Monthly Archives: February 2012

Fennel al Forno, and Family

While shopping at No Frills yesterday, I passed a display of Twinkies and pastel pink meringues. And, as often happens at the sight of such delicious frivolities, I missed my mother.

She used to make my brother and me promise to bury her with just a box of Twinkies and a few cans of Diet Pepsi–or maybe Tab–those being the only things necessary for a happy and satisfying afterlife. I’m not sure how far off the mark she is, but I suspect it’s not great. Although I’ve not had a Twinkie in many years, I seem to recall that they are life-affirming in taste.

I wish the two of us had more of a regular telephone conversation schedule, like I suspect other mother and daughters do, but no one in my family is very good with the phone. The idea of interrupting each other, I think, is the root cause of our communication affliction. Also, my heart beats out of my chest when the phone rings. Who could it be? What do they want? How will I answer their queries? Like, “Hey man, what’s new?” Christ, I don’t know! Or, “How are you?” It’s just too much to bear.

Unless it’s my mother. When we do manage to connect via telephone, we could gab for hours. (I wonder if this is why she’s so well-suited to her volunteer gig with her church; she has a list of seniors she calls every week, just to talk, just to check in and make sure everything is as well as can be expected with them, most of whom have no kids. What a sweet, beautiful idea.)  The sound of her voice, her laugh, her gossip reports, her obituary news sourced from local papers, her observations culled from the latest episode of Hoarders–it’s enough to make me want to call her right now, almost.

Is it unusual to miss your parents when you’re an adult?  I mean, missing your mom and dad when you’re 12  is one thing–but as a late-something 37 or 38 year old?

I remember receiving a coveted invitation to join K.T. on a camping trip to Bon Echo National Park with her family one summer, right before starting grade eight. Never having camped before, and K.T. being a pretty popular girl, I was ecstatic. But after day four in the wilderness, I was miserable. I’d been away from home before, but it was for neighbourhood sleep-overs. If I needed to return home in the middle of the night–which I never did–I could have just snuck out the back, got on my bike and walked through my front door, which was never locked. But Bon Echo, this was something completely different. I can still recall the pain in my heart, missing my family so dearly–and being torn up inside over the realization that I was probably too old to be so homesick. I took extreme measures. I pretended like I was gravely ill for 24 hours, fake throwing up behind the tent, writhing in pain on the ground with some unknown stomach flu. K.T.’s mom must have known I was faking. But she still called my parents, and I can’t recall ever being happier than seeing my dad the day he made the six hour drive to collect me from Bon Echo. No questions were asked. We embraced, and maybe stopped for burgers along some highway on the way home. For a short time, all was well in my world, until the first day of grade eight; when I was briefly ostracized from my group of friends for abandoning K.T. that summer. I have no regrets, though.

I just remembered this very instant that I returned to Bon Echo park only one other time, in my early 20s with an ex and his group of friends. I believe I got dumped by a campfire late at night only to be asked back out in the morning.

Bon Echo and me, we don’t get on.

Anyway, I clipped out a recipe from the New York Times last week for baked fennel, or fennel al forno. I made it last night with relative ease (the hardest part was grinding up some garlic, fennel seeds, olive oil and chili flakes.)

And then the Beast subbed in to the kitchen while I retired to the dining room to do a little work, and he fried up some sausages. The result was a divine meal, enjoyed with season two of Deadwood playing in the background.

It should be noted that whatever series we happen to be watching, we tend to adjust our language to fit, or mimic, the program’s. For example:

Beast: Can you even imagine the first man making bread crumbs after thousands of years of tossing out their spoiled bread?

Foodie: Ah, I don’t think early man would have thrown out any food.

Beast (pausing): I was joking. My point is, if you take my fucking meaning, is how do bread crumbs conspire to make everything so delicious?

It’s a good point, and it’s a fantastic show. This is my third time watching it and it just gets better with every viewing. And I never noticed so much before how much the Beast looks like the character Silas Adams.

Beast: Do you think Adams has a better body than I do?

Foodie: (Silence)

Beast (looking at Adams, who is reclining in a bed): I think my chest is more robust. I really do. I think it’s on account of all of my chest flies and push-ups. (Adams stands up) Wait, no. He’s got a great fucking body, this guy. Look at it. He looks like somebody who’s spent a summer building boats with his bare hands under the summer sun.

