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Poetry (and pears) before April fades

By April 30, 2020 Life, Recipes

April is poetry month. At least, so it was in The Before when we set these months aside, chained as we were to calendars before the old folks could no longer recall what unmasked people looked like. Before tents sprouted —people without housing have always been among us. Now they are making beds along storied boulevards, as are the foxes and groundhogs, now claiming their rightful place; before parents everywhere went squirrely.

My kids are grown up now. Still, I’m with you, parents with kids underfoot, online learning schedules, and messy houses. Over here at Wit’s End, we were once the Messy House Headquarters, and there was no pandemic to blame it on. This is the time of year I used to yank my kids out of school for picnics. Mostly to witness magic here for only a whisper. I was strict about some things… like bedtime (I am a bitch without sleep, so I insisted on it for my own sake more than theirs)…sibling scraps…road trip games…and poetry.

I made them wear silly hats.

Boys and girls come out to play
The moon does shine as bright as day
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street

Come with a whoop, and come with a call
Come with goodwill or not at all
Up the ladder and down the wall
A halfpenny roll will serve us all
You’ll find milk, and I’ll find flour
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour

Years ago, a school librarian pal asked me to workshop a poetry manuscript in her elementary classes: call it a pint-sized focus group, all you marketing mavens. Poetry and kids are, after all, natural partners. Adult cynicism and facades have yet to seize hold. Kids default to belief about mystical wonders.

I’m with the great Romantic poet Shelley:

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a young poet making his Auntie proud:

If poetry fails to grab hold, there’s always the kitchen. Make them in charge of half of this delicious Pity-the-Pandemic-because-we-still-have-dessert-and-other-tools-so there– PEAR CRISP.

Make them do the crumble (the fun part). Kids can also peel the pears.

Note: I know pears are an autumn fruit. Readers of my food memoir know I like to bake in season. There is no such thing right now. I am using all my frozen berries, pears, and apples, even if they taste lacklustre.

There are no rules anymore.

Yes, baking is math. Science too. As a student, I received gold stars in neither.

See? No rules.

Pear Crisps with dried sour cherries (adapted from renowned pastry chef Claudia Fleming)

What you need:

  • Eight ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (5 cups)
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries
  • fruity red wine like Zinfandel (use water if you have none)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cups toasted almonds*, coarsely ground
  • ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • I stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

What you do:

Early on the day you plan to serve the crisps, put the cherries in a small pot and add enough wine (or water) to cover them by 2 inches. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let it cool, leaving it at room temperature for at least 8 hours. Or, do this the night before, and keep them in the fridge overnight.

Drain the cherries and reserve the juice. Resist the urge to drink it (if you have used wine).

Combine the sliced pears and drained cherries in a large bowl. Add half of the granulated sugar (¼ cup) and toss. Then mix in ½ cup of the reserved juices. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes while you make the crisp topping.

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar, the flour, toasted almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and stir with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Break up any large crumbs with your fingers. The crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch or won’t cook all the way through.

Spoon the fruit into a large baking dish (2 quarts) or individual ramekins. I used a dozen 4-ounce ramekins. If you have leftover juice left from the soaking liquid, pour a little over each mound of fruit. Evenly sprinkle the crumbs on top of the fruit. Bake the crisps until the filling is bubbling and the topping is browned—45 to 50 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Add ice cream if you feel generous, but this crisp stands without dressing up.

*Spread whole almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in cold oven; toast at 350 degrees, 12-15 minutes (9-11 minutes for slivered and chopped almonds), until lightly toasted.

More poetry:

From April 2013, Try to Praise a mutilated world

Or, also from 2013, a little dirt in leaping greenly

from April 2016, The Profane & the Sublime

Keep the faith. Make stuff. Embrace jammies.

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Sex on a plate

By February 12, 2020 Recipes, Rituals

When developing my 2016 food memoir, we tested perhaps a few too many chocolate cake recipes for one sane writer. The search for winners in our Wit’s End Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame included contributions from friends, family, old cookbooks, new bloggers, faded newspaper clippings and a stack of old Gourmet magazines I only recently ditched. The Overdue House Edit is still in systems check mode as I write. Go away, TV producers. I’m not quite at the hoarding stage. Yet.

Four chocolate cakes made it into the final edition: our family birthday go-to (basically the Sports Cakes Illustrated cover model), a lucky New Year’s ring cake, a Mocha Yule log I make only at Christmas, and a Chocolate Dulce de Leche Cake for those who like their chocolate tinged with caramel. I love all of these equally for different occasions. Readers have also let me know their approval. Chocolate Cake people are a particular kind of crazy. They’re my kind of extra.

Still, others had to be edited out for no reason other than space. The recipe that follows is one of them. I’ve made it often for gluten-free guests and serious chocolate lovers who don’t blush when I tell them I’ve been serving sex on a plate.

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Oscar Countdown: Wolfgang, is it worthy?

By February 23, 2019 Headlines, Recipes

Wolfgang Puck is in charge of Oscar sweets this Sunday. I propose this one, a classic combination if there ever was one. This is for the chocolate orange fans. The rest of you can go play with the other kids in the playground. Read More

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Snow day=sticky date pudding day

By January 28, 2019 Recipes

You can moan. Drink. Hide inside a duvet until spring and hope those sick days don’t add up.

You could also bake this. There are few things as suitable for Snowmageddon. It is also allowed any other time of year: I made four batches of these for Xmas dinner for 30. 

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Caravan cookies

By November 7, 2018 Recipes

Making sweet things is a deliberate act in a time of sour headlines. Because most of us hail from somewhere else, I’m sharing this Mexican cookie recipe for all who require distraction. Adapted from Mary Ann Dwyer’s delicious collection, these chocolate sandwiches with a hint of spice are filled with dulce de leche.

