Category Archives: Foodie Goodie

A funny thing happened on the way from the Farmer’s Market

Over the weekend, Neil and I headed to the Summertown Farmer’s Market. Partly to check out what was on offer, and partly to partake in a (delicious!) pulled pork sandwich from Shredded Meat Co. who are setting up shop there each weekend this summer.

summertown farmers market

The market was lovely, and most businesses along the strip where it’s set up looked like they were doing a roaring trade, encouraging visiting marketgoers to pop through their doors as well.

All except one: The Dew Drop Inn.

And, as we soon discovered, for good reason.

We thought, you know what goes really well with a BBQ sandwich? A cold beer. So over to the pub’s patio we went.

The way the street is set up, there is a big plaza-style pavement, and the pub’s front garden space extends through it, all the way to the street. There’s probably seating for about 50 people out there. You actually need to walk through the garden if you want to cross the pavement frontage. The market was set up down the pavement on both sides.

While there are over a dozen food vendors at the market, many selling takeaway meals, there aren’t any beverage vendors. Anyone who wants to have a market lunch and fancies a drink with it needs to go into one of the grocery stores along the block to pick something up.

Or (as we did) go into the pub and purchase a couple pints.

Except, instead of capitalising on this opportunity to gain some customers and sell some drinks, we got a surly publican chasing us off their entirely deserted patio, for having ‘outside food.’

Fair point, you say, the pub serves food. If you want to use their tables, you should purchase their food. And if that’s the attitude one wants to take take, in a world of black and white, and curmudgeonry, sure. Point made.

But, in a world where pubs are generally struggling, and where most business people (I would think?) would welcome an increase in traffic, and a chance to make a good impression to generate repeat business on non-market days, perhaps some out-of-the-box thinking could help?

Were it my (nearly completely empty, inside and out) pub, I’d see the market as a huge potential. I’ve got the only reasonable seating area for market-goers, and I’m the only one, aside from the grocery stores, selling drinks.

I’d grab some colourful bunting, and section off a few of the tables that market-goers need to walk directly through, to be used for those who purchase food at the market and drinks from my pub. You can’t just park there with a random picnic, but market food +my drinks = ok. The only way market-goers are going to get a table to eat at, is going to be by buying drinks from me. The market vendors and I both win!

But what of the pub food, you ask? Two separate groups of customers. There was not one ounce of crossover between the food available at the market, and the pub’s menu. And I’m pretty confident that someone who’s heading for a farmer’s market lunch isn’t going to be suddenly swayed into having a Sunday roast.

In fact, a really enterprising publican might work with the market organisers to specifically advertise some complimentary snacks to go along with the market food. Maybe a jacket potato to go with the huge Paella that the fishmonger is cooking up? Or a side of chips for with your pulled pork sandwich?

But hey, I suppose that if your idea of a good time in pub ownership is to take a protectionist stance and enjoy chasing ‘rule-breakers’ off your property, that’s your prerogative.

But it’s also mine to decide not to return to the Dew Drop (where I have previously enjoyed both drinks and Sunday lunch), and take my dollars to a pub that’s more interested in generating some goodwill, both in the community, and with its current and potential patrons.

Cooking, Presence and Cock Sauce

Last month Neil and I went out to see Chef Michael Smith talk about life, food and his latest book: Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen.

Cock Sauce, Lower Right

We’ve both followed the Canadian chef since the days of his Chef at Large show, and on this (now rare) night we were actually out without Isaac, his message was poignant: presence, family, cooking, and tradition.

Chef Smith spoke briefly about how he’s noticing the decline in cooking and eating together, and how that coincided with his harried jet-setting lifestyle and the end of his own marriage because he wasn’t present with his family.

And as he shared one of the recipes from his new book with everyone – Shrimp Rice Paper Rolls with Ginger Peanut Sauce and Cilantro – he talked about sharing meals, cooking together, letting go of the need for perfection (Just Say No to Food Porn!) and the importance of building a tradition of presence with your family.

And then he splashed me with his cock sauce.

In all seriousness though, it’s so easy (especially with a tiny human around) to lose track of time and push off things like cooking and eating together as life gets busy. One of the big things Neil and I cherish from our own childhoods and want to share with Isaac is a tradition of family meals most nights.

And now that Isaac’s well on his way to eating just about everything we do (new dinner prep question: will it blend?), insisting we share whatever we’ve got on our plates, cooking and eating as a family have taken on a new significance.

Everyone in attendance that evening went home with a copy of the chef’s latest book, and in the spirit of cooking and sharing, here’s my favourite recipe from it so far: Bacon Beans with Baby Spinach.

As a general rule, I don’t like beans, and this dish is a HUGE exception. It’s creamy, delicious, blends (Isaac also gave it two tiny thumbs up), and the only change I’d make is to go ahead and double it right away. You’ll want more.

