Hello, hello! There have been quite the days here, and while I'm sorry to say I don't have a proper recipe to pass along, there are stories to tell, all the small things that filled the hours in between our last conversation and now. For the record though, I've been making a lot of radish sandwiches lately and, in case that's your thing, I'll take a moment to tell you about them.

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Fergus Henderson, in a favourite article from Bon Appétit (seriously, the words, the photographs, the menu, everything is bang-on great, and it's where you'll find the recipe for this showstopper of an ice cream), suggests serving radishes whole, with the classic accompaniment of sweet butter and crunchy flakes of sea salt. That's a no-brainer, everyone knows that'll be delicious. What makes the suggestion smart is that he tucks the radish greens aside to dress with a Dijon vinaigrette — it's a peppery and pungent combination, the sort that catches and tingles at the edge of your mouth.  

I've taken his idea and put it into a sandwich, as afternoons right now are story book made for picnics. I fancy up some butter with grainy Dijon and lemon zest, then smear it across lightly-toasted pumpernickel. The radish greens get torn into a bowl with a bit of olive oil, juice from that lemon, Maldon salt and cracked blacked pepper. Sliced radish goes on top of the buttered toast, then the salad, and then another toast. Along with my recent fondness for avocado toasts, which I'll get to momentarily, radish sandwiches are one of the quickest, nicest routes between hungry and lunch that I know of. 

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On to that newsy, chatty stuff. 

One day in late May, we lit up sparklers for no better reason than the fact that the evening was warm and the grass green, and that sparklers are the best of summer's magic. In the softness of that indigo hour, the frizzling trails lit up smiling faces, and sparks flew and burst like the laughter that accompanied them. It was celebration of everything, yet nothing in particular, and we've still got some sparklers left and I want to do it again.

Something that deserves a celebration of its own is an announcement that's not mine, but belongs to some people who I think are pretty special. I've talked about my friend Nikole before, more than once, actually. She and I first began really talking around the time her father made a baby spoon for my son William — a lad who is turning 4 years old in a few days, so if you do the math you'll find we've had some years of cakes and conversation between us. She and I are sometimes collaborators, often with the exceptional talents of Michael Graydon to boost up our own, and those projects represent some of the work of which I'm the most proud.

Nikole and her father Lance are the pair behind Herriott Grace. You've surely heard of their shop before; it's a heartfelt effort between those two. They've got a great story behind all that lovely and, lucky us, they have decided to share their thoughts and history in a new endeavour. They've put themselves on film, in association with John Cullen and Industry Films, and resulting portrait is breathtaking.

Congratulations, NH + LH, and to all involved. xo

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Here's the biggie. I snuck away for a few days and made my way down to New York City. It was a brilliant, overwhelming trip, and I'm endlessly thankful to the dear, dearest friend with whom I shared it.

We walked bridges, navigated subways, and chatted up taxi drivers. We took the train out of town and I sat at a table I best remember in a snapshot taken when I was maybe five years old. We went to a party that filled up a room with admirable folks, and I wish I could have spent days in their midst. We toasted the city with cookies, and had sandwiches at Saltie for lunch. We poked around Union Square Market with fine company, and sat in the most charming bakery I've ever seen, with an equally charming (and talented, and funny) friend. There were chocolate buns as part of the deal. We people watched at Café Gitane and I became obsessed with their avocado toast. How can something so simple be so good? I've made it twice in the last week.

We sat in a restaurant on the edge of Central Park, just before a storm. We were served pickled strawberries on fresh mozzarella, and tiny sips of watercress soup. We cooed over crispy rice cakes underneath tender scallops. We blatantly eavesdropped on conversations, listening to mothers talk the serious business of the weddings of their children. We politely spied on a group of women catching up after years apart, each of them in cocktail dresses with the baubles and rings to match. And everyone heard the man who announced his presence in the room with an order for service; he strode in like he ruled the world. All of us could be his court.

When my friend and I walked outside, the wind had picked up, and we looked at a skyline dramatic against the clouds.

