Sunday, January 22, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 3

So, my fear has come to pass. This is the first week in the new year where I didn't feel particularly interested in food. It happens to everyone, not just the people who aren't interested in food. It is not that I didn't continue on and try new things or cook something but rather that I am not thrilled by anything in particular.

I feel good about this. Food is not an obsessive preoccupation that overtakes my ability to take joy elsewhere. Sometimes we lose sight of that in this more food focused world where we have at least one channel and umpteen magazines and whole sections of papers and, and, and... In North America, you can go into a grocery store and see hundreds of options for breakfast cereal but only a few types of apples. It goes to show that there is an imbalance in eating unprocessed food compared to packaged and processed. That means that sometimes preparing food is a chore.

I bought meat as a main ingredient this week as I had my kids most of the time. For them, if it isn't pizza or ramen, then meat and pasta have to be the focus. It isn't really true but it is the quickest way to supper on a school night. I did feel remorse at buying packages of pork chops and ground beef at the grocery store. I wished that I had gone to the local butcher but money is still sometimes an objection to me. This is an ongoing dialogue in my life and I will work through it on a case be case basis. So, this week, even shopping became a chore.

But being with the kids this week made me realize that sometimes chores are necessary. One of my kids has that lesson down while the other struggles in the ego state of teenhood. Examples teach. So, I cook, I shop and I wash the dishes. I ask for help and accept it when I get it.

...And I write my blog as a new commitment to doing chores as well.

Anyway, here is last week's list.

- chia pudding, take 2 as I tried using those coffee additive things. Turns out they are sweet, really sweet.
- Manwich stuffed pasta
- stock to be used with a pork chop supper with couscous (made potatoes instead)

- chocolate mints from Christmas (Reindeer Poop) and milk chocolate Pop Rocks
- at a really good taco place that I really should review, Tacos del Carmen. They make their own salsa from imported peppers.

- a take on a lime rickey using a really cool method for getting more from your citrus fruits. I used this trick in the summer and now starting to use it again for now.
- added the simple lime syrup from above into some wheat beer with good results

- making a cyser (half cider/half mead with adding some hops for dry hopped flavour)
- about stuffed peppers a lot lately

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sometimes too much is... too much

I've been trying to think of a way to add more vegetables into the diets of a teen and a preteen. This used to be easy as both my kids loved veggies. I think they still do but with age comes wisdom and my eldest has become less enamoured while my youngest still does. So, I keep on keeping on with trying to find a balance between clean plates and healthy food.

This recipe isn't a good compromise but it was an attempt at stretching the ideas of what can happen within certain idioms. A plate cleaner is Manwich. So, I made Manwich one day but added sweet potato and carrots. They were visible but cut up and added tomato sauce because tomato is a vegetable (or is that a fruit). Yes, the sodium counter is through the roof. The first night we served it on a bun but I had an aha moment of serving it in pasta shells and adding a little more tomato sauce. 

So, I proceeded to do that. It is still high in sodium and there is less carbohydrates but it is still meet intensive and the plates got clean. I found it too much. As in there were too many flavours too much. My kids seemed to enjoy them. 

I think the next step is to remove the Manwich and replace the filling with a better meat to veggie ratio and use non canned sauce. Make it a bit simpler. Make it a bit healthier. I have taken away the skepticism of the stuffed pasta meal that I have been trying to make and replaced it with a "That's okay from the eldest." and a "Thanks a lot, daddy" from the youngest. This means that I can sell the other idea.

Sometimes, you have to go to the too much in order to get buy in for a simpler and more delicious and nutritious meal. And now my eldest was curious enough to wonder how you make it. Maybe it will spark his interest enough to get him to try making it himself. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

One Smart Trick ... :Martini

Gin Martini using a Red Vermouth

I love me some booze forward cocktails and one of my favourites is a gin martini. I almost feel like regurgitating all those cool factoids and stories that are easily found with the google-fu. Ideas of bruising, mixing, and dryness are all over the internet tubes. Examples include: Churchill opened the vermouth bottle, bowed to France and drank the gin. Julie Child put a lot of vermouth with a touch of gin. And the Vesper... that's James Bond's martini.

