Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Fish Store

I was going to grill fish for dinner the other night but the Beast said he would treat me to dinner at The Fish Store on College Street. Amy Pataki from the Toronto Star recently wrote about the fish sandwiches they sell here.

The Beast frequents the place more often than I do.  I think he and Nick Edwards often have dates here. They follow up their fish sandwiches with veal sandwiches from California sandwiches, just around the corner.  

So, instead of slaving over a hot barbecue, I met the Beast after work on their tiny patio out front.

Beast:  I’m starving!  Do you have any money?

Foodie:  I think I have $20.

Beast:  I’m still buying you dinner but I only have $16 so I might have to borrow some but I’ll pay you back.

Foodie: Uh, okay.

Inside the shed-like space, all the fish is on display.  The hard part is choosing which type you want to fill your sandwich with.  I usually get halibut while the Beast often mixes things up.  This time around he got the Arctic char.  We sat outside while our dinner was prepared.

Beast:  So I think I’ve really improved with my flute playing. Breath control is a big part of playing wind instruments. When I play the clarinet or the saxophone there is natural resistance created by the reed. Put your fingers together and try to blow through them–see, there’s a natural resistance that controls your  breath for you.  

Foodie (nodding my head with interest and thinking the following): what colours should I do my nails tonight?  It should be neutral, just so I don’t have to plan outfits around something too bold.  I wonder if the new Sex in the City movie is as bad as everyone is saying.  I mean, it can’t be that bad, can it?  I’m still going to see it.  I wonder if the Beast will come with me.

Beast: ….but with the flute–put your mouth on top of your fingers and just blow–see, there’s no natural resistance.  It all has to come from in here (pointing to his diaphragm).  I need to work on it.  But other than that, my flute playing is coming along well, don’t you think?  

Foodie:  Pardon?  I mean, oh yes, is it ever!  And here come the sandwiches!  

The fish, gently doused with dried garlic, spices and a balsamic/olive oil topping, was cooked to perfection.  It’s always cooked to perfection.  And it’s so tasty that I’m always tempted to just eat it right out of the bun.  The Beast enjoyed his Arctic char equally.

Beast:  Oh my God this is good!  

Foodie:  I know!  It’s the best I’ve had here.  And we just beat the line-up too.

Beast:  I’m getting another one to take home.

Foodie:  You’re joking, right?

Beast:  No, not a all.  May I borrow $10.

Foodie:  You’re joking, right?

Beast:  There’s a bank machine across the street!  I don’t have cash on me and they don’t have Interac.

Foodie:  I just love how you taking me out for dinner turns into me buying my own dinner and buying you your second dinner.  And do you really think you should be buying a second dinner when you’re trying to save for an iMac?

Beast (throwing his arms up in exhaustion):  I know, I know!  I get so close every month but then I accidently buy books and CDs!

Foodie:  And second dinners.  You buy so many second dinners.  If you’d just wait 20 minutes you’d probably realized you’re not even hungry.

Beast:  I’m starving right now.

Foodie:  Fine, here’s the money.  But you’ve got serious problems.

Beast:  I will order the sandwich and then go across the street to the bank machine. And I know I have problems:  I’m sorry that I’m interested in so many things and that I want to learn.

Foodie:  Library books are free.

Beast:  I have too many late fees.

I got my $10 back from the Beast and we walked all the way home.  It was a beautiful night.  The heat had finally lifted and there was even a slight breeze that seemed to push us along.

Beast:  On a scale of one to fun, how much fun do you have listening to me playing my flute?

Foodie:  Which one?

(The Beat has so many flutes that he recently brought home some contraption from his work and converted it, using an assortment of dowels, into a flute stand to organize them all.)

Foodie:  Because if we’re talking about your new, Western metal flute, then I choose “fun”.  But if it’s one of your kid flutes then I choose two or three. 

Beast:   I resent that.  They’re not kid flutes.  

Foodie:  You should start wearing Renaissance costumes.  Or maybe you should start dressing like a new world settler who’s just arrived in Jamestown.

Beast:  God I would love to dress like that.

Foodie: Oh fuuuuck.

Foodie:  ***1/2

Beast:  ***

 

 

Red Lobster: A Barrel of Laughs

There was this girl in high school named Shannon who was one of the funniest people I’d ever met. Everything she did was deliberately hilarious, from the way she’d walk down the hall, eat her lunch, or say hello to the phys-ed teacher.  She had fantastic comedic timing.  But it was exhausting being around her because you’d constantly be trying to keep the jokes going.  One time we were driving down Talbot Street in St. Thomas, Ontario, trying to choose a drive-thru during our lunch hour.  I don’t remember the make of her car, only that it was a funny shade of green and very, very long.  It was probably the longest car I’d ever been in.  Shannon said her signal/indicator didn’t work so, with her right hand on the steering wheel, and her whole body slouched low in her bench seat, she would perform hand signals out the window with her left arm.  I think she was also talking in a hillbilly accent the entire time.  I remember laughing uncontrollably.

