The Longest, Hungriest Month of March

But we’re not waiting for the boats to make it through the ice in April to replenish our dwindling supplies, we’re waiting for friends and family to be allowed to walk through our front doors again. For a cup of tea and a piece of cake, for a meal and a laugh. For a hug on a bad day. The normal things we used to do just two weeks ago. What a sad, strange thing to have to be a part of. Something the likes of which our parents haven’t even experienced. 

Maybe our grandparents have. Lots of people in other parts of the world have, which might be the most humbling thing of all. 

A few days ago I went to the grocery store, gloved hands, pocketful of wipes in a ziplock baggie ready to prep the shopping cart, but there was an employee there, disinfecting all the carts. He passed me one and said, “There you go, all clean for you.” I thanked him and asked him how he was, how everyone who worked at the store was handling it all, and he said it was hard, that they all wanted to be home. I thanked him again, told him it was people like him that were keeping us going, and we both started to cry. That might have been the first time I’ve ever cried in a grocery store. Except that one time I was pregnant and couldn’t find any cilantro.

I can’t stop thinking about grandmothers. All the nonnas in Italy who are gone now, who may have had ten, fifteen, twenty years left with their families. All those stories, lost, all those skills and traditions and recipes that would have been passed on to kids and grandkids, gone. The nan I was closest with passed away five years ago and I still can’t believe she’s not here, but the idea of not having those last ten years with her takes my breath away.

Sometimes I get tired of only being motivated to make food and write about it when something bad happens. When a storm shuts down a city, when our neighbours to the south elect a lunatic, when the world feels so fraught all I want to do is drown myself in dessert. It’s a pattern I’ve only noticed with this latest round of bad news. But then I remembered this great thing that Sam Sifton wrote in his New York Times Cooking newsletter on the last anniversary of 9/11. I looked up it up today because I can’t quite put into words how I’m feeling these days, when it feels frivolous to want to make food and enjoy it when there’s so much fear and pain in the world right now. Sam says the day the attacks happened, he simply cooked for his family. “That act sustained me and sustains me still – this vain hope that if only we make food for one another and share it with open hearts we can push forward together in understanding, and together maybe make the world a better place. I don’t know if it works. I believe it does. So I’ll continue to do it, seeking grace in the meals, in the work of making them.” 

That’s all we can do right now, I guess. Feed yourself, feed your family. Pick up groceries for people who can’t so they can feed themselves. And do it with love and joy and hope. Knowing that summer picnics in a few months will be sweeter than they’ve ever been. They will! I can’t wait.

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Here’s my little offering of something that brought me joy this week, and I can proudly state that even my picky almost-four-year-old loved it…a moose adobo. Which felt weird at first. I mean, adobo is like jerk chicken, or kimchi, or homemade bread. Everybody has their own recipe that’s the best. And who am I to write about Filipino food? But I love it, and I used what was in my pantry and freezer instead of making an unnecessary trip to the grocery store. So let’s call it Filipino-Newfoundland-inspired-isolation-motivated-fusion-cooking. If you want to know more about adobo, just give it a random Google (like, what else do you have to do right now) because I’m not getting into it and please don’t yell at me. I do know that this (technically?) is an adobo sa gata, which means with coconut milk. How to cook an adobo is in itself a debate, but I used a slow cooker for my moose roast. You can do this same recipe in the oven low and slow and covered, about four hours; just keep an eye on how much liquid is evaporating and add more coconut milk when needed.

(Coincidentally, this was adapted from a Sam Sifton New York Times Cooking recipe for Chicken adobo. If you’re stuck at home and you can afford it, their app is fantastic. They’re doing some great stuff right now about what to cook and bake when you’re barred indoors with kids, or nice meals to make with basic or dwindling pantry staples.)

Slow Cooker Moose Adobo 

One small moose roast (that’s the best I can do, I know nothing about moose butchery)
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup soya sauce
1 1/2 cups seasoned rice vinegar
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
3 whole chilies, stems cut off (I used Fresnos, go hotter like bird’s eye if you prefer)
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

In a medium-sized saucepan, gently heat the coconut milk, soya sauce, vinegar, garlic and chilies. Heat a slightly oiled medium-sized frying pan, generously salt and pepper the moose roast, and sear it on all sides until a dark golden brown. Place the seared roast in the slow cooker. Deglaze the still-hot pan with a little of the coconut milk mixture from the saucepan, making sure to scrape up all the good crispy bits, and pour over the roast in the slow cooker. Pour the remaining sauce with chilies and garlic over the moose, put in the bay leaves, cover and set on low for 8 hours. Carefully remove the moose when done, and pour the sauce into a saucepan to reduce and thicken the liquid if you like. Put the moose back in the sauce, and serve alongside, or over rice.

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I used a small round slow cooker, not a giant oval one, so double the recipe if you’re feeding a crowd. Which you’re not right now, so don’t worry about it. You might want to add more coconut milk when reducing depending on your pucker preference…adobo is a vinegary flavour bomb, so it might take a few tries to nail it. Internet says Filipino palm vinegar is best, but white or cider can be used, too. Different brands of seasoned rice vinegar vary in sweetness…I sometimes add a tablespoon of Mirin to sweeten it a little, which is probably blasphemous, but I’m already adoboing moose. So.

Chickens. Please stay safe. Stay inside. Wash your hands. Cook with love. Do it for the nonnas, and everyone you hold dear. And do it now, so we can all sit on picnic blankets and drink wine in the summer sun. Together.

The brighter days are coming. xo

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SOE!! (State of Eternal Softpants)

Oh, you guys. What a marvellous, terrible week. Terrible for all the obvious reasons. Buried cars, the least of it, really. People going days without power and heat and food. Nurses working 50-hour shifts. Local businesses forced to shut, people going without pay, pedestrians leaping into snowbanks to avoid getting hit by cars, dogs leaping off snow mountains over fences and getting lost. We’re all coming out of this week a little weirder, and some of us a little sadder than when we went in.

