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(pumpkin oatmeal cookies, molasses snaps, sugar cookie sticks, meltaway shortbread, sugar-plum stars, chocolate thumbprints with cranberry or chestnut, PB and chocolate bonbons, PB-fruit-coconut-almond bonbons, and 12th century nutmeg spice cookies)

Merry season everyone! Those cookies up there are the symbols of festivity I decided to make lest there be no christmas cheer in my heart at all. Not to say I didn’t have a wonderful and family-filled trip home, but somehow… I’m feeling distanced from the traditions. No big surprise really… age and a certain mistrust of buying shit will take their toll, making it a very good thing that my heart will always ring with passion for cooking at least. And so, there was the night of a million cookies. Or rather, maybe six or seven batches. It was AWESOME. Just me and a table full of flours and extracts and whisks, neatly and precisely churning out dough after dough, and pulling perfectly browned trays out of my mom’s oven (that actually WORKS). I was so surprised it only took me a couple of hours – with the notable exception of the shortbread, which had me up to wee hours with the hand-whipping and chilling and 45 minute baking times but it was worth it in every way a mind can conceive. Move over butter – baking for so long turns EB into something intensely delicious, toasty and redolent and I’m glad I left it unadorned in it’s proud “cadillac-of-margarines” glory.

Then I made a cake, inspired in large part by these lilliputian mandarins my mom picked up. It’s the mandarin-orange-spice cake that has it’s own full colour glamour shot in extraveganza, and it’s glossy photo is more than deserved. The cake itself isn’t over sweet, instead it’s spicy and moist (and very christmas-y!), and a perfect vehicle for rich almond butter citrus icing that tasted a lot like magic. Should have been cashew, but you use what you have. Almonds have more personality anyway!

Giant slice for me? Oh, you shouldn’t have! No really, you take this slice, I’ll have the rest of the cake…… :D

It’s a christmas day tradition at my dad’s to have non-vegan belgian waffles with berries and cream, and every year previous I’ve made myself happy with (actually pretty good) fruit salad and maybe a tofurkey brat fried up with ketchup. But this year I was offered a spot in the waffle maker and I figured why not? I made the ppk apple waffles that were so good my step-mom jumped on the leftovers and I started to seriously consider spending my mall money certificates on a novelty waffle iron. They even picked up a bottle of whippy edible oil topping that in very very small doses (ie: once a year) I actually enjoy.

Later christmas dinner, the photo of which I considered not posting even at all. It’s a little smooshy! But yummy. So much so! I made red wine and maple baked tempeh, roasted potatoes with mushroom gravy, sesame broccoli, butternut squash with fresh thyme and garlic oil, rye stuffing, roast parsnip, turnip and carrot, dill and avocado salad, and lime-glazed beets. Just excellent, I was moaning all over the tempeh, which is always a treat to me, and even managed to save room for dessert – an apple cherry crumble with almonds and pecans that I will NOT post because it looks a little like something undergoing surgery but I can assure you was almost addictive with some Vitasoy Holly Nog splashed on top. (Said Nog also made my oatmeal xmasserrific my whole week home, I love that stuff.)

Here’s to a new year and to Xmas being through and to all a goodnight (I can’t wait to get back to school!!!)

EDIT: At Joanna‘s request, and because it’s available online anyway, I’m posting the Mandarin cake recipe.

Mandarin Orange Spice Cake

1 3/4 cups spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp each nutmeg, cloves, and allspice
2/3 cup maple syrup
4 tbsp canola or other natural oil
3 tbsp mandarin orange juice, freshly squeezed (about 3 mandarins)
1 tbsp mandarin orange zest
1 tsp fresh gingerroot, grated
3/4 cup rice milk or soy milk
1 recipe Creamy Mandarin Icing

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. In a smaller bowl combine the maple syrup, oil, orange juice and zest, ginger and soy milk and whisk together to emulsify the wet ingredients. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix with a fork gently; do not beat. Pour into a lightly oiled and floured 8×8-inch cake pan, a Bundt pan, or an 8-inch springform pan. Bake 35-40 minutes. Check to see if cake is done by inserting a toothpick into the centre of cake; it should come out clean. Let cool on a rack before removing from the pan. Decorate the cake with Creamy Mandarin Orange Icing and garnish with edible flowers such as tangerine gems or calendula.

