mmmmmmmm….gooey booziness….



….and with that, onwards to happier, food-related goodness….

Over the holidays, I did venture back into the kitchen for some treat-making.  I didn’t do a lot of  flour-sugar-butter baking, instead, most of the goodies I made involved pots of syrup boiling away on the stove-top – and this recipe is a definite keeper.

I decided to whip up a batch of home-made marshmallows, something I have made before, though haven’t mentioned them here yet.  It all started a couple of years ago when my sister sent me one of her classic “here-you-should-make-these” emails, and included a recipe for toasted coconut marshmallows from Gourmet Magazine.  I gave them a try, and they really are about 1000 times easier than I would have thought scratch marshmallows would be.  Oh, who am I kidding – the idea of making my own marshmallows had never crossed my mind.  Why would it?  I’ve never been a huge marshmallow fan, unless they are the toasted, crispy, sticky, gooey things we ate off pointy branches while sitting around a camp-fire… and it’s been a looooooong time since I was anywhere near a campfire.  I’m a city girl through and through.  Ok, so Sis wants me to make them, even though she’s almost 2800km away and won’t get to eat them anyway… Weeks later I got around to it and they were indeed good.  Not exactly memorable, but good.  I’ve made a couple of batches since, with different flavours and syrups, and still, they’ve just been “good”.  meh….

Preparing to make a batch of kid-friendly pomegranate marshmallows, I hopped onto the Gourmet website for the recipe and suddenly noticed a couple of interesting variations to the coconut ones – avocado (hmm… interesting – I’m not exactly an avocado-lover, and hubby won’t touch ‘em with a  10-foot pole, but I can see how they might be really good… file that one away under “recipes to try someday”), and Lillet, a french aperitif wine with strong citrus components (I’ve never heard of Lillet, but then again I’m not exactly an aficionado of alcohol with my 1/4 glass of wine every 6-10 months booze habit).  That’s when the wheels started turning, and I began thinking not about marshmallows as the pillowy, powder-coated sweets you pop in your mouth, but as the tiny, melty treats you find floating on the top of your hot cocoa… and you know what I *love* in my hot cocoa?  Bailey’s Irish Cream. {light bulb moment} OMG – I wonder if that would work?  Could you swap out the Lillet and replace it with Bailey’s?  My tastebuds could already imagine the result, so I dug through the dusty liquor cabinet, grabbed the squat brown bottle of sticky-sweet liqueur, and fired up the stove. Within half-an-hour, the goo (batter?) was setting up in the pan and I was licking the spatula clean.  Yoo-ree-kah, these were gonna be gooooooooood. An hour later, I came to the conclusion that it’s almost a waste to put these in your hot cocoa – their deliciousness is over-powered by the rich chocolate drink.  That’s ok – I’ll just eat them as the lovely little confections they are.

A few evenings later, I was sharing my new discovery with a friend of ours when she told of us how an aunt of hers had, one evening around the camp-fire, taught them how to toast the outside of the marshmallow just enough that you could pull off the outer “skin”, fill it with a bit  it of Bailey’s and then pop the whole thing in your mouth.  Oh my god – why didn’t I think of it before??  These new marshmallows would be amazing if they were toasted.  A bamboo skewer and a minute over a burner on my gas stove confirmed it.  Now they were absolutely addictive!  We spent the next hour nibbling on toasted Irish cream marshmallows and eventually stumbling on to our own genius version of s’mores… toasted Bailey’s marshmallows sandwiched between two crisp chocolate cookies – definitely a decadent and grown-up version of a childhood favourite.

Now, a word of warning; if you’re a bit OCD in the kitchen and like your kitchen to be spotless even while cooking, then this recipe may not be for you.  As tidy as you attempt to work, when it comes to the cutting-and-coating part of marshmallow making, you will have confectioner’s sugar everywhere, and probably push you way out of your cleanliness comfort-zone.  But you have to trust me – they are totally worth it.  And I’ve figured out a couple of tricks that keep the mess somewhat more contained – a couple of large bowls and a sieve are essential and make the whole job a lot easier, as does working with just a few squares of marshmallow at a time.  If you try and cut the whole pan and then coat them all at once, it will be a nightmare…. believe me.

A couple of things are differences when I made these vs regular marshmallows; one – the syrup has a bit of a curdled look to it, probably because of the cream in the Bailey’s.  This doesn’t effect the final product, but it doesn’t look overly appetizing when you’re making it. Two – the finished marshmallow isn’t quite as voluminous as the other versions.  They’re still fluffy and gooey, but my previous attempts with coconut or pomegranate marshmallows are about 1-2 cm thicker when made in the same pan – a flaw I am completely willing to overlook based on how incredibly good they are in every other respect.

So, whether you make these as a finishing touch to a much of hot chocolate in the winter time, or as a grown-up treat for your summer camping trip, or as part of the dessert buffet at your next fancy fête (though we are pretty much out of party season now), the bottom line is that you absolutely *must* make these at some point.  They are over-the top delicious, and will make you fall in love with marshmallows again, even (or especially) if you have always dismissed them in the past.

