Monthly Archives: September 2010

Parts & Labour: Our Neighbourhood Friend

My friend Erinn’s annual pickle party was dreamlike.

I made two different sorts of crostini and topped them both with my yellow plum jam.

They were great, but paled in comparison to many of the other contributions that we feasted on.

The Beast had to work so I went solo and ended up meeting some lovely folks, uncluding Matty Matheson, who’s executive chef at both Oddfellows and the somewhat-recently opened Parts & Labour.  You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to find out that Matty enjoys reading F & B.  In fact, he took issue over the fact that the Beast and I hadn’t yet visited P & L.  So I made it my mission this week for F & B to go to P & L.

Foodie:  Guess where we’re going tonight for dinner?

Beast:  Where?

Foodie:  Parts & Labour.

Beast:  Not a chance.

Foodie:  Are you kidding me?  We have to go!  Matty is expecting us!

Beast:  “Matty”? (Shaking his head at me.)  I’ll give you three reasons why we’re not going.  Number one:  I don’t have the money.  I have to save up for a new hard drive because I have a terrible feeling that mine is going to die any day. And two, you can’t blog about it because you’ll ruin all your journalistic integrity.

Foodie: What’s that supposed to mean?

Beast: It means that you won’t be able to honestly review the place because now you’re “friends” with “Matty”.

Foodie:  That’s nuts!  This isn’t even a real blog!  And I can’t help it that people in the industry know me.  When you’ve worked in the biz for as long as I have–


Foodie:  Two restaurants, but that’s beside the point: If we were going to play by the rule that I won’t write about any restaurants where I know people, this blog would be boring!  It’d just be hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches and Dr. Oetker’s.

Beast:  (silence)

Foodie:  Okay, that’s not exactly true.  But come on!  (Pause)  What’s the third reason?

Beast:  I forget.

Foodie:  Well listen, dinner is on me, and aren’t you starving?  Wouldn’t you just love a delicious burger right now?  Let’s just go for burgers!  The place is practically around the corner from us and it would be absurd if we didn’t visit.

I think the burger talk did it because before I knew it, the Beast had his shoes on and we were walking down Sorauren to Queen Street.  On the way I filled the Beast in on the astounding mixed restaurant reviews that P & L has received.  Chris Johns from the Globe and Mail had mostly good things to say about it: despite not being thrilled with the desserts, he said P & L was “one of the most exciting dining rooms in the city”.  Chris Nuttall-Smith’s review in Toronto Life was mixed, but he did say that Matty Matheson’s cooking held the place together, and he loved the desserts. But the Toronto Star’s Amy Pataki skewered the place and its “gonzo cooking” although she too liked the desserts and admitted that Matheson shows “finess”.   What I found so confusing was that three reputable food writers had such different opinions.  It really starts making you think about the usefulness of food criticism at the end of the day.

We were delightfully greeted by two very attractive and very young hostesses who seemed genuinely happy to seat us.

Foodie:  You see that?  You see how friendly they were?  They even said, “Enjoy your dinner”.  That’s what gets me.  I think every review I’ve read makes some sort of snide comment about the too-cool-for-school staff here.  You know what I think?  I think that  a lot of reviewers walk in to restaurants with scowls on their faces and maybe even give off an entitled air.  If you walk into a restaurant without a frown–maybe even a smile–and politely ask for a table, more times than not you’ll be treated really nicely in return.

Beast:  You probably know them.

Foodie:  No I don’t.  I’ve never seen them before in my life.  And you know what else gets me?  And Joanne Kates does this all the time:  she write about how shocking it was that nobody offered to take her coat at a whole-in-the-wall Chinatown joint, or how shockingly loud the music was at a night club/restaurant, like, say, Ultra.  Really?  That’s shocking?  See, I don’t find that shocking.

And then our server came over to offer us drinks and tell us about that evening’s special, which was choucroute garnie served with mustard, pickles and two pints of Duggins beer–enough food to feed at least two people and it was only $40. (Mom, I had no idea what choucroute garnie was either but it’s a very typical rustic Alsatian stew of pork shoulder and hocks and sauerkraut and sausages.  It sounds like it was made for you, and for the Beast.)

Beast:  There’s really no need to look at the menu is there–we’re getting that.

Foodie: It sounds amazing but I’m afraid I just don’t feel like all that meat tonight. I’m really craving a burger.  And look at all these lovely appetizers!  I want to try each one.  Why don’t we choose two and each get a burger?

Beast:  I wish your mom were here.  She’d split it with me.  (Pause)  Give me your phone.

Foodie:  You want to call my mom?  And more importantly, you want to make a phone call at the table?

Beast:  You’re right.  But I need to call Nick Edwards.

Foodie:  You want to call Nick Edwards to see if he’ll share that pot of meat with you?

