Monthly Archives: May 2012

AROUND LA MALBAIE

Out and about in La Malbaie. Sometimes it’s so nice to make an escape from the city.

CHARLEVOIX BEACHES

The Charlevoix waterfront along the Saint Lawrence river is a really tremendous thing — the river there is so wide, it feels like you’re staring out into the ocean. La Pinsonnière had a private beach, about 15 minute hike from their property. The tiny strip — packed with huge boulders, rough sand, and towering pine trees — was startlingly similar to the windswept Maine beaches where I spent summers growing up.

HAIR SISTERS

I finally started watching Girls, and though I totally love it, what it really made me think about was Nicole Holofcener’s first film, Walking and Talking (1996). It’s really honest, sharp, and beautiful, kind of a proto-Girls, and it also feels like a cinematic version of an especially acidic Lorrie Moore short story. It’s my favorite Holofcener film, and upon re-watching I also realized that Catherine Keener’s character has the sickest wardrobe (so many perfect t-shirts and loose pants!) and hair that’s an uncanny approximation of my hair mixed with Sasha’s. High ponytails and super untamable, messy waves, that’s us.

AERIAL VIEW

 

It’s already so hot here in Montreal it’s hard to believe that there’s still snow somewhere in the province. I took these photos in the mountains near Charlevoix, only a month ago. We went on a helicopter ride — my first time! (it was a little scary; Adam would have called it a “soft adventure”) — and flew around the Charlevoix crater, which was created by the impact of a gigantic meteor over 15 million years ago. I was totally blown away with the aerial perspective — with enough distance, the macro starts to look like the micro in this crazy abstract way. Everything was reduced to a cellular level. It was really, really astonishing and beautiful.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BREAKFAST

When I’m traveling, it’s the hotel breakfast — and not the five-course dinners — that always feels like the biggest indulgence. Think: that overflowing basket of pastries that you won’t even touch. Precariously arranged fruit plates bearing halved grapes (who halves grapes?). Five kinds of jam. Cheese platter. (In France we were served a breakfast that came with three — three! — kinds of butter). Honestly it’s so totally over-the-top, especially because I’m used to such a simple set-up at home (fried egg, tea, toast), and I never go out for breakfast (the idea of paying $10 for eggs makes me feel ill). And having it all come via room service? Just takes it that much more over the top. Hooray for traveling.

[Photos taken at the beautiful auberge we stayed at in Charlevoix, called La Pinsonnière]

HOW TO OPEN CHAMPAGNE LIKE A GENTLEMAN

On our weeklong roadtrip up north, Adam and I made a stop at the tiny riverside village of Charlevoix, where we stayed at the opulent Fairmount Richelieu — the hotel where his parents first met and fell in love. Because we were there in April, the gigantic hotel was practically deserted — it was actually a little spooky! (Adam kept referring to it as the ‘Shining House.’)

Our first night there, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant with a few of the staff, including the general manager, who showed Adam how to open a bottle of champagne with a enormous sword! He told us that ‘every gentleman’ should know how to open a bottle of bubbly with a sharp object! He showed us how you have find the weak spot on the neck of the wine, and then strike it in one swift motion to cleave the neck directly underneath the cork. (You can even pull off this trick with a butter knife!) True to form, Adam pulled it off with style and panache.

POINTS NORTH

Until a few months ago, I had never really explored Quebec outside of Montreal. Sure, there were a few brief overnight trips to the Laurentians and the Eastern Townships and points further south, but never anywhere further north, like Quebec City, Charlevoix, or Kamouraska.  So when Adam and I took a week-long road trip across Quebec, our first stop was the provincial capital. We stayed at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, which had a cozy library and a delicious restaurant, famous for its roast duck (and our hotel room had a gigantic  terrace and was decorated with huge gemstones!). Because we went in April — in the hotel biz they call that the “shoulder month” — everywhere we went was totally empty and relaxed. It was the best.

BASICS OF BUTCHERY

The only downside to being in France for the last two weeks was missing a weekend-long event with Brooklyn chef and butcher Berlin Reed at Le Pick Up that I helped organize. And from all reports, it was a gigantic success! (Big thanks to Marc for taking control of this one). I posted a bunch of photos taken by oe of the students from the butchery workshop and the dinner the following night over at the Pick Up blog, if you’d like to take a peek.

And as for our next event… we have a sausage-making workshop with Bartek on Saturday! Yeah, it’s kind of non-stop awesometimes around here.