Ingredients:
8 ounces (250g) of the best bacon you can get
1 large onion, diced
4 sliced garlic cloves
1 cup (250mL) white beans, soaked overnight, drained
1 tsp (5mL) any vinegar (we used Apple Cider vinegar)
1 lb (500g) baby spinach
Salt & Pepper to taste

Slice the bacon crosswise and toss into a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until it’s released all its fat and is brown and crispy. Add the onions & garlic and sautee until they soften. Add the beans and enough water to barely cover them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Finish by adding in the vinegar and spinach and stirring until the spinach is just wilted. Salt & Pepper to taste. Devour.

Slow-Cooker Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Honey Drizzle

My lands it has been practically a lifetime since I shared something non-baby-centric on this blog.

No longer!

I am finally finding time to cook again, and this particular recipe is an awfully good one for summer. We love carrot cake ’round these parts, but it’s been a bit too warm to turn on the oven, so baked goods have been put on the proverbial back-burner.

The genius of this recipe is that you make it in the crock pot!

It’s also, for those who care about such things, a clean recipe, so you can pretend it’s healthy. I mean, carrot cake? clean? it’s practically a serving of vegetables! This also means it’s not as sweet as carrot cakes you may be accustomed to, and the cream cheese honey drizzle is nice, but it’s no cream cheese icing. But sometimes that’s nice if you’ve been overdosing on over-sweet berries and ice cream all summer.

Slow Cooker Carrot Cake. Verdict: WIN

Slow-Cooker Carrot Cake
(adapted from The Best of Clean Eating)
*note – this recipe is for a 4-6qt slow cooker. If you have one of those gigantic army-sized vessels, use a smaller cake pan inside the crock pot insert.

Ingredients:
Olive oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened sultana raisins
1 large egg white
1 tsp flasxeed, ground, mixed with 2 tsp water
1/2 cup raw organic honey
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup peeled, shredded carrot, tightly packed

Cut parchment to fit bottom and sides of the sides and bottom of your crock-pot insert. Spray insert with cooking spray and line with the parchment.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, coconut, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in raisins.

In a separate bowl, combine egg while and flax-water mixture and whisk until bubbles form. Add honey, applesauce, yogurt, oil and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients until just mixed. Fold in carrot and pour mixture into prepared stoneware dish.

Cover entire top of slow-cooker with three layers of paper towel and secure with lid (this catches droplets and ensures the cake doesn’t get soggy).

Bake for 2-2.5 hours on low or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature with cream cheese honey drizzle and toasted walnuts if you’re into that.

Cream Cheese Honey Drizzle

Ingredients:
1/4 cup low-fat plain cream cheese
1 tbsp raw organic honey
1 lemon, zested and juiced

in a small bowl, heat cream cheese on high in microwave until slightly warm, about 10-15 seconds. Remove from microwave and use a rubber spatula to stir honey into cream cheese until smooth. Add a pinch of the lemon zest and 2 tsp of the juice and continue to stir. Slowly add two tablespoons water until mixture is consistency of thick cream. Continue to add lemon zest and juice to taste.

Alinea

Do you have a life list? Mine’s not formally written down anywhere (self, get on that!), but I do have a mental list of things I want to do someday.

And I got to check off a long-standing item on our trip to Chicago last September. Dine at Alinea.

I first learned about the restaurant shortly after Neil and I got together over five years ago. I was still in my formative food-enthusiast years, and the passion of Chef Achatz combined with amazing innovations in molecular gastronomy really stuck with me.

I’ve been following the chef, the restaurant, and more recently the Alinea at Home blog ever since.

So it was an incredible treat to finally dine there.

For those not familiar with Alinea it’s part gastronomic adventure, part theatrical experience, all totally delightful. The word “meal” doesn’t adequately capture it.

Walking into Alinea is reminiscent of that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where the room is getting smaller as you go deeper inside. It sets the perfect stage for an evening where you should expect the unexpected, and nothing is quite as it seems.

alinea, chicago (july 2010)

At the beginning of the meal, two rice paper “flags” were set in the middle of the table. A centrepiece that would be used later in the meal (but how?).

Alinea

We’d see them used five courses in, for the Pork belly: curry, cucumber, lime.

Alinea

Part of the fun of a meal at Alinea is being “in on the joke” with your fellow diners, watching the faces of those who’ve already experienced one course giggle at your surprise, then doing the same with patrons who arrived after you did, as they experience an unexpected dish.

Everything is put together so thoughtfully, incorporating various senses, like sight as in the dish below, “Reflection of Elysian Farms” which is a landscape on a plate, reflecting the farm property using primarily lamb and corn preparations.

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Texture was another popular tactic: shrimp two ways – one as a crisp fried stick of Yuba, the other using the same flavours on a piece of sugar cane, to be chewed and discarded once the flavour was gone like a stick of gum.

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My absolute favourite, in terms of taste and smell, was the Pheasant. Skewered on a tiny oak branch with the leaves smouldering, it instantly took me to a warm house with a wood fire burning in the fall.

