baking, life transitions, Uncategorized

Cinnamon rolls, small towns and life lessons

My family has finally made our transition to our forever (we think) home, and our forever (we think) town in beautiful Pictou County, Nova Scotia and I recently had occasion to visit a local bakery. This bakery was Cakes and Things, on Provost Street in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Anyone who knows me knows that I will drive 100 km out of my way to visit a bakery, and this one was right beside me as I was walking on the street so how could I not go in? It was later in the day (3 pm, late by a baker’s standards as they normally get up at the crack of dawn to start their bake, what a glorious job that would be..but I digress). So it was later in the day and luckily for me there were still a few of the most amazing cinnamon rolls available for sale. I picked up an especially yummy looking one and took it to the cash. I then struck up a conversation with the baker. He told me that he started the bakery because he really loved to bake. He and his business partner (his mom; how blessed is she that her son is willing to go into business with her!) had been baking for the local markets but that wasn’t enough baking for him so they decided to open a storefront. As our conversation went on, I realized that there was no debit machine on the cash and I said, “are you a cash only business?” I never have any cash in my wallet, it’s a long term effect from raising teenagers. “Yes,” he answered, “but please take the cinnamon roll. I know after one taste you’ll be back.” I offered to run to the bank (there were like 3 in the immediate area) but he insisted, and although I was feeling just a tad uncomfortable, I felt even more uncomfortable abandoning the cinnamon roll and refusing his hospitality. It just felt, well, rude to do so, and I’ll be honest, the cinnamon roll looked delicious! So I took him up on his offer, and guess what? He was right, I will be back. I’m going to order my sister’s birthday cake from him, because that cinnamon roll was great.

My husband and I decided to move back to the Pictou County area of Nova Scotia after our retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces in order to slow our lives down a bit. We had moved our family all over Canada, had done some really exciting jobs, but we were always in a rush. We wanted, we needed, a slower pace, and we hoped that coming back to Nova Scotia would provide that for us. I think we are still finding our way a bit in terms of slowing down, but that one visit to Cakes and Things Bakery and accepting the offer of a cinnamon roll reminded me why we made this choice. The offer of a cinnamon roll from a person who makes his business from selling cinnamon rolls but who didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that he wasn’t getting immediate return from the exchange is an important life lesson. Life is a journey, success in life takes many forms, and return on investment isn’t always immediate. Sometimes true wealth comes from another source.

So now my next big decision is whether to order the chocolate or the vanilla cake.

Until next time,

Victoria

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Birthdays, well-intentioned traditions and cream cheese

Birthday traditions go better with cream cheese

Today is my dh’s birthday so last night I whipped up his favourite carrot cake recipe and set my finished cake out to cool for the evening so I could get it all frosted before his birthday began. The recipe is one that I have made a thousand times before and it turns out great when you use gluten free flour. As I prepared the batter I started to think about all the birthday traditions that I had grown up with and smiled when I remembered how I tried to bring some of these traditions over to my new family (my husband and me) when we first started out together.

In my childhood family, birthdays weren’t celebrated with a lot of money, but there were certain things that you knew were going to happen when your big day came. I was the middle child in a family of five children, and we were spread out somewhat far in age, so there always seemed to be a bigger sister or brother ready to carry things out if Mom or Dad somehow forgot. I remember well trying to sneak downstairs and get out the door and on the bus before the house remembered that it was my birthday. The first thing one could expect was the inevitable “butter on the nose” trick. Birthday celebrators needed to have a generous glob of butter ceremoniously put on the end of their nose (or worse yet, that hard brick margarine that was popular in the 70s and 80s – it hurt when being smushed into the nose). Because the birthday victim was usually running away from the assailant, sometimes that butter got in your eye (now there’s a good saying, “here’s butter in yer eye – have a happy birthday!”) or sometimes down the side of your neck, or worse, in your hair (and you still had to get on the bus and go to school, just add that grease to an already puberty-inspired oily ‘do).

And let’s not forget the “birthday bumps” or birthday spankings. One swat on the derriere for each year of your life. That’s likely illegal now, and maybe with good cause, as there is nothing that makes a child not want to grow into the double digit years like the fear of double digit birthday bumps.

The final tradition that my family enjoyed that made my hubby’s eyebrows raise a bit is the tradition of putting money in the birthday cake. Our mom would always put change in the cake and you had to chew very slow to avoid choking. Again, through a 2019 lens, likely not the smartest practice, but hey, I’m still here, and it gave the family a chance to practice their first aid choking drills. Unfortunately, I hadn’t introduced this particular tradition to my hubby in our dating years, and the first cake I made for him happened to be for a birthday celebrated while we were in different provinces while he was on a military course. I couriered a cake to him, which he excitedly opened and shared with his friends. Imagine his surprise (and alarm) when he took a big bite and almost swallowed a quarter.

