Friday, November 25, 2011

Vicariously eating

I have not been that into sage for a long while now; a fragrant, full leaved bundle has stood in a water filled mason jar in my fridge for so long now that it drank all the water and proceeded to wilt. Yet i did not change the little handrawn icon under my side menu's "i cant get enough" display (this is assuming that you visit my blog enough to have noted the icons presense at all), despite such obvious lack of interest in the herb.

Finally, i changed the picture, and not to another herb, or veg, or food anything, really. More like a food everything. Note the map of Sicily. Stop reading if you have to, maybe scroll down a bit, yep, there it is. Sicily. Italy's little island of not-so-little-flavours. Flavours that i have been cooking with, and craving when i am not cooking with, for as long as it took for that once beautiful bouquet of sage to parch.

It goes without saying that i love Italian food, but Italian food re-defines itself regionally. To begin to descriptively explain this would exhaust me (and it does, as i read cookbooks and literature on the subject late at night, eating cheese and chestnut honey and drinking grigio not gris--or marsala, or grappa...--to feel like i might be there doing the same). One such read, a cookbook, begins with a breakdown of the different areas, their typical cuisine, dishes, ingredients, drinks...and i have made a mess of it. Meaning, i took a pen as a read, and circled that which i loved in each place, double circled what i really loved (etc with the number of circles and amount of love until tornado-esque etching), sometimes underlined, or made a rather large box, chicken-scratched such exclamations as "lovelovelove," and "thats for me," replete with the occasional heart. This was my way of choosing where i would most love to live should i, i mean, when i, oneday live in Italy. I knew it would be Sicily (i didnt know, it could be Sardinia...).

The influences of such boat-ride away places as Morocco and Spain have left their travelling footsteps in Sicilian flavour. Saffron, mint, dried fruits, flavoured waters made from rose blossoms and orange flowers--the abundance of citrus! The abundance of seafood! Swordfish! On land: sheep, and their cheese; real ricotta as i cannot make it here (even though i did again tonight with the best local milk i could get my hands on; still from a cow though). And lots of veggies: cauliflower, eggplant, zuchinni, tomatos, fennel...All things i not just love, but cannot get enough of lately. And as i cook with them, i imagine what it might like to be there. I imagine it smells of salt, the sea surrounding it. Tasting salt too: olives and capers. I imagine picking my own lemons, tasting an orange as i have never tasted it before. Buying fish fresh from the sea; sardines, anchovys, fresher than i have ever had them. Experiencing a real Cassata (not like my sad, but funny, attempt last Spring), after the ceremonious Easter feasts. Feeling a bit edgy in a place with such spicy food and spicy mafia history. Loving feeling edgy.

My "cant get enough" love of Sicily has brought me to go one step further on this blog, adding a page for menus, where (in the next couple of days, hold tight!) you can check out two (for now!) Sicilian inspired dinners, personal tweaks added to "research" (read: sleep deprived obsessive reading).

Check it out, try it out. Take a vicarious vacation.

I ask too, do you eat vicariously? Where would your dinners tell me you would most like to be?

Just me, and some meat (a second post)

So i have already written once tonight, but i feel like i need to tell someone this: tonight i ate meat.

Its not that i'm a vegetarian coming out of the closet; i'm not fessing up about sneaking some bacon. No, I am not a vegetarian (god love prosciutto and shortribs), nor am I a carnivore. I am not even much of an omnivore. I usually only eat meat with company, either cooking for or being cooked for, and really only if said company is insistent, but i find most audiences are open and/or oblivious to meats dinner table presense. Tonight however, their is no company, and i am very aware of my meaty dinner.

It wasnt even a butcher shop or deli inspired dinner (no shortribs, no prosciutto, respectively) but leftover, frozen, rabbit. Sounds good, right? Like the one meal you'd long to break a uncognizant meat-free streak with? Better than bacon? Well, it was.

This was leftover from Easters grand dinner (even better: frozen and aged! Stay with me...). Originally the rabbit was braised whole with olives and fennel; tonight, it was finished with the same, plus wine, coriander seeds, and golden raisins. With white beans on polenta, the last of my parsely for the season (a worthy goodbye dish), it was....well, meaty. And pleasantly so. And salty. And pleasantly so. So pleasant, its part of my new "menus" page--check it out! So pleasant i wish i had normal meat-eating-company to share it with. But i am happy to sahre the recipe:

You start with frozen shredded rabbit...

...maybe its best i'm alone.

Hope you all enjoyed your meaty (turkey-y?) holidays (those in America, at least); mine is tomorrow. But no turkey. No meat, actually. But i bet there will be pie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stay Golden

Every time that i eat a beet i think: f*** i love beets. In those words. In my head.

