Cooking Blues and Elders (Berries, that is)

Since I promised that I would make anoth­er blue­ber­ry dessert for MJ and the J-Man, I end­ed up mak­ing the last one of the sea­son. For next year (or if you can still get your hands on the last of this summer’s extra­or­di­nary crop), now you too can make my favourite old recipe for dessert, Blue­ber­ry Buck­le:

Blueberry Buckle

(From “Amer­i­can Clas­sics” cook­book, part of the Cook’s Mag­a­zine Series)

4 table­spoons unsalt­ed but­ter
3/4 cup (3 3/4 oz. ) unbleached all-pur­pose flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz.) plus 1 table­spoon sug­ar (I pre­fer organ­ic sug­ar, if you can find it. It has a clean­er flavour and crunchi­er tex­ture for the bit on top.)
1 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der
1/4 tea­spoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 cups blue­ber­ries, picked over and rinsed

Adjust oven rack to low­er-mid­dle posi­tion and heat oven to 350°. Put but­ter in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan (I get away with a 9-inch rec­tan­gu­lar pan) and place pan in the oven to melt the but­ter.

Mean­while, whisk the flour, 3/4 cup sug­ar, bak­ing pow­der, and salt togeth­er in a bowl. Add the milk and whisk until just incor­po­rat­ed into the dry ingre­di­ents.

When the but­ter has melt­ed, remove the pan from the oven. Pour the bat­ter into the pan with­out stir­ring it into the but­ter. Arrange the blue­ber­ries over the bat­ter. Sprin­kle with the remain­ing table­spoon of sug­ar.

Bake until the sur­face is gold­en brown and the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 40 or 50 min­utes. Serve warm, with vanil­la ice cream, if you like (we’ve had it with noth­ing added plen­ty of times).

This is so ridicu­lous­ly easy a recipe, that you can do it on a whim. I made it at least 4 times this sum­mer, and look for­ward to mak­ing it again sev­er­al times next sum­mer. Who said a baked fruit dessert has to take much time or effort?

Other berries…

The oth­er night, we took a bag of Elder­ber­ries home from Granville Mar­ket. Louis, the Mush­room Guru, who we fre­quent­ly chat with and get advice about what’s in sea­son, what’s grow­ing, how to pre­pare things, etc. had them and told us what to do. We boiled them down with a lit­tle water, sug­ar, and apple slices (for the pectin), fil­tered what it reduced to through some cheese­cloth, and we got a thick, pur­ple syrup. Here are a few pho­tos of the process:
Washing and Draining Elderberries

Wash­ing and Drain­ing Elder­ber­ries

Cooking with Water, Sugar, and 1 Apple (sliced)

Cook­ing with Water, Sug­ar, and 1 Apple (sliced)

The Final Product

The Final Prod­uct

Pam tried some of this final cup or so of syrup on vanil­la ice cream tonight and said it tast­ed a lot like blue­ber­ries. I’m going to try it in sparkling water to see if it makes good ‘Elder­ber­ry Soda’. No, we have no plans of mak­ing Elder­ber­ry Wine, but we’ve cer­tain­ly heard about that very old-fash­ioned potent potable.

Blueberry Custard Pie with Ginger Nut Crumb Crust

I think I’ve prob­a­bly men­tioned at some point or oth­er that while I like to cook (a lot!), the one kind of food that I rarely make is dessert. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of sev­er­al rea­sons; I don’t have a par­tic­u­lar sweet tooth, and in fact, usu­al­ly crave salty, crunchy things (My weak­ness is crunchy, salty, melt­ed cheesy things, like nachos, piz­za or raclette). In a fine restau­rant, you’ll often see me order­ing the cheese plate for dessert. I also don’t have a lot of faith in my abil­i­ty to get the exact mea­sure­ments that cake bak­ing requires (I tend to work on esti­mates, a dash of this, a splash of that, a hand­ful of the oth­er…). Final­ly, my moth­er admit­ted that she could nev­er bake a pie. For all of us in our fam­i­ly, pie-mak­ing was a black art, a skill that my moth­er had nev­er been able to gain, being a Euro­pean immi­grant from a place where they made strudel, tortes and palatschinken, but rarely tarts and nev­er pies. Since I learned most of my ear­ly cook­ing from her, I also lacked the abil­i­ty to make a pie.
So tonight, at the end of the sum­mer, I decid­ed that instead of the usu­al way that I’ve been deal­ing with the abun­dance blue­ber­ries this sum­mer, due to the area’s bumper crop, I would throw togeth­er a lit­tle orig­i­nal dessert cre­ation, which I’m going to call: Blue­ber­ry Cus­tard Pie with Gin­ger Nut Crumb Crust. It’s dead easy, and if you also have some of those blue­ber­ries (or straw­ber­ries, bananas or oth­er fruit that goes well with cus­tard), this might be a good way to use them.

