Friday, November 30, 2012

Laugh: Hey Girl & Grumpy Cat

While waiting around at the car dealer the other day, I spent the better part of an hour googling the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme. Too funny, especially when I saw this one:

Many of the 'Hey Girl' messages seemed tailor made for me; looks like I'm the target audience. I wonder if that is better or worse than finding out you are the target for 'Sh*t Girls Say'? In any case, between 'Hey Girl' and the Grumpy Cat meme, I'm sure I made a spectacle of myself sitting alone in the waiting area, all giggles and smiles.

What are your favourite memes? And can someone explain to me why Rage Guy is funny? I'm clueless on that one! Personally, I want to frame this one in a guilded, gold frame:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Eat: French Toast with Raspberry Apple Compote

I love breakfast. So much so that I get cranky if I don't get my breakfast carbohydrates. Really cranky. So, don't mess with me when it comes to breakfast because I will f*#k you up. Some people in my presence have been all willy nilly about breakfast and lived to tell about it; but I'm sure they wouldn't recommend it. You probably think I'm joking. Not really. My energy level gets really low if I don't eat something within an hour or so of getting up. I get snippy, absentminded and anxious. It's not even conscious, and I don't often realize it until it's too late. But it's more than just that...I am also quite particular about what I eat. My first meal of the day has to be 'breakfast' food. It doesn't matter if I wake up at the late hour of 1pm, I still need my first meal to be breakfast-y. Don't try to skip right over to lunch; it will not go well. Deep in the recesses of my brain I have a carefully classified list of breakfast stuffs which meet my criteria and nothing else will do.

I realize that the energy drop is physiological in nature, whereas my insistence on breakfast food is, well, neurotic. Can't be helped, I'm afraid. This idiosyncrasy can make for awkward moments while globetrotting, since many countries don't 'do' breakfast like in North America. More than once I have led my traveling companion on a wild goose chase in search of pastries, egg or some other muffin-type food to satiate my need. I have been called unbearable when in that state, and I can't really say it's an unfair assessment. What is the morale of this story? I guess there isn't one, but here are some words of wisdom just to be on the safe side: if its before noon and I'm pissy, offer me your doughnut or other breakfast food.

* * *

On that note, I present last weekend's Buttermilk French Toast from I followed the recipe as written except that I used a lovely multi-grain bread instead of challah. I garnished it with a Raspberry and Apple Compote that I improvised by simmering a handful of raspberries with two apples in two tablespoons of maple syrup. The apples were peeled, cored & sliced before being tossed in one tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and then simmered until soft and warm. Observe the size difference between the portion on my plate and that of Marc's. He pointed out that I had seconds whereas he did not, but that's not how I remember it going down. Or perhaps the breakfast carbs hadn't kicked in yet, or whatever...

My Plate

Marc's plate (Okay, okay, not Marc's plate)

Marc's Plate

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Read: Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)

I understand the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover" but I must admit that if the cover has a cute animal on it, I am all about prejudgement. The minute I saw this book by Jenny Lawson, I wanted it. A mouse magician? Eeeek, toooo cute!! I am willfully ignoring the fact that he is a product of taxidermy; in my mind he is just a regular mouse that prefers dapper attire over walking around naked and who doesn't mind posing for a photo or two. Right?? That's my story and I'm sticking with it. At first I tried to show some willpower and resist buying this based book purely on it's 'cuteness' but after someone with similar reading taste mentioned how funny it was, I was intrigued enough to download it. I started reading it last night and although it's very preliminary, I think I will enjoy it. Perhaps it is because I find that I have a similar writing style to hers (i.e. lots of rambling and side notes!).

I will be travelling for work next week and I predict more than a few hours stranded in one airport or another (and that's best case scenario...boy, do I love layovers). In an attempt to make this time more palatable, I filled up my Kobo with some extra reading material. In addition to "Let's Pretend This Never Happened", I chose two other books that I have wanted to read for a little while now; "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes and "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell. This will be a great opportunity for me to catch up on my reading. With work travel I have a tendency to split what free time I have between being a proper tourist, using the hotel gym/pool and reading. I think I will be well equipped with some great reading material if any of the reviews are accurate. Thankfully the Kobo has a great battery life!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Read: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt

It's been a while since I read a book so engaging that I didn't want it to end. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I felt this way about The Sisters Brothers; so much so that I checked the 'percentage complete' every time I turned off my Kobo to assess how much was left. Which in my opinion, is not nearly as satisfying as turning a hard cover book on it's side and assessing how many unread pages remain, but you get my point. It was such a contrary experience to that of The Casual Vacancy, where the 'percentage complete' loomed over me like an insurmountable deadline. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but let's just say I was discouraged.  Which was why I was so glad to dig into The Sisters Brothers and discover it wasn't my reading 'juju' that was lacking (like writer's block, I believe that there is such a thing as reader's block).

