Category Archives: down time

Emily Dickinson’s Fruitcake: A Recipe

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This is a literary post of sorts, one inspired by a conversation with my graduate students, who felt this was exactly what they wanted to see on the blog as the weather cooled, and the December break neared. Many don’t know that Emily Dickinson liked to bake–famously she would lower cakes out of her window to eager children below. In honour of the season, I decided to share her black fruitcake recipe. My thanks to Margery K. Eagan of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., who updated the instructions, ingredients, and measurements to suit a contemporary kitchen.


Have a bottle of brandy on hand—you’ll need 1/2 c. to pour over fruit plus approx. 1 cup more for cake-soaking syrup. Two large cardboard cake boards will be helpful if you are making a large cake.

The day before baking the cake, if possible, prepare brandy syrup: In a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat, mix 3 c. sugar with 2 c. water until sugar dissolves. Let cool and add brandy (approx. 1 cup) or to taste. The brandy can be a Cognac-type by itself, or a combination of flavors including amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. Your taste buds can guide you here. (See notes about storing any leftover syrup.)

1 3/4 lbs. raisins
8 oz. currants
8 oz. dried apricots, cut in 1/2″ pieces (size of raisins)
8 oz. pitted prunes, cut in 1/2″ pieces
2 oz. dried pears, cut in 1/2″ pieces
4 oz. pitted dates cut in 1/2″ pieces

In a large bowl, toss fruit with 1/2 c. brandy. Let stand overnight, preferably, or an hour, or just while you get the other ingredients together.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 13″ X 18″ X 2 1/2″ pan and line with wax paper or parchment: butter paper or parchment. (See notes about using different pans–you don’t have to make just one cake.)

1 1/2 lbs. soft butter (salted or unsalted: if salted, don’t add salt to dry ingredients)
1 1/2 lbs. granulated sugar
13 eggs at room temperature
3/4 c. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Sift together:
1 1/2 lbs. unbleached flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt (or none if using salted butter)
1 1/4 tsp. each cinnamon, cloves & mace
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ginger

In a very large bowl, cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, keeping mixture light. Add eggs 3 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl several times to keep mixture uniform. Add vanilla. With mixer going, pour in molasses. Mixture might look broken, but that’s ok. On low speed, gradually add sifted dry ingredients, mixing just until flour is incorporated. Place fruit on top of batter, leaving any liquid at the bottom of fruit in the bowl. (Save the liquid and add to the brandy syrup.) Fold fruit into batter, taking care not to overmix. (Note: with this much batter, make sure your spatula is sturdy; otherwise, your hands are your best folding tools.)

Turn batter into pan, smooth the top, and bake for at least one hour, or until the middle top of cake is firm to the touch. The cake will be very dark on top and slightly sunken.

Let cake cool in pan. (Note: if you want to present the cake with a smooth top, level the top of the cake with a serrated knife. It will be inverted later, making the bottom the top.) Invert cake onto large wax paper-covered board and back again onto another board. The paper should prevent the top of the cake from sticking to the board. With a skewer, poke several holes through the cake at 1″ intervals. Begin brushing/tapping the brandy-sugar syrup evenly over the cake, allowing a few minutes for the syrup to soak in before brushing on more. If the cake seems moist enough, it may not be necessary to use all the syrup.

Wrap cake well in plastic wrap (or slide it into a large clean plastic bag) and allow to stand for at least 1 hour—or, preferably, a day or two, in a cool place. Slide cake carefully onto a large serving platter. (Or, for a smooth top: invert onto platter.) Keep the cake covered until presentation time. Fresh greens and flowers around the cake add a festive touch.

Notes This recipe makes about 20 cups of batter. Since an average loaf pan uses between 4 and 5 cups of batter, this recipe would make about 4 large loaf cakes. In 9″ round pans: probably 5 or 6 layers. Or, in a 12 x 2″ round, perhaps 2 layers. You get the idea, though: you can bake the batter in any size and shape. Butter and paper the pans, and fill them about 2/3 full for proper baking.