My kitchen mouth--well behaved with my recent "early retirement"--kicked into mental gear just now, eating a salad. Innocent, unassuming salad, and profanity. Neither the salad nor i was particularly shocked, however (no spritely arugula wilted at the curse), for this is a common occurance when i eat a beet.

It is not that i do not know what a beet tastes like; i have had them simply simmered to softness, roasted and caramelly, in several variations of soup (my favorites being Waterfront Wines' brothey version, and my own--toot toot--pureed with roasted tomatoes), as a bruschetta (a less pureed version of my soup...), fried as chips, as a cure for fish (Jamie Oliver has a version in his newest cookbook in case you are wondering what the hell i am talking about--oh, the profanity continues!) and mom's pickled ones. But for as many variations as there are for beet preparation, i rarely eat them. Probably because of the preparation. Probably because of the availability of such favorites as fennel, tomatoes, and cauliflower (all of which pair quite well with beets, i might add and make a mental note of...) at the same time as beets. It doesnt matter really, the fact is that i eat them so rarely, yet love them so much, that the flavour instantly ignites the same knee-jerk reaction that jerking one's knee into something hard/sharp/pointy quite forcefully would. A simple "mmmmm" (more whimper like in the latter) does not suffice. Its more of a where-have-you-been-all-my-life (oh-right:right-here-all-along-i-feel-silly-i-promise-to-eat-you-more-often) moment, even if i dont follow through with that promise.

Beets never fail to be unexpectedly sweet, while at the same time being deeply earthy; they are balanced alone, needing not a complimentary companion--though there are so many. Those friends of beets bring them to a different level, too, so they can be sweeter, or earthier, neutralize salt and citrus, pronounce spices like cumin, aniseed, and cinnamon, brighten heavy, creamy, cheeses, allow sharp goat cheeses to melt seductively against the beets richness. I like the golden ones best. Probably because they are yellow. Probably because tonight they were shaved into a salad of arugula, torn canned artichokes, and toasted hazelnuts, and i ate one for the first time in so long that i had a moment. I apologize if i offended anyone, but seriously, they were so f'in good.

Beets winter over, too. In fact, this guy tonight, was from this summers last harvest--months ago. But it was still just as bright, in color and flavour--like my language.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tonight, i may have eaten glue...

....and it was not the worst thing i have ever made for dinner.

The story goes that in moving i broke two little plates, my favorite bowl, and a coffee mug that i never use but felt sorry for with its amputated handle. I resolved to fix these special dishes with a little patience and a lot of non-toxic glue. Emphasize the non-toxic, because once all was said and solid again, i set to use my re-newed dinnerware. Especially the favorite bowl, which housed tonights dinner of Sicilian style roast cauliflower (not local, but a "souvenier" if you will, from my trip to Red Deer--not local there the only one judging me...back to the glue story) with chickpeas. Piping hot, thats how i like it. And how i did like it; no matter where that cauliflower came from, tonights dinner was tasty, and i neared the bottom of the bowl pretty darn quick. Not quick enough, however, for the heat to melt the glue on the bowl, and it pulled up in strings that i, immersed in cookbooks showcasing other tasty looking dishes, plainly took to be melted cheese until i realized that i didnt put any cheese on my cauliflower, and that the strings were in fact glue, and that i may have, in fact, eaten some. Anchovies mask the flavour to most things, i suppose.

Just a short, silly, story to share.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A postcard from home to my "holiday"

Some people head south for the winter (one of my bosses is in Mexico; my landlords are living in their trailer in Arizona); it is vacation here in the Okanagan, people searching for a week or two of sunshine somewhere else than our own paradise, before the gloomy grey sets in. When we closed for the season, I followed suit, and booked a flight. To Red Deer, Alberta.

Was it the pamperous and relaxing all inclusive vacation of someone in desperate need of pampering and relaxations needs, the perfect adventure to satisfy my craving for escape, or the epitomy of food journies? No--it was so much more.

I caught a seat sale the very night i snuck a thought at my sister, Jeanine, that i come visit. It just so happened that she only had class on the day i would arrive (she is in her last year of Nursing studies, compassionate smarty she is), the other morning it was cancelled. So we would have solid days together, and as she said: I would get to see her life. Just as she did mine this summer.

And what a beautiful life it is. Her roomate, Amandha, and her parents are more than i could ask for as a stand in family with me and ma all the way over here in BC now. They made me feel like family too, loving me like they love Jeanine. Her friends too. It all felt very natural, slipping into her day to day (sans stressful classes and hectic hospital scenes); no agenda, just being in eachothers moments. We talked, laughed, did yoga, drank alot of wine with alot of fabulous people (unknowingly responsible for so much happiness and security, so much so needed). And they let me cook for them.

