Archive for September, 2009

Heartstopping Works of Culinary Love

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

We don’t get to see each other every day or even every week.

You’d think when we did get together we’d spend the whole time catching up, talking, reconnecting. Which we do.

But really, everything is organized around the food. We’ll head to the village on our first morning to stock up on fish and seafood she said before I left.

That morning, I woke up way early, made coffee and went outside. Mist rising from the lake made of the entire landscape a glorious ever-changing watercolour painting.

A lone canoe plied the waters. Strips of clouds wreathed the hills.

After taking a multitude of photos I went back inside. I had noticed her wicker picnic basket out the corner of my eye. I peeked inside.

It was a collection of culinary curiousities. There were green peppercorns and Belgian chocolate; pastry flour and oatmeal, quinoa, gourmet hot chocolate, marshmallows and salsa. Things I love, or once randomly mentioned, or might grow to love. It was an archive of thoughtfulness.

What do you cook to make someone feel cared for? What kind of food makes you feel the love?

Our last night there I cooked my heart out. I had no recipes, no internet, no food blogs. I had a tuna loin bought from a boat in the harbour in the village. I marinated it in blood orange juice, lime, balsamic, blueberries and those compelling little green peppercorns. Seared it in olive oil, served it on a bed of arugula, some of the reduced marinade on the side, lemony quinoa on the side of that.

Some recipes can never be duplicated. Perhaps they satisfy more deeply because of that.

Affect Food

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

I read about someone researching funeral foods in different cultures.

She interviewed a Latino couple, who recalled “emotion cookies” from their childhoods. Almond-flavoured cookies, each with a differently flavoured topping: orange peel, cinnamon. As this researcher discovered: “You sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and you choose a cookie with a topping flavour that reminds you of a moment with the person you’ve lost. As you eat the cookie you re-experience the emotion that the smell or taste evokes.”


One of my areas of research as an academic, is affect. Affect is intense, embodied feeling, that happens before you can put a name to it. I describe it as the chill down your spine or the prickle at the back of your neck. It might not make sense. It might be something you don’t even want to feel.

I write about media and affect: how we might have feelings about a tone of voice, or the technology itself. How the radio or the cellphone might itself evoke certain feelings that impact on how we receive the news. And how affect is contagious.

When I listened, a couple of years ago, to news about so-called terrorist threat and “homegrown” terrorists in our midst, I could sense a general anger and fear building in momentum, I kept the radio on so that I could hear any alternative views, should they be aired. I stopped listening to the content of what people were saying, and instead tracked the emotional timbre of their voices, which invariably spanned just a few predictable affects: hurt and fear resulting in anger. Affect really is contagious: I, too felt anger, but my anger had a different object: government and media.

But affect and food? I haven’t given it as much thought, which is odd, since I do so much food writing. What flavours evoke feeling, and how is that feeling different from rational thought?

I’m drinking coffee as I write this, and I think about how coffee makes me feel mature, worldly, perhaps even sophisticated. It can even evoke happiness. My habitual granola breakfast has its roots in a deep desire, as a child of the 70’s, for a hippie era I’d tragically missed by a decade.

There are foods I avoid, or seldom eat because they are too powerfully evocative of people long gone, or far away, and the stew of affects – love, guilt, sorrow, relief, shame – connected to them.

And there are foods, like the autumnal tomato pie, or the tsimmes I make only at Thanksgiving, Passover and Christmas, that create memory and affect even as they are made. As my friend The BeeKeeper has described, these ritual foods create a body memory of an event. The tedious peeling and chopping of root vegetables this Thanksgiving will locate me in the everyday of my life and the friends with whom I will feast.

My friend The Literary Tour Guide makes pie every time I visit. She lives in Berlin, but the pie brings back Fredericton, New Brunswick and the smells of trees and river, and all the affects of home.

What foods evoke feeling or memory for you?

Tomatoes

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Something was not quite right.

There were yellow and green zucchinni squash at the farmers’ market that day. There were huge dusty bunches of basil, and rusty-hued bouquets of autumn flowers. Cabbages, check. Pears, apples, carrots, and late peaches, check, check, check.

But there was a missing colour. Red. Tomato red, to be exact.

What. Happened. I asked one of the people selling vegetables. He frowned. Blight. was all he said.

Since then I’ve been collecting tomatoes, as though they’re some sort of rare orchid. I’ve been paying exorbitant amounts, and then rushing home with my loot. I’m being extra charming to friends with tomato harvests not struck by blight. It’s September, the one time of year that tomatoes are actually edible and don’t come out of a can, and we’re looking down the barrel of a tomato shortage.

Since then I’ve heard more. Sosnicki Organic Farms, north of Toronto, who usually have the most exquisitely coloured and shaped tomatoes for sale, lost their entire tomato harvest to late blight. It’s a fungus exacerbated by cool wet conditions.
One farmer at the market said it usually occurs every twelve years or so. But it happened in 2000. It’s happening more often now, as global heating ( a more accurate term I think) creates unexpected climate change.

So, I’ve been buying organic hot house tomatoes at $3 (or more) a pound. At Trinity-Bellwoods Market, if you go early enough, that’s what you’ll find.

