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Archive for July, 2011

The food: Roman cuisine at Enoteca Sociale

The story:

My two adult sons are home for the summer from their out of town universities. This is good, because we get to spend some quality time with them, during which they sometimes speak to us in more than grunts and monosyllables. But having a full house is a lot of work, what with the (somehow more than double amount of) extra cooking, dishwasher loads, and grocery procuring that is required to feed four adults instead of two.

So when they both went away to friends’ cottages on the same weekend recently, what a relief and delight it was for E and I to go out to dinner without them at Enoteca Sociale, a groovy new wine bar/restaurant at Dundas & Ossington in Toronto.

We sat on the patio:

and ordered a variety of small plates to share, as well as a “taste” of prosecco for me (only $4, though it really was just a taste) and an Italian beer for E, wine bar or no bar.

In keeping with my previously documented arancini fixation, I had to order the arancini with straciatella, carmelized onion and arugula ($12):

They were amazing – crispy on the outside, soft, moist and sweet inside. Possibly the best I’ve ever had.

We also had a panzanella salad of bread and tomatoes and basil ($7) which was just that. Fine but not something I’d order again (and no longer on the menu, so that’s easy.)

After discovering Roman-style chickpea fritters at Bar Stuzzichini in New York, I wanted to try Enoteca Sociale’s version ($15), and liked the complementary elements that came with the fritters – the lentils in particular gave the fritters zing.

And a simple and delectable small plate of cacio e pepe spaghetti ($12) satisfied my ever present need for pasta.

We were full enough after sharing those four somewhat starchy, fried, not inexpensive, and what do you know? all vegetarian dishes, but when we overheard the waiter telling someone at the next table that an item listed on the dessert menu as sfingi al’ enoteca ($8) was a type of made to order donut dusted with sugar and cinnamon, we made room for a plate of them. We loved every bite, and happily agreed that the caramel sauce and lemon curd that came with them were essential.

I’ve done a lot of waiting and worrying this summer. I waited for my sons to come home, waited to hear that they’d secured summer jobs, am right now waiting anxiously for confirmation of what they’ll be doing – away from home – this fall. And after eating at Enoteca Sociale, I’m waiting for one more thing: the chance to go back.

Enoteca Sociale on Urbanspoon

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Writer: Richard Scrimger is the author of 15 books for children and adults. His latest YA novel is Me and Death, An Afterlife Adventure.

Currently residing in: The 401 between Toronto and Cobourg

Website: www.scrimger.ca

Blog: It’s called Scrimger Should Probably Be Writing Something Else.

On Twitter? Yes. As @richardscrimger

What’s going on in your writing life right now? Craziness. I’m writing a book on my own and one with a friend, and editing two more for publication.

What’s your writing routine? Yawn, coffee, headscratch, pace, piano, coffee, back to pacing. Frown. Then maybe the gym. Then some more coffee.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? Coffee and watered down orange juice. yes I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What’s your point?

What good books have you read recently? Lush Life (Price), Waiting For God (Weil), One Step Behind (Mankell), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz)

What did you eat for dinner last night? Stuffed peppers, leeks, vegetable marrow, blueberry pie. Thanks, Mom!

Writing rules you live by: How does it sound? When is it due?

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days: Chocolate milk, dijon mustard, watermelon

A scene or piece you’ve written that features food: In Me & Death, abandoned teens make dinner out of what they can find at home. Froot Loop sandwiches and finger-licks from a Kool-Aid packet.

Favorite restaurants: Beast (Tecumseth and King, Toronto), Nuba (West Hastings, Vancouver), Black Beans (Walton, Port Hope)

Three formative books from your youth: River of Adventure (Blyton – I smuggled it to the dinner table to read between bites), N or M (Christie — my first mystery story. No pictures. I was so proud.), Candy (Southern — seriously. 6th grade and I had just begun to think about this stuff … and here it all was on the page!)

Three formative books from your adulthood: The Fan Man (Kotzwinkle — THE coolest voice). Regeneration (Barker — so deep, so pacy). How Tom beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen (Hoban — a kids’ book I couldn’t put down. Coolest language ever! as my daughter would say)

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire: ribs, potato salad, tacos, ratatouille, back-of-frig stew

Random bits of writing advice: Shit it out, don’t be clever, keep it pointing forward

What do you do when not writing, eating or reading? You don’t want to know this

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading? Pride & Prejudice and rice pudding.

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The food: Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Nut Cookies

The story:

Last week I was fortunate to be teaching at the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop in Creative Writing in Toronto, alongside my fellow faculty members Nino Ricci, Richard Bausch, Wayson Choy, Isabel Huggan, Julia Glass, Olive Senior, Bruce Jay Friedman, John Metcalf, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Alistair MacLeod, Erika De Vasconcelos, David Bezmozgis, and Frieda Wishinsky.

Though I’ve taught the workshop for several years, I always wonder and worry beforehand how the week will go, how the group chemistry will develop. My group of five this time were diverse in interests and background – three are working on serious novels, one is writing a travelogue/memoir, and the fifth writes short stories – and they seemed a little subdued at first.