Instead of a drive-thru, we settled on Pizza Hut for lunch.  We laughed our way through our Caesar salads and our delicious, oil-soaked mini pizzas.  And when the bill came, we got our money and waited for the change.  The server was no where to be found.  In fact, no staff member was anywhere to be found.  So Shannon said we should just leave.  It wasn’t our fault, she reasoned, that nobody wanted our money.  I remember feeling morally conflicted for about three seconds but then who wants to be the stick-in-the-mud with a friend like Shannon?  And I mean, wouldn’t it be HILARIOUS to just walk out of the Pizza Hut and not pay for our lunch?

It wasn’t exactly hilarious when I got home from school and saw the look on my parents’ faces. Turns out Pizza Hut called the cops on us, after the bus boy recognized me (I was extremely popular in high school.)  My parents had to go in and pay the bill.  One footnote here:  I wasn’t a troublemaker back then.  In fact, I was a great kid who did well at school, performed in school plays, was a Varsity athlete and had a part-time after-school job.  (And I was extremely popular in high school.  Actually, I peaked in high school.)    So my parents were new at this game of punishment.   They asked me what I was thinking when we walked out on the bill.  I told them that I wasn’t thinking and t it had been Shannon’s idea in the first place so I’d been peer-pressured into doing it.  There were some moments of silence as the three of us worked through this new territory in parent-child relations. And, if memory serves correct, there were even little smirks on their faces, like they were thinking, this is so weird!  This kid never fucks up!  It’s almost…funny!

The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes when you think you have an hilarious idea, it’s best not to execute it: Some things are simply funnier in theory, like going to Red Lobster for example.

For years, the Beast and I–for reasons unknown–have joked about going to the Red Lobster outpost at Bay and Dundas in downtown Toronto.  Another foodnote:  it’s not that Red Lobster is hilarious.  In fact in some cities, Red Lobster is a great restaurant option. But in Toronto, a city that’s bursting at the seams with all sorts of interesting food destinations at all sorts of price points, going to Red Lobster is sort of like buying a loaf of Wonder bread in the middle of Paris.

But the Beast needed to buy a special hair product at this specialty beauty supply store that’s located right across the street from the Red Lobster.  Our time had come.

Foodie:  Do you realize that there are three menus before us?

Beast:  This is overwhelming.  I don’t know where to start.

Our server must have sensed our fear.

Server:  Well hello there!  I’m Elizabeth and I’ll be serving you tonight.  Do you need any help with the menu?

Foodie:  There are three of them!

Server:  Our Shrimp Lover’s Fest is on right now and then we’ve also started a “fresh from the grill” menu and there’s our regular menu too.  Have you two been here before?

Beast:  Maybe once when I was  twelve.  There used to be a treasure chest, right?  Do you still have the treasure chest?

Server (laughing):  Oh no.  They phased out the treasure chest a long time ago I’m afraid.  Well, how it works is that for most meals you get a choice of salad to start and then you choose either a baked potato, french fries or rice to go with your main.

Foodie:  What about those famous cheese buns?  Do we get those?

Server:  You get as many as you like.  The only reason I haven’t brought you any yet is because they’re just about to come out of the oven so they’ll be warm and fresh for you.

Foodie:  How lovely!  Well, I know what I’d like.  I’m going to have this shrimp festival thing and I’ll choose three options from this here list:  I’ll take the garlic shrimp, the Cajun shrimp and, oh, I don’t know…

Server:  Get the crab-stuffed shrimp–it’s my favourite!

Foodie:  And the crab-stuffed shrimp it is!

Server:  And for you sir?

Beast:  I think I’ll have the Fisherman’s Feast.

We both opted for Caesar salads and baked potatoes for our sides.  And before too long, the mythical cheese buns appeared on our table.

Beast:  Oh God, I think I might make a Fisherman’s Feast in my pants!

Foodie:  These are very, very good.

The Caesar salad, sadly, was not.

Foodie:  So let me see this hair product you came all the way down here for.

Beast:  It’s called “Booster”.  I noticed that my friend Dave’s hair was looking particularly shiny, wavy and healthy and he swore by this product.

Foodie:  Lanolin?  Doesn’t lanolin have something to do with sheep?

Beast:  I don’t know.

Foodie: Well I can hardly wait to see how luxurious it makes your hair!  Did you notice the music playing in here?

Beast:  Just that it was non-offensive.  Why?

Foodie:  I’m just shocked that there’s so much “indie-rock” playing.  It’s just so hip.

Beast:  If we were in a movie right now, and this was the soundtrack playing, Jason Reitman would be the director.

Foodie:  Or whoever directed 500 Days of Summer.  But then we wouldn’t be conversing right now.  We’d just be staring wistfully into each other’s eyes.  I still can’t believe that movie was on so many top ten lists.  I mean, it’s about a couple that we’re supposed to find so interesting and so darling but they only ever exchange about ten words at a time before getting cut off by a song.

Good thing I got cut off:  Our server Elizabeth arrived with dinner perched atop a gigantic tray.

Foodie:  WOW.  Does anybody actually clean their plate here?

