Before I begin – sincere apologies for the delay (again) in posting our news. In fact, I completed writing the blog more than a week ago, then failed miserably to find relevant photos – so to avoid further delays, I simply went with a couple of puppy photos of Ellie, and will endeavor to post more appropriate illustrations next time. (Note to self: Must remember to photograph the results of my baking for the recipes section.)
A mish mash of everyday life…
In these modern times, it’s not always easy to remember that different nations and cultures embrace different cultural and social norms and mechanisms. Aha! A very philosophical opening line, but I was reminded of this following my last blog when I posted a recipe that exclusively used ‘cups’ as the tool for measuring ingredients. So, with apologies to my European friends and colleagues, I will in future always include weights – ounces for my UK cooks and grams for the Continentals (and especially for Sonja in Switzerland).
On a similar topic, many years ago, after we’d moved to Canada and during a visit by a good friend from the UK – he was moved by the fact that certain expressions in common use in one country would generate frowns and shoulder-shrugs in another, which reminded me of my first visit to a Canadian supermarket looking for ‘dusters’. Yep, those typically yellow or orange squares of soft fabric with which you apply and buff furniture polish. A young assistant must have thought I was mental when I tried to provide a visual re-enactment of said chore. I came to learn that ‘dusters’ are actually ‘polishing cloths’ in Canada. Both remarkably logical descriptions for the same household object for which our friend borrowed a quote from George Bernard Shaw as ‘two countries divided by a common language’. There are any number of similarly mistranslated language oddities, but over the years I’ve come to learn that your brain eventually adapts and addresses your immediate audience – be it Canadian, UK or US, or a mixture of all three – in whatever word is appropriate.
We experienced similar translation experiences when we first moved to France – so much so that I invested in a very useful book entitled Everyday French Idioms– although occasionally it was far more hilarious to do a literal translation from one language to the other in order to watch the dawning of confused facial expressions. Where the Brits say ‘I have a frog in my throat’ – an inadvertent double entendre if ever there was one – the French say they have a ‘cat’ in their throat. ‘That’s the last straw’ becomes ‘It’s the end of the beans. The Brits ‘throw in the towel’, the French ‘throw in the sponge’. Learning a foreign language is full of such traps. Just when you think you can provide a literal translation for a common saying, you ‘n’en manqué jamais une’ – never fail to put your foot in it – for which the literal French translation uses the colloquial ‘une’ to mean ‘une bêtise’ – a blunder, something foolish. So, I’m definitely not going to ‘bêtise’ into the world of mispronunciations, which is whole other topic unto itself.
Okay, so endeth the educational chapter of this blog, although I’m sure some of our French-Canadian friends from Quebec (a virtual country within a country given Canada’s official bilingualism) could usefully add some of their own idiomatic funnies! Yes, please do, Doris!
Don’t make me laugh…
So, as those of you who’ve ever experienced cracked or broken ribs know – it’s not funny! We’d just returned from walking the dogs one morning – in the dark as it happens because Ellie decided she needed a pee at 6:00 a.m., before the clocks changed. Back indoors, we’d hung our coats in the closet and started to head upstairs, when I decided we should put a light on so no one tripped. Hah! As it happens, tripping up the stairs would have been the lesser of two evils because just as I turned back to the light switch Pip, our spaniel, dodged past my legs (dogs having better eyesight than ours in the dark), and I went flat on the floor, landing with my right arm across my rib cage. OUCH! Not my precise word at the time, but you’ll get the message. Of course, Peter goes into paramedic mode having not seen exactly what happened other than me suddenly landing on the floor, asking me questions that I couldn’t answer for several minutes because I’d had all the wind knocked out of me, while the dogs decided they’d lick me better with wet sloppy kisses. Aaargh!
As we all now know, the former strapping of injured ribs is now considered nonsensical, so you just have to grin and bear the agony that takes weeks to heal. Sleep is disturbed because any involuntary movement causes pain, which finally becomes an ache, and just when you think you’re healed, it still takes another two weeks because trying to return to normal mobility brings a reminder that the injury lingers. Crap! I’m in the final two weeks now, I hope, and can’t wait to get back on a pickleball court. As Peter will be the first to reveal, I’m not the most patient person in the world, prefer to power-walk everywhere, and don’t do anything at half speed, so it’s especially irksome when I’m forced into the discomfort zone of dawdling. I’m also well aware that continuing to bake while I’m less than ambulatory is not a good combination in terms of burning excess calories. Que sera!
