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It’s been an intense week; time has accelerated past like it’s competing in some sort of drag race and I’m a spectator wearing cement shoes and am trying to catch up.  My odds of success aren’t so great. 

It’s times like these that, instead of trying to speed up to catch the impossible, that slowing down further for a few minutes can bring great sanity.  When the days fly by too fast I try to carve out a few moments here and there where I can just be in the moment, pause and collect myself.  I recently had such a moment, sipping a morning cup of coffee and contemplating them moment when ‘it’ happened: a swig of coffee turned into a moment of uncertainty as my mouth was consumed with an unexpected texture.  This gave way to the certainty of the moment – I had a mouth full of coffee grounds.

The offending vessel:

It’s funny that one can enjoy chocolate covered coffee beans or even cook with coffee grounds (like these smoky, salty, spicy coffee flavoured roasted nuts) but the experience in other formats is less than pleasurable.  The experience got me thinking about the foods which bring us great pleasure in one format as opposed to another.  I tried to think of a few other things that we rely on transforming before eating, here’s what I came up with:

  • Tea is another such example although it’s pretty linear to coffee.
  • Few of us eat raw onions or garlic by themselves.  Cook them a little or mix them with other things and we suddenly have great pleasure from these things.
  • Honey *can* be eaten by the spoonful but I suspect that most of us eat it in combination with other things and not great quantities by the spoonful (although I, like others, have).  I suppose this is true of most sweeteners.
  • Watermelon rinds.  I can’t imagine eating them without pickling them first.
  • Salt, herbs, hot peppers and pepper.  All *can* be eaten independently but often rely on combinations with other things as opposed to consumed whole.
  • Grains, pasta, rice are generally infused with liquid (or grains can be baked as in a loaf of bread) before consuming (although you could argue the same for meat and fish there are plenty of exceptions for each which do not rely on cooking).
  • Some veggies are better ‘pure’ but others just need cooking to transform themselves into something edible (imagine eating a lot of yam, potato or eggplant raw?)
  • Raw olives would be a close parallel – they are processed in order to be eaten (although I’m told that you can eat ripe ones off the tree, I’ve never had the fortune).

I don’t know why I’ve found this so fascinating but I suppose that’s the pleasure of living in the moment – even if it is with a mouth full of coffee grounds.

What else would you add to the list?

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Although I’ve never asked the question here, I’m certain I’m not nearly the only one around these parts who goes through food obsessions.

My food-related obsessions have similarities but don’t follow a set pattern.  Here’s insight into how I get fixated on something food-related:

  • I am generally obsessed about learning how to make something – not so much about eating it or going out for it.  Almost none of my food-related obsessions have ever been about going somewhere to eat something.
  • My obsessions are generally related to cooking something I have never tried – often about something I’ve taken for granted (like tortillas or green-onion pancakes).
  • My obsessions are generally always some form of comfort food or street food.
  • They are sometimes healthy – but not always.
  • They generally do not go away until they have been accomplished.
  • They are almost always not-fancy.
  • They don’t follow a schedule – I can go weeks without an obsession and then be hit by a chain of them.
  • They generally occur one-at-a-time.  After all, an obsession doesn’t leave much room to think of anything else.

I’m currently focussed on making steam buns, inspired by Chef David Chiang (Momofuku).  He openly shares his recipe and advises that you can buy them just as good as you can make them and they’re hardly worth the effort to make – which makes me want to make them even more.

What patterns do your food obsessions follow?  What are you hankering to eat or make right now?

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Is Soup a Recipe or an Idea?

When it comes to cooking, I`m notoriously bad at following recipes.  It`s been this way for as long as I remember and, despite all good intentions, I fall in to the same patterns.  I know that many people don`t follow recipes – it`s just that I really, wholly believe, Id learn a lot more about cooking if I`d just constrain myself and follow a few great recipes.  I know they could help me, I want them to help me and I just never get around to it.