But the SNOW FORTS. And the kind neighbours and taxi drivers. People organizing to shovel out cars and homes and knocking on doors to make sure families had enough to eat. Restaurants cooking thousands of free meals for the military and first responders and others in need. The organized and polite chaos of the grocery stores opening after four days with people handing each other two-litres of milk, passed from one hand to the next until they reached the hands of the people who couldn’t get near the cooler. And the quiet, carless streets that we could let our kid run down the middle of (hopefully not messing up the road safety rules I’ve been screaming at him for almost four years). The best thing about this week is that I could make a much longer list of good stuff than bad. And I guess that’s the reason why we’re insane enough to live here.

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Our place got off easy (not our car, oh sweet honourable, not our car). We lost internet and cable for a while, but miraculously kept our power in 145-kilometre winds, so we were a little scared, but safe and warm and had hot food. And the rest of the week? Man, I won’t lie, it was a braless, wondrous haze of caffeine and Pinot Grigio…not too much of course, I do have a kid. Justin and I basically took turns imbibing in case one of us had to slap on snowshoes and cart Jude on our backs to the Janeway, head split open or something from jumping off the couch the one time we really needed him not to. But listen, if I didn’t have a human to look after I’d be in a coma by now.

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I loved the week. I loved it. We started calling it Second Christmas. We started gaining Second Christmas weight. I can’t even abide stretchy jeggings anymore, it’s leggings or pyjama pants or track pants or get the hell out of my face. The three of us had to stay in or around our home, no one was allowed to go to work, and the kid had two parents home with him with no strings attached. He was feral and delirious and maybe the happiest I’ve ever seen him. There were too many treats, too many late bedtimes, too much television. But wow, the lazy mornings with endless cartoons and coffee were fun. We made jetpacks out of perrier bottles, jigged cod from the living room sofa, climbed snow hills like Spiderman. Jude’s always had a great imagination, but he upped his game so hard this week that at one point he passed me an empty box and said, “I’m a delivery man! I have a box of wine for you!” My heart near burst with pride.

I want the city to shut down (with pay and food and heat for everyone, obviously) for a week every January. Ban the cars from downtown and we’ll have a carnival in the streets with snowshoes and snowboards and boil-ups and twinkling lights. 

I’ve probably cooked and baked more this week than I did at Christmas (to reiterate, we were so lucky and didn’t lose power). I have a mother-in-law with a vicious talent for finding specials, so we have a well-stocked deepfreeze, and cooking a lot at home means our basic pantry is pretty good. But I learned enough about food security this week to now know without a doubt that:

1 – you always need more milk, eggs and butter than you think
2 – everyone should own a bread maker
3 – a tin of Carnation makes the best homemade mac and cheese
4 – the leftover milk from your kid’s bowl of multi-grain cheerios makes a deadly cappuccino

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I used my last cup of red wine to make a cake, thinking the liquor stores would open when the food stores did, but boy was that a mistake. I scrounged around in the basement when things became desperate and found some store-bought berry wines that someone had given us for Christmas. And like, not knocking berry wine or anything, I enjoy it out in the woods around a fire but not necessarily for hours on end during a state of emergency/Netflix binge. Some knowledgable friends who are basically NLC librarians suggested sangria, if I had apples and citrus. We eventually managed to get ourselves sorted and our regular wine supply replenished, so I decided on a second cake. Because we ate the first one that we were supposed to share with friends and neighbours. We ate the whole thing, two pieces each after supper every night, like we’d never see cake again. We even let Jude have a small piece or two, even though it’s red wine cake. But the baking burns off the alcohol. I think. I’m not sure. He’s sure been sleeping like a champ this week, though. 

Storm Cake with Cream Cheese Icing 

(Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, icing from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)

For the cake:

1/2 cup salted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher or fine grain sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup Newfoundland berry wine, homemade or store-bought. I used Auk Island Winery’s 3 Sheets to the Wind (hahahaha)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease one 9-inch round cake pan. Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together sugar, egg, melted butter in a large bowl until pale and creamy, then whisk in cup of wine and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and whisk to combine. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cake cool completely before icing.

For the icing:

1 250g package of cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp salted butter
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups icing sugar

In a medium bowl, beat the softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and beat well. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy.

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A batch of this icing will generously frost two of these cakes; the first one I made I did the sides as well, but for the second I just dolloped it on top. Still though, yum! Who needs icing on the sides?! (I do. I want the icing everywhere, at all times. I just went a little too nuts with the first one.) This is the easiest cake you will ever make. And if you plan far enough in advance for the next storm, you’ll be able to have your wine and eat it too. 

Stay safe, stay warm, happy cooking and careful walking, chickens. xo

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Hello Dumplin’. Nice to See You.

It’s beeeeen aaaaa loooooong tiiiiiiiiime. Since the last blog (not entirely shocking) and also since the last time I ate kimchi mandu until my pants got too tight. In fact, the last time may have been the early 2000’s, when said pants were considerably smaller in size, and social media consisted of Mark Zuckerberg rating hot girls at Harvard. Oh, how the pants and the times have changed! The good news for me is I’ve finally broken down and given into jeggings which are almost as comfy as maternity jeans. And the good news for Mark Zuckerberg is he’s a GAZILLIONAIRE, it’s just too bad about the whole Facebook dismantling world democracies thing. Anyhoo. Dumplings!