Foodie: Yes, yes he does.

I’m not sure how either of our bodies will stand up to nightly desserts of homemade chocolate chip cookies (by way of that no-knead bread wizard guy, Jim Lahey, in Bon Appetit.) with vanilla cream.

I kept the dough in the fridge all week, and just bake the cookies fresh, as we need them, which is often during these gloomy February nights–when a box of Twinkies in aisle three can make you homesick.

Foodie: **1/2

Beast: ***

To fast? Too furious! But not at Enoteca

In the sun room on Saturday morning, reading the papers and drinking the coffee when the Beast got some crazy idea in his head that he’s going to start fasting because he read some article in the March issue of Harper’s titled, “Starving Your Way to Vigor: The Benefits of an Empty Stomach.”

Beast: I’m going to start fasting.

Foodie: No. No you are not.

Beast: Oh yes I am.

Foodie: I am against this. I am against denying the body of nutrience in an attempt to “cleanse” it of “toxins”. The only thing you will do is lose water weight and shock your body into thinking it needs to hang on to everything important because it doesn’t know when you’re going to fill it up next because you’re behaving like a shit brain.

Beast: I’m not doing it to lose weight. I’m doing it to gain strength. You should read this article.

Foodie: I’m too busy reading about other stuff.

Beast: Like what?

Foodie: Like how probiotic yogurt and goji berries are good for you. Hey, you want to go see The Descendants today? I need to try and see all the Oscar movies before Sunday, for work, and I still need to see that one, plus War Horse and that Tom Hanks one.

Beast: I’d love to see it, actually. And then I’ll take you out for dinner tonight.

Foodie: Pardon?

Beast: I said I’ll take you for dinner tonight. I got a bonus from work.

Foodie: Well, hells bells! Let me go put a bra on!

After the movie, walking along Queen Street—and after the Beast made me play two rounds of Big Buck Hunter, a shooting game in the arcade where you have to fire at bucks in the wilderness. It was the oddest thing. Oh, and after getting my photo taken in some cardboard thing promoting Star Wars 3D.

Foodie: I know you’re going to say no, but what about we go see Ian and Chris at Grand Electric? I’ve wanted to take you there for so long now.

Beast: Why would I say no?

Foodie: Because it seems like it would be a lot of fun and it would be really social; two things you hate.

Beast: I like those guys. Why don’t you text Ian and see how long the wait will be?

Foodie (nodding in disbelief): Yeah! Sure! Holy smokes, I can’t believe you just encouraged me to text! Wait. What the fuck?

Beast: What?

Foodie: He just wrote back and it’s going to be a three and a half hour wait!

Beast: Well, good for them for doing so well.

Foodie: Good for them? This is bullshit. Where to now?

Beast: I’ve wanted to eat at Atlantic for a while now. How about there? Or Enoteca Sociale. I know you’ve wanted to take me there. You choose.

Foodie: I’d be happy with either. You choose.

We ended up at Enoteca Sociale, a place that reminds me a bit of Lupa in New York (that detail is for FATB’s international crowd). At 9:00 pm, there were many people huddled in the lobby waiting for a table but the hostess offered us two seats at the bar. I love sitting at restaurant bars. The Beast hates it. We took the the two seats, obviously.

Foodie: That was hilarious. As soon as we walk in and two seats at the bar appear. It was like it was meant to be.

Beast: Look (banging his knees against the counter and against me, in protest); we can’t even talk or see each other, and our knees keep banging.

Foodie (after just having ordered dinner): You’re exaggerating. Hey, how do you like this Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige?

Beast: I’m still shocked that you knew the first glass he poured us was corked.

Foodie: It was faint, that’s for certain, but I’m a very, very strong taster, having been trained–

Beast: It’s incredible.

Foodie: How in the hell did you like the movie, anyway?

Beast: I liked it. I like all of his movies.

Foodie: What else did he do besides Sideways again?

Beast: About Schmidt, Election.

Foodie: George Clooney’s character kind of reminded me of Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. There’s a coldness to Payne’s leading men, don’t you think? It leaves me, I guess, wanting for more or something.

Beast: Well, I’m not sure Payne can make a movie where he’s not constantly undermining the emotional richness of his stories by being merciliessly mean to his characters.