Beast:  Is that okay?  I just think that if your friend “Matty” went to all the trouble of making it, then I should try it.

Foodie:  Okay, call him, but don’t do it the table–go over there and call him.

Turns out Nick was on the other side of town and couldn’t make it.  While the Beast and I came to an agreement about ordering, our server brought over a sea bass carpaccio flavoured with some chilies, radishes, little onions and chives.

I looked at the Beast half-expecting him to be rolling his eyes because “Matty” sent out a dish for us to try.  Of course, he did nothing of the sort:  he was too busy swooning over this perfect plate.

The Beast gave up on convincing me to share the choucroute garnie with him.  He gave me the warm potato salad with bacon and a poached egg and in return I gave him the fried pig’s face.  We both ended up ordering burgers.

While we waited for our appetizers and sipped on our drinks, the Beast eyes widened.

Beast:  Do not look now but you are going to be more excited, more happy than you can possibly imagine.

Foodie: Ohmygod ohmygod what is it!!???

Beast:  Just wait for my mark.  I guarantee you’re going to flip.

Foodie:  Holy shit is it a celebrity?  Is it Drew and Justin?  Julia and Danny?  TIFF is over, right?  Who?

Beast:  Slowly now, just look to your left.

And there, seated beside us were two of the three ladies that sat at the bar beside us at the Harbord Room several posts ago and ordered pint-size glasses of ice to top off their pinot grigio.  And once again, they’d requested ice for their white wine, which a waiter had just brought over to them.

Foodie:  Wow! What are the chances?

We had little time to consider the cosmic significance because our appetizers arrived.

Foodie:  Okay you have got to try this potato salad.  Why doesn’t my potato salad taste this good?  When I add grainy mustard it just tastes so…so mustardy.  This is the best potato salad I’ve ever had.

Beast: Maybe it’s the poached egg and bacon.  You should add those two things to every salad.

The Beast didn’t even care about the “salad” though: he was too busy eating the crochette filled with pig’s face and trotter.

Foodie:  Will I like that?

Beast:  We might have to end our relationship if you don’t.  And you will–it reminds me of the fried trotter thing we had a Casa Mono in New York, and you liked that, didn’t you?

I did like that, and I liked this, quite a bit.  There’s no way I could have indulged in the whole thing though.  A few tastes–enormously rich in flavour–were all I needed.

And then the unexpected happened: Mr. Matty Matheson himself came over to say hi. The Beast told him how he’d wanted to order the special and Matty then proceeded to show him photos on his BlackBerry of the preparatory stages of the choucroute garnie.  Before he left to go back to the kitchen he asked us if we wanted to try the flat-iron tartare.  The Beast, like a child who’d been offered a warm chocolate chip cookie, nodded yes.

Foodie: Isn’t Matty lovely!?  He looks like he could be really intimidating with all those tattoos but he’s not!  You know, my mom always used to say that the scruffy looking Hell’s Angels guys who’d come into K-Mart (where she worked when I was growing up) were always the sweetest, most polite of the bunch.

Beast:  Just because Matty has tattoos doesn’t make him a Hell’s Angel.

Foodie:  That’s not what I meant–I just mean that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, sort of like Han Solo, who was also scruffy-looking.

Beast: He’s very nice, and he’s very sincere.

Foodie:  I like that he said somewhere that the food here is “fucking food for people who like to eat.”  And did you know he’s only 28 years old?  Can you imagine?

Beast:  Yeah, but can he tell the difference between an Edwardian and a Victorian-era chair?

Foodie:  Are you jealous?

Beast:  I’m just saying that at 27 years old I’m the manager of one of the most successful furniture and antique consignment shops in the city so it’s not exactly like I’m sweating it.

Foodie:  I don’t know how much of this tartare I can eat.  (The Beast had already consumed about half.)

Beast:  I can’t eat it all!

Foodie: Don’t you like it?

Beast:  It’s f–king amazing but you’ve had one bite and we still have burgers coming.

Foodie:  It’s just so rich!  It’s raw egg and raw meat.  You know I’m fragile with certain things.

Beast:  Fine, I’ll finish it by myself.

Foodie:  You’re going to make yourself sick!

Beast:  I can’t leave it!

Like an animal, the Beast mounded up the tartare on the homemade flatbread, and polished it off, save for my few samplings.

And then our server came over and asked if we’d like to split one burger instead of each having our own, considering we’d consumed more than we’d planned on. We looked at each other and I  responded confidently knowing that I was speaking fairly on behalf of us both.

Foodie:  No, I think we’ll still get a burger each.  We’re not very good at sharing.

When they arrived, however, we realized that perhaps we should have taken heed to our server’s thoughtful suggestion.

Foodie:  Wow.  This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life.  I think this is a perfect burger.  Every bite has everything I want in it.  This is…this is…

And then I looked up to see the Beast’s beard covered with specks of lettuce and bits of mayonnaise.

