A lesson learned

I'd first heard of Meyer lemons about a thousand years ago. It's a rough estimate, but I think I'm close enough.

It might've been through this blog or maybe this one. All I know is that there came a point in my blog-reading career where Meyer lemons were all the rage. The culinary equivalent to leg warmers or skinny jeans, if you will, only prettier and gender-neutral. But, like 50s cocktail dresses, Meyer lemons will never go out of style. I thought cantaloupe or perhaps the pomegranate or maybe even red currants might take first place in the fruit beauty pageant, but the Meyer lemon has proven herself the belle of the ball too many times to count. And like my personal line-up of stylish great beauties -- Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, and, in my opinion, Jackie O -- she's here to stay.

I should've sought out a Meyer lemon years ago. Sensing they were overrated, I never bothered. After all, regular lemons often fit the bill just fine: I love their inherent tartness, their thick citron skins, their bright acidity and aroma. But then (!) I took a trip to the Distillery District a little while ago, and had my mind thoroughly blown by a little Meyer lemon-ginger truffle at SOMA that entered the very recesses of my mind and left me speechless. And so I ate my chocolate accompanied by my words, and vowed never, ever again to let my annoyances interfere with potential culinary discoveries. The fact that many may feel compelled to write about, and endorse, a product ad nauseum is a good indicator that the item in question is worth trying, non? Perhaps this is an affirmation to live by in the new year.

Since my momentary encounter with the Meyer lemon, I've felt the compulsions. More Meyer lemon, please! I spotted a giant bag of them at Bloor Street Market, $3.99, but passed them up (why? Sometimes we have to learn the hard way.) And then (!) later on, as I browsed the aisles at Pusateri on Church, glancing at the array of fabulous olive oils and vinegars, I saw several Meyer lemons, petite and glowing, nestled in a basket by their lonesomes. It's almost as if they were sporting halos that late afternoon.

*Photo credit: asromanov
What would a Meyer lemon vinaigrette taste like? I wondered. Would it be a good thing or a very good thing?

As with many things, only time would tell, and time, she told a very nice story indeed.

Cider-poached salmon with dill,
flaked over Boston lettuce, eaten
with chopped kalamata olives, cucumber
and feta.
Meyer lemon drizzle
over the spectrum
...le sigh.

Yes, dear readers, the Meyer lemon possesses the most beautiful fragrance you've ever smelled in all your life. I want to say it shares some similarities with the tangerine, but that would do it a great injustice (with no offense to the tangerine, which is quite lovely in her own, orange-y way.) You have to smell it for yourself. Cut one open, inhale, taste. It's transformative. Perhaps I've said too much and have proceeded to annoy you with my goings-on about this fruit, but it is quite unlike a regular yellow lemon and took me entirely my surprise. It made me write poetry, friends. That's some inspiration. And so with that I wish you a very merry New Year's Eve -- best wishes, good luck, and may many a Meyer lemon skip into our lives this year, igniting several blissful surprises to run amok amongst us all.

xo, S. 


December, holiday detox, etc.

Chocolate Puddle Cookies, 03/10, Tallahassee FL

We are mid-holiday and already I'm filled entirely to the brim with happiness and gratitude. 2010 may have appeared fairly bleak at the onset, but how those concerns were repressed once the months unfolded and I got into the swing of things.

Plum Cobbler with Assorted Fruit, 02/10, Tallahassee FL
It's been a whirlwind of a year. Last December, I saw the light shows in Lakeland, FL. while sipping on coffee and catching up on television shows. I beach combed at Passe-A-Grille Beach, slurped up a creamy tomato bisque with seafood and sherry, ate bites of broiled flounder and drank potent margaritas on the rocks.

St. George Island, 02/10, FL

I celebrated New Year's Eve in style by hitting up two of my favourite Toronto spots -- The Yellow Griffin Pub in Bloor West Village and Terroni on Adelaide East by St. Lawrence Market -- and attended a terrific house party and drank a lot of red wine (a very early indication that this blog would come to feature many such episodes of my drinking a lot of red wine and writing about it.) I spent January in Amherstburg and went back to Florida for a month, drinking sparkling wine with good friends and eating such delectables as homemade BBQ ribs with two different sauces, seared tuna on plaintains topped with an avocado salsa and blood orange drizzle, and amazing creole-style shrimp with a cheese-filled potato cake.

Kim's visit to Toronto, 06/2010

It was a year of Blueberry-Ginger Cheesecake, eaten under a big tree in the Florida sun, the crisp March air whipping at our skin, and, subsequently, a year of rice and beans done several different ways while I searched for a job in the midsts of a downtrodden economy. I made a permanent move to Toronto and set up shop. I started this blog. I spent a night on my uncle's boat, drinking crisp wine in the hot air, and a day, sipping at caramel apple martinis and eating a great dinner in honour of Canada Day. I tried and fell in love with Indian food for the first time. I worked the toughest job I've ever worked (in catering) and landed my first career job (in corporate marketing/advertising). I've read some wonderful books, and have had the pleasure of meeting so many lovely people. To finish off this year, this year of lessons learned and victories gained, I can't help but count my blessings: my family is happy and healthy; I can pay all my bills and still dream of owning a pretty duvet cover; friends that are the most wonderful people a girl could ask for; a fabulous apartment; and a great job. That, dear readers, really is everything.

Ottawa, 05/2010
There was also a whirlwind trip to Ottawa, complete with great conversation, wonderful food, and terrific tour of the city by one of my favourite people. And a minor car accident. Let's try to forget about that (though, as with many unfortunate things, it makes a good story in retrospect.)
I once said I wasn't much of a soup person, but this winter has made a liar out of me. After making Cuban black bean soup (twice -- both scandalously delicious), a forgettable throw-together-in-the-crock lentil soup, a red lentil soup with potatoes and cumin, Melissa Clark's Red Lentil Soup with Lemon (twice), potato-leek soup with rosemary and roasted garlic, Richard Olney's Garlic Soup, and sweet potato soup with maple syrup and chili flakes, and broccoli cheddar soup, I can no longer claim such a title. Now I dream of a chickpea soup with cumin, of a soup au pistou with a dollop of sundried tomato pesto, of more lentil soup. My devotion by this point is rather unquestionable, non?

Griffin at the cottage on Lake Buckhorn over Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, 2010
 When you are finished with holiday celebrating -- perhaps around January 2nd? -- and require a bit of a detox, I recommend making a big pot of Melissa Clark's Red Lentil Soup with Lemon.

It's a simple soup, each flavour distinguishable from the other. The tomato paste lends depth, the lemon adds brightness, and the lentils contribute plenty of heft and volume to this hearty, filling soup. It tastes as good as it smells, and freezes well.


A soup by any other name

When winter comes to the big city in a big way -- I mean a -26°C with the wind chill kind of big way -- sometimes the best coping method is to arm yourself with two new shiny cookbooks -- Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table and Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, courtesy of the public library system -- and to listen to Kurt Elling. It's particularly helpful to whip up a batch of granola that fills your apartment with the lingering scents of ground ginger, cinnamon and brown sugar, and to sip on a cup of tea called The Skinny that came highly recommended by a co-worker, the faint smell of Indian cuisine arising from the steam.

And -- if you're particularly daring and dreamy -- the best way to arm yourself against the throes of the cold is to wait and wonder as a pot of garlic broth simmers on your stove. Truly, it will calm your worries and heal your aching body.

