Author Archives: wcaplan

Hey Mr. Starbucks!

Warning: Some people might think this is a teeny, weeny bit of a rant. Could be.

I don’t have to tell you that 2020 has been tough. So tough it’s driven this shallow gal to bake. Don’t get me wrong. I love baking even if I’m not really a baker. But how much can two people eat (you don’t have to answer that, it’s rhetorical) so, every once in a while, we venture out for our afternoon refreshment at what has become “our” cafe. We sit on the patio (of course), physically distanced but not out of earshot of our fellow coffee drinkers, and spend time watching, talking, listening and just taking some time to pretend there’s no “new normal”. The sun shines down on us and, if it doesn’t, the well placed heaters do. We’ve been doing this for quite some time now and expected to be doing it for some time longer until last week. Last week we were advised that, like many others these days, our cafe is closing. For good. But please don’t shed a tear for the owner. This is no local barista trying to make a go of things in hard times. This is Starbucks. And since it’s kind of hard for me right now to write my shallow blog, I figured I had nothing to lose by voicing my concern to the rather large corporation who would like us to believe they have our best interests at heart. I’m sharing this with you mostly so I can share it with them too


Hey Mr. Starbucks. Remember me? I’m the one who wrote you a while back about the not so great renovation you did at our local cafe. That’s right. The one where you removed all of the comfy chairs, replacing them with rock hard subway seats, I suppose to remind us that while you don’t mind if we sit for a bit we really should be thinking about where we need to be next. It’s the same one where you removed almost all of the tables that seat more than two people because, and I can only surmise, who needs more than one friend? Oh yeah. Just in case we decided it might be nice to wile away an hour or so in the sun on that wrap around patio you have, you managed to take away many of the tables and chairs out there in the fresh air too. You remember that, don’t ya? 

To tell you the truth, it worked out ok, mostly because all of us “regulars” managed to find other places to enjoy a cup o’ joe. Some with you, some without. Me and my guy? Well lucky for us we found another one of your cafes to frequent. And even luckier, at this one the sun shines down even brighter during our afternoon repasts and we have been able to make a slew of new “Starbucks’s friends”. You know what those are, right? The people we meet and chat with each afternoon, even though we don’t know their name. The new place has become our place. Which, I understand from your mission statement, is what you folks are all about.  You know. “Human connection”. “Enjoyment at the speed of life”. “Always full of humanity”.  “A break from the world outside”.  Your words, not mine. So I have to ask. What the heck are you thinking?

Before I go on, there’s something you should know. I don’t write a lot of letters these days so a second one to you is kind of a big deal for me. But here you go again. Messing around with a good thing. So what choice do I have? Yes, I know I’m a shallow person and this might not seem like that big of a deal to other people.  And I know there are bigger things to worry about right now. Like everyone else, I’m more than a tad worried that the new guy (or perhaps I should say the old guy) won’t be able to pull this one out of the hat and, even if he does, the old old guy will kick and scream his way to an undeserved victory. With the help of his rather unsavoury cadre of friends. I worry too about how the world has been impacted by the pandemic. How, even when this whole thing is over (it will be over, right?) things will never be the same. Or worse perhaps, they will be. And for all those who have lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost homes, and perhaps hope, I worry about how they will ever be able to put their lives back together. But just because there are big things to worry about doesn’t mean the little things aren’t important too. So come on man!, (to quote the new old guy) Why on earth would you pick this of all times to close down our very busy, very robust and very important shelter from the storm? 

Now I get it. This particular cafe of yours hasn’t had a facelift for some time. Some would say it’s even a little long in the tooth. The chairs are worn, tables are slightly wobbly and the floor (if you don’t mind my saying so) could use a refresh. But none of that really matters to any of us. Because this place has become exactly what you had hoped it would be. A place to connect, to gain a sense of belonging, to share a laugh, greet old friends and meet new ones. It is, as you suggest, a haven from the worries outside. Not to mention a good neighbour. Because every time we visit we spend a little time and money at the surrounding, mostly locally owned shops. A pound of butter here, a little red fife flour there. It all adds up and makes life better for everyone. So here are my questions for you. Where do you think the kindly, elderly couple, one in a wheelchair the other with a walker, will go for their afternoon outing now? What about the lovely, older ladies who meet on the patio every Tuesday at 2 pm because they live in the area and can no longer drive? Or how about our dear friend and his dog, who loves to bask in the sunshine, while the three of us solve world problems? Have you really thought this through? Have you reflected on how this will impact the community? Your community? One that you have been a part of for the past 16 years? Tell me. Have you thought about us? Because the ways things are going, we’re not going to be thinking about you for very much longer.

