Monday, October 10, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Some thoughts about Canadian Thanksgiving or as I call it, Thanksgiving.

This is one of those odd holidays that means a lot of things and many of them aren't particularly nice. Even if we accept the narrative that indigenous people welcomed the Europeans to the New World with a feast, it is still shameful what happened afterwards. Even if you are someone who believes in finders keepers, there is an inherent meanness to treating those that showed you hospitality and how to survive here the way that the Europeans did.

Even the bitter and racist saying of "Indian giver" hints that somehow there was a big misunderstanding that went to the benefit of the white people. So, Thanksgiving as a celebration of that one nice dinner party we had that time with those nice folk, and gosh, whatever happened to them? doesn't cut it for me.

A second, more generous interpretation of being an ongoing festival of harvest time sits a little better. I remember these days well where you pulled up the last of the garden and canned and celebrated the final warm days before winter. It seemed like a time to show gratitude. In our case, it was God, the church and the crops. We have lost our connection to the soil and so much is now bought in cans, packages and wrapped produce but still not all is so glum. Even if you are the staunchest atheist who believes that humans are all self made, you must be thankful that the science, culture and civilization that got us here still hasn't destroyed us all. Hubris and pessimism is a tough row to hoe and it yields very little productive crops. Still, we are where we are and that is at least something to be grateful for.

For me, there is a third theme that underlies Thanksgiving. Every year, around Christmas, my former spouse and I would invite friends for a chosen Christmas. It was a leftover from my days of living in a house with my friends when we would invite over all of our friends to share a meal and party. Part of that was that it was the first time that we could all breath and relax during university and partly, as a way to share with those few friends who were not going home. Sometimes it was due to work, being too far away, being estranged or any other reason. My former spouse and I invited people who were our friends in the same way. It was a way of sharing and showing our gratitude for their friendship. In the last few years, I have not done any of this and it makes me sad to not have that moment to thank everyone.

This year, I made a mini feast; stuffed turkey breast, boiled turnip, roasted potatoes and a pumpkin stout cheesecake. I shared it.

When I was at my mother's this year, we had a ham. One of my sisters and I made the supper as Mom had had surgery about a week before and couldn't do all the cooking. It was a simple meal made better by us all helping and that the surgery had gone well. Small, simple and generous.

I still have most meals with the kids around the table and I am thankful every time I sit down. Not in the Hallmark card way but a genuine sigh of contentment. There is something about just existing and enjoying the moment that makes me want to share it with people who are close to me but are unable to share it with anyone.

I think I will do a Christmas dinner party this year and maybe start to think about how I can get back to those moments of grace once again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Passing of a Restaurant

I have been blogging for a while now and eating out at new restaurants for way longer. I am linking to one that has recently closed nearby. If the link breaks just know that it was a local cafe that served rotisserie chicken.

Brickyard Grounds.  It is one of the many that I have reviewed over the years. Here is an excerpt from when I reviewed it.
Further down the strip, Brickyard Grounds has high gloss wooden tables, coffee and light fare. The light fare part is important. The whole place, in the best way, reminds me of the converted Coffee Times. Now hear me out. When I came to Toronto, the cafe scene was a little odd. The only places that felt as if you had a community were these ex-franchisees of Coffee Time. I wrote a post about how each was a reflection of their owners and the community. This is a great thing. The light fare reflects the area in the offerings. There are flavourful and pronounced spicings available. They sell rotisserie chicken and are working on getting local craft beer -- on TAP! It is an updated Mom and Pop Greek shop. This is a place to come as family...
...Will all of these places still exist when I get around to posting a third update? In short, I think they all serve a particular community. There is not much in the way of difference for the product they are supposedly serving, coffee. None of these will win barista awards or become destination eateries. The real value in these neighbourhood places is in the community they bring and serve. A friend recently talked about how she needed a new cafe in the neighbourhood so that she could talk about the women who frequented the cafe where she usually went.
So far this is the first of the four places mentioned in that review to close. I still stand by the idea that each of these places served a particular need within the community but somewhere along the way, this place started to go down a hard path.

Firstly, there seemed to be doing well until a fire shut them down for a while. When they came back, some of the momentum and steam had left. When you, as a business, start to falter and become a little unreliable, the good will built will dissipate. It will take a while to get it back.