After-dark encounters of the prickly kind…
So, some weeks ago, following their last outing before bedtime, the dogs ran indoors, as normal, but I noticed that puppy was taking a close interest in Pip’s mouth. Thinking that she might have picked up something obnoxious to eat (as she does), I called her over and discovered her muzzle was full of porcupine quills! Of course, unlike hedgehogs which curl into a ball as a defensive gesture, porcupines arch their backs so their quills stand up, and then detach and stick into any predator that makes contact. Having never seen a porcupine before, Pip’s curiosity got the better of her. Unfortunately, the ends of porcupine quills are covered in coarse barbs, so pulling them out requires pliers and a strong hand, to say nothing of a general anaesthetic. (We didn’t dare try to pin her down and do it ourselves, but have since spoken to dog owners who do it successfully.) As it happened at 10:30 p.m., we were thankful that our local vet has a 24-hour emergency line, and a couple of hours and several hundred dollars later, Pip returns, still a little groggy, but minus the quills (18 in total). Grrrr! The dogs don’t now go out after dark off leash, and we’re planning a fenced-off area that will be porcupine free for late evening forays.
Since then, and talking to other local dog owners, many of whom have suffered the same experience, some say that after a dog’s been quilled once it’ll never happen again, while others are far less complimentary about their dog’s ability to employ common sense. Unfortunately, porcupines are not strictly nocturnal, which we discovered during an mid-afternoon appointment at our vet clinic a couple of days ago (the completion of Ellie’s shots) when another dog owner brought in a German short-haired pointer with a face full of quills.
Do apostrophes still matter?
Well, returning to the ‘mish mash’ category for another brief educational moment, and as an apostrophile myself, my interest was piqued by a BBC news item under the heading: Do apostophes still matter? Apparently, a certain retired journalist, John Richards (96 years young), has recently admitted defeat in his war against bad grammar, having finally closed The Apostrophe Protection Society which he founded in 2001. Of course, he provides many examples of this ‘abused punctuation mark’, including what he describes as ‘the grocer’s apostrophe’ announcing ‘discounted apple’s and pear’s’. Or a store selling video’s. And, apparently, there’s been a heated debate in Ghana over apostrophe placement in referencing their Founder’s Day… Or Founders’ Day. Seemingly, this strikes at the heart of the country’s independence legacy and whether the founder(s) should be immortalized as singular or plural.
Ironically, an English professor and dean of literature at the University of Michigan in the good old US of A believes that policing the proper use of an apostrophe can have ‘a more harmful impact than simply improving grammar’. She says that people will use the judgement of poor grammar to stereotype others or win an argument, and that misplaced apostrophes define someone as not being smart. Well, please excuse the English for trying to uphold standards of grammar according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but language is fundamental to all lines of communication, even when it’s butchered in the name of texting. This same professor, who vociferously supports the ‘repurposing’ of punctuation, also applauds the use of exclamation marks (or even double exclamation marks) to add weight to a sentence, whereas supporters of correct grammatical style say it ‘should be used sparingly to be effective.’ In other words, it’s used as a ‘screamer’ to define strong emotion or urgency, with the perfect example being the difference between ‘Duck’ and ‘Duck!’. According to Twitter archives, the most prolific (mis)user of the exclamation mark is currently a certain POTUS. Point made!
