Naughty & Nice = Something for Everyone!

I can’t take all the credit for this post – the Naughty and Nice concept comes from a good friend of mine, Kate over at My Sweet Pancreas. And while we do share a number of similiarities, like The Vampire Diaries and shoes, when it comes to food choices we couldn’t be further apart. She’s a diabetic devoted to clean eating and yoga, and I am…not. I would put bacon on anything I could. Which brings me to the ‘Naughty’ portion of this post.

Peanut Butter-Bacon truffles

Behold, the Peanut Butter-Bacon truffle.


Now before any purists out there get all in a tizzy, I’m well aware that this isn’t technically a truffle. However, because it is a peanut butter ball filled with bacon-y goodness that happens to be shaped like a truffle and dipped in Callebaut milk chocolate, I’m calling it like I see it. The recipe comes from an old Crisco holiday baking booklet that came to me in a pack of my mother’s cookbooks that my sister brought on Thanksgiving. Not being a huge fan of Crisco – it has its place, just not in candy-making – I repurposed it and made the inclusion of my favourite ingredient, bacon. Because everything’s better with bacon!




I’ve included a pic of the original recipe: I swapped out the Golden Crisco for unsalted butter and the chopped peanuts for crispy bacon pieces. Also, I tempered the chocolate and did away with the paraffin wax, not because it was easier but because we eat enough things that are fake and petroleum-based. And the ick factor was just too high…







In wanting to take advantage of the few days I had last week where I was virtually pain-free, I went on to create what I consider to be the exact opposite of this treat: raw ‘truffles’ using a blend of pureed dates and Cadbury’s Bourneville cocoa powder.




I’ve been itching to try this for awhile now, figuring what with the trend toward healthy eating I should think about adding something that wasn’t loaded down with butter or bacon into my treat repertoire. I’m not sure what took me so long – it was dead easy to do!

Using this recipe as a starting point, I ended up using a blend of prunes and dates for added texture and sweetness and then, in a move that was clearly taken from someone else’s playbook, I decided to throw in some ground flax seed to upp the nutrient factor. Who am I?

Here’s the final recipe:

Cocoa Date Raw Truffles – yield 1 dozen

12-15 dates
2 tbsp hot water

Chop dates. In heatproof dish, pour hot water over dates and microwave on high for one minute. Stir until soft and well-blended.

4 chopped prunes
1 tbsp ground flax seed
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Stir until smooth. Roll into one inch balls, then roll in more cocoa powder. Refrigerate until firm.


Whichever one you go with, whether you’re feeling naughty or nice, enjoy.

Time for 2013, and a Few Harsh Truths

I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing.

While I admire – and am a little jealous of – those who can pump out a post per day or more, I just can’t commit to it. I want to, but when I get to that Add New Post section and it’s staring back at me blankly, almost defiantly, I freeze up and forgot what brought me there in the first place. Once that nasty self-talk kicks in with it’s ‘you know, you’re really not interesting enough to be doing this’, it’s over. It’s all rather discouraging.

I’d like to say it’s because I was way too busy to blog, but that would be lying. In December, it was true: I was on my way to building what might have been a successful bake-on-demand business, offering to do the holiday baking for those who may have neither time nor inclination. I say ‘might have’ because although it was a moderate success for a soft launch, what happened afterward was less so. Pain is what happened. Over Christmas, I could barely lift a spoon let along beat anything with a spatula because my arm was hurting so badly. As it turns out, a nerve damage issue from my former desk job combined with carpal tunnel AND arthritis were all joining forces to tell me that this is not the path I’m supposed to be on. And don’t even get me started with the city zoning and regulations issues. It’s really a miracle that anyone operates a food business at all.

Which begs the question: what the hell do I do now?

In a way, the forced moratorium on daily baking made me have to do some serious thinking about my motivations. And despite all of my self assurances to the contrary, my obsessive baking was not a healthy tribute to my mother. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was more a desperate attempt to connect with her on some level now that she’s gone, and it was keeping me from accepting her death and moving forward. She had spent most of the day before the stroke took her away from us baking, and no amount of me re-creating that day through a variety of baked goods is going to bring her back.