Remember a while back when I confessed to not being a soup person? That my experiments in the land of liquid had, generally speaking, soured my hopes of ever metamorphosing into a soup-makin' connoisseur? Dear readers, I have made several pots of soup this winter, and by and large I have liked them all. I've beat the system! Or something like that.

And then (oh, the story turns!), there was a soup named Garlic, and she was smooth, rich, indulgent, and...dissatisfying.

Dissatisfying, at least, to me.

It is the perfect restorative, regenerative soup, yes. A soup using no less than a dozen cloves of garlic is bound to wield some power. But really, despite its simplicity and lovely French techniques, it's safe to say this elegant soup is not for me. I feel okay admitting to this. It's a nice soup. It's dignified. It's the perfect companion for crusty bread or a poached egg, or both if you so please, and if I were served it anywhere but in my own house it would please me well enough. But I have realized through this season of soup-making that my soup preferences lie at either end of the spectrum -- very robust or very brothy, with no middle ground. But nevertheless, you should know this recipe, if only to tell people you are making garlic soup.

When I told people of my plans to make garlic soup, the reactions varied. "Garlic..soup?" one might ask, as if the two were very separate things that should never be mixed in equal parts (unlike French Onion Soup, which no one except for perhaps my sister second guesses) while another might respond with, "Oh, I bet that's delicious!" And still another would come around very inquisitive indeed, without an opinion either way -- just wonderment that such a thing could exist. "Hmm, garlic soup!" Like a child, I am often amused by small things.

For this recipe, I used an adaptation of Richard Olney's recipe. Julia Child also has a recipe for garlic soup which appears in Mastering the Art of French Cooking I, but the way she incorporates egg and parmesan is very different from Olney's. I think both are equally good, but it depends on what you are after. Olney's yields a creamy, rich soup, while Child's is quite brothy and uses the cheese as a garnish. If you intend on re-heating, I'd recommend Child's version, as Olney's is one soup that does not stand up to re-heating; the olive oil separates from the soup, and you end up with a soup slightly greasy in texture and aesthetically unappealing.

Now tell me a story where you made a soup that causes memories to shift and stir.



Making mayonnaise is tricky. In my experience, anything involving eggs is particularly finicky. After attempting to make mayonnaise twice, and wasting four otherwise rather terrific eggs, I've retired my mayonnaise-making -- but you know what they say about threes.

No, when making mayonnaise, you must be especially careful to drizzle in the oil oh-so-slowly. It's where I always fail (always being twice, of course.) If you don't whisk in the oil slow enough, you risk breaking the sauce altogether and on your hands you'll have a lovely bowl of thick vinaigrette. It looks pretty, but you don't want this. It is not good. Especially if you are making am ambitious potato salad with salmon and three varieties of potato. Served me right I suppose for trying to be all high-fallutin' (as my grandmother is all too fond of saying), but maybe had I succeeded in my mayo-makin' all of the potato salad would have been devoured. Instead I threw together a lemon vinaigrette and it sufficed. However, not to debase a lemon vinaigrette or anything, but it is not mayonnaise. And there is no sense messing with the long-term, loving relationship that is that between potatoes and mayonnaise. You may add balsamic vinegar, or perhaps some Dijon mayonnaise, or even a little Ranch dressing, but a potato salad without mayonnaise is so very criminal.

But what it has taught me -- making mayonnaise, not making naked salads -- is fundamental: patience is invaluable, and persistence, mandatory. And really, if you get it right, the results..? It's amazing how transcendental a bowl of homemade mayonnaise can be, in the same way that a really great beef stock can put your mind at ease and comfort your worrisome heart. Unless you are a vegetarian. I think this goes without saying, but in my line of work I have quickly learned that assumptions are dangerous weapons.

This week is best captured in vignettes: working alongside two women, filling phyllo shells with King crab and a tarragon aioli, charred corn and tiny slices of avocado, sipping sparkling wine from a styrofoam cup.

Wild mushroom risotto cakes fresh from the oven, picked right off a wooden spoon with your fingers; the mushrooms still have a bite to them.

"Tell us another story," they ask, and so I play along and spin a few tales. The room, a loft-like sort of place with exposed brick and beams, one of the windows broken. There is no heat in here and it's -5C and we shuffle around, putting our toes up against the chaffing dishes trying to keep warm. "What do you think about this?" one of them asks me as she hands over a sushi pizza. Good, I think, but more salmon is needed and less rice. She echoes the same, and we smile.

"So what got you into catering?" I ask. "We love to eat," they say, and it makes sense. There's three of them who run the business and two of the women used to write plays. Every time they got together they would talk about their next dinner destination or where they might grab a snack, and soon it escaladed to the point where they believed (naively) that catering would be perfect: they could make their own hours and cover for each other while heading to auditions and the like, and life would be grand. I don't think they realized they would be writing stories in a different way, in an oral sense, and that their art would form on platters instead of on stage, but I have no complaints. The story, as the ladies tell it, is far more elegant and whimsical than I have made it out here, but there it is. We hum along to "I Believe In Miracles" and hear the clacking of heels against the wooden floors above us, the sound like horse hooves. "Are you humdiggin'?" one woman asks the other. "Why yes, yes, I am." There is risotto cakes and sushi pizza, sparkling wine and Coca Cola, beets with goat cheese and pralines, and soon enough I am out in the cold again, trudging toward the Queen 'car with my dry cleaning.

Two women in a bookstore, browsing the cookbook section (!), drinking peppermint hot chocolate and a latte. The one thing I hate about moving from city to city is being forced to leave friends behind. You will still be friends, certainly, but the distance is difficult and the months fly by. Before you know it half a year has fluttered away and you think about visiting them constantly. It's going to take some time to really meet people here, but somehow the cold succeeds in bringing people together.

A Sunday afternoon and I take a brisk walk around the city core, making my way down Queen West and back up to Kensington Market in search of Sanagan's. People gawk and observe outside at the window display. The men who work there are fabulous to deal with and their utter transparency is impressive and refreshing. "Grass-fed stewing beef," I say when a gentleman asks what he can get for me. "Oh, I was just slicing some up right now," he answers. Perfect. It's not cheap, of course, but their prices are fair and reasonable and the quality is tops. Maybe it's the sense of intimacy perpetuated by small, local businesses in the big city, but there's a special quality to independent stores that pleases me. Maybe it's that my actions matter. And to tell you the truth, it's really charming to walk along the streets devoid of cars, to hit the pavement with my boots, and to feel as though you are stepping into another era altogether. Instantly I am brought back to my childhood when my mom would drag my sister and I to the butcher's and we'd be given pickles or a hot dog or kielbasa. The place smelled like bologna and I stared at the piles of bright red ground beef, called it spaghetti.

Skip to the evening and you'll find two people at a wooden kitchen island, drinking cheap Italian red and eating a rip-off version of Julia Child's Boef bourguinon. I would not choose to finish the stew on the stovetop impatiently instead of the oven, but I did. I also would not cook my stew for three hours and kill my meat for a second time as Julia recommends, and it just so happens I did not. Good stock is absolutely necessary. Those are my tips. It's easy to put together and it tastes damn good, and it makes me wonder how something like Boef bourguinon has been relegated to the background. This night there is maca chocolate and the sound of laughter and talk of Canadian citizenship and lyrics that go I hate you, you pain in the ass. That sounds about right; it's a song I can dance to.

And today, two women -- things come in threes, after all -- begin a phone conversation each by breaking a wine glass. A different kind of cheers, perhaps? Over the phone we whine about losing another wine glass yet again, and this is why I buy cheap glassware. It was only a matter of time. And it's only a matter of time until another one bites the dust.