Bailey’s Irish Cream Marshmallows
(for grown-ups!)

(adapted from Gourmet’s Lillet Marshmallows or Toasted Coconut Marshmallows)

Makes approx 64 marshmallows
INGREDIENTS
  • 3  envelopes (21g) unflavored gelatin
  • 180 ml  (3/4 cup) Bailey’s Irish Cream, divided
  • 302 g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 342 g (1 cup) light corn syrup
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) water
  • pinch salt
  • approximately 100 g (1/2 cup) confectioners sugar for dusting and dredging

DIRECTIONS

Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan – be sure to use a relatively flavourless oil, such as canola or grape seed.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, pour 120 ml (1/2 cup) of the Bailey’s and sprinkle the gelatine on top.  Set aside so the gelatine can bloom while you make the syrup.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, corn syrup, water and remaining 60 ml (1/4 cup) Bailey’s.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, without stirring, until a thermometer registers between 238˚-240˚F (114˚-115˚C).  Remove from heat

With the mixer running at low speed, pour the hot syrup into the gelatine mixture in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl.  Once all of the syrup is added, increase speed to high and beat until the mixture is fluffy and forms a thick ribbon when the beater is lifted – about 10 -12 minutes.

Scrape the marshmallow mixture into the oiled baking pan, and smooth the top as best you can (a lightly oiled spatula does a good job here).

Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature, until the surface is no longer sticky and you can gently pull the marshmallow away from the sides of the pan with your fingertips. About 1-3 hours

Using a sieve, generously dust a cutting board with confectioner’s sugar.  Carefully invert the baking pan onto the cutting board (or do it with gusto and then wait 3 minutes for the cloud of sugar to dissipate, your choice, you’ve been warned).  I find that using a lightly-textured plastic cutting board works best here.

Dust the top of the marshmallow with icing sugar, and, using a very sharp knife, cut the marshmallow into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares.  It can be helpful to dip the knife blade in a bit of oil first, but getting your knife blade coated in sticky gumminess is inevitable.  When it becomes too coated in marshmallow, rinse it off under very hot water, just be sure to make sure everything is *completely bone dry* again before you commence cutting.  Water is not your friend in this recipe!

Now, as I mentioned before, it’s been my experience that trying to cut and dredge all of the marshmallows at once is a nightmare.  Instead, cut a one inch strip of marshmallow, and then divide that strip into one inch squares.  Toss about 4-6 of the squares into a bowl of confectioner’s sugar, and roll them around to make sure they are coated completely.  Using your fingers (again, trying to stay clean here is futile), pull the dusted cubes out of the bowl, and throw them into the sieve, and toss them around in the sieve for a bit.  This will shake off all of the excess sugar, so you are just left with lovely little marshmallows that don’t stick to one another, which is the whole point of coating them in the first place –  the powdered doughnut effect is not what you are going for here.

The original recipe recommends that you store these layered between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight container, in a dry place at cool room temperature, but I had great success just throwing them into a big ziplock bag.  That said, I live in avery dry climate, which works to my advantage here.  If you live someplace humid, or it’s pouring down with rain the day you make these, then go nuts and do the layered parchment thing… water and marshmallow are definitely foes.

Now that you’ve got your tasty little cubes of gooey booziness made, enjoy them however you like.  If you want to try the chocolate cookie and melty marshmallow sandwiches I mentioned above, click here for the recipe I recommend pairing them with.

Enjoy!

I’m back.



My last post on this blog was May of 2011.  I’ve been trying to figure out why I haven’t been able to write these past few months and it seems that I am blocked.  Not in the usual “I can’t think of anything to write” sense, but more “nothing else will come until I get this out” sense.  So here it is.  It has nothing to do with food or baking or dessert, but it does have everything to do with something that affects millions of people everyday, and I think it needs to be talked about more openly.  Today, with Bell.ca’s Let’s Talk day, and the airing of the documentary “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me” – today is the day I post this and move forward once more.

5 years ago, I was one of those people who thought that depression was a choice you made – “you either decide to be happy, or you dwell on all the negatives in your life” or a sign of weakness.  I had known and worked with a number of people who were on some kind of anti-depressant, and was naively of the opinion that these pills were over-prescribed by doctors to anyone who was just having a bad day, when what they really needed was to stop feeling sorry for themselves and snap out of it.  But that was then, and this….this is now.

I have suffered from serious depression.  It was quite a surprise to me when it happened, or more accurately, when it was diagnosed, since it doesn’t just occur overnight.  I’ve always been known as the cheerful, happy girl who loves to laugh – so how could this be happening to me?