In the early hours of one morning we made our way to Grand Central Station. It was grey and pale out, the streets slicked shiny by a fine, misting rain. We snuck into the building as though it were a secret. Without the crowds, in that faint light, we stood beneath the turquoise arc of the painted heavens above, and it was like a scene from about a million movies. The irresistible wonder of place, the undeniable awe, saved it from cliché — we were left alone with the quiet potential in the space around us, the weight of what had been before.

The chandeliers shone like sequined planets. And maybe we laughed at ourselves.

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I came back full of ideas, and full of reasons to be grateful. We got to meet so many inspiring individuals, it's hard to know where to begin. I'll tell you this, yesterday I made a vinegar-kicked strawberry conserve with that one meal in mind. I look forward to sharing it all with you.

Hip, hip for the weekend, for being home, for new lessons and old reminders. Let's talk soon.

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The top two photos were taken with my camera, the rest were taken with my phone, using Instagram.

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seven!

Seven years ago today, I pressed publish.*

At the time I was in my twenties. I'm not anymore, in fact that cake up there was to celebrate yet another birthday into my thirties. Sean and I called an apartment our home back then; we don't anymore. It was in the city where he grew up. We don't live there anymore, either.

I worked at a job that had me in a windowless office. Scratch that, there was a window but it was blocked from easy view by a bookcase taller than me. I could see a slivered glimpse of an interior courtyard by leaning all the way back in my chair and scooting over to the left. That's changed too — I've not sat in that chair or stood in that room in six years.

I couldn't have imagined these 2,557 days since that apartment, that career, those first words. I knew Sean was the finest man I could ever hope to marry, so that was a strong beginning.

Over the years we moved, and moved again. We left things behind and gained so much. When we moved here, to the city where I grew up, things had changed, were changing. I got to know new neighbourhoods, new shops, new people. I learned to live in a place I thought I knew, as an adult and a parent. We settled in and stretched out and explored.

One of the elementary schools I had attended closed, torn down to its foundations and then paved over for townhouses. When I pass that corner I think about the sturdy, square building that used to stand there. I think of how the thin heels of my loafers would often hook the edge of the stairs when I'd run from our classroom up on the top floor down to the room on the bottom where we had assembly. I remember the sound of chairs scraped across linoleum and the crumpled paper of packed lunches. I think of all the childhood, childlike dramas and tragedies that took place with those halls as backdrop, the stage now cleared.

We went to my high school's anniversary. The halls seemed wider.

strawberry conserve

I recently spent a day in truly windowless room. It happened to be that day in spring when the trees pop, and the leaves go from frilled curls to full spread. That blink-and-you'll-miss-it day. Keeping occupied over hours of waiting, Sean and I reached the topic of Jack Kerouac and On the Road, specifically the original text versus as it was published by Viking in 1957, with names changed and sections removed.

Kerouac put On the Road to paper over a span of three weeks in April 1951. Three weeks! He worked it out on a manual typewriter, taping sheets of teletype paper together so the resulting roll could be fed into the machine once, and he could then go from there continuously, uninterrupted. The manuscript is single-spaced, without paragraphs or breaks, a solid block of text with the words stacked like bricks in pavement, one hundred and twenty feet long. Edits are in pencil. Kerouac didn't write a book; he told a story. Starting at the outset and working his way to the conclusion.

A book written in three weeks makes a great headline. It's a headline that swaggers, full of bravado. That said, what catches me are all the years that built those twenty-one days. Kerouac had a famous habit of notebooks, of scribbling and collecting stories as he went — like those pebbles that you kick around for a while before picking them up — he tucked them in his pockets in between pages. He began writing On the Road as Sur le Chemin, in colloquial Québécois French, three months before he started the scroll.

I like that. I like the idea that even a work known for the spontaneity of its prose — one that reads like a singular act of improvisation — could have begun in fits and starts. I like that, for even him, it can take some time to get one's mind around things. We may need to circle our destination, figuring out how best to approach, from what angle, and where to land.

In a beautifully fitting twist, Kerouac's scroll is jagged and torn at the bottom, the end ripped away. And so, his finale, in its original form, is a mystery. The margin reads, "ate by Patchkee, a dog", which may or may not be the truth, which could very well be a joke, but it is another thing I like.

testing colours

Endings are often messy. They smudge and smear into the next beginning as everything starts again. Endings follow along, trailing behind forward progress, like the echo of your own footsteps.

