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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eunice in the Springtime


Eunice says, "Life isn't worth living."

Eunice says, "Every day is a gift."

Eunice says, "To live is to suffer."

Eunice says, "There is joy and beauty in everything."


In short, Eunice doesn't have a clue. She shifts like sand dunes in a high wind. Her moods are as firm and long-lasting as an ice cube in a sauna. Up and down, left and right. Follow Eunice as she tries to make sense out of—out of life? Forget it! Out of HER life" Not a chance! Out of the way the world is going? All she can do is rant.


Rant, Eunice. No one is listening anyway. Rant away. Rant, don't rant. The world will be the same. Save yourself the energy.


Withdraw. Read. Don't go out. OUT is where decisions have to be made. OUT is where you will have to decide what is right and what is wrong. OUT is where economic necessity meets social injustice. OUT is where us and them are always separate. OUT is where the twain shall never meet.


So that leaves Eunice up a creek without a paddle. She could walk home, I suppose, through the cold rocky creek. She'd ruin her shoes. Could she do it barefoot? Not bloomin' likely. Hurt her feet, she would, and not be able to go more than 20 yards before she'd give up. Poor Eunice.


Is there anything up this creek that will please her? Look around, Eunice. The leaves have tinged those black branches with the palest yellow-green mist. That's what happens this time of year, and Eunice does like that.


What else? Off in the woods she hears a cardinal doing his territorial call: this is MINE and only mine and don't come near, you other males, or I'll peck your eyes out. It sounds more friendly than that when Eunice filters it through her human ears, but she knows what he's really saying. She might as well be reading the headlines.


Okay, forget the cardinal. Look at the ground, Eunice. See the trilliums beneath the trees? See the may-apples, the patch of violets? Does that make you feel better?


Eunice, notice that the air is warm. Certainly warmer than the water in this creek you're up. So feel it. Stay away from the cold water where you're stuck without a paddle. Just notice on your skin the slightest hint of a soft breeze. Notice that you can take off the multiple layers you've been wearing during the long winter. Notice that the sun is dappling through the canopy, spotlighting this corner and that flower and this outcropping of stone and that blanket of bright green moss.


So what about it, Eunice? Yea or nay? Ah, well. I'll let you off the hook. Don't make a decision if you don't want to. And even if you do, you can always change it tomorrow, if your mood changes. And since you wrote the book on moods, Eunice, you certainly know that the one sure thing about moods is this: they always change.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 22, 2012


When you walk in the woods

in winter,

hold your arms away from your sides,

lest the swish

of your sleeves


the silence of snow.

Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I'm not sure yet whether I want to write about wheat or about bread. But I'll start with bread. I love bread. I could live on nothing but bread—though of course, I don't. I'm a true twenty-first century woman. I watch my carb intake and I watch my wheat. But I DO love bread.


How do I love it? Let me count the ways. Sandwiches, for starters, and toast. (Did you know that if you toast bread you lower its GI number? True.) French toast, with jam or syrup or just plain powdered sugar. Bread pudding, plain or fancy, with or without a bourbon sauce and pecans. Thick-cut bread with a hole in the middle and an egg dropped in and then it's all baked until the egg is set.


And a bread and cheese sandwich brushed with olive oil and toasted in a black cast-iron ridged skillet, weighted or not. (Who needs a panini-maker?) Or open-faced summer sandwiches of bread spread with coarse-grain mustard, then topped with a slice from a perfect tomato and a slice of old cheddar, the whole thing broiled until the cheese melts.


Or bread for dessert: a slice of ciabatta or other good bread, and on it you put a couple of wafers of 70% or better chocolate. Stick this in a warm oven (leftover heat from an earlier baking is just fine). Take it out after a few minutes. When you look at it you'll think nothing has happened to the chocolate, but touch it with your finger and you will find that it is totally melted. Eat it warm. Or sprinkle it with fleur de sel before you eat it!


Another favourite bread dessert: bread with stone fruit. Halve and stone fresh plums, apricots, or peaches. Slice the fruit or not, depending on its size, and lay it on (buttered) bread in one layer, then bake it for ten to 15 minutes. When it comes from the oven, sprinkle the fruit with a teaspoon of sugar. The fruit is hot, so don't burn your tongue.


Bread pudding can range from bare-bones to high-falutin', and it's delicious no matter how it's done. And don't forget savoury bread puddings, sometimes called "strata," meaning layers. Use bread, lots of cheese, egg & milk beaten together, and any flavourings you want: bacon, ham, roasted red pepper, mustard, smoked salmon, parboiled broccoli. Let it stand overnight in the refrigerator so the bread soaks up all the liquid, then bake for 45 minutes in the morning for a perfect brunch dish.