So, what was so good about The Sisters Brothers, without ruining any of the storyline? The writing was sharp, witty. The dialogue was engaging and at times, laugh out loud funny. The narrator Eli, one the the Sisters brothers, is gritty and tough but utterly endearing at the same time. His observations about human behaviour and society, interspersed with sudden scenes of gruesome violence really take the reader from one extreme to another. I'm not sure if I loved the ending, but if you look at the book as a whole and consider the genre, I have to admit that it was an appropriate ending.

Western literature and film has really grown on me. Perhaps the seed was planted from young age; I have fond memories of watching Clint Eastwood westerns with my grandfather. Maybe it was HBO's Deadwood; the dialogue (once you develop an ear for it) is some of the smartest, and dare I say, poetic vulgarity I have ever heard. All I know is that I get excited when I see a preview for a new western movie. I absolutely adore Unforgiven, Tombstone and True Grit. I am eager to see Django in the coming weeks, even though I have a love/hate appreciation for Tarantino. Needless to say I was excited to learn that the film rights for The Sister Brothers has been purchased by John C. Reilly's production company; I believe that the style in which the book was written will lend well to film. I'm saying right now that I'd love to see someone like Javier Bardem or Josh Brolin play Eli, but I'm guessing John C. Reilly may have an edge over them! Anyone else out there read The Sisters Brothers yet? Any thoughts? Also, and good western film suggestions?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Play: Left 4 Dead on XBOX

It's been a rock and roll week at work. It always seems to go this way when you have vacation time planned. It's a bit of office irony when you consider how much extra work you do in the weeks preceding vacation in order to be able to take time off. It feels like an oxymoron, expending energy in the hopes of recouping energy, but that's the way it goes. Also, I'm not the brightest person taking time off at the end of the year when projects/contract/you-name-it have deadlines and renewals that typically coincide with year end. This is why my post frequency has dropped this week. No, no, not because I write at work (although sometimes I do draft ideas over lunch time...) but because I am something akin to a zombie when I get home. Way too tired to post or do anything other than spend time on the couch. I would have probably ordered out for dinner every night this week due to sheer laziness but I'm a lucky gal; I have a guy who knows his way around a kitchen. I've had dinner waiting for me three nights in a row. Yep, it's nice to be spoiled.

In honour of my zombie-like persona these days, I would like to mention that Marc and I have been spending hours at a time on the couch, in the dark, massacring zombies. We recently decided that rather than watching TV we would try playing some cooperative games on the XBOX instead. Since I'm a zombie fan, Marc suggested Left 4 Dead. Despite my initial reluctance, I am now officially hooked. We finished the first game pretty quickly and immediately moved on to Left 4 Dead 2. We are already near the end of the 2nd game and I am already wondering what game we will take on next to fill the void. Suggestions?

On a side note, Marc has the patience of a saint. I had a really hard time getting use to navigation using the XBOX controller. In the past, I stubbornly insisted on staying with the easier-to-use directional pad, but with most games these days you navigate using two stick controls. Let me just say that at one point my character was stuck standing in a bathtub, in the dark, pointing a flashlight at the ceiling and wondering why I couldn't find my way out. Thankfully once he stopped laughing at me, Marc was kind enough to save me from the dreaded bathtub of despair.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Watch: Boardwalk Empire

Is anyone out there a Boardwalk Empire fan? There must be some people out there right now that are as equally blown away by last nights episode as I am. I will try to avoid spoilers, but if you know the show, you know by now that there are no happy endings. I was absolutely bummed last season when they blindsided us with the death of a key character; last nights episode reminded me that it's not a good idea to get attached. I was hoping against hope that a few story lines would work out...but well, the writers went a little Se7en on us.

I read a few comments floating around on the interweb-thingy that some people were so disappointed by the plot twist that they are considering bailing on the show, and to that I say poo poo! Don't drop an amazing show when it gets challenging! This season has been spellbinding. I find myself singularly focused during the 50-odd minutes that it is on. It is the only show other than Game of Thrones that can captivate me in this way. You have to admire the story-telling and the guts it takes to make unpopular choices. However, if the writers decide to spare Richard Harrow, I'd be super cool with that!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Drink: Bourgogne Chardonnay vieilles vignes Albert Bichot 2010

I use to think that given the choice, I would never chose a white wine over red. My opinion on this has changed thanks to recent European travels and a vast selection of really affordable white wine options at the SAQ depot. The SAQ has a really useful iPhone app that makes it really easy to select new wines by referencing the online tasting notes/food pairings. You simply scan the bar code and then you can check the flavor profile right there on the spot. This is especially helpful because the SAQ has the tendency to place a blank white label over the tasting notes if the label does not have a French translated description (...don't get me started on this, I think its very unfair to hide useful information because it wasn't translated, it seems petty).

