Posts Tagged ‘totally irrelevant’

We will always have cake

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Hello, friends. There have been a lot of birthdays in our family over the past 2 months. As a consequence, there has also been a lot of cake.

I grew up eating birthday cakes made from boxed cake mixes. Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines were our household familiars, and my mother jokingly called those cakes her “scratch” cakes. Sadly, I don’t feel much confidence in packaged foods, these days, and I’ve grown sensitive to their inevitable “boxed” flavour. But oh, I adore that light, fluffy, super-moist texture. So I was thrilled to find this recipe for a Chocolate Bundt Cake that gives you the boxed-mix texture with pure, intense chocolate flavour.

It’s a perfect recipe, as written. But I’ve also tinkered with it to make it gluten-free. I don’t know a great deal about gluten-free baking, but the Gluten-Free Girl does, and I’ve used her formula for a gluten-free flour mix. In this case, the gluten-free version requires no weird gums or stabilizers. There’s no hard gelled texture, no dry crumbliness. Just moist, delicate, cakey goodness. I am so enamoured and proud of this cake, which is just as well, since birthdayfest is only now starting to wind down.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Bundt Cake (adapted from Food52, using Gluten-Free Girl’s flour mix)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 225 grams gluten-free flour mix
  • 3/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup sour milk or plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup strong black coffee
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a Bundt pan and dust the inside with cocoa powder. Set aside.
  2. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. With a mixer, combine the milk, coffee, oil, eggs and vanilla at low speed. Then, with the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Once all the flour mixture is added, mix the batter for a full four minutes on medium speed. The batter will be very thin. It’s okay!
  4. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. You can also use this batter to make about 22 cupcakes, in which case bake them from 22-26 minutes.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Negotiating with tradition

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Hello friends! We celebrate Christmas in our house, and we’re still figuring out our traditions. I come from a family whose only tradition is to not have any traditions (even the Christmas tree was hit-and-miss throughout my childhood, and I doubt we’ve ever eaten the same Christmas dinner twice), and my spouse, Nick, is from a family with very strong, sentimental rituals. He and I have talked about what kinds of traditions we want to cultivate. The problem? Our lives are so hectic right now that it seems as though every year, we crash-land in the middle of December with no fruitcake, no lights, and the vaguest of plans to get a tree “soon”.

We have to get our act together.

So this morning I was thinking, what are the most important Christmas traditions for our family? Clearly, we’re going to have to be selective, this year. For me, it’s about a special family meal that we look forward to each year. There will be small menu changes, but it’s not going to be Chinese food one year, followed by Italian the next. For Nick, it’s about the tree and the excitement of Father Christmas for little kids. Following in his dad’s tradition, Nick will create tiny reindeer hoofprints for the kids to find on Christmas morning, as evidence of Santa’s visit. For our four-year-old, it’s all about the gingerbread house, aka an excuse to eat unlimited amounts of Smarties and buttercream icing. And our littlest one is just learning about Christmas, which means she’ll be very forgiving of any amount of last-minute holiday anarchy.

As the kids grow, become more independent, and develop interests of their own, our traditions will evolve. We’ll get to the Christmas baking, the crafty ornaments, the homemade Advent calendar, the big Christmas party – one day. In the meantime, we’ll focus on our dearest rituals and enjoy them to the fullest.

What are your favourite, most-loved holiday traditions?

P.S. There’s a nearby family farm that raises heritage-breed bronze turkeys. The birds roam outdoors, get lots of sunshine, eat organic food (and bugs), and generally have happy turkey lives. We’re all set – for 2013, that is. Yes, we’re waiting on a turkey that hasn’t even been born yet. We are going to be SO ready next year!

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Think you love books?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

The mad geniuses at Type Books (which hosted my Toronto launch for The Body at the Tower) do. The proof? This absolutely charming stop-action short, showing what books get up to at night. You’d have to be a total grinch not to love this.

Go on – tell me you’re not haunted by the idea of your own books larking about in the near-dark. Mine certainly waltz, trade bookmarks, and commiserate about the recent purge.

And elsewhere on the internet, a very talented reader, Melyssa, made a painting inspired by Mary Quinn! Check it out at her Tumblr.

What are you up to this week?

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The exam of my life

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Hello, all. What does December remind you of? I think of birthdays, Christmas, winter solstice, snow, darkness, and candles. Also, because I spent rather too many years at university, I think of exams. And of all the exams I’ve written, there’s one that will always send a chill down my spine.

During my PhD program, I had to write two comprehensive exams, aka comps: they were supposed to make me a specialist in English literature in general, and Victorian literature in particular. Think they can’t test you on all of English literature? You’re right. But they can try, and that’s even more frightening.

The process began in May, when my fellow candidates (hello, Katharine and Tanya and Sean!) and I received suggested reading lists from our professors. We read hundreds of books – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, lit crit, history. We researched ideas and movements and philosophies and clubs and quotations and obscure sidekicks and and and and… you get the picture. This would all culminate in two 4-hour exams in December.

It’s fair to say that we all went a little crazy, that summer and fall. I developed a thing about colour-coded index cards. I tested pens for nib size and ink flow, and practiced handwriting as much as possible so I could write for 4 hours straight without cramping up. I made a nightmare of a timeline (17 pages!) to represent the history of English literature and refused to take it down, even though it freaked out my officemate (sorry, Katharine). I calculated how much time I should spend on each subsection of the exam. I wrote practice exams. And I read. I read like I’d never read before, and never will again: with anxiety digging its nails into my shoulders.