But there is a pattern to failing restaurants. Menu items start disappearing or not being available. Substitutions are made for more inferior items. Staffing is cut. Hours are cut and erratic. And finally...

So, they re-opened with a modified menu and brunch. Each time I went there for brunch it was packed. Service could be a little odd and disorganized but it seemed to work for a small shop. The hardest thing for a small business is the people aspect. Staff started to leave but not at first. First the coffee began to be tweaked in major ways. The coffee began to taste more 'robust'. Menu items began to change.

Already, the hours had been cut for the shop times and it was erratic. It seemed as if the place was already cutting corners. At first, customers don't notice but eventually, after a few times of showing up at the door and finding the cafe unexpectedly closed, I stopped going.

There is no malice here. It is just another story of a business that chose to start cutting corners where the money was instead of where it wasn't.

If the place had opened earlier in the morning and wooed the morning crowd and tried to stretch into the families in the area, it may have done a little better. If rotisserie chicken is offered for supper then make sure to stay open late enough for those coming home from work to get it. Find where the money is and exploit it.

I genuinely liked the owners and wished them well both then and now. The restaurant is a hard, fickle business and it is easy to armchair quarterback. It is just to see so many places come and go with the same pattern, it becomes easier to see where it is headed. There is something great about watching a family business thrive. Those successes are nice when you can say that 'you knew them when' but no one really takes much joy when they fail.

Good luck to the owners of Brickyard Grounds. I wish you all the best in whatever you do.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pumpkin Blondies: A Study in Plagiary #1

Okay, I took a recipe and modified in such a minor way that I am calling myself a plagiarist but hear me out. I promise not to trot out the same excuses that others have used. For example, the blondie recipe is an old one and how can you even make it new? Anyone publishing the full recipe is just changing a
few parts and who can blame them?

Also, seeing pumpkin spice everywhere; today alone, pumpkin mini wheats, pumpkin creme cookies and pumpkin Flaky. So, just got a hankering for that spice. I will go back for the Flakies because, just because.

Anyway, in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday next weekend, following this link for pumpkin blondies and then look at the changes I have made and come up with some of your own.

So, I changed the spices: added a little cayenne, used freshly ground allspice, fresh grated ginger, omitted nutmeg, and added garam masala.

Instead of the three cups of added ingredients, the chocolates and pecans, I substituted coconut, semi sweet chocolate chips and walnuts. If I had thought harder, I would have went out back and gathered the black walnuts that fell off the tree but if this turns out, then I will.

I guess if you look at that recipe there are three broad components; the dry mix with spices, the wet mix with the sweetener and pumpkin, and the dry extras. It is really safe to swap the spice mixture and dry extras. Where I worry is playing with the wet ingredients. It may have been cool to add coconut milk but then there would have to be an adjustment to probably the butter and the dry ingredients, so I left that for another day.

I am scared of baking but taking a few steps like this makes me more confident. I'm sure there will be failures but not today. Should have added that chocolate banana ice cream to the cart to serve with this beast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: Something to Food About

Been a long time since I have done a cookbook review. There haven't been a lot that has got me excited about food and I am not sure why not. What I am sure about is that even though this isn't a cookbook, it has got me thinking about food again.

This is a book where Questlove interviews ten food people and caps it off with a meal by those Modernist Cuisine people. Why would that be interesting and why was I excited to pick this book up from the library?

Okay, maybe some free form stuff that will eventually connect the dots or not. While I am writing this I have Nardwuar vs Questlove cued up and listening. Now you may know Nuadwar as an intrepid interviewer who asked Rollins about his soup can dick or as the guy that has been embraced by hip hop and rap as he dives into the crates of their past. He asks a few history questions and pays respect to the past and the people he is interviewer. It can be a bit off putting. Let's leave that there for now.

BTW, Questlove is talking about how hip hop artists found out about sampling from the Bill Cosby show. It affected many young rappers at the time.

Okay, next up. Food is the New Rock is a podcast that has the idea that the same way that music used to occupy us (and that whole deep crate diving before the internet) is the way that food and chefs occupy us now. The idea that both music and food are performance. However, you can record and package performances now but you still cannot record and playback food. So, he showed up there for me. Action Bronson is on Food and on Nardwuar as well. There are plenty of crossovers.

My son is watching Fresh Prince of Belair and just heard Questlove talk about the guys who twirled Will Smith in the opening.

