Friday, August 31, 2012

Saul's Vanilla Icecream

Saul likes to serve home-made vanilla ice cream with his Apple Tartain.  And his Crepes Suzette.  Here's how he does it.

Anglaise Sauce
This vanilla sauce can be used as a base for an ice-cream, or, with a little brandy or Grand-Marnier added to it, poured it over fruit cakes and fruit salads!
If you're using this anglaise as a base for ice-cream, you can toss anything into it before you put it in the churn: strawberries, peanut butter, honey etc. etc. etc. 
Note:  If you are adding a sugary ingredient, cut down on the sugar in the base recipe.  If you are adding alcohol, keep the amount to a minimum or it will affect the freezing and cause the mix to separate. 
Yummy example:  To make rum 'n raisin ice-cream, soak raisins overnight in just enough rum to allow the flavor to permeate the fruit.  Toss the mildly alcoholic raisins into the anglaise at the very end of the cooking process - allowing the hot anglaise liquid to fully rehydrate the fruit.

1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup caster sugar
5 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean split and scraped, OR 1 overflowing tsp of vanilla seeds.  (NEVER use the cheap vanilla flavoring on the supermarket baking shelf.  You may as well go buy Dairy Bell ice-cream, and then there is no hope for you at all.)

In a small saucepan, and over a moderate heat, bring the cream and milk to a gentle boil.  Do not walk away!  The milk WILL overflow as soon as you turn your back.  (If using a small pot over a gas stove, do not let the heat get high - or the flames will run up the sides of the pot and scald the milk.) 
            The anglaise must be prepared over a water bath, so set a pot of water to boil - you want only an inch or two of water in the bottom of the pot so that there can be an air space between the boiling water and the bowl of ingredients.
            In a cheap metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar.  (These must be whisked immediately upon contact - or the sugar will begin to cure the yolks, and you will have nasty flakes of dried egg throughout your anglaise.)
            As soon as the hot milk mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat.  Whisking continuously, gradually – very gradually - add the hot liquid to the egg and yolk mixture.  Adding the hot liquid very slowly will stop you from ending up with rich scrambled eggs instead of a smooth sauce.  (Which might be nice to try as well.  Go ahead.  I dare you.)
            Place the mixture over the water bath and whisk continuously.  You must keep the liquid MOVING.  If the sauce at the sides of the bowl begins to solidify, stir it back in - you don't want scrambled vanilla eggs.  Stir until the mixture holds –
            Test by dipping a spoon into the sauce.  Remove the spoon, turn it over and drag a finger through the sauce on the back of the spoon - if the clear line holds free of sauce, the anglaise is ready.  Remove from heat.
            Important Note: Because of the egg and dairy content, an anglaise is very susceptible to bacteria growth.  Unless you plan to use it within an hour or two, chill quickly in an ice bath or over a bowl of ice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Speaking of Cooking - A Recipe for Apple Tartain

There were a few things I'd meant to post before we left Australia that didn't quite make it up (on account of being busy packing and all the associated nonsense.)  Here's the first.

In our very last cooking classes before we left Australia, Saul-the-French-Chef taught us to make Apple Tartain.  It was a very Saul  sort of dish - an apple tart distilled to its essence: many apples, much butter, equal parts sugar, more butter, and a little slice of pastry - buttered delightfully.
            And though the tartain was ambrosial, it was the Nurses who Will Not who made the evening noteworthy.
            The Nurses who Will Not are a three nurses from the maternity ward of the local hospital, and weekly, they profess themselves horrified at every single scrap of evidence that cooking involves objects and processes biological. 
            I've nothing against dietary principles, but these ladies don't do meat, vegetables, carbs or basic mineral supplements.
            Raw meat and vegetables leave them appalled, and as for dairy - the obscenity of anything that comes out of the squeezy bit of a cow leaves them glagging and glaaaking and quoting heart-healthy statistics before the stove like they're reciting scripture.
            Saul smiles blandly and deploys butter like pre-emptive military strikes, and the rest of us are flummoxed as to what these women are doing in a Cordon Bleu cooking class in the first place.  Our initial suspicion was that they'd thought the class would be theoretical.  But after the first class, when they kept coming back -  imagine an unusually specific fundamentalist religious group, hanging around a skateboard park, casting dire looks across the half-pipe and passing out tracts on the sins of playing x-sports on Sundays.   As far as we can tell, these medical ladies have identified Saul as the Anti-Christ of Nutrition, and we've started to suspect that they're only staying around in the hopes of driving him entirely demented.

