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The food: Dutch-style Apple Pie with Jokes Lattice

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The story:

In the run-up to the publication date of my comic food-sex-and-telepathy novel The Oakdale Dinner Club in May, (only 3 months from now!), I’ve started to make some timid forays into self-promotion, including pitching myself for literary event gigs, an ego-bruising pursuit that usually drives me to the kitchen afterwards in need of comfort food.

The Dutch-inspired apple pie I threw together this week for that purpose is loosely based on a lovely slice of Dutch apple tart I enjoyed in Amsterdam last fall, at Café Het Paleis, a restaurant/cafe recommended by Amsterdam Foodie blogger Vicky Hampton.

Café Het Paleis in Amsterdam on a sunny afternoon

Café Het Paleis in Amsterdam on a sunny afternoon

Mint tea at Café Het Paleis

Mint tea at Café Het Paleis

Best apple tart in Amsterdam?

Best apple tart in Amsterdam?

The Café Het Paleis apple tart has a cakey bottom crust (as do most Dutch apple tarts, I gather, and many have a top crust as well) but what I loved about it was the filling – thin slices of tart apple, baked until tender but not mushy, dusted with cinnamon and spices, mixed with currants, raisins and shaved almonds, and served with a generous side of whipped cream.

To make my version, I filled a premade pie crust with this mixture:

4-5 medium tart apples (some Granny Smith, some Gala), cored, peeled, and sliced thinly
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. each of ginger, allspice, and nutmeg
rind and juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup mixed currants and raisins
1-2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup shaved almonds

I then cut half of the remaining frozen pie crust into freeform (read: messy) strips of varying lengths to make a jokes lattice, see here:

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sprinkled another handful of shaved almonds over top, and bunged the pie into a 350 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes until the crust was browned but not too, and the filling was softened and steaming.

A slice eaten warm, with whipped cream alongside, was a delicious and soothing way to fuel another few hours of pitching myself and my book. But hey, I’d love to appear at your festival, library event, book club or literary brunch – I’ll even bring themed food! And now I have to go eat more pie.

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There’s a good reason I haven’t posted here for 12 months. Or there’s a reason, anyway, which is that I spent most (okay, some) of the year hidden away in a cave (also known as my study) rewriting and revising two novels at once (not an exercise I would recommend) like a madwoman, till I was blue in the face and tearing my hair out, though I tried to keep both clichés and bracketed asides out of my manuscripts.

One of the novels I was revising was The Oakdale Dinner Club, an irreverent comedy of suburban manners about food, infidelity and telepathy – a novel in the vein of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and Maeve Binchy’s Evening Class with a soupçon of John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (say what?). It will be published in May, 2014 by Dundurn, and I will be featuring recipes for some of the dishes in the book in this space as the pub date draws nearer.

I did emerge from my revision cave from time to time during the year to travel a bit and eat well, especially when it came to fried chicken.

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While in New York in June to attend a writers’ pitch conference, for instance, I learned about the importance of using the right “comparable” titles in a pitch – FYI, only one should be a classic, one should be recent, and all must have been best-sellers. And after a long day of pitching, I happily consumed a fried chicken supper at Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter, an East Village spot (whose website home page, I just realized, is hey, what do you know, comparable to The Oakdale Dinner Club book cover). Bobwhite is my favorite kind of restaurant: it’s unpretentious, ultra-casual, and serves good, real food, like the deliciously moist inside, crunchy-skinned, Southern-style fried chicken, pictured above.

