by cafe to enjoy coffee with a slice of Apple Cinnamon Cardamon Cake, and watch boats travelling the canals. I’ve adapted this recipe from Luthra Vedika’s cookbook “52 Weeks, 52 Sweets”. It’s a delightfully easy cake to make. The streusel topping is crunchy, rich and flavoured with cinnamon and cardamon. You hand -mix the cake batter in one bowl. Fold in a generous amount of chopped apples and top it with the streusel

This cake is divine warm from the oven. It’s tricky. It can be done if you let the cake cool for a few minutes then run a knife around the edges to loosen it, unmold it from the pan and slide it on to a plate. Or let your cake come to room temperature for serving. Be brave – it’s your call. You’ll serve a cake that will keep the wolves from the door.

MRS.BUTTERFINGERS has the printable recipe. Bon Appetit dear friends.

PATCHING A MEMORY . . . HOW TO RESCUE A WORN SWEATER

It was a cashmere cardigan. Rose petal pink. A sweater with an important provenance. It had belonged to my daughter and now it showed my years of affectionate wearing. The elbows worn and thread bare. I had darned it several times attempting to matching the wool but it was now beyond redemption.

I was taught to make repairs on clothes as invisible as possible. It was not going to be easy to match this colour and make a comfortable repair on the sleeve of the sweater. A bolder move was called for. I searched through my collection of left-over sewing fabrics and found enough silk to make two large patches.

A rolled up magazine keeps you from sewing the sleeve together as you baste the fabric in place. I used a light coloured thread and sewed loose stitches to allow for the stretch of the knit.

Once the fabric was basted in place I sewed around the edge of the fabric. I chose a deep pink embroidery thread using a loose running stitch. I deliberately emphasized this as “repair” work. Not sloppy work but a labour of love. One should proudly wear beloved garments that have been repaired to continue to give warmth and happy memories.

Before you discard clothing that can be repaired try your hand at mending. If you first attempt is not perfect you haven’t destroyed something you were going to discard. It is not expensive to gather the supplies you require. Needles and thread from a Dollar store. And the mother-lode for material – a thrift shop. Scarves, men’s shirts and blouses give you enough usable material for patching. You don’t require a sewing machine – just your imagination,

C.S. LEWIS AND HOW TO PULL YOUR SELF TOGETHER IN THE TIME OF COVID

In 1948 C.S. Lewis wrote the following words.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

A FRANK CONVERSATION WITH OSWALD GENTLEMAN RABBIT.

I woke this morning to a scattering of snow. Just enough to catch the heavy boughs of the cedar next to my patio. Just enough to catch and hold the footprints of Oswald Gentleman Rabbit. The cedar bush is Oswald’s burrow. Oswald was home and preparing for the Winter Solstice.

I dusted the drifted snow off the Victorian bed. It has become a favourite place for my friend Oswald to take the occasional naps. Oswald often joins me on this secluded patio. In the summertime it is a place to enjoy a glass of wine and good conversations. This morning it is steaming coffee and mince tarts.

“We were promised two billion trees. 8.5 million just isn’t good enough”. Oswald is no rabbit to mince words. “30 millions trees were to be planted this year. Do the math!” Oswald stomped back and forth aggravating the pristine snow . “Those horrific mud slides on the highways. People died. We rabbits couldn’t plant enough trees.”

Oswald tided his rumpled whiskers. Straightened his large rabbit ears. Calmed his ruffled fur. “Tomorrow all rabbits will celebrate the solstice. The war has just begun. We shall fight them on the hills . . .”

“Oswald, did you just quote Winston Churchill?”

“Well, yes. We were good friends. Those gardens at Chartwell – work of rabbits, of course.”

Dear friends, once again the story of the rabbits Winter Solstice party. Read it again and believe in miracles.

HOW OSWALD, GENTLEMAN RABBIT CELEBRATES THE WINTER SOLSTICE AND TRIES TO SAVE THE WORLD ONE TREE AT A TIME. A fairy tale for adults who care.

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There are tales told over and over again.  Repeated from one generation to the next.    Every year on December 21st, the shortest day of the year,  the tale of Oswald gentleman rabbit, is recounted to young rabbits.  Their noses quiver and their ears wiggle in anticipation.  It is the story of Oswald the rabbit, who wore a magic coat.  A coat that allowed him to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye.  A coat with bottomless pockets he could fill with the universe.   A coat that  allowed him to become a human for a day.

And so the tale begins.

Oswald, gentleman rabbit, stamped the snow off his rather generous feet.  Brushed the ice crystals from his whiskers.   Shook the snow off his magic coat.   Everything was in place for the grand party.  Rabbits the world over would soon arrive at his burrow to celebrate the winter solstice.

