Monthly Archives: September 2009

Arrivederci

Foodie and the Beast are off to Italy for two weeks!  I don’t think I’ll have time to post while we’re away because we’ll be eating and drinking and looking at old buildings and paintings and sculptures.

But who knows.  

Rest-assured, I’ll be sure to document our eating adventures (they’re all planned, save for a spontaneous lunch or two).   

photoThis is how the Beast packs.  He doesn’t have a toiletry bag so he put together his junk–Q-tips, a comb, and a stick of deodorant–for me to put in my bag, which is vintage Celine.

He’s not bringing the clarinet.  I won’t allow it.

We opened up a bottle of Lailey Pinot Noir tonight.  It’s that lovely Ontario red I’ve mentioned before. It’s available in vintages right now.  

I just reserved tickets to the Vatican museum for Monday, October 5.  

I’m hungry.  We should make grill cheeses but it’s 12:15am, and the Beast says we’ll be asleep in two seconds.  Not me though.  I have to finish that wine because it will just go to waste if I don’t.  

Can you bring an open bottle of wine on a plane?  

I might be tipsy.  

I’m so hungry!  Isn’t there anything to eat around here?  This is the first proper vacation I’ve had since 2005.  

Did I tell you that I bought a suitcase today from Winners and had to ride my bike home with it duck-taped to my back?  Well I did.

I still have two loads of laundry to do in the morning, and I have to pick up peanut butter for my dear friend Michelle, with whom we’re staying in Florence.  Don’t they have peanut butter in Italy?  What kind of fucking country are we visiting anyway?

But they have prosciutto.  And espresso, gelato, vino, carpaccio…all those things that end in “o”.  

I love those foods.  And I love the Roman Forum.  The Beast is going to want to strangle me when we go there.  “Caesar did this and Cicero did that.”  I don’t care though.  

Okay.  It’s 12:23 and nobody has made me  a grilled cheese sandwich.  This is bull shit.  

I think I’m tired now.  And extremely excited.  Now I’m not tired anymore.

I don’t hear the Beast.  Maybe he’s making me a sandwich, like I asked for.

photoNope.  He’s in bed with wine and a book on Jazz.  This is bull shit.  

I’m going to Italy.

Wong’s Garden

I love, love, love fake Chinese food.  This is Chinese food that’s been put through the North American ringer and comes out the other end with florescent sweet and sour sauce all over it.  I call it fake because I don’t know how easy it would be to find chicken balls and egg rolls in Hangzhou.  

When the Beast and I visit my mom we are often treated to Chinese take-away from a little shop called Wong’s Garden in London, Ont. We visited Mamma Linda, as she is affectionately called, on Saturday.  We spent the after noon lunching and chatting away with my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Ron (Mamma Linda’s siblings).  And when they get chatting about their youth, I could listen for hours, which is very often what happens: real life characters like Fatty Fagan, Vi Moffatt and Tea Towel Marshall illuminate their stories, which include horses jumping over babies on blankets, their dad street racing while they all screamed in terror sitting in the back of the family car, and them referring to womens’ breasts as “dinners” because,well, that’s where dinner came from.  It all sounds more like a Dickens novel than childhoods spent in Strathroy, Ont.

After lunch, the Beast, Mamma Linda and I went antique shopping.  Once we tired of looking at old plates and cocktail rings, the three of us made our way to Wong’s Garden to get some takeaway for dinner.  While we waited outside for the food, I heard a little sound, like a baby goose letting out a little “hello”.

Foodie:  Mamma Linda, did you just fart?

Mamma Linda (looking guilty):  Yes.

Beast:  Oh that’s okay Linda.  I fart all the time too.

And then, the Beast did the most selfless, sweetest, thing:  he farted, in a really exaggerated way–like when you’re 12 years old and you hold up one of your legs by the knee and let one go.  And it was loud–so loud that an unfriendly lady walking by gave us a dirty look. Didn’t matter though because our food was ready.