Summer weather or not, I couldn’t leave New York without stopping in for a set lunch of ramen with a side bowl (!) of fried chicken on rice with lettuce, a dab of teriyaki sauce and mayo (!) at my favorite ramen spot Ippudo.IMG_2360

Later in the year, when the revisions of The Oakdale Dinner Club were finally done, and the copy edit proofed and get it off my desk already, I escaped the wintry weather in Toronto for a few weeks in Florida, where I tried fried chicken and waffles at a resolutely downscale strip plaza location of Bay Bay’s Chicken and Waffles in West Palm Beach (the pic is theirs, lifted from their website, I’d gotten out of the habit of photographing my food by then):

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The spicy, crunchy breast of chicken on top of a freshly made cinnamon-scented buttermilk waffle was good enough to get me back there a second time a few days later (though West Palm Beach is admittedly a bit of a desert, food-wise). And when we swung by Miami Beach the next week, I had to check out the cool, comfortable and prettily appointed Yardbird in South Beach, where the cauliflower ‘steak’ sandwich (loved the sliced apples inside) was tasty if a little pricy at $13:

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the reasonably priced fried chicken blue plate special (only $14) was not as crispy as it should have been, and the biscuits were impressively flaky – like I can be after months of revision.

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Best Restaurant Meal I Ate That I Didn’t Blog About: mixed salads at Joan’s on Third in Los Angeles

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My pics don’t do the food justice – that might be why I didn’t post about how much I loved the sophisticated comfort food and the airy, casual ambience at Joan’s on Third in L.A. Among the delicious salads I tried as part of two different Salad Trio plates (only $12 for a heaping plateful) were a wonderful roasted potato salad with blue cheese dressing, a tarragon chicken salad, and a pretty and fresh shrimp salad with grapes and celery. I’m psyched to go back for more.

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And hey, Ellen Pompeo (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) was eating at a communal table at Joan’s on one of the days I was there.

Best 2012 Restaurant Breakfast: the poached eggs with fennel pollen Hollandaise at Little Dom’s in L.A.

Poached Eggs at Little Dom's

Poached Eggs at Little Dom’s

Little Dom’s is another Los Angeles restaurant I’m eager to return to, for the breakfast eggs and potatoes, because I might see frequent customers Emily Van Camp and Josh Bowman (of Revenge fame) there, and for the delicious little olive oil cake I bought (and did not photograph) from the Little Dom’s deli after brunch. I ate that cake in two bites, without sharing it with my husband E, who is still sulking, I mean talking, about this, a year later. Now we have to go back, so I can buy us each two little cakes.

Best Toronto Restaurant Trend: The Ramen Invasion

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It doesn’t even matter where this particular bowl of ramen is from (okay, it’s from Kinton Ramen, on Baldwin Street). The plethora of new authentic ramen restaurants that have arrived in town means there’s a very good and possibly great bowl of ramen available downtown at almost all times. Hell, keep that spicy broth away from me, and I’m even liking Kenzo Ramen these days. And Ramen Raijin. With, lucky me, several more new spots still left to try.

Best Frugal Gourmet Fare: The aperitivo buffet at Taverna del Campiello Remer in Venice, Italy

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Amazing all you can eat risotto. For free. Read about it here.

Best 20th Century Recipe That Still Tasted Damn Good in 2012 : Chicken Chasseur

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

Because sometimes I actually cook.

Best New (to me) Burger and Food Truck: the burger and fries from Miho Gastrotruck in Carlsbad, California

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My first exposure to a California style food truck was at Miho Gastrotruck, a Farm to Table operation that uses artisanal ingredients to produce a great tasting juicy burger and impeccable fries on the road. Worth going out of the way for when in the San Diego area.

And finally, because I’m not just hungry, I’m a novelist:

Best Thrillers I Read in 2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Alys Always by Harriet Lane

My current novel-in-progess is a psychological thriller, so I read several novels in that genre this year as part of my research. I disliked some, was meh on others, and liked a small number, of which the best, to my taste, were these two.

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The much-lauded and buzzed-about Gone Girl, about a woman who goes missing, and the suspicions cast on her husband, gets pretty crazy and twisty in its last third, but I found it to be engrossing, well plotted, paced and written, and very memorable.

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Alys Always, about a young newspaper subeditor (of a books section!) who happens upon a fatal car accident one night on a dark country road, is a quieter sort of thriller, with fewer extremes and no violence, but I loved its slow build, mounting suspense and unreliable narrator. It reminded me, in good ways, of another past favourite: Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal.

The food: good cheap eats in Venice, Italy

During my first-ever visit to Venice, (on a long weekend in early November) I saw a little high water, many tourists, and beautiful art, architecture and skyscapes, and I ate some very good and inexpensive food.

