Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Those darned tarts

I have never been very fond of Chinese desserts. Growing up, I would always prefer the ubiquitous orange wedges instead of red bean soup or sweet tapioca pudding at the end of a large Chinese dinner. My mild sweet tooth explains why I avoid treats like lotus seed paste filled mooncake which is traditionally eaten during yesterday's Mid-Autumn festival.

Instead, a new cookbook by Pichet Ong, The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts, was introduced to me recently and in lieu of mooncake, I decided to try the passionfruit dahn tart recipe. Dahn tarts (or "those darned tarts" according to Eric) are traditional egg custard tarts commonly found in any Chinese bakery or dim sum restaurant, typically made with a puff pastry shell. Using fresh passionfruit in a dahn tart is a modern twist which can add both flavour and texture due to the edible seeds.

Having never seen or used fresh passionfruit before, the grayish mucinous pulp and insect-like seeds were somewhat repulsive to me initally; however, the floral aroma and pleasing crunch soon softened my negative reaction. I did modify the recipe by using leftover half & half instead of milk and leftover pâte sucrée instead of puff pastry due to frugality and laziness.

The soft custard centres were delicately flavoured with passionfruit and contrasted well with the buttery light tart shell. Perhaps next time, I would use less seeds because to me, a dahn tart needs its characteristic smooth glistening golden yellow surface. All I am missing now is the dim sum experience that precedes every good dahn tart.

Monday, September 17, 2007

No pain no gain

There are many differences between my professional past and present but the most pronouced difference today is physical. Except for hitting my head on ceiling mounted operating scopes several times during residency, ophthalmology was never physically demanding and ironically, this factored into my choice to pursue ophthalmology in the first place. On the other hand, kitchen work is essentially manual labour requiring strength and stamina in addition to hand skills and coordination. Adjusting to this environment is challenging at times because my small frame and accompanying muscle mass are disproportionate to the task at hand not infrequently.

Several body parts have been most affected. Perhaps, I am the only person who will ever admit to chronic wrist tendonitis secondary to studying and knitting, which is now exacerbated by carrying heavy vessels and trays. My hands also have tell-tale signs of food industry work, decorated with scars from scrapes and burns on the right and the odd cut on the left (since I am right handed). As well, washing dirty equipment in the "dish pit" at work results in wicked back aches. Luckily, my feet have been largely unaffected because of my beloved clogs.

The above discussion may resemble complaining but it is not. Instead, it serves as a reality check to anyone who might believe that being in pastry is a glamorous or perhaps, romantic occupation, as sometimes seen on television. My new profession is within the blue-collar realm; however, my worst day in the pastry kitchen so far has still been better than any day at the clinic and ultimately, this is why I would happily not trade places with my former self no matter how fatigued my body feels at the end of a hard day's work.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Despite being a UBC student for eight years consecutively, the existence of the UBC Farm escaped me until yesterday at the 13th Annual Feast of Fields event. Located in the south campus region, this 24 hectare farm is the last working farm within the city of Vancouver. With a glorious blue sky above and warm grassy earth underfoot, this year's Feast of Fields was, once again, a perfect excuse to eat for a good cause.

Restaurants, wineries, local farm producers, and community groups were all represented and provided food for thought and consumption. Many chefs offered BC wild salmon and tomatoes were especially abundant on the menus. Interestingly, no plates were on sale this year and instead, food items were designed either as finger food or presented on creative natural platters like leaves or bark. My favourites were grilled Poplar Grove tiger blue cheese & turkish fig walnut wine paninis from Vista D'Oro Farms and barbequed organic chicken wings with Chef Ann's tequila-lime sauce. Refreshing vanilla rooibos iced tea from T Tearoom and Happy Planet organic pomegranate-blueberry juice provided much needed hydration for the afternoon. We nibbled and sipped for almost three hours before finding some shade to digest and relax under.

The food for thought was provided by numerous organizations which support local sustainable food systems like FarmFolk/CityFolk and Green Table Network. Eating local or choosing restaurants which use locally produced ingredients is not always feasible (no local mangosteens or rice yet) but everybody needs to start somewhere!