Unfortunately, it took my best friend basically calling me out on it as well as the death of another loved one – my childhood best friend’s mother, who was like a second mother to me – to show me.

So now, I’m faced with the ugly task of rebuilding. For someone who places a large amount of her self worth in what she does for a living, you can imagine what six months of unemployment is doing to me. When I was baking, at least I felt like I was contributing something of value, building toward something bigger than myself. Sadly most of that value has been converted into inches on my waistline and it’s myself that is bigger, but that’s not the point I’m making. The point is, where do I go from here?

One consolation I have is that I’m about fifty pages away from finishing a complete rewrite of The Novel. I took all of the suggestions made to me from a literary agent who had showed some interest in the story, and changed the point of view from first to third person as well as shaved off a good twenty to thirty pages of unnecessary backstory, and am now on the verge of being able to consider re-submitting to other agents – that first one included. So I guess that’s one thing. But that’s not enough to base an entire future on.

I suppose I could start by changing my perspective. Normally, I am very much a glass is half empty kind of person. Perhaps if I could start looking at it from a more positive spin, like this is an opportunity to start a new chapter and try a whole new direction, I would be way better off both emotionally and physically. But as the late payment calls for bills I don’t have the money to pay at the moment, that might be easier said than done.

Anyone else find themselves in a similar situation? I take some comfort in knowing that I must not be alone in this.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Wait – how does that go again…would it smell as sweet?


If it were made of chocolate, it would.

Since I found some recipes online for chocolate clay – basically it’s made by adding 1/3 cup corn syrup to a pound of chocolate – I’ve become a little obsessed with making flowers. Well, roses mainly since so far that’s all I can do, but hey – it’s a start. I started with dark chocolate because its lower level of cocoa butter means it’s easier to work with. Those unstable little particles of fat are responsible for most of things that can go wrong with chocolate when you’re working with it. It’s also the reason you need to temper it in order to obtain that nice, glossy sheen. Unfortunately, because white chocolate is essentially cocoa butter, it took a bit longer to get the consistency right. But as they say, third time’s the charm.

If you haven’t yet given something like this a shot, you totally should. It’s completely easy and kind of fun – sort of like Playdoh for grown-ups.

Don’t Mean To Get All Political, But: Gay Marriage PSA, College Humor-style

I tend to keep my fingers off the keyboard when it comes to such hot-button topics as politics and religion. Not because I don’t have an opinion – trust me, I’ve got loads of ’em – but because as history would indicate I will likely type or do something that would get me into trouble. End up offending someone, making them angry, etc. And so, I abstain.

But this, this is begging to be shared!


It reminds me of the life I had before my husband, back when I worked in cosmetics and was literally surrounded by gay men every minute of every day. Do I miss it? Absolutely. It was well-coiffed bliss. But this video serves as a reminder of those days. And although it’s meant to be comedic, it does raise some legitimate points. They do know all of your weaknesses, and they would make the best husbands ever.

So straight dudes, do yourselves a favour – support equal marriage. Don’t make the gay men marry your girlfriends.

One Year Later

It’s been a year now that I’ve tried to live life without my mother. There are times when it feels like forever ago, but most of the time that feeling of pain and loss is still as fresh as the day she was gone. In a way I’m thankful that I’m no longer dreaming about her on a nightly basis, dreaming that she’s  still here and I was talking to her about something random only to wake up and remember that she wasn’t and the grief cycle starts all over again. But there are moments when I will find something so seemingly insignificant, like an old recipe in her handwriting, that will leave me feeling like I’d just been punched in the stomach and I collapse into tears. I’m not sure that’s normal – it is what it is.

For some people, I’m sure this must sound like a broken record, that it’s been a year so it’s time to ‘get on with things’. To those people I can only say, quite simply, I can’t. Everything has changed so utterly and completely, I’m not even sure what it is exactly that I’m supposed to get on with anymore.