Blueberry Custard Pie with Ginger Nut Crumb Crust

For the crust:
1 package/roll of McVitie’s Gin­ger Nuts (their ver­sion of Gin­ger Snaps)
3 table­spoons unsalt­ed but­ter, chilled and cut into small pieces

For the fill­ing:
3 table­spoons Bird’s Cus­tard Pow­der
3 table­spoons sug­ar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 cups fresh blue­ber­ries

Instruc­tions:
Pre­heat the oven to 350° . Crush the cook­ies in a food proces­sor (or put them in a bag and hit them with ham­mer, if you haven’t got one).  After most of the big­ger pieces have got­ten bro­ken down (about 10–12 puls­es), add the but­ter, and process for anoth­er 15 sec­onds or so. But­ter a pie plate and dump the crumbs onto it. Press it down on all sides so that it’s even. Bake in the oven for about 15–20 min­utes, but be care­ful not to burn the crumbs.Let cool.

Make the cus­tard: Put sug­ar and cus­tard mix in a pan, and slow­ly wisk in milk and water. Bring to a full boil while stir­ring near­ly con­tin­u­ous­ly (cus­tard will thick­en as you cook it. This is essen­tial­ly the recipe from the side of the can.). Let cool, cov­ered, to just over room tem­per­a­ture.

Pour the cus­tard over the crust, and top with the fruit. Serve after chilled. Resist the urge to eat it right away or the cus­tard won’t let you cut nice neat slices. Which may or may not mat­ter to you.
The Finished (and partially devoured) Pie

The Fin­ished (and par­tial­ly devoured) Pie

This is about as home­ly and ready-made as I ever get (Cus­tard from a mix!? Cook­ie crumb crust!?) and has a 1950s-Eng­lish-house­hold feel to it (not sur­pris­ing, giv­en that 2 of the ingre­di­ents in it are British). How­ev­er, I have to admit that it does taste awful­ly good, since the molasses and but­ter in the crust taste a bit like tof­fee, and the cus­tard and blue­ber­ries go well togeth­er. While I don’t plan on mak­ing it for com­pa­ny, it is prob­a­bly going to show up on the din­ner table next sum­mer, espe­cial­ly if we are get­ting as good a blue­ber­ry crop as this year’s.

The Pie, along with some of the ingredients

The Pie, along with some of the ingre­di­ents

Cold Season and Another Try with FontKit

I haven’t had a cold in quite a while, so the one I have now feels par­tic­u­lar­ly annoy­ing. It’s not as if I’ve for­got­ten what a cold is like, but I think you can get used to them, when you get them more often (and I’m sure I did suf­fer from fre­quent colds- near­ly every few months or so when we lived in Boston). It’s a rainy day, and this is Cold: Day 2 ( which means, run­ny nose, sneezes and a lit­tle less ener­gy), Cold: Day 2 is always eas­i­er for me than Cold: Day 1 (sore throat, run­ny nose, feel­ing like crap). Hope­ful­ly, this cold will progress at the usu­al rate, or maybe even faster.