This evening, they didn't disappoint. As the slabs of butter came out of the fridge, the Nurses started shrieking.
            "O Lord!  O LORD - he's at it again!" They tittered, collectively.
            Saul put on a deeply blank face and commenced to cook.  He peeled and sliced the apples, dropped them into  a bowl of water and lemon juice, set a cast-iron skillet over a gas flame and set to melting butter and sugar -
            The nurses scowled and huffed their way through the demonstration, until the apples were simmering with the butter in the skillet, and Saul had  picked up a spoon to begin teaching us the accompaniment. 
            "We'll do an anglaise custard."  Saul said.  "And a note here, although I hate to have to say it, when you make an anglaise, try not to use a really thick cream - " (He sighed a little in regret.) "It tastes fantastic, but there's just too much fat in it.  You'll split your sauce."
            The scowls became a row of deeply tucked chins and mouths folded up like purses.
            "Well, there you go."  They said.  "Well there you go."
            "Finally some sense, don't you think?"
            "He's learning something at the last, isn't he?"
            While Saul whipped his anglaise with slightly more than necessary vim, Nurse #1 turned to her compadres-in-denial and said - very sotto voce  - "Are you coming back next term?"
            One of her compadres snorted and said in a scarcely less audible voice - "I hardly think so.  He's so lax.   In his…standards."
            They eyeballed the happily bubbling pan of apple and (mostly) butter on the stove below, and they snorted and pursed their lips some more and looked at each other with righteousness in their eyes.
            Saul eyed them right back and flipped another hundred grams of butter into the frying pan, and began cracking eggs.  Double-yolkers.
            The Nurses urrgh-ed and glaah-ed in disgust. 
            "It's so….. biological!"  One of them moaned, with her hand pressed to her mouth.
            Saul smiled.

It is a very good Tartain, and taken in moderation, would make an excellent addition to a dinner table once every six weeks or so.
            In defiance of those who eschew all dairy on glakker-y principle, and in praise of all standards that reckon that a whole brick of butter is never enough, here is the Recipe for an Apple Tartain.  And on Friday, the recipe for Vanilla Ice-Cream to accompany it.

Apple Tartan

I kg Granny Smith Apples
Bowl of Water
Juice of Half a Lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
Generous slab of butter
1/2 cup sugar
50-100 g butter (Depending how non-heart-friendly you are feeling) plus 1 tablespoon of melted butter for brushing onto pastry
Two small non-teflon-coated skillets
Baking paper
One sheet of puff pastry, chilled.

