Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Oh, Canada!

I took 2016 off from each of my blogs to focus on bigger projects.  I wish I could tell you I’ve sent a completed book to a publisher, but I cannot.  I made progress, but discovered a great truth…It’s really hard to write about something when you’re in the middle of it.  Writing about something well requires some distance, some time.  So in 2017 other writing projects will evolve, but I am back to my blogs.

I ended 2016 with a week in Canada visiting family in Ottawa.  As always, eating took center stage on the journey, so let me share some of what I ate.  I had never been to Canada before so eating some particular things was a must.  The first stop in Ottawa was the legendary Beavertails
This is sort of a flat donut meets a funnel cake slathered with a topping like chocolate and bananas, Nutella, garlic butter and of course, the standard bearer, maple butter.  Eaten outside in the freezing cold of late December, this is sure to make anyone smile, though a hot chocolate with it sure doesn’t hurt.  We hit the location in Byward Market, a great area for a stroll (as evidenced by President Obama’s own stroll here) some food shopping and a meal or drink. 
It lived up to the hype and was a great welcome to Canada.  Then we headed over to The Highlander for dinner.  Yes, the is a Scottish pub, and there are many pubs from the Isles in this heavily British-influenced city.  Dinner was excellent and included an excellent dish of haggis, a good introduction to poutine, a nice curry, a Newfoundland-style clam chowder, fish and chips made with haddock and an incredible scotch selection.  There’s a reason this pub has been a landmark in Byward for years.  This is a must-stop.   After all that heavy food and drink, the Byward Market offers some great food shops to stroll through.  Patisseries, cheese mongers, butchers, fish shops and small grocery stores abound.  I swung into La Bottega and fell in love.  Their selection of Italian foods was glorious, and I left with cuttlefish ink and my treasured Mon Cheris.  On another evening in the market we took The Clocktower Brew Pub.  Here I had the best poutine of my trip, a simple, reasonable bowl of fries and cheese curds covered in a simple brown gravy, topped with wild boar sausage.  Delicious!

On another night we celebrated the season with the family’s rendition of paella.  As usual, this was festive and delicious.  New friends, more dancing, and lots of laughed marked the night – a rare time when my wife and all her siblings were together.  One of the highlights of paella this year was shopping for it.  We checked out Canada’s T&T Supermarket.  There really aren’t words for this place.  All of East Asia was represented throughout this gigantic market.  Prepared hot foods, all sorts of fresh foods, live fish and shellfish of all kinds, every sort of noodle, dumpling, and produce.  If I lived in Ottawa this could be my main market. 

We took a day trip to Montreal and let that day completely revolve around food.  The first stop was Tim Horton’s for coffee, hot chocolate and a donut.  I understand why Canadians stuck in the States long for this.  Not much of a coffee drinker but an avid consumer of donuts, their donuts are far superior to what Dunkin’ Donuts has become.  Once in Montreal we headed for the Marche Jean Talon In Little Italy.  This place is reminiscent of so many food markets throughout Europe such as Barcelona’s Boqueria or Florence’s San Lorenzo Market.  It featured four covered halls, two filled with some of the most amazing produce I have ever seen.  Heads of cabbage the size of volleyballs, kiwis like baseballs, vibrant colors and endless varieties in every direction.  The other two arms were a combination of meats, fish, cheese, flowers, nuts, wine, honey and of course, maple products. I walked away with some pork fat mousse, pate and some young, unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese.  A delicious stop indeed.  After some very chilly wandering and a stop at the Cathedral we had dinner at Modavie, a French restaurant.  Dinner was superb and featured steak frites, beet salad, wild boar, duck, calamari, an amazing corn soup, panna cotta, a chocolate dome cake, great cocktails and wine that was spot on for all of us.  Best of all, service was truly excellent…even if they were all out of moules et frites.          

A few food-oriented podcasts kept me hungry while I traversed the continent, and I have to pass them along to you.  First and best known, was The Splendid Table, often heard on NPR.  Next, I enjoyed The Sporkful, a podcast for eaters, not foodies.  Finally, A Taste of the Past, a look at the history of certain foods and food traditions.
Finally, it was the holidays and a few gifts had a foodie theme.  Can you see it?


Sunday, January 24, 2016

In Defense of Food

The wonders of Netflix and other Chromecast-able video apps have brought a wealth of foodie documentaries into my home.  Granted, finding the time to sit and watch is not easy.  However, we did just get a chance to watch PBS’s documentary adaptation of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.  Let me say from the outset that I completely understand that many people won’t sit down to read the book and that most who would already have.  With that, I encourage you all to spend 90 minutes with this film.

What Pollan does so skillfully and with ample evidence is illustrate the challenges and the nuances of figuring out what really is healthy to eat.  What was deemed fine in one decade, appears to actually be dangerous in the next (margarine).  What we thought was bad for us, turns out to be somewhat helpful (limited amounts of red meats).  Many things are actually necessary to eat, but dangerous in large quantities.  Making matters more challenging, the food industry loves an opportunity to repackage their wares to meet the latest health and food trends.

Pollan constructs the movie around his eventual conclusions about how we should eat – Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.  I like another suggestion mentioned by Marion Nestle in the movie – eat the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid the interior.  Or avoid foods that have packages – think apples, not apple sauce and Apple Jacks, think real poultry, not chicken nuggets.  If we all ate appropriately portioned foods in natural forms we would solve so many health problems.

Though I have seen Pollan speak and have read a few of his books, I found In Defense of Food to be a succinct, user-friendly way to initiate discussion about healthful eating.  In fact, it stays exceptionally true to the book of the same name.  I encourage you all to seek out this documentary and consider not a diet, but new life-long habits.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Last Meals

Imagine you have one meal left in your life.  What do you eat?  

I love talking about food because it is one of the only socially acceptable things we all share.  We all need to eat for sustenance, just like animals.  But sitting and sharing food humanizes us.  It is what bonds families, communities and cultures.  We can sit with perfect strangers, eat and start conversation with a million intimate directions.  If you had one meal left, what do you eat?  Ask that of new acquaintances or over a family meal and watch the conversation start to flow.  Chefs love the subject.  Check out My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals by Melanie Dulnea, a beautiful collection of pictures and chefs’ reflections on the question.

What if that last meal is due to a death sentence as a result of a heinous crime? 

One recent photography project might suggest that exploring condemned prisoners’ last meals forces us all to confront their humanity.  Take a look at Henry Hargreaves’ project, No Seconds, and consider our sometimes disturbing common humanity.  

So what would you eat?  Does contemplating the question and exploring others’ answers humanize the inhumane?  Could it even be a tool or catalyst for discussing the validity of the death penalty?  
Me?  Beer braised short ribs, duck confit, a Neapolitan pizza with anchovies, capers and prosciutto, a stinky, runny epoisses with baguette, my grandmother’s meat pie, a couple good street tacos with my wife’s refried beans, a slice of my mom’s meatloaf, a raw oyster, some chicken livers and an over-the-top, super-rich chocolate cake with chocolate chips, dark chocolate frosting and dark chocolate sauce drizzled all over with a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream.  To drink…some insanely hoppy IPA and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, maybe some horchatta and some limoncello.  If it’s my last meal, I’m going to make it a long one!

What’s your last meal?