strawberry, rose & mint roll cake

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I have lamented before that roll cakes really ought to have some colour contrast between the cake and the filling – because otherwise, what’s the point of going through the trouble of rolling them up together?

This cake is about as contrasting as you can get – shades of complementary colours juxtaposed against each other (also a muted version of the colour palette of Coraline’s room – in the book). The cake is tinted an earthy green from plenty of pureed mint, and filled with a pink strawberry mousse.

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blueberry layer cake (& we must defund the police)

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Currently in Toronto there is motion that has been put forth by Councillor Josh Matlow and seconded by Kristyn Wong-Tam to reduce the police budget by at least 10% and invest in community resources. Mayor John Tory then submitted his own motion (which as mayor, appears directly on the agenda) in order to bypass defunding of the police, taking the sympathy of councillors that may have otherwise supported the motion to defund. Unfortunately, this is not an acceptable compromise and one that will likely lead to an increase in police budgets if body cameras are implemented. Read Anthony Swan’s breakdown of Tory’s motion here and act now by referring to his page here. 

Again and again advocates have been hitting a wall of reluctance to defund the police by those in political power. Why do people have such differing opinions on defunding the police? I found one answer articulated by Sandy Hudson’s (co-founder of BLM Toronto) article in the Huffington Post –  much of it has to do with different communities have fundamentally different experiences and relationships with police, first of all in the quantity of interactions, and secondly in the nature of those interactions.

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almond pear cake

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I realise that by now much of the Northern hemisphere is well into spring, but my sense of the seasons is arrested back in winter… probably because I’ve barely spent any time outside. The windows are open to get a bit of fresh air in, but I’m still craving heavy warm foods.

This almond pear cake is more definitely a winter-y/fall cake.

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green curry banana bread

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It seems that right now banana bread is taking off! While I’ve never been too big a fan of banana bread, there are exceptions. For example, an exception flavoured with Thai green curry paste and crested with a crispy coconut fragipane of sorts.

I’ve been making banana bread with this flavour profile for years, inspired by a green curry banana bread that was once on the menu at milk bar. Over the years, on the rather rare occasions I’ve made banana bread, I’ve transposed the combination of Thai green curry paste and coconut from one banana bread recipe to the next until I settled on my current favourite. Then four years ago I threw some leftover coconut tart filling overtop and all of a sudden, I had a new motivation to make banana bread.

I’ve titrated the curry paste to be just enough to taste and to warm the mouth with each bite. The banana bread itself is on the fluffier and softer end of the banana bread spectrum, which I find a virtue, though still moist.

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mocha java loaf

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This is day 10 of 10 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Harbord Bakery is an everything bakery – the main wall lined with shelves proffering rye breads, fluffy challah, dense poppy seed Danish rings, and the fabled Thursday-through-Sunday-only chocolate babka. In comparison, the mocha java cake is a bit more discreet. We’ve only ever seen it in the freezer section, innocuously tucked away against the lemon and blueberry loaves. My roommate bought it once out of curiosity – a deep brown loaf cake with a tight, silky crumb, and intense coffee flavour. We devoured it within days – a slice for breakfast, oh a slice for afternoon snack, maybe another with tea in the evening. It’s such an anticipated treat that when we do buy it, we usually crack open the plastic clamshell as soon as we get home and eat the first piece (or two) while still frozen, breaking the softly brittle slices into pieces in our hands. It is just as great frozen too.

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elchi chai madeleines

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This is day 8 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

If there is one spice that I use, it’s cardamom. Likely, the same goes at Elchi Chai, where their namesake elchi (cardamom) chai is decanted from larger canisters into glass drinking mugs. The tea is brewed and mixed with milk ahead of time to a creamy, caramel-toned opacity. Prior to visiting Elchi Chai, I had only had tea with a full mix of spices (speaking of, their masala chai and ginger masala chai are also wonderful!). The singular use of cardamom makes for a combination is far more subtle – and to me, an instant classic, like a gentler herbal-y version of earl grey. My usual order when I’m there: a medium elchi chai to stay.

At home I’ve started putting a couple of cracked cardamom pods into my black tea – and it was only a matter of time before I was going to use cardamom and black tea together in baking.

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lemongrass & coconut tres leches cake

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This is day 7 of a series celebrating local Toronto businesses!  Recent events have put many local businesses in a difficult position and unfortunately, it’s not clear when this situation will come to an end. For ten days I’ll be posting recipes inspired by some of my favourite local businesses as my own way of celebrating what they bring to our communities. While we may not be able to visit our local bakeries, cafes and restaurants right now, this is a way of keeping them in mind, and a reminder to support them again once there is a chance.

Ave Maria Latin Cafe is a café that dominates the back of a tiny Latin grocery store. Small tables and vinyl chairs in pastel green cozy up alongside grocery shelves lined with imported coffee, flour and guava paste. It’s cluttered in the best sort of way, which is to say, with food. To order at the counter you peer between the empanada warming case, a tray of snacks, and propped up menus.

