Sunday, September 30, 2012


My Great Aunt Mary Wilson (nee MacPherson) made scones for her husband every night. I don't remember my Great Uncle Bill but apparently he thought I was adorable and I quite liked him. I was just a baby but clearly I recognised excellent taste. The story that I have built in my head (which may bear no resemblance to reality) is that Auntie Mary made a batch of scones every night and Uncle Bill ate one set in the evening as a pre bed snack and the remainder in the morning. I like to imagine that Auntie Mary, who put her hair in pin curls every night and was always made up just so, made enough for his breakfast because her morning preparation time took so long that she didn't have time to cook her husband a proper first meal of the day.

Now I make Great Auntie Mary's scones as a Welcome to London snack for friends and family who  arrive jet lagged and bedraggled from Heathrow.  The MacPhersons, though throughly Canadian, are of Scottish descent. I like the idea of the scone recipe making its way from the Highlands of Scotland, across Canada to the interior of British Columbia and then back again to London.The recipe is simple, forgiving and slightly rustic, but it is quite lovely to welcome guests to England with something so very British as warm scones, clotted cream and jam.

It serves as a focus point, a calming moment in the excitement of arrivals. As people pile into the flat, luggage strewn, hugs and chatter, mini tours around our tiny flat, I show them the Gherkin from the balcony and ask them about how they managed the journey from the airport, the table is set and water poured (dehydrated plane travellers). I fuss everyone around the table and we all have a moment to sit and breathe. Preparing your scone, (clotted cream then jam, showing the foreigners how it is done)munching away, sipping tea, we have chance to catch up on the most pertinent family details and friendly gossip. An informal snack gives us all a chance to reacquaint, test the bonds if you like, with people who we see so rarely but who are integral parts of our circle, through blood or bond.

It has become a new household tradition, in my own household. I love that a recipe from my Great Aunt has found a new spot in our family history as the welcoming bite for her descendants, years after she has died, and far away from where she lived.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bacon Rind

We don't eat a ton of bacon in our house as bacon - it's rare for strips of it to be served along side eggs or on a burger. But I do use probably more than I should as a flavour base or as a little bit of crispy salty bacon goodness sprinkled on top (of everything).  My favourite bacon comes from Upper Cuts in the St Lawrence Market in Toronto. It is called Black Forest Bacon and it is thick cut and heavily smoked. You buy a kilogram of it and they will split it and package it up for you in two plastic parcels so you can throw one in the fridge and one in the freezer so you'll never run out of bacon. It is a glorious thing.

So we move to London and start seeking out a suitable bacon replacement. Shouldn't be too hard, Britain is good at pig things, right? Sausages and the like? And so with a significant amount of trial and error we finally find two acceptable bacon suppliers in our neighbourhood, though neither are as thickly cut as the butcher in Toronto.

But here is my complaint: why do bacon makers leave the skin on? The bacon rind? And how do you British people handle it? Do you painstakenly cut it off? Trimming each piece individually as I do to get it off without sacrificing too much of the smoked bacon fat? Or do you... eat it...? I have cooked it and tried to eat it but it's inevitably tough and hard and unpleasantly like eating  a warm and salted rubber band. Because British bacon is rarely ever cooked crisply enough to get the skin to take on the texture and crunch of crackling, which is the only real acceptable treatment of bacon skin that I can think of.


Sunday, September 02, 2012

Hashbrown and Eggs

On Sunday I was an excellent girlfriend/fiancee/partner and got up early and made breakfast in bed for C. I made a mini version of Smitten Kitchen's Bacon Corn Hash with a fried egg on top. I say mini because I made just enough for two smallish bowls for the two of us and not some obscene brunch where you are too full to do anything for the rest of the day. It was great and you should make it.

