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Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's a nice day for a royal wedding

Fuck I love a good wedding. When it's for people you know, it's awesome. When it's for people you don't, happen to be royalty, are easy on the eyes and all fairy-tale, it's a million times more awesome. And an excuse to wear my feathery hat. Plus: no gift. WINNING.

Three cheers for a brunette princess. Don't get me wrong, Kate's still a ho for marrying my man, but I'll let it slide, considering Wills and I have never met. Not his fault he missed out on the chance to be Mr. Ginger. Anyway.

Us gals took in all the splendor at work, over tea and scones, made by yours truly:

Royal Wedding Currant Thumbprint Scones

EXACTLY THE SAME as my raisin scones, but with currants. Look the same too:

I don't have cable, so dragging my ass out of bed to get to work early was the only way to go. Kate looked pretty amazing, I must say. Wills was lovely. The crowd was lovely. Le sigh!

It took me a long time, however, to figure out what Princess Beatrice's hat reminded me of. It was something familiar I felt I had seen before, but couldn't place in a deja vu-ish kind of way. I finally got it late in the afternoon: It looks exactly like the drawer pulls on my late Grandma's dresser:


Let's check in on how Stella feels about the events of the day:

That seems about right. Kate's prob doing that right now. BOOM!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fax Jam!!!!!

Permission to freak out: People who are unreasonably attached to dead or dying technology annoy. WHY. WHAT THE FUCK FOR. Are you seriously afraid of new shit so much that you have to hang on to the old shit even though you know it sucks and there must be a better alternative?

Case in point: Fax machines. Even when they were new, they still pretty much sucked. They're fussy, they drop all over the floor, they aren't secure, you can't trace them, their quality is bad. I could go on. In the course of my job, I fill out a lot of forms that need to be returned. I need proof that they have been sent and received. Scanning a document to email is roughly 10,000 times more efficient in this regard than faxing. This is not an unreasonable or (I imagine) uncommon business request, surely to God other people need it too. Very occasionally, I will encounter a department or group of departments that has decided that they would rather strap themselves to the fax machine - technology's Titanic - and go down with the ship than embrace something better.

Today, I called such a department and asked them if I could email in my forms rather than fax. I was given (reluctantly) the personal email of an employee. I sent. I filed. All was well. Until I received this:

Hi Ginger,

It is very important that you return the forms to the fax number that is listed.  I cannot take these over email.



Are you fucking kidding me? Why? Seriously dude, WHY? I was really tempted to write back the following:

Hi ______,

I just faxed back your materials to you as requested. By the way, what do you think of President Clinton? Personally I would have voted for Ross Perot, at least he's a businessman who has experience in running large entities, but I like Clinton, I think he will put an end to the Gulf War!

What are you up to this weekend? I'm going to watch this new show called The Simpsons. It's pretty good actually, but it's not everyone's taste. If it's nice I'm going to go for a rollerblade around the park and listen to the new Color Me Badd on my Walkman. Or go to the movies, A Few Good Men is playing and I'm dying to see it.

Anyway, have a good one if I don't talk to you before then!


P.S. WAIT! It's not 1992, what am I talking about? I must have forgotten what year it is because of your ridiculous request to return items to you by fax. I love time traveling! Also because it reminds me of antiquated folks like you who refuse to embrace new technology. I bet you still have a BetaMax. Seriously dude.

P.P.S. I was 13 in 1992. I'm sure you were 35, but still.

P.P.P.S. Fuck you.

Okay, rant over. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

I was bitching loud and clear about this in the office, and we decided that the best thing you could use a fax machine for is to use the receiver to mash fruit to make jam. Which reminded me of my mother's jam, she used to make it out of whatever excess fruit we had growing in our yard in White Rock, usually rhubarb. Then I got to thinking about rhubarb and how much I used to love eating it right off the bush in our backyard. There is a sweet/sour crunchiness about it that is so textural and delicious. Then I got to thinking about making a rhubarb crisp, another fave of my moms. A bit of a stretch, yes? But now you understand my stream of consciousness a little better. Lucky you.

Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
4 cups sliced rhubarb (or rhubarb mixed with strawberries)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla

In a mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, oats, butter and cinnamon and mix together until crumbly. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of an 8 inch square pan. Top with the sliced rhubarb or rhubarb mixture.

In a saucepan combine granulated sugar, cornstarch, water and vanilla and boil until clear, stirring often with a whisk. Pour over rhubarb. Top rhubarb with remaining crumb mixture and bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.