Place the puff pastry in the fridge to chill, and pre-heat your oven to 220C (400F).
Peel  1 kg of Granny Smith apples.  Juice half a lemon, and add the juice to a bowl of water.  Core the apples and slice thinly, then place the apple slices in the water to rest until needed.
Heat a small non-teflon-coated skillet  and drop in a generous slab of butter. (Go on, don’t be shy.  Add some more.  It’s good for you.) When the butter is melted and sizzling, add the apple slices, half a cup of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Cool until the moisture from the apples has boiled off and keep cooking until the contents of the skillet have caramalized to a dark brown color.
While the apple is cooking, make a cartouche.
Short version: Using baking paper, cut a circle with a diameter that matches the diameter of your skillet.
Fancy cordon-bleau version: Take a square of baking paper whose side is the diameter of the pan you  will use to bake your tartan.  Fold it in half.  Fold it into quarters.  Fold it again - and keep folding until you have as narrow a triangle as you can fold without the paper slipping out of shape and sliding every which way.  Cut off the wide end of the triangle.  Unfold your paper - hopefully it will be in a circle!  (If not, try again.  It's only paper!)
Take another small non-teflon-coated skillet - or other shallow circular baking pan - and spray the bottom with a non-stick cooking spray.  Lay the cartouche on the bottom of the pan. 
When the apple has caramelized, remove the puff pastry from fridge.  Lay the puff pastry over a plate roughly the dimension of your baking pan and using the plate as a template, cut the puff pastry to fit.  (Don't remove the puff pastry from the fridge until you're ready for it.  You want to use it CHILLED.)
Spoon the caramelized apple on top of the cartouch in the pan.  Drape the puff pastry over the top of the apple and press firmly into place.  Brush the top of the pastry with melted butter.  Work fast - the heat of the apple will retard the rise of the pastry if you wait too long!
Bake for 20 minutes or so until the pastry is golden brown.  Remove the tartain from oven and let it sit for 2-3 minutes (otherwise the tartain will fall apart when you turn it) Turn pan over onto plate and serve with home-made vanilla ice-cream.  Enjoy!

* A variation.  Once out of the oven and while still hot, flatten the puff pastry with a tea-towel and you have a lovely biscuit crust.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stomachs, Sighs and, Frankly, Other Things as Well.

It seems to be taking Mr Tabubil and I an awfully long time to pass through the seasoning period of our new life in Santiago. It’s been a full year now, and we still catch every single bug that comes wafting through the air. And as for our stomachs –
            Remember the evening of the Red Wine cake and the dorsal trumpets That evening turned out not to be a one-off incident of lactose-intolerance, but the herald of a new and splendid sort of stomach; a stomach that went in for bloating until I looked like I was expecting a baby sometime that afternoon, and as for the rear-end of things- let's just say that I was walking around with my very own orchestra.  An orchestra that lit off whenever I took a step, and whose musicians must have been wearing serious hazmat filtration gear, because no-one else could possibly have wanted to come near me.
            I didn’t want to be near me.   
            Mr Tabubil, who loves me dearly, had started sleeping in the living room.
            Last Friday, about the point where I was refusing to leave the house, and was hanging out exclusively around open windows, Mr Tabubil girded himself (without a cloths-peg, the dear man) and talked me into going to a doctor.   
            And that is how I ended up girding myself to write this blog post.  

By stuffing myself with every single over-the-counter anti-gas medication Mr Tabubil could find in the neighborhood pharmacy, I made it all the way out to the Clinica Alemana, and all the way into the elevator lobby, and all the way to pushing the ‘up’ button for the elevator.  I even started to relax a little. The light over the right-hand elevator bing!-ed and its doors began to open, and I saw that the elevator was completely and entirely full– cheek-by-jowl jam-packed full of people coming up from the basement parking garage with hardly the space for an extra person, but that’s a Chilean hospital elevator for you, so with the doors still half open, I took a step forward – 
            And a trumpet exploded. Right behind me.  
            But it was still okay.  There were at least three other people waiting for elevators along with me – nobody could have told for certain that it was my trumpet, and I decided to risk it.  As long as this was one of the noisy but harmless ones, it would all be okay –
            It wasn't okay.
            I stepped into the elevator, and a wall of Smell came with me. The doors closed and we- every single one of us - were trapped. I stared at the floor, my face burning, fiercely counting floor tiles, and in this elevator that was packed so tightly that there was hardly room to shrug an elbow, I found myself standing in a steadily expanding circle of empty space.  People were making room. People were backing away.  And Every Single Person in that elevator got out on the very next floor.
            It was one of the most purely, viscerally embarrassing experiences of my life.  I had cleared my very first elevator.

