Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Toastmasters Speech: A Gift From Canada

The third speech in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual is called "Get to the point". It focuses (no pun intended) on identifying a general purpose (to persuade) and a specific purpose (to convince the audience that Nanaimo bars are an amazing Christmas cookie they should consider making for the holidays), and remaining on that focus throughout the speech.

(The title of the post is what I came up with after the meeting in which I presented the speech; sadly I couldn't think up something creative before and just named it "The Best Christmas Cookie: The Nanaimo Bar" - accurate yes, but one of the pieces of feedback I received in the evaluation was to title it something that doesn't just give away the main point, create some interest and mystery with the title.)

Last week, we talked about traditions, and I mentioned that my husband and are forming our own holiday traditions as a new family, pulling things from both sides that we like. One thing from my side, that was non-negotiable, though, was making Nanaimo Bars. We have a lot of Christmas cookies - my sister’s the primary baker - and though there are several standbys, including Hello Dollys, spritz, meringues, and sugar cookies, the Nanaimo Bars are the most important. 

Today I’ll showcase a few of the reasons they’re so great - they’re easy to make, very rich and decadent, and easily adaptable. And hopefully convince you to add them to your family’s holiday recipe repertoire. [At the Toastmasters meeting, I brought some Nanaimo bars for them to try] This batch is vegan and gluten-free (see recipe here - I used gluten-free graham crackers, 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 3 Tbsp water for the egg, Earth Balance for the butter, and baking chocolate that happened to be vegan without any dairy). 

Unlikely many standard Christmas cookies, it’s possible many of you haven’t heard of these before. They’re around in a few places - I’ve seen them once in Portland at a party with a hotel-catered banquet, but usually when I make them for an event or gift, people have no idea what they are. The story is that they originated from a housewife in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in the 1950s, who submitted it to a magazine contest. My understanding is that they are much more common in Canada - some relatives even found a boxed mix for them on a trip there once, but it’s a shame they aren’t more well known in the US. 

First, these are really easy to make. They don’t require any baking (leaving the oven free for sugar cookies). It’s just three layers - some ingredients melted on the stovetop, or just mixed - that you put in the fridge or freezer (depending on your timeframe) to chill and set in between each one. There’s virtually nothing you can screw up in presentation, so you’ll always have nice and neat layered bars on your cookie platter: you can’t over or underwhip egg whites for the meringues, or have problems with the cookie press that make your spritz cookies come out in unrecognizable patterns. 

You also don’t other issues that come more generally with baking, such as what type of flour to use, measuring with a cup versus weight, all those factor that could have a significant impact on the final outcome when baking. I’m not much of a baker or cooker - growing up my mom did the cooking and my sister did the baking, and now I have a husband who does both, but even I, with my lack of talents in the kitchen, find these quite manageable to put together. 

Second, Nanaimo bars are great because they’re extremely rich and decadent, just as holiday treats should be. The size of the bars I cut for [the group] to try [6 x 6 in a 9" square pan] - that’s not a smaller “sample” size because I was bringing them for a group - that’s a normal serving size! Now, I suppose that’s not great for moderation and watching your calories over the holidays and so forth. I’ve never calculated the calories in those small pieces, because I’d really just rather not know. (But they’re worth it!) 

 And finally, they’re very versatile and adaptable - both in flavors and allergens/sensitivities. As I mentioned I made this batch vegan and gluten-free - easy to get gluten-free graham crackers - and the rest of the ingredients are already gluten-free, and use vegan options for the chocolate and margarine, and an egg alternative. As far as egg alternatives go, I’d definitely recommend the chia seed option - I’ve tried other “egg substitute” recipes, including flax seed and arrowroot, and they don’t work in this, I think because you’re not baking it. It needs to be gooey to really hold it together, and so the chia seeds that gum up in water work well. 

 It’s also versatile in flavors - instead of the basic chocolate and vanilla layers, you can readily find recipes and ideas to make mint chocolate, or raspberry and white chocolate, to name just a couple. Google and you can come up with many other ideas, or just mix and match your own favorite flavors in the layers, and you’re sure to come up with something just as good as the original template. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about this lovely treat, and if you’re looking for another dessert for the holiday season, consider the easy, delicious, adaptable option of Nanaimo Bars.

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