October 30, 2006

Will this hedonism ever stop?

I've been invited by dear Annie to indulge in the fantasy of what I'd serve for dinner to other food bloggers.

I'm a little nervous that these things don't take longer to think up. I just sat down and came up with a dinner I'd love...in minutes...of course, it's lunchtime and I'm in the midst of a moral battle between the need for a run and my need for a ham and cheese croissant or fries or ice cream...or all three...anyway...back to self absorption...mine of course.

Apologies to any vegetarians at the table.

This dinner would go most of the night you realize. I love those long, slow dinners with a few courses...and lots of time to go down with the wine and talk. If anyone plays piano or guitar I'd be thrilled. And as food bloggers getting together for the first time, I wonder if we'd have anything to say to each other.

Once you've arrived in my home, I'd greet you with a flute of cold Prosecco to make this all go down a little smoother. (I'd also love you to be met with the smell of a wood burning fireplace...but I don't have one - I did wish before I moved in here that I would have one, and when I got here was thrilled to see one - but it was blocked years ago...which proves the saying, be careful what you wish for...or at least be very precise.)

So over on the side table is a bowl of wood-smoked olives (the first time I had these was at a restaurant in Vancouver - we were sitting at the bar waiting for our table, having martinis I think and the bartender put these in front of Lauren and I)...I love the slightly roasted, smoky flavour and their warmth. It does what it's supposed to: gets you going.

But I'd also put out for your consumption a dish of my mussels cooked in the garlic, white wine sauce with melted stilton dripping into the sauce underneath.

Homemade bread for dipping or to have with my onion confit or my tapenade.

I'd make Crab cakes with mango relish (that is so simple it's crazy: chopped mango, jalapeno pepper, red pepper, red onion, and the juice of one lime - and then devour it with anything you'd like to eat from meat, to fish, to certain cheeses)

Moving on...to the table itself...

Linguine with smoked salmon, dill and a gentle lemon cream sauce
Green salad with vinaigrette
Balsamic Lamb on a bed of roasted potatoes served with steamed green beans tossed in butter and a bit of tarragon (a little goes a long way)
The not-so-pedestrian Roasted chicken with Steve's rub with cranberry relish and roasted potato salad
Fresh blackberries, raspberries and strawberries (at their peak and local - ha, ha, ha) on a gentle lemon cake with whipped cream (just slightly flavoured with lemon zest)
Chocolate brownies with the best of vanilla ice cream
A shot of world famous Ontario ice wine
The best of coffee
The best of tea
By then, I'd hope we'd be the best of friends...Bon Appétit...
Going to get my running gear on to pay for this hedonism...

October 18, 2006

Two Forks in the Road

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.
Mark Twain

Steve likes to call it “going over the wall”.

He’s writing a one-way ticket out of his old life…and so am I.

And our voices have changed.

His day is filled with talking to engineers, designers, computer specialists, imagery gurus, banks, governments, tax specialists, graphic designers, and his nephew. He’s head of business development for a new company.

Steve worked as a grip/electric in the film business for 20 years. He can duct tape/wire/glue/solder/ratchet anything into anything. He says grips are engineers with an authority disorder. Okay, build this town in a day, okay take it down.

One of his last jobs before he took a left turn was an infomercial for an animatronic monkey head. Imagine a monkey chopped at mid thorax sitting on your desk, or perhaps a table in your foyer. It has a motion sensor (built in!) that triggers the monkey’s head to turn and look at you as you enter the room. It makes monkey sounds. It makes happy monkey sounds when it's happy, screeches when it isn't. In fact it has "4 distinctive moods": curious, happy, feisty, fearful. All for just $129.99.

That was his last foray before going over the wall and running fast. No looking back. Burning bridges. Steve loves to tell that story.

Steve's new company can analyze stuff for renewable energy – his nephew is the brainchild of it – making renewables more efficient, saving us money, doing something positive for the planet – and at the very least isn’t about selling a robotic animal head for fun, torture, or haut décor.

