Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cranberry Chocolate Cream Cake

For me, hunger comes in waves. I’ll feel extreme stomach-turning hunger and then, after a while, the feeling passes. I’m still hungry, but at least the gnawing sensation in the bottom of my stomach if temporarily gone. I’m pretty fortunate; I’ve never really gone hungry a single day in my life. 

This year, I participated in the 30 Hour Famine through my school. The actual event, where you don’t eat for thirty hours, is secondary to raising awareness for child hunger and collecting money for World Vision, but it was something I really wanted to do. I love food, probably a little more than the next person, and I eat practically every other hour, so I really didn’t believe that I would be able to last thirty whole hours without food.

Not doing something for a whole day really draws attention to how often you actually do that one thing. It’s like getting a cut on your pinky finger; you don’t realize how much you use that finger until you can’t use it. This year, I’ve signed up for the Vow of Silence, a Me to We event during which you don’t speak for a day to raise awareness for children who don’t have a voice, and Digital Detox, another event at our school during which you don’t use any digital devices for a whole day. I didn’t last through both events, not for lack of trying, but merely because I simply forgot not to talk or to use my cell phone.

I eat, all the time. Sometimes, it’s subconscious, and I don’t even notice until I realize there’s something in my mouth. Yesterday, as I was clearing the counter to make space for my cookie sheet and cake pans, I grabbed a cherry tomato and popped it in my mouth out of habit. My mom likes eating salads, so we always have a bowl of washed cherry tomatoes sitting on the kitchen counter. And since they’re already washed and I’m lazy, I tend to snack on those cherry tomatoes. I had almost bit into the tomato when I remembered that I was doing the Famine and that I couldn’t eat anything besides the allotted bowl of steamed rice and water. I promptly spat the tomato out and congratulated myself on my willpower.
Not eating when you have the choice to do so is really difficult. My stomach growled as I decorated the cake and I despaired at the thought that I wouldn’t be able to eat a slice until the next day. I decided to call it a celebration cake to be eaten when the Famine was over and tucked the cake into the refrigerator downstairs as soon as I was done frosting it. I gave myself a pat on the back; making a cake and not eating it even though I was hungry was another demonstration of the willpower I didn’t know I possessed.

Today proved to a more difficult day. As the hours dragged on, the gnawing sensation in my stomach grew until the intervals between hunger waves dissipated entirely. It certainly didn’t help that my brother Kyle and I went to the shopping mall, where everyone was milling around with drinks in their hands. Kyle, who was also participating in the Famine, finally broke down and bought a bowl of noodles twenty-five and a half hours in. I was on the verge of breaking down too; it would have been so easy to just go and buy something to eat. Somehow, I summoned enough willpower to resist the urge to eat. I wanted to do the Famine for real.

Kyle implored me to stay with him while he ate. So there I was, sitting in a loud, crowded food court where everyone sitting surrounding me was eating their lunches. “You want some?” Kyle asked. I inhaled deeply, the smells of Greek food and pad Thai wafting into my nostrils, and firmly said no. There were only four hours left and I figured that if I had made it this far, I could wait a little longer. My resolve wasn’t quite as strong the second time he offered his lunch to me. I took a drink of water and closed my eyes. How did people do this? Not eating for a day wasn’t killing me, but the feeling of hunger was really uncomfortable. Hunger was constantly on my mind and I felt tired and unable to focus. My heart was breaking for all the people in the world who had to suffer this way.

Today I learned that not eating when you have the choice to do so is really difficult, but not eating because you can’t is so much harder.

Click below for the recipe. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Strawberry Mango Salad & Artichoke Salad

Nothing sings of springtime like a fresh salad. Whether it is composed of mango and strawberry, coalesced with a few strands of orange zest, or crisp lettuce and artichoke hearts, light and fresh is the way to go. It’s been a long winter, but with today’s weather and this spring fruit salad, I’m starting to accept that spring is finally here. 

My mom and I went to visit her friend, Bronwyn, today. Bronwyn’s house is amazing. Unlike us, she actually spends time gardening and fixing up her lawn. The floral arrangement bearing several painted Easter eggs is a simple yet elegant example of Bronwyn’s green thumb. The person who owned the house last was an interior designer, which explains why the pattern on the tiles of the bathroom wall matches the tap and the sink. 

