Archive for the 'Recipes for Trouble' Category

Signs of Spring

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

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I saw crocuses in a south-facing university garden, poking their sharp little selves out of the soil

I’m watching less TV.

I made asparagus with a blood orange-balsamic marinade for a dinner at The Playwright’s house, with a small group of bawdy irreverent queers.

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Students are antsy, anxious, brittle, goofy, rebellious, or resigned to their end-of-term fate.

My 82-year-old Ukrainian lady neighbour emerged from her huge haunted house and exchanged bittersweet pleasantries with me on Dundas Street.

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I held someone’s hand.

I’m drinking vinho verde, that soft sparkly feeling in the throat.

I’m considering baking a rhubarb-cornmeal cake.

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Some birds are hanging out in the front yard, trying out a few crazy new tunes.

I’m planning to make my ma’s luscious potato salad for easter. I’m planning to share it with someone.

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The light lingers, pale, delicate and persistent.

Happy vernal equinox.

Love Among the Desserts

Friday, March 7th, 2008

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Imagine that you are inaudible, but only among certain people.

(Fifteen years of writing about your cultural identity integrated with all of your other overlapping identities. No one had done that before, even though it seemed like the logical thing to do. Indeed, amid the excitement and swirl of ideas that was postcolonial thought, it was the only possible way)

Imagine that you sing in a particular language, that only people who do not speak that language can hear.

Imagine all the mistranslations, all the false acceptance, imagine how you might be patronized, or seen as primitive, or included only that once.

And when you do mingle among those who speak your mother tongue (but cannot hear when you speak it) – imagine that they ask only if you are someone’s daughter or sister, and never acknowledge/have no inkling of your four books, your nine films and all the ways you have remembered and reinscribed your/their ethnic culture.

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And then, after some time – an entire generation, really – has passed: imagine walking into a room where your book is everywhere, placed carefully onto banquet tables, held reverently in peoples’ arms. Imagine that the details of this book have been reproduced throughout the room: in kitschy flower arrangements (roses and spatulas!), in recipes from your book embedded among the flowers; in a menu (created by Chef Steffan Howard, of Palais Royale), that includes and reinterprets dishes mentioned in your book.

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Imagine that the food is spectacular but also deeply familiar- an appetizer of minestrone soup, from your book; perogy with pickled beets; a foamed green borscht; your mother’s mushroom sauce – and that the chef comes out to greet you, holding your book to his chest, and hugs you and tells you how much he loved your book.

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On March 6, I attended the Kobzar Literary Award Ceremony, as an author shortlisted for a $25,000 prize.

I had to buy a dress for the occasion, I had to gather all my wits about me. I’m not usually the kind of author who is invited to swanky $250-a-plate dinners. I felt nervous, I felt proud, I felt wary.

If I tell you any more you won’t believe it, it was so over the top. All I can say is that there was love, and respect, and excess in the room. That there were so many people coming up to me, remembering my deceased brother Roman, also an artist (yes, I am somebody’s sister), and then asking me to sign my book (yes, I am an artist too), or telling me that they can’t wait to read it, or that they really, really wanted me to win.

Each of the authors was asked to do a brief reading from their book. I read a passage from the introduction that mentions my father’s breakfasts, my mother’s perogies, my family, lovers and friends and as I read, I could feel everyone listening and understanding in a deep way. I felt I was being heard by this community for the very first time.

I didn’t win. (I now understand the strain of the non-winners’ face as the winner is announced!) Ad yet, I have been given something. I’m so amazed to now experience a community that feels secure enough to embrace difference and that takes its writers so seriously (of course that’s nothing new- the most revered figure in our culture is a writer).

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After the winner-who-wasn’t-me was announced, I bravely swallowed back my dessert, and it calmed me down. It was as though the chef had sent me a love letter, a reminder to stay true to myself.

The desserts were all from my book: the chocolate truffle cake that cured heartache; my dear friend Carolyn’s strawberry rhubarb pie (reinterpreted into a tart); the carrot cake I made in a frenzy of femme-homebaking-love.

Those desserts brought me back into my world: a world of dark alleyways and underground spaces; of insider humour and wry, self-effacing laughter; a world of unshakeable belief in the power of protest, of words, and art and deep, passionate, subcultural desire.

Shark’s Fin, Abalone, and Black Sea Moss

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

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    Dai Gin Hung To
    (Meaning: Wishing one great success and fortune)

    Chef’s Cold Cut Platter
    Conpoy, Dried Oysters & Pig’s Tongue Braised w/ Black Sea Moss.
    Scallops & Geoduck Slices Sauteed w/ Vegetables
    Supreme Shark’s Fin & Seafood Bisque w/ Greens
    Whole Abalones braised w/ Chinese Mushrooms & Greens
    Lobster Steamed in Chinese Wine & Cellophane Noodle
    Steamed Fresh Fish w/ Soya Sauce & Green Onion
    Crispy Chicken w/ Ginger & Spring Onion
    Scallop Fried Rice w/Fish Roe & Seaweed
    E-fu Noodle braised in Abalone Essence
    Dessert
    New Year’s Pastries

It was the night of the eclipse of the moon. It was ice-cream-headache-cold.

We met in the lobby of a condo downtown. Ten young Asian students and professionals – and me. They are a dining group of sorts, like many such groups in the city. Some of them met through e-gullet, some met through mutual friends. I met The Ph.D. Student via email after reading a piece about her dining group in Taste T.O. She invited me along.