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Didi and I both taught in South Korea yeeeeears ago, before Instagram was invented, so we’re not even sure if we’ve actually been there. But for the sake of this post, let’s say we were. Not together, a few years apart, but we both fell in love with kimchi mandu. Didi with the fried version up in Seoul and me with the steamed ones a bit further south in Daegu. If you’ve never had mandu, you may have had a version of them – think Japanese gyoza or Chinese dumplings – but in mandu the pork is mixed with kimchi. Which you won’t like the first time you try, but then will become obsessed with, until you’re eating it on scrambled eggs, in a grilled cheese, or as a condiment on hotdogs like I do. If you are a super star who really has it together in life, you can make it yourself! Or buy it in a jar from Sobeys like I do, because I just got my kid’s first baby picture framed and he is three and a half years old. 

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Didi had a package of dumpling wrappers in her freezer and we’d been talking about getting together for ages to make a giant pile of mandu, a project that would be too daunting (or boring, mostly) to do by oneself. Not that I haven’t been known to tackle a giant food project on a snow day, half a bottle of Chardonnay at my side, hours stretched out in front me like a good pizza dough. But then I had a kid. Now, snow days mean no day drinking (well…) and lots of praying to the kitchen gods for patience when my toddler doesn’t get how an extra teaspoon of baking soda will ruin the cookies, or how that cup full of dirty dish water he’s playing with won’t make the cake batter taste better. Like, what is his problem. Anyway, even though it wasn’t a snow day, when my mother-in-law Florence offered to watch Jude for the afternoon so I could have a proper cooking date, I ran away faster than Jason Kenney runs from an Alberta forest fire, or Andrew Scheer when he sees a gay pride parade. Hahahaha ok, yeah no, I’m definitely not THAT fast.

I showed up at Didi’s, breathless with excitement, thrilled at the prospect of not having to wrangle my child with hands covered in raw pork, and asked her, “Do you need to change your garbage? It smells in here.” Didi: “That’s the kimchi!” See? It’s a bit smelly. In Korea everyone has a regular fridge, and a mini kimchi fridge so it ferments just right and doesn’t stink out the rest of your food. But it’s so tasty. And healthy! According to Koreans, it’s the reason they didn’t all get SARS and bird flu back in the day. What? Stranger things have happened. Look at Boris Johnson.

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This recipe is one we cobbled together with some guidance from the interwebs, our own personal preferences, and the advice of the lovely woman who works down at the So Kee grocery on Duckworth Street. You can go a bit loosey goosey with ingredients depending on how garlicky/salty/kimchi-y you like things, but be mindful of water content and the fact that you can’t really season to taste because of the raw pork. I mean, you could? Bit risky. Kinda like going to a costume party with Justin Trudeau. 

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Kimchi Mandu

1 package round dumpling wrappers
1 1/2 cups kimchi, finely chopped and drained/squeezed of most of its liquid
250g extra-firm tofu, pressed and drained, and finely minced
200g rice vermicelli, cooked, cooled, and finely chopped
130g ground pork
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1 tsp fine sea salt
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp finely minced garlic
Small bowl of water, for sealing dumplings

Combine all ingredients except wrappers in a large bowl, using your hands to mix. With clean, dry hands, place a wrapper in the middle of your palm and add about a teaspoon of filling. Dip your finger in the bowl of water and lightly wet the edges of the dumpling before sealing. Keep dumplings on a clean, non-stick surface until ready to cook. To pan fry dumplings, put some oil in a well-heated pan and brown them on one side, before adding enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and covering to steam for five minutes. The dumplings should be done when the water has evaporated. Add a bit more oil if you want to brown them on the other side, and make them extra crispy. To steam, place dumplings on parchment paper in a steamer and steam over boiling water for fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve with a Korean or Japanese dumpling sauce on the side.

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A few quick notes to keep in mind…don’t overstuff your dumplings! This will make sealing difficult, and they might burst during cooking. They’ll still taste good, but look messy and be harder to cook. Sealing and folding dumplings is a bit of an art form, so be patient and know that if you haven’t done it before, the first few will look stupid and you will want to cry, or maybe that was just me. There are a few ways to do them, and numerous tutorials online, but we stuck with the seal-and-fold and the tortellini style. The folded style are easier to pan fry, and the tortellini shapes are good for steaming, but they’ll turn out great either way as long as they’re sealed well and not overstuffed. Like how you’ll be after you can’t stop eating them because they are delicious and you will feel like a goddamn superhero after finally making them like you said you would seven years ago. Or maybe that was just me. And sauce is easy. Bit of soya sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger and garlic, and chillies and sesame oil if you like. Chopsticks optional, fingers fine. These will disappear in a crowd, if you’re that kind of person who does things like make homemade dumplings for a dinner party, and frame pictures of your children before they go to kindergarten. Or you can freeze a bunch to cook for later because honestly, these are so good it was hard enough to share with Didi. You will definitely want to hoard them. Just be sure the pork wasn’t previously frozen, and if it was, cook the dumplings first, then freeze. Safety first! For pork, and for Halloween costumes. If you’re having any doubts, DON’T DO IT.

Happy dumpling making! xo

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An Ice Cream Blog for December! (Because the World is on Fire)

Oh hi! It’s been over a YEAR! I know what you’re thinking, so what’s up, she can’t handle full-time motherhood AND doing like, one post a month? And the answer to that, is no, I cannot. I’ve also recently joined Instagram (biggest mistake of my life after giving away all my maternity jeans), so along with feeling inadequate about not getting my shit together in the #momswhowrite category, I’m now painfully aware that I’m not taking my kid camping/hiking/swimming enough, I lie awake at night because I never offered him one single bath in rose petals when he was an infant, and WTF, I didn’t even pose for a pic with Jude strapped to me in a fashionable wrap, wearing skinny jeans, high heels and a fedora two weeks after giving birth (one hundred percent laziness on my part). I’m not gardening/pickling/fermenting enough, I’m not eating well-lit smoothie bowls on a windowsill, the list goes on and on and on. My sister is a cop who can break you in half with her bare hands and she posts some pretty kick ass pics of herself under #momswholift, and to follow suit I’m going to start my own support group on Instagram: #momswholifticecreamintotheirfaceholes. I think it’s a pretty succinct hashtag, and it’s weird that when I typed it in, not one single post exists. Until now, chickens!

