Most often an optimist, my moments of pessimism sometimes pay off. Last week, not even an hour after we talked about melting snow and bare earth, it snowed. I just knew that would happen.

That night, we shoveled the driveway.

Then, starting two days later, it snowed for three days straight. We cleared and shoveled often. We almost broke a shovel.

With the romantic fancy of my burgeoning hope for spring, I'd be blameless in muttering a sailor's curse or three as I tromped up and down and back and forth across our driveway and up the garden path. Maybe it is the madness of midwinter, but I have, shockingly, embraced the snow.

And shoveling. I really like the shoveling.

I volunteer to shovel. Trippingly pulling my boots on, and with the words only halfway out of my mouth, I'm out the door. I try to wait until after dinner, so everyone's fed and happy; when the darkness has settled in and all the streetlights are on.

In that quiet, the scene that greets me is especially beautiful. The languid wind of our street, the glow of porches lit in rows, a car rolling slowly past with its wheels crunching the snow the plows haven't cleared yet.

Tethered to our house with the task of shoveling, it's a snow globe existence; a world contained by how far I can see around the bend of the road.

There is a deep satisfaction in the feel of a blade cleaving through the weight of snowdrift, the metallic scratch of the shovel against the pavement. There is a thought of productivity and industry, a chest-puffing pride in getting a job done.

And yet, moving back and forth across the drive, the pattern of my footsteps is simultaneously meditative. The imagined dome of my small world condenses my thoughts and clears out the rubbish. I come back inside, cheeks flushed and arms tired, my mind full of a hundred new ideas.

I'm an odd duck, I know. But it makes me happy and I always sleep well after.

Yes, I really do like shoveling. Not something I'd ever thought I'd say.

And, while we're on the subject of likes, I really like cakes made with tangerines and almonds. It's a like I think you'll find easy to understand.

I made this cake as an interpretation of Nigella Lawson's Clementine Cake from her book How to Eat, which as it happens is an interpretation of Claudia Roden's orange and almond cake.

It's made without flour; at its most simple the recipe only requires fruit, nuts, eggs, sugar and baking powder. I've fussed up the cake because of the ingredients I had, and appreciated the effect of those additions. Neither version disappoints though, so either way you're set.

It reminds me of marmalade, with the pith and peel used to their fullest. It is modestly sweet with a sourness you feel on your teeth. That devastating bitterness humming underneath the waxy fat of the ground nuts.

The exterior bakes to a glossily sticky bronze, with a blond crumb underneath. The scent of almonds and citrus is remarkable, smelling as you'd imagine wintertime should.

To eat this is to swallow the March sun, a beam of brightness on a snowy day. Or, if you're like me, it's just what you want when you come in from an evening of shovelling.

TANGERINE ALMOND CAKE

Adapted from Nigella Lawson. I use skin-on, raw almonds for colour and texture. Blanched almonds or pre-ground meal can be used as well.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound tangerines, around 4 medium, washed well
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange flower water (optional)
  • Butter for greasing a pan
  • 9 ounces raw almonds, see note
  • 6 eggs
  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Place the tangerines in a medium pot. Pour over the orange flower water if using, then fill the pot with cold water until the fruit is covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the tangerines are quite tender, around 2 hours. Drain the fruit and set aside to cool.

Over a large bowl to catch the juice, split each tangerine in half horizontally, and pick out any seeds. Put the flesh, peel and pith to the bowl, and discard the seeds.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan, then line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides (with a collar of paper extending a little past the rim of the pan).

In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attached, grind the almonds to a fairly even meal. Add the tangerines, and process to a thick purée. Bits of nut and tangerine skin will still be visible.

In the large bowl used for the juices earlier, beat the eggs until blended but not frothy. Stir in the sugar and vanilla bean seeds, then the baking powder and salt. Fold in the fruit mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven until a cake tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan, around 1 hour. If the cake is browning too quickly towards the end of baking, tent with foil. Remove from the oven and cool, still in its tin, on a wire rack.

Makes one 8-inch cake that's even better after a day.

When I first begin to get sick, I begin to clean. Ambitiously.

It's not just scrubbing dishes or sweeping the floors or folding the laundry. It's cleaning the windows and flipping the mattresses and vacuuming under the fridge. When my mind is fuzzy with sickness, I can't stand a similar feeling of clutter in my surroundings.

