Sunday, March 31, 2013

story of a break

Spring break has come and gone, and now's the time to tell its tale.
It's quite a long one, and a great deal of it involves food and eating and some fun dining experiences.
Breakfast was something that happened quite often during the break, and in various forms, too. One morning, when the folk birds had decided to make a trip to Cora's for morning brunch, father bird changed his mind and asked to go for dim sum. Which, if you knew father bird, would come as the most incredible surprise, because it's always been a fairly evident fact that he rather resents this sort of commercial Chinese cuisine laden with MSG.
Between the noise of shameless Asian shouters, misbehaving children, curt service and barely passable hygiene, dim sum has few perks. Among these, however, are the savoury glutinous rice in leaves (pictured above), the char siu bao - steamed BBQ pork buns, and ca de bao - steamed custard buns. Egg tarts are also nice, but only if you order the Portuguese Egg Tarts. These are baked in puff-pastry shells and are slightly burnt at the surfaces, which make for a hot and soft treat. The alternative, Cantonese Egg Tarts, are baked with shortcrust pastry shells and have smooth surfaces. They're nice to eat when cooled, but I still prefer the flaky crusts over the crumbly ones.
Though we skipped Cora's that day, we eventually got our fruit fix when we happened to find a branch located right inside of Sunridge Mall, in North Calgary. I suffered from terrible indecision while purveying their menu, which contained choices that I hadn't ever seen before! Well, I wound up selecting an option that would've been available at any Cora's branch: Peggy's Poached, sub the cottage cheese for plain yoghurt -
I didn't really like the plain yoghurt. It didn't have a flavour! (Well, that's to be expected. I severely underestimated its blandness, though.)
Another popular brunch spot we returned to was Over Easy Breakfast Co.
We were made to wait roughly ten to fifteen minutes in the small cramped space that could pass as a foyer but would more fittingly be called the threshold, and were lucky enough to be seated at a table with chairs rather than at the high-top counter-style table.
I took a chance with a breakfast combo platter, which I rarely choose. Simply and unassumingly named, the 2 Cracked Egg Breakfast included two fresh eggs, prepared any style to the diner's preference, with herb potato wedges, a pair of wild blueberry-chicken bangers (a.k.a. sausages), and a piece of plain toast.
The blueberry-chicken bangers were surprisingly ... spicy? Well, there was certainly a foreign kick in its taste, that was definitely unique but not exactly enjoyable. The poached eggs were wonderful and released a lot of yolk for me to dip half of my toast into; the other poached egg I let loose over my herb potatoes. My other piece of toast was slathered with massive amounts of HERO Black Cherry Preserves, which I discovered might be the most heavenly jam known to man. I sought these preserves, under the exact same brand, out at my local grocer's and now, instead of craving hot buttered bread, I find myself dreaming of crisp toast with this cool, dark spread. Mmm.
OEB is, as everyone probably knows, the home of the Soul-in-a-Bowl breakfast poutine. Father bird is known for ordering house specials whenever dining out, so he asked for the day's special feature: Soul-in-a-Bowl with Scallops.
I'd like to imagine that he enjoyed it. It was certainly a new experience for him and of course it's an original concept for anyone, so I think he appreciated how unique it was. But Soul-in-a-Bowl is hard to dislike to begin with, so I don't believe he hated it or anything.
I visited Joey Chinook twice over the break, the first instance with my cousin and the second with a childhood friend. Both occurrences were dinner-and-a-movie dates, which took place rather late in the evening.
The first dinner saw me order a Lobster Grilled Cheese with a side of yam fries. I've never been a seafood eater, but I correctly predicted that the creamy taste of lobster would be overpowered and lost in the creamier taste of brie and cheddar cheeses, a detail which I can imagine would irk a lot of lobster lovers who order this dish. I've always loved grilled cheese sandwiches, so this was no exception. Crispy, buttery, cheesy, and warm. The bread could have been a lot more soft, but it wasn't a big deal.
The yam fries were even better. I don't believe that I've ever encountered an establishment that has perfected yam fries as well as Joey has.
The movie that followed this meal was an absolute disappointment. Titled Dark Skies and boasting a sinister summary that spoke of a family encountering various disturbing run-ins with strange and unexplained forces, it turned out to be alien-centric and poorly paced. Neither of us were very frightened or interested by it in the least, and the verdict that it was a sorely bad choice was a unanmious one.
The second time I visited Joey, I again took a gamble and sampled another form of seafood: salmon. Salmon is something I have previously avoided because it's usually baked, dry, and a little strong. But the grilled salmon from Joey is medium-moist, extremely soft, and so very light in flavor. It's not a chunky or tough meat to chew, like beef or chicken breast. Again, yam fries - I warn you now that yam fries will be mentioned twice more in this blog post, because as of late I've developed an inexplicable addiction to yam fries. Since I've tried these sweet potato pleasures, I have not batted an eye at regular potato fries. They simply can't compare.
The movie that followed this meal was much more satisfying - Oz the Great and Powerful - though admittedly a little more child-targeted than I would have guessed. I knew it was meant for a younger audience, but with James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams all starring in the film, I hadn't imagined it would be so juvenile. These are adults, see, and they're spitting out "Believe!" speeches and improvising clever and mischievous last-minute solutions to unite the people and banish evil from the land.
I do like the "circle-story" element within it all, though; Oz obviously stays in the Land of Oz and rules as the one capable of granting wishes, as he will with Dorothy Gale, and Theodora is cast off to the other end to lurk as the Wicked Witch of the West.
That aside, the other time I had yam fries was at a restaurant called Baton Rouge. Famous for ribs that I don't doubt are superior to Tony Roma's, Baton Rouge features Louisiana-inspired cuisine such as calamari and Jambalaya bowls. I had a Prime Rib burger with a side of yam fries, and though I'm not a fan of ribs in general, mother bird absolutely forbade me from ordering the Grilled Vegetable sandwich I was eyeing, for fear I wouldn't be able to finish it.
I'm returning again tomorrow - perhaps I'll get the chance to try it then. Perhaps not.
My most recent indulgence of yam fries was at Fionn Maccool's restaurant and pub in Crossiron Mills. Though the rest of the birds didn't much like their meals, I found my Chorizo and Portobello Grillbread to be absolutely divine. I devoured every last bit of it, because the marriage of mildly spiced sausage, creamy wilted mushrooms and a generous layer of white cheese on warm flatbread was all a match made in heaven. The yam fries that accompanied it weren't worth much, though, unfortunately. 
(I had photographed this meal, though the lighting in the pub didn't allow for very good resolution, so I decided not to post the pictures.)
The day before yesterday I was treated to a day at the zoo by my favourite and youngest aunt. Her sons are the two of the most brilliant and entertaining kids I have the honour of knowing and being related to, and I can't think of any better company to keep. We arrived at noon sharp, and lunched in the Kitamba Cafe, which is the zoo's main cafeteria.
I tried a plaintive grilled cheese, a Costco-esque poutine, and later indulged in a soft-serve vanilla cone.