While I don’t think it’s very healthy to continue to dwell on her passing, I feel like I’ve moved beyond that dark place now. Right now I’m just trying to determine my next moves. Losing Mom so abruptly had prompted some serious life questions that led to some major changes, ultimately for the better. I think, anyway – at least that’s what I hope.

I think I’ve said all I can at the moment about the subject, so I will leave you with the blog post I wrote last year when I was living a different life. It happened to be the day of her funeral.

Miss you, Mommy.

Adventures in Healthy Baking

Ironic that I am posting this on Halloween, the one day of the year when kids are usually permitted to eat candy with utter abandon. And I must admit, I do have mixed feelings about the term ‘healthy baking’. It implies that you’re doing something wrong when baking – and eating – homemade cookies, cakes and other treats. Perhaps it’s simply a byproduct of my general disdain for societal conformity, or maybe my tendency to disagree with what would constitute today’s cultural norms – because, really, what is normal? If it’s  something like Honey Boo-Boo or MTV’s Jersey Shore then thanks but no. I will have no part of that, thank you very much.

Well, that went off the rails rather quickly, didn’t it? That sociology major in me will still rear her obstinate head from time to time.

To get back on point, when it comes to food, I am usually of the opinion that one can enjoy everything in moderation – especially moderation. It’s an opinion that’s served me well up until recently, when as my body continues to betray me as it ages I have begun to notice that six months of almost daily baking (and, of course, quality assurance testing) is starting to takes its toll. The first sign was in the making of that video for the chocolate contest, and the chins. But when I went to slip into my favourite skinny jeans, the JBrands that act as a barometer for any weight gain as well as turn my ass into something that appears to have been sculpted by an Italian Renaissance master, I found it slightly more…challenging…than usual. Oh, I can still get into them all right – it hasn’t gotten that far yet – but it was a struggle not seen since the days of Eighties hair bands when acid wash reigned supreme: I had to employ the old lie-down-on-the-bed-take-a-deep-breath-then-zip trick. That was enough  to send me to the Internet in search of ways to cut extra calories and fat without sacrificing the flavour of my beloved baked goods. Another reason for this change of heart is not so vain or selfish: since my mother passed away last year, I’ve been doing more baking for my father whose sweet tooth I must have inherited. And while my sister stocks his freezer with practical, ultra-heart healthy fare like salmon loaves and low sodium soups, I have made it my mission to provide him with some of the sweeter things I know he enjoys. He’s 82 now, and while yes we would like to keep him around and as healthy as possible, the man has worked hard all his life. He deserves a treat every now and again. Which is where I had to set aside my own beliefs about moderation and provide him with goodies that are only half as indulgent as I’d usually make. And maybe even a little bit – dare I say – healthy.

It started with flour substitution. It’s something I had been doing for awhile, usually in breads where it can be compensated for with other flavours or the additional leavening powers of yeast. Whole wheatflour, I’ve noticed, has the tendency to make things far more dense and unpleasantly chewy when you substitute too much of it. After doing a bit more reading on the subject I decided to branch out with spelt flour, an ancient whole grain that behaves more like wheat than other alternatives yet contains about half the gluten content of regular all purpose flour. My first experiment, in the pumpkin muffins I mentioned in this post didn’t go so well, but a simple adjustment in technique yielded a much more positive result: a higher, fluffier rise as a result of a lighter hand. According to  the latest issue of Inspired Magazine, a free publication produced by Sobey’s grocery stores, the secret to getting a good rise lies in lightly mixing the wet and dry ingredients together until

just incorporated, and apparently with a wooden spoon. I’ve started using this technique in all my baking – not just muffins – and have noticed a difference. I used it in the muffins picture here as well as the individual sticky toffee puddings pictured just to the left. I baked these in portions for freezing, using greased muffin tins . After baking and cooling on a rack I spooned the toffee sauce into the empty muffin trays, put the puddings back in place then spooned a little more sauce over top. Apparently, as reported yesterday, my father is making his way through them and they are ‘very good’. From a man of few words, this is high praise indeed.

