Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coconut cake

I found a very good recipe to use up some coconut I found in the back of my cupboard - relic of a failed macaroon initiative I suspect. It seems a pretty perfect cake to me: everything can be mixed up quickly, you don't need to ice it and it won't dry out by morning! I reduced the quantities from the original recipe (which makes a 9x13 version) and it was excellent -- and perfumed the house nicely to boot. The oil and the syrup should ensure it keeps well for several days, although it does not seem destined to last that long.
Middle Eastern Coconut Cake (Harissah)

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup oil
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 cups unsweetened coconut (I used dessicated) (- if you use sweetened, reduce sugar to about 3/4 cup)
  • Boil the water and sugar together 5 to 10 minutes until nearly consistency of pancake syrup. When syrup has cooled a few minutes, carefully add vanilla (do not add it immediately to the scalding syrup unless you want to experience a volcano effect on your stovetop).
  • Mix sugar, eggs, oil, milk, vanilla and lemon juice until blended. Add flour and baking powder to mixture and blend well. Stir coconut into batter, and pour mixture into greased and floured 8x8 square cake pan.
  • Bake 40 minutes at 325 F until set and top is a light/medium golden brown.
  • When cake is done and still hot, and still in the pan, poke holes with a skewer or toothpick and pour the syrup evenly over the top.
  • Let cool, then cut in squares or diamonds.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Rubicon at the Black Stilt

Tonight's reading at the Black Stilt was a launch by Anglo-Canadian chapbook press Rubicon, promoting Tempus, an anthology/chapbook on the theme of summer, and other works. The night was prefaced by the musical stylings of the David Kosub Trio and very good it all was too, even and also the swift and absorbing open mic set betwixt music and main event.

Yvonne Blomer introduces the evening, with a copy of Todd Swift's new chapbook, Natural Curve, in hand, with one of the handsome and poem-adorned Rubicon t-shirts hanging on the right.

Grace Cockburn reads.

Barbara Pelman, reading from Tempus and One Stone.

Cynthia Woodman Kerkham concluded the evening, following Andrea McKenzie.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Time, lack of

I was signed up and looking forward to the Poetry in Transit party at the Vancouver Writers Festival this Friday, but have had to cancel my part in that event.

Organizers were planning a gala event with about 30 participants, which meant we each had a 3 minute slot (unpaid). So when I thought about it, looked at my mountain of boxes and considered it would cost me about 2 days and at least $100 just to get there and back, I thought... not this time. So if anyone out there was hoping to catch up at the event, I'm sorry!

I have more thoughts on bulk packaging of poets at literary events but will save them for another day.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Raspberries and Bakewell Tarts

Haven't had much time for poetry lately, but a poet still needs to eat, and I'm still trying to empty my cupboards and freezer of perishables.

I had a little lost jar of ground almonds begging to be used, and ditto a bag of frozen raspberries, so I conferred with Nigella who suggested a Bakewell Tart with Fresh Raspberries (from How to Eat). Bakewell tarts are usually a kind of jam tart with ground almond batter (frangipane) on top; they are equally nice as pies or individual tarts or plumped into cakes, and often to be found in English bakeries. Haven't seen them in Canada, but maybe it's because I don't frequent bakeries so much.

Being surrounded by boxes and chaos I dispensed with Nigella's home made pastry and pulled out a frozen pie shell which worked perfectly well, although because the shells are smaller than what the recipe called for, there was about a cup of batter left over. And since I was using frozen raspberries, they were quite juicy, so I drained off some of the juice (to save for my morning yogurt of course!) and mixed them with a dollop of jam rather than putting, as the instructions said, a layer of jam on the base. I managed to scorch the topping by adding the flaked almonds from the start of baking as instructed, but other recipes suggest adding the flaked almonds later on and I hope that will work better. So here's my easy version with North American measurements.
Raspberry Bakewell Tart

1 frozen pie shell
1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed
2 tbsp (or to taste) raspberry or blackberry jam
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 tbsp flaked almonds
  • Heat the oven to 400f.
  • Mix the raspberries and jam together and partially drain, so it's a jam-like consistency. Prick the pie shell.
  • Melt the butter and set aside. Beat the eggs and almonds together and add the melted butter.
  • Spread the raspberry mixture in the pie shell. Pour almond mixture over the berries.
  • Bake 20 minutes, and then sprinkle the flaked almonds on top and bake for 15-20 minutes longer, until puffed and golden.
  • Cool and serve either warm or at room temperature.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pumpkin season

For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon.

--Pilgrim verse, circa 1630

Please please please don't waste your pumpkin by just using it for a candle holder: it is an edible and excellent food! I weep annually in this country for the pumpkins rotting in the fields on November 1st, when, as we must still repeat and repeat, there are people starving elsewhere in the world. Instead of meditating on such bad behaviour, why not reward yourself with a good meal of pumpkins? Such cheap food at this time of year, and easy to freeze as a puree.