 

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Follow the “effing” rules! Please.

As a shallow person I don’t make a habit of telling other people what to do. Most of the time I mind my own business and let the chips fall where they may. But in case you haven’t noticed, these times are different than most. In many ways. I mean not so long ago we were all able to walk into a grocery store without waiting in line. Without putting on a mask. Without sanitizing our hands on the way in and on the way out. And I don’t know about you but I clearly remember sitting on the cafe patio, spending time chit chatting with friends while sipping a latte. At the same table. Or inviting them to my home and letting them inside when they discretely asked to use the “facilities”. At least I would if I had managed to clean before they arrived. But those times appear to be gone. At least for now. And for now, what seems to have taken the place of all that we knew, are rules. Rules that, for our own good, we need to follow.

Now none of us are strangers when it comes to rules. We grew up with them. Right from the get go. Most of us, at least most of us who are of a certain age, remember the plethora of rules we had to adhere to at school. No chewing gum in class. No running in the hall. No talking out of turn. Simple rules but ones we had no choice but to follow lest we find ourselves spending many an hour sitting under the watchful eye of a teacher who no more wanted to be in that room with us than we with them. Little did we realize that these rules were designed to assist us in becoming decent human beings. And now, as decent human beings we know there are rules we need to follow for the sake of others. That’s why we don’t drink and drive, no longer smoke in public and do our best to eat with our mouths closed, the latter being particularly important when sharing a meal with loved ones, as we so often did in the past. Some of us go so far as to adopt rules for our own good. We pay ourselves first, finish what we start and, of course, “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”. And we are better people for it. 

Let’s face it though. Not all rules are the same. Some rules, like the ones we have to decipher when doing our taxes, are complicated. Break one of those rules and you’ll hear about it for sure but, if you’re lucky, someone will likely accept your mea culpa and let you go on your way. With a small penalty of course. Some rules have more serious consequences. Like when you decide to put the metal to the pedal on a long, lonely stretch of highway thinking there’s no one else going to wherever it is you’re going. And then you discover, much to your dismay, that you have a new friend in a black and white cruiser who has decided this a good time to get better acquainted. In this case you can say all the sorries you want but that cute little red number you love so much will be sitting in your new friend’s garage and you’ll be walking to work for the next little while. And some rules are ok to break every once in a while. I mean who didn’t sneak into the house hours after curfew, confident that the ‘rents, sleeping like logs, would be none the wiser? Trust me. They weren’t sleeping. They knew. But since you were home safe and sound, and they could now get some much deserved shut eye, they let you off the hook. Every once in a while. 

Then there are some rules that are so simple, so easy to follow, that it’s hard to understand why anyone would decide to break them. And yet, they do. So now that things are opened up just a tad, me and my guy have taken to sitting outside at our local cafe (I’m quite sure I don’t have to tell you which one) for our afternoon coffee. Not everyday, but once in a while. Here’s the thing. Because we still exist within our “new normal” a few rules have been put in place at the cafe. Nothing onerous. Like this. There is now a door to go into the cafe and a door to come out. And they are not the same. One set of doors is around the corner from the other. To make matters simple, a sign has been posted on the now “exit only” door to clearly indicate that it is, in fact, the exit. To clarify, there’s an arrow pointing to the door you are supposed to use to enter the cafe. And in case you can’t tell where the arrow is pointing there are actual words that explain the entrance is around the corner. Off the patio. It’s not hard. Yet, as I watched with some dismay, two out of three people entered through the exit. Some read the sign and clearly decided to ignore the message. Some did not read the sign at all, I suppose thinking the message was not meant for them. While others read the sign, thought about it for a moment and for some unknown reason, made the determination that the rule did not apply to them. Perhaps the extra 30 feet was too far to go.

Okay. I get it. Old habits die hard. But this one, very simple rule has been put in place to keep everyone safe. You. Me. Your kids. The people who work at the cafe. You know. The ones who are forced to wear masks all day long so we can all continue to satisfy our habit. The woman who dutifully walked around to the new entrance each and every time she needed to enter the cafe only to end up face to face with someone who chose to enter through the exit. Without a mask. So while I hardly ever tell people what to do, and I never swear, I’ll say this just once. If you do nothing else. Do this. Follow the “effing” rule. Please. And all the others that have been put in place to keep us safe. Honestly. It’s not that complicated. Not that hard. Because unlike your parents, this virus won’t be letting any of us off the hook.