Our best meal – for both quality and price – was at Taverna del Campiello Remer , a charming, casual and difficult-to-find spot that’s a five minute walk from the Rialto bridge in Canareggio. (For instructions on how to get there, see the end of this post*.)

The taverna is known for its generous aperitivo (AKA happy hour) offer: from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on every day but Wednesday, one orders a glass of wine (a choice of red, prosecco, or a spritz – a mixture of Campari, Prosecco and mineral water) at the bar, pays 5 Euros, and is granted unlimited access to a square buffet table laden with, on the night we visited, several different kinds of bruschetta, and huge pots of a simple pasta and an excellent mushroom risotto, both brought out steaming from the kitchen at around 5:40 pm.

Assorted Bruschetta from Taverna del Campiello Remer Aperitivo

Simple Pasta from Taverna del Campiello Remer Aperitivo

The unmarked entrance to Taverna del Campiello Remer in Venice

Another day, another good meal deal in the Rialto market neighbourhood, courtesy of where Muro Rialto, a bar and restaurant that offers seafood and fish tarts for 2 Euros each in its ground floor stand-up wine bar (shrimp in a rossa sauce and with pesto are shown here).

The main attraction on Saturdays at lunchtime is the lunch special, served outdoors in the Campo Bella Vienna, just outside the Muro Rialto wine bar entrance.

Saturday in the Square Sign from Muro Venice

Here, a lineup forms before noon at an outdoor table set up with a cash register, bottles of wine and wine glasses, and trays of hot fresh-cooked food brought out from the restaurant.

8 Euros gets you a glass of white wine and the special of the day, which was fritto misto (made with very fresh fish from the neighbouring fish market) on the day we visited.

I admit that even after trying a piece of that white block of something on the plate, I had no idea what it was. Some kind of firm whitefish that wasn’t fried? If you can identify it, please do so in the comments below.

In the same square is a small and very busy cheese shop, the Casa del Parmigiano. purveyor of cheeses, salumi, olives and a small selection of house-prepared foods.

Casa del Parmigiano in Venice

From here, I picked up some of the elements of a perfect Italian light lunch. To experience la dolce vita in Venice all I needed to add to a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some marinated artichoke hearts from Casa del Parmigiano was a zucchini roll from a nearby bakery and a sliced apple from a fruit and vegetable stand in the adjacent Rialto market.

*To find Taverna del Campiello Remer from the the Rialto bridge, cross the bridge from the south San Polo market (mercato) side to the north Cannareggio side. Turn left on the first street, which is what passes for a main drag in Venice, and follow it for four or five blocks, watching for small side streets (alleys) that open off it to the left towards the curving Grand Canal. The street/alley that leads to Campiello del Remer is not marked, but shopkeepers on the main street will direct you to it (tip: it’s near a tobacconist) if you pronounce it properly (Reh-mehr). Take the dark Remer alley one short block to the end – it opens into a small square on the canal. The taverna, with no sign, is the only storefront in the square.

The food: Chicken Chasseur

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

The story:

Fall has arrived (begone, overly hot, overly long summer!), and while I dislike the cold weather as much as the next person – no, wait. I like cold weather. Or rather, I like cool sunny days of the autumnal variety. I like turning off the a/c and NOT turning on the furnace. I like putting the hot water bottle into play at bedtime. I like jumping back into the local literary scene at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival at the end of September.

Guest speakers Luba Lesychyn and Emily Niedoba at one of the talks I hosted at the WOTS Scribendi Wordshop Marquee featuring the Humber School of Writers

And I like bringing back to the regular home cooking rotation fall/winter comfort food dishes like Chicken Chasseur (poulet chasseur, more properly, but I work from the Joy of Cooking recipe I’ve used for years, the one that is amusingly and Americanishly titled “Hunter’s Chicken, Chicken Cacciatore or Chasseur”: take your pick.)