Another area of concern is the amount of sugar used in conventional baking. I usually replace the white sugar with brown or yellow sugar wherever I can, which may not nutritionally be that much better but I find it improves the texture and flavour. Apparently, my research tells me that you can cut the sugar content in baking recipes by anywhere between 1/4 to 2/3 of a cup depending on taste without sacrificing structure or flavour. It’s mostly used to aide the browning, shelf-life preservation and tenderizing – which explains why brown sugar makes things so soft and lovely – of the end result, as well its obvious flavour. However, any compensations for sugar can be made up for calorie-free with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. I’m a huge fan of mixed spice, myself, which is a combination of the two as well as ginger and cloves. Like Thanksgiving or Christmas in a jar. In cookies in particular, which are made up predominantly of sugar and butter, it can quite simple to cut the sugar content by at least 25 percent if you don’t mind a softer, less crispy brown result – which I absolutely don’t. I cut the sugar down to half in these chocolate-date pinwheels, which didn’t seem to affect them negatively at all. I find that dates are quite sweet on their own, so perhaps that’s why the sugar wasn’t missed as much.

The most important point I’m trying to make here is that healthy needn’t be all about denial and sacrifice. As long as you do your research into how any adjustments made will affect your product, you can make almost any baking into a healthy, wholesome treat. It’s all about ratios and proportions, which is usually the stuff of scientists or mathematicians – two areas I was never very good at. However, had my science or math classes taken a slightly different route to teaching and used baking or makeup examples as formulas, I could well have been the next Einstein.

Who knew science and math could be so delicious?

Fit for The King Praline Bars – Internet Famous, Twitter-Style

I swear, this is the last post you’re going to see on the contest, but this is a little exciting:

Here’s a photo of the head chocolatier from Purdy’s, the chocolate company that sponsored that little contest I’ve been bugging you about, with his version of my Fit for The King Praline that was just posted up on Twitter.

Below, I’ve included the original picture of my recipe after it was made for the video. Just to compare and contrast, you know?


He did a pretty good job, not that I’m surprised seeing as he’s a professional and all. Colour me impressed!

For more info on this Canadian chocolate company, here’s a link to their website and Facebook page. Oh – and if you’re looking for the recipe, it can be found here beneath the video itself, which you can feel free to ignore. Along with some snippets of my old makeup life, which I should probably delete since they’re no longer relevant. But nevertheless it’s part of who I am, so I guess it stays.

Update: Chocolate Contest

Update to my previous post: sadly, I did not win the recipe competition. However I did place third – of how many, I’m not entirely sure – and will be getting a basket of chocolate in recognition of my efforts. So, not too shabby for a first try.

Now normally I would allow something like this to completely deflate me and never allow me to put myself out like that again. The inside voice, that one that is usually so quick to jump in at these moments with an ‘I told you so’ or a ‘why bother trying when you know you can’t win’, has been strangely quiet this time. Oh, it’s still whispering, but what used to come through as if on loudspeaker has been reduced to little more than a whisper from the corner.

Could it be that the very act of trying something different, of taking a chance, was enough this time to keep that nasty little voice at bay? Is it really that simple, or have I just gotten lucky this time? I suspect it’s more of the latter, although the courage that comes from mere action may have had something to do with it as well. Because this time, rather than give up entirely, it’s made me want to seek out more opportunities to stretch my skills. Preferably not in a video format, but certainly with creating and submitting my own ideas for recipes.

So in that sense, perhaps I did win big after all.

More Shameless Self-Promotion: Of Chocolate and Savvy Food Apps

It’s been a busy week, kicking off with a rather uncharacteristic move for me. I made a recipe video, and actually put it up on YouTube. For real.