Goodness i love cooking for people who love eating. It was far more fulfilling than any of the glamorous holidays i may have escaped to. This was no escape at all, but rather being in the presense of a hell of alot of well fed love (and well stretched; even Amandhas folks joined us for pre-dinner yoga). They thought asking me might be a bit rude being that it was my holiday, but, really, i was going to insist. That is where i am most at peace, sauteeing garlic and onions, making a meal surrounded by a family of friends loving the wine, talking, laughing, asking questions about the food that they are also loving. That is the fulfillment of being a chef, what i miss so much cooking behind the line: the noted satisfaction. Its inspiring too, keeps you going--as I so needed. Just like a holiday is supposed to do, and we kinda did travel: Moroccan the first night, Italian the second, Mexican the third.

I didnt cook the last night. After conquering a climb in Canmore with Johnny (still had to sneak in the adventure...), the two of us and my sis had dinner in Calgary before i flew home. It had been 4 years-ish since we had seen eachother, and to me, it felt like life may have happened for both of us, but no time really passed between. The two people in that truck with me that last day mean more to me than they can know; true friends who gave me a solace no amount of sunbathing and free-cocktailing could have. Things felt right there, the whole vacation felt pressure-less, fell so beautifully into place, unrushed, no expectations, exceeding anything i could have expected.

Home now, i only cannot wait for my next "holiday."

Thanks everyone. Wish you were here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Earl grey oats with a buttload of honey

Perhaps you have someone like this in your life; from a life long ago, and though only by a random message every so not-so-often, remains a part of your present life--and hugely. Because when these messages come, you are so refueled with life that you wonder why this person isnt more constant. Its someone who changed you once upon a time, simply by being a person so amazing that, in simply caring about you changed you. And the inconstant only seems to make them that much more special. That person for me is Johnny.

I dont know where to begin in explaining Johnnys amazingness (in this case, that is a real word, because not even Websters Thesaurus has enough synonyms for amazing to describe him, so ive opted for a fake word to lend justice whilst cheating the English system...bear with me. No wait: "epic," its Johnnys way of describing what i am having a hard time doing). When i met JKo (as Johnny Korthius is well-known) he was bartending where i waitressed in Lethbridge, AB. At that time, his smile was horribly intimidating, as i was horribly shy. Then i jumped out of my shell (horrifying) and started a friendship. He came and taught a grade one lesson about trees (he is, now, a certified arborist) to the class i was doing my teaching practicum in (like i said, from another life...), both of us sharing, with over twenty little chillins who were as fond of Johnny as i still am, a part of our lives that meant something to us. And that was pretty big, i think, for either of us. And meant something to both of us.

For me that time has passed (cook not teacher, right?), but Johnny now has his own arborist company, as well as an adventure tours company complete with a wicked bus that i just learned about from him last night. Not surprising though, as the dude grabs life in a--ironic term, but...--death grip and uses all of his many talents. In the short time that we were physically in eachothers lives in Lethbridge, Johnny went from taking dance classes and dropping in on gymnastics to gain balance as a mountain biker, to teaching both. Later on he was modelling. Skydiving. Rockclimbing. In Australia. And now, running two companies and fueling the world with his undying energy.

I simply sit back in awe, for the most part. Until i cant take it anymore and have to have a bit of him in my life. So i simply drink earl grey tea with a buttload of honey (what he would order when we went for late night/early morning tim hortons after work) and think fondly. Sometimes i send him a message just to see where hes at, or let him know i m thinking of him. And, even better, he sometimes sends me one for the same reason.

I bring this up because this Friday it wont just be a message from Johnny; i get to see him. I leave tomorrow to visit my sister in AB, and couldnt help but tell Johnny i d be in the province, not really expecting him to be there too (we also have a history of not crossing eachothers paths when in eachothers typical paths). But he is. And we are going hiking. Extreme hiking. Extreme Johnny. Extremely happy.

This is someone who gave me a new energy once, and confidence. And continues to do so whether he is full on here, or not at all. Hes just a beatiful person who gave me a beautiful sense of self. And a love of earl grey tea. So much so that i stirred a ripped tea bag into my oats this morning with apple slices and a buttload of creamed honey. Try it, its epic, and think of that person who may not be there day to day, but is so there day to day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

(unnecessary) event(s) of the season(s)

Dinner is always an event for me. I use the hyperbole "always" with no disrespect here; as a past life English major, i understand the archtype is hastened to be used, but trust me: i exaggerate not, dinner is always an event for me (even if it means peanut butter toast--its crusty bread with melty nut butter sprinkled with salt that i have been looking forward to all day (all, not another hyperbole, but an accurate measure of time that seriously got me through the day to the moment i ate, still standing, said melty PB--no J,this is dinner after all).

