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.
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