One of the minor irritations of living on an island is shopping for specific items. With only a couple of small grocery stores you never really know what's going to be available so it's pretty pointless to go shopping with a list. In the summer I see city people wandering through the market looking increasingly desperate as they realize that they won't be able to find the smoked paprika and bomba rice they need for their paella.
Friday, October 29, 2010 | | 2 Comments
There's nothing like a year-long mystery illness to make you appreciate the simple things in life. These days I find myself feeling grateful for everything - cooking a meal, hanging the laundry, baking a loaf of bread, or pulling a few weeds in the garden all seem like small miracles.
Before I got sick I think I was becoming jaded about food. We're spoiled for choice here on the West Coast. In Vancouver there are so many world-class restaurants, representing virtually every kind of cuisine - and much of it is reasonably priced. New restaurants open up almost every week - from opulent temples of molecular gastronomy to local hash houses (and a few of the other kind of hash house, too). It's almost monotonous in its variety. Having a seriously restricted diet forces you to retrain your palate and really taste food again. You can't rely on butter, cream or culinary pyrotechnics to cover up inferior ingredients.
The chicken stew I cooked last week is a good case in point. The ingredients were simple: free-range chicken, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, rutabaga, potatoes and a few herbs - and that's it! No wine, stock or tomatoes, just a cup or so of water to form the sauce.
All the components tasted entirely of themselves and it was one of the best things I'd eaten in a long while. It didn't hurt that all of the ingredients except the celery were local.
A few days later I was inspired by a blog post by David Lebowitz to make eggplant caviar. I picked up some gorgeous eggplants from my friend Dana and smoked them on the Big Green Egg.
A handful of other ingredients including some roasted Gabriola garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley were pureed together in the food processor.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 | | 1 Comments
There are days when I feel like pinching myself - I'm so lucky to live in a place like this. I went to the market on Saturday with my camera and was thrilled to see so many people there. It was Wine Festival day and many people had arrived at the venue early to do some shopping before the serious drinking began.
The balance between produce,
and crafts, was just about perfect. One of the more famous markets in the Gulf Islands has recently become craft-heavy and somewhat precious. The last time I was there it was difficult to find food amongst all the chachkas, and the little produce that was available was expensive. Locals were a bit thin on the ground, too. Our market has become a real magnet for islanders and it's a good place to catch up on gossip and have a cup of coffee with friends. Tourists are always made to feel welcome, too. It's really come a long way in the last five years.
Saturday, August 14, 2010 | | 1 Comments
I don't know whether or not it is a universal experience for all island dwellers but when I travel I find myself inexplicably drawn to other islands. For a number of years I had my eye on a vacation rental on one of the outer islands in the Venetian lagoon, called Mazzorbo (or more properly Mazzorbetto, as the island in question was accessible only by small boat from Mazzorbo). In October of 2005 the planets were aligned and we were finally able to make the trip. The house was far from the Venetian crowds but close enough to make it an easy day trip. To get there we took the vaporetto from Venice to Mazzorbo (about 20 minutes), walked across the island, and jumped into our boat (included with the rental) for the 3-minute crossing to Mazzorbetto. The wooden boat was charming but barely seaworthy - one morning we had to paddle across the canal when the engine stubbornly refused to start.
The house had been a monastery at one time and the supporting walls were over 1000 years old. They were literally crumbling before our eyes - every morning we swept up little piles of dust that had accumulated on the floor and furniture.
One of our neighbours, the farmer who cultivated the fields behind the house, showed us a 400 year-old map that clearly depicted a thriving community of homes and churches, but when we were there only a handful of buildings remained, some of them abandoned. The desk drawer in the hallway held a treasure trove of ancient majolica shards that the owner had excavated in the back yard.
There was a small supermarket for basics, a wonderful fish market (where the fishmonger let us sample some raw razor clams), and a few vegetable stalls. We generally went out for lunch in Venice or one of the other islands and came back to the villa to cook dinner.
Our not-so-trusty boat took us to Torcello, Venice's first settlement, and San Francesco del Deserto, an island monastery visited by Saint Francis in 1220, where an impossibly handsome and stylish monk took us on a tour. But we didn't dare take it into Venice with all the gondolas, water taxis, vaporetti and private boat traffic there.
I have long been an advocate of choosing vacation apartments or house rentals over hotels. There is no better way to get a true feeling of the culture and daily rhythm of life of any place you choose to visit. And there are extraordinary things that can happen when you're living in a typical neighbourhood that would be impossible if you were staying in a hotel. On Mazzorbetto my husband befriended our neighbour Bruno, one of the last people still fishing in the Venetian lagoon. Bruno invited him to go out fishing with him one morning. The trip was a resounding success, particularly from Bruno's perspective - he caught a large (and increasingly rare) fish that he was able to sell at a premium. In a strange twist that can only occur in a place where people truly appreciate and eat local food we were served Bruno's prize fish in the restaurant where we had dinner that night, Al Gatto Nero on Burano.
There was only one slight down side to this trip - the mosquitos! The house came with an arsenal of mosquito-killing products and although normally I try to avoid chemical insect repellents I was happy to use them all. I guess it's no surprise that the word "malaria" comes from the Italian (meaning "bad air").