The first exam – the General – went smoothly. I even thought I’d passed, though actual results would take a couple of weeks. The next day, we sat down for our Specialist exams. I opened the sealed envelope and took out 3 blank booklets, for writing my answers. And… nothing. No questions.

I looked inside the envelope: still nothing.

I looked around the exam room: the other 3 had different exams and were all busily reading through their questions.

My first thought was, “They’re messing with me.” My second was, “This is an elaborate game. They want me to create my own questions, as well.” My third, “I’m doomed.”

It took me a long time to persuade the invigilator that I had thoroughly checked my envelope and that yes, I was very, very, very sure that I didn’t have any questions. She then left the room for what felt like 3 days, in search of the missing questions.

I was in a blind panic. The only thing I could do (apart from weep) was to write a list of every Victorian novel I’d read in preparation for this exam. I was on page 2 when the invigilator came back with the missing exam.

It’s a happy story in the end, friends. I wrote. I passed. (With distinction, even.) And I haven’t written an exam since. But every December, I think about that exam, and about exam-takers everywhere. If you’re in the midst of finals right now (or will be soon, in January), I’m thinking of you, too. Best of luck!



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So indulged

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Hello, friends. I’m blogging this week from my parents’ house, where my partner, children, and I are playing, napping, idling, walking, exploring, and generally being coddled by the people who gave me life. It is grand, I tell you. Absolutely divine.

Do you know what the most beautiful sentence in the English language is, when uttered by busy and normally responsible adults? It’s, “Hi, Mom. What’s for dinner?” Okay, that’s 2 sentences. But that’s where I’m at, right now. I feel very lucky and extremely loved and totally indulged.

I’m reading this:

and this:

And I’ll reflect on these in a future edition of A Reader Reports. But at the moment, it’s raining outside, I’ve just had very hot shower, and I’m eating a steaming bowl of black rice pudding with coconut milk in an almost-silent house. Life may get better than this, but right now I just want these few minutes to last as long as possible.

How are you faring, this November? What’s new with you?


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Happy Hallowe’en!

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Hello, friends! I hope you’ll indulge my parental amusement for a minute. This is the jack o’lantern designed by our resident 3-year-old. Is it just me, or is a small child’s drawing of a face more frightening than any deliberately spooky design?

I mean, I wouldn’t want to sit next to this character on a long-distance bus ride…

I had an fantastic Hallowe’en surprise yesterday when this was delivered to my door:

Food52 is a place where anyone can join to enter their recipes in contests (or you can just hang out, comment, and drool over the gorgeous food photography). They give out lovely prizes and compile the winners into cookbooks such as this one. The site is now extremely competitive; casual cooks beware! But back in the days when things were, shall we say, still in my league, I won a contest with my recipe for Overnight Steel-Cut Oats. It’s here, now, in the first Food52 Cookbook and I’m absolutely tickled.

What did you get up to for Hallowe’en? Were there any surprises – pleasant or otherwise – in your day?

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The 7lb Time Machine

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

It’s been 4 weeks since I last posted, friends. I didn’t mean to stay away that long. But I have an excellent reason:

Our daughter is finally here. She is, possibly, the loveliest baby in the history of babies. (No, I’m not biased. Why do you ask?) And there are so many things I’d forgotten about newborns! Among them:

1. Their breath smells magic. You want to inhale when they exhale (the opposite of what you do with adults).

2. The Poo Cannon. Their timing is impeccable. Enough said.

3. Finally, if you spend your days and nights nursing, changing diapers, helping them sleep, and maybe returning some phone calls or going to the doctor (one or the other; not both), that’s a full and exhausting life, my friends. I have the involuntary twitch under my left eye to prove it – just like Harkness.

So while we’re all well, and utterly in love with our new girl, and marvelling at the miracle of her existence (we made a person!), my blogging will be sporadic over the next few weeks. Thank you for understanding, and I hope you’re all having a splendid June. We certainly are.

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Snow Day!

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Yesterday, instead of going to daycare and working, my son and I:

– frolicked in the snow

– marvelled at its relentlessness when all signs of shovelling were obliterated after an hour

– waited for my brother to say he’d arrived safely in Toronto

– built an elaborate railway only to dismantle it after the bridge fell down 15 times in as many minutes

– chanted “Pease Porridge Hot” approximately 50 times

– made cookies

– and played a game based on this book (which my mother-in-law found at a jumble sale, and which is utterly charming):

I didn’t know it until yesterday but writers, like kids, get snow days. Another reason to call it the finest job on earth! What did you do in the snow?

P.S. I’ve done a short interview for Kingstonist. My interviewer was Caitlin Fralick, a public librarian, which feels like an all-round win.

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What I did for Hallowe’en

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Turns out I'm the murder-mystery house party type, after all...

Photo by my host, the fabulous Annette Willis.

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Love and poetry

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

This week, two of my dearest friends got married. When Sarah and Steve asked me to read a poem at their ceremony, I was thrilled to be part of their wedding – as well as by the discovery of a new-to-me poem: Frank O’Hara’s “Having a Coke with You”.

Here’s O’Hara reading it:

This is the full text of the poem, at the Poetry Foundation archive.

And here’s the abbreviated version my husband & I joked about improvising, in the event that I lost my specially marked-up reading-aloud version (the one with S – L – O – W ! scrawled at the top of the page):

Having a Coke with You

(with apologies to Frank O’Hara)

is more fun than going on a bender with a Eurail Pass.

Art is all right.

But not as all right as you.

Congratulations, Sarah and Steve. I love you – and your taste in poetry.

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