The depot carries a number of wines by the Albert Bichot label. Apart from a lovely Gamay, I have yet to try their red wines, but I have been impressed with their white varieties (Bourgogne Aligoté, Chablis, etc.). It's fun to work my way through their catalog. Our latest taste test was the Bourgogne Chardonnay vieilles vignes Albert Bichot 2010 at 16.90, but with a 15% discount. I would agree with the SAQ notes that the flavour is both fruity and floral; I foound it to be lightly floral and perhaps a bit like stone fruit (apricot, nectarine) and pear. It had a good amount of acidity, not syrupy or having too much of an aftertaste. We served it with cod in a mustard cream sauce which I thought paired well enough but I did think it tasted better once we had a glass on it's own. I might not seek it out at 16.90, especially when there are a number of great white wines at that price point (including the Albert Bichot Bourgogne Aligoté ) but at 15% at the SAQ depot I would definitely consider buying it again. I did like the Albert Bichot Chablis better but it is considerably more expensive.

*Note: I try to photograph my wine bottles with a thumbs up or thumbs down because otherwise I can't remember what I thought of the wine when I finally get around to writing about it. Sometimes I'm smart enough to take a few notes on my iPhone while I'm drinking, but more often than not I have a collection of wine bottle photos and no recollection of whether or not they were any good. Nice hang nails there, Heather!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shop: J. Crew Stadium Trench

If you are familiar with Montreal you know that our winters, albeit charming, are long and bone chilling cold. When I was younger I thought of winter wear as a necessary evil. I never participated in winter sports so I had no need for outdoorsy apparel and I was loath to spend money on 'ugly' winter supplies. I wore the same black trench coat year after year and bought the cheapest boots, scarves, and hats I could find. I somehow thought no one would notice what I had on anyway so it didn't need to be stylish or high quality. It's no wonder why I froze my tail off all those years, the things I bought were not fit for purpose. Not to mention shabby. If you think about it, winter in Montreal lingers from November (sometimes even October) to April, so it makes sense to invest in some decent apparel. Showing up at a job in a ratty winter coat or dirty salt covered boots doesn't look good, regardless of how nice the clothes are underneath it.

Based on that rationale, I had been scouring eBay over the last couple of months in the hopes of finding the J. Crew Tipped Pea Coat for a decent price. As you may know, I found it and subsequently bought it. I am still anxiously awaiting it's arrival. But, while researching J. Crew coats, I happened upon a gorgeous wool trench coat in a beautiful colour that I simply could not resist. Now I know that I just bought a new pea coat but the way I see it, that coat is for a completely different temperature range (see how I rationalize this?). This one would be wonderful for colder weather, not to mention the fact it is so pretty and so cheap at 200$ off retail. So, yadda, yadda, yadda...I bought a second coat. You can see why I failed my my no shopping challenge.The trench that I ended up buying was from a previous year's collection and I really like the cut/style. J. Crew has since revamped the J. Crew Stadium Trench Coat and I'm not a big fan of the redesigned raglan sleeves (as I tend to have a hard time fitting my back/arms in clothes that fit my chest/waist) and the bulky detail on the pockets. Here's both versions for comparison. It arrived yesterday and I have no regrets. I am in love with the colour and material. It's a tad big on me (the dangers of online shopping) but I chose a size 6 over my usual size 4 because I wanted something that could fit easily over multiple layers of clothes on -30C days. I detest when my sweater ends up bunched up around my bicep because the coat is too fitted for the clothes to lay comfortably underneath.

J. Crew Stadium Trench (Older Model)

J. Crew Stadium Trench (Current)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eat: Afghan Bread from Akhavan

If you have ever been to Akhavan Supermarket, you already know what a treat it is to peruse the aisles of wonderful Iranian, Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern delights. Whenever I go, I feel like a kid in a candy shop; I can never leave without buying an item or two that I have never tried before. I highly recommend that you check out the following items/sections:

