inspiration January 2013

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I was going through a stack of books the other day and came across my copy of Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. I have dog-eared several pages, some with recipe ideas, but also many with prose whose sentiments carry such sensible and grounded cooking guidance. I was particularly reassured to have reviewed this passage just hours before baking a sticky toffee pudding that was to be part of a New Year’s Eve dinner gathering.

“No matter how well a cookbook is written, the cooking times it gives will be wrong. Ingredients don’t take three or five minutes to be done; it depends on the day and the stove. So you must pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.”

The recipe suggested baking the cake for 25 minutes. As I pulled yet another skewer from the centre, with batter still clearly not set at the 40 minute mark, I did as Tamar encouraged – I trusted myself and decided to put it back in the oven. The cake was done when it was done, and not a minute sooner. The pudding was delicious in the end, and made for a tasty, if a bit indulgent, finish to 2013.

With the first day of the new year drawing to a close, here is what is inspiring me now as I look ahead to all the potential that 2014 holds.

What I am reading…
The seriously entertaining McSweeney’s 11th batch of Reviews of New Food, which collects up all the posts from 2013 (it’s worth going back to past year’s collections as well).

Lapham’s Quaterly Food Issue. Although this one is from Summer 2011, I treated myself to a back issue and have been working my through the varied articles that cover a broad timeline of food history.

I find it very difficult to visit The Good Egg in Kensington Market and come out empty-handed, so it should not be a surprise that when I went in looking for a cookie cutter, I came out with a lovely 2″ snowflake-shaped tool and a copy of  Wilder Quarterly.

My holiday stocking contained a copy of the first issue of Riposte: A Smart Magazine for Women. Given that a parody like this rings far too true, I think a publication like Riposte is a welcome, and much-needed alternative.

I picked up a copy of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly at ‘a post Boxing Day but still on sale’ sale. I have not yet tucked into this modern Korean farm animal fable, but it is next up on my reading list.

What I am watching…
This documentary about Myrtle Allen, the inspiring chef, hotelier, and food advocate whose vision inspired the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland.

On my wish list…
These Irish linen cocktail napkins. While I am not a big fan of ironing, I think they’re worth it.

 

holiday menu ideas

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With less than two weeks until Christmas, I am starting to think about my holiday feast menu. I thought I would share some of my festive favourites to help you in your planning.

Start the evening with a mug of mulled wine while you sit around the fire and catch up with your cousin, aunt, neighbour, or just watch the snow falling outside the window. Nibble on some homemade artisanal crisps served alongside a selection of cheeses. Then start the festive meal with a bowl of squash and apple soup. When it’s time for the main event, serve your turkey alongside cranberry relish (always a crowd favourite), honey glazed squash, and Brussels sprouts with pancetta and Asiago. If you can possibly manage to save room for dessert, enjoy this baked apple with oatmeal almond coconut crumble. Don’t forget about breakfast the next morning for your overnight guests. You can bake up a pumpkin loaf in advance so they can help themselves while you sleep in. Or make up a batch of these muffins that taste like donuts ahead of time, and simply warm in the oven then roll in the butter and cinnamon sugar topping when ready to serve.

After preparing a meal like that, you’re sure to be at the top of the nice list!

inspiration October 2013

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Fall. Is. Here. There’s that extra crispness in the air. I don’t leave the house without a scarf, just in case. The leaves are showing their crimson best, with the real fighters clinging to almost bare branches, looking down at their fallen friends below. As my thoughts drift more and more towards hearty dishes and afternoons spent curled up on the couch with a good book, here is what I am finding inspiring right now…

What I am reading…
I have a couple of books on my nightstand, their bookmarks peeking out to remind me that there’s more story still to go. The first is Stand Facing the Stove, which recounts the journey of Irma and Marion Rombauer, the women behind the infamous kitchen bible The Joy of Cooking. The second is quite a different beast. Part memoir, part textbook, I am working my way through the brick that is The 4-Hour Chef by lifehacker Timothy Ferris.

Beyond books, I’m enjoying learning more about the vegan community through Chickpea Magazine. If you can’t find it at a retailer near you, you can order the fall issue, and back issues, online. I was inspired to work on some vegan dishes of my own and developed these almond butter oatmeal cookies, which make a great breakfast treat or afternoon snack.