Foodie:  And this is a french fry.  I mean, that’s how it’s done!  This might be the best burger and fries in the city.

Beast:  I’d agree with that.

Foodie: And it’s around the corner from us!  We just struck gold!  Although I don’t think I could eat it every day.  Just think though, now when I won’t be home for dinner you could just come here and have a burger.  It’ll be like my new babysitter.

Beast:  Don’t make jokes about my age or me being a baby.

Foodie:  I’m just saying that you can’t keep eating Dr. Oetker’s pizza whenever I’m not home.

Beast:  Then stop abandoning me at dinner time!

Foodie:  You know I’ve been working like crazy, and it’s just going to get busier in the next few weeks.  Do you want my bacon?

Beast:  Why don’t you want your bacon?

Foodie:  I really liked the first few bites of it in the burger, but now I don’t like how it feels tearing it with my teeth.  It’s too primal or something.  I think I prefer crispy, cheap bacon on my burger, not real, thick bacon.

The Beast looked at me like I was a stranger as he polished off the last bite of his burger.

Foodie:  I don’t think I can finish mine.  I’m in pain.  Would it be weird to stretch right now?  Aren’t you full?

Beast:  Excruciatingly full.

Foodie:  I don’t think I’ve ever left french fries on my plate.  (Slowly putting french fries, one by one, into my mouth)  But I can’t leave these.  They’re perfect french fries.

Our server, who, for the record, was flawless throughout the night–before and after Matty had come to our table–came to the rescue.  He removed our plates and asked us about dessert.  We couldn’t do it.  We’ll have to wait for next time to see which restaurant reviewer was on the money concerning P & L’s sweets.

We waddled home well past our bed time.

Foodie:  That was great.  What a nice night.  Aren’t you glad we went?

Beast:  I’m very glad.  Thank you so much for dinner.

Foodie:  You’re welcome. (pause)  I think we had amazing service there, don’t you?  Our water glasses were never empty, our napkins were neatly folded whenever we went outside for a cigarette (I just kept the Beast company), and we never sat for a second with a dirty plate in front of us.

Beast:  I agree.  It was perfect service, but how can you be sure that wasn’t because Matty came over to say hello to us?

Foodie:  But everyone was so nice before that happened.  And they were being that way with all the guests–I was watching.  Anyway, how many stars are you going to give P & L?

Beast:  No comment.

Foodie:  What?!?

Beast:  I refuse to rate it.

Foodie: But we’re not real restaurant reviewers!  F & B is more about relationships and…and life than it is about food.  I just use food as the starting point!

Beast:  It’s not ethical.  And if you respect Matty you won’t rate it.

Foodie:  I’d give it three stars.

And I respect any man who’s 28 and has accomplished so much through passionate, hard work.  And I respect 27 year-olds who can tell the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau pieces of jewelry.  I just wish they’d bring more home, of either type.

Saturday Morning Muffins and Evening Paella

I dreamt of Big Balls the other night.  (MOM!  Get your head out of the gutter!  I’m talking about our old family cat.) Big Balls was an orange tomcat with personality to spare.  His Christian name was Valentino but after he hit puberty he went by Big Balls. And, much to the dismay of other parents in our neighbourhood, all the kids called him this.  He was such a bruiser: he’d disappear for three or four days doing god knows what with trampy tabby cats, and come back a little beaten up, starving and very tired. And then he’d recuperate and hit the town again.  He was also very affectionate, and purred like a lion.  

Unfortunately, when I hit puberty I developed an allergy to Big Balls.  My breathing, not to mention my swollen eyes and hives, got so bad that either Big Balls or me had to go. A student at Sparta Public School, where my dad taught for years and years, said we could bring Big Balls to his family farm.  So off he went.

But that wasn’t the last time I saw my dear cat:  I was walking home one day after school, months after Big Balls had left, and found my dad and older brother about to get into the K-Car.  My dad was hanging onto one of those two-tone leather Adidas gym bags.  

Foodie:  Hey guys.  What’s up?

Dad:  Oh nothing.  

And then the bag started to move uncontrollably.  My dad tried desperately to hide it, but nobody can hide Big Balls from me.  Turns out that he’d found his way home from that farm all on his very own, just like in The Incredible Journey!  And what’s more, is that he’d come home twice before, which my family hid from me fearing that I wouldn’t be able to part with him again.   

I knew he had to go though.  I insisted on taking him to the farm myself this time. So, Big Balls sat in the back with me (out of the Adidas bag,) and oddly, he made no fuss. In fact, he sort of just lay there. His paws were dead weight and he wasn’t even purring. It was like he knew that this was it.  It truly was the saddest fucking sight.  I remember getting to the lovely farm and thinking why would Big Balls want to leave this idyllic place?!  I had to lift him out and nudge him along.  Finally, he picked himself up, and slowly sauntered over to the barn, in amongst the haystacks.  And that was the last time I saw Big Balls.