It reminded me of my first roommate Anya.  Our house speciality was hashbrowns and eggs. I feel like we used to cook it more than once a week. Although I know it's not the only thing we ate (there were her mom's perogies and the unfortunate KFC incident) but it's pretty much the only thing I can remember cooking - or at least clearly recall. It's not quick and easy. Oh no. There is process involved, not to be rushed.

You take a few handfuls of frozen hashbrowns and put them on a low-medium heat in a cheap non stick IKEA pan with a bit of oil. Add a lot of seasoning salt. Preferably that stuff that people in Alberta get from a pipe company. If you're from Alberta you probably know what I'm talking about. If not I suppose regular seasoning salt will do, but know that you are missing something on some level. And you cook them. Stirring regularly. You cook them forever. Until they are crispy and golden brown. But you must do this slowly so that they aren't mushy on the inside. Patience is required.

Then you add a couple of eggs. It depends on the amount of hashbrowns you've used but trust your judgement. The egg is there to bind the hashbrowns together, but not to take over. This is afterall hashbrowns and eggs and not eggs and hashbrowns.

Serve with ketchup.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cheerios Lament

Real Canadian Cheerios Box. Sadly empty.

My all time favourite breakfast cereal is Cheerios. Plain, whole grain oats, yellow box, black writing with the 'o' of the i a single cheerio. I don't think they've ever had a mascot, I can't recall their jingle. I don't know if I loved them as a kid (though I certainly ate them) but I adore them now. Especially with a little homemade granola sprinkled on top. Morning bliss.

Here's the tragedy. You can't buy them in the UK. Oh - shut it -  I can hear the protests through the computer. Yes you can buy Cheerios here. You can get Honey Nut Cheerios (a nice occasional treat but I hate the sugary leave behind milk) and you can get Whole Grain Cheerios in a white box with purple and red writing. These are wholly disgusting, surprisingly sweet and with a bizarre texture. Awful. You would think that since there are two types of off shoot Cheerios then the original would be available. But it's not. So I went on an internet mission to find out why.

General Mills makes Cheerios. So I visited the General Mills UK site. They don't make Cheerios. They have other brands I recognise but they don't make Cheerios. I checked the cereal section when I was in the store this weekend. Cheerios (false, bad, unoriginal ones) are made by Nestle in the UK. OK.... Turns out that General Mills and Nestle have this partnership  where they agreed to make cereals for each other and sell them under the Nestle label. In Ireland you can get something called 'oat cheerios' which I am guessing are the original and still the best Cheerios.

I don't understand what market forces/research/idiot decided that England wouldn't eat proper Cheerios. You can buy them for £6 a box at fancy shops catering to sad and emotional  expats eating their feelings. In the world of globalization and international commodities when you can get anything anywhere I find the things that you can't get utterly fascinating. Also, the things that you can find but that are... different somehow. Kraft Dinner. Maple syrup. KitKat. They're all available here (for a price). But somehow they taste better when they come out of suitcase directly from the Canadian source. But these are Canadiana specific. Cheerios aren't Canadian. You can make them here and sell them like regular cereal and I am just about sure that they'll taste the same and that people will buy them.

My friend brought me back a box from Canada just over a week ago. I have eaten the entire box. It was glorious. (I've also lost three pounds but I'm not sure if the two things are connected.) Now I have no Cheerios and I have to wait until the next person comes from Canada with room in their luggage. Or the Cereal Partners Worldwide could get me some 'oat cheerios' and as long as they haven't messed them* up I will stop complaining. About the Cheerios thing. I'm sure I'll find something else to moan about.