My older cousin specifically told me that she prefers soft-serve ice cream to hard-packed ice cream. I'm the complete opposite. I don't particularly like how much air is whipped into soft-serve because it makes it seem like I'm not eating anything substantial. Hard cream is much easier to taste and savour, but I do enjoy soft-serve from time to time.  

I think it's safe to say that my favourite activity of all time has to be dining out. Good food and good friends always make for a good time. Tomorrow I hope to luncheon with mother bird and sister bird, both of whom I've been frustrating a great deal lately, but let's cross our fingers for a peaceful meal. (:

Yesterday evening, I organized a barbecue party at my grandfather's house. The entire birdhouse, minus sister bird, was up-and-at-her early in the morning to hit the supermarket for all our materials. We managed to pull everything together for a wonderful buffet that was unexpectedly enlarged with the surprise additions of a homemade proscuitto-and-arugula pizza from our newlywed cousin birds and a simple, but refreshing fruit salad. The lineup included a burger bar, complete with sliced tomatoes, red onions, crispy leaf lettuce, sauteed mushrooms, yellow and honey dijon mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, and baby dill pickles with garlic.We had sides of roasted herbed potatoes, mild Italian sausages, grilled chicken wings, chicken souvlaki skewers, Ruffles chips with ranch dip and salsa, and caesar salad. To finish, our dessert tables featured fresh fruit platters and a trio of plates full of blackberry cheesecake bites, baked by yours truly. (Recipe to come!)

I think it was all an excellent idea and I had loads of fun planning and preparing for it. But as a consequence, I wound up overeating from the excess of great food! P:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

week's muse

There hasn't really been much baking around the birdhouse lately. It's a demonstration of self-restraint in anticipation for tomorrow evening.

Big Taste!

The Big Taste is a ten-day eating festival designed for Calgary foodies which features downtown restaurants and specially coordinated menus for three- or four-course meals at a set price per person. When I heard about it, I became so enthused that I immediately fired a text message to sister bird: a screenshot of the Big Taste mobile homepage.
Almost instantly, arrangements were made, and after poring over the list of participating restaurants and their menus, we chose Blink Restaurant & Bar on Stephen Avenue. I've been following #bigtasteyyc updates on Instagram this entire week.

In other news, I've developed an enormous taste for eggs. I like mine over-easy, so I can break the soft yolk with the tine of my fork and then use plain whole-wheat toast as dipping sticks. It's my new favourite breakfast routine - healthy and light and really satiating. Mother bird keeps me company at the breakfast table and we talk while we eat our egg and toast (and, in her case, coffee).
An alternative to coffee that sister bird introduced to me is diluting two or three teaspoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk with boiling water. It's a hot, sweet drink perfect for mornings or evenings or even just lazy afternoons and I like it a lot more than hot chocolate.

I need to stop eating ice cream!
Wait a minute - this sounds familiar. Didn't I make a similar resolution at the beginning of this blog? Heaven forbid, I'm an absolute failure at resolutions.
(If it makes any difference, I've elevated my taste from the cheap Dairy Queen soft-serve to Purdy's cream.)
Funny how easy it really is to give up a certain food, though, in retrospect. Ice cream aside, I've managed to beat a severe Pepsi addiction, unreasonable cookie infatuation and a not-life-threatening-but-not-very-healthy chocolate problem in the past. I think my new vices are ice cream and muffins, and since muffins are just paper-wrapped miniature cakes, I don't see myself cutting this out of my diet anytime soon. (I love cake.)
I often do wish, if you must know, that I was born without a taste for sweet things.
On some days I like the more subtle flavours, like fresh strawberry ice cream or something minty and light. But other days I indulge to the max and douse pancakes in syrup and pour condensed milk over my desserts and eat lemon bars and cream-cheese danishes, then by the time I crawl under the covers at night, I feel sick to my stomach and so drugged up on sugar that I simply can't think anymore.
I need to find a way to recall this numbness when I next reach for something processed and sugary.