Creamy Mandarin Icing

1/2 cup soy margarine
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cashew butter
1 tbsp mandarin orange zest

Blend all ingredients in a food processor on high for several minutes until very creamy and thoroughly combined. Chill icing for 1-2 hours. Spread onto thoroughly cooled cake and decorate with grated orange rind and calendula flowers. Keep cake chilled until serving. Variation: Add 1/2-1 tsp each of beet powder and turmeric to dye the icing an orange colour. Add a small portion of each at a time as you blend the icing, until you reach a desired colour.

I always end up making curry on a whim. Without fail I am on my way to make something else, something usually boring and somehow between the fridge and the stovetop it turns into curry in my brain and I’m always thankful for the switch. I can always eat more red lentils… and I got to try out these unreal curry powders my friend J brought me from India when he went this summer. Why have I not used these all over the place before???? They are crazy good, more on them later. They made an acorn squash, red lentil, coconut, pea and green pepper curry absolutely golden. Actually, pistachio coloured. Who says curry is homely? And cardamom raisin quinoa underneath doesn’t hurt in the pretty department, either.

Here are those spices (I couldn’t be happier that there’s massive quantities of both).

The south indian blend has — white pepper, chili, mango powder, dagger fool, clove, ginger, mace, citric acid, concoun, cassia, and akarkhora. Badass.

The garam masala is black cumin, black pepper, bay leaves, piper, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, clove, black cardamom, ginger.

These are seriously aromatic and complex, and for some reason taste different in every curry I add them to. Maybe it’s like that chemical thing where the same perfume smells different on various wrists? Maybe it’s the akarkhora.

Then I made some DAIIIII-FU-KUUUU, yippee! I didn’t realize I was out of red dye for my envisioned green-and-red holiday colours, but I did have a beet, which worked perfectly and the subtle flavour didn’t mess with the beans at all. They are bean paste (anko) filled, which has got to be my favourite stuff ever. I’m still not 100% on the mochi part, I may have found the one food I’m not super crazy for, but they are definitely fun to make. And it was much as Julie in Japan describes: truly they are weird. But I did keep eating it and then later I did really want another one. That strange earlobe jellyness kinda becomes… intriguing? In a way? I must say I can taste the difference in the supple freshness of homemade mochi versus those awful pucks I got over christmas.

Okay, this is actually making my mouth water now, so disregard any blabbing about weirdness. You can also see that I like my anko (I LOVE my anko) chunky, generous in proportion to earlobe-jelly, and only moderately sweet.

J’s (half awake) response was A: “They look like the kind of thing that people eat in cartoons, Liz.” (I nodded). And B: “Hmm… they taste like rice cake.” Which I thought was mighty open-minded for a technicoloured blobby-dessert ambush, and indicative of an awesome generation of eaters. My parents would have certainly gone for the bugspray or something. :)
Yay Daifuku!!

EDIT:
In response to KingoftheFrogs — what I did for the mochi:

The red and the green both had pretty different textures, since I used more water in the green, but they were both good… it takes some playing around I think.

approximately…
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water + (if needed) 2-3 tablespoons
food colouring (optional)
(1 cup of anko/red bean paste)

* stir the flour, water, sugar and colouring together in a microwave-safe bowl, adding more water so that it’s smooth (but still pretty thick)

* microwave 2 minutes, then stir it like crazy

* microwave until it inflates, stir like crazy and stretch it and wack it with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth and bouncy.

* turn it onto a tray covered with potato starch (or cornstarch) and roll it into a snake, then cut that snake into 12 equal pieces.

* stretch a piece into a disc, thicker in the middle than at the edges, place 1 tablespoon of anko paste in the middle and wrap it up like a parcel, pinching the seam to join the mochi together. Dust with extra cornstarch, and set it aside, repeat with remaining mochi pieces.

note 1: they freeze pretty much perfectly, so uneaten candy can be squirreled away for later.

note 2: anko is soooo easy to make, it’s just red beans cooked with sugar and a touch of salt. Take cooked adzuki beans, add sugar til it’s sweet enough for you, mash with a spoon and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until it’s really thick, like cookie dough. Let it cool completely before using.

I went to a convenience store for the first time in a couple weeks since quitting diet soda – and all of a sudden I was pretty reminded of how delicious candy bars are. I don’t even like candy bars usually! But they looked really good that particular night.