This version is much sweeter than my mom used to make, I might even advise taking down the sugar a bit if you are going to incorporate strawberries (which I had to because the rhubarb at Kin's was short and had erectile dysfunction. It was the wimpiest rhubarb I've ever seen). I ate too much of this nervously in front of the TV watching Game 7, Canucks vs. Blackhawks. I thought I might pee my pants when Chicago scored with a minute and a half to go in the last period. WHAT. THE. FUCK. The streets fairly exploded in my neighbourhood when we won though. I took the rest of this crisp into work and renamed it "Chicago's Humble Pie". It was devoured by all.

How's the humble pie, Chicago? Is it fresh? Don't feel bad. Here, have this:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sodium and Gomorrah

C'mon it's Easter. Gotta give me one bible pun.

We don't really observe Easter in my family. It's more or less treated as a long weekend to do your own thing and relax, catch up on some sleep, etc. Since I've been sick, I've not been up to much this weekend, lots of Neo Citran naps (that stuff is the shit) with Stella, who I think is getting a little sick of my company. I'm starting to have a few house fits myself. What better way to turn that around than to spend the day cooking whatever you want?

Yesterday I was standing in the grocery store thinking about what to make and write about, what would be low fat, what would be interesting, what haven't I used before, etc. when I decided that was the wrong approach. Easter is about rebirth. Spring is about new beginnings. Hitting your own reset button should be one of the orders of the day. I think we can afford to put aside our personal rules and objections for one fucking day!

So for my Easter Sunday breakfast, I decided on strong Costa Rican coffee with honey and cream and fresh raisin scones. After putting on the coffee I got right to work. Scones are easy and take almost no time at all, by the time you're done you're pretty much just starting to wake up:

Raisin Scones

4 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 sultana raisins
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup of milk

Mix dry ingredients together and add chunked butter, mixing with fingers until it becomes crumbled. Beat the egg into the milk and pour into a well in the middle. Knead slightly and turn out onto a floured surface. Spread until about 3 cm thick and cut with a cookie cutter or glass and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Place in the oven and bake on 420 for 15 to 20 mins or until golden brown.

I have to brag a little: I made this recipe up and it worked really well. As they were baking, I sipped coffee and stared out the window in my pyjamas and apron thinking if I could get paid to cook all day I would be happier than a pig in shit. After breakfast, Tracy and I went to Art Knapp to look at the plants. I came home, had a Neo Citran nap, then commenced on dinner.

When I thought about my Easter dinner for one on the theme of hitting my own reset button I thought I would like to combine a mixture of some of my favorite foods with little or no interference from me. Also, it had to be things I haven't had in awhile and would love to have again. This is what I came up with:

That's brie, Anjou pear, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and three meaty Cerignola olives. There was enough sodium in this meal to kill a pig (just like I like it. What's with all the pig references in this post? Ham for Easter?). I devoured it in front of the hockey game (fucking Chicago. Never would have won without the penalty. Whatever. They have to live in Illinois). When I was done, I did the dishes, as domestic tasks lower my blood pressure and I needed all the help I could get after that sodium orgy.

Now tea, writing and bed with a book. Life is nice. As often as I get caught up in my little troubles and struggles it's nice to know that you can make the happiest life out of very little. I hope I never get to a place where I forget that!

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hot Crass Buns

(shout out to Nav, who came up with this clever title, and who berated me for not thinking of it myself)

No matter what you get up to this weekend: going to church; not going to church; lobbying to change the name of Easter eggs to Spring spheres; sticking a 'Sodom is for Lovers' bumpersticker on your car; cooking for your family; trying to smoke that tempting-looking Easter grass; or searching for a new Obusforme pillow, one thing we can all do without consequence is get our hands on a limited-time only hot cross bun.

Since I'm interested in the origins of things and know practically nothing at the best of times, I googled the buns and this is what I found:

"Hot cross bun, a round bun made from a rich yeast dough containing flour, milk, sugar, butter, eggs, currants, and spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. In England, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday; they are marked on top with a cross, wither cut in the dough or composed of strips of pastry. The mark is of ancient origin, connected with religious offerings of bread, which replaced earlier, less civilized offerings of blood. The Egyptians offered small round cakes, marked with a representation of the horns of an ox, to the goddess of the moon. The Greeks and Romans had similar practices and the Saxons ate buns marked with a cross in honor of the goddess of light, Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter. According to superstition, hot cross buns and loaves baked on Good Friday never went mouldy, and were sometimes kept as charms from one year to the next. Like Chelsea buns, hot cross buns were sold in great quantities by the Chelsea Bun House; in the 18th century large numbers of people flocked to Chelsea during the Easter period expressly to visit this establishment."
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 114)

So there you have it. Who cares you say? I know, this got boring pretty fast.