Alinea: Pheasant, Green Grape, Burning Leaves

And one of the highlights: dessert, served on the table. A silicon sheet is rolled out, and one of the chefs actually comes out and creates an edible work of art in the centre of the table, baking on little custard rounds with a torch and splashing sauces and crumbles artfully around the centrepiece: a frozen, light-as-air mousse that gets softer and more decadent as it slowly warms to room temperature.

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I tried to scan the souvenir copy of the menu we received after our meal, but my scanner is terrible, so I’ve reprinted our menu below.

None of the pictures I used are mine, I was more concerned with eating than snapping (and gave up trying to get cameraphone photos after about four courses), but you can get an impression of what we had by searching flickr for pictures of any of the dishes.

Alinea was hands down the most delicious and most unique meal I’ve ever had. If you’re into food, really into food, you should make a point of going. It’s one of the few food experiences I’ve had that totally lives up to the hype. I hope I’m fortunate enough to go back someday.

Menu: September 26, 2010

LEMON: don cesar pisco, cane juice, frozen and chewy
CUCUMBER: plymouth gin, rose, mint
CHERRY: buffalo trace, carpano antica, maraschino

STEELHEAD ROE: coconut, licorice, pineapple

YUBA: shrimp, miso, togarashi
CHAO TOM: sugar cane, shrimp, mint

TOMATOES: eight complimentary flavors

DISTILLATION of thai flavors
PORK BELLY: curry, cucumber, lime

KING CRAB: plum, lilac, fennel

PHEASANT: green grape, walnut, burning leaves

LAMB: reflection of elysian fields farm

HOT POTATO: cold potatao, black truffle, butter

TOURNEDO: a la persane

BLACK TRUFFLE: explosion, romaine, parmesan

BACON: butterscotch, apple, thyme

LEMON SODA: one bite

TRANSPARENCY: of raspberry, yogurt
BUBBLE GUM: long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

EARL GREY: lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate

CHOCOLATE: apricot, honey, peanut

The Campfire Grill Doesn’t Want Me to Visit

UPDATE! Inger McCrae, half the equation of the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ commented on this post mere hours after it went up, and gave us excellent directions, and even better BBQ! Full review coming tomorrow, but you should seriously go. It’s awesome.

Neil and I loves us some good, good BBQ.

I won’t go so far as to call it an obsession, but we are certainly avid connoisseurs and enjoy our smoked meat. A lot.

So when I found out about the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ Joint in Squamish shortly before we were planning to head up to Whistler, hot on the heels of a terribly disappointing visit to a new BBQ place in town, we were pretty excited to stop in.

Too bad the folks at the Campfire Grill don’t seem interested in having us stop by.

I dutifully copied the URL of the place, along with their address, into my phone.

Once we made it to Squamish, having followed the directions on Google Maps, it became obvious that Google Maps has no idea where this place actually is.

We aren’t familiar with Squamish at all (only ever pausing there for coffee or gas), and it’s dark and pouring rain at this point, so I went to pull up the website.

FUCKING FLASH! MOTHERFUCKERS!

So of course it wouldn’t load on my phone.

I googled the restaurant again in one last-ditch effort to figure out how to get there, and came up with their phone number. Which I called. And got a message that they don’t answer the phone during business hours, but leave a message if I want a call back the next day.

So Google doesn’t know where the Campfire Grill Smokin’ BBQ Joint actually is.

And the proprietors seem to actively want to discourage people who don’t already know where they are, and might find them while on the road, from actually ever arriving.

According to the reviews on Urban Diner, people who are clearly a) in the know or b) better at finding things than I am seem to like it a lot.

Too bad I feel like I’ll never find out.

Got Milk?

A lot of locals are (rightfully) all worked up this week over news that a dog-sledding operation in Whistler had one of their employees shoot 100 dogs, because business was too slow to need all the animals.

Out of the buzz from this story has come a dialogue about why we’re outraged by how these dogs were treated, but still okay with factory farming operations that mistreat orders of magnitude more animals each year in the name of dinner.

Arguments from many sides have come up, including one from people in agriculture who recognize that food animals can’t be killed in the traumatic manner these dogs were, because it would ruin the meat. Which is true. McDonald’s wouldn’t have spent millions working with Temple Grandin to re-engineer their supply-chain if it weren’t good for the bottom line.

A frightened cow, pig or chicken is one with adrenaline coursing through its blood, which makes the meat bitter. Which is unacceptable, especially considering how heavily engineered current food breeds are to mild (some say flavourless) meat.

In truth, these dogs were treated much more like the male offspring of dairy animals, than food animals.

A basic lesson in biology for those who think milk comes from jugs at the supermarket: In order to give a quantity of quality milk, dairy animals (much like their human equivalents) must give birth. And because we haven’t figured out how to breed 95% female offspring in any mammal, about 50% of those offspring are male.

The luckiest males come from hearty breeding stock and are kept around for a few years to mature and breed. The next luckiest are killed humanely at birth or turned into ethically-raised veal. Unlucky boys are kept in unsuitable veal pens and fattened up for a few months before being dispatched, and a huge amount are drowned or bludgeoned to death immediately after birth.