It drives me bonkers. But at least, in the best of circumstances, my fits of crazy result in cookies.

Last Tuesday I organized the closets. Most specifically, the Closet We Dare Not Open. That's the closet in our little den, a stash and dash repository, the closet that still had sealed boxes from when we moved to this house two years ago.

Yes, you heard me right. Sealed boxes. And yes, it has been two years.

Don't look at me like that. You try moving with a toddler when you're already expecting your next and let's see how well you do in getting all your boxes unpacked.

Ahem. Now that we've thrown open the quite literal door on my secret shame, back to the present. And those boxes. These were the boxes of nonessentials - the last boxes we'd packed from our previous house, thrown together as we made our way out the door.

In one I found a storage container (empty) for CDs, an unopened package of paper, a sketchpad and some dice. In another, pictureless fames and ice cube trays. And in another, I found my recipe notebooks.

The pair of books, pale slate with Prussian blue trim, date back even further than the move to this house. They are from A Time Before; the time before a ring had ever been put upon my finger and before my child had ever been placed in my arms. A time before I started writing here.

My Mum had recipe folders when I was growing up. She'd snip out and tack in recipes from magazines and newspapers, these interspersed with handwritten cards bearing the bosom-held secret recipes of family and friends. Hers were fat and full with both the memory and the promise of delicious meals.

When I decided I it was time to become an adult, I started my own recipe notebooks. It seemed the Thing to Do. I'm a gatherer by nature, and had a considerable stockpile of magazines and notepads full of material ready and waiting. I remember stacking the clippings into neat little piles, considering my methods of categorization. I had Breakfasts, Soups, Salads, Breads, Sides, Vegetarian Mains, Meat, Poultry, Cakes, Pies, Frozen Desserts and Sweets. (All of this compulsion fell neatly in line with my established addiction to stationery.)

I was ready, at least recipe-wise, for Sort of Life I was Going to Lead. My books were as much a compilation of tried recipes as it was of the recipes I wanted to try in that future. I was going to be prepared.

Prepared for everything except baking cookies. In curating these books, I overlooked cookies entirely. Filled anticipation for future dinner parties that would surely require an elegant sweets course, I hopped, skipped, and jumped my way past biscuits and wafers and biscotti. The closest I come to a cookie is the solitary mention of brownies.

I think I thought that cookies were dull. I know. I was young and stupid. Cookies were one of the first things I'd learned to bake, due in large part to Mrs. Wakefield and those bags of morsels, and I believe I had the fool idea that adulthood was the time to move on from such childish pursuits.

Thank goodness for being lazy. And in love. I started those books years ago, but I never finished them. They went into the back of a closet, moved from apartment to apartment to house to house, untouched. Instead of collecting, I started cooking, and the next thing I knew I was here.

And the person that is here is a mum who bakes cookies. Often.

A move to rectify the lapse in those books' the cookie section is long overdue, and I have already got my choice for the first one in. These Chocolate-chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries are sigh-inducing balance of sweet, salty and subtly sour. They are speckled and nubbly, with a crisp rim and a soft centre, and deep cracks that travel their surface. And oh my stars, they are perfectly delicious. So delicious that they deserve a fan club.

We can have the meetings at my place. Once I'm done cleaning.

CHOCOLATE-CHUNK OATMEAL COOKIES WITH PECANS AND DRIED CHERRIES

From Cooks Illustrated published May 2005.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries or cranberries, chopped coarse
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces about the size of chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C), with racks on the top and bottom thirds. Use parchment paper to line several standard baking sheets and set aside.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl combine the oats, pecans, dried cherries and chocolate.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on medium-low, add the egg and beat until incorporated.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer down to low, and add the flour mixture to the bowl. Stir until just combined. Finally incorporate the oats, nuts, fruit and chocolate. Do not overmix. Turn off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to give the dough a final stir and make sure that all the ingredients are incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop to measure 1/4 cup portions of dough. Roll these portions lightly between your hands, then place 8 on each baking sheet, spaced evenly. Wet your hands and lightly press the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Bake the cookies, two trays at a time, in a preheated oven for 12 minutes. Rotate the trays top to bottom and back to front and bake for another 8 minutes or until the cookies are uniformly golden, but still wet in the middle. You might think that they're undercooked, but you're wrong - resist the urge to overbake, they will set up further as they cool.

Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 16.

Notes:

• Although the original recipe specifies table salt, I used kosher salt instead; I enjoy the uneven saltiness of kosher in cookies, but that is only a personal preference.

• Continuing on the topic of salt, I sprinkled the pecans with some fine grained sea salt when they were toasted. This subtle salinity hummed steadily beneath the complexity of the chocolate and cherries.

• Wanting a slightly more modest cookie, I divided the dough into 24 and reduced my cooking time accordingly.

Whew. I know it is just Monday, but I already feel as though I have had a marathon week. These last few weekends have flown by, more hectic than relaxed, and I am feeling the effect.

The busyness of it all is mostly with happy tasks, thank goodness; the sort of work that is wholly gratifying, but not always easy. Renovations, projects, an almost-four-month-old delight who believes that he is grown up enough to debut his first two teeth, a most wonderfully-mischievous toddler, friends, baking, cooking, planning, organizing, birthdays ... I'll say it again. Whew.

Tomorrow a dear, dear loved one will jet off for a faraway land for an extended trip. As exciting as that is, the last few days have been abuzz with expectant, frenetic energy as we all aid in preparations for departure and simultaneously prepare ourselves for three weeks of missing someone terribly.

I am looking ahead though; this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and there is cooking to be done. Although this year we are not hosting the festivities, we are contributing to the celebration. I am thinking of doing David Lebovitz's showstopping Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Bourbon Sauce. Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread has been requested, and I might pack a tin of Pecorino Crackers from Giada De Laurentiis (these are featured in De Laurentiis' new book; look out for my review next week). My only decision left is to settle on a cranberry sauce to make.

With all of this going on, I want something quick I can nibble while doing any number of other things through my day. And so, with a bit of time to throw together something, I turned to my favourite snack for these sort of days - granola bars.

Far from the overly-cloying packaged versions that verge on candy bar status, these little offer a bit of salty and sweet; as well-suited for breakfast with coffee as they are as a mid-afternoon bite all on their own. Delicious and portable, a balance of nutrition with a bit of treat, multitasking has never been as appealing than this.

Endnote: I feel compelled to mention that Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday; in fact, this time of year is my absolute, preferred season. All of this is a wonderful sort of busy, and though I might wish for more hours in the day sometimes, I would not wish away a second of it.

APPLE CRANBERRY GRANOLA BARS

My version of a base recipe from Alton Brown. By adding the cashews at the end their salt does not get fully mixed into the bars, resulting in little pockets of salty goodness.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 ounces wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 ounce flax seed
  • 2 ounces raw pumpkin seeds
  • 3 ounces sliced almonds
  • 1 1/2 ounces shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
  • 4 ounces honey
  • 2 ounces golden syrup
  • 1 3/4 ounces light brown sugar (sometimes called yellow or golden)
  • 1 ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces dried apples, chopped
  • 2 1/2 ounces dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounces salted cashews, roughly chopped

METHOD

Butter a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Spread the oats, wheat germ, flax seed, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and coconut onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, tossing to toast evenly.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, golden syrup, brown sugar, and butter in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Heat, on a low setting, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, stir in the salt and vanilla extract.

When the oat mixture is lightly toasted, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C). Quickly add the oat mixture to the sugars, then the dried fruit and nuts, stirring to fully combine and coat. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Using the back of a greased spatula, press and flatten the mixture until evenly distributed. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, rotating once during baking. Remove from the oven to a rack and allow to cool completely. Turn out onto a cutting board and slice into desired squares or bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes one 9x9 inch pan.

Notes:

  • I put a second baking dish of the same size on top of the bars as they come out of the oven, weighted down with cans. This extra compression makes for bars that will cut easily and hold their shape. For a crisp bar, allow the pan to completely cool before removing the weights. If you prefer a softer bar, you can do this for only part of the cooling time, or skip the step entirely.
  • In my mind, the perfect portion of these is achieved by cutting the pan into 2 1/4" squares. This yields 16 small bars.
  • Obviously, this is a recipe that can easily be tailored to suit personal preferences; as long as the general ratio of liquids to solids remains, sensible substitutions are easily made.