I love these things. My mother used to buy them for me at Easter and toast them with butter. There is something so satisfying about their browned tops, soft cottony insides and candied fruit. As far as I remember no one made them in our family, so I thought I would start, no time like the present:

Hot Cross Buns
3/4 cup milk
2 tsps dry active yeast
1/2 tsp white sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
1/2 cup candied fruit and peel mix
1/4 currants or raisins

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

1/2 icing sugar
1 tbsp milk or cream

In a saucepan or microwave, heat the milk until lukewarm. Add the yeast and sugar, mix together, and leave to stand until yeast foams (about 10 minutes). In a large bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, spices and salt. Once the yeast has foamed, add to the flour mixture and beat to combine with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, then the butter. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, then place in a lightly oiled bowl (turning once so both sides are oiled), cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel and leave to rise, about 1 1/2 hours.

Once dough has risen, flip dough out of bowl onto a floured surface and punch down:

(that's my mighty fist print on the right side)

Rip small pieces and roll in hands to make a ball, place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Once all 12 have been rolled and placed on sheet, coat with egg wash, cover all with a dish towel, and leave to rise for about 1/2 hour. They should approximately double in size. Remove dish towel and cover with egg wash once again. Cut a cross in the top of each bun with a knife. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are brown. Remove from oven and cool. Once cooled, add icing into the cross markings.

I haven't really worked with yeast much, but through making this recipe (twice) I've discovered that yeast is a complete pussy. You have to baby it to get it to rise, it insists on having the perfect temperature or it has a temper tantrum. This didn't happen the first time I made these, but it happened on the second, it was colder that day and the breeze from the window was enough to chill it. If this happens to you, pop a microwave safe glass full of water in your microwave for 2 minutes, remove, and put the covered dough in the heated microwave box for 1/2 hour. This should encourage it to rise.

But so worth it. These make your house smell literally like nothing else. It's the best smell, period. It smells like holidays and happiness and the conspicuous absence of family issues. I took some to work, saved some for friends, gave some to Cameron to take on vacation, and shoved the rest in the ol' pie hole.

So far this Easter has been great; sunny, warm and everyone around in a generally good mood. I'm not going home this year, I'm staying here and relaxing, and making a little Easter Sunday meal for myself. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Growing Schrooms

I've never really thought about it before, but I suppose that I do cook fairly sustainably. I don't own a car, so everything I cook has to be something that I can carry home. I buy organic when I can, recycle all containers, and dry and preserve. I love the idea of growing my own food though. For that you need an outdoor space and soil and knowhow. My mom does it, she has a garden and fruit trees and mostly grows her own seasonal produce. She has a sage bush that's at least 20 years old with a trunk as thick as my wrists. This is on the Sunshine Coast, where I'm from.

So I was fairly delighted when I found a little apartment-dweller sized mushroom at my local Capers, designed for folks whose outdoor space consists of a windowsill. The base is used coffee grounds, and all you have to do is soak the bag in water for 24 hours, then place in it's cardboard packaging, cut an 'x' in the plastic, mist twice a day, and you get pearl oyster mushrooms:

Mine haven't grown yet, but I just started this garden. Should take a couple of weeks. I can see some stuff germinating in there. Once the mushrooms have grown (you can get 3lbs out of this box, just turn it around to the other side when you're done) you can use the soil for potted plants. BRILLIANT! Brought to you by the good people at Back to the Roots.

In the meantime I thought I would make a dish with these sustainable beauties and cook a birthday dinner for my main squeeze at the same time. Who can multitask? This gal.

Spinach, Feta and Mushroom Orzo
Serves 2

2 cups orzo
2 cups Fresh spinach
1 cup oyster mushrooms (about 6-8 good sized ones)
1/2 container of crumbled Greek feta
Olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic

Cook and drain the orzo. Saute garlic and onion in a pan with the olive oil, adding mushrooms, then spinach. Cook until the spinach is slightly wilted. Turn off heat and add feta. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

I love this combo together. It's so very popular for a reason. I would have liked to do something a little more elaborate but I got sick again, so I've been alternately blowing my nose and cooking (which is attractive to no one). Cameron gave me this nice compliment talking about how nice it was for me to cook for him on his birthday even though I was sick and the whole time I was stuffing kleenex up my nose as a form of active listening. Poor guy.