Sadly, as I think back, these traditions didn’t last in my new family, and that’s just a bit sad. I think on the occasional birthday I would sneak into my kids’ rooms and slather their noses with butter and enjoy the yells of “hey mom, come on!” but unless the tradition is embraced with gusto, it dies a natural death. Maybe I’ll make it my ambition to start it up all again with my grandchildren. And as far as my hubby’s birthday goes, the day isn’t over yet.

I posted a picture of my hubby’s birthday cake. I wanted to do a naked cake but it is his preference to have his carrot cake drowning in cream cheese icing. So I offer a compromise – a bit naked on the sides, and party on the top. A reverse mullet if you will, to celebrate the birthday of a 50 something guy who grew up in the 80’s. Happy birthday Tom, and have a great day everyone!

Until next time,

Victoria Sweet

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Canada’s Food Guide is out and it’s beautiful!

Check it out here – https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/

If. you haven’t already done so, click on the link to the newly released Canada’s Food Guide and see it in its splendour for yourself. I did that very thing this morning and was not disappointed. The full plate approach is quite striking and a good “measure of thumb” when you’re trying to decide how much of an item to have, say when you’re not in control of what might be going on your plate. One-quarter of my plate for grains and starches, stick to that and you’re in good territory. Fill up half of the plate with fresh fruit and vegetables, limit meat to a small portion, just like the grains, and don’t sweat measuring. Be careful of the ads around you, they are influencing you to eat more or differently. How much easier could it be?

And the future of sugar and fat, those rascals who are lovingly featured in the Victoria Sweet blog? They remain in the “for special occasion only” just like we’ve always said on this blog. Health Canada – you haven’t disappointed.

Stay with me over the coming days as we explore the disappearance of the dairy group and what that really means for those of us concerned about our nutrition, and get your baking pans warmed up, we will be practicing making beautifully decorated heart shaped cookies, to be enjoyed in limited quantities as part of the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday!

Until next time, yours in balance, knowledge, and all things baked!

Victoria

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Excited about tomorrow!

The new Canada’s Food Guide will be released tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the long awaited release of the new Canada’s Food Guide! And this baker/blogger/dietitian is so excited that I likely won’t be able to sleep tonight!

Even in light of the changes, I don’t expect this blog to change too much. Unfortunately I don’t think that the new Canada’s Food Guide with have a cookie group, lol. But one of the things that I do hope to see is an emphasis on enjoying food, celebrating food related traditions and eating mindfully. And those my friends, are positive and welcome changes! I’ll post tomorrow after the big announcement! We’ll share a great cookie recipe in celebration!

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Fat Tony’s deep fried Mars Bar…it really is amazing!

Tonight I had occasion to visit a restaurant in my hometown of Pictou, Nova Scotia and experience something that I have wanted to experience for a long, long time – a deep fried Mars bar! I associate the deep fried Mars bar with the Ontario food truck scene so I was excited to hear that they were on a local NS restaurant menu. The NS restaurant in question was Fat Tony’s on Pictou’s waterfront, in beautiful coastal Nova Scotia Canada. I paired my deep fried Mars bar with a Maple Vodka coffee (I so know I have the name wrong on this coffee, which is unfortunate as I highly recommend it), so the night was particularly decadent, and one that I likely won’t be in any hurry to log into my MyFitness app! Oh well, Christmas comes but once a year….

By this time in my new career as a food blogger, I wanted to be well into a rich food blogging streak of an every-second-day blog describing homemade goodies made from my beautiful retirement home kitchen in Pictou, Nova Scotia, but the gods of weather, household power, and all things baking have dealt me yet another horrible and unexpected delay, another cruel twist of fate. A few weeks ago, Nova Scotia had a wind storm which knocked out the power in this neck of the woods, and when the power was restored a day or so later, a power surge knocked out my brand new double banked oven, plus a few other brand new appliances and many of our lightbulbs and wall sockets, so yet again, I find myself without a way to actually bake. So instead I will tell you all about the amazing deep fried Mars Bar as offered by Fat Tony’s in Pictou Nova Scotia.

Don’t count the grams of fat or the grams of sugar….just eat it!

This delectable dessert is entirely homemade at Fat Tony’s restaurant. I thought, reasonably, given the fact that they have a fairly expansive menu (they have great seafood options) that the desserts might be brought in prepared and ready to cook. So I asked our waiter whether the Mars bar was brought in frozen and then deep-fried and garnished. She confirmed that indeed the dessert was made entirely onsite, which in itself gives me a lot of confidence in the products provided by this restaurant. The dessert itself was outstanding! The Mars bar had melted to the just right stage (like it was lukewarm – milk chocolate, caramel and nougat intermingling – covered with a crispy coating, so decadent!). It was garnished with just enough vanilla ice cream, and a side of whipped cream, provided just in case I hadn’t eaten enough fat today. A drizzle of chocolate sauce completes the look and the experience. It’s a good thing I had missed supper! Yum!

When I was a child and young adult, the building that Fat Tony’s is in was a Stedman’s store, one of the red and white themed department stores that typified small town Nova Scotia of the 1970s and 1980s . I used to go into this store to pick up items that I might have forgotten when I was at a larger mall, or sometimes, when I was coming home from the upper Pictou County town of New Glasgow with my Mum, she would say, “let’s stop by Stedman’s and see what they have.” And I always agreed! I remember that they had a great craft section. I’ve always been an avid knitter. During one trip to Stedman’s I got sufficient yarn to make a fisherman’s knit sweater (quite appropriate considering Pictou is the fisher capital of the universe). More exciting to me was that there was a special on yarn that day and I got enough yarn to make a cardigan (which I still have by the way) for less than $10.

When you walk into Fat Tony’s there is no evidence of the old Stedman’s store. The ambiance is great, the dining area spacious, and the wait staff very friendly. The building has also had garage doors installed, to be opened to a patio enjoyed by days much warmer than today’s December weather. But as much as I rave, the highest compliment was paid to Fat Tony’s by my mother-in-law, who looked around at the setting and said, “This is something that you’d see in Halifax!” High praise indeed, and a great deep fried Mars bar! Thank you Fat Tony’s!

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The pre-holiday “let’s get your game face on” blog

Hi everyone,

It’s been over a week since my last blog.  My day job is as a business professor so it’s been a bit busy with end of term activities.  All of that is over (except the actual exams, and the marking of exams, lol) and I’m feeling a strong urge to get in the kitchen and start baking up a storm.  The issue is, everyone else is feeling the same way, and the treats are starting to appear in abundance…everywhere.  In fact, when I took the customary plate of donuts to the last class in one of my courses, the students groaned and said, “this is the third time we’ve been offered donuts today!”  They ate them of course, and took the leftovers back to their residence with them, so I don’t count it as a true complaint.  But it made me think a bit about my own strategies heading into the holiday season. Unlike my undergraduate students, I am a 50+ year old lady with a slow metabolism and short stature – my “MyFitness” app subtracts available calories from me on most days!  I had better approach the holiday eating season with some sort of plan!  So, before I blog about the amazing carrot cake that is currently in the oven, I thought I’d tell you about how I am approaching the holidays from a balance point of view.

Since I’m not in the classroom again until early January, I plan to be on the walking trails, clocking up the miles (kilometres here in Canada) and getting some balance in my head space.  I had planned to start a fitness walking program this fall.  I had just come from a very busy job, living in a beautiful area of Canada, that although beautiful, also came with a minimum of a 60 minute commute one way, and that was on a low traffic day.  My DH and I were coming to grips with impending retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces, and thinking towards transitioning from careers that we loved and that we had done since our early 20s, and that in itself is quite stressful.  In September I took one last military posting to the Royal Military College of Canada to get some academic experience, and hopefully give us some breathing room as we made all the other decisions impacting our lives.  So it was a period of transition, and it would have been a great time to start that walking program.  And then in early October, I didn’t watch my step.  I slipped and fell, and broke my fibula.  Instead of a fitness walking program, I spent the fall elevating my leg and complaining that I didn’t have any shoes that fit.  But now that leg is healed, I have no more work related scheduling issues, and I have two very willing walking partners – my 6 month old and 20 month old Labrador retrievers!

The plan to increase my walking is great.  But beyond walking, I need to do a few other things to realize my plan to make it the other side of the holidays still wearing the same size pants.  My main approach to managing with the culinary related stresses of the holidays involves the principles of mindfulness.  There are lots of sites that describe mindfulness in terms of eating, but the concept is simple.  You need to be aware of how and why you are eating.  In practical terms, have some structure around meals – sit down at the table to eat as a family vice snacking while doing something else.  Eat when you are hungry; and not past the point of feeling full.  When I know there will be lots of treats at a gathering, I try to make sure that I am not overly hungry before I go.  An easy way of doing this is to eat something that provides a little protein right before you go – a little bit of greek yoghurt is a good example, or a boiled egg or small piece of cheese.  It makes it easier to resist if you’re not dealing with hunger.  

Try to identify whether you are eating as a response to emotion (sadness, boredom, stress). In terms of emotional eating or boredom eating, this is an issue I have dealt with.  I have spent a great deal of my life taking formal education, and during my MBA, I developed the habit of snacking as I wrote term papers.  I didn’t even realize it was a habit until I started my PhD a couple of years later.  The PhD was a lot longer degree in terms of time and required a whole lot more term papers.  I had to become very mindful of the habits that surrounded my writing ritual before it became extremely unhealthy.  Sitting at a computer writing for long periods of time is unhealthy enough, without the added unmindful eating.

So, this holiday season, I will increase my walking, take in the beautiful late fall air, keep structure around my eating (and at the same time enjoy my family’s company at mealtimes, win win!), and ensure that I keep my hunger under control before I head out to the culinary events that mark Christmas and New Year’s in Canada.  Above all, I will be kind to myself, be realistic in my expectations, and absolutely enjoy making more culinary related traditions to share with family and friends!  Have a safe and amazing start to your own holiday season!

Yours in visions of sugar plums!

Victoria Sweet

Uncategorized

A beautiful naked lemon cake on a snowy day

So now that the cake is baked and cooled, the next step is to inject it with some amazing premade lemon curd.  There are recipes for homemade curd, and I urge you to try them, because at the end of the day, homemade is always best.  The only issue that I’ve found with homemade lemon curd is that the recipes typically make a large volume, and then you need friends who are appreciative of lemon curd to gift it to.  So for today, we will go with store bought curd to avoid this predicament.

I said in an earlier blog that in order to inject the lemon cake with curd, you needed a long nosed piping tube.  Most craft stores in my area carry Wilton products, and Wilton calls this tip a”filling tip”. Here is a picture of it so you’ll know what you are looking for.

You’ll see that there is also a piping bag beside the filling tip.  Again, I use Wilton reusable piping bags, largely because that’s what is available in the stores where I live, and  Wilton piping bags are also household baker sized, meaning that they come in various sizes to support the batch sizes that most home bakers would be producing.  My son (the apprentice chef) does not like to bake so he gifted me with the institutional sized piping bags that he had in culinary school.  The next time I have 50 or so people over to dinner, I’ll be able to pipe a lovely potato topping on my very large Shepherd’s Pie that I make them.

The next step is to put the tip on the piping bag and fill the bag with lemon curd.  The best way to do this is to put the tip on the bag  and then put the bag and tip over an open glass to hold the bag portion open while you fill it up with curd.  Some folks use a coupler to hold the bag in place, this is especially helpful if changing the tips out a lot as you do when decorating, but since we are just using curd today, I forewent the coupler.

Here is a picture of the piping bag ready to go.  The more experienced bakers following the blog will tell me that this piping bag is not secure enough around tip, and that it’s going to explode.  You can see that there’s a bit of curd seeping between the piping bag and the tip. It didn’t explode, but it likely would have had I been working on a bigger cake. 

Twist off the top of the piping bag, insert the tip into the cake and squeeze gently until a little dab of curd shows up on the cake.  Repeat around the layer for as much as you would like.  More insertions of curd means more lemony goodness!  Repeat for both layers.  If there are small mounds of curd on top of your layers, just take a flat knife and smooth it over the top of the layer.  We are going to eventually frost the cake so we don’t want too much visible curd.  Next take a small bowl, add the juice from half of a freshly squeezed lemon, add 2 tablespoons of sugar and mix until the sugar is dissolved.  Take a fork, put several fork holes on the top of each layer and carefully drizzle the sugar/lemon juice over the layers over the holes to let it drain into the cake.  Try to coat the layers with the rest of the mixture.  This helps keep any of the crumbs in place for the final icing, and gives another lemony area to hit your taste buds when we finally get to eat this gem.

Depending on how uniform you want your cake to look, you might have wanted to torte the cake.  Torting the cake is simply levelling it off by cutting off the peak that occurred during baking.  There are tools that you can buy that make sure you cut evenly.  For this cake we are going for the natural look.  In addition, there wasn’t a lot of leavening in this recipe (baking soda only, not baking powder) so it is a flatter, denser cake than some recipes.  So, we aren’t going to torte it.  If we had, then we would have done that before adding the glaze and injecting it with curd.

So what is a naked cake you ask?  I’m not sure when and how it all started but the naked cake fad has been making its way onto cake decorating blogs for some time now, and the results are beautiful.  The technique looks simple, but it really isn’t as easy as it looks.  A naked cake has just a little bit of cake showing through the frosting, and it’s almost like applying just pretty crumb coat of frosting, and then deciding that this is enough.  I wanted to try it for this particular cake because the lemon flavour of the cake needs to be front and centre, not the sight and flavour of the frosting.  The finished cake is below.

Naked Lemon Cake a la Victoria Sweet

Lemon Butter icing recipe

1 cup butter (room temperature, margarine can be substituted)

1/4 cup lemon juice

rind of one lemon

4 cups icing sugar

Beat butter until light, add icing sugar alternately with lemon juice, add lemon zest.  Beat until smooth.  Apply to cake on top and side.  Let the crumbs shine through! Try to keep your 6 month old Labrador out of the cake until you can take its picture (her teeth marks are on the other side). Enjoy!