Steve’s other life (while gripping) was/is to absorb every piece of information about the environment and fixing it. He’s spent more than 10 years reading everything/attending conferences/talking to visionaries/inventing stuff and has a non-PhD in the topic. It’s encyclopedic really. Plus, bless his heart, he can’t contain himself when he talks about it. And can he talk about it.

So when he arrived at his fork in the road…he veered left.

And he’s happily absorbed 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day, sitting at a desk, getting a tan from his laptop LCD screen. He’s never had a desk job. I make him eat. He's a little focused. I look at him directly and up close if I need him to take in a piece of information, and he responds, if I'm lucky. Kind of like an anti-authoritarian robotic head.

I love watching every minute of it. He’s passionate and driven and happy.

My fork is a little less clearly marked. I’ve enjoyed my career in television. I started as a researcher, moved onto field producing, directing, producing. I’ve gotten into places people normally never see. And I got paid for it. But I’ve never felt at home…never was using my own voice. I felt like an impostor most of that time, like someone would eventually come up and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to leave.

And yet, I did know stuff and learned so much. It just felt like being married to the wrong guy.

It took me the last five years to admit it. I’m not a quitter. I have always believed you don’t quit, you try harder. I've done it with jobs...I've done it with relationships.

The price of that is the stress. And the problem with the stress is that it kills my appetite. No food. The worst weight-loss plan on the face of the planet.

One of my last jobs in television was to direct some stories of youth making a difference in the world – I loved it, but I was in over my head in terms of style. And I floundered. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating. I took my pulse a lot because my rib cage was hurting from my pounding heart – it was regularly at 120.

Finally a friend pointed out it doesn’t mean failure if I quit – it means I have a different voice to them. So I worked out an arrangement with the wonderful producer to help get me out of it. She later told me she’d hired me again. So was I imagining it?

My built in! emotion sensor was set on 1 distinctive mood! Fear was eating me alive. I spent some time thinking – digging – why would I let myself get to that point? Why had it become a life and death thing that flushed all the chemicals for my flight or fight response? I knew it was an overreaction. I started to think I was going crazy.

So I wrote about it. I wrote a feature about the impostor phenomenon...believe it or not there’s an actual label for it. Successful people feeling like they’ve made it and don't deserve it. You can take a test. I got an A.

Fear of failure/success has driven me a lot in the past – and I’m not kidding myself, it still does. When I was writing the impostor article I came across this: “When is a mistake ‘failure’ and when is it just a mistake? The Impostor Phenomenon can lead you to that ‘all or none’ thinking, in which success equals perfection and anything less than perfection equals failure.”

Yup. Quitting is hard work.

And it’s one of life’s hardest lessons: when is it smart to quit? How come we don’t learn this stuff growing up? How come no one tells you when it is okay to quit? When quitting is being good to yourself? When staying is harming you? How come no one points out the difference?

We get better at quitting the more we do it – the boundaries of acceptance/non-acceptance get clearer. I call it learning from the shadows - knowing what we don't want, rather than what we do.

There are those who get too good at it and become pathological about it. They quit everything. Then there are those who never try. Those who never quit. Those who accept that there are two kinds of people in this world, those who are happy and those who aren’t. This is their lot and they can bear it, not happily, but with peaceful resignation.

Writing it out helped - lowered the temperature, put it in perspective. And Steve told me I wasn't perfect (imagine), no one was...and to remember that tigers aren't going to eat me. So life is pretty good.

I found myself falling in love with storytelling all over again. Feeling in control of the tools, instead of the tools using me. Hearing me through the sentences, the paragraphs, the whole.

I found my voice again. I knew it was there somewhere.

My appetite for challenge came back. I’ve stepped away from tv to see if I can make it in writing. That is what you call jumping from the fat to the fire - because tv actually pays a living wage.