Server:  Believe it or not, yes.

I counted 25 shrimp in my shrimp festival thing.  TWENTY-FIVE.

And just in case you didn’t notice, that golf ball on top of my baked potato is butter.

The Beast’s meal, in comparison, looked modest.

Foodie: How is it?

Beast:  It’s good.  To be honest, I just got this Fisherman’s Feast because it had a lobster component.  But the lobster is sort of the weakest part of the plate, which is kind of astonishing since this place is called Red Lobster.  How’s your shrimp?

Foodie:  The garlic shrimp is really garlicky.  The Cajun shrimp is tasty.  I feel sort of sad though because the one Elizabeth the server recommended is my least favourite. It tastes like it’s just got Cheese Whiz all over it.

Beast:  Let me try!

Foodie:  Have all you want.  I think I might be done soon.

Beast (tasting my crab-stuffed shrimp):  Oh, this is amazing!

Foodie:  You’re full of shit.

Beast:  You haven’t even finished half your meal.

Foodie:  This is the most food I’ve ever received on one plate in any restaurant.  This is enough food for three people.  And there’s so much sodium pumping through my veins right now that my fingers are swollen.

The Beast cleaned his plate.  I ate half.  The bill was reasonable, so I can understand why a family of six would want to come here.  Also, it’s easy, there’s something for everybody, and it’s easy.  But I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon.  As for the Beast…

Foodie (Outside Red Lobster, walking home):  I feel terrible!  Don’t you feel terrible?

Beast:  Yes, like hell.  That was an expensive joke.

Foodie:  But dinner wasn’t that expensive.

Beast:  Yes, but jokes should be free.  We just paid for a joke.

Foodie:  I see your point.  How many stars would you give Red Lobster?

Beast:  Four stars.

Foodie:  What?!  Are you kidding me?!

Beast:  It was delicious.

Foodie:  But we both feel sick and everything tasted the same and I had shrimp with Cheese Whiz on it!

Beast:  I’d give it four stars on the strength of those cheese rolls alone.

The line between jokes and reality was so blurred, I just let it go.

Foodie: *

Beast:  ****

A Cottage and a Photo Essay

Few words needed to be spoken as they drove to the cottage late Friday night, not because they were so intuned to each other that they didn’t require words to communicate, but because the music that he’d chosen to play the entire car ride was too loud to speak over.  That is, until he had something to say.

Beast:  I watched the bonus features of the Days of Heaven Criterion Collection DVD you got me for my birthday.  Sam Shepherd said something that really hit home.  He said, “You can’t intellectualize Terrence Malick’s films.  They’re like poems: they just affect you, or they don’t.  Sometimes it’s better not knowing why or why not.”

Foodie:  I like that.  You know that Terroni dinner I went to, with the wine producer Ciro Biondi?  He said something like that too.  He said that he doesn’t like it when he goes to an art gallery and there are notes on the wall explaining the art to him, explaining what he’s supposed to see and how he should feel.  That’s why he doesn’t tell people what they should taste in his wines.  He said that when there are two different bottles of wine on a table, you know the better bottle is the one that’s finished first.  The rest is just talk, talk talk.

This conversation would set the mood for the rest of their weekend.

The sound of bull frogs singing in the marshes and the familiar smell of cedar greeted them when they arrived.  Once they carried all their supplies down the steep pine-needle covered steps, they each knew exactly what to do:  He activated some sort of pump, switched on the power, and got a fire going to take away the chill…

while she put away the groceries and got dinner on the go.

That simply meant unwrapping cheese, slicing some cacciatore, dicing up tomato with garlic, basil and olive oil, and mashing an avocado.  Oh, and toasting some slices of baguette.

Without talk, he opened up a bottle of red and poured them both a glass.  He pulled the little coffee table to the middle of the room, closer to the fire. Without talk, they reached for their favourite magazines–the ones they’d been waiting all month to read–and nibbled on their perfect meal.  And without talk they cleaned up, and settled in with their books.  For a brief moment, she felt a twinge of guilt, or rather a feeling of being too fortunate to be here, enjoying this time, this place.

Sleep came too easy, and so too did morning.  Day-old cinnamon buns from Rahier and a hot, French-press pot of coffee made it easier to face the cold. Neither of them could find the electric coffee grinder that had been at the cottage since electric coffee grinders came into existence, but he did manage to find an antique grinder that she assumed was only for decoration (cottages are often filled with such knick-knacks.)

Somehow, the fact that this antique coffee grinder looked like a grinder used in the movie Dances with Wolves, made the coffee taste better than usual. More authentic.

After a quick trip into town to buy firewood (God was it cold!) they were back at the cottage just in time for a lunch of barbecued hot dogs.  She’s made fun of him for picking these up at the grocery store before they left but after biting into one of the Frank’s Red Hots, she thought she’d never doubt his culinary decisions again. (She would.)

After lunch, they returned to their books.  And then, accidently, they napped for four hours.  Maybe it was the cold, but neither of them could remember the last time they’d napped for that long.  And neither of them could remember a nap that felt this good. She immediately felt guilty about the time lost.  He reminded her that they’d both been working hard and had earned such a glorious sleep.

