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Archive for August, 2009

The food:
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin

Fresh-baked Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin at Ward's Island Cafe

Fresh-baked Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin at Ward's Island Cafe

The story:

This past week, I read The Winter Sea, a novel by Susanna Kearsley, a Canadian writer who is a big name author of romantic suspense in the U.K.

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The Winter Sea alternates between two storylines, contemporary and historical. In the first, a Canadian woman writer rents a cottage in the Scottish village of Cruden Bay, during the winter, in order to write a novel set in and around the nearby ruined castle of Slains, in the year 1708.

The second story line consists of the historical fiction the writer channels from the ghostly consciousness of her main character, a woman who was the writer’s ancestor.

Kearsley has made a name for herself writing books that combine present and past story lines, and has been hailed as a worthy successor to revered (and still living) English author Mary Stewart, described in an awesome fansite I just discovered as “the mother of the modern romantic suspense novel.”

My 2 copies of my favorite Mary Stewart novel

My 2 copies of my favorite Mary Stewart novel

I was a big fan of Stewart’s novels in my youth and would go so far as to say they inspired, in part, my brief fling with studying ancient history and archeology in university.

I also made an intertextual reference to Mary Stewart’s novel The Ivy Tree in my novel The Glenwood Treasure,

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which, like The Ivy Tree, pays tribute to Josephine Tey’s classic thriller Brat Farrar.

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Kearsley’s historical fiction is impeccably researched and makes exciting use of the physical and atmospheric details of her locations – her ear is well-trained to hear the stories that still live on in old places.

But I preferred the contemporary story line in The Winter Sea – for nostalgic reasons, I’m still a sucker for stories in which an intelligent, bookish young woman holes up in a remote country cottage, takes long walks along seaside cliffs, meets a rugged and handsome local guy, and becomes involved in solving an old mystery.

I was midway through the book when E and I took our bikes, by ferry, to Toronto Island on a cloudy weekday, and did our usual ride from Hanlan’s Point to Ward’s Island and back, with a stop at the Ward’s Island Cafe for a warm and delicious banana chocolate chip muffin and coffee.

The Ward's Island cafe in the Ward's Island Association clubhouse

The Island is beautiful in any weather – quiet and woodsy, with the lake and endless sky on one side of the path, and semi-groomed parkland on the other.

As I rode along, with the wind blowing whitecaps on the waves and rustling the leaves on the trees, toward the small community of former cottages (now homes) on Ward’s Island, it occurred to me that the Island would make a great setting for a young woman in a cottage story in the Mary Stewart and Susanna Kearsley vein (though minus the historical fiction angle). I might have to write that story someday.

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The food: Individual tourtières

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My mother’s background is a little complicated: her family can trace its French lineage in Quebec to the 1700’s, but her father’s French surname, Langlais, means “the English (person).”

At age 20, my bilingual mother left Montreal and moved to Toronto, where she’s lived ever since, and where she mainly cooks and eats food from cuisines that originate in countries far from Quebec – countries like Italy, France and China.

Once in a while, though, she makes tourtière, a classic Quebecois meat pie that was a food staple in her youth. Her version is a contemporary one – it freshens the meatiness of the ground pork and beef with some chopped pear and a sprinkling of fresh herbs, and is served in individual pastry shells for a pretty presentation.

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Recently, she called me and offered me some extra tourtières she had made. I eagerly accepted, and ate two for (a delicious) dinner with a little peach chutney and a green salad.

Afterwards, I looked up the origins of tourtière and found a history that said tourtière was once known in Quebec as “Pâté à l’angloise.” I think I see a pattern developing here.

A loaded pastry shell before adding lattice strips and baking

A loaded pastry shell before adding lattice strips and baking

Recipe for Tourtière (à la Mme Langlais):

1 T. olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
2 pears, cored, peeled and chopped
1 T. fresh thyme leaves
1 T. fresh tarragon leaves
2 T. Italian parsley, chopped
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. ground savoury
1 dozen frozen individual pastry shells (unsweetened) plus 1 large frozen pastry shell.

1. Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet. Sauté shallots until soft and translucent, 2-3 minutes.
2. Stir in fresh and dried herbs and chopped pears.
3. Add ground meats, use wooden spoon to break up, and cook meat until no longer pink and well combined with shallots, herbs and pears, stirring often.
4. Strain off liquid from meat mixture.
5. Thaw large frozen pie crust shell 10 minutes, then cut into 1/2 inch wide strips.
6. Spoon meat mixture into individual pie shells. Top with lattice strips.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.
8. Serve with chutney, not ketchup. Unless you really like ketchup.

Makes 12 individual tarts.

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The food: Blueberry-Nectarine Pancakes with Gingered Maple Syrup

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The story:

New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay had a wonderful appreciation piece in this past Sunday’s paper about the dance partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

I’m a big fan of Fred Astaire, and was almost obsessively so in my youth, judging from the box of 20 or so framed 8 x 10 glossy black and white photos of Fred that I still have in the basement, along with books about Fred, and an original movie poster from The Bandwagon that I couldn’t bear to part with during my last big move:

Yes, I own this.

Yes, I own this.

Such was/is my fandom that I am intimately acquainted with every dance number Macaulay refers to in his article, including the “Waltz in Swing Time” from the movie Swing Time, about which he (rightly) rhapsodizes.

I’ve seen that number at least a dozen times, adore the dress Ginger wears, and know every note of the music, but after reading Macaulay’s piece, I watched it again on Youtube:

Then, in homage to the lithe and lovely Ginger, I made some nectarine-blueberry pancakes with gingered maple syrup. The recipe is a mashup/adaptation of a recipe for peach pancakes with ginger from oprah.com, and one for blueberry buttermilk flapjacks from MarthaStewart.com. The spiciness of the ginger in the batter and syrup complements the sweetness of the nectarine slices browned in butter almost as wondrously as Ginger and Fred dance together.

Nectarine-blueberry pancakes just prior to being flipped.

Nectarine-blueberry pancakes just prior to being flipped.

Blueberry Nectarine Pancakes with Gingered Maple Syrup

1 3/4 c. flour
3 1/2 T. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 T. butter, melted plus more butter for cooking pancakes
2 T. vegetable oil plus more for skillet
1 c. blueberries
5 small nectarines, peeled and chopped
1 c. maple syrup
1 T. minced fresh ginger

1. Combine maple syrup and minced fresh ginger in small saucepan. Bring to boil, remove from heat and let sit in pan for 15 minutes. Pour into pitcher for serving.
2. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl.
3. Whisk together liquid ingredients in separate bowl, then whisk into dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries.
4. Heat 1 tsp. butter and 1 tsp. oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour in batter, 1/4 c. at a time (my skillet fit 3 pancakes.) Cook until small bubbles form (about 3-4 minutes), then place 3-4 nectarine slices on top of each pancake, and flip. Cook 1-2 minutes more. Remove and keep warm.
5. Serve with gingered syrup and additional butter if desired.

Makes 10 – 12.

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The food: Fried chicken, fried green tomato sandwich

Stockyards Fried Chicken Combo served in an iron skillet

Stockyards Fried Chicken Combo served in an iron skillet

The story:

The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder, a new chicken and ribs joint in Toronto, specializes in smoked meat and barbecue, but E and I checked it out at lunchtime on a recent grossly hot summer day for the Southern fried chicken.

The menu specifies a 15-20 minute wait for the buttermilk marinated chicken to be cooked to order, and after I walked into the open kitchen with counter seating that is the shop, I was glad I’d thought to call ahead to place our order, so I didn’t have to linger indoors in the ovenish room waiting for it.

BAT (Bacon, Arugula, Fried Green Tomato) Sandwich

BAT (Bacon, Arugula, Fried Green Tomato) Sandwich

The fried chicken, and a BAT (for bacon, arugula and fried green tomato) sandwich that we also ordered – to complement the fried chicken with more fried food – was ready 1 minute after we walked in the door, and presented in individual iron skillets, which the helpful counterman (one of the shop’s owners) carried outside for us so we could sit on a sidewalk bench, the skillets perched on two low tree stump tables.