Take today for example: my ma and my aunt sue pulled up late morning with the futon to replace the bed in my new 30 foot square (actual hyperbolic exaggeration here...) home. To thank and repay them for providing me with something to sleep and sit on, and in doing so providing ample dancing floor space as well, i made lunch: roti, pumkin red lentil hummous, minted tomato salad, cumin laced baked eggs, eggplant za'atar, crumbled feta. A feast. At 2:00pm. Followed by an apple and some sad looking plums that i kinda felt bad for...

Dinner happened around 8:30 pm, when i actually felt hungry again. And yet i couldnt just have a little something something snack; no, it was dinner: an event.

The rest of the eggplant (it needed to be used, its fall for crying out loud, eggplant is long done...) roasted hot, charred with plenty of garlic. One of the too many squash (tis the season to be far to devoted to cooking and eating squash in one form or another; quite insistant in this case....) on my newly refurbished suite floor was in the oven with just as much garlic, plus some chilis. The two were later combined with some of the last parsley i will see for a long time, fresh walnuts that i had spent the better part of my day raking up and de-husk(?)-ing (is that what its called? that green capsule surrounding an unshelled walnut? whatever it is, the black underneath makes on hell of a mess), and the last of the feta, all on top of even more garlicky bulgar wheat. Add some chickpeas and you've got a dinner that was just too much. The eggplant thanks me for using it up, but my stomach does not.

I suppose the act of cooking is what i most desired, not the act of eating. Just as all summer long i desired that same act, as if it were the one thing that proved i was still taking care of myself, when all i really wanted was a PB sandwich (still toasted, the least of efforts i could put in), eaten in bed, perhaps finding half of it uneaten the next morning...

Really, what would have been taking care of myself would have been getting that extra bit of sleep time. And really, what an event it would be, now, even with all the seasons end free time actually having just a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. With wine. Toasted, cause its cold out there now.


ps: im madly in love with the new Feist album, "Metals," particularly the song "Comfort Me." Perhaps ironic considering this post. Too ironic.

pps: J is sometimes dessert. By the spoonful. Ok, actually, i prefer honey. And i would eat that--by the spoonful--any time of day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

a letter of thanks for a dinner to be thankful for

Lately i have been right obsessed with Thanksgiving. Nevermind that the Canadian holiday was three weeks ago and that tomorrow is a whole different holiday entirely (and i get pretty into that one too; pumpkin ale and molasses candies ready and waiting, black and orange dinner planned), i am but halfway from the next one. Yes, i love Thanksgiving so much that i even celebrate with our neighbors to the south. I may even go creamed-corn, full on traditional this year; normally i celebrate American tg, in Canada, with a dinner inspired by somewhere else in the world (think chicken tagine instead of turkey, pumpkin halva rather than pie) . I have a month to decide, however, though it seems that until then i am thoroughly preoccupied with that style of dinner: a main dish surrounded by sides, dessert(s). This may be custom rather than a once-a-year way of feasting (simply feeding, rather), but for me and my tendency toward something in one pot and a big ol salad, maybe some olives while i cook, its quite a change--though i must say it is helping deal with the "harvest" in my refridgerator.
And i am quite enjoying it. So much so, that i had to give thanks via email to someone who inspired such a dinner on such a weekend that was no such of a holiday, but full of good eating anyways. Thought i would share this letter and extend the invitation to have a dinner to truly be thankful for, even if it is only, say, wednesday.
jon--i have to tell you about my dinner: honestly, i wasnt too stoked about hali cheeks this morning (ive been loving and craving oilier fish, something fatty for the cold seasons; halibut means summer to me, and i had a summer full of it, and salmon too, but i dont think i will ever tire of salmon--how patriotic of me--, and cannot wait much longer for its fall/winter stand-ins: char and trout; god i love trout. this bracket is turning into quite the tangent. back on track now...), but i thought, if Jon says theyre top drawer, than they are top drawer and you better just damn well get some. and they were top drawer. or top notch as we say far to often at the restaurant. another story, another time; not another tangent.
First i slow roasted thick slices of some of the last glut of the farms heirloom tomatos with garlic, onions, and saffron--oh, and some little little potatoes that were dug up with big big potatoes. When they were bubbling away and beginning to look all caramelly and smelling like seduction (sorry, food gets me going...), i put them into a warmed bowl and reduced the juices to a thick sauce. Hot sear on the cheeks, on top of the tomatoes, sauce. This was the center of a sicilian inspired dinner with a shaved fennel and chickpea salad, and some thin leeks (also the last of the farms; also of which i have a glut, do you like leeks?) cooked slowly in oil with artichokes and tossed in the last hot second with mint and parsely.
im pretty happy with those cheeks.
Thanks. tiff