To keep my mailbox interesting, I have subscribed to Kitchen Letters . Imagine finding a letter from one of your favourite chefs, along with a recipe, in your mailbox twice a month. Well that’s what Kitchen Letters offers. Way more fun than my usual mail. And an interesting twist on food media.

What I am watching…
This TedX Toronto video, which I was fortunate enough to see presented in person at the TedX event in September. Speaker Joel MacCharles of wellpreserved.ca makes a good case for a little more preservation in all of our lives. In fact, you may already be preserving and not even know it.

I have not watched this yet, but am looking forward to an inspiring evening on the couch with a mug of warm cider (or maybe even mulled wine). The documentary To Make a Farm looks at the future of agriculture by following different young people trying to make a living through farming. You can check out the trailer, or download the full movie through iTunes.

What’s on my wish list…
In my compact kitchen there’s only room for one set of mixing bowls, so I’m trying to choose between these two: the durable, hard-working tempered glass 9-bowl Duralex set or the beautiful, more delicate Falcon enamelware prep set. Both companies have been making their wares for over 70 years, and the design hasn’t changed much, because classic design is just that – classic. It worked then, it works today, and it will still work in the future. How will I ever choose!

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inspiration January 2013

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New year…new adventures…new tastes. Whether it’s rediscovering a favourite dish, putting your twist on a classic, or trying something completely new (which I tend to ambitiously do when hosting a crowd…I figure it’s the best way to know if a recipe is a keeper or not!), this year is an opportunity to continue adventuring in the kitchen. With a month of 2013 already behind us, whatever intentions you may or may not have set for the year ahead, or may have already started to bring to fruition, I thought I would share some of what I am finding inspiring right now…

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What I am reading…
In December I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. More like a philosophy essay or a cooking guide than traditional cookbook, it contains some wonderful, elegantly written mediations on practical ingredient use, common sense cooking, and the possibilities that the humblest of ingredients possess. And, of course, there are some recipes too, but even those are often presented as thought-straters or notions, put there for readers to work from to find their own way in the kitchen.

Now I am reading Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. After seeing how one small Balinese village makes salt last November, I realized how little I understand about the production of this ingredient that is so critical not only to cooking, but to our history as a modern civilization.

Next up is Audra Ang’s To the People, Food is Heaven. In anticipation of my travels to China in March, I am hoping this book will provide some insight into Chinese food culture. Audra Ang spent seven years as a Beijing-based news correspondent. In the book she recounts her most memorable moments, as told through food.

Beyond books, I’ve also been inspired by independent food magazines that I have encountered along my world journey. I just finished issue No. 13 of Fire and Knives, a UK-based food quarterly. It’s an unconventional food ‘magazine’ as there are no recipes and limited photos. Instead, it offers a compilation of food-themed essays from what it’s like to dine 350 metres below ground in a working mine at the world’s first pop-down restaurant to a girls guide to sabrage to celebrating the last 50 years of couscous in Eurpoe.

A fabulous idea to bring a farm to each urban neighbourhood…
The Farmery is a very smart and effective use of shipping containers to create a greenhouse and local food market all in one. The modular design means this could be set up in any neighbourhood. They have reached their fundraising goal through Kickstarter to build their final prototype, so let’s hope this means they’ll be moving from concept to the rollout soon. I’d love see one of these around the corner.

Recipes I want to try…
After reading Jennifer 8. Lee’s essay Making Pasta Sauce: My Independence in the Asian Literary Review 2011 Food Issue (I came across a back issue at Books Actually, an amazing bookshop in Singapore), I am keen to give this tomato sauce a try. The original recipe seems to have come from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, but it’s become legendary in the food blogging community. The passion and enthusiasm I found online for this incredibly simple, three-ingredient tomato sauce certainly makes it intriguing.

While traveling in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, we stayed on a farm in Pukehou. Every morning, we drove over to the Paper Mulberry Cafe for our daily caffeine hit. After discovering their carrot cake, we’d make a second trip for an afternoon pick me up. The recipe was generously shared with me, so I am looking forward to giving it a go.

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