(I checked but I can't understand the Nutrition Labels but I think the Ireland oat cheerios may have more sugar than the original and still the best Cheerios from Canada. I despair.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Supperclub Trust

On Saturday night four of us went to the Goethe Institute for their Supperclub Summit. A cultural exchange of food for the Olympics, British food bloggers and supperclub types were paired with German food bloggers and chefs for a series of collaborative dinners in a minimalist space in South Kensington. On Saturday night Ruth (@saffronandsalt), who I know via twitter for her charcutterie and recent bike accident, was teamed up with the Rhineland Rockers, four Germans from Cologne and Dusseldorf. They made us an eight course dinner with wine pairings from Germany. It was fantastic. 
Here's the menu:
  • Landjagger sausage 
  • Himmel & Ääd - apple, potato, black pudding and a tempera green onion 
  • Erbsenparfait & Räucher-Forelle - pea mousse (which I loved), smoked trout and a warm gin trout stock shot of sorts (weird but good) 
  • Finkenwerder - haddock, bacon jam, little brown shrimp and a fritter thing-y. 
  • Sauerbraten-Maultäschle - horse ravioli with this neat jelly strip of gravy 
  • Zicklein - pulled goat 
  • Schwarzwälder Kirsch - deconstructed Black Forest cake
and the Charcuterie platter which was somewhere in the latter half but I'm not sure where exactly but it was pork scratchings with a sour apple sauce (which I LOVED), a terrine and chicken mousse. 
So, dinner was great - lovely, interesting food. Wines were delicious and interesting. All around fabulous. We sat at a table with four strangers and were laughing and raucous together by the end of the night.  
But the whole experience got me thinking about supper clubs in general. I love the trust that you need to go and get the most out of the experience. You're going to a strange place, to eat food cooked for you by strangers who have no official designation, there's no health inspector, there's no TimeOut review saying if it's good or not. Few of the people cooking will be professionals. Often the space is a private one that they have invited you into. You'll probably not know what you're going to be served and you'll probably end up sitting with strangers. 
I show up and trust that everything will be just fine and I sit back and am open to whatever, or whoever, comes before me. And because of these experiential dinners I have made new friends, real ones too - not just on twitter! and I have tasted all sorts of new foods. You have to let go and be with the moment and the atmosphere and the food and the people. And that's beautiful.  And something that is much more difficult to do in the confines and strictures of a restaurant.

Essen gut, alles gut.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Kitchen Tango

When I lived in my first apartment by myself, in Calgary when I was, what 21?, I had really just begin to cook. I had always cooked but this was different – my own kitchen, my own things. I had cookbooks but they weren't designed for cooking for one university student so I harboured dreams of writing a cookbook for one. I was going to call it "Dancing with Myself". (You know, the song?)

Fast forward a decade (Wow. Was that a decade ago?) and I live in a nicer apartment (flat, now that I'm in England), with more cookbooks (still not designed for two people, but no matter), more kitchenware and a man – a boyfriend, partner, fiancee, whatever – who cooks with me.

We've been together 7 years and early on food was important. The first visit I made to Toronto I made him a knock-your-socks-off meal. Roasted red peppers with scallops and pesto, salmon on salad. I even made little flat breads. He was totally impressed and still talks about that meal. I knew it was good, firm favourites I was pretty sure I couldn't screw up with simple ingredients I would find in a boy's basic bachelor kitchen.

 At any rate it worked and I got the boy.

We started having people over, and making ourselves great dinners, in our tiny galley kitchen in Toronto. Our Paris kitchen was even smaller - more like a closet. (I had to light the oven with a lit piece of spaghetti.) Now we have a lovely, but still small and no counter space, kitchen. (Clearly designed by someone who has never rolled out dough for a pie.)

Through all our kitchens we have cooked together. Prepping, washing up, flipping, stirring. We dance seamlessly around each other in the kitchen. We rarely bump into each other, just sensing where the other one is and sashaying around and through. We pass the salt, grind the pepper, stir each other's pots, discuss doneness and what's missing and comment and help. Our kitchen tango is beautiful and one of the many things I love about us.

At the moment we don't cook that often together – I do most of the cooking – between work, freelance and life that's just how it works out. And occassionaly C will come help and mistakenly stir something he shouldn't. But for the most part it's wonderful and special and it's where I feel the most grounded in my self – in my kitchen, with C nearby. Also, he does dishes while I potter, so that works out well.