There are some advantages to not following recipes – especially  as a writer.  Inventing almost everything we eat means that I protect myself from copying someone else`s work.  This, of course, is a silly argument.  It`s like claiming that I won`t steal any poems that are written in Russian because I can`t read Russian – the argument is either irrelevant (i.e. I don`t want to read Russian so it`s no loss to me) or silly (because I am robbing myself of learning – it doesn`t make me somehow smarter).

Recent years have had me practice and study technique.  I recently seared a steak that made it abundantly clear that my previous idea of searing a steak (developed over 38 years) was just wrong.  For more than 27 years I lacked a cast iron pot and, that alone, was enough to limit my ability to really sear a steak.  Practice and learning takes time and learning from people who are masters is something that can accelerate ones learning.  All that is to say that using a recipe would help me.

I do read recipes.  I enjoy flipping through recipe books like they are some sort of amazing magazine.  Get ideas and inspiration but take them in a direction that`s mine.

Another piece of irony is the fact that we share recipes.  They`ll work literally or you can play with them of course.  I often go back to a meal I`ve written about here and repeat some of the things I`ve done in the past while updating my current dish with what I`ve learned since or have in the fridge.

When it comes to soup, I really struggle imagining that I need a recipe.    Soup has some core fundamentals but it`s biggest constant is it`s reliance on whatever is in the fridge or pantry.  It`s not all about leftovers but I can`t remember running out the door for a`missing ingredient` when for soup.

As we prepare to share a soup recipe, it occurred to me that perhaps it was silly to describe how to make soup with measured instructions like a traditional recipe.  So I thought I`d ask for your input:

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It’s time for a soup poll!

We’ve heard about straw polls in the US – so we’ve decided to do a soup poll.  Here’s a quick survey about our soup preferences – take a few moments to fill it up and see what others think as well!

Here’s a few links that are related to our soup poll:

 

We’d love to hear about your favourite types of soups in the comments below!

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Food that sounds good….

Joel is in the process of peeling 30lbs of garlic right now. I’m going to help by doing todays post…thus keeping my hands free of garlic smell…just in case I run into Eddie Vedder tonight. We have tickets to see Pearl Jam and I’ve had a wee crush on the man for about 20 years (which is more than half my life)…and on the off-chance he climbs up to section 106 I’d rather not smell like garlic.

Okay, so you’re thinking…Dana is finally doing a post and she’s not even going to talk about food and / or preserving….ha!

Here’s where it gets awesome: I can in fact connect my excitement and love of one of my favourite bands to food.  Around 2006 Eddie Vedder did debunk the myth that the band was named after his ‘grandma Pearl’s special Peyote Jam’…there’s no such thing. Such a shame, that would have made a heck of a post.

BUT…maybe we need a break from recipes….let’s talk music for a change.

There’s a lot of bands with food (and drink)  in their name…here’s some that came to mind for us. Try to guess from the drawing and feel free to add your own favourites in the comments.

1.  PEARL JAM
2.  SOUP DRAGONS
3.  MUDHONEY
4.  the SUGAR CUBES
5.  SMASHING PUMPKINS
6.  RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
7.  FISHBONE
8.  CRACKER
9.  THE CRANBERRIES
10. THE TEA PARTY
11. NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
12. VERUCA SALT
13. CAKE
14. BLIND MELON 

**completely un-food related UPDATE**
Pearl Jam was AWESOME…over 2 hour set….last song played with full house lights up …Neil Young joined them on stage for “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”. Outstanding. Memorable.

 

 

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P.S. Yes I ate the Eyeball

This is the final installment in a 3-part series on why and how to cook the head of a wild boar or pig and the importance of nose-to-tail eating for meat eaters.

I shared a post in October that discussed a new friend and his experiences tasting squash and broccoli for his first time when he was in his 40’s.  I also shared that, at the time, I had turned down the opportunity to eat the eyeball of the pig’s head we roasted and how the two experiences were completely related.

Why is the thought of eating an eyeball so difficult?  I watched a friend enjoy one and he made it as safe as he could for me and shared that it essentially just tasted like meat.  As I’m not a vegetarian, why balk at the offering of a different part of the animal?  I often remind myself that the ‘grossest’ thing I eat is likely honey (essentially the bile of an insect) but I was raised to understand that was socially acceptable and ‘easy.’