An aside: I know none of my readers would do this but feel free to share with someone you know who might. 

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To Wear or Not to Wear…Really, It’s Not A Question

<a href="https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/medical">Medical vector created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>I don’t know about you but when I was growing up there were plenty of things I was told to do, or not to do which admittedly, I ignored. Looking back, I now realize of course, that I wasn’t always right and while rules might be made to be broken I probably shouldn’t have broken all of them. To be fair though, not everything I was told warranted the same level of adherence. Let’s face it. There was a modicum of exaggeration to some of these admonitions. For example, the vast majority of us who ran with a pencil, scissors, or sucker in our hand never actually lost an eye. I’m not saying it never happened. I’m just saying that it probably didn’t happen as often as the ‘rents led us to believe. And there were those that simply turned out not to be true. If I have to be honest, and I am nothing but honest, my children turned out to be way less trouble to me than I was for my parents. And even though I made my share of funny faces, my face never froze in time which, now that I think about it, might not have been such a bad thing. And I don’t ever recall either of my parents turning around to go home just because we were making too much noise in the backseat of the car. Nonetheless, I admit that there was a great deal of good advice imparted to me over the course of my life to which I did listen. I mean I never jumped off a cliff just because all of my friends did and, as a parent, I do now understand all those things they told me I would when I had kids of my own. 

Now I’m guessing that as a shallow person this COVID-19 debacle has probably not bothered me as much as it has others. I hate to say it out loud, but my life hasn’t really changed. I was never much of a gadfly so sticking around the house for most of the day doesn’t really bother me. I still have coffee everyday between two and three, albeit in my backyard rather than my local coffee haunt. And there are a plethora of Hallmark reruns to watch every night, which is fine by me. Old, new. Doesn’t matter. You and I both know they’re all the same anyway. I did start writing my new “I Am Not a Baker” blog (yup, unabashed self-promotion) but I procrastinate writing that one just as much as this one, so there’s that. There is however, one thing I do that I can genuinely say I have never done before. I wear a mask. 

I might be shallow but that doesn’t mean I’m foolhardy. At this point in the trajectory of the disease it would have been pretty hard to have missed the message that wearing a mask actually does save lives. Mine and yours. I know. At the start of this whole thing there was a bit of a PPE frenzy and masks were legitimately hard to come by. But now, everyone and their brother has dusted off their old “Singers”, reacquainted with bobbins and spools and started sewing up a veritable storm. You can pretty much get whatever style and colour you are looking for. There are funky masks, camo masks, masks with adjustable ear pieces, designer masks, kids masks, masks that double as scarves, masks made by artists, masks reinforced with copper. Well you get the gist. There’s no excuse. Sure, masks are not comfortable. They’re hot in an already hot summer. They make your glasses fog up and your nose run. They hurt your ears. Most of all, we’re simply not accustomed to wearing a mask. But here’s the thing. A mask just might save your life. And maybe your Mother’s and Father’s lives. And the lives of people you don’t even know. To wear or not to wear a mask? Seems to me it’s not really a question. 

Okay. I know. I might not have convinced you. So, I haven’t done this for quite some time but thought, for those of you still sitting on the fence, perhaps a top 10 list of the best reasons to wear a mask might just topple you over the edge. So with all due respect to Mr. D. Letterman, here’s my kick at the can.

Top 10 reason to wear a mask in the pandemic

  1. You’ll save a bundle on lipstick.
  2. If you decide to rob a bank at the spur of the moment, and I’m not suggesting that you do, you’re dressed for the occasion.
  3. You can make funny faces at people and they’ll never know. And if your face does freeze, who cares?
  4. You never have to smile at people you really don’t like.
  5. People you are trying to avoid probably won’t recognize you.
  6. It’s a great excuse to go shopping for an outfit to go with your new mask.
  7. You can pretend you can’t hear what someone says to you because, well they’re wearing a mask too.
  8. If you’re lucky, people might toss some candy into your shopping bag.
  9. You won’t have to carry a sign at your next protest. Just print your message on your mask.
  10. The  very best reason to wear a mask? You’re gonna save a life. And it just might be your own.

As Nike would say, just do it!

