Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A yummy Canadian treat anyone?

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

We had a lot of fun with this challenge. Of course, as per usual, my friend Cindy and I got together and worked on the challenge. We decided to embrace what Lauren was wanting and made the gluten free graham crackers. It was interesting shopping for the different flours. I went to Superstore and first checked out the health section. I found the tapioca flour there for about $7 or $8 for a small bag. Didn't see the glutonous rice flour or the other stuff. Next, I headed for the ethnic aisle. I found the glutonous rice flour and ended up having to substitute the third flour for a combo of millet and brown rice flour. But, the biggest discovery was finding tapioca flour again, but this time, it only cost 68 cents. Seriously!! I could not believe that it was the same stuff, but of course, the packaging was not quite so fancy. Basically, buying the north american import version was way marked up compared to the imported version of the ethnic variety. I was blown away by the price difference. But anyhow, onto the task at hand...

We got together and made the crackers. We tried to hurry up the chilling times a bit which is likely what lead to the sort of poor looking results, but they did taste okay, and since we were grinding them up anyways for the squares, we used them as so.

We assembled the Nanaimo Squares a couple days later when we were also making a dinner together (from the Julie and Julia movie, we made the deboned stuffed duck wrapped in pastry which hopefully I can post about another day sometime soon, but suffice it to say, it was lots of fun). I ended up doing most of the work on the squares as I had no interest in playing any role with the deboning of the duck. We followed the base as per the recipe.

For the filling, Cindy wanted something with cherry, so I sort of did a fly by the seat of my pants kind of filling. I added the softened butter and icing sugar, custard powder, some milk, maraschino cherry juice, cut up cherries and some almond extract. Ended up needing to add extra sugar to balance out the extra liquid. Although Cindy wanted pink, they looked a little more orange (due to the custard powder), so if making them again and going for the pink colour, I'd skip that powder.

We added the chocolate and mmmmm.... they were tasty!! I didn't even really notice a difference using the gluten free crackers. They tasted the way a Nanaimo Bar should taste... yummy!! Thanks for a great challenge and helping us push our limits and work with new ingredients. I have made Nanaimo Bars many times in the past so for me, it was a treat to try something new by making the crackers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay...

Wow!! Where to begin. Yesterday I had one of the best moments of my life. Yesterday I was part of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. Yesterday I was part of something so much bigger than myself. It was amazing. It was fantastic. It was awesome. I am still smiling. And I still can't believe I got to participate.

It started a long time ago though. I remember back in 1988 when the Olympics were coming to Calgary and the torch was travelling across Canada. I remember when the torch went through Medicine Hat and I thought it was one of the neatest things ever. I also remember my uncle had the opportunity to be a torch bearer as well. I thought it was so incredible. I wished I could be a torch bearer. Fast forward a few years and the Olympics were coming back to Canada. I knew there would be a torch relay again and I wondered what it would take to be part of it. I remember telling my husband that I wanted to be a torchbearer. I remember when they announced that you would have to apply either through Coke or RBC. I did both. With Coke, I entered and then had the opportunity to prepare an essay. I wrote an essay about my commitment to active living and inspiring others to do the same while setting an example for my kids. With RBC I wrote about my efforts at volunteering and raising funds for various causes. Ultimately though, it was Coke who chose me. I remember getting the email and being more excited than ever. It was a neat email with the Open Happiness song playing (which, ironically has been in my head since I ran yesterday!!). I was dancing around the house. Jeremy thought I was crazy. I just couldn't believe that I actually got picked!! But, I guess promising to lead an active life, setting an example for my boys and inspiring others was good enough. And, I spent the whole of 2009 living up to that promise!!

A few weeks later, the paperwork came, and I sent everything off, by priority post of course, so that I could check online that it was actually delivered. Then, in December, I got an email with my assignment. I would be carrying the torch on Day 88 in a small town called Oliver, BC. It wasn't my hometown or the town I was living in, but it was in beautiful BC wine country. A bit later in December a box arrived. The box contained my uniform, complete with red mittens. Suddenly, it was actually feeling real!! About a week before, I got another email reminding me about how I was special and chosen by a committee and all this sort of thing.

In January, we booked tickets and were flying out with my mom and brother. It meant a lot that people in my life wanted to share in this moment. I packed up my torch bearer uniform into my carry on so there was no chance it would get lost!!

On Sunday evening, we spent the night in Osoyoos. It was great. There were fireworks in honour of the torch having arrived there. The next morning, we got up early and left for our short twenty minute drive to the Jackson Triggs Winery. We left just after 7:30 giving us lots of time to get there. Unfortunately, we were behind the torch. And the torch moves slow. It was getting later and later, and pretty soon it was becoming obvious that we might not make it. I was nearly in tears. I was watching my Olympic moment just slip away. I put a call in to the Torchbearer Centre to let them know we were on the way but stuck behind the torch. The lady I talked to said she'd let the people know and took my phone number. There I was, sitting in my torchbearer uniform, seeing the torch, and knowing I had to get around it, or my torch dream would be out the window!! Luckily the torch finally took a break and we got around. I arrived at the winery just about five minutes late.

