Market Mondays – Melons

Sometimes, I’m not so bright. Because when I made up the list of fruit and veg to include in this column, I mostly based it on what would be in season. Which is the point of the whole thing (we’ll start covering meat and dairy and spices and such in the winter after the fall harvest), except for the fact that I didn’t really think too much about recipes.

Or more importantly, that there are a few seasonal items, such as melon, that you just don’t cook with all that much. Think about it – chilled soup, salsa, a few cocktails, fruit salad… maybe some cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Whoops.

So what I have for you today is two different recipes for watermelon gazpacho, both from fabulous local chefs, and (thankfully) different enough that you can pick which one you’d prefer to make based on the other ingredients. Or make them both and do a taste test.

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On the Shelf – Good Stuff We Found in March

It’s been a while since we ran an On the Shelf column. I’m not sure why – it’s not like I haven’t been shopping. But in the past month I’ve come across some great finds that I just had to share.

Dark Chocolate with fragments of Rose – Chocolats Yves Thuries
Available at: Domino’s, St. Lawrence Market, $5.99
This is exactly what it appears to be, a 70% dark chocolate bar with little nibs of candied rose. I’ve not heard of this chocolatier before but this is a really nice chocolate with a bright sheen and a good snap, although the flavour, logically, takes a backseat to the rose. There’s also mint and lavender versions of this confection, and the lavendar one is very pretty, and not at all soapy or overpowering.

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It’s All About Who You Know

It would seem that Toronto’s underground dining scene really did fizzle after its 15 minutes of fame. A few months back, Charlie’s Burgers was the name on everyone’s lips as Chowhounders and other “foodies” (note – derisive use of terminology) fought to have their applications accepted for the right to pay $150 and upwards per person to eat a meal with strangers.

Sticker shock may have made the love affair short-lived, but all the while another truly underground restaurant has been chugging along, albiet with a short break when chef/caterer Karen Viva-Haynes broke her leg.

6° is Viva-Haynes’ answer to the underground restaurant scene. The twice-monthly dinners take place in her basement catering kitchen, and you have to know Karen, someone involved with Viva Tastings, or know someone who knows them, to get an invite.

The price is usually $75 – $95  for a 5 course meal, and guests bring their own beverages. An email goes out the day before the event that provides the menu – or at least key elements – so guests can bring wine or beer to pair with the food, which is focused on seasonal, sustainable, and local as much as possible.

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Gather Round the Table

I haven’t met anyone who isn’t just a little bit sceptical of the communal dining trend, except perhaps restaurateurs who have added a communal table in the hopes of using it for either large groups or stragglers. For most of us, our inclination when going out to eat is to dine and talk with the people we came with. Strangers can be, well… strange, and dining with people we don’t know – people who might have odd table manners, or smell funny, or natter on and on about some topic we have no interest in – can make an otherwise lovely evening turn out to be a bust.

Communal dining isn’t a new idea, though, it’s as old as the discovery of fire when prehistoric man gathered round a single heat source to cook  food. Even without the restaurant trend, it exists today in the form of dinner parties, bed and breakfasts,wedding banquets and office lunches. We eat together to celebrate an occasion, to get to know one another, to strengthen bonds. And often we find ourselves eating with people who start out as strangers but who are friends, or at least acquaintances, by the time dessert is cleared.

Despite being a curmudgeon and a bit of a misanthrope, I find myself at a communal table at least once a month, often more. Most of the time, the dinners I attend are comprised of other food writers; colleagues who have been invited to cover the event or a specific product. But I’ve also been to plenty of dinners that are purely social, because I am interested in the food, or the experience.

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Can You Keep a Secret?

It was a dark and stormy night. As the rain poured down and the wind battered our umbrellas, we opened the newspaper box and pulled out an envelope bearing our name. After opening the letter and reading the instructions, we placed $220 in the envelope, walked a block or so west and headed down a darkened laneway, then a steep flight of stairs. We knocked and a small window in the door opened. “What’s the password?” a burly face asked. “We’re here to see Charlie,” I replied, a quiver of fear and anticipation in my voice. The door swung open. The man took our envelope of cash and directed us down a hallway where we entered a room revealing a scene like something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The champagne was flowing, the band was playing, and everywhere we turned, gastronomic delights were spread across tables for the taking.

Okay… not quite. The evening was sunny and mild, the room was a brightly lit west-end gallery space, and (thankfully) no pretentious password was required to get in. Comparisons to a 1920s speakeasy aren’t far off when talking about how to get into an event in Toronto’s underground restaurant scene, but it’s actually much more subdued and cultivated – the emphasis being on great food and drink more than anything else.

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Where Can I Find – Local Preserves

I got an email from some friends recently looking for locally-made jam. They were specifically looking for wee little jars to give out as favours at their upcoming wedding, but as I thought and thought and thought about it, I was having a hard time coming up with anything more than Greaves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where they got the idea for wee little jars in the first place.

When most of us think of jam we either head for our favourite supermarket brands or else to the pantry for a jar of homemade. After all, nothing compares to Grandma’s. But the area in between is a grey one. Jams, jellies and preserves that don’t fit into the homemade or supermarket versions often get lumped in with luxury consumables; the kind of thing you’d enjoy if someone gave you a gift basket of the stuff, but not something that you’d necessarily seek out for yourself.

Which is a shame, especially when we’re talking about products made from local fruit, since the abundance of berries and stone fruit available in Southern Ontario each summer is some of the best in the world.

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