OFFERINGS: FANCY ON THE CHEAP, VOL. 1

[A few months ago, I started writing for the righteous noise zine Offerings, which is edited by a group of my Toronto friends. It's worth it just to read Doc Dunn's far-out astrology readings, trust. Anyway, they asked me, however, not to write about music, but food. I thought hard about column ideas and eventually came up with 'Fancy on the Cheap,' a series of short little essays centering on the quandary of how to bring luxury into your life when you are as perpetually broke as I am. The first column was on DIY creme fraiche and my very favorite cake in the world — Lulu's walnut gateau, which I love so much I have also written about it for Kinfolk Magazine — and I've reproduced it below, here! Enjoy. Oh and the photo above — there's a jar of creme fraiche in there somewhere.]

Great restaurant food, as we all know, can be fantastically expensive. Perfect for the 1%, but not for the average citizen whose financial state tends to oscillate between “despairingly broke” and “mildly poor,” with occasional spikes of “temporary, illusory wealth.” My experience as a baker has taught me sneaky ways to still enjoy elusive culinary luxuries, and this column is all about sharing those strategies with you.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s often the simplest things that are the best. I live in Montreal, a pricey dining city, so I prefer to spin my own culinary magic in my humble apartment. I gravitate towards pastry and confection, and cheapish ingredients like flour, eggs, and sugar let me play around as much as I want. (Dirty secret: Some people substitute margarine for butter, with no one the wiser).

In the last year or two, I became obsessed with the curmudgeonly, indomitable, brilliant food writer Richard Olney, whose legendary volume Simple French Food singlehandedly changed my life. (You want cheap and easy? Make his luscious, neon-hued ratatouille in the height of summer). One of his finest cookbooks is Lulu’s Provençal Table, which features gorgeous, inventive recipes straight from the brain of the eponymous Lulu Peyraud, the second-generation proprietor of Provence’s famed vineyard, Domaine Tempier.

I was immediately drawn to Lulu’s recipe for walnut gateau, which has a complex, mysterious flavor and an unleavened, moist crumb. Despite its rustic origins, this is a delicate, elegant puck of a cake, impressive in its simplicity. I make it often, for birthdays, dinner parties, or just for myself, and it never disappoints. The ground walnuts and butter are worth the splurge, and the results are grand.

Even better is pairing a slender wedge of gateau with homemade crème fraîche, which seems difficult to make but is disturbingly easy. Store-brand crème fraîche is prohibitively expensive; this is a no-brainer way to enjoy it at a fraction of the price. This tangy, lightly fermented crème is terrific with everything, and it’s an effortless way to fancify pantry soups, potato salad, salad dressing, pot roast, or a bowl of cut fruit. Try finishing your next sauce with a dollop of crème fraîche; its high-fat content will ensure that your sauce will not curdle but stay silky and supple.

Please, bake this gateau for your next dinner party, and serve it with a cheap, cold bottle of cider or ice cider. It’s just great restaurant food, except you get to pick the music.

Lulu’s Walnut Gateau

(Recipe slightly adapted; serves eight)

8 tablespoons butter, softened

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

Pinch salt

5 eggs, at room temperature

½ lb walnuts, ground finely

¼ cup carrot, grated

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 orange, zested

—Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 12” cake pan, and fit a circle of parchment paper at the bottom. Set aside.

—In a medium-sized bowl, cream butter, sugar, and salt until smooth. (This can even be done with a wooden spoon if you have the fortitude and forearm strength).

—Add eggs, one at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon.

—Then add nuts, gently folding them in, then carrots, then flour, then orange zest, until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

—Pour into pan, and bake 40 minutes, or until set.

—Slightly cool in the tin, and serve immediately with a big spoonful of crème fraîche.

Crème Fraîche

1 cup heavy cooking cream (look for 35% fat)

1 tablespoon buttermilk

—Gently bring the cream to just warmer than room temperature, stirring occasionally.

—Remove from heat, and stir in 1 tablespoon of buttermilk.

—Transfer cream mixture to a clean mason jar, and loosely screw lid on. Leave in a warm area (I keep mine on my kitchen counter) overnight, or at least 8-12 hours.

—Remove lid and give a good stir with a fork. The cream should have considerably thickened.

—Screw the lid on tightly, and put in the fridge. Let sit for at least 12 more hours.

—The crème fraîche has finished its brief ferment, and is ready to eat. It should last in your fridge, tightly closed, for at least a week.

—Note: Now you have a lot of leftover buttermilk, right? I use leftover buttermilk for quick breads like scones, muffins, or cornbread. Don’t let it go to waste!

GET SMOKED

[From top: hot smoked mackerel; apple wood smoked hock; apple wood smoked pork belly. All photos by Pork Futures]

Our crazy month of workshops at Le Pick Up continues tonight with our class on how to build your own smoker at home, as led by the two wonderful dudes at Pork Futures. So excited to learn all about hot and cold smoking! I have dreams of smoking all kinds of stone fruit for jams, sauces and desserts to enjoy all summer long. MMm!