The Sins of Asparagus


Overcooked asparagus–
Boiled into pulpy strands,
They flop onto the plate
Criss-crossing in unnatural contortions,
Bending in ways that a spear never should.
The scars of childhood become
Commandments of an adult orthodoxy.

Instead of playing with the fire of a pot of water,
First remove the woody butt-ends
Only a beaver could apprehend,
Then slice into diagonal lengths
An inch or a half.

The chunks hit the hot frying pan,
Stirred in a slick of oil,
Intermingling with crushed garlic
And a bold sprinkling of red pepper flakes
Bathed in a splash of oyster sauce.
Clouds of vapour remind everyone of the smorgasbord
At Yan’s Famous Kitchen.

Stir frenetically,
The wooden spoon constantly in motion,
The actions of paranoia and anxiety,
Of finding that portal of perfection
With just the right crunch done-ness.
For to overcook, there is no turning back–
No number of Hail Marys
To forgive the sin of overcooked asparagus.


A Blunt Assessment of the Dutch Poffertje


Just because you find a bow and arrow in your basement doesn’t mean you should become a bow hunter.  Just because you inherit two chainsaws from your long forgotten uncle doesn’t mean you should take up chainsaw juggling.  Having the tools to do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

If you find yourself in the possession of a poffertje pan, don’t assume it’s a good idea to make poffertjes.  I have my reasons:

Reason Number One

The poffertje pan is cast iron.  I can’t use it on my glass stove top, so instead I tried it on my barbecue.  It didn’t work so well.  Then, I balanced it precariously upon my backpacking stove.  This worked even less well.  In fact, the experience brought a degree of frustration which I had not experienced since my last attempt at country line-dancing.

Reason Number Two

They’re just basically miniature pancakes.  I like pancakes.  In fact, Shrove Tuesday is the 27th most important day on my calendar each and every year, just behind Robbie Burns Day and just before International Doghouse Repair Day.  How can you not love great wads of batter fried in oil and covered in syrup, whipped cream, fruit, or whatever?  So, if you love pancakes, instead of making three dozen poffertjes to satisfy your pancake pleasures, why not just make adult-sized pancakes?  The cuteness factor of the poffertje doesn’t make up for all of that extra dipping and flipping.  Using a regular frying pan for regular-sized pancakes just makes so much more sense.

Of course, some people have to try things themselves to reach their own conclusions.  So, if you don’t believe me, go ahead and make poffertjes using the recipe below.  Just remember, you’ve been warned.

Traditional Dutch Poffertjes

1.  Dissolve 1 teaspoon of dried yeast in 1 Tablespoon of warm milk.

2.  In another bowl, combine 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of buckwheat flour, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 5/8ths of a cup of warm milk.  Whisk in the yeast mixture until it is smooth.

3.  Add 5/8ths more of warm milk and beat the mixture.

4.  Cover this bowl and let it rest for 1 hour.

5.  Use your poffertje pan to cook the little devils until they are crisp.

6.  To make them tasty, smother them in whatever you like.

7.  Sell your poffertje pan on Kijiji.

Rhymes with ‘Gone’

IMG_0971If shooting yourself in the foot had been a literal act, Ransford would have, at most, four toes left between both feet.  The ammunition of his self-inflicted social wounds was his rabid defence of the purity of the English language.  His excessively stated opinion had cost him at least three potential romantic relationships, two fledgling friendships, and one job.  He berated his tennis partner for consistently dropping the ‘ly’ from his adverbs.  He declared his supervisor at the insurance office an illiterate for her consistently incorrect use of the apostrophe. 

Just yesterday, he blasted off that seventh proverbial toe by rapidly turning a first date into a last date.  The woman he had met online and known face-to-face for less than three minutes stood at the counter of the coffee shop, ordering a latte and a scone.  Not that Ransford objected to lattes or scones.   

His reaction to her words, however, were reflexive.  Once again, Ransford applied his Ready!  Fire!  Aim! diplomacy.

“It’s pronounced scone!” he blasted.  “It rhymes with gone!  Got it?  Scone rhymes with gone! Not drone! Not clone!  Not bone!  It rhymes with gone!”