Anyway, I think I dreamt of him because recently at a staff function I was outed as not being a pet person.  Perhaps I felt some anxiety about my co-workers thinking of me as a monster because who doesn’t like pets?  I just don’t like animals inside my home mostly because I wouldn’t be able to function as a human with my allergies.  And maybe it has to do with Big Balls too.  Once you’ve had them that big, how can you move forward?

So I woke up a little sad, and very early on Saturday morning knowing.  I knew that that I had to make oatbran blueberry muffins.  I’ve made them before and they’re delicious, not to mention low in fat and high in fiber. I needed to buy blueberries and eggs though.

Foodie:  Are you awake?

Beast:  What time is it?

Foodie:  It’s 8:50am.

Beast:   (Silence.)

Foodie:  I’m going to get blueberries and make some of those healthy muffins.  Do you want anything?

Beast:  (Silence.)

After I picked up my ingredients, and gathered all the Saturday papers on the front porch, I went straight to work making my muffins.  I was having a grand time until the Beast came downstairs.

Beast: Who called this morning?

Foodie:  I don’t know–I was out getting blueberries.

Beast (checking the messages):  It was your little friend Sarah!  

Foodie:  Oh goodie!  What did she say?

Beast:  I don’t know–something about soccer.  Who calls at 9 in the morning on Saturday?  Your friends do! That’s who!  Not my friends.  

Foodie:  Why are you so grumpy?

Beast:  Saturday is my only sleep in day and you woke me up and then Sarah woke me up and I’m working six days a week and I’m still recovering from a serious illness (no he isn’t) and where is the coffee?  There’s not even coffee yet?

Foodie:  I have to make the muffins first and then I’ll make the coffee!  

Beast:  Unbelievable.

The Beast was a fright!  His hair and beard were wild and he was only in his underwear, which were fuchsia-coloured briefs I believe, and he looked like a mad man! He pushed his way into my work station and ground the beans and got the coffee on the go and then he attempted to clean up his mess.

Foodie:  Let me clean that up. You’re not doing a very good job.

Then the Beast just looked at me like I was the devil and turned on his heels and left the kitchen.  But it’s hard to be intimidated of somebody when they’re wearing pink underwear.  

Anyway, the muffins turned out great.  

I ate mine in the sun room with my favourite sections of the paper.  The Beast read his sections in the living room.  It was like we were living separate lives.  And then the phone rang.

Beast:  Oh hi Nick Edwards!  So nice of you to call at 11:00 am on this beautiful Saturday morning!

Yeah, yeah yeah.  So the Beast went off to play music with some boyfriends and I met Sarah and her three-year-old son in the park to play soccer.  We had such a lovely afternoon together.  Sarah, who is very pregnant with her second child, and her young son weren’t nearly as fast or agile as I was on the field.  Plus the kid couldn’t even get the ball away from me!  That’s how good I was!  And to be honest, he was a bit of a cry baby about the whole thing.

On my way home, I accidently bought some magazines,

And one of them, not sure which, inspired me to get my family of two back on track. I decided to make paella for dinner.  I think it requires the same amount of diligence as risotto does in terms of hovering over the pot and stirring.  But because I’ve never made paella, I thought I’d start with a cheater’s version.  I found the recipe in that Food Matters book by Mark Bittman.  As luck would have it, the recipe is available online here via Google Books.  

If you decide to give it a go, do it soon while there are still such gorgeous, ripe tomatoes available.  

And also, I kept mine in the oven for an hour, not 30 minutes. And yes, the seafood (shrimp in this case) gets a little overcooked, but it didn’t detract too much from the meal.

It turned out wonderfully in fact.  

Beast:  This is really good!

Foodie:  Thank you.  I think it’s really good too.  In fact, I think it’s a keeper of a recipe.  Is there anything else you have to say.

Beast:  It’s really good. (Pause)  Thank you for making it?  (Pause)  Oh, you mean about this morning.

Foodie:  Yes I do.

Beast:  I’m sorry that you and Sarah both woke me up causing me to be unpleasant.

Foodie:  I just don’t like fighting on Saturday mornings.  It’s not a very nice way to start the weekend.

Beast: We weren’t fighting, really.  

Foodie: I know that it’s not nice being woken up.  I was just so excited about those damn muffins.  

Beast:  Want to watch an episode of the History of Britain?

Foodie:  Sure.  Do you know that Sarah is also watching that series?

Beast:  Really?  Tell Sarah I’m sorry for calling her all those bad names.

Foodie:  What bad names?

Beast:  I may have called you and Sarah bad names in my head.  

Foodie:  Fair enough.  I call you and your friends bad names when they call after 10:00pm.  

Beast:  You’re crazy.  The normal cut-off time is 11:00pm.  

