Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, I have a bit of a beef with oatmeal raisin cookies. Don’t get me wrong, I love raisins. I have fond memories of using my fingers to dig into those tiny red Sun-Maid boxes to scoop out every last tangy bite.

Oats are pretty great, too. If they’re mushy and in a bowl for breakfast in the morning, I sprinkle ample amounts of brown sugar on top and call it a meal. I personally prefer the honeyed crunch of oats when they’re made into granola.

However, oatmeal and raisins together? I know that the oatmeal raisin cookie is a classic treat, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy them. My theory is that, when I spy a cookie stuffed with raisins, the raisin’s close resemblance to chocolate catches me off guard. My limbs fill with excitement at the prospect of chocolate, and I reach out to grab a cookie, only to realize that the raisins have tricked me. I can no longer anticipate the creamy, chocolate-y crunch of a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. I am left with a cookie brimming with some suddenly sinister raisins.

And it is here in our story that the tasty protagonist, a sight for sore eyes, a wondrous chocolate chip oatmeal cookie, bounds onto center stage.

Chocolate and oatmeal, taking center stage

My mom told me that she got this recipe from a friend in middle school, and she has yet to taste a better chocolate chip cookie. I’m not sure how she does it, but hers always manage to taste better than mine, though we’re using the same recipe. Maybe a mother always does know best. Last year she sent two sizable boxes of cookies to my roommate and I for Valentine’s Day. I haven’t received another box yet, but my parents are coming to visit Montreal in a couple of weeks. Bring on the cookies!

I won’t write a full music review for an album today, simply because I wouldn’t find myself fit to even know where to start on this one.

Presenting:

Moscow Rtv Symphony Orchestra presents Beethoven’s No. 6 and No. 7 Symphonies

I listened to this symphony while the cookies were in the making. It’s one of my favorite Beethoven symphonies, and the noble, sweeping crescendos of the violin had me dancing from cabinet to cabinet. Here’s the first 8 minutes or so:

Op. 68 “Pastoral”: I. Allegro Ma Non Troppo (it’s a big file, so have patience with the loading)

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Mom’s 7th grade friend’s ‘Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies’, with a few tweaks
(Ample credit, right?)
Makes approx. 18 cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly whisked
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°.

In a small bowl, cream the shortening and the sugars. Stir in the egg, milk and vanilla. Then, sift the dry ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. To this bowl, add your egg mixture in three increments. Fold in the oats and the chocolate chips. Onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop tablespoon-sized dough balls. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned. Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before enjoying.

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The Music Project

For me, the art of music is a wondrous thing. On its own, music can still the heart, shake the bone, or sweeten the breath. You may be sitting on your couch, but once your eyes close, music can sweep you into a frenzied journey.

Over the years, my music taste has taken on alternate forms and travelled down unexpected paths. I am thankful for this, as some of my childhood jams cast a slightly embarrassing shadow upon my current musical preferences. However, amidst the regretful echoes of Good Charlotte and Sum 41 were gems like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and CSNY.

I give a good majority of credit to my brother, Alex, who exposed me to his music when I was in middle school (though I would never have admitted it at the time). When Alex was in high school and I in middle school, he purchased his first car—a stick shift ‘86 Toyota Tercel, a gold hatchback with a black rubber bumper. Despite the looks that were sent in Alex’s direction, I’d never seen anyone look so damn proud of a car. Even so, I deemed it ‘the pyramid on wheels’. It was in this tiny vehicle that I first learned how to drive, albeit a wobbly process. It was also where my brother stored his CD collection.

Oh yes, I pretended to turn my nose up at Daft Punk and Tosca and the indescribable Japanese techno-pop, writing Alex off as a weirdo, or a freakazoid, or whatever other colourful insults were the rage at the time. But secretly I loved the music. Every morning, as I climbed down into that damn Tercel, I waited in wonder at what he might show me next.

My current music taste centers around a lot of alternative and electronic: Andrew Bird, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, Zero 7, Yeasayer—you get the general gist. But as I’ve dug into my iTunes library, I’ve come to a realization: I’m in a musical rut. There comes a point in everyone’s life when their music collection all begins to sound the same, and it begins to sound somewhat stale. This is not to say that I will ever abandon the artists I love now. Instead, I will expand, swim outward, discover new genres (even the genres I don’t particularly enjoy). A musical rebirth, and in fear of sounding pretentious, a Musical Renaissance. This summer will be a summer dedicated to musical unearthing. Rather than use my entire library, I will instead create a huge playlist called “The Music Project” where I will stuff all of my new findings and listen with pricked and eager ears. I will post on my blog which artists I enjoyed best.