Of course then, I can't find my license and went to get my passport because if you don't have ID, you don't run. Luckily though, I found my license (it fell on the ground outside of the car). So, left the passport with Jeremy and was rushed inside. They were giving out stickers of your torch number. I would be number 079. The 79th person to carry the torch on day 88. I met the mother of the guy who would hand off to me and was told I was handing off to the famous guy (didn't recognize him... oops!!).

Next up, we were given some facts. Over 1 million Canadians applied to be torch bearers. 12000 were chosen. Suddenly the fact that I was chosen seemed special. As well as the fact that I knew two other people who had also been chosen!! They showed us the torch, talked about how it symbolized the different lands that made up our country, and some of the sports in the games. They showed us the way to carry it, and how the flames came out both sides and surrounded a little maple leaf on the back, making a flag. They told us that the torches were all assembled by hand by only six individuals. They were all signed and dated inside. They showed us the inside and how it worked. They talked about how the Olympic flame was kept inside a lantern for travelling and then lit up the torch that was being run. They reminded us how when we were running our segment, we would be the only person in the world carrying the Olympic flame at that moment. After you hand off the flame to the next torch bearer, they shut off your torch pretty quick because again, only one person is carrying it at a time.

We got to hear all sorts of stories of different torchbearers as well as the stories of the people in our group. It was amazing. Everyone had their own reason for applying and for being chosen. It was really neat to be among so many different people. We chatted with the torchbearers in our group and planned our handoffs. They encouraged us to be more creative than a simple high five since it was day 88 and they had seen many thousands of those already.

And then it was time to board our bus. We got on the bus and watched the Cold Play video and some footage from earlier days in the relay. It was so incredibly inspiring. Our hostess, Nathalie, shared various stories from around the country. It was so interesting. The Olympic Torch Relay is all about coming together and peace. And as we watched these clips and heard these stories, I felt such honour that I was to be a part of it.

Then, our bus started dropping people off. We cheered as each torchbearer was dropped with their family and friends. And as we got closer and closer to my stop, I started getting really nervous. My heart was racing and I hadn't been so excited and nervous for something in who knows how long!! Finally it was my turn. I saw my little guys waiting and tears welled in my eyes. Suddenly, it really was happening. I was going to have my moment. I got off and visited with my husband, two little boys, mom and brother.

We chatted, I showed off the torch, took a few pictures and then along came the cyclist to give me my instructions.

Next up the RBC truck passed with their cheering section, and soon after was the Coke truck. Three different Coke people came and gave me a hug and congratulated me. Now, I don't know if they knew I was chosen by Coke or not, but it sure felt nice to get their congrats.

Before I knew it, I was standing in the middle of the road watching the previous runner approach me. Our torches met, and suddenly I was the runner. We did our secret handshake and off I went.

This was it. All those months of waiting and now, there I was, running with the Olympic Flame, in the beautiful interior of BC.

I was beaming on the inside. It's hard to contain that much happiness!!

I had an escort and it almost felt like the secret service was running with me. I chatted with the guy for a moment about what a cool job he had, running with the torchbearers. And then, I saw the guy I was to hand off to, Jay Ingram, who is on Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel. I met with him, lit his torch, then we spun around and off he went.

Moments later my torch was turned off and I was back on a bus. It was fun to be with these torchbearers again and relieve what we had just experienced. We had the chance to write a note in a book with our thoughts on the experience. And soon, we were back at the winery for a short celebration.

I have to extend a huge thanks to my mom because she actually bought my torch for me (I will pay you back, I promise!!). I had figured I didn't really need it, yet after doing this, it was something special that I really did want to take home with me, and on that day, didn't quite have the ability to do so. So, I am forever grateful.

And thank you mom, and Chris for coming out and sharing this experience. It really was special to have you there for one of the coolest moments of my whole life!!

Thank you Peter, for coming out as well!!

And thank you Jeremy for coming and bringing our boys. Thanks for humouring me when I applied to be a torchbearer and supporting me when I actually got picked.

And thank you Coke for choosing me. I will continue to try and be active and inspire those around me. (oh, and I always did like Coke way more than Pepsi, haha)

I am also truly grateful to my friends and family that tuned in to the live feed and sent emails and facebook messages of encouragement. It was so wonderful to hear from so many different people.

