Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wooden Spoons

My small side obsession with wooden spoons began after I read An Everlasting Meal, one of my favourite books about food.

I have a jar full of wooden spoons, almost all burned from my bad habit of leaving them in the pot I’ve been stirring. A writer named Patience Gray recounts the provenance of her favorite wooden spoon in a book called Honey from a Weed. It came flying out a kitchen window at the climax of a couple’s squabble, and she picked it up and kept it.

I buy a wooden spoon whenever I see one I like because I may need to throw something, and a passerby may need one. They’re perfect, too, for checking doneness of certain ingredients. There’s nothing that does this with more certainty: when a piece of onion, garlic, carrot or celery can be easily broken with a wooden spoon, then, and exactly then, it is done.

My favourite wooden spoon has a little round cup at its end, designed not for stirring but for tasting. Its sharp lip is like the rim of a bowl, which means that I don’t use it to test for doneness. It is the only one in my kitchen that is not burned.

      From An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy & Grace by Tamar Adler Page 66

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hand taste

Michael Pollan told a story at the RSA last week about learning to make kimchi in Korea and his teacher explaining to him the difference between tongue taste and hand taste.

Tongue taste, she said, anyone can do. Anywhere and anyone can make food taste good. Salt, fat, flavour balance. That part is easy. But hand taste, hand taste only comes from something made with love and intent. I think it's the difference between the grilled cheese sandwich you make yourself and the one your Grandma made for you. There's a feeling and an emotion that comes through in hand taste cooking. It's the creativity and the energy put into something you make that takes it beyond sustenance and into something special and memorable.  It's hand taste that we foodie types seek out, even if we don't always have the vocabulary to say just that.

So hand taste was on my mind at the Enough Food IF dinner last week. We were very lucky to be treated to dinner by one of the River Cafe's Head Chefs, Danny Bohan and had wines chosen for us by their Head Sommelier, Emily O'Hare.  The meal was beautiful and delicious. And I kept thinking about the difference between food as sustenance and basic nutrition and food as love and enjoyment and social capital. The people who live on ugali alone… their concept of my food must be as crazy foreign as mine of theirs.

And it made me think about home and safety and comfort. About how Enough Food IF is a great starting point and so important but that what I would want for people is hand taste. It doesn't have to be crazy expensive or intricate, but hand taste needs to have a level of security and confidence. You need to have enough, nutritious food to feed your people, but you also need the space to cook, a home whatever that means and however basic, and the security and time to make something beyond basic subsistence.

I know it's a few steps beyond what the basic goals of the Enough Food IF campaign are, and really, they need to get those bits right first. This is just me being a day dreamer and thinking of happiness and love for everyone.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Enough Food IF...

Thursday I spent the afternoon listening to Michael Pollan talk about his new book Cooking and the evening with a bunch of food bloggers and Save the Children, talking about hunger. A full, interesting day of contradictions.

The #foodiesvhunger evening was hosted by Save the Children to get food bloggers talking about the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. Brie (a food blogger and Save the Children campaigner) spoke about real people and their hunger stories and how programs like financing a cow or a sheep have had a life changing impact – income, food, school for their kids, opportunities. And it's so uplifting and hopeful to think that you can sponsor a cow or a couple sheep and totally change a family's life. That's tremendous and real and tangible and makes the donor feel important and useful and like your money is really making a difference. I get that. But you can't buy goats and cows for every family in the poor parts of the world and fix the problems of hunger. In order for there to be a lasting systemic change that means your grandchildren aren't also buying cows to give to poor people, we need a significant political shift.

That's what the Enough IF campaign is about. Hundreds of organisations around the world have joined forces to send a single message to politicians around the world: put hunger on the agenda. There's enough food to feed everyone. The Enough IF campaign is working to make sure that the issue of hunger remains a key focus for the upcoming G8. Now they need people power to make sure that the message is heard, loud enough for the politicians attending the G8 and Hunger Summit to know that this matters to their consituents.

On June 8 in London David Cameron is hosting a pre-G8 meeting on Hunger. The Enough IF campaign is holding an event in Hyde Park, not far from the meeting. A rally to show people that feeding everyone is possible and to show the politicians that it matters to us. People power and support is important and more powerful that retweeting something or liking something on Facebook.&nbsp

And you should care. Our #foodiesvhunger evening was centred around lovely wines and a gorgeous dinner put together by River Cafe sommelier Emily O'Hare and Head Chef Danny Bohan, friends of Amy from Save the Children. We drank beautiful wine and ate beautiful food, but we started the evening with a spoonful of ugali, a tasteless sludge of corn flour and water. It's a common staple starch food in eastern Africa and is meant to be eaten with other things – I imagine it's sort of like a rice or polenta base for the real food, the vegetables and meat. But if you can't afford the meat and vegetables part you eat ugali stuff on its own. It's basically nutrionless. It is definely tasteless. And if your kids grow up eating only that they will not grow up healthy.

So as we sat around eating phenomenal ham and risotto and rabbit and fresh borlotti beans (which was my favourite part of the meal) and drinking a gorgeous selection of wines that were paired with the food and enjoying conversation and laughter… well, it just makes you think. I don't think anyone needs to feel guilty about the circumstances of their lives, but we do need to recognise our privilege and acknowledge that we are lucky and not everyone is. And that we are not powerless to help those people who are not as lucky as we are. You can help buy a sheep. Or you can tweet about the #BigIF campaign. Or you can sign up here. Or you could actually show this matters with your time and your presence and attend the big event on Saturday the 8th of June.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Winter Comfort Food

I can't get excited about winter comfort food when there is no snow on the ground. It's not cold enough to warrant braising and roasting and comfort foods of fat and cream and unctuousness. I will eat them but I'm not excited and craving them. I need real cold. Snow, winds that howl into you and creep through your layers and nibble at your bones. I haven't felt properly properly cold since last year in Alberta. I guess I shouldn't complain but I am. I am a Prairie girl at heart and even though I don't want to go back there there are certain things that are ingrained in my heart: cold drifts of dry snow dancing across the roads, ice blue skies that go on forever, chinooks and crazy temperature shifts. Icicles. Icicles are wonderful. Amazing. I need icicles!

I want to roast pears with sugar and cream in the oven. I want to crave stews with big chunkcs of meat and dumplings. But I really need to be chilled to the bone in order to want those things. Oh winter where are you?

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.