  • Meat & Cheese: Akhavan has an amazing selection of marinated meats ready for grilling,not to mention some cuts/meats that are difficult to find at Loblaws (ground lamb, shanks, etc). They also have akawi and halloumi cheese, some of the most delicious, salty goodness I have ever had. They also have a variety of 4-6 types of tzaziki sauce (Iranian, Greek, etc.); I always have a hard time choosing just one.
  • Nuts: If you like nuts, they have the freshest selection that I have seen. They also use many different roasts and seasonings, and the prices seem better than most elsewhere. I can't wait to have my braces removed so I can get back to shelled pistachios! The lemon pepper roast is so delicious.
  • Desserts (Baklava): The variety of baklava, halva and Turkish delight is astounding. Again, I find it hard to leave without buying some. I start out rationalizing just a piece or two but somehow walk out with a dozen.
  • Akhavan House brand dry products: Their house brand packaged beans, legumes, rice, spices, etc. couldn't be cheaper or fresher. Nothing looks like it sat on the shelf for years, aging away. I will often pick up something new (Hello Sumac!), because the prices are so reasonable that I feel safe to experiment
  • Akhavan House brand Frozen goods: Fruits and vegetables are packaged in clear, vacuum-sealed bags with no labels on them, so you can what you are getting, no surprises. They also have items that just aren't commonplace at the other stores (lima beans, passionfruit, yucky okra, etc.)
  • And finally, the bread.The whole reason for this post. First off, there is a great selection from many different cultures. Naan, pita, sourdough, challah; you can find most everything you are looking for and then some.
Akhavan is where I discovered Afghan bread. It caught my eye immediately but how could it not; the bread is about 4 feet long. It's hard to explain why it is so good, since on paper it would seem quite ordinary. But when it is fresh, the exterior has a soft chewy bite to it while the inside has an almost sweet challah-like egg bread quality. It is greatly superior to pita; I am sure pita would not be so popular if more people tried afghan bread. We buy afghan bread for something we call 'meze night'. When Marc & I are too lazy to cook, we head to Akhavan (or sometimes Tranzo, Le Maitre Boucher, or Atwater market) to get some charcuterie or sausage, cheese (such as grilled halloumi), tzaziki and/or hummus, a vegetable salad or slaw, some afghan bread and a bottle of wine. Zero effort, but a huge pay off. Honestly one of my favourite meals at home for a fraction of the cost that most these ingredients would command in a restaurant.

Also worth noting: the bread comes in a bag which has drawings and writing on it, advertising that Afghan bread is also good toasted,  as a pizza base, or in a sandwich. Normally I am rather sceptical of claims made on packages (Nutella is a healthy breakfast!) but once I tried toasting the bread with peanut butter and jam, I was sold. I love having leftover afghan bread now, since I know exactly what I am going to do with it.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eat: Croissants

I grew up in a city that loves it's croissants. Plain or filled with chocolate (the veritable chocolatine, my personal favourite), raisin or almond; all varieties have a die hard following. Everyone has their favourite boulangerie as well; we Montrealers can be quite polarized about such details (don't even get us started on where the best poutine place or hot dog shop is!). When I was 18 and working at the most covet-able of retail jobs (a comic store), I had my own croissant ritual. On my way to work every Sunday morning, I would get off the bus a few stops early just to go to a specific boulangerie that I preferred (Au Pain Dore) to buy a large coffee and chocolatine. The first half hour at the comic book store on those early Sunday mornings were spent mostly alone, behind the counter with my petit déjeuner. It's no coincidence that many of my fondest memories in life are associated with food.

Over the years I developed croissant-fatigue. I moved around Montreal a lot during my 20's and 30's and I found it difficult to frequent my favourite boulangeries. Instead I tried grocery store varieties as well as bakeries that more than likely used sub-par techniques and ingredients (and perhaps even resold baked goods rather than making their own). I ate way too many dry, stale croissants and subsequently lost interest in the pastry altogether. I had pretty much sworn off the pastry for the last ten years, resigned to the belief that it was too difficult to find good quality versions. That is, until I went to Paris...

During my trip to Paris, I had one of two things for breakfast every single day with my cafe creme; a croissant or a crepe. Both were magical. Paris made me realize that I had never had a decent crepe in Montreal. Go ahead, hate me, but try and prove me wrong!! Those ridiculous whip cream and maraschino cherry filled crepes at most breakfast restaurants (i.e. Chez Cora) are a pale comparison to the divine creations produced at crepe stands all over Paris. My second culinary epiphany was when I realized that I still really love a good croissant. I enjoyed many large, airy croissants with their just slightly greasy outer crust (that's butter, baby!) with so many lovely, soft, sweet layers which were not at all dry or crummy. Yowza... foodgasm! These Parisien treats re-ignited my taste buds for croissants, and I knew that I would have to seek out an equivalent in Montreal. I would just have to accept that bakeries have their specialties; just because 90% of them sell croissants does not mean that they bake them themselves or that they put as much loving care into the production as is required.

Upon our return from Paris, we resolved to address these two breakfast travesties. We promptly bought a crepe pan, crepe utensils and various toppings (Nutella, raspberry jam, and creme de marrons) and got to work. Sweet, delicious, drool worthy work. Instead of settling for bad restaurant crepes we decided to learn how to make our own. I could go on and on about our delicious creperie adventures but I'll save that post for another day. Suffice to say, our solution could be found right at home. With regards to croissants, we had resolved that a bad croissant was not worth having, so we would hold out on our cravings and only visit our favourite boulangeries. They have to be fresh, and if possible warm from the oven. But considering how much I like to sleep in, I am loathe to head out in the early hours of the morning to snag the freshest, warmest croissants available. Instead we wondered if we could we make croissants at home? It seemed like a great idea until we saw this episode of Bake with Anna Olson. Clearly, the creation of croissant dough was best left to the professionals. No wonder why a perfect croissant is so hard to find! The sheer amount of effort required to manipulate the dough, and the attention required to achieve the perfect temperature and rest time. So exacting!