A quick (humble) note

Hello dear readers.

You've all been mighty kind to this one.

This is not a plea. But if you like what you see here on Aubergine, or perhaps a little of what you see here, please consider nominating this blog for one of the categories in this year's Canadian Food Blog Awards hosted by the fine people over at Beer and Butter Tarts

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for your readership and support.

Over and out,

A beet to beat

When was the last time you evaluated your beet relationship? I conduct a yearly performance review, and I have to confess: the vegetable does pretty well in my many rounds of testing despite being socially inept. You can't ace everything. This turns out to be A-ok, as I have a special place in my heart for wallflowers, especially those who come dressed to party -- how Rainbow Brite-esque beets are!

Maybe you've never tried a beet because you've been warned that they are absolutely dreadful, or perhaps you love them and eat as much borscht and beet hummus as you can get your spindly fingers on. I have to say, I grew up believing beets came in one format: pickles. Bright, fuschia pieces in mason jars forked on glass plates for special dinners. Although I knew pickles and cucumbers were one in the same, I never gave much thought to beets. Beets only came in pickle form, no? I liked them well enough I suppose, but perhaps only because no one was ever there to provide contradictory information. Oh, beets! someone might say, and so I grew up believing beets were in fact a good thing, like dill pickles or olives. Had I known the reality, I might have crossed them off my to-do list a long, long time ago and that would have been the end of it. But as it came to pass, I fell in like, and never gave another thought to it. I liked pickled beets, and it was decided that this was good.

My mom never cooked with them otherwise and I didn't have much exposure to them until my first year of grad school, when I spotted them at the farmer's market, breathed a sigh, and embraced it: beets. Yes.

Beets can be a real pain in the rear. Unlike Montmorency cherries or blood oranges or just about anything else on this site, I'm not about to wax on about the wonders of beets. They're usually filthy things, covered in mud, and take foooo-re-ver to fully cook. Yes, that long -- foooo-re-ver. They also have a tendency to dye just about anything in their wake a beautiful purple, which is generally lovely but is sometimes hell to a dishwasher (you're looking at her.) Often beets are paired with goat cheese, which is nice but, I think, overdone, and sometimes they are pureed and made into a pasta sauce. I've seen them used to make red velvet cupcakes naturally, and certainly they are tasty if prepared properly, but my favourite way is in a salad. Yes, a salad. And my favourite beet -- oh, the varieties! -- is the baby candy cane. She's a heartbreaker who'll make your heart skip a...do I really need to finish this sentence? This is probably why beets are real loners: they inspire people to say the corniest things, really, they do. I can't be held accountable for any tacky lines that escape my lips in the days to follow. I'm warning you now, so take note to avoid me. Unless you come bringing blood oranges. Then by all means, stop on by and I'll find it in me to keep a tight lid on my beet-tipped talk.

It was a productive Monday night when this slaw came to mind, and what a slaw it is. It's beautiful and refreshing, and tastes nothing of bland winter vegetables. It is the salad for beet-lovers and beet-haters alike, those who embrace the changing seasons or curse the sub-below temperatures and ache for spring. Trust me that if you hum "Beat it, just beat it" as you grate the vegetables, your salad basically makes itself. Its beautiful stripes, the red and the orange exterior, and the very sweet, mild-tasting flesh -- the beet make an excellent contribution to this recipe. I'm eating a bowl of this salad accompanied by a sizzlin' hot bowl of sweet potato and red lentil soup for lunch this week. You could do the same and we could be twins -- twins with orange insides, if anyone were to open us up and examine us, give our organs a performance review.

Autumn Slaw

Yields about 8 servings

1/2 celery root, peeled and grated
6 candy cane beets (about 1lb), washed well and grated
2 pears, grated
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Feta cheese (optional)

1/4 - 1/2 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 - 1/2 cup walnut oil (or substitute a fruity extra-virgin olive oil)
Salt, to taste

Combine celery root, beets, pears, pumpkin seeds and walnuts in a bowl and toss with a fork to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk vinegar with oil to emulsify and salt to taste. How much oil and vinegar you use will depend on personal preference, but for reference I used 1/2 cup vinegar to 1/4 cup oil. My vinegar is also particularly sweet and tart, and I happen to enjoy acidic dresings, so you might prefer a 50/50 ratio.

Garnish with feta, if desired.


"There is a town in north Ontario / With dream comfort memory to spare..."

I'm not the first to say this, but I have no idea where November went. Hello December -- I can hear you whispering among the willows.

The first snow came as I walked down a beautiful city street, fall leaves still attached to their branches. Ahh, Canada; it turns out I missed you something serious! I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but I... might like this thing called winter.

Yeah, I still can't believe it. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm hardcore about summer. But winter inspires bundling under blankets and hot apple cider with a capful of Captain Morgan's spiced rum, sitting by a roaring fire and making mulled wine. It means evenings spent reading and listening to K. D. Lang talk about being helpless, and sitting back on your sofa, reflecting, feeling fortunate about the way the months have unfolded. Who knows how many wrong turns we narrowly avoided.

But still, no blood oranges. They are December babies, after all. So I wait. I wait for blood oranges, and blood orange and jalapeno margaritas, and blood orange juice, extremely orange and tart.

Farmer's markets packed with kale, with spinach, with celery root, with candy beets that really know how to help a salad take centre stage. Clementines that taste so sweet, juice dribbling down your chin as you tuck into another section. Pears the shade of green the grass takes when you first see it in the springtime, signalling, however subtle, a new season, and leeks as big as a child's arm. We are fat and happy around here as we decorate the office tree, exchanging inappropriate stories while we let the tea steep. If you're going to take a break between frantic e-mails and drawn out phone conversations, you better make it a good time.

Yes, winter, maybe I've come around to you. Strolling through Toronto streets in my boots, jeans tucked in. Waking up to a giant mug of coffee the size of my head -- a really fantastic cup, I should say -- and buckwheat crepes filled lightly with cheese and topped with sunny side up eggs, sprinkled with paprika, and chicken bacon. The crepes are so good and buttery tasting that my tastebuds can't help but sit up and dance. The flavour isn't nutty, but soft and flavourful. I need that recipe and someday someone's going to surrender it to me. But in the meantime I'll dream about that crepe and about the Christmas holidays, and wait for blood oranges.

What are you waiting for, dear readers? Or maybe you're just enjoying things as they are, which is perfectly acceptable, too. Let me tell you: I've got my eyes on those pears.

Do yourself a favour and dance while you cook. Tonight there is a batch of soup simmering on the stove, and "2 Scoops" by Michelle Harding coming from my television, and hey! another Monday under our belts. We're a day closer to blood oranges, to a new year, to a good night's sleep. Winter -- I've got you figured out.

*Entry title courtesy of Neil Young, "Helpless"


Live to eat

Socrates said, "Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat" while British author Henry Fielding contended that "We must eat to live and live to eat," a diplomatic line if ever one was uttered. 

Unsurprisingly, I was frequently reminded while growing up that I live to eat.

By virtue of this blog, I'd say that fact is self-evident, though I'd like to add that eating to live and living to eat have become one in the same for me. How we've become so Puritanical about food and eating is beyond me.