Depression, I have since learned, can be brought on by a number of different things; physiological problems, such as an imbalance in hormone or seratonin levels, or the more obvious cause, emotional stress or trauma.  The latter, in my opinion, is what triggered the whole thing for me – a two year cycle of severe emotional stress that I thought I could just “get through”.  It started when my husband had what most people would call a “nervous breakdown”.  I still remember the day that it happened – the drive to work during my lunch-hour, the call 5 minutes later from a supervisor, who recognized what was going on and told me I needed to come pick him up and get him to a doctor.  She was incredibly sympathetic.  I was robotic.  He was diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder, brought on by years of trying to suppress emotional traumas from his childhood.  As I understand it (in layman’s terms, as it was explained to me by a therapist), when you go through stress, be it emotional, physical or otherwise, your body produces stress chemicals.  When you do something to deal with that stress, such as cry, write in a journal, or go to the gym and take it out on a punching bag, your body releases those chemicals and then can carry on as normal.  Suppress all of this and it can rear it’s ugly head in the form of a ulcers, panic attacks, or worse… a heart-attack,  Hubby was brought up to believe that he needed to suppress his emotions rather than deal with them, so, after several decades of suppressing and storing up all of these chemicals, his body took charge of the situation and started getting rid of the toxic build-up all on its own – through panic attacks that had no apparent trigger.  Sitting at dinner and playing a game of backgammon could bring it on.  Being in a grocery store.  Walking the dogs.  Sitting on the couch reading a book.  These attacks would happen without warning, and sometimes several times a day.

His doctor put him on medication, and he began seeing a therapist.  Gradually, the dosage of medication was increased again and again until he felt more stable, but he was no longer himself.  In addition to blocking his emotions from hitting the low spots, the meds also blocked any really high spots, meaning he never felt really happy either. “It just makes you numb” he said to me.  This, combined with my total lack of understanding what was really going on or how to properly deal with it, put an incredible strain on our marriage.  In just a few short weeks I had gone from thinking how wonderful our life was, to sharing a home with a detached, numb version of my beloved, who was off work and so heavily medicated that he seemingly lacked the motivation to do anything.  I was angry and frustrated, and ignorantly thought that this was just something we needed to “get through”, as though we could control it.  Not surprisingly, between the emotional numbness my husband was experiencing, and the emotional roller-coaster that I was on, our sex life was now non-existent.  Naturally created an additional strain and removed any sense of connection that we knew before.  It wasn’t long before we were essentially nothing more than roommates who just happened to sleep side by side in the same bed.  To make things worse, we weren’t really facing this together, but instead we were each going through our own personal hell; he, struggling to get to the core of the problem, learning new skills on how to manage his anxiety attacks, and piling on the guilt for what he was putting me though, and me confused, frustrated and not having any real understanding of what he was going through.  I had never felt so alone in my whole life.

Over the next two years, the universe would see fit to pile even more stress and sadness on our lives.  Our beloved dog Cairo’s health was failing and we had to go through the anguish of having her euthanized.  His mother was diagnosed with leukaemia.  My grandmother passed, after a lengthy battle with alzheimer’s, causing my mom (another cheerful, happy person) to go through a sadness and despair like I had never seen.  Hubby’s father had a cancer scare, which thankfully turned out to be benign, but was stressful nonetheless. Through all of this, we were each of us alone, lacking the support that spouses normally provide one another. It was no shock to either of us that our marriage was now hanging on by a thread.  Every day I would wonder if our marriage would survive, or for how long – two hours?  – two days?  Perhaps things were too badly damaged and divorce was the only answer.  Hubby told me he would wake up every day and expect to find a note telling him I was gone.  I contemplated carrying my passport with me so that I could catch a plane to my sister’s on a moments notice.  During this time hubby decided he was ready for a new puppy and I agreed, despite the fact that I was still grieving the loss of Cairo.  I was foolishly and desperately hoping it would inject a little fun and happiness into our lives, and somehow magically cure him and fix all that was broken with us.  Instead, puppyhood with a strong-willed bulldog was now more than I could handle, and something in me snapped.  I packed a suitcase and left to stay with my mother – something that had never happened in all our 15 years together.

After a week apart, hubby convinced me to come home.  We talked and cried, and decided our marriage was worth fighting for.  The next day, I made an appointment for us to see a marriage counsellor, hoping our marriage was still salvageable.  In our first session, after learning how much medication hubby was on, our therapist said “well, it’s no wonder you guys are having problems – your husband is pretty much tranquilized all of the time.”  It was then that I started to truly learn just how much the medication was affecting him, being on more than 8 times the normal dosage.  I felt terrible – I had no idea.  It became pretty clear to me that his anxiety levels were pretty high if it took that much medication to keep him stabilized.

Over the next several months, we continued our counselling and worked on connecting with one another again.  We travelled to Paris for a month, mostly because I knew I needed a break – I needed to feed my soul.  The trip was great, a sign that good things were starting to happen again.  Gradually, things got better and we started to climb out of the darkness, side by side as partners again.  The doctor began reducing hubby’s medication, very slowly weaning him off, and he returned to work.  That Christmas, as we headed down to California to spend the holidays with my sister, hubby took his last pill and things were feeling like normal again.  I for one, was happy and relieved to see that we had weathered the storm and survived.  Our life was finally back on track.