It didn’t stop there. Based on how he reacted, I’m not entirely sure that nice young Chilean ladies really discuss these things- even with their doctors. 
            “Like I’m in my third trimester!”
            “And Gas?”
            “My God, Doctor! I can’t take myself anywhere!” 
             I was desperate, explaining things in all the necessary detail – with hand gestures even -  and my doctor was charmed.  He actually giggled, and he looked at me with stars in his eyes, as if I were the most enchanting creature he’d ever met in the whole of his life.
            And then he told me I had a virus and was out of luck. 
            “Ride it out, My Dear,” he said, and patted me tenderly on the shoulder and giggled again.  But he did give me prescriptions for clinical-grade anti-gas medication, and for that I am grateful. 
            Which led me to one more discovery:  working in a hospital pharmacy apparently breeds a very special grade of man– I can’t think of any other circumstance in which three strapping youths would be lining up to flirt with the lady who comes in with a prescription for nuclear-strength medications for gas, bloating and abdominal anti-spasmodics. When it is abundantly clear that she not merely filling the prescription, but that she badly needs every single one of them.  
            But what do you do?  If a trio of comely young men has the chutzpah to flirt with you when you’re out-gassing at both ends and exploding trumpets as you walk – there’s absolutely nothing to do but flirt right back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Scarves

Weather is a funny thing.  If this were Toronto, we’d be in mid-Febuary and sliding across heaps of old, frozen snow, but all this week the weather has been divine - warm, softly breezy and spring-like, instead of deepest winter.  The skies were clear, snow-caps glittered on the mountains - which was itself a marvel. Normally the smoggy soup that we live in here stops you seeing past the end of the street, but this week our eyes stretched out and we saw horizons.  Yesterday I threw open the windows of our apartment to let the warm breezes through and sat in the sun in my shirtsleeves. 
            Today then, came as a bit of a shock.  Today the skies were low and lowering.  Clouds hunkered just above head-height and a mean little drizzle… drizzled, the drops absurdly large and round and settled in our hair and collars like water with a plan.  Then the wind came – an icy wind, fresh from the snow-tops.  It coursed through the streets and avenues and drove the under-dressed Santiagueños - and expecting more of yesterday, we were all under-dressed - down the streets before it.  It was the sort of wind that drives humans into huddles, especially on exposed corners and in the lee of traffic lights, and causes perfect strangers to engage in warming conversation –
             “¡Ay!  ¡Que frio está!” 
            “Y yo sin suetér – sólo esta chaqueta de algodón.”
            A suck of air, a pursing of the lips. “¡Pucha!  ¡Cuidese!  ¡Get yourself indoors!”

(“How cold it is!” “And poor me without a sweater – only this thin cotton jacket.”  “Owtch!  Take care of yourself!”)

And then the rain began.  The drizzle quit thinking about things and turned to a solid driving rain.  I burrowed deep beneath my thin shirt and totally inadequate spring jacket and tried vainly to hail a taxi and thought very hard about gloves and umbrellas and scarves. 
            Specifically, the sort of scarf I would be wearing if this were Toronto in mid-February.
            I wore it with my black, fleece-lined winter boots – up to my knees- and my long black down coat – down to my ankles, like a sleeping bag with sleeves, and my pink merino beret that pulled tight way down over my ears, and my Australian shearling gloves – gauntlets that ran halfway up to my elbows.
            But that still left a lot of acreage uncovered, you know?  Nose to chin, all exposed, and when you turn your head in Toronto in November, the wind chill slides under your collar and down your neck – so.
            And in a shop on Bloor Street, I found it – six and a half feet of neon pink rabbit fur.   Thick fur, deep fur, to nuzzle a nose – and bright.  That color did everything but glow in the dark.  It was colorfast, too.  Mr Tabubil discovered that when he accidentally dropped it in the bathtub one night and slipped on the hot-water tap.  (Okay, I lie.  It wasn’t the bathtub.  It was the kitchen sink.)
            Instructions: Anchor one end at the nape of your neck, hold the other out to the side as far as you can reach and begin to turn – anticlockwise, twisting it upward over the bridge of your nose until only your eyes are visible.  Secure it about your ears with the pink hat, and you are ready for November – and even Febuary, when the winds are sharpest.
            But you go out alone.  For the first month, Mr Tabubil refused to step outside of the apartment with me when I went –
            “Muppet Slayer.” 
            “You Christmas ornament shopping-channel special, you!”
            So I went out and bought a pair of pink gloves and traded in my sensible winter boots for neon-pink snakeskin with a heel.  My toes froze and I slipped on the ice, but I was six times as embarrassing to an embryo engineer in an old university parka.  Mr Tabubil bowed to the blackmail and we went out – together. He only six steps ahead and not exactly holding my hand.
            But familiarity breeds…familiarity.  Two weeks ago, before the warm snap, I tossed on my Santiago-weight equivalent – two meters of rainbow alpaca wool, and Mr Tabubil looked at me and sighed and developed a fond and faintly goopy smile. 
            “I was just thinking” he said. “How nice you look, all bright like that.”
I smiled and went back to the closet for the pink hat.  He tucked his arm under mine and together we went out.