So, I guess I took the left fork in the road too. The right fork would have been to play it safe. And for some reason, Steve and I don’t seem to be in the mood for safe, kind of ironic eh?. Like our relationship and marriage, our life seems to be driven by listening to instinct, tempered by what our experiences can offer.

I still have to deal with fear. I have to actually get articles pitched to editors. I can’t just hide here in my blog, as comfortable as it is.

It’s better trying than not. So...I’m going over the wall.

October 16, 2006

Snipe 'n Munch

My friend/grace Karen was “helping” me brainstorm some ideas for Foodnut last week.

She came up with this:

Cheesy Broccoli Casserole
1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Lower Sodium Stuffing Mix for Chicken
2 pkg. (10 oz. each) frozen broccoli florets, thawed, drained
1 can (10-3/4 oz.) 98% fat-free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup CHEEZ WHIZ Light Reduced Fat Cheese Dip
PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Prepare stuffing mix as directed on package, using only 3 Tbsp. margarine. Set aside. MIX remaining ingredients in 2-qt. baking dish; top with stuffing. BAKE 30 min. or until heated through.

Which she followed up with:

Home made Cheese Whiz
1 pound processed cheese, cut into small pieces
13 ounces can evaporated milk
4 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon salt Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Melt all ingredients in heavy saucepan or double boiler over medium heat. Pour into containers; let cool. Use on crackers or in recipes calling for Cheez Whiz. This recipe for Cheez Whiz serves/makes 1 lb.

Now, as far off the mark as this may seem from my usual search for food and meaning, it inspired me to write about our annual Snipe ‘n Munch. Because, the World Series is 'round the corner.

To be technical, we came up with the annual Snipe 'n Munch as a celebration of the Oscars. Actually, more of a celebrity roast of the Oscars.

And okay, we’ve only held one annual Snipe 'n Munch because we were away during this year’s Oscars (discovering ahi sandwiches in Costa Rica). But we adapted by throwing a Superbowl version before we left. We called it the Scratch ‘n Sniff.

I was going to wait until the red tide of Oscar fever came around again to write about it, but I’m feeling the need for another fall off the wagon.

Our Snipe ‘n Munch was born in the Canadian winter. We needed two things: junk food - fat and sugar - and the like-minded to bond with - over fat and sugar.

It was a reverence-free zone. Bitching at the television was mandatory (no kids allowed). Nothing beat our scrutiny – dresses, speeches, tuxes, haircuts, speeches, cleavage, speeches, and what people said.

So the snipe was obvious and abundant – but the munch was art.

We asked everyone to bring the food they’re most ashamed of.

The enthusiasm was frightening.

All these people we know and love, who are healthy eaters, came out of the pantry.

  • Cheezwhiz on celery
  • Cinnamon rolls - packaged
  • Alpha Bits as appetizers
  • Cheezies of course – have you ever set them on fire? Don’t think about that too much.
  • Chips and dip brought up the rear, if you’ll pardon the expression.
  • Jain and Andy brought the Bugles.
  • Naomi was eclectic: she brought store-made mini cupcakes with that creepy icing and sprinkles on top (chocolate and vanilla), lime chips, and a jar of gherkins.
  • Karen well, it defies the senses, almost. She made Monkey Bread. She brought Pillsbury dough cylinders, exploded them open, ripped them into chunks, piled them into a pyramid, drizzled it all with a mixture of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and baked it. It came out looking like a volcano with lumpy cinnamon lava. I’ve been near a few active volcanoes…they didn’t smell like that.
  • The pigs in a blanket came with Nic and JP - cocktail wieners, a slice of processed cheese, wrapped in a Pillsbury crescent roll and baked. Once you have the doughboy in the oven, you’re done for. Those things came out on a plate and were devoured like the tide takes a sand castle.
Almost no one let us down – except Carol who brought an extremely healthy layered veggie dip – which she defended by saying it had sour cream in it. We devoured it…but we sniped.

There was no stopping us. There was freedom in the license to eat it all. Hedonism. Pure and simple - probably hydrogenated.

