Cheddar and Black Pepper Bread: A Mouthwatering Savoury Match Made in Carbohydrate Heaven

The Bread Illustrated cookbook has done it again: another home run of a bread recipe.

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When I first sank my teeth into a still-warm slice of this loaf, I knew that the combined flavours reminded me of something I’d had before – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

A few slices later, I figured it out: fancy macaroni and cheese. Not the kind that comes from a blue box (though that kind, too, can be delicious in the right context) – the kind that you order at a restaurant that also has bison burger and truffle curly fries on the menu. Classy mac n cheese.

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I’m not sure how we ended up cutting this loaf so strangely…

Had I known the cheddar and black pepper bread would be so astonishingly delicious, I would have made it a lot sooner. I held off because it seemed less all-purpose than many of the other loaves; for instance, it probably wouldn’t taste very good toasted and topped with jam for breakfast.

(On second thought, that actually sounds amazing.)

I made it to accompany a salad we had for dinner, and Cedric has already requested that we add it to the rotation. It requires making a sponge the day before, which can sit out between 6 and 24 hours. I let it sit for nearly an entire 24 hours, which I like to think helped it taste extra delicious.

The day two directions aren’t necessarily tricky. They’re just a little time consuming. Mix for two minutes; rest for 20. Mix for 5, rise for 30. Fold dough; rest for 30 minutes; repeat three more times, then let it rise for another hour and a half, then an hour more. Whew – that’s a lot of waiting around.

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There are two secret ingredients to this bread – actually, given that they’re in the name of the bread, they’re not all that secret. The first is cheddar: one cup is mixed into the dough towards the beginning of the process, and another is rolled in later, kind of like a cinnamon raisin bread. Cracked pepper is added both in the dough and as a final topping before baking. I didn’t measure out my pepper – I just cracked away until it looked about right. I was pretty happy with the flavour.

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I used approximately this much pepper

I was careful with all the resting and rising times because it was quite warm the day I baked it. It didn’t take as long for the dough to rise and double and all that good stuff, so I stuck to the low end of any suggested ranges. You guys – I think I’m finally getting it!

It felt really good for the bread to come out looking as it should and tasting better than I could have imagined. I was planning on using Cedric’s camera to take some photos of the final product, but we couldn’t wait to dive in. Whoops. My phone photos will have to suffice.

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Savoury breads, I’m not longer afraid of you.

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PS – I’ve made this bread once more since – both times, it hasn’t lasted more than 24 hours. This is a bread for the books.

Bobbette & Belle’s Classic Hummingbird Cupcakes with Sour Cream Frosting

There was a time I considered myself a Cupcake Queen. No matter the occasion, I brought cupcakes – the more decadent, the better (think chocolate peanut butter cupcakes with peanut butter cups both hidden within the cake and perched atop the icing).

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These days, I identify more as a Bread Baroness, if you will. Though my sweet tooth has not disappeared altogether, it has moved towards the back of my mouth to make room for various iterations of salt, water, yeast, and flour.

But on occasion – a friend’s birthday, usually – I dig deep into that drawer under the oven to unearth my cupcake tin to see if she still has another dozen cakes in her. And she always does.

The last time I made cupcakes was in February, when I whipped up Bobbette & Belle’s Piped Rose Lemon Cupcakes and Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes (not the aforementioned diabetes-inducing one). This time, I decided to try my hand at another B&B recipe: the Classic Hummingbird Cupcakes.

This recipe is most curious – it is the only one in the cupcake chapter NOT to have a photo demonstrating the final product. I wonder why: last minute book addition? Disastrous hard drive crash? Dropped the final product on the floor? While it’s a little unsettling to not know what your bake is supposed to look like, it also allows a little freedom, which is a nice thing.

I think the idea of spirit animals is kind of dumb, but if I had to choose a spirit animal for myself, it would be the hummingbird, largely because they thrive on sugar. Luckily, the hummingbird cupcakes don’t contain any birds – they traditionally contain an apparently hummingbirdly combination of banana and pineapple. The Bobbette & Belle version also throws in coconut and pecans, and promises the recipe acts “as a nice alternative to carrot cake”.

