Living the life of leafsure (fall wrap-up, Halloween, and orange chocolate yogurt cake)

Forgive me for that pun.

An end-of-Fall blog post seems inappropriate at this point in November.

Most parts of northern Ontario have already had their first encounter with a snowy friend, and leaves that once clung to the maple trees in our front yard have since drifted to the ground. Fallen, rotten, raked. I am justifying this blog post now on the presumption that it is still autumn in the community where you’re living. Also, a slight Halloween wrap-up post is totally necessary because I believe my frugal AND seasonally-appropriate costume choice must be shown to the world.

But first: fall. Jen and I spent a few hours raking the front and backyard two weekends ago. Ian had done the same just days earlier, however many more leaves had fallen since, creating a matted gold carpet atop the grass.
I’m not a particularly effective raker, however I do happen to be an accomplished leaf-jumper. I am of the belief that no pile of leaves is complete without being collapsed in at least once. Jen and I did our part to ensure this.

Since our front yard clean-up corresponded with the last weekend before Halloween, I was also faced with the task of finding a costume for a get together at my friend’s place that night. I inherently leave Halloween until the last minute every single year, and had already used my procrastination-heavy, improvised-as-hell costume idea last year when I paired my rainbow screen inspired Douglas Coupland shirt dress with a pizza box and donned pipe cleaner antennae. Thats another thing – I’m not a fan of slutty or uncreative Halloween costumes. For the past three years I’ve taken pride in my costume being something you’ve probably never see before – something a little bit kooky. That normally translates to my costume being difficult to understand for anyone who has been drinking. Case in point: I was a California Roll in third-year university, and people kept asking me if I was a soap dish. A soap dish!!! Really??!? Is anyone ever really a hand sanitation holder for Halloween? Anyways, Halloween is something I give no thought to until the day of the party, when, in typical Hilary fashion, I go completely bananas with panic.
The Hilary of Halloween’s past: harajuku girl and a California Roll
And so, with no Halloween costume at 2 p.m. on the day of my party, I set out to transform myself into a leaf bag. I had already been inside one of the bags, after all, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Head pieces also prevail when designing my last minute costume. Be it a tiny cardboard sushi headband or pipe cleaner antennae, I’m going for the head-to-toe look. So naturally I used a needle and thread to sew freshly plucked leaves onto a headband. Matched with these earrings I made in September (see, this costume was as totally meant to be), I was all set.

Jen and Ian also took a last minute approach to Halloween, and came up with equally as creative and downright topical costumes.

Locked out NHL player and a Quebec protester
And because I like to include something food-related with every blog post, here are a few pictures of an orange and chocolate marble yogurt cake I made sometime around Halloween. It was super moist (thanks, yogurt) and paired perfectly with a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream.

And because every blog post nowadays seems to end with a picture of Norbert…

I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you

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Unconventional Saturday nights: The cake painting party

You may recall me mentioning at the end of August that I had moved. Well, it has happened again.

And I’m happy to announce that my new roommates are Jen and Ian, two of my favourite Sudbury friends, the likes of whom I’ve mentioned in random letter dinner and bake sale blog posts. I work with Jen at CBC and would frequently visit their old apartment for rainy nights of Catan, cheesecake, and the opportunity to be sassed out by their cute cat Norbert (more affectionately known as Norb).

Jen and Ian during one of our summer hiking excursions
Norb, up to no good

So here I am, sitting in my new home, typing away on a wireless network that is named after a feline. For the first time in two months I feel settled and at ease. I never really felt at home in the room I was renting before, a tiny bedroom in house I found posted on Kijiji. That place didn’t have the same level of roommate friendship that I’ve come to take for granted over the past four years. I’m already feeling happier and healthier, and am finally living with people who equally enjoy watching Project Runway, eating, biking, and talking about current affairs.

As for the eating part, I’m lucky Jen and Ian enjoy food just as much as I do. They’ve transformed their living room space into a giant dining room, and we often eat dinner together after work. I’ve forgotten how good an influence it can be to live with healthy eaters…I’m finding my food motivation again and am so relieved.

In addition to eating, Jen loves to paint…

…and her and Ian’s entire house is filled with beautiful landscapes and abstracts, each done by Jen or an equally great artist.

Yesterday Jen was working on painting an Autumnal scene, one inspired by a picture either she or I took when we hiked the Cup and Saucer trail on Manitoulin Island over Thanksgiving weekend. As she carefully melded “cool reds” and “warm reds” together on the large canvas, I was leaning on the counter brainstorming what dessert to make. I finally settled on making a Halloween-themed yogurt marble cake, and had pulled out my box of gel food colouring to see if I had sufficient colours to make a deep pumpkin hue. As I sorted through my collection of 12 different dyes, I found myself comparing the burgundies and yellows to the colours Jen was using in her own painting palette.

That’s when a wave of inspiration hit me: we should paint cakes!

I blurted my idea out loud to Jen who, being a creative type like myself, immediately agreed.

At first the idea was to have her replicate the landscape scene onto a 9×13 inch cake. After discussing for a bit, we decided to do something a little more fun: cut the cake into four parts so we could each “paint” our own mini masterpiece.

The cake and the photo inspiration

Steve came over, and “painting” (as well as pizza eating, but check back for that post later) ensued.

Jen and Ian being in love, painted cake style

Then we managed to ward off the sugar comas for long enough to get through a delightful game of Catan. Cake eating, wine drinking, Catan playing, and friends. The makings of a good night.