So I went home and stirred together some no-stir peanut butter (ironical!), icing sugar, peanuts, crushed up rice cake, molasses, and salt, formed it into a log and coated it with some melted Cocoa Camino fruit & nut chocolate. Popped in a the freezer, then removed to get all soft and chewy again – it was so a real chocolate bar! It looked kinda like a turd. But tasted like a wunderbar, and I still have some left. :)

I’ve decided this winter will be an indian-styled winter. South indian, spicy and warming, full of root veg… it’s actually getting my passion for cooking back. Pomme made a great sambar last night and I made the apricot rice from Vegan Fire & Spice, neither authentic, but I started to actually ramble about food again, dreaming of dals and spice blends and techniques again… this is good. :)

And my first recipe from More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts was the caramel popcorn, which is essentially cracker jacks and toasty-crisp-sweet-YUM. I might use peanuts instead next time instead of sunflower seeds, but hey, it’s so easy and good I’ll probably be whipping up a batch for thanksgiving nibbles next week.

Yeah… can you believe that we’re hosting thanksgiving for both our families in our TINY apartment? MINISCULE apartment. 15 people? We’ll see how this madness goes… my mother is already lamenting the lack of turkey (she won’t after we’re through, though!).

………….. 15 people. X_x

This stuff is weird city, but I’ve pretty much fallen in love with “wet bean curd” now. I thought it was going to be spicy tofu in a jar, and for $1 I had to give it a try, but I got it home and it’s not tofu… exactly. It smells like briney blue cheese and the cubes inside are almost like… melted brie in consistency. So it’s kind of like cheese, but also a heck of a lot saltier and pungent-ier and I had absolutely no idea what to do with it (besides get kinda hooked on eating small bits of it with a spoon).

See? Weird! Yet compelling. There’s mysterious stuff floating in that brine, too, I’m convinced it’s either chiles or globules of pure yumminess, from the magical yumminess forest.

Luckily I did manage to find something real to make with it – fu yu ong choy! (aka: ridiculously more-ish stir-fried water spinach). Here’s what I did, if I remember correctly…

oil for frying
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 bunch of ong choy/chinese water spinach, rinsed and cut into long sticks (separate the leaves and stems)
2-3 cubes fermented tofu

* Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or a wok on high heat. Add the ginger/garlic and cook for about a minute.
* Add the spinach stems and cook for maybe 2-3 minutes, then add the leaves, and cook until they’re just barely wilted.
* Make a bare spot in the middle of the pan and mash in the bean cubes, then toss to coat everything. Serve whilst hot and juicy!

And if it’s just you… well then eat the whole pan with chopsticks and a big grin, and then have peanut-brittly-rice-caked-bottom-y candy things for dessert and revel in the not having to impress dinner guests and/or represent all major food groups in one sitting. woo!

Eek, I have a bunch of photos and the memories are fading by the second, I should get right into my ovening activities for my last few days in Ottawa —

I was actually sick of baking when I threw this together, but can you possibly guess why one would make a batch of ppk graham crackers if not for something spectacular in the future? Those with an eye for pie will like the final destination of these cookies! (also these ARE in my top ten favourite cookies ever and might have made them anyway, even if I did have zero luck finding honey-less graham crackers in the store).

And a dinner at my dad’s is not complete without a tray of mysterious cupcakes carefully towered on a pretty tray and ready for omni appraisal (usually, “oooh, something frosted!!”). I wanted to make the orange pudding cupcakes from VCtotW, but I didn’t have orange juice, so I decided to be intrigued by the apparent roll of the dice that is the V-con Jelly Donut Cupcakes.

Turned out well! Only 2 craters and I kinda thought they were cute. Tastewise they were nutmeg-y and very sweet, maybe heavier than I like normally, but definitely donut-esque. Sis liked them enough to eat 3 and tell me to make ones with frosting next time. :P

Oh yeah, she also requested a cake. In the middle of a jigsaw puzzling session, I offer (as I do) to make her something to eat, and she says cake. SUCH A GOOD REQUEST. And I refuse to use a recipe, and throw flour and oft-used ingredients around in such a way as to come out with…. a damned good teeny tiny cake thing. That I eyeballed. So cool. (that’s peanut butter swirl on top and a tasty carob-chip dome in the middle. We all agreed it would rock the universe with a fudge layer, too bad I can’t recreate it, haha)

My last morning we hit the Wild Oat bakery for breakfast and I shoot this terrible photo of the mmmnummy El Oxuaca sandwich. Yes, I pronounced the X when I ordered it. No, I haven’t been to Me-hee-co. For absolute certain I melted for the combination of sundried tomato tapenade + black bean spread + avocado, tomato, cilantro and greens on nutty multigrain bread that had travelled about five or six metres from the oven to hit my table. Good stuff.