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Making the cake is very simple; in addition to the ‘bird ingredients, the usual suspects apply: all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, sugar, an egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla. After all the bread I’ve been baking, it felt so modest to use just one cup of flour in a recipe.

I’m sure there’s a reason that this recipe uses vegetable oil and not butter, but I don’t know what it is. It felt kind of weird to “cream” sugar with the oil (and egg and vanilla right away). The directions are a little vague (“beat on medium-low speed until creamy”) – I beat it for about three minutes, but it wasn’t sufficiently creamy for my tastes, so I boosted the power level and kept going for another couple of minutes. The flour is added in stages, then the hummingbirds are added (crushed pineapple with juice, mashed ripe banana, finely chopped pecans, and flaked coconut). Bake for 20 minutes, and ta-da: hummingbird cupcakes.

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The icing was a point of contention: it called for sour cream frosting.

Really? Sour cream? For icing?

When it comes to icing, I prefer cream cheese to buttercream every time. People think they like buttercream more, but I believe that in a blind taste test, they would choose cream cheese. The name throws people off – and I was hoping the same thing was happening to me with the whole sour cream thing.

I’m not a fan of sour cream. When a recipe calls for it, I almost always sub in plain Greek yogurt instead. But when it comes to baking, I like to stay loyal to the ingredient list – and B&B said that “the addictive sour cream frosting [is] our twist on the traditional cream cheese frosting”.

I had to trust that they were leading me down the right path. In the recipe description for the sour cream frosting, they promised “it’s sure to become a favourite”. So I took a leap of faith.

Though I was trusting them blindly, I probably should have opened an eye to read through the recipe carefully ahead of time. The first step: drain the sour cream in a sieve with cheesecloth in the fridge overnight. Not only did I not have time for this, but I also didn’t have cheesecloth. I compromised by draining the sour cream for an hour in a few layers of paper towel.

The temperature directions are a little finicky, too: for the sour cream, you are to “bring almost to room temperature”, and the butter is meant to be “cool room temperature”. Other ingredients include lemon juice, vanilla, salt, and icing sugar.

Things looked good as I creamed the butter and the sour cream, but when I added the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt, the mix started to look a little curdled. This has happened to me before when making icing, and I’ve learned that you just need to keep mixing through the curdledness. I persevered until things were a little better, though still not 100% smooth. Luckily, everything worked itself out when I added in the icing sugar. As a bonus, I threw in an extra teaspoon of pineapple juice – YOLO.

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Without visual aids to guide my icing, I had free reign. I chose to colour the icing yellow (kind of banana/pineapple/lemony, right?) and I consulted YouTube for ideas on how to decorate the cupcakes. I didn’t want to pick something overly labour intensive, so I settled on this pretty – but very easy – flower, which is piped using a simple round tip.

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Now, the fun part: taste testing the creation.

Scrumptious. Absolutely delicious. The cake is moist and not too sweet; the chopped pecans are the key to texture perfection. Lo and behold, the icing was really, really good. It pairs wonderfully with the cake and it certainly leans more towards cream cheese than sugar sweet buttercream.

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At times like this, I wonder why I don’t make cupcakes more often!

Southern-Style Skillet Cornbread

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to plan my meals for the entire week ahead of time. I thought this would help me manage my grocery budget and reduce the number of Craig’s visits per week. I now only pop by the grocery store 5 days a week, instead of 7. What a victory!

Although I often consult Budget Bytes for recipe ideas, I generally find the internet to be too vast – I prefer to use good old fashioned cookbooks. I typically pick a cookbook at random from the library, cook from it for a couple of weeks, and then return it when it comes due. I’m pleased to say that we’re more than halfway through the year and I’ve stuck to my resolution – and cooked a lot of new things in the process.

When planning this week’s meals, I decided to try a recipe for a veggie chili. I know mid-summer isn’t usually chili weather, but the recipe looked good (no canned tomatoes – only fresh!), so it made the cut. I usually serve chili with bread, but I thought I’d take this chili to the next level: cornbread.