It amounts to the idea that either straight gin or vodka is a cocktail or some variation on the proper ratio of vermouth to the white liquor. I don't think that I can add much to that conversation. I love me some booze and there are many variations that make me happy, satisfied or tipsy. Sometimes even all three at once.

I haven't gotten to the problem with my home mixing yet that was solved by a conversation with Ryan, a bartender at The Clocktower and occasional barista at Boxcar Social, but I will.

Firstly, my own idiosyncratic ideal of a decent martini, are really two different approaches. Either a generous amount of vermouth with a little bit of gin or a more modern 6:1 ratio or less. At home, I accomplish this with ice. Ice everywhere; glass, shaker, and bottle. I end up shaking it slow because I want to get it cold but not dilute it too much. If I stir it, invariably, it comes off as three separate boozes with a sometimes harsh edge or some watery, vaguely piney and juniper thing. The only way I have made it work is to shake to integrate it. Sometimes there is a slight harshness but it is imminently drinkable. People like my martinis.

So I lamented this flaw of getting the edge on my home martini and Ryan suggested a simple trick. The first issue was identifying the problem. The problem was that the dilution was either too much or too little when I tried to stir it and shaking kind of muddies the flavours of some gins. Supposedly, the perfect amount of stirs is forty or about 30 seconds. The point is to get the right temperature and the required amount of water into the drink.

Ryan suggested mixing the vermouth and bitters in for about five or ten stirs first, pour it off into the glass and then put the spirit in and stir it for the remainder of time/stirs. So far, this approach has worked incredibly well. I have tried it with both variations of martini listed above and proceeded to try it with another cocktail or two that was vermouth based. Speaking of vermouth, it is important and I am thinking about messing around with making my own but that is another topic. I'll leave you with that thought and two cocktail ideas.

Using the technique above, I tried two off the cuff ideas.

2 oz Crown Royal Harvest Rye
1 oz Lionello Vermouth
2 dashes Dillon's Ginger Bitters
Grated lime peel

Tasted Christmas-y.

The second was more vermouth heavy. I had a little bit of sour cherry juice from another experiment so I wanted to do something with that. Yeah, I know you should shake anything with citrus juice but this was just a little bit to make the cherry taste come to life. I could have added the smallest amount of citric acid to accomplish the same thing.

1 Tbsp sour cherry juice
2 oz Vermouth
1 oz Wiser's Dry Hopped
Squirt of lemon juice
2 dashes Dillons DSB

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 2

This week was the kind of week where intentions outstripped ability. I wanted to post about a trick for a better martini and maybe I will get to that today. I started taking my lunch to work and it worked a little bit but many days I supplemented.

I did track my expenses for the week. Coffee budget is down, restaurant budget up. As I try to get back into contact with my friends after a quiet December, I realize that maybe I need to find a better way than heading out to a restaurant. There is a germ of a post there but this is where I stop.

I am already having second thoughts about this weekly thing but I will keep them to myself for one more week as I sort through them. Anyway, here is the weekly breakdown.

- Ham w. Lentils  from leftovers
- a relish using the celery and apple that were getting old together in the fridge.
- a pantry challenge using rice, lentils, frozen spinach, frozen pureed squash. Made an Indian spiced rice and lentil meal that will last for a few weeks.
- made cherry pie filling with sour cherries.
- chia pudding (chia seeds in chocolate milk for 40 minutes)
- Udon noodle soup with chicken using the last of the turkey stock

- had these mango bites from Bangladesh that a woman from work gave me. She just returned from a trip and they were really good.

- a few martinis using Ryan the bartender's method. It works!

- about a stirring technique that Ryan the bartender talked me through for martinis.
- about making just the filling without the cherries for my sister.
- cardamom, coffee and dates (in a square, in a loaf?)
- the lack of queer beer events

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 1

I looked over my Resolutions Post from last year, and I will be doing a follow up and realized that one of the bigger resolutions was to write/publish a post at least once a week on average. When I was posting more often, I had more people visiting. Seems reasonable.

But what is more telling, there were more ideas that I followed through on and my thinking about food and drinks was sharper. I am still doing food stuff cause it is part of who I am but it is more lackadaisical and haphazard. This is not a bad thing.