If you want to have fun going through history told by another white guy, Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree. It is another under represented era on the internet and worth looking into.

I have the Modernist Cuisine at Home and Myhrvold is the first interview. The end of the book is the meal they had there. The interviews have a similar set of questions about first foods, racism and sexism, inspiration, aging and changes in approach, and local foods and fads.

Questlove spends a lot of time drawing parallels between his career and music and cooking. At first this seems like self promotion until you realize that he is really into these chefs. He is really into food. I had some of that background given the rest of the stuff but it eventually became clear as you went through it. Of course Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the film and the chef that kicked this all off. In case you didn't know, Anthony Bourdain who writes the intro wrote a graphic novel based on a sushi chef called Get Jiro!

I got two good ideas from this book that I am going to write about at some point and time; pickled strawberries and using movies as a reference point. There is a cool story about a Twin Peaks dinner that Questlove attended with Lynch to Ryan Roadhouse, the chef. Also, found out that Ludo Lefebvre may have started the pop up craze and stuff about Daniel Humm and... it was like listening to a foodie interview by Nardwuar.

I guess my point is that is some ways this is like crate digging with a friend on a Saturday afternoon, making connections and feeling smart by what you know and blown away by stuff you didn't. A great read for Something to Food About. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Strawberry Sandwich

I've been meaning to post this thing about strawberry sandwiches. It seems silly to type out a recipe that is really about strawberries on bread but I got to thinking...

Been reading Something to food about by Questlove and he likens food to performance based music. You only get one chance to experience it. There is no way to record an eating experience in spite of the the Instagram and reviews.  I'll have more to say about that later.

I wonder how much of this leads to more nostalgia about food. In particular, I am thinking about strawberries. While I am writing it long past the wild strawberry season, we have found a way to approximate a seeming berry and sell them year round. A hint that I have made use if time and again has been to add a little orange blossom, sprayed or dropped, into a bowl of strawberries to give them a wildness that is missing.

I used to go picking berries on the side of the road with my grandmother. We hopped out of the car and headed to the edges and picked. Some if the berries were dusty and those were often warm, even in the morning, from the sun. Popping them into the mouth when. Grandma wasn't looking. Heading to the undergrowth where the berries were cooler and juicer or taking an occasional green or white berry for their sourness. There was nothing uniform about these little bites.

When we had git them home, we would be happy if we picked them clean without the stems or we would spend more time cleaning the berries. A small snack would be put in a bowl with sugar spooned over top to sit in the fridge until lunch or snack.

Two white bread slices, berries, and some of the juice. That was all.

So with much ado, I present the modern version that my grandmother would not recognise.
Take strawberries, clean and slice. Sprinkle sugar generously with sugar. Add a dash of vanilla and orange blossom water. Set aside, unrefrigerated for at least an hour. (This is called macerate if you want to be fancy).

Take two slices of white bread, add berries. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tea Time: Three Rough Takes

Been lazy this summer in terms of writing. Maybe it is the heat but I had promised to do better on the blogs. It isn't as if I haven't been having food adventures but it has been less talking about it.

One of the constants of the summer has been cold tea. I hesitate to call it iced tea because it really is just putting some tea in cold water overnight, straining and then storing. This started as a way of using loose leaf tea that had been sitting for too long in my cupboard. I had some left as I always had some on hand as my former partner is a tea drinker. I kept some on hand. Was it habit, wishful thinking or common courtesy?

I made the tea and then found ways to use it. One of my sons occasionally drinks Nestea, so I made a lemon simple syrup (more on that in a later post), and made him a reasonable facsimile. We have made many more since.
Simple Ice Tea: Take the tea, add simple syrup and lemon juice. All to taste. 
Is this some kind of metaphor? Taking tea for courtesy and possibly longing and make it into something else? Probably not. Probably just a way to use up old tea.

In the last few weeks, my mom has gotten ready for moving. This included handing me a large bag of tea bags that she had bought for my former partner. It is her favourite brand. It has been almost three years since they have seen each other. The tea predates that time. So, after a summer of using up my stash, I am given another stash to deal with.

I have taken to using the cold tea in mixed drinks. This is refreshing.
Simple Tea Drink: Using an old fashioned or highball, depending on the time of day, add 2 oz booze, ice cubes, dash of bitters, simple syrup or one of those water flavourers, and top with tea.
I guess we could go with another pseudo sad story because I am in the mood to add the slight bitterness but calm reflection that tea brings into a post about tea... I had the tea for visitors who never came; not because they were not wanted but because I did not invite them. There were a few tea people early on but I did not keep up.