Here are some of the genres that I am hoping to explore: Eastern European folk, tribal/elemental, trip-hop, opera, ambient, choral/madrigal, R&B, freak folk, Indian classical, and drum n’ bass. Open to any suggestions.

Happy music hunting!

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Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

I awoke late this morning. I lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, swimming in wonder as I came to a realization: this morning, it is summer. Yesterday morning, I wrote my Organic Chemistry final and walked out of the exam room with a lightness in my step, understanding that I was obligation free and finally enveloped into the world of adventure that we kids call summertime.

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Mont Royal in summer

Thus, I knew this morning would be a day for baking. During my course, I did not allot myself time to once update my blog. Now, I am free to take a day trip to the market, spend a sunny afternoon slow cooking, switch on the music and allow myself some well-earned relaxation. Hence, cookies.

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Red velvet cookies, no less. Red velvet cake has always been a favorite of mine, so when converting it into cookie form, I did my best to replicate the cake’s unique flavors. The cookies themselves are rather cakey, and with a dollop of rich cream cheese frosting plopped on top, they take on a slight irresistibility.

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The weather will be rainy for the next few days here. If you know anything about my music tastes, you know it revolves around the weather.

Presenting:

“Timber Timbre” by Timber Timbre

Timber Timbre’s self-titled album offers up a soulful addition to a calm, grey afternoon. The sometimes bluesy, sometimes folksy, always slightly eerie album rouses a complex concoction of emotions—Taylor Kirk’s sensually, raggedly mournful and resonating vocals invoke as much tender gloom as they do raw comfort.

Listen to “Demon Host

Listen to “I Get Low

For the rest of the weekend, I am going to see some long-lost friends (long-lost as a result of my constant studying), and try not to plan too much.

Red Velvet Cookies
Makes approx. 24

1 1/4  cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cake flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons red food coloring (adjust to suit your visual preference)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup of white chocolate, broken into bits

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup cream cheese
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup powdered sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and whisk to mix.

In a smaller bowl, combine oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, food coloring, and vinegar. Once mixed, slowly pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Fold chocolate chunks into the dough.

Roll 12 tablespoon sized cookies and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put them in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool before frosting.*

*For the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter and milk in a bowl. Stir in the powdered sugar until smooth. Drop some dollops onto your cookies and serve.

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Peach and Basil Ravioli with Vanilla Riesling Beurre Blanc

I am finally finding time to publish this post, which I have been neglecting to do for a week’s time. Finals just ended, and now I am left (at least for a few days) with the pleasant feeling of having no obligations.

Putting forth the commitment to cook a meal like ravioli requires plentiful amounts of patience. Patience requires distraction. In the realm of music, distraction assumes the form of a substantially complex album, one that I might enjoy playing repeatedly.

 Presenting:

“Yellow House” by Grizzly Bear

Lately it has been overcast. Luckily, I scored a sunny day to make my ravioli, but otherwise, Vitamin D has made itself scarce. Often, I wish for the sun to return (my basil plant has definitely seen better days), or at least for the weather to finally break into a storm.

Grizzly Bear puts forth a great accompaniment for days such as these. The sometimes melancholy, sometimes eerie, sometimes secretive music compliments the image that the band selected for their album cover—a dusty yellow room, dim yet warm.

Listen to “Easier

Listen to “On a Neck, On a Spit

Yellow House is a relatively quiet album. For this reason, the songs seep perfectly into the warm, confined space of an apartment, heady with the scent of cooking, while the grey and shivering wind gathers against the windows, seeking to find a way in through a crack or cranny. And, inside, harboured from it all, you are surrounded by the gentle darkness of Grizzly Bear’s music that somehow keeps the wind out.

Listen to “Colorado

Peach and Basil Ravioli with Vanilla Riesling Beurre Blanc

*Makes approx. 18 ravioli

Ravioli Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semolina
A pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 tablespoons of cold water 

Ravioli filling

½ cup chopped basil
2 medium-sized peaches, skinned, sliced (I ended up using 3 peaches because mine were quite small).
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup fresh ricotta cheese
¼ cup fresh blue cheese
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts
1 tablespoon honey

Vanilla Riesling beurre blanc

*A note on the beurre blanc: the flavours of this sauce are relatively simple. This allows the flavours of the ravioli to really take centre stage, so to speak, on your plate. Thus, I would recommend splurging a bit on some of the ingredients (i.e. a high quality unsalted butter and a trusted vinegar).