Less than four months later, as I prepared to return to Paris with my sister and mom, for mom’s 65th birthday, tragedy struck once more.  I picked up hubby from work, and as we parked in the grocery store parking lot, he turned to me and said “I have something to tell you, but I didn’t want to do it while you were driving.  Gilbert’s gone missing”.  I was stunned.  Gilbert was a dear friend of mine, a former co-worker who I ate lunch with every day for two years – a brilliant and wonderful guy with an incredible sense of humour.  We would even hang out outside of work, hubby, me, Gilbert and his roommate/best friend, Suzette. We had lost touch over the years, since we now worked in opposite ends of the city, though I occasionally bumped into him and Suzette down on Whyte Ave.  Ironically, over the past few months, I had been wondering how he was doing, thinking I should call him up and meet for coffee… only I never did.  Now I was sitting in my car, fearing the worst.  It didn’t make sense…Gilbert was nothing but a big teddy bear of a guy, but didn’t look the part – if you met him in a dark alley, you’d probably turn and walk the other way.  He was a big guy and often wore a full-length black leather coat.  If Suzette didn’t know where he was, then something was very, very wrong.  Police were searching, and I knew that there were hundreds of people in the city who, like me, were hoping that good news would come soon.  Gilbert touched a lot of people’s lives, all of whom became his friends.  I never met anyone who had anything bad to say about him.  He was loved.

A few weeks later, after returning home from our girls trip to Paris, the worst had come.  They pulled Gilbert’s body out of the river.  Gilbert, suffering from depression, had taken his own life.  For weeks, I’d been berating myself for not having picked up that phone and called him, wondering if it would have made a difference, if going for coffee with a long-lost pal would have brightened a seemingly unbearable day.  My life had been touched by suicide before – a distant cousin I hardly knew, the son of a family friend – but this time the news shook me to my very core.  It broke my heart to think that he saw so little hope or happiness ahead, that death would seem the only answer or chance for relief.  With this, the final straw after years of heartache, I slipped into a depression of my own, only I didn’t notice it at first.  I thought I was just still stunned about my friend’s death.  I had no motivation to do anything.  Getting out of bed and getting dressed was a painful chore I dreaded.  My job, which had previously been busy and challenging in an office of 85, had changed and was slow and completely un-challenging in an office of just 5 – I could go hours each day without even hearing another human being, let alone inter-acting with one.  The isolation magnified everything and I realized I was drowning.  I tried to snap out of it on my own (still oblivious to my lack of control over the situation) –  I attempted to keep myself busy and get involved in other activities that would re-awaken an interest in life.  But nothing worked.  I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.  Still clinging to my old way of thinking, and fearful that I would now become the medicated zombie I had witness hubby become, I resisted going on anti-depressants, but my doctor explained that they were necessary and would help.  I gave in and was prescribed medication (Pristiq) and immediately on medical leave of absence from work.  I made an appointment for counselling, heartbroken and devastated that this was happening to me.

The months passed.  Foggy, heavy, sleepy days came and went.  I forced myself to get out of the house to walk the dogs as much as possible, knowing that the fresh air and exercise would be helpful.  Still, I had no trouble sleeping for 12 or more hours each day, and getting even simple tasks accomplished was almost painful, but I made sure to keep up with my counselling and working through all of my grief.  I discovered that not only was I grieving for the loss of our dog, my grandmother, and everything else that had been piled on, but the loss of my grandfather 13 years earlier was still a fresh and open wound.  I also learned that the winters affect me deeply – Seasonal Affected Disorder is something that many Canadians (and any other northern climate dwellers around the world) struggle with.  The winter months when we see only a few precious hours of daylight are hard on many people – you wake up and go to work in total darkness at 8am, and your commute home at 4:30pm is just as dark.  If you work in a windowless room, you can literally go months without seeing daylight.  For me, however, the bitter cold and snow are the things that make winter so unbearable for me.  Having to pile on layer after layer of clothing, just to get the dogs out for as long a walk as they can manage in what is typically -20˚C, but can be as low as -50˚C with the windchill.  The snow makes the roads and sidewalks treacherous, and no matter how bad the blizzard, people in these parts never take a “snow day” and just stay home… if the roads are closed because of a winter storm, the mentality here is “I guess I’ll just have to get up 2 hours early so I can still make it to work on time”.  I really struggle with the idea of risking my life in such conditions so I can get to my desk and move paper and answer emails – I’m not a heart surgeon with patients whose lives literally depend on me, so why can’t I just stay home where it is safe and warm??  Saying I want to hibernate is an understatement – I don’t want to leave my house from November to April unless I have to or it is unseasonably warm.  Antidepressants don’t change this for me – I still hate living through these winters, and I feel no strong connection with this city, even though I was born & raised here.  I want, and need, to live somewhere else.  I know that now, and am lucky to have a wonderful and supportive husband who is up for the adventure.

Through the months and years that I struggled with depression, there was one thing that helped me tremendously through all of this was the one thing hubby never really had; a partner who truly understood what I was going through and was able to give me the love, support, patience and guidance to help me find a way out of the darkness.