I am a binge eater.
Really not difficult to say at all. It's even simpler to admit it aloud. I'm confessing candidly but not without the ambition to change it.
I've cultivated this tendency to come home from school, saunter in the kitchen, attack everything in sight that tempts me, and then crawl away to my bedroom and inhale a few litres of water in shame and regret.
And it's not really a weight issue; I'm a healthy weight, I might even be underweight, I could care less about my weight. I just don't like how I constantly feel so unbalanced in my diet, never feeling well or right or fine, only too hungry or painfully full and sometimes if I'm not full to the point of being uncomfortable, I'm just not full. There's no meter, not one that I can detect, anyhow, that my satiety travels along as it makes its way to feeling full; the sensation just kind of sits at hungry until one bite too many sends it flying over to the other side in a fraction of a second.

Somehow I find that I'm more excited for Saturday than I am for Friday night. Blink is scheduled for Friday night, but because I know it's there, and I know exactly what I'll be doing and wearing and ordering and eating, I'm just not looking forward to it as much as I am to Saturday and Sunday, which have the potential to be just about anything right now, and that's pretty darn enthralling.
If I had it my way, Saturday would be an adventure with father bird. Last week he expressed interest in taking me to the farmers' market, which I would love to go to! This week I'm hoping that we'll find time to squeeze it in, and maybe grab lunch together there, or around.
I'd also really like to fit in another dining date with mother bird before she undergoes surgery on her right hand, which will foreseeably leave her helpless and in pain and unable to do much in general. Something cheap like Baton Rouge or Swiss Chalet sounds optimal, since father bird will likely come too, and rarely does he appreciate the high prices that come with high class.

This weekend I might get back into baking. I ate all the oranges before I could use any for a Daisy Cake recipe I had bookmarked, but that's okay. I'm sure there are plenty of other things I could make without any fruit.
One of my bucket-list recipes is the crepe cake, but that requires about fifty crepes or so, all arranged with cream between them, then flattened and perfected into a circular shape. Not only am I doubtful that anyone in the world has this much time, I've also never in my life and likely my past life ever made a single crepe, or tried to. Making fifty passable crepes? I think I'll need a little practice first.

In other news, I discovered another pretty beautiful face on Instagram. Her name is Kristina Bazan and she's a young fashionista who runs the blog at Her pictures are so endearing and her image is just so cute and her passion for fashion and the world that she thrives in is simply inspiring. I find it so adorable how she loves to model clothes, take photos, eat out, and jet-set. (Needless to say anyone would love this sort of lifestyle, but she goes about it all with the enthusiasm and attitude of a rookie, or a kid.)

In stark contrast, I am a highly independent, withdrawn, and introverted soul who has been known to kill hours doing nothing but reflecting on the insignificance and boredom of living.
I think I need to start taking some leaves from Kristina Bazan's book.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

weekends old and new

Because one excessively long-winded post is clearly not enough coverage for the importance of my existence and its humble anniversary on this expansive earth, I've been forced to  decided to grace this blog with yet another excessively long-winded post dedicated almost entirely to my birthday.
Let's just begin with the basics. My birthday fell on a Thursday - Valentine's Day, to be precise - and so Thursday morning saw mother bird, sister bird and myself sitting at the Over Easy Breakfast Company in Bridgeland, a quaint little breakfast & brunch joint in the northeast quarter of town. A quick little retrospective rundown will remind us all that I enjoyed two griddle cakes topped with blueberries and drenched in syrup, mother bird played it safe with some eggs with toast and fresh fruit, and sister bird indulged in a breakfast poutine called Soul in a Bowl which can only be honourably summarized by one word in the whole of the English vocabulary: otherworldly, in the best sense possible.
The evening after, Friday night, saw my two cousins and myself headed out for a luxurious dinner at the upscale-casual Cactus Club Cafe, a restaurant whose food I've previously tasted and loved (on a spontaneous, yet very worthwhile excursion with mother bird on one adventurous occasion last year). We began our three-course meal with an appetizer that was selected by my recommendation - potato skins! And these potato skins are lovely. Think Boston Pizza's Southwestern Potato Skins, minus the barbecue sauce, dressing, and chicken; Cactus Club's potato skins are also thinner, crisper, and significantly fewer in number.

these potato skins are actually captured from my first visit
to cactus club with mother bird, because the second time around,
my cousins devoured them before I could remember to take a picture!

I imagine the most useful and significant fact pertaining to my nature and quirks that anyone could ever hope to know would be my unfortunate obsession over food. I plan my daily meals like a machine and dinner reservations don't change a thing; I pore over a restaurant's online menu until I decide on first, second and third choices, for appetizers, entree and dessert. It's absolutely psychotic, and I'm fully aware, and although I've always wanted to be one of those spontaneous quacks who could enthusiastically order anything that happened to catch her eye, I've never been able to kick the anxiety that comes from not knowing what I'm going to be doing. It's almost like a mechanical error in my vital functions that makes me so anal about what I eat.