Enjoy and Happy Earth Day! More on the mushroom garden as it flourishes. Seriously where was this when I was in University? For, you know, the other kind.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chinatown, my Chinatown

Like most white people who were raised on sandwiches, sometimes I find the food of Chinatown daunting:

Ya know?

Lana and I went for a walk on Sunday to Chinatown, to check out a new furniture store, get some bowls, and enjoy the sun. I also wanted to get some Chinese five spice powder, and figured where better but one of the many markets:

I love places like this because it's what you imagine all grocery stores must have looked like 100 years ago: large glass canisters filled with bulk foods measured for each customer. I find the dried fish on the sidewalk a little iffy, but I'm sure it's good if only I knew how to cook it correctly. I asked for five spice powder and got some bulk - obv - a large bag cost me $1.32

FYI, you can get dried sea horses for $45/lb:

Practically everything worth doing was done by the Chinese first, so I needed to know immediately what the hell they do with their little dessicated bodies. I googled it (what did we do before google? I seem to remember we just wondered aloud a lot - "hmmm, I wonder what they use that for?" *subject dropped*). Apparently they are used as an ancient medicine for kidney ailments and impotence, as well as in soups. Who knew.

Anyhoo, five spice powder. I read about it in Real Simple magazine and wanted to try it. The five spices it includes are Szechuan peppercorns, star anise, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground fennel seeds. From the package it has a musky smell. I took mine home and decided to invent a little recipe with beef:

Chinese Five Spice Beef and Bok Choy
1 large steak, cut into strips
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp five spice powder
1 green pepper
1 head baby bok choy
1/2 yellow onion
2 green onions
1 clove garlic

Combine cooking wine, soy sauces, five spice powder and beef and leave to marinate in the fridge with the sliced yellow onion for 1/2 hour.

Mince clove of garlic into a stirfry pan and mix with vegetable oil. Chop green pepper and bok choy into chunks, the green onions into scallions. Over medium high heat, add the beef and cook until browning begins. Add peppers, boy choy and green onion and cook until meat is cooked through. Serve hot over rice

Five spice powder has a great, sweetish taste that compliments beef very well. It was a good guess on my part to mix it with soy, it's a nice offset. I devoured this, which by now you are pretty used to, if you've been reading this blog for any reasonable length of time.

Chinatown has a special place in my heart because I lived there while I was going to University. By sheer dumb luck, I just happened to answer an ad in the Province that had just gone in that morning for an apartment in a brand new subsidized building. The original plan was that elderly Chinese residents could live there, but it was open to everyone if you had a chance to pounce. I moved in a month later and over the next five years, would have a succession of roomates and one boyfriend live there with me. At first, I was regarded by the elderly residents as somewhat of an oddity and possibly a threat (which was completely fair: the back portion of the building was on Shanghai Alley, which if you know anything about Vancouver history, was the street on which the Chinese built a gate to keep angry white people out during the Anti-Chinese riots at the turn of the century. Many people I lived with were the sons and daughters of those people, and didn't trust whites. I wouldn't, either).

It was a different dynamic because me and whoever I lived with at the time were the only people that weren't elderly Chinese in the whole building. One thing I love about Chinese people is that they will talk shit about you right to your face. Ukrainians do it too. It's as though if I can't understand their language, I surely won't be able to understand the brazen staring at me and pointing a bony finger at my tits while we're in the elevator together. I got talked shit about a lot in the early days. And it became my normal. That is, until, the fire.

The landlord did not live on site. Late one evening, an elderly man fell asleep and left his stove on. His suite caught on fire, and whatever he was cooking caused an amazing amount of smoke and drama. I helped some of the folks down the stairs (as you do) and showed the firefighters where to go. What I did was not at all unusual, especially if you are the only 20-something in a building full of octogenarians. But to those old folks, my willingness to help them elevated me from useless white kid to helpful neighbour, ever after to be trusted and relied upon.

I knew shit was different when the next day there was a knock at my door. Five old ladies, and enough food to feed an army. Glistening Peking duck, mango salsa, the works. Seriously delicious. They had decided that they loved me, and I could do no wrong after that. Because I was going to theatre school at the time, they nicknamed me "movie star" and would run across the street to say hi to me if I was walking by. When I moved out, my landlady cried. Language barriers be damned, we had a little community and I was sorry to leave, but it was time to move on.

Today I live in between gay dudes and sports bars, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My live-in is furry and bitchy with sharp claws. I no longer live in the poorest postal code in the country; I live in an expensive one (this is not me trying to brag, I still live in a tenement, just in a nicer hood). I miss my old neighbours sometimes, with their fish fries and bingo in the basement. And I think about them from time to time, and hope they are well.