The fruit salad is as simple as it gets. There are no right or wrong answers; just chop up some of your favourite fruit, add some orange (or lemon, lime, or grapefruit) zest, and toss it all together. I used mango and strawberry, which are two of my favourite fruits. The bright red of the strawberries contrast quite nicely with the golden yellow mango.

The orange zest perfumes the other fruit and gives the salad some depth. Hinting at the summer to come, this salad is light and fresh.

To celebrate spring’s awakening, we had a simple salad of red-leaf lettuce topped with artichoke hearts, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices for dinner. There’s just something about any kind of salad that suggests springtime.

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

I hate it when people are late. I’m not talking about being fifteen minutes late to the movies—I’ll just go in without you, but don’t worry, I’ll save you a seat. When someone is so late that I have to cancel my plans afterwards, it aggravates me.  My whole day is off balance.

Being angry doesn’t help. I know that usually being late is not the intention of most people and that we’re only human and we forget things, but somehow I still feel annoyed. It’s slightly hypocritical, as I’m notorious for being late for school. Yup, I’m always the one who walks into science class ten minutes late. It’s one of my habits, but I’m working on it. 

So Friday wasn’t a “good” day for me (this one’s for you Jennifer, lover of lame jokes :D). I was in a bad mood and stuck at home with nothing (but homework) to do. And to top it all off, it was 3:30 and I was hungry. Feeding intervals at our house are actually quite irregular, but I usually try to wait for meals so I can eat with my family. (And I’m too lazy to fix myself something to eat). 

I opened the fridge and peered inside. Then I closed it and opened the freezer side. I opened the fridge again and hoped that real food might have magically appeared since the last time I’d looked inside. No such luck, so I considered the freezer again. Just as I was going to break down and cook the frozen store-bought dumplings, I saw the foil-wrapped package in the plastic Ziploc bag. Inside were the chocolate-chip bananas I’d saved the last time I baked a batch. I smiled. These muffins are one of my favourite comfort foods and comfort was definitely something I needed to get myself out of my mood. 

Click below for the recipe.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Everyone has those days when nothing seems to go right. For me, it starts in the morning when I wake up. I’m tired and sleepy, and even though I know I’m going to be late for school, I can’t seem to drag myself out of bed.

Today was one of those days. Sleeping at 2AM because of homework and procrastination is a practice I come by every now and then. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t all there during science class first period. Luckily, my class was watching a movie during second period English. I will admit that I occasionally take naps during in-class movies, but today, I had other things to do. I had a history test later and I hadn’t studied much the night before. As I flipped through my friend’s history textbook, the movie began to play. 

Suddenly, I caught a whiff of nail polish and turned to see the girl sitting behind me applying nail polish on her fingernails. I have asthma and the strong smell of the nail polish was interfering with my breathing. It felt like my throat was slowly closing up. Our school has a no-scent policy, so I found it quite irksome that she was using nail polish, but there was no point of arguing when the room was already saturated with the smell. I got up and quietly asked to leave the room.

This happens from time to time; people don’t usually put nail polish on at school, but every few weeks, someone sprays the hallway with a very liberal amount of Axe. Cue the gagging; Axe is almost as bad for my asthma as nail polish in an unventilated room is. The axe and the nail polish make me uncomfortable, but I just deal and leave the area.

What I hate is when people make light of not being able to breathe. They joked, “Next time I should just tell the teacher I can’t breathe and then I can skip the rest of the period.” It is rude and insensitive to make that kind of remark to someone who is in discomfort. They don’t understand what it’s like to not be able to breathe and I don’t expect them to until they experience it for themselves. However, to discredit my word as mere ploy to get out of class irritated me.

That wasn’t the end of my bad day. There are always the little things that accumulate over the day: a history test that I was unprepared for, the load of French homework that my teacher assigned, an incomplete science summative that is due soon. By the time the last bell rung, I was drained. I decided to skip working in the darkroom after school today as I had originally planned and just head home.

Unfortunately, I misplaced my house key and no one was home. And for some unknown reason, it is still zero degrees out even though it’s almost May. So I sat outside in the light rain, waiting for someone to come home and unlock the door. Just as I was about to give up waiting and go wait at my friend’s house, my younger brother Kyle came home.