So here we are, with the trees heavily green and mornings still cold. We've made some headway, the first seven years done, with still a ways ahead. (Seven is a number that's important to me, as you might have guessed.) That milestone passed, this road has been an exceptional one to travel thus far, and I'm looking to the horizon, looking to reach the rim of its curve and then drive past it.

Thank you, thank you for the company. Let's get going on the next seven. I'll bring the cake. 

*If you follow that link, it's rather empty, save for a comment made by Tarasome years later; she's a treasured friend and I'm happy that she's there, Anne and Diana are we. However, the quiet there is a bit misleading; when I transplanted this site from another space to this one, the comments from those early posts did not come along. I have them saved though, and if I can figure out a way to respost them I will, as I am, still and always, grateful for the welcome and continued friendship from this community. xo, all.

In other business, we have the UPPERCASE winners — congratulations Melinda and Jade! I'll be in touch soon. 

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HAZELNUT AND STRAWBERRY CELEBRATION CAKE

Think of this cake as a gussied-up version of a Victoria sponge. The flavours are the same, as we've got the well-worn charm of strawberry jam, lemon and (butter)cream. Folding beaten egg whites into the batter, as done with chiffon cakes, results in an airy, delicate crumb. I've gone and mussed up that delicacy a little with ground hazelnuts, but I think the modest sacrifice in height is worth it — the cake has fluff but also has enough structure to stand up to the rich weight of the preserves, and it's still plenty tall. I also happen to think that the teensy flecks of gold and brown look pretty, so there's that, too.

The layers are adaptated from the Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake in The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook (America's Test Kitchen, 2011). The cake uses 6 yolks and 3 egg whites, so be sure to keep those extra 3 whites aside if making the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. 

For the cake

  • Softened butter and cake flour for pans
  • 2 ounces hazelnuts, skin on, roasted and cooled
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour, sifted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 cup (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar, divided
  • 10 tablespoons (5 ounces, 1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil (like grapeseed or safflower)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

To assemble

  • 1/2-3/4 cup strawberry preserves
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon finely-grated lemon zest, depending on taste
  • 1/2 recipe Swiss Buttercream, with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt added at the start (and without coconut)

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease three 8x2-inch pans with softened butter. Line the bases with parchment paper, grease the parchment, then dust bottoms and sides with flour, tapping out excess. Set aside.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, grind the hazelnuts into a fine meal. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides and pulse again one or two times. You should have about 1/2 cup hazelnut meal.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ground hazelnuts, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt and 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar. In another bowl, or a jug with a pouring spout, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, neutral oil, vanilla extract and egg yolks. Set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Sprinkle in the cream of tartar. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and with the machine running, pour in the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a steady stream. Continue to beat until the egg whites are glossy and stiff peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the egg whites into a bowl and set aside.

Add flour mixture to the now-empty mixer bowl. With the machine running on low speed, slowly pour in the buttermilk mixture, stirring until just incorporated, around 20 seconds. Stop the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk again until there's no visible flour, around 15 seconds more (note: due to the hazelnuts, this batter will not be completely smooth).

With a rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten. Add 1/2 of the remaining whites and fold gently until almost combined, a few white streaks can remain. Add the last of the whites and continue to fold until no streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Tap the pans gently on the counter a few times to release any large air bubbles. 

Bake layers in a preheated oven until the cake begins to pull away from the edge of the pan and a cake tester (toothpick) inserted in the centre comes out clean, around 20 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the edge of the cakes with an offset spatula or butter knife, then invert onto a wire rack lined with clean parchment and remove the baking parchment from the bottom of the layer. Invert the cake again onto a greased wire rack and cool completely before filling and frosting, at least 2 hours. 

To assemble, mix the strawberry preserves with the lemon zest in a bowl. Stack and fill the cakes, dividing the jam between the cake layers and topping each with thin coat of buttercream. Use the remaining buttercream to cover and decorate the sides and top to your liking.

For a tutorial on filling and frosting a cake, see here.

Makes 1 8-inch, three-layer cake.