I also know that, in all likelihood I’ve had it before – in sausage, head cheese (a favourite as a child) and pate’s or bahn mi’s (Vietnamese meat sandwiches).  And that doesn’t bother me in the least.  But the thought of carving it out of a socket and popping it back like an overgrown peanut just isn’t something that crosses my mind.  And I couldn’t do it in October.

The evening we served the Wild Boar’s head was a very inspirational evening for me.  People were actively discussing whether they’d be able to try it while they stood in line for a piece.  Vegetarians and meat eaters were all discussing our odd relationship with meat and what it truly is that we choose to consume or not.  The conversation was always polite, insightful and wonderfully contemplative.  We were connecting with our food.

A friend asked about the eyeball and if he could try it.  I was inspired by the moment and the people around us who had pushed their own comfort zone that evening.  We quietly walked back to the tray while no one was around (this wasn’t a dare or ‘stunt’) and I pushed myself to dive in.  I won’t go in to the detailed mechanics other than to say that it was what it was – pork.  It wasn’t crunchy, brittle or hard.  It was just like eating pork and if you’d put it on a sandwich without me knowing I would have never known.

But it was immensely difficult.

I gagged 3 times.  I don’t remember ever gagging while eating.  And the reaction was 100% psychological.  It had nothing to do with taste or texture – it was all the thought of what was in my mouth.  It felt partially wrong (and ironic that the alternative would have been to discard it like that would be somehow ‘better’, if not easier).  There is an absolute irony that I can eat every other part of the animal without feeling I’ve somehow wronged the animal and yet this felt so foreign and challenging.

Without trying to be overly dramatic, I’m fairly certain the experience has further changed my complicated relationship with meat (this article from 2006 which shares my past as a semi-vegetarian and hunter goes into further history of the subject).  The initial impact of the experience lingered for days and it’s still an experience I reflect on with some regularity.  I’m not sure I’ve come to any grand conclusion on what the experience was other than to force me further to reconcile exactly what it is that I’m eating when I do decide to partake in any kind of animal harvest.  It has brought me a much more complete understanding of what it is that I’m eating and what I am partaking in.

I really hope this post doesn’t sound preachy or ‘higher than thou.’  I’m certain that this isn’t an experience for everyone – I’m not even sure it’s one I will repeat.  I also recognize that there are many people (and cultures) who would laugh that such a staple piece of meat could be any type of ‘experience’ at all just the same as many of us look at bacon or a Big Mac. 

It was simultaneously sobering and fascinating and has really taught me a lot about what I eat and why I do it.  And, for that, I am extremely thankful.

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I`m hoping you`ll read the next paragraph before flicking away in disgust (as I may have years ago).

The idea of eating a pig`s head is something that is psychologically difficult for many but few ponder why they find it so difficult?  It`s fascinating to me that on the `fear-factor`scale of things, a pig`s head would rank high while it`s chops or honey (the regurgitated contents of the stomach of a bee) are considered accessible meals.  I hope you`ll consider reading on.

This post has no pictures.  If you`re hesitant, you can `safely`read on.  Tomorrows will feature pictures but they won`t  and appear on the main page and will be hidden under the fold on the direct link.  This article also discusses why I believe this meal is also a dish that many of my vegetarian friends are an advocate of – though they won`t partake.

The first time I saw the dish was on `St. Practice`night in 2010.  This was the Monday evening before `St. Patrick`s Day`and was a neighborhood party for those working in the service industry who would not get to partake in the greenest party of the year.

The evening had started innocently enough.  A highly touted oyster shucking competition went down and the entire bar were fed samples through the competition.  I use the term `bar`loosely – we were assembled in a heated tent in front of Leslieville`s Ceili Cottage (also the home of our CSA and all-around awesome place).  There was loud celtic music playing and free oysters encouraged many to grab an extra glass – it was a festive night.

Around 11:30 the staff erupted from the kitchen carrying trays of bread, cheese and preserves.  They placed the spread on the bar, carefully leaving room for something hot as they laid down a few cutting boards in the middle of the condiments.

