My lovely bicycle is back on the road this after a winter off. She’s looking and driving especially fine after a tune-up at the Tandem Bike Cafe (thanks Clint!). It’s a pleasure to be riding again with spring-time in full bloom, and especially after our recent visit to Copenhagen, which is a truly inspiring place when it comes to the possibilities of bikes as a mode of transportation. Everyone – everyone – rides bicycles in Copenhagen. Old, young, with kids in tow and without. We even saw someone transporting a dresser by bike. Everyone we talked said the same thing: it makes us healthier and it’s cheaper. “The only people with cars are people who are very rich, or who live far away,” said one server in a great restaurant we went to called the Halifax. So simple, so practical – so Danish.
It was interesting to visit the national museum and see that this choice has been alive and well since the 1930s, when, according to the museum, the people decided to ignore cars and stay focused on bikes.
The scale of bicycle use is amazing. An army of well-dressed folks coming and going via bicycle during the commuter hour, giant parking lots of bicycles outside the metro stations, and the presence of many bicycles outside of every apartment, cafe, workplace and museum. It made our North American dependence on cars seem even more crazy than I already thought.
Here are some photos so you can see what I mean. Such excellent inspiration for spring cycling!
Today, when I was looking up a poem by Margaret Atwood, I came across another one I’d forgotten about called “After the Flood, We.” It was published in her collection The Circle Game in 1964.
If there is one thing I love, it’s watching an artist play out a set of themes over a long period of time. Margaret Atwood is like that. The frightening future is an obvious example, seen in one of her most memorable works, The Handmaid’s Tale, and now in the MaddAddam trilogy, which is extra terrifying because everything in it feels too possible, too close, too actually-happening and not-made-up to fit into that “dystopian future” category everyone keeps talking about.
I’ve been reading the trilogy since Christmas. What does it mean to see this poem on the same day I closed the cover on her novel The Year of the Flood? What does it mean to have two works titled so much the same, yet be separated by 50 years? Are they related at all? Only Margaret can answer that question, but I say yes. They have to be! If you’re an artist, you’ll know what I mean – for me at least, it’s the stuff of hopes and dreams that the thing you write today will evolve into something so beautifully-formed over the course of a long life’s work.
On second thought, this is not sounding nearly dystopic enough. Forgive me and my hopeless nostalgia. Clearly it’s time to move on to book number three: MaddAddam is waiting.
Fuzzy, giant magnolia buds silhouetted against the sky – along 10th Avenue, just west of Main Street. Even more lovely are the grins from fellow walkers who see me capturing these whimsical things.
I know I must look silly – constantly taking pictures of every little thing that grows or looks like an ocean or a cat. It helps me tune in, or tune out, depending on what’s needed. There was a guy today who laughed out loud at me taking a picture of the heritage houses a little further up 10th. But he laughed in a good way. I’ve remembered it all night.
Thanks to everyone who donated to Cupcake Day for the SPCA! I made several dozen cupcakes this month, and I’m happy to say I surpassed my fundraising goal. Hooray for the animals!
Of all the cupcakes I made, these are my favourites: carrot coconut with cream cheese frosting. I cannot be left alone in the house with them, so I am very happy to be boxing them up for delivery to my generous donors.
Usually I tinker with recipes to make them more healthy, but you’ll see below that this is not the case. I wanted my cupcakes to be as delicious as possible so people would feel good about handing over dollars. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are no calories when you’re raising money for animals.
Be sure to use SPCA Certified or cage-free eggs – especially important when you’re baking in support of animal welfare!
Carrot coconut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting
Adapted from the Rebar Cookbook
Makes 12 cupcakes or 24 mini-cupcakes
2 cups grated carrots
3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white or cane sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons of each: cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/2 block (227g) cream cheese
1-1/4 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 350F. Combine carrots, coconut and walnuts in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until the mixture triples in volume. Stir in vegetable oil and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and fold into sugar-eggs mixture. Fold in carrot mixture. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes.
For frosting, combine all ingredients and whip together until smooth. Spread on cupcakes once cooled and sprinkle nutmeg on top (freshly grated nutmeg is a beautiful thing if you have it).
These cupcakes are delicious with coffee. At our house we made a French press with some of the Kona coffee beans we brought home from Hawaii – so good that it convinced me to eat cupcakes for breakfast one day (so bad!).
