Monday, October 31, 2011

Magazine Review: ACQTASTE

Over the summer and early fall, there have been a number of food themed special issues from Lapham's Quarterly, dandyhorse, Creative Nonfiction and spacing (No link available yet).  These are one offs that try to marry to varying degree of awkwardness, their niche with food in general.  Then there was a BIG launch of Lucky Peach, the McSweeney's entry into food starring David Chang followed by their first recipe book, Mission Street Food.

Food is hot right now.  Food issues are now becoming reasons for municipal debate in areas such as food regulations, food carts in Toronto and the whole Stop the MegaQuarry.  There has been a growing food literature but it all seems disjointed.  The above magazines fall into one of two types, niche magazines that are putting out a special issue that loosely cleaves to their interest (food as fuel, food as fodder for thought or a miscellany of food related facts) or very focused, hyperfocused on one topic of food (Ramen).  These have all been entertaining and eye opening to some degree.

Along comes ACQTASTE with the acqward title, (see what I did there) that is probably to be read acquired taste.  It is roughly the size of Kobo or Kindle with a distinct layout mix of photos and text.  The articles cover people cooking your food, what a chef's brunch looks like, Jen and Grant and other pieces including two thought pieces at the end.

This magazine is largely a product of Chuck Ortiz, if the published piece bylines are to be believed.  This magazine reminds me of another first issue that I read a long time ago.  It was another high concept and specific magazine that many thought could not make it.  Wired was the magazine that came along at the advent of the web and wrote about technology culture.  It was nebulous at first with a design aesthetic that eventually influenced web design and other magazines.  A good portion of the magazine was electronic and connected.  It was a San Jose Mercury for the world but told in small stories with big thoughts.

ACQTASTE could be the Wired for food.  I believe that acqtaste could be the advent of magazines for portable readers.  It is the first magazine that really gets the format and how stories need to be told for a smaller screen with limited attention.  Not the small twitter feeds but rather the blog sized pithiness with weight in few words that can be given.

Looking at their website is required for understanding acquired.  Yes, the writing can be a little clunky and quirky much like blog writing but there is one opinion piece at the end that makes me believe that there is a need for overarching stories about food.  'The Space Between' begs to be unpacked liked a McLuhan koan into its component parts.  It reminds me of a finished dish where you can taste the components but know that underneath the simplicity of sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, there lives some serious technique of thought and writing.

The electronic bits are less expensive than the paper bound magazine and some thought should be given to creating a decent digital version of the magazine after the fact.  The extra content on the website follows the same design as the mag.  It fits. I am not sure how one makes this work as a business model but as a paying customer, it is immensely satisfying and I look forward to the next issue.  I will pay because I understand the worth.  Like a simple dish ordered from a good restaurant, you know good when you try it.   It is not simply an acquired taste.  (oops, see what I did again?)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Restaurant Review: Lazy Daisy's Cafe

This cafe opened up on Danforth and Coxwell just over a week ago.  This corner is the beginning of Gerrard Bazaar or more colloquially, Little India.  The area is sorely lacking in family focused eateries with a middle income focus.  This strip needs a little life that will change the current trend of collected for lease signs interspersed with businesses that have not changed in a while.  It needs to serve the community that lives and works here while maintaining its roots.

There was a buzz and excitement that was created by the owner in a number of ways.  Firstly, it is one of the first few businesses in the area that is not focusing solely on South Asian culture or clientele.  Secondly, when it was being renovated, local people were invited to look inside and talk to the owner.  Facebook also played a huge part as updates about the pace of work going on and what the whole thing was about.  On the first day of school, Bowmore parents were given a free coffee at the school.  These are all ways of engaging community and more importantly potential customers.  People hope for success for things they like.  Look at the mania around the Toronto Maple Leafs every year as they begin the season.

The interior of the place plays heavily on the mix of cafeteria and rustic cottage with high gloss wooden tables with a hint of rough bark edges.  Wooden crates act as shelves holding preserves and pottery.  There is a train playtable in the corner that makes its clear who is the primary clientele.  It is an urban cottage by way of IKEA.  It looks like many shops and roadside restaurants along the highways of cottage country.

During some mornings, shell shocked young business people look surprised to see a small tumble of sub five year olds noisily playing.  Maybe the look is due to lack of sleep or due to the realization that a prime cafe embraces non paying customers in this way instead of acting as a office away from home.  Or maybe I just find the whole thing funny.