It’s Labour Day week­end, and although I do have a con­tract I’m work­ing on, I do have the lux­u­ry of not hav­ing to work very much this 3-day week­end. This hol­i­day falls on the last week­end of sum­mer and ush­ers in School, Work, and gen­er­al ‘Lets-Get-Down-To-It’ sort of things that we asso­ciate with the Fall sea­son. We’ve had a spec­tac­u­lar­ly sun­ny sum­mer, and it real­ly was extra­or­di­nary, with months and months of sun­shine, sun­shine and more sun­shine. That was unfor­tu­nate for those peo­ple who had to deal with wild­fires to the East of us, but for those of us in the city or near the water, July and August have been a rarely inter­rupt­ed suc­ces­sion of one beau­ti­ful day after anoth­er. Does this mean we are in for some weath­er come­up­pance?  Will we see a Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary mon­soon, or worse, lots of snow, like last year? Time will tell, I sup­pose. What I can say for sure is that for the first time in ages, the rain that we have (and there has been a lit­tle of it), is falling on a week­end. Rainy week­ends hold their own charm for me; you don’t have to feel guilty about indoor pur­suits like movies, TV, blog­ging, lis­ten­ing to iTunes or even clean­ing up the place. I’m not miss­ing any pre­cious hours of vit­a­min D har­vest, and it can be nice to be cozy, wrapped in a blan­ket, snooz­ing through some of those snif­fles.

The end of the Sum­mer real­ly began a cou­ple of weeks ago when Pam and I once again went to the PNE, which is in its last week­end right now. While we missed Dal Richards, (Canada’s answer to Guy Lom­bar­do and Glen Miller and a liv­ing leg­end, still per­form­ing well into his 90’s), we did make it to see many of the ani­mals (and on Open­ing Day, there are many of them):

Cow and Handler

I loved how this pic­ture came out

The Open­ing Day crowds, brought out by the per­fect weath­er were large:
Crowds

Crowds

We chat­ted with an old friend at the Home Improve­ment Pavil­ion, ate some of those famous lit­tle donuts:
Mmm Donuts!

Mmm Donuts!

David Eats the Donuts

They were Hot and Deli­cious

and Pam got a bar­gain of 4 ears of roast­ed corn for the price of 1 (the line was so long, they were get­ting behind and she got a plate of not-quite-good-enough-for-1-serv­ing ears):
Pam's Corn

Pam’s Corn

We also went to the ‘Mar­ket­place’ where you see all of those demon­stra­tions of every­thing from Sham­mies to Blenders and end­ed up get­ting a Smart Liv­ing Steam Mop. We’ve since put it through it’s paces on our car­pets, wood and tile at home and while it does not per­form mir­a­cles, it does work pret­ty well, and we hope it will help us keep the place a lit­tle clean­er. We still do need new car­pet, but that will hope­ful­ly come in the next few months or so.

So, with the sea­son now clear­ly com­ing to an end, it’s time to return my atten­tion back to this blog, which I’ve been giv­ing a bit less atten­tion this sum­mer. With that, I’m try­ing to once again look at the new Font tech­nol­o­gy that will be com­ing soon to a web page on your screen…

Squishy Fonts?

I’ve tried some dif­fer­ent Type­kit fonts, and it seems as if the body text is always look­ing a bit squished. I’m con­vinced it’s not the fonts them­selves, but the met­rics I’ve spec­i­fied on the orig­i­nal Geor­gia font (which is what old­er browsers see when they view my pages). I’ll keep at it, but for ref­er­ence, here are the fonts as they appear on the Type­Kit Edi­tor page:

typekit_screenshot

Click to see the full-size, which clear­ly shows how the fonts should look.

As you can see, the new font, Luxi (Sans and Serif) are not sup­posed to be that squishy, so I’ll have to work on the orig­i­nal CSS (and do so with­out ruin­ing the look of the page for old­er browsers. Back­ward com­pat­i­bil­i­ty with­out mess­ing up the new fonts is going to be one of the chal­lenges for us using these new fonts, I guess.

Helen Back (As In, I've Been To)

I’m a lit­tle bleary-eyed, but I am here, awake, and still able to blog. I believe that I’ve exor­cized all of the demons (or dae­mons for the UNIX folks out there) that were putting in the SPAM in my posts and RSS feeds. I did locate code in my xmlrpc.php file that had a graph­ic of a spi­der (in ascii — how old school!) and then a bunch of what looked like Russ­ian. It had every­thing but ‘From Rus­sia with Love’ in it. I didn’t keep it around long enough to fig­ure exact­ly what it was doing, but after sev­er­al tries at clean­ing out, I inevitably had to blow away my Word­Press install and rein­stall from fresh files. After all of that, rein­stalling and recon­fig­ur­ing plu­g­ins, re-enter­ing and updat­ing pass­words, and ping­ing servers,  I final­ly appear to be back in busi­ness, and most of what I had is back (save a few plu­g­ins and oth­er niceties).