The North American favourite taste is "crisp," according to the polls. And bread crumbs supply crisp. Fresh bread crumbs (run a couple of slices of bread through the food processor, and leave the crusts on, no matter what they tell you) can be mixed with a little olive oil and/or cheese and scattered over any kind of casserole, savoury or sweet, before it goes into the oven. Of course, the better the bread, the better the crumbs.


Dried bread crumbs (toast a couple cups of fresh bread crumbs in a slow oven until they are dry, then process them to a fine crumb) provide excellent crispness. If you have a leftover roast of any sort, slice it and spread it with good mustard. Dredge both sides of the mustarded meat in a plenitude of dry bread crumbs, then fry the meat in a little olive oil until both sides are crisp. Much better than a plain old slice of cold meat.


Many alternative health practitioners are quick to suggest wheat allergy as a possible source of health problems. Also there is the theory that if we crave a particular food it might be because we are allergic to it. I recognize that such an allergy might take a long time to discover. I have spent several six-week periods avoiding wheat. It is unpleasant but not impossible. And never have I seen the glimmer of a difference. It may be that my "rosacea" is actually a form of wheat allergy. But at my age, I'd rather have a red nose for the next ten years (a minor blemish compared to all the other ravages of old age) than spend them not eating wheat.


Bread, the staff of my life. The stuff of dreams. 


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I'll start with this: poutine. I hope I'm not treading on anyone's toes here, but I find poutine to be a strange combination of ingredients. Let's be sure I have it straight: poutine is essentially french fries covered in gravy (ersatz gravy, obviously, for there aren't enough roasted chickens in the world to make the gravy needed to service all the poutine eaters). So: fries, slathered in gravy, and then the whole thing covered (or dotted?) with raw cheese curds. Fermented milk. Nothing wrong with cheese curds—or with fries, for that matter, or gravy. I'm a very big fan of gravy myself, when there's an occasion for it (e.g., when a bird or beast has been roasted or fried: red-eye gravy, southern-style milk gravy on biscuits, smooth brown turkey gravy on mashed potatoes, and so forth). You'll get no argument from me for any of the poutine ingredients.


But the thing about french fries is this: fries are square-cut potato strips deep-fried in oil so that they become crisp. The point of deep-frying is crisp. (The favourite North American "flavour" has been found to be "crisp.") When your fries come to the table, you eat the skinniest, crispiest ones first. Q.E.D.


Poutine: French fries slathered in gravy. Gravy is by definition wet. And wet destroys crisp faster than paper can wrap rock. If you put WET (i.e., gravy) on CRISP (i.e., fries) you get soggy.


Ergo you are paying a huge caloric price—a huge proportion of your daily fat allowance—for your deep-fried potato strips (presumably because you like "crisp") and you are not reaping the benefit. You get no crisp with poutine. If the gravy is so important, why don't they just boil up strips of potato and cover THOSE with gravy. Don't waste your calories on fries if you aren't going to get your "crisp" fix from them.


Ah, I know. You're going to say that poutine with boiled strips of potato just wouldn't be the same.


Many upscale (read: expensive) establishments now make their own snobby versions of poutine, with elaborate sauces instead of gravy, fancier cheeses instead of the curds. But the spoiler formula of poutine is still there, even in the hands of a great chef: crisp covered with wet = soggy.


While on the topic of poutine, I must segue to a recent highly publicized poutine-eating contest, during which the winner, who has won many similar contests, ate something like 29 kilos of poutine in 10 minutes (my figures may be exaggerated, but the statement is true in principle).


Now, I ask you. I really ask you. These contests are so mind-blowingly disgusting that one doesn't know where to begin. Health? I can't even comment on what such rapid stuffing does to one's stomach. So shall I comment on the level of popular culture in the twenty-first century? Oh, you don't want to hear me on that. Decorum? Manners? And then we inevitably come back to health.


Imagine training for those fast-eating contests. You learn to nullify the gag reflex so that your throat is simply a long tube to the stomach that will accept anything you pack in. Shove it down. Shove it ALL down. You are teaching your throat to stay open as you cram limitless amounts of food into your face with both hands, bits of food stuffing up your nose, getting in your eyes, your ears.


Imagine practicing every day so that you can eat fifty hot dogs (hot dogs!) in five minutes. Or maybe I'm not up to date here. Maybe it's now done in thirty seconds.


I seem to remember "pie-eating contests" at state fairs of my youth. I never saw one, but the name sounds familiar. I always imagined them as relatively sedate affairs, where contestants sat at a table, fork in hand, and ate pieces of pie. I always pictured cherry or blueberry—some dark-red or purple fruit. The idea was to see how many pieces they could eat in a given time. Or how much time it took to eat a given number of pieces. But forks were used. Pie was tasted and chewed. There were smiles at the end, and only a little indigestion.