Luckily there was an option we had not initially considered. The other night, Marc came home from a local bakery with a baguette for dinner and a surprise. Frozen croissant dough. Normally I am adverse to such an idea but considering it was from the same bakery  (Première Moisson) where we would buy fresh croissants, we figured it was a great starting point. The instructions were more elaborate than that of the Pillsbury cressent roll variety; which I took as a good sign. The frozen croissants should rest on a parchment lined baking tray in the (cold, unheated) oven for eight hours under a damp towel or cloth. You should then remove the croissants (and behold how beautifully plumped up they are!) to pre-heat the oven and if desired, coat the croissants with an egg wash (do this! seriously!) and bake for 15-20 min. Get a load of these croissants, are they not gorgeous? I did a little happy dance as I ate mine, knowing that we had found a perfect solution. Our petit déjeuner at home, Parisien style. More fond memories related to food.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Read: The Casual Vacancy & The Sisters Brothers

I feel the need for a literary cleansing. I 'finished' The Casual Vacancy a few days ago, and by finished, I mean skipped a whole bunch and read the last 10 or so chapters. Which confirmed that I didn't miss much in the chapters I skipped. I swear it's really not my style to skim read, but I just could not wade through this book. I found many positive reviews online but I just don't get it. I don't want to ruin the book for anyone, especially since we will be discussing it at our book club soon enough but I would like to point out that many 'positive' reviews start with a negative: 'I disagree that the book has too many characters'. I think it sounds a little too much like an admission that it does in fact, have too many characters.

With The Casual Vacancy out of the way, I was free to start another recent addition to my kobo selection: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt. This book has been on my top recommended on Amazon and Chapters for months. Regardless of the old adage "don't just a book by it's cover", can I just say the cover is super cute? This book reads fast; it has short chapters and the cadence of the writing makes you want to just keep going. I started it two days ago and I am already past the 30% mark, the percentage where I was painfully stuck while reading The Casual Vacancy. I have no idea how to define the genre of The Sisters Brothers. It's part western, part crime fiction, part comedy. The author has a style reminiscent of Elmore Leonard or even  (King Suckerman). His prose is  rhythmic, like poetry but juxtaposed with the vulgarity and gruesome harshness of a Western setting. The Sisters Brothers has inspired me; I will definitely add an Elmore Leonard Western genre to my must-read list. In the meantime, here's hoping The Sisters Brothers finishes as strongly as it begins.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shop: Draped Knit Dress from Banana Republic

I'm feeling more than a little sheepish today. I must admit to defeat... the retail diet is no more. After 60 odd days, I completely snapped and took to the mall last Friday. I scavenged Banana Republic; 50% off new items at a friends & family sale was too good to pass up. Add a '2 for 1' deal at H&M on sweaters and dresses,  100$ in gift certificates at The Bay and I think you get the picture. I am a weak, weak girl. It reminded me of what it was like when I had bacon for the first time after being vegetarian for a year. It was downright frenzied, and perhaps a tiny bit lustful.

And so, once again life proves that moderation is the key, not abstinence. I'll just have to work on defining what my idea of 'moderate' is. In the meantime, I will put on my best guilty face, not to mention my new Draped Knit Dress in Teal Shadow from Banana Republic, and reflect on my actions. The least I can do is be stylishly remorseful.

Photo Courtesy of Banana Republic

Friday, November 9, 2012

Read: A Book Review (of Sorts): The Casual Vacancy

To begin with, let me explain that this isn't a proper review as I haven't actually finished the book yet. I will post a follow up when I'm finally finished and can give the book, in it's entirety, a fair shake.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling is testing my belief that one should never give up on a book. My theory is that you can't honestly say that you love or hate a book until you have the complete 'vision' of what the author was trying to convey. Based on this, I can only think of one or two books that I have given up on, and even then I eventually gave one of them another chance and I was glad I did (Life of Pi!). However, The Casual Vacancy has been an absolute chore to read. There are way too many characters and much too much time spent setting up the premise for me to care about what happens next. I find myself scrambling mentally to figure out who this character is again, as the focus changes with every chapter, and how they relate to the other characters before I put the book down again. Perhaps it would flow better if I would read a few chapters at a time but I already have to force myself to get through a few pages every night before my eyes burn from the need to sleep.  I am dragging my heels with this one. I feel dejected every time I start up my Kobo only to realize I'm only 36% done.