So, by way of a test, here’s a video I took with the Flip Cam­era of our sec­ond vis­it to the Night Mar­ket in Rich­mond last night. This evening I had Bánh mì (the incom­pa­ra­ble Viet­namese sand­wich­es of ham, paté and crisp veg­eta­bles on crunchy French style baguettes) and Tai­wanese deep-fried squid which was absolute­ly fan­tas­tic. Pam had a Green Papaya Sal­ad with shred­ded beef jerky and a pip­ing hot waf­fle filled with red bean paste. Too bad the video can’t be smelled or tast­ed.

This is also a first attempt at using the quick and dirty Flip­Share soft­ware to make a movie from my short clips, and despite the rather ugly open­ing titles, I think it actu­al­ly does a pret­ty good job.  It’s cer­tain­ly faster than iMovie, but then again, I didn’t do much but trim a few of the clips. Let’s hear it for raw video, free of spam!

Summer in the City

It’s been a while since I’ve writ­ten any­thing, main­ly because I always feel the need to take a lit­tle time off in the sum­mer, par­tic­u­lar­ly since this sum­mer weath­er has been so spec­tac­u­lar­ly good. True, it has been a lit­tle warm, and even on some days, down­right hot. Still, that hasn’t kept us from get­ting out and enjoy­ing the city, vis­it­ing with friends, tak­ing long walks along False Creek, and even a few out­ings with the car.

An Intimate Evening with Hummingbird604 and Some Exotic Potent Potables

It was one of those hot nights in Down­town Van­cou­ver when we went out one of the evenings a cou­ple of weeks ago. Rather than try and escape the heat (as any sane per­son would do), we embraced it. We climbed the stair­case to the third floor of The Net­work Hub, one of the shared office space and social incu­ba­tors in town on West Hast­ings and Richards, a cou­ple of blocks away from Water­front Sta­tion. Hummingbird604 (AKA Raul to those who know him), host­ed a small group of friends and blog­gers to try out some inter­est­ing new bev­er­ages from Chi­na. When we arrived, we were greet­ed by Christy Nguyen and Min­na Van of Urban­bel­la Mar­ket­ing Group. To go with the liq­uids, they had already begun to put out some Chi­nese food (which was help­ful to see how the liq­uids might go with dif­fer­ent dish­es).

The 15 or so of us dug in and chat­ted as we were try­ing to keep cool. I was hap­py to see plen­ty of friends, includ­ing Gus (and Russ), Tanya (with her new fiancé, Bar­ry), Degan, Eri­ca and John.

So what were we try­ing? There were three dif­fer­ent items. First, there was a red wine, a saki (or rice wine) and a whiskey, which we could try straight up as well as a mix­er in a sort of lemon­ade (which was per­fect for a hot night). I opt­ed imme­di­ate­ly for the most unusu­al (at least for me) thing to try first: the whiskey, straight up from a shot glass. This is not because I want­ed to get drunk fast, but because I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to liquor, and love Sin­gle-malt Scotch. I was also intrigued, because this whiskey , called Chu Yeh Ching Chiew, was, as an accom­pa­ny­ing infor­ma­tion card put it:

…a spe­cial ancient liquor made from tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese herbal recipe. It has (a) trans­par­ent gold­en and slight­ly green colour, and intense flo­ral herbal aro­mas of dried apri­cot. It’s off dry with a hint of anise and packs a lengthy fin­ish.

