Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


May 2016

“Love is like a good cake; you never know when it’s coming, but you’d better eat it when it does.” Joybell C

Ta Da. Riesling rhubarb crisp cake

“Here’s the basic difference between Morelli and me. My first thought was always of cake. His first thought was always of sex. Don’t get me wrong. I like sex…a lot. But it’s never going to replace cake.” Janet Evanovich, Eleven on Top.

Your mission Mr. Phelps:

  1. Celebrate an adventurous (she has done Ultraman…twice) friend’s and English Channel swim team mate’s birthday by baking a worthy layer cake.
  2. Try a bold challenge that requires piping.
  3. Have an excuse to buy a cake turntable for decorating.
  4. Have an excuse to buy yet another cookbook…Layered by fellow British Columbian Tessa Huff. (I came to order the book thanks to the blogosphere. Joy the Baker recommended Layered in her cookbook roundup. I’m a huge Joy fan.)
  5. Find a recipe where you can drink wine while baking.FullSizeRender

I accept the mission Mr. Phelps.

Mis en place for the cake portion of the recipe

Ingredients for the Reisling cake:

  • 3 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg whites (I buy mine from Lucy, a neighbour with happy free run chickens)
  • 1 1/2 cup sweet Riesling plus 1 glassful for sipping while you bake

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside

In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar and mix on medium-high until the butter is light and fluffily, 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to medium-low and gradually add the vanilla and egg whites until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the Riesling, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last streaks of flour are combined.

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

The rhubarb is from my garden but the it’s too early for my strawberries so these are Californian.

While the cakes are baking, make the rhubarb strawberry compote.

  • 1 3/4 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 cup fresh rhubarb cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

IMG_8539.JPGCombine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook over medium-high head, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the juices start to bubble. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool.

I had to make the cakes in two batches as I only have two 8-inch pans.

Make the oat crumble.


  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/4 almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Mix the oats, almonds, brown sugar, flour, butter, honey, cinnamon and salt with a wooden spoon and sprinkle over the lined baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let it cool and crumble the mixture into smaller pieces.

“A party without cake is just a meeting.” Julia Child. “With enough butter, anything is good.” Julia Child.

You will need to make two batches of this vanilla swiss meringue buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups unsalted butter (very important that it be at room temperature or it won’t combine properly) cubed
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Whisk them together by hand to combine. Make a double boiler by filling a medium pot filled with water over medium-high heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the pot. The bottom of the pot should not touch the water.

Whisk intermittently and heat the egg mixture to 160F (candy thermometer) or until it is hot to the touch. Carefully fit the mixer bowl onto the stand mixer and whip with the wire attachment on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until it holds medium-stiff peaks. The bowl should be back to room temperature at this point. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle.

With the mixer on low, add the cubed butter, a few tablespoons at a time then the vanilla. Once incorporated, turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Making the rhubarb buttercream

Two more quick steps and you are ready to assemble the masterpiece.

Make the rhubarb buttercream by mixing two cups of the buttercream with 1/2 cup of the cooled rhubarb compote and mix on medium with the paddle attachment in a stand-mixer until combined. Remove from mixer and set aside in a bowl.

Add a few drops of pink gel food colouring to the remaining butter cream and mix until combined.

IMG_8581.JPGTo assemble, level the cakes by removing any domes with a serrated knife run parallel to your work surface. Choose a sturdy layer for the bottom. Place it on a cake plate or board and spread 1 cup or half of the rhubarb buttercream with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with half of the oat crumble mixture. Top the next layer of the cake and repeat with the rhubarb buttercream and crumble. Finish with the final layer.

Frost the top and sides with the pink buttercream. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes and then add another layer of icing to the top of the cake and using a petal tip, fill a pastry bag with buttercream. Starting at the top of the cake, pipe rows of ruffle swags by keeping the narrow end of the petal tip facing upward.


I added some strawberries and pansies (remove the flowers before serving)
This cake was in the adventurous cake section of Layered. Perfect my adventurous friend.
Voila. Happy Birthday lovely Charlie. We celebrated with four members of our English Channel swim relay team. Carb loading. That water will be cold right?