I wonder if the ladies would like this dish? Not sure, I doubt it was as good as if they had made it. But not bad for a white devil :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I don't know how to pronounce this

... but I made it anyway!

This month's issue of Bon Appetit features some great Greek recipes for Easter. I'm pretty familiar with Greek food, it being a favorite of my dad's and something he and I eat whenever there is something to celebrate. But these I have never ordered, or even seen on a menu:

Zucchini Keftedes with Feta and Dill
2 medium zucchinis
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 thinly sliced green onions
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 cup panko
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta

Grate zucchini on the large holes of a grater over paper towel. Sprinkle zucchini with the sea salt and let sit for 30 mins to let the excess water run off. After 30 mins, squeeze out as much water as possible and put in a bowl. Add to the bowl the green onions, dill, mint, garlic, lemon peel and a bit of black pepper. Gently stir in panko and egg, then feta. Make patties the size of about 2 tbsps of the mixture each, place the formed patties on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Chill at least 1 hour.

Pour enough Canola or vegetable oil into a pan so the patties can fry in about 1/4 inch of oil. Heat to medium high. Working in batches of about 4, add patties and cook until golden brown, flipping once. Once done, transfer to paper towels. Top each with Greek yoghurt or Tzaziki. Serve while hot.

I know now why these aren't on any menu I've seen: They take too fucking long. Seriously, with the added rest times for these things I was at it for about 3 hours. 5 points of note if you are going to cook these:

1. I think it's probably best to get your hands on some cheesecloth from the dollar store to put the zucchini in after its initial drain time and squeeze out the excess that way. With paper towel it wasn't sufficient.

2. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume the salt in the recipe was IN ADDITION to the salt used on the zucchini to make it drain off excess water. I did, because sometimes I can be pretty thick. Not realizing that of course the water drained off, not the salt with it, I added more, and as a result my keftedes were a little too salty.

3. It's essential to get Greek feta. I'm not a food snob, I will consume most anything, but Canadians just make shitty feta, period. Ditto with American or any region other than Greece. Leave it to the cradle of civilization on this one, okay?

4. Don't think the oil isn't that hot because you don't see bubbles and stick your finger in it. This probably goes without saying. Not so for me, the aforementioned thick one.

5. Don't give a piece of feta to your cat. Cats love salty things and they especially love them when they're mixed with dairy products. The result is the revelation on the part of said cat that she's never had anything this delicious before, and will therefore begin demanding it 24 hours a day. When she realizes that this particular gravy train has left the station, she will sulk, causing a rift in your household, such as I am experiencing now. She's glaring at me as I write this.

These were very good, I found them best hot but you can serve them at any temperature. I think they are a special occasion thing though, because who has 3 hours to make 12 patties? Seriously, who?

Bottom line: they would make an excellent appetizer to a good Greek meal on a special occasion. But you don't have to take my advice. I stuck my finger in hot oil. So: dubious.

Also? I took the fresh herbs I bought and pretended I lived in Provence by stringing them up in my kitchen:

Next steps are shopping exclusively at Anthropologie and changing my name to Amelie.

Easy to do, this thing with herbs, and a great way to save money. Those shits are expensive.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

this woman is fucking amazing

I mean really:

So Lana, Stef and I went for Sunday brunch last week at Glowbal in Yaletown yesterday, which: pretty routine. Except this time, they had a featured crepe chef named Nathalie with her own little menu:

I ordered her savory crepe of the day (pictured above) which included egg, porcini mushrooms, pancetta and fresh greens. Nathalie is lovely and charming to talk to, and thanked me personally for ordering her special. She's trained in Brittany by her grandmother to make crepes in the traditional way. And let me tell you that it was ridiculous. It was one of the top 5 best things I've ever eaten, if I had to choose. And you know how much I love food. Go get one. Go. Do it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately. I mean the romantic kind. And because I relate everything to food, I've realized a good deal about relationships can be remembered through the meals you eat together. I'm not really a grudge-holder; I'm friends with many of my exes. But as memories are tied up with and triggered by our senses, I associate specific meals and foods with some of the dudes of my past. It's a nice thing I think, to live surpressing memories is like denying events happened, and I'd rather not do that.

Most first dates involve eating at a restaurant; where we do our best to try to impress each other with the wisdom, daring or demureness of our menu selections. I've always wondered why we do this. Talking while eating is not exactly a flattering light to be first seen in. I guess it's common ground; we have to eat anyway so it's not overly presumptuous. But it does strike me as odd. I love watching it from afar. People say amazing things when they're nervous. I remember hearing one first date go totally south when the guy asked the girl what she thought of his first-date outfit, to which she answered "honestly, terrible. It's hard to not just walk away from you". Wow. What do you order to recover from that?