IMG_0002As you can see, dinner was perfect:  there was some chop suey, mushroom fried rice, some chicken and almond thing, chicken balls (of course), egg rolls, Singapore-style vermicelli, and little deep-fried rib things that the Beast kept calling “knuckles,” which made me not try them.  Mamma Linda and Russ, her main squeeze, had a plate of food.  I went back for seconds. The Beast had fourths.

You might be wondering what the newspaper is for.  Growing up we called this “the good linen.”  It makes cleaning up a breeze.  The Beast asked no questions when my mom told him to put it down.  But he did ask lots of questions when Mamma Linda showed him some of her “girls”.  These are the Royal Doulton figurines that she collects.  He asked her what some of their names were, which ones were her favourite, and if she’d found any good deals lately.  

IMG_0012This, coupled with the cover-up fart, made my heart swell with both love and pride for the Beast.  He’s a true gentleman.  To show him how much it meant to me, I bought him a peameal bacon sandwich on a bun the next day when we got back to Toronto.  

IMG_0014He was at work (the sandwich greeted him when he got home late Sunday night) and I was doing some grocery shopping on Roncesvalles, which happened to be all blocked off for a Polish festival.  There were sausages, pirogies and cabbage rolls for sale everywhere and Polka music filled the air as families walked the car-free streets.  

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It made me wish Mamma Linda, Aunt Sandy and Uncle Ron could have come home with me in my pocket.  We would have eaten ourselves silly while telling stories, laughing and farting the day away.

Foodie:  **

Beast:  **

Frozen Pizza

It’s hard being an adult.  I’ve had to stay late at work every night this week, and I’ll be doing the same next week too.  By the time I get home–usually just after 8:00pm–I still have to think about dinner.  I get it now–all those crazy people at the grocery store, with low-blood sugar, yelling at their kids, yelling at their spouse, looking very grumpy–they’re miserable because they’re starving and don’t want to cook dinner. 

So last night, I nearly cracked.  

The Beast got to see a Werner Herzog movie at the film festival with a friend and we’d planned to eat together at about 9:00pm.  I rode my bike to Sobey’s at about 8:45pm.  I had no idea what to get and was about to faint from hunger.  And there in the frozen foods section, like a lighthouse in a sea storm, were Dr. Oetker’s frozen pizzas.  We’ve had them before, and, they’re not terrible.  In fact, we’ve grown sort of fond of them.  However I don’t think I could ever, in good conscience, recommend them to a gastronomically-inclined friend. Two of those little guys, and a caesar salad would solve all my problems.  As soon as I got home I preheated the oven.  The house began to smell like burnt cherry pie, presumably because I did  such a shitty job of cleaning the oven when my pie exploded last weekend.  And then the Beast got home.

Beast:  What’s that smell?

Foodie:  Cherry pie.

Beast:  Are you making another one?

Foodie:  No, it’s the gunk that I didn’t get out of the oven being burned off.  

Beast:  Oh.

Foodie:  I got the Dr. Oetker’s pizza for dinner and makings for a caesar salad.

Beast:  Oh.  Great!  But if you want to just cook one pizza, that’s fine.  I’ll just have some salad.

Foodie:  Did you already eat?

Beast:  No!  I’m just feeling like the cheese might bother my stomach a bit.

Foodie:  But you must be starving!

Beast:  Oh yes, I am starving.  

Foodie:  Don’t be crazy man!  I’m making two pizzas and your stomach will be just fine.

Beast:  You’re right.

Dinner was on the table (coffee table that is, in the living room) in about 15 minutes.  We opened up a bottle of my favourite cheap white wine, Ruffino Orvieto Classico ($11.75), popped in an episode of Northern Exposure (season four), and were good to go.

Beast:  You burned one of the pizzas.

Foodie:  I know.  I think it must be our oven because only one got burned.  And that oven makes pies explode.  It’s a shitty oven.

Beast:  I have to tell you something.

Foodie:  Go on.

Beast:  I already ate dinner.

Foodie:  I knew it!  You’re such a terrible liar!  Why would you do that when we had specific plans to meet at home for dinner together?

Beast:  Because my friend wanted to get a burger after the movie and I didn’t want him to eat alone!

Foodie:  Where did you go for this burger?

