29 August 2010

Zeus, jabby-jabs and Toddtinis

What do you see when you look at the image on the left?

Do you see a pussycat, tuckered out after long day of eating, lounging and splashing in the water dish?

Or do you see a content feline, happy knowing he's got it good: food, water, warmth, a sister who actually likes having him around, and a cushy (if not colourful) snoozing spot?

Me? I see neither.

I see conspiracy. I see vengence. I see barf in my shoes.

This is Zeus, Hagia's littermate/brother and Beanie's adopted brother: just as skittish as his siblings and less open to progress and new ideas than The Vatican and the Flat Earth Society combined.

The vast majority of cats prefer women; this one prefers men. He loves his papa (my Big, Strong Cardapoppy) and thinks the exbf is just plain neat-o. He'll even come out and watch male television presenters (I think Jamie on Mythbusters is a favourite).

Women, on the other hand bring a look of terror onto his little furry face. I swear he thinks the female portion of the humman species are all gorgons.

As far as this tiger cat is concerned, My Dear Little Cardamummy is something to avoid. His walnut-sized brain has been hardwired to avoid direct eye contact with her as he scuttles by, lest she notice him, and launch into Euryale-inspired shrieks of "Here Zeusie Zeusie Zeusie! I have some fishie for you!"

I am treated little better. Often our interactions consist of me sitting on the couch, his striated head craning around a corner to fix a terror-filled stare at me. If I obviously notice him, a temporary parlysis takes hold before he tears off to another room. Funny...I've noticed the same with a few human males.

Our truce is such: he does what he wants (within reason) and I feed him and do the box. I don't cuddle him and he doesn't leave me "presents"...anywhere. I don't complain loudly when I slip in the streams he leaves from his paw-dipping drinking technique. He doesn't sharpen his claws on my dining table leg. It works.

Again...certain parallels abound.

Things were going tickety-boo until a few weeks ago: the water dish needed refilling at three times the normal rate, just as the box needed to be cleaned at three times the normal rate, his hearing became comparable to a stone's, the muscle around his spine diminished, and no more arias. Dr. Bonnie confirmed it was diabetes and a new house agreement would need to be "negotiated": twice-daily insulin jabs: 8am and 8pm.

You try and stick a needle into the ruff of a cat who'd prefer you not share the same postal code.

My first solo attempt took 30 minutes. Hiss. Growl. Spit. Shoulders back. Jump out of the box to behind the furnace. Back away from me and try to escape through the gap to the washing machine. Barricades and flashlights. Leap into the box and then into the other corner, even darker and smaller and more difficult to get to. Grab. Jab. Yelp. A present was found later.

I've taken to giving Hagia a fake jab so he doesn't think he's being picked on. But he's smart and has figured out that there's no way his sister could be happy with a needle stuck in her ruff, so he hid, to watch what happens to her.

I wish I knew this before I tried to fake him out.

Apparently I cannot see a grey tabby, sitting under a clear glass table, positioned behind a table leg that's no more than one inch in diameter. Well, apparently not at eight in the morning.

It didn't take long for him to figure out she got the kitty crunchie reward without being poked by a needle. He was not happy. I found another present.

I told you he was smart.

Based on that, a new and somewhat successful routine was developed:

- Before my morning ablutions I plod my way down the steps to the kitchen.
- I enter the kitchen without acknowledging Zeus. Acknowledging him will have him tear down the basement steps like a bat out of Hell.
- I fumble with the syringe and insulin tube, in hopes that I don't prick myself or break the vial.
- I find my way to the basement TV temple with the unsheathed needle. The nanoseconds needed to flick of the orange cap is enough for him to run out of the box and find a place to hide.
- I set the needle down, get the fake jab, the catnip pouch and two crunchies.
- I pretend to not notice Zeus, the stealth cat, is sitting underneath the clear glass table, behind the one-inch diameter table leg, watching me.
- I rub Hagia's face with the catnip, fake jab her and feed her one crunchie.
- Then I coo at her, and tell her what a good girl she is. At this point, Zeus takes off to his carton behind the fireplace, next to the furnace.
- I swap out the fake jab for the real one.
- I find Zeus, chatter at him while I rub his face with catnip. I fumble for his ruff and I jab him. Sometimes he yelps.
- He then gets his crunchy and an extra catnip rub. If I've done well, he'll let me pet him--if I didn't do well he gives me a resentful "you'll pay for this, my pretty" look.
- I guillotine the sharp, toss the rest of it and then really start my day. If I'm lucky I won't come down the steps to find his writ of protest.