Although, in Ransford’s mind, scone did not rhyme with drone, clone or bone, in reality, it most certainly did rhyme with alone.



Genetic Tasting

The arborio rice just wouldn’t soften up for me with my risotto.  Then there’s my pasta that got all bundled and stuck-together as I rolled it through the pasta roller.  My lasagne was a sloppy, soupy mess of ill-defined layers.  I apparently have no flair for cooking Italian.

And then, I discovered why.  Thanks to the results of a genetic test, I was enlightened to know that I’m only 30% qualified to cook Italian food.  The same goes for French, German, Dutch, and Lichtensteinian dishes.  The undeniable truth is that I am a kilted Scotsman attempting to ride the Tour de France. 

In reality, my culinary focus should really be upon creating steak and kidney pies, Yorkshire puddings, haggis, bangers and mash . . .  You get the idea.  British food.  60% of my DNA knows how to properly put a toad in a hole, spot a dick, or Scotch an egg.  I can pretty much play the pipes, write post-modernist fiction, and bemoan the lack of World Cup success all while throwing together a stout and steak pie.  At least, that’s what the genetic test tells me.

Being 30% western European doesn’t mean I’m completely incapable of cooking western European food.  I can make a mean thin-crust pizza– 70% thinner, in fact.  So, given my genetic make-up, I have to realize my strengths and my limitations when it comes to regional recipes.

Being only 5% Jewish means I shouldn’t even begin to think about making a Gefilte fish.  And when it comes to my 1.2% Neanderthal inheritance, I now have 98.8 reasons for not going on the Paleo diet.

Ah, the insights you get from swabbing your tongue and cheek.

The Discovery of Scallegged Nogtoes

fullsizeoutput_177aBarker’s vile, bone-deep, pupil-dilating hatred for scalloped potatoes was injected into his psyche early in life.  He can’t remember the first time he was served scalloped potatoes, but he is confident that after the first taste of those thin compressed cardboard disks covered in the paste of a semi-edible chemical concoction, his reaction was extreme in the worst possible way.

And so it was with eggnog.  A slower, denser, bloated form of milk, somehow related to eggs but by which way, he wasn’t sure.  Even an association with Christmas couldn’t make him like the stuff.  It was a mutant dairy product that couldn’t even be saved with generous doses of rum.

But then, everything changed for Barker.  Within one four hour window of time– a window into which shone the brilliance of culinary enlightenment, he discovered a joy which led to an infatuation with scalloped potatoes and eggnog.

It was marriage that brought him to the door of Mother-in-law Mildred for Christmas.  Upon arrival at his bride’s ancestral home, he was presented– within a matter of hours– with a plateful of scalloped potatoes and a glass of eggnog.  Knowing his long history of repulsion towards both, one might think it would make for a most awkward situation.  What would happen?  Would he force them down to be polite, and then worry about enduring the agony on every subsequent visit?  Or would he put his tongue down, refuse to consume, and offend someone who could make his life miserable for the next number of decades?

Neither happened.  A third, more unpredictable outcome ensued.  For you see, Barker failed to recognize that he was actually drinking eggnog and eating scalloped potatoes.  

The reason for this lack of recognition was simple.  Both the scalloped potatoes and the eggnog were real versions of the real thing.  Made from scratch.  Made like they were meant to be made– not mass produced in some cavernous factory in New Jersey or bought during a frenzied 50% off sale in the Walmart grocery department.

The scalloped potatoes were made with actual potatoes, actual grated cheese, actual garlic, actual flour, and all the other actual foods that went into their making.

The eggnog had real eggs, real cream, real milk, real sugar, real nutmeg and was cooked over a real stove in a real pot and stirred by a real person.

Barker’s newly discovered enjoyment of eggnog and scalloped potatoes could have been the happy ending to this story.  It wasn’t, for Barker began to wonder (as was a tendency of his):

Why does the International Food Corp. want to radically assault our culinary cultural norms by producing foods which share nothing more than a name with their original form? 