On the weekend, it was busy as it appeared that anybody with kids came in to try the affordable sandwiches and baked goods.  The sandwiches are made with bread from Knead Bakery, as are all the goodies.  The theme of the cafe is local first and they largely deliver.  The sandwiches that we tried included the "Wandering Ouef" and a cheese melt that contained a curry chutney.  The kids loved it all.  All the sandwiches were not something that you could make easily at home but they were done well at a price that allows you the luxury of having someone else make it.  I tried their chili and found it lacking in depth of taste.  It was good but the flavours had not developed.  It was more tomato and not enough spices but given the focus, it is easy to see why those choices were made.  Importantly, all sandwiches were sub ten dollars and we, as a family, didn't spend more than fifty dollars for the lunch.

The coffee that will act as a lifeblood for morning service is from Te Aro.  The milk is sweet and perfectly warmed.  However, the coffees lack coffee punch.  The milk dominates.  It is strange to contrast this coffee against a coffee from the Bandit up the street.  While the Bandit is more serious about its coffee, Daisy is serious about delivering a decent fresh meal to local residents and their kids.  It should do well and I wish it the best.  I just hope they fix the small problems as they move forward.

Lazy Daisy's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Recipe: Christmas time's acoming!

Okay, maybe Christmas is still a ways away.   We are just finishing Thanksgiving and getting ready for Halloween.  I am one of those people that dread the coming holiday consumer rush as each store outdoes itself to be first with the decorations and advertising pressuring one to find the gift that you cannot live without giving or receiving.  There are some things that have to be done in the proper time.  Christmas cake is one of them.

So many people remember the brick of cake that becomes the foundation of many jokes.  They are funny because they are true.  Think about the fruit cake that must have been regifted.  Every year. The one with the marzipan topping?  Remember it?  Good.  Now forget all that.

Last year, I began to make my own Christmas cake based on a recipe from edible TO.  This post is really about breaking down a recipe and rebuilding it in your own desires -- Six Million Dollar Man style.  The basic recipe ratio is: 3 cups dried fruit : 1 cup liquor : 2 tsp or so of spices (depends on strength of spice) : 1 cup nuts (substitute something else if you want) : 1 recipe of batter.

The recipe at edible TO require a minimum soak of 24 hours followed by 5-6 weeks of curing before serving, so the cupcakes, yup that's right, this recipe is about muffins, go into the oven 2nd week of November to be ready for a Christmas meal or gift.

There are a number of different options for flavouring the cake.

Choose the booze and accent:  Use fruits that are in the alcohol that you are using.  For instance, using Grand Marnier, amp up the mixed peel and add extra lemon or cranberries.

Choose the booze as a base note:  Dark rum as a base for figs, currants, and prunes with toasted hazelnuts as the nut components.

Use a spice palette as a guide:  Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves with dried apple, raisins, and pear with light rum, or try coconut rum, papaya, mango, dried coconut, macadamia nuts, nutmeg, allspice for an island taste.

I am thinking about trying a coconut, curry, ginger combination with maybe a ginger liquor but I haven't quite figured it out.  

The point is that any recipe can be used as a jumping off point if you allow yourself some latitude in trying to discover what makes the recipe tick.  Let me know if you try some combination that rocks or doesn't.  Sometimes failure is more informative than success.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ontario Provincial Election: Is Voting for Food a Single Issue?

So, at the last municipal election and federal election, I was so disgusted at the opportunities presented to me that I decided to become a single issue voter.  Food was going to be my lens through which to view candidates.  A funny thing happened.  It turns out that food is a very interesting and eye opening way to look at parties and candidates.

Firstly, let's start by my leanings -- I am a fiscal conservative coupled with a social progressive bent.  If I was to identify with any political leanings, it would be social anarchist.  It is helpful to note that this can put me on the far right (small to no government) to the far left (belief in collectivism but not necessarily unions or communes).  This makes it difficult in the current political climate to find a candidate let alone a party to vote for.

Last elections, I had to do all the work myself but this time a great website, Vote ON food, put that all together.  What struck me when reading this report card is just how much you can learn about a party and its tenets by reading their particular view on food.

Before we go too far down that road, let me address the idea of food being a single issue.  It is as much a single issue as Healthcare or the Economy.  Food means food security, agriculture and food processing jobs, international trade, trade deficit, food safety, cost of food (inflation measures), healthcare, environment and so much more.  Food is a necessary condition for life; it is a cornerstone issue like housing and income.

I am surprised at the attitude of the Conservative party in terms of supporting a Buy Local movement  Firstly, the support of this could be seen by the international community as a subsidy and an unfair trade practice.  Secondly, it requires a bigger government policy and represents an intrusion by the government into the marketplace.  Thirdly, it runs counter to free trade practices.  The shock is at the counter conservative approach at the strongest or the rejection of some neo-conservative values at the weakest.