¾ cup (+ ½ cup) Riesling (I used Léon Beyer Riesling from Alsace)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean, split in half (reserve seeds)
4 peppercorns
¾ cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons (approx. 3/4 stick) of unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish (optional)

Toasted hazelnuts, chopped
Basil, chopped

Step 1: Making the ravioli dough 

In a small bowl, combine the flour, semolina and salt. Pour on a flat surface and create a well in the middle.

In another small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and olive oil. Pour the mixture into your flour well. Slowly begin to incorporate the flour mixture into the egg mixture until your dough starts to form.

At this point, the dough will be quite crumbly—don’t worry. Slowly add your water (1 tablespoon at a time) to the dough and continue to incorporate. Once your dough has come together and you can form a ball (again, don’t fret—the dough is supposed to be quite firm), knead for five minutes or so, then wrap the ball in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for 1-2 hours.

Step 2: Making the ravioli filling

Meanwhile, make the ravioli filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the hazelnuts on a baking tray.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Toss the peach slices into the pan and coat them in the oil. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let sear for a few minutes until the peach slices are soft. Remove from heat and let cool until just warm.

Add the hazelnuts to the oven and let them roast for 15 minutes, or until you begin to smell a nutty aroma (in my experience, roasting nuts can be a finicky process—make sure to check up on them regularly so that they don’t burn).

If your hazelnuts have yet to be skinned: Once out of the oven, let the nuts cool for a half an hour, allowing the swelling of the nut to subside. Wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and rub together until most of the skins flake off.

Chop nuts or grind them gently in a mortar and pestle. Combine the ricotta, blue cheese, and 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized bowl. Add cooled peach slices, honey and basil and mash/blend well.

Step 3: Putting the ravioli together

Take the ravioli dough out of the fridge and let thaw for thirty minutes. Cut the ball of dough in half and place on a flat, floured surface. Roll out each ball into a lengthy strip (they should be about the same shape so that they might be superimposed onto each other later on). You can use a pastry maker here instead, if you please. The dough should be about 1/16 of an inch thick once rolled out (if your dough is too thick, you won’t be able to properly taste the filling, so use those forearms).

Make your egg wash by whisking an egg and a teaspoon of milk together in a cup; brush it on a single side of each of your dough strips. Scoop your ravioli filling into a pastry bag. Squeeze teaspoon-sized dollops of filling onto one side of the dough strips, leaving enough room in between each dollop to properly seal your ravioli. Brush egg wash again in between the filling dollops.

Carefully lay the other piece of dough on top. Using your fingers, seal each ravioli and try to squeeze out as much air as possible. Press the edges of the dough firmly together. Cut the ravioli into strips using a pasta cutter (I used a cookie cutter for circular ravioli instead).

The ravioli should be cooked fairly soon after this process. If you’re not ready yet, you can put them on a semolina-dusted baking sheet in the freezer. When you cook them from the freezer, do not thaw. Simply allow an extra minute in the boiling water.

Steps 4&5: Making the beurre blanc / cooking the ravioli

In a medium-heated sauce pan, add ¾ cup of Riesling, the white wine vinegar, the split vanilla bean (seeds scooped out and reserved), the peppercorns, and the sliced shallot. Heat and allow the mixture to reduce by half.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. You’ll add the ravioli to this shortly.

If you’re wondering where that other ½ cup of wine comes in, pour it into a glass and start sipping. My reasoning: by this point, you’re probably wondering why you ever thought it was a good idea to make such a complicated meal. You’re tired and now you have to stand over a pan for the next ten minutes and watch butter melt. Hence, the wine. Don’t worry, we’re almost finished!

Add the cream to the wine mixture in the pan; allow mixture to reduce by half once more, making sure not to let the mixture boil. Remove the peppercorns and vanilla bean.

At about this time, you’ll have brought your pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently plop your ravioli into the pot (don’t overcrowd, I did six at a time for a medium-sized pot). Boil until the ravioli begins to float to the top of the water and the pasta is relatively soft (approx. 6-8 minutes).

Meanwhile, back in the saucepan: Reduce heat to low. Slice your stick of butter into ten increments. Add one slice of butter and whisk continuously into the sauce. Once that slice of butter has nearly melted, add the next and continue to whisk. Repeat this process until all of the butter has been blended into the sauce. Make sure that your sauce doesn’t boil—this will cause the mixture to separate.

