Thursday, 27 March 2014

When special occasion meets dietary restriction: Gluten-free Dairy-free French Silk Pie

Like many aspects of married life, joining into a family-in-law requires a certain amount of adaptation. In my case, that meant extending my idea of "birthday cake" to include a variety of other birthday desserts. I haven't queried just how this tradition began, but by the time I entered the picture, most of my husband's family birthday get-togethers included the celebrant's choice of pie. And not just plain-jane apple pie. Favourites include strawberry, pumpkin, turtle, grasshopper, and, as you might have guessed, French Silk: a creamy, chocolate custard over a crushed pecan and vanilla wafer crumb crust. I still ask for cake on an annual basis, but I have no qualms with eating my fair share of other sweet confections, nor with trying my hand at making them.

Somewhere along the line, however, my brother-in-law's health required going on a rather restrictive diet, and I was adapting again. For the most part, this has meant calling on my sister-in-law to make something her husband could eat while I made dessert for the rest of us, but now that his list of food sensitivities has settled down to a few rememberable items (wheat, milk, and refined sugar), that's started to feel like a cop-out.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon this almond flour crust recipe from A Simple Haven, and realized that wheat-less baking didn't have to be as hard as I'd assumed. Almond flour, or meal, was available in the natural foods section of our local Superstore, and the coconut oil was just down the aisle. The combined nuttiness of those two ingredients meant I could forgo finely chopping pecans, and adding an extra glug of vanilla extract beats pulverizing Nilla wafers any day. For the filling, I simply substituted coconut oil for the butter and evaporated cane sugar for the regular white stuff - otherwise, it's the same recipe I got from my mother-in-law. I found out later that my brother-in-law could, in fact, eat butter, but the coconut oil version made for such a flavourful fudgy concoction that we all agreed it was better this way.

Meet my new go-to dessert:

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free French Silk Pie


1 1/2 cups       blanched almond flour
1/4 tsp (scant)  table salt
1/4 tsp             baking soda
2 Tbsp             honey or whole cane sugar
1 Tbsp             vanilla
1/4 cup            coconut oil, melted

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk wet ingredients and add to dry. Stir together until thoroughly combined. Press into pie plate or parchment-lined spring-form pan. Bake at 350ºF for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.


3/4 cup              coconut oil, room temperature
1 cup + 1 Tbsp  evaporated cane sugar
1 Tbsp               vanilla
3 squares           melted unsweetened chocolate, cooled
3                        eggs, coddled
1 handfull          pecan pieces (optional)

Cream coconut oil and sugar. Add vanilla and chocolate, stir until combined. Using an electric mixer, beat in eggs one at a time on medium speed, 4 minutes per egg. Pour onto cooled crust and smooth out with a spatula. Sprinkle with pecan pieces. Cover and refrigerate until set.

Enjoy :)

Friday, 21 March 2014

Unexpected joy

Friday again. The day where many a brave soul picks up pen or iPad or sits to a keyboard and writes, un-edited, for five minutes. And links up here.

Today's prompt: joy

I wake the baby to wrap her up for the daily jaunt to preschool. She greets me with a smile that spreads quickly across her face to encompass her whole body. It fills her eyes, her cheeks, her voice coos. She puts her shoulder into it and twists her torso to add an knee. So full of delight just at the thought that "you're HERE and you're looking at ME!"

I didn't expect this year, this pregnancy, this birth. And here I am, loving this tiny monkey wrench with intensity I didn't expect either. It could be an extra rush of hormones from an extra hard, fast labour. It could be relief after all this waiting. It could be she's just that darn cute. Or I could take a page from her wordless book and not analyse this joy. Just take it in, breath it while it lasts, record it deep within my sinews for when the hard days come and the euphoria's long gone. For they will. Parenthood is for the long haul, and no child is forever "easy".

But how simple is this joy.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Puddle Crunch

I never thought I'd live to say this, but so far March has been delightful. The polar vortex brought weather this prairie veteran would usually call manageable, if unusually persistent and distinctly unpleasant, but my newborn had other ideas. -30 winds are a bit much for a being whose main weather experience has been a steady 37 degrees. While my winter city hardly ground to a halt, the larger half of my household sure did. Preschool truant, babe, and I remained indoors for the better half of February, waiting in vain for the weather to break. In that context, weather that I'd normally deem the beginning of my least favourite season, still winter, is enough of a change from the weeks before that I'm calling it spring. I've been down in the deep freeze long enough that sunshine and melting snow seems somewhat magical.

The Ides have brought a melt almost every afternoon, and each night it freezes without fail. By result, each dawn reveals a hoard of monochrome novelties: ever-changing formations in shrunken dirty snow banks and a marvellous array of partially frozen puddles. My son and I blaze the trail through unchartered terrain every preschool morning, high on the release from cabin fever.