Penelope Trunk recently got herself a couple of free goat kids exactly because of this.

This is another unfortunate side-effect of purpose-breeding ruminants: dairy animals have terrible yield for meat, and meat animals don’t give the quality or quantity of milk to make them worth keeping for dairy use.

These dogs suffered the same fate as those dairy boys. They had become a financial liability (feeding, housing, heath) to a business when they weren’t able to generate revenue. In theory, I don’t actually have a problem with the dog cull. But I have a BIG problem with the apparent lack of effort taken to re-home these dogs (a much easier task with a husky than a holstein), and then the inhumane way they were killed.

Bottom line: when animals are also assets, things get messy. And when we start thinking of them as machines rather than mammals it’s all too easy to do the wrong thing. It’s also clear that being so far separated from the source of our food makes it much easier to turn a blind eye and allow the “wrong thing” to continue.

Any time we interact with animals, from a food or tourist perspective, we owe it to them to ensure their working conditions are at least as humane as we’d demand for any sentient creature: free from threat, disease, undue stress and danger.

And if you consume dairy, you are not saving any cute baby cows by taking an ethical stand against veal.

Bananarama

As I was making dinner with my brother & sister-in-law the other night, it occurred to me I haven’t shared anything foodie here in a little while. And this, my friends, is a good ‘un!

When we did our cooking classes in Thailand, one of the dishes we learned was a steamed banana cake. It is deceptively easy, completely delicious and will satisfy pretty much any food allergy/sensitivity out there: it’s vegan-friendly, dairy-free, nut-free and gluten-free. Unless you don’t do coconut. If that’s the case I can’t help you. But otherwise, read on!

Steamed Banana Pudding

The ingredient list is pretty short:

5 large bananas, mashed
1 c rice flour
1/4 c tapioca flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c thick coconut milk
3 c unsweetened dessicated coconut, soaked in water for 10 minutes & drained

And the instructions couldn’t be simpler: reserve 1 c of the coconut, and mix everything together.

You can pour it into tiny bowls, ramekins, or banana-leaf boats if you’re feeling fancy. I generally pour it into a big casserole dish.

Top with the remaining coconut, and steam or bake at 360 F for 30 minutes.

If you don’t do bananas (I know one person who doesn’t like them, and another who’s allergic) I’ve also made this with canned peaches or super-ripe mango. Any fruit that will mash up and also taste good with coconut works here.

If you’re feeling hesitant because of the amount of sugar, you could probably cut it down to as little as 3/4 cup – this dish is super sweet – but don’t omit it entirely. It would probably also work with sugar substitutes, though they’re made of nasty chemicals, so I can’t recommend them. If you were considering using something like agave nectar rather than refined sugar, I’d try adding an extra tablespoon of each of the flours, to make sure it sets up properly.

This recipe makes 8 generous servings, and is excellent for breakfast the next day.

Enjoy!

Java Jive

It’s of course the time of year when retailers are going mad pimping their wares, and the fine folks at TASSIMO are no exception.

I’m no longer the prolific blogger I once was, but thanks to a give-two-get-one promo, I ended up with a TASSIMO of my very own, courtesy of the fine Miss Colleen Coplick.

So what do I think of the machine itself? I’ve got a bit of a love-hate thing going on with it.

Love

The ease. You really can’t beat sticking a pod into the top, putting a cup underneath and hitting “go.” The reservoir holds water for plenty of drinks (the water filter is a nice addition) so there’s no need to even add water before making a drink. When the brew’s done, toss the pod and go. I’m certain I will appreciate this both when Neil’s out of town on business, when I can’t be bothered to make a pot of coffee just for myself in our regular drip machine, and definitely when my hands and time are occupied with a squirming creature in a few months.

The variety of drinks available. The whole barcode-reading to optimally brew each drink is pretty swish. TASSIMO sent the brewer with a couple sets of drink pods – some Starbucks regular coffee and some NABOB cappucinos (a 2-step drink with an espresso pod and a milk pod). Since I’ve cut down on the caffeine lately I also picked up a pack of English Breakfast tea pods and some Maxwell House decaf. I’ve tried them all and they’re all quite good. Probably not good enough for an ultra coffee snob, but I pulled enough late-nights in university that I have an extremely high tolerance for extremely bad coffee (and dodgy leftover pizza). I’m also excited to eventually try the hot chocolate.

Making one-off drinks. If Neil wants a hit of the high-test stuff, he can easily make a cup of regular joe for himself, and do a cup of decaf for me. It’s now super easy to make either one or two cups of decaf or one or two cups of regular, depending on the preferences of the group. Of course, if you’re doing more than 3 or 4 cups, it’s still faster to just brew a pot the conventional way.

Hate

The waste. This kills me, and is the primary reason I will use the TASSIMO as the exception rather than the rule. Each pack of drink pods comes in a cardboard box. That box is wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. Each pod is made of non-recyclable plastic. Every time I make a drink (especially the cappuccino, which takes 2 pods) I think of the pods ending up floating here. If there were some magical way to create recyclable (good) compostable (better) or reuseable (best) pods I’d feel a whole lot better about it. (UPDATE: read the comments, turns out they are recyclable.)