What this infor­ma­tion does not include (and which the name and pic­tures on the bot­tle do), is that this is alco­hol fer­ment­ed from bam­boo shoots. I tried it and was impressed. To me, it had the strength of an Irish Whiskey, but the fin­ish was exot­ic; with a bit of gin­seng, and per­haps anoth­er spice. Here’s what the bot­tle looked like:

 Bamboo Whiskey from China. Photo courtesy of Hummingbird604

Bam­boo Whiskey from Chi­na. Pho­to cour­tesy of Hummingbird604

Here’s my own pho­to of the bot­tle:

My own photo of the same bottle

My own pho­to of the same bot­tle

The com­pa­ny who pro­vid­ed it is Hi-Bridge Con­sult­ing, although as I men­tioned, Urban Bel­la was the Pub­lic Rela­tions firm who arranged for the tast­ing. I have to say that this prod­uct, with some repack­ag­ing, and per­haps a new, Eng­lish name, could do extreme­ly well. They also offered it in a lemon­ade mix­er, which wasn’t as inter­est­ing (but did prove that it could be a fine mix­er), but I have to say that straight up, it is a very impres­sive drink. I pro­pose that they call it, Bam­boo Mist, and put it in a dis­tinc­tive, frost­ed bot­tle with bam­boo brush style let­ter­ing on the label (and keep the bam­boo leaf art as well). Mar­ket it to upscale liquor stores and put it in the sec­tion that has oth­er drinks strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with a coun­try (like Jame­son Whiskey, Aqua­vit, Midori or per­haps Sabra). I real­ize that some of those are liqueurs, but hope­ful­ly you can see where I’m going with this. In addi­tion, there’s the whole sus­tain­abil­i­ty angle, since bam­boo is one of the world’s most sus­tain­able nat­ur­al resources (it grows in a vari­ety of places like a weed). Many peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca have floors and fur­ni­ture made of bam­boo. It makes excel­lent cut­ting boards. If you don’t use a lot of nasty chem­i­cals, it also can pro­duce won­der­ful, earth-friend­ly and silky fab­ric. One of my all-time-favourite T-shirts is a long-sleeved green­ish cocoa one that feels an awful lot like silk. It is also wash­able and wicks per­spi­ra­tion well. To have a whisky from the same mate­r­i­al seems a nat­ur­al for a mar­ket­ing cam­paign that not only plays off the exot­ic sound of liquor from ancient Chi­nese bam­boo groves, but also of a whisky that ecol­o­gy-mind­ed folks can love as well. Are you lis­ten­ing, Hi-Bridge?

There was also a less impres­sive Sake (Sake from Chi­na? Well, OK) which did have a strange, thick, almost choco­late taste and con­sis­ten­cy, and an extreme­ly undis­tin­guished Caber­net Sauvi­gnon (sor­ry), but the Chu Yeh Ching Chiew (although the name doesn’t exact­ly trip off the tongue for those who don’t speak Chi­nese) made the evening, which in addi­tion to friends, imbib­ing and talk, also includ­ed some appro­pri­ate Chi­nese food to nib­ble on.

We All got together for a group shot near the end of the evening. Photo courtesy of Hummingbird604

We all got togeth­er for a group shot near the end of the evening. Pho­to cour­tesy of Hummingbird604
Another Evening

As I men­tioned, Pam and I have been tak­ing lots of walks after din­ner (main­ly to walk off the meal — we have been eat­ing so well late­ly!) One time we actu­al­ly drove some­where, how­ev­er, was a trip down to Rich­mond for the famous Night Mar­ket. It’s an open air mar­ket in an indus­tri­al park, far from every­where, but you feel as if you’ve gone fur­ther. Besides the booths of every­thing from socks from Korea and iPod/iPhone acces­sories from Chi­na, there are the food booths. Oh. My. I real­ly do love street food, and this was no excep­tion. In addi­tion to some fan­tas­tic squid, cooked up on the flames right in front of us:

Squid! Yum!

Squid! Yum!

I also got a ridicu­lous­ly fun (and sil­ly) spi­ral of a fried pota­to, driz­zled with a hot and sweet chili sauce. Tru­ly a won­der­ful blend of ‘carny’ food and Thai-style spices. As you can see, I was grin­ning like a kid. I think I’m real­ly get­ting psy­ched for our trip to South­east Asia that we’re just start­ing to plan for next year:

Me at the Night Market

Me at the Night Mar­ket