Sweet Satisfaction that Can Be Yours

Oftentimes even the simplest of fares can convey a sense of comfort, a feeling of joy and a certain amount of contentment to your day. Just the smell of something baking in the oven, a hint of cinnamon or the tang of ginger or the warmth of gooey, flavourful chocolate is all you need to make you feel warm and placated after a long day of rain and chilly wind beating against the windows of your home.

Blending aromatic ingredients into lusciously dense desserts brings a smile to my face. Nibbling on said sweets the next morning with a hot cup of coffee by my hand makes for the perfect start to a cold, blustery, busy day that has no early end in sight.

Perhaps you can create your own magical and delicious desserts by entering this contest … and perhaps I can get you inspired with a little quiz right now, that comes with a prize.

As you know, I have a love for all things "flavorsome". So much so that I named both my cats after words found in the kitchen. If you are the fifth one to email me with the names of both of my cats you will win a gift basket (pictured at the side) the following helpful products:

– $50.00 CDN worth of Pillsbury Product Coupons
The Complete Guide to a Clean House (The MollyMaid Cleaning Handbook)
– Pillsbury oven mitts and apron
– Pillsbury Doughboy doll
– Pillsbury Doughboy desk clock
– Pillsbury Totebag

Friendship, Sweet Friendship

Friends are amazing – long term friends, short term friends, friends you see only at work, friends you see once a year, friends of the family, friends who live close, friends who live far. “Friend” is one word that is really indefinable – it can expand or contract to cover any number of different people in your life at one time or another.

I generally tell people that I don’t have a lot of friends – life is easier that way, really. I don’t feel obligated to help a bunch of people move or to invite a whole lot of people over for brunch or even feel as though I have to talk to a myriad of friends on the phone or communicate with them via email. I have just enough friends – some whom I almost never see and some who I see on a regular basis. Some with whom I have a great deal in common and have known for what seems like forever and some who I am only still just getting to know. All of them are important in different ways and each of them offers me something that I can’t get from anyone else…whether they know it or not.

One friend who I don’t know quite as well as I would like is Kat. I know a lot about her and her life and her husband and her son, Max – pretty much all through her blog. But as far as friendships go, the two of us haven’t even scratched the surface yet, although I have a feeling we will in time.

Recently, Kat’s son Max was diagnosed with Autism, and when I first found out it was a complete shock. Max is only two months older than Leith…so you do the math I was doing in my own head. I know quite a bit about the Autistic Spectrum; I’ve met kids with the diagnosis and worked closely with them and their parents. That next week I searched my own still non-speaking child’s face for signs I had been hoping would not appear in any child. I was over-reacting and Leith soon after started speaking (I think he was saving his speech until he knew he could really irritate us with “WHY” and “CUZ” and “NO” and “BANANA CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS”) and there were no other remote signs. But Max didn’t get better. Max got worse.

Kat and her husband have ridden the storm with him and he is thankfully doing quite well now. Kat, on the other hand, is up to her armpits in legal mumbo-jumbo trying to get funding for her sweet child to have treatment for his diagnosis.

A few Christmases ago, Kat and I decided to do a “sweets exchange” with each other. My decadent Peppermint Bark for her tantalizing Cranberry Almond Bark (shown above). I have to say it was one of the nicest gifts I received that year and I savored each and every one of those delicious cranberry almond chocolate shards. Friends can indeed come in handy – especially friends like Kat.

Right now Kat needs some support…and couldn’t we all at one point or another? So if you want to support a friend, please go to Mabel’s Label’s and vote for Fickle Feline 2.0 (voting closes Feb 23rd at noon) to send this amazing mom of an autistic boy to Chicago so that she can continue to advocate for funding for Autism through her blog.

Solace in Sustenance

I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. I stomped to the shower, scrubbed my scalp raw while grumbling about how decent people don’t get up before the sunrise everyday and glowered at my red, dampened reflection in the mirror. Tempted to drape myself in black, I donned a pink cashmere turtleneck at the last second in an attempt to cheer myself up.
It didn’t take.

I got to work, slammed a few drawers, stomped around haphazardly for a while and tossed some papers on my desk. I wandered into my co-worker’s office and snarled "I’m in an awful mood today". And turned to go. I hadn’t been looking for justification or for encouragement or even a bright response. I had just needed to tell someone that today was not going to be my day.

Apparently this week is one of the most depressing of the entire year (how is it that we are already depressed when the year has hardly begun??). Something about how winter is still looming infinitely in front of us, we’ve already failed our New Year’s resolutions and Christmas debts are piling up.

I think for me it has more to do with the fact that I get up long before the sun has breached the horizon and don’t tend to get home from work until it has sunk beyond the horizon. I forget what it feels like to feel the sun on my cheeks and how it feels to need to wear the sunglasses that have hibernated at the bottom of my bag.