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Which brings me to today’s lesson in how not to eat seasonally. Ice cream! I know, I know, I should have written this months ago when we were in the middle of that terrifyingly warm summer. That was the plan, but plans schmlans. Here we are on the precipice of what is sure to be a brutal winter (if you live in NL you’ll immediately understand that this is #payback), so fuck it! Ice cream can be a year-round kind of treat. Calm down y’all, I’m not asking you to take it snowshoeing and eat it outside in February. I’m talking about coming home after that hike in the woods, putting on the kettle and your favourite softpants, and spooning homemade vanilla bean ice cream over warm homemade brownies, a bread pudding, an apple crisp, or any of those desserts we gravitate to in winter. Not that I won’t pound the face off a good apple crisp in July, mind you. Sometimes it’s five degrees and you can do that (I’m looking at you, summer of 2015). I try to eat seasonally, but…it’s Newfoundland, man. If we tried to eat seasonally year round, we’d all get scurvy. So yes, I’m doing an ice cream blog in December. First off, because the weather in St. John’s during “the MOST wonderful TIME of the year” historically sucks and we could use some cold comfort (but like, good cold comfort). Second, because Newfoundland is being run by drunk toddlers and we’re going to turn into a giant oil slick covered in Sobeys bags. Third, there’s a racist, sexist, lunatic president next door, a drunk, rapey frat boy on the Supreme Court, and the earth is going to melt in 2040. So from now on I’m just going to eat and write whatever the fuck I want. 

There is NO TIME for shit ice cream, so put the kettle on, pour yourself a vat of wine, and we’ll get to it. 

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Justin gave me an ice cream maker about five years ago for my birthday which I took as a sign of true love because I was about to go up a few pant sizes. I’m only kidding! A little bit! In all seriousness though, homemade ice cream can be pretty decadent. Recently, a pal posted a pic on Instagram of his brand new ice cream maker and I was ecstatic for him and told him so. But because Instagram ruins everything, another follower of his commented that it was a fat machine and should only be used by endurance athletes. What the WHAT? Dude was a mountain biker, so I guess he gets to eat all the ice cream he wants, but don’t ruin it for the rest of us by telling us we’re going to get fat! Come ON, endurance athlete-man! Sometimes, when your toddler eats too many blueberries and then shits them all out in the middle of bath time, you don’t FEEL like going to a spin class afterwards, you just wanna shove ice cream into your facehole in front of Netflix, ok? Jesus Christ. The whole point is though, it doesn’t have to be decadent unless you want it to be (and that is goddamn ok). There are frozen yogurts if you want something lighter and healthy-ish, sorbets if you’re vegan, and eggless ice creams if you’re in a hurry or have an allergy. There is literally something for everyone, no matter what their preference or dietary restrictions. 

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So now that we have all the formalities out of the way, ok well, those weren’t formalities, that was just me shooting my mouth off. Anyways, sorbets and yogurts aside, there are pretty much two classic methods to make ice cream. There’s Philadelphia-style, which is basically mixing milk, cream and sugar together before churning. And then there’s the ever-so-slightly more involved French-style; this is the one that scares people because you have to temper egg yolks and make a custard. This used to terrify me, but I can do it now with my eyes closed while a toddler screams at me from across the room. Philly is great for beginners, and you still get a really lovely, light ice cream that is miles beyond anything you’ll buy at the grocery store (and will still impress the hell out of people when you give it as a gift or serve with dessert at a dinner party). But when you get your ice cream legs, you’ll never look back after your first perfect bowl of French-style vanilla ice cream. This recipe‘s a classic and has a great set of instructions for beginners. I made it a couple of days ago, except I only used 1 cup of cream and tossed in a half of cup of sour cream after I took the custard off the stove and it was so dreamy I almost passed out. 

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(A quick note on tempering eggs…pick whatever works for you and stick with it. You might feel more comfortable with a thermometer, but I go by feel, and nothing beats the old-fashioned coats-the-back-of-a-wooden-spoon method. And every recipe will tell you something different when it comes to how to mix the dairy and eggs. In the ice cream bible The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz is a fan of pouring the hot milk and sugar mixture into the egg yolks. Others recommend whisking all the sugar into the yolks before tempering. And still others will instruct you to put most of sugar in the eggs, and a little in the milk mixture. I’m not sure of the science behind it, and maybe some expert will read this and give me a blast of shit, but I’ve tried each method and ended up with good results each time. My favourite is one third of the sugar in the dairy and the rest in with the eggs. Because I’m a dork and there is nothing prettier than the pale yellow of egg yolks whisked together with sugar. And it somehow makes me feel more secure about pouring hot milk into the eggs, like they’re sturdier with the sugar mixed in. I don’t know. Also, pretty.)

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After experimenting with a sorbet or two, and mastering that whole tempering egg business, you’ll be ready to get a little crazy. Poke around online and you’ll find endless recipes that have the same vanilla-ish base, that will blow your mind after a few tweaks and additions. Imagine having friends over for dinner and when they ask what’s for dessert you get to say, “Guinness milk chocolate ice cream.” Like, that’s pretty fun. And with a bit more work you’ll end up with other gorgeous creations that are so worth the effort. Two favourites from this past summer, sour cream ice cream with strawberries and brown sugar, and mint chip straciatella, were a bit dependent on available produce and had a few extra steps, but when they were done, were up there with some of the best ice creams I’ve had anywhere, in any restaurant, in any country. Anywhere. And not to brag, which means I’m totally going to brag, but I’ve eaten ice cream in lots of places, in every flavour, shape and size. See Exhibit A.