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I can only remember making cornbread once before, back in my Vancouver bachelorette days. For whatever reason, I had a craving for cornbread, so I made a batch. I had a piece – and it was great – but then I was left with an entire tray of bread (minus one piece). I popped the pan on top of the fridge to keep it out of the way. I then proceeded to forget about it until some time after.

It was green, fuzzy, and enough to steer me away from cornbread for a good decade.


The “Southern-Style” in the Bread Illustrated recipe for cornbread refers to the fact that this cornbread is not “sweet and light – more cake than bread”, as is often found in “Yankee territory” (so says the book). It’s true; I’ve had cornbread at restaurants that tastes more like cupcake than bread. I happen to like cupcakes – just not with my chili.

The recipe is straightforward and the only weird-ish ingredient is sour cream, something I don’t usually have on hand. I also don’t own a skillet, so I used my dutch oven. The best part is that the recipe takes only just over an hour to cook – I am NOT used to that.

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Not overdone scrambled eggs – just the start of cornbread batter

Everything went according to plan except for one little hiccup. I didn’t quite catch when I was supposed to make the jump from stove top to oven. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Toast the cornmeal – stove top.
  2. Remove toasted cornmeal, add oil to skillet – put in oven. D’oh – I put it on the stove because my mind associates heating oil with stoves, not ovens.
  3. Add butter, pour melty butter/oil into batter, than pour the batter into the skillet/dutch oven and put it in the oven.
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Smooth top – nailed it!

I left my bread in the oven for 17 minutes – two minutes longer than the suggest 12 to 15 – but it never quite reached the cue of “until the top begins to crack and sides are golden brown”. My sides were golden but my top was in tact. I tried the toothpick test and it came out dry, so I pulled it out of the oven.

There are three troubleshooting tips for this recipe: crunchy cornbread (not a problem for me); soggy crust (not a problem for me); and difficulty releasing the cornbread from the skillet (er…). The troubleshooting says that a 15 minute cool down is imperative before releasing the bread. I did this… but…

 

Yeah. Luckily, this one was just for Cedric and me to eat at dinner – aesthetics could be forgiven.

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The verdict? I liked it. It was a little bland, but isn’t that often the case with cornbread? If I were to do it again, I would try the spicy variation, which includes jalapeno and lime zest, to add a bit of a kick. It’s very filling and sits a bit heavy in the stomach, but I’m determined to work our way through it – and not store it on top of the fridge.

The Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival: Feel the Lumberjack Within

Wow. Just when you think life in Squamish can’t get any better – the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival happens. I am officially in love with this place.

Squamish Days is not exactly a new tradition – this year, it celebrated its 60th anniversary. But it is new to me, and now that I know how awesome it is, I’m kicking myself for having skipped out on it last year. NEVER AGAIN WILL I MISS IT!

The Loggers Sports Festival is a multi-day affair, and the video above highlights a little bit of all of it (including the 8k community ran – which I ran!). But the event to beat them all takes place the Sunday afternoon. It’s a collection of lumberjack-style contests – think chainsaws, regular saws, a pit of water, and lots of giant logs. Of course, the actual events have technical names, but you don’t need to know them to enjoy the fun of it all.

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At $10 an adult (or $5 for seniors and kids), it’s a heck of a deal – we enjoyed 4.5 hours of epic entertainment, so the value is definitely there. Some (ahem – Cedric) might find that it’s a little on the long side, but I enjoyed every minute of it. If you happen to get bored, you can always walk around and check out the food stands, or even take off and come back (they stamp your hand, so you can come back in later).

The energy of the festival is awesome. The people watching is as much fun as the entertainment itself, and the event is really well paced – there are back to back competitions, so there’s always something to watch.

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Other things that are awesome: prizes. They had a few giveaways throughout the event that required you to interact with their social media accounts. I was STOKED to win a sweet prize consisting of a night stay at the Executive Suites hotel, two tickets up the Sea to Sky gondola, and $50 at Norman Rudy’s (located at the hotel) – who has two thumbs and is excited for an off season staycation? This girl!