Somewhat to my surprise, the medication did what it was supposed to do – it helped me fell better… I mean, of course it “worked”, but I didn’t feel numb or zombie-like, as I had feared, nor did I feel completely dependant on it. It’s not a magic pill that suddenly makes all of your cares and worries disappear and make you feel like running a marathon… it just lifts the weight of depression off your shoulders a bit, and gives you a break so you can begin to think and care about something else.  I was starting to feel good again, and after 14 months off work, I was ready to go back.  Life continued to get back to a state of normal, though I was still on my medication.  I thought I was in the clear….

Over the next several months, after talking with my doctor, we began slowly decreasing my medication, with the goal of being completely med-free.  I didn’t notice much change at first – some minor sleep disruptions, similar to what I went through when I began taking it. Weeks passed and dosages lowered, and I was happy to see I was still feeling like myself.  Other changes in my body didn’t go unnoticed, but it was a while before I would connect those symptoms with withdrawal.  I did a quick search on the internet and found a list of common withdrawal symptoms associated with Pristiq.  “Ok, now I have some answers, all of this seems pretty normal, so I’ll be fine.”  I spent 3 1/2 weeks traveling through Europe – hubby sent me away for what is typically the coldest and worst part of our winter, and so I could find out “where I can tolerate winter”, so we could find a new place to live where I’m not miserable 6 months out of every year.  I visited friends and enjoyed the beauty and history that is everywhere in that part of the world.  I came home, refreshed and ready for us to begin a new chapter of our life together.  I started clearing out the clutter and getting rid of things that would not be worth the cost of moving. A few months later, I had dropped down another notch on the medication dose, and was now taking 1 pill every 3 days.  In just a few more weeks I should be off the meds completely.  I was excited to be going to Germany for a food writing and photography workshop, where I would be meeting dynamic and talented food bloggers as well as connecting with the wonderful friends I have made through blogging.   I would spend a week in Germany – a couple of days in Frankfurt, head to Weimar for the workshop and then off to Heidelberg to explore a bit there.

Two days into the workshop, inexplicably, I hit absolute rock bottom…the lowest point of depression that I have ever hit, and one that I was absolutely terrified of.  For the first time in my life, thoughts of suicide entered my mind.  I was startled.  And scared.    What was wrong with me???  Why was I so broken???  Here I was, in a beautiful place, surrounded by incredible people, having a great time, laughing, engaged, being creative, learning new things… I should feel happy, not haunted by feelings of hopelessness.  If I couldn’t feel happy in a situation like this, would I ever be able to feel happy again???  I was devastated.  For the rest of the workshop I was distracted with these questions circles hrough my head.  I didn’t know what to do.  I felt disconnected from everything around me, and suddenly desperate to get home to my husband, to something I knew would feel comforting and safe.  I was frightened enough by my sudden relapse that I even called from Germany and made a doctor’s appointment for after I would return home.  I told hubby what I was going through, and he soothed me as best he could from half-way around the world. Somehow, in the middle of this crisis, I knew that I *had* to tell those close to me what was going on.  One thing I had been angry with Gilbert for was for not asking for help, when he was surrounded by friends who would have done anything to help him if they were given the chance.  I was not going to make the same mistake. I knew I there was no way I going to make it through this alone.

Coming home, I confided in my closest friend one evening, who shook her head knowingly and said to me  “It’s hard, not being in your own mind, isn’t it?”.  It was nice to know that people understood, though it would be several days before I would truly “get what she was talking about.  It seems that she and my husband were both aware of something I was oblivious to; that I was experiencing classic withdrawal.  I saw my doctor, who recommended I go back up to the last dose that I felt good at – one pill a day – and that maybe in a few months time, we could try the weaning process again.  I agreed, heartbroken that I had taken such a huge step back, when everything had seemed to be going so well.  I filled my prescription and went home.  Three days later, I came across the list I had saved of withdrawal symptoms, when I read them all the way through to the very last one… “WORSENED  DEPRESSION”.  It was like a thunderbolt to me – all this time I had been wondering what was wrong with ME, was I ever going to feel like ME again…. in actuality, the way I was feeling had nothing to do with me, it was the drug!!!  I immediately felt like a 1000 lb weight had been lifted off of me.  I was not broken, and feeling “normal” again felt like a possibility!   When I called my friend to tell her of my revelation, she said “I thought you knew what I meant the other night – that you’re just going through withdrawal!”  Hubby was also under the impression that I was aware of the side-effects, but I was oblivious.

I called to make another appointment with my doctor (whom I was pretty upset with, for not explaining to me that this was the drug doing all of this), but wouldn’t be able to see her for another week.  I went down to the pharmacy, to get a “second opinion”, now aware that they would know more about the drug I was taking than my doctor apparently did.  They told me I would still have to consult with my physician, but recommended a possible treatment plan to help lessen these side effects.  I also immediately went back on the 1-pill-every-3-days plan, armed with more knowledge and determined to push through this rough patch and reach my goal of eventually being drug-free.  A week later, my doctor and I worked out a much slower taper for finally getting off the meds.  It took the rest of the summer, and there were still some minor hiccups with but I eventually took my last pill.