So after a quick perusal of the menu at the table, I chose Rob's Hunter Chicken, which is Chef Rob Feenie's special dish. Actually, I'd tried this dish prior to this evening, and that's because this is the dish that mother bird ordered on my first visit to Cactus Club Cafe. It was fantastic: tender chicken, an abundance of mushrooms, the best and most refreshing herb potatoes I believe I've ever had, and some cheeky vegetables chilling on the side.

rob's hunter chicken - bang for your buck,
an incredible and highly satisfying bang at that.

When mother bird and I came to Cactus for our first time, I ordered the four-mushroom steak with a side of fries and asparagus, which - don't get me wrong, tasted great and was well worth the money - but was absolutely nothing compared to the house special.

flashback: mushroom steak, my first time at cactus club.
see mother bird's hunter chicken in the back?

The fries from the Cactus Club are on a whole other level. Fast-food joints really don't hold a candle to gourmet fries. In fact, my cousins' orders both included fries, both yam fries and sea-salted regular fries, and I ended up picking at both of their piles throughout the course of the meal.
So, as teenage girls embarking on a birthday dinner and promising ourselves a night of fun, we couldn't skip dessert. We each ordered individual, different desserts, so that our table eventually contained a white chocolate cheesecake topped with raspberry compote, an apple galette served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, and a key lime pie with a graham cracker crust (mine!).

key lime pie, something I still haven't quite
decided whether I loved or not ...

Strange - I didn't much like the key lime pie as I inhaled it, but perhaps I was simply too full from my chicken and cousins' fries to really enjoy it. However, as I examine this photograph more and more, I find myself actually craving the creamy pie and its brown-sugar-like crust. I do seem to remember how the sourness would occasionally cause my face to pinch up, though, and that's something I definitely don't crave. Ever. (Even sour candy, as a child, I would abhor.)

The day that followed, Saturday, saw myself holed up at home, baking macarons in a frenzy. The almond meal was not fine enough, the piping bag wasn't holding together, and everything seemed to be going wrong. But when I pulled the macaron shells out of the oven, they were beautiful and divine and they even had feet! I was thrilled, to say the least, and full-force returned to baking as many as I could, filling them afterward with chocolate cream, vanilla cream, and banana buttercream. They were a huge hit at the gathering over at my grandfather's house that evening, and one of my newlywed cousins asked for the recipe because her experience with baking macarons had not been quite so pretty. (Forgetful Me still hasn't sent her the recipe. Dear Lord.)

At the gathering, my uncle revealed a Dairy Queen authentic ice cream cake just for me. Despite my name being misspelled on the cake, I appreciated the gesture so very much; this uncle, if you knew him, is not the sort to go out of his way for birthdays.

Sunday night was perhaps the best of all of my birthday nights, because this was high birdhouse activity. We had made dinner reservations for six at San Remo Ristorante, an Italian-themed restaurant in McKenzie Towne with a relaxing atmosphere and a waitress who we recognized from a past visit to Charcut. Finding a familiar face in our server, though, was just one note among many that made this a great time.

linguine boscaiola, or "mushroom lovers'" pasta

I ordered pasta, as is expected of me to do, since I am hard-wired to consume a nearly all-carbohydrate diet; this particular pasta was excellent, and I wiped the plate clean in record time, though I couldn't quite beat brother bird and his performance with his chicken parmesan. (I tasted that, too - amazing! Perhaps I should have ordered that.)

The table was again loaded with desserts after we all stuffed our faces to the max, and because our waitress was possibly the kindest waitress I've ever had the pleasure of being served by, she included a tiramisu on the house.

The Sicilian lemon torte with a shortbread crust and raspberry sauce arrived with a sparkler to commemorate what the waitress believed to my birthday, although my birthday was, by then, almost four-days-old-news.

sicilian lemon torte with raspberry

When I walked through the door to the birdhouse later that night, sister and brother bird immediately vanished and I was instructed to stay put at the threshold. I was then surprised with a heart-shaped cake topped with mounds of whipped cream and macerated strawberries, a half-dozen Dairy Queen ice-cream cupcakes, and an enormous, rectangular-shaped gift-wrapped box.

The gift was a MacBook Pro, which was probably the most unexpected thing ever, and I implored the sibling birds to return it until I actually needed it, come September, and when that time arrived, I'd like to buy my own (though I hardly think mother bird will let me). I did feel somewhat bad for asking that of them, since my reaction was probably not the explosive joy they may have been anticipating, but I did appreciate their consideration and investment in me.

What I loved even more than the gift was the card attached to it. Signed by each bird of the nest, bird-in-law Andrew included:

possibly the most adorable card I have ever received.
I particularly like that mother bird drew her impression
with straight hair, when she really has curly hair, while
father bird drew himself with curls when his hair is pin-straight.