Notes:

  • The ground hazelnuts can be substituted for an equal amount other ground nuts — almonds, walnuts or pistachio are winning bets. Or, if not your thing, omit nuts altogether and make up the difference with an equal amount (2 ounces, 1/2 cup) of sifted cake flour.
  • The cake layers can be made a day ahead and kept at room temperature overnight, wrapped well in clingfilm. As pictured, I used three 6-inch pans, baking the cakes for around 25 mintues.
  • I use a chunky, homemade strawberry preserve, one that's not particularly sweet as far as jams go. If yours is on the sweeter side, you might want to pull back to 1/2 cup total. Also, keep in mind that a thick layer of jam will cause the cake to slide when stacked, so err on the side of miserly.
  • This cake plays well with other frostings. A malted or coffee buttercream would be ones I'd suggest, or even a good old whipped ganache. The buttercream can be coloured or left plain — it is naturally white, as seen in between the layers, and I used a mix of paste food colours to tint the icing for the exterior.
  • I did a piece on decorating layer cakes for Saveur last year; if you're looking for more tips, it might be of interest.
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Lightly toasted; an adapted Irish soda bread slathered with butter and black raspberry preserves, served on my Grandmother's china.

When I married my husband, I adopted his surname. Lucky for me, attached to that marvelous man was a name that suited my own and came with an added bonus - an apostrophe as its crown. And so, on our wedding day, my Indian self became an Irish girl.

At birth each of our sons were claimed by their history, given names which carry meaning in our respective families. As the boys grow, I am time and again amazed by the echoes of their heritage as they become evident. William's smile is the replica of his father's at the same age. Benjamin's eyes carry my expressions. Family members tell stories of relatives we have never known, and how they are mirrored now in our children.

I am struck by the wonder of it, the way that traits find their way through bloodlines, inextricably weaving generations together in repeating pattern. It is an unending chorus, sung in round, sung back.

Our sense of identity is in constant evolution; carrying on and adding on, as we move forward in lives and relationships. Despite this change, we often remember back as we move ahead - gesture a nod of acknowledgement to the clans, countries and cultures from which we came.

Although I cannot pretend to be an expert Indian cook, I do attempt to speak that language of spice in our kitchen. My chicken curry might not exactly be my father's, but it is the one my children will know as "theirs". I have made a refrain of my commitment to maintaining that vocabulary of food, so that it will remain familiar.

With the day for St. Patrick approaching next week, my thoughts took a Gaelic turn. Irish might make up only a fraction of our family, but its brand upon us is indisputable - therefore it seemed proper to herald the feast of the patron saint of Ireland. Ever-present on the Irish table, hearty, satisfying soda bread made its way to our plates, with its unassuming stature and nubbled crumb. Although its rough-hewn crust seems substantial, its cheeks are tender. Soda bread is heavier textured than a scone, and with a flavour more subtly-complex than the all-out buttery-ness of a biscuit.

The romantic side of me wants to say that the reason my sons and husband enjoyed this bread so much was because of some genetic predisposition - a subconscious recognition of an ancient root in their geneology. That may be the case, or it might have just been some good bread. Either way, the intent was there; a meal to celebrate not one day, but all those that had passed before.

IRISH-ISH SODA BREAD

Traditional Irish soda bread only contains flour, buttermilk, baking soda and salt. This version uses a mix of flours, along with oats for texture, and an egg for richness. Since I more often than not have yogurt in the fridge, I have used it as my liquid. A quick bake in high heat allows you to have bread on the table, from start to finish, in about an hour.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (large flake, not instant)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons golden (light) brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups yogurt (I use non-fat)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup, 1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter, diced

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a standard baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, salt, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg. Set aside.

Using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour cutting and work the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the yogurt, mixing until you have a rough dough. Use your hands to turn and lightly knead the bread in the bowl, incorporating all the dry ingredients.

Working quickly, turn the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds; the dough should be soft and elastic. Form the dough into a boule, about 8-inches across with a gentle dome and slightly-flattened top. Dust the surface of the bread with a sprinkling of flour, then use a sharp knife to slash a shallow cross from edge to edge of the loaf. Transfer bread to prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If the crust gets too dark during baking, tent loosely with foil. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes, then enjoy.

