Weekly Inspiration: Vol. XXVIII

Adding colour, texture, flavour this week...
1. This book: The Family Meal by Ferran Adrià
2. This recipe: Carrot Cake Donuts by The Faux Martha
3. This article: Virginia Woolf's Idea of Privacy by Joshua Rothman
4. This hat: Brigitte Bardot's sombrero (photo source)
5. This collection: Wallpaper by Rifle Paper Co.


Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla Bean Cream

Being the chronic planner that I am, I often find myself forgetting to take a moment to enjoy the moment. I look ahead, blinded by my excitement for things to come, without ever noticing the current, the present, the right now. Recently, for instance, I've found myself craving autumn a little too soon into summer. "Enjoy it while it lasts!" I'm told. "Remember that winter comes soon after fall." Yes, yes. I know. But still I dream of October's call for sweaters and profusion of pumpkin almost every day.
Until, that is, I had a wake up call in the form of a strawberry shortcake. I hadn't had one all summer and it really did it for me—brought me back to the present, reminded me of the good in July. Why, you ask? Call me pretentious, but I don't eat strawberries unless I can get them in season and from a local farm. Those berries at the supermarket throughout the year are not only probably pesticide-ridden, they taste nothing like their seasonal ancestors. And shortcake is the best way to enjoy July's favourite fruit. Something about that—eating fruit at its best and in its best form—escorted me right back to the present.

I think it also has to do with the fact that I made this particular strawberry shortcake my way. I've never liked anything overly macerated; fruit, in my mind, shouldn't be syrupy or limp. It should have body. It should have crunch. It should taste like itself. And so my strawberry shortcake involves berries in their purest state. Simply slice and ally with a homemade biscuit and a generous dollop of vanilla bean whipped cream. Summer, served.
Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
serves six for dessert

6 buttermilk biscuits (I like this recipe)

4 cups fresh, local, in season strawberries, sliced
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup maple syrup 

Remove seeds from vanilla bean. Combine in a large bowl with cream and maple syrup. Whip until stiff peaks form. If the cream isn't sweet enough for your liking, add more syrup.

To serve, top biscuit with whipped cream and strawberries.


Women in the Kitchen: Diana Manuel

The goal of the Women in the Kitchen series is to explore the different ways that women find fulfillment through their engagement with food. I aim to debunk reductive myths and stereotypes about feminine domesticity and show that women relate to the kitchen in various ways, many of them positive, all of them unique and complex.

When I first heard about Diana Manuel's cookie delivery service Halifax Cookie Cravings, I was instantly overcome with envy. A day job that involves baking cookies and delivering them by bike to the good people of Halifax, Nova Scotia? Seems like dream employment to me. Read about Diana's home kitchen, how she started her business, and what it's like to "deliver happiness" to individuals in her community in today's Women in the Kitchen feature.
Name: Diana Manuel
Currently living in… Halifax, Nova Scotia
Profession: baker/bicycle rider
Social Media: Twitter - @halifaxcookies  Facebook - Halifax Cookie Cravings

Describe your home kitchen… 

My kitchen is very bright and sunny! That’s what I love most about it. It’s also very cozy. There’s not a ton of counter space but I make up for it with a long work bench that I use for baking. It’s not my forever kitchen, as I am renting, so I still think about my dream kitchen. 

How does spending time in your kitchen make you feel?

It makes me feel happy! I love to bake and to cook, so you will typically find me in the kitchen. It gets a lot of sunlight so I always feel energized when I’m keeping busy in there throughout the day. 

What sparked your interest in food? When did you start baking and why?

My interest in food definitely comes from my love of eating. I cook or bake whatever it is that I want to eat! I used to bake both for others and myself all the time just to whip something up for a snack. I’d much rather make something from scratch than buy a snack from the store. I also love seeing other people’s reactions when they try whatever it is I bake or cook. It’s very satisfying to feed others!

What kind of baker are you? Do you follow recipes or improvise? Do you look to cookbooks, food blogs or elsewhere for recipe ideas? 

A little bit of both! I seek out recipes ideas online, mainly through baking/food blogs (I’m a bit obsessed). I also never confine myself to a recipe. If I think something else can be added to make it better or if I just want to change it up to suit my taste, I will. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head too! I think of flavours I want together and how I want to put it into a cookie. It’ll be in the back of my head for a while until I figure out how exactly I should make it.

What inspired you to start your business Halifax Cookie Cravings?

I was about to finish my degree in psychology and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to do something that I loved so it didn’t really feel like work. Work is such a huge part of our everyday lives, so I wanted to enjoy my work. I never planned on being an entrepreneur, but here I am! I started thinking about what I spent most of my free time doing. I baked cookies all the time. They’re my favourite. I love baking other things as well, but when you want something to snack on, cookies are usually the quickest thing to bake (plus you can eat the dough…). I also biked around Halifax all the time and became completely and utterly obsessed with bicycles. I thought it would be so cool to combine my two favourite activities! I think bicycles can create such vibrant communities, so I knew I wanted to do something bicycle-related. 

Baking cookies and delivering them by bike sounds like a dream job. What does a typical day-in-the-life look like for you?

It’s fun! I get to meet so many awesome people and essentially deliver happiness to them. It can also get pretty hectic when I have several orders on the go. A typical day for me: get up in the morning and answer emails, update social media, bake cookies, go on deliveries in the afternoon, talk to sweet people, then bake again in the evening for orders the next day! When I go out on deliveries, I’ll often run some errands in between, stopping in local shops to pick up supplies. Biking makes me happy. If I’m in a bit of a bad mood (which doesn’t happen very often!), as soon as I get on my bike, I relax. It’s a time of reflection for me. Being so connected to the environment around you really makes a difference!

Halifax is pretty notorious for its treacherous and unpredictable weather. How does this affect your delivery-by-bike business model? 

I am lucky to have the use of a car in addition to the bicycle. I’ll use the car when the weather isn’t good for biking. If it’s only raining a bit, I’ll still bike unless it’s pouring out. That’s no fun! When it comes to winter, I’ll still bike but only if the roads are clear of snow and ice. I also won’t bike if it’s really cold, below -15. It’s not so bad if there’s no wind, but it’s Halifax; it gets pretty windy.

Besides cookies, what are your favourite dishes to make?

Oh my… well, I love baking cakes! If I have a day free I’ll usually plan to make a cake, completely from scratch. I always make them for birthdays or special occasions. I really love making things from scratch. It’s so satisfying! There are still so many things I’ve never baked, like a chocolate souffl√©! That’s on my list of things to try. For something on the savoury side… I love making homemade mac n’ cheese. It’s my grandmother’s recipe, but I make a few changes! Oh, I have to say that I love cooking breakfast as well - homemade cinnamon waffles are my favourite. 

If you could invite anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to come cook or bake with you in your kitchen, who would it be and why?

I would have to invite Julia Child! She’s just amazing. I’m currently working my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Favourite cookie flavour? Had to ask…

Don’t make me choose! I can only say current favourites because I love so many. My current favourite cookie is the ginger/cinnamon sandwich cookie that I make! It’s two small ginger cookies sandwiched together with cinnamon buttercream. I could eat a billion of them. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit… but I can eat a lot.

Interested in the Women in the Kitchen series? Check out other feature interviews here.