food & drinks, journalism

Bread and Women

It’s the day after we hosted a day-long brunch for our friends to celebrate H’s birthday. Though we often host dinner parties with homemade dishes that take a full day to prepare for, we opted for a menu of the least possible preparation. When feeding more than a dozen people (this time it was 30ish), it’s best to make them do most of the work. In the kitchen, we spread out our DIY Caesar bar with celery sticks, pickles, peppers, olives, two kinds of rim, vodka, gin and Clamato. On the dining table, a bagel bar, cheese plate, bacon, vegetables and every spread from cream cheese to Nutella. It was carb-filled afternoon/evening and a warm way to spend a November Saturday.

Although all our guests were gone by 10 pm, we slept in this morning. It’s a luxury for H who has been working 13 hour days that start with an alarm at 5:50 a.m. I made coffee and then a pot of milk oolong to keep us warm and opened the Food Issue of The New Yorker. With the smell of toasted sesame bagels still in the air, it seemed appropriate to start with Adam Gopnik’s “Bread and Women,” his personal essay on learning to bake bread through the women in his life. I will resist the urge to explain why this piece resonated with me because I’m bound to over-explain it. I’ll simply end with two of my favourite paragraphs from the article. All you need to know is that Gopnik  goes to his childhood home in rural Ontario to spend a week learning to bake from his mother.

As we mixed and kneaded, the comforting sounds of my childhood reasserted themselves: the steady hum of the powerful electric mixer my mother uses, the dough hook humming and coughing as it turned, and, in harmony with it, the sound of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the background, offering its perpetual mixture of grave-sounding news and bright-sounding Baroque music. (A certain kind of Canadian keeps the CBC on from early morning to bedtime, indiscriminately.)

And later…

I realized that I had never once thanked her for all that bread. On the long drive to the airport and the short flight to LaGuardia, with all her bread in my bag, I reflected that the thank-yous we do say to our parents, like the ones I hear from my own kids now—our over-cheery “Great to see you!”s and “We’ll catch you in October!”s; our evasive “Christmas would be great! Let’s see how the kids are set up”—are never remotely sufficient, yet we feel constrained against saying more. (We end our conversations by saying, “Love you!” to our parents; somehow, adding the “I” seems to…schmutzy, too filled with wild yeast from the hidden corners of life, likely to rise and grow unpredictably.) We imagine that our existence is thank-you enough.

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food & drinks, montreal, travel, vancouver

Tales from Two Cities

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In the past two weeks:

  1. We flew to Vancouver and  attended a wedding at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Its Lobby Bar is my new favourite hotel bar, possibly second to the Rum House in New York City. I often thought about how Cory Monteith had died in the same building only two weeks before. Outside, just around the corner from the main entrance, a teddy bear and lone flower leaned up against the wall. I wonder how long the hotel will keep them there, if they’re there still and where they go when they’re removed.
  2. The day after the wedding, we woke up at 7:30 to get the first of our hotel’s bike rentals.  H’s front tire caught a tack somewhere between First and Second Beach on Stanley’s westside and our plans to see the city were briefly foiled until we got it fixed. Still, we managed to see much of the park and trekked up and through the Burrard Bridge to brunch in Granville Island at Edible Canada and sake at Artisan Sake Maker. H fell in love with the world music store, here’s our little video of her playing just some of the instruments. I’ve always had good weather on my visits to Vancouver and it almost tricks me into thinking, “yeah, I could live here.”
  3. We flew back to Toronto on WestJet and watched eight episodes of Parks and Recreation during the flight. There were some LOLs, to the chagrin of our aisle-mate.
  4. We finished all of Orange Is The New Black and gasped at the end of the finale.
  5. Two days later, we drove to Montreal with three friends squished in the back seat. Everyone played DJ and we stopped in Kingston to lunch at Pan Chanco, home of my favourite olives. At Maison Publique, all seven of us got the tasting menu and drank some delicious Blue Mountain Pinot Noir and local sparkling cider. I want more. Get the fried smelts, that tartar sauce is out of this freakin’ world.
  6. We then spent the next three days drinking shitty Coors Light and tallboys of Bacardi drinks at Osheaga. The food was marginally better.  I avoided the crowded walk and long wait at the gourmet food trucks  and ate hot dogs covered in mustard. I found out about the St. Hubert stall too late, but it didn’t matter, the snack bar poutine was excellent. Real cheese curds!
  7. By Monday morning, my Sperry Top Siders were toast, covered in mud and totally unsalvageable. It was a sign of a seriously intense weekend of mud, gravel, dancing in the company of 45,000 other people every day. Fantastic weekend of live performances, too many to mention. Now it’s over and it’s back to real life…
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food & drinks

Dinner parties

I have a bad habit of announcing goals on this blog and failing to follow through. One of my secret, unpublished goals is to have more dinner parties.

Barbecues have been great this summer, but tend to be gatherings of 10+. This make it difficult to have meaningful conversations with people and with so many in your home, there’s always someone who needs something (a fork, a wine glass, more ice). For this reason, I prefer hosting smaller get-togethers, even if it means I can’t get away with disposable tableware.

