Halloween Hand Pies

“Normal is an illusion.  What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”   –Morticia Addams.

There are “normal” hand pies, and then there are my Halloween hand pies.  I’m not a huge Halloween person, actually.  Out of all of the holidays, it’s one of my least favourite.  Of course, there are elements of Halloween that I love – the earthy magic, the subtle eeriness, black cats and classy black candles paired with winter-white pumpkins, carving Jack O’Lanterns with my kids, the sense that the veil between this world and the next has been lifted for just one enchanted evening – but I try to carry this magic with me throughout the whole year, not just on Halloween.  What I don’t like is that here in the US the holiday has been distorted and come to symbolize something dark, morbid and evil.  It’s used as an excuse to be tastelessly gory with violent images decorating houses and bloody costumes, or it’s a reason for people to simply act ridiculous.  I don’t want to sound old-fashioned here but, to me, Halloween is deeper than just a child’s holiday.  It means Samhain bonfires and forest magic; harvest celebrations with apples, pumpkin and corn; the turning of the seasons; light to dark; a night to feel closer to family and friends who have passed on; and for the little ones, trick or treating!  (Little ones only!)  In my opinion, the guts and gore take away from the etherial mystique that surrounds Halloween, and they’re anything but classy. Continue reading “Halloween Hand Pies”

Cinnamon-Sugar Jack O’Lanterns

Yesterday my husband and I made a little bet.  He said it couldn’t possibly snow this early in the season. It’s not even Halloween yet!

I said, “Anything’s possible.”

I won.

It felt more like December than mid-October, with the snow falling in giant flakes outside the kitchen window, and there’s nothing I love to do more when it’s snowing outside in December than to bake holiday cookies.  So I queued up my winter playlist (which includes a few Christmas songs for good measure) and set about baking these fun little Halloween treats. And that’s how I happened to be carving Jack O’Lantens while listening to Christmas music yesterday.

Continue reading “Cinnamon-Sugar Jack O’Lanterns”

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake

I call this an old-fashioned cake because anything cooked in a bundt pan feels old-school and vintage to me, but I was surprised the read, recently, that the modern rendition of the bundt pan has only been around since the 1950’s.  Of course, the traditional, tube-shaped cake, called Kugelhopf, that inspired its creation has been around for ages, originating in Eastern Europe, but it wasn’t until the 50’s that the design was brought to the US and the first bundt pan was cast by the founder of the Nordic Ware company in Minnesota. Continue reading “Old-Fashioned Apple Cake”

Zucchini pain d’épices

Pain d’épices is a traditional French quick bread, rich with honey and warm spices. It’s often served around the holidays but, since it bears such a noticeable resemblance to American banana bread and zucchini bread, I love to serve a variation of it in late summer when the garden is overflowing with zucchini. Continue reading “Zucchini pain d’épices”

Lavender Gelato

There are places in this world that seem to radiate a magic not found elsewhere. It’s not, at first, apparent, but is perceptible as something of an electric hum. A sparkle of vivacity, a reverberation like the resonance of a drum.  New Mexico is one of these places.  What looks, to one just passing through, like desert – harsh and unforgiving – in fact, hides a treasure trove of secrets found only if you take the time to explore the region a little more deeply. There’s an energy here and it manifests in the food they produce, in the soil, laced with minerals and metals, in the water, so scarce in places, and in the terroir.  I can’t think of any place in the world that is quite like New Mexico, except for just one. Provence. Continue reading “Lavender Gelato”

Vanilla Raspberry Cake

This past Monday was my birthday.  I always bake my own birthday cake, and this year I took the occasion to make my favourite – a vanilla butter cake with the most luscious salted, brown butter icing. Not that we should ever need an excuse to bake a cake, especially this one, but if we do, a birthday is a pretty good one.  I love that this is a small, single layer cake, perfect for serving 6 – 8 people, with no leftovers.  And though it’s small, it’s decadent in its simplicity.   The crumb is moist and airy, but the real treat is pouring over the brown butter glaze in thick ribbons, flecked with vanilla beans and sea salt. Continue reading “Vanilla Raspberry Cake”

Crêpes with Strawberries and Cream

Sundays.  I spend the whole day in the kitchen – no time constraints, unhurried, set apart from the pressures of the work week – piecing together whatever we might have been craving in the days prior.  There’s often a pot of pinto beans simmering on the stove for my husband who grew up eating them with every meal.  I make a big batch that he can dip into during the week.  Meat is braising slowly in the oven with tomatoes and red wine, thyme and bacon. Continue reading “Crêpes with Strawberries and Cream”

Chocola’Tita

Have you ever watched a film or read a book that spoke so deeply to you (good or bad) that you found yourself thinking about it months, even years, later? When the opening scene of a movie shows a woman giving birth on the kitchen table while the cook frantically tries to collect all the amniotic fluid in pots so that it can be dried and the remaining salt used to season the food, you know it’s going to be one of those movies. Like Water for Chocolate came out in 1992 but I only just watched the whole movie a few years ago.  To be honest, after the first scene I turn it off, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I made myself watch the entire thing, and I’m so glad I did, though I sill relive the scenes in my mind. Continue reading “Chocola’Tita”

Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Buttercream

For her tenth birthday this year, Eva asked for chocolate cupcakes with green frosting. She also asked for balayage highlights, a new purse and some tasteful pieces of jewelry, so what I thought she meant regarding the cupcakes was a very sophisticated dark chocolate cake with swirls of mint buttercream.  What she actually meant were monster cupcakes with green icing hair, googly eyes and sprinkles.  We compromised.  I made the chocolate cupcakes with mint swirls and she decorated hers with monster eyes and sprinkles.  Ten is like that.  You get to be both almost grown-up and still a child at the same time.  It’s good to be ten. Continue reading “Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Buttercream”

Lemon Meringues with Grand Marnier

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m obsessed with everything lemon + meringue.  Everything except lemon meringue pie.  It’s the texture of a partially cooked meringue that tends to weep sticky tears over a much too sweet custard, and that egg-y smell that tends to come with it.  My approach to making a lemon meringue pie is to cook everything separately, including the meringue, in the form of meringue cookies.  These can then be carefully arranged on top just before serving – no weeping or worrying that they are uncooked.  If I don’t have time, or patience, to make a full-blown lemon meringue pie, I make these instead.  Big, pillowy, delicate meringue cookies, flavoured with lemon zest and a splash of Grand Marnier. Continue reading “Lemon Meringues with Grand Marnier”