One of the other resolutions last year was to learn the business of writing and opening more avenues for me to post - blogs and microstuff things like instagram, etc. I did start to do some of that and looking back, it seems that I have a clearer idea of what purpose this blog serves for me. It is the central place where I can hang all my thoughts about food and kind of keep it all in one place as I do a microreview for zomato, tweet an off tweet that gets me thinking, or post an article on another medium or blog.

One of my favourite food blogs is Ideas in Food and I have always been impressed by how they can continue to post day in and day out with small ideas that seem to be so well considered and thoughtful. When I do look back over their posts, I realize that there is a little more to them in terms of how they do them. Many times, over a stretch of a week, they will break down a process or idea that they are fiddling with and eventually turn into a technique that is ready for prime time. Not everything is a success but following the process is its own reward. So, I'm going to try to institute, at least weekly for 2017, posting about my foodie week. Sometimes it will be just a bunch of links to stuff that I have eaten or read and other times, it will be more considered or pointing to a future more complete post. Let's see how this goes.

This week:

- a turkey stock (broth technically) from leftovers
- a frittata with asparagus, jack cheese and leftover ham

- at the Keg and was reminded that they can do steak well
- at Radical Road and had their version of Jerk Chicken. It was good and deserves for me to go back

- at Boxcar Social in Leslieville where I had the following that were notable: Jeffersons Bourbon, Breizh Scotch (French! Can you believe it. A value Scotch), and Moonlight Kettle Sour that was rhubarb all the way down.
- at Radical Road, their Yuzu Pale and their Belgian IPA that was on offer. I liked the Yuzu and found that the Belgian IPA was a more balanced IPA that for some reason, I was expecting to be like many of the North American IPAs where it is only Belgian in the yeast. But nope, this was using a mix of new world and old world hops to drink like a more European take on the Belgian IPA with a nod with to the new world by adding an Ella hop which is the Australian version of European hop. I know that sounds like gobbledygook but the short is that tastes like a Belgian wheat beer with tropical juice and a dry finish. So there. Regardless, those two exemplars were enough for me to grab some stuff out of the fridge which will be consumed in the next few weeks.
- at Earl's on King St. during the Canada US hockey game and we probably not speak of this again. Will do a micro review on zomato. It is probably not going to be flattering.

- working on something to do with my extra celery and apples
- on how to get more vegetables in my diet and the kids'
- on how to take lunch more often and still not be bored at work lunch
- about making more mead
- working through a cookbook to just cook through it.
- about a stirring technique that Ryan the bartender talked me through for martinis.

And that is about it for the first week of January. Being off has helped me think about this but the real issue is when I go back to work and life takes over.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Some thoughts about Canadian Thanksgiving or as I call it, Thanksgiving.

This is one of those odd holidays that means a lot of things and many of them aren't particularly nice. Even if we accept the narrative that indigenous people welcomed the Europeans to the New World with a feast, it is still shameful what happened afterwards. Even if you are someone who believes in finders keepers, there is an inherent meanness to treating those that showed you hospitality and how to survive here the way that the Europeans did.

Even the bitter and racist saying of "Indian giver" hints that somehow there was a big misunderstanding that went to the benefit of the white people. So, Thanksgiving as a celebration of that one nice dinner party we had that time with those nice folk, and gosh, whatever happened to them? doesn't cut it for me.

A second, more generous interpretation of being an ongoing festival of harvest time sits a little better. I remember these days well where you pulled up the last of the garden and canned and celebrated the final warm days before winter. It seemed like a time to show gratitude. In our case, it was God, the church and the crops. We have lost our connection to the soil and so much is now bought in cans, packages and wrapped produce but still not all is so glum. Even if you are the staunchest atheist who believes that humans are all self made, you must be thankful that the science, culture and civilization that got us here still hasn't destroyed us all. Hubris and pessimism is a tough row to hoe and it yields very little productive crops. Still, we are where we are and that is at least something to be grateful for.