Now, to put the better light on it, lately, I have been sharing beer instead. It is more of the thing that I like. I have found that I like to share with people. Mostly I go out to events but sometimes I will share a rhubarb beer with someone special or some adventurous ales with others or just my homebrew.
Simple Tea Shandy:  Particularly good with hefeweizen and hoppy brews. Glass, beer + tea to taste. 
It is strange to start my posts with a kind of odd, meandering narrative around tea but it seems that tea brings out the reflection. And it has brought out the person who wishes to share, again.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Restaurant Review: Two Headed Dog

I've been toying with reviewing the bunch of new pubs in the area in one big omnibus blog post. It seems easy to dismiss them as all being the same. It wouldn't be that far off the mark but it may be a bit unfair.

Most of THESE places are Anglo inspired, macro brewery listed and food service sourced foodstuffs. An awkward sentence for an awkward phenomenon. The difference between them being location and variation in decor. Some do a better job on their beer list than others. There are grace notes on the food service food such as different gravies and sauces or a better variety of fry. This is how I assess new pubs in the area, and in general.

I have been to the Two Headed Dog several times. It is close but not the closest. Both Eulalie's around the corner and the Corner House Pub stand between me and there. It is one of the only family pubs on the Gerrard Street India Bazaar as Eulalie's pitches more hip and less stroller. So, location is a plus.

Decor is German Anglo inspired with sports bar accouterments. Set with a garage door out back, there is plenty of light in the booth section where you can be distracted by the happenings outside and the televisions. Not great for date night but good for those nights when the kids want to eat and you are too lazy.  Aside from the back room of booths, there is a more bar like setup towards the front. A decent rail displays standards and a tap lineup.

On the first week, there was only macro brewery imports and standards. On a subsequent visit, I was told that they had a lot of requests for local beer and were working on it. There still only remains a single independent brewer from down the street on the line up, Left Field. It has been a few months. So, a middling grade there.

So far nothing stands out except their location. This leaves the last consideration of food. English pubs mean curry. There are a few of these type of curry pub dishes and strangely, these are the ones that have a "made here" note on the menu. Ah yes, differentiation. It is taken for granted that people realize that most of their food is not made in house and so the difference maker is telling them when it is. These are the better dishes available or at least the ones that stand out from other beer drinking places.

There are three items worth trying that are different than standard fare offered in pubs; Butter Chicken Poutine, Shepherd's Pie and Sri Lankan curry.

That little orange lettering says Made Here.
Season Infused Salt - sounds weirdly like a Food
Network groupie wrote it. 

A sloppy mess of butter chicken sauce with cheese and standard fries. This poutine is nothing like a poutine but it is a messy and joyful mess for the enjoyment of those who like butter chicken. For those of us who feel butter chicken is not quite Indian food, this is at least a starting point for actually enjoying it for what it is; a slightly sweet gravy that marries well with cheese and salty fries.

The Shepherd's Pie. Yup, more like mashed potatoes on fried ground meat and topped with gravy. It brings back memories of boiled chuck, potatoes and onions in a pan gravy that I used to eat as a kid. This is a good thing. Salty and flavourful and different. My dining companion mushed it all together and ate it like that. I would have added ketchup and that would have made it complete. Don't expect cuisine but expect comfort.

On this last Sunday trip, the daily special was wings. I had the Korean BBQ sauced wings. This is more typical of expectations. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is the same as every other place. It is the little bits that make the difference. Is this a place to revel in the little bits and travel for it? No. But it was worth the few extra steps to move away from a far more food service heavy place. If there was a place with better taps...

I guess the short of it is, GET BETTER TAPS.

Anyways, I often feel like writing these reviews is like dining in these places. It is easy to do an up and down, throw a pic, throw some words down on the page and say something meh and move on. Maybe this is why there are so many pubs that don't reach higher; they don't have to. With so many blogs and reviewers out there, there is no need to be better either. No need to describe food that is so much the same that there is nothing remarkable. Go up and read this review again. See what is remarked on by me. It isn't the food but the difference. Just a few bits of difference can mean the world.

Two Headed Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato