Monday 19 November 2018

A Simple Baking Trick: Add Moisture and Flavour to Dried Fruit

This is a photo of the 10 pounds of mixed dried and candied fruit (raisins,sultans, dates, glace cherries, mixed peel, citron, and candied pineapple) called for in my great-grandma's fruitcake recipe.  I'm not going to share the exact recipe with you - it's a family thing - but I do want to share a simple trick I use for adding moisture and flavour to the finished cake.

My great-grandma, my grandma, and my mom all baked fruitcake months in advance, then wrapped the cakes in cheesecloth soaked in either rum or brandy, and stored it in airtight tins.  They removed the cheesecloth every week and wet it again with rum or brandy, carefully rewrapping the cake, returning it to its tins, and replacing it in the pantry.  The aged cake tasted great but I'm 'way too disorgaized to plan so far in advance.  Even so, my cake tastes delicious; the result of a change in method that I adopted long ago.

In the early 80's, I worked in a small town bakery.  The baker had trained in Scotland, in a rigorous 7-year apprenticeship program that provided him a wealth of traditional knowledge.  His baked goods were brilliant and people pre-ordered his fruitcake months in advance.  The bakery didn't have the space to store booze-soaked, cheesecloth-wrapped fruitcake in tins for months at a time, but that aged flavour was still the end goal.

A good quality fruitcake is basically a whole lot of fruit held together by a bare minimum of well flavoured batter, so the baker took a short cut, infusing rum flavour into the fruit prior to adding it to the cake batter.  The fruit was weighed and mixed, divided into buckets with tight fitting lids, and soaked with a mixture of apple juice and rum extract.  Every morning for several days we opened each bucket, gave it a good stir, and replaced the lid, until all of the liquid had been soaked up by the fruit.  At that point, it was time to bake the cakes.

I use spiced rum instead of the apple juice/rum extract combo we used at the bakery, and I macerate my fruit in a stainless  steel pot with a tight fitting lid but other than that my process is just the same.  The resulting cake has a wonderful depth of flavour.

You can use this method to add flavour to any baked good that contains dried fruit, using almost any compatibly flavoured liquid.  I use raisins soaked in apple spice herbal tea in scones, dried cranberries soaked in orange juice in quick bread, and dried apples soaked in Earl Grey tea in bundt cake.  The possibities for using this simple trick are endless.  Run with it and have fun.  🙂

Friday 28 September 2018

Ladysmith Harbour

My brother has an office in Ladysmith, about 30 minutes drive north of where I live. One sunny day in early September I caught a ride with him when he was on his way to work.  He would be at the office for two or three hours and I intended to use the time to visit the Ladysmith Art Gallery.  

Sadly, I timed my visit to the gallery badly.  They had just torn down one exhibit but not yet put up anything in its place.  I had time to fill and, since I had my camera with me, I decided to visit the waterfront instead.

Just across from the gallery, there are stairs down to the harbour.  They end near the marina where the pleasure boats are moored and where the heritage boat society annually hosts its wooden boat festival.  It's beautiful, but I've been there many times.

I wanted new images with lots of colour and line and texture in them - something maybe a little bit more gritty - so I elected to the follow the wooded trail that led from near the stairway towards the working side of the harbour.

Ladysmith is a small town but its harbour is quite busy.  There are fishing boats there, a boat yard, and facilities for loading barges.  Across the water on the Yellow Point side, there are log booms and boom boats. Tugs pull both barges and booms to their destinations. There are cranes for lifting boats in and out of the water at the boat yard, and other cranes for loading barges. There are breakwaters and wooden piers. There are people working all around you as you walk along the piers.  Lots and lots of wonderful things to catch the eye!

I had thought to walk along the top of the old stone breakwater, now alive with self-seeded wild grasses, flowers and trees. 
Unfortunately, I was greeted with this sign and had to alter my plans and go directly to the piers and wharves instead.  It turned out to be no great hardship.  There was a great deal to see. 

I won't burden you with a lot of narrative about my visit.  Instead I'll share some of my photos, with captions here and there where I feel they'd benefit from a bit of explanation. There aren't a lot of picture-postcard-y images here - many were taken with an eye to future drawings and paintings - but I hope you find them interesting even so.  

If you're viewing this post on a PC or a laptop, you should be able to click on the first image to view the pictures as a full screen slide show.  Enjoy.

This is a tugboat's winding gear.  It pays out or gathers in the cables used to tow barges.

Many tugs have these bumpers around their sterns.  They're made up of pieces of tire, cut, stacked, and bound together by cables running through them.  I like their texture and the pattern created by the repetition of shape.

The floats hanging from the back of this boat reminded me of party balloons. 

I'd never seen a boat in mid-air before. I stood and watched the crane lifting this one for quite some time.

My imagination is sparked by pieces of rusted metal.  I would like to be able to make sculptures from them.

This lovely vine wound itself through the chain link fence around the boat yard. Nature is resilient and pushes her green fingers into every space, no matter how busy or cluttered.  I love that.

Friday 31 August 2018

Blue Heron Park

One of the things I love most about living on Vancouver Island is the abundance of parks here, from tiny plots and playgrounds scattered throughout our communities to immense national and provincial parks offering a wide range of terrains and challenges.  I've made it a point this summer to visit as many of them as I can.

Some parks hold a special place in my heart for the memories attached to them, others for feelings their landscape evokes in me. Blue Heron Park in Yellow Point brings me both. 

This little park is not a place for serious hikers.  There are no challenging climbs or long trails through the woods, but what there is in abundance is peace.  Accessed by a narrow road in Yellow Point, the park isn't heavily used.  It has a few parking spaces in a lot at the top, some picnic tables, and a short set of steps down to the beach.  It's the beach that makes visiting this park such a delight.

Like many of the beaches on central Vancouver Island, Blue Heron's beach is mostly shelving rock:  a combination of sedimentary and igneous stone that creates fascinating formations.
You walk the beach over a series of long low shelves of stone, their edges sculpted by the ocean to mimic the waves that shaped them. 
Scattered along the beach are small hummocks of stone that have been cracked through, looking for all the world like fossilized hot cross buns.In some lights the stone glints with bits of mica or quartz, causing its sand-brown surface to sparkle in the mid-day sun.

The beach at Blue Heron Park isn't a spot for shell collecting.  Barnacles, clams, mussels, and oysters do abide near the low tide line but any shells without occupants are quickly pried from the stones by waves and then ground upon the rough surface of the rocks.  As they're pushed up towards the high tide line over time, the shell fragments are ground smaller and smaller until they accumulate into pockets of bright white granules cupped in depressions in the stone.

All beaches in BC are public property below the high tide line. Provided the terrain allows it, you can follow the shoreline for miles on a low tide day.  It's this that makes Blue Heron Park such a gift to me.  Although there are homes built right up to the edge of the park, when I'm on the beach I hear no road traffic, encounter few people, and even on the calmest of days the sound of waves and the the feeling of a breeze coming in across the water accompany me.  It brings me great peace to be there.

If you'd like to visit Blue Heron Park or to learn more about it, you can find information on the Cowichan Valley Regional District website.  In the meantime, here are some more photos to enjoy. 

Friday 24 August 2018

Delightful People, Delicious Cheese, And A Recipe

I wrote recently about a visit I made to the Old Country Market in Coombs.  While we were in the area, we took time for lunch at BoMé, an artisan cheese maker just down the road.

Coombs is an excellent education on the importance of not forming judgements based upon first impressions, and BoMé is no exception.  The business is situated next to a lot currently being excavated for concrete block mini storage buildings, and found in what appears to be a house repurposed for its current use.  There are tables on a concrete patio outside the front door, and it's not until you step into the building itself that you gain a clear idea of the delightful food and excellent service on offer. 

Inside the front door, you're greeted by a spotless deli-style cooler stocked with various house-made cheeses and desserts, and shelves displaying an assortment of locally made jarred goods, spices, and gift-ware. There's a spotless kitchen behind the deli area and, as you head further into the building, a clean and comfortable dining room with glass walls on one side that allow guests to look down into the cheese making kitchen below.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a charming young man, who took us through the menu with enthusiasm and happily explained every item in the deli case, offering samples of any of the cheeses we cared to try.  Once we were seated and awaiting our lunch - prepared by his equally pleasant mother - he came over and explained the purpose and function of the various pieces of equipment on the cheese-making floor.  He and his dad make the cheeses so he was able to explain in detail how it all worked.  His passion for their work was quite endearing.  We thoroughly enjoyed his company.

Lunch was delicious.  I had a beef, vegetable, and barley soup with a slightly sweet and sour flavour reminiscent t of sauerbrauten and my friend had a very tasty schnitzel sandwich.  The portions were a good size:  sufficient but not so generous as to be overwhelming.

Before we left, my friend and I both purchased cheeses to take home.  I bought a tub of shepherd's cheese - an incredibly flavourful, feta-based cream cheese with garlic, sun dried tomato and herbs - and a tub of their house-made tzatziki, made with a mixture of topfen (quark) and Greek yogurt.  

I enjoyed some of the tzatziki with veggies for supper the following day.  It was delicious, and had a much firmer consistency than tzatziki made with yogurt alone.  The texture inspired me to use it in a sandwich.  I've included the sandwich recipe below, including - for those of you who aren't fortunate enough to be able to visit BoMé - instructions on how to make a similar tzatziki at home.


For the tzatziki:
  • 1 English cucumber (seedless cucumber), grated
  • salt
  • 225 grams (1 cup) quark
  • 225 grams (1 cup) plain Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt the grated cucumber generously and then use your fingers to toss the cucumber shreds and distribute the salt throughout.  Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes then squeeze out as much moisture as you can.  Rinse the squeezed cucumber shreds to remove the excess salt and then, after squeezing them dry again, place them in a bowl.  Add all of the other ingredients except for the salt and pepper to the bowl and combine them thoroughly.  Taste the tzatziki and then add salt and pepper to taste.  At this point,  I would put the tzatziki in the fridge for an hour or two to allow the flavours to develop.

For the sandwich filling, combine:
  • 1-170 gram (6 ounce) tin of tuna.  (I used flaked light tuna because that's what I could afford but if you can afford better, by all means use that.)
  • 1 chopped green onion (scallion)
  • 1/3 cup tzatziki
This makes enough filling for two sandwiches.

To assemble the sandwiches:

Toast two ciabatta buns under the broiler.  When they're toasted, butter each half of each bun.  Divide the sandwich filling over the bottom halves of the two buns and then top the filling with thinly sliced red bell pepper, sliced tomato, and lettuce.  Put the "lids" on the sandwiches and serve them immediately, before the fillings have time to soften the crisp toasted surfaces of the buns.

Enjoy!  And if you do find yourself in Coombs please stop in at BoMé,  I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday 10 August 2018

Shopping at Old Country Market in Coombs

Last week my friend Colleen and I went to Old Country Market in Coombs. Coombs is about an hour's drive north of where I live. It's a popular tourist destination. I've written about the market before but this time I wanted to share its atmosphere at the height of the busy season

The Old Country Market has changed a lot over the years.  Originally its focus was primarily on fresh produce, then for quite a while it was the place to go for quirky and/or unusual, gifts and home decor.  Now, in addition to those things, they have a huge selection of international foods, an excellent deli, and a bakery.  Here on the island, OCM is the go-to place for ingredients not found elsewhere.  I know that the internet has opened international shopping to all of us but I still prefer to make the drive and support our island's local economy.

One of the market's big draws is the goats that graze on its grass roof.  Unfortunately when we were there the goats were all in their house or sleeping under the trees behind the market, hiding from the mid-day sun.  I suspect they're more sensible than we are!  Since goat viewing was not on the agenda, we followed the crowds into the store.

I came home with a pretty eclectic variety of items:  Saskatoon berry jam made here in Canada, pastas from Italy, za'atar, sriracha salt, hot German mustard, Lyle's Golden Syrup from England, tiny anniseed candies from Greece, Canadian-made Indian seasoning blends, some printed paper napkins, and - of course- a couple of "goats on the roof" souvenirs. Mostly, though, I just took it all in.  Visiting the market in the summertime is rather like attending a fair or a carnival:  some of the best entertainment is to be found in people watching.  It's endlessly entertaining even if you don't buy a single thing.

Rather than go on at length about our trip through the market, I've shared some pictures below, taken as we wandered around the store.  You can view them as a slide show by clicking on the first one and then scrolling through,  Enjoy.