Finally, a crack appeared in the clouds allowing in a sliver of sun.  It was just the sign they needed to rouse them from their hibernation.  Without talk, they poured themselves a little drink, wrapped themselves up in sweaters, and went down to the dock.

They didn’t linger for long: dinner had to be made. They’d purchased his and hers rib eye steaks to grill for their Saturday night dinner.

He’s never cooked a more picture-perfect piece of meat.

Some grilled Ontario asparagus, red peppers, zucchini, assorted mushrooms and potatoes would round out their feast.

They ate dinner in the screened-in porch, where it was too cold to eat, but neither of them seemed to care.  They both agreed it was the most wonderful meal they’d ever prepared together. There’s no proof to validate this last statement, as there rarely is in such circumstances, but at that moment, I believe they both believed it to be true.

More fire, more couch, more books and too much wine.  And some lovely music.  “It’s David Darling and Ketil Bjornstadt,” he told her.  “Every time I play it you ask who it is.”  She thought, “Oh how could I forget David Darling and Ketil Bjornstadt?  And then there, on the couch, in this perfect moment, she had a bit of a “Guido” moment (you know, the part in the Fellini film 8 1/2 when Guido is surrounded by all the characters that have come into his life.) She thought of all the people she’d ever loved, and all the people, even if she didn’t know them very well, who’d illuminated her days in some way or another,  and how she wanted them there with her in that room, with the fire, and the smell of cedar and the bull frogs singing and the stars shining. She’d tell them, one by one, how much they meant to her: And there would be hugging and tears and laughing.

Her eyes welled up because there wasn’t enough time for all of these relationships.  Or maybe there was time and she just wasn’t making room for everybody.  Or maybe she was just drunk.  She was also asleep now.  He picked the book up off her chest and helped her to bed that night.  She dreamed of the frittata she’d make in the morning with the left-over grilled vegetables.

They woke to a cloudless day.

But before she could realize that dreamy frittata, he insisted that they go for a canoe ride around the lake.

He did the steering.  He kept asking, “You paddling up there kiddo?” And she’d say, “Oh yeah, paddle, right.”  And then she’d say, “You know I didn’t grow up upper-middle class.  We didn’t have cottages.  We had a cornfield in the backyard and made mud pies occasionally. So canoeing doesn’t come easy to me.”  He’d heard the joke before but still laughed.

Some of the cottages on the lake looked quite different from his family’s classic (and perfect) tongue and groove cedar charmer.  “Oh look,” he said as they canoed past one, “That one was recently featured in the magazine, House and Asshole.

“That’s what I love about cottage country,” she said.  “You poor rich people can make fun of the really rich people. And the people who live here all year long must make fun of everybody.”

After the frittata (see documentation above), they spent their afternoon sunbathing on the dock with their books.  They even managed to dunk their entire bodies under the water, but only once, and only for about three seconds, because it was most definitely too cold to be swimming.  But it felt like heaven drying off under the sun.

After several hours of lounging, they both knew it was time to prepare one last meal before heading home.  It would be a mish-mash meal of grilled bread and whatever left-overs they could find.

Highlights included the prosciutto-wrapped bundles of asparagus and the fig, parmigiano and arugola salad topped with a drizzling of honey.

With full stomachs and in good spirits, they tidied up, packed their things and loaded up the rental Suzuki that was no bigger than a matchbox.  They were only away from the city for 48 hours but it felt like an eternity.  He wondered if it would feel like an eternity getting home, considering how rotten she smelled.  To make matters worse, she was intoxicated by her own rotten scent and kept making him smell her rotten underarms which had been free of deodorant for two days.  When he’d refuse, she’d smell them herself, and her eyes tilted to the heavens in ecstasy and she went on about how  the rotten smell was “so wild and free”.

They took one last look around for dirty socks, phone chargers and camera cases.  And then, for a moment, they stood in front of the bay window.

Neither of them wanted to leave.  They knew they’d be back sooner or later, but this visit, this time, was especially sweet.

Without words or fuss, they walked up the steep pine-needle covered steps, climbed into that tiny car, and drove home.

Foodie:  ****

Beast:  ****

Sunday Home Economics

Maybe it’s the cold weather, but I can’t stop making pasta for dinner.  

On Friday, I made a version of orecchiette con cima di rapa, which is a specialty of Italy’s Puglia region (the heel of the boot) and requires only a few ingredients.

I’ve tried making it a few times but haven’t had much success, even though my friend Gio insists that, “it’s so simple to make.”  But my latest attempt was a huge success. 

And then on Sunday, a got caught in a wave of domesticity that found me cooking and baking the afternoon away.  

First, I invented a lasagna based on the theme, “green things.”  

Along with the leeks, zucchini, spinach and basil, I also included ground beef and a can of plum tomatoes in my sauce.  While I had that on the go, I started prepping for the pasta that I planned on serving that night, penne with sausage and red peppers topped with fresh ricotta and basil.  It’s one of the Beast’s favourite dishes (which came courtesy of our pal Paula who found it on Epicurious.com.)  Because there are always left-overs with this recipe, it’d be perfect for dinner because the Beast had invited his folks over.