(Image attribute: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/medical”>Medical vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a&gt;)

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I Am Not A Baker – Coming Soon

As you can well imagine it has been rather difficult to write a shallow blog during this pandemic. Admittedly, the impact of COVID-19 has not (yet) had a major effect on my life. To be brutally honest, it has been frighteningly easy for me to confine myself to my home and to connect with others primarily through Zoom, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype and that old fashioned mode of communication, the telephone. Yes it’s true, I still do have a landline. Sure it’s been hard to give up my grocery shopping habit. Thursday used to be a big day in our house what with the delivery of all the flyers. Now it’s one trip, in and out, sales or no sales, and I thank my lucky stars I am able to continue to stock my pantry with what I need. But I am painfully aware that for many life has taken a dramatic downturn financially, physically and emotionally, and I do not for one minute want to minimize the sadness and suffering our friends, family and those we do not know, are feeling right now. Our world has turned upside down. Everything has changed. The most common and perhaps accurate description I’ve heard is “it’s just weird”. I think there is some consensus that at any moment Mr. Rod Serling will step out of the shadows to pronounce we have now entered “The Twilight Zone”. Unfortunately it seems we are binge watching the episodes. 

The thing is, as a retired shallow person, writing my blog has actually occupied a fair bit of my time. There’s the thinking about what to write, the writing, the procrastinating, more writing, the online Bingo games in the middle of the writing, the editing (yes, I do edit), the searching for and finding an appropriate pic and finally, the putting the whole damn thing into WordPress. And without all of that I have to admit I’m a little lost. Normally I’d manage to wile away a few at the local cafe but in the “new normal” there’s only so much time I can spend encouraging my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings to “keep up the good work” as I sip my tea in my own backyard. Fortunately a couple of years ago I discovered that not only do I like to eat my cherry cheesecake, I like to make it too. Me and Doug Ford. Who would have thought! 

Yep. It’s hard for even me to believe that the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is think about what I might bake. Well that’s not exactly true. The first thing I do is go to the bathroom but you don’t want to hear about that. And now with little else to occupy my time, these days all I want to do is bake. Got a recipe for Beer Bread? I’ll run down to my local speakeasy and grab myself a brew. Morning Glory Muffins made with Red Fife flour? Got a pantry full of that. Cookies? Just give me a sec to source some organic, fair trade semi-sweet, dark chocolate chips. Never mind there’s only two of us to devour all of these goodies. The pandemic has awakened my baker within. There’s only one problem. 

While I love to bake I am the first one to admit that I am not a baker. And I know this because I spend inordinate amounts of time watching real bakers bake on baking shows. The ones where they compete against each other to see who can construct a cake that recreates most of downtown Manhattan, including a proportionately correct replica of the Statue of Liberty, while incorporating chili powder and olives, the “secret” ingredients concocted by their particular panel of sadistic judges. If you have never witnessed this spectacle you must. What you will quickly discover is that these people are master’s of their trade. To say they know what they are doing is tantamount to saying the Pope believes in God. Or Trump lies. But I digress. There are no measuring cups here. No teaspoons. No tablespoons. Not a hint of a written word anywhere. You won’t see these guys checking the old cellphone to decide if it was one egg or two. They just know what they are doing. Or watch Mary crush it in her kitchen. Now I love Mary but I need to know how it is that she can make a three course meal which includes a delectable desert, without ever getting one teeny, tiny speck of oil, or a little smudge of flour on her always fashionable and never protected, frock. For goodness sake. Even her hands stay clean!

As you can guess, nothing like this happens in my kitchen. And I have to think this is the case for many of you, especially those who have recently become part of the pandemic baking craze. So I’m starting a new blog. For people like us. The ones who find themselves wondering how it came to be that there was still an egg on the counter when all things were said and done. Did I take out an extra or just forget to put this one in? Who check our measures not twice but many multiple times. Who follow instructions to a tee. Who know that a 15 minute prep time will somehow mysteriously expand to about an hour and a half. Who didn’t know what the heck Red Fife flour was until last week. It’s the truth about baking. For those of us who bake but are not bakers.

Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the shallow blog just the beginning of something new.

I Am Not A Baker. Coming soon. Watch for it on WordPress.

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This is Not a Baking Blog!

First, let me thank all of you who answered my call for baking recipes. You have no idea how much you have helped me out. It’s not that I plan to bake all of the goodies you sent on. It’s just that you have saved me countless hours of sitting and staring at a blank screen trying to think up something to write about. The thing is, most of my inspiration for the blog comes from my day to day encounters with the world. I never know what might trigger this little brain of mine to come up with an idea. It could be a funny saying on a t-shirt. Or a casual conversation overheard at my local cafe. Perhaps a conversation with my hairstylist which, you will note, I am no longer referring to as my “hairdresser” having been duly corrected for that apparently outdated reference. In the past, even watching deer munch on my tulips could spark my creative juices. 

