Thursday, December 31, 2009
Oh Kate Moss, the poor thing. She must have grown up in one of those canned peas and shoe-leather roast beef households in England. Or perhaps smoking has stripped her tongue of the few remaining tastebuds that weren't dulled by an overdose of Branston pickle as a child. Whatever the reason, clearly the girl hasn't tried anything worth eating, because who in their right mind would say such a thing? One who has been to Paris without touching a croissant, that's who. Sigh.
As a tribute to Ms. Moss, I'd like to share a recipe for a wonderfully anti-diet cheese sauce concocted by Marnie and Megan, two very good friends of mine with whom I reunite each Christmas in Prince George. They stirred it up for a 'Three Sets of PG Sisters' brunch we had a few weeks ago, and served it over poached eggs with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes. The eggs, by the way, were from chickens raised by their mom. Can't beat Jan's eggs.
Kate Moss' theory is completely vanquished by this sauce, firstly because it tastes so much better than skinny feels, and secondly because Marnie and Megan eat it and are very beautiful people. HA!
You too can combat stick-thin model theories by making this sauce, loving it, and passing it along. Please keep in mind that this recipe is just a rough guide – when I re-created it I didn't really measure anything, so just keep tasting as you go to get it just right. Essentially it's a white sauce to which you add a great deal of McLarens cheese and four special ingredients. It's perfect for eggs on a cold winter's morning.
Meg and Marn's Cheese Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ – 2 cups milk
1 container McLarens cheese
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 small or ½ large clove garlic, finely chopped
½ to 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
Melt the butter over low/medium heat in a small saucepan, then add the flour and whisk together to make a roux. Stirring, let bubble for a minute. Add the milk in small additions, whisking into the roux and allowing it to thicken. Once you have a thin white sauce, crumble the cheese in and stir to combine (keep tasting and adding cheese until it's reached the desired cheesy flavour and right consistency). Add remaining ingredients to taste, and more milk if it gets too thick. Serve immediately, preferably in front of an episode of Fashion File.
The pics below........Brunch, including our attempts to get into the most heavily fortified bottle of sparkling wine in existence. Thirty years of education between the six of us and I ended up having to saw the top off.
Sadly, no pictures of the cheese sauce specifically, but trust me when I say it looks delicious. Also some of winter in Prince George.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Okaaaaay, so Molly Wizenberg doesn't know me from a snowball. I shall explain; she's the author of the beautifully written and wildly successfully food blog Orangette, has a brand-new book, and recently opened a restaurant in Seattle called Delancey (I reluctantly give you her blog link for fear you'll never read mine again. I simultaneously adore and hate her for being so. damn. good.) Basically, she was a food-loving academic who finally acknowledged her true passion and became a writer with no formal writing or culinary education. This is me, just not the successful part (yet. Glass half-full Linds, glass half-full.) The thoughts in her book strike chord after continuous chord with me, and I've found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with many of her beliefs regarding food and the concepts surrounding it. I'm not even finished it yet, but the most recent head-nod was due to her opinion on recipe sharing; she disagrees with people who hoard recipes and believes they should, like all great food, be shared. Sing it sister! I've always believed in passing along my favourite recipes, as long as credit is given to those who created them or, when their provenance is unknown, the person who gave them to me (hence names like “Sarah's Sister's Cousin's Hairdresser's Mechanic's Dog's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.”) Now, fair enough if you're a chef who spent three decades perfecting the signature dish that your restaurant and therefore livelihood depend on, but that delicious scone recipe you clipped from a magazine and got lots of compliments on? Spread the joy!
In A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg tells the story of her life through food; Unchronologically she shares charming, amusing, and often sad stories from her thirty-one years as a daughter, friend, Parisienne, and lover of food. She relates each of these stories to a different recipe, naming both people and food as forces of history, emotion, and meaning in her life. As a believer in sharing, after each story she includes the recipe which inspired it, most of which originated from her parents, friends, husband, or Molly herself. There is something very lovely, personal, and trusting about these recipe offerings.
Every recipe has a story. Not all are going to be terribly interesting (you made these cookies once that not even the dog would eat, the end), but they are stories nonetheless. Actually, the recipe itself can be horrible, as long as it holds significance to you or makes someone laugh. So, if you'd like a tea-on-cozy-couch-read for the holidays, I suggest this book. After all, you're not only going to get a wonderful read, but also plenty of beautiful and meaningful recipes which you'll want to make yourself. How does buttermilk vanilla bean cake with glazed oranges and crème fraîche sound for new years?