I didn’t know if I should cook the lasagna and then just re-heat it later in the week, or if I should freeze it, uncooked.  I cooked it in the end and it smelled so good that I desperately wanted to eat a piece. (Gio, I know this isn’t a lasagna that a real eye-talian would make, and I hope we can still be friends.)

Thank goodness  my baking projects distracted me from my hunger:  first I made some little lemon cupcakes.   I substituted in Meyer lemons on my own accord and I’m so happy I did.  They impart a sweeter, more floral note than usual lemons.  And because you can only get them for a short time every year I use them as often as I can while they’re around.

And then I had banana bread to make.  I added chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts.

Before I knew it, it was 7:30pm and the Beast and his parents were in the kitchen.  As usual, Marg, mother to the Beast, came bearing gifts (and as usual, they were all from Home Sense.)

Marg:  These stickie notes were on sale at Home Sense–aren’t they just perfect for you?

Foodie:  Oh are they!  They’re just adorable!

Marg:  And I thought these bowls were just so “you”!  Do you like them?  I got the white ones with the blue stripes ages ago–only seven dollars!–but I kept forgetting to give them to you.  And these ones–just look at the colours!–won’t they be perfect for summertime entertaining on your deck?

Foodie:  Will they EVER!  Thanks so much!  Let me just put these with the OTHER BOWLS YOU’VE GIVEN ME OVER THE YEARS.  

Along with the pasta, I’d made a simple green salad with thinly sliced radish (my new favourite thing) and had some lovely crusty baguette to mop up anything left on our plates.

The pasta, which has always been a real crowd pleaser in the past, was incredible.  In fact, we all had seconds.

On Tuesday night we heated up the non eye-talian lasagna and watched the Stanley Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon.  (It’s a movie that the Beast has been trying to get me to watch for years.) 

Beast:  Wow!  This is really good!  This is great!

Foodie:  It is pretty good!  I think this recipe is a keeper in fact.  

Beast: After dinner I have to tell you something.  I’m afraid though. 

Foodie:  What is it?

Beast:  I’ll tell you after dinner.

Foodie (pausing the movie): Tell me now.  What did you do?

Beast:  Oh I can’t tell you!  You’re going to be so mad!

Foodie:  What did you buy?

Beast:  Nothing!

Foodie:  Are you having an affair with a woman who’s even older than I am?

Beast:  Never!

Foodie:  Just tell me already!

Beast:  (Long, serious pause.)  About two weeks ago, I was trying to find a spot for my new socks in my drawers but they were all full so I was going to put them in your drawer and that’s when I found the flute that you bought me for my birthday and I’ve played everyday whenever I can when you’re not home and I’m sorry and I love it.

Foodie:  I can’t believe you.  I just can’t believe you.

Beast:  Are you angry?

Foodie:  This relationship is too absurd for me to be angry.  Snooping for birthday presents?!?!

Beast:  I was putting away my clothes!

Foodie:  The flute was hidden underneath stuff! You would have had to dig to find it!

Beast:  I don’t think you hid it very well.

Foodie:  I DIDN’T THINK I WAS DATING A TWELVE-YEAR-OLD WHO’D GO THROUGH MY SHIT LOOKING FOR BIRTHDAY FLUTES.

Beast:  I love it.  It’s the best birthday present ever!  Do you want me to go get it and play it for you?

Foodie:  No thanks.  You know this is really just sad news for you because you’re not going to have any presents to open up on your birthday tomorrow.

Beast:  Oh you can just look at my wish list on Amazon and get gifts rushed delivered if you like.

Foodie: Let’s finish dinner.

We did, and I even rewarded the Beast’s poor behavior with dessert.  I was inspired by a friend who’d posted photos on Facebook of a dessert he’d concocted.  I couldn’t get the images out of my head, and I’d been dreaming up my own version for weeks:  So, using store-bought puff pastry, homemade rhubarb jam and freshly whipped cream, I created a fucking giant homemade Flakey.  

Dreams really do come true, and they came true again the morning when we ate the rest of the Flakey for breakfast.  

Orecchiette:  Foodie ***   Beast ***

Penne:  Foodie  ***1/2  Beast  ****

Lasagna:  Foodie **1/2   Beast ***

The Fucking Flakey: Foodie ****  Beast ***

Duff’s: Tastes Like Chicken

Have we talked about how I don’t eat bird?  I used to eat bird, like Swiss Chalet chicken.  My family had Sunday dinner at Swiss Chalet without fail during my childhood.  I remember we always had the same waitress:  she was Hungarian (I think) and her breasts spilled over the top of her milk-maid style uniform.  My brother and I were obsessed with those breasts.  I always ordered the same thing: a quarter chicken dinner with white meat and french fries please.  Oh, and one Kitty Cocktail, straight up. As a family we’d discuss the finer points of the film we’d just screened across the street at the Odeon, like E.T.(loved it), or Chariots of Fire (BORING).  