Monday, August 20, 2012


This morning the metro was  terribly crowded.  Pressed against me on the train was A Woman - a woman of medium height, an intermediate grade of prettiness, dressed in a shirt and trousers of unexceptionable tones, greys and browns. 
She averaged out to an comfortable level of nonentity. 
But - Her lips were thick  and heavy, painted with a dark red lipstick.  Her eyelashes werecurled with mascara and layered with false eyelashes, and under each eye - only underneath - she had rimmed her eye-sockets with a shimmering iridescent blue shadow.  The effect was startling.  I thought of a tropical reef fish - bright slashes of color catching in the light of passing stations - coral bones bleached white - porcelain skeleton under blue skin.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Red Wine Cake Donts

After the fiasco of the vegan brownies I wanted to cook something that would not explode or sink or turn into powder under pressure – and restore my personal sense of kitchen confidence thereby.
            My mother-in-law's birthday is coming up, so I had an excuse to start baking.  I was thinking of another red velvet cake; a proper one, loaded with eggs and brown sugar and dairy products (I'm a cooking snob, okay?) but along the way to choosing a recipe, I became distracted by something I'd never heard of before: Red Wine Cake.
            Red Wine Cake is a chocolate cake where the moisture is provided by red wine instead of oil or butter. It sounded fantastic, and the whole entire internet was raving about it.  I had to try it.
            Yesterday I baked one - a tester cake.  The batter, once mixed, was amazing– a rich, chocolate-y cream that tasted like the best glass of red wine you ever had served with a side of almond panforte.  I restricted myself to half a cup or so of the batter before I popped it into the oven, and the cake settled down to rising happily and giving off rich alcoholic smells –
            But after all that, and in spite of its batter-y glory, the cake was unequivocally not a success. To look at, it was a lovely chocolate sponge, but the rich, winey flavor had an acrid, acidic aftertaste, and and the cake was dry dry dry – we found ourselves sucking our tongues for moisture as we ate.
            It also had a rather...awkward side effect.There was very little dairy in the cake, relative to most of the things I bake, but even with lactaid tablets to help the dairy go down, the lactose effects were outsize.  I ate a bite or two, and had to lie down. I felt wretched, nauseous.  My stomach was churning and I tossed and turned in my bed - I just couldn't get comfortable.  Mr Tabubil came into the room to check on me and I rose to meet him, and caught myself in the mirror and stared.
            Mr Tabubil yelled. “I've never seen you look so bloated! You look as if you’re five months pregnant. Are you allright?!?!"
            As I turned away from the mirror to answer him, there was a… let's just call it a spontaneous, gaseous dorsal emission, shall we?  Like a trumpet exploding. Mr Tabubil stared in shock. I turned back to the mirror and understood why - my bloating had reduced by seventy-five percent!!!!!
            So possibly we will not be making this cake for my mother-in-law's birthday.
            And Mr Tabubil may stop laughing sometime next week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Baking Vegan

