Monthly Archives: October 2008

Cabbage Roll Showdown

I’d always assumed that my mom and her sister Sandy learned to make cabbage rolls from their mom.  And in turn she, my grandmother, was handed down the recipe for these cabbage rolls from her German ancestors.  Grandma Adeline did in fact teach her daughters the art of the cabbage roll, but it was Vi Moffatt, the English neighbour lady, who taught granny.  I can’t be certain that Mrs. Moffat’s recipe is steeped in Eastern European tradition, but I can say that it’s the definitive cabbage roll recipe for my tastes. 

The cabbage rolls my mom made during my childhood were excellent. I remember the sound of her pained moans when she’d bend over to put the 100 lb, filled-to-the-brim, orange Creuset pot into the oven. And I also remember that my mom designed cabbageless cabbage rolls during a particularly fussy phase of mine that I’d prefer not to discuss at great length.  They were essentially beef and rice logs stewed in tomatoes, and they were delicious.

Aunt Sandy’s cabbage rolls are prepared in much the same way, only Sandy uses half ground pork instead of 100% beef, and she doesn’t add bacon strips on top like my mom does.  Both ladies add spartan ingredients to the filling:  salt, pepper, onions, and garlic powder.

Now, it’s silently acknowledged among those lucky enough to taste them that Aunt Sandy’s cabbage rolls rule.  She’s forced out of necessity to makes pots of them because you can’t eat just one or two of these things:  you eat more like seven, even eight.  I’ve never met someone who’s stopped at two.  And quite frankly, I don’t want to.  They’d probably be quite dull.

On a perfect October afternoon, the beast and I were invited to Aunt Sandy’s for cabbage rolls.  It was the beast’s first time.  He’d heard so much about them that for a moment, I worried they wouldn’t meet his, err, beastly expectations.  But the heavenly aroma in Sandy’s home and the sight of antiqued metal pots fitted with rickety lids on every burner reassured any lingering doubts.

Aunt Sandy's Lunch Spread

Aunt Sandy's Lunch Spread

Our afternoon was outfitted with obscene amounts of the rolls, fresh rye bread, and good conversation.  The drive home from Strathroy to Toronto was filled with a number of questions, such as:

Beast:  So, what kind of rice do you think Sandy uses?

Foodie:  Uh, I’m not sure.  Why?

Beast:  I think if you used the same brand of rice, your cabbage rolls might taste better.

Foodie:  Thanks for the tip asshole. (Note: I was trying to quit smoking, so I might have been slightly on edge.)

Beast:  Yours are good, but it’s just your rice.  It’s…lacking.  And yours are a bit saucy.

Foodie:  Maybe you’re a bit saucy.

Beast:  [Exhales his cigarette out the car window, and grins.]

My version of cabbage rolls has evolved over the five years of courting the Beast.  I’ve made tasteless batches stuffed with hard rice despite being stewed for hours in watery bland gop.   And I’ve wasted hours trying to modernize the basic family recipe with gourmet additions of fresh (gasp!) garlic, and herbs, like flat-leaf parsley and basil. 

But quite frankly I think my last batch, made about a month before the Beast tried Sandy’s, was pretty good.  I used a 50:50 ratio of ground pork and beef, canned plum tomatoes, tomato juice, Ontario cabbage, rice, salt, pepper, onions, and fresh garlic.  And I topped the batch off with bacon strips, just like mom. 

Cabbage Rolls by Me

Here’s the best part.  My mom gave me her Creuset pot a couple of months ago.  Wait, this gets better.  This pot—this iconic, beautiful pot that nourished my childhood with the stews, soups and sauces that filled it—was a wedding gift to my mom some 30 years ago from her mom, grandma Adeline.  And my Aunt Sandy was the one who picked it up on Adeline’s behalf.  So all these beautiful, cabbage roll-making ladies played a part in getting this pot onto my stove top.

I’d like to believe the Creuset makes everything taste better.  The beast agrees, but my cabbage rolls, despite being cooked in it, still don’t top Sandy’s.

Cabbage Rolls by the Foodie

Foodie:  **

Beast:    *1/2

Cabbage Rolls by Aunt Sandy

Foodie:  ***

Beast:    ***1/2


Our Jour de Fete at Tati Bistro

Both of my poorly fitting flats slipped right off my stocking feet as the Beast
and I stepped into Tati Bistro on Harbord Street in Toronto.    

Foodie:  Did she see me trip?

Beast:  No, I don’t think so.

Foodie:  There she goes!  Oh look how adorable she is on her bike!

The she was Rachel McAdams.   We’re friends.  Okay, we went to the same high school.  She knows my name, maybe not every time she sees me, which has been, like five or six times, but she has audibly said my name on more than one occasion. One time she introduced me to Ryan Gosling.  I shook his hand and said, “Ryan, was it?”  Two other times she hugged me good-bye.  Hugged me.  With each encounter, my heart leaps into my mouth and it takes all I have not to say “Listen, I really like you, and I think we could be friends.  Really good friends.  Not in a creepy way, just in a “hey, wanna go get away from it all and read old New Yorkers at the library?” sort of way. Too fast?  Okay, let’s do dinner.  Or just drinks?  I’m thinking of writing a screenplay and clearly you’re the only person I have in mind to play the lead. Okay, it’s a book.  So far there are 12 pages.  There have been 12 pages since 2005.  But eventually, it’ll be made into a movie, probably with Spike Jonze directing, and I’ll make sure that there’s a clause that says only you can play the lead.”