Common thirdish, fourthish dates are making food together. This is once you reach the point where you are willing to gamble the person isn't a murderer and it's safe to have them in your home. You can find out a lot about someone if you cook with them: how controlling they are; how willing to try something new; how rigid in areas of compromise. And it's an even yoke - you're on display as much as they are. Grocery store cashiers are said to know the most about human nature through ringing up food; I'd argue it's even more telling to see what they do (and what they don't do) with the food once it's home.

I've dated guys who loved to cook for the pure enjoyment of it, and guys who cooked because they couldn't stand to have meals any other way but theirs. I've dated guys with strange relationships to food, some health-crazed, some defiant to recommended diets, some ravenous nearly all the time.

I remember feeling uncomfortable around food someone else had cooked exactly once: A past boyfriend insisted that all pork was overcooked because of paranoia, and that it was much better to slightly undercook. I thought he couldn't possibly be serious. He insisted that I try it. I really didn't want to, but I really liked him, and his (lengthy) argument regarding the safety of pork seemed to be logical. So, I agreed.

It was delicious, effortlessly easy to devour in great chunks. Which I did while screaming in my head "TRICHINOSIS. TRICHINOSIS. YOU WILL GET A WORM IN YOUR BRAIN AND DIE IN AGONY WITHIN A WEEK AND ON YOUR TOMBSTONE THEY'LL WRITE: "SHE WAS TRYING TO IMPRESS A DUDE". Needless to say I survived.

One little piece of wisdom I have earned the right to impart is that nearly all men get hangry. Hangry, for the uninitiated, is angry because you're hungry. I know women get hangry too, but there seems to be something particularly silent and deadly about male hangriness. Whereas women become snappy and irritable, men become eerily still, silent, and literally vibrating with rage. And don't lecture me about generalities. It's just an observation. Take it for what you will. But I can tell you this: I will never bring up something uncomfortable or have a relationship conversation with a man who has an empty stomach. It ain't worth it. You're welcome.

Favorite shared snacks, restaurants, picnics comprise some of the best relationship memories I have. It's nice to be reminded of someone you love or loved. It doesn't need to be sad. We're often in each other's lives for a season. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Artichoke Pie

Nope, I did not have a clever title for this one. Not even a little bit.

My Auntie Lynn makes this and she sent me the recipe after I devoured most of it one Thanksgiving. It's a Martha (groan), but let's get real: bitch has some seriously good recipes. And she was in prison, so she's badass:

Artichoke Pie
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped curly leaf parsley
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tbsp mixed dried herbs; thyme, oregano and savory, or Italian seasoning blend
1 tsp coarse or sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2 cans artichoke hearts
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 fresh lemon juice (juice of two small or one large lemon)
1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat the oven to 325. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, cheeses, herbs and salt and a medium bowl, season with pepper and set aside. Bruch oil inside one large pie pan or two small.

Drain artichoke hearts. Take each heart and cut it into three, then line the bottom of your pie pan with it. Fit them together as closely as you can with no gaps, like you're playing artichoke heart tetris, if you will:

Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over the artichokes and tap the bottom of your pan on the counter, to make sure the breadcrumbs get into each crack (he he, crack). Whisk oil, lemon juice, zest and garlic in a small bowl and drizzle evening over breadcrumb topping. This is not as easy as it sounds. I use a ladle, because it makes it a little easier and less likely you will spill large amounts of the oil in one spot. If a few spots are still dry when you are done, fill in the gaps with plain, drizzled olive oil.

Cover the dish(es) with a cut circle of parchment paper, then with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Increase temp to 375, uncover and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve piping hot.

This dish is great to make for holidays like my Aunt does because it transports easily, makes a nice addition to a plate of salad, is a vegetarian option, and is great with gravy on top too (if you happen to be like me and drown everything on your plate in it when it's available. Gravy is the king of the condiments. They should sell it in a squeeze bottle. I might make it a little crown for next Thanksgiving. One that fits over the gravy boat).

PS - I will do my best (other than talking about my friends and my cat and my sex life, obv.) to leave my personal crap off this blog as I'm sure it's interesting to almost no one except my mother, and maybe not even her. But when something epic occurs/is about to occur, I must dish, such as now: Carri and I are going on a business trip to Vegas together. That needs to be louder: CARRI AND I ARE GOING ON A BUSINESS TRIP TO VEGAS TOGETHER.