Foodie:  Nope.  Anything after 10:00pm is inappropriate.

Beast:  That’s unheard of.

Foodie:  You know what?  You’re still acting like you’ve got swollen balls.  You can’t keep playing that card.

Beast:  It was traumatic.  

You know what’s traumatic for anyone following?  All this talk of balls.  Big Balls, sore balls.  It’s got to end.

Foodie:  **1/2

Beast:  ***

Footnote:  This post is dedicated to Big Balls (1983 – ?). 

Live Blogging from the Cottage Part II: Meatloaf & Stars

It’s our last day of summer holidays.  We are waiting for the Beast’s parents to arrive.  We messaged them yesterday saying, “Can’t wait to see you at noon,” with the hope that they’d understand that any time earlier would be obscene.  But it is their cottage, I guess, so they are really free to come and go as they please. Thank goodness the mother of the Beast slept in (the father of said Beast was rearing to go at 8:00 am.)

One day not too long ago (they’re all a blur now), we went for a canoe ride to the other side of the lake so the Beast could do some field recordings for his music projects.

I had to stay very quiet as he recorded sounds of babbling brooks, trees blowing in the wind, and birds.  So I looked for stuff.  I found these:

Foodie:  Look!  I found two things with the number seven on it!

Beast:  Shut up!

And then he hit the mother load of sounds:  a train!  We sat on the rocks as it passed us.  It’s amazing how being in such close proximity to that power can incite such awe and wonder.

And then on another day, a rainy day, we drove to Perry Sound because Mactier, the closer town, didn’t have the canned clams I needed in order to make a pot of Manhattan style clam chowder.  Not only did Perry Sound have the clams, but they also had a chip wagon, a Walmart, and a Starbucks. Like eager tourists, we visited all three sites.

That night we had our first successful meal:  flank steak on arugola with a warm potato salad based on this recipe that my friend Katie suggested I try.

Last night we had the meal of all meals:  burgers.  Now, I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters while at the cottage.  The basic premise is that if we eat less meat (meat production creates more greenhouse gasses than transportation does), less dairy, less junk food, and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, not only will we help save the planet but we’ll lose weight and save money.  It’s embarrassingly simple really, but it’s a lifestyle alteration that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sure doesn’t promote.   Bittman himself lost over 40 pounds by eating nearly like a vegan would for breakfast and lunch, and allowing himself to indulge a bit at dinner. He hasn’t cut out anything, like red meat, white bread, cheese and wine, from his diet completely: he just limits how often, and how much, he eats them.

Foodie:  We are going to stop eating white bread when we get home.

Beast:  No.  We.  Are.  Not.

Foodie:  And we’re going to eat meat only once or twice a week from now on.

Beast:  Absurd.

Since I didn’t want to ruin the Beast’s last dinner for Summer Vacation 2010, I didn’t say a word when he returned indoors from the grill bearing this platter.

Instead, I simply dressed my burger with a piece of bacon, caramelized onions, dijon mustard, avocado and a nice slice of a field tomato.

And I let the Beast prepare his plate.

We both agreed that they were the best burgers we’d ever had.

Before bed, the Beast suggested we go down to the dock to look at the stars. Now, I know everybody has seen a magnificent night sky before, but I always wonder if people who live in the city, like me, always get such a thrill out of a spectacular starry night–when you can practically look straight out through the Milky Way and still further past our own galaxy into who knows where.  And  I wonder if people who get to see a show like this nearly every night ever take it for granted.

Anyone ever read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles?  I sure as shit haven’t, but I’ve seen the Bertolucci-directed movie based on the book.  And there’s a line at the end where the narrator says,

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

It gets me every time that line.  And I always think about it when I see a starry sky.

But I don’t think about it when it comes to Meatloaf (the recording artist, not the food.  I do tend to wonder how many more times I’ll be lucky enough to eat meatloaf the food).  The Beast decided it would be hilarious to keep playing the song, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, over and over again in bed.  I was trying to read and he kept asking for my iPhone, which I stupidly kept giving him, and then he’d find that song on YouTube and play it, and sing along to it.  Come morning time, he asked for the iPhone because he said he had to look up the word, “peudemna”.  He said it was a word he read in a poem and he just had to know what it meant.  But he didn’t look up that word ( which isn’t a word)–he just played that Meatloaf song again.  He was behaving like it was the funniest thing he’s ever done in his entire life.

I think it’s time we went home.

Flank Steak Dinner:  Foodie  **1/2, Beast ***

Burgers:  Foodie ***, Beast ***1/2

Live-Blogging from the Cottage: Part I

I can use my iPhone to tether!  I don’t know exactly what tethering means, but I do know that it provides me with an internet connection for my MacBook.

So here goes.