This time around, I managed to keep it short.  We said our hellos.  She said it was nice to see me outside of the restaurant.  I told her about my new job working for a magazine.  She seemed very pleased for me.  Then, seeing the Beast out of the corner of my eye, I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t even introduce you.  This is the Beast.”

And then she said, “Nice to meet you,” and shook his paw!

Then I touched her on the shoulder as I said good-bye and we began our assent up Tati’s stairs as she rode off on her adorable bicycle. 

“Can you believe how beautiful she is?  Doesn’t she just radiate prettiness?  And kindness too?  Maybe I shouldn’t have touched her.  Thank God I had on a good outfit!”

That’s when my shoes fell off.   Rachel knocked me out of my shoes.  

Okay.  Let’s get down to brass tacks. I hadn’t read any reviews about Tati Bistro, so we had no idea what to expect.  That can be nice for a change.

After being seated in pretty tight quarters, I immediately grabbed the wine list.  It was compact, but with ample selection, lots of crowd pleaser producers, like Bogle, McManis and Bastianich, and not a glass over ten dollars.   Within seconds, we’d decided our dinner:  some mussels and a simple green salad to start, followed by two New York steak frites thank-you-very-much.  Maybe only seven minutes had passed.

Foodie:  I need a drink.  If he’d just get us a drink, he could have all the time in the world to take other people’s orders.  He could even go for a cigarette.  I wouldn’t care.  I just need a drink, especially after seeing Rachel. Didn’t you think she was beautiful?

Beast:  Yes.  Do you think they have beer on tap?

Foodie:  Can you believe that she remembered me?

Beast:  No.  Get his attention will you?  (Server’s bottom nearly caresses our table as he helps the guests beside us)

Foodie:  (Aghast)  No!  He’ll get here when he gets here. 

And he did, but only to tell us the specials, not to offer an aperitif. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but it’s frustrating.  Because I’ve served very rude and demanding people in very busy places, I never raise a fuss at restaurants or wave a server to my tableside. I wait.  And because I’ve served, I know one of the cardinal rules of serving is to offer up a drink straight away.  This makes people relax, and sit back in their chairs so that the server can go juggle ten other things.  Plus, lots of people physically require a drink after work.  I think it’s important to get it to them.

Of course we do get our drinks:  I settle on an industrial strength glass of McManis Pinot Noir and the Beast gets a bottle of imported beer.

Beast:  How can a French restaurant not have beer on tap?

Foodie:  I didn’t know beer was associated with being French.

Beast:  Think of all those Stella Artois commercials set during the time of the Revolution.


Mixed Greens and Moules Marinieres

Foodie:  Wow.  It looks like they actually washed up a variety of different lettuces rather than using a pre-mixed bag.  That’s a really nice touch.

Beast:  (with a puckered face)  Eew!  Too much vinegar!

Foodie.  Okay, too much vinegar.  The mussels smell lovely.  What is that?  White wine?  Butter?  Some herbs?

Beast:  (double-fisted with wads of baguette to soak up the broth) I don’t know, but they’re great.


New York Steak Frites

Foodie: (to server who is setting down our mains)  Lovely!  Do you think we could have another round of drinks?  I’ll move on to the Bogle Zinfandel if you don’t mind.

Server:  Certainly.

Half through our meal, our serves asks if we’d ordered drinks, and I say yes and he says, “oh yes, you wanted to switch to the Zinfandel,” and I say, “that’s right.”

Beast:  How’s your steak?

Foodie:  It’s cooked perfectly actually.  A perfect medium-rare.

Beast:  The fries are a bit bland.

Foodie:  They’re not bad fries, but they’re not the best fries.  They’re good fries I suppose.


With no room for dessert, we ordered 2 espresso and asked for the bill.  They both arrived promptly.

Foodie:  He didn’t charge us for our second round of drinks.

Beast:  Maybe he felt bad because they arrived a little later than expected.

Foodie.  Maybe.

Or maybe not, because when he brought back the bill along with the Visa slip to sign, the total was 20 bucks more than the original bill he’d brought over.

Foodie:  Oh my!  That’s a huge no-no!  If he forgot to add on the second round, he should have brought the new bill to my attention.  Technically, I gave him my Visa with the impression that the bill was $100, not $120.

Beast:  Say something!

Foodie:  Are you kidding?  No way! Maybe I should have said something.

Beast:  No one says something when you think you’re getting something for free.

Foodie:  Rachel would.

That little scene, along with those brief—yet crucial—moments of neglect, left a real bad taste in our mouths, which is too bad because the meal was pretty good, and the prices are very reasonable. 

Foodie:  (leaving the restaurant) Remember when we saw Rachel McAdams?

Beast:  Yes.  Remember when you fell out of your shoes?

Foodie:  Yes. At least Jacques Tati would have approved.

Beast:  You only know about Jacques Tati because I made you watch his movies.

Foodie:  Okay, that’s true.  But I made you watch The Notebook.  Both of us have introduced the other to important cultural touchstones.

 And in the end, we both agreed that Tati Bistro wasn’t one of them.

Foodie:  *

Beast:  *