With all of this going on, I stopped blogging.  As time went on it became harder and harder for me to contemplate starting again – I was avoiding it and all of the other social media I used to take part in.  I think in reality, I was avoiding telling the truth, and having to answer to many questions to the friends I had made through my blog.  Even with all I had learned over these past few years, there is still a lot of shame that goes along with this illness.  Most of it is self-imposed, but it’s still there.

It’s another winter here in Alberta, and hubby and I still haven’t realized (yet!) the dream of moving away to a place where the winters are bearable and where we can live the life we want, but we’re getting closer and not giving up.  He changed jobs after more than 22 years with the same company, and is enjoying the new job, and all of the new things he’s had to learn.  He’s away from me for a month at a time now, which presents a new set of challenges for us, but we’re both in a better headspace now, and able to face those challenges together.  I’m aware that being alone and dealing with winter means I have to work at keeping myself out of the emotional ditch, so to speak, so I stay busy, make sure that I get plenty of time around other people, because it helps me tremendously.  Life’s road will still have plenty of potholes and speed bumps, but having survived the past 5 years together, I know we can conquer anything.

I hope that by telling my story, I can help give hope to even one other human being out there who is struggling to keep their head above water. If I can help just one person make the choice to stay alive and fight and not end up like Gilbert, then all of this will have been worth it.  No matter how hopeless and alone you may feel, you need to know that you are loved, you are not broken, and you are worth saving

 

Things I have learned about depression:

  • Depression is a both a mental illness as well as a physiological disease.  Left untreated, it can actually shrink the brain’s hippocampus and potentially cause permanent damage
  • Most people who experience depression are not aware of it until it becomes severe.  The key warning sign for me is when I no longer have any interest in doing things I normally love…baking, photography, shopping
  • Depression is not something that you can just “snap out of” on your own, nor will it fade or lessen on it’s own like the an event-related sadness we all experience throughout our lives.
  • Anti-depressants were the right decision for me at the time.  That does not mean that they are the right decision for everyone else on the planet, nor would I ever suggest that they are.  Only you and your health practitioners can decide what treatment is best for you
  • One tool I find helpful for me is writing.  Physical pen-to-paper and letting everything inside me spill out onto the page seems to get those things out of my head so I can move forward. Everyone is different, but this one works wonders for me
  • Having depression doesn’t mean you are “weak” or “lazy”, nor are you introverted,  lacking motivation, or whatever other character flaw you want to associate with it – there are plenty of funny, dynamic, incredibly successful people in the world who have battled this disease.  Thankfully, more and more of them are talking openly about it, breaking down the stigmas associated with depression
  • The most important thing you can do for yourself is TALK TO SOMEONE – a loved one, a trusted friend, even reach out and write to me { leaveroomfordessert (at) gmail (dot) com}- it doesn’t matter who it is, but it is essential for you to do it.  You will quickly learn that you are not alone, and you will have made the brave decision to ask for help

Whether you or someone you know is suffering from depression, I absolutely recommend watching the following documentaries.  Education and insight are the only way that we can fight the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

  • “This Emotional Life” PBS Television Series with Daniel Gilbert
  • “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me.” by Michael Landsberg of TSN

 

 

Keeping Food Fresh – The Old Fashioned Way



Sometimes I feel like I should have been a time traveler.  I don’t always feel 100% like I belong in the age in which I was born.  I think the 1940’s & 50’s were the pinnacle of women’s fashion, and who doesn’t long for the days when movie stars were classy like Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant and not the hot messes we see splashed across every tabloid today?  Sure, I *love* some of the technology that is available to me in the grand age of 2011 – heck, I’m even composing this blog post on my iPad, but there are times when it feels like technology is just trying too damn hard, or perhaps just aiming it’s efforts in the wrong direction.  Can anyone explain to me why a battery powered pizza wheel was ever invented, let alone how it could possibly improve on the tried and true method of moving your hand back and forth?  Then there’s the egg cracking/separating gizmo that looks like it takes more time to load it with an egg than it would to crack a dozen eggs.  Sometimes, the best way of doing things is the old-fashioned way.

I’m lucky enough to have some vintage glass fridge containers – the “tupperware” of it’s time, which is definitely the pre-plastic age.  Okay, so they’re not airtight and certainly not leakproof, but they do the job, especially for keeping butter and such.   For all the benefits that plastic products have, their food safety is  coming into question these days and glassware is once again making a comeback.  As a result, over the last year or so, I’ve been gradually transferring my dry goods from plastic containers into mason jars, re-purposed milk bottles and glass canistersGlassware has other benefits too: it doesn’t stain or retain odors like plastic, and your containers can be easily labeled with a sharpie marker, instead of gummy stickers.  At the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, glass food storage is making a comeback, with silicone seals and groovy new colours.  Old is new again and the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage is relevant more than ever.  This is why I turned to old fashioned solutions of how to keep bread fresh.  Since being introduced to the fabulous No-Knead Bread recipe, we almost always have a loaf of bread in the house, but with only two of us, it lasts longer than it would in most households.  Even in my pre-no-knead-bread days, I would buy a lovely baguette at the grocery store and inevitably half of it would turn to stone before it could get eaten.  I tried using kitchen towels and plastic wrap and various other combinations to no avail.  So with a 3-year supply of bread crumbs in my pantry, I knew I had to find another solution.  The answer?  A good old-fashioned bread bin.