So, to leave you with an item of grammar trivia…. Did you know that it was the striking Bolshevik printers of St. Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution? So maybe it’s time to start our own Apostrophe Revolution! (LOL)
You may have wondered why I’ve only ever posted ‘sweet’ treats in my blogged recipes, but there’s a good reason for this. With savoury appetizers and entrées, I tend to cook instinctively and rarely follow recipes to the letter, so any time someone asks, I can only provide a rough idea of the ingredients and the quantities that went into a particular dish. In fact, as I’m never one to waste anything edible, this often fuels the need to get creative. Some weeks ago we had friends to dinner for which I produced a Mexican buffet – which included several salad dishes with mixed vegetables: tomatoes, avocado, celery, sweet corn, jalapeño, sweet green and orange peppers, onion, as well as shredded lettuce, rice, and a few fresh herbs. Two days later, and I’d had enough of attacking the left-overs, so hauled out my trusty Vitamix, threw in everything from the various bowls, along with some cold mashed potato sitting in the fridge, plus a pint of veggie stock, and eureka – a very tasty veggie soup.
I should confess at this point that my tendency is always to over-prepare as I hate not being able to offer ‘seconds’ to dinner guests. But there’s also a method to this madness as some left-overs definitely improve with age (especially curries and chillies). Likewise, many a great soup has been created and enjoyed from a mish-mash of left-overs, including a few items that mightn’t always be considered recipe worthy. So, for me, unused food should be celebrated, rather than maligned and dumped in the compost bin.
In fact, this likely comes from my childhood recollection of sitting at the dinner table and being told to ‘remember that somewhere in the world, someone is starving’…. Which was an unnecessary admonishment as far as I was concerned because I loved eating and never left anything on my plate.
Anyway, returning to my use of left-overs, I recently found myself with a quantity of egg whites in the fridge, having used their yolks for delicious pots of chocolate (one of Peter’s favourite desserts). And as I wasn’t inspired by the thought of egg-white omelette, decided to look for ‘sweet’ recipes (that weren’t meringue). I already knew about angel food cake, but have learned through experience that a fatless sponge seems to go dry unless it’s eaten within a couple of days. Yep, we enjoy eating, but we’re not heathens that would consume a whole cake in two days, so the hunt began and I found a spectacular ‘white cake’, which I’m going to share.
CLASSIC WHITE CAKE
2¼ cups cake/pastry Flour (315g/10oz)
1 tablespoon baking powder (15g/½ oz)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter (113g/4oz)
1½ cups sugar (340g/12oz)*
4 large egg whites (keeping the yolks for ‘pots of chocolate’ dessert)
½ tablespoon pure vanilla
1¼ cups buttermilk** (160g/5½ oz/10fl.oz/250ml)
*Other than when I’m making meringues, this is the only time in baking that I use caster sugar – otherwise using organic brown for everything else. I did, in fact, use brown the first time I made this white cake as it was all I had in the pantry, but caster definitely produced a lighter texture..
**I rarely have buttermilk in the fridge when I need it, so usually make my own by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of milk and leaving it for 10 minutes to curdle – and it works perfectly every time. I also don’t buy whole milk, so usually mix skimmed with a little whipping cream to give it the necessary richness.
Preheat oven to 350ºF/175ºC. Butter and flour 2 x 7-inch (17.75 cm) round cake pans.
Sift dry ingredients into bowl.
In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add sugar, egg whites and vanilla and beat until well combined.
Turn mixer to low and add dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately (begin and end with the dry). Scrape down sides of the bowl at least twice during mixing.
Spoon batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before inverting the cakes onto a wire cooling rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the butter cream used to sandwich the two cakes. (The following ingredients are sufficient for two cakes. I freeze half the butter cream for future use.)
1 cup unsalted butter (225g/8oz)
2 cups icing/powdered sugar (100g/3½ oz)
¼ cup whole milk (2fl.oz/250ml) – I use whipping/light cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until very pale in colour. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides during the beating.
Turn mixer to low and add sugar. Mix until well combined then slowly add milk and vanilla.
Turn mixer to high and run for 10 minutes until the butter cream is very light and fluffy. (Unless you have a fairly powerful stand mixer, be careful you don’t overheat the motor)
When the cake is completely cool, use half this butter cream to sandwich together.
NB: The original recipe uses twice the quantities for the butter cream and uses it to sandwich and completely cover the cake – which is great for celebrations, but for everyday eating I just use it as a creamy centre.
Until next time… And, as I’m unlikely to write another blog until after the holidays – on behalf of Peter and myself, I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a fun, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.