This post is a bit different than my usual ones, but I really wanted to share what happened to me a couple of nights ago. I believed that I was in the middle of a bio-terrorist attack in Toronto. I thought that I was infected. I didn’t know what to do. That might just be the strangest opening line to a food blog post. Ever. Stick with me though – it’s an interesting story.
I was walking near Toronto City Hall when I came across a man and a woman, both of whom were dressed in ragged clothes and pleading emphatically for attention. Everyone just seemed to pass them by. No one made eye contact with them. People just kept on walking, ignoring them. I was curious what they were protesting against. I stood, and I listened. Big mistake.
They were pleading with the public to avoid a company called “ByoLogyc”, a biological engineering company in the field of “lifestyle biotechnology”, whatever that meant. They urged everyone who heard them to avoid ByoLogyc at all costs and not to “take any pill” from ByoLogyc. One of the protesters was almost crying. She wanted to make sure that people “protected their families”.
I found the protest strange, to the say the least. Not the protest itself, but what they were protesting. I keep up to date with news stories and had never heard of ByoLogyc before. I did a quick search on my phone and found their website. It seemed like they were a general biotechnology company. Their website was vague, like most any other company in the same field. They had a variety of products, none of which really had an in depth description. I decided that I would look more into it when I got home, and that I should enjoy the outdoor art exhibits around the city for now.
I walked for about five minutes, absorbing the atmosphere of a city filled with people late at night enjoying art. I came across a church that a lot of people had gathered around. There was a line of people, out the door and far along the cobbled sidewalk that stretched from the entrance. Here’s the weird thing: They were all wearing face masks. Each and every single one of them.
Around the people waiting in line were protesters chanting and pleading. There were also security guards, straight faced, tall, and threatening, surrounding the church. I walked up to one of them and asked what was going on. He told me that ByoLogyc was testing people for a virus, called BRX, that an online terrorist group spread by exploiting one of their products. He handed me a card and told me to call the toll-free number on it for more information. I could barely hear him over the noise of the protesters and the crowd of people surrounding the church.
I walked to somewhere quieter and called the number. This is what I heard:
“Due to an attack on ByoLogyc by the online terrorist organization known as EXE, the release of BioRenew triggered a viral outbreak centered in Toronto. In cooperation with Health Canada we have been tracking the outbreak closely…”
Alright. I’m going to be honest. I thought that there really was something going on. I messaged the people I was with to avoid this area in case they might get infected. I left as quickly as I could. I sat down.
Then I realized what had happened.
If there was truly a bio-terrorist attack in the middle of the city, there would be police there. There would be ambulances. There would at least be officials from Health Canada!
Oh yes. You should probably know that I was participating in my first Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, an annual event that transforms the city into a contemporary art gallery for one night, from sunset to sunrise. Nuit Blanche attracts tens of thousands of visitors, from Toronto and abroad, to the city to marvel at the artistic accomplishments of painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, and speakers. Exhibits this year included a silent improvised dance that went on for hours, a robotic chair that continually fell apart and rebuilt itself, and even the transformation of the Toronto City Hall parking lot into The Museum of the End of the World, which was piled high with canned food in preparation for the apocalypse.
I did some more research on ByoLogyc and realized that they were in fact a Nuit Blanche exhibit. While writing this post I called the number on the card again, to re-listen to the message. Right after that quote they told patients to follow them on Twitter and Facebook for updates. If I heard that I would have realized right away it was an exhibit. Funny enough though, I hung up as soon as I heard Health Canada and ran to “safety”.
I later joined the line that went into the building, received a face mask, and prepared to be screened for the virus. Screening, which took place inside the church, was much less realistic than the events outside. Screening involved a body scan, blasts of compressed air, and an in depth interview that covered everything from your vocal range to whether or not you received a blood transfusion from a specific hospital in the last three months.
We had to wear masks during the entire process, you know, not to contaminate anyone – just in case someone was a carrier. It was amusing how we were told to both take a pill that would “immunize” us and smile for a photograph while wearing our masks.
ByoLogyc was easily the star event of the night. I still feel pretty stupid for falling for it in the beginning, but the acting was truly excellent. Plus, it was pretty late and I was walking around all day. The idea of staging protesters far away, out of sight from the main event, was simply genius. The toll free number made it even better. It was an amazing experience.
Kind of like this cheesecake that I made.
Yep, going to talk about the cheesecake too.
It’s a rich, dense, yet not too heavy, New York-style cheesecake with strawberry sauce. Plus, what makes it so special, is that its crust is made out of the homemade graham crackers that I made last week. Yup. I made graham crackers and ground them up. You could of course just use store bought ones, but homemade graham crackers are so much better.
A rich, dense, yet not too heavy, New York Cheesecake recipe adapted from Chef Anna Olson’s book Back to Baking. Includes a recipe for homemade graham crackers.
For the homemade graham crackers (optional):
1¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon (185g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (88g) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
3½ tablespoons (50g) unsalted butter, chopped and frozen
⅙ cup (57g) honey
2½ tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the crust:
1½ cups (375ml) graham cracker crumbs (homemade or prepared)
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup (60ml) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
4 packages (1kg) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1¼ cups (250g) sugar
½ cup (115g) sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
Prepare the graham crackers:
Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor or electric mixer, you can cut the ingredients together with a pastry blender. Just make sure they’re very well incorporated. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about ⅛ inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4cm by 4cm squares. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll. Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form three dotted rows (9 dots). If just using for the cake, don’t bother making the holes. Bake for 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Be careful to not over bake. You will need to crush them in a food processor or by putting them into a bag and hitting them with a rolling pin to create crumbs for the cheesecake. You will have extra crackers.
For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan and place it on a baking tray. Stir the graham crackers and sugar together, then pour in the melted butter and stir until the graham crackers are coated (the mixture will still be crumbly). Press the crumbs into the prepared pan, coming an extra inch up the sides (using a ramekin or sturdy glass will help you get the crumbs evenly into the corners). Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then cool while preparing the filling.
Prepare the filling:
Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. t is very important that you always use the lowest speed possible while beating for this recipe. Using electric beaters or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and cornstarch until fluffy. While beating, slowly add the sugar, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla, again scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl well after each addition. Pour the filling into the cooled crust (the filling will come up higher than the crust). Bake for 55 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another 10 minutes, cracking the oven door open slightly (you can use a wooden spoon to hold the door open by lodging it between the door and the oven). Remove the cake from the oven. After the cake cools for 30 minutes, run a knife around the outside edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan. Do not remove the springform ring yet. Cool the cheesecake completely to room temperature and then chill it for a minimum of six hours. To serve, remove the springform ring from the pan and slice using a hot, dry knife.