It’s dark out.  And cold.  A train just went by.  We just ate dinner.  We had sausages and grilled zucchini, red peppers and sweet potatoes.  I’ve drunk too much wine.  I took a sip and there goes another a train.  Or maybe it’s the same train.  It’s got to be the same train.

I suppose live-blogging isn’t that great, unless you’re watching the Oscars or some sort of election.  I’m just sitting here at a candle-lit table.

Maybe I better start at the beginning of our summer holiday.  It all started Tuesday morning when I decided that I would run the 2.36 miles to the Enterprise Car Rental with my credit card and driver’s license secured into my sports bra.  I arrived sweaty, and tried clandestinely to remove my identification, which was stuck to my body.  When I got home, I found the Beast busy packing and eager to get on the road to the cottage, where we’d spend the next five days. I carefully laid out my clothing selection on the bed.

Foodie:  What are you doing there?  What did you just do?

Beast:  Nothing!

Foodie:  Why are you hiding your clothes into my clothes piles?

Beast:  Because I don’t have room in my bag!

Foodie:  Well how do I know I’m going to have room in my bag?

Beast:  Please?

Foodie:  Is your bag filled with books and CDs?  Because if it is, I’m not packing your jogging suit in my bag.

Beast:  No, I swear.  It’s just that Andre Leon Talley said you have to bring at least four to five outfit changes at day when you holiday with Karl Lagerfeld.

Foodie:  You’re holidaying with me and we never change our clothes when we go to the cottage.

Beast:  Can’t you just please make room for the jogging suit?

Foodie:  (sighing)  Okay!  But I’m dumping your joggers if I don’t have room.

I did have room though.  We filled up the Ford Focus, which looks like it was designed by a 14 -year-old obsessed with the movie Transformers, and exactly two hours later we arrived at the Beast’s family’s cottage ready to start our summer vacation. The rain even let up for three hours starting at about 5:00pm. We immediately ran to the dock in our bathing suits with our books.

Beast:  What are you reading?

Foodie:  The Great Gatsby.  I read it in high school and don’t remember one word.

Beast:  That opening is just perfect isn’t it?  “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.  ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.'”

Foodie:  You’ve got to be fucking joking me.  (Checking the Beast’s recitation). How in the hell do you know that?  That’s messed up man.

Beast:  (Pointing to his brain.)

After reading and enjoying cocktails on the dock, we made our way indoors.

Beast:  What are you doing there?

Foodie:  I’m tweeting.

Beast:  What?  Give me that!  (Grabbing my phone.)  Since when do you have a twitter account?  24 tweets already?  When did you start this?  You’ve changed!  I don’t even know you!

Foodie:  Relax man!  Everybody in “media” tweets.  Steve Maich tweets.  And so do I.

Beast:  What in the hell do you tweet about?

Foodie:  Well, that’s the problem:  I’m not that strong of a tweeter.  It’s so difficult!  I mostly just do it to find out what celebrities are doing.

Beast:  What celebrities?  (Reviewing who I’m following.)  Sarah Silverman, Russell Brand, Frank Bruni, Tina Fey.  Who’s Shinan Govani?

Foodie:  The gossip columnist from the National Post.

Beast:  Who’s following you?  (Reviewing who’s following me.)  Tom, Stephen, Laura…who’s Claire Tansey?

Foodie:  Ah, only the Food Editor of Chatelaine!  Now do you understand the pressure?  I don’t know how to fucking tweet man!  I was going to tweet about how chipmunk pooh is the same size as mouse pooh but I didn’t want people to assume I was only knowledgeable about the size of mouse pooh because we live in squalor.   I’m so confused.  Do I want to connect this blogging persona with my twitter account?  Do I want to brand F & B this way? Do I want to have it be just about me?  Am I becoming too self-aware?

Beast:  You know who’s becoming too self-aware?  My parents:  they’ve taken their moose obsession to a new level.

The Beast held up a sink stopper with a moose on it.

It goes with the other moose paraphernalia around the cottage.

The Beast continued washing up our dinner dishes.  Last night I made pork chops and baked potatoes.  I burned the shit out of those chops (I’d like to think it was on account of a new barbecue up here) and the baking potatoes weren’t cooked all the way through.  I don’t think there’s anything worse, gastronomically speaking, than a potato that isn’t cooked through and through.  The Beast, who took his turn at the barbecue tonight, had equal amounts of trouble with the sweet potatoes.  I guess we’re just not having too much luck with our starches this vacation.

Communication-wise, we are also suffering.  It’s been a series of non-sequiters since we arrived.

Foodie:  If I take the flank steak out of the freezer tonight, we can have it for dinner tomorrow night and then have steak sandwiches the next day for lunch.

Beast:  These are Hayden’s string quartets playing, which influenced both Mozart and Beethoven.

Foodie:  And that’ll be perfect because we can use up the arugola with the flank steak tomorrow night before it goes off.

