A Bakery in Every Port

The food: superlative baked goods at bakeries here, there and everywhere

The story:

Such is my love of artisanal quality baked goods that I seek out bakeries wherever I go. For instance, while in Old Montreal recently, E and I stopped by Olive & Gourmando, a bakery café often touted as Montreal’s best. Ours was a breakfast visit, where we were well-served by a banana ‘muffin’ with walnuts ($3.50) shown above, and a feathery light cheese croissant ($2.50):

Both were photographed perched on top of a Bixi bicycle seat, by the way.

A few recent speaking engagements at out of town literary festivals also gave me an excuse to sample tasty baked goods. After my appearance at the Leacock Summer Festival in Orillia, staged on the grounds of the lovely Stephen Leacock House/Museum, for example, I was introduced to the quaint yet awesome Mariposa Market Bakery Café, a large, homey enterprise located in a century-old store on Orillia’s main drag:

I failed to photograph the sweet, moist and delicious peach blueberry loaf cake I bought there, but it was only one of the many, many freshly baked goods on offer.

Last week, I read and spoke at the Kingston WritersFest, a lively literary festival in its second year and going strong. When in Kingston, I always try to visit Pan Chancho Bakery, a sophisticated, upscale bakery that makes gloriously savoury and addictive cornmeal dusted bread sticks that are the perfect accompaniment to a salad or a bowl of soup for lunch.

Pan Chancho also offers a full slate of artisanal breads, rolls, cookies, scones, and prepared foods. And the cooked breakfasts served at its café, though a little pricey, are excellent.

Closer to home, I helped Humber School for Writers host events at the Humber School for Writers Wordshop Marquee at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival this past Sunday. We had large crowds at the tent all day – thanks to all who came out! And I always like going down to the Queen’s Park site, knowing that Harbord Bakery, the source of my dearly beloved triple kimmel rye bread, my breakfast staple, is nearby.

Hmm. Hot buttered triple kimmel toast.

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What (the fuck) to make for dinner

The food: Cauliflower, Potatoes and Peas, Indian-style

The story:

My former student from the Humber School for Writers summer workshop in creative writing, Robin Spano, has just had her first novel, Dead Politician Society, published by ECW Press.

Dead Politician Society is an entertaining mystery starring a sexy, lippy, profane young undercover cop named Clare Vengel. It features short chapters, multiple points of view, and kickass passages like this one, an excerpt from a conversation between a police detective and a hostile witness:

“Where’s your class?” Kumar asked, pen poised.
“It’s at the school of None of Your Fucking Business,” Susannah said. “And after that, I’ll be joining friends at the You Can Fuck Yourself Cafe. Stop in if you’re not busy.”

Call me irreverent, but that made me laugh when I read it. I’m a fan of well-placed profanity in fiction, especially when spoken by well-educated women like the Susannah character, and I’ve often employed it in my own writing. That’s probably why Robin thought I’d be amused by a popular website she told me about, What the fuck should I make for dinner?.

The first time I visited the site, I appreciated the resonant universality of the site’s name – Who among us has not despairingly asked that question as dinner time approaches? But I didn’t understand how the site worked until Robin told me you’re supposed to click on the suggested menu items (and the statements that begin with the words “I Don’t Fucking Like”). If you do, you get a perfectly respectable recipe from epicurious.com, the site that features archived recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, among other sources. Which contrast between the sacred and the profane makes for comedy in itself.

A dish I’ve been known to make when I don’t know what else to cook – and when I have cauliflower in the house – is Cauliflower, Potatoes and Peas Indian-style, shown above, garnished with a chopped hard-boiled egg. The recipe for it can be found here. With some basmati rice, a spoonful of chutney, and perhaps some sliced fresh field tomatoes in the last few weeks that they’re still in season, this dish makes a lovely meal. And unlike the food served in Dead Politician Society, it’s not poisonous!

For more on Robin’s novel, follow her virtual book tour and check out this nifty book trailer for it:

Artisanal Casual Dining in Montreal

The food: meals at a French bistro and Neapolitan-style pizzeria

The story:

E and I spent a few days in Montreal last week, visiting neither of our ancestral neighbourhoods (my mother’s or E’s), but acting like tourists: we walked through the charming cobble-stoned streets of Old Montreal, rode Bixi bikes along the Lachine Canal path, and visited my nephew Nicholas, who has just transferred to McGill University.

We also ate well, at two hip, happening boîtes in my favorite style: artisanal casual.

First up was Brasserie T!, sister restaurant to the more expensive and much-praised Toqué! Brasserie T! is located in a rectangular glassed-in stand-alone space on the sidewalk in front of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in the Place des Arts.

Its plastic chairs notwithstanding, the space was warm and welcoming, even on a gloomy rainy day, the waiter was charming and informative, and the place was hopping on a Thursday night: reservations are essential. The waiter sold us on a daily special tomato salad, which he said featured different varieties of tomatoes from the farm of an esteemed tomato-grower named M. Bertrand.

