Tag Archives: desserts

Gingerbread Men (and Friends)

My nephew Hankenstein and I were tasked to make gingerbread men. I Googled a recipe (thank you Tate & Lyle http://www.lylesgoldensyrup.com/kitchen.php?recipe=35 , and assembled all the ingredients (to bake one must organise).

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I pre-heated the oven (to bake one needs a hot oven), and we mixed all the ingredients together (well, Hankenstein poured and I mixed). Then I threw flour all over the countertop (much to H’s delight) and we proceeded to roll out the gingery dough. I got out the gingerbread man cookie cutter, but H felt some dinosaurs would add a unique touch. Then the other cookie cutters began, as if by magic, to appear — bells, Santas, stars, snowmen, holly… because, as H said, “The gingerbread men would be lonely without friends”.

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H cut them all out and I spread them out onto the baking trays…

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…and then we watched them turn golden brown in the oven.

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A production line ensued, with the spicy, sugary smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies filling the kitchen.

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Then, it was the fun bit (or, really, the next phase of fun) — icing them! Well, to ice means for Auntie to decorate while H squirted icing into his mouth.

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Then it was time to taste them. Because to bake gingerbread men (and their friends) means to eat them, fresh out of the oven.

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Ella’s Yummy Delights

Just off the train in Brighton the other morning I headed down the main street towards the sea. But it was early, and I hadn’t had my breakfast (and I NEED breakfast). My stomach rumbled, and my eye was caught by the enticing sign outside Ella’s.

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“Breakfast”, “hand-made”, mother daughter”, “amazing garden”, “CAKES” (I loved how this was capitalized — they were obviously people after my own heart). So I stepped across the threshold into Ella’s… where I was greeted by Ella’s friendly daughter Emilia and a display of the most gorgeous cakes and pastries this side of heaven.

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And hand-made by Ella herself in the kitchen underneath the café. It was a bit too early for cakes (even for me :-)) but I ordered a freshly-baked croissant and a latte and headed out to a hidden gem of a garden…

IMG_9479IMG_9477…tucked away from the crowds and noise of the busy Brighton high street. I savoured my breakfast…

IMG_9482…paid up, and resolved to be just a bit later the next time I walk down the road from the train station. Those cakes are calling to me!

IMG_9488 Ella’s, 51 Queen’s Road, Brighton BN1 3XB, ellasyummydelights@gmail.com

Lunching at Zoom

I met up yesterday with a friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen for over a year — she’s another ex-pat Canadian who has been in London even longer than I have…and I hark back to 1991. We still sound Canadian, though. 🙂

She took me off to a smart little restaurant called Zoom in trendy Marylebone, www.zoomrestaurant.co.uk .

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The restaurant isn’t large — just one simply-designed room with about twenty tables and a bar. Just the right size for a restaurant, in my book. I liked the room’s design, which melded French rusticity with a touch of elegant austerity. Less is definitely more.

We chatted and caught up for half an hour over olives and heavenly raisin bread which we dabbed into a salsa of unctuous olive oil infused with tomato and chilli…

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…and we hmmed and hawed over the tempting offerings on the menu.

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I eventually chose the spiced fried prawns with ginger and garlic with schechuan asparagus…

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…and my friend selected the pan-fried scallops with rocket, sweet chilli salsa and sour cream.

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And, weren’t we the lucky lunchers. My prawns were plump and tasty and the tang of ginger really enlivened the dish. The new summer asparagus was a delicious partner to the prawns, tender and silky like asparagus should be.

My friend licked her lips and nodded as she ate her perfectly cooked scallops. And we chatted and ate and licked and dabbed until our plates were empty.

I’d eyed the vanilla panna cotta with coulis and fresh raspberries on the menu when I’d ordered, so I made sure to save some room for pudding. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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It was almost too pretty to eat. That impulse lasted about 5 seconds, then I dug in. The panna cotta was creamy and jiggly and laced with a touch of vanilla, and the raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries added a lovely tartness to the delicate sweetness of the pudding. My friend, having much more restraint than I, decided not to indulge in a dessert, but we both had cappuccinos. It was one of the best cappuccinos I’d had in London, the milk frothed to a substantial creaminess rather than the airy foam we’re subject to in most coffee bars, the coffee rich and smooth, the milky crown sprinkled with cocoa. I was impressed. A good cup of coffee is something that makes me sit up and take notice.

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Judging by the full restaurant on a Monday lunchtime, Zoom is a popular spot. I know I’ll definitely be going back.

Zoom Restaurant, 1 Blandford Street, London W1U 3DA, T: +44 207 935 4626.

Reading and Baking

I had a day to myself yesterday where I didn’t have any client meetings, pressing work, and no novel to work on. I went for a jog then came back to Tootsie’s and looked through the books on her living room shelves and found exactly the book I was looking for, but didn’t know I’d find… Stephen King’s “On Writing”.

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Eureka! I’d been planning to buy it myself, and there it was — right in front of me! So, after I showered I settled down on the sofa and started to read. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had the time to just stick my nose into a book and not come up for air until my stomach rumbled from hunger. But that’s exactly what I did. Then, at around page 186 I noticed I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and was well past lunch. I wandered into the kitchen and was taken with the urge to bake something. It was a bit chilly and rainy and I felt like filling the house with the warmth of something delicious and home-made. I rooted around the cupboards and the fridge and found everything I needed for strawberry shortcake. Newly picked English strawberries exuding the scent of grass and rain…

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…and all the homely ingredients for an afternoon of baking.

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I measured and sifted and stirred and floured and rolled and baked. What a simple pleasure! The rain pattering against the window pane, and the kitchen filling with the warmth of the oven and the heavenly smell of baking shortbread.