For a moment, imagine you're sitting at a rustic dining table in Italy overlooking the vineyards, sipping on wine and eating artichokes dipped in Hollandaise sauce. Fathom a bowl of fresh pasta in front of you, tossed in homemade tomato sauce, a block of the good parmesan beside you. Imagine eating a light but satisfying breakfast at a cafe in France, sipping on a mug of pressed coffee, your day ahead of you. Imagine chocolate that tastes so good you can't speak, can't listen, can't do anything but taste -- it's that good. Imagine a weekend so full of laughter, of good food, that you don't mind when Monday rolls around. Imagine doing it again.

While one of my co-workers is busy planning a getaway vacation for next year, I'm preoccupied with plotting my next great meal. Our Lady Peace, with all due respect, was incorrect -- happiness is a fish you can catch, preferably a large wild salmon set to bake in the oven on a cedar plank and coated in real maple syrup.

I trekked to the Dufferin Farmer's Market last Thursday and though was rather underwhelmed, I was mighty impressed by the carrots and onions I bought there. I have to say, there is nothing like a fresh carrot. There is nothing like fresh produce. In its ideal form, it's addictive and delicious and tastes strongly of itself. Some of the carrots were added to a spicy red lentil and cumin soup I whipped up on the fly Sunday evening for this week's series of dinners. Many of them will contribute to a sweet potato and lentil soup planned for next week. Yes, I plan out my meals a week in advance. Some take their work very seriously. Others are very serious about technology. I, dear readers, am very serious about my meals. Priorities, I say!

As we enter the holiday season, food takes front and center stage. At last.

I'm quickly falling in love with smoked paprika, and I've seen roasted cinnamon, oh yes I have. I'm drinking my hot apple cider and my ginger tea, and I'm keeping my eye on LCBO's Spinelli stock to ensure there'll always be a bottle waiting for me. That is to say when I'm not busy gulping down Viewpointe's Cuvée, one of my absolute favourite wines. Ever. Yes, I said it. Ever.

Friday I was was taken for a short tour around the Entertainment District, the first time I've been there late to experience a full downtown catastrophe first-hand. I was taken for a Spanish-style supper -- 10:30pm -- at Grindhouse, a joint that serves up respectable burgers slathered with very lovely chipotle-laced ketchup, made in-house. I have to confess I'm not much for ketchup; I find it far too syrupy-sweet, something I leave to the times I want to bite into a piece of nostalgia. But this ketchup was probably the most impressive thing about the restaurant. And the fact that they carry Boylan's soda pop. If the Ethiopian proverb states that those who eat from the same plate will never betray each other, those who toast to the future, each holding a bottle of Boylans, are sure to have a good meal. Good rootbeer never lies.

Saturday afternoon united a famished young woman (me) with The Burger Bar on Augusta and several great, gorgeous girls from Humber's 2009 Creative Book Publishing programme. It's a diner sort of place. Maybe it's the newspaper-covered tables, or the old photographs, or the pretty servers dressed in vintage garb. Maybe it's that they serve their bourbon sours (with homemade sour mix) in mason jars, and offer up great burgers on the best gluten-free buns I believe this city has to offer. Either way, the place is wickedly charming and perfectly suited to Kensington Market. They even offer a 50/50 fry option -- half conventional fries and half sweet potato fries. For the indecisive among us, or those who want more than anything to have their cake and eat it, too -- *cough* -- it's perfect. It's even more perfect when you pair it with a memorable coffee experience in Kensington Market, vintage shopping, Queen West store-browsing, and a tree-lighting ceremony at Dundas Square, where we almost froze in our boots.

And then, on Sunday, just when you thought two burgers wasn't enough for one week, I went ahead and conjured up a little more magic. Because good things come in threes, non?

A chocolate cake, courtesy of Bob's Red Mill, filled with cocoa nibs, topped with cream cheese icing and garnished with frosted cranberries.

Butternut squash risotto with sage and creole shrimp. I bought the squash at the St. Lawrence North Market a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I did. With the slightest bit of pressure the squash opened, unleashing its fragrance. It was bright orange, the colour of a good carrot.

And a Greek salad with what might be the best (!) salad (!) dressing (!) I've ever had. In my life. Phew. I'm not sure I can handle all of these hefty declarations!

I'll take my life with a side of mashed potatoes, thanks.And in the meantime, I'll be dreaming of chana masala, of Richard Olney's garlic soup, of a sandwich with double smoked bacon and avocado, of buckwheat crepes filled with cooked apples and drizzled with gently sweetened Greek yogurt.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage & Creole-Spiced Shrimp


Yields 6 meal-size portions

1/2 large butternut squash
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 celery ribs, very finely chopped
1/2 large onion or 2 cooking onions, finely chopped
1.5 cups Arborio (risotto) rice
1/2 cup dry white wine*
4-5 cups good-quality chicken stock, preferably homemade*
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped, plus more for garnish if desired
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt, to taste

For the squash:

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Slice open the squash length-wise and scoop out the seeds (reserve them to toast later!) Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until the flesh is very tender. Set aside. Once cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and break squash into large chunks with your hands or a knife. Puree with a little olive oil in a food processor or blender, and start on your risotto.

For the risotto

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (ideally a Dutch oven), heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. As the celery and onion cook, heat your chicken stock in a separate saucepan over medium heat. This is done so that the chicken stock, when added, doesn't lower the temperature of your rice.

Try not to burn the onion (like I might have.) Add rice and toss to coat with butter/oil. Quickly add wine; it will sizzle. Once it evaporates, begin ladling in the chicken stock one scoop at a time, stirring your rice repeatedly to help with absorption and to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Continue until rice is cooked and/or the stock is gone, about 20-25 minutes. You can tell the rice is finished when it doubles in size and turns bright white, though tasting as you go will help with this; ideally, you want the rice to retain some bite. Add your pureed squash, cheese, and sage. Mix thoroughly to combine. Taste, and salt accordingly.

*I use an inexpensive wine for risotto -- my standby is Colli Albani, which retails for about $8 per 1L bottle. If you don't drink or you don't drink white wine, seek out the smaller bottles. Some are sold in 4-packs, perfect for cooking. You can also opt to skip the wine altogether, though I wouldn't personally recommend it.

Creole Seasoning
Adapted from Kevin at Closet Cooking

(Yields enough to coat about 1lb - 1.5lbs of shrimp)

2.5 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme

Combine all ingredients together.


Toss shrimp with Creole seasoning and let stand (covered in the refrigerator) for 1-3 hours. Add a little oil in a grill pan over medium heat and cook shrimp, about 2 minutes per side, until opaque.


We remember

Having a day off in the middle of the week is nothing short of luxurious -- a walk down Bloor, the Holt Renfrew window displays already set up for Christmas. 2010 is almost over. I'm relieved in a way, but sad, too. This year has been split right down the middle, one side revealing heads and the other tales. A little girl walked behind me with her father tonight and debated whether it was raining or snowing. "It's snowing," she said. "Raining," he said. "Snow and rain," she said. "Snow with rain," he responded playfully. That sounds about right.

No, I relaxed on Remembrance Day. I sipped on peach juice as though I were eight years old, debating over bath towels. Peach juice reminds me of being at Colasanti, cider doughnut in one hand and peach juice in the other, apple picking in the fall. It has that kind of power, so be weary next time you opt for it. I heard they no longer make those doughnuts, and the peach juice is likely too sweet, but it makes me smile wide anyway. I bought a head of butter lettuce at my neighbourhood grocer and stared at a package of dried cherries for longer than was necessary wondering if it would be a very good idea to add them to my morning granola (delectable) or a very, very bad idea (another expensive staple to add to my increasing list of so-called must-haves.) I passed, but it seems nothing is ever too extravagant when it comes to breakfast around these parts, so don't be surprised if you find me spooning some into my cereal on some lofty morning. Local wild blossom honey? Fresh pecans? Cocoa nibs? Roasted ground cinnamon? The good yogurt? Whatever it takes to beck and call me out of bed at 7am makes me weak in the knees (and quick with the hands.)