The reason I persevere with this book is because it was selected for a book club. We chose the book democratically, and although it wasn't my first choice I was open to trying it. Five people in the group had suggested it, so the expectations were rather high. But as of this morning, I've heard from three people in the club who all struggling to finish it before the next meeting. Normally a few weeks would be plenty of time for me to read a book, but this one is proving to be a challenge. I'll be interested to hear what people think of the book once we do meet. How many people actually got through it? Also, did anyone enjoy it? It's only our second meeting but I am looking forward to it, especially since I had a lot of fun at the last one. I love reading, and finding time with like-minded people who share the same interest is immensely enjoyable. It makes me wonder why I haven't joined a book club sooner! So, my fellow book club-ites, remember: Hate the book, not the book club! ;-)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Eat: French Onion Soup Recipe

Cold weather, hot soup, you know the drill. I'm a soup and sandwich fiend, and the recent turn in weather continues to inspire the use of more soup recipes. This particular soup is special though and I try to make it at least once a year. I do, after all, have bowls that are used just for this purpose. The venerable and anachronistic French Onion Soup (FOS). We've probably all tried one at some point in our lives, more likely than not in some deli or severely outdated restaurant. It was on nearly every menu in the 1980's but now it has fallen out of favour and is rarely seen on menus today. I've had many mediocre and a handful of exceptional versions. All I know is that a better version takes good cheese (i.e. not mozzarella), a bit of booze and some loving care to slowly caramelize the onions.

About 8 years ago I watched a 30 Minute Meals episode where Rachael Ray made her 'Oh So Good French Onion Soup'. I was intrigued by the fact that she used a dry sherry in her recipe and wondered what flavour that would add to the soup. I've had FOS before which lacked that certain 'je ne sais quoi', so I was willing to bet it had something to do with the lack of of alcohol. I had discussed my interest in trying this FOS recipe with a family member, who then kindly bestowed on me a set of four (extremely retro)  FOS bowls (which I still use today). Armed with the recipe and appropriate serving ware, I happily set forth to make my first FOS. It's hard for me to articulate what made this soup so delicious, but the richness of the caramelized onion and beef broth contrasted so nicely with the fresh thyme and dry sherry (fino) which had a crisp, tang and light sweetness. A definite keeper.

I've been making this soup every winter since. I know there are many versions out there and I am curious about the ones that use different types of alcohol (calvados, dry white wine, brandy) but I am hesitant to ditch my tried and true recipe. Not to mention the fact I have no idea what else to do with my bottle of Sherry. Suggestions, anyone?

The original recipe can be found here. My modifications are listed below:
  • I halved the recipe to serve two people but rounded up, using 4 cups of broth and keeping the full 1/2 cup of sherry. This is because I used 3 really large onions and I figured the recipe could use the extra liquid.
  • I used a mandolin to slice the onions quickly and uniformly. It did not prevent me from shedding bitter, burning tears while I worked. Blasted onions!
  • Try to caramelize the onions as much as possible before adding the broth. The darker the caramelizing, the deeper the flavour. I <3 Caramelized onions
  • My beef stock didn't taste right (flat, flavourless, likely expired) so I chucked it and used chicken stock instead. I thought it worked well.
  • I used a block of Gruyere and grated it by hand instead of using the pre-grated kind. I believe it tastes better this way but it might just be complete snobbery on my part.
  • Don't skip the bay leaf, add two instead and try to toss them out before the soup is broiled in the ramekins.
  • I doubled the fresh thyme, but that might be too pungent/medicinal for some people so proceed with caution.
  • I put my baguette slices under the broiler (turning once) to toast, which helps prevent it from getting too soggy, too quickly.
 It's worth trying, I swear. Amazing flavour pay off for relatively little effort.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shop: J. Crew Tipped Pea coat in Antique White

Something happened recently that kinda sorta ticked me off. By kinda sorta, I mean a lot. When I get super pissed off, I do one of three things: eat bad food, shop or work out. Or any combination of the three. Considering I'm trying to lose some weight and I'm also trying not to shop, the only non-damaging option would have been to work out. So I did, and it was a good way to let off some steam but in the end, it was simply not enough of a distraction to avoid the temptation of the other two habits. I completely broke down and bought the J. Crew tipped pea coat that I have been drooling over for the last two months. And yes....I did feel better. In fact, I still do, which surprises me. Truth be told, the satisfaction of buying the coat outweighed any guilt I thought I'd feel about failing my no-shopping challenge. Of course, it sucks that I don't have the willpower to go three months without frivolous shopping but at least I scaled back the habit and I genuinely believe that I will consider my purchases more carefully now. Also, I'm more than a little pleased that I got the coat on eBay and saved nearly 130$ off the SALE price of coat on the J. crew site, if you factor in duties and shipping. Teehee...