Poor Carri has her work cut out for her, because I have a lifelong phobia of flying that I've been trying to battle for a few months now, ever since I realized I'm 32 and afraid to fly and that living in fear, even of one thing, is no way to live one's life. So, to Vegas. I've taken the course, I've had the therapy sessions, here we go. I'll be heavily sedated and in good company, for I must say (and not just because she might read this) that Carri is one of my very favorite people, and letting her see me bug-eyed with fear seems about the right path our friendship should go down (especially since I made a label that said "yambag" and put it on the back of her chair, where it remained unnoticed for a few hours on Friday afternoon. Unnoticed, that is, by her). In addition to being fun, Carri is kind and judgment-free, so I feel comfortable crushing her fingers in my sweaty palm while we get our cross-border jet-set on. Not sure how she feels about it, however. But forewarned is forearmed. (I think we're pretty equal in the quirky department though: once she called me a "fucking asshole" because I said I was going to make beans for dinner, and we have both taken secret videos of each other at our desks to prove to the other that she has bad posture).

This is going to be just fucking awesome!

And we are going to eat at a nice restaurant, not sure which one yet. And I will write about it. Oh yes. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sardines vs Anchovies: Ginger's Ho Bag Pasta

Remember that Italian cookbook I found in the basement? Well, I cooked something out of it on Sunday, cherry tomato and anchovy spaghetti:

Tomato and Anchovy Spaghetti

cherry tomatoes (about .75 oz)
1 can anchovies or sardines
1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove
1 dried chili
2 tbsp fresh basil
extra virgin olive oil to taste

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds and juice. Squeeze the lemon. Peel and finely chop the garlic, crumble the chili, and drain the sardines. Heat about 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic and chili and fry for a minute. Add the sardines and a bit of water. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice and season. Raise the heat, cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat and add the basil. Mix in the cooked pasta. Serve immediately.

When I decide to cook something like a pasta or a meat dish, I usually buy my ingredients at Urban Fare in Yaletown, because they are always fresh, high quality, and available. Except this time, they didn’t have any anchovies, only anchovy paste (which is excellent for real Caesar salads, we’ll make that later).

So there I am standing in the canned fish aisle scratching my wooden head wondering what the difference is between sardines (of which they had about 20 kinds from all over the damn place) and anchovies. And wondering if I was the only one who wondered about this. Just in case I'm not, here's the best description I found:

"Sardine an imprecise term for any number of small, silvery saltwater fish related to the herring and found throughout the world. They tend to travel in large schools close to the water's surface and are harvested fresh in the summer.

In the U.S., sardines are mostly found canned in oil or sauce, salted or smoked. In Europe, larger sardines are also eaten fresh, roasted in the oven or cooked on the grill either whole or in fillets. The name "sardine" may be a reference to the Sardinian coast, where pilchards were one of the first fish to be packed in oil. The sardine is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is generally considered to be a brain food.

Anchovy refers to a family of small fish found in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Anchovies are sold flat or rolled, filleted and either salt-cured or oil-packed. In Europe, however, marinated fresh anchovies are eaten frequently, available in restaurants and Spanish, Greek and Italian groceries.

Known mostly for their strong flavor (and aroma), anchovies can be soaked in water to remove excess brininess. Anchovies are used in everything from Caesar salad dressing, Worcestershire sauce and English "gentleman's relish".

(I don't know what "gentleman's relish" is, but it sounds like something naughty I'd like to try in the bedroom)

So, there you have it. Excepting that I couldn't really taste the difference right there and then, I bought sardines and hoped for the best. This recipe IS successful with sardines, if you enjoy salty, fishy fish, which I'm assuming you do if this recipe at all appeals to you.

I was going to leave this as is, but I couldn't help but feel this recipe must have been intended to taste different. So I decided to try it again, but before I did, I thought I would google it to see if there was other versions out there. Because I love Jamie Oliver and his stupid, floppy hair I thought I would try his version of a similar, traditional Italian dish called "pasta puttanesca". Of course, I added my own changes too:

Pasta Puttanesca
3 stalks fresh basil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
2 tuna steaks (optional - I left them out of my version because tuna is expensive and hard to get fresh this time of year. You can use canned, but it just didn't appeal to me)
spaghetti or penne
10 fillets (or two cans, if you forgo the tuna like me)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsps drained capers
handful of pitted and roughly chopped black olives
1-3 dried chiles, to taste
2 handfuls of ripe tomatoes (cherry or regular)
handful of fresh flat-leafed Italian parsley

Marinate the anchovies in the fresh, torn basil and the lemon juice and zest. Set aside. If you are using tuna also use this marinade on the tuna instead of the anchovies, simply drain the anchovies and set aside. Heat olive oil (3-4 good glugs) on medium heat. Add anchovies and allow them to fry and melt. Add the garlic, capers, olives, chili and stir. If you are using tuna, add to the pan now and begin to sear. Add tomatoes (seeded and de-juiced). Bring to a boil, then reduce. Drain the pasta but save a little of the water, adding to the sauce. Add the pasta to the sauce and take off heat. Add the parsley and serve.