Foodie: Holy Christ, these arancini are good. This tomato sauce with the sopprassata is amazing! But don’t you wish the arancini had a bit of saffron or something in there?

Beast: There’s a  spirit of misanthropy in his movies that I like, and I guess I feel it in myself, but am uncomfortable with it.

Foodie: I love these greens, too. What is this again? Chicory and escarole? I’m going to make this at home. But I think I’d use pears instead of Jerusalem artichokes. What does misanthropy mean?

Beast: A dislike of mankind.

Foodie: Yeah, that’s what he does.

Beast: This is a good salad. If you make it, you should put croutons in it.

Foodie (Looking at him like he’s crazy): I don’t think so. I really wanted George Clooney’s character to have a melt down. I wanted to see him emote. I feel cheated that he didn’t.

Beast: I was satisfied with that scene near the end where the woman who visits Clooney’s wife has a meltdown at her bedside. She was saying and feeling everything he was feeling, only he wasn’t capable of articulating or emoting any of it.

Foodie (pausing mid-bite): Ohhhhhhhh! Do you think that it was written that way? Like, it was on purpose? Like, symbolism or something?

Beast (looking at me like I was retarded): Ah, yeah.

Foodie: How is your pasta? My ravioli stuffed with salted cod and potatoes is delicious. This mint and capers? So nice.

Bacala and potato ravioli

Beast: Mine is good, too, but I can’t understand why I ordered a seafood pasta. It’s just so out of character for me.

Foodie: I was really shocked when you ordered it, what with all that lamb ragu and guanciale on the menu.

Beast: I really wanted to order something newlike sea urchin spaghetti.

Foodie: Let me try. (Tasting it.) It needs salt.

Beast: You say that about everything. But you’re right this time around. (Pause)  I really liked the movie. I really did.  Especially that ending.

Foodie: Where they eat ice cream on the couch as a family?

Beast: They’re watching the movie, March of the Penguins. I don’t know. It’s just a nice statement about how a lush wilderness can be turned into a frozen desert and yet somehow, miraculously even, family feelings still survive. Actually, it was quite a beautiful ending.

Foodie: Should we order a cheese plate or get proper desserts?

Foodie (slightly drunk): That was so nice of the waiter to bring us a little bonus wine to go with our cheese! And I love it, don’t you? I love it more than the other two. Did he say it was a lacrima di morro d’Alba? I think that’s what he said. Do you think that’s the same thing as lacryma christi di blah blah blah? That’s the blood of Christ, or the tears, or something. I can’t remember. I love it more than the morellino di Scansano, and that nebbiolo. These are all such good wines. How can I feel more drunk here, after just two and a half glasses of wine, than I do at home, if I were to have drunk the same amount?

Beast: You’ve drunk half a bottle.

Foodie: So let me tell you about some ‘behind the restaurant scenes’ stuff, so to speak. So Matty. You know Matty, right? From Parts and Labour? Well, there’s another Matty here, who used to be there and then–

Beast: Oh, when you’re done this story I have to tell you all about the gossip in the used furniture industry. Just wake me up when you’re done.

Foodie: You do? Is that a joke? It is, isn’t it. And then Grant from the Black Hoof

Beast: You were right about the service here; it really is extraordinarily good. Did you hear this woman beside us? It’s 11pm and she just asked for a second cappuccino but requested a half an order.

Foodie: As in half a cappuccino? That’s crazy! And the server didn’t smile or joke?

Beast: He just said, “of course”.

Foodie: I’m like so glad we got this Amaro Nonino. I feel great right now. How great do you feel? That was great, wasn’t it?

When we left, slightly drunk, very full, and quite content, every staff member we passed bid us good night and thanked us for coming. It made us feel like the night belonged just to us.

Foodie: ***

Beast: **1/2

Taking Care of Business

One week night during the last two weeks, on the couch, after a dinner, and after having drunk evening ration of half a bottle of wine. (Any wine.) 

Foodie: Aren’t you just so happy that we’ve been meal planning together?

Beast: Yes, I am. There’s nothing I love more than thinking about what I’m going to eat every night of the week, a week before I actually eat it.

Foodie: Well, when you’re a working girl like I am, that’s just how you have to do it, or we’d just be eating garbage all the time, or take-out.

