Empire of Wild and my Birchbark log…

“Old Medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it’s laid. People are forgetful. Medicine is not.”

Right off the bat, I was drawn in to “Empire of Wild” by Métis author Cherie Dimaline. Not only does this book have rich descriptive writing and a suspenseful storyline, but it gives us insight into Métis stories and traditions, specifically, the Rougarou. I’ll admit that I knew nothing about the Rougarou and had to do some more research, but what a terrifying creature! According to some sites, Métis legends about the Rougarou either come from French werewolf stories or Algonquian Wendigo/Witiko legends about man-eating ice monsters. Some are a combination of the two. Either way, it makes for a spell-binding modern adaptation of the myth.

The story follows Joan as she continues to search for her missing husband, Victor. Through the various cast of characters, we see the resilience of the Métis people and see how stories and traditions are passed on from generation-to-generation.

Dimaline also takes on land developers and the manipulation of Indigenous peoples. There’s one powerful scene as the truth begins to unravel where Joan punches a man as he laughs about the evil plot to steal land while spewing vicious stereotypes. I’m not condoning violence, but, take it as a metaphor.

This novel was deeply rooted in place and tradition– if these things are upset, the world is turned upside down. It reminds us how important it is to listen to our Elders and the stories they have. 

The US release is July 28, so be sure to check it out! I got my ARC from @elizaisreading and William Morrow Books.

Since I am constantly thinking about integrating the plants in my garden into my baking, and keeping most, if not all of my ingredients local, I decided to make a lavender honey cake for for this book. There was such rich imagery of the birch forests, so I knew I had to make my cake look like a birch.

The first step was to make the cake:

Lavender Honey Cake
Ingredients:

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature– I always buy salted, but whatever is on hand
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp liquid honey– (I used https://craichoneyco.co)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lavender, finely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle– some recipes call for culinary lavender– since I have an abundance in my yard, and so does my mother-in-law, I just had my husband clip it…
1 cup milk– I used almond, but you can probably use whatever you have on hand.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease (I sprayed with TJ’s Canola Oil Spray) 2 or 3 cake pans. I used two, because that’s all I have.

Use an electric mixer to beat butter. Once it looks well beaten, add in sugar. Continue to beat for five minutes. At this point, I set a timer and watched as it became creamier and creamier. Once it looks light and fluffy, add honey and vanilla. Once it is well incorporated, add eggs, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, I used my big Pyrex measuring cup, combine flour, baking powder, salt and lavender. Mix well.

Alternate adding the dry mixture and milk to the batter and continue mixing until well incorporated.

Divide it between your cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until your toothpick comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from tin.

Buttercream frosting

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons milk (again, I used almond)

Beat butter well. Once butter looks creamy, add sugar and milk. Continue to beat until well incorporated.

Decorating

I don’t have a rotating cake stand, but I do have a lazy susan on my table… so I covered it in parchment paper. First, I’ll admit I had leftover lemon filling from some lemon tarts I made a few days ago. I put the first cake on the stand then covered it with the lemon filling. I then put the second cake on top. Next, crumb coat the cake with the buttercream frosting. Put it in the refrigerator until it is set– I think I did about 20 minutes. Next, add your final layer of buttercream all over. It doesn’t have to be smooth, as it’s supposed to look like bark.

Finally, add some brown gel food coloring to boiling water. It’s not exact, but enough to look brown. Use a wide brush while slowly turning cake around so it looks like rings. They should be somewhat unevenly spaced. Use a knife or really whatever you have on hand, to carve the crack on the top. I also carved some notches into the sides and more rings on the top. Overall, it was a really easy decorating job. I happened to have some leftover merengue mushrooms from a different project, and used those to create a more woodsy vibe. I’m by no means a pro, but it’s a fun cake to make!

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