St. Clair West is under construction but the Stockyards is well worth the trip

St. Clair West is under construction but the Stockyards is well worth the trip

The $12 Fried Chicken Combo was enough for two: it consisted of five pieces of juicy chicken coated in a classic, crisp, nubbly, amber crust, and came with a generous quantity of good fresh cut fries, a small dish of pickleish coleslaw (not to my liking, but never mind), and some hot sauce.

The chicken was worth going back for (in cooler weather), but the find of our visit for me was the $9 BAT sandwich: a juicy, sweet (re: the lemon aioli and fried green tomato) and smoky (thanks to the house-cured bacon) combo on a rustic ciabatta roll. I didn’t want to share it.

Loved this sandwich

Loved this sandwich

P.S. I loved the homemade Limeade, infused with mint, too.

The Stockyards Smokehouse & Larder on Urbanspoon

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The food: haroset (in August!)

Apple, walnut and honey haroset with cranberry hazelnut crackers

Apple, walnut and honey haroset with cranberry hazelnut crackers

The story:

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“A Taste of Honey,” a story I wrote for the 2008 crime story anthology Toronto Noir, has been adapted for the stage as part of a play, also called Toronto Noir, currently playing at the Toronto Summerworks festival, with the remaining performances scheduled for August 9, 11, 13 and 15.

The multi-talented impresario Heather Davies adapted three stories from the collection – the other two are “A Bout of Regret” by Michael Redhill, and “Sic Transit Gloria at the Humber Loop” by Sean Dixon – into a 60 minute one act play, directed it, and produced it through her theatre company, Cheeky Magpie.

And what a wonderful production it is! (I figure I can say this because I had nothing to do with it, other than happily agreeing to have Heather adapt my story.)

A talented cast of professional actors (plus a professional musician who can act) do a splendid job of enacting the three separate story lines in alternating scenes. The staging is creative and arresting, and depicting the three narrators as sleepless in Toronto is an inventive thematic approach that connects the stories. The set design, though by necessity bare, is bold and effective – I loved the movable screens featuring the local landmarks that ground each story – and the sound and music excellent at mood-setting and marking the transitions.

What I enjoyed most about the play (surprise, surprise) were the scenes from my story, which takes place in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, and features three lovely players: Sarah Mennell, who captures the intensity and edginess of Jen, the embittered unemployed actress who narrates the piece; Emily Andrews, who fearlessly and amusingly plays the annoyingly perky Honey; and Marilla Wex, who gets a laugh almost every time she appears in the smaller part of Karen, the starstruck owner of a honey shop.

Which brings me to the food angle of this post – yes, there is one – honey! One of my favourite dishes made with honey is haroset (also spelled charoset), a delicious combination of shredded apples, walnuts, sweet wine and honey that has symbolic significance at Passover seder dinners. In my view, it’s good enough to eat any time of the year, and especially apt when celebrating a good stage production of a story called “A Taste of Honey.”

Haroset ingredients

Haroset ingredients

Haroset Recipe: adapted from the classic Jewish cooking cookbook Second Helpings Please.

1 apple (I use Granny Smith), peeled and coarsely grated
1 tsp. honey
1. T. red wine (I use Manischewitz Concord wine)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 – 3/4 c. chopped walnuts

Mix ingredients. Serve on matzo (at Passover), on rice crackers (for celiacs), or on artisanal Raincoast Crisp cranberry hazelnut crackers (for an added layer of fruit and nut goodness and complexity).

Bonus link: here’s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing the 1966 instrumental hit after which the story is named. I loved this song in its day, proof I am a) not young, and b) a former band geek. It has a slow intro but goes uptempo 20 seconds in.

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The food: Bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes, olive oil and basil

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The story:

Courtesy of my cousin Anne (thanks again, Anne!), I attended an advance screening of Julie and Julia, which opens Friday August 7, and is, not incidentally, the embodiment of every food blogger’s dream: to get a book deal, and then have the book made into a major motion picture directed by Nora Ephron, Food Hall of Famer for her seminal food novel Heartburn.

I enjoyed the movie, especially Meryl Streep’s turn as Julia Child, and I’ve already printed out the recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that was featured in the movie – the book’s publisher, Knopf Doubleday, has cannily made it available online.