As my cold hands warmed up and my fingers slowly uncurled, I sat on the barstool, contemplating the open fridge. There wasn’t much to eat, but I was starving. Kyle grabbed the loaf of bread from the fridge (which shouldn’t have been stored there as the fridge dries out the bread). My eyes fell on a block of bright orange cheddar cheese and I felt a flash of inspiration. Comfort food at its finest, a classic grilled ham and cheese sandwich can remedy anything, even my bad day.

Comfort food is called that for a reason: it really is soothing to bite into a perfectly crisp and cheesy grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It brings us back to the soft, hazy days of childhood when nothing and everything in the world mattered.

I made my grilled ham and cheese sandwich open-faced because I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner. Of course, Kyle can eat two whole sandwiches and still be hungry an hour later.

There isn’t a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich, only a guideline. You can use whichever cheese and whatever amount you like. I used sliced sharp cheddar cheese and black forest ham with whole wheat bread.
Preheat a pan (large enough to hold the sandwich) on medium heat. Butter one side of the bread. Flip it over and place a slice of cheese over top. Put a slice of ham on top of the cheese and another slice of cheese on top. Top with another slice of bread (buttered side up) and press down lightly to adhere. Or use only one slice of bread and leave it open-faced. 

Brown the sandwich for about 5 minutes on each side. Serve warm.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate Tart with Candied Cranberries

You know you're in love with chocolate when you’re sitting alone at the kitchen table eating a mini chocolate cranberry tart at midnight. The clock strikes twelve and the new day begins. The world is sleeping, but you’re awake, indulging in a tartlet so divine and rich that the world could end tomorrow (or rather, later that day), and your life would be complete.

I don’t normally eat so late at night, but I had to make an exception for this lovely chocolate tartlet.  The mini tart is the perfect one-serving size under normal circumstances, but a little too large for a midnight snack. I could almost feel my waistband expanding by just looking at the chocolate tartlet, but I didn’t care. I’ll eat half and save the rest for tomorrow, I thought naively.

My eyes closed as I bit into the mini chocolate cranberry tart. The tart shell, crisp and rich, was the perfect base to a creamy chocolate filling. Hiding underneath the deep chocolate filling were candied cranberries. The tartness of the cranberries hit my taste buds and cut through the richness of the filling; a perfect balance.

Eating only half was out of the question. 

Click below for the recipe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happiness Is... Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies.

Happiness is sunshine and blue skies after a long, bitterly cold winter. Happiness is wearing knee socks even though you don’t go to private school. Happiness is when a stranger holds the door open for you twice in a row even though you are walking ten feet behind him.

Happiness is a lot of things and included on the list is making shortbread cookies in culinary arts with my friend Suzy, who writes The Morning Joy. On a day when things are looking bleak and I’m feeling drained, unexpectedly baking something in cul-arts is a comforting surprise. Typical classes give me stress, but baking in cul-arts can take it away.

Today was one of those unbearably tiring days. School was almost over, but my day wasn’t; every other Wednesday afternoon, I volunteer and often don’t get home until nine or ten at night. At the mention of making shortbread cookies, I blinked wearily and turned away. But as I imagined a morsel of shortbread melting in my mouth, I changed my mind. 

Suzy, my other friend Minah, and I quickly whipped up a batch of shortbread dough, adding in some chocolate chips to replace the cocoa we’d taken out from the chocolate shortbread recipe. We decided to bake the shortbread in the shape of a cookie, for lack of effort in forming the traditional shortbread shapes.

For me, waiting is always the hardest part while preparing a baked dessert. Cheesecakes are the worst in that perspective. After making the crust and filling of the cheesecake, it needs to be baked. Then the cheesecake has to cool on the rack before chilling in the fridge for at least four hours. But I endure the wait because I don’t care for the taste of warm cheesecake.

The time I spent waiting for the shortbread to bake felt longer than the rest of the day combined. I had considered eating the dough raw; it didn’t have eggs in it and uncooked flour wasn’t going to kill me... But I’m glad I waited. The melt-in-your-mouth shortbread fulfilled my craving for something sweet, rich, and chocolate-y. 

Click below for the recipe.
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