After weeks of agitation and mental anguish, he was out for a walk on a dark night– a walk in which he stepped into a pothole he’d never potholed before.  Immediately, as he lay within the broken asphalt, he was struck with a rare form of mental clarity.  He had his answer:

The minds of humanity have been tricked by a simple reality– that chasm between the idea of something and the actuality of it.  As long as we think we’re eating scalloped potatoes or drinking eggnog– providing it’s laced with salt and sugar–– we’re good with it.  Add to this the convenience of do-nothing food preparation, and you’ve got a sure-fire product.

The next time Barker went to the grocery store, in an act of profound defiance against the tidal pull of manufactured food, he bought himself a potato peeler.

Homemade Eggnog

This is the most simple recipe I have found, particularly if you are averse to raw eggs and having to wait extended periods of time before drinking the stuff.  For my first batch, I halved the recipe and ended up with plenty for four.  (It’s VERY rich, so you only really need small cups of the stuff.)

Makes 6 cups.


6 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup rum
Freshly grated nutmeg, for serving

What to do:

1.  Separate egg whites and yolks.
2.  In a bowl, whisk the sugar with the egg yolks into a paste.
3.  In a pot on the stove on medium heat, add the heavy cream and milk.  Warm until small bubbles form around the edge of the pot.
4.  Pour some of the milk mixture into the egg/sugar bowl.  Whisk, then pour back into pot.
5.  Keep at medium heat and stir until thickness desired. (This may take a while, depending upon the amount of heavy cream you’ve used.)
6.  Add rum.
7.  Cool outside (if winter) or in fridge.  In retrospect, I may try drinking it warm.
8.  When serving, sprinkle with nutmeg.
Note:  You can add whipped cream to thicken at the end.

How Badly Do You Really Want That Recipe?


Our aunt had a chronic limp.  No one knew why.  There was plenty of speculation.  Rusty nail.  War wound.  Equestrian accident.  She never said.  She just limped.  And limp she did until her last day upon this earth.

There was much we didn’t know about my aunt.  Her name, for one.  We called her Aunty Flo.  Was it short for Florence?  Flower?  Flowina?  We never knew.  And she never said.  Her birth certificate was reportedly destroyed during a locust infestation when she lived somewhere on the American plains.  So, even after her death, when her extended family went through her meagre possessions, no birth certificate was found.  Nor was the truth about her real name.

After her death at the ripe old age of 90 plus or minus five years, my sister and I volunteered for the task of pouring through her belongings.  We were in search of one thing in particular.  We could live with the mystery of her given legal name.  We could live with the real reason behind her chronic limp.  But we couldn’t live without her ginger cake recipe.

Aunt Flo was not a woman of wealth.  She lived frugally within the familiar walls of the family house she was born and raised in.  Other than her legendary brief stint living in some non-specific town upon the American plains allegedly married to some unspecified mail order groom, she’d live her life in this old house.

Whether it was her meagre finances or family tradition, every Christmas, Aunt Flo would give the same gift to all of us, year in year out– a ginger cake made from the secret family recipe that had reportedly been passed down through five generations, always entrusted to the eldest daughter.

Unlike other tedious family traditions, the ginger cakes were something we actually looked forward to.  That’s putting it mildly.  They were actually the single most important aspect of our Christmas, treasured beyond any other gifts showered upon family members.  Diamond jewelry, that Mercedes Benz, all-expenses paid trips to Italy.  They all seemed trivial when held up against the wondrous ginger cakes– the taste and texture going beyond the capacity of language to fully capture.

And so, when our spinster Aunt Flo passed on without a daughter or son for that matter, we worried that the recipe may be lost forever.  Then again, we held out a faint hope that it might be found somewhere in her belongings.

Alas.  To no avail.  After combing through her scrapbooks, bank statements, and letters, no recipe was found.

“It had to have been written somewhere,” my sister said.  “Her memory was terrible in those last few years.  But the ginger cakes were still wonderful.”

The recipe and its fate may have remained a mystery for good, had it not been for a receipt found in a corner of one of her old purses.  It was from Bart’s Tattoo Emporium in Council Grove, Kansas.  The scrawled handwriting on the receipt was difficult to decipher, but we all concluded, the smudged ink across the flimsy paper read, “Foot Tattoo, Paid in Full.”