I love to bake.  I really Really REALLY (with all the superlatives of an 11 year old girl who has just discovered unicorns and rhythmic gymnastics) love to bake.
            My mother is a fantastic cook, but I am the better baker.  (With the possible exception of the time that I got the tea-towel caught in the electric hand mixer and we had to scrape cookie batter off of the walls all the way over in the living room.  It only happened once, and shouldn’t still count against me.  Can we let it go?)
            While I was growing up, she and I tag-teamed in the kitchen - I kitchen-maid-ed for her while she cooked and she kitchen-maid-ed for me while I baked.  Our kitchen ran very smoothly and produced some seriously epic meals, but our system had one failing.  It wasn’t apparent at the time, but when I moved out and began cooking for myself, I discovered that while I was washed dishes and peeled potatoes, I was failing to learn the intuitive feel for a casserole or stir-fry that I had for a cake batter.
            When Mr Tabubil and I moved in together, the good meals happened when it was his turn to make dinner.  I could manage a plain roast, and produce a saucepan of plain steamed rice, but anything else was beyond me. 
            My magnum opus happened the evening I got home slightly earlier than Mr Tabubil and decided to pan-fry a pair of large pork chops I had found in the fridge - and have dinner ready for him when he got home.  Because I am very nice that way.
            I didn’t know much about meat but I knew that you were supposed to cook pork chops until all the pink had been cooked away.  I hadn’t realized that it would take so very long to happen – when Mr Tabubil got home an hour later, the apartment was full of smoke, I was sweaty and cross, the pork chops were dry as a bone and pure charcoal to a quarter inch depth on every side, and they were still pink in the middle. 
And Mr Tabubil had to sit down right there in the kitchen doorway to properly appreciate just what I had done to an extremely nice and extremely expensive pair of prime rib-eye steaks that he’d been resting in the fridge in anticipation of a really bang-up Friday dinner.

I didn’t truly learn how to cook until we moved to Whyalla, in rural South Australia, and began taking lessons with Saul the cordon bleu chef, who gave me, first and foremost, a basis of technique, and then, later, the beginning of an understanding.  These days I count myself a perfectly capable cook – in certain things, possibly even slightly better than the average.  But when it comes to baking – I rock.
            I do. I really do.  Cakes, brownies, cookies, bars, soufflés and lamingtons - bring on the sugar and the chocolate and the spices and the booze and the egg whites and the cream and the butter –!
            Which presents me with certain problems at the moment.  Here in Santiago my social circle includes several vegans, and the dairy and the eggs - even the sugar - aren’t working anymore, and I’m having real trouble finding recipes that make palatable alternatives.
            I’ve been all over the internet, and even ordered a book or two, but quite a lot of vegan-substitute ingredients are unavailable here in Chile, and I’ve found that even the best regarded recipes are rather hit and miss.  I’ve added a moderately decent red-velvet cake to my repertoire, and an adequate maple-syrup and hazelnut muffin.  My vegan friends rave, but not to put too fine a point on it, most of the vegan recipes I’m making are deeply mediocre.
            And Merely Acceptable is Not How I Roll.  Someone once tried to tell me that not every dessert needs to be a showstopper, and as far as I’m concerned, they might as well have been speaking Swahili or Bhasa Indonesia (neither of which I speak.)   If you’re going to invest yourself in a dessert, it had better be worth every single calorie.  Go Big, or Go Home.
            So when I stumbled onto a vegan recipe for chocolate brownies last month – a recipe that was not only good by vegan standards, but stood handsomely against most regular brownie recipes I know, I was ecstatic.  (They're not quite up there with the Best Chocolate Brownies Ever, but very few things in this universe are.  Sort of like the Chinese synchronized divers in the 2012 Olympics.  The nations of the world might duke it out for bronze and silver, but the Chinese divers were  diving on another plane entirely.)  And when Alba (who is vegan) asked me to make her birthday cake, I said ‘Sure!  No worries!’ and felt extremely smug and reckoned that my social cred was going to earn maximum points for the price of an hour in the kitchen on a Friday afternoon.

