Monday, January 31, 2011

Butternut Squash and Dark Chocolate Loaf.

"Dear Lindsay,
Could you please bake something healthy for us? Thanks!
Love Theo."

The intensely neat handwriting on this note, along with the fact that Theo is our dog, led me cleverly to deduce that it was in fact my mom who wished for something from the oven. It also clearly indicated she wanted neither cookies nor brownies (boo to that). Healthy baking would be a departure from 'the more-butter-the-better' approach we all seemed to take in Parma, but since I love my mother and had been wanting to bake something butternut-y lately, I decided this was the opportunity. Nearly every recipe I found called for two cups of sugar and about a half-gallon of oil, and while I'm sure these would be completely tasty, they did not quite fit with Ina's request. I finally came across this recipe for whole grain pumpkin bread, which has reasonable amounts of sugar and fat and seemed it would lend itself well to adaptation. The result was a (sort of) guilt-free and tender loaf that lasted all of two days. I was happy with it, so here she be.


Butternut Squash and Dark Chocolate Loaf:
Adapted from The Whole Grain Gourmet

1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup packed natural brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree*
1 cup white flour
3/4 cup (minus 1/2 a tablespoon) whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda, diluted in 1/4 cup hot water
1, 250 gram bar of 75% dark chocolate, chopped into chocolate-chip sized pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Whisk and put aside.

In another large bowl combine butter, honey and sugar. Beat for two minutes. Add the eggs and lightly beat until just combined. Mix in squash and vanilla - do not overmix. Gradually beat in the flour mixture in thirds.

Dilute the baking soda in the water and beat into batter. By hand, stir in the chocolate and nuts.

Pour the batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan and bake at 325 for approximately 55-65 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness, and be careful not to over-bake or the loaf will dry out. Once out of the oven let cool 10 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and cool on a wire rack. Delicious if eaten warm, though it does tend to fall apart! After a few hours it slices more cleanly.

*To make the puree: Slice one large or two small butternuts lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place skin side up on an oiled baking sheet and roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until a knife slides easily through the thickest part. Remove from oven and let cool, then scoop the softened squash out into a bowl. Mash with a fork and bam! You've got butternut squash puree.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Highlights of NYC.

On my way home from Italy I spent four wonderful days in New York. Here's a smattering of sights/eats, but get in touch if you'd like the full list!

1. The best and brightest lights of all were Carey Polis and Lauren Sudekum, New York hostess extraordinaires and participants in our very own New York City Marathon. OF FOOD.

2. A quick list of (just some) of the tastiest bits:

-Shake Shack burgers, as delicious as promised
-Momofuku Noodle Bar's fried chicken lunch, impossible to get a reservation but Jon did, oh yes he DID
-Hill Country BBQ. While the moist brisket was excellent, I loved the sides the most: cornbread, collard greens with bacon, mac and cheese, baked beans, etc etceteraaaa.
-The fish torta, nachos, and reggaeton at Pinche Taqueria
-A potato knish at the famous Yonah Schimmel Knishery, where the staff hate each other and make no attempt to hide it
-Tasting pumpkin, olive oil, roasted cashew, and honey-lavender flavoured gelati at Il Laboratorio del Gelato
-Murray's cheese shop, a.k.a Mecca
-The Chelsea Market (indoor) and the Union Square Greenmarket (outdoor)
-Cookies (see last blog post, which talks about nothing but)

3. I would also like to talk about Mast Brothers' chocolate. Anyone who has spoken to me since New York may want to skip this part, because anyone who has spoken to me since New York has heard about the Mast Brothers. Young, tattooed and heroically bearded, they are New York's only bean to bar chocolate makers and source their cacao (single origin) from places like Madagascar and Venezuela. We never made it to their shop, but did find their bars for sale at Murray's Cheese. It was all I could do not to buy them out completely, though the $10/bar price curbed that desire slightly. All bars are hand-wrapped in paper of varying designs, each so pretty I was reluctant to open them (though I managed to get over that, too). I bought two bars, the Madagascar and Cocoa Nib, loved them both, and now wish to try every last one. This will be difficult since they neither sell nor ship to Canada. Sigh. You can read an interesting article about their branding here, which has clearly worked wonders on me.

4. Lauren and I started out New York: Day 3 at the outstanding Brooklyn Flea. This ain't your local community center craft fair. Each Sunday, under the sweeping, mosaic-laiden ceilings of an old church, hip vendors sell vintage finds, hand-crafted jewellery, and food (homemade pickles and raw chocolate anyone?) to the kind of people I'd like to brunch with. We perused the stalls, wished for cool apartments in which to put all the cool things, and ate grilled cheese sandwiches from the Milk Truck stall downstairs. Good sammies, though the plaid-adorned Milk Truck Men were s.l.o.w. on those grills.

5. One evening Carey took us for a stroll on The Highline, a raised walking path that threads its way through Manhattan's West Side. Built in the 1930's, it originally functioned to raise dangerous freight traffic above the busy streets, however the trains stopped running in 1980 and the line was abandoned for several decades. Ten years ago a group of citizens advocated for its restoration, and several years later a new city park was born. From it we watched the sunset over the Hudson and I felt tranquility in New York. Who'd have thought.