Beast:  I’m going to put more wood on the fire.  Is it Wednesday or Thursday?

Foodie:  I think that pie is just about ready.

I made a concord grape pie from a recipe my Uncle Ron gave me a few years ago. It’s such a perfect pie, only I didn’t have a sieve  to separate the grape seeds out and there was no flour to roll out my pie crust or to make my crumble topping.  So I just left the seeds in, and substituted corn starch for the flour.  There were no complaints from either of us.

It’s been smooth sailing 48 hours into our summer vacation.  I finished the Great Gatsby, and we’ve watched a few episodes of a British documentary series called The Up Series:  It follows nine Britons–from varying backgrounds–from the age of seven until seventy.  They check in with them every seven years.   Last night we watched the 35-year mark.  That’s how old I am.  Most of the women had at least one child and were married and had no careers to speak of.  Many were divorced too.  It’s a fascinating bit of business really.  You want to see these strangers succeed; you want their dreams to be realized and their marriages to last.  It’s not always the case, of course.  Inevitably, you compare your own circumstances to theirs.  I wondered what the Beast felt as he watched.  I felt, and this is only an assumption, that somehow I was more familiar–and more hardened–than he was to some of the life experiences that we’ve been watching unfold in the documentary:  I’ve had long-term relationships fail; I’ve had my family fall apart at the seams; and I’ve had my family come to know each other in ways that would have been unimaginable prior to that falling apart.

Beast:  Do you think I know you better than anybody else?

Foodie:  Well, I don’t know.  I’d like to think you know me.  But in the end, how well do we know anybody?

It wasn’t the answer he was looking for.  But it was honest.  Here I was, unbeknownst to the Beast, with a Twitter account.  And here he was reading five plays by Chekhov.  Since when was he interested in that?  I don’t know.

But I do know that some of the things we learn about each other along the way–like the music he’s been playing since we arrived that he actually made by himself–is wonderfully surprising.  I’ve asked him four or five times now, “Did you make this one?”  The answer is always yes.  I don’t know where I was while he made it.

Maybe I wasn’t listening.

I hear something right now:  the sound of wind blowing through all those trees that surround this perfect place.  And the sound of a baritone euphonium sounding in the other room.

Foodie:  (for the pie)  **1/2

Beast:  (also for the pie)  ***1/2

I Dreamed a Pasta

I rarely nap, but I got home from work the other night and found myself all alone and exhausted.  And not the sort of exhausted where you feel like putting up your feet and watching a little TV.  This was “I need to lie down immediately or I will fall asleep standing up.”  I haven’t felt that tired in years: the last time I napped as intensely as I was about to, I was on a train bound for Munich.  I was traveling on my own and I was sharing one of those lovely cubicle sort of things with one other person–a man who sat on the opposite banquette.  I remember falling asleep but I knew that I was sleeping with my mouth wide open and that my head was bobbing all over the place.  And I remember thinking, wake up damnit!  This man is gonna think you’re a nut job with your crazy head and your drool!  So I started making noises, like really weird noises, to try and wake myself up.  I want to describe them to you but I don’t know how. Just try this right now while you’re reading:  Open up your mouth, and hum really loud, in a nasal sort of way, and do it really loud, like an animal dying. That’s what I was doing. And it didn’t work!  I just kept sleeping!  Hours passed, and I finally woke up.  The nice man across from me caught my eye and smiled, and let out a little “umph.”  And that’s when I remembered all the noises I’d made and how my mouth was wide open and how my head was going all nutso. Was I ever embarrassed! So I tried to show him how civilized I was the rest of the trip by pretend-reading a smart person book–Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther I believe, and snacking on a little piece of pecorino cheese, green olives and crackers that I’d brought along.

Anyway, I was sleeping like that the other night.  My mouth was wide open and I was so lost in dream land that I couldn’t be stirred from my slumber.  And even though I heard the Beast come home, and I felt him kiss me on the forehead, and I heard him go upstairs to make music for a real commission he received for eight hours of dance music for an exercise video, nothing woke me up. It was divine.

Hours later, while I was in the middle of dreaming of the pasta I would make for dinner, some background noise of pages being turned finally woke me up.  I forced my eyes open and saw the Beast sitting in a chair across from the couch, flipping through the most recent New Yorker.  It was a bit creepy.

Foodie:  What are you doing over there?

Beast:  Oh, I’m just waiting until you get up so we can have dinner.

Foodie:  You’re waiting for me to get up?  Did you finish your work?

Beast:  Mostly.  I’m just really hungry.  Aren’t you?  It’s 9:30pm.  Do you want to just go straight to bed?  I can make myself a Dr. Oetker’s pizza.

Foodie:  How many Dr. Oetker pizzas are left?

Beast:  Just one.

Foodie.  Oh.  

Beast:  Did I wake you?

