Last week was Kingston WritersFest – an epic literary affair for readers and writers held annually in late September. The event has become one of the premier writers festivals in Canada and one that changes the cultural landscape of the small town of Kingston.
Since 2009 when Kingston WritersFest began in earnest – it has attracted a huge variety of writers and readers from all over the world. The headline acts have included Margaret Atwood, Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth), Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, Paul Auster, Joyce Carol Oates, and this year, Wally Lamb. Equally importantly, hundreds of other authors writing on every conceivable subject have graced the platforms of WritersFest – reading, teaching writing classes, and engaging in thousands of important literary conversations, both on and off stage.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kingston -it is a small (population 117,000), beautiful, and important historic town on the northern shore of Lake Ontario – midway between Toronto and Montreal. Kingston is important historically because it was the first seat of government for British North America – which was later to become Canada in 1867. Kingston is also the home of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. (John A. Macdonald is also the subject of my new book – Sir John’s Table: The Culinary Life and Times of Canada’s First Prime Minister – coming out with Goose Lane Editions in 2015.)
Kingston is beautiful because of both its old limestone buildings and the fact that it is located at the confluence of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and the UNESCO designated historic Rideau Waterway. Forty minutes north of Kingston is the rocky, lake-filled, pine-treed and windswept landscape of the Canadian Shield.
But back to Kingston WritersFest. This year Wally Lamb regaled the audience with his humility and self-deprecating good humour. In conversation with the immensely capable veteran CBC broadcaster Michael Enright, Lamb was laugh out loud funny, human and immensely lovable. He told the story of a book launch at a Costco store in the American mid-west where no one showed up to hear him read. He sat for two hours in a chair that was so low his nostrils were level with the table he was sitting at. People asked him for directions to various departments in the store. One couple bickered because she wanted to look at books and he wanted to get to the sample meatballs before they were gone. Further along in the evening, Lamb addressed the writing life – saying that for him – life was always getting out of balance. There was either too much writing and not enough human contact – or too much human contact and not enough writing. And that re-dressing the balance was a constant. For that alone, I loved hearing him.
I also attended a couple of food related sessions. The first of these was given by Jennifer Cockrall-King, author of Food and the City – Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution and the blog foodgirl.ca.
Jennifer’s fascinating book Food and the City addresses both the weak links in the global food systems and food security (most industrialized nations have about three days of food supplies before catastrophe ensues) and the back to the land-in-the-city movement – that is ensuring that urban spaces are not food deserts. Her talk made me even more committed to converting my new front yard to a ‘help-yourself-herb-garden,” to both foster neighbourhood spirit and contribute to doing something more useful for the planet than wasting water and fertilizer on a lawn instead of a productive and useful garden. In Jennifer’s words, “You don’t need to go back to the land – you’re already there.” I’m working from memory here but her point was that even if all you have is a balcony – you can still use it to grow safe and delicious food.
I was also lucky enough to attend a fabulous sold-out dinner hosted by novelist and food blogger Kim Moritsugu. Kim entertained the audience between courses reading from her latest novel, The Oakdale Dinner Club (see an earlier post here with Kim’s recipe for Stilton Shortbread) and dishing on food writing in general. Warm, witty and engaging, Kim is a perfect host. She also designed the menu which included a starter of roasted pureed squash with goat cheese and pistachios on crostini. Main course of Chinese noodles with meat sauce and a mango-chicken-avocado-mint salad with a lime vinaigrette. And for dessert – individual chocolate orgasm cakes(!) accompanied by a lemon and raspberry tart and whipped cream.
In honour of Kim, I’m posting a recipe for gluten and dairy-free molten chocolate cakes (as close as I can get to reproducing the individual chocolate orgasm cakes served at the dinner she hosted). For a non-gluten-free (i.e. regular wheat flour) version click here.
Individual Gluten and Dairy Free Molten Chocolate Cakes aka Chocolate Orgasm Cakes
- 4 tbsp margarine (or butter if not dairy-free)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla
- ¼ cup finely ground almond meal
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted gently
- icing sugar to dust
Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease 6 small ramekins or line a muffin pan with 6 jumbo muffin liners.
Beat together the margarine and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating between each. Add vanilla.
Combine the almond meal, cornstarch, and salt. Stir into the egg mixture. Mix gently. Stir in the melted chocolate. Do not over mix.
Divide batter between muffin liners or ramekins– should make about 6 molten cakes.
Bake for 8 minutes. The tops should be just set – the centres should be runny – molten…. If you must – cook the cakes for a minute longer – but don’t overcook.
Serve warm, dusted with icing sugar, and with fresh raspberries and whipped cream or suitable alternative -or just enjoy au naturel.