I digress.

Despite enjoying Thursday -- both gorgeous and turbulent -- I've struggled with writing this post. Anything I have to say regarding Remembrance Day sounds forced and ultimately pretty trite. All I can do is tell you that it means something to me that it might not to someone else. When I see someone standing with a tray of poppies, my heart skips a beat and there I am, handing over a five spot. It means something that men and women died, that people went off to territory unknown and did so voluntarily or involuntarily, in defense of something as amorphous as freedom. And so I listened to Amos Lee and went for long walks and generally reflected in that way that keeps you up at night. It's that time again, between Halloween and Christmas, fully ambivalent. Not quite autumn anymore and not quite winter. It's a good time to go nostalgic, as far as I can tell.

I went back to my hometown this weekend in celebration of what would have been my great-grandmother's 100th birthday. I was six when she died, and don't remember much of her, but I do recall my mother dropping off her groceries with my sister and I in tow. There was never a shortage of jelly beans. I ate the orange and yellow ones as she doused her TV dinner in salt before tucking in, and she tried to convince me how great the black ones were. Now I'm the one eating black jelly beans.

In November, there are things to remember and memories to be made. We sat around the dinner table -- more of us around that table than there have been in years -- and ate like champs. Some of us drank like champs, too, but I, dear readers, was not one of those unlucky individuals who nursed hangovers the following day and forcefully denied it.

Walking through a graveyard, at least for me, means digging up bones and searching for ghosts. But in a way we're all still together around that table, except that some of us tread a little lighter and kindly leave the wine for the rest of us to imbibe. 

Perhaps one of those graves is that of a little girl you never really got to know. When mentioned, it moves someone to tell you a story, one that you keep to yourself because it's one of those intimate stories so powerful it doesn't require repeating. But I can say that little girl is the prettiest of those ghosts because those still with us speak of her with a level of beautiful, heart-wrenching care and adoration you'd think stretches far beyond the human potential to love. And because they cannot remember us, we will remember for all of them.

Because I'm of a rye-drinking clan -- how Canadian! -- I'm handing over a classic recipe. The other is an old-timey kind of dessert that's been tinkered with, one that's simple and comforting -- two words totally necessary at this time of year.

Rye and Ginger

Yields 1 drink

1.5oz (rye) whisky
3oz gingerale (preferably made with cane sugar)
Lime wedge
Dash of bitters (optional)

Pour whiskey and gingerale over ice in a rocks or highball glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Bananas and Milk

Serves 1

1 frozen banana, sliced prior to freezing
Splash of milk

Combine banana and milk in a food processor or blender, and pulse until the banana takes on the look and mouthfeel of soft serve ice cream. Eat or serve immediately, garnished with nuts if desired.


Have a cookie

Some people debate the end of the world. Others worry about the state of our economy.

I, on the other hand? I think I'll have another cookie.

At least for now. Tomorow begs for seriousness. As for tonight: hold on to your hats, folks and frolickers, and consider the last time you ate a really good cookie. What was it?

When the living wears you thin, sometimes there's nothing else to do but sigh, listen to Michael Franti's "Sound of Sunshine" (or what have you) and hope for the best. This sometimes works. You could always try holding a costume party ala Elton John. That could get interesting. Or you could bake a batch of these gems, crispy yet tender, some sort of chip-cookie mutation gone oddly... right.

I'm not much of a cookie person, really. Actually, I should rephrase that. I wasn't much of a cookie person. But these cookies? They're the sexiest of the sexy cookies. While I still can't put back an entire batch by my lonesome, I do have officemates. Fortunately for me, people are generally quite receptive to homemade cookies, and -- you can quote me on this -- no such cookie will go to waste on my watch. That's a promise I can uphold, and I take my promises very, very seriously indeed. Especially concerning items of the chocolate variety. 

Most of the time, I live on pretty simple fare. An egg here, some rice noodles here. Cooking for more than one, in my experience, is both a tiresome responsibility and a luxury, a fuse lit equally with obligation and joy. But cooking for one leaves enough to be desired as you find yourself plowing through another night's worth of leftovers or in the dark at 8pm, contemplating whether air-popped popcorn counts as dinner if you drizzle olive oil on it and eat a bowl of lettuce on the side. Suffice to say, I appreciate that I'm now able to dabble on the sweet side whenever I fancy, to turn over a cookie here or a tart there and place them oh-so-innocently on the kitchen counter of my office. It's a way to experiment without feeling bogged down, to try something new without committing to an entire batch. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

I first made these cookies on a cool night in Florida. Yes -- Northern Florida does cool off significantly, contrary to popular opinion. My good friend Kim was on her way over for dinner. The menu sounded reasonable enough: chicken with lemon and roasted garlic, quinoa salad with a tahini dressing, vegetables, wine. For dessert, I opted to make something other than my standard 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies and stumbled on these. I wasn't sure what to think initially. Everyone in the blogosphere raved about them, these alleged chocolate puddle cookies, but they looked pretty generic to me.

After the first batch had cooled, I popped one in my mouth. Let's just say I have been eating my thoughts (and the damn cookies) ever since. It was an epic fail of a dinner that evening; my chicken, a cheap thing from Winn-Dixie, disappointed. I refer to it as the strangest bird I've ever cooked, because it sat in the oven for almost two hours and yet was still undercooked. Odd. (And no, there was nothing wrong with the oven.)

The quinoa salad was a flop, and so baked potatoes were served (always good).

The vegetables, well. There's not much to say about them.

But that night, we watched Olympic figure skating, drank some wine, ate some cheese, and devoured these cookies. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say the cookies saved the day. After all, Kim is still my friend -- this is saying a lot considering I tried to poison the girl with bad poultry. She's a good sport. She also has fantastic taste in cheese (and food), and it's been my experience that these types of people are both rare and good to keep around. Especially in the event they insist on leaving Brie at your place.

I didn't have walnuts or cocoa nibs on hand during that initial batch, and I have to say, these things change a cookie. They turn a pretty damn good cookie into a pretty damn great cookie, as a matter of fact. My favourite variation of this recipe is Molly Wizenberg's, unsurprisingly, mostly because it incorporates cocoa nibs (always good) and secondly because the yield is on the smaller side as far as cookies go. Which you may or may not like, depending on whether you find yourself back in the kitchen baking up another batch within days because someone has gone and eaten them all. This is known to happen; don't say you weren't warned.

So if you find yourself alone in your kitchen on a Monday night, feeling a little down without reason, anxious to hold future dinner parties, anxious for the future, anxious for the end of the world, have a cookie.

And make it a pretty damn great one: a cookie you can sink your teeth into, that you can chew on, that coats your mouth with cocoa, that leaves you happier with every bite.

Check out Molly's recipe here.


The kind of week

Last Saturday, I bundled up and headed over to the Brick Works Farmer's Market. I don't recall whether this is true or not, but my memory says it was a lovely day, and so it was. I walked all the way to Greektown and took the shuttle bus up by Bridle Path. I have to say, it was quite the experience: I have never seen produce look so beautiful in all my life. That's saying something coming from a girl who grew up in the county. When I handed a five spot over to the man who sold me my sweet potatoes, he said "Red or white?" I'd never heard of white sweet potatoes before. Purple, yes; they're plentiful at most of the Asian markets in Chinatown. But never white.