If freezing cakes: Remove cooled cakes from pans and wrap well. After thawing, and at least 1 hour before serving, brush/soak with brandy syrup.

Leftover syrup: Tightly-covered, the syrup will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks. If you’ve made small cakes and have frozen them, use the syrup as you need it.


Extra! Extra! Fall newsletter is here

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The UWaterloo English department Fall Newsletter is now available, featuring an update from our chair featuring exciting updates about the department, as well as information on faculty awards, publications, and events.

International Day of the Girl: A Reading List

In honour of International Day of the Girl, I’ve compiled a reading list of books featuring strong female protagonists for the girls and boys in your life. Whether your reader is in middle school or high school, there should be something on this list which will keep them reading.

Five compendiums of awesomeness:

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo)
From A (Ada Lovelace, scientist) to Z (Zaha Hadid, architect) this book covers it all. Each story is about 250 words and accompanied by a stunning illustration. Animators, boxers, mountaineers, surgeons, spies, and the Notorious RBG are all included.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (Vashti Harrison)
The illustrations are pitched at a younger audience than the text, but that might be strategic: hook them when they are young with stories of filmmaker Julie Dash and pilot Bessie Coleman!

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World (Rachel Ignotofsky)
Again, beautiful illustrations accompany biographies of a variety of women. There are short facts peppered throughout as well, for those who might just want to peruse. Interested in Grace Hopper (Rear Admiral and Computer Scientist)? Or Katia Kraft (Geologist and Volcanologist)? Lillian Gilbreath (Psychologist and Industrial Engineer)?

Women who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, and Rebels (Linda Skeers and Livi Gosling)
If your child has no sense of personal safety, this probably isn’t the right book, as it features tales of early stunt women, women who go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, daring lighthouse keepers, and more. Many are unknown figures from history, meaning there is not significant overlap with other collections.

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women (Catherine Thimmesh and Melissa Sweet)
Why am I not surprised a woman invented Scotchguard? Or a drip coffee maker? Melitta Bentz is my new hero.

Five YA novels with Fierce Heroines:

Etiquette & Espionage (Gail Carriger)
A steampunk novel for teens. As Booklist writes: “Sophronia is sent to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy to learn how to be a proper lady. Their carriage is immediately waylaid by flywaymen looking for a mysterious prototype—the first of many clues that this academy will not be the dreadful bore Sophronia expected. Once established at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s (set on a chain of dirigibles!), Sophronia learns that she is a covert recruit into a school that trains girls to be part assassins, part spies, and also always fashionable ladies of quality.”

A Spy in the House (Y. S. Lee)
The first in a series by a Canadian author, the novel features Mary Quinn, an orphaned pickpocket saved from the gallows only to be trained as a spy. Set in 1850s Victorian England, there is significant mystery and action. Mary struggles to conceal her secrets, including her origins as the daughter of a Chinese father and Irish mother

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. L. Lockhart)
In a summer, Frankie transforms from geeky girl to beauty, and gains the attention of the people who previously ignored her at her private prep school. But Frankie’s past experiences have made her wary, and she begins to rebel—notably by secretly manipulating the secret society open only to boys. As her brilliantly imaginative pranks escalate, so do the stakes. It was a National Book Award finalist and an ALA Honor Book.

Shadows Cast by Stars (Catherine Knutsson)
More Canadian content: this time a dystopian science fiction novel 200 years in the future, authored by a Métis author. The heroine, Cassandra Mercredi, is one of the indigenous characters whose blood contains the antibodies to a mysterious plague. She and others protect themselves from the government, who would harvest them to create a cure, by retreating to a Coast Salish island. It’s the longest novel on this list, at over 400 pages.

The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
A NYT bestseller, about an African American teenager confronting the unknowns around the shooting death of her friend. As Publisher’s Weekly writes: “Though Thomas’s story is heartbreakingly topical, its greatest strength is in its authentic depiction of a teenage girl, her loving family, and her attempts to reconcile what she knows to be true about their lives with the way those lives are depicted—and completely undervalued—by society at large.”

