Anyone who knows me or who reads this site regularly knows my feelings on donairs. Particularly that we don’t have any good ones here in Toronto, and that it’s a crying shame because we do so much to celebrate the street food of other cultures, but we seldom, even within the realm of “local”, celebrate the food of Canada. That goes for all Canadian foods, actually, not just street food, and it’s truly a delight to see restaurants like Keriwa Cafe, and Acadia to some extent (Chef Matt Blondin has a specific niche but there’s definite Canadian influences) and now Hopgood’s Foodliner (325 Roncesvalles Avenue) picking up on Canadian regional cuisine.
Geoff Hopgood has been very quiet about his recent restaurant opening. Few people knew it was even happening until news of the soft opening broke on Twitter and an exclusive with the Globe and Mail’s Chris Nuttal-Smith ran the following day. A website with the most basic info was made in late January, but wasn’t getting indexed by Google as Toronto food freaks desperately searched for more information last Friday.
While having dinner at Acadia (50C Clinton Street) recently, I remarked to owner Scott Selland that the amuse of pickled eggs, confit potatoes and bits of greens and okra reminded me of the beach. I don’t think he really got the correlation, and I’m sure I didn’t explain it well, it was just one of those neuron-firing events where something pulled up images of something else within my brain. So I dug up some photos to see if I could explain it visually.
Newspaper, nutcrackers for the claws, big bowl of melted butter. Some bread and potato salad so you can pretend it’s a balanced meal. And of course, beer.
There’s none of this fancy-ass sauce or cheese or la-di-da accompaniments. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the fancy food. But sometimes you’ve just gotta keep it real.
I’ve written before about learning to cook at the side of my Grandmother. I’ve also written about the revelation that this same Grandmother, who has been responsible for preparing 3 meals a day, for a varying number of hungry mouths, for the past 70 years, actually hates to cook. My cousin and I always assumed that the fun things she let us do while helping her prepare food were meant to be, well, fun. For us. As it turns out they were often ways for her to make the process more interesting for herself, and if she was able to take a shortcut or two in the name of “fun” then all the better.
The “pissybed” is really just a free form pie. In France, it would fall under the header of “galette” if galette meant “shit, my pastry is crap today and isn’t going to roll out properly!” Because this kind of pie is usually what you end up with, albeit unintentionally, if your pie crust is crap. You can make them if your pie crust is fine, as was my Grandmother’s – and mine – but know that unless they get to taste it, people will think this is because your dough is a no-go. My Grandma wouldn’t know a galette from a whosit – there weren’t a lot of fancy French people in rural Nova Scotia. Well, there were once but the English shipped them off to Louisiana to become Cajuns.
We were lucky enough last week to be in on a delivery of Nova Scotia lobster. It seems that, once again, the supermarket chains are undercutting the fishers and are offering a dollar less per pound than it would cost to catch the things. So one enterprising fisher from Yarmouth decided to fill a truck with lobster and head to Toronto. Word went out through a local CSA network and at the appointed date and time, we all showed up, happy to pay $7 a pound – a couple of bucks less than the cheapest local price and $3 more per pound than the chains were offering the fishers. There were even some local restaurants getting in on the deal, and the general concensus was that it was the best lobster we’d ever had outside of the Maritimes.
Greg and I were relatively conservative, buying only a half dozen. Our plan was to eat a couple, put two more into risotto and freeze the meat from the last two to pair with fiddleheads in a quiche at a later date. That didn’t happen, of course, because last Saturday, despite having had lobster for dinner the night before, we both had a hankering for lobster rolls.
The lobster roll is a specialty of the Atlantic provinces. McDonald’s even offers them in Nova Scotia. They do show up in the occasional fancy restaurant, but they are, for the most part, a roadside treat, purchased while driving around places like Peggy’s Cove; sweet chunks of fresh lobster meat presented on a soft white bun.
Problem is, there are as many ways to prepare this simple dish as there are Maritimers. And none of us can agree on the correct way to do it.