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So here’s my very own original-ish recipe, with help from all the recipes I’ve made and played around with over the past five years. It’s not too sweet (up the sugar to one cup if you like), creamy but not too heavy (go nuts and toss in an extra egg yolk), a little bit tangy, so it’s the perfect ice cream to go with a chocolate lava cake, or on its own drizzled in hot fudge sauce and candied peanuts. Depending on the size of the berry, you’ll need 5-6 cups of raspberries to get the cup and a half of puree (zing them up in a blender and push through a fine mesh strainer with a spatula to get the seeds out). Local and fresh is always best, but wow are raspberries ever a huge pain in the ass to pick, and so expensive to buy. It’s fine to use frozen raspberries; they’re much cheaper, and you can buy big bags of nice organic ones that will get the job done. I used homemade vanilla extract made with vodka, but feel free to use the regular stuff, or even some vanilla flavoured vodka. When you’re making fruity ice creams things can get a bit icy, and the booze helps it not to freeze too hard.

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Raspberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

1 cup full-fat milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups strained raspberry puree
1 tbsp vanilla extract or vanilla vodka

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar until the mixture is thick and a lovely pale yellow colour. Set aside on a damp dishcloth or towel (this will help the bowl to stay put when you’re with whisking later). Combine milk, whipping cream, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and pinch of salt in a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring just to the boil over medium-high heat. Slowly, starting as just a trickle at first, pour the warmed milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the combined milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan, and over low to medium heat, stir the mixture constantly until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (be patient with this, and don’t crank the heat to speed things up; the mixture must not boil or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs).

Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Stir in raspberry puree, vanilla extract/vodka) and sour cream. Let it cool slightly before placing it in the refrigerator to chill completely. Ideally overnight, but a few hours will do. (if you’re really pressed for time, stir over an ice bath in a larger bowl before placing in fridge). Churn in your ice cream maker according to the instructions, and store in your freezer in a good airtight container.

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Chickens, that was fun. I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on the blog over the holidays. The goal is to to get it up and running with a new look so I can fool people into thinking I’m a tech-savvy, Instagram-friendly millennial with long blond layered hair and not a forty-something mom with the computer skills of a squirrel monkey who, to be honest, has a bit of a Keith Urban mullet happening at the moment, after a year and a half of trying to grow out a bleach blond pixie cut I got last summer in a fit of rage at my hair falling out after childbirth. Anyhoo, hopefully, we’ll see you before too long. And remember, we’re all going to melt in 2040, so get off your mountain bikes and get on some ice cream.  xo

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Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (Or, How I Went into Labour)

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It wasn’t the plan, but I was reading a food magazine when my contractions started. Here’s the thing. Every pregnant woman has a “birth plan” in her head, even if she won’t admit it. Mine was more like a “birth fantasy”, if you will. A fantasy that, statistically speaking, would NEVER HAPPEN. Kind of like a “winning the lottery” fantasy, the one where you take all your friends to the Maldives for a month before a luxury safari in Tanzania followed by buying your dream home in the south of France. There was a better chance of all of that happening than there was of my birth fantasy coming true: power walking around Quidi Vidi lake on a warm March afternoon to induce labour, breathing and pushing an hour later at the hospital to “Bad Girls” by M.I.A. followed by a surprisingly quick and drug-free childbirth.

I know. I was that pregnant lady. I was even annoying to myself.

The reality. Me on the sofa reading a food magazine and my contractions starting 2 minutes apart. Barking orders at Justin and my mom to “GET MY FLIP FLOPS OUT OF MY GYM BAG AND PUT THEM IN THE HOSPITAL BAG I NEED MY FLIP FLOPS.” Driving to the hospital thinking “WTF who does this without drugs.” Hobbling across the parking lot holding onto Justin while repeating, “I’m definitely getting the epidural.” Not in the door two minutes screaming at the nurses, “get me the epidural” etc. etc. Which, by the way, along with finally getting an ice cream maker, was the best decision of my life.

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I will obviously spare you the rest of the details because this is a food blog, even though women love telling their delivery stories because COME ON how could you not, look at what you just did, sister! But I recently had a go at the recipe I guess you could say induced my labour. I was looking at a picture of this exact strudel when my contractions started, which is kind of cool. And that, my friends is the weirdest sentence I have ever written.

So if any of you happen to be pregnant, I share with you all my best wishes for a quick and painless delivery, complete with all the drugs and pineapple popsicles you can handle (no seriously, get the epidural, if your kid’s head is as big as mine’s is, you’ll need one).

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Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (from the April 2016 edition of Food Network Magazine)

For the compote:

2 sprigs tarragon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used 4 cups)

For the strudel:

6 oz cream cheese (I used one standard 226g package)
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for topping
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
7 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, clarified*
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp granulated sugar, plus more for topping

*To clarify butter (prevents strudel from getting soggy), melt it over medium-low heat until the milk solids separate and rise to the top, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool, then skim off the white foam and discard. Spoon the remaining clear butter into a bowl, and discard the solids left at the bottom of the pan.

1. Make the compote: Combine the tarragon sprigs, granulated sugar and 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, reduce the heat to low and cook until softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes. Strain the rhubarb over a bowl, reserving the liquid (keep the rhubarb in the strainer to drain completely while assembling the strudel).

2. Make the strudel: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pulse the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, flour and vanilla seeds in a food processor until just combined.

3. Lay out 1 phyllo sheet on a clean dry surface (keep remaining phyllo covered with a slightly damp kitchen towel). Brush lightly with the clarified butter and sprinkle with 1 tsp of chopped tarragon and 1/2 tsp granulated sugar. Layer another sheet of phyllo on top with more butter, tarragon and granulated sugar. Repeat the layering with the remaining phyllo; do not top the final sheet. Cut the stack of phyllo in half crosswise. Reserve the remaining clarified butter (about 1 tbsp).