Five Middle School Novels:

Chasing Secrets (Gennifer Choldenko)
Set in Gilded Age San Francisco, this novel features a young girl who wishes to be a doctor. When plague strikes, and Chinatown is quarantined—despite evidence it is not the epicenter—Lizzie discovers the inequities underpinning her world, and engages in a thrilling race-against-time to save the lives of those she loves.

Fly by Night (Frances Hardinge)
Orphaned Mosca Mye depends upon her cantankerous pet goose and her ability to read to help her survive life with her cold uncle. But her world opens up when she attaches herself to a travelling con man (or is he?) and lands herself in the centre of political intrigue in the bustling metropolis of Mandelion. It’s a riotously funny, imaginative, and adventurous book. THE GOOSE!

Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)
Publishers Weekly writes: “Watching Amina literally and figuratively find her voice—bolstered by community, friendship, and discovered inner strength—makes for rewarding reading.” Will Amina’s best friend change her name to something more “American” sounding? Why does her uncle disapprove of her piano playing? Reading through online reviews it becomes clear how much children—and adults—love this book.

Alanna: The First Adventure (Tamora Pierce)
Young Alanna wants nothing more than to be a knight. Disguising herself as a boy she enters the castle and begins training, overcoming significant odds, including her size and previous lack of training. Set in the magical world of Tortall, the feisty heroine’s struggles are still very realistic, and readers will root for her success through this novel and the sequels.

El Deafo (Cece Bell)
This graphic novel follows the heroine’s return to school wearing a bulky hearing aid, after losing her hearing to a virus. From School Library Journal: “The antics of her hearing aid connected to a FM unit (an amplifier the teacher wears) are spectacularly funny. When Cece’s teacher leaves the FM unit on, Cece hears everything: bathroom visits, even teacher lounge improprieties It is her superpower. She deems herself El Deafo! inspired in part by a bullied Deaf child featured in an Afterschool Special.”

UWaterloo Writing Contest

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The contest is open to all Waterloo students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

As part of the commitment to the UN Women’s HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, the University of Waterloo presents the Second Annual HeForShe Writing Contest, launching September 2017.

Gender equity calls for all of our voices and all of our stories. To achieve lasting change, we must connect experiences of gender to a diverse understanding of equity in the Waterloo community and in our world. Everyone in the University of Waterloo community — students, staff, faculty, and alumni — are invited to share their stories, real and imagined, about building a better and more equitable world.

The 2017-18 contest theme is INTERSECTIONS. Participants are asked to consider how gender equity fits into the larger equity story. Where are the overlaps and connections between gender and race, ethnicity, age, ability, class, faith, and/or sexuality? How do the perspectives of gender equity connect to the goal of equality for all people? Can working towards gender equity help to advance equity conversations more broadly?

Through poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, we welcome your reflections on the past and your hopes, dreams, and directions for the future. When gender equity is connected to the dream of equality for everyone, how is our world made better? Your stories are a part of the Waterloo landscape — today and tomorrow. In what ways are you #HeForShe?

A $500 prize will be awarded for the top submission in each category (poetry, creative non-fiction, and fiction). Selected submissions will also be included in a special University of Waterloo anthology on gender equity that will be published on March 8, 2018 — International Women’s Day. Submissions must not have been previously published. Pieces submitted as part of Waterloo course work will be accepted.

Submissions are due October 27, 2017. For more information see the website.

Image source: BC’s 5to9Woodwork.

Game Jam!

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The UWaterloo Games Institute, led by English’s Dr. Neil Randall, is hosting a Game Jam, Friday, 29 September 2017 at 4:30 PM – Sunday, 1 October 2017 at 7:00 PM .

This event is an opportunity to make games, explore new game ideas, and interact with fellow game-lovers in an exciting and relaxed environment. Learn something, teach something, make something, and play something!

The Fall 2017 Jam welcomes special guests presenting a Unity 101 tutorial, Google’s Firebase games team, and St Paul’s Greenhouse social impact incubator.