I love the idea of inviting friends from different social circles to come over, drink some wine and share a meal. Part of the excitement is the experiment of introducing friends to each other. How will the full-time fiddle-playing hippie get along with the high school friend turned pharmacist? I’m hoping these parties will force me to dust off my cookbooks and make something new. So what if I’ve never made pavlova before? Let’s give it a whirl!

It’s been a while since I’ve hosted anything that required more than grilling a burger so I’d be grateful for your suggestions on how to host a fun, casual dinner party.

What is your secret to hosting astress-free dinner party? Tell me about the most memorable dinner party you’ve ever attended.

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food & drinks, wine

New to wine

If wine were a video game, I’d be on beginner level one.

After organizing and attending last week’s Foodie Meet (wine edition), I’ve gained a little more understanding of wine, but if anything, I’ve learned that there’s more to wine than I imagined. The experience has only increased my interest in learning more about the good grape and I know I’m not the only one.

Starting today, on a semi-regular basis, I’ll be posting my wine-learning experience and knowledge here.

I’m starting off on my wine journey by keeping a wine journal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s OK to like what you like. Wine is intimidating because of the snobbery associated with it, but at the end of the day, if you enjoy it, no one should tell you otherwise.

If you have any suggestions for how I and other wine newbies should start learning about wine, please leave a comment. Whether it’s a book, a website or something else you think would help get us started in the wonderful world of wine, please let us know!

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@TOfoodie, food & drinks, Toronto

What and where is your favourite hangover cure?

Caesar
(Photo by hfabulous)

After an evening of over indulgence, I woke up with a pounding headache and dry mouth. Eight bottles of red wine between five women will do that to you. My party days are pretty much over, but I talking about foods and drink. Through my TOfoodie Twitter, I asked “What and where is your favourite hangover cure?”

Here are their responses:

nicopop: Hair of the Dog Caesars at Hair of the Dog!
bigtrouble Juice! – wheatgrass, apple, carrot, celery, lemon, ginger. That and fresh air. Failing that, a Bellini or a Mimosa will do.
ericpl Believe it or not its a grilled eel on rice bowl at any decent Japanese resto…
ironsouschef hangover cure? There is only one. IRNBRU. Can be hard to find, but Metro usually carries it. Also, see this: http://bit.ly/Q0Hh3
hjli Usually leftovers of my drunken appetite: Johnny’s Homeburgers (VP&Sheppard) for suburbia; King Palace (Bloor&Church) for downtown
jasotri A caesar usually does the trick!
ejcs Rehydration salts +late_night dim sum

I’m totally craving an apple, carrot and ginger juice now, thanks to @bigtrouble. Still, my ideal hangover cure is a greasy spoon grilled cheese sandwich with a strong cup of coffee, cold Coca-Cola and a tall glass of ice water. Maybe I’d have a side of fresh fruit for nutrition. What do you crave when you’re nursing a post-party sickness?

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food & drinks, recipes

Fancy Mac & Cheese

Fancy Mac & Cheese

February has been the kind of month that makes me want to only eat chicken pot pie made by someone else, sleep and watch movies all day. I’ve come home on weeknights and found that the last thing I want to do is cook. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been busy and so instead of making something delicious, I’ve resorted to lazy solutions like fast food lunches, mediocre Japanese or Thai delivery and uninspired frozen dinners.

In times like these, I like to make “fancy mac & cheese.” I won’t pretend that this is exciting, inventive cooking. It wasn’t even my idea, but I make it somewhat often because a) I usually have all the ingredients on hand and b) it’s takes boxed mac & cheese up a notch.

I only made it once last month, but I doubled it and it gave me lunch for the rest of the week. Not everyone likes oysters, but I think it would also work with a tin of smoked mussels. The smokiness in the oil is key. It’s basically this recipe I found on Chow Hound with a few extra ingredients. I add a handful of cheese so I don’t sacrifice cheesiness with the additional ingredients. Also, the extra fat makes it reheat nicely if you have leftovers. Just pop it into the microwave with a few drops of water. I find regular Kraft Dinner to be too dry. Get President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese if you can.

Ingredients:

1 tin of smoked oysters w/ oil
1 cup of cooked shrimp, peeled and cut into pieces
1 large onion (or 2 small ones), thinly sliced
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese (optional)
1 box of President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese (Kraft’s just isn’t nearly as good)
3/4 cup of milk

Instructions:

  1. Cook the macaroni, drain and reserve.
  2. In the empty pot, heat only the oil from the smoked oysters tin. Reserve the oysters. Sautée the onions in the oil until they’re soft.
  3. Add the macaroni back into the pot. Add the milk and cheese powder from the box.
  4. Stir in the vegetables and shrimp.
  5. Add the extra grated cheddar cheese and heat until it’s all melted.
  6. Add the oysters when just about read to serve.
  7. Add pepper and salt to taste.
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