The Beast and I made a point of breaking some bad habits; we’re not only meal-planning more than usual, but we’re also trying to be more cultural. So instead of eating dinner in front of the television and watching shitty TV, we’ve been eating dinner in front of the television and watching important movies, like Rules of the Game, Breathless and Best in Show. We do all of our meal and cultural planning on the weekend; the Beast takes care of picking out good movies (if it were up to me, we’d just watch the Bourne trilogy every night, or Sense and Sensibility), and I take care of mapping out the week’s meals. We’ve feasted on gourmet sandwiches, pork tourtière, leek and potato soup with garlic bread, pasta parties, meatloaf and even an authentic “Old El Paso” taco night for Super Bowl Sunday! Who needs all these fancy types of tacos you see everywhere when Old El Paso makes a box that has everything you need in it, minus the ground beef and the toppings, which we really get excited about.

(footnote: before preceding, make sure you’re pronouncing “taco” with a short “a”, rather than a long “a”, for the rest of this post. When you have Old El Paso, you say tack-o, not tah-co.)

After we have a few normal tacos, we take the rest of the taco shells and break them up on our plates and then use up the rest of the toppings for “taco salad party time.”

We’ve had to pull up our domestic socks a bit because I started a new job a couple of weeks ago. It’s just a new position at the same place where I’ve worked for the last few years. But now I’ll be writing and editing for the magazine’s website in the areas of arts, life and culture, and continuing to contribute both to video production and to the print magazine, instead of answering the phone, filing stuff and faxing shit. There’s been one little hiccup so far, which is that the replacement for my old job doesn’t start until next week, so I’ve had to do two jobs for a couple of weeks. And when you try to do a good job at working two jobs, it’s inevitable that you put in more hours every day than you normally would.

It’s been stressful.

But I’m thrilled to report that the Beast has been a real trooper through it all. He’ll ask what meal he can take out of the freezer, like ragu, or cabbage rolls, and prepare it. He will insist on these nights, that he’s “made dinner,” even though I actually made it, and just froze it. I’m fine with that, because I think it gives him a sense of pride and I want to encourage him, like you would a small child, to do things on his own.

I will even leave him a recipe with a shopping list and he will make it on his day off. And there have been some really lovely nights when we’ve made dinner together, like when we made spinach gnudi and it turned out almost exactly like the picture in the recipe book.

There have been many meatless dinners, and he hasn’t made a single quip about it.

With the Beast being so helpful with meals and doing dishes, I think I ought to turn my attention to his  fashion addiction, and getting him his own eBay account. I get an email about twice a week with a link to an item on eBay that the Beast wants me to buy. After I ignore the emails for several hours, I will get a telephone call from him.

Beast: Why aren’t you answering my emails?

Foodie (whispering and screaming at the same time): Because I am working!

Beast: Will you please just buy me this jacket? Have you even looked at it yet?

Foodie (still whispering): Get your own eBay account goddamnit!

Beast: Please? Please? Please? You can not even imagine the world of pain I would be entering if I signed up for eBay. Please just keep doing it for me?

Foodie: No.

Beast: Please? The number of jackets and instruments I would buy at work just because I was bored, depressed and wanted to die would be atrocious. Please?

Foodie: No.

Beast: And I know this jacket is just Lauren, by Ralph Lauren–not the premiere line–but I really like the tailoring and construction.

He’s been wearing Ralph Lauren blazers, Brooks Brothers shirts, Prada cardigans, Tom Ford pocket squares and Céline ties to work, every day. Don’t get me wrong, he’s look fabulous; far more more fabulous than me. While the Beast now shuns lounge wear– “I”m only comfortable when I look good”– I’ve come to embrace it even more than usual. The first thing I do when I get home from work is to put this on:

It doesn’t matter how dirty it is, either. I have to wear it. It’s like a uniform. I really think the strand of pale pink fresh water pearls ups the ante. Plus, I don’t feel so ghetto eating frozen coconut cream pie out of the disposable aluminum pie dish when I’m wearing them.

Old El Paso Taco Party: Foodie: ***, Beast ***

Homemade Ragu: Foodie **1/2, Beast ***

Spinach Gnudi: Foodie **, Beast **1/2