Years ago, hubby and I had a slick, modern bread bin where things would go to die.  It was stainless steel with tight seals, which meant that what was “out of sight, out of mind”, became a science experiment growing in a corner of the kitchen.  Gross.  Into the yard sale years it went, and I just resigned myself to a life of bread storage problems.  But while browsing around on eBay, I checked out vintage bread bins and noticed one very big difference between the vintage ones and the shiny new modern ones you can find today: air holes.  All of the vintage bread bins and pie safes have at least one set of air holes punched into them, allowing for some air to get in them, yet not so much that  your bread turns to stone.  I knew this had to be the solution – after all, what had our grandmothers done with freshly baked or bought bread, in those glory days before preservatives and plastic bags?  Wasting food was much more of a sin than it seems to be today, so they must have had a solution that actually worked.  Why had we done away with it?  Oh right – preservatives and plastic bags.  Well, that is broke, so I’m fixing it.

 

The magic is in the holes...

I found a fabulous vintage bread box, complete with air holes, and it even had a glass lid – something I had not seen before but knew immediately that I would like.  If we could see with a glance that there was bread to be eaten, it was less likely to be forgotten in there. So, I placed my bid and in no time my lovely “new” bread bin was installed on my kitchen counter.  I put a piece of parchment paper inside to keep everything clean and put in my loaves of bread: plain, cheese bread and my Hot Cross Bun loaf – all of them homemade and free of preservatives.  A couple I placed cut-side down on the parchment, and one I left resting on it’s bottom. The result?  All three loaves were good to the very last bit of crust for 10 full days – incredible!  No mold, no funky fungus and no bread-shaped rocks.  Hooray for the old-fashioned way!

So, if you’re like me, and have been frustrated with spoiled bread – hit the antique stores, scour the flea markets or surf around on Etsy or eBay, and find yourself a groovy old bread box or pie safe to call your own.  Join the “retro-lutionary” food storage movement and pick up some glass storage jars too!

The Hot Cross Bun Epiphany



Easter is upon us, and the weatherman says we will *finally* break the double-digit temperature mark this weekend!  About time!  The snow storm that hit last week has all disappeared, leaving only the mounds of snow and dirt that have compiled over the winter.  And while most of the people around here are starting to shop the garden centers and greenhouses, the smart ones know we still have a month to go before we can safely put those lovely spring flowers outside…

Having made a lot of headway in my fear of yeast breads, I decided this year I would make one of my favourite Easter treats: Hot Cross Buns.  A soft, spiced bread with dried fruit and citrus strewn throughout and iced with a cross on top, they have been as much an Easter staple for me as chocolate bunnies.  As kids, Easter breakfast was always a mixture of chocolate bunny parts, jelly beans, gnarly-coloured hard-boiled eggs and hot cross buns.  Mom would always buy a tray of buns for the holiday, and in the morning, she’d split open a few and put them under the broiler until they were perfectly toasted.  As soon as they came out of the oven, they were slathered with butter and devoured… salty melted butter mixing with the candied citrus and raisins and spices…. mmmmmmm.

Finding a recipe for Hot Cross Buns proved much harder than I anticipated.  After all, every grocery store bakery in town has had racks and racks of them out for weeks now – so I would have imagined that any cookbooks that do anything with yeast breads would have a recipe for these.  HA!  Nope.  I went through my entire stack of books before I managed to find one, in A Baker’s Tour; Nick Malgieri’s Favourite Baking Recipes from Around the World of all places.  Huh?  Yep – seems these lovelies originally hail from England.  Who would have guessed?  (not me apparently…)

I made the first batch of buns exactly as Chef Nick instructed, and they turned out lovely.  I sent the majority of the bins to work with hubby, where I am told they disappeared fast.  As for the two small buns I saved for my own taste test – well, they disappeared rather quickly as well, though they did have more raisins than I like.  Raisins aren’t my favourite dried fruit, but they are a very traditional ingredient in Hot Cross Buns, so naturally I included them.  Still, I craved more, so I went back into the kitchen to make another batch to enjoy over the weekend, and that’s when it hit me; what is my favourite way to eat hot cross buns?  Answer: split, toasted and buttered.  What’s the biggest problem with that?  Hot cross buns don’t exactly fit in the toaster very well, and firing up the broiler for one bun seems sort of wasteful.  So, why not bake the dough as a loaf?  That way I can enjoy an even, perfectly toasted slice whenever the urge strikes!  Brilliant!  Oh, and this time, I’m omitting the raisins and bulking up on those sweet and chewy little pieces of candied citrus, and maybe some candied ginger to make up the difference.  Oooooh – this was going to be good!

