HOSSACK: Downhill baking in the winter
When I go snowboarding, I can never decide whether it’s that the scales fall from my eyes and I achieve clarity of vision, or it’s more that the blinkers go on, logic goes out the window and all I can think about is shredding the gnar.
Not buying it?
Never heard me refer to a winter sport that wasn’t falling down a short flight of unshoveled stairs?
Oh, wait. There’s a reason for that.
The very nearly last time I careened down a mountain (incidentally, the Black Diamond Run at Lake Louise), I was there by accident, having taken a wrong turn at the Green Whatever markers.
Found there sobbing, a pair of off-hours ski-patrollers helped me snowplow and S-curve my way to the bottom, then seemed disappointed when I didn’t join them for drinks in the bar.
I was 14 years old.
To this day, probably because of that day, I don’t know what is a gnar, nor how a gnar ought to be shredded should one come my way.
Now, let’s go back to the beginning, throw some quotation marks around that first paragraph and allow me to introduce you to Lisa McGonigle, who, in her memoir Snowdrift (Oolichan Books), writes of the winter she left her native Ireland to spend a season snowboarding in Canada’s Kootenay Mountains.
Then, a season later, having accepted a full scholarship to Oxford and begun the monastic life of a PhD student, McGonigle did what most of us only dream of: She packed her bags and headed for the hills.
Back to Fernie to become a “serial expatriate,” where she hitched rides to the mountain, kept her gear together with duct tape, lived from dime-to-dime, slayed the pow and baked more butter- and sugar-laden goodies than most pastry shops.
“People usually have a natural inclination towards being either bakers or chefs and I, my friends, am a dyed-in-the-wool baker,” she writes.
In this, we are of one mind. Baking, with its measuring cups and chemical reactions that very nearly always do as advertised, with its home-ly aromas that make you everyone’s favourite person whether they know you or not, is also my cup of wool.
I remain, however, trembly in the knee jelly about things like heights, falling, avalanches and violent death.
Snowdrift, therefore, is my vicarious winter escape, an alternately hilarious and adventuresome series of emails home, written with a scholar’s intellect and a North Dubliner’s crisp wit, full of food, stories, and reflected Canadiana.
It’s a book everyone who’s ever faced a mountain should and must read.
With its breath-snagging summits and down-in-the-snow accounts of learning avalanche survival, it’s both “steep and deep” and easily the most fun I’ve ever had in the snow.
A few weeks after reading, I wrote to the author, asking for a recipe, and today find myself assembling a short list of ingredients for an O’Flynn Lemon Flan.
I caught up with McGonigle in New Zealand, working toward that dropped PhD.
Now at the University of Otago (once a serial expat, always a serial expat), she has reported the sometimes occasion to head for their hills, however much they pale, in comparison, to ours.
Says McGonigle of her flan:
“This is an old family favourite. You can make the filling as tart or as smooth as you like according to test [I like it to be so lemony that you involuntarily winch when you taste it].
“Because it’s so quick and easy, the effort to reward ratio is a winner as well.”
O’Flynn Lemon Flan
Base: 2 cups crushed graham
crackers or digestive biscuits
Half-cup melted butter
Quarter-cup granulated sugar
Filling: 1 cup whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Zest and juice of 4 lemons (or more, according to test)
For base: In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients for the base.
Press evenly into the base of a 23-centimetre pie dish. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes, then leave to cool.
For filling: Whip cream until firm peaks develop. Combine then fold in condensed milk, zest and juice of the lemons. Spoon into base, then place in fridge until set.