But, to me, the most appealing (and saliva inducing) food in the movie was the bruschetta (which is pronounced brus-ketta, by the way, I looked it up) with fresh tomatoes, made in an early scene by the Julie Powell character (played by Amy Adams), and eaten with great gusto by menschy actor Chris Messina, who plays Powell’s husband, and who, according to an interesting New York Times story about the film’s food styling: “had a great appetite and never complained, even on the day he had to enthusiastically eat bruschetta topped with tomatoes 36 times.”

My version of the movie’s bruschetta uses Ace Bakery rosemary focaccia bread and some heirloom type tomatoes.

First, I fried, yes, fried – like in the movie! – the slices of bread in olive oil.

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Then I rubbed the fried bread with a halved garlic clove.

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Here are the tomatoes, chopped, seeded where necessary, salted with large flake sea salt, and drizzled with olive oil:

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I spooned the tomatoes onto the bread, scattered some chopped basil over top, dug in, said, “This is so good!” and hoped (and very much doubted) that I looked half as attractive with oil and tomato juice dribbling down my chin as Chris Messina does in the movie.

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Bruschetta alla Julie and Julia – Recipe

4 slices rough textured bread, such as focaccia, or from a crusty baguette, cut lengthwise
16 oz. assorted heirloom type tomatoes (I used President’s Choice Rainbow heirloom cherry tomatoes) chopped and seeded if the seeds look sketchy
extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
sea salt
chopped fresh basil

1. Toss tomatoes with 1 T. olive oil and about 1 tsp. sea salt.
2. Fry bread in 2-3 T. olive oil in skillet, browning on each side, and adding 1 more T. oil if necessary.
3. Rub cut half of garlic over 1 side of fried bread.
4. Spoon tomatoes (with oil and accumulated juices) over bread. Top with chopped basil and more sea salt to taste.
5. Eat with plenty of napkins on hand.

Serves 2.

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The food: falafel sandwiches

Green falafel sandwich at Taim

Green falafel sandwich at Taim

The story:

My son Simon Farine, a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) basketball player at Dalhousie University for the Dalhousie Tigers, recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he played on the Open Men’s Basketball team for Canada at the 18th Maccabiah Games, and helped the team defeat Maccabi teams from Germany, Greece, Brazil and Argentina on the way to winning the Bronze Medal. (The Canadian team’s only defeats were to the U.S.A. and Israel, which won the Gold and Silver, respectively.)

Simon in action vs. the U.S. team, U.S. coach Bruce Pearl in background

Simon in action vs. the U.S. team, U.S. coach Bruce Pearl in background

I didn’t go to Israel to watch him play, but in his honour, I stopped in at the falafel shop Taim on my last visit to New York. Taim is a tiny open kitchen spot in the West Village, with counter seating for 4 or 5 (there’s also a bench outside), no air conditioning, and a limited menu. I ordered the green falafel (made with chickpeas, coriander, mint and parsley), with a side order of fries.

Fries with saffron aioli at Taim

Fries with saffron aioli at Taim

The fries photograph better than they tasted: they were overcooked and hard. But the falafel sandwich was complex and satisfying: the patties were crunchy outside, soft within, more herby than spicy (I consider that a good thing); the pita was soft and fresh, the tahini sauce creamy, the greens inside crisp. I’d go back for it, especially in cooler weather.

Simon ate falafel twice in Israel and reported that falafel sandwiches there came with fries tucked inside the pita (!). Soon after he returned to Toronto, we got takeout from Jerusalem Restaurant and assembled sandwiches at home – falafel patties with baba ghanoush and tahini in pita for Simon, and the same combo wrapped in corn tortillas for Michael, my son who has celiac disease.

Falafel from Jerusalem restaurant in Toronto

Falafel from Jerusalem restaurant in Toronto

Gluten-free falafel sandwich/wrap

Gluten-free falafel sandwich/wrap

Both boys – picky eaters who have been known to run their parents ragged with their expectations for good meals at home – enjoyed their meals thoroughly. (Whew.)

Taïm on Urbanspoon

Jerusalem on Urbanspoon

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