How Badly Do You Really Want That Recipe?

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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.

 

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The Secret Life and Loves of Sourdough

IMG_0735“The Secret Life and Loves of Sourdough.” Never has a documentary film had such an impact upon the life of an individual– nothing short of a religious conversion, an epiphany, and the attainment of enlightenment all rolled into one.  Fifty-three minutes that radically altered the course of a life.

Sourdough.  He would be transformed by the infusion of sourdough into every conceivable aspect of his life.  Sourdough was the elixir to elevate his mundane existence into one that could only be described as nothing short of extraordinary.

Sourdough would whiten his teeth, thicken his hair plus give it that spunky wave across his forehead he always dreamed of.  It would grant him the explosive physicality of a wrestler doing a back flip off the top rope and executing the perfect take-down, not to mention the endurance of someone who would do two Barclay Marathons before breakfast– a breakfast of sourdough croissants.

Sourdough would permeate every cell of his body, altering his DNA to be shockingly similar to George Clooney’s, only with a better sense of style.  His mind would be altered, giving him a sense of robust confidence to speak with an articulate authority not witnessed since the illustrious political career of John George Diefenbaker.

He wasn’t exactly sure of the science behind it all, but that wasn’t the point.  What mattered was belief.  Oh, sure, he had his theories about internal bodily fermentation which just made so much sense.  It was all about belief. 

His fanaticism was inflicted upon members of his immediate family who endured sourdough pancakes the consistency of semi-gelatinous kevlar, sourdough muffins with a texture reminiscent of a camping sleeping foam, and sourdough brownies that, in spite of the butter, melted chocolate, and excessive amounts of sugar, were deemed inedible even by the family’s pet goat.

The only success, and it was a minor victory, was with his sourdough bread.  Why only a minor victory?  The crust was only able to be sliced with the assistance of a circular saw.  But once sliced, the taste was something else.  And although the promise of personal transformation through consuming sourdough was never fully realized, he persisted with sourdough Christmas cake, sourdough angel food, and sourdough fritters.  And never once before his life was cut short by a fatal slippage of the circular saw while preparing a sourdough tomato sandwich, did he come to the realization and ultimate truth about sourdough:

You can pretty much make anything with sourdough, but this does not mean you should.

Dual Personality Rolls

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Pictured Above:  A Savoury Roll.  No photo was taken of the sweet alternative as they were devoured before a camera could be raised.  

Sweet drowns out inadequacies.  Savoury is openly honest about shortcomings.

Sweet is a comb-over with a Kool-aid dye job.  Savoury is bedhead with a few passes of splayed fingers.

Sweet is a pickup truck with over-sized tires and a gun rack.  Savoury is a bicycle with a basket and no fenders.

Sweet tap-dances, Moonwalks and heal slides.  Savoury does the Downward Dog.

Sweet delivers an uppercut.  Savoury delivers a back rub.

Sweet is a tsunami of pleasure that overwhelms your senses and leaves you flattened like a lifeless bag of bones in its aftermath.  Savoury is a subtle tap on your shoulder that makes you take notice, but doesn’t knock you off your feet.

This recipe is for one roll, two fillings (not at the same time, however).  You choose which you are: sweet or savoury.

Sweet and Savoury Sourdough Rolls

(Adapted from the Unskinny Boppy)

The Rolls

1/2 cup of butter (cool in the fridge)

2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

1/2 cup of sourdough starter

1 Tablespoon of white sugar

1 cup of milk

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

The Sweet Filling

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1/2 cup of softened (not melted) butter

The Savoury Filling

Aged cheddar (or other strong-tasting cheese)

French’s mustard

Instructions

You’ll need about 8 hours or so to make these. (But don’t worry, you’re not working on them the whole time.)

  1. Cut the 1/2 cup of butter into the 2 1/2 cups of flour until it’s pretty much reduced to a sandy texture.
  2. Mix in the 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1 cup of milk and make into a dough ball.
  3. Cover the dough ball and let it rise for about 7 hours (although I’ve gotten away with less).
  4. Knead in the 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.  Add more flour if needed until you have a smooth dough ball.
  5. Roll out the dough into a 1/4” thick rectangle.
  6. Spread either the sweet or savoury filling over the dough.  For the savoury, spread enough mustard to cover, then grate enough cheese to cover.
  7. On the long edge, tightly roll the dough up until you have a long tube of dough.
  8. Cut slices (and here’s the contentious part) between 1/2” and 1” thick.  (You decide what your preference will be.)
  9. Place flat on tin foiled or parchment papered tray.
  10. Cook in 400 F oven for 20 to 30 min.

The savoury rolls are great with soup, while the sweet cinnamon rolls are best eaten on their own all at once in a session of pure gluttony.

The Untapped Potential of a Genuinely Spectacular Failure

It takes a special talent to fail in a genuinely spectacular fashion.  Intentional failure is just a repackaging of rebellion, completely lacking a profound spontaneity with its disingenuousness easily sniffed out.  Intentional failure lacks the mystique of an unimaginable outcome that no one saw coming.

Most important, the genuinely spectacular failure possesses the possibility of being reinterpreted as an achievement.  All it takes is a shift in context.  Take the object pictured below. 

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Its humble beginning was that of a sourdough starter combined with a variety of ill-advised ingredients and questionable methodology that all proved catastrophic to the intended outcome– a loaf of sourdough bread.  The result was a brick-like object which is bullet-proof, sulphuric acid-proof, with a density only slightly less than a black hole.  Clearly a freak of invention that defies physics, definition, or logic.  The potential for its use is only limited by the feeble capacities of the imagination.  Of greatest concern to humanity is that this marvel doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  For now, it is best kept in a secure, secret location, buried in the local landfill, until future civilizations can dig it up and find an enlightened purpose for this marvel of failure.