Add vanilla bean seeds, salt and pepper to the sauce. If you are fussy about black specks in your sauce, omit vanilla bean seeds and substitute white pepper for black (however, I do recommend abandoning fussy tendencies for this sauce).

When your ravioli are finished, fish out with a slotted spoon and let sit on some paper towels before putting them into a serving bowl. Gently toss them with some olive oil.

Serve the sauce immediately (cooling or overheating will cause it to break down). Pour over your ravioli and top with toasted hazelnuts, chopped basil, and peach slices.

Enfin, bon appétit!

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A Sun-filled Afternoon

Yesterday was wondrous. The weather is warming and I can finally step out on my balcony without the ominous suspicion that cold air may greet me again. When the clock strikes four, the balcony door opens and I allow the crowning, honeyed sunlight to blanket the wooden floors of the living room. Late afternoon sun, I am convinced, is a serious gift of science.

So, now it is clearer why yesterday might have been so wondrous. I had it in my head that I wanted to make handmade ravioli (see here). I called up my friend Hashmita and we set out on the bustling Boulevard St-Laurent to find ingredients.

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First stop: La Vieille Europe. For the ravioli, I had peaches, basil and toasted hazelnuts in my mind. Inside the store, my single goal was to find some fresh ricotta and goat cheese, then get the hell out before I spent my entire month’s budget on pepper-and-chive wafers and cranberry-strawberry-violet preserves. You may be wondering, ‘Chris, how did you ever manage to get out of there intact?’ Well, as I left the store, arms stuffed with fresh cheese (I would love to tell you that it was just goat and ricotta), crackers and preserves, I will answer you this: no one is safe in that store. I beg anyone to walk by the shelves of fresh pasta, imported chocolates, roasted coffee grinds and olive oils—if you can get out of there without taking at least one item with you, then we can talk.

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Orange, cranberry-strawberry-violet preserves, pepper-chive wafers, camembert.

So, we exit the store back onto St-Laurent and pop into our local epicerie (which, though always odd smelling, has the most obscure and wonderful things). Obscure and wonderful things include spicy ginger chews and Spanish lavender plants (which I bought without hesitation), along with a perky-leafed basil plant. Hashmita carried the lavender, I grabbed the basil, and we walked back to my apartment, noses subtly (or perhaps not so much) hovering over the leaves.

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Back at the apartment, as per usual after an extensive shopping trip, Nicolas (my lovely boyfriend), Hashmita and I cracked open the goods and had a mini-feast. Nothing beats good sun and good food and good friends.

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Photo by Hashmita.

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Gingery Nicolas with a ginger chew.

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Today’s music review

Presenting:

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Andrew Bird's "Break It Yourself"

Andrew Bird, in my mind, is a true genius, a true musician. For years, his commanding competence on the violin, accompanied by a billowing voice and harmonious whistles, have kept me coming back to his steadfastly intricate albums (wordy, yes, but it really is that good).

Because this album is a thoughtfully-assembled composition, I feel it should be taken in as intended – as a whole. None of this skipping from #1 to #8 then back to #5. Just take a well-deserved hour to sit, and to let Bird take you somewhere truly divine. The frenzied sweeps of violin in “Desperation Breeds ∑” and the playful Bird-esque rhythm of “Near Death Experience Experience” are some of the highlights for me on this album.

Listen to “Desperation Breeds ∑” here.

Those familiar with Bird’s music may recognize parallels with some of his earlier albums. A noteworthy example is “Hole in the Ocean Floor”, when Bird utilizes the lengthy span of the song to construct an anticipating composition that comes to a culmination reminiscent of “Yawny At the Apocalypse” from Armchair Apocrypha.

Listen to “Hole in the Ocean Floor” here.

Some artists who have been creating music for a while have an unfortunate tendency to run dry, their music becoming shriveled and cursory. After 16 years of solid music making, Bird somehow manages to keep surprising me.

So, conclusive advice to you: Grab a couple of friends, some delicious snacks, a great album, and take a break.

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Lavender Polenta Muffins

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So, let’s talk polenta. First of all, anything that is versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes deserves a serious pat on the back from yours truly. Bacon, mushrooms, chives, tomatoes, cakes, muffins (!), muffins with lavender (!!), and thankfully, the list goes on. I had been under the impression for a long while that it was not easy to find polenta here in Montreal, at least in your standard grocery market. I had previously asked a disgruntled supermarket representative if they carried the product, and I received the brusque reply, “pimento? polento?” After a few back and forth clarifications, I was informed that they didn’t carry any “fancy” stuff like that. Walking out of the store, I couldn’t help but feel a bit defeated. In desperation, I had wanted to fervently demand of the representative, “But what about the polenta pancakes?” Thankfully, I had restrained myself from doing so, but here I was, jonesing for a polenta-full kitchen. Instead, I was walking out of a grocery store, shoulders sagging and, sadly, empty-handed.