Foodie:  Well, a little bit.  But that’s okay.  I’m up.

It took everything I had in me to peel myself off that couch and get into the kitchen. Once I got there, the pasta I dreamed about began to materialize.

I started by crisping up some prosciutto (courtesy of Laura, who left behind a nubbin of her dad’s homemade glorious stuff) and garlic scape.  And then I added a pint of Ontario baby Roma tomatoes.  I let that get all saucy for a bit.

And then I got a bit fancy, and deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine, which I was also drinking.

And then I added my cooked gnocchi and a big handful of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, along with a touch of that starchy pasta water, to my pan.

And then the Beast came into the kitchen to watch me make dinner.

Beast:  Now don’t get mad at me here, but you know what would be an amazing addition to this pasta?

Foodie:  What?

Beast:  Alfredo sauce!

Foodie:  Alfredo sauce?  Like, from a jar?  Do you know what sort of crap is in that stuff?  Actually, I don’t even know what they put in there.  What is it anyway, like a roux, or a besciamelle sauce?

Beast:  I don’t know but it would be amazing with what you have going on in there.

Foodie:  No it wouldn’t.  It would be terrible.  That’s a stupid idea.

Beast:  What are you doing?  What is that?

Foodie: It’s arugola!  What do you think it is?!  

Beast:  Are you putting it in the pasta?

Foodie:  YES!  It gets all wilted and lovely.  I did it last week too and you liked it.

Beast:  Why do you hate me so much tonight?

Foodie:  I don’t hate you.  I just think it’s funny that it probably never occurred to you that YOU could have made dinner tonight.  Instead, you sat in a chair like a creep and watched me sleep and made just enough noise to wake me up.  

Beast:  What would I make for dinner?

Foodie:  I bet you secretly hoped that I’d go straight to bed without dinner so you could just pop in that Dr. Oetker’s pizza.

Beast:  Yes.

Foodie:  Well, I’ve rarely gone to bed without dinner in my life time.  Listen, I’m sorry.  I just woke up and am a bit grumpy still.  Just give me a second to wake up.

Beast:  Did you notice that I took out the green bin and the garbage this morning?

Foodie:  Yes I did notice.  Thank you very much.

Beast:  Did you notice that I unplugged the sink in the washroom? I don’t know if you know how disgusting a job that is.

Foodie:  Thanks for doing it.  Thanks for being the big man of the house around here.

Beast:  You’re acting like a skinny bitch right now!

Foodie:  What did you just call me?

Beast:  You know, like that book, Skinny Little Bitches.

Foodie:  I don’t think that’s what it’s called, and I don’t think me losing six pounds in one year makes me a skinny bitch.

Beast:  Well you’re acting like one.  Stop hating me! 

Foodie:  I don’t hate you!  I just am tired and hungry!

I was yelling and laughing at the same time, sort of like a maniac.  But I did manage to plate our dinner.

It was amazing–maybe one of the best pastas I’ve ever made on the fly.  I’m going to start cooking with wine more because it really took this dinner to another level.  Or maybe it was the fact that I was cooking and drinking wine at the same time. Whatever.

Beast:  This is really, really good.  Thanks for making it for me.

Foodie:  You’re welcome.

Beast: After dinner, I need you to listen to some music I made because it’s supposed to sound like Alicia Keyes, Usher, Drake, Beyonce–

Foodie:  What in the hell are you talking about?

Beast:  For the exercise video.

Foodie:  Oh right.  But I can’t even name one Drake song.

Beast: Well, I still want you to listen to it.

Foodie:  Okay.  Listen, I’m sorry that I’m acting like a skinny bitch.  I was just so tired! I haven’t felt like that in a long time.  

Beast:  That’s okay.  I’ll tell you what:  I’ll do the dishes.

Foodie:  I like how you say that like you’re some sort of hero for offering.

Beast:  Want to keep me company in the kitchen?

Foodie:  Well, that’s very tempting, but would you mind if I watched an episode of Friday Night Lights instead?

Beast:  (Sighing)  I guess that’s okay.

The Beast stayed on the couch with me but I didn’t start the DVD.  I just sat there with the episode all cued up to play.

Beast:  What are you waiting for?

Foodie:  I can’t watch Friday Night Lights with you.

Beast:  Why not?

Foodie:  Because you just make fun of everything!  And I’m really starting to like this show and you’ll just ruin it with your sassy mouth.  And don’t you have to do the dishes?

Beast:  Fine!  I’ll be in the kitchen cleaning up, after I took out the garbage, and after I cleaned out the drain, and after I worked all day and after I worked all night and after recovering from an illness (balls) and my allergies are so bad…and…

I think he may have kept talking to himself all the way down the hall to the kitchen, and even while he washed up the dishes, but I can’t be certain:  Have you seen how attractive the men are in this TV show?  

Foodie:  ***

Beast:  ***