Thanks to Carey and Lauren, my first trip to the New York was magic. I can't wait to take another bite out of the Big Apple soon.

Mast Brothers photo courtesy of

Monday, January 17, 2011

NYC. New York Cookie.

You'd think I hadn't eaten cookies in a decade the way I ate cookies in New York - I was like a thirsty desert nomad and bakeries were my oasis. That's actually a bloody lie considering I made cookies about once a week in Italy, but my return to North American Baked Goods Culture was thrilling nonetheless. We tried the Nutter Butter and Bouchon from Thomas Keller's bakery, the baseball-sized chocolate chip walnut and dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookies from Levain, and then there was our little discovery in Brooklyn.

Whilst wandering around Williamsburg, Lauren and I passed a chalkboard scrawled with "Momofuku Milk Bar," the name of a popular David Chang eatery. The strange thing was there was no shop-front, just an industrial metal door with cut-outs of dog photos taped to one side. As far as we knew, there were only two Momofuku Milk Bars in New York, both in Manhattan, so this was a bit of a puzzle. I'd had a slice of their trademarked Crack Pie the day before but was too full to try one of their Compost Cookies, a quirky mix of chocolate and butterscotch chips, pretzels, potato chips, graham crumbs and coffee grounds. I couldn't decide if this concept repulsed or enticed me, but wanted to try one nonetheless. And I would. Oh I would.

Turns out what we'd happened upon in Brooklyn was the Momofuku bakery warehouse, which will buzz you in and sell things strictly by the dozen. Twelve cookies, two people, and one more day in NY. Lauren gave me a look that said "it'd be an idiot move, Anderson," but I'd already decided this was magically fated. When else could I say I'd bought crack from behind a sketchy green door in the heart of Brooklyn? This technically wasn't even crack, just a bunch of compost, but I'll take my bad-ass moments when I can get them. Before you could say Butter-Overload I'd agreed to a dozen hefty cookies, opting for two of each flavour. They handed me a box that weighed no less than two kilos, which I proceeded to lug back to Astoria then all the way to Vancouver.

Totally worth it for the cookies themselves, the friends I got to share them with, and the fact that I later got to say "my favourites are the Peanut Butter, Corn and Compost." I also think I gained some serious street cred and am now considering a henna tattoo.

Last photo credited to:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Story of My Left Eyeball.

Romantic, I know. It's a complicated one though, so instead of writing it out in a million emails I thought I'd take advantage of my blog and write it once. Here goes....

Sometime in early December my left eye had a bit of red on it, near the iris, and I assumed it was just a mild flare-up of a cornea infection I had in the summer.

I went to Punto Bianco (the not-so-emergency room) and had my first of several misdiagnoses. With the assumption it was a corneal scratch and on the wrong drops, it got worse, fast. Now I had a very red, super-light-sensitive eye and piercing headaches, so I went back to Punto Bianco and a new doctor (quickly dubbed "Hot Doctor") had a look. He was the one good thing about all this. He changed my drops and booked me for a hospital appointment first thing the next morning, thus beginning a series of 9 visits over two weeks. I told them I was supposed to be leaving for London on the 28th and India on the 4th, but once they thought it had stabilized they assured me I would still be able to go.

With time the pain only got worse however, and I started having headaches down the whole left side of my face. On the 23rd my eye clouded over so much I couldn't see out of it. I ended up back at the hospital on the 24th, and at that point they told me it was a condition called Anterior Uveitis (a swelling of the interior front part of the eye) and that it had gotten very serious. They gave me a bunch of meds and basically said if the swelling lasted much longer I could start to lose vision permanently.   Not the best Christmas Eve news, but I did get to eat rib cake later that day which helped.

Many drops, pills, disgusting eye-gel and two weeks later, my eye has returned to normal, the pain is gone, and they are starting to ween me off everything. Needless to say, India has had to be postponed indefinitely as I'll need be semi-chained to an ophthalmologist in the coming months. They're thrilled with how my eye looks, but annoyed that they don't know the cause; on the 28th they took a bunch of blood but the tests have since come back inconclusive. My doctor's theory is that it's an autoimmune disease that manifested itself through Anterior Uveitis, but he said I'll need to have further testing to figure out which one. For now I'm just happy to have a white eye again.

Plan B goes like this: I'm heading to Calgary to intern with Sidewalk Citizen, my friend Aviv's bakery. I'm super excited to get to help he and Michal out with a new business, especially one with a philosophy, owners, and products that I admire so much.

I'm also happy to report that on my way home I have a four day lay-over in New York, where I'll be visiting my good friends from UNISG who are interning there. Carey (who has lived in New York) drafted the world's best to-do list for me which offers about 8 different options for my afternoon snack alone. I'll also stop in Vancouver for a few days and soak in the English-speaking Canadian-ness of it all with my friends there. It's nearly been a year since I was home.

So that's the story. It's been a frustrating and disappointing month, but such is life. India's not going anywhere and I'll get there eventually. Though I already knew it, I've also been reminded that I have the most wonderful, supportive, and sympathetic friends and family ever.

For now you may join me in cursing my left eyeball and keep your fingers crossed that I'll get to put my contacts back in soon. I really, really dislike wearing glasses and have been squinty and confused-looking for far too long....