“At least that explains the limp.  Why would someone want to get a tattoo on the bottom of their foot?” I asked.  Aunt Flo had an enigmatic side to her I never suspected.

“Isn’t it obvious?” my sister replied.  “She had the ginger cake recipe tattooed onto the bottom of her foot.  That way, she’d never lose it, even if she did lose her mind.”

In a bizarre sort of way, this made sense, and prompted me to ask my sister, “So, how desperate are you to get that ginger cake recipe?”

With a look of determination that unsettled me, my sister took a deep breath, and said, “I’ve got a shovel and a headlamp.” 

The Ginger Cake Recipe  (Don’t ask how I got it.)

4 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon of ginger powder
2 cups of Thompson Seedless raisins
3 Tablespoons of finely chopped preserved ginger (Dalton’s brand is good)
1 1/2 cups of butter
1 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 eggs

11” circular coffee cake pan

What to do:

1.  Heat in a saucepan to a boil the butter, molasses and sugar.
2.  Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl.
3.  Add heated stuff to the dry ingredients, then stir in the eggs one at a time, stirring rapidly and making sure each egg is fully mixed in before adding the next one.
4.  Pour into a greased, floured coffee cake pan.  (You may also want to cut out a piece of parchment paper to line the bottom.)
5.  Bake for approximately 1 hour at 325 F.  It’s done when a chopstick comes out clean.
6.  Let it cool for about half an hour.  Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure it’s not sticking.  Invert onto a cooling rack.
7.  Go to a tattoo parlour and have this timeless recipe tattooed on the bottom of your foot.  It may cause you to limp somewhat, but knowing that it’ll be always with you (barring the loss of your foot) should be comforting.


The Perils of Pavlova


Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that the road  to making a Pavlova is full of potholes, pitfalls, sharp corners, unexpected drop-offs, and potential sink-holes.  But not to worry!  Don’t let the high probability of complete failure discourage you from trying to make this dessert to impress friends, relatives, or people you don’t even know.

To help you along your way, I’d like to offer not only some cautionary notes, but also a list of accompanying excuses you can use when your Pavlova goes all to hell.  The fundamental principle is, “Show confidence in the face of catastrophe.”

Top Five Reasons Why Your Pavlova Ended Up as a Catastrophic Mess and Accompanying Excuses You Can Use

1.  If your initial meringue doesn’t stiffen as you beat, there are a number of potential causes.  You may have had soap residue on your mixing bowl from improper rinsing.  Not to worry.  Just blame it on a new natural soap product you’re trying out made from lavender and hemp extracts which you don’t think work nearly as well as your old cleaning product made with bleach and battery acid.

2.  Don’t get any yolk in your egg whites.  Or shells for that matter.  Or hairs, or bits of plaster falling from your popcorn kitchen ceiling.  The egg whites must be pure for mixing. If your meringue doesn’t whip up into stiff peaks, you can always blame those darn genetically modified Frankenchicken eggs.

3.  If you’ve been mixing for twenty minutes, and rather than stiff peaks, your meringue looks like a Florida swamp, you can safely conclude you did something wrong.  At this point, there is an act of desperation which may work.  You have nothing to lose.  Add the white vinegar.  This may help.  Or it may not.  You can also add the cornstarch.  If it still doesn’t form stiff peaks or even semi-stiff peaks, you know it’s time to head to corner store and buy a bag of Skittles to satisfy your sweet cravings and to the liquor store to buy a bottle of something to drown your sorrows at being a Pavlova Pig’s Ear.  Later, you can also drunkenly mumble about certain desserts being highly over-rated.

4. If you bake your Pavlova and it starts to look like a miniature replica of the Qattara Depression, you know that someone in your house (and maybe it was you) was peeking at it by opening the oven door.  If it was you, you can always blame the oven. Any failure, at this point, can be blamed on the oven.  You don’t need to really explain what the exact problem is with the oven.  It’s just that technology is complicated, so there’s probably some reason it messed up for you.  Plus, the beauty of blaming technology is that it can’t argue back (unless you have one of those new AI oven models, but let’s not go there.)