4. Put each phyllo on a piece of parchment paper that’s slightly larger than the stack. Position the stacks with the long sides facing you. Divide the cream cheese mixture between the stacks, spreading it in a 2-inch-wide strip along the edge closest to you; leave a 1-inch border at the bottom and the sides. Spoon the rhubarb pieces over the cream cheese filling. Starting from the side closest to you, use the parchment to lift the phyllo and roll tightly around the filling to make two logs; arrange seam-side down. Transfer the strudels (on the parchment) to a baking sheet.

5. Brush the strudels with the reserved clarified butter and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the reserved rhubarb liquid to a boil in a saucepan. reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, about 15 minutes.

6. Let the strudels cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Slide the strudels (on the parchment) onto a rack; let cool 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and drizzle with the rhubarb syrup.

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Here’s what went wrong, because that’s what happens sometimes with recipes (and birth plans ha). I chucked the rhubarb in with the water and sugar before reading the recipe and realizing I had to bring the sugar water to a boil before adding the rhubarb. No biggie, I don’t think it made much of a difference. But I did overcook the rhubarb, it really does only take 3 minutes because it cooks again in the oven. I’m not sure about that whole “don’t top the final phyllo sheet” business…when I tried to spread on the thick cream cheese mixture the top layer started to rip because it was dry. So I’d say top the last layer if you have enough. Which I didn’t, so brushing the completed strudels was done with regular microwave-melted butter because who’s going to clarify another batch when you’ve been at this three hours? I had to read the fourth step about a dozen times before I could work my brain around it. I may have had to google “crosswise” and found this handy dandy article which was very helpful except I was cutting phyllo and not brussels sprouts. And what if my phyllo was turned the other way around around, hmmm? What would happen then, Food Network? It’s safe to say I’ll never work at NASA. Anyway. Cut your phyllo down the long side.

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I need to bake desserts in my awful oven at around 225°F, so it took closer to an hour instead of 20 minutes. Keep that in mind if you have an infuriatingly hot oven like mine, because the bottom of the strudel will darken quickly and the rest will be soggy. And I left off the icing sugar because really, you don’t need it with sugar sprinkled on top and then syrup.

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The biggest almost-disaster was not realizing how tall my kid is. There were two of us on duty and I still almost lost the nearly-completed phyllo layers from the kitchen table in the five seconds there wasn’t a set of eyes on Jude the Destroyer.

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I won’t lie, this one was a bit of an effort. I haven’t attempted a recipe this herculean since long before baby was born. And it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can throw together while simultaneously trying to keep a toddler from eating things out of the garbage can. But even with all the mistakes, it was beautiful. Definitely the kind of dessert you can afford to mess up a little and call it rustic. I love weird sweet-herby dessert combinations, but cut back on the tarragon if you’re scared, or leave it out completely (but don’t, it’s so lovely and licorice-y). This recipe makes such an obscene amount of strudel we had to give a chunk away, ate it three nights in a row for dessert, and still had some left to put in the freezer. And that worked out too, warmed low and slow in the oven a couple of weeks later. Imagine dying for something sweet some night and thinking there’s nothing in the house and then remembering there’s something in your freezer that’s flaky and made with cream cheese and rhubarb. That moment of realization alone was worth the three hours of strudel construction. With a cup of decaf Tetley before bedtime? Come on. Or similarly, make it a few weeks in advance of some dinner party you’re hosting. You can defrost it before everyone arrives, and they’ll show up with sweet strudel smells wafting out the front door to greet them. Everyone’s impressed with what you’ve just accomplished and no one’s the wiser. Hey, kind of like getting the epidural and not telling anybody afterwards! Either way, you end up with a great dessert/baby.

Happy cooking, badasses.

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Hand Line Cod Curry

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Food, how I’ve missed you. I have a friend with two kids who told me when I was still pregnant that it sure was a good idea I bought an espresso machine because soon coffee and food would be my only joys in life. I thought, jeez, that’s kind of harsh. What about the sweet little bundle of joy I was incubating? It was only after I had a kid that I realized she was the only mom-pal I had who TOLD THE TRUTH. Oh, man. Babies. And wow, was I ever one of those smug non-parents who thought I would actually get stuff done after I had one. It wasn’t like I was having twins, how messy could my house get? I would just clean when the baby napped. I would write when the baby napped! I’d swaddle it in a fuzzy blanket decorated with yellow ducks and it would sleep in a ray of sunshine on the bed in my office for at least three hours at a time while I wrote a blog a week and finished a novel. Sure I’d be a bit tired, but that’s what my brand new espresso machine was for. My baby would watch, fascinated, perched in its bouncy chair on the kitchen table while I basically did everything I did before I had a kid. Except get drunk by myself and stuff, obviously. But I refused to let a baby change my cooking and eating habits.

Hahahahaha, I was such an idiot. I wish all you parents out there had told me how babies actually work. The first two months I only had time to breastfeed, cry, eat one meal a day, or some weird combination of all three. Getting changed out of my bathrobe was kind of a big deal, and a shower happened three times a week if I was lucky. I can’t even wrap my head around how people have twins, I definitely would have had to give one away. I conveniently forgot my house was always messy before I got pregnant, so how I thought that would magically change after a human came out of me is anyone’s guess. Naps for baby meant the two of us in bed, me bum-patting with one hand, head-rubbing with the other, and singing Baby Beluga for an hour so the both of us could get twenty minutes sleep. And if I left that bouncy chair unattended to make a piece of toast this is what happened:

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Also, “it” turned out to be a little boy, even though everyone told us we were having a girl. Except a Turkmenistani lady at the International Food Fair last November who gave me free meatballs when she saw I was pregnant, looked me up and down and told me very seriously I was having a boy. And that espresso machine? I didn’t learn how to use it until the baby was sitting up on his own. But is he ever friggin’ sweet. And after a few months of figuring each other out, he’s a joy in my life, too. After coffee and food. I kid! Of course he’s number one. Number two on days he’s teething. And has ripped a tile off the fireplace when you weren’t looking to soothe his aching gums.