It's as if the universe sensed my weakness and sent me some astutely directed e-newsletters from my favourite money traps. Temptation at Banana Republic came in the form of Striped sweater dress, the Draped knit dress in Teal Shadow and the Lydia silk blouse in Saucy Red. Lululemon added new winter ready pants to their collection; I am an absolute sucker for track or jogging pants so these are right up my alley. The Forme Pant, Dog Runner Pant and Pleasing Pant are all pure temptation for me. The First Base tank looks really nice too, especially in the grey/black stripe and colour block versions. Ugh, temptation is everywhere! Maybe I better just head back to the gym and hope this retail craving passes.

Shop: David's Tea Advent Calendar

Gimme, gimme, gimme! A David's Tea advent calendar for grownups! Okay, well, clarify...I'm a grown up and I have NO issue eating 24 little chocolates leading up to Christmas day. But truth be told, most of the time those little chocolates are made of some pretty inferior 'milk'  chocolate anyway. It's not even worth the caloric hit for crap chocolate. Having said that, if there was a Cadbury Fruit & Nut advent calendar I'd buy one for every month of the year. In any case, this version by David's Tea gives me the thrill of opening the little door to find a surprise treat behind it with the added benefit of zero caloric intake! Win-Win!

Okay, maybe that's not my best sell job but aside from the fact it's healthier than cheap chocolate, David's Teas are really amazing. I really enjoy a hot tea on a cold winter afternoon. Also, what a novel way to try 24 different teas without committing to larger quantities that you may or may not like. I'm trying to decide if buying this counts as seasonal home decor (therefore okay by shopping diet rules) or just another frivolous expense on my part. I think we all know the answer, but isn't Christmas all about frivolity anyway? (or maybe it was about baby Jesus...)

From David's Tea

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eat: Links for Foodies

I often post updates about recipes that I have found on the Internet. I love my cookbooks, but when I get a hankering to make something new for dinner and I am no where near my bookshelf, I have a number of wonderful go-to sites that I can refer to in a pinch. I finally got around to compiling a list of my favourites so I thought I would share it here. Feel free to comment and let me know which sites are your favourites. Any must-try recipes or hidden gems out there that I missed?

In the beginning (of my food tinkering):

allrecipes - Huge variety of recipes but as they are often user submitted, I an hesitant to trust the ingredient quantities and flavour profiles unless I see numerous positive user reviews.

Food Network US and Food Network Canada - Sometimes, even if I have the book (i.e. Barefoot Contessa) I like to print the recipe so that I don't worry about smearing it with butter or sauce while cooking. Be warned, I have noted that sometimes a recipe shown in a TV episode varies from what is printed in the book (i.e. Giada's Chicken Vesuvio)

Rachael Ray - Most or all of her recipes have moved from Food Network to her personal site. I love cooking but sometimes I feel that the effort can be daunting; Rachael Ray's recipes are great for quick results (Check out her Pumpkin Sage Pasta, Vodka Sauce, French Onion Soup, Apple Spinach Salad, Celery Fennel Slaw, etc.)

Healthy and/or Vegetarian

super natural every day: Heidi Swanson - Beautiful photography and healthful recipes. Her books are filled with even more gorgeous photos. I haven't made enough of her recipes, I must make a sincere effort to use her site/books more often.

Vegetarian Times - THE vegetarian resource during my year without meat. Still a great choice for my 1-2 meat-free dinners a week. Really love the Spicy Tofu.

Veggie Num Num - Such a lovely web site, the pictures do so much for the recipes. I must admit that I haven't tried many recipes from here yet, but I am dying to try the Veggie Kofta

General Sites

Epicurious - The BEST recipe site on the Internet. Period. I believe it has every recipe ever printed in Bon Appetite and Gourmet Magazine. User reviews really help to determine if a recipe is worthwhile; not to mention a great source of information for modifications. The recipe box is a fantastic feature, my box has about 400 recipes stemming back from 2001 or so. Can't gush about this site enough, I'm always surprised when I hear a foodie doesn't already know about this one. Bookmark it. Now!

Martha Stewart - In the past I was a subscriber to Everyday food, but I found the recipes a bit lack-lustre; bland and a bit too simple. Martha's site has both easy and more moderate/advanced recipes. It's not the first site I go to but I would trust her recipes when it comes to baking.

Canadian Living - A good variety overall. Recipes lean towards the lighter/healthier option

Fine Cooking - What makes Fine Cooking special is how educational the articles are. The best resource for tips, tricks, reviews, tools and techniques. LOVE their Christmas cookies.

Food lifestyle blogs; sometime recipes, other times food writing.

David Lebovitz -  Living the Sweet Life in Paris. He is so charming and funny, I love his writing style, not to mention his recipes. Our favourite Carnitas recipe comes from an American living in Paris, go figure!