We didn't care. We needed communion and comfort food in the Canadian winter. And we’ll obviously do anything to secure both. We were giddy with power - and sugar and fat.

No, there were no leftovers. And no, I can't remember who won a thing. But then, that wasn't the point.

Then this year, we planned the Scratch 'n Sniff for Super Bowl XL. And we were dwarfed, diminished, jennycraiged. This press release came through with a mere 3 days, 3 hours and 24 minutes left on the countdown-to-kickoff clock for the Super Bowl last January.

Yes there is a countdown clock on the Super Bowl website – it’s at 110 days right now. But maybe that's a lifespan clock.

The “Snack Food Association” and “Calorie Control Council” – they work together? can you imagine the meetings? – released some gargantuan facts:

Americans eat 30 million pounds of snacks on Super Bowl Sunday

· 11.2 million pounds of potato chips
· 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips
· 4.3 million pounds of pretzels
· 3.8 million pounds of popcorn
· 2.5 million pounds of nuts

The average armchair quarterback will consume 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat just from snacking (not counting any meals).

The potato chips alone will account for 27 billion calories and 1.8 billion grams of fat – which is the same as 4 million pounds of fat. That’s the equivalent of 13,000 National Football League (NFL) offensive linemen at 300 pounds each.

Who can compete with that? You Americans have to win at everything. Pass the dip.

October 13, 2006

PST Local Time

I wrote in my last post that Mark and Lauren were among my favourite home cooks. Well with months of hard work behind them (they own a boutique special effects studio - www.fusioncis.com - and have just finished the art and marketing that was part of The Guardian) they collapsed at home for a low-key Thanksgiving feast for two.

Which is great. So here's what they cooked on their low-key, do-nothing, laid-back holiday:
"Managed to groggily plod to Granville Island, buy a wee salmon and stuff it full of oysters and shallots and garlic and sauterne. Then we flopped it on a cedar plank and barbequed. That was our bright spot. We ate it with a lovely gewürztraminer (Laughing Stock, made here in BC by former stock brokers)."

Well. Now that's bon appetizing.

Salmon Totem III from http://www.northwest-art.com/NorthwestArt/WebPages/SalmonTotemIIIPage.htm

October 12, 2006

Fig Bruschetta

I’ve had a number of emails asking for this recipe, since I mentioned it as one of my five foods to try before you die. So if even one person feels they've lived a more complete life because they ate this appetizer, my work is done.
This is a recipe from Entertaining, by Donna Hay…via my friends Lauren and Mark who live in Vancouver and who have fed me so well over the years – they are my favourite kind of home gourmets: they’re adventurous, the ingredients matter, and they make it all look so easy and effortless.

I helped them make these one night for a party. I didn’t think they’d make it from the oven all the way to the platter – not with me in between.

24 thinly sliced sourdough baguette
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, halved

8 oz (250 g) blue cheese
1/3 cup (135 g or 4 ½ oz) mascarpone
1 tbsp roughly chopped Italian parsley
cracked black pepper

1 tbsp butter
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
6 figs (quartered) - I have also used pears when figs were in hibernation (and I think I'd like to winter there - sounds like a warmnation)

To make the bruschetta: Brush slices of bread with olive oil. Place under a hot grill and cook until bread is golden on both sides. When done, rub with garlic halves.

To make the filling: combine blue cheese (I used stilton), mascarpone, parsley and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To prepare the figs: Heat butter, balsamic vinegar and sugar in a frying pan over high heat. Stir and allow to simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly. Place the fig quarters in the pan a few at a time, cook for 30 seconds on each side, or until they are lightly coated. Set aside.

Spread a small amount of the blue cheese mixture on each slice of bread and top with a fig quarter. Place them under a warm, low grill until cheese starts melting.

Serve….makes 24 minus whatever slips into your mouth on the way to your guests.