Beast:  It was a banquet burger–from Fran’s.  I also got french fries.

Foodie:  I can’t believe you.  

Beast:  Actually, this pizza is my third dinner tonight.  I got a hot dog from a vendor before the movie.

Foodie (shaking head in disbelief.)

Beast:  Oh, my stomach hurts.

Foodie:  Then stop eating.

Beast:  Can you pass the salad please?

He finished everything and continued to moan about his stupid stomach.  The good news is that I had the Beast right where I wanted him because he was wreathing in pain after eating three dinners:  it was in that moment that he promised to help with dinners next week. It might mean we’ll be eating frozen lasagna and hot dogs but I don’t care.  Sometimes just deciding what to eat is half the battle.  

Because I was too weak  to take photos of dinner last night, I thought I’d include some photos of my jam-making sessions from a couple of weeks ago.  

IMG_1445My favourite type of plums to make jam with.

IMG_1447Stewing Ontario free-stone peaches.  

But you know what?  I have doubts that they were free-stone (because the flesh did not come away from the pit with any ease) and I doubt they were even from Ontario because the flesh was so mealy and sinewy.   

IMG_1472The resulting peaches in brandy.  It’s a recipe from the 1950s that was recently reprinted in the New York Times.  I’m almost afraid to eat them because the peaches felt and looked like shit.  Maybe I’ll give them away as Christmas presents.

IMG_1470Little baby chillies to make spicy strawberry jam (I use a recipe invented by my friend Giovanna.) 

IMG_1473The Beast hates spicy strawberry jam.  And he hates it when I paint my finger nails too.  I think the jam is amazing with a bit of creamy cheese.  And I think it’s nice when your nails match your jam.

photoThe last of the sour cherry explosion pie.  I ate it for breakfast at my work desk.  Not all of it though.

Okay, I ate all of it.

Foodie:  *1/2

Beast:  *

 

Snacks, Pie, and the Medici

 

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My pie exploded last night.  Maybe I ought to start at the beginning:  The Beast and I were having a lovely Saturday together.  We went for breakfast, and then came home to read books on our sunny patio.  Later on, the Beast wanted to practice his saxophone playing so I went out to get fixings for dinner.  We’d already agreed upon a simple meal of various “snacks.”  That’s what we call it when I toast up thin slices of baguette and get things to put on top, like cheese, meat, cannellini beans in olive oil and herbs, and Ontario field tomatoes with garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.  I guess it’s like having loads of antipasti for dinner.

I headed towards the Thin Blue Line to pick up some cheese.  While there, I remembered my friend Giovanna mentioning that this shop now carries a selection of Pingue products including prosciutto crudo, bresaola and cacciatore.  I got a package of each.

As I walked up our street towards home, I could hear the Beast’s music and I couldn’t help but smile.  Right then and there I decided to make him pie.  In fact, I planned on making him two pies in order to facilitate a little experiment of mine:  I wanted to attempt both a butter + shortening crust, and a crust made with 100% lard, and then compare them.  I’d just bought some Ontario peaches and I had Onttario sour cherries in the freezer, so choosing the fillings was easy.  I figured I’d have enough time to make the pies, prepare our snack-dinner, shower (because my underarms smelled like meat loaf,) and relax with the Beast while watching our PBS documentary on the Medici family.

But then the Beast asked if I wanted to go play tennis.  We used to play frequently, but haven’t yet this summer.  Even though I knew I’d be pressed for time to do all the other things on my Saturday agenda, I agreed to the match.

We got to Sorauren park and the two courts were taken; one by three teenagers armed with a basket-ball, a skateboard, and one tennis racket, and the other by a father and his five year old son.  So we sat on a bench and waited.

Beast:  I’m going to hang my racket up in the court with those guys.  They’re not even playing!

Foodie: Oh just wait a second.  I bet they’ll leave soon enough.

Just then, the one teenager with the tennis racket decided to practice his serve in the direction of  his buddy who was sitting on the basket-ball.  Not surprisingly, a ball hit basket-ball boy in the head.  Everybody giggled a bit, including the Beast, once they knew ball boy was okay.  These teenagers continued to dink around and we were ready to go over and ask if we could play, but then the other court became available so off we went to the court opposite the teenagers.  That’s when tennis racket boy said something to the Beast:

Tennis Racket boy: Why where you laughing?