I got longest road, but Jen won

In case you’re wondering, our canvas cake was a simple white cake recipe I found on the Internet, with a bit of orange zest ground into the white sugar to add a light flavour. A dash of orange extract was also added because, well, why the hell not. This will work with any plain cake recipe, though.

The icing was a simple vanilla buttercream with gel food colouring mixed in. We used normal, medium-sized Ziplock bags to pipe the icing onto the cake. I felt as though I was attending a five-year-olds birthday party with these cakes, and it was brilliant.

There’s nothing quite like ending the night with a rainbow tongue and a sore stomach. I ate three pieces of leftover cake this afternoon.

The letter F: Fudge flan (introducing letter dinners!)

My dad had a minor heart attack when I told him I was going to an “F” party.

Let me give you the same explanation I gave to him.

One of my colleagues, Jen, suggested a brilliant new dinner party series for the CBC/Rad-Can colleagues: letter parties. The premise is simple – each week a letter of the alphabet is chosen. Your goal as a dinner party attendee is to bring a dish that has that begins with that letter. The more words that have the letter, the better. Want to know how crazy it can get? Our first letter party featured the letter “S.” I have never seen so many strawberry spinach salads with sesame and sunflower seeds in my life.

This week, it was F’s turn. Are you feeling like we’re in an episode of Sesame Street yet?

F is a decidedly simple letter to tailor dinner and dessert around. Fruit, filet of fish, foie gras, finger foods, fennel, food for goddsake. I, however, needed an excuse to make flan. But not just any flan – a fudge flan! Double F’s for the win. Flan has a few different food meanings, but for the purpose of this blog post, please know that it is a cooked egg custard that is like an extra jiggly, not-too-sweet, half cheesecake. Read: it is awesome.

When I first saw the recipe on Tastespotting, my jaw dropped and my mouth drooled.

Making this chocolate fudge flan was a flurry of fun (see what I did there? Whether I mean to or not, the week’s chosen letter always shoves its way into my everyday conversation. I really do think my brain subconsciously looks for a way to create as many alliterations as possible).

The baking process is actually quite exciting. The cake and flan layer do a little flippity flip in the oven, with the lighter cake floating to the top and the condensed mixture sinking to the bottom.

The cake goes into the oven as a murky mess

This flan is very dense and takes its sweet time sitting in its water bath baking. I advise you to eat leftover cake batter and take sugar-induced self portraits at this time. (OKAY I’ll stop pretending it’s 2007 and I’m on Myspace)

After much breath-holding and bongo-playing on the bottom of the bundt pan, the cake came out in one piece. And that, my friends, is just Fantastic.

(but really, this was UNREAL)

Unimpressed baby brother; leaning tower of cake

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Happy birthday dad! (kick-ass carrot cake)

This is the second part of my dad’s informal little family birthday party.

Who likes carrot cake? Dad likes carrot cake.

Birthday cakes are a big deal to me. I’ve made colourful cakes, mini cakes, Fourth of July cakes, ice cream cakes and fruitcakes. I think that a cake is the pinnacle of a party. There is nothing more beautiful than a cake done properly.

Achieving this beauty is something that I have failed at previously, and strived to get better at ever since. Need an illustration of said failure? Well, you asked!

Hilary Makes Cake, circa second-year university, approximately five months before I actually learned how to cook

Point is, I don’t take cake-making lightly. Which is why I wanted my dad’s birthday cake to be perfect. He requested carrot cake and so, off I went to browse the big ol’ World Wide Web for something worthy of my time, attention, and family. I found this. Simple and impressive.

There’s something about a tiered cake that really gets me going. It’s like the epic journey of cake making. This would make Odysseus proud. Carrot cake is also just about the most low maintenance, inexpensive desserts out there. Plus there’s vegetables in it. You know how I like cake vegetables.

A good cake layer reminds me of the perfect sandcastle base.

I don’t really have much else to say about this dessert, except for that it somehow managed to be both light and fluffy while also including so many delicious different textures, like pineapple, pecans and coarsely grated carrot. The cream cheese icing was so smoothly soft and was sweetened just so.

Dad liked.

Oh yes, and this recipe also made four little cupcakes. They have been hidden in the deep freeze, only to be snuck out at the most sugar desperate of times.

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Birthday cake-in-a-jar

On a scale of one to ten, one being foods like cauliflower and lamb (sometimes I feel as though I’m the only meat-eater on the plant who doesn’t like the latter) and ten being arugula, mushrooms and cookies with a dash of lemon, cakes in jars rank in at a 12.

I hope that sentence made sense. I’m worried that it did not, so let me summarize.

Cakes baked in cute little jars are wonderful.

I was in a baking mood this past Saturday. Having made another batch of cookies for my special cookie gift bags (that post is coming up), I decided I didn’t want to leave the kitchen. The stove was making my legs feel fuzzy and warm. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, I decided to bake a cake. Luckily my baking buzz lined up perfectly with my friend Emily’s birthday.

I’m not sure what was once in this jar. I suspect it was marmalade, however, all reminders of its former life were erased when I used it to carry hummus to school when we ran out of Tupperware containers. What a multi-functional little jar.

I’m mildly concerned that the end product was too much cake and not enough icing, so I’ll have to work on tweaking my cake-in-jar logistics for next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time. I’m thinking some sort of layered trifle.

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