Within a few minutes Chef Kyle Demming (of the soon-to-be-opened Sausage Partners) entered the room (he is a lanky giant and difficult to miss with a calm serenity and projecting kindness coating him) with two full-sized pigs heads.  He placed them between the condiments, jabbed his chef`s knife into one of the skulls (I`d later learn they are sliced like this as part of cleaning so there`s a natural resting place) and said, `Have at èm!`  Chef then backed into a corner and watched for the next hour.

I can`t say there was an initial rush to dive in.  Several people approached with curiosity and I found myself next to a Gentle Giant who was from Newfoundland.  He grabbed the knife, told me to grab two pieces of bread and cheese.  He grabbed the knife, hacked away and produced two open-faced sandwiches.  We toasted our meal and fired it back.  The gratification was instant and this is indeed one of my reasons why I believe that cooking the head is important – not only does it use the entire animal but it tastes amazing!  I know describe it as extreme bacon to those who are curious.

It didn`t take long for people to start to line up.  Before long, the line consisted of almost everyone in the room – with Chef in the corner.  I spent most of the rest of the night in that corner, talking to Kyle.  Our pig had been a small-farmed Tamworth and came from Kawartha Ecological Growers (still one of the main farmers we support).  It was easy to cook – just do it slow.

The rest of these observations and reflections on cooking the entire head are from that evening as well as the two times since that night that I have cooked a head (one was a Tamworth and the other was a wild boar):

  • I must emphasize that it tastes phenomenal.  Extreme bacon good.  Without that, this would be a dish that could turn people away.  I show them how to eat it, step back and let the others sell the dish.  If a few people eat it, they will drag others to it.  Of the people who have eaten the dish, I have never seen anyone say anything short of extraordinary things.
  • As people line-up for the dish,many are uncertain (almost to the point of mild fear) of what they will experience.  It`s a different emotion than one gets from eating something new (i.e. Alligator or Camel) for the first time – because the people in line have generally eaten pork.  It`s what I call the familiarity-paradox: because we know the ingredient but aren`t used to coming face-to-face with dinner, the discomfort is even more pronounced and unfamiliar.
  • The meal is a no-preach message about connecting to your food.  You have to cut your own piece (or have a friend do it).  You are connected by default of recognizing what is on that tray and what is in front of you.  It`s not an easy task to do what we ask others to do for us (i.e. butchers and abattoirs).  There is no denying what it is – and conversations around meat consumption, farming and our relationship to meat are simply natural.  We had 3 Vegetarian friends at the last party and all were equally engaged in pleasant conversation around topics such as our lack of connection to our food.
  • Economics.  An entire Boar`s head fed samples to more than 60 people.  We went through 4 loaves of pumpernickel and two large blocks of cheese.  The Boar`s head was $10 (I paid $15 for the Tamworth last October).
  • Use of the whole animal.  To think that one of the most delicious parts of the animal goes to waste because it`s psychologically difficult is tough to accept to me.  It is odd to consider that the belly of the pig is somehow an elevated ingredient compared to this.
  • Tradition.  This ties in the last two points – dishes like these were the gourmet meals of many poor economies and cultures.  Lobster was also once seen as the food of the poor while SPAM was elevated as high-class.  On the journey to return to real ingredients, tying in culinary tradition and learning new dishes offers an amazing opportunity to grow as chef and diner.
  • Connection to other meat.  Many (if not most) who eat this, will explore their connection with meat and what it really is that we eat.  It’s not something that can easily be described in words but I believe it’s an important experience in a time where our connection with what is on our plates is becoming lost (Jack Kerouac named William Burroughs Naked Lunch after the concept of seeing what was on our plate for what it actually was and not just a but of meat or a carrot).

We’ll share how to cook it, serve it and eat it – without jamming it down other people’s throats…tomorrow. 🙂

Have you tried a head before?  Would you?  What do you think of some of the points above?  Do you have any to add – or any to counter?  Feel free to add to the discussion below.

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