You see, I’m not typically one who puts myself out there. I much prefer to hide somewhere in the background making sarcastic comments and rude gestures, but generally preferring not to be a centre of attention. But in order to get anywhere, in terms of career networking and the like, society seems to favour the extrovert-types. That whole ‘squeakiest wheel gets the grease’ kind of mentality. That’s why blogging and Twitter are so appealing to me – they allow me to engage in a certain amount of extrovert-esque behaviour while hiding behind a carefully edited Internet presence. Trouble is, I’m not all that good at the editing part  which means it’s often pretty much what you see is what you get, and I’m even worse when it comes to the ass-kissing, which is the other method that society prefers. And then there’s that horrible habit I have of going off on tangents that bear little to no resemblance to the original topic at hand…

What was I talking about? Oh right, my video.

I didn’t just randomly decide to ‘challenge myself’ by making a video – I had a reason to do it. A contest held by Canadian chocolate company, Purdy’s Chocolates, that I found out about on Twitter is what compelled me; the grand prize up for grabs is a trip for two to The Chocolate Show in New York City. I thought to myself, what do I have to lose exactly? And since I just happened to weasel my way into a very casual position at a local chocolate shop (more on that later – still very new), it seemed rather fitting as a next step. All I needed to do was come up with a concept. That’s where daily baking and Food Gawker-stalking come in really handy – they serve as excellent sources for inspiration. The only thing I really knew for sure is that I wanted to do something using bacon, because I’m a huge fan of the chocolate and bacon combination. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one. I also wanted to do something that represents my love of 50s culture, rock n’ roll and Southern food. So, not too tall of an order, right?

And then it hit me: Elvis bars. Or, so to avoid any messy copyright issues with Graceland, Fit for The King bars. A deliriously delicious combination of those things Elvis held most dear: peanut butter, banana, and bacon. It was a flavour combination first introduced to me by a cupcake called the Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love, which is comprised of a banana cupcake topped with peanut butter buttercream and a slice of bacon. In short, it’s the best little piece of Memphis flavour north of the Mason-Dixon line. But I didn’t want to copy this or even make another cupcake version, I wanted to make it into a candy. A bit more research led me to  look at penuches and pralines, so I figured I would just combine the two concepts into one and make it a praline cut in squares. This reflects my own baking roots that started in my mother’s kitchen with the trusty Women’s Institute cookbook at my side – those ladies do love their bars. I also somehow managed to incorporate my own Anglo-Scottish heritage into the candy’s design: with its peanut butter praline base topped with a mix of chopped up peanut brittle, banana chips and candied bacon it resembles the popular tea-time treat, Millionaire’s Shortbread.

So I entered, and have made it to the finals. Not by sheer talent, mind you, but by virtue of being one of only three who actually entered. But hey – it’s a start, right? And although my recipe will ultimately be made and judged by their head chocolatier and a panel of judges at their offices in Vancouver, they are still offering the public a chance to vote on their favourites via their Facebook page. Which leads me – finally – to the purpose of writing all of this: please…VOTE FOR ME! Basically, I’ve never really been in a position to win anything before – possibly because I don’t tend to even put myself in the running – but  perhaps this could mark a turning point? If people seem to like my video or recipe, perhaps that might be enough to inspire the confidence to do more of both.

The YouTube link for the video is here, where you’ll find the recipe listed in the description. Feel free to share and comment, just please – not on my chins. I’m not sure whether it’s the camera angle, the camera itself, or the cumulative effect of doing nothing but baking up sweets or making chocolates for the past few months, but let’s just say that I’m not a fan of myself on camera. Cast your vote here before 9pm Pacific time on Sunday, October 21st

Oh, and seeing how it’s the weekend and all, you may want to check out my latest post for She’s So Savvy. It’s about the various food iPhone apps I use on an almost daily basis, whenever I’m looking for something to make or go eat somewhere new. You can read it here.


Ginger Spice is Everything Nice. This is what Fall is Made Of

To be clear, although she is my favourite Spice Girl, this post is not about Geri Halliwell. My devotion to her would require much more than a mere post to summarize, or even justify. No, this post is all about that spice that seems to act as the harbinger of cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers and evenings spent nestled in pink Snuggies sipping hot spiced cocoa. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, all I know is that once the cooler weather hit, all I wanted to do was break out the ginger and spices.

Tell me what you want, what you really really want— sorry, now I’m done.