Have you heard of rainbow-striped radishes? Did you know there are at least three varieties of baby spinach, and likely far more? I bought a pound of mixed kale, red and green and lacinato from a shy woman with blonde hair. Apples were piled high on three long tables at the back of the room, and I stopped in and snagged a litre of real apple cider -- you know, not overly sweet, still tasting of the orchard -- from two little boys who tried, with their best sales tactics, to get me to buy two. "Sorry boys, it's just me," I said.

A trip to the market is expensive; I looked down into my grocery bag and could barely believe what I'd paid. But what I bought can't be found at the supermarket. Mostly, I get stress at the grocery store. I get stress and anxiety and frustration. The aisles at downtown supermarkets are narrow and cramped. I can never find what I'm looking for, or they simply don't carry it (smoked paprika, cocoa powder), or the item isn't worth buying (drowned and rotting Romaine, overripe avocadoes). Heading to the market is an event. It makes sense, even if it isn't a bargain.
A Frenchman who runs Bee's Universe sells honey (evidently), rabbit and eggs. I know the combination sounds odd, but he does.
"People, you know, they don't want to buy rabbit. They think bunny bunny, but it's good. It's good in stews," he said.
"I'll make a note of it," I answered as I pushed my eggs to the bottom of the bag.
They are the best eggs I've ever eaten, the yolks thick and rich and full of flavour. I don't know about the rabbit -- maybe he's right -- but he was on the nose with those eggs.

There's the owner of an artisanal cheese operation, and another who sells half-decent gluten-free breads. It was really something. And the sweet potatoes? They were thrown in a stew with spicy sausage and spinach, and sweetened the broth ever so slightly. They were, for the record, the creamiest sweet potatoes I've ever tasted. We eat because we have to, and often forget how good things can taste all on their own. A little sea salt and a drizzle of good olive oil helps, certainly, but if something sings all on its own...that's magic, folks. The man who sold me my sweet potatoes had a sign saying, "Remember how good food used to taste?" or something of that description, and it was so apropos. I don't remember -- I grew up during industrialized times -- but I can well imagine.

It's been a good week. It's the kind of week where you sport your favourite little black belted dress mid-week, the one with the cowl neck you found for a steal last year at Ann Taylor in Michigan, and are met at lunch by a mysterious man on a secret mission. You spot each other in front of Scaccia, an Italian eatery, and hang out for a few minutes to appear perfectly covert. He encourages you to hide the evidence (kale caraway bread -- shh) as you return to your cubicle, everyone unsuspecting. No one notices. While he is in fact perfectly sane, this dress in particular inspires him to compare you to the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, which causes you to blush all day long as though you were sixteen all over again and were just told that so-and-so thinks your kilt is pretty swell. Not so becoming for a very serious and sophisticated Marketing Coordinator, I should think, or rather an undercover spy (fortunately I've since recovered, though the Malbec I'm currently sipping on is inspiring its own particular brand of redness.) This man has been scorned for inappropriate conduct, rest assured. We can't have spies throwing their colleagues off missions, now can we? It's in our collective best interest to remain on guard at all times.

It's the kind of week that brings mushrooms baked in balsamic vinegar, and corn pasta tossed with a velvety tomato sauce, garnished with peppercress and parmesan cheese. 

It's the kind of week that sees to it that you have an espresso and ricotta cheesecake with a walnut crust on a Monday. It's the kind of week that is hectic, but makes you feel as though you are on the top of the world: finally, work feels familiar. It's the kind of week that requires Big Band music and ensures that you master knitting after all and the kind of week that gets in the way of your reading. It's the kind of week that interrupts the responses you are trying to write to your friends, and informs you you're lucky to even have friends, considering how busy you have been between trying to keep on top of things, working a full-time job, working a part-time job, and everything else in between.  It makes sure you laugh a lot. It makes sure you smile a lot. Probably more than is healthy.

It's been a chilly week in the city. This is for certain. But I skip and I jump and I leap. I sense it has something to do with the sweet potatoes, but I can't be sure. That goat cheese sure gives those potatoes a run for their money.

 Sweet Potato, Sausage and Spinach Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yields 4-5 bowls

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 1lb each)
1lb new potatoes, peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
6 cups (1.5 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth (I used Pacific)
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sausage links (I used hot Italian, but chorizo would make a fine choice)
9oz fresh baby spinach, washed well and spun dry
1 tbsp lemon juice or wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as needed

In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, brown and cook the sausage over medium-high; set aside to drain. In the same pot, add oil if necessary and heat onion and garlic until softened and fragrant. Add chicken stock, sweet potatoes and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, mash part of the potatoes to thicken the broth and to balance the consistency. Add sausage, spinach, lemon juice or wine vinegar and cook for an additional 15 minutes to allow the flavours to co-mingle and the spinach to grow tender. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve with crusty bread, if desired, to soak up the broth.


For consideration

"Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history. In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify consumption of tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it's cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, hormone-free dairy, and such. Whether on school boards or in families, budget keepers may be aware of the health tradeoff but still feel compelled to economize on food -- in a manner that would be utterly unacceptable if the health risk involved an unsafe family vehicle or a plume of benzene running through a school basement.

It's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled drinking water, for example, even though water runs from the faucets at home for a fraction of the cost, and government quality standards are stricter for tap water than for bottled. At any income level, we can be relied upon for categorically unnecessary purchases: portable-earplug music instead of the radio; extra-fast Internet for leisure use; heavy vehicles to transport light loads; name-brand clothing instead of plainer gear. "Economizing," as applied to clothing, generally means looking for discount name brands instead of wearing last year's clothes again..."

"Buying your goods from local businesses rather than national chains generates about three times as much money for your local economy. Studies from all over the country agree on that, even while consumers keep buying at chain stores, and fretting that the downtown blocks of cute mom-and-pop venues are turning into a ghost town. Today's bargain always seems to matter more."

-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


A tale of too spicy

I don't know when it was that I decided I liked spicy food, but I suspect it had something to do with Buffalo wings. I have to say, a good Buffalo wing is hard to pass up.

Now, there's no recipe for Buffalo wings here, so don't get your hopes up. I know. I'm sorry. I did spot a pretty promising one in Bobby Flay's recent release, Throwdown: More Than 100 Recipes from Food Network's Ultimate Cooking Challenge, however. If you happen to be in the market for a Buffalo wings recipe.

My father has always liked hot food. Food so hot sweat trickles down your face, even in the dead of a Canadian winter. Like father like daughter, I gradually followed suit. I keep two hot sauces at minimum in my refrigerator at all times; pickled jalapeñoes and canned chipotles in adobo are staples of mine; and when I get it, my pizza is usually covered in chili flakes (and more hot peppers, of course.) I keep cayenne and hot paprika at the ready. I realize most of my obsessions are of the fickle variety -- I might be tempted by a celery root here or a fennel bulb there, a pile of raspberries in the summer or a couple blood oranges toward the holiday season -- but my love of all things lip-burning, tongue-tingling? I think it's getting serious.

