While one crisis makes it into the news every day, a second crisis makes for more sporadic headlines despite its own deadly impact. In my home province of Alberta (aka third wave overachiever for COVID cases per capita), the opioid crisis has also been raging. 2020 has been the worst year for opioid-related deaths with 1144 deaths or 25.7 deaths per 100,000 person years. To put that in context, it nearly matches the tragic death rate from COVID at the time (1389 lives lost over a similar time frame from March 2020 to Jan 2021 – though the COVID numbers have certainly surged and worsened since then) – no one should have to die of this, let alone that many individuals.
Reminiscent of how the Ontario Ford government decided to revoke the two hard-won mandated paid sick days in 2018 right on time for a pandemic, the Kenney government had put forth a similarly ineffective abstinence-only “Alberta Model” to address the opioid crisis predicated upon the false notion that harm reduction is counterproductive to recovery. Under this policy, they’ve attempted to defund life-saving harm reduction initiatives all while increasing funding for private abstinence-only recovery services (some reportedly run by business owners with ties to government officials). And just a couple of days ago, it was announced that they would shutter Calgary’s sole supervised consumption site.
This is not a policy informed by evidence, compassion or care for people’s lives or chance of recovery. The standard of care for opioid use disorder IS opioid agonist therapy. The most common option, buprenorphine, is a partial opioid receptor agonist (activator) which allows it to prevent cravings and withdrawal. As only a partial agonist, it is safe and doesn’t cause overdoses or highs. Canadian clinical practice guidelines firmly recommend avoiding abstinence-only treatment as it is both ineffective and dangerous, putting patients at higher risk of relapse, overdose and death. Harm reduction practices such as safe consumption sites and needle exchange programs help people stay alive – and staying alive gives people a chance to access treatment services and recover when they are ready to do so.
So rather than evidence, the “Alberta Model” is based on rhetoric, prejudice and partisanship. The government-issued report on supervised consumption sites (SCS), which laid the groundwork for recent events, is a stunning example of this: a one-sided narrative questionably linking SCS to crime (see also this journal article with more details on the many flaws) and a perfect tool for Kenney’s political agenda. Notably, the government report completely disregarded the remarkable health impacts of SCS on overdose prevention and saving lives in lieu of tales of “social disorder”; SCS in Alberta have had a 100% success rate in preventing overdose death.
That brings us to the announced closure of Calgary’s SCS, Safeworks. While it will be replaced with sites at other (still undisclosed) locations, the current site had been chosen after careful study for its central location, and concentration of overdose deaths, drug use equipment and emergency calls (prior to the SCS) in the area. After years in operation, Safeworks had built relationships and trust with users of the site. To lose this site based on a biased report and flawed assessment methods is another tragedy. Following the pattern in other cities across Alberta, it sounds like the UCP wants SCS out of sight and out of mind, without considering more nuanced solutions that incorporate the needs of all members of the community and most importantly, focus on saving lives.
Here’s another black forest adaptation: cream puff edition. Choux with cocoa craquelin, cherry kirsch compote, chocolate pastry cream, a massive swirl of whipped cream and cherries. It’s simple, straightforwards, and hits on all the same flavours as black forest cake!
black forest cream puffs
- 33g brown sugar
- 9g cocoa powder
- 21g flour
- 22g soft butter
- 43g butter
- 90g milk
- pinch kosher salt
- sprinkle of granulated sugar
- 45g whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ eggs (may not use all – this time around I only needed 60g-ish, but it will always depend!)
chocolate pastry cream
- 6g cornstarch
- 3g cocoa powder
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- 180g whole milk
- 30g chopped dark chocolate
- 1 generous tbsp of kirsch
cherry kirsch compote
- 100g cherries, pitted and chopped
- 1 tbsp kirsch
- 150g heavy cream whipped with 1 tsp sugar
- 10 cherries
Mix all ingredients together until it forms a cohesive dough. Place the dough between two sheets of parchment and roll out to a thickness of 1-2mm. Slide onto a pan and freeze until firm.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper – on the backside, trace twelve 4.5cm circles.
Place the butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour and quickly mix in with a wooden spoon. Lower the heat and continue to cook the mixture until it forms a ball. Remove the pastry from the heat and let cool a bit before adding the egg.
Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Add a bit at a time to the pastry. Assess the consistency of the dough after each addition of egg and stop once you’ve achieved the right consistency. I find it easiest to begin beating in the eggs with a wire whisk and then transition back to stirring with a wooden spoon once the batter loosens. The dough should be shiny, but not fluid (if its something a bit new to you, look up a video or a more detailed tutorial for the right consistency – such as looking for the “triangle” of dough!). Importantly, you don’t need to use all the egg – or you may need a bit more or less!
Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe the pastry onto the 4.5cm circles. Take the craquelin out of the freezer and cut 5cm circles from the dough. Top each puff with a round of the craquelin.
Bake for 10 minutes at 400F, then decrease temperature to 375F and bake about 30 minutes more or until well browned. You can rotate the puffs after they’ve been in the oven for 20-25 minutes or so, once there are no worries of them deflating. As soon as you can handle the puffs, cut a small slit on the bottom of each puff to let the steam release and let cool on on a wire rack.
chocolate pastry cream
In a bowl whisk together the cornstarch, cocoa powder, egg yolk, sugar and salt. If it’s very thick add a spoonful of the milk as needed.
Place the chopped chocolate in a separate bowl and set aside.
Place the milk in a saucepan and heat until it just comes to a simmer. Slowly pour into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly to temper the egg yolks. Transfer back to the saucepan and return to the heat being sure to whisk constantly. Cook the pastry cream until it begins to bubble and pop and continue to cook it at a bubble for 1 minute.
Pour the pastry cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate melts in. Lastly, whisk in the kirsch. Cover and chill completely.
cherry kirsch compote
Place the chopped cherries and kirsch together in a small saucepan. Cook together until the cherries are soft and the juices have thickened. You can add sugar as needed if the cherries are not very sweet. Chill completely.
Cut a lid from the top of each puff. Spoon a bit of cherry compote into each puff and press into the bottom.
Transfer the chocolate pastry cream to a piping bag – I like to use one of those long narrow filling tips to help get into all the corners – and fill up to the top with pastry cream.
Whip the cream and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large French tip. This is just enough cream to pipe a couple of swirls on top of each puff.
Lastly, nestle a cherry ontop of each swirl of cream. Best eaten day of assembly.
black forest tarts
You can also use the components to fill tart shells as shown below!