Goodbye winter

It has been a perfect long weekend in Toronto. The weather could not be better and as I write from the shady comfort of my front porch, I want to take a moment to reflect on my winter. I did not get into a regular exercise routine or go snowshoeing but I didn't hate winter this year so I will call it a successful season. For one, the weather was relatively mild. Two, we had a really lovely trip to Asia with my parents. It was my first time back in Asia since I moved back from Hong Kong and H's first time. We trotted around HK eating egg waffles and kayaked among karsts in breathtaking Halong Bay. Good food was everywhere and although H was disabled by a three-day bout of food poisoning, we had an incredible time exploring the city through her newbie eyes. HK is incredible and will always have a special place in my heart. 

Aside from long hours at work, I found some time to continue writing for The Globe and Mail and some other publications. My mention of Big Crow in the winter led to an article about entertaining outdoors in the winter and I explored how the Diary Farmers are trying to woo Chinese-Canadians to incorporate dairy into their diets with mixed results. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Bertinelli about the kitchen in her Malibu home for the May issue of House and Home. She is incredibly kind and I introduced her to Caesars, the Canadian version of Bloody Marys. 

Perhaps the most fun was my piece about the cookbook club I started earlier this year. The project was inspired by a Serious Eats article, my underused cookbook collection and love of entertaining. Simply put, a cookbook club is what you get when you combine a book club with a potluck. You can read all about it (and see embarrassing photos) on the G&M site here

Since the spring started, my life has been taken over by wedding-planning as I'm getting married in a month! Turns out hosting a party for 150 people takes a lot of time and the work is never done. However, there are a few upcoming to-be-published articles I'm very excited about. I have many thoughts about wedding-planning which may or may not end up here one day but the prevailing emotions H and I feel is just overwhelming happiness and so very lucky to have such amazing family and friends. We have had so many positive responses and messages of love, it makes me tear up just thinking about them.




Winter's coming

All the ingredients required for the three-rum punch found in Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune cookbook. 7.5L of rum!

All the ingredients required for the three-rum punch found in Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune cookbook. 7.5L of rum!

As soon a the weather drops and I’m forced to wear a jacket, I get sad. Instead of admiring the changing leaf-colours and the return of pumpkin beer, I am preoccupied by the feeling of impending doom. Winter is coming. Last year, it was only bearable because we finally took a sun vacation so when the holidays were over, we at least had a trip to look forward to. Some break from the horror of January’s long days and February’s windchill. Not this winter. We spoiled ourselves too early in the year and the vacation budget is overspent. We do have a trip planned in December, but that's before the holidays so it doesn't count. There will be no break this year and so, to overcome the winter misery, I vow to find some ways to embrace the season. 

Here are some ideas so far:

  1. Make Prune’s three-rum punch (it takes 3 weeks) - Started this last week! See pic above.
  2. Stick to a regular exercise routine - toughest one
  3. Eat at Big Crow at least once because it’s the best in the winter - enjoy the smell of firewood clinging to clothes, wrap warm blanket around me while I eat poke
  4. Follow the Raptors and hope they have a season like the Jays, watch them regardless
  5. Go snowshoeing
  6. Book the Dufferin Grove campfire for a winter evening, roast chestnuts

Keeping it real with Gabrielle Hamilton

Halibut with cherry tomatoes and spicy tomato broth

Halibut with cherry tomatoes and spicy tomato broth

It's August! We are in the middle of a mini U.S. tour/vacation thanks to H's conferences. Last week, I tagged along while she attended a course in New York City. I flew in on Porter, just beating out delayed flights destined for Newark to make it to a much anticipated dinner at Prune in the East Village.

I listened to Blood, Bones and Butter earlier this year and it is one of the best memoirs I've read, food-related or not. Gabrielle Hamilton has been a foodie hero long before "foodies" were a thing but I suspect she would cringe at the designation.

Last week, when I was getting buzzed on her three-rum punch and sitting in between OB-GYNs talking about vulvas and nightmare ER cases, Gabrielle walked by—three times! She looked happy and beautiful in a light blue tunic, shoulder-length bleached blonde hair, smiling as she passed us in the basement dining room. 

While we ate the chanterelles with thick buttery toasts, the smokey sweet clams and the seared halibut with tomato broth (above), I thought only once about the time she found a maggot-filled dead rat on the stairs only a few feet from us. It is a graphic image that stands out, but the book is really about a love of food. While I find some bro-y chefs endearing, Hamilton is truly the one who legitimately keeps it real. She's not on Instagram collecting likes or writing a new cook book every year. Hamilton seems to just like preparing good food that makes people happy and satisfied. It's not trendy, but she's been doing it since 1999 and her food is more personal than any meal I've had in a long time.

As a 2011 New York Times profile documented, there was that time she did a screen test for The Next Iron Chef, only to realize she didn't actually want to be apart of it.  

“I was asked, ‘So why do you want to be the next Iron Chef?’ ” Ms. Hamilton recalled. “And I said, ‘Um, I really don’t.’ ” She removed her microphone and walked off the set.

Last year, she appeared on the podcast, Go Fork Yourself, while she was writing her cookbook, Prune. It was a tome that was 15 years coming, but as she explains, it was worth waiting for:

"I'm really glad I waited 15 years. I have much more to say than I would have when they came to me originally, 14 years ago...I don't like to litter and I feel like some of these books come out and just are littering the marketplace for vanity reasons. I think, I don't want to jump the gun, but I think this book is adding and not just taking up space."

We live in a world where celebrity chefs are constantly in the spotlight. If they're not "writing" their annual cookbook, they're expanding their restaurant empire or they're selling a cook wear line or they're judging a cooking competition show. Very few keep hitting it out of the park. Most are batting well under .250, just littering the marketplace. Hamilton is a refreshing change. Don't just take up space. Add to the world.

New beginnings

I am not yet sure what I'll be doing in this space but I've decided I don't need to have a pre-determined content strategy. That's for my work work. This is fun work.

I'll start with what I plan to do in 2015.

1. Start running again: I've already signed up for my first 5k in April. I'm a bit nervous, it's a hilly route and it's been weeks since I last ran more than the distance between my house and the bulk food store (under 1k). Also, it will help me feel better about all the food-related items below.

2. Cook from my cookbooks: I have dozens and dozens of beautiful, thoughtfully made cookbooks on my shelf and I never use them. I love my cookbooks, I want to use them so this year, I will. I've already started by trying a new recipe each week. Unfortunately, my attempt at Mark Bittman's "Stewed Lentils, Ethiopian Style" (from his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) was a massive failure: too much cardamom, not enough...something else.

3. Host dinner parties: I much prefer to host smaller groups for dinner, rather than a large house party (though it's nice that people still talk about the Bros and Hos kegger). We have a nice home and an extendable dining table. Also, this may be my way to justify the purchase of new tableware.

4. Read more: Every year, I say I'm going to complete one book a month which I realize isn't all that impressive. 2013 was an embarrassment. I started six books and probably finished half of them. 2014 was a bit better, thanks to audiobooks and I have even higher hopes for 2015. I've already started Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz, so at least I'm starting on track. [Find me on Good Reads!]

This is my first post on SquareSpace. You can find my previous blogs all over the internet, mostly on Wordpress. Unfortunately, I find Wordpress too clunky and frankly, the templates weren't impressive. I'm giving this a go, but if you have suggestions for another platform (like Squarespace), I'd love to hear about it. Thanks!