Down the street from my first apartment is a terrific Vietnamese place. The owner, one of the sweetest men you'll ever meet, makes it his mission to know all of his diners. If I ever make it there again, I know he'll pop over to my table and say in his broken English, "Where've you been?" as he hands me my order, a bowl of rice vermicelli with chargrilled pork, stuffed to the brim with gently pickled vegetables and fresh mint. It's too much for one person to eat, really, but sometimes you might gobble it up gratefully anyway, stuffing yourself silly, and the fact that it costs $7 might make you do a happy dance and repeat the whole thing over the following week. On one day in particular, the man walked by my table and peered down at my bowl. "Wow," he said, "you like it spicy?" The bowl was bright orange from all of the sriracha I'd drizzled in.

"I think you've lost your tastebuds," my roommate declared. For a long while, I thought she was right. There was a point in time I even infused tequila with fresh, hot jalapeñoes from Florida and shot back that concoction like nobody's business.

But this weekend, when I tried my hand at replicating my favourite Vietnamese meal (epic fail)...something mysterious occurred.

I dove into my bowl, ravenous and excited, and...sweat. My tongue...on fire. It was so hot, I actually started crying. So hot, in fact, that whenever I went to breathe, my tongue instantly blew up in flames. It was an inferno of a bowl. My mind flipped back to that episode of Sex and the City when Miranda becomes paranoid that she'll die alone and be eaten by her cat. Except that I wondered if I in turn might die of too much hot sauce and disintegrate like a stabbed vampire from Buffy.

The thing nobody tells you is that if you keep a bottle of sriracha sauce in your refrigerator for five months, it will get hotter. And hotter. And hotter.

So it makes sense that when I told my father about this incident, he responded with, "Sounds about right. I had the hottest horseradish the other night..."

Old habits die hard. Something tells me that thoughts of burning alive aren't enough to keep me away from hot sauce...at least, not for long.


The other shoe

Maybe you're the type of person who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Such standing convictions take a certain degree of pessimism, I'd say. And, as sunny a disposition as I have, I must confess I've succumbed to that line of thinking several times in recent memory.

I don't know why I felt uneasy all last week. Maybe it's the fact that I went half the week without wine. That could be it. Sometimes I let my neuroses get the better of me. Sometimes I get so excited and happy about life that I fear the rug will be pulled out from under me as I yell, "No, no, but everything was going so well! I don't need to win the lottery! I don't even need that cookbook I've been eyeing..." and so it goes.

The other shoe certainly dropped on Saturday as I found myself standing in the middle of a streetcar somewhere around Dundas and Spadina, cursing the driver and the zombie walk and the Gardiner closing and everything else that was making me very late for work, and, spontaneously, hopped out into the pouring rain with two strangers, running for blocks until I found a cab to hail to get me to my gig and the others to their destination. As I ran as fast as my legs would go into the building, I thought -- well, hello other shoe! There you are! What GREAT timing you have! I was breathless and panicked and fifteen minutes late, but all turned out fine. I even managed to redeem myself (though only after I accidentally poured hot coffee down the back of a woman's chair/designer dress and had to fanagle her a new chair. Alas. Other shoe, I say!) But the point is, sometimes stuff happens. You do what you have to do. And then you eat dog food for dinner -- almost literally, since we were fed hamburger patties topped with a watery jus, undercooked onions and overcooked mushrooms, and some sweet scalloped potato thing I didn't dare go near. I thought of skipping dinner. It was ten in the evening, I wasn't hungry, and the guests got plump garlic shrimp served with Hollandaise sauce, apparently for the sole purpose of taunting me. But seemingly out of nowhere, I had thoughts of my mother yelling at me for not eating enough. I heaved a sigh and tucked in. Well, as much as one can tuck into a hamburger trying to pass itself off as Salisbury steak. Some things, like a fake Chanel bag, just don't make sense.

Eventually someone will meet you on Bloor and you will surprise them. You'll walk down to Bar Mercurio, have the door opened for you, and face a large man with a white apron who shuffles two bar stools together and gestures for you to sit. A bartender with crazy blonde hair holds out her hand and introduces herself, and you smile back. Suddenly you are sipping on an Espressotini, some kind of Toronto-Italian hybrid of a cocktail that tastes like liquid gold and might as well be. Dean Martin croons from the radio as you wiggle your toes inside your Birkenstock clogs and adjust your glasses. That's the thing. Eventually all fantasies give way to reality. Screw it, you think. Take me as I am and all of that business. If the other shoe's going to drop again and muck up my good fortune, so be it.

Espressotini (or as close as I can get to the recipe without begging)
From Endless Coffee Break

Yields 1 high-voltage martini

2oz espresso (room temperature)
2.5oz vanilla vodka
1oz Godiva Cappuccino Liqueur or Kahlua

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all ingredients. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with coffee beans, if desired. 


Exhaling at the farmer's market on a Saturday afternoon

I happen to adore poblano peppers. There, I've said it. Judging by my entries here, one might come to the conclusion that I in fact love everything, but that would be a mistake. I do like most things; I'd like to think that's part of my charm (contrary to popular opinion, I can turn on the charm like a champ when necessary.) However, I've never quite come around to cauliflower (sorry), though I have a couple recipes earmarked that might change my mind -- one with cinnamon and cocoa, and another a gratin from a restaurant, if you must know -- and I'm not big on persimmon or papaya (no apologies here.) Horror of horrors, I'm not fond of ripe tomatoes, and I'm convinced I'm allergic to pineapple.

And, to be honest, as much as I love food, I hate that grocery shopping is often an all-day affair around here. Part of it is because I rely on public transportation, or more accurately, my legs. I walk everywhere. Secondly, I'm finicky.

Quite frankly, the number of choices available and the lack of information we're provided with in North America about where our food comes from stresses me out. As the newspapers roll out article after article about local eating and statistics of people wanting to know where their food comes from, or as I pick up a couple t-shirts at a store and find many labels now read 'Made in Canada' instead of Taiwan or China, I know I'm not alone in my anxiety.

 I stand in front of the eggs for a solid five minutes debating which of the cartons is the lesser evil, though I try to make it out to the butcher on Queen West that sells organic eggs or to one of the authentic farmer's markets that actually sell real organic ones. I am particular about the little meat I do buy, and subsequently about my meat-based stocks. I prefer to support local farmers by purchasing my produce directly from them. This adds up to a lot of headaches, as you may imagine, and it's not for everyone. It's never my intention to corner anyone, but this is my reality, and as our choices become increasingly limited by agribusiness and factory farming, it may at some point become yours as well. But on this weekend, lo and behold, I came across several wooden boxes of poblano peppers, littered over a long table with a homemade sign blowing in the wind. I breathed. You can only live your politics so much before they impede on the living part.

...Back to our scheduled programming. 

The first time I ate a poblano pepper was at a Mexican restaurant in Tallahassee. I'm not saying the restaurant is particularly good. It's not. They do make decent top shelf margaritas, though, and on this particular night, I hopped on over there and shared a plate of Chiles Rellenos over a margarita the size of my head. Suffice to say, those Chiles were very fine indeed.

All humour aside, poblano peppers are lovely. On one trip to Plant City, I picked several up at the farmer's market and returned to stuff them with pinto beans mashed with salsa. They were terrific just like that. A good poblano doesn't require much else.

I spent this past Sunday performing a veritable cook-a-thon, stocking up for the week. Out came a batch of granola; Molly Wizenberg's celery root, apple and fennel salad dressed with a halzenut vinaigrette; Melissa Clark's red lentil soup with lemon (excellent) from her new cookbook; and a potato and poblano pepper frittata with goat cheese. We know how I feel about goat cheese. Now you know how I feel about poblanos. Everyone loves potatoes in some form.

