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
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