Tomorrow we’re getting on a train and leaving for Quebec. A year ago we were getting on a plane and leaving for Nova Scotia. It is still strange seeing so much of a country I never gave much thought to before we moved here. Canada was a vague mass, somebody else’s problem field. Over time it is becoming articulate, defined.
The trip to Nova Scotia was in the middle of my Comprehensive Exams process, and I was not in the best shape. In my suitcase I had dresses, as many books as we had days away, a sun hat and our kitchen knife. The plan was to live in a tiny little AirBnB cottage on the sea outside the village of Hubbards, drive around the craggly coastline, and spend an hour a day lying on the bed and reading something that is not Critical Theory. Our cottage consisted of one big room in which there was a bed, two chairs for reading and looking at the sea, a table with two chairs, and a tiny kitchen space.
We ended up cooking lobster every single night. Bought from the lobster pound at prices lower than we’ve ever seen anywhere. We’d eat it with salad and Nigel Slater’s garlic bread, which we’ve been making for so long it’s the only garlic bread we know how to make – lots of garlic, lots of spring onions and chives, lots of Parmesan. One day we found some deliciously cheap oysters at the lobster pound and had those too, another we drive to Digby and through a conversation struck up with a wife of a scallop fisherman, found out where to buy fresh scallops to take home. They were large, fleshy Digby scallops, and of the best things we have ever eaten.
We’re spending a lot of time on our little jungle balcony. Plants in Canada are so happy when the weather turns that they grow in such an exuberant style that we never know what will await us from one day to the next. It reminds me of a line from Marian Engel’s Bear where she writes about Canada, noting “In this country … we have winter lives and summer lives of completely different quality.”
I came home from class feeling like cake. There’s a bag of poppy seed in the fridge that I’ve been meaning to work my way through for a while, so I decided to make the poppy seed torte I wrote about here. Always looking for ways to grind the poppy seeds, which makes for a flavourful and generally more successful cake, I followed the advice of someone on the internet and tried hand-grinding it in our Hario coffee grinder. You should never fucking try that. After ninety minutes of grinding I had poppy seed all over the floor, and only enough fine poppy seed for a tiny cake. I had also broken the grinder.
So I baked a tiny cake, and frosted it with the dark chocolate and melted butter. We ate it on the balcony. Johannes fixed the grinder.
Some good things we’ve eaten in the last month of two. After Easter we scored some heavily discounted legs of lamb from the supermarket (first time we’ve cooked a leg of lamb since 2008), and slathered it in a Mechouia-style spice mix, inspired by a recipe in Persiana. Some garlic, a lot of paprika and coriander and cumin, some thyme. It was beautiful, but then again, leg of lamb is hard to fuck up as long as you don’t cook it too long.
Lunch time salads are still on heavy rotation. I’ve been topping a lot of ours with coconut flakes tossed in a mix of tamari and sesame oil, and then roasted till golden, stolen from this recipe by Heidi Swanson. It’ll probably also make a pretty good snack.
The bounty of fingerling potatoes that are around also means that we’ve been making a salad of roasted fingerlings and zucchini and peas, dressed with a basil pesto-olive oil-vinegar-thing. Best eaten at room temperature, it travels well and does not feel like a sad packed lunch. It made a particularly good meal on a day I watched Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman with my students, relishing in their frustration at having to watch a woman clean her house for three and a half hours.
It also feels like we’ve been eating our weight in asparagus. (Waiting for someone to make a pee joke.) New favourite thing to make is shallow frying them in a little olive oil and salt, and then tossing them in a dressing of miso, a little garlic, olive oil and rice wine vinegar. I made a pan full the other night, for a dinner party, and they were gone within within the first minute.
And then, finally: barbeque baked beans. First up: I’ve never had a thing for the canned variety – someone once tried to serve them to me on a burger when I was a child, and I just about died. (Also, who the fuck eats baked beans on their burger?) But when I was in Boston I had a scoop of beans prepared by Sweet Cheeks Q (along with some brisket that was an existential epiphany), and now this is all I want to eat. I made a massive pot of beans (it freezes well, and makes for a lovely Sunday night dinner if you don’t want to cook but just sit on the couch and drink beer), and I am amazed at how happy that made me. The recipe is off of Serious Eats, and it’s sufficiently complex even though it really doesn’t take that much active preparation time. I halved the sugar, honey and molasses, and advise anyone else to do so too – even halved it’s quite sweet.
Everything Bar Raval does is glorious. But in spring you can sit on their patio and have a fermented rhubarb doughnut, and chase that with a cocktail. Or you could just have a second doughnut.
I turned 31 on a Monday. Johannes and I both took the day off work, and went to Nadege on Queen Street West where we shared a $8 cakelet for breakfast that seems unethically indulgent any other time of the year but on a birthday. We hung out at a bookshop, had a cocktail at Bar Raval, and then went home to cook burgers (ground meat from Sanagan’s or Cumbrae’s, mixed into patties with toasted and then ground coriander and a little bit of cumin, salt and pepper and an egg, then cooked in a dry, very hot cast iron pan sprinkled with salt so that a crust quickly forms. Buns from Black Bird Baking Company if we’re around Kensington Market, smeared with mayonaise and Dijon mustard, topped with rings of raw onion, Johannes’s fermented dill pickles, and some very mature Cheddar. Burgers are serious business in this house.)
Then we cooked dinner for some friends. In Arcadia I had an average of four birthday parties every year, over the course of around a month. Ten years of accumulated friends and family will do that. In Toronto, in the middle of a PhD, one party is all I can handle. (I look forward to a post-PhD life where this is not the case. All dinner parties, all the time.)
So this was dinner. To begin, a savoury kataiffi attempt with finely chopped olives, feta, fresh oregano and walnut, rolled sliced into rounds.
We bought billowy pitas from the new Paramount Fine Foods that opened down the street, and served them with Sam Sifton’s oven-roasted chicken shawarma. The chicken, marinated overnight in lots of lemon juice and garlic and paprika and cumin, is roasted the next day, then shredded, then placed under the grill. It was a revelation. On the side we made Michael Solomonov’s hummus tahina from Zahaav, which I’ve read a lot of people rave about. In our case it was close, but no cigar. For the amount of work that homemade hummus requires the results needs to be stellar. Solomonov’s did not change my life. We also roasted aubergine and topped it with garlicky yoghurt and dried sour cherries, and roasted cauliflower and tossed it with a vinaigrette and some flat leaf parsley.
Dessert was chocolate mousse, but it deserves its own post. This is what we woke up to. Immediately cleaning up after a party is anathema to me. Why would you want to erase the memory of the evening? Leave the table be.
It’s always awkward returning to a blog after you’ve been gone for a while. You’d think that after having blogged for ten years I’d have that figured out by now, but here we are.
I won’t bore you with the details of my absence, except to say that after a three year hiatus I am teaching my own course again, and it is absolutely wonderful and absolutely exhausting, and everything else has taken a backseat in the meantime. There’s also this quote from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts that pretty much exemplifies my joy right now:
We’ve been eating our way through the new summer produce. A lot of asparagus, a lot of zucchini (which I’m increasingly considering as a pretty pointless vegetable), and a quart of strawberries a day. And others have been cooking for me – last weekend my new friend Tess served us maple breakfast sausages and fleshly baked corn bread studded with blueberries for brunch, and last night Jihee grilled Korean short ribs and served them with scallion pancakes and a kimchi stirfry, and it finally feels as if we have a community in this city. That counts.
More on what we’ve been cooking, soon. (In the meantime, brighten up your day with this.)