The cost. Making drinks with the TASSIMO falls somewhere between buying them at a coffee shop and making them on your own. The TASSIMO plain coffee and tea work out to be about $0.75 each (depending on where you buy and if they’re on sale) while the specialty drinks (lattes and cappucinos) are about $1.30. If you’re really cost-conscious and only want single-cup servings, you’re far better off buying loose tea and ground coffee, and making a cup at a time with boiling water and a single-cup pour-over filter. If you think this will save you money by using it to reduce your fancy coffee shop budget, don’t forget you’re buying a not-inexpensive machine first. Spending a bunch of money to save money is rarely a good solution.

The chemicals. Of course I threw out the wrapping around the cappuccino package, but the ingredients for the “concentrated milk product” are far more than just milk. I’m certainly no stranger to chemical-laden franken-foods, but I do try to limit them. Since I’m not even that much of a cappuccino or latte afficionado, I’ll probably use these up, then not bother to replace them.

Overall the TASSIMO is a pretty cool piece of technology, with the single-serve coffee making and the barcode-reading drink customization. It’ll certainly get its fair share of use making single-cups of regular or decaf coffee, and was a pretty awesome treat of a thing I wouldn’t have ever bought myself.

What would make it the go-to coffee maker in my house? If TASSIMO changes the pods to be more environmentally friendly, and introduces a more natural milk product (concentrated UHT milk would be kindof awesome). Or, you know, if we discover the world actually is ending in 2012 and suddenly tossing out plastics and ingesting chemicals don’t matter so much anymore.

Eating NOLA

When Jen mentioned she and Brandon were making a temporary move to Louisiana in the new year, I left a comment pledging my undying love for New Orleans, and implored her to visit if they’d be near the city.

So of course, she asked for any recommendations of places to go and things to see. And I realized I didn’t ever actually share much of anything from our trip on here. Except Freddie.

As has become typical with any trip Neil and I take, most of our itinerary and planning revolved around food. And with its unique regional cuisine, fresh ingredients and access to amazing seafood, New Orleans ranks among the top foodie cities in America.

The Starting Place

In the past few years we’ve clued in to the fact that taking a cooking class wherever you end up traveling is an excellent way to sample some regional delicacies and learn about the history of an area. So much of a region’s development is shaped by the foods they have and the things they can grow, hunt and gather. Cajun cuisine (along with the rest of the culture) is a fascinating pastiche of French, Spanish, Ethiopian, Caribbean and Native American cooking and customs. Tinted by the spirit of a fiercely independent state full of people who were used to doing things their own way and are still (at least deep-down) a bit annoyed by the Louisiana purchase.

Miss Pat at the New Orleans School of Cooking

We spent an afternoon with Miss Pat at the New Orleans School of cooking, where we were introduced to New Orleans through its food, and sampled a number of dishes in this demonstration cooking class. It helped set the stage for understanding a lot more about the city as we wandered and ate.

The Seafood

Being incredibly close to the gulf coast as well as right on the Mississippi river, a huge amount of New Orleans food revolves around both fresh- and salt-water seafood. Two key stops included Deanie’s for their incredible, ridiculous, incredibly ridiculous seafood platter. It’s exactly what it looks like – a giant plate of deep-fried sea creatures for your enjoyment (Shrimp, Catfish, Crayfish Hushpuppies, Oysters, topped with a Soft Shell crab) . And this was the half-platter. There’s one twice as large.

1/2 Seafood Platter @ Deanie's

We also hit up the legendary Acme Oyster house for some fresh-shucked gulf-coast oysters. These babies are HUGE. I was intimidated. I don’t normally like Oysters that much. I mean, I don’t mind them, but I’ve never gone wild for the oysters I’ve had here in BC. These oysters are different. They were delicious. Big, buttery, smooth, with a bit of that saltwater tang. Love. Sit at the bar and chat with the shuckers.

ACME Oyster Bar

We also ate a number of Creole soups & stews (Jambalaya, Etouffe, turtle soup) with various seafoods as well as learning how to properly eat a Crayfish during Jazz Brunch, thanks to our server at the Court of Two Sisters (Twist off the heads-only suck them if you’re hardcore and/or brave-peel the tail. Devour).

The Sandwiches

You can’t go to New Orleans without trying some of their famous sandwiches: The Po’ Boy, the Muffaletta, the Lucky Dog. Okay, you can probably skip the Lucky Dog, but it is an excellent way to soak up all the booze you’ll be drinking (more on that later).

Neil and I were strongly divided on sandwich preference. I came away preferring the muffaletta, a hot italian sandwich of olive salad and cold cuts in a Sicilian sesame loaf. You would not believe how badly I have been craving one the past few months. Along with a pint of Abita Amber Ale. Made worse, of course, by the fact that cold cuts and beer are both on the naughty list for pregnant ladies. You’d better believe it’ll be one of the first things I make once the kidlet appears.