5.  If you over-bake your Pavlova, and it comes out all crispy crunchy through and through, or if you under-bake it and it’s just mush inside a slightly hard crust, you can always blame Albert Einstein.  He had some ideas about time warping, and you can always say that your failure to get the cooking time right had everything to do with the Theory of Relativity.  That’s all you need to say.  It’s unlikely anyone in your house has a PhD in Physics, so they’ll all nod in agreement, feigning an understanding which none of you have.

So, there you go.  Fly at it.  Go ahead and make that Pavlova, armed with a quiver full of excuses. You have nothing to lose.

Just Because You Can Do Something Doesn’t Mean You Should

fullsizeoutput_162bCall it misguided scientific wizardry.  Skill over practicality.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Just ask Dr. F., who claimed to have successfully spliced an assorted collection of DNA to create a truly unique creature.  The DNA in question was taken from a common, everyday domestic goat– not the majestic mountain variety but the stay-in-my-pen and climb on stuff variety.  It was then combined with a wild salmon to produce a creature so unique, Dr. F. was unable to come up with a suitable name.  He settled upon the horrendously unimaginative name of the Salmon-Goat.

The most pressing question one might ask about Dr. F.’s successful bit of genetic engineering was, “Why bother?”

If the truth be known, it was really the milk he was after.  A milkable salmon, producing salmony goat’s milk, would create a whole new culinary craze for the lactose intolerant.  No more soya milk would have to be endured.  Or almond milk, for that matter.  The possibilities were catastrophically outstanding.

Unfortunately, one major oversight encountered was the horrendous impracticality of milking a salmon twice a day.  It was just a downright difficult thing to do– first corralling the fish, wrestling it into submission for milking, only to produce a few ounces of milk before returning the salmon to it’s habitat.  Eight hours of milking produced one bottle of milk.  To make the operation economically viable, he calculated he would have to charge $8,743 per bottle of Salmon Milk just to break even.

Instead of trying to find a buyer for the most expensive bottle of milk known to humanity, Dr. F. pursued another one of his dreams, channelled his energies into developing a signature recipe which he would serve out of a food truck parked by the cemetery in Wells, British Columbia.

Dr. F.’s recipe certainly can be made with pale substitutes for the real thing.  But if you can get your hands on a few ounces of Dr. F.’s Salmon-Goat Milk, your tastebuds will thank you for the rest of your life.

Salmon Goat Cheese Polenta

(Adapted from a recipe by the Cookie Rookie with some changes incorporated from a Michael Smith recipe.)

• 4 salmon fillets totalling 12 ounces or so.

• 2 tablespoons dijon mustard

• 2 cups cherry tomatoes

• 1 cup fresh parsley, hacked and chopped to tiny bits

• 1/2 cup fresh basil, treated just as harshly

• 1 clove garlic, sliced and diced

• 1.5 cup bread crumbs 

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1.5 cups corn grits for the polenta

• 1/2 cup of frozen corn 

• 4 cups of fresh water

• 5 ounces of cheese made from Salmon-Goat milk (You may substitute goat cheese if you have to.)

• salt and pepper to the amount that seems right to you

What to Do

1. Lay parchment paper over a baking sheet.

2. Combine the parsley, basil, garlic, bread crumbs , olive oil, and salt in a food processor. 

3. Lay the salmon fillets on the parchment paper and scatter the tomatoes around the empty spaces between the salmon.

5. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of dijon mustard onto each piece of salmon.

6. Spread the herb mixture over the top of each piece of salmon and press it down to make sure it sticks to the salmon.  (Good luck with this one!)

7. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees F. or until the salmon is cooked and flaky throughout.

8. While the salmon is cooking, get your polenta going.  This is ridiculous easy, so if you’ve never made it before or even heard of polenta (like me), don’t sweat it. In a large heavy pan, bring the water and salt and pepper to a boil.

9. Stir in the polenta and frozen corn to the water, then turn your element down to a simmer. Stir pretty frequently as this thickens up quite quickly from my experience.  When it’s as thick as you want it, turn off the heat and stir in your Salmon-goat cheese.  