Addendum: I just got word from my friend Lauren that they couldn't find fresh figs once...so they reconstituted dried figs. She wrote, "one thing I do remember is that we reconstituted them with port! Very important point. Can’t remember how long really … probably a good few hours 'til they looked all plumped up with the blood of the gods." Always good to have options that have the blood of deities.

I just read figs were probably our first crop - 11,200 years ago. Researchers found some carbonised figs at a dig in Israel earlier this year - indicating that humans grew figs before they grew wheat or barley or legumes. From the look of these carbonised figs though, I'd stick with fresh.

fig leaf picture is public domain

October 10, 2006

Cranberry Sauce

An ode to the cranberry...

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year. It's a simple harvest celebration - honoring you know...bounty, beauty, brussel sprouts.

So we honored it right - roast turkey (Fresh from the Market of the Mennonite farmers), with sausage stuffing (my Mum's), I made cornbread/sausage stuffing for glutenfreeSteve, roasted potatoes and parsnips, steamed marrow with béchamel sauce, mashed butternut squash/carrots and ginger, steamed green beans, roasted Brussels sprouts and what I wait for the opportunity to make - cranberry sauce.

I remember the first time I trod near the thought of actually making cranberry sauce and turning over a package of fresh cranberries to read the recipe on the back. I said out loud, "You're kidding right? That's it?" So I made it. And kind of swaggered as I brought it to the table like I'd just saved a life with a new surgical technique.

But then I got into it. And I discovered this recipe in Delia Smith's Christmas (a few of her volumes sit on my shelf- but this one is particular well thumbed, stained and brokebacked). I've adapted it a little but here you go. It's a sauce that also freezes well, so you can save it for Christmas, if you have any left over...but you won't...you'll start putting it on everything you can think of...just 'cause...

Cranberry Relish

450g (1lb) fresh cranberries (which is more than a bag, but I used one bag and it was fine)
Juice and rind of one large orange
1 huge tbsp fresh ginger grated or 1/2 tsp ground ginger (I've only used fresh)
4 cm (1 1/2 inch) cinnamon stick
4 cloves
75 g (3 oz) caster sugar (I used regular sugar)
2-3 tbsp port wine

I wash the cranberries and put them in a saucepan. Delia suggests you chop them in a food processor, but I have never done that. You can peel the orange with a potato peeler, then cut the peel into slivers and add them to the pot. I usually do, but this year I grated the orange peel and it was fine. Add the juice of the orange, then the ginger, the sugar, and the spices.

Bring everything up to a simmer, stir well, and cover. Let it simmer carefully for about five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the port (I use less than the recipe calls for).

Cover with plastic and let it sit in a cool area until dinner. I made mine the day before and then pulled it out to warm it up to room temperature in time for eating.

The trick here is actually finding all four cloves before you serve it. Worth the trouble.

Photo from: http://www.nps.gov/archive/lacl/plants/cranberry.htm

Tea and Me

Hard to tell us apart really. Steve says my DNA is 75% tea…when I’m on low.

This is Richard, my late brother, having tea during one of the family caravan holidays, before I was born. We were weaned on tea. I’m almost not kidding. I had a splash of tea and sugar in my bottle occasionally.(Just got word from my Mum after she read this that it wasn't actually my bottle, but rather the 6os version of the sippy cup - I apparently was stretching the truth...)

I’m quite normal, apart from an authority disorder on tea.
I’m not saying I think about tea a lot. It’s more reflex than reflection.

And it doesn’t affect me at all, until someone does it wrong - crosses the moralitea line. I mean, there are rules for a reason. No good reason, but for me, there are rules.

Tea may be as close as I come to a religion. And like the trappings of centuries of imposing buildings, asexual robes, funny hats, smelly smoke, and gruesome art, that require more faith than reason, the rules are there to control rabble rousers – in the tea world, those I call non-tealeavers.

The bag.