Oswald’s ancient burrow was immense.  Deep, deep beneath the earth  the rooms in the burrow were so large one alone could hold more that a thousand rabbits.  Massive,  thick, gnarled  tree roots formed the ceilings.  Fireflies became living chandeliers  chasing away the darkness.

Oswald  reached deep into the pocket of his magic coat and began to pull out evergreen trees. Hundreds and hundreds of trees.   The fragrant smell of cedar and fir, spruce and pine enveloped the room.  The tree roots were wrapped in burlap tied round with holly and ivy vines.  Every year he filled the largest room in the burrow with the trees of Christmas.  Trees of every size circled the room.  Touched the ceiling.  Sparkling and glittering with diamonds of snow.  An indoor forest to celebrate the winter solstice.

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Oswald was very particular about the menu for his Winter Solstice Dinner.    He shopped for the finest delicacies in London.  In the rush of Christmas no one noticed the gentleman with  rather large ears wearing an elaborate red coat. filling basket after basket with Christmas delicacies.  Back  in the enormous kitchen of the burrow,  Oswald reached into the pockets of his magic coat  and drew out hamper after hamper marked F & M – Fortnum and Mason.

Tonight the rabbit guests would dine on magnificent vegetable patés,  Terrines of leeks and spinach,  Carrot and ginger puddings and salads of delicate butter lettuce and dandelion greens.   There would be bottles and bottles of ginger beer, elderberry wine and raspberry cordial to celebrate this the longest night of the year.  Rabbits are fond of nibbling on tasty bits of this and that.  Scattered through the dining hall were generous platters of ruby-red radishes and emerald-green asparagus, golden persimmons and scarlet pomegranates.

It is a little know fact that rabbits have a very sweet tooth.  Oswald planned on ending  the Solstice feast  with the very finest,  sweetest treasures from his favorite shop in Paris.   He walked along the Champ-Elysées  every inch the flâneur in his imposing red coat.   Ladurée, in all its elegance of  marble display  counters,  enveloped him in sweetness.   From pale green boxes he would fill crystal bowls with sublime treats.    Chocolate truffles and tiny lemon tarts,  raspberry macarons and St-Honoré cakes.    It would be a delicious ending to the shortest day of the year.

Later, much later.  When the hundreds and hundreds of  plates were empty. When the last little crumb of pastry was nibbled away,  silence filled the room.   The  well fed rabbits settled back on their golden chairs in anticipation of what was to follow.

From the top most branch of the tallest tree in the cavernous room came a glorious sound.   A single bird singing.     A lark ascending.  The tiny bird sang of peace,  compassion and understanding.   One by one from  surrounding trees birds joined in song.  Louder and louder.    A song  swooping, soaring, climbing higher and higher until the very earth around the burrow vibrated with its magnificence.

Midnight.  The fireflies folded their lighted wings and disappeared into the winter night.   Oswald donned  his magic coat.   He gathered into its bottomless pockets the forest of trees that had decorated the dining hall.  He left the burrow to travel through the dark, cold night.  He would plant these trees on struggling  clear-cut   hills.  On burnt, scorched  unyielding ground. On barren boulevards where anything green and growing struggled to survive  the killing breath of city pollution.

The Solstice night was ending when he  returned to his burrow.  Oswald’s  gift to the world was so simple, so unassuming when dawn broke  those who lived above the burrow passed by the newly planted trees.  Unaware.   Blind to their presence.  Thinking  they had always been there.  Taking for granted these trees so necessary for their living, breathing planet.

Rabbits have the stewardship of all growing things.  An enormous responsibility  in a world where many  deny  and disbelieve what is  happening to our changing planet.  Perhaps you don’t believe in fairy tales.  Than tell me this.    How do you know  that group of  young people planting trees on that clear cut hill  are not rabbits wearing magic coats?

 

THE DOLL HOUSE WHO FOUND CHRISTMAS

Once upon a time. The best Christmas stories, with the happiest endings, always start with once upon a time.

Once upon a time there was a doll house. A doll house covered with forgetfulness. Empty of happiness. Forsaken and unloved. The doll house needed someone to care for it again. As this is a once upon a time story the house’s wish came true, not only at Christmas but every day of the year.

The doll house was not packed away with the Christmas decorations. It sat high and proud on its own table. A cow costume clad for Halloween welcomes you at the front door. Japanese pillow dolls dream the nights away. A benevolent Buddha stands watch. Everyone is welcome. It is lovely to revisit past Christmas stories. THE FORGOTTEN DOLL HOUSE is one of my favourites.