Makes 1 loaf.

Notes:

• The dough make take a few turns in the bowl to fully come together. If only absolutely necessary, add a bit more yogurt, a teaspoon at a time, to incorporate all the dry ingredients. Work the dough as gently as possible.

I have been recently tagged for two memes, both with cookbooks and cooking on the mind. For ease of reading, and to preserve my already scattered brain, I've combined the two (my apologies if this violates some esteemed meme rule that I'm not aware of).

First off, the Cook Next Door meme, thoughtfully created by Nicky and Oliver over at the gorgeous site Delicious Days, and brought to my attention by Reid of 'Ono Kine Grindz.

What's your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

It wasn’t entirely on my own, but I remember a batch of cookies I made with my great-aunt when I was about six or younger. I told her that we had made chocolate cookies in school, and that they were tasty. I then proceeded to tell her the recipe — as per the memory of a six year old. In her support of my budding interest, she helped me gather my ingredients and supervised as I mixed, dumped and sampled the project. Please note, measuring was not involved. Nor were eggs, I don’t think. I remember the cookies were hard as a rock and would not come off the sheet, but my aunt patiently pried them off and declared them delicious. I’m amazed she didn’t chip a tooth.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

This is a very tough one to answer. From my youth, I’d have to say the women in my life: my mother, my grandmother and my best friend’s mother next door. From my mother I learned to be fearless with food, to eat from street vendors and happily get my fingers stuck into a mess. From my grandmother, I learned about comfort, foods that had history to her, and how to make the perfect scrambled eggs. From the lady next door, I learned to love all things Italian (a cuisine far removed from my own Anglo-Indian palate); veal scallopini, hearty pastas and Easter breads.

Today, my food influences are evolving. My father, who was always one for culinary improvisation, has taken over a lot of the cooking at my parents house. From him, I’ve learned the exacting art to sandwich making, how to perfect roast beef, and how to look at tried and true ingredients with a fresh perspective. I’m also more influenced by the foods and tastes of my friends, picking and choosing elements of cuisines to add to my own repertoire.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world?

I don’t have one here, but I will get back to you.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

Not a dish per se, but attempting some of the tried-and-true recipes family recipes terrifies me. My family is not one to write things down often, preferring the “bit of this, dash of that” method. For example, my father has told me his keema recipe a million times, but I never can get the taste right — it never tastes like home. Maybe I need to make it with him, or maybe I need to make it more often. Or maybe I should just keep eating at their house.

I used to be terrified of roasting chicken; making sure it was properly cooked so that I did not inadvertently poison a loved one. After perfecting my method (and finally buying a meat thermometer) I am cured.

What are your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

The chef’s knife my parents gave me for Christmas years ago — so many years ago, that I cannot remember the year. It was my first real chef’s knife, all my own. Admittedly, I knicked my palm when I took it out (how’s that for a Christmas morning memory), but now it is an extension of my arm when I’m cooking. Since then I’ve received a lovely full set of professional knives, but I still go back to my first love. There is something about it’s weight and balance that simply feels right in my hand.

Biggest disappointment?

Besides the Henkels herb contraption Michele mentioned, I would have to say my double bladed mezzaluna from Williams-Sonoma. It is a thing of beauty, really, but too bad it is not nearly sharp enough. It turns herbs into a sodden mass wedged between the blades.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else does.

Cilantro in my tuna salad — is that weird? That is the way my father made it when I was growing up, and so it is the only way I really enjoy it. Full of finely minced onions and lots of pepper, too. It is worth the bad breath for the taste of my Dad’s tuna salad.

When I was little, all the kids loved my mother’s peanut butter sandwiches. She was known for making the best sandwiches in the neighborhood. Her secret? Butter and peanut butter on the bread. Sounds like cardiac suicide, but I’m telling you, it was tasty. I think it was the saltiness of the butter that worked against the sweetness of the peanuts. Honestly, years later, I’ll run into someone from my childhood and they’ll mention my mother’s sandwiches. Every once in a while, I still crave them.

What are the three edibles or dishes you simply don't want to live without?