Smitten Kitchen -  Her cook book has just arrived, and I am excited to support her effort and buy the book. Her blog has really evolved, it's been fun to see her develop from miscellaneous blogger to food blogger. Lovely pictures. The best baked french toast recipe; it's now my Christmas morning tradition!

101 Cookbooks - Love the idea of this blog, and her design/photography is beautiful. Lots of great ideas/suggestions

spicy habibti - A bit less glossy than the rest, but some great Indian flavours and inspiration.

Pickled Plum - This site belongs to a friend in NYC. I must admit that Japanese recipes intimidate the crap out of me, but she makes them seem really accessible. Looking forward to trying the Pumpkin Oreo Muffins and working my way to the Japanese recipes

Yet to try, bookmarked and ready to go:

Saveur - I have yet to make a recipe from this site, but the intention is there. Saveur recipes appear in my Pulse News application daily, and the photos are very enticing. On my to-do list.

Jamie Oliver


Local (i.e Montreal) Blogs: Restaurant Reviews & Food Scene

Foodie Date Night - Based on their recommendations so far, I trust their reviews enough to influence my restaurant selection.

Will Travel for Food - Also another great way for me to discover new or hidden gem local spots. I love the pics of the meals, it's a sneak preview which really helps me decide where I'm spending my dollars.

Food Guy Montreal

Shut Up and Eat

Chow Hound - Boards (Montreal)

And finally, When in Rome...

Katie Parla's Rome for Foodies - Great site, wonderful iPhone app. If it wasn't for her site, we would not have discovered Trattoria Monti, L'Asino d'oro, Vino Roma and Pizzarium. These places MADE our trip to Rome, and we would go back to every single one if we ever go back.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Eat: Bright side of a soft food diet

My mouth throbs with pain. This last adjustment was a killer. Chewing is proving to be very challenging, whenever my top and bottom front teeth make contact its like a mini lightning bolt has hit my jaw. I'm hoping to have a miraculous recovery for dinner at Tuck Shop tonight; a reservation was made weeks ago, before I had an inkling of how intense this last orthodontist appointment would be. If I haven't improved by tonight, I hope they atleast have some really sharp steak knives so I can cut everything into gulp-able pieces.

Having said that, a soft food diet is not all that bad. I'm about to make some soft buttermilk pancakes for brunch. My 'chewing' will be something akin to a snake swallowing its prey in one whole piece. But damn, do I love me some pancakes! Last nights dinner was soft polenta with Marc's ragu; barely any chewing needed but delicious! Nothing like a bolognese ragu and glass(es) of red wine to take the edge off.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eat: Potato & Leek Soup Recipe

As you can tell, I've been on something of a soup kick as of late. Of course, it has a lot to do with the changing of seasons but as of this week, it's as much to do with adjustments to my braces (i.e. I'm on a soft food diet while dealing with pain).

While shopping for groceries earlier this week, we happened upon some nice looking leeks. I have never prepared leeks before so I figured I was long overdue trying them for myself. I decided on making Potato & Leek soup, as recipes are plentiful.

The recipe I selected is from Epicurious, and can be found here. I found the soup to be almost too healthy, it lacked a certain complexity that a bit of fat could bring to a recipe. I don't want to say it was bland because I realize that a more smooth muted flavour is what one should expect from a Potato and Leek soup, but still, I think it fell short. The fresh herbs really helped it out, but as usual I made a pile of modifications that I feel compelled to share:

  • I used 2 large leeks, as that was all I had. I compensated with an extra potato.
  • I used 10% cream because that was what was in my fridge.
  • I didn't have basil, but I did have fresh rosemary, thyme and tarragon. I used all of them, about a handful of each, chopped.
  • I used a whole bag of chives, which might have been more like 1/2 cup. It really needed it.
  • Make sure you use the fresh dill, it really adds a flavour that the soup can't do without. You will likely want to use more than the recipe calls for.
  • I pureed all of the soup rather than just some of it because I prefer cream/pureed soups
  • It needs a good amount of salt and pepper.
  • I had a bit of bacon fat in a mason jar so I added a bit less than a tablespoon. Next time I would cook up a bit of bacon, use the fat and add back the cooked bacon as garnish.
  • Finally, instead of Tabasco I used a good few shakes of ancho chili powder.
Not the most convincing sales pitch, hun? Having said that, I'm not giving up on Potato & Leek soup yet but I will likely use a different base recipe. Even the pictures came out a little off (i.e. yellow), which I tried unsuccessfully to balance out. For arguments sake, the the soup turned out to be a pretty shade of off-white with lovely green specks of herb throughout. We served it with a provolone and wheat sourdough grilled cheese. I'd recommend to use a cheese with a light flavour otherwise it will drown out the gentle flavour of the soup.