So I try to cook "sunlight" into my foods. I cook with fruits and vegetables that remind me of the warmer days of spring, summer and even the early fall. Apples, peaches, pears, berries all play featured roles in my desserts while squash, vine-ripened and sun-dried tomatoes and roasted corn headline in my main courses. I think eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps me keep my head from clouding over when the forecast calls for frigid temperatures and little or no sun.

After eating one piece of this apple coffee cake I felt much better. It cheered me up, filled up my stomach and set my brain on the right track for the rest of the day.

Summer Sentimentality

I am having a torrid love affair and I’m all hot and bothered by it.

Let me at least try to explain… The affair began on Canada Day, July 1st. And no, it had nothing to do with "Mmm… Canada", I promise. Since that afternoon it has carried on, much to my dear husband’s vexation. You see, he knows…and he is tormented by it.

I can’t help it and I will keep on with it until the flame dies out. You’d be sure to notice its effects if you took one look at me, walking down the street, smiling like a crazy person while the sun blinds me, my clothes stick to my skin and the heat addles my brain. I’m in love and I quite simply cannot get enough.

Both S. and Leith are plagued with sleeplessness while I on the other hand, sleep like a baby – could it be the effects of my wandering heart? Neither of them can comprehend why this love makes me so happy, and strangely neither is insistent that I give it up. They just wish I wouldn’t gush about it quite so often.

This forbidden love of which I speak? The hot, humid weather of the summer. I have a renewed love of warm weather, of summer and of being outside. I think I spent too many months indoors last year and my body is just now getting used to the idea that I do not have to confine myself to a hospital room for the next three months. Recently S., Leith and I were at the beach, watching the ducks, wading in the water and simply enjoying the summer weather. That was when I fell in love. I actually stopped, hugged and kissed S. and told him how happy I am, just to be outside. I know, I’m crazy, but you don’t know what you have until you lose it, and sometimes you don’t know what you’ve lost until you get it back again.

My Favourite Mistake

I have been posting a lot less frequently than I would like to lately. So many things have been keeping me away from my wee MacBook laptop in the past few weeks. Nothing exciting unfortunately, it’s just that I haven’t had the opportunities I would like to have to sit and write, or stand and cook and then sit and write, as it were.

With the weather warming up (finally!) I have been craving fresh, light citrus desserts. I thought for a nice treat I would make some gorgeous teeny tiny lemon tarts with meringue tops. Yes. Those would be perfect for a warm spring evening.

Only they weren’t. To start, they weren’t very lemony. The crust, while delicious, unfortunately did not work well with the not-so-lemony filling. And don’t get me started on the meringue — it looked haphazard at best and down right horrible at its worst. They did smell good however and I appreciated their (the tarts’ that is) effort, even if they did look as though they had been drawn by an extremely un-artistic 3 year-old (no offense to 3 year-olds or their talent!). And, strangest of strange, there was a huge amount of filling left over from the original recipe. I used maybe 1/10 of it making the tarts, and I figured I’d put the remainder in the fridge thinking I might make more tarts the next day.

The next day, after I’d finished making the horrible, deformed-looking tarts I was not sure what to do with the left over filling. Then I thought about a cheesecake recipe I had made once that was quite similar and decided that I would mix the left over filling with some mascarpone and cream cheese and make a cheesecake with it. Hmmm. So that is how I came up with this lemon cloud cheesecake recipe. It still might need a bit of tweaking, but it was good. Good the day I made it after coming out of the oven and cooling for about an hour or so, but much better the next day after being in the fridge over night.

I love it when mistakes in the kitchen turn out so deliciously!

For more citri-fied desserts, be sure to check out Helen’s blog for this month’s SHF round-up on Friday!

Tarting it Up

My fingertips are red from all the strawberries I have been eating lately. Once spring begins to bring the fresh, warm breezes to tickle my cheek and the sun begins to stream through the windows early in the morning I begin to reach for berries…especially of the “straw” variety.

I can eat them freshly washed with the stems still intact. I love them dipped in white or dark chocolate. Filled with sweetened cream cheese, with ice cream or angel food cake. I love them in breads, in pancakes and in milkshakes. They’re delicious in pie, cobbler and coffee cake. You name it, strawberries make it better.

When at an Italian restaurant one evening a few summers ago I ordered a light dessert after an amazing, but a little heavy meal. The waiter had suggested a bowl of fresh strawberries with a little brown sanding sugar and some perfectly aged balsamic vinegar. I had never had this combination before and I was a bit surprised at the flavours. Once you get past the initial thought of vinegar on berries it is all good. The flavours play off of each other so magically it’s almost hard to believe you would ever eat the two separately again.

When I had three pints of strawberries languishing in my fridge recently I kept thinking back on that wonderful dessert. I also remembered a bottle of white balsamic vinegar that was begging to be used in a delicious, interesting recipe. Pairing white balsamic with a beautiful, unctuous custard was the best thing I’ve done in some time.

Next time I’m making balsamic ice cream and serving it with strawberries…that says delicious to me!