Had enough grainy, growy days (as in grey and rainy, or grey and snowy—take your pick)? Enough to make you scream?
Too much rain. Too much grey. Too much water. Too much grey. Too much gloom even without the doom, with folks still mopping up from Pemberton to Paradise Valley—heck, all across B.C. And now Californians are suffering same, while record heat and drought in South America are supercharging wildfires, and Western Oz is cooking like a bar-b grill. Whew.
Who knows if Ullr, legendary God of Snow and patron saint of all things skiing, will grace our Wet Coast mountains with more of the white stuff before the real, more natural spring we’re accustomed to hits. He seems pretty busy back east right now, unleashing his payload such that people are literally climbing out windows in Nova Scotia just to get out and shovel. (150 centimetres, anyone?)
But, hey, cheer up. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and isn’t that what it’s all about? In the best of winters, in the worst of winters, Valentine’s Day reminds us all about what we need more than ever. Love, love, love—with a good dollop of chocolate on top.
So if you’re starting to see red lately after all these grey days, here’s hoping it’s in the context of all things Valentine: Red hearts and velvet boxes; red sweaters new and retro; red placemats on white linen tablecloths; maybe even the traditional dozen red roses. Deep, luscious red—the traditional signifier of love, passion, devotion, everything to do with the heart.
So jump on the old red bandwagon, but you don’t need to leap wildly into bankruptcy to do so. A nice berry-red smoothie whipped up with a base of cranberry juice and pitted cherries or strawberries (look in the frozen food section if the fresh ones are priced out of this world) then served up as a surprise for breakfast, or in a packed lunch, will brighten anyone’s day.
Red-iced muffins. Cookies with a red cinnamon heart on top. Or, what the hell—just give the whole bag of cinnamon hearts before you eat them all yourself!
If you feel a little more ambitious and want to delight a friend or three, try the time-honoured tradition of a red velvet cake.
When I was a kid, the red velvet cake craze hit Edmonton like an atmospheric river. It was the talk of the town. People said the recipe was from “the States,” which it is, and which added a touch of glamour.
They also said the recipe was illicit, which it wasn’t, but that part of the tale added even more titillation. Something about a woman taking her revenge after asking the chef in some high-falutin’ place, as prairie people called it, and the chef passing on said recipe, along with a bill for some outrageous sum—like a hundred bucks. Much like the infamous Neiman Marcus recipe fable about chocolate chip cookies, which was also a load of malarkey.
Nevertheless, the women in my mother’s bridge club passed the recipe along surreptitiously, like it was a baggie of dope.
While “velvet” cakes date back to the 19th century, red velvet cake started getting popular in North America at the start of the 20th.
The acid of buttermilk and vinegar pulls out the red anthocyanin in cocoa. Anthocyanins are the chemical compounds that give flowers, blueberries, black rice and the like their red, blue, purple or black hues. Interesting—they also protect plants against extreme temperatures. A tidbit to keep in mind in the middle of Black History Month, as we are: Some attribute red velvet cake’s roots to West African cultures where red symbolizes divine spiritual powers.
Indeed, early red velvet cakes were considered a Southern U.S. tradition. Some even link the cake to Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in America. However, early red velvet cakes didn’t use red food colouring. That little addition is thanks to a Depression-era company that sold same, wouldn’t you know it.
The other day I saw a wee cake mix for red velvet cake for sale. Twelve bucks! (Well, it was organic.) But you can do better. Here’s a tried-and-true recipe with notes from my mom, master of the red velvet cake.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
PS: You can tackle two Valentines with one bone! Pemberton’s Sew it Seams is still making dog beds using recycled fabric. All proceeds go to the Pemberton Animal Wellbeing Society (PAWS) shelter, which was pretty much flooded out. Purr-fect gift for loved ones, including four-legged friends.
PPS: Looking for a cool off-the-wall Valentine date place that’s pure “Whistler” without the big price tags? Head to Martini Bart’s and Kevin Wood’s newly renoed Alpine Café in Alpine Meadows. Great food, authentic vibe—how romantic is that?
Red Velvet Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
1 1/2 oz red food colouring
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. soda
1 tbsp. vinegar
Cream the shortening and gradually beat in the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Make a paste of the cocoa and food colouring. Add to creamed mixture. Add salt, flour and vanilla alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Mix the soda and vinegar in a separate container and pour over the batter, stirring until it’s well mixed. Bake in three eight-inch pans or two nine-inch pans for 30 minutes at 350°. Ice it with white icing once it’s cooled—seven-minute frosting was the Edmonton classic, but I hear they like it with cream cheese frosting down south as well.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who always loved red velvet cake but hated little girls’ red velvet dresses.