Friday, December 18, 2009
My obsession with all things food tended to make me feel odd, especially because I have always known I don't want to be a chef but never really knew what else was out there. So, as I read about UNISG, I felt like a fish living in a puddle who had just been told about the Great Lakes. I was determined to get in and simultaneously doubtful I even had a chance. With more research I found three similar programs, however they were so far out of my budget (we're talking $50 000 tuition, per year) that it all came back to UNISG. The programs do not start annually, so with the next application date in late 2009 I spent a year and a half working, saving and yes, even herding eighty goats around the hillsides of Tuscany. I sent off my completed student dossier on December 3rd and spent the next thirteen days successfully convincing myself that I had absolutely no chance of getting in. Apparently those fitful sleeps were in vain, however, because I did get accepted and will be starting the Master in Food Culture and Communications program this spring in Parma, Italy. I am relieved, excited, and happy to have so much to look forward to. Not to mention grateful for having been supported by so many people throughout the whole process. Thank you, grazie, and I will keep you updated.
*Click here to visit the UNISG website.
Not to be overshadowed by school talk, however, is Christmas Baking, because what does a higher education matter if you can't make quality gingerbread? Exactly.
I've never been the blogging type that documents every step of my recipe mis-adventures, as I think you've all seen what a bowl of sugar, butter and eggs looks like. I do, however, love to talk about it, and when I'm completely satisfied with a finished product the camera comes out. I was once so proud of a peach pie that I spent an hour taking pictures of it on the lawn. I'm sure more than one ant found it's way inside and died a very happy death. But I digress – back to this, the best time of year for baking. So far I've made triple ginger biscotti, soft ginger cookies (yes I love ginger), almond roca bars with Stephanie, chocolate caramel shortbread squares, and sugar cookies. There's more on the way, but darn you Save-On-Foods and your lack of vanilla wafer crumbs. To tide us over til the crumbs come in, our freezer has been stocked with plenty more goodies thanks to the best neighbourly arrangement ev-er. My newly retired father, with his newly purchased snowblower, has been clearing the driveway of Mrs. Wallace, a sweet elderly widower who lives across the street. Every time it snows, my father hauls out the snowblower or shovel, and to say thank you she bakes him treats. Every time. Gloriously, it snows a lot, and we've been consuming cookies, cakes, muffins and squares by the large tupperware-load. Isn't that utterly wholesome? Thank you Mrs. Wallace, thank you Dad, and thank you snow.
What would a Christmas baking chat be without a recipe? Here's my favourite one for ginger cookies, which I found on allrecipes.com (fear not! it's a gem!)
Big Soft Ginger Cookies
Sunday, November 22, 2009
For the second half of my Italian farm experience I gave up goats for olives ; I recently helped harvest thousands of olives that clung to the trees of a small agritourism high in the hills near Florence. It was so high, in fact, that my ears popped constantly while on the bus-ride there and at times I'd look around and realize I was standing in a cloud. The ear-popping and indecisive weather at that elevation were worth it for the view, which we stood and admired each morning before breakfast.
I was one of five wwoofers there to harvest; the others (Heather, Cody, Josee, and Nick) were all American, had wicked senses of humour, and affectionately embraced my frequent use of 'eh.' We were also fortunate to land the poshest wwoofing living quarters of all time – the inn's three bedroom guest-house!
Each morning we ate a continental breakfast before donning our gumboots, marching off to the grove, and beginning our harvest routine. This involved pinning together huge nets which caught the olives as they were hand-raked or mechanically raked off the trees. Once a row was finished, we unpinned the nets, heaved the olives into a big pile, and emptied them into crates. We repeated this process until, five hours later, I was so hungry I considered emptying the raw bitter olives into my mouth rather than the boxes.
At 1:00 pm we'd stumble up the hill to have a lunch made for us by our host's sisters, two sweet old ladies who we loved so much we considered communally adopting them as our Nonnas. The afternoon and evening meals usually consisted of two to three courses, starting with either soup or pasta and followed by some combination of meat, cheese, and vegetables. My favourite dishes were farfalle with zucchini and peas; pasta, chickpea, and sage stew; cream of carrot soup with big toasted bread croutons; pecorino cheese with onion jam, and Tuscan apple cake. It took us several days to reign in the desire to eat our body-weight in carbs at every meal, and I soon had to abandon my jeans for leggings with a stretchy waistband. My preferred theory is that they shrunk.