Mother and father bird even sketched caricatures of themselves in their signatures. Mother bird, to whom I am constantly whining about my insecurities and problems and all the things about myself that apall me, wrote: be happy always because you are beutiful [sic] everyday. Happy birthday to you
and nothing could have hit home more. I decided to save this message on my iPhone so I could open it and read it whenever I might feel down.

Another card that really touched me this year was the note from my best friend Shelby. I couldn't care less that it was written on a lined piece of looseleaf paper and folded into a tiny square when she gave it to me with my present; she wrote a very long, very elaborate and very heartfelt message about our friendship and our future. She then went on to add some esteem-boosting lines that actually brought tears to my eyes, because I never want to bother Shelby with what seem like petty insecurity troubles, but I suppose she noticed them anyway, and she took an extra minute to tell me that no one deserves to strut their stuff more than you.

The final card that I want to acknowledge in this post is sister bird's. It was an original poem written on a Martha Stewart colour card - one of my favourite colours, actually - and it referenced my blog, which made me inexplicably excited.

I must say I was blown away by this poem.
At first, I even believed it was taken from the
Internet, until I clarified with sister bird.

I started bawling as I approached the end of the poem. "Good luck, good luck," the nest exclaims/ you'll excel at everything/ but throughout your studies, do be sure/ to remember one little thing/ we will miss you dearly here/ so don't forget the nest/ pack your things, unfold your wings/ and visit the birds who love you best.

The simple act of typing out those words even stings my eyes.
I think the power of words are absolutely astounding. For someone like me, a notably not-very-maudlin person at all, the right words in the right combinations and with the right sentiments can really hit me hard. And that's the mildest way I could express how this card makes me feel.

While this weekend couldn't quite hope to compare with my overwhelming birthday weekend, I did enjoy a vegetarian buffet hosted by the local temple at the Marlborough Community Hall for lunch with father bird, which was a nice time because we hardly ever get to spend any quality time together. It was made even better when we arrived home and gathered our absolute forces in a daddy-daughter baking session, with the result being a very messy kitchen complete with flour-covered counters, a saucepan with a burnt bottom, and a passable classic apple pie.

it looks nice and crusty, doesn't it?

Don't expect a recipe for this pie - it was made entirely through some seriously daredevil risks and nothing-short-of-reckless improvisations!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

mini egg tarts (my fabulous birthday!)

It's my birthday! (And Valentine's Day, but who cares?)
Today has been absolutely magical through-and-through, not only because it's my birthday but because it's probably one of the first years I haven't had to spend it at school or work, and just get to lounge about the town with my family.
It began with a trip down to Over Easy Breakfast Co. down in Bridgeland, a cute little breakfast and brunch joint in the northeast, where the house special is a poutine in a take-out box otherwise known as "Soul in a Bowl" and the meals are served on enormous egg-shaped plates. If the fact that we were going out for breakfast wasn't enough to already lift my spirits to the stratosphere, father bird sent me a message as we were driving to OEB, wishing me a happy-birthday! (He's never ever done this before...)
Sister bird ordered the aforementioned Soul in a Bowl, complete with herbed potatoes, Quebec cheese curds, bacon lardons, two poached eggs topped with paprika and brown-butter hollandaise sauce - I had more than a couple tastes, and it was delicious! The peculiar marriage of these flavours from everywhere is surprisingly one that approaches perfection.
Mother bird enjoyed a ham-and-cheese omelette, served on a large platter with fresh fruit and plain toast, and as for myself, I decided to indulge myself on my birthday and ordered two "Perfect Buttermilk Griddle Cakes" topped with fresh blueberries, powdered sugar, and served with Quebec maple syrup.

What I absolutely loved about my pancakes was that the taste and texture somewhat resembled birthday cake. I thought, how fitting! as I ate, but I found that without syrup, the griddle cake was plain and a little harder to eat with gusto. The blueberries were a nice touch, but there really isn't much to do with them save for to pick at them one at a time once everyone is cooling down from attacking their dishes; I almost wish they'd been cooked right into the pancakes. But there were crispy sides to these pancakes, which are hard to find and always a plus.
Afterward, we drove down to McKenzie Towne in search of a small dessert shop called Uptowne Gelato, but the owner wasn't in this particular morning so we opted for The Little Cupcake Shop.
Mother bird chose a mocha cupcake, sister bird chose a strawberry cupcake, and I had myself a lemon cupcake. This is not my first experience with buttercream, but I believe it's managed to divert me from the stuff for a long time, if not for ever! The buttercream had an astronomical amount of butter, to the point the frosting was greasy and literally slid right off the top of my cupcake in a solid chunk of cream. It was a nuisance to try and eat, but the cake itself was light and well-flavoured. I'm beginning to find that I favour tart tastes, like lemons and apples, over the sweeter flavours like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, et cetera.
This is all enough to send me over the moon, really!
It's already fine, I swear. But then my aunt and pint-sized cousin, whom I adore, surprised me at my doorstep with a box of a dozen cream puffs from a downtown boutique I've only ever heard about -