Having filled our bellies with sound food and zinging with health, it stood to reason that a trip to Sugar Mountain might be just the thing to ruin all that sprout-eating. Yay! I got aniseed balls (my favourite) and salted licorice. But I couldn’t eat the licorice! Yes, I checked at home and there’s our old friend beeswax stuck on the outside of that lovely salty sweet like a microscopic force-field of candy denial. It’s a very good thing I discovered that the chinese salted licorice-y plums I bought the other day (called Li Hing Mui apparently) are infinitely superior to regular salted licorice, so I don’t mind so much now and I just suck on dried fruit. :)

Also, I made the Smlove. (graham cracker speculation can be laid to rest now).

I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would… It was kinda like chewing on a big wad of baking chocolate… but I AM weird and have been known to dislike fantastic things. Am I kicked out of veganism now? :D

So I rolled in on the bus late last night, perky for some reason, humming inaudibly to myself for most of the trip (Dr Worm by They Might Be Giants for anyone who’s curious. It’s catchy!). I didn’t even nap like I usually do. And it’s probably a good thing the trip itself was easy, because I came home to a mailbox full of mysterious bills written all in french for exorbitant amounts with weird phone numbers attached and a kitchen that would make pigpen blush. *sigh*

It’s times like this I should (well, okay, start some administrative detective work, and yes, I am on hold right now) pore over probably my last fun grocery splurges for a little while. A few days before I left I went to the Kowloon market in Ottawa’s chinatown and found scads and piles of fascinating dried things, powders, pickles, extracts, roots, sodas and noodles, beans and seeds and instant desserts with happy fruits on them, cakes and canisters and flakes, oh my!

I also ducked into a middle eastern bakery and picked up the sumac and harissa you see right there at the front of all the treasure. The rest of it is (clockwise from the jackfruit can), green jackfruit, mochi cakes, licorice dried plums, mung bean noodles, the cool rice-noodle-thingers I loved at the Green Door (the package says to let them soak for 12 hours — we’ll see how that goes), spicy pickled turnips, black sesame seeds, and YES a big stick of agar! Weehee. I can make lemon bars now, and any manner of fiddly cupcake devices, I’m excited.

Total: a little under $15

And being in Ottawa I had to replenish my spices at my favourite bulk bin health place. When I first started cooking I couldn’t fathom the idea of tossing out spices after a year, I just couldn’t understand how that wouldn’t waste anything. And then I noticed my thyme canister was down a few teaspoons and I got simultaneously proud and concerned about my next quiche. Kardish is great for this kind of thing – I got basil, thyme, oregano, dill seed, ground and whole coriander, ground cardamom and cumin, aniseed, cinnamon sticks, kelp powder, mustard powder, onion powder, tons of paprika, white pepper, fennel, caraway and cream of tartar.

Total: $4.28 <—– (why I shop at Kardish)
The mochi was one of those pure experiential purchases. Having never tried it I didn’t waste much time breaking into that package and inspecting the chewy little blobs within. I was surprised to find them all filled with pastes (and pleased, at first, to find this), and the three flavours were pretty obviously sesame, peanut butter, and plain white with red bean.

I’m not sure if this was just low quality mochi, and it probably was, but I wasn’t totally bowled over by the stuff. The peanut butter was especially tasteless and UN-nutty, and the sesame was aromatic and crunchy but not much better. The plain white was without question my favourite, and I discovered that eating the paste first and *then* the plain mochi was definitely the way to go. But all in all I’ll leave this stuff to the macrobiotic crowd (actually, these ones did have sugar, so maybe I got the candy-style kind, I don’t know). They were really really fun to poke!