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | | 2 Comments
When I lived in Japan there were many traditional summer foods that I craved when the temperature started to rise: dishes like hiyayakko, cold soft tofu with ginger, green onions and soy, or somen, thin wheat noodles served on ice with a dipping sauce flavored with shiso and green onion. But my favourite was zaru soba, a tangle of cold buckwheat noodles scattered with strips of nori and served on a bamboo tray called a zaru. I ate them almost every day, gently dipping the noodles into the wasabi-spiked sauce and slurping them enthusiastically in true Japanese fashion. In the Tokyo heat (and without any air conditioning in my apartment) it was often the only thing I had any appetite for.
Yesterday, my friend (and fellow food blogger) Dan invited us to a party on his gorgeous sea-view deck and asked us to bring an appetizer. Zaru soba was the first thing that came to mind, but I thought that serving a dish that needed plates, bowls, and chopsticks would be unwieldy for a cocktail-style party. That's when Elizabeth Andoh came to the rescue. In her brilliant book, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Kitchen, I found a recipe for "soba sushi", an inspiring alternative. The soba noodles were spread out on nori sheets along with cucumber strips, radish sprouts, and sesame seeds and rolled up and sliced just like sushi, making perfectly manageable two-bite morsels - genius!
One of the most difficult tasks for a food writer is to describe a complicated technique to the reader and make it understandable without resorting to a series of drawings or photos. Mrs. Andoh took what could have been a very complex and frustrating procedure and made it simple. I've made plenty of rolled sushi (when I worked at a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver) but I think even a beginner could tackle this.
The noodles were laid out on top of the nori, the first bunch placed so that the tied end was hanging over the right side and the second bunch with the tied end on the left. I scattered the cucumber, radish sprouts and sesame seeds over the top and then clipped off the tied ends and strings.
Rolling was a snap. The finished rolls were wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the fridge until just before we left for the party.
Each roll was sliced into six pieces and arranged on a plate. They were served with a simple dipping sauce made from dashi (japanese broth), soy sauce, mirin, a bit of sugar, and wasabi paste. Although the day wasn't quite as warm as we had hoped the "soba sushi" was a big hit and I wouldn't hesitate to make it again. It was a wonderful party. The food that everyone brought was delicious and it was great to reconnect with friends that I hadn't seen in almost a year.
Monday, August 02, 2010 | | 4 Comments
This year I decided not to have a stall at the farmers' market. I literally burned myself out last summer - I caught some sort of a strange virus in August that I'm still recovering from. The doctors (I saw about a dozen) were never able to determine what it was and most of them said helpful things like, "You'll probably get better." or "This thing should run its course but we really can't say for sure." Well, it's been almost a year and I can finally see that there will be an end to my fatigue and digestive distress and I'm feeling pretty grateful to have come through it in one piece.
The woman with the flowers was there again and I picked up this bouquet for a few dollars. The vase is an incised French shell casing from World War I known as "trench art". I bought it for fifty cents at a garage sale.
We had picked up some halibut cheeks before getting on the ferry on Friday so I decided to invite a few friends over for dinner. I wanted to keep things simple - I wrapped the fish and vegetables in parchment and boiled a few potatoes to serve alongside. Baking in parchment is a wonderful way to coax the natural flavours out of food and I absolutely love this style of cooking. I placed a long piece of baker's parchment on a sheet pan and arranged all the ingredients in one layer over the top (I had blanched the carrots for about three minutes beforehand). I seasoned everything with a bit of olive oil, soy sauce and thin slices of onion and ginger.
Saturday, July 17, 2010 | | 0 Comments
We should all do what in the long run gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.
I have never considered myself a particularly domestic person. House cleaning just frustrates me (you mean after all that work, I'm going to have to do it all again in a week?), ironing seems pointless, and three-meals-a-day cooking is tedious. But I love doing laundry. I love the piles of clean clothes with their promise of good things to come - a fresh start to every day.
I come by my laundry lust honestly. My grandfather was the laundry hanger in the family and took great pride in his skill. Neighbors in their small Norwegian-Canadian community were judged by the orderliness of their laundry lines. I don't think he would approve of my profligate use of clothespins, though. I don't like the little spot that stubbornly refuses to dry when you clip one item to another.
When we moved to our house on the island I was delighted to find a laundry line strung between an arbutus tree and the corner of the house. I could look out over the ocean while hanging the clothes and the breezes would dry them in just a couple of hours. The only thing that didn't change during the renovation was the location of the laundry line.
In Japan, bedding is hung out to dry along with clothing but the sight of futons on the line is becoming increasingly rare as regular beds take their place in people's homes. When I lived in Tokyo I always dreaded laundry day. We didn't have a washing machine so we had to use the laundromat down the street. There was an underwear thief in the neighborhood who would sneak in when no one was around and steal my unmentionables. You also had to be careful leaving laundry out for too long in Tokyo - after more than twelve hours the clothing had to be rewashed.
After enlightenment, the laundry.
Friday, May 07, 2010 | | 2 Comments