Beast:  Because it was funny.

Tennis Racket boy:  I bet you wouldn’t laugh if it happened to you.

Beast:  Yes I would, because it’s funny.  You laughed too.

The boys left and the Beast and I played 5 matches.  He won the first two and I won the last three.  I feel bad when I beat the Beast at sports.  I figure it’s got to be fairly depressing when your common law wife is more athletically gifted than you are.

Beast:  Do you think I handled myself okay back there?

Foodie: You mean do I think you were a sore loser?  No, not at all!

Beast:  No, no, no, I mean with those teenagers.

Foodie:  I think you handled yourself just fine.  Did you want to fight them in order to impress me?

Beast:  No.  But I did want to teach them a lesson about humour.  Physical comedy is the best kind of comedy.

Foodie:  I agree.  Do you want me to go get them?  I’ll beat the shit out of those punks for you, to defend your comic honour.

Beast:  No.  I could give them a knuckle sandwich if I wanted to though.

Foodie:  Oh I know you could have.

I felt more resigned than ever to make the Beast those pies.  And everything started out great:  I made my pie dough, I let the dough rest in the fridge while I prepared the fillings, and I rolled the dough out and tried to make fancy pie edges.

IMG_1485

IMG_1486Then I started to prep our snack dinner, which was simply a matter of chopping up the tomato bruschetta topping, and arranging our Pingue meats and various cheeses on some plates.

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While I waited for the pies to finish baking, I started washing up all my dishes.  I could smell my meat-loaf underarms (made all the more meatloafy after tennis) and I thought to myself, “boy I hope I can get a shower in before dinner but it’s 9:00pm and I’m so hungry.”  

And that’s when I heard the funny noises coming from the oven.  At first I ignored them.  And then I decided to peak inside:  the glass dish holding the sour cherry pie had cracked and boiling sour cherry juice was pouring all over the bottom of the oven and the kitchen floor.  

Foodie:  silence, followed by inner monologue; I will not be a spaz.  No I won’t.  I’ll just clean this up and the Beast won’t even have to know about it.  And dinner’s done and I can shower and then we can watch our Medici show because I have so much history to catch up on before we’re in Florence in two weeks and I can’t even remember what year the Pazzi conspiracy happened.

Foodie (yelling):  Can you come downstairs please!

Beast:  Sure.

Sometimes you just want attention when you mess up.  The Beast and I cleaned up the sour cherry disaster together.  And we didn’t even get into a fight while we did it.

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In the end, the pies turned out great, although I think we’re both too nervous to eat any of the sour cherry one in fear of swallowing glass.  I didn’t get time to shower before dinner (it was 10:00pm once we finished cleaning) but the smell of freshly baked pie cancelled out my stench.  Dinner was perfect.  I love making up different combinations of toppings on each crostino. The tomatoes were my favourite.  I think the cacciatore was the Beast’s favourite because he ate nearly the whole thing before I got my hands on a piece.  He fell asleep really quickly after eating.  I, on the other hand, watched two hours of our show.  The Medici were fucking incredible, like a real classy Renaissance mafia family.  The Pazzi family was ready to take down the heads of the Medici family in order to get control of Florence and they made their hit on Easter day inside the city’s cathedral during High Mass. They stabbed Giuliano de Medici 19 times and killed him, but Lorenzo managed to escape!  And revenge he did seek:  the conspirators were all eventually taken down, some in horrific fashion.  And it was in 1478.  

I wonder if the Beast would get mad if I try to re-enact the Pazzi conspiracy in the form of one-woman show when we visit Florence’s Duomo?  Only one way to find out…

Foodie:  ***

Beast:  **1/2

Le Sélect Bistro: Tres Fancy

Have I ever told you the story about how I came around on eating medium-rare steak? Oh it’s charming! You see, when I first moved to Toronto, back in 1998, I was, how do you say, younger: I cooked with garlic powder, I loved frozen french fries and chicken fingers, and I ate my meat well-done. And then I went for dinner at La Palette, a little bistro in Kensington market. I ordered steak frites, and I asked for my steak to be well done. That’s when the server, dear thing, crouched down table side and said, “Listen, I’m going to bring you your steak cooked medium. I want you to at least try it for me. If you don’t think it tastes better, I will march back to the kitchen and get it cooked to your liking. Now how does that sound?”