Father bird, mother bird, sister bird and I shared these before we had dinner. The bottoms of the cupcake liners that the cream puffs are contained in are written on, and they tell you which flavour the filling is! There wasn't much variety in the fillings - only cream and hazelnut chocolate - but the toppings more than compensated for that.
My birthday this year is something that is lucky enough to be extended over the course of the entire long-weekend, because
- tomorrow evening, I'm spending a night out on the town with my beautiful cousins - they are treating me to a schmancy dinner date at the Cactus Club Cafe, which I previously hit up with mother bird before Christmas of last year.
- Saturday is a get-together at my grandfather's home, and I will be attempting macarons for the first time. Pray it goes well! Brother bird is driving down from Edmonton to spend his Reading Week back at the nest with us, so he might be able to lend a hand with piping, if we're even fortunate enough to have our shells turn out edible. 
- Sunday is set aside for dinner reservations at San Remo Ristorante, an Italian eatery in McKenzie Towne that looks moderately priced, well-rated, and ideal for pasta-lovers such as sister bird and I.
Needless to say, I am in no hurry to see the end of this long weekend. I am extremely excited for each event that is to come, but I just don't want to see it all be over yet! (:

Okay, let's talk food.
I've been baking a number of things from before Christmas til now and I still haven't posted any recipes beyond the blueberry muffins? I am truly lazy. And forgetful. And lazy. And easily distracted. And oh, did I mention lazy?
The recipe I'm going to post tonight is one that I've made twice now. These are Portguese Egg Tarts - (or are they Cantonese?) - and they're a real breeze to make. That being said, though, both trials took me over three hours each to complete, since I was making such big batches.

They really are the bomb, though, these egg tarts. They're not just egg tarts - they're miniaturized egg tarts! They're tiny, bite-sized little tarts that you can just pick up and pop cold into your mouth, and they're fantastic soft, flaky and piping-hot and a brilliant palate-refresher when they've cooled and stiffened.

My aunt raved about these egg tarts and asked me to make them the second time that I did. My cousin and her husband allegedly ate half a tray on their own; her husband even denied them the first time he was offered one to try, claiming that he didn't like sweets very much, but he was swayed and converted!

But that's the thing with egg tarts - they've got this custard filling, but they're not actually sweet. They've got a creamy texture and light, balanced taste that just melts on your tongue while your teeth work away at the soft, buttery crust, and before you know it you're reaching for another one.
These mini egg tarts are truly one of the recipes that I'm always going to keep in my personal cookbook, with a bolded title that is underlined, starred, and circled about three times over, just because it was such a success, a total crowd-pleaser, and now a family favourite.  

There aren't many ingredients for these egg tarts, and the ones that are needed are fairly easy to buy or usually exist in the back of bakers' pantries, so I find that this recipe is ideal in all respects. Convenience-wise, taste-wise, funds-wise, and effort-wise, it is a true winner.

You know what? I don't see why this recipe wouldn't also work for regular-sized cupcake/muffin pans, so disregard the specified pan size in the recipe and have your fun.


 crust ingredients -
  • 2 boxes of frozen puff pastry, thawed (I used 2 Tenderflake boxes. The amount of puff pastry you use is actually variable, depending on how many tarts you'd like to make. Only use as much pastry as you need to, because the custard can be refrigerated and reused at a later time.)
custard ingredients -
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 800 mL whole milk (3.25% milk, homogenized milk, etc.)
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract

directions -
  1. Grease and flour a miniature cupcake/muffin pan. (The flour really helps the tarts to just fall out of the pans once they're out of they're out of the oven.) Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until evenly combined, then transfer to a large saucepan on the stove over medium heat.
  3. Slowly add the milk and mix well. There may be lumps, but just continue to stir.
  4. Cook the custard, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a light boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Add the vanilla to the custard and combine well. Pour it into a bowl, cover, and let cool.
  6. On a floured surface, roll the thawed puff pastry into thin sheets. Using a cup with a rim that is an inch or so smaller than the rims of your cupcake/muffin pan, make discs of puff pastry cookie-cutter-style with the cup.
  7. Using your fingers, press each disc even thinner and wider. Some might even experience tears; just patch it up with your fingers. or a little spot of dough, and press the discs into the pans. They may not even come all the way up the sides, but that is okay! Since the pastry will puff as it bakes, the custard is at risk of being pushed up to the surface and overflowing, which will not be pretty. Thin, small tart shells are best.
  8. Using a spoon, fill each shell only halfway with custard. Any more and you might experience terrible overflow, as I discovered the hard way. Use the tip of a toothpick to swirl the custard inside the shell so it is evenly distributed and with the smoothest possible surface you can attain.
  9. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Some of their tops will be slightly burnt, but that is the norm for Portugese egg tarts. Gauge the baking time in accordance with how lightly or thoroughly scorched you prefer the tops of your egg tarts to be. Some egg tarts will certainly overflow, and educated as to why this is I am not. But don't panic and remove them from the oven! The first batch will most likely be an error batch, in which you inspect the results and note which pastries had the most success, so that for the batches that follow, you can try to replicate that success.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

week's muse

It's been a nice week, apart from Tuesday, and just this morning I had my first taste of school since - well, it kind of feels like it's been ages since school. In fact, I hadn't even been aware there would be school today, and I probably wouldn't even have shown up had I not been fortunate enough to receive one of those automated telephone calls from the school itself just the other night reminding students and parents. Bless those automated telephone calls.