What you need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • ½ cup unsweetened good quality cocoa powder: I use Ghiradelli

  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

  • ½ tsp. baking soda

  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

  •  tsp. cayenne powder: don’t skip this, it’s crucial

  • ½ cup one stick unsalted butter at room temperature

  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar plus additional for sprinkling

  • 2 extra large eggs at room temperature

  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • 1 300ml can dulce de Leche*

What you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cayenne. Set aside.

  3. In mixer, cream together softened butter and sugar on medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and mix until well blended.

  4. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture.

  5. Using a small ice cream scoop (1 1/2 inch) drop dough 2 inches apart onto prepared sheet. Sprinkle tops with additional granulated sugar.

  6. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Cookies should be on the soft side. Don’t overcook. Repeat with each sheet. This recipe makes enough for 14 sandwiches.

  7. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.

  8. To assemble cookies: Spread a heaping tablespoon of dulce de leche filling on the bottom of one cookie and top with another cookie, sandwiching together.

* You can find this in baking section of most supermarkets, but it’s easy enough to make your own with one can of sweetened condensed milk. Set the can on its side in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) and cover with water. Bring the water to simmer and let it simmer for 2 hours. Keep an eye on it as you don’t want the water to boil as the can may explode. After two hours, remove the can with tongs and let it cool down on a wire rack. The fun part comes next: pour out the delicious dulce de leche into a bowl and spread a generous tablespoon or so on one half of the cookies and then smush them together.


More cookies:

from three years ago:
Looks good but does it schmeck?

from four years ago:

The Sweetest kiss

Cranberry Caramel Shortbread

from five years ago:

Prep the Elves!

Need more? Look for more yummy cookie recipes in my food memoir, with love and sugar, available here for a limited time only. 

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Chocolate pavlova

By April 2, 2018 Recipes

Readers asked and I like to deliver. Here is one of two desserts* I made for our family Easter (the first of two family feasts: I will be celebrating again next weekend with my Greek in-laws as the Orthodox calendar delivered Easter a week later this year).


What you need:

    • 6 large egg whites

    • 1½ cups granulated sugar

    • Pinch of sea salt

    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

    • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

    • 2 ounces (55 grams) good quality dark chocolate, chopped

    • 1 ½ cups whipping cream

    • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    • 4 cups mixed fresh berries

  • 1 ounce dark chocolate, optional-for garnish

What you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ⓕ.Draw a 9-inch circle on piece of parchment paper with pencil. Flip paper over and lay on large baking sheet.

  2. Beat egg whites in mixer until soft peaks form. Begin to add the sugar a little at a time, and continue beating until stiff and shiny.3. Carefully fold in, with a spatula, the cocoa, sea salt, vinegar, and chopped chocolate.

    4.  Spoon the meringue mixture onto the parchment circle and use a knife to help smooth it into soft waves. Here you can design it however you wish. Pavlova’s aren’t meant to be perfect forms here unless you are doing individual nests, as I do for other desserts like my rhubarb kisses.

    5.  Place meringue in oven and immediately turn temperature down to 300ⓕ.  Bake for one hour then turn the temperature off and open the door slightly (I use a wooden spoon to keep my door open). Leave meringue there with temperature off until it is dry for approximately another hour.

    6.  Leave the assembly until right before you serve as it takes only minutes to put together. Remove parchment from bottom of cooled meringue and place on a large serving plate. Whip cream with the vanilla and sugar until soft peaks form. Dollop it over the centre of circle and spread it out. Dump all the berries in the middle and dust with the remaining chopped chocolate (if desired-I forgot to bring mine when I carted this pavlova to my sister’s house. It doesn’t really need it but don’t tell that to the chocolate lovers in the family).

    7. Cut in wedges. This can be a sloppy serve, but nobody cares. It should serve ten easily. Leftovers (IF you have any) can be stored for a day or two in the fridge.

    *The second dessert, equally beloved by family, is a rhubarb buckle I like to call the S0-Malicious Cake, so named as one of my young taste testers couldn’t pronounce ‘delicious’ and left a voicemail: Auntie Anne! That cake was so malishush! Yes indeed. So devilishly delicious it will kill any resolve you have for getting that summer bod ready. Malicious indeed.

     You can find that recipe in my food memoir, with love and sugar. Order via email to

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Pie and sun= heaven

By March 27, 2018 Life, Recipes, Travel

By the time March arrives, the Canadian landscape out my writing window offers little inspiration. Bleak skies begone! Behold a bevy of bougainvillea!

Wrap me in it and set me alight on a frisky wave. A strawberry daiquiri to go? Surely you jest? I like your style, and yes, I’ll have another.

Sun, sand, salt: how I love thee! Friendly winds whipping up waves for those unfazed by losing a bathing suit in the fray…this is the stuff of winter daydreams. An invitation to join my sister on vacation in Captiva, Florida, was an easy yes for this writer.

While in this charming corner of the planet, I had occasion to taste two delicious desserts. You know already what the next part is, don’t you? Read More

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Weather bomb baking

By January 6, 2018 Recipes

When there’s a cinnamon bun cyclone heading your way, govern yourself accordingly: make your own tasty warm version; easy enough to whip up for friends dropping in with New Year’s wishes. They won’t want to leave if you give them one of these delicious easy-peasy buns. Leave the treats to cool while you corral these hungry pals to help you shovel. Seems like a good bargain to me. Our twenty-year old door butler agrees.

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By January 2, 2018 Life, Recipes, Rituals

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By November 9, 2017 Life, Recipes

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