I will leave you now with some tips on how to make the most of the festival:

  • The seats are bleachers – and as we all know, bleachers tend to get uncomfortable after a little while. Bring a sweatshirt or something to mitigate the effects of numb bum.
  • There is food for sale on-site, but it’s definitely festival fare. If you prefer to eat something a little more healthy, BYO – I didn’t see anything preventing you from bringing a sandwich from home. Bringing some water is a good idea, too.
  • There isn’t much in the way of shelter from the elements. In a way, the smokey air we’ve been having as of late was nice because it diffused the sun. I imagine it would get real hot, real quick with the sun beating down on you. Bring sun protection (and other gear to deal with whatever weather is thrown your way).
  • Everything is cash only. There are ATMs, but save on the fees and take our your money beforehand.

The Squamish Days 8K Run, Take Two

Though I haven’t been much of a road runner as of late, the Squamish Days 8K race has a warm place in my heart. I ran it last year and I loved the community vibe. I was also surprised about the stacked field of competition. Of course, that was before I knew that everyone is Squamish is only a step or two away from being an elite athlete (at least, it often feels that way).

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Going into this year’s race, my goal was to beat last year’s time of 41:44. That was a pretty fast time for me, but I thought I’d have an edge up this year because:

  • I’ve been running more this year than last.
  • I’ve also been hitting the gym more – I feel stronger overall.
  • I sometimes (probably not often enough) do speed work in my running. Sometimes is better than never, which is how often I did speed work last year.
  • Last year, I ran the Red Bull 400 the day before the Squamish Days 8K. This year, I did not.

Those were the things I had going for me this year. Things I did not have going for me included:

  • The fact that the air has been very smoky here in Squamish for the last week or so, and the air quality is not so hot right now.
  • The reality that although I am running more often, I very rarely tackle roads.

I’m pleased to say that the strengths outweighed the weaknesses, and not only did I beat last year’s time by almost 2 minutes, but I also cracked my goal of 40 minutes. Clocking in at 39:55… yours truly!

This placed me 5/14 in my age category, 20/77 for the women category, and 58/148 overall – three cheers for being in the top half!

I’m pretty proud of this because I don’t think I’ve ever run a 4:59 km pace … like, ever. At least not over this distance. I downloaded a most random playlist of songs strategically chosen for their beats (think Hey Ya, Footloose, Lose Yourself… definitely an odd mix) and tried to keep my feet moving with the music – and it worked! It kept me feeling motivated, even though I don’t usually run with music.

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This year, I stuck around for awards and prizes at the end. It was absolutely worth it – not only for the delicious watermelon, but also because I won a snazzy water bottle. As luck would have it, that was not the only thing I won on this day… stay tuned.

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So what do we think – can I spin these wheels even faster in 2018?

Hitting the Reset Button with Mother Nature

Summer in the Sea to Sky is so fun that it stresses me out.

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Note to self: be more like Moose. All photos by the very talented (and handsome) Cedric.

Even with the extra-long days, there simply aren’t enough hours to do everything you want to do. I want to say yes to every Facebook invite. I want to tackle every hike within a hundred miles. I want to go for ice cream with every visiting friend. I want to do it all!

It’s the best problem to have: too much fun stuff, and not enough time to do it all (without neglecting basic hygiene and, you know, working). It’s silly to admit to myself, but when my schedule is as full as it is – even if it’s packed with fun stuff – I get overwhelmed.

I’ve found that the best cure for too-much-fun-itis is spending a little one on one time with Mother Nature. A recent camping trip gave me the much-needed opportunity to put everything – laundry, work projects, my floundering fantasy baseball team – on pause.

With the usual distractions removed, there was nothing to do but take in the views, explore the lakes, catch up with friends, and watch the adorable Moose do her thing. We didn’t go far and we weren’t out for long, but it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and for a little while, time seemed to stand still.

