Category Archives: work

KEEPING BALANCED

If you have even a passing interest of astrology, then you know that the most basic principle that governs Libras is our underlying, yearning desire to keep everything in balance. Subconsciously or not, it’s how I process and consume art, music, literature and food. For every fluffy album that I put on, I’ll eventually need to hear something heavier and more abstract. I’m equal parts Kate Bush and Kevin Drumm. Fleetwood Mac and Ryoji Ikeda. And so on….

But nowhere does this organizational method fling itself onto my cravings more insistently than in the way that I eat. At work, it’s mostly dabs and tastings of sugar, butter, and cream. Mouthfuls of cake and pudding and syrups. Halved scones and milk buns slathered in butter and jam. Spoonfuls of tempered chocolate and licks of glossy Italian meringue. At home, my eating habits adjust to balance out my pastry work, and I’m really seeing the results right here on my blog. Gratuitous snaps of sugary-sweet Queen Elizabeth cake… followed by a hearty breakfast of eggs, asparagus, chickpeas, and a bit of my stale old levain bread. It’s not a “light” meal, but it feels suitably oppositional to what I was eating the night before. There’s been a lot of big breakfasts like this lately… maybe I’ve been eating too much cake at work and I didn’t even realize it.

LUNCHING LAWRENCE

Because I work every dinner service at Lawrence, my only opportunity to actually enjoy our food (as a client)is during lunch. Luckily, a lot of the goodies that we offer at dinner — like potted rabbit, pickled smelt, grilled ox tongue, and, of course, our desserts! — are available on our lunch menu, too. (And so much more affordable!)

The other day I stopped in with a friend and we went nuts over the menu: golden shallots with fresh goat’s curd; baked borlotti beans with chewy bacon and horseradish cream; creamy, gooey celery gratin (it’s so good, it reminds me of cheese pizza); our famous housemade charcuterie and pickles… it was a feast. All it was missing was a few bottles of wine.

SAMPLING DOMAINE DE CHASSORNEY

Hey, wine buddies! Adam recently wrote a fascinating write-up of some Chassorney wines that we tried at the new Hambar. (I took the photos!) Our friends at reZin are importing a great selection, and I really loved the Burgundies we sampled, which are unsulphured, totally natural and biodynamic. Read it here! Then have that Volnay at Joe Beef — so yum!

A VISIT FROM PORK FUTURES

Hosting the rad Pork Futures crew was a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of summer here in Montreal. I’ve wanted to work with Andrew and Nick on an event at Le Pick Up for a long time, and for our first collaboration they had the best suggestion: how to build your own smoker. (Out of a wine crate! Genius.) Just in time for summer! It was a fun and relaxing afternoon — both educational and delicious. Who says no to smoked mozzarella, anyway?

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!

A MONTH OF PORK

With thoughts of summer forefront in my mind, I put together a few programs over at Le Pick Up for the month of May that I’m super excited about. All of them have something in common: pork!

There’s a ‘basics of butchery’ class on May 12, led by Brooklyn’s The Ethical Butcher (we’ll break down an entire pig!), followed by a BBQ the following day; a ‘build your own smoker’ class on May 19, led by the duo behind Pork Futures; and a reprise of our highly successful sausage-making workshop, led by Le Pick Up favorite Bartek Komorowski.

For more information, hit up the Dep’s website! If you came to all three classes, could you imagine how well prepared you would be for the summer BBQ season?!

KINFOLK DEBUT

I blame slow Canadian postal service, but I finally got my copy of Kinfolk Magazine the other week, and I’m so proud to be a part of such a beautiful publication! (And in such good company, too, like Ashley!)

My story, which details the difficult personal journey I took when I first moved to Montreal, was not an easy one to write. The article also represents a new shift in writing for me, one that is much more intimate and autobiographical. I’ve always been more comfortable focusing on other people — artists, musicians, chefs — so it was very hard to turn the writerly eye on myself, to somehow still produce something honest and sincere. I hope it reads alright. The photos, in any case, by our good friend John Cullen, are stunning. He captured the day so well. (And disguised, expertly, the reality that we were all pretty hungover!) I’ll post some outtakes soon…

PIZZA QUEST, CONT

Just a quick note to say that I’ve filed another story over at Serious Eats’ Slice blog regarding my ongoing quest to track down the ultimate old-school Montreal pizza. Slowly but surely, I’m eating my way through this city’s pizzerias, and it is totally awesome.