So what happened?  I’m not sure.  I do know that there were scenes in two movies–neither of which was Hichcock’s The Birds– that gave me nightmares:  the first was On Golden Pond, the scene where Henry Fonda pulls up a dead loon from the lake with his fishing line, and the second was in the remake of The Bounty, when Captain Blythe, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins divides up the flesh of a seagall between himself and his mutineed crew.

Also, a crow crashed into the window during the singing of the national anthem in my Kindergarten class. At recess, I found  the black mangled thing outside covered in bright red blood and white maggots.

But none of this deterred me from eating Swiss Chalet, or Aunt Sandy’s roast chicken, or any holiday turkey dinner as a child.  My phobia of bird was only realized as an adult. Today, I have difficulty riding my bike under bridges where one often finds dead pigeons, and I can’t touch dead bird, which means the Beast never gets a home-cooked meal of anything that was once feathered.  If I’m served bird, I can eat it, and I even enjoy it, especially if I’ve been fed enough wine by my hosts.  Only once I couldn’t stomach it, when I was served quail.  All I saw was a dead baby pigeon, so I clandestinely scooped the carcass onto the Beast’s plate.   It made me weak in the knees, which is exactly how I felt leading a group of students through St. Mark’s square in Venice many years ago:  my twitching and squealing over the mere proximity of thousands of feathered beastie things was funny at first to them but when tears started rolling down my cheeks, I became a sad, pathetic character in their eyes, and my own.

I know what you’re thinking: that I’m denying myself memorable food experiences with this nonsensical dislike of bird.  You’re right.  That’s why, with only some trepidation, I accepted an invitation from the Beast’s older brother, Noah, to dine with him and his lovely wife, Laura, at Duff’s, a city landmark that’s famous for their chicken wings–probably the most filthy fucking part of those filthy disgusting animals, besides their feet and assholes.  It was Noah’s birthday and he loves Duff’s.  I couldn’t say no.

Beast:  Does anybody want to start with something?  

Foodie:  Why don’t we get one of those fried appetizer plates?  It just seems like the right thing to do.

Beast (to Noah):  Did you hear back from mom?

Noah:  I called her.

(Back story:  Sweet Marg, mother to the Beast and Noah, kept calling the birthday boy to find out where the four of us were going for dinner so that she and Dave, the Beast’s father, could join us for a post-dinner drink.  Noah did not want this to happen, not because he doesn’t dearly love his folks, he just wanted to keep things simple, and he DID NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN.  But Marg, good-humoured, sweet thing that she is, kept texting us asking what time she and Dave should meet us at Duff’s.  Noah grew more and more anxious as the day went on.)

Foodie:  What did you say? 

Noah:  Oh everything is fine.  I just said that I didn’t want things to get complicated and that the four of us just wanted to have a meal together.

Foodie:  Do you think they’ll show up?

Beast:  I keep looking out the front window expecting to see their faces against the glass looking for us.

Our fried appetizer plate arrived.  What a good idea!  There were fried zucchini sticks, fried mozzarella sticks, fried onion bits and fried round things (contents unknown). Everything went wonderfully with the pitchers of Creemore we were sharing.

There were burgers on the menu–even fish and chips–but I felt compelled to try the wings.  So the Beast and I ordered 20 mild ones to share, plus a basket of fries.  Noah ordered this too, except his were hot and he wasn’t sharing them.  Laura, Noah’s wife, ordered “saucy finger” chicken fingers.  It was almost too much food for the table.

I think I ate about six wings.  And you know what?  They were delicious!  If you ask me though, Noah had the right idea when he ordered them hot.  They were far saucier–and tastier– than our mild ones (because the Beast is sensitive to heat, I had no choice.)  

Noah finished all but four of his wings.  I don’t know if eating 16 wings counts as excessive (because I don’t eat wings).  But he seemed pretty full.  

Although no one was too full for espresso and gelato down the street at Dolce.  We sat outside and people-watched the College Street crowd.  Marg and Dave never did show up, but because we were all half-expecting them to pop out of a car with balloons at any given second, it’s like they were with us the entire time.  

Foodie:  **1/2

Beast: *

 

The Harbord Room

Date Night 2010 started with me meeting the Beast at the Harbord Room’s bar.  

Foodie:  Sorry I’m late!  They were completely booked tonight but they told me that we could probably sit at the bar, which I see you’ve already done.

Beast:  I figured it out.  The bartender is a bit scary though:  before he even asked me for  drink he said, “Ah, are you meeting somebody?”  I told him that I was.  I think he was concerned with the spacing of the bar seats.

Foodie:  Is that him?  (pointing discreetly to the bartender.)

Beast:  Yes it is.

Foodie:  That’s the same scary man that served me and my friend Elena about a month ago!  He was so cold!  Every time he left our table we’d wondered if we’d said something to make him hate us so much.  We behaved normally–maybe were too nice though, in an attempt to warm him up a bit.