Once the first seventy crates of olives were picked they were taken to the frantoio (press) by our host and Nick, his absolute favourite wwoofer. He made no attempt to hide this favouritism, which was apparent very early on and for reasons which are still unclear (Nick speaks absolutely no Italian and is the same size and strength as Cody). It took a total of three days for him to be dubbed 'Iron Arm,' and conversations at the dinner table went something like this:
“Nick! More eat Nick! Without you we get nothing done Nick! The rest are university types, we need you Nick! He stronger than the other four! What? You are not married Nick? But who cook for you in America? You cook for yourself? No! This is iiiimpossible! You marry Lindsay! She experience in cooking, and you experience in eating! It is nechesity that you marry a woman who cook for you! Now eat Nick, EAT!"
We decided that during our short time at the farm it would be best not to introduce our host to the ideas of feminism, homosexuality, veganism, and stay-at-home dads.
We finished the olive trees three days ahead of schedule and spent another day up-rooting and re-planting saffron bulbs on the far corner of the property. This was tedious work and enlightened us further as to the cost of saffron; each bulb produces one purple flower, which in turn yields several precious red stamin that are picked by hand and dried slowly over a fire. At the farm they sell it in small packets and in products such as saffron jam (killer!) and saffron grappa (equally killer but for different reasons). We also tried their farro (barley) and enjoyed the new oil pressed from the olives we harvested. It was vibrant green and very spicy in comparison to the mellow, year-old oil; in Autumn there are signs in every store, including gas stations, advertising 'Olio Nouvo' for sale, and Italians declare with a hint of awe in their voices that “tonight we will be eating newwww oiiiiil.”
Another end-of-harvest task, assigned to the boys, was building a fence around the saffron plants to keep out the cabriole, a deer-like animal which we could never properly translate to English and therefore became a sort of a mythical beast for us. Although we jokingly doubted the existence of the animals, the fence was all too real and caused our male wwoofers a great deal of grief. Despite the fact that both are incredibly intelligent and capable, Nick and Cody were forced to follow our host's instructions down to the wire, literally, resulting in a fence which couldn't keep out a coffee mug let alone an animal which can supposedly jump eight feet high (and also has a unicorn-like horn, we're sure of it). Many hours were spent stringing up uncooperative wire which rendered the electric fence useless and provoked an unending stream of curses.
Despite the odd nature of our host (and frequent time trips back to before women could vote), the harvesting experience was entirely worth it. I now know the tremendous amount of work that goes into making olive oil and will never again take it for granted. Our work setting was beyond beautiful, especially when the sun lit up the autumn-coloured hills surrounding us. But most importantly, I laughed so hard and so often with my fellow wwoofers that there is a chance my stomach will retract enough to get my jeans back on.
And I'm now engaged to a guy named Iron Arm.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Finally the meals have digested, and I am ready to talk about 'Cheese,' Slow Food's festival celebrating all things formaggio in Bra, Italy (see link for photos). I attended the four day event with Aviv and Michal, two very good friends from Calgary, and spent the whole time trying to remember what it feels like to be hungry.
I began the festivities by missing my train from Torino to Bra. By a full hour, actually, because I neglected to change my clock to Italian time after being in London. I had agreed to meet Aviv and Michal at 11:00 am, none of us had a phone, the next train didn't depart until late afternoon, and we were scheduled for a workshop at 1:00 pm. So, a great deal of panic and one very expensive cab-ride later, I was reunited with Michal and Aviv and glad that my stupidity didn't have to affect anything else but my bank account. Together and happy to be speaking English, we headed off to explore the endless white tents spread throughout the winding lanes of Bra.
As part of the festival, Slow Food organizes an impressive number of educational programs, including 'Taste' and 'Masters of Food' workshops. We had signed up for three, and our first was held in a conference room that looked like a miniature United Nations complete with
headsets and an English translator (although I presume the UN does not lay out multiple wine glasses at each of their seats. They ought to try it, I think diplomacy would be at its best). Our first workshop, featuring five French affineurs, quickly went from sophisticated to shit-show when the fire alarm went off just as we were about to begin. Do not fear! The highly-capable Italian fire department is coming to set things right! Wrong. They showed up and scratched their heads (literally) for over an hour while it continued to scream. During this time we waited outside, drank some champagne, and grilled the friendly English translator for the best places to eat in Torino. Eventually they tried to proceed and all at once we attempted to listen to a man speaking in French, hear the translation through our headsets, and ignore the blaring sound of the alarm with a constant recording in Italian warning us to leave the building.
The alarm finally ceased, though I'm nearly certain this is because a battery died and not because they figured anything out. Disappointing, yet the beaufort was still delicious, the attendees gracious, and we now know Torino's best restaurants. My advice, however, would be to avoid burning buildings while in Italy, unless you plan on saving yourself. After this little adventure we spent the rest of the day exploring the festival, sampling cheeses, and failing to identify the fine line between 'full' and 'ill.'
