Ugly lockdown baking: Aquafaba vegan divinity candy

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On this day of torrential downpours, excessive reading and television viewing, I am not sure that there is a better time to experiment with food.

As I previously wrote, I don’t like cooking. Baking and candy-making is a bit more up my alley. Sometimes, various ingredients I use in cooking, like a tin of chickpeas, have castoff bits. Normally you strain your beans, sending the valuable bean water down the sink. But in fact, this miraculous liquid (also known as aquafaba) can act as an egg-white substitute and used to make vegan meringue, vegan Swiss meringue buttercream, and any number of other things… like espresso meringue cookies (my first aquafaba experiment).

I had some chickpea water leftover from one of my ugly cooking extravaganzas, and I thought about what kind of sweet things I could attempt. I thought back to a baking/candy-making disaster of my childhood. My mother tried to make traditional divinity candy many years ago, and it requires (as all divinity does) such extensive beating that she burned out her ancient hand mixer. She’s never made it again, despite replacing the hand mixer with a more heavy-duty stand mixer.

I should also note here that corn syrup is called for in this kind of recipe, and apart from believing that corn syrup is flavorless and bad, it’s also just not sold here. I use golden syrup instead.

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I recently watched the lightweight but engaging Nadiya’s Time to Cook on Netflix, in which the affable host, Nadiya, visited the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery and made a recipe using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is something I use liberally and always have on hand for my baking.

I had never given much thought to the syrup but had a gab with S about it, and he said he always thought, as a kid, that there was a dead lion on the label. We looked it up, and indeed, it is a dead lion with bees buzzing around it, bearing text related to a Biblical passage (Judges 14:14): “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. A rotting lion carcass seems like an unusual slogan and brand position for a sickly sweet baking ingredient, but it has remained the same since the beginning. I read up a bit on Abram Lyle only to discover that he was a teetotaler and devout Presbyterian Scot, and is quoted as having said he’d “rather see a son of his carried home dead than drunk”.

Not terribly strange, but when you consider that his company merged with the rival Tate enterprise (to form Tate & Lyle), it’s strange bedfellows. Henry Tate, best known perhaps for giving his name and art collection to numerous art galleries in the UK, also gave freely to “non-establishment” causes and workers’ conditions. What struck me, in contrast to Lyle, was that he established a bar to let his workers have a good time (and probably to keep them out of trouble, trouble being bad for productivity, of course). Though Lyle and Tate the men never met each other, it’s hard to think Lyle would have approved of this kind of recreation. I love the contrast and kind of wish the men had met, and we could have a semi-fictional miniseries on the competing sugar refiners, along the same lines of The English Game to tell what could probably be a fascinating story. Much more fascinating than the tale of how my experimental aquafaba divinity candy turned out.

Aquafaba vegan divinity candy

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup golden syrup (or corn syrup, which isn’t sold here, and is not as nice or flavorful as golden syrup anyway)
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons aquafaba/chickpea water
1 teaspoon vanilla
(Add chopped nuts, if desired)

Heat sugar, water, syrup and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Add a candy thermometer, and continue cooking until the mixture reaches hard ball stage on the thermometer.

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Separately, beat the aquafaba with a mixer using the whisk attachment until it holds a stiff, meringue-like shape.

Very slowly add the sugar mixture and vanilla into the beaten aquafaba, and beat until stiff peaks form. You must beat to get the stiffest possible peaks; divinity will not hold its shape if you don’t beat it to the right consistency. That means you are going to beat, beat and beat some more… and you will be very happy that you have a stand mixer that can work autonomously.

To give you an idea of how much time the beating will take, know that I read a whole book. Between waiting for the syrup mixture to reach hard ball stage and the interminable beating stage, I read Virginia Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own in its entirety. I’m a fast reader, and it’s not an excessively long book. But you get the idea. This is a very easy recipe – but it’s extremely time consuming. You will, however, be able to do multitask while the mixer works its magic. I think the “hard ball” waiting period was about 30 minutes, and then the beating process to reach the final product was another 30 minutes. Obviously this can differ, but this is just what worked for me.

At the very end of the process, add nuts if so inclined. Oh, I also added a wee pinch of red food coloring just to get a subtle tint for the final product.

Make small, rough blobs of divinity on pans lined with parchment or wax paper, or put into a pan and cut into squares. Let the little overly sweet balls set. I don’t eat stuff like this but did take a wee taste to make sure these at least taste edible. Apart from being sickeningly sweet (which some people like), they have a more complex flavor than if I’d made them with corn syrup, and also have a deeply vanilla flavor (thanks to the vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder I added).

Lunchtable TV talk: Pure and simple every time… or not

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An article about television recommendations gave a show called Pure its blessing. All I remembered about the description was that a character starts having wildly inappropriate (sexual?) thoughts; possibly something about a brain tumor. I noted the title and forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise then when the time came to start to watching Pure, and I was greeted by Mennonites driving buggies and speaking their own language (I was not expecting a partly subtitled show when my viewing began). It’s a Canadian production, and feels like it – as most Canadian shows do. Same sort of production values, same Canadian extras as usual. I can’t explain what makes a Canadian show Canadian (beyond just the abundance of Canadian vowels and pronunciation). This was not the Pure I was expecting.

