Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lunch With Barny, Commemorated.

Here's a blog entry I posted as a writing assignment to our school's blog post, The New Gastronomes:

During my undergraduate degree I went on exchange to England. Every Friday I had a three-hour class, the name of which escapes me, as does what we were studying. Perhaps some sort of Christian reliquary was involved? Triptychs? Who knows?

What I do recall is that halfway through class we would break for tea and a plate of goodies brought by different classmates each week. I reveled at the prospect of Jane’s chocolate cake or Sophie’s flapjacks, which for one sweet half-hour would break the sometimes-monotonous grind of religious iconography (Aha! That was it.) I thought school could not possibly get any better than that short, delicious, homemade teatime.

And then I came to UNISG. When Barny Haughton arrived from England to speak to us, my idea of happiness progressed from a half-hour cake break into a half-day of cooking and eating that left me in awe of my classmates and very, very full.

Barny, a chef renowned for his pioneering role in England’s organic and sustainable food movement, suggested that the next day we prepare lunch together at ALMA (the Italian culinary school housed in the same building as UNISG). We happily complied and after some crowded, sweaty, and cooperative hours in the kitchen we gathered around food-laden tables in the courtyard to hear what dishes had been made and why. Included was seafood from Diana, Asher, Arina, and Shauna, who had left at five a.m. that morning and made a three hour round-trip to the seaside to buy it fresh. A dedication to food? I think so.

Emily and I had also taken an alternative approach to sourcing our ingredients for lunch. On the previous day’s bike ride to school we had discovered sour cherry trees that practically sang “pick meeee!” as we rode by. The trees stood several feet behind a gate with a broken chain, but with the property seemingly abandoned we figured the cherries surely deserved a greater fate than becoming bird-feed. The next morning they were “liberated,” de-stoned, and baked into two glowingly-pink cherry pies. Emily’s crust, even after having been rolled out the night before and transported by bike trip to Colorno, was the best I’ve ever had.

Every dish was delectable, and the experience enlightened me further as to my classmates’ remarkable abilities in la cucina. Even before tasting the food, my mind began its instinctual “Must Gather Recipes” chant, so that’s exactly what I did. After a few pestering emails and the cooperation of the entire class, the result is a cookbook brimming with the recipes of what we ate that day. Each one has a story behind it, and for me the book as a whole serves as a tasty reminder of just how good school can get.

Click here to use, share, and love The UNISG Courtyard Collection. Buon Appetito a Tutti!

Photos by Shauna Ryan, Naama Szterenlicht and Suzie Hoban.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Cheese Wheels.

A few posts back I wrote about my Ride, the noisy but (mostly) reliable "Run and Bike." He was purchased from a bike shop full of old men sitting on chairs that has a naked pin-up girl calendar hung on the wall two feet from a portrait of the pope. Not the current pope, mind you, but I always find this amusing nonetheless.

Anyways, since our maiden voyage to Colorno a few months ago, myself and a group of friends have taken up commuting to and from school during the week. We found a quiet route that winds first along a bike path then down some country roads, and not only has the ride gotten easier, but it is now quite fun. During the hour-long cycle we tell each other stories from our 'lives before' and talk through essay-writing difficulties, all the while enjoying the passing agricultural landscape. During the last few months we've watched the fields be plowed, manured (that day was unpleasant), planted, and tended to by the Farmer Giovannis of the land.

There's a pleasing sense of regularlity in our commute - every day we pass and say good-morning to the same two old men, one of whom will lament in Italian "Your train is so little today!" if there's only a few of us riding. There's also a number of dogs who say 'hello,' though if there wasn't a fence between the dogs and ourselves I'd probably have to interpret that differently.

As you can tell from below, we call ourselves The Cheese Wheels and yes, we do have a super-swank logo. It was designed by my friend Suzie's boyfriend Andres, who is currently completely a design Masters in Milan. For his work he was paid in chocolate chunk cookies, a currency which is fortunately of high value to him. My life would be a lot simpler if more people were willing to accept baked goods in return for services provided.

Being a member of a bike gang, especially one with a pun for a title, is very exciting for me. I've never been part of a gang before. I think it means I'm cool now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Six Credit Crete.

My poor, neglected blog. Despite what my lack of updates might imply, I am still alive. I've been so occupied with homework/visiting friends from Canada that I somehow allowed six whole weeks to go by without writing. Yowza! The fact that so many weeks slipped by without my noticing is an indication of how terrifyingly fast this year is rolling by. Slow down 2010, please slow down.

Before we head off on our next study trip in a week, I figured I had better fill you in on the last one! We spent a week on the island of Crete, staying on the outskirts of Rethymno and touring around each day to visit producers, learn about the Cretan Diet, gather wild foods, and of course, eat. That we did particularly well.

One of my favourite adventures was a trek high into the mountains to meet some shepherds. The rural villages we passed along the way were chock-a-block full of old folks, the men sitting and clicking their prayer beads while the women worked away on one thing or another. Unlike in the cities, these grandfathers and grandmothers were happy to see us and often waved as we passed by.

We arrived at our destination, climbed into trucks, and were driven down into the vast, crater-like valley where the sheep graze. The landscape is dramatic, with the green of the valley and blue of the sky raggedly separated by a rough and grey range of mountains. Driving across it and watching sheep scatter as the truck approached made me feel as though we were on some kind of tame African safari. I loved it. A girl used to spending her summers in the woods of northern BC comes to miss such vast open spaces.

We drove across the valley to a 120 year-old traditional round stone hut; this is where the cheese is made by the shepherds after they hand-milk each of the 300+ sheep in the morning. Our host, the man who performs this incredible daily feat, has the toughest looking paws I've ever seen. Not only would he kill at a game of thumb-wars, but after he realized he'd forgotten to bring the fire stoker he just used his hands to arrange the burning hot embers instead.

After nearly concussing myself on the low doorframe when entering the hut (OUCH), we sat and watched our host heat the raw sheep's milk in a pot, then press the separated curds into a basket mould. The whey was then mixed with fresh milk and re-boiled to make ricotta, which we ate hot and fresh amongst smoke still swirling from the fire and stinging our eyes. The pastoral nature of the whole experience was broken up nicely each time the shepherd's cell phone rang and he'd chat away in Greek while stirring his pot.

Aside from the sheep, another highlight of the trip was the last day when we were free to explore on our own. Seven of us took one of the rented vans and drove down through a gorge to the the town of Plakias on the southern shore of the island. This was where my brother and I stayed four years ago when we travelled together during my exchange year. I had such amazing memories of Plakias from that first trip, and it didn't disappoint on the second. My friends and I hiked up the same river that Mark and I did, coming across a tiny church built into a cliffside, an old Venetian mill and bridge, and some refreshing river pools that offered an escape from the heat. After hiking we found our way to Souda Beach where we swam, relaxed, and obsessed over some sea urchins unlucky enough to catch our attention while clambering over the rocks. This particular 'day at school' received a Six Credit rating from my friend Lauren. She came up with her academic accreditation system during one our study-trip feasts when she mused "I wonder how many credits we're eating right now...."

Six Credits? Crete, you're a keeper.


Mr. Shepherd.

Thanks to my friend Yui for the last 3 photos