Well done, the Canadians! The Olympic Winter Games of 2010 have now closed, alas, but what a thrilling ride the people of Vancouver treated us to. I enjoyed every rollercoaster moment of it, although I will confess to being slightly mystified by several things I witnessed over the course of the games: the neckbeard bloke from the opening ceremonies, the pervasive Blades of Glory theme in the men’s ice skating costumes, and the ski jumping event which seemed to run the entire length and breadthof the games to name but a few. Let this not diminish in any way, shape or form, my heartfelt congratulations to the host country and all her athletes for their stellar performances!
Loud, raucous thanks in particular is extended to Mike Babcock, Sidney Crosby and the Boys of Winter, for that spectacular grand finale on the ice – that was one nailbiter of a showdown! So buoyed up by the gold medal winning performance by the Canadian men’s hockey team was I that I decided my next entry would simply have to have a Canadian aspect to it. So, all fired up with good intentions but painfully short on ideas, I ventured into the kitchen. What could I cook that would make a fitting tribute to the Homeland of the Hoser?
In the multicultural crazy quilt of a nation that is Canada, was there a single ingredient or foodstuff which could be considered quintessentially Canadian? Should I make frogs’ legs and frybread as a tribute to the Anishnaabe? (No, of course I wouldn’t REALLY consider crippling a knot of frogs – I told you I was casting wildly for inspiration!) Perhaps pierogies for those of Eastern European ancestry? Calzone for the Italian-Canadians? Salmon sushi could cover both the West Coast native tribes and the Japanese-Canadians. I toyed with the idea of poutine, but, whilst it’s a dish that growing in popularity, or notoriety, rather, it is not necessarily representative of all of Canada. (It’s also completely filthy, unhealthy and addictive, and that wasn’t the sort of flag I wanted to fly!) The more I thought about it, the more implausible and unlikely the potential dishes became. Could I interest monsieur in some joues de castor, braised and served with roast seasonal vegetables? No? How about a nice slice of moose liver pâté?
In the end, I determined that whatever my next new dish would be, it would have to be a pudding of some description. What better way, I reasoned, to symbolise the sweetness of the victory on ice than to prepare something sweet and decadent – maybe something made with maple syrup…eh? Freshly refocused, I dove into my cookbooks and clippings only to be thwarted again. Maple syrup pie? Too sweet. Nanaimo bars? I make a wicked nanaimo bar, tis true, but since I have made them many times before, that would invalidate the effort as a Resolution Result. On the verge of abandoning the idea completely, I had a brilliant idea. Why not select a recipe from my trove of Milk Calendars? What’s more Canadian than the Milk Calendar? (Toques, red and black lumberjack flannel, and Benton Fraser excluded, thank you kindly.)
For those of you whom the mere mention of the Milk Calendar doesn’t make you smile involuntarily, it is a calendar released by the Dairy Farmers of Canada each November, featuring recipes made with Canadian dairy. When I was a youngster, every household had one tacked up somewhere in the kitchen. Sure, there are some that might decry it as a shameless marketing ploy, artfully designed to lure the masses right down the cowpath, into the unthinking consumption of ever more milk. My older, jaded self is not unfamiliar with this sentiment, being sniffily disparaging of such mercenary, self-aggrandising tactics in this day and age, but it will permit an exception for the Milk Calendar, whilst strenuously denying that acknowledgement of a certain fondness for the aforementioned Dairy Propaganda is an open admission of abandonment of its principles.