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Right away, I knew I was in over my head.

As we piled into a car and headed out to Ambassador Chinese Cuisine in Markham for a traditional Chinese New Year’s banquet, The Diners began a long foodie conversation that was to last into the wee hours. They compared notes on their experiences at Napa’s famous gourmet restaurant The French Laundry, which they referred to colloquially as TFL. They discussed restaurants in Vancouver I’d never heard of, though I lived in Vancouver for ten years. They discussed artisanal chocolate with all the reverence and solemnity of scientists debating the cure for cancer.

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The Diners were also charming and sweetly courteous. As the waiter began portioning out small plates of the first of twelve courses, I watched as each person served the person beside them first. Graceful, courteous hands all evening: those of the waiter, sweeping in and out of our circle with elegance; the hands of one of The Diners who kept pouring me tea; hands of The Ph.D Student and The Travelling Gourmand , who took photos all evening with their tiny quirky tripods.

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And the food, you ask, what about the food? It was exquisite, challenging, beautiful. I felt daunted by the first dish, Chef’s Cold Cut Platter (pictured above), and afraid to ask questions about what I was actually eating. But The Ph.D. student was unfailingly considerate and provided details about each food item, and some of the traditions connected to them.

The dried oysters were beautifully, smokily intense, unlike any oysters I have ever eaten. Scallops and geoduck slices sauteed with vegetables made me happy with their clear crisp flavors.

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I tasted shark’s fin soup for the first time. I adored the whole abalone braised with Chinese mushrooms and greens (above). The lobster was pretty but pedestrian: the only weak note.

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The flavours of the meal wound down slowly, with plainer dishes like perfectly steamed fish and crispy chicken. At a banquet such as this, the noodles and rice come at the end of the meal. But, oh, what noodles! E-Fu noodles braised in abalone essence. They tasted like wild mushrooms. I could have eaten the whole platter if I hadn’t been so full.

The Diners were casual about this meal: they often eat like this, at weddings and on special family locations. Loving jokes and anecdotes about grandmothers and mothers and their Old World recipes and traditions flew around the table. It felt uncanny: familiar, and strange.

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Just when I thought to I couldn’t eat anything more, The Diners decided to pile back into their cars and go for dessert. We ended the evening in a Chinese desert place located in an enormous strip mall just off the highway. Crammed with ten strangers around a small round table, sitting on uncomfortable wooden stools, I finally relaxed. I could feel the warmth and pleasure that flowed among The Diners. I was charmed by Newspaper Girl’s generosity, as she passed around the artisanal marshmallows and chocolate she’d brought back from California. I liked the way Coffee Dude to tasted the bitter Chinese herbal tea for the first time, and tried so carefully to describe its flavors, as though it was one of the high-end coffees he sells at his shop.

As we left, I gazed at the now-eclipsed moon. It looked vulnerable and beautiful, suspended over the vast expanse of suburb. Like the dinner: an unusual moment, incongruous, surprising, and generous.

Fake Plants Partisan

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

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I’m cooking again.

I said to someone the other day: I. Miss. Cooking. A lot .

She smiled at to me: widely, shyly. I’ll probably cook dinner for her someday.

But last night to it was just The Gay School Teacher and me. He went out in the freezing rain to play in an orchestra in a remote location – well, remote to me, anyway. He arrived at my door with his smile and his violin case and his tux in a garment bag. I heart musicians. They’ll go anywhere, do anything, to embellish the universe with music. Or at least two that’s how I see it . Maybe for them, it’s just compulsion.

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Like cooking. For me.

It was a dull, unfocused, pewter-coloured rainy day. I took my granny cart to to the liquor store and then the corner store, through a puddles the size of Lake Superior. Okay, well maybe Lake Huron.

( I am now someone who uses a granny cart).

I made eggplant parmesan ( My incredibely fallible voice recognition system just wrote : fake plants partisan). it took all afternoon. I even made the sauce from scratch. Suffice it to to say that the kitchen looked like there’d been a blood bath (from the tomato sauce, not from me!).

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Not to that anyone minded. Since my wrist fracture, I just love having visitors in my home. It’s so much more comfortable than a cafe or even a movie theater. My pain-killers are easily accessible, as is the whiskey. And the company of friends is a kind of pain-killer too. it was definitely win-win. Gay School Teacher slurped up his fake plants – er, I mean eggplant – with watercress-avocado salad like it was Duck a l’Orange. Of course, he’s vegetarian , so that’s really not a very good metaphor. But you get the idea.

Things have changed in my life. What I eat, who I see, how I see. I’m earnestly devouring super foods like chard, broccoli, alfalfa, almonds. I’m trying to pay attention. I’m trying to understand that taking care of yourself is not a selfish act. And that being able to take care of others, especially when it’s a challenge to do so, is a rare opportunity for the heart.

Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4 or 5 as a main-course

3 medium-large eggplants, cut crosswise into 1⁄2-inch slices
Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
11⁄2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can no-salt plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1⁄2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves (or not)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as needed
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, optional

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two or more baking sheets. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onion. Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and dried oregano and sauté another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, breaking up whole tomatoes with your hands. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Add vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Into a 9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan, spoon a small amount of tomato sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and oregano, if using, with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

4. Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and center is hot, 30 to 45 minutes depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Recipe can also be reheated.