“Yes please.”

Of course, the steak was delicious–more flavourful and tender than any steak I’d ever had. More importantly, the lights were dimmed just so–and I’d consumed enough wine–so that any flicker of squeamishness I had about eating meat that looked like meat, rather than a piece of grey protein, had vanished.

That was almost 12 years ago. I know I shouldn’t admit this, but even though I know it tastes better, I’m still squeamish about meat that looks like meat (red), unlike the beast whose heart begins to beat very quickly upon eying a heard of cows in a meadow. That’s why I usually have to be a bit drunk to eat steak, and resourceful: I find that restaurants, at least in Toronto, have taken the liberty of reinventing the well-defined terms by which meat is cooked. If you order medium-rare, you get get rare. Using this logic, I’ve become accustomed to ordering my steak medium. That way I’m sure to get a perfectly cooked medium-rare piece of meat. Any rarer, and I’d have to be so drunk that I’d be barely functioning as a humanoid in order to wolf it down.IMG_1464

I’m telling you all this because last night the Beast and I, after watching Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Inglourius Basterds, made our way to Le Sélect Bistro for a late night dinner. It was our first time eating here, and we were both excited, and starving.

Foodie: I want everything on this menu. I want to try it all, except the cock’s combs. What are you going to get?

Beast: I think the cassoulet.

Foodie: Really? I would have thought you’d get steak frites?

Beast: I was thinking about that.

Foodie: I can’t get the pepper steak out of my head so that’s what I’m having. Want to share a chacuterie plate to start?

Beast: How about the mussels?

Fine.

The Beast has been obsessed with mussels lately. I think because the sauce that they’re inevitably cooked in provides a vehicle for him to consume large amounts of bread and butter. They arrived moments after ordering them and were devoured in an equally short time.

Foodie: I feel nervous here.

Beast: You keep saying that. Why?

Foodie: I don’t know.

Beast: I don’t know either–this place isn’t overly fancy and the prices are really reasonable.

Foodie: I think this place is very fancy, and those mussels were almost $20! Maybe you’re fancier than I am. I think this place is fancy.

Beast: There are kitchy French art posters hanging on the wall that aren’t even framed. In fact, I think their laminated. And there’s even one by Van Gogh who’s not even French.

Foodie: I guess you’re right. I just don’t want to order anything by the french name. I’ll feel silly trying to pronounce stuff.

So when it came to ordering a glass of red wine for my steak, I went with the Chilean carmenere because I can say, “carmenere.”

Foodie: This is the best glass of wine under ten dollars I think I’ve ordered at a restaurant. Try it.

Beast: Eeew. It’s too…jammy.

Foodie: You just said jammy! That’s so cute sweetie! Jammy is a real wine word used by real wine people! I can understand why you don’t like it though–it’s not your style kiddo. But it’ll be great with my meat.

Just then, our mains were dropped off.

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Foodie: How would you say this steak is cooked?

Beast: Definitely rare.

Foodie: That’s what I thought. It’s delicious though–just really, really….red. How’s your cassoulet?

Beast: It’s….good.

Foodie: It looks amazing–like it was especially designed for you! There’s sausage, pork belly, duck and beans.

Beast: It’s good, but the duck is a bit dry. I wish I’d ordered the steak frites.

Foodie: I wish I ordered the bouillabase.

Beast: That can’t be a good sign–both of us wishing we’d ordered something else.

Foodie: I mean, this is delicious, but I can’t eat the middle part.

Beast: Are you kidding me?

Foodie: I’m not drunk enough. Do you want it?

Well that was a stupid question. The Beast’s eyes lit up as I carefully forked the tender, red center of beef to his plate. He cut it in two and proceeded to mop my plate of the remaining brandy cream pepper sauce.