All this for one flipping unit of insulin. It's enough to drive a gal to drink. Well, almost.

I first had this drink earlier this summer at My Dearest Todd's suprise (somethingth) birthday party. Quite honestly, apart from my beloved G&Ts, this is now my favourite way to imbibe in hot weather. Besides, it's another way of getting fresh, seasonal blueberries into me (as if I need an excuse to eat blueberries).

I didn't get the proportions from those lovely barkeeps, so after a bit of experimentation, I've settled on this recipe. The blueberries, I suppose, are optional.

But then again, blueberries make this libation a health drink...as opposed to leaving it a mental health drink.


1 part açai vodka
1 part blue curaçao
1 part white cranberry juice



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15 August 2010

Lemon-Blueberry Buckle

Good gravy, I think I'm getting old.

I could have sworn I posted this recipe in July, but apparently I didn't. Maybe I should be eating whatever it is is that improves memory. Or is it a supplement? Can't remember right now.

I think blueberry lovers have been especially lucky this summer. Pretty much each and every punnet of (local) blueberries I've had this season has been bursting with plump sweetness. Trust me. I've had several punnets make my kitchen a mere passing stop en route to cakes, tarts and simple yoghurty goodness.

I have several buckle recipes within reach, and even though each is different, they all have the same components: cake, fruit and a crumbly topping. How they come together seems to be the question. Some recipes fold the fruit into the batter, some leave the fruit stewing underneath the batter (as with my blueberry-peach buckle), and others, like this one, sandwiches fruit between cake and topping. Which is correct? I don't know and I don't think it really matters, to be honest.

This year's buckle-making adventure seem to fall within what I've just realised is a preoccupation with lemoned baking. The still-failing-to-my-palate lemon-cherry muffins is part of this. There are worse culinary pre-occupations, I suppose...like how to de-scent durian.

Anyway, unlike said muffins, this recipe was almost there in its first iteration and two minor fixes produced this lovely breakfast, tea and midnight snack cake. The crumb is pale, moist and just lemony enough and plays well against the sweetness of in-season berries.

I made it in one of my 20cm/8" high-sided springform--unmolded it's a gorgeous sight for serving at the table. It could be made in a 23cm/9" pan as well, and will probably be done in a shorter time.

Lemon Blueberry BuckleYield: One 20cm/8" cakeIngredients:For the topping:65g (0.33c) sugar
45g (0.33c) ap flour
40g (3Tbsp) cold butter
for the cake:100g (0.5c) sugar
55g (0.25c) butter
1.5Tbsp flavourless oil
2 eggs
Juice and finely grated zest of one lemon
125ml (0.5c) milk or half-and-half
245g (1.75c) ap flour
1dspn (2tsp) baking powder
0.25tsp salt
280g (1pt/2c) blueberries (fresh or thawed)

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Butter and paper the bottom of an 20cm/8" high-sided springform pan.

Rub the zest into the sugar, infusing the lemon oils into the sugar. Set aside.

Mix together the juice and milk or cream, let sit.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and set aside.

Start with the topping by rubbing together the sugar, flour and butter so everything is combined, but in varied pebble sizes (from grains of sand to no bigger than a pea). Set aside and get on with the cake batter.

Cream together sugar, butter, and oil. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour and by this point the curdled cream the usual alternating method (flour-cream-flour-cream-flour), scraping down the bowl's sides between each addition.

Pour into prepared pan and level the batter. Tumble the blueberries on top, so they are evenly distributed on the batter. Cover the berries with the topping.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out with cooked cake crumbs clinging (it can be hard to tell as the skewer will have to travel through the stewed berries). The cake will begin to pull away from the sides and the crumble will be a light golden colour.

Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.


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06 August 2010

Garlic shrimp on toast

When the weather gets unbearably hot, I don't necessarily flip into salad mode. Even though satisfaction can be found in leafy greens, tossed with a bit of this, bedding that and lightly tossed with that other thing, I rarely head that way.

I want something that's easily prepared, usually forgiving and can easily morph into a couple of different light meals, or perhaps a snack or two.

This tomatoey-shrimp dish qualifies, I think...because, at its heart it really is a non-recipe recipe: as much garlic as you want, chilli flakes, a tomato sauce of sorts and then shrimp. Balance flavours as you see fit and then...umm...eat. I've done my best to eyeball quantities so as to give you a basic idea as to what to do, but really... a bit more of this or less of this, as your kitchen dictates.

It's a sweet shrimp dish--I use my homemade ketchup which is similar to bottled chilli sauce--but if you would like something more savoury, use straight puréed tomatoes instead and play with the spicing as you wish.

The finished dish can be eaten with rice or pasta, served with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, or (my favourite) as a light lunch on toasted baguette slices (two or three slices will usually do me).

Garlic Shrimp on Toast

For the shrimp:
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
125ml (0.5c) chili sauce or ketchup (or tomato puree, if you wish)
chilli flakes (to taste)
500g (1lb) shrimp, shelled and deveined
1tsp wine vinegar (red or white)
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

for the toast:
baguette slices
Olive oil

Put the garlic in cold oil and set the hob to medium. When the garlic begins to colour, add the chilli flakes and warm through for about 20 seconds. Add the tomatoey sauce and stirr, Let reduce by about a third and then toss in the shrimp and stir as they cook through. Stir in the wine vinegar and balance flavours to taste. Add basil, mix all together and remove from heat.

Toast the baguette slices under the broiler. Remove, rub with garlic and drizzle with olive oil

Spoon the shrimp onto toasts.


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01 August 2010

Mmm...Canada: Food Day: Blueberry-apricot frangipane tart

I heart July. It starts with Canada Day and, this year, it ends on Food Day.

It celebrates what we eat and how we eat it. It highlights what's here naturally, from fish and shellfish, to beasts and birds to crops and wild fruits and veggies. It recognises each crop and herd brought by waves of immigrants from cows and pigs to wheat and from indigenous foods to crops and herds brought over with each successive immigration wave.

Mmm...Canada. We are a nation of lucky eaters.

Admittedly, the vast majority of my foodbuying happens in megamarts of varying sizes. When I can, from spring until autumn I travel out past the roundabout to Herrle's in St. Agatha. They're a local treasure, known for having the best produce grown either by the Herrle family or by other local or close-to-local growers.

The market itself evolves as the seasons do. You won't find corn in April and it's highly unlikely saskatoon berries will offered in August. Here even the most removed from food cycles are aware of the specialness of the produce: deep red tomatoes heavy from their juices, signs leading shoppers to the freshest-picked beans at the back of the store, gaggles of shoppers at bins of their famous corn, their arms filled with ears destined for a pot of water or for the barbecue. It's not like my usual megamart.

Yesterday I made a point of heading out to St. Agatha. I returned with a bagful of goodies: yellow and green courgettes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, apricots and wild blueberries. I'll probably beg My Dear Little Cardamummy for guidance in replicating her courgette and tomato curry and the sweet potatoes will be roasted. But the fruit?

The weather has cooled off a tad and this Jasmine no longer wilts in the heat and humidity. As a result turning on the oven isn't arduous, but a pleasure. Especially when a tart is to be had.

This tart is a variant of the Bakewell Tart Daring Baker's challenge I hosted last year, ably assisted by my dear Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar: but this time the frangipane is sandwiched between fruit layers atop a sweet shortcrust.The resulting rich, sweet nuttiness is perfect for sharing on a day that celebrates food.

Blueberry-Apricot Frangipane Tart
Makes one 23cm (9") tart

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
2Tbsp apricot or blueberry jam, warmed
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
200g (1c) (wild) blueberries, rinsed and picked through
5-10 apricots, sliced into eight wedges each.

225g (0.75c+ 3Tbsp) ap flour
2Tbsp sugar
0.5tsp salt
110g (0.5c) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 egg yolks
1-2 Tbsp cold cream

100g (7Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
100g (0.5c) sugar
2 eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
100g (1 scant cup) ground almonds
3Tbsp all purpose flour

For the crust:
Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the cream, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Dock the crust with a fork and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Line the tart tin with foil and pour on the baker's beans. Bake for about 10 minutes.

For the frangipane:
Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. Pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour. Set Aside

Assembling the tart:
Spread as even a layer jam onto the pastry base. Tumble the blueberries on top. Slather on the frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. layer the top with as many of the apricot wedges as possible (depending upon the size of your slices, you'll probably have leftovers. Just eat them).

Pop into the oven for 30-40 minutes. The frangipne will poof from between the fruit slices, brown and set.

Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.


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