“But how will I eat cake if my head is over there, and my hands are over here?”  Marie Antoinette

Raincouver morphs into Lotusland when the sun shines

View from a Coal Harbour condo

When the sun shines on Vancouver there is no way to downplay the city’s natural beauty. No hard-bitten cynic hepped up about its high-cost of real estate can withstand the onslaught of the views of the north shore mountains, English Bay, a rain forest and the view of snow-capped Mount Baker in the sun. The cynics can go to town during a January rainy spell.

IMG_8362I love living in the country surrounded by nature where you can see the stars and the only ambient sounds are made by wildlife. However, a long weekend in a city packed with shopping, restaurants and entertainment is a needed adrenaline boost from time-to-time. Why not spend that long weekend in arguably the best city in the world which happens to be only a five-hour drive away?

Vancouver has great coffee and a great coffee scene. I’m in.

Our weekend centred around the West End where my daughter has recently moved from Calgary and where my brother, his wife and family live.

The West End is a champ. The neighbourhood has been named the best in the country in the annual Great Places in Canada contest. It’s known for its beaches, proximity to Stanley Park and a high-density, walkable lifestyle with treed promenades. Originally a forested wilderness, the area was purchased in 1862 by John Morton, Samuel Brighouse and William Hailstone, three men known as the Three Greenhorns because people thought they paid too much for the land. Last laugh is on them eh?

The hood became home to richest railroad families and a lot of nice architecture survives from that era including Roedde House which is now a museum. The house is haunted by two daughters named Anna that met untimely deaths…one by eating poison berries and another killed by a patient while working as a nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Roedde House where it is forbidden to say the name “Anna” out loud.


I made sure to photograph the gazebo to give The Handyman a new project.

Breakfast at the Greenhorn Espresso Cafe is the essence of the West End distilled in big, frothy cup. Named after the area’s original owners, it’s in a heritage home and offers a variety of cozy modern seating with views of the passing sidewalk scene. This hidden treasure is a two-minute walk from my daughter’s apartment and is already her new local.

My homemade granola was served with yogurt, vanilla spiced pear and seasonal fruit

After my post about Paris chocolate shops and bakeries, a trip to Ladurée’s first Canadian location was on the list.

Happily, the shop’s window resembles it’s Paris counterpart.

A modest selection of Citron, Caramel Fleur de Sel and Café macarons, at $3 each, were packaged beautifully in a keepsake box for us. The melt-in-your-mouth flavour explosions are actually made in Paris and flown to Vancouver.

It was a day made for window shopping and strolling. Spring rains and recent warm weather brought out every scented bloom in the West End.

My son’s fiancé Kate sports a living chapeau

Billed as the home of the bison burger, Timber has been “givin’er since 2015” and it’s fun uber Canadian atmosphere had us at Deaner the taxidermy beaver that sits proudly in the window.

Deaner at Timber
Bison burger

When in Rome, or Canada as the case may be, it’s best to order the house specialty which most of our party did. In a very ungourmet way, I went comfort food with mac and cheese with house-made sriracha ketchup with smoked pork crackling served by a plaid-shirted waiter. It blew my socks off. I’m going back.

By happenstance, we ended up chef Chris Whittaker’s adjacent restaurant, Forage, for dinner.


The farm-to-table restaurant has a clean, modern look. We chose to sit outside at a relaxed picnic table set-up and were encouraged to order a variety of menu items to try and share, tapas-style. If you go, there is one must-order. Chef Whittaker’s seafood chowder, chicharron, quails egg is the bomb and its a double winner of the Chowder Chowdown at the Vancouver Aquarium. Because the chowder won, it’s “secret” recipe has been published although it looks like it would be tricky to make at home.

Forage’s award-winning seafood chowder was indescribably delicious
Conifer gnocchi in brown butter

Chef Whittaker is a bee-keeper at home and works with small lot farmers taking his role seriously as promoting the sustainability of our food system. All well and good but we would go back because everything tasted so good, the atmosphere was the right mix of casual and the staff fun and welcoming.

Although it looks like we ate our way through our West End weekend, we had a mission. We  were carbo loading for our Sunday race. A great representation of the family ran either the marathon, half-marathon or 8 km BMO Vancouver Marathon. We joined about 16,500 in the race’s 45th edition and burned off a few of those calories.

Still sunny.

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