I suspect you know where I'm going with this.

Roasted Poblano Pepper and Potato Frittata with Goat Cheese
Serves 4

2 roasted poblano peppers, skins removed, roughly chopped*
3 medium-sized potatoes, washed well and sliced thinly
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp vegetable oil, such as grapeseed
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper
8 eggs
Milk, about 1/2 cup

Line potato slices on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F until tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside, but keep the oven on and switch to broil.

In a large bowl, crack the eggs, a good glug of milk -- about 1/2 cup -- and whisk to combine. Add goat cheese and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

In a cast iron pan or other oven-safe skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add shallots. Once softened, add garlic. Once fragrant, add potatoes, peppers and egg mixture. Cook for 5-7 minutes until eggs have set, and place pan in the oven. Keep an eye on the dish and broil until the top has browned slightly. Serve immediately, or eat cold, garnished with salsa or hot sauce if desired. This dish also reheats reasonably well (I served mine with some spaghetti squash tossed in some leftover lemon artichoke pesto.)

*To learn how to roast peppers, check out this tutorial here.


Some place unfamiliar

This morning, I'm recuperating from indulgence.

Oh yes, dear readers, it was one of those weekends.

As it turns out, sometimes you can make a mad dash escape even within the city limits -- all it takes is an excellent tour guide and a spin around Baldwin Village. The first stop included a lovely Moroccan pad thai accompanied by a decent gingerbeer at a vegetarian restaurant, followed by a quick walk down the street to a video store that plays black and white films on a screen outside. You enter, and behold, a taste of Italy in the form of tiramasu-flavoured gelato -- a taste yields creaminess at first, and is quietly followed by a punch of flavour. It's a little unusual, the way it doesn't arrest the tastebuds but instead takes them on a road trip. Afterwards, you are transported via a pair of magic red shoes to a steak house attached to The Hilton where you spin your legs around a barstool and tuck into a slice of the most sinfully delicious, rich chocolate cake imaginable; I wish I would've had my camera on me, for I suspect the torte would have proven exceptionally photogenic. It was so dense, in fact, that it was like eating a scandalous amount of chocolate fudge. Afterwards, all you can do is breathe and smile, the flavour of chocolate still lingering in your mouth.

Recollecting on your perch, contemplating a walk through the city and thereby putting off your Sunday obligations, you think these are the sorts of evenings that make Monday mornings look okay.


Getting out of Dodge

Oh goodness.

I must say, October, you certainly charged in like a lion of an unprecedented sort. Just weeks ago I was eating birthday cake and enjoying my since-deceased leisure time. These days are as long as the limbs of 100-year-old trees, which is to say very long indeed. So when this past weekend popped up on my radar, rife with time for -- dare I even mutter the word? -- relaxation, I embraced it whole-heartedly. A schedule packed with work and social gallivanting is very fine, but sometimes a girl just needs a glass of wine, a warm bath and a good book.

This weekend offered a literal breath of fresh air as I abandoned the city and travelled north to my uncle's cottage for a glorious Canadian Thanksgiving. I mean, just take a look at the view I had as I walked into the living area that first morning, cup of high-voltage coffee in hand.

If you're offended by what I'm about to say next due to its utter fabulousness as a friend of mine was -- truly, for he has informed me we are no longer friends due to my goings on -- let me pre-empt this by saying I'll happily extend chocolate and wine as a peace offering. For three days (!), I sat on the beach with a book in hand, drinking wine and soaking up the last of the sun's brilliant rays. I helped roast a turkey to perfection in an old, apartment-sized oven, and ate myself stupid as one is wont to do during the holidays. There was a few games of Mexican Train, a wildly affectionate Golden Retriever,

pumpkin-carving (and therefore the ingestion of deliciously toasted pumpkin seeds), Motown and Jazz, Dionne Warwick murmuring softly from the boombox -- "ain't no mountain high enough, to keep me from you" as my uncle and I got started on the stuffing. Marshmallows were roasted over a "two-storey bombfire". We kayaked through still waters. There was bird-watching, a lot of sleep, and long, less-than-sober conversations -- though it's worth mentioning I left the politics at home this time. The pine trees have shed many of their needles, all of them landing amongst the lily pads in the lake. That's something to see in and of itself. I'm not much of a camper, but there's something about a weekend at the cottage that is so lovely -- particularly with a couple episodes of Modern Family thrown in for good measure.

I might owe many people wine and chocolate now.

It was so nice, in fact, that a woman in one of the neighbouring cottages strolled out in a bikini and dove straight into the lake. I'm still shivering at the thought of it.

Readers, I even made a cake for the occasion, though I'm embarassed to say it was gobbled up before I could snap a picture. I even brought leftovers home and ate them at work, forgetting all about you! I apologize. But you'll forgive me when I share this recipe with you. The texture is swoon-worthy, I think, and it makes a lovely accompaniment to a rich, big meal. Personally, I'm not such a fan of heavy desserts in the evening, the way they sit at the bottom of your stomach like devious sugary bricks. A veritable Goldilocks, I declare this cake not too too heavy, not too light -- it is just right.

Pumpkin is the epitome of autumn in my mind; the leaves can morph from green to vibrant reds and yellows and oranges, they can scatter themselves amongst the yellowing grass, cider donuts can be fried and eaten, apple picking season can spring itself upon us, hot cider can be consumed, but it just isn't truly autumn until I've eaten pumpkin. 

I do often prefer its savory applications, though puréed pumpkin is oft-considered a dessert sort of thing with all of our pumpkin pies -- undoubtedly an emblem of good old-fashioned Americana. It's true that a good pumpkin dessert is generally irresistable, and will in time convert the most skeptical of Sweet Tooths. However, because I'm not much into sugary desserts, don't expect a sugar high and ensuing crash out of this recipe. You could easily eat this torte for breakfast. According to Laura Calder, it's inspired by the French tortes that litter the countryside. With such an enchanting back story, it quickly (and quietly) became the perfect way to cap off a Thanksgiving dinner among a more intimately acquainted Group of Seven. 

I go weak in the knees for anything that sounds both rustic and foreign, so you can well imagine my delight when the torte came out much the same way -- a little homely, but sophisticated in its simplicity; good enough to mark the end of a holiday dinner, but not so over-the-top that it couldn't be enjoyed on any old day. And really, that's what Thanksgiving is really about, anyway: being thankful for the autumn harvest, communing together, enjoying a sunset -- the ultimate laissez-faire holiday if there ever was one.

Squash Cake (aka "Thanksgiving Torte")
Adapted from Laura Calder, French Taste

Yields 8-10 slices

2 cups pur
éed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1/4 cup fine-milled cornmeal
3 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup rum (preferably dark)
Zest of one large orange

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Grease and line a springform pan. Combine yolks with sugar and beat until light and pale. Whisk in cornstarch and cornmeal until smooth, followed by the pumpkin, rum, pumpkin pie spice, and orange zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Bringing the egg whites to room temperature will render this task infinitely simpler.

Gently stir half the egg whites into the batter and fold in the remainder. Pour into the pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean -- this took a full hour in my gas oven. It will be very moist, but if it's still sticky to the touch, it hasn't finished baking. Serve slightly warm with sweetened whipped cream. Perfect as an afternoon accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea, or as a lighter dessert. Consume within three days and avoid refrigeration if possible, which will render the cake soggy.
Blog Template by Delicious Design Studio