I sliced the strawberries and sprinkled them with sugar and let them steep and sweeten  in the fridge. I whipped the cream. Then, after supper, I assembled the surprise dessert and we all, Tootsie, Wineguy, Hankenstein and I, tucked into our home-made strawberry shortcakes.

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A good book and a good dessert. Life doesn’t need to be complicated.

Real Food

My sister Jamjarjude is back in town! So, after a walk with Ralphie at Westwood Park, where the kids were out in super canoes…

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,,,we do things big here in Canada…

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…we headed off for lunch at Real Food in the Old Quarter of Nanaimo https://www.facebook.com/RealFoodFast . It’s one of my favourite places for lunch when I’m downtown, with the most delicous home-made soups, salads, sandwiches and cakes. My kind of place.

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We were in the mood for salad so I had the chicken salad…

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,,,which was summer on a plate. Tasty free-range chicken basted in a coating that hinted at curry, just a hint, and grilled peppers bursting with sweetness, onions and a mix of lettuces, a bit of cheese sprinked over, all dressed with a tangy home-made dressing.

Jamjarjude opted for the avocado salad and the spicy tomato soup…

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…the avocado salad delicous and creamy and the soup fresh and moreish.

Then it was back to the blackboard…

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…and a look at the dessert display (you know I can’t resist a good dessert)…

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…and the decision was made. White chocolate and raspberry cake for me…

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…and lemon cake for JJJ.gnomes 021

My word! It’s JJJ’s birthday on Sunday, so “Happy Birthday” I said. Just imagine the candle on top, 🙂

Well, the cakes were beyond devine, the sponge cake properly dense and light at the same time, the fillings tangy and the frostings creamy. JJJ’s lemon cake was like eating a lemon cloud, the lemony taste so light. Mine was like the princess of Victorian sponge cakes, the yardstick by which to measure cake. Oh, what Real Food could do with chocolate! I’d fly all the way back from England for a Real Food chocolate cake.

Well, the cakes almost defeated us — the serving is generous to the nth degree. But we plowed on and finished, yes, every last morsel. You don’t get a chance to eat cake this good every day.

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When you’re in Nanaimo, make sure to check out Real Food at #3, 321 Wesley Street.

Road Trip to Victoria

So, Jamjarjude, Ralphie and I piled into the car and headed off to Victoria on a very rainy day. But we’re intrepid travellers so a little rain didn’t put us off, no, not at all. First stop was Beacon Hill Park where we walked along the cliffside path looking out into the fog for orcas (they’re out there, but we couldn’t see them)…

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…checked out one of the tallest totem poles in BC…

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…and the starting point of the Trans Canada Highway, which, at 8030 kilometres (4990 miles) is the longest national highway in the world.

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Next stop was Craigdarroch Castle (actually a very large house) www.thecastle.ca , the Victoria home of Robert Dunsmuir and his family, the Scottish-born coal baron who was one of Canada‘s richest men…

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…where someone was getting married.

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Then, our stomachs called and it was time for fish and chips on the pier at Red Fish Blue Fish www.redfish-bluefish.com

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…where we had THE BEST halibut and chips…

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…and where we were eyed by a ravenous gull…

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…and watched a tall ship come into the harbour.

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After lunch we meandered along the waterfront…

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…and along to the BC Parliament Buildings…

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…past the statue of the wonderful Canadian artist Emily Carr…

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…to the famous Empress Hotel (known for its high teas)…

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…where the tulips were in full flower.

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Having walked off the fish and chips we were ready for dessert, so we headed to Murchies Tea Room (est. 1894) www.murchies.com

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…where I had a uber-luscious chocolate dacquise…

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…and Jamjarjude had a pistachio one.

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Outside once more, we were serenaded by Victoria’s famous Darth Vader violinist (and very good he is too) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHaoOBHXaXE …

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…before we found ourselves in front of Victoria’s famous Roger’s Chocolates (est, 1885) www.rogerschocolates.com

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…well, when in Rome…

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And then we piled back into the car and headed home. Thumbs-up Victoria!

The Best Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo – And the Winner Is!

Over the past six months I have been the intrepid Nanaimo Bar taster, seeking out the tantalizing little squares of chocolate and custardy sweet fillings in the nooks and crannies of Nanaimo’s delis, cafes and grocery stores. And today is the day the winner is revealed.

Now, I will say, the tastings have been done very much against the memory of my mother’s legendary Nanaimo bars — which I promise to whip up and share with you in the not too distant future. I have been looking for a smooth chocolatey top — either semi-sweet or bittersweet — but I have not been looking for a ganache or an icing or anything which is not, well, traditional. The pale yellow filling I aspired to taste was creamy, sweet without being cloying, and flavoured with custard and a drop of vanilla. And the base — the place where so many offerings fell down, I’m afraid, needed to be full of coconut and walnuts in a base of graham cracker crumbs and cocoa and butter, with just the right amount of each ingredient so that the base held together and had a lovely, crumbly texture in the mouth, without falling apart in your hands or leaving a greasy aftertaste.

There were bars which succeeded, even exceeded my expectations, on any one of these components. But there was one bar which has stood out above all the others.

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The top was a a lovely smooth slick of semi-sweet chocolate which hinted at a Belgian or Swiss provinance, with it’s dimple-making lusciousness. The filling was creamy and custardy and not overly sweet, and the base was chock full of walnuts and coconut. This one I savoured….

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…nibbling at it to taste every delicious morsel. And who is the purveyor of this divine Nanaimo bar? McLeans’s Specialty Foods, 426 Fitzwilliams Street, Nanaimo. www.mcleansfoods.com

It seems I’m not the only one who feels this way.

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Congratulations, McLean’s!