Just then the bartender came over to offer me a drink.  The Beast started with a gin martini.  I had a plain old glass of riesling.  He was less cold than I remembered.  I’d say he was “efficient”.  

Foodie:  What looks good? Oh, oysters!  Let’s have some of those.  What else.  I had the B.C. ling cod last time and it was incredible.

Beast:  I’m having the steak frites.  

Foodie:  Do you want to share steak frites and the fish?

Beast:  No, not at all.

Foodie: Okay then I’m getting the steak frites too because I’ll see yours and regret not getting it.  Let’s get a little salad on the side too.

Beast:  Perfect.

Our oysters were delivered right away.

I’m afraid I can’t remember what sort of accoutrements were in the little ramekin:  we didn’t sample them because the Beast prefers his oysters as nature intended them–unadorned.  I like them with a squeeze of lemon, and sometimes a little freshly grated horseradish.

(Photo graciously provided by Meghan Telpner!  Visit her gorgeous website here.)

Mom, this is what a horseradish root looks like!  Maybe you knew that already, but the first time I ever saw a horseradish root I couldn’t get over the fact that it resembled a big giant tool of some sort.  Maybe like a hammer, or a wrench.  I don’t know for certain what tool, but isn’t the similarity to some sort of  tool uncanny?  

Anyway, the oysters were lovely.  

Beast:  I am so excited to see Steve Reich that I can barely stand it.  Look, my hands are even trembling.

Foodie:  Oh yes, I’m excited too.

Beast:  Do you know how important Steve Reich is?

Foodie:  Who’s Steve Reich again?

Beast:  He’s only one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, along with Stockhousen and Philip Glass.

Foodie:  Do I like him?

Beast:  Yes, you like him.  He’s had a huge impact on film scoring from the 1970s onward–especially the film scoring that you like.

Foodie:  Well then I can hardly wait either!  Oh look, here comes our steak.

Foodie:  These are good fries.

Beast:  Yes they are.  How’s your steak cooked?

Foodie:  It’s pretty rare.  I’ll let you have the middle, gelatinous part.  Isn’t the melted Ermite blue cheese on top lovely?  

Beast:  It’s okay.  

Foodie:  Just okay?  I think it’s so tasty!

Even tastier though was the little side salad!  Shocking?  Yes!  I couldn’t get over it either.  It was simply some arugola with thinly sliced radish, fennel and carrot in a tarragon vinaigrette but it was so crisp, clean and refreshing!  (I’ve recreated twice now at home.)

While we finished our dinner, the Beast and I behaved like to two old gossipy women having a yarn together.

Foodie (in a whisper):  You see those three ladies sitting to my right?

Beast:  Yes.

Foodie:  They’ve already asked scary bartender for two pints of ice to put in their glasses of white wine!  You should have seen scary bartender’s face!

Beast:  Did you hear what they said about meditation?

Foodie: No.

Beast: Well, one of them asked, “Have you guys ever meditated before?” And they responded yes.  And then the woman said, “No, I mean really meditated.”

Foodie:  Did you notice the couple to the left of you?

Beast:  You mean the lady who’s 16 going on 65?

Foodie:  Never mind her, look at her husband!  He’s dressed like an Italian teenager with those ripped jeans, pointy leather shoes and his button-down shirt that’s buttoned way the fuck down!

Beast:  We should really get the bill.  I don’t want to be late.

The Beast waited outside while I waited about fifteen minutes, with my credit card in plain view, for the bill.  

Beast (outside and ready to start walking to our concert venue):  What took so long?

Foodie:  I don’t know.  I just couldn’t get his attention and I didn’t want to interrupt him while he talked to the cast of Jersey Shore at the counter.  God that was cold service.

Beast: I don’t actually mind cold service.  It’s better than “You have GOT to try the cheese plate! There’s this one from Prince Edward County that’s TO DIE FOR.  It’s made with goat’s milk.  Or maybe it’s not goat.  What’s another animal that makes cheese?”  Anyway, have y’all heard of organic beef before?”  I just can’t stand cold, ineffectual service.  

Foodie:  But I didn’t actually ask for the bill.  Maybe we should give him a break–think of the type of people he’s constantly dealing with.  Maybe that’s why he’s so cold.  Maybe we’d be that cold too.  

Beast:  Think about the type of people everybody deals with every day!  Look at the two of us in our jobs!    That’s no excuse.

Foodie:  What a second–what were you reading when I first came into the restaurant?

Beast:  A book on James Joyce, and one on Chinese poetry.  

Foodie: Well that explains it!  Think about it:  You sit down with your gay little books and we start talking about Steve Reich.  We’re bigger assholes than the meditating ladies and the retired couple dressed like Euro-trash!

Beast:  No way!  Steve Reich is the most–

Foodie:  Oh God, we only have five minutes to get there!  Let’s hurry!

The place was packed!  (Maybe the Beast was onto something with this “Steve Reich” guy.)  By the by, I could have sworn I saw Atom Egoyan and Adrianne Clarkson in the lobby–not together or anything though.

Our seats afforded us a grand view of the instruments on stage.  