Neil was partial to the Po’Boy. Specifically the Fried Oyster Po’Boy. He likes more crunch and texture in his sandwich, and this one delivers. Lettuce, tomato, tons of condiments and a hefty helping of protein – the aforementioned fried oysters, catfish, shrimp, ham, roast beef, turkey… the list goes on. I had the Debris: a motley assortment of meat shrapnel in a sandwich. Easy to grab and economic to share for lunch, our favourite Po’Boys were at Mother’s Restaurant, which also happened to be around the corner from our hotel.

Po' Boy at Mother's

The Sweets

Beignets. Is there anything more to say than this? Ok, yes. With Cafe au Lait. Can you go wrong with deep-fried dough and sweet, hot, creamy coffee? I don’t think you can. Pro tip: scoop the extra icing sugar into your coffee. Buzz for a good 2-3 hours. Repeat as necessary.

Beignets & Cafe au Lait

The Sauce

If you’re seriously into spirits, New Orleans is an excellent place to visit. It’s the birthplace of the Hurricane, the Sazerac and the Vieux Carre among others. We didn’t really manage to get into the cocktails on this trip. We did have hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s piano bar, which led to this:

Pat O'Brien's Piano Bar

But that does not mean we didn’t have our fair share of drinks. New Orleans is home of the alcoholic “to go” cup. Walk into any bar or up to a hole in the wall, order a drink, pay and walk away. You could get a gigantic vat of bud-light for $5 if you hate yourself, but there is also a great local beer, Abita, and we drank great quantities of their Amber Ale while roaming around the French Quarter.

Also, that whole “wandering around the quarter on a hot evening, drinking a lot of beer” thing is where the Lucky Dog comes in handy.

Lucky Dog

The Splurge

The hands-down best meal we had while in New Orleans was at Emeril’s NOLA.

I’m not a big fan of the wacky “BAM” infomercial turned food network guy, but damn, it’s clear he knows and loves his food. Everything was cooked with the care and precision needed to make its flavours really shine. And he’s a big proponent of the “farm to fork” movement to highlight local eating. I now know what my last meal on earth would be, if I had to make that call: Emeril’s fried chicken. It’s that good.

The Summary

We also did a few other touristy things in the city that were fun and delightful: Took the streetcar around town and through the garden district, the ferry over to the charming village of Algiers, a carriage ride through the french quarter, a bus tour of the city and an after-dark voodoo walking tour. I’d recommend any of them. But we had the most fun, by far, roaming around eating and drinking our way through as much food & beverage as we could stuff into ourselves. The French Quarter is actually really small and where we spent most of our time. But it’s just a tiny part of the city, and there was so much more food, culture, art and shopping than the limited bit we managed to consume in the four days we were there.

Regardless, even from that limited time, New Orleans stole a piece of my heart. It’s one of the few American cities I’ve visited that I would happily move to. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly, and the city just had such a warmth to it. It was confident and sophisticated, but not afraid to just be silly, have fun and let its hair down. The “bon temps” really do “roule” there. I can’t wait until we go back.

Project “Lamb of God”

Now that we’re not going anywhere, we’ve picked right back up on our micro-farming project.

You may remember posts from last summer and this past spring on our construction efforts on building the pig shelter and fencing in the yard. Well, they’re finally being put to use!

Except, we’ve gone from pigs to sheep!

Between Neil and I thinking we were moving, then my in-laws’ phone going down for a week or so (hazards of living at the edge of the grid), the pig thing fell through. Our original source sold all their piglets, and you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find piglets for sale!

Neil and I eventually went to the Fraser Valley Auctions to see if we could find any pigs that suppliers were unloading, but goats seemed to be the order of the day, along with a good assortment of sheep!

Agnes in the Car at the ferry line-up

We left with a lovely lamb who lamented her way down the highway in the back of our car. And lamented in the ferry line. And lamented during the ferry ride. And lamented up the island highway (while she wasn’t busy nibbling on the poor dog’s tail). And lamented all the way into her pen, and all night, and most of the next morning until we put her with the neighbour’s sheep while my inlaws found her some friends.

The lamenting inspired her name: Agnes – short for Agnus Dei, the lamb of god. Also a movement in Mozart’s Requiem.

A few days later, Agnes was joined by two other lambs, Gloria and Miserere (have mercy), who were also known by their voices, raised to the heavens.

Gloria and Miserere at the gate

Thankfully (for my inlaws anyhow, I obviously can’t hear them from here), they have apparently quieted down and are now lovely little lawnmowers.

Agnes, Gloria & Miserere Outside

And come September (because we need to get them slaughtered before hunting season gets underway and any potential fall floods happen), we’ll have our own Requiem for a Lamb, and end up with a bunch of fleece and a freezer full of tasty sheep meat.

Besides, if you’re doing bio-dynamic farming anyhow, you really want to start off with ruminants, then follow with chickens, and finally end up with pigs. I think it might be a harder sell to convince my in-laws to go for the chickens, but we’ve got a year or so to work on them….