10. To serve this, blob some polenta into the serving bowls and top with a chunk of salmon and a few tomatoes. This strange combination turns out to taste pretty good . . . actually, it’s quite great, so I think you’ll enjoy it.  Don’t be fooled by the apparent lack of food volume, making you think there won’t be enough to fill you up.  Not a chance.  This dish is incredibly filling, particularly if you’ve eaten a bag of chips while you cook.

Tricked and Treated

IMG_0869You don’t want to run out of candy at 8:09 pm on the night of October 31st.  Just ask Byron O’Donahue of 241 56th Ave. SE.

He’d just moved to the neighbourhood and figured he was prepared.  On his way home from work, he picked up two boxes of mini-chocolate bars plus a bag of suckers, just in case some large group like a junior marching band or baton twirling team all decided to trick or treat together.  He didn’t mind polishing off any left-overs.

Byron’s doorbell rang for the first time at 4:30 pm. 

By 5:06 pm, he was already onto the second box of chocolate bars.  

By 6:12 pm, he’d already broken open that last resort bag of suckers.  As the numbers of remaining suckers in the bag dwindled with wave after wave of costumed kids pounding on his door, he contemplated cracking the suckers in two to make them go further.  But who would get the stick, and who would get the short end of the stick?

At 7:45 pm, Byron checked his watch and hoped that maybe there was a curfew in the city.  Or maybe the weatherman had predicted a tornado to sweep through town so everyone started trick or treating early.  This had to stop soon.

He was wrong.  They kept coming, and at 8:09 pm, Byron gave out the last sucker. 

He contemplated turning out the lights and hiding in the basement, but then he’d heard stories of what happened to vacant houses on Hallowe’en.  The thought of cleaning raw egg or shaving cream off his siding, or pulling the streamers of toilet paper out of his trees was not appealing. 

At this point, there was only one thing left to do.  Byron headed for the kitchen.  The next three groups of kids who rang his doorbell and shouted, “Trick or Treat!” watched in amazement as Byron dropped cans of beans, a tin of coconut milk, and a packet of dried lentils into their loot bags.  “You can’t get any sweeter than this!” he said to the next group as he poured a cup of white sugar into their pillowcases.  Byron followed this by dropping a lump of solidified brown sugar into the bag of a lone kid in a ninja costume.  “Try using your ninja powers to break up this lump,” he said.

They kept coming.

The kid who got the half-bottle of soya sauce looked somewhat perplexed, as did the next twenty or so kids who got something in their goody bags they’d never gotten before– a box of salt, a shaker of oregano, bags of raw pasta, a bottle of olive oil, a partial tin of cocoa powder, individual tea bags. 

They kept coming.

As his cupboards emptied, his level of desperation rose.  The fridge was next.  He was out of eggs, so he didn’t have to face the dilemma of handing out something that could be used against him.  A carton of milk– “Make sure you keep it upright, just in case,” half a cabbage– “We wouldn’t want to forget about pet rabbits on Hallowe’en, would we?” (He closed the door before the kids finished telling him he didn’t have a pet rabbit.) A bag of frozen peas– “Hurry home before they melt, or you’ll have to boil them up and eat them tonight.”

At 9:58 pm, his fridge was empty.  Almost empty.  There were two cans in the door.  He stared at those cans, his mind waxing and waning, pushing and pulling with the greatest ethical dilemma he could ever remember facing. 

“No.  I can’t,” he said out loud finally.  “If I did, it would make the news.”  So, instead of handing out two cans of beer to the next trick or treaters, Byron cracked them open, threw back his head, and drained them.  When the doorbell rang, he went to the front door with two empty cans.  “You can get something for these,” he said, dropping them into the bulging goody bags.

It was 10:02 pm when he heard the pickup truck pulling away.  “That’s got to be it,” he said with a sigh and a flick of the outside light switch.

What Byron did not hear was the rumble of a bus pulling up to the end of his driveway.  They’d been delayed by a flat tire, but now, the bus door swung open, and out streamed all thirty-two members of the Nose Hill Junior Marching Band and Baton Twirling Squadron.