I've been teaching my son the fine art of breaking these iced-over puddles. It's a joy I cultivated the late winter of grade nine, half a lifetime ago. A friend and I took to walking the three kilometers to our high school rather than taking the bus, even if it meant leaving earlier and still getting to class a bit late. We were just mature enough to be defiantly childish, and devoted ourselves to demolishing every icy overlay near our path. I revelled in the slow groan of submerging sheets and the air bubbles that jiggled beneath firmer panes, the appreciation of frosty patterns and preserving fallen leaves warring with anticipation of leaving spider cracks or - better yet - a jagged jumble in our wake.

I know the Inuit's fabled hundred words for snow is a gross exaggeration, but we could use a dozen terms or two for the dance of ice and water on pavement that marks the early urban prairie spring: grey ice, opaque but swirly, solid down to the concrete, white ice over air pockets that shatters musically underfoot, black ice - a treacherous slick whose sheen marks the only difference between wipe-out and benign wet pavement. The best, of course, is clear ice coating translucent pools, turning puddle bottoms into museum cases; its thickness determines whether it reacts to pedestrian traffic like cling wrap, plexiglass, or crystal.

I point out potential targets to my preschooler, but he seems to walk on water. Many a time I catch him looking back, startled, as ice that met his boot like marble crumbles under mine. It seems that puddle crunching is a weightier task than my teenage self presumed. Thankfully, my new initiate isn't too disappointed. May he have many an early spring to hone the craft.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Twitterature: an effort to reclaim my brain

Once upon a time, I was an insatiable book addict. I kept a tome with me almost everywhere I went, stuffed in pockets, stacked between textbooks, tucked in my desk just out of view from my teacher. From my earliest chapter books straight into my mid-twenties, most of my spare time - along with many an hour that wasn't really "spare" - was spent flipping pages and breaking bindings in the never ending quest to find out how it ends. You could say I had a bit of a problem.

Then I got a smart phone, and, slowly but surely, my little addiction took on a new form. It was so much easier to reach for my phone than keep track of where I'd left my book. Easier to convince myself that quickly checking Facebook would take less time than taking in the next chapter, easier to follow shared links and bookmarked blogs than decide what book I wanted to read next.

I still appreciate the exposure to styles and subjects I wouldn't have looked up on my own, but reading only what shows up on a Facebook newsfeed lacks a certain agency, and for every worthwhile article I read on a shared suggestion, I read five that were really a waste of my time. Meanwhile, a new National Geographic arrived in my mailbox each month only to join the stack of issues purchased and unread. Online, I found myself putting off reading the thought-provoking and well-written only to snap up the easy and insipid on impulse. It's hard to read healthy when your browsing a webful of brain candy. I had eluded three kids worth of baby-brain, and here my head was being emptied by my smart phone.

The clincher, however, was Twitterature. I found out about Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly book review link-up via This Vintage Moment. I loved the idea of sharing book reviews with other avid readers, and decided to comment with my current book once I finished it. Next month came, but I wasn't done that book. Same with the month after. This was getting out of hand. It was high time to either get myself to the library or relinquish my bookworm status. And so here I am, back in the world of print and paper, linking up to keep myself honest. I hope to have something to report next month too - minus the lengthy preamble ;)

Here's what I've been reading:

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I've read this novel once or twice before, but this was my first reread as an adult. It's a wonderful story about coming to life, and how fresh air, sunshine, and a little loving attention can work miracles on even the most neglected. It was delightful to read about the magic of spring in the dead of winter, and I had far more sympathy for Mary Lennox than ever before. She reminds me of my own little girl who can be nearly as contrary as Burnett's central character, but just as open to wonder when given the chance. A change in perspective can make all the difference.

Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova
I've been looking forward to this one ever since I finished Still Alice, Genova's debut about living with Alzheimer's. It did not disappoint. It's a fascinating look at life after brain damage, seen through the eyes of the injured herself, and how one woman reevaluates her career, relationships, and self-image once she's forced to slow down long enough to see them properly. I loved the story, the perspective, and another chance to geek out over brain science.

The Blythes are Quoted, by L.M. Montgomery
I wasn't sure about picking up Montgomery's long-lost volume of short stories, poetry, and vignettes, but I'm so glad I took the plunge. The stories are longer and fuller than their Road to Yesterday renditions, adding suspense to the jokes and mysteries, and time to the rather rushed romances. I wasn't too keen on the poems, but they were worth slogging through to get to the Ingleside commentary that followed them. The pre-war vignettes cracked me up, and the post-war ones explain why the work wasn't published in 1942. An illuminating read for any Montgomery fan.

That's all for this round. Back to the bookshelf I go :)

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sometimes, you quote Mumford

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
 Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
 Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be

                                                     -Mumford & Sons

My husband got me the first Mumford & Sons album for my birthday. Or, as it is now known at our house, the "new" Mumford & Sons. The old one is their second album, because we got it first. Both are favourites of both my speaking children, which means I hear the words of Mumford several times a day. So far, I don't mind a bit - probably because he writes stuff like this. It's such a fitting lyric for this time of year, with its journey back to Pascha and Paradise: "the beauty of love as it was made to be."