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For ‘reading week’, my boyfriend and I went down to Texas to visit my parents. There, I shoved my arms full of polenta packages and stowed them away into my tiny luggage. If I may add, the February weather was astounding, with highs of 32 degrees C. Much more reminiscent of summer than the measly, wet weather in Montreal.

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Mmm, I'm feeling warm just looking at this picture.

Anyway, back to polenta. I’ve been holding an unreasonable grudge against the grocery store aforementioned. Amidst my batches of rich cornbread and cakes, I could not understand how they didn’t carry this beautiful cornmeal. I felt like approaching the disgruntled store representative with a piece of cornbread, placing it in his hand, and allowing him to understand just what his store was missing.

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Skip forward to now. I was in said grocery store yesterday, sorting through bags of lentils, when I saw it. A crisp, golden yellow bag of polenta. Crying out, to the confusion of others around me, I hugged this bag to my chest. I’m not sure if the disgruntled man had been simply unaware of the polenta in his store, but I prefer to imagine him putting it on the supply list after taking my wounded, polenta-deprived reaction to heart.

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So, hence the lavender corn muffins! Which, if I may say so, are quite moist and rich (I have found it a challenge to eat more than one without feeling enormous). Nonetheless, please do me a favour here, guys: do not go easy on the cream. Please. Allow yourselves to bathe in the rich creamy polenta sweetness.

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These guys are humbly asking to be served with apricot jam or perhaps some clotted cream.

Oh, and now for a music review!

So, as I mentioned, summertime has been at the forefront of my mind, just barely in front of final exams (just!) So, as the day was not particularly sunny, I opted for an album that makes me feel as if the summer season is just around the corner.

Presenting:

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Magic Central by Breathe Owl Breathe

I first saw these guys at a concert in Montreal when they opened for Yann Tierson (in my opinion, they beat out the main act by far). If you get the chance to see one of their live shows, you won’t regret it. They’re a very interactive, light-hearted group, and I felt myself falling in love with the lead singer and his turquoise pants / wolf t-shirt.

The album itself is a playful compilation of airy tunes, filled with tambourine jambles, cooing vocals, plucky acoustic chords, and good-humoured lyrics. As buoyant as most of the songs leave you feeling (a good example of Breathe Owl Breathe’s cheerful lyrics is “Dragon”), it is not filled with the emptiness that accompanies ‘shallow’ music. The album contains some thoughtful pieces, including the sleepy calls of “Lake Light”, and the dreamy beats of “Across the Loch”.

As you can tell, many of their songs reference water, which is probably why I feel so close to summertime when I listen to this album. “Swimming” details the faraway days that only come with summer—afternoons playing on the beach, the rope swings that set you into the air before your body splashes into the water. Other songs that come highly recommended from me are “Dogwalkers of the New Age”, and “Board Games”, but hey, they’re really all great!

Listen here to “Across the Loch

Here’s Montreal’s grey, springtime weather, as it stands today.

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In the meantime, I’m going to eat another muffin, close my eyes and let myself sink into the sounds of summer.

Lavender Polenta Muffins
Makes 12 + a few

¾ stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of agave nectar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup coarse dry polenta, plus some extra to sprinkle over the tops
¾ to 1 cup sugar (depending on your sweetness preference)
2 tablespoons dried lavender buds
1 tablespoon baking soda
A pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (for my temperamental oven, it ended up being 325 degrees, so use your best judgement considering your knowledge of your oven). Generously grease a muffin tray or line the tray with muffin cups.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the cream, melted butter, eggs, and agave nectar, and mix together. In a separate bowl, add the flour, polenta, sugar, lavender (you can give these dried buds a few grinds in a mortar and pestle for some finer lavender buds), baking soda and salt and mix them. Add the flour mixture into the cream mixture (1/2 cup increments) , mixing all the while. Fill your muffin cups 2/3 of the way full and sprinkle the tops with some more polenta.

Shove those guys into the oven and wait 10 to 12 minutes. Let them sit on a cooling rack for a few minutes (or just go for it). In my opinion, serve warm for best results.

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