I converted to loose leaf tea a few years ago. Not the snotty stuff that’s expensive enough to trade on street corners at night, but regular tea (like Tetleys) – without the bag – the stuff that clogs your teapot, then your drain. Tea with attitude. Tea that goes commando.
Let’s be frank. The bag just gets in the way.

The water.

Tea demands boiling water. Not just off the boil. Not simmering. Boiling. So all those restaurants that have those evil water simmerer things, the ones with the red lever – be gone. There was a deli and coffee shop downstairs from where I once worked. Lovely, lovely people who got to know me and everyone else in the multi-storied tower. Anywhere from 3-4pm Nancy would fill up the water pot, put it on the burner, and turn it up to high. For me. Because if you pour non-boiling water into a cup of tea, the water gets foamy on top. The tea doesn ‘t steep properly, you might as well just tell me to throw it in the microwave.

The microwave.

Moving on, almost.
Another thing....tea cannot be boiled. It cannot sit on the stovetop all day and be reheated when people pop by. Yes, I've seen it.
Now...moving on.

The pot.

I have a gorgeous stainless steel pot, with a very smart filter that sits inside and is easy to remove and clean. The thinking person’s pot…whoever designed that deserves an award. It wasn’t cheap, but it was on sale. However, I see the merits of ceramic pots – the tea does shine in there. Tastes better, gets richer. But the danger of ceramic pots is that you can be seduced by the $7.99 price tag before you test it out. And you just can’t tell. You remove it from the box, approve the colour, the size, the lid, but the danger that lurks for anyone who isn’t really looking…is the spout.
I think there are workers out there making these things for pennies a day, who are frustrated joke cup manufacturers. Pouring tea from a malformed spout is like discovering politicians lie and waste your money. It looks good as you pick it up, then it dribbles onto everything between you and the cup.
And the pour is the important part – both art and science. It’s lyrical, it’s beautiful – and practical…it’s at that point you can test the strength of the steep, and retrench if it’s not ready. A fine spout is all.

The steeping.

Weak tea is a crime, surpassed only by weak, milky tea. Tea should be almost mistaken for coffee, but not gone so far as to be mistaken for varnish – if it smells like it could strip wood, it’s gone too far – tannins run amok. I call it crunchy, because it almost won’t go between your teeth.

The cup.

Nope none of that fancy cup and saucer for me, though you might be surprised. I want a mug. Although I really do prefer a bone china mug. It does seem to taste better. And no, that doesn’t really make any sense.

The milk.

This is not science. The milk for tea goes in first. The cream in coffee goes in last.

Herb tea is not tea.
Well, it might be. But I prefer the name tisane, then I can get my brain around the cranberry, blueberry, cinnamon, thrust of the hot drink on my tongue.

The biscuits.

Good for dunking. Not for too long. A dunk can turn to disgust once the biscuit disintegrates into the murky depths.

Is this a little obsessive?

You’ve probably already come to that conclusion. If you’re still reading it’s either because you are fascinated by the weird, or agree, and are trying to figure out if it’s a disorder or just a control issue.
I know we're feeding an addiction. I know it's caffeine (don't start me on decaffeinated tea). But tea means something. It means sitting down - slowing up - sipping - allowing heat and sweetness to calm us. Shall I put the kettle on indicates the termination of trauma. The distilling of disaster. The panacea of panic.

It signals comfort, warmth, love - an assurance that life has moved on. "Fancy a cup of tea?" is one of the friendliest-sounding questions in the English language.


October 09, 2006


I got an email yesterday from Michael and Jennifer, the chefs who created our wedding dinner. They wrote to tell me they're just days away from opening their brand new restaurant in Toronto called Quince.

It's just up the street from their old restaurant, Stork on the Roof...in the southern chambers of the heart of the Yonge and Eglinton area, if any of you know Toronto. They've been at it for six months and hoped to open earlier, but in the usual world of restaurant creation, they've been a tad delayed.

They invited Steve and I to their opening on October 18th. I'll catch you up later.

Happy Thanksgiving Day - to others of the Canadian persuasion!