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.
There are few things as consistently satisfying as baking your own bread. But for every solid period of having our bread game together, of being in the rhythm of always having a long-proving batch of dough standing around the house, of cultivating sourdough starters and going months without buying bread, there is also a stretch where we lose that rhythm, where there is too much work or too much travel or where we spend our bread-baking time making sausages or chutneys or beer. In those stretches we buy bread from one of two places: Forno Cultura on King Street (which deserves a post of its own), and Blackbird Baking Company in Kensington Market. The amount of work that goes into the bread at Blackbird reminds me of Tamar Adler’s line in An Everlasting Meal where she reminds us that “If you’re going to choose a food not to make at home, choosing bread represents a judicious division of labor.” I love their baguette and their seeded sourdough, and they make lovely hamburger buns, too.
And suddenly, it is spring. Even here. I bought peach blossoms at the farmer’s market this weekend, and the first of the season’s rhubarb. My heart is full.
We also had some gelato, and if you’re in the city you should get some, too. There’s a Turkish place on Queen Street West that opened a couple of months ago, and inside is another business, named Death in Venice Gelato. The flavours are complex, and in some instances quite daring – we tasted a very intriguing hay gelato, and although it wasn’t part of the roster when we visited, I’ve read that they also do a delightful baba ghanoush and tahini flavour. When we were there they had a yoghurt, beetroot and rosewater gelato, a saffron, vanilla and ginger gelato, something they call break-up gelato (peanut butter and croissant), and a smoked chocolate and Jack Daniels flavour. But we settled for a scoop of the subtle ricotta, lemon, rosemary and honey gelato, and the very flavour-forward Mexican chocolate mole gelato, topped with a crumble of pumpkin seeds and cornbread. Both of these are of the best gelato I’ve had in the city. Do it.
We went to Greektown. In this not-quite-warm spring we’ve been having it was a particularly lacklustre day, with a bitterly cold wind snapping around. So we decided to eat a lot of pastry. It was a very good decision.
We had spanakopita and galaktoboureko at Athens Bakery. The galaktoboureko, a first for us, consisting of thin layers of filo with a semolina custard in the middle, topped with a slight sprinkling of cinnamon. Reminiscent of gebakte melktert. At Athena Bakery we had tiropita, pastry filled with feta, egg and yoghurt, and a most beautiful little pistachio asawer baklava, rolled in the shape of a bracelet. We gave the loukomades a miss – they reminded us too much of koeksisters. The last stop was Akropolis, for kreatopita, a filo pastry filled with slightly spiced ground beef, perhaps a little bit of clove and a little bit of cinnamon? It tasted like the ground beef my grandmother makes, which is to say, the type of maalvleis we find on the South African platteland. I don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s comforting in its own way.
This is what we brought home. The kreatopita and baklava, and candles narrower than my pinky, from Athena Bakery, which sells both pastries and various Catholic accoutrement. Some lamb souvlaki for dinner, along with the most delicious tzatziki I’ve ever had, which I expect is largely due to its fat content.Also, marinated olives. For future meals – dried grains of wheat, for some salad involving koring. I have a faint memory of my mother making a salad of cooked, cooled koring mixed with some mayonnaise, raw onion and parsley, but I may also be confusing it with her rysslaai, which is the same dish but with rice instead of koring. Crimplene kos, yes, but delicious nonetheless. I suspect I’ll swop it into salads requiring bulgur or couscous or quinoa. And then some tahini, mostly for salad dressings, but also for the hummous tahina recipe from Zahav, which must be made.
I didn’t intend to stay away for this long, but sometimes that’s just how things end up working. I’m in Massachusetts for work, and have spent my days in the archive and my nights in an AirBnB room shared with one of those giants wooden giraffes we always see tourists walk around with on OR Tambo, and which my hostess did indeed bring back from South Africa. Seeing one of those curio giraffes in the wild is a slightly disarming sight.
Today is my mother’s birthday, and I am heartbroken. I don’t know what it says about me that I am almost 31 years old and miss my parents as much as I do, but I’ve been thinking about the day my paternal grandmother died, and how my mother picked me up from school, early, and took me home, and how my father came into my room, crying so bitterly he could not speak, and lay holding me on my bed for hours, just crying and crying, and how he was then the age I am now, and how then I thought, this must be the most awful thing that can happen to anyone, and how although I’ve added quite a litany to that list of awful things I still stick with my initial assessment.
This afternoon my mother baked lots of cake and the family had tea in the garden. They sent me a picture and I burst into tears when I opened it, walking the streets of Cambridge. I cry like my father.
The tea my mother prepared reminded me of a lovely conversation we had last week, about scones. I have discovered a most beautiful little shop in Toronto, named Kitten and the Bear. They sell only three things: freshly baked scones, small batches of jam, and just-brewed tea. They charge an exorbitant amount for all three these things, but it is a marvelous way to celebrate a special occasion. The scones are also the Platonic ideal of buttermilk scones, and although those who know me well know that I also inherited my father’s dramatic sense of hyperbole, I am not exaggerating when I say they are the best scones I have every had the joy of eating, and I have had my fair share of scones in 31 years. The conversation with my mother was centred around trying to figure out what it could be that made these scones as light and immensely flavourful as they are. Since eating them I have cycled through one after the other buttermilk scone recipe, hoping to recreate it, but none have brought the goods. My mother feels very fancy and expensive buttermilk and butter might do the trick, so that’s what I’ll try next. Our scones were served with three different types of jam – a strawberry, raspberry and cream jam, banana, bourbon and vanilla bean jam, and a spicy plum jam. We also had a citrus and whisky marmalade. I am warming to jam very late in life, and these were lovely. There was also – be still my beating heart – clotted cream.
Top tip: these scones are also sold to take-away, and they’re much cheaper that way. You can add your own cream and tea at home, and enjoy while sewing.
If anyone has an amazing buttermilk scone recipe to share, I’m currently auditioning candidates. I want to have this one down next time I’m home, to bake for my mother.
Tuesday, early evening errands. Returning a Madhur Jaffrey and Hanya Yanigihara’s The People in the Trees, which has made me want to obsessively speak about her books with anyone who’s read them, and Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise, the first poetry anthology I’ve worked through this year, and about which I’m still gathering my thoughts. Then a trip to the grocery store, for bread and salami and cheese and kale for this kale-coconut-quinoa salad, for this week’s lunches, and eggs and dark chocolate for a big batch of brownies I promised my students to celebrate the end of classes for the year, on Thursday. This point in the term seems like a whirlpool of grading and grant applications and preparations for research trips, the minutiae that makes up so much of academic life, and I’ve been treading water amidst the pounds of flesh exacted from all directions.
In weeks like these, when we’re both working long hours, we sometimes treat ourselves to a drink in town, as entertainment that does not require a screen, and if you sit at the bar, as we like to do, that does not require you coming up with interesting points of conversation, because you can just spend an hour looking at how the bar man goes about his job, and listening to what other people talk about. (I am sure there are people who get home in the evening and have wonderfully stimulating conversations with their partners. I am not one of those people. If I have spent the day reading critical theory, like I do most days, or reading the work of students, like I do some others, I am so tired by the time night comes that I am only capable of having very basic conversations.)
Anyway. There are many amazing places to drink in Toronto, but this is one of our favourites, where we go for a drink to celebrate a special occasion. Long before we ever thought of Toronto as a place to live, we started curing meat (me in Arcadia, where I made guests share a bedroom with a pancetta having been hung to dry, and J in Southampton, with a washing line above his bed from which he suspended duck breast prosciutto), and in our research we happened upon a man named Grant van Gameren. Van Gameren was at that point writing a blog about his curing experiments at a bar that had just opened, named The Black Hoof. Anyway. We cured meat, eventually moved to Toronto, and by the time we arrived The Black Hoof was Toronto restaurant royalty, and since we’ve been in the city Van Gameren has opened two new restaurants, Bar Isabel, and our favourite, Bar Raval. A Basque pinxtos bar, Bar Raval looks like something designed by Gaudí if Gaudí worked in wood and hadn’t been hit by a tram. The menu constantly changes, so I can’t recommend a particular drink, but you’ll be good with whatever. The last time we were there Johannes had a Ten Lost Years, which was a combination of Lot 40 whiskey, Lustau Oloroso, Amaro Sibilla and Benedictine. I had The Walk Off, a combination of Bulleit bourbon, apricot liqueur, Cynar, peppercorn cordial, lime, grapefruit and absinthe. How is that not the best thing you’ve heard all day?
They also have good coffee in the mornings and delicious food throughout the day, but that’s for a later post. For now, I leave you with this delightful photograph of one of my old Arcadia pancettas, during a time where I spent the days thinking about Haneke and the evenings curing meat.
There’s very little that’s not good at Sud Forno. If you’re there for lunch have a slice of pizza (if there’s one with ‘nduja, the spicy Italian sausage soft enough to spread, have that), if you need bread grab a loaf, or if you’re sad, have a drink. Once we were so sad about a fucked-up visa situation that we walked all the way there from our house, about 40 minutes by foot, because at that point it felt like the only thing that would make us feel better was to sit in their window and look onto Queen Street West and drink Campari and soda.
Anyway. The bomboloni. Get the one with Nutella. They come in two sizes, small and large, and you should get the large one. (I’m writing this post while listening to a PhD student and her supervisor discussing one of her chapters, and I feel so sorry for this poor woman I might just buy her a drink before I leave. Or maybe some bomboloni. Spiked with bourbon. And heroin.)
Sud Forno 716 Queen Street West