Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Look up

Living in the city we are removed from the source of our food. True we may grow herbs, vegetables or even some fruit in our town gardens but few of us feed ourselves. At this time of the year many of my neighbours are busy canning tomatoes. In almost every garage, along the lane that runs behind our building, whole families assemble to cook huge pots of tomatoes balanced precariously on propane burners. Some are also making their own wine, you'll see the telltale boxes of crushed grapes at the kerb on garbage day. My mother used to can, or rather bottle as we called it; peaches, pears, apricots and tomatoes all carefully packed into tall glass jars, sealed with a rubber ring and a metal lid before being processed in an electric canner. It was comforting to know, with the approach of winter, that there was a cupboard filled with the tastes of summer. Of course now we can buy almost any fruit or vegetable anytime, fresh, or at least "fresh frozen" so not many of us bother to preserve anymore. But, if you are the one who peels the tomatoes or stones the fruit, then the contents of those jars will taste so much better.
Autumn is the season of change and when I look up at the sky, which is clear and bright at this time of the year, I remember just how much we depend on Mother Nature and farmers.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Chewing the Fat

Well, as you have realised, I am not a very good blogger. I just can't seem to get to it more than once or twice a week. Is it my glamorous, fun-filled life style? Hardly, but I will admit it has been a little more hectic than usual. My book Fat is getting some press and lots of pick up on the Internet.
This is great, although I wonder if it will translate into sales (I hope so). The best part of all this attention is that I've received emails from around the world, around the world, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium and Ireland. This has led to radio interviews with interesting people. I've even managed to break through the two solitudes of Canada and do an interview in French, with the national broadcaster Radio-Canada.
So instead of blogging I've been chatting. I hope to put these "foreign" conversations up on the blog soon. If you want to listen to my dulcet tones right now, there are some links on this page.
I also did my first TV spot for Fat on the Steve and Chris show here in Toronto. It was fun, but I discovered why I could never do television, I don't have that much energy! I much prefer chatting on the phone and blogging; I don't need make-up for either.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Perfect Day

Today is a perfect late summer day, clear blue sky, a crisp morning followed by an afternoon warm enough to sit outside. This weather reminds me of my arrival in Canada some 28 winters ago. The weather that September and well into October was just like today - perfect. I loved it. And like those first explorers, I too was fooled, lulled into a false sense of well-being which left me totally unprepared for winter to follow.
Let's just say growing up in Melbourne, Australia that I didn't really understand what -23C temperatures really meant or that the hairs in my nostrils could freeze solid as soon as I stepped outside. So, despite ordering two bush cords of firewood today, I am banishing all thoughts of winter from my mind and enjoying these last warm perfect days.
I am also trying to convince my fig tree that summer will last a few more weeks. As you see from this photo, it is only about a meter high but prolific. I have already eaten a dozen delicious figs and there are about another two dozen waiting to ripen, but I fear half of them won't make it. Those of you who live where figs are allowed to to rot on the ground should be feeling guilty.
I carefully nurture this 10 year old tree, it winters inside like me
and has an olive tree about the same height to keep it company. I thought I might even get two or three olives this year - but the blossoms didn't set, perhaps next year. I have a third plant to complete my Mediterranean trinity - a lemon tree. Every Christmas it rewards me with lemon blossom, wonderful as it winters in the bathroom and then lemons. Life in Toronto, even in deepest winter, is not all bad if you remind yourself like Goethe, that there is a land where lemon trees bloom.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Where have I been?

I know you are supposed to blog often but I've been too busy to blog, sorry. I've been talking up animal fats in the Midwest as a presenter at the Traverse City Epicurean Classic.
My session was titled "Fat is not a four letter word". I wasn't sure how I would be received, especially as en route I stopped to pick up a coffee. Usually I drink my coffee at home so I am confused, early in morning by the plethora of choice. Finally, I negotiated a tall cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, what ever happened to small, medium and large? Then I was side swiped by "skim or 2% milk?" "Whole milk", I replied. Then I was told that 2% was whole milk!!!!!!! I patiently explained that whole milk was 3.8% fat and better in every way. I was tempted to whip out a book and let them know I was the FAT lady. However, there was no convincing this barista, so 2% milk it was, and she explained "it was Michigan thing". How could I talk about fat if these people didn't even drink whole milk?

The barista was wrong. Midwesterners appreciate fat and they liked what I had to say, that it's OK to put quality animal fat back in your diet. Fat won't make you fat, eating too much will.
I met lots of people, they are very friendly in the midwest, and I also was able to meet some of the other chefs and cookbook authors who were at the event. If any of you are in the area in September, make sure you go. And, if you can't make the Classic, at least visit Traverse City. It's a interesting town, in a beautiful location with lots of good restaurants, a perfect place for a holiday.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Les fraises des bois

An Autumn chill may be in the morning air but I'm still eating strawberries from my garden. I have several fraises des bois plants that have colonized the ground between my red currant bush and raspberry canes. I guess while mine should correctly be called fraises de jardin, they are also known as wild or alpine strawberries, that's why they do so well in Toronto, they don't mind the cold. Whatever you call them they are delicious. Their fragrance is intense and their flavour mimics strawberry jam balanced by a touch of acidity. I first tasted them in France where they are commonly served with crème fraîche and a sugar shaker. They appear early in the summer and stay in the markets late into the autumn. They are always expensive, and I now know why. The plants are not prolific, less than half a dozen tiny berries a day from my good sized patch. This photograph shows a day's harvest, but I hadn't touched my plants for a few days so there was everything from overripe soft berries to barely red ones. And as you can see the berries are tiny, the largest is no bigger than the nail of my smallest finger.

Mixed together, they were a perfect mouthful . Their heady fragrance intensifying the taste and keeping summer alive.
Read more about strawberries, the only fruit that has its seeds on the outside.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Talk, Sell, Talk, Sell

I've started the interviews to publicize Fat. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to food people from all over North America and even from Australia, but I find it mentally very tiring. Perhaps I am not skilled at talking about myself, I know I'm not good at small talk. But this is different I really believe in this book and I want people to look at animal fat again and realise that it's not the evil killer. I want them to understand that is essential to the flavour of what they cook and eat. So I happy to talk about fat and try convince anyone who'll listen.
I carefully prepare for every conversation, try to remember those key messages, stay bright and energetic but somehow there is always a question I misunderstand or one that causes my mind to go completely blank so that I can't even remember my name.
Do I sound, smart? Convincing? Does the reporter and the audience believe me? And most importantly will they buy my book? With all the wonderful cookbooks out there how do you convince someone to buy yours? Especially such a contrarian one!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Corn on the barbecue

I always boiled my corn. Removing the husks and silk then dropping them into boiling salted water, before draining and slathering with butter, adding nothing more than sea salt and freshly ground pepper. The pepper surprised my husband who, until he met me, only added salt. Then, like many who read food magazines, I began the torturous task of peeling back the husk, attempting the impossible task of removing all the silk before rewrapping the cob in its leaves and soaking the whole thing before barbecuing. Superior taste and flavour was the promise. False. It was simply a tiresome way to steam the corn. Even worse, it tasted just like boiled corn.
My husband, the real corn lover in the family, decided to barbecue it, taking his inspiration from the street vendors in Toronto's India town, where grilled corn is a popular snack. After several attempts he has now perfected his method. The naked cobs are brushed with a fat and spice mixture. Lard, goose or duck fat, whatever is in our refrigerator, is blended with salt, cayenne or chili powder, garam masala and paprika. He brushes the cobs all over with this flavoured fat then cooks them over medium high, turning four times. When you here the corn popping and see some crisp burnt kernels, it's ready.