Perhaps that was just my fantasy. Certainly current pie-eating contests involve whole pies and two hands. Shovels might be appropriate utensils.


What could be better, then, than to eat poutine this way? All those once-crisp potatoes are soggy with gravy, and the curds are just the right size to be shoved down an open throat. There's nothing there you'd want to taste, anyway.


I'd like to end this on a more pleasant note, but I can't get rid of that image of packing in the poutine. Sorry.



Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Paying Attention, Again

Traditionally, I deliver pre-Christmas baskets to about a dozen neighbors. In each basket are small items for the children, and a homemade coffeecake. My mother, Eileen, gave Christmas coffeecakes to friends and neighbors for decades. So did my sister Sari. One of Eileen's legacies was apparently the coffeecake gene.


I don't use Eileen's recipe (although I have it), but a similar one, rich with butter and eggs and cardamom. I shape mine into little fat braids (Eileen used to form them into large wreaths or Christmas tree shapes). In 2006, however, I considered cancelling the tradition because of the complications of extra visitors and my first-ever giant, Christmas-Day Birthday Party. But during the week before Christmas I decided I couldn't NOT make coffeecakes for the neighbours. So I added coffeecakes to my long to-do list.


I always start my coffeecakes with a sponge, which rises overnight. The sponge is made of yeast, flour, and water, and it bubbles up and becomes a fountain of yeast that is lively enough to raise the huge batch of dough.


Being a purist, I don't like to use dry yeast. I like the less-processed (or so I like to think) cake yeast, those little squares wrapped in silvery foil. Unfortunately, since few of us bake these days, cake yeast is almost impossible to find. I buy it in half-pound chunks from a baker, then I cut it into squares and freeze them all together in a heavy plastic bag. When I need yeast, I pry off a cube or two and proceed with the recipe. I've done it for years. It works a treat.


In the years leading up to Christmas 2006, however, we had been eating less bread than we had before, and we had found a source for a great but inexpensive ciabatta loaf, with a crusty crust and big fat holes. So not only were we eating less bread than we used to, but the bread we did eat was store-bought ciabatta. Therefore, I wasn't using much yeast, and I hadn't needed to buy more from the baker. So the frozen yeast I had on hand was three years old. Do you see where this is going?


The night before I was going to make the coffeecakes, I set my sponge. The yeast was fairly inert at the beginning, but I wasn't alarmed. Cake yeast (and especially frozen cake yeast) takes longer to begin fermenting. I started the sponge and went to bed.


The next morning, the sponge was not the bubbly and risen mass I was expecting. It was a little bit puffy, a little changed from the night before, but not its usual frothy self.


Now this is where it's useful to be paying attention. To be in the moment. I heard the little voice telling me that this would not end well. I knew on one level that I'd better re-think the project. But this knowing was overridden by a determination to do it—to go ahead and make the coffeecakes using this sponge. "It will all work out" is my mantra, and it usually serves me well, but sometimes that mantra needs to be informed by reality.


I made the coffeecakes. Two pounds of butter. A dozen eggs. A couple cups of sugar. A quarter-cup of cardamom. And enough flour to feed an army. I mixed it, kneaded it, and set it to rise.


Did it rise? Of course it did. Not as much as I'd have liked, but it did rise. Some.


So I shaped my braids. A dozen cute little rectangular braided coffeecakes on my three over-sized cookie sheets. I let them rise again.


Did they rise? Of course they did. Not as much as I'd have liked, but I knew the blast of heat from the oven would puff them up nicely. Wheat products respond well when you put them into a hot oven.


So I baked them. All day I'd been shouting down my misgivings or ignoring them completely as I immersed myself in the chaos of getting ready for Christmas. I had already prepared the neighbours' little baskets, complete with cards and notes. As soon as I added a coffee-cake to each basket, they'd be ready to deliver.


When I took the coffeecakes out of the oven, they were flat and heavy. Definitely not all right. Oh well, I thought, I'll just tell people to slice them and toast them. I'll just say they aren't as good as usual. I cooled and iced them, packaged them and delivered them, telling people to use them for toast.


And the next day, I cut a slice from the coffeecake I'd saved for us, to toast it for my own breakfast. Oh, disaster. Worse than I had thought. Not just dense and flat, but almost raw in the middle (unrisen dough doesn't bake right). I was undone. But it was too late.


Did people eat them? I was afraid to ask.


But here's what I did. On January 2, after all our visitors had gone home, I made a dozen coffeecakes using dry yeast. Newly purchased dry yeast. The coffeecakes were beautiful! I delivered them to neighbors with this note: "Attached is a delicious coffeecake to replace the dense, inedible loaf delivered earlier by some malevolent elf."


And I think I've got it now: I'm supposed to pay attention. To be there, wherever "there" is. Okay. NOW I've got it!


Copyright 2012 Ann Tudor