I do not know if this fits the “dish” criteria, but my favorite meals are ones when we head to the market, basket in hand, and visit our favorite purveyors. We come home laden with cheeses, breads, some cured meats and simply sit down and feast. I have a heartfelt passion for these afternoons.

Masala dosas, wrapped in banana leaves, from street vendors in India. Or really, my mom's dosas. These thin crêpes, filled with spiced potatoes and peas, have always been a favorite of mine. I remember on a train trip when I was about eight, all I wanted was a dosa. At the next station, my father gestured someone over to the window and ordered. With lightning speed, the man assembled my treat and passed it over. I greedily tore open the leaf, tore off a bit of dosa, scooped up the potatoes and shoved my fist into my mouth. Then I started to cry. It seems the man had put some firey green chili chutney onto the dosa without my father noticing. If that didn’t turn me off of them, then it must be love.

A hot cup of tea with condensed milk, like my mom makes when I am sick or sad.

Any question you missed in this meme that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Your favorite ice-cream.
Mango-peach frozen yogurt in a waffle cone from a place in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, or pretty much anything chocolate.

You will definitely never eat...

I don’t know if I can really say never, but I'm not chomping at the bit to try natto — after all the accounts I’ve read, I’ve not come across a report of anyone falling in love at first bite. The consistency throws me off a bit.

Your own signature dish...

I wish it was more complicated, but really, probably a simple pavlova. They are loved by my family, and are frequently requested.

And now, a Cookbook meme courtesy of a tag by Michele — I’m unsure of its origin (please feel free to enlighten me).

How many cookbooks do I own?

Is lots an acceptable answer? I have got a bookcase full here, but there are also the books I have leant out and the books I sentimentally have claimed from my family’s collection (even if they are not aware of my designs as of yet). I also have an addiction to food magazines, with some kept in their own little dividers, and others pillaged for recipes and recompiled in recipe binders. I’m quite particular about my binders, and recently overhauled the whole system. Yes, I have issues.

The last cookbook I bought?

The Instant Cook by Donna Hay. I have a few of her books, and snapped up a copy of her latest about a month ago. I admire the simplicity of her presentations and the variety of her tastes.

The last food book I read?

I’ve recently returned to Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I have owned the book for a while, but I picked it up again. I love how immersed they are in the culture and heritage of the foods they explore. Evocative and appetizing, this book is a feast for the eyes, taste buds and the soul.

Five cookbooks that hold a place in my heart?

Instead of answering this question, I have given myself a little assignment. For the month of July (after I post my Taste Canada entry) I will explore five of my favorite cookbooks, taking a week or so for each. I have not selected the five, so I’ll be surprised along with all of you at the results.

Both these memes are already highly popular, and so many of the people I had planned on tagging have already participated. If you would like to be tagged, please let me know in the comments section.

Tag! Catherine, from the lovely Food Musings has been tagged to participate in either (or both) memes listed here. Let's show her some love!

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Years ago, I was inspired by the foods of my family; the diverse offerings from around the globe that ended up at our table, the stack of cookbooks in the corner of our kitchen, the improvised meals on the run Mom packed for family trips. Back then, when it came to those cookbooks, I was drawn to the classic snobbery of fine dining. I would read them like novels, pouring over the notes with each recipe, memorizing details about Escoffier, imagining menus for the extremely elegant parties I would someday host.

Since then, my tastes have mellowed a bit. I’ll admit I’m still one to ignore my account balance when eating out in a new city, but simple home cooking, pared down flavours and unpretentious dining are my new personal aspirations. I still read cookbooks like novels, and treasure certain classic tomes, but the most food-splattered and dog eared are those that emphasize quality ingredients and simple preparations.

I’m at a culinary crossroads – a few years off from thirty, I’ve said goodbye to my parents’ table (except on Sundays), and a student diet of fast food and pasta has had its day. I am now at a point where I’m starting to establish the way I cook, the flavours that figure heavily in my palate, and the recipes that are slowly becoming my repertoire.

There is an anthology of Canadian Literature called “improved by cultivation”, and this thought has been tugging at my mind lately. I feel like I’m in that process — revisiting the comfort foods of my youth, learning the culinary traditions of the friends I love, and opening up my eyes to the world of food yet explored.

Thanks for the company.

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