I had to work harder than usual to get them to laugh at my jokes, but by the end of the week, friendships had formed among them, they appeared willing to take at least some of my writing advice, and if they weren’t exactly eating out of my hand, they did seem to enjoy the Sea Salt Chocolate Nut Cookies I baked to mark the bittersweet moment of our parting, when, after a convivial and thought-provoking week spent sharing the writing life, we all left the workshop to go write in solitude.

Thomas Keller’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies from his Ad Hoc At Home cookbook can be found here. And here’s my version:

Sea Salt Chocolate Chip & Nut Cookies (adapted from Thomas Keller)

Makes: About 30 3-inch cookies.

2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 50% chocolate chips (about 1 1/4 cups)
5 ounces Lindt Excellence A Touch of Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, roughly chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 cup walnut halves
1 cup pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine.

4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and mix in the chocolate and nuts with a wooden spoon and spatula. Make sure that the chocolate and nuts are evenly distributed.

5. Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, drop dough onto cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny. Let cool for a few minutes on pan then transfer to rack or cutting board.

6. Repeat with remaining two batches of cookies.

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Writer: Robin Spano, author of the Clare Vengel Undercover Novels. The first, Dead Politicians Society, was published in 2010. The next in the series, Death Plays Poker, is due out in October 2011.

Currently residing in: Lions Bay, BC

Website: www.robinspano.com

On Twitter? I love Twitter. I’m @Robin_Spano

What’s going on in your writing life right now? I am fighting with a manuscript that’s due at the end of the summer. Not sure who will win.

What’s your writing routine: I write first thing in the morning and keep going until my brain atrophies. Sometimes this happens at 10 a.m.; other times it keeps working until a civilized drinking hour, so I pour a glass of wine and keep on going.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? Always strong black coffee, but the food changes each day. Sometimes I poach my husband’s cereal so he has to make another bowl. Other times there will be a delicious lemon square in the fridge that calls my name. But for brain food, I think my favourite working breakfast is dense rye bread with hummus.

What good books have you read recently? Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann, The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson

What did you eat for dinner last night? Chicken fajitas.

Writing rule you live by: I try to choose the shortest word that does the job. In every way, I aim to be the opposite of Conrad Black.

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days: Saltspring Island coffee, Howe Sound beer, Whole Foods entire meat counter.

A scene or piece you’ve written that features food: In Death Plays Poker, Clare meets her handler at a downtown Vancouver restaurant to discuss a new murder. Clare is annoyed that the place is too precious to have “normal” food, like burgers and club sandwiches. Her handler suggests the pollo pancetta panini, claiming it’s like a club sandwich. Clare orders it, but doesn’t care much for the sandwich or her handler.

Favorite restaurants: Dinner: Amici in West Vancouver, BC
Lunch: Green Lemongrass in Richmond, BC
Breakfast: Cimona Cafe in Steveston, BC

Cioppino from Amici

Three formative books from your youth: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Three formative books from your adulthood: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (feel free to make fun of me but I loved that book), The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire: Bouillabaisse, grilled halibut with ratatouille, giant salads with tons of protein.

Random bit of writing advice: Don’t be afraid to write badly – just make sure you edit well.

What do you do when not writing, eating or reading? Ride my motorcycle into town for groceries while listening to music; explore Vancouver’s waterways in our clunker of a boat, Little Trollop; snowboard on the local mountains (I’m a really bad snowboarder but I have so much fun doing it).

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading? Chicken cacciatore & an Elizabeth George novel.

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The food: light lunches at Farmshop

The story:

The summer heat and humidity in Toronto are already making me want to hole up in my air conditioned home office and not come out till September. What would I want to eat during my fantasy two month confinement? Lovely light meals (prepared by someone else) like the ones served at lunch at Farmshop, a groovy farm to table restaurant in the Brentwood neighbourhood of L.A. that I visited some months back.

Don’t be fooled by the deceiving appearance of the exterior of Farmshop, which is located in the quaint Brentwood Country Mart.

Inside, the two-storey space – that I was too intimidated to photograph – is large, airy, modern and bright, and was peopled during my visit with mostly women, lunching in pairs.

Farmshop is the kind of restaurant that charges $10.50 for a side dish (okay, a biggish side dish) of farm name checked fried fingerling potatoes, served with house made ketchup and aioli and sprinkled with wild herbs. Tame herbs being too tame, apparently.

They were pretty damn good, though my husband E’s home version of supermarket fingerling potatoes roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano-spiked Mallorcan sea salt are, dare I say, just as tasty.

To go with the potatoes, we split a Farm Egg Salad ($14.50) that came with mixed greens, heirloom beets & brioche toast, pictured at top, and Potted Fresh & Smoked Salmon Rillettes ($17.50) with toasted rye bread, caper berries, pickled vegetables & butter lettuce.

Both dishes presented refined, delicate takes on commonplace lunch salads. The artisanal breads were freshly baked and pleasingly textured and flavoured, and the high end complements were clean-tasting and light – the kind of food I could eat all summer long.

Farmshop on Urbanspoon

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