These days there’s no chance that any of those things are going to happen, although much to my chagrin the deer are still feasting on my flowers. Because it is unlikely that I will be able to read whatever it is you have to say on your t-shirt from six feet away. And it’s pretty hard to eavesdrop when there are no cafes to eavesdrop in. Of course it goes without saying that having a chit chat with my stylist is out of the question, regardless of the fact that both he and I would like nothing better than to get together at this very moment. Nope. These days you’ll find me sitting peacefully in the backyard, waiting for my fine feathered friends to drop by for a little refresher in my recently installed water feature. Or, and I know this will surprise you as much as me, having a few words with the seedlings we have planted, in the likely false hope of one day being able to reap what we have sown. And while watching birdies in the bath is quite lovely, it just doesn’t generate much material for this blog. Which is why I turned to my very kind readers for help.

Now let me just say one thing before I go on to share with the world the wonderful bounty you have bestowed upon me. Make no mistake. This is not a baking blog. Yes, it has recipes. But that’s it. Unlike most of the baking blogs I have happened upon lately there are no heartwarming stories. Not a word about how the smell of cookies wafting from the oven brings back fond memories of coming in from the cold, finding a freshly baked batch cooling on the window sill, enticing little fingers to steal one away even though dinner was just moments away and appetites were going to be spoiled. No recollections of spending countless hours in the kitchen with the young ones, measuring, stirring, offering up big bowls of leftover icing for all to enjoy. No tributes, no histories, no videos and no links to Instagram or Twitter. No scrolling ad infinitum through picture after picture, ad after ad, to finally find the list of ingredients for what you have now forgotten you were going to bake. No tips or tricks. No substitutes. Clearly, this is still just a shallow blog. With recipes. So without any further ado, here they are. Your recipes. In no particular order. Thank you!


Madarin Orange Cake

2 cups flour
1 ¼ cups of sugar
2 ¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cans (11oz) mandarin orange sections. Separate juice from orange sections.

Put all ingredients in bowl and beat well using juice of oranges. Fold in orange sections. Pour in a 9 X 13 greased pan. Bake at 325°for 35 minutes (in my oven it often takes 45 minutes to bake evenly).  The cake should look dark when it comes out of the oven. Cover with a clean dish towel and let cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz of cream cheese
¼ cup of butter
½ tsp vanilla
¾ cup of icing sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter. Add icing sugar. Add vanilla at end.


Passover Cookies (I’m sure they’re good other times too!)

2 egg whites
3 cups of sliced or slivered almonds
1/2 cup sugar
Mix sugar and egg whites.  Add almonds.
Drop by the teaspoonful on parchment covered cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
Open oven door.  Shut off oven and let cookies stand in oven for 10 minutes.


Buttermilk Blueberry Lemon Scones (I made these today. They are delish!)


Molasses Crinkle Cookies (Ok, this one looks a little historic)

3/4 c butter
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
4 tblsp molasses
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp soda (I’ll assume this is baking soda
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Cream butter and gradually add sugar. Blend in 1 egg and molasses. Add dry ingredients, mix and chill one hour. Shape into walnut sized balls, dip in water, then sugar. Place sugar side up on greased sheet. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 12-15 minutes. Cool on rack.


Auntie Didi’s Chocolate Cheesecake (This one is also a tad historic and a little less specific than you might be comfortable with. I’ve taken the liberty to share it because it’s sooooooo good!) 

1 package of chocolate wafer cookies (you might find them in the baking section of your grocer)
2 large packages of Philadelphia cream cheese
1 large package of Dream Whip
Icing sugar
Margarine (couple spoons)
1 can of cherry pie filling

Crush wafer cookies (save about 15 of them) and combine with margarine (I bet you can use butter) to make the crust. Cover the bottom of a springform pan with this mixture.
Whip the Dream Whip
Whip the Cream cheese with some icing sugar. You’ll have to figure this one out for yourself.
Fold together the cream cheese and Dream Whip.
Place 13 – 15 wafer cookies around the perimeter of your Springform pan.
Pour in cherry pie filling.
Add cream cheese/Dream Whip mixture
Let sit in fridge overnight.
Crush a few more wafer cookies and sprinkle on top. (Looks like you don’t use them all for the crust) 


This one comes from “down under” notably from one of the best bakers I know. Sorry everyone else!

Orange Meringue Cookies


And of course, the recipe that started it all!

Ina Garten’s Rugelach!


 

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