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Moose ❤ Photo by Cedric

Except at night – at night, time seemed to move verrrrry slowly because I was so flipping cold and couldn’t thaw out my feet. Got to keep it real here.

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Photo by Cedric – and taken while I was already in the tent trying to thaw myself.

I very much needed this little weekend getaway to remember that fun is supposed to be fun, not stressful. I know the endless gray November days will be here before I know it, so I’ll enjoy the over-committed sunshiney days while I’ve got ’em.

Happy weekend!

Down the Meadow of the Grizzly Trail (Spelhxen tl’a Stl’lhalem)

I’ve written about the slow and steady climb up the newly expanded Stl’lhalem Sintl’ trail up by Quest University – now, let me introduce you to the brand spanking new down trail: Meadow of the Grizzly.

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Up, up, up.

On my first lap up and down this zone, I opted to avoid this trail because I wanted to get down as quickly as possible, so I chose to take the black diamond Upper PowerSmart trail to Skookum. That was kind of silly, because Upper PowerSmart is steep with lots of small rocks on the trail that force you to take it slow when you’re descending it on shoes, not on bike. Time-wise, it’s probably equal to take the blue-rated Meadow of the Grizzly, which is less technical and consistently runnable.

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Views on the way up – decidedly less smokey than my last Legacy climb

 

 

 

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… and the same views a week later when the smoke had returned.

If you’re tackling Meadow of the Grizzly – either on foot or on bike – you’re probably reaching it by way of Stl’lhalem Sintl’. Grizzly is basically the climb trail in reverse.

 

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First, you’ll hit winding dirt switchbacks similar to the ones at the end of the climb, only steeper. A runner can fly down this section. I’m not sure about a biker – I read in TrailForks that it’s not necessarily intuitive to navigate yet on two-wheels, and I did note a small section that was taped off (i.e., “DO NOT TRY TO JUMP OFF HERE”).

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(Note: I realized on the way down that the trail intersects with the climb trail part of the way down. I may be tempted to cut off the final upper portion on future runs.)

 

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Once you emerge from the switchback forest, you enter some trails through the block cut- similar to what you encountered halfway up the climb trail. This is the section with the epic views – and, this time of year, the epic wildflowers. You can stick to the wider log road, or take some single-track shortcuts (which is what I opted to do – the signage was still up from the Hot on Your Heels race, so I followed that course). The trail here – at least when I’ve run it during this rainless summer stretch – is dry and dusty.

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Finally, you hit the access road that takes you through the Pseudo-Tsuga trail. The incessant switchbacks through the brush are not dissimilar to the early sections of the climb trail.

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You may want to visit this bench (logging road bus stop?!) for a quick mid run/bike nap.

Is Meadow of the Grizzly fun? I suppose every trail runner and mountain biker has their own interpretation of what makes a fun trail. For instance, my favourite trail to run is Roller Coaster – so smooth, so snakey, soooo fun. Others may not agree with me.

I would say that Meadow of the Grizzly isn’t necessarily THE MOST FUN, but it’s varied enough to keep your interest piqued and enjoyable because you can just point down and give’er. It’s not overly technical and it does a good job of getting you from the top to the bottom. You can kind of just turn off your brain and go. The wow-factor is in its distance – it covers a whole lot of ground very efficiently.

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I imagine they’ll be developing plenty of more trails in this zone now that trail access has been established, and some of these future trails will probably be more “fun”. Grizzly is accessible to most – if you’re good enough to ride or run all the way up the 12k climb, you’ve probably got the stuff to make it down in one piece. At the top of the trail, there’s a sign saying it should be treated as a “dark blue”, which is accurate.

If you’re on a bike, you probably want to take it slow the first time down. You can pick up a lot of speed on this trail – but the sharp curves are a-plenty, so control is key.

I’ll be honest – this loop is a bit of a long slog for me. I’ve learned that it’s a lot more enjoyable on rested legs (versus day-after-a-leg/glute-workout legs… I won’t be making that mistake again). It  sure as heck beats running on the treadmill at incline.