Tuesday was a whirlwind of events. It began with an early rising and some hurried preparation for my job shadow at the orthodontist's, and from eight-thirty to noon I was immersed in the world of teeth and dentistry. It was a highly fulfilling experience and I learned much more than I'd expected to, but it left me brimming with anticipation for when I'll be able to step foot inside a dental office and carry out the tasks that were simply being demonstrated and described to me on Tuesday. I've decided that I find the environment of a dental office to be appealing and relaxing and I appreciate the slightly-upwards-of-steady, but well-maintained, pace of work.
Buoyed by the success that was my job shadow that morning, I was in relatively good spirits when mother bird offered to buy me some treats from Cobs Bread for lunch. I indulged in this delicious little pizza roll and a pretty cranberry custard danish that I can only dream of ever possessing the skills to replicate. We stopped by Sobeys on our way home and it was there, somewhere between where we parked the van and the sliding doors of the store, that one part of my retainer dropped from my coat pocket and fell onto the snowy road.

Why, you wonder, was my retainer in my coat pocket? There can only be one answer, and though not an answer that places me in a particularly favourable light, I will share it: carelessness. I am always so careless! I stuff my retainer in the strangest of places whenever I am at a loss of secure containers or pockets in which to store it; oftentimes I can make do with a zipped pouch in my handbag, and the majority of the time, when I can remember to be good about it, I do bring along the plastic little retainer case, but I hadn't anticipated we would be buying treats from Cobs and so I hadn't foreseen any need to remove my retainer to eat.

So, fast-forwarding through all this babbling about my retainer, I'll skip to the part where mother bird threw a fit and was in a storm about this, because I've lost both parts of my retainer before, and might I mention that a retainer is not a pacifier. If it's not worn, my teeth, which have been carefully arranged into beautiful, straight rows from the costly labour of headgear and braces, will shift and move and resemble the crooked parked cars of a market lot in the slums. (Heaven forbid!) Retainers come upwards of a hundred-twenty dollars apiece, and neither my mother or father was very pleased to pay it forward the first time, so I can understand their frenzy about this time.

Luckily for all of us, but mostly for me, when I returned to the orthodontist's this morning to have the impressions of my teeth redone for a new retainer, I brought donuts from Tim Horton's and a thank-you card, for allowing me the opportunity to spend a morning in their offices as a bothersome little shadow, and the lovely receptionists Julie and Renee (who I've gotten to know quite well by now) asked the Dr. whether or not I could go free-of-charge on this retainer.
He agreed!

This has been a really long post (so far) about nothing but my retainer, so moving onto today's events. I've been stuck with an incredibly challenging teacher this semester, a teacher who is known for pushing his students to great heights and lengths and whatnot, but personally I can't thrive under this sort of pressure. I prefer to be in an environment that places as less stress on me as possible, one that allows me to manage my own time and assignments, set my own pace, learn my own way. I've already campaigned my counsellor for some rearrangements in my timetable, and frankly it's all I can think about since I've left her office. I'm itching to e-mail her right now but all I can think to do would be to ramble on about how much I need to have things the way I want!

Something that I've been looking forward to is my birthday. My birthday happens to be on Valentine's Day, somewhere around nine in the a.m. according to mother bird's memory, and it's a family tradition that there is no birthday party. I can't remember the last time I threw a birthday party - maybe when I was twelve, or thirteen? For a few years now, it's just been a night at home with a cake, and presents I could count on the fingers of one hand, but I have no complaints. I love to love the little loves in life and I love that all the birds around me love me. That's really all I could ask for. Recently it's been a recurring theme in our birdhouse, though, to treat the bird-of-honour out to a dinner on the town for the occasion.

I still have some recipes that I'd like to post on the blog when I can find the time to, and although all the time that had been spent mourning my late retainer, celebrating my new one, grieving about school and anticipating my upcoming birthday in this post could have been exchanged for posting a recipe, I feel like I really had to get all of this nonsense off of my mind in this week's muse. Sometimes you just need an outlet, and when you're too lazy for old-school journalling, too creatively exhausted for music, too sleepy for exercise and too busy for artsy projects, blogging's the only way to go.

I bought bite-sized dried prunes, natur-a organic soy milkboxes, and laughing cow light swiss cheese wedges from Superstore this afternoon. I've been scouring produce departments for fresh prunes, but it seems like they're nowhere to be found in stores. Are they simply out of season, or are they only available at fresh-fruit vendors, like farmer's markets?
Nevertheless, I'm pretty thrilled about these purchases. Now my lunches will be coordinated and pretty.

Mother bird is heating some lasagna in the toaster-oven while she rambles about nothings to her sister-in-law over the telephone. Not only does her voice occasionally distort my thought processes, the aroma of hot cheese, pasta and meat sauce wafting throughout the house is seriously distracting.

She makes the best lasagna, hands-down. To drive this point home, I think I'm going to neglect the momentum videos my teacher asked me to watch and plant my butt on a kitchen chair just to wait for the oven timer to ring.

Monday, January 28, 2013

brown butter blueberry muffins

I have to wake up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning to job-shadow my orthodontist. I can recall being quite excited when he agreed to my proposition, but the lazy, whiny baby in me is beginning to regret sacrificing an entire morning for it.