The recipe suggests serving the chicken, which is cooked in a wine-scented, mushroomy, tomato-rich sauce – over boiled spaghetti (wtf?). But in a nod to my multicultural origins (and cooking influences) I serve it over Japanese white rice, and top it with challah croutons for gluten-eaters and rice bread croutons for the gluten-free among us.

Gluten-Free Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Rinse and dry with paper towels:
4 half chicken breasts, bone-in

Dredge with:
3-4 T. cornstarch

Saute till golden brown in a large saucepan in:
3-4 T. olive oil
With:
2-3 shallots, peeled and minced

Mix and add to the pan:
1 small can tomato paste (about 1/2 cup)
1 c. dry white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. thyme, 1/2 tsp. marjoram
2 Tbsp. brandy or cognac

Simmer mixture, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour until chicken is tender and sauce has thickened nicely. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t burn. If too thick, thin with a little more chicken stock or wine.

Meanwhile, saute 2 c. sliced mushrooms in olive oil until browned and tender.

Make steamed rice.

Make croutons by frying 1 slice per serving of bread (of your choice) in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until browned and fragrant. Fry gluten-free bread slices in a separate pan from gluten-full bread, obvi. Cut fried bread into crouton-sized pieces.

When chicken is tender, remove breasts from sauce, cut meat from bone and into bite-size pieces/shreds, discard bones, and return chicken pieces to sauce. Stir in sauteed mushrooms and keep mixture warm.

To serve, place a mound of cooked steamed rice on a plate, top with 4-6 croutons, and pour a ladleful of chicken and mushrooms in sauce over top of both.

Serves 4-6.

Soon after finishing her graduate studies in history, Luba Lesychyn landed on the doorstep of Canada’s largest museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, where she worked for more than twenty years. Life after working at a museum included completing the Humber College Creative Writing program. Her debut novel, Theft By Chocolate, is a sassy museum mystery about a woman looking for chocolate, love and an international art thief in all the wrong places. The book was ePublished in May 2012 by the UK digital publishing company, Attica Books, and the novel is now also available in print. Luba currently works in the educational sector and teaches yoga in her home town of Toronto.

Website: www.chocolativore.com

Blog: www.chocolativore.com/blog.html

What’s going on in your writing life right now?

Having just published Theft By Chocolate, I have been focusing on promoting the book and writing masses of posts for my extensive blog tour. In addition, the next installment to Theft By Chocolate is playing out in my head and I am so looking forward to doing the research for it as it will involve consuming copious amounts of chocolate, hopefully around the world.

What’s your writing routine?

Upon waking, I laze in bed for about a half hour and do my imagining and creating. I then like to get active, i.e. running or going to the gym, yoga, etc. Only then can I settle down in front of a computer and get my fingers tapping on a keyboard. Even though I break between my creating and writing, I always trust that my best ideas will stay with me until it’s time to get them up on a computer screen.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

As I am in the habit of eating or snacking late in the evenings, I tend not to be ravenous in the morning. So, I start my day with a home-made vegetable or fruit smoothie to which is added a vegan protein powder, powdered sea vegetables, açai, maqui berry, and greens. It’s 100% organic and super tasty. That gets me through my workout. Following the workout, I’ll have a banana and a quinoa power bar or almonds. I know, sounds far too healthy. That’s why I don’t feel too guilty when I snack on chocolate later in the day.

What good books have you read recently?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova about a victim of early onset Alzheimer’s. It was heart-wrenching and told so skillfully and authentically. The down side to reading this book is that anytime you accidentally put something in the wrong place, you begin to wonder if you should have yourself tested. I’m currently reading Lucille Duff Gordon’s A Woman of Temperament. This remarkable woman created one of the first fashion empires, paved the way for women to become entrepreneurs, and broke through many Victorian barriers. She also, invented the catwalk as we know it today, was a single mother, has some Canadian connections, and if that weren’t enough, she survived the sinking of the Titanic. I’ve been spending so much time promoting my book with very little time to read, so this account has been such a great escape as it transports me to another world.

What did you eat for dinner last night?

First let me explain that I eat my main meal during the day, usually later afternoon. So dinner to me is what others might consider a snack. I had dried kale chips with baba ganoush. I never seem to tire of that combo.