Meat-head

Blog posts I started to write and (thankfully) didn’t publish today:

• Why I think you might be an idiot
• Here, let me beat you down with logic
• I don’t care that humans are inherently illogical, I WILL DROWN YOU IN REASON ANYHOW

What can I say, I have a wickedly sore shoulder and a hearty case of didn’t sleep well last night.

But! What I also have is an incredibly tasty lunch. Let me share the recipe with you!

This is my new favorite burger recipe. It sounds like it will please no one, since it has too little meat for the carnivores and too much meat for the vegetarians, but I’m pleasantly surprised with how much I love it every time I make it. Perhaps you will be too.

Meat-and-Grain loaf, burgers, balls
adapted from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters

• 1 lb lean ground beef
• 1 lb raw spinach leaves (blanched, drained, water squeezed out and roughly chopped – feel free to skip this by just buying a packet of frozen spinach and thawing)
• 1 onion chopped fine
• 2-3 cloves garlic pressed, grated or chopped fine
• 2 cups cooked grains (I like it with Millet best, but barley or brown rice also work well)
• Cumin (to taste)
• Cayenne (to taste)
• Salt (to taste)
• Pepper (to taste)
• 1 egg

Put everything in a bowl. Squish about gently with fingers until evenly mixed.

Form into a loaf (in a loaf pan), burger patties (I make 8 large patties with this recipe) or balls of any size.

Bake at 400 F until done (about 30 minutes for burgers)

I love this, because it’s got some extra veggies in it, but still tastes really meaty. The grains soak up the meat-juice as it bakes, so the patties stay moist and the flavour permeates everything.

Try it out! And tell me if you like it. I will probably be much less grumpy by then.

Jen Eats Something Strange – Episode 1

I got some email today from YouTube, stating that a couple old videos of mine (Eating Live Octopus in Korea) are popular enough qualify for their affiliate program (they put ads on my video, I collect a few pennies a year).

Comments on the videos (mostly “ewww!”) come through every now and again, but I hadn’t thought much about them. Until the emails. So I checked them out. Apparently eating strange things is intensely popular on YouTube, since my videos are at a little over 33,000 views each! Certainly not because of anything I did (other than eating the octopus & posting video).

Clearly we should’ve taken video of eating a smoked sheep’s head and snails right out of their shells in Morocco.

And I’ll be sure to take a camera that shoots video to Thailand in February, in case there are any delicacies that make the average North American go “Hmmm” (or “ewww!”) that we stumble across.

In the meantime, some video from the watercooler archives:

Project Pigpen

As Neil and I get more and more into sourcing alternate avenues for food that distance us from the industrial agricultural machine, opportunities keep cropping up that we’d never have thought of.

The latest: our very own hog!

We’ve been looking around for some sources for purchasing an ethically-raised pig, but the local suppliers we’ve found so far have been somewhat reluctant to sell us a whole hog, wholesale. It’s understandable, since most of the local, ethically-raised pork product around here is in high demand, and what isn’t already claimed by restaurants can be sold at a much higher premium by the piece & pound than by the pig.

We were a bit stuck, until one visit from my mother-in-law. She casually mentioned that with all the food-waste from the lodge they run, their compost pile was getting out of hand and wouldn’t it be nice to have a pig or two around to eat it, and then have some lovely pork afterward?

JACKPOT!

She was concerned with the work it would take to make the pen, so we instantly volunteered to take care of it next time we visited, on the condition that we’d get a pig of our own out of the deal. She was sold, so the plans began.

(Backstory: the in-laws used to live on a farm. Neil’s a 4-H Champion Hogsman. Rearing livestock is not a foreign endeavor to them as it is to a city-dweller like myself.)

Wait until Spring

We also lucked out since they happened to have a whole bunch of spare wood around the lodge from some renos, so we were able to make the pigpen with $100 in new wood/concrete and the rest out of scraps. Had we been more ambitious with our salvaging, we might’ve been able to reduce that by another $10-$20 and building the walls entirely out of 1×6 rather than OSB.

You can view the entire set of pen-pics on Flickr. It looks a bit like a bus-shelter on a patch of grass right now, but come Spring when we fence in the yard and add some hay, a trough and the piglets, hopefully it’ll look less forlorn and more farm-y.

And if all goes well (and the bears don’t do them in first) we should have an amazing porky feast in September 2010!

Restaurant Review – Vij’s

Last night, in honour of my 29th year, we finally FINALLY went to Vij’s. I can’t say “I don’t know why we waited so long” because I know precisely why I’d never been there – the actual matter of “waiting so long.”

Vij’s doesn’t take reservations. They open promptly at 5:30pm and it’s first come-first served. They do make the wait very pleasant, serving chai and Indian equivalents of amuse bouche (bouches? how does the plural work?) while people are waiting – but I am not the type who waits for things. I am impatient and usually busy and squish as much into my calendar as possible. Waiting an indeterminate amount of time to get into a restaurant to eat is not my bag.