On a brighter note, with a bunch of berries back inside my refrigerator and a multitude of hours to spare, I took to baking with blueberries once again this afternoon and experimented with a failsafe recipe from the Williams-Sonoma baking cookbook. (I consider anything published inside a cookbook to be "failsafe".)

In place of 1 stick of butter, melted, I substituted 1 stick of butter, browned, and I've never browned butter before but it seemed fairly straightforward and bakers across the blogosphere have been raving about its effects. I've never thought to use brown butter until now, and since I've never tried these muffins without brown butter, I can't vouch for how much it enhances a recipe.

But I can and will vouch for these blueberry muffins. The result is moist and chewy, very soft and plush and it holds its shape. Each muffin has a wealth of blueberries and the best part, in my humble opinion, is that the top of the muffin isn't sticky or greasy at all. It's almost like a cupcake, but more dense and thick and hearty.

The recipe I'm about to post below contains 1/4 tsp cinnamon more than the original cookbook's recipe, because I'm a cinnamon-lover and there will rarely come a time when I do not add cinnamon where it is allowable.

Blueberry muffins are just so classic. These ones are sweet, buttery and spiced, and sister bird, who, as a rule, only ever eats one of anything I make, had two. I think that's a fair testament to how much my family loved these muffins. Mother bird was impressed with the texture, but her all-time favourite muffin is Second Cup's maple walnut muffin, which I'm hoping to try to replicate in our kitchen once I get my hands on some walnuts!

I find that these taste absolutely wonderful once they're cooled and rested for a couple of hours. Then again, I don't care much for hot or molten blueberries, so I prefer them when they're just a little cold and chewy. It's been nearly five hours since the blueberries came out of the oven, and they've been sitting on a plate, covered, at the breakfast table ever since, and they're still nicely soft and moist.


(yielded 12 large muffins)

muffin ingredients -
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, or 2 cups + 2 tbsp cake flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, browned
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup blueberries (heaping or scant, to your preference)

directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and either grease a muffin pan or line with liners.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk.
  4. Brown the butter. (Whisk over medium heat until butter turns amber in colour, then remove from heat and continue whisking for approximately thirty seconds.) Immediately add it to the milk and eggs mixture from Step 3 - (it will foam!) - and combine.
  5. Add the combined dry ingredients from Step 2 into the browned butter mixture from Step 4 and stir until just blended.
  6. Fold in the blueberries until incorporated.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup about three-fourths full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
  8. Let them cool in the pans for 3-5 minutes, then remove. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

japanese cheesecake

A lot has been happening lately, and that includes a lot of baking.

To begin with, my exams have occupied most of my week, so despite having a small bundle of recipes to post and reflect upon, I have to limit myself to one for now. And that would be the earliest of the batch, the Japanese Cheesecake.

Famous for its soufflé-like texture and light taste, I figured it'd be a nice treat to make for my family, since all save mother bird and I lack sweet tooths. The procedures it calls for are a bit more complex, such as double-boiling mixtures and baking the batter in a roasting pan with water, but we managed to make due, mother bird and me.

I think what I liked the most about this cake was that it was airy and spongy. It wasn't as dense or heavy as, say, a New York-style cheesecake. The absence of a crust makes it even lighter. The taste is somehow more delicate than an American cheesecake and frankly, it's addictive. Taking a lick off the fork once I'd finished using it to pry a slice out of the pan for mother bird to try was all it took to persuade me to have a slice of my own, even though I'd told myself I shan't.
Well, that's what cakes do.
This cake happens to be especially good at doing it.

cake -
(recipe adapted from Jo)
  • 10.5 oz cream cheese (I used one 8 oz. package + 2 tbsp)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg-whites
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2/3 cup milk 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
directions -
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the egg-whites and place in the freezer to chill.
  3. In a large bowl, melt the butter and cream cheese and whisk to combine. (This can be done in a double-boiler - that is, placing the butter and cream cheese in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water on the stovetop - or, as I did, in the microwave by ten-second intervals.) Your objective in this step is not to get a liquid, melted mixture. It'll be soft and slightly fluffy.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the egg-yolks, 1 tbsp of sugar, and cornstarch. Set aside.
  5. Heat the milk over the stove until it comes to a boil. Careful - milk rises fast when it reaches a boil!
  6. Add it to the egg-yolk mixture from Step 4. Place it in a double boiler/heatproof-bowl-over-boiling-water-on-stove and whisk until it thickens.
  7. Add this mixture to the cream cheese mixture in Step 3 and combine well.
  8. Remove the egg-whites from the freezer. The edges should be frozen. Scrape them into a new, clean bowl and add a small amount of the 1/4 cup of sugar. Mix on medium speed until a soft meringue forms.
  9. Add 1/4 of the meringue into the cream cheese mixture in Step 7 and mix to combine. Add the remaining meringue by gently folding it in with a rubber spatula.
  10. Fill the prepared cakepan and smooth the top with the spatula.
  11. Place the cake pan into a roasting pan and add boiling water until it comes approximately half an inch up the cake pan.
  12. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 and reduce the heat to 300 for the next 25 minutes. When the top turns slightly golden, turn off the oven and let it sit inside for another 40-60 minutes.
  13. Take the cake out of the roasting dish and place it on a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate the cheesecake and chill it completely before taking it out of the cake pan.