They serve sandwiches, tamales, empanadas, and a slate of arepas. The first time I tried the Columbian arepas, I was surprised – made of white corn, they are a bit denser and drier than their bready Venezuelan counterparts, but just as delicious. The lady at the counter, who I suspect is the owner, is a lovely advocate for her foods, helping me pronounce arepa de chocolo, the sweeter yellow arepa encasing more melted cheese, correctly. Another time I was in, she spent fifteen minutes helping a customer pick out candy for his Columbian girlfriend.

If I am in for a meal, I love the simplicity of a salty arepa folded onto melty white cheese – and it comes alive when eaten with spoonfuls of the small dish of acidic spicy sauce that accompanies it. But it comes to dessert, I was floored when I tried the tres leches cake. It’s a towering square of sponge cake that somehow manages to be light and structured, while still fully saturated with milk. It’s the furthest thing from sodden or soggy. I don’t usually think of a milk as being a dominant flavour, but in this cake, which yields easily against a fork and leaves a small pool of milk behind, it makes perfect sense.

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rosemary & orange blossom basque cheesecake

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Basque style cheesecake, also known by the very accurate moniker of “burnt cheesecake” casually defies the usual conventions of cheesecake wisdom: i.e. the low temperatures and water bath and smooth, even cooking. Instead it’s all about the burnt and burnished surface and rustic puffed edges generated by a high temperature bake unhindered by any water bath whatsoever. It’s so glowingly described by Lili on her blog Lili’s Cakes that I had to give it a try.

Also – did I mention – no water bath!

Both visually and in taste the burnt crust lends the cheesecake so much character. And if you keep it wrapped in the layers of parchment paper that it’s baked in, the singed edges waft a bit of smokiness every time you unwrap the cake. I added in a bit of this and that for a flavour combination with interesting contrast – the orange blossom water is perfumed and floral; the rosemary gives it a startlingly savoury edge.

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black sesame and chestnut layer cake

a light black sesame and chestnut layer cake –  as simple as possible with sponge cake and whipped cream

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Today we are keeping it simple with only two steps to what is best described as a very fulfilling experience. Step 1 is to find a low traffic hallway – most promising are uppers floors or the dead-ended hallway adnexa. Step 2 is to seat yourself down with your back against the wall and enjoy the wonders of having such an expanse of space to sit (you can cross your legs or even stretch them out if you’re really feeling ambitious) – as well as to pile up the requisite winter combo (i.e. the coat + the mitts + the hat + the scarf + …) that the weather requests you carry with you everywhere. Feel immensely comfortable – until your back begins to ache a bit – because while simple, it is one of life’s finest pleasures.

Somehow, until yesterday, I think it’s been years since I’ve sat on the floor in front of my locker. I keep the instructions general to facilitate sitting on the floor even in situations without lockers, but while secluded hallways are good, it is the locker that is essential for peace of mind. The proximity of the locker gives you a sense of belonging and ownership over the four vinyl floor tiles that you occupy. As inconvenient as it may be for locker neighbours and passer-bys in the case of narrower hallways, you can feel steadfast in your randomly assigned administrative-given right to root yourself in place. (I imagine that even if an adjacent locker is not yours, if you have enough self-confidence to project the possibility that it could be yours to those passing by, that would also suffice).

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apple sauce bundt with browned butter cream & tamarind caramelized apples

a super lazy applesauce (no peeling or coring!) and a simple spiced apple sauce bundt cake to use it in

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There are particular blocks of the city that are never a bore to walk past. It’s been a bit hard to pinpoint what I find myself drawn to – I used to think it was age. Look at these pretty old buildings! I once texted to my friend, who, studying abroad in England sent me back a picture of some genuinely very old buildings… and I realized I wasn’t really into buildings solely for their vintage, nor for decay or collapse.

Rather, I think it’s a matter of accruement (a word I selected in part because of how satisfying and pretentious it is to say), or well, something along those lines. The cityscapes I find the most interesting are usually lively and cluttered. I tend not to notice the overhangs and alcoves and makeshift structures until I do. And I tend not to appreciate them for what they are until I do: the edges of the superimposed renditions collapsed into the building’s current form. In a literal sense, such as of new businesses, coexisting with old signs from past restaurants and shops that swing overhead, the front of the building itself engraved with its previous late-19th-to-mid-20th century purpose.

I love catching sight of those pieces of unintentional design – anachronistic architectural details, patchwork fences, sprawling greenery, unorthodox uses of furniture, intricate makeshift shelving, faded paints and old shadows. It’s the ways that some buildings are shaped by many small changes by many people all piled together. This sort of thing does often comes with some wear and tear, which can speak of neglect, or can speak of what wore it – and it’s the latter that is fun to focus on.

This all got me thinking about what makes me attached to recipes. Like those inherited hand-written copies with notes in the margins, ingredients added, quantities adjusted, in overlying scrawls in pencil and pen and blue and black ink – though I have very few of them. More often, it will be accruement that manifests as a series of more recent renditions, input from others and dramatic swings in concept. Things like this cake, which is pretty simple but also an accumulation of ideas and attempts bounced back and forth between my mum and I.

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