Writing rules you live by:

Always keep honing your craft and listen to your mentors, even when you it’s difficult to admit they’re right! [Haha, way to suck up, but I like it - HN.]

A scene you’ve written that features food:

Chocolate is obviously a primary theme in my book, so it was hard to pick just one scene, but a representative passage starts with my lead character Kalena Boyko receiving a gift of Jeff de Bruges chocolates from her colleague, Brenda, who’s trying to cheer her up.

A favorite restaurant:

I was in Rome last fall and I was a little skeptical when I read in a guide book about the oldest and best pizzeria in Rome. But I was exhausted and the location was not far from my hotel, so I headed to what I expected to be an uninspiring tourist trap.

Possessing the worst internal GPS and wandering in a city with winding and twisted streets, it was a miracolo I even found the street for which I was searching. Dal Ricci was what I was looking for, but the sign at the noted address read Est! Est! Est! I looked up the restaurant once again in the guide book and there it was, “Dal Ricci, aka Est! Est! Est!” Whatever.

I snagged the last outdoor table available even though the establishment had just opened for dinner five minutes before. The universe was with me as it was a perfect night in the Eternal City. And no one was more surprised than I when served a rainbow colored salad, far superior to what most Roman restaurants offer. And the pizza, well, it was worth the trip to Italia. I ordered a vegetable pizza and it came loaded – and I mean loaded. It was saltier than what I am accustomed to, but once my palette adjusted, I was in paradise.

It was my last evening in Rome, so no doggie bags for me. I ate the whole thing and found myself in explode-mode. But I was also determined to have one last piece of tiramisu before heading back to Toronto. Luckily for me, it was a version that was so light it could have floated away.

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading:

Comfort food: Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate (really).

Comfort reading: I’ve made it a habit to read, over and over again, Gary Zukav’s Soul to Soul Meditations: Daily Reflections for Spiritual Growth. I love waking up and consuming a few pages of Zukav’s wise words. It really helps set the tone for my day.

What do you do when not writing, eating, or reading?

When not working at my survivor job or looking for my next chocolate fix, I can be found in dance classes, doing body combat workouts, trekking to remote waterfalls in the mountain rain forest in Puerto Rico, running through the streets of Paris, or any other number of calorie-burning activities that help offset my chocolate intake. I can also be found far too often in the darkness of movie theatres as I love film even more than I do food, if that’s possible. I’ve been blogging about film before the term even existed, sharing my experiences at the annual Toronto International Film Festival with my readers. This year, people can follow me on Twitter for daily tweets about TIFF 2012. My twitter handle is @LubaLesychyn.

The food: eating Aspen-style, with a bonus stop in Minneapolis

The story:

In June, I attended the Aspen Summer Words Writers’ Retreat in scenic Aspen, Colorado, a town filled with Victorian era architecture of types both cottagey and stately, mountain vistas, and pretty, well-groomed flower beds:

Also, cowboy boots and hats, worn unironically:

With each morning devoted to an intense Novel Editing workshop with a group of fine fellow writers, and each afternoon spent reading the works of my classmates (150 pages for each!) and preparing critiques for the next day, I had little time to search for good food. I was underwhelmed by the Aspen restaurant fare, aside from some perfectly acceptable but unexceptional sushi from Matsuhisa, where I learned that the correct term for takeout food in Aspen is “to go.” As in, “Here’s your to go.”

The best food I ate all week was the surprisingly good and varied artisanal cuisine served at the lovely Aspen Meadows resort, where the conference was held, including the fish tacos and salads shown at the top of the post, and sweet little desserts like these beignet-style donuts served with raspberry and lemon sauces at the faculty-student dinner:

I was also delighted to find tasty gourmet fare at Surdyk’s Flights , a wine market and bar in the mall at the Minneapolis Airport, of all places, where I had a stopover on the way home. I’m not a wine drinker, but my Minneapple Panini, a sandwich made with Applegate Farms roast turkey, brie, apples and lingonberry sauce, was a welcome, freshly-prepared treat in the middle of a long travel day.

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