These brownies consist mostly of flour, melted chocolate and home-made applesauce, tossed together into a bowl, then stirred, and baked for half an hour in the oven. The night before the party, I mixed up a big double batch  and popped them into the oven, where they completely refused to bake. They wouldn't rise, they wouldn't brown -
          They boiled.  Mr Tabubil and I watched through the oven door as they simmered and bubbled, a lake of brown apple stew with ribbons of chocolate that rose like lava from the depths of the baking pan and swirled and sank again –
            We took them out after a full hour and threw them into the fridge for the night.
            “Maybe” Mr Tabubil said hopefully, “they’ll harden in there. Like a chocolate cheesecake sort of thing?”
            After a whole night in the fridge, the brownies remained a liquid.  Of a sort.  The sugar in the apple had caramelized and the alleged brownies had become two pans of a strange, sucking, toffee-like tar.  When I poked at it, my finger didn’t want to come away.  When I sliced into it, the incisions oozed slowly closed again while I watched, and as for the taste, Mr Tabubil has fillings in his teeth and I have crowns on mine and neither of us were silly enough to experiment.
            I had a theory.  The recipe called for melted chocolate or cocoa powder (eight ounces of each) and possibly – just possibly, I had misremembered myself and used cocoa powder the first time i made the recipe?  And maybe my applesauce had been too thin?  Mr Tabubil nipped off to the shops to buy up all their cocoa powder while I made up another batch of applesauce, and we stirred everything together and…


Eight ounces is rather more cocoa powder than people might appreciate if they haven’t tried this themselves - it is finer and thinner than flour and a little goes a very very long way. The applesauce melted into it like it had never existed, and I had a mixing bowl that looked like an overflowing dustbath for chocolate sparrows. I added a cup of soy milk to wet it down.  The cocoa powder didn’t even notice.  I added another cup, and then I doubled the applesauce. The air in the kitchen was turning brown with floating cocoa powder, but at last, I had something that approximated at least a bread dough – if not a cake batter.  Good enough, we reckoned.  We threw it into the oven where it began to rise away happily, like a real cake. 
            And came out of the oven with the density of plutonium, and tasting exactly like the bowl of straight-up cocoa powder that it was.  Edible, it was not.
            Mr Tabubil and I had an afternoon engagement with another couple for an double-bill of back-to-back superhero movies. 
            “I think” I sighed “that I’m not going to make it to the cinema. Give my apologies, will you?”
            While Mr Tabubil went off to watch the new Batman movie, I whipped up an emergency red-velvet cake, and collapsed limply into bed for a nap.  And got up again to have a shower (my hair was full of cocoa powder, and my arms were streaked red to the elbows with food coloring from the red-velvet cake. There had been a small accident with the hand-mixer, and the kitchen looked like an abattoir.  Red food-coloring just keeps on giving.) and dashed off to the Parque Arauco mall to meet the others for the second movie on the afternoon’s schedule.
            And after that we had to go home and have a nap because we still had to ice the cakes before we got to the birthday party.  
            I wasn’t at all sure about the cocoa-powder neutron bomb, but Mr Tabubil made soothing noises and talked me into taking both.

It was a very nice party, if slightly schizophrenic.  The non-smokers refused to go outside on the balcony because out there it was freezing.  The smokers sat on the small balcony and froze and refused to come inside at all.  At one o'clock in the morning Alba’s husband Sebastian orchestrated a détente and turned down the lights and came out with my red velvet cake and we all sang happy birthday.  It was quite a nice cake.  People smiled a lot and I felt moderately fulfilled on a personal level.
            Half an hour later, Alba sliced up my death-by-cocoa cake and passed that around as well.  I picked up my purse and prepared to do a runner, but glory to the kitchen gods - 
            The vegans all dug in with relish and had a second slice!
            Which was about what Mr Tabubil had said when he'd talked me into bringing it.  "It's going to be pretty boozy party. So bring it.  When people get tanked, they'll eat anything." 
            And now I have a reputation as an epic-fantastic master baker, based, mostly, as far as I can tell, on the fact that I actually bake
            That’s a good thing, right?