The salad looked very nice, but some of M. Bertrand’s tomatoes were lacking in flavour, colour and ripeness, the croutons thrown into the bowl appeared to be the store-bought variety, and the $12 price seemed a little steep considering that local field tomatoes were $3 for 5 large at the Atwater and Jean Talon markets that week.

Like many other patrons of the restaurant, we ordered the flank steak with frites ($20) and the hamburger with frites (ahem, also $20). The steak is shown above, and the hamburger here (the meat is hidden in the pic, but the patty was substantial and cooked properly to order):

Both meats were meatily flavourful, and the fries had a good outer crispness to inner softness ratio. The burger also came with a quality bun and condiments, including a slice of tomato tastier than M. Bertrand’s(!).

The next night, we took Nicholas to dinner at a Bottega, a pretty, busy spot in Montreal’s Petite Italie neighbourhood that E’s friend Emile had recommended. By the time we arrived there (reservations also essential – there was a line out the door by 7 pm) I had thoughtlessly let my camera battery run out. Luckily, Nicholas stepped into the breach and took the photographs that follow with his phone:

In keeping with my order-arancini-whenever-available policy, we ordered two (@$4) of the Arancini Bella Napoli:

They were lovely – slightly crunchy on the outside, creamy within, and stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.

E was even more impressed with the beet, brie and walnut salad, a daily special:

He pronounced it delicious, admired the tenderness of the perfectly cooked beets and thought it was, at $10, a far better value than our $12 tomato salad of the previous evening.

Nicholas had a Diavolo pizza, with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh Fior di Latte mozzarella, basil, salami, and chilli peppers:

while E and I shared a Caprese pizza (not shown). Both embodied the Neapolitan spirit with their puffy cornichiones and thin, soft centres.

The topper to the dinner: a creamy, sweet Crème brulée flavoured gelato that E and Nicholas shared:

With restaurant meals like this on offer, we may have to go to Montreal more often.

Bottega on Urbanspoon

Brasserie T on Urbanspoon

My Personal DJ Got Me Car Dancing

The food: gluten-free peanut noodles and tonkatsu-style chicken

The story:

This week my two sons returned to their respective universities for the academic year after spending a long hot summer with my husband E and me in Toronto. Their departure has made me feel about as euphoric as a chronic malcontent can feel, partly because, to paraphrase the great Comden & Green (from the great movie musical Singing in the Rain): at last I can stop cooking for them and write that novel.

Before they left, though, I bestirred myself to make the boys at least one more decent (and gluten-free) meal – peanut noodles with tonkatsu style chicken breasts, accompanied by some in-season green vegetables. The noodles look a little anemic in the pic shown above but they’re very tasty. And somewhat addictive (recipe below).

In the car on the way to Kingston (and Queen’s University), my son Michael played DJ. During the two-and-a-half-hour drive, he and I sang along with, and hand-clapped and car-danced to, catchy top 40 hits from such pop auteurs (flashes in the pan?) of the moment as Katy Perry, Sean Kingston and Nicky Minaj, Ke$ha, and B.o.B.

Michael left the CD behind in the car, so I listened to it alone on the equally long drive home to Toronto. I liked almost all of his musical selections, but Usher’s current hit “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” started me thinking about a theory I’ve been mulling over since seeing the 1997 video for Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna”: a theory that places Usher as the latest in the (small, select) line of popular entertainers who follow in the tradition of legendary song-and-dance man Fred Astaire.

Find that idea hard to swallow? Watch Usher perform in the video for “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” here. See him sing, well enough, and dance? Like he was born to. Then go make and eat some peanut noodles, think over my thesis and get back to me.

Gluten-Free Peanut Noodles with Tonkatsu Style Chicken

4 boneless chicken breast cutlets
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs

1 lb medium dried rice stick noodles
1/2 cup smooth unsweetened peanut butter
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/8 cup gluten-free tamari sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. sesame oil
5 Tbsp. olive oil
5 Tbsp. water

about 4 cups raw green vegetables, such as chopped broccoli florets and topped and tailed green beans

For chicken:

1. Coat cutlets coated in beaten egg, then in gluten-free breadcrumbs.
2. Place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, drizzle with canola oil, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or till golden brown on both sides. Turn if necessary partway through cooking.
3. Serve with store-bought tonkatsu sauce (often gluten-free, check the ingredients).

For the noodles:

1. Heat large pot of water to boiling on high heat.
2. Make sauce in large mixing bowl: mix peanut butter and vinegar together first until blended, then mix in remaining ingredients until the mixture is the consistency of a thick salad dressing.
3. Cook noodles in lpot of boiling water according to package directions, stirring often to separate. Add vegetables to pot when 2-3 minutes of cooking time remain.
4. Drain noodles and vegetables in colander. Rinse with warm water.
5. Add noodles and vegetables to mixing bowl, combine with sauce (using a pasta stirrer may help with the slightly unwieldy combining process). Add a little more vegetable oil and/or water if sauce is too thick to work with.
6. Optional garnishes: chopped green onions, chopped peanuts, chopped fresh coriander.
7. Serve at room temperature with tonkatsu style chicken.