Moving swiftly on! With the arrival of each November, an aura of restlessness would descend upon the Nin Homestead. The same question was on everybody’s lips. “When was the Calendar coming out?” Had we inadvertantly missed it? It wasn’t unheard of for some unscrupulous folk to brazenly steal the calendars from in between the pages of the newspapers stacked at the counter; maybe we’d had the ill luck to pick up a paper that had already been looted. What about that Sunday when all copies of the newspaper had sold out by the time I’d got to the shops? What if it had been included then and we’d missed out because I’d slept in? Tense times in Ninville, I assure you. More often than not, however, the Calendar did arrive safely, order was restored and there was great rejoicing in the kingdom. As I began the process of leaving the nest, increasingly finding myself away from home and calendarshot at that pivotal time of year, my father would buy extra newspapers in order to secure a copy for me because, while he loved me unquestioningly, he sure as hell wasn’t about to let me to go wandering off into the wilderness with any of HIS copies of the Calendar tucked under my wing. Wherever I was in the world, he’d ring me to let me know that my copy was in the post and to give me a blow-by-blow account of that year’s batch; the coming year would be judged upon the strengths or weaknesses of that year’s Milk Calendar recipes. “This looks like a good year, Nin,” he’d say. “You’re going to have to try July and November.” When the Calendars stopped arriving a few years ago, I was heartbroken. Irrationally, I felt that the loss of my connection with the Calendar and the rituals surrounding it somehow spelt the loss of my connection to Dad. Fortunately, he didn’t raise a perfect fool (only a slightly flawed one with daft bits), and I was quickly able to discover ways and means to perpetuate the ancestral traditions.
For gone are those dark days when one had to hunt down her Milk Calendars armed only with stone tools and cunning! These days, the calendar is distributed through newspapers, magazines, and participating dairies, and, if you’ve still managed to miss out, you can now go online and get one sent directly to you if you reside in Canada. For those of you living abroad, there’s always the option of browsing calendars past and present online as well; you won’t have a hardcopy calendar to tack up on your jelly cupboard door, but you’ll still have access to the wonderful, homey recipes, which are usually a doddle to make and are brilliant for families. The Milk people don’t ring me up with a précis of the year’s recipes, it must be said, but then again, I suspect that they’d be a bit partisan to offer up proper, constructive criticism. Hmmm. I wonder if they’d have an explanation for the consistently boring recipes on the month of my birth….
So, back to my choice! I found what I was looking for in the very first calendar I opened, a well-thumbed 2003 edition. I had to go through the rest of the collection, just to be sure, but I knew I’d come back to that first one. The small image of the stacked squares of white cake studded with cranberries practically leapt out at me and dragged me, protesting, into its lair. White Chocolate Blondies! Albino brownies with bright red eyes, the colours of the Canadian flag! It HAD to be the one! What can I say about these? They were, as expected, simple and quick to whip up, and they were tasty and more’ish. What they were not, however, were brownies. On the baked good spectrum, they definitely fell on the cake side. This is not a bad thing – they weren’t exceedingly rich, but they were just the perfect combination of sweetness, tartness, and nuttiness, which probably isn’t a bad metaphor for most Canadians. I had just been anticipating something a bit fudgier. So, if like me, you were hoping to bake up the white chocolate equivalent of the brownie, all squidgey and molten and buttery, I’m afraid that you will have to move along. These are not the droids you are looking for. On the other hand, if you’re in search of a nice, simple snacking cake, look no further.
Sent to the Saved File!
Cranberry and White Chocolate Blondies
(adapted from the 2003 edition of the Milk Calendar)
1/3 cup butter
4 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 cup cranberries (I used fresh ones, which bobbed to the cake’s surface as it baked. Use dried if you’d rather they sunk!)
1/2 cups nuts (pecans or macadamia, chopped)
1 oz white chocolate, melted (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 4. Lightly butter or line with greaseproof paper a 9×13 inch metal baking tin.
2. Melt the white chocolate with the butter in the manner of your own choosing. (You can either set the bowl containing the chocolate and butter over hot but not boiling water and stir until smooth, or you could microwave the bowl on a low power setting, stopping play frequently to stir the contents.) Allow the melted chocolate mixture to cool slightly.
3. In a separate, large bowl, whisk the sugar together with the eggs until foamy. Now whisk in the chocolate mixture and the vanilla essence. Stir the flour and salt into the eggy-choccy batter alternately with the milk, making 3 additions of the dry ingredients and 2 of the milk, stirring well after each addition. Add the cranberries and the nuts of your choice, if you’re using them, and stir to combine well.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and pop it into the oven for 25-35 minutes. There was a discrepancy of 10 minutes between the official baking time and the actual, and I’m not sure why – perhaps my oven was running a bit on the slow side. To stay on the SAFE side, set your timer to go off at 25 minutes and check for doneness with a wooden tester. If not done, increase the baking time in 5 minute increments until the cake tests clean.
5. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. When sufficiently cool, cut it into squares and drizzle the melted chocolate over top.