The Liberal approach is more of a market support to grow markets.  An investment and marketing strategy.  Basically, they are bragging about a more robust Foodland Ontario.

The NDP, of course, in this topsy turvy world agree mostly with the Conservatives.  One of these things is exactly like the other.  Politics and bedfellows.  This one issue also shows how little difference there is fundamentally between the parties.

Go through the platforms yourself.  Inform yourself.  I am really impressed with the group that did this.  They do not have answers but only hope that we, as a voting public, begin to hold our political masters or servants to account.  As long as these issues are put on the table then we, the Ontario family, can sit down and discuss food.  It is one of the most fundamental things we can do.

Recipe: Hot Sauce

I should just start calling these recipes non-recipes and be done with it.  GOOD magazine put out a call a few months ago about redesigning recipes and there were some brilliant ideas about how to change the standard recipe so that it better reflected how to cook.  I could steal a few of those approaches but in the meantime...

I guess I will start by what I did and then put down a receipt that more or less follows what I did.  I took just over a handful of mixed hot peppers including habaneros and thai chiles, put them in a small pot.  I took off the stems but if you wish you can chop them and take out the seeds and other related membranes.  Added a bit of salt and some sugar.  The sugar isn't necessary -- sometimes I add it, sometimes I don't.  Put enough vinegar (cider in this case but any can be used) to boil them in.  Boil the chiles long enough for the rawness to come out of them.  You will know when some of them become too plump or wrinkled.  Take them and mash em up.  That is all.

Too thick: Add vinegar.
Too thin:  Mix in other stuff like pickled peppers (hot or red), pickled carrots or fruit.  Any raw additives may reduce the shelf life depending on the acidity.  You are just making a quick pickle.
Too salty: Not much you can do but use it as both a salt replacement and a hot sauce.
Too hot:  See the too thin piece.

85g peppers
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pickling spice
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1. Remove stems from peppers.  Remove seeds and veins for a milder version.
2. Add all ingredients to a small pot over a medium high heat.
3. Simmer until peppers become plump and some may wrinkle (10-15 minutes)
4. Let cool slightly and then whir in blender until desired consistency is achieved.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: Mission Street Food

I don't need another recipe book.  My wife states that categorically when we look over our 60+ cookbooked shelf squatting in the corner.  This does not include the boxes of magazines, coffee related fiction and other food fiction.  They are magazines and therefore do not count.

So, I did not want to like this first book in McSweeney's new food imprint called Insatiables.  It was so quick on the heels of their new "Lucky Peach" magazine.  What to expect from those crazy kooky crew from McSweeney's?

Well, the book is about an innovative restaurant that started out as a pop up taco truck restaurant that then morphed into a once weekly restaurant within a restaurant that eventually became other food related venues such as a hamburger joint and a full fledged restaurant.  These entrepreneurs gave the profits from their first few ventures to charity while creating innovative ways of starting food ventures.

The book is separated into three parts; taco truck, restaurant and recipes.  I became really pumped when reading the first two sections.  In inimitable McSweeney's style, there is a mix of structure when telling the story from fake business plan to interview style to comic book.  The design of the book seems to capture the spirit of the words from Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz.  The writing is snappy, irreverent and funny.  It matches the high style - high concept food ideas that are brought to bear on everyday good food.  It is what I expected but with less pretension.

This gives me some inspiration.  I having been trying to figure out a concept for starting my own food related business and these first two sections have fanned the spark once again.  For this alone, I would and will buy this book.

The last section on recipes is interesting.  It continues the current trend of header notes but with more of a difference.  I am not lead down some family reminiscence of southern hospitality or notes on what to do while my chicken is cooking. (Ruhlman!) I am given an insight into how this cook thinks about food.  The essence of which begins the section "Decision-making is more important to cooking than exact amount, temperatures, or times".  This is evident in the recipes which also, strangely, mimic the step-by-step photo setups of 1980's learn to cook books -- Pierre Franey is the first one that comes to mind.  But of course, it is showing how traditional French and modernist ideas can be adapted for home cooks.  It is a brilliant way to match high and low culture that reflects the overall mindset of Anthony Myint.

Anyone who includes a manifesto styled after the KLF and K Foundation of "How to Have a Number One the Easy Way"  and does it well has my attention.  They will also get some of my bucks. See!  That was easy... Oh and there is a reference to Toronto cuisine being a reputable city where no one's familiar with the food.  I am always tickled pink at backhand references that are also so very true.

So this is a long way of saying that I guess I will have to find a way of sneaking a new cookbook on myself...Since it is only 1/3 a cookbook maybe it should go on the nonfiction shelf.