The event is a community-based effort to increase the total knowledge, experience, and ideas available to community members. Do you know something about games that may interest others? Then volunteer! We want to know what you know!

  • LEARN: you can hear talks from invited experts about the tools and techniques involved in the design and creation of games.
  • MAKE: you can try your hand at building your own games from scratch along with helpful advice and guidance from our GI mentors.
  • PLAY: You can explore new kinds of games, try out some of the brand-new games that were made at the G.I. Jam itself, and give/receive feedback on yours and others’ creations!

Bring: Your own laptop, any supplies you might need  — construction paper and markers provided in limited supply.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Tickets are $15 and purchased online via Shopify HERE. Please note that both the online payment form AND this Eventbrite guest registration is necessary to attend this event. The cost of your ticket gives you access to the event, lunch on both days, and use of our equipment throughout the weekend.



Q: Where can I find more details and FAQs?

A: Please visit our website!  

Q: Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?

A: The GI Jam organizers can be reached via the email:

Q: Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

A: You do not need to bring your printed Eventbrite ticket, but you should bring a piece of ID. Not only do we use it to double-check registrations, we trade you for your ID if/when you borrow our development equipment. Please make sure to have proof-of-payment available on your phone or printed out, especially if paying within a few hours of the event.


Tentative Schedule (all in QNC 1502 unless otherwise noted):

Friday (the 29th):

  • 4:30 pm – Doors open  / Registration begins. During this time, teams can form, chat, and brainstorm before things kick off.
  • 5:00 pm – Opening remarks + theme reveal!
  • 5:30 pm – Tutorials/talks begin (Unity 101, Firebase games team from Google, St Paul’s Greenhouse social impact incubator). Quiet space is available in QNC 2502.
  • 9:30 pm – Doors close

Saturday (the 30th):

  • 9:00 am – Doors open
  • 9:30 am – Welcome back, reminder of available help.
  • 12:00 pm – Lunch begins
  • 2:30 pm – Check-in, mentors circulate
  • 5:00 pm – Show & tell (optional but highly encouraged: 2 minutes for each team to describe what they’re making)
  • 9:30 pm – Doors close

Sunday (the 1st):

  • 9:00 am – Doors open
  • 5:00 pm – Showcase/Jam awards
  • 6:00 pm – Closing
  • ~7pm – Join us for an after party at the Watchtower restaurant (280 Lester St, Unit #105) after the showcase!

Reading Series Announced

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If you’re new to campus, you might not know about the annual reading series hosted by and held at St. Jerome’s at UWaterloo.  This year’s theme is Languages of Home. Visiting writers find language for their personal and cultural homes, revealing how diversely the experience of home can be understood and expressed.


Elizabeth Greene, Friday 20 October 2017, 4:30pm, SJ1 3027
* Her collection, Understories, “is an exploration of things visible mostly to the inner eye and memory, things below the surface. It explores loss, but also recovery through memory and language. Two poems in Understories were short-listed for the Descant/ Winston Collins Prize.”

Raoul Fernandes, Friday 24 November 2017, 4:30pm, SJ1 3027
* His first book of poetry, Transmitter and Receiver, won the Dorothy Livesay Award and the Debut-litzer Prize in 2016 and was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry


Mariam Pirbhai, Friday 12 January 2018, 4:30pm
* Her debut short story collection, Outside People and Other Stories, will be published by Toronto’s Inanna Publications, in fall 2017.

Kate Cayley, Friday 2 February 2018, 4:30pm
* Playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre, her short story collection How You Were Born won the Trillium Book Award.

Liz Howard, Friday 2 March 2018, 4:30pm
* Howard’s debut poetry collection, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize.

…plus a bonus Spring reading by Sarah Tolmie. Stay tuned!

Hope to see you at the readings. The readings are free and all are welcome, so please spread the word!

For updates see the reading series website.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country. Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 1

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In the countdown to orientation week, many parents are contemplating just what to say to their children who are entering first year. English’s own Dr. Frankie Condon is no different. Read on for what a professor wants her children to know as they head to university. –JLH

Dr. Mom’s Tips for Success in University


Go to class (duh!) and do the assigned reading before class (duh!). If there’s a pop quiz, you’ll be ready. Class discussion, you’ll be ready. Preparing for exams, you’ll be ready.


Sit in one of the front two rows every day in class. And…check out which hand your professor writes with. Choose a seat on the opposite side of your professor’s writing hand when she’s turned toward away from students and toward the white board, black board or screen. I’m not kidding! Really do this!


No matter how hard it may be at first, put your phone away during class! Keep your head up and your mind alert. Believe me! Your professors will see you on your phone and may well infer (based on experience) that your mind is elsewhere, that you don’t care about their subject or about the learning you and your classmates might accomplish. Stay awake, interested, alert to learning.


If you are handed a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, put it in your binder ASAP. If your syllabus is online, print it and put it in your binder ASAP. Then, go to what will probably be the final page of the syllabus for the class schedule. Put every due date for every assignment into your agenda ASAP. For every due date, consider how long it will take you to complete that assignment (be generous and add time for procrastinating cuz, well, you know). Put start dates for each assignment into your agenda. If you are given handouts in class, put them in your binder (in other words, don’t lose shit cuz it annoys your professors and suggests that you don’t care or that you’re careless).


Raise your hand to ask a question or to contribute to class discussion at least once during each class meeting. If your class is having a difficult discussion about race or gender or sexual orientation or religion or war, BE BRAVE. If you hear something that troubles you, ask why or how your classmates or your teacher came to think or believe in the ways they do. BE BRAVE! Tell your classmates and your teacher how you have come to think and believe as you do. Link your comments and questions to the readings you’ve done for class or on your own. BE BRAVE. Share the contents of your mind and the processes of your learning with your teacher and your classmates, no matter what the subject.


University is a great time and place to imagine all the things you might do and become. Practice seeing the world and yourself from new vantage points. Whether you are in class or on the ice, demand the best of yourself, give the best of yourself, and open yourself to the learning that becomes possible when you risk failure by pushing yourself beyond what you know you are and can do. Go to the outside edges of what you know and see what you can learn from there.


If you are the student who shows up consistently, who is prepared for class consistently, whose written assignments demonstrate thoughtfulness, engagement, and care, then you are probably the student who can ask for an extension or extra help and get a positive response.


If you already knew everything you’re going to university to learn, you wouldn’t need university at all. Ask questions. Go to every one of your professors’ office hours at least once during the term. Talk with your professors about what interests you in their class, about the things that make you curious. Share your interests with your professors and ask about their interests too. You will learn so much more in such conversations than you will ever learn by merely going to class. If you need help to understand something you’re being taught, ask for it. Your professors’ jobs include providing this support to you. Just remember, the better the question you ask, the fuller the answer you’ll get. Do the reading, review your notes, do a bit of research on your own then explain to your professor what you’ve done to try to find the answer on your own. Trust me, they’ll be impressed and they’ll want to help you.


Everything you do – from processing your course readings to all of the writing you produce in university – will be better for having a dialogue about them. And writing centres are awesome places to work when you’re a student!


Don’t always look for the folks who look like you, talk like you, think like you. BE BOLD! Reach out to folks who are different from you. And reach out to those who may need care. BE KIND! Seize the opportunity to grow your soul and your mind by coming to know all kinds of people, by heeding your upbringing and your intuition, and by thinking about who you want to be in this world and bringing the best you can imagine of yourself to every relationship you make.


University can be stressful. There will be times when you doubt yourself, wonder if you can succeed or achieve your dreams or make your family and friends proud. Whatever your fear or worry, whatever your failure, whatever your sorrow, reach out. Go to the gym regularly before during and after your season. Sleep! But also, and most importantly, talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to a counsellor or to a professor you trust. Never allow yourself to believe that success means going it alone. Reach out and know that you are loved!