It poured down snow today. Big white flakes floated down all afternoon while I worked in my studio. I’ve been in Vancouver four years now and this is the snowiest winter yet. I can now count four times I’ve worn the winter boots I brought from Calgary and thought I’d never wear again.
Here are a few photos from earlier this week when there was sunshine – the last of my Christmas paperwhites (they last forever if you keep them outside) and my birthday tulips. I’ll be thinking of them fondly when I navigate tomorrow’s icy streets.
Here is my offer: I will bake cupcakes for you any time between now through February 24. Any flavour, any quantity, from one to one hundred. With just one small catch: that you make a donation to Cupcake Day, which is a national fundraiser for SPCAs and Humane Societies.
Puppies, kittens, bunnies, chickens, pigs, horses, cows, owls…there is a vast menagerie of creatures who are cared for by animal shelters, protected by animal cruelty officers, and helped through education and outreach programs. Animals in need deserve as much help as we can given them, especially if all you have to do is make or eat a cupcake.
To start things off, here are some delicious salted chocolate cupcakes. If you’re in the neighbourhood, please let me know and I will bring you a few to sample. If you’re far away, give the recipe a try and feel free to add a few dollars to my fundraising efforts for the SPCA.
Important note: cupcakes eaten to raise money for animals are free of calories. Totally guilt free! Virtuous, even…
I’ve been told by my cupcake taster that I should play down the vegetables included in this recipe. So instead we will focus on its moist, chocolatey deliciousness and give thanks to Joy the Baker, who inspired the recipe below. I’ve been wanting to try a beet chocolate cake recipe since I first heard about it a few years ago, and I’ve been experimenting lately with plant-based substitutes for the traditional eggs and dairy used in baking. Happy day…unlike some kitchen experiments, in this one all all you taste is chocolate.
Salted chocolate cupcakes
Makes 12 regular or 24 mini cupcakes
2 tablespoons ground chia or flax seeds
1/3 cup hot water
3/4 cup organic margarine (I use Earth’s Choice), softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 cup cooked, grated beets
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used a gluten-free flour mix)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk
Preheat oven to 350F. Stir together chia or flax seeds and hot water in a small bowl. Let rest for 5 minutes until they develop an egg-like consistency.
Combine margarine and sugars and beat with a mixmaster or muscle-power until smooth. Add in beets and vanilla and mix until combined.
Stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder and salt. Add half of flour mixture to beet-margarine mixture along with half of the almond milk. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk, taking care not to over-mix the batter.
Spoon the batter into greased cupcake tins and bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops look done. Let cool and frost.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 cups icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons almond milk
Sea salt to sprinkle on top (if you’re not a fan of salt, try chopped nuts or dark chocolate)
Beat together butter and cocoa powder until smooth. Stir in vanilla and icing sugar, and then add milk until the frosting reaches a good consistency. Spread over cupcakes. Sprinkle each cupcake with a tiny bit of sea salt on top. Don’t forget to donate to the SPCA!
Does it need to be so long?
Isn’t that the only question when it comes to an 832-page book?
Eleanor Catton’s novel, a mystery set in 19th century New Zealand during the gold rush, has been praised for its storytelling prowess and awarded The Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, among other honours. 28 years old, author two successful novels, winner of mega literary prizes: sounds like the type of person you might love to hate. Until you hear her talk about her work. A couple of months ago I listened to Hal Wake’s interview with her and I was smitten by her intelligence and passion for writing, and also her clever use of astrological charts as a way to structure the book.
The Luminaries is a perfect title to reflect the celestial underpinning of the story, and to represent the cast of characters that light up the gold rush town of Hokitika. The tangling and untangling of more than a dozen lives and stories – chemist, whore, chaplain, hatter, hotelier, banker and so on – is what made the book for me. I like how they are all someone, how each character has a purpose in the story and a place in the town.
It’s inspiring to read a book as meticulously crafted as this one. I agree with the prize juries and critics that the structure Eleanor Catton employs is brilliantly executed and conceived. It’s a symphony, not a sonnet, though, so be prepared to settle in.
If you’re going to read this book, may I suggest a week at the beach? It fits in beautifully with all things aloha where I am right now.