One day we took a break from the festival and were treated to a tour of the Piemontese region by Lior, Michal's childhood friend from Israel. He took us into the mountains north of Torino, we walked to a beautiful old bridge crossing the Po River, and visited the town of Asti to see the Il Palio festivities. Asti, as well as the Tuscan town of Siena, has an annual horse race in which horses representing local villages participate in an intense and sometimes dangerous competition. It all starts with a medieval parade featuring drummers, trumpeteers, flag-throwers, and all kinds of elaborate costumes, floats and dramatic acts. We were hugely impressed, as well as hugely late in returning to Bra for our second taste workshop, which we missed. 0 for 2. So far we were failing to receive our official cheese education, but the parade was worth it.
During the festival we spent many hours touring the massive tents which housed the Italian, European, and International cheeses, even spotting Carlo Petrini (the founder of Slow Food) at one point. We were overwhelmed with the variety, the vendors' gorgeous displays, and the sheer amount of food. There were literally tonnes of cheese; hundreds upon hundreds of wheels, stands with honey and balsamic and antipastos, and more samples than one girl could handle.
As always, the most extreme tastes are the ones which come to mind. We tried 'brus,' a creamy concoction which looks smooth and delectable. It is absolutely NOT, I assure you. When Michal tried it she screamed and shouted something profane which made me laugh so hard I couldn't keep my camera steady and capture her agonized face.
In the international tent we found some small French cheeses that looked like they'd been scraped from the side of a sunken ship. Through translation we learned that these cheeses must be eaten with whiskey (wine is too weak), or else they'll take three days to digest. This makes sense, since anything that sunk with the Titanic would need a little help in the stomach.
We finished off our festival experience with a dinner at a small castle in Verduno, which was delicious and as usual, way too filling. This was the third of three major dinners in a row; our first night of dining was at La Taverna Tre Gufi, an authentic and unpretentious little restaurant where we were treated to dinner by Lior and his wife Nadia. We took our server's offer of trying a “little bit of everything.”
A little bit of everything meant that once we had downed five substantial plates we learned we had only just completed the starters. And so, eleven different dishes later, we finally concluded. That would be sixteen in total, my friends. Another fine quality of this meal was our server, a gorgeous man with dark curly hair and blue eyes whom I idiotically asked “parlez-vous francais?” when he told us his mother was a language teacher. Asking a question in a certain language usually implies that you speak it, non? Well I don't. He rambled on to me in French and I nodded and smiled and pretended I knew exactly what he was saying. Fortunately, the only thing he asked me to translate was the dessert – and what were we eating? Parfait. PHEW.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
This past week has been very busy so this is a good opportunity for me to sit down and explain where it is I'm headed. My first flight takes me to London for a three day visit with my dear friends Lisa and Georgie. I love them and London and any chance to have lunch at Food For Thought.
After London I head to Turin, Italy, where I'll meet up with my friends Aviv and Michal, two reasons why moving to Calgary last year was so entirely worth it. I met Aviv, and subsequently Michal (his girlfriend), when I started working at Janice Beaton Fine Cheese in Calgary. In fact, Aviv hired me and was my boss for most of my time there! Now he is a full-time artisinal bread-baker, and Michal an indie film-maker, and I help out by eating bread and assisting with catering on the movie set (or should I say 'sets,' Michal, as there will be more....) The three of us are heading south of Turin to Cheese, a festival put on by Slow Food International. For four days we will sample cheeses, wines, and beers from all over the world, and generally love life. We are also attending three “Taste Workshops” and two dinners put on by Italian chefs with menus designed especially for the festival. This was something we'd sort of dreamed about in the cheese shop, and now it's happening. And that feels good.
After the festival I am heading down to Tuscany and working on two different organic farms (through WWOOF Italy). The first, Podere le Fornaci, specializes in making goats' cheese; only after arranging my stay with them did I discover that they will be at the cheese festival, and are even featured in one of the Taste Workshops (street cred!) They're giving me a ride down to their farm after the festival, so that works out well. Two families with five kids between them run the farm, located near Greve in Chianti, a.k.a centre of the Italian wine landscape. I'll be learning to love goats until the end of October, then heading to farm number two, just north of Florence. I'll be there for ten days to help with the olive harvest. While my host's english isn't great, his email did say that “my wife it is specialisty for cook very well and nice!” All I need to know, right there. By then my Italian should be molto bene, anyways. Right? Right.
Then I'll do some more visiting and eventually return home to Canada, fit and fresh from my work on the farm and knowledgeable in all things cheese and organic growing. Oh and fluent in Italian, forgot that one.
Piece of cake (torta).