And frankly, if that’s who you are, you do not deserve to dine at Vij’s. I certainly didn’t. Until I put away my manic, control-freak nature, went with the flow, and let the experience unfold.

We did show up at about 5:10, and were the 2nd people to be waiting outside the door. We wanted to show up extra early, since we had a large group. By the time the restaurant opened, there were enough people waiting to fill the dining room, and then some. Other than that, don’t worry too much about showing up a bit later. It looked like they’re pretty adept at turning tables, so if you’re not starving or on a deadline, chill out in the lounge and enjoy some chai.

The extra-awesome part about dining at Vij’s with a large group was sharing the food. I’m a big fan of Family Style dining, and can’t think of a better way to enjoy Indian food anywhere – let alone a place where everything on the menu looks so good, it’s hard to decide what to order!

We ultimately left the dining decision in the hands of the staff, asking them to bring six appetizers and six entrees for our table of nine. It was more than enough food for all of us!

Starters were:

Garam Masala sauteed portobello mushrooms in porcini cream curry (2 orders)
Mutton Kebobs with Bengali-style curry
Jackfruit in black cardamom and cumin masala (2 orders)
Curried Organic Chicken Liver Pate

Mains were:

Saag paneer with Lentil Curry and Chapati
Rajasthani-style goat curry with lightly-spiced bell peppers and cabbage
Wine-marinated Lamb Popsicles in fenugreek cream curry on turmeric spinach potatoes (2 orders)
Beef Shortribs in cinnamon and red wine curry with warm greens (2 orders)

And this came with plates of naan and bowls of rice to soak up all the amazing sauces.

Vij’s focus is on fresh, local food served Indian-style, and the freshness makes all the difference in the world. From roasting their own spices and making their own paneer & breads every day, to picking fresh and seasonal meats and produce, every dish at Vij’s highlights the quality of the ingredients.

I was also surprised, considering the classification of “fine dining” at the prices. After dinner, drinks (one for most people, two for some), tax and tip, nine of us managed to dine for a little under $50 each. It’s easy to spend that at yet another disappointing ‘fast casual’ chain, so this was phenomenal value. When Vij’s says they are running a restaurant that is truly for everyone, they really aren’t kidding!

The food is unexpectedly life-changing, and the lineup is worth changing your life & expectations for.

I will return. Often.

Vij's on Urbanspoon

Half-Clean

One of the pet peeves I had while I was looking for cleanse info/reviews was finding people saying “oh hey I’m starting this cleanse” and that was the last thing they had to say about it. For future googlers, I’m halfway through this godforsaken Wild Rose D-Tox cleanse. Here’s how it’s going:

  • I certainly experienced the fatigue that was listed as a side effect. I crashed hard on Monday afternoon. The upside is that I’ve been sleeping like the dead all week, which feels nice in the mornings. Downside: I still crash at about 8:00pm every day.
  • I also started off really, REALLY hungry. It took a while to remember that I need to eat some whole grains with just about everything. That means lots of brown rice with all meals. Eight days in, and I’m eating less, and also less hungry. I don’t know if that means I’m getting used to things or just bored and resigned to a smaller diet.
  • If you’re going to do this cleanse, buy the cookbook. Don’t ask whether it’s worth it, just buy it. Your tastebuds will thank you. It’s also a handy investment if you ever entertain friends who have every food sensitivity known to mankind.
  • My terrible $10 bathroom scale has told me nothing in terms of weightloss (I suppose that’s what I get for buying a terrible $10 scale), but my pants say that at least a couple pounds are gone.
  • I have yet to experience any of the “clarity” or “extra energy” or other feel-good benefits that cleanse-takers report. I am trying to look at that in a positive light, and deduce that it’s because I was not particularly toxic to begin with, and am not sensitive to all of the things I’m really missing eating right now.
  • I am uncharacteristically (yes, even for me) short tempered and generally cranky. I snap like a twig. I’m not otherwise emotional – not weepy or sentimental – just highly annoyed pretty much 24/7, for no good reason (other than a distinct lack of mushroom cheeseburgers).
  • I haven’t had any other “to be expected” symptoms of “sugar withdrawl” such as headaches, etc.
  • The pooping is bad, but not as bad as I’d initially expected. It’s unpleasant, and often urgent, but nothing compared to the prep one needs to do for a barium enema or a colonoscopy (says the girl with a family history of IBD), and CERTAINLY nothing compared to food poisoning. So that’s something, I guess.
  • If you asked me today whether or not I’d ever do this again, the answer is a resounding NO.

    I might be a bit slimmer (that’s a big might, and remember, brought on by having liquefied my digestive tract for nearly 2 weeks), but I don’t otherwise feel any notable benefits from doing this so far.

    And the negatives (being highly annoyed all the time, making everyone feel awkward by refusing cake/beer/anything except green tea and the blueberries my poor mom went out and got for me at my dad’s birthday, being insanely tired most of the time, did I mention the crankiness? and the pooping?) far outweigh the positives.

    I’ll check in again once it’s all done, and once I’ve hopefully regained my usually cheerier outlook.