Tag Archives: food

How I Learned to Love the Garden

27 Aug

I have always appreciated food though, admittedly, I have learned to appreciate it on new levels in the last ten years. I’ve certainly always enjoyed eating and reaping the rewards of others’ hard work; now, I understand just how much work goes into getting that food to my hungry mouth.  It’s not like I wasn’t exposed to food production as a child: my dad maintained a wonderful garden in our backyard that had carrots, beets, tomatoes, peas, beans, chives, rhubarb, cucumber and whatever else he felt like planting (like the year he tried corn. I kept hoping for ghost baseball players to appear. Sadly, neither the corn nor the ghosts deigned to show). We also had cherry, pear and apricot trees along with a raspberry bush and grapevines. Homegrown fruits and veggies we did not lack. We also had a walnut tree but in the 20+ years we lived in our house, no one ate a single, solitary walnut. We’d find them on the ground with six tiny, squirrel bites taken out of them. Tree rats are the worst. What I lacked was the interest in cultivating them. My parents would send me into the yard to pick whatever was ripe at the time and I’d inevitably come back with about 50% of what needed to be picked. What can I say? I was more interested in something SUPER IMPORTANT like whether or not Zack and Kelly‘s eternal love would be torn asunder by the evil Jeff.

Fast forward to 2007. I am now living in an apartment with J and ruing the lack of outdoor space to grow my own food. We would buy basil plants that would, inevitably, wither and die in record time. We did see some success planting mint in my dad’s garden. So much success, in fact, that the mint spread over the next few months and by the following summer, was rather intrusively making its way into the rest of the garden. That was bolstering, though. “I can actually grow things,” I remarked as my dad looked on, happy I’d taken an interest in gardening but dismayed by the herb that was now embedded in the chives and beans and peas and…

Jump to 2012. J and I are house hunting. We come across a house with a slightly wild but charming front yard and an absolutely lovely backyard with lush, red cherry tomatoes. “This has potential,” I think to myself excitedly. The sight of those gorgeous tomatoes has stirred something inside me and I can imagine spending quiet afternoons planting and weeding and watering and enjoying the fruits of my labour. The day we took possession of the house, I went straight to the yard and plucked one of the tomatoes from the vine and popped it in my mouth. “That’s it. I’m growing everything I can back here.”

Next spring, my dad arrived at the house with tomato seed packets and a container with soil pods to get them started. I took a surprising amount of delight planting the little seeds and watching them grow into full blown…seedlings. My dad planted them in one of the gardens and I tended to those things like I tended to foodNURDling. By August we had fresh, plump cherry, Early Girl and beefsteak tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

 

Emboldened by my success, I started to hatch plans for summer 2014. I planted beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, green, red and jalapeno peppers, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and mint. When each ripened, I happily picked ALL of the fruits and vegetables and gave each to the foodNURDling. As he happily gobbled down cucumber and tomato slices, I called my mom:

“Mom! A thing I grew is eating a thing I grew!” I almost wanted to cry.

It was A Moment for me. Growing food for me and my family. This is how I learned to love my garden.

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Authentic Greek…and Beyond

13 Dec

Of the many popular cuisines of the world, I am admittedly uneducated about Greek cuisine.  I can tell you the basics, but beyond that I am sadly ignorant. A little while ago I came across a great Greek-centric blog, Kalofagas – Greek Food & Beyond. I had the chance to chat with Peter Minaki, the man behind the food, about his passion and his wonderful new cookbook, Everything Mediterranean.  Over espresso-boosted drinks, Peter told me about having to fend for himself in the kitchen when his parents would go on vacation to Greece and that while barbecuing was all well and good, it got repetitive after a while.  He started experimenting with Greek classics and discovered he had a real talent for it.

Fast forward to the 2000’s and Peter is ready for a change from the world of finance. His blog is already up and running with a solid following. He gives up his job in 2011 to cook Greek food full-time. He begins to set up supper clubs for 30-60 guests per event in the GTA that become increasingly popular and lo and behold, a cookbook publisher comes calling! Over a summer, he and his partner test and draft a few versions of 300+ recipes and Everything Mediterranean is born.

The book is a thorough and detailed journey through Greek cuisine ranging from the popular dishes (souvlaki, moussaka, grilled octopus, baklava) to the less obvious pistachio-crusted halibut, bianko, pastourma pie and, a dish that aroused my curiosity, feta cheesecake. Each recipe has an easy, step-by-step guide and, should you want it, nutritional information. I made the slow-cooked pork chops in white wine and they came out fabulously. I’m told the maple-crusted lamb and olive oil fries are must-tries. Meanwhile, that feta cheesecake is calling to me…

Would you like to get your own copy of Peter’s book? Check it out over on Amazon! It would make a great Christmas gift for the foodies on your list!

What comprises the soul of a chef?

31 Jan

What elevates the every day cook into an amazing chef? Is it technical prowess? Creativity? Passion? Stubbornness? A combination of any or all of these? What drives a person to seek perfection in plate after plate and how do they maintain that focus and drive? These are the questions Michael Ruhlman seeks to answer in his book,  Soul of a Chef. This is the third book in his “Chef” series and maybe the most in depth. In his previous two books,The Making of a Chef and Reach of a Chef , Ruhlman explores the world of professional cooking, starting with enrolling in and observing students at the Culinary Institute of America and eventually speaking with established chefs. But in Soul, Ruhlman attempts to determine what qualities define a great chef and what is the road one must take to achieve greatness.

Soul begins with Ruhlman observing 10 chefs who are partaking in the Certified Master Chef’s (CMC) exam. This is a gruelling, week-long exam that tests the chefs’ technical abilities. It focuses on technique and execution and is so difficult that the pass rate is well below 50%. Ruhlman documents the rapidly changing mental health of the chefs as well as their motives for taking the test in  the first place. Some do it for a bump in pay; some for the challenge; some for the pedigree apparently associated with it. It is a controversial test in the food world, however, as it is taken by so few – and passed by even fewer – that its relevance is questionable. It assumes that the only measure of a chef is a technical one, but is that the only factor? Is it even the most important one?

The middle of the book is spent with a now-famous chef, Michael Symon. Symon has just opened Lola, helping to give Cleveland some foodie credibility. Symon is a gregarious, affable guy who clearly loves to cook and runs a loud, chaotically-organized kitchen. The appearance of his food may not be 5-star, but no matter: the flavours are outstanding. Ruhlman explores the idea of perfection in taste and experience being more important than exacting technical standards being met.

Finally, the last third of the book follows Ruhlman as he travels across the country to the Napa Valley where Thomas Keller is blowing minds and making people fall in love with his food at The French Laundry. Keller is not a professionally trained chef, but he produces some of the most technically accomplished, striking plates of any chef in the world. He cooks from the heart and his technical skill is almost unparalleled.

Ruhlman examines all three aspects of success in cooking (skill, heart and a combination thereof) and it leads him to conclude that there is no one thing that constitutes a great chef. To be truly great requires myriad factors working in harmony.  I’m a big fan of Ruhlman’s books as he delivers an honest, in-depth look at the culinary world without getting too lost in the details and without being sycophantic. I’d highly recommend picking up any of his books for a fun, interesting read!

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