I can’t say, having watched two brief seasons of the Canadian Pure, that it’s worth recommending. It’s kind of a different story from what television usually offers, but it feels as though it has missed an opportunity to tell a deeper story. I noticed the same recently in another Canadian show, Mary Kills People, in which a doctor helps terminally ill patients to end their lives. The premise held considerable promise for being able to tackle a challenging topic, but only ever touched briefly on the meatier moral issue, focusing almost entirely on the “the law and the outlaws both have you in their clutches” aspect of illegal assisted suicide. Never mind that assisted suicide has been legal in Canada since 2016, and Mary didn’t even begin until 2017.

Where Pure seems to miss a turn is in having too little time to dig into characters and the path the community’s new pastor follows that leads him to becoming a police informant, as drug trafficking has taken hold in his community. The story unfolded in a too-rushed way that made motivations feel forced and didn’t let all of the actions make sense.

In years past, Banshee had a take on the Amish/Mennonite criminal connection/drug trafficking underworld and the “outcasts” from this world. Even though it was not the central theme of Banshee, it rivaled what Pure managed in two seasons that almost completely focused on the community. The second season seems a bit better paced, and no one can argue with the addition of Christopher Heyerdahl to anything. But overall, perhaps the problem is twofold: Canadians have not yet mastered a six-episode storytelling pace (Brits seem best able to do this); both Mary Kills and Pure suffer from this; secondly, the only time we’d get to see Mennonite (or Amish)-related stories (think back to 1985’s Witness, for example) is when outsiders are involved, which would only likely be an insidious infestation by a criminal element. It’s an insular world, after all.

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Ugly lockdown cooking: Chickpea quinoa concoction

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I don’t like cooking, and I don’t enjoy shopping for food. Preparing anything beyond just throwing asparagus or broccoli into a roasting pan or whipping spinach and kiwi together in a blender with frozen berries is taxing and not how I prefer to spend my time. But now that we’re facing the dregs of my cupboards, I’m just making whatever is… possible. Something vegan… and ugly as usual.

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Chickpea quinoa concoction

1 cup quinoa (I used a tricolor mix; rinsed)
1.5 cups water
1 tin crushed tomatoes (you could use stewed tomatoes with chilies, peppers, garlic or just plain tomatoes)
1 tin chickpeas, drained (you can of course also use fresh chickpeas)
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil (butter if you don’t care if this is vegan)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch of black pepper
pinch of turmeric
pinch of salt

Heat oil in a large pan and add onion; saute for about five minutes, add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the spices (cayenne, cumin, pepper, turmeric).

Increase heat on stove to medium-high. Add the rinsed quinoa, water, tomato. Stir. Add in the chickpeas. Stir again. Bring to a boil.

Stir, reduce temperature to low to maintain a low simmer. Cover the pan, let cook for 15 or so minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for a minute or two.

Serve on its own, with a flatbread, with a dollop of sour cream (or non-dairy sour cream) or whatever strikes your fancy.

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diagnosis

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Missing Paul on what would be his birthday.

Diagnosis
Jeffery Bahr
And the doctor said that I was toxic,
Surveyed the veins on my wrists,
Mapped the places where passion
Got no purchase, and riders
On the bus caught a waft and stripped
To their undergarments, huddled
In the shadow of the opening door
And another said I had a few bones
Lost in Triggering Towns,
That I would elbow the pastor upon leaving
The wedding, that he would hardly notice,
Thanking me for my kind words from the first row
But I was not in attendance, I was watering
The lilies and it all happened around me
And the oncologist smelled my breath,
Feared for the worst, pancreatic,
Esophageal, some sort of brain thing,
I said, how long do I have, doc,
And he said as long as you can maintain
The illusion of normalcy, as long as you
Can dream of people and I fell
Into bed every night and conjured up
People whom I was chasing, then people
Who didn’t need capture, then an odd
Soul with a glow of her own, a sort of
Person with a purpose that was above judgment,
Then I woke up and saw a doctor
Who said I had a predilection for both
Certainty and chaos and I had to make up
My mind, and for the first time, I said, wait
A second, what’s wrong with that, and his bushy brows
Furrowed and the trains slid off
Their rails and he told his secretary to bring him
A corned beef sandwich, and he completely
Ignored me from that point on, me in the chair
Across from him, breathing the same toxic
Air, yet I remember falling recently
At the head of an escalator, and every tumble
Down was ameliorated with the prospects
Of upwardness, a trust in anti-gravity,
The long-standing machinery of forgiveness,
The sense that love was longer than life,
Even greater than God, who in my story
Derived from love, is what love is, sprung
From it and there is this world,
Which is a wonderful place, a terrible
Place, and it was time
To pay the bill.