This was, by far, one of the neatest things I have ever done in my life. I've run all sorts of races, travelled to all sorts of places, but nothing compares to running with the Olympic Flame in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. I will likely never get to participate in the Olympics, so this was a way that I could be a part of the Olympics and what they represent. It was my moment, and I will treasure it, forever.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm in love with another man...

A few months ago, my husband gave me a cookbook called Cavelove: How To Bake Cakes From Scratch by Warren Brown. This is the guy that was on Oprah awhile back that gave up his law career to start a bakery making cakes from scratch. He's one smart guy. He didn't just pick some random recipes, he would make a recipe then figure out why all the ingredients are needed and tweak things until he had the perfect cake.

And talk about perfection!! Take for example the chocolate pound cake (as pictured above). It's an amazing cake, and the chocolate ganache on top makes a perfect frosting. It's a fantastic cake that's easy to make and results are near perfection. And this happens over and over again in this book. He does a great job on all the cakes, but even more than that, he tells you why things work the way they do. He doesn't just add random ingredients, he has a reason for everything he does. He also explains what those reasons are. I learned a lot from this book about cakes and the various ingredients they include. There are even adjustments for people like me that have to bake at high altitudes.

We have had this book for only a few months now, but have made more than twenty different recipes already between the cakes and the frostings. We have enjoyed them all. The descriptions at the beginning sound as though Warren Brown is talking directly to you and the instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. If you are looking for a new book to add to your collection and have anything of a sweet tooth, this book is worth your time. You will learn not only how to make a really good cake, but why Warren's unique ingredients truly make a difference to the overall taste and enjoyment of the recipes he includes.

I appreciated the lessons on gastronomy but loved indulging in the finished product of those lessons. The cakes are amazing and divided into sections. There are many pound cakes, some of which can be made in a bundt pan or rounds. There are also butter cakes and sponge cakes so certainly enough choice to satisfy your cravings. Some are traditional but others push the boundaries of what is expected in a cake and include ingredients like cayenne, mango and various others. The frostings are excellent although personally, I much prefer the custard based frostings to the traditional buttercreams (I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that the featured ingredient is steeped in the milk!!).

My favourite is probably the chocolate butter cake with coconut buttercream frosting. A close second would be the Boston Cream Downfall (a yellow butter cake with vanilla pastry cream filling and chocolate ganache on top. We made the Boston Cream Downfall for my son's first birthday and topped it with a cookie monster made of rice krispies. Everyone raved about it.

I know that if I reach for this book and make something from it, that I'm bound to please whoever my audience is. I can trust that the recipes will work and the results will be nothing short of spectacular. Warren Brown is gifted and I'm in love with that gift. He has another book coming out in May, called United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State and I can hardly wait for that!! I might not be from the USA, but I will certainly celebrate cakes along with Warren Brown!! Thanks for a truly great book!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday Big Boy!!

Wow, I can't believe you are a year old already. I have to see, it's been an amazing year watching you grow and change!!

Here's you inside my belly at the hospital just before you were born...

And here's you just minutes after you were born...

Being pregnant with you was a breeze. I mean, I was always worried about you since the journey with your brother didn't quite end the way we thought, so having you, we worried about whether or not you'd get sick etc. And really, things weren't perfect either. Halfway through, we found out you had an irregular heart beat. The doctor said it would probably resolve itself, but that medication might be required and worst case scenario, you'd have to have surgery while you were still growing in my belly. You can imagine this was a bit stressful on me!! Well, then I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon. The doctor said to keep an eye on my heart rate and truly, I ended up walking most of the race. It took me 3 hours 29 minutes and 42 seconds (18 seconds to spare since you have to finish in 3 and a half hours to be a legal finisher!!). Well, after the race, your heartbeat was fine, and ever since then it has been fine, so I suppose me having my heartrate at 140 for that length of time helped you figure out how your heart is really supposed to work. See, running fixes everything, hahaha.

We were monitored very closely with you and I got to see you at the ultrasound multiple times. And then, on January 9th last year, we headed to the Rockyview Hospital to welcome you into this world by elective c-section. I didn't really have a choice, so a c-section it was. I had a bit of a rough ride with the anastetic and all that. Let's just say I was sick for a good 24 hours and the recovery after that was slow. But wow, we got to hear you cry!! And daddy got to hold you straight away, and he got to bring you over so I could see you for the amazing little baby you were. Little, who am I kidding, you weighed 8 pounds 13 ounces. And, that was 10 days before your due date!! Although, the ultrasound predicted you'd be a pound bigger. Imagine that!! Well, I got taken to recovery and pretty soon afterwards, your dad and you joined me. I got to try feeding you for the first time, and the three of just hung out (in between my bouts of puking of course). It was so incredible that you got to be with us from the beginning. It was something totally new for us even though you were our second child. I loved that you stayed in the room with me. I did my best to feed you and hold you and do what you needed to be happy. And then, 2 days later, we got to leave, and, we got to take you with us!! It was such an emotional experience to leave the hospital with a baby. It was wonderful!!