But I don’t care, because I’ve been craving tomato pie. It’s a dish that can only be made in September as it calls for fresh, juicy, flavourful tomatoes. A friend was coming for dinner. Academic articles, emails and course-planning were put aside as I spent an afternoon stewing and reducing those tomatoes until they had the deep, burnished taste I wanted.

We sat outside on my deck in the fading light of a September evening, eating up that pie. We talked for a while about the urge to have kids. She’s the queer mother of a teen. I have no kids.

Why. Did. You. Have. A. Kid. I’ve known her for decades. I’ve never asked her that before.

There’s. No. Single. Reason. she said. And the reasons always change. She went on to talk about how queers have a right to make that decision and a right to all of the rewards, pitfalls, mistakes and regrets that might come with it.

We had seconds of tomato pie, and the grilled beet salad I’d made to go with. The air became tinged with a slight and subtle autumn chill. We went inside, I turned on a lamp. I served up some freshly made peach-blackberry crumble still warm from the oven, savouring the umami tastes of fall.

Tomato Pie
I’m posting this recipe again, due to popular request.

Filling & Topping:

3 lbs. (approx. 6 cups) fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tspn salt
1 onion, sliced
2 tbspn butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
a handful of fresh basil, chopped
same amount of parsley, chopped
12 black olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 lb mozzarella, sliced
3 tbspn olive oil

In a medium-sized pot, saute garlic in olive oil over medium heat. When softened, add tomatoes, salt, herbs, a grind or two of pepper. Simmer over low heat until thickened and reduced by half (about an hour, possibly more).

Meanwhile, thickly slice the onion, then saute in butter in a frying pan with 1/4 tspn salt

Once crust is made, sprinkle parmesan over bottom of pieshell. Add the sauteed onions. Cover with tomatoe sauce. Place sliced mozzarella on top and sprinkle with love slices.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 325 degrees, or until the filling seems more-or-less set (it will set further after you take it out of the oven). Let stand for at least twenty minutes before serving.

Crust
(You can make this while the sauce is simmering)

11/2 cups flour
1 tspn sugar
3/4 tspn salt
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tblspn cold milk

Mix dry ingredients directly into a 9-inch pie plate. Combine the oil and milk right in the measuring cup; beat until creamy with a fork. Pour over dries and mix lightly until just damp. Press into plate.

Pizza, Popcorn and War Planes

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The last long weekend of summer began with the screech of warplanes. People froze on the streets and stared up at the sky, dumbfounded. No, we weren’t in downtown Kandahar.

Air Show. I’d say to my traumatized fellow pedestrians.

Whaaat? They’d say.

IT’S. THE. GODDAMN. AIRSHOW!
I’d say. And then: Email the Mayor! Complain!

The Canadian International Air Show invaded our ear drums and skies for five anxious and unpleasant days.

Unable to get out of the city, I tried to go as far away in the city as I could, travelling east to meet people in neighbourhoods I don’t usually spend so much time in.

I met a dear friend at a Southern Italian restaurant called Lil’ Baci on Queen Street East, just as the sun was in its final sticky yellow burst of the day. After a couple of months of summer we were both full of plans for new films and writing projects. We shared a pizza buffala with a crisp, light crust. I drank a lively fruity white wine. The sun fell behind a tall building and we kept talking.

The planes continued their drone and roar all weekend. I formed a Facebook Group, Harried Citizens Against the Toronto CNE Air Show. People wrote in throughout the five days of audio torture.

One woman wrote: As I walked along the Lakeshore on the way to the Ex today, we passed the seating (VIP, but also grass banks for lesser folks) for the Air Show which was about to begin. A voice over the loudspeaker told everyone to stand for “our” anthem whereupon the American anthem was sung. Apparently Canada had been annexed in the night.

Another person wrote: My boyfriend works nights and can get no sleep for these past 4 or 5 days. So, then there’s also old people with heart problems…there’s small babies and new mothers who are trying to get some sleep and peace, the birds are all freaked and out of wack and yes, there ARE victims of war who live in Toronto and this is NOT fun for them. There was one plane that crashed and came down a few years ago. Should we wait see if one comes down in a residential neighborhood?

A movie was a good escape, no roaring planes to be heard inside the cinema.

There was a long conversation with an old friend from my M.A. days in a tiny vine-covered patio behind a bar on the Danforth. Habermas, teaching, our shared Ukrainian/Albertan origins. A mediocre Caesar salad, cider, the sky turning purple over our heads.

Breakfast with another friend, another day, on his porch, and food to remember his last trip to Italy: prosciutto, melon, caprese salad made with tomatoes donated by his generous Italian neighbours.

The planes screamed overhead as I bicycled home.

If you too were tormented by the planes and the propaganda (or sympathize with those that are) write a letter to the Mayor of Toronto about the air show:

mayor_miller@toronto.ca

CC your letter of protest to these councillors and CIAS people:
mintc@tc.gc.ca; kenneg1@parl.gc.ca; councillor_perks@toronto.ca; dinovoc-co@ndp.on.ca; councillor_pantalone@toronto.ca; mayor_miller@toronto.ca; d.bednar@theex.com; pchiasson@theex.com; info@cias.org; jasmin.guillen@cias.org