I had the lemon tart for dessert and the Beast had chocolate gateau, er, cake. We both had espresso. There’s no denying it was a lovely meal in a lovely setting with top notch service, but I never quite felt comfortable enough to enjoy it. Maybe it was the beautiful people–young and old–that kept passing our table; maybe it was my shitty grasp of the French language; or maybe it was that we just watched Inglourius Basterds-a movie so visceral that I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was starring in a movie while we ate Le Sélect. I think it’s simpler than that though: I’m just not as fancy as I’d like to think I am. For example, I like pink meat, not red. And while I haven’t had frozen french fries or chicken fingers in quite some time, I do, on occasion, enjoy frozen pizza. And you already know about the hot dogs.

Foodie: **

Beast: **

These are the Places in Our Neighbourhood: Mother India

This morning the Beast kissed me good-bye before I left for work.  And then he said, “Come here again.”  And then I thought, “Well isn’t this romantic.”  And then the Beast said, “You smell like hot dogs.”

He said I smell like hot dogs.  Maybe he’s projecting:  he just wishes I smell like hot dogs.  

More importantly, we’ve decided to try some of the restaurants in our neighbourhood. There’s one called Tibet Kitchen that my chef friends Giovanna and Fabio say is quite good so the Beast and I met after work outside the restaurant.  But the place was closed. It was Tuesday.  We walked along Queen Street West around Jameson, where there’s no shortage of Tibetan restaurants, and every single one of them was closed.  We were just about to head for burgers at The Stampede Bison Grill, right beside the LCBO on Brock, when we passed by Mother India, and the Beast stopped in his tracks.

photo[1] 12-16-00

Beast:  Let’s go here.

Foodie:  Really?

Beast (pointing to the display menu):  They have saag paneer roti.  I want one.

So in we went.  The place was dark.  Only a few other people were dining–I suspect because most people come here for take-out.  There was some lovely Indian flute music playing too.  Out of nowhere there appeared a delightful woman carrying menus and cold water.  We both ordered a roti filled with saag paneer and a pakora.  (Mom, saag panner is a spinach-based curry dish with cheese in it, and a pakora, I think, is like a fried potato spicy pancake with onions, and maybe some other stuff in it too.  Both are South Asian in origin.  I think.)

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Foodie:  Are the West Indies called the West Indies because Christopher Columbus was looking for India?

Beast:  Yes.

Foodie:  Don’t you think it’s weird that they both have roti?  Is that just a coincidence that they both called they’re version of flat bread roti?

Beast:  I don’t know.  But you know what somebody should do?  Have saag paneer poutine.  Don’t you think that would be delicious?

Foodie:  I guess so.

Beast:  Because it’s basically gravy with cheese in it. 

Foodie:  And you could put extra cheese on top so that it melts.

Beast:  What kind of cheese?  Curds?

Foodie:  Yes, curds.

Everything was delicious, and very spicy, which the Beast isn’t accustomed to enjoying.  But he devoured his meal nonetheless.  For the first time since I was four, I didn’t clean my plate.  This roti was huge.

photo[2] 12-16-00

Foodie:  I’m going to save my left-overs and have it for lunch tomorrow at work.  

Beast:  What are you doing right now?

Foodie:  I’m getting out my lunch container to put my left-overs in it.

Beast:  Should you be doing that?  I’m sure they can get you a container.

Foodie:  I’m sure they can too, but I’d just put it into this container as soon as we got home so I’m saving a container.

Beast:  It’s just embarrassing.

I’ll tell you what’s embarrasssing:  when we got home, I cut up some peaches to have with vanilla ice cream (we’ve been eating peaches and ice cream just about every night for the last two weeks.)  But the Beast didn’t want any peaches.  He wanted to chop up some Reese’s peanut butter cups instead.  That’s not the embarrassing part–what’s embarrassing is that he cut up SIX of them to top off his gigantic bowl of ice cream.

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And then he had the nerve to complain about having a stomach ache.  And he told me I smell like hot dogs.

Foodie:  **

Beast:  ** 1/2