First things first, this dish in Italian is "whore's pasta". Amazing. Since I changed it up a bit I will rename it "Ginger's ho bag pasta". Second, seeding the tomatoes makes a huge difference. Third, this pasta is the shit. Anchovies are denser, saltier, more textured, much less watery. I personally prefer them immensely. Fourth, I have no idea why it's called 'whore's pasta'. Fifth, Stella wanted nothing to do with the anchovies I put in a little dish in front of her, she only wanted to eat the ones that were on my plate. Sixth, Jamie Oliver annoys because although I've included measurements here, he doesn't. Seriously it's all a handful of this, a handful of that. Fuck off Jamie, not all of us live on a back 40 of farmland.

Eat this. Eat it. Preferably with someone who smells nice and who afterwards won't mind your fish breath.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Le Fleur

I've never been a big fan of cauliflower. I love broccoli, but when it comes to its pasty-ass albino cousin, I'm just not interested. It kinda always tasted like ear wax to me (not saying I've eaten ear wax, but you understand). Recently I've been warming up to it. Robin took me to Nuba here in Vancouver, and she let me have a bite of her deep-fried cauliflower (which looked fairly warty with its florets crusted in browned batter). When I went to say no thanks, she insisted, saying it was delicious, but that after I tried it I was not allowed any more. She was right on both counts: it was delicious and I did want more. So when perusing Vij's cookbook for the 900th time, I thought I would try his cauliflower 'steaks' in tomato masala:

Spicy Cauliflower "Steaks"
1 head cauliflower, outside stalks cut off
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 1/2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
10 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Cut the cauliflower as you would a pie, into wedge-like pieces. Wash and drain in a colander. Combine oil and tomatoes in a large wide pot on medium-high heat. Add ginger, salt, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne, cloves and cinnamon, stir well and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to low while you mix in cauliflower. Carefully place each piece in and gently stir so that the tomato masala covers all the pieces. If necessary, spoon masala over the florets to get the sauce in every nook and cranny. Increase the heat to medium, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes. Cauliflower should be fork tender when done.

How pretty is this? Looks like a bad infomercial shot for all-natural body care products. This should be near a waterfall and a Polynesian woman washing her hair. I felt compelled to stop cooking and smear this all over my face.

One of the great things about this recipe is it reheats well and keeps for days. It's quite spicy if you add the cayenne, but it also adds a great flavour, so I recommend adding it even if you are spice-shy, but adding half or even a quarter of the amount called for. Serving the steaks over rice also works well to cut some of the heat.

Perfect rainy day meal. I feel like I say that a lot, but I suppose it's because a lot of my meals are planned around wet weather as it rains at least 9 months of the year here in Vancouver. Sometimes it can really get me down (like now) but it literally takes a Vancouverite 12 hours of sun to forget the rest of the year when it sucks. It's a very pretty city (you watched the 2010 games right?). So you know.

PS HAVE NOT STOPPED GETTING DOWN with the Indian blanket since I first took it out of it's plastic case and smelled its intoxicating polyester stank. I ripped my duvet off my bed and tossed it aside like a bag of used kitty litter in order to spread it's calla lily loveliness across my queen size bed. And yes, it's too big even for that size of mattress. This thing is ridiculous!

But it's beginning to pay me back for my devotion to it. A couple of nights ago I'm sleeping away and I have a nightmare (too much curry?). I wake myself up trying to scream but no sound will come out, my raspiness is what woke me (if this doesn't sound that scary to you, try it sometime. It fucked me up good). In my now-awake-and-freaked-right-the-fuck-out state, THE ONLY thing that brought me any comfort was not Stella or the realization I was safe in my own home, but the softness of that fucking Indian blanket. So I made myself into a human burrito with it and slept like a baby the rest of the night. Free therapy? At least. Creepy connection to an inanimate object? Possibly. 100% potent magic? ABSOLUTELY.

(recipe courtesy of Vij's "relax, honey" cookbook)