At the start, you were pretty much a lump. You didn't do much, just slept and ate. Your big brother wasn't entirely sure what to make of you. Suddenly, he had to share his mom!! But, he asked to hold you and has been pretty fantastic with you. I loved when you started to smile. You have been such a happy baby. I mean, every now and then you have your moments, and you've had your little freakouts, but everyone does, but they are so few and far between. I'm so lucky. You are always smiling and curious about everything.

You quickly adapted to being on your tummy and much preferred to sleep there. You used the Amby bed for about 4 months but then happily preferred a crib after that. You started rolling over, then sitting, then army crawling, which you did for quite awhile, until finally realizing that if you did regular crawling, you could get places faster. You are standing now, and walking along stuff. It won't be long and you'll be walking.

You love playing in the kitchen, taking stuff out of cupboards, banging around pots and pans. You love pushing cars along, which you learned how to do by watching your brother. Really, you pretty much love whatever your brother is doing and strive to do it too. It's pretty cute these days when you try to chase him. You both end up in fits of laughter. You are a bit of a godzilla when it comes to building trains though, and same with towers. I have a lot of fun with you building block towers while you knock them down. That's something that just the two of us do together!!

You have done pretty good for seeing the world already. Your grandma and I went to Europe with you when you were four months old. You were awesome to travel with!! We went to Germany, Austria and France. It was an amazing trip and I couldn't have asked for a better baby on that trip!! You also got to go to Kamloops, Vancouver, Seattle and SunPeaks. That was a road trip with your grandma, brother and me. And, we were lucky that dad came and met up with us for the Vancouver and Seattle part!! It too, was a lot of fun. And then just before Christmas, you went on your first cruise and your second trip to a Disney park (because you'd already been to Disneyland Paris!!). You were great. You loved the verandah in our room, and loved going from outside to inside all by yourself.

And you are quite the little eater. It was very different for us as parents, to feed you. From the very first time we fed you solid food, you've embraced it with both arms (literally). You love eating and are willing to try most things. You also much prefer feeding yourself to letting us help. This is amazing to us as parents. I had no idea a baby could do these things on their own so quickly!!

Sullivan, you are a fantastic little guy. I hope you will always have the same zest for life that you exhibit already. I hope you will continue with that amazing smile. You are a great little guy and it such a pleasure having you in our family. We love you so much and look forward to watching you grow into a little toddler now. I look forward to your first words, and your first steps. Thanks for all the smiles and the laughs. Thanks for being so carefree and loving. You are a sweetheart and we love you more than anything. A very Happy First Birthday to you!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cookie Monster Cake for my little cookie monster!!

So, yesterday we had a birthday party for Sullivan since he turns one next week, and since I unfortunately, have to work nights on his actual birthday. It was fun. I knew I wanted to make him a cookie monster cake after I had watched Cindy make grass on a race track cake for Elias. I loved how it looked and thought it was perfect for monster fur. So, I figured either cookie monster or Elmo.

So, yesterday was the day of the party. I meant to make the cake the day before, but we were lacking a couple ingredients. I had chosen to make the Boston Creme Downfall from the cakelove book. It was a yellow butter cake, with vanilla pastry cream between the layers, then covered in chocolate ganache. I got the cakes baked and pastry cream chilling, but then had some time to figure out how to turn this primarily adult cake into something for a one year old.

I decided to make a cookie monster out of rice krispie squares and then I could ice it with the fabulous looking fur icing. I set out to work and it went pretty nicely. Then I made buttercream icing, dyed it blue, and went to work. I used Scotch mints as the eyes with a bit of black gel icing for the eyeballs. I used the same black gel for the mouth. Then I loaded up the pastry bag with the 233 tip and had fun building cookie monster, complete with cookie in his mouth...

Then, when we placed cookie monster on top of the cake, we added some crumbled Chips Ahoy cookies to complete the vision. I was completely happy with the results, but would my baby like it...

Sullivan was fascinated with the whole thing.

It started out innocent enough

He loved it.

And, he had the best time ever devouring it.

He got a bit messy in the process, but hey, it's his party and the first time he ever got to eat cake on his own accord!!
Everything was blue, including the bath water in the bath he had immediately following the cake eating (had to try and get some of the icing out of his ears and all!!).

The party was small (people kept cancelling on us!!), but super fun. We had a baked potato bar for dinner followed by the Boston Cream Downfall for dessert. Sullivan got some neat gifts and both boys have been playing with them all morning. I still can't believe he's almost one though... where has the year gone!!