Making it work in the kitchen
One of my favourite quotations is attributed to Arthur Ashe, who made his mark in the world of competitive tennis in the 1960s and ‘70s. His advice, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,” has never failed me when I felt uncertain and overwhelmed.
I felt like that for a while last weekend. After I’d done the week’s grocery shopping based on meals for just two of us, we invited a family to join us for dinner.
“Start where you are.” We were at home, and we were having company for dinner. I had no desire to head out and do more shopping, but I needed to plan a meal for company. That was the starting point.
“Use what you have.” I’d gone light on meat and fish when shopping last week, and looking for a protein for the main course had me feeling perplexed until I remembered that there was a bag of shrimp, almost full, in the freezer. I’d bought a red and a green bell pepper, and had a can of pineapple chunks in the cupboard. We always have cooking onions and rice on hand, and so it was decided: the main course would be a stirfry with sweet pepper strips, onion wedges, pineapple chunks and shrimp, served over rice. I could make a sauce for the stirfry using the juice from the pineapple, along with soya sauce, mirin, sesame oil, grated ginger from the freezer, and a few teaspoons of cornstarch to thicken it. I was surprised and grateful that although I hadn’t come home with many groceries, we had food in the house that I could put together to make a nice main course.
“Do what you can.” There was about half of a rhubarb cake on the counter, enough so that everyone could have a small piece for dessert. However, the cake looked plain when served alone, not the pretty dessert that we like to serve to company. What could I do to dress it up? We had about half a quart of strawberries in the fridge, and the end of a carton of whipping cream. I pureed the strawberries, and used a squeeze bottle to drizzle the berry puree in a wavy pattern across the bottom of each dessert dish. Then I added a small piece of rhubarb cake, a spoonful of whipped cream, one whole strawberry and another drizzle of strawberry puree. Instead of a little piece of leftover cake, we had a dessert that looked festive and, thanks to the interplay of strawberry and rhubarb flavours, tasted better than the cake did by itself. There wasn’t a crumb of dessert left at the end of the meal.
Here is the recipe ( from my cousin, Karen) for the rhubarb cake that we had on hand.
To sour milk to use in the batter, spoon 15 mL (1 tbsp) white vinegar into a glass measuring cup, and add milk to bring it to the 250 mL (1 cup) mark. Give it a stir, let it sit for a minute or two, and there’s the cup of sour milk that you need.
Karen’s Rhubarb Cake
125 mL (1/2 cup) butter 375 mL (1 1/2 cups) sugar 1 egg 5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla 500 mL (2 cups) flour 5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda 2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt (I omitted) 250 mL (1 cup) buttermilk or sour milk 500 mL (2 cups) rhubarb, cut into 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces 15 mL (1 tbsp) flour Topping 50 mL (1/4 cup) butter 10 mL (2 tsp) cinnamon 250 mL (1 cup) brown sugar Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F.) Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda and salt, and add to creamed mixture, alternating with buttermilk or sour milk. Toss rhubarb pieces with 15 mL (1 tbsp) flour to coat. Fold into batter. Spoon batter into a greased 34 x 22 cm (13 x 9 inch) pan. Mix topping ingredients together, and drop in small pieces over batter. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 45 minutes or until cake is firm and a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.