The Beast loved the concert.  I just “liked” it.  I really enjoyed our dinner though, while the Beast felt it was a little mediocre.  You can’t win them all.

Oh, and I figured out during the concert (my mind wandered a bit) that a horseradish root looks like a giant cock with balls!  Nature is amazing!

Foodie:  **1/2

Beast: *1/2

 

Fish in a Bag

(Sunday night:  The Beast gets home at 8:00pm and finds the Foodie crying while watching TV.)

Beast:  What’s wrong?

Foodie:  (Points to the television).

Beast:  What are you watching there?  Is that the Horse Whisperer?

Foodie:  (Nods yes.)

Beast:  Are you okay?

Foodie:  (Nods yes.)

Beast:  You’re not in the least bit impressed that I immediately recognized the film?

Foodie:  (Nods yes.)

Beast:  Are you too emotional to talk right now?

Foodie:   (Turns off TV)  No.

Beast:  What’s for dinner?

Foodie:  I’ll show you!

I lead the Beast into the Kitchen to reveal my efforts, which included three dishes that I’ve never made before:  Cod with fennel and orange en papillote; leeks with basil and mozzarella (both recipes from Mireille Guiliano’s new French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook), and lemon roasted potatoes (from Jaime Oliver’s April/Map edition of his magazine called…Jaime.)  Sounds healthy, don’t you think?  Well, we desperately needed some lighter fare after over-indulging earlier in the weekend.  Let me break it down for you:  Harvey’s on the train from Toronto to London; Dairy Queen blizzards upon arrival in London; and, get ready for it….KFC.

I haven’t had Kentucky Fried Chicken in I’d say about 15 years.  The occasion was a family gathering, on my mom’s side.  Everybody brought wonderful salads and sides. 

And my mom provided, among other things, three buckets of KFC. It was just a wonderful affair.  Uncle Ron recounted a number of family stories, one of which detailed how my great-grandmother once wielded a cleaver and chased my philandering (and naked) great-grandfather down the street.  We talked and laughed the afternoon away.  

The Beast even invented his own special snack wrap, using KFC skin, havarti cheese, salami and some nice healthy lettuce.  

For dessert, we had slab cake from Loblaw’s.  The Beast and I picked it up with my mom that very morning.  He got to witness first-hand how my mom flirts with young men not once, but twice that day.  The first incident was at Costco where my mom bee-lined to a particular check-out station.  Her motivation became apparent when we spotted the bagger boy, who was well over six feet, and bulging with bronzed muscles.  “That’s Jeremy,” she said.  “He’s my favourite.”  The second victim was the nice young Loblaw’s man who brought us the slab cake.  “I bet you wish you could come home with us instead of being stuck at work,” she said.  “They’ll be plenty of food!”  Wink, wink.

But that cake….It was divine.  (Although a few of us were slightly concerned that the blue icing permanently stained our fingers, and in the case of my mom, her wrists (?)  If it was that potent, what would it do to our insides?  After our second servings though, we were too high on sugar to care.)

By Sunday, we needed sodium and sugar relief.  So,while the Beast was working, I spent the day preparing our dinner  in between of working on a story, doing laundry, and putting away all of our winter shit.  I got the cod, orange and fennel slices ready to go en papillote (mom, that means, “in parchment,”  I just looked it up.) 

The baked leeks and roasted potatoes were both a breeze to prepare and came out of the oven picture-perfect.

But the pièce de résistance was the fish in a bag!  And it wasn’t just me that thought so either.

Beast:  Wow!  This is really good!  And I don’t even like fish!

Foodie:  It is pretty good isn’t it!

Beast:  This whole meal is amazing.  You really outdid yourself with this one kiddo.  

Foodie:  I’m not too crazy about the leek dish though.  I thought would be the real winner out of the three dishes.

Beast:  I agree. Do you mind if I just eat the crispy basil and cheese off the top of the rest of the leeks?

Foodie:  No, not at all.

Beast: One more thing: Why are we eating at the table?

Foodie:  I thought it would be nice for a change.  Actually, I think we should start eating at the table every night.  It’s healthier.  

Beast:  You don’t want to watch the end of the Horse Whisperer?

Foodie:  Heck no, I was just flipping around the channels and happened to start watching it and happened to start crying.  

(Silence.)

Foodie:  Look how much we’re communicating at the table. Do you think we’d be communicating so much if we were watching TV?

Beast:  You’re right.  This is really nice.

(Silence.)

Beast:  Want to eat mangos for dessert and start watching, A Man for all Seasons? (Some movie about Henry VIII that the Beast rented.)

Foodie:  Oh god yes!

So we washed up the dishes together and opened up our very own special box of Alphonso mangos (from Mumbai).  My friend recently wrote a story on these absurdly fragrant and sweet beauties and after reading it I went straight to Little India to pick up a case.  

 There’s a particular sensuality to their shape, their blushing exterior and their unbelievably juicy flesh that makes me quiver, sort of like how I felt while I watched “Jeremy” bag our groceries at Costco.  

Foodie: ***

Beast:  ***