Okay, so it was never a healthy drink. On par with Tang, Sunny D or Kool-Aid, Beep was mostly sugar with some juice thrown in, but for many Nova Scotian kids, it was the beverage of choice.
I haven’t had the stuff since my early 20s. Even after I moved to Toronto, my folks would always buy a carton of Beep for me when I was back in Halifax for a visit. And then one time I forgot about it, or maybe my tastes and attitude had changed and I told them not to bother, I can’t remember.
But when news came down that Farmers Dairy was shutting down production of the lurid orange fruit drink, I think we all heaved a nostalgic sigh for childhood innocence. And started remembering the stuff with fondness.
We had to take the dog in for surgery last week. We knew it was coming and planned it for the week before Christmas because we knew it would be a quiet time. With all of our shopping and baking and wrapping done ahead of time, we had nothing to do but sit around, watch movies and pamper a recovering pet.
Except things don’t always work out as planned and our pooch came home with a painkiller patch on his belly – that didn’t work. By the night of the 23rd, when the anaesthetic had worn off, he was miserable and was whining and yowling in pain – straight through the night. We got zero sleep and didn’t know what to do. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I rushed over to the vet’s office for new painkillers; apparently there’s a small percentage of dogs that just don’t take to that medication – I had one of them. Needing groceries, I also stopped at the local Metro and grabbed three lobster.
Lobster are typically cheap around the holidays, and Greg and I have a tradition of eating lobster on Christmas Eve. I got the last three in the tank, telling the girl behind the counter that I only wanted them if they were alive and active. She assured me they were and boxed them up.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Chives restaurant in Halifax with my brother and his wife. Our mains arrived and I dug into my lobster risotto. “You guys want some?” I asked, in between inhaling mouthfuls of the rich and creamy dish.
They both wrinkled up their noses at me. “No thanks… we’re kind of tired of lobster.”
Whu-whut?? Who could possibly be tired of lobster? Don’t they realize how good this stuff is? Why, if I lived, as they do, a mere 10 minute walk from the local wharf, and it was as cheap as it has been this summer, I’d eat lobster at least once a week. “We do.” They do. And they’re getting kind of sick of it.
Blame it on the recession. When times are tough, we give up the luxuries first, and this past year, even the people who could still afford the luxuries mostly gave them up, so as not to seem ostentatious while their friends and neighbours were losing jobs, homes and life savings. Which means that items like lobster, fine wines and truffles have been getting a bad rap, and people began avoiding them.
For a while it was fine – the price of lobster dropped and those of us who couldn’t afford the crustaceans on a regular basis ate our fill. But then the prices dropped even further, and the wholesalers began offering a price that was so low, it would actually cost the lobster fishers to go to work each day.
I can’t believe I didn’t think to put the two together before. Baked beans are a traditional down east dish that I ate regularly as a kid, and still make a couple of times a year. Served up with real brown bread (bread made with molasses, not whole wheat bread), this is a perfect dish on a cold Saturday night in the winter. Also traditional on a cold winter’s night is a glass of rum, and the flavours here combine really well. I was a little heavy-handed with the rum in my test batch, thus the restrained 2 tablespoons in the ingredients list, but rum lovers can add up to a quarter of a cup. Just be warned that not all the alcohol burns off, so these beans have a bit of a kick to them.
I used Sailor Jerry spiced rum because I have seekrit aspirations to be a hipster, but mostly because that’s what I had on hand. But any decently flavoured spiced rum would do.
My Mom and Dad have a massive rhubarb patch in their back yard. I think it might actually be one gigantic plant, in fact, but it keeps them well-stocked in rhubarb all summer long. This recipe gets made a lot in their house, to use up the rhubarb, but also because it’s really good. My Mom cuts these smaller, into squares (16 from an 8-inch pan), but I tend to think of this as more of a coffee cake, and given the small amount of fat in the recipe, don’t feel terribly guilty serving up larger pieces and thinking of it as cake.
I cook this at a slightly higher heat than the original recipe calls for, and I also tend to find the original a bit too sweet for me, so I’ve switched the topping to brown sugar from white, and cut the amount slightly.