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I can count on one hand and remember in excruciating detail the meals Justin and I ate together in the first three months of Jude’s life, on the rare occasion he slept by himself (not joking, three of them: one Piatto pizza, ribs and potato salad, veg fried rice with sunny side egg on top and hot sauce). I made a cod curry one Sunday evening when he was maybe a month and a half old. He was taking this crazy five-hour nap, one of those baby naps where you can get stuff done (like sleep) except you’re so freaked out the baby’s napping longer than a half hour you’re too afraid to do anything except run up the stairs every ten minutes to make sure he’s still breathing. I finally got it together long enough to get a curry on the go and he woke up as soon as we sat down to eat, of course. But it gave us hope that maybe he’d sleep like that again later that night, or maybe even the next day.

(It took him two more months to sleep more than five hours and I hope there are teenagers reading this who I’m scaring shitless into celibacy.)

Justin had spent some time on Fogo Island a few months earlier shooting a film about hand lining cod (check out the trailer for it, it’s been featured at festivals all over the world, won some awards, it’s so lovely) and came home with a few boxes he’d caught while he was out with the fishermen. It had been flash-frozen, and I generally save frozen cod for tacos or curries, going a bit purist when the fish is fresh and pan-frying it old-school. I made the Fogo cod in a baked Thai curry but I have a feeling it would have pan-fried really well…even though it had been in the freezer for a few months it was up there with the best cod I’d ever eaten.

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This recipe is super quick and easy, very loosey-goosey…definitely not authentic-authentic in the way a good Thai curry should be, with painstakingly gathered fresh ingredients all pound into an honest-to-goodness curry paste. Last I checked it was virtually impossible to do this in St. John’s unless I’m behind the times in which case someone please let me know where I can get fresh lemongrass and the rest of it. But it’ll give you your Thai fix, you can do it in a half hour (pretty convenient, especially if you’re trying to keep a tiny new human alive), and the ingredients are fairly easy to find in these parts.

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In a medium saucepan combine two cans of coconut milk, 1 heaping tablespoon of your favourite ready-made Thai curry paste, 1 tablespoon of soya sauce, 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce, half a teaspoon of ground turmeric, the juice of half a lime, and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Throw in a stalk of lemongrass and a couple of kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find, curry will still be nice) and let the whole thing come to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes. Place 2 (or 3 if you like less sauce with your curry) fresh or thawed cod fillets in a 8×10 Pyrex dish and pour the sauce over top, leaving in the lemongrass and lime leaves. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Serve with rice, chopped coriander, and lime wedges.

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Again, this is all to taste and you can play around with the sauce before committing to anything. It might need more or less sugar or fish sauce, or a bit more lime juice depending on personal preference and the brand of curry paste you’re using. Add in another tablespoon of the paste if you want a stronger, spicier curry. I’ve done red, green and yellow, all delicious. Try palm sugar instead of brown if you can get your hands on it (the So Kee Grocery on Duckworth should carry most of these ingredients if you’re in St. John’s, including frozen lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves) and a bit of grated fresh turmeric instead of powdered is always nice, and I’ve heard you can actually get it around here these days.

This curry takes about a half hour, and hilariously, this blog took me over a year to write. But it all evens out in the end. Just like your new baby will when you think you’ll never eat without a tiny human in your arms ever again.

Or sleep. Or read a book. Or drink a full coffee without having to reheat it in the microwave five times throughout the course of a day. But you’ll get there. Eventually. I mean, it only took me fifteen months to finally get out of my maternity jeans. Happy cooking!! xo

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Eat Your Cake Now Because We’re All Screwed

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Well, now. Who saw that coming? Like, who actually, really, honest-to-goodness saw that coming. It’s like, if someone had said to me a few weeks ago, “Hey Willow, Dr. Teeth from The Muppet Show will be president-elect on November 9th”, I would have spit my drink in your face laughing and we all would have had a good hardy-har-har then got a sub on the way home. But then it happened. Except it’s worse.

I don’t want to mention any names because this is a food blog. I loooove shooting my mouth off about politics, but it’s different when you’re drinking with your friends or yelling at the television with your dad. But as soon as you put things online there are sad trolly-types googling stuff and looking to cause trouble and hey, they get hungry too and maybe they’re looking for a curry recipe or something. Well, umm…maybe not a curry recipe. Anyhoo.

(Is president-elect supposed to be capitalized because I’M NOT DOING IT.)

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I’ve been working on a blog for months now, trying to eek out a few sentences in between getting thrown up on and singing Baby Beluga thirty-eight times a day. But then the world woke up to the orange billionaire version of their least favourite drunk uncle being handed the keys to the White House and it seemed a bit trite to post some chirpy blog about being a tired new mom. Suddenly, nothing else mattered except cake. All I wanted to do was drop everything and bake something for no other reason than I craved comfort and chocolate and distraction from disbelief that a man-child with a golden toilet got elected president of the most powerful country on earth.