For me, there is a third theme that underlies Thanksgiving. Every year, around Christmas, my former spouse and I would invite friends for a chosen Christmas. It was a leftover from my days of living in a house with my friends when we would invite over all of our friends to share a meal and party. Part of that was that it was the first time that we could all breath and relax during university and partly, as a way to share with those few friends who were not going home. Sometimes it was due to work, being too far away, being estranged or any other reason. My former spouse and I invited people who were our friends in the same way. It was a way of sharing and showing our gratitude for their friendship. In the last few years, I have not done any of this and it makes me sad to not have that moment to thank everyone.

This year, I made a mini feast; stuffed turkey breast, boiled turnip, roasted potatoes and a pumpkin stout cheesecake. I shared it.

When I was at my mother's this year, we had a ham. One of my sisters and I made the supper as Mom had had surgery about a week before and couldn't do all the cooking. It was a simple meal made better by us all helping and that the surgery had gone well. Small, simple and generous.

I still have most meals with the kids around the table and I am thankful every time I sit down. Not in the Hallmark card way but a genuine sigh of contentment. There is something about just existing and enjoying the moment that makes me want to share it with people who are close to me but are unable to share it with anyone.

I think I will do a Christmas dinner party this year and maybe start to think about how I can get back to those moments of grace once again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Passing of a Restaurant

I have been blogging for a while now and eating out at new restaurants for way longer. I am linking to one that has recently closed nearby. If the link breaks just know that it was a local cafe that served rotisserie chicken.

Brickyard Grounds.  It is one of the many that I have reviewed over the years. Here is an excerpt from when I reviewed it.
Further down the strip, Brickyard Grounds has high gloss wooden tables, coffee and light fare. The light fare part is important. The whole place, in the best way, reminds me of the converted Coffee Times. Now hear me out. When I came to Toronto, the cafe scene was a little odd. The only places that felt as if you had a community were these ex-franchisees of Coffee Time. I wrote a post about how each was a reflection of their owners and the community. This is a great thing. The light fare reflects the area in the offerings. There are flavourful and pronounced spicings available. They sell rotisserie chicken and are working on getting local craft beer -- on TAP! It is an updated Mom and Pop Greek shop. This is a place to come as family...
...Will all of these places still exist when I get around to posting a third update? In short, I think they all serve a particular community. There is not much in the way of difference for the product they are supposedly serving, coffee. None of these will win barista awards or become destination eateries. The real value in these neighbourhood places is in the community they bring and serve. A friend recently talked about how she needed a new cafe in the neighbourhood so that she could talk about the women who frequented the cafe where she usually went.
So far this is the first of the four places mentioned in that review to close. I still stand by the idea that each of these places served a particular need within the community but somewhere along the way, this place started to go down a hard path.

Firstly, there seemed to be doing well until a fire shut them down for a while. When they came back, some of the momentum and steam had left. When you, as a business, start to falter and become a little unreliable, the good will built will dissipate. It will take a while to get it back.

But there is a pattern to failing restaurants. Menu items start disappearing or not being available. Substitutions are made for more inferior items. Staffing is cut. Hours are cut and erratic. And finally...

So, they re-opened with a modified menu and brunch. Each time I went there for brunch it was packed. Service could be a little odd and disorganized but it seemed to work for a small shop. The hardest thing for a small business is the people aspect. Staff started to leave but not at first. First the coffee began to be tweaked in major ways. The coffee began to taste more 'robust'. Menu items began to change.

Already, the hours had been cut for the shop times and it was erratic. It seemed as if the place was already cutting corners. At first, customers don't notice but eventually, after a few times of showing up at the door and finding the cafe unexpectedly closed, I stopped going.

There is no malice here. It is just another story of a business that chose to start cutting corners where the money was instead of where it wasn't.

If the place had opened earlier in the morning and wooed the morning crowd and tried to stretch into the families in the area, it may have done a little better. If rotisserie chicken is offered for supper then make sure to stay open late enough for those coming home from work to get it. Find where the money is and exploit it.

I genuinely liked the owners and wished them well both then and now. The restaurant is a hard, fickle business and it is easy to armchair quarterback. It is just to see so many places come and go with the same pattern, it becomes easier to see where it is headed. There is something great about watching a family business thrive. Those successes are nice when you can say that 'you knew them when' but no one really takes much joy when they fail.

Good luck to the owners of Brickyard Grounds. I wish you all the best in whatever you do.