Walk strong, my friends.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Five Minute Fridays: Willing

Back on the wagon with the five minute post. I've got an hour before the bus drops off my school girl, thirty minutes before my boy emerges from his Chuggington-induced TV-coma, and the baby just fell asleep. I think I have five minutes. We'll see what happens next week ;)

Today's word, "willing".

...and go.

"The heart is willing, but the flesh is week." So the scripture goes. These days, it seems more the other way around: My flesh is oh so willing to sleep when my heart longs to read one more chapter. My flesh would rather have a healthy snack, but my heart reasons that it's the week before Lent, so now's the time to finish up the Christmas chocolate. Coming cold be damned. A nursing mother will soon go wrong if she ignores the tellings of her body. After all, it's keeping someone else alive. And so I tumble into this time of preparation for the Coming Pascha. The ever coming Lord. Telling my heart that some forms of flesh-fasting will have to wait another year. For yet another season always coming in this ever spinning world. For there is yet another saying just as ancient: babies don't keep.

And stop.

Do tune into Lisa-Jo's link up to see what five minutes wrought for other brave writers today.

Carry on!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Post partum reflection

In case you haven't heard elsewhere, we finally had our baby. She arrived in the early morn of December twenty-ninth, pink and healthy, of average weight, and wearing her cord like a toga.

It was four days past "goodness don't come on Christmas," six days after my doula left to be with her family on the coast (part of the contract, but still disappointing), eleven days past "wouldn't it be neat if she were born on Grandpa's birthday," and thirteen days past "due". I don't think she'll mind if her official birth story comes a little late.

Beyond the unexpected timing, the birth also had a change of place. Nearly three weeks of ever-changing positions - including flipping breech just a weekend shy of my due date only to flip back three days later, added to the potential of a pinched cord - was enough to convince our midwife that more monitoring was required for this labour than could be provided in our home. So our planned home water-birth turned into a pitocin-trialed, cervadil-enhanced - but midwife-attended - hospital birth. It was a safe and sound decision, and, after fifteen days of uncertainty, a relief as well, but a significant turn away from what we had expected.

Comparing births to weddings can get a mother-to-be into trouble, but I still see some merit to the metaphor. They both mark the beginning of a relationship - one hoped and intended to be life-long - and a transition into a new phase of life. We think about who we want there to witness the occasion: to help, support, officiate, and celebrate. Sometimes, there is somewhere special we'd like to include as well. Sometimes, location isn't all that important to those involved. The same could be said for creating the atmosphere: music, outfits, decorations, refreshments. Despite what wedding magazines will tell you, not every bride-to-be cares equally about all those details. Despite what modern western medicine might tell you, some mothers-to-be really do. Either way, no matter how carefully or creatively you plan, something is going to go wrong.

It might be a small detail - a candle unlit, a blanket forgotten, the wrong music played. Someone special might be unexpectedly absent, or the venue unexpectedly changed. The mishap might be noticed by everyone present, or unnoticed by everyone but you. And your gut reaction may vary from a laugh or a shrug to feeling like the world has ended. At the end of the day, however, as long as there's a babe in your arms or a ring on your finger, you have succeeded. The rest is all gravy. But that doesn't mean you can't appreciate a good gravy.

I've told many a friend and acquaintance about the mishaps at our wedding. My parents had an appliance die that weekend (I forget which one), something was up with the dog sitter, and I never did get sunflowers in my bouquet. Our choir director and his family ran into car trouble half a province away and had to turn back for home. Our back-up stepped in seamlessly, but we were sorry they couldn't be present for the day. We posed outside for wedding photos in 8 degree weather with half the wedding party in strapless cocktail-length dresses, and it rained through our (thankfully indoor) reception. There was also a mess-up in the paperwork that we didn't discover for nearly two months after the day. Fortunately, the marriage certificate still has the right date.

These flubs tend to get the highlight in the retelling of my wedding tale. They add humour and drama to the narrative, and a little something for the listener who doesn't feel like I do about cake (it was fabulous). But they didn't prey on my mind throughout my wedding day. There was simply too much wonderful to take in to dwell on the negative. In the sensory overload of love and support, the joy and excitement, what was missing from the day as planned paled in the presence of the day that was.

Looking back on my youngest daughter's birth, I see it in much the same way. There was a little less excitement, a lot less guests (and, consequently, notably less clothes), and considerably more plain hard work, but all that was surpassed by overwhelming love and constant support. I had my disappointments, as well as many pleasant surprises, and all will be unpacked in time. Honestly, I just wanted to get writing again, and not mentioning the birth didn't sit right. So while details may still be too fuzzy for a proper birth story, I have my over-arching theme: my experience did not meet my expectations, but the changes didn't ruin my day. Sometimes there is far too much "now" to focus on what was supposed to be.