So in the interim I’ve hung up the phone, the musak even stopped playing. Time to put on pants, knock on some doors and squeeze my culinary dreams into whatever a bag of rice and the contents of my pantry can bring me. I have sumptuous photos from the rest of my trip to blog about after I get some work done, and hey, I actually love steamed rice and brown veggies (*guffaw*), so I’ll-a be fine.

And I DO have agar. Rawr!!

there’s good news and bad news.

the bad news is, I am hungover and drinking black-as-night-coffee with sweetener in it because that’s my remedy for feeling like my organs have turned to metal. but the good news is that I had the BEST DINNER ever last night. EVER.

See, my sister works at the neat-o Wheat Berry (where I used to work, actually), and they had their christmas party yesterday at the also neat-o Green Door restaurant – complete with free food! No more paying by weight for some seriously delectable foodstuffs. I had a plate full of sesame-oiled-kale-squash, and greek rice cabbage rolls, vegan fig bars, all sorts of beans, peanut satay whatnot, crispy-tender sourdough with little seeds in it, these awesome chewy noodle thingers with seaweed in them, more fig bars. Tapenade. Salsa. Punch with organic berries in it (and alcohol besides)! I missed the apple pie, but there was apple pie there, too. Lordy, it was fabulous.


I made some truffles. They’re on the ooey-gooey side, but they taste really good. And not bad for about 10 minutes of work. There’s kind of a recipe? But also kind of not, so here’s a list of ingredients I was throwing around —

150 grams of dark chocolate (chopped really finely)
2/3 cup almond milk (or less)
2 tbsp soy milk powder
2 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp canadian whiskey
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp icing sugar (maybe)
1 tbsp cocoa powder (sort of)
pinch of salt

* heat the milk, milk powder and margarine almost to boiling, then add the chocolate, remove from heat and let it sit for a minute.
* stir to melt the chocolate, add the rest of the ingredients (probably add more icing sugar or cocoa powder than I did at this point, to make the truffles firmer.)
* move to a container, let it cool to room temp, cover with plastic and chill overnight
* when it’s cold, dish out little truffle-balls and roll them in…………

cocoa powder, roasted chopped nuts, icing sugar, more melted chocolate, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, matcha powder, cookie crumbs, sprinkles probably, crushed candies, other stuff. I used hazelnuts (mmmmmmm).

oh yeah! and don’t bother buying paper candy cups if you don’t want to — little rounds cut out of wrapping paper are pretty cute. just squash the paper circles on the top of a bottle of soda – presto custom paper-cup!

(the egg carton is less posh. but hey, it was just for my friends, they don’t care. ^_^)

I never ate these as a kid. I’m vaguely aware that versions of these (toxic pink, brittle and oily) exist and probably still roam bake sales and birthday parties to the delight of sweet-toothed urchins everywhere. But I like popcorn, and I like sugar, so I figured they would probably taste good if I took matters into my own hands. I modified the Shmooed Food recipe slightly, and left them plain because I didn’t have any dried fruit/nuts around that didn’t scream “health food alert!!!”, and they were super just the way they were, tossed in a mandarin box and brought to Ze Ladies Crafting Day (and munched happily by all there). Very caramel-y!

Popcorn Balls

12 cups air-popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup syrup of your choice (brown rice, corn… I used corn b-cause I’m poor)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
oil (for forming the balls)

1. Pop the corns. Eat some corns to get in the mood. Put 12 cups of the corns into a metal pot/bowl and stick them in a warm oven.

2. Bring the syrup, sugar, water and salt to boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once it boils, turn down the heat and maintain that boil until the temperature reaches 250-270 degrees (lower for chewy/higher for crispy). A candy thermometre is nice for this, but you can also drop a bit of the sugar into a glass of ice-cold water – if it turns into a firm or hard ball, you’re good to go. (this took me about 20 minutes, but I’m a weeny with magmic pots of sugar and I kept the heat low).

3. Once the sugar is at the right temperature, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Take the corns out of the oven, drizzle the syrup over top and STIR STIR STIR with a wooden spoon to coat every kernel.

4. Oil your hands and form the sticky goodness into as many balls as you like. I got 22.

5. Scrape the extra syrupy popcorn out of the bowl and eat it! mmmm.

…. I also made my mum an impromptu breakfast — blue pancakes and homefries. They were so blue!! Like, not purple — BLUE. :O