It started with the macaron. One night, the first one where I had to turn the heat on in months, I was lying in bed thinking about baking. Sadly, yes, this is me most nights. But it’s often where I come up with some of my best ideas, so I’ve learned not to question and just go with it. On that particular night I wanted to make macarons, but this time with a decidedly autumnal flavour. That’s when it hit me – gingerbread macarons. Rather than troll through FoodGawker again – another bedtime ritual – I decided to make up my own recipe for it. The next morning found me pouring over my trusty Women’s Institute cookbooks n search of that perfect combination of spices to add in to my basic macaron batter. The winners were ginger, clove and mixed spice – one teaspoon of the former plus a half teaspoon each of the other two. I also replaced half of the granulated sugar with brown sugar in the macaron batter – I wanted to replace all of it, but because macarons can be so fussy I was reluctant to risk it. Brown sugar has a higher moisture content than granulated white, and in my admittedly limited experience moisture tends to mean death to a well-risen macaron shell.

The result was a lovely beige-hued macaron, nicely balanced in both flavour and rise (avec pied). As you can imagine, I was well pleased.

Then came the task of deciding what to use as filling. To further expand on the gingerbread theme, I went with another of my favourite fall flavours and made a molasses buttercream. Truthfully, I could’ve just eaten it straight from the bowl – and don’t judge, but maybe I did a little bit – it was so good. But this is coming from one who used to get in trouble as a child for trying to spoon molasses straight from the carton into my mouth whilst my mother was attempting to use it for baking. She kept saying it was for baking not eating, that I would make myself sick . But I never did. No idea why, but I just loved the stuff. And evidently, I still do, because it took everything in my power not to take a swig of the carton contents.

But I did lick the spoon. Willpower has its limits.

Another ubiquitous fall flavour I experimented with was pumpkin. Ginger is a major flavour component here, but where the experimenting came into play was with a relatively new concept for me. It’s something called ‘healthy baking’. Now, as one who advocates the use of butter, whipping cream and double cream, and lard where necessary, this is entirely foreign territory for me. Cutting fat and sugar? You may as well cut off your tongue since your taste buds won’t really notice either way…is how I used to look at things. But sadly, as one ages, one’s system can no longer handle the steady onslaught of fat and empty carbs that my favourite recipes tend to carry. And to be clear, when I say system, what I really mean is waistline. Someone has gained a little weight what with their non-stop baking the past few months.

My first attempt came after much research into alternative flours. Spelt flour, apparently, closely resembles regular flour but contains much lower levels of gluten. I thought that would be a good place to start because gluten is largely responsible for the texture of baked goods, and also I know a couple of people who have intolerances to it. And truthfully, I’m beginning to suspect that I may have an issue with the substance myself. But then again, it could also be the lack of willpower that is more of a problem than gluten.

Anyway, so I found a recipe for muffins using spelt flour. I then also baked the same recipe again using regular all purpose flour, because I was initially disappointed with the outcome and I wanted to see if it was just my imagination. For a second I thought that my standards were too high, or my memories of muffins unrealistic.

Here is the picture that will give you an idea as to why I might have been a little disappointed. And also why that feeling was justified, at least in my mind.

The muffin on the right is the re-bake. Take notice of its height and fluffy texture. Then take a look at the one on the left, how flat and dense it seems. Guess which one was baked with spelt flour? If you said the flatty on the left, you would be correct. It tasted fine, but the texture left much to be desired. And it was a good thing that the recipe yield was small at only a dozen muffins, because the next day you could almost use them as a weapon – they were hard as a rock.

But, that was only a first attempt. And I’m happy to report that I have used spelt flour since to far greater success, to the point were it’s becoming almost a staple of my baking repertoire. But that’s another post for another time, one that I will hopefully get to sooner rather than later.

What about you – any good healthy baking stories to share? How about epic failures? And what of fall baking? Can you believe it’s October 12th already? How many more questions can I ask here?

I’m off to grab some fuzzy slippers, slip into a cozy sweater and make myself some more coffee. Cocoa comes later, after noon. It’s all about willpower.