Okaaaaay, so I like to stress eat. I mean, I love to stress eat. I wish I could transfer that into something a bit healthier like going for a run or journaling or woodworking. But who felt like strapping on a pair of sneakers or breaking out the old power jointer after that shitshow of an election night? After an ugly-cry and a cuddle-chat with my baby about the importance of him being a good feminist, I had to make a cake. I was obsessed with making a cake, and not a quick-fix mix either (with obvious respect and love for the quick fix), but a luxurious, homemade chocolate cake in one of those glass cake stands. So I wouldn’t have to cover it with cling wrap and ruin the icing and it could sit on the counter for a week (hahahaha) with the sun glinting off the glass. And I wanted cream cheese icing. Not an icing traditionally paired with chocolate, but think how good chocolate cheesecake is, so why doesn’t this combination happen more often? I would make this happen, but first I needed to run out and buy some cream cheese. And one of those glass cake stands.

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I wanted this cake stand in my life so bad I broke my “No Mall after October 31st” rule and ended up pulling in early enough I could easily find a parking space, and let me tell you, I was feeling pretty goddamn pleased with myself for being so on top of things. I think I’d even managed to do the dishes before I’d left the house and taken a sho- haha of course I hadn’t taken a shower. Anyways, I wasn’t thinking (I have an 8-month old, rarely happens) and EVERY RETIRED GRANDMOTHER had taken the bus to the mall to go Christmas shopping and every single one of them were in the kitchenware aisle at Winners, practically tossing Le Creuset lids at each other in search of the perfect reindeer oven mitts or whatever, I don’t know. No fancy cake stands there so I popped over to the relative cool and calm of Stokes, the store I avoid like the plague because it’s full of stuff I really want but don’t reeeeally need. Like cake stands! Poof, done, thirty bucks, in and out, later grammas. After stopping at Laura Secord to buy four French mint chocolate bars to calm my nerves, of course.

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When I got home I held my mother-in-law hostage while the baby was napping, in case he woke up and I was mid-cake. I wanted this done and under the dome by suppertime, and if nap time ended early I would have had to drop everything and pay attention to him like he was an 8-month old or something. Babies are sooooooo needy. But because this recipe is so fast and easy, Squirtface slept through cake and cream cheese icing, and more importantly, slept through me having to share licking the beaters or bowl with him. I haven’t quite figured out how that will work when he’s old enough to realize what’s going on. Always baking during nap time? Hiding in the closet with the bowl while he’s loading the dishwasher for me? I’ll get back to you. I suppose I could…share. Jesus. Again, with the needy youngsters.

I’m not really sure where this recipe originally came from…it’s been in my family for years and it’s still my mom’s go-to. We used to eat it after Sunday dinner right out of the oven with hot custard. An old Hershey cookbook, maybe? Hmmm. If they’re reading this they’ll hopefully be too busy to take legal action because everyone in America will be stress eating so much chocolate Hershey won’t have time to look up from their golden thrones.

Mom’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp EACH baking soda and baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (2% or 3.25%)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat with a mixer on medium speed until mixed well. Add boiling water last, stirring with a large spoon or whisk until mixture is smooth. Batter will be very thin. Bake at 350° in a greased 9×13 pan for 35-40 minutes, or two standard round cake pans for around 30 minutes. Cake tester or toothpick should come out clean when inserted in middle of the cake.

Cream Cheese Icing (from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Simon and Schuster, 2009)

1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using.

(This recipe is halved from the original in the book, and it’s more than enough to generously ice the chocolate cake when baked in 2 standard round cake pans)

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If you’ve never baked a cake, homemade or not, this is your recipe. I can’t even begin to describe how moist and delicious it is and besides, there’s no time. I saw Melancholia, I know how the shit ends, can we all just start strapping on our aprons, please. Mom’s always been a bit hush-hush about the recipe, but I’m sure even she would agree these are desperate times and if you have a secret family recipe just put it out there now and everyone can eat really well in our bunkers when drunk uncle starts angry-tweeting about North Korea instead of Alec Baldwin and we all have to go into hiding.

Was I ever pleased with myself when this came out of my notoriously too-hot-for-baking oven perfectly done. I couldn’t wait for it to cool and for the icing to set to get it all dressed up in its winter clothes and set it under its new glass dome-home. I couldn’t keep Nanny that long, bless her heart, so she got sent home with a promise of cake delivery and a visit from Squirtface and his dad on Saturday morning. That’s the day I get to sleep till noon and drink coffee in front of the television, pretending my chronic sleep deprivation is a hangover from a glamorous night out. I even go to bed on Friday night with a full face of makeup to fool myself into believing it on Saturday morning. I’m kidding. I had to throw out all my makeup because it expired. Anyway. Cake.

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Supper was in the oven and Squirt was in bed when I finally got to finish my End of the World Chocolate Cake. I’m no cake decorator, but I slathered on the icing and swirled it around to make it look like a rustic-type creation that I wouldn’t be completely ashamed to put in front of a Martha Stewart-Nigella Lawson type pal who popped in for tea. And you know what? It was gorgeous! Like a marshmallowy, snowy, creamy thing that with the right kind of lighting and set decorating, could maybe grace the cover of a (low-end) food magazine. I was feeling like a Democrat before the polls closed, all ready to pop a bottle of champagne as soon as they called Florida.

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But hang on a second, what’s this? I can’t seem to…the dome won’t…I put the cake on a plate to ice it and now it…

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Son of a bitch.

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The glass dome wouldn’t fit over the plate. No one told me I had to put the cake directly on the stand in order for the dome to fit over it. Florida wasn’t a sure thing, how could I have thought my glass cake stand would be too? It was time to concede my victory and get the goddamn toothpicks and cling wrap.

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Just remember, they can take away our cake stands, but they can’t take away our cake. Or something like that. And count your toothpicks. I panicked when I counted seven after the delivery to my in-laws, knowing without a doubt I had put eight in, but Justin reassured me that was because he’d almost eaten one earlier that afternoon, so we were good.

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Anyways, onwards and upwards. Or sideways. Or ass backwards. Whatever gets you through the next four years. Like a lot of canned goods and batteries in your basement. Until next time!

(Hopefully.)

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