The waiting was the hardest part.  Patience is an absolute requirement when baking anything involving yeast (perhaps that’s one reason yeast and I have not always gotten along in the past).  All the kneading and rising and waiting and rising time was torturous, and the anticipation was killing me.  In the end, however, I was rewarded with a sweet, spiced bread that was everything I had hoped it would be.  And since hubby does not share my affection for Hot Cross Buns (even in loaf form), I have been able to have the entire thing to myself – enjoying a slice of it each morning over this long weekend.

So – however you prefer your hot cross buns, or even if they are something completely new you want to try, here is Nick Malgieri’s recipe, in all it’s perfection… Happy Baking and Happy Easter!

Hot Cross Buns

From A Baker’s Tour: Nick Malgieri’s Favorite Recipes from Around the World

Makes 12 Buns

Sponge:

  • 120 ml (1/2 Cup) milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 71 g (1/2 Cup) unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough

  • 237 g (1 2/3 Cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 67 g (1/3 Cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp each; ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and ground ginger
  • 57 g (4 Tbsp or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 10 pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 120 g (2/3 Cup) currants or raisins, or a mixture of the two)
  • 60 g (1/4 Cup) finely diced candied citron or orange peel

Glaze

  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

Icing

  • 2/3 Cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tsp water

Directions

For the sponge, heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is just lukewarm, no more than 110˚F.  Pour the warm milk into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast.  Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the sponge ferment until it is bubbly: 15 to 20 minutes.

Once the sponge is ready, prepare the dough.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir well to mix.  Place on the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter.  Mix until the butter is finely worked in, about 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape in the sponge.  Add the egg and return to the mixer with the paddle,  Mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Mix the dough again on medium speed until it smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.  Reduce the speed to lowest and add the dried fruits.  Mix until they are evenly distributed in the dough.

Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn the dough over so that the top is buttered.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until is doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press it into a rough square.  Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces with a knife or bench scraper.

Round the dough by pressing it under the palm of your hand as your rotate your hand around the dough.  Arrange the buns on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, and press a cross into the top of each bun with the back of the blade of a table knife.  Cover with a towel or buttered plastic wrap and allow the buns to rise until they are almost doubled, about 45 minutes

About 15 minutes before the buns are completely risen, set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.

Bake the buns until they are a deep golden brown and feel light, about 15-20 minutes.  Just before the buns are finished baking, bring the water and sugar for the glaze to a boil.  Brush the glaze on the buns as soon as they come out of the oven.

Slide the paper from the pan to a rack to cool the buns

For the icing, combine the confectioners’ sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir well to mix.  Place over low heat until the icing is just warm to the touch.  Scrape the icing into a paper cone or small plastic bag and snip the corner.  Pipe a cross on top of each cooled bun, following the indentation made before baking.  Let the icing dry for 30 minutes before serving.

Pistachio Coconut Macaroons



Sometimes you just want a little something sweet, but aren’t really in the mood for the traditional butter-sugar-flour type cookies.  Recently, when my nieces came over for a visit and asked if we could bake something, Coconut Macaroons were just the thing: easy to make, great to make with kids, and quick.  I felt like switching things up a bit, so I added some chopped pistachios to the mix, and then dipped the bottoms in some melted chocolate.  They were fantastic, and a huge hit with the girls, who had way too much fun making them.

Ingredients

  • 250 ml (1 Cup) cream of coconut
  • 30 ml (2 Tbsp) light corn syrup
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200 g (2 1/2 Cups) unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 200 g (2 1/2 Cups) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 100 g (1 Cup) pistachios (if you cannot find unsalted pistachios, eliminate or reduce the 1/2 tsp of salt called for above)
  • 165 g (1 Cup) dark chocolate (chopped or chocolate chips)

Directions

Place a rack in the centre of oven and heat oven to 375˚ degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper set aside.

Whisk together cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in small bowl; set aside. In a food processor, add the pistachios and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped but not ground – three or four short pulses.  Alternatively, you can place the pistachios into a plastic bag or kitchen towel and crush them using a rolling pin or meat pounder.  In a large bowl, mix together unsweetened & sweetened coconut and pistachios, breaking up any clumps of coconut with your fingers . Pour liquid ingredients into coconut and stir together until all ingredients well combined and evenly moistened.

Drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart.  With your fingers, form cookies into pyramid shaped mounds.  Bake until they start to turn golden brown on the edges, about 15 minutes.  Cool cookies on cookie sheets until slightly set, about 5 minutes, before transferring the entire sheet of parchment with cookies to a wire rack.

In a small glass bowl, melt the chocolate  either in the microwave, or over a small saucepan of barely simmering water.  Gently stir melted chocolate until smooth.  Gently take each of the cooled macaroons and dip the bottom 1/3 of the cookie into the chocolate.  Using your finger, wipe most of the chocolate off the very bottom of the cookie, and place the cookie back onto the parchment paper for the chocolate to cool and set – about 15 minutes, and serve.

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