Make your own equivalent to canned pumpkin from scratch, by baking it (like most squash it's watery, so needs to be baked: boiling or steaming it will get you into trouble). Seed and cut the pumpkin in half or big chunks, without peeling, and bake it cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes, until the flesh is tender when poked with a fork. Cool until just warm. Scrape the pumpkin flesh from the peel. Either mash, or puree in small batches in a blender. Freeze it in 1 cup containers if you can't cope with anything more after all that effort.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Edmonton's Olive

Here I am in the place it all began for me, poetry-wise, reading last night at a series run in part by my first poetry teacher, Doug Barbour. I've had a great few days here catching up with old friends and eating well. My ritual visit to the Bul-Go-Gi House took place on my first night, on a table groaning under the weight of excellent bulgalbi (bbq ribs), delightfully garlicky wonton soup with rice cakes, a lavish serving of jap-chae noodles, and more. The second night's good eating was the Sunday buffet at Maurya Palace: everything was good right down to the kheer. I had a wonderful and very beautiful Mimosa Salad (butter lettuce, shrimp and a few other things) at the Ninth Street Bistro, around the corner from one of my many former homes in this town and next door to Laurie Blakeman's constituency office. Not to mention sharing a wall with my evening reading venue, Martini's Bar & Grill.

With Bert Almon, one of my two poetry profs - both great mentors and supporters for many years - at the University of Alberta, who currently teaches a whole new generation of poets at the U of A.

Three of the Olives: K.L. McKay, T.L. Cowan, Jenna Butler.

Edmonton luminaries: Ben, Laurie, Merna and Shirley.

K.L. McKay reads (in front of a picture that looks a lot like my dear old dog Sara) as the Olive wraps up another night at Martini's Bar & Grill. In addition to working in the Olive Editorial Group, she publishes a broadsheet series, Spire which offers a subscription that will deliver 12 hand-stamped and numbered issues to your door.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sales talk for poets

Dear me, where does the time go. Since my last entry I've attended two poetry readings, one of them my own, and had a restful time up-island. Here then a few notes in a quasi-chronological order.

At the Black Stilt last Friday we were treated to Yvonne Blomer reading from her first collection from Ekstasis - A broken mirror, fallen leaf - telling us she has another two manuscripts up her sleeve already. A nicely done reading of a new poem for two voices with her husband, and a small lesson in Japanese contained in the rest of her reading from the new collection. And swiftly followed by veteran fellow reader Barry Dempster who said something that triggered another thought about That Book I've Been Reading, 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell.

Dempster spun one of his many entertaining tales around a recent media interview, in which he was asked "that question all poets dread: what's your book about?" And indeed we do dread it, and indeed we could stop fearing the question, or being irked by it, and turn it to our advantage, as he did, by having an answer ready to pull from our back pocket. Chris Hamilton-Emery terms this the one-sentence hard sell (as distinct from the longer 30 second sell), and it's standard sales & marketing stuff.

If you have time to engage your prospective buyer, readings booker, interviewer, you can expand it to the Thirty-Second Sell, about 90 words that will convince others to buy your book, because "people have very low attention spans and, where consumption is concerned, great filters for working out what does gain their interest and, eventually, their money and time." In other words, figure out what your USP is and come up with a short speech to explain it.

Meanwhile, back on Vancouver Island, on Wednesday we headed north and stopped in Lantzville to collect some books from Oolichan. Up the road and across the street we spotted a sign promising local food at the Black Dog Cafe and headed inside for some sustenance. There was a roasted garlic and tomato soup served with a dollop of pesto: sublime. And some potato and pesto quiche which was less sublime but did the trick. The lemon meringue pie we passed on our way out the door looked wonderful but we had to sprint on up the road to our destination at Fanny Bay. We dined out that night at a place we hadn't tried before, the Monte Christo in Courtenay. The food was a bit on the unremarkable side - they seemed to specialise in a few too many cuisines to be master of any - but the setting was good and on a sunny day would have been gorgeous.

Day two we headed to the Kingfisher spa for necessary repairs to our nerves and everything else. I declined to buy the six or was it nine quality skincare products they specially selected just for my problem skin, and after a steam and a wallow we finished the job with an excellent lunch in the restaurant there. Peg had the foresight to order a bowl of the Indonesian vegetable soup for us to share - we waded into a fantastic lightly spiced pureed vegetable combination that would certainly have been too much for us single-handed with all that followed. My Ahi Tuna Salad was divine - nicely seared and seasoned and served on mushrooms and artichokes, prettily ornamented with fried lotus root rounds and cherry tomatoes. I was so enthused I ordered the chocolate mousse which was perked up with nuggets of chocolate. Wished I'd brought my camera when Judy's tower of brulee arrived - a bit of a misnomer but impressive, a brulee-like substance larded with ginger and mango and then arranged in bricks with a crunchy mortise of what looked like brandy snaps.

Last night I read with a delightful Newfoundlander poet and film maker, Marian Frances White to a large and largely unknown (to me) crowd. With Mocambopo's move to the Black Stilt has come a new, young and enthusiastic following, and you have to arrive very early for either a seat or a place at the open mic. As it should be. Wendy Morton officiated, and proclaimed the success of the latest round of Random Acts of Poetry.