Monday, September 2, 2013

"Indigestion", the end of the beginning.

If you've been following along since here and here you're up to speed with what's what and why I'm printing the first chapter of my work of culinary fiction, "Indigestion". Herewith, I present the final pages of the first chapter. (And that's all you're gettin'.)
It looks like Ruthie Cohen is heading off to culinary school: This is where it all begins, people! (Plus, a recipe. Enjoy.)
And please do tell any of your friends in the TV, film or book biz that this baby is still up for grabs (for now.) Since my traditional publisher went out of business, I'm trying to get this wonderful book published in the most modern way possible, meaning, in whatever medium best suits. Animated webisodes, anyone?
But now on to the story...
When we last left our protagonist Ruthie, she was pondering whether or not to use the inheritance recently bequeathed to her by her grandmother, Boobie Bobby Grace. Let's listen in...

My Boobie Bobby Grace had passed away just over six months ago, and while it shouldn’t really shock a grandchild when her 89-year old grandmother dies, it was a real blow to me, because not only was Boobie Bobby Grace one of my favourite people in the entire world, she was no ordinary granny, either.
Her husband, my Zaidy Murray, had died when my dad was just 12-years old, so Boobie had to raise her five children on her own, and somehow figured out early on that real estate would be her ticket to financial freedom. She was right for the most part, spending the better part of 40 years working as a real estate agent, often keeping the best gems for herself, buying up whole blocks of downtown Toronto in the 70s, suffering through the real estate slump of the early 80s, but the market always rebounded and she ultimately made a very good living. 
After seeing all of her children through university, she happily retired to Miami on her 61st birthday.
From the time I was eight-years old my parents would fly me to visit her for a week in February while they took their annual sojourns to various Club Meds. They claimed the resorts were “adults only” but I later learned that this was not the case at all. But I didn’t care. I loved my special week each year with Boobie Bobby Grace, going for early bird specials with her and her friends, shopping in malls so big and air conditioned that she’d have a blanket waiting for me in her Cadillac so that I could warm up on the drive home to her gated community.
“Ruthie,” she’d say, as we drove the 20 minutes back to the manicured palms and overly chlorinated swimming pool of her condo, a time she often used to dispense important life lessons to me. “I want you to remember three things: If you learn nothing else from me, please remember this.” At this point I’d usually turn towards her, adjust the blanket and listen carefully.
“Never buy green bananas. They will never ripen properly and will ultimately disappoint you. And while were talking, never wear banana yellow. Sorry doll, it’s just no good on you.” I’d nod in agreement suddenly embarrassed by my cheery yellow skorts yet thankful for the honest advice. Then we’d drive for a little while in silence while she mulled over a final lesson: “Give money to street bums even if it’s just a nickel. And make eye contact too. They’re just like you and me, only they haven’t been so lucky.”
The thing is, our chats almost always started with these life lessons, so, fearful of forgetting any of the very important “three things”, I’d always rush into the bathroom as soon as we got back to the condo to write them all down. (I later learned she thought I had a weak bladder.) When Boobie died I numbered all of her life lessons and added them up. There are exactly 7,853 and I swear, at least half of them are totally useful.
Boobie loved taking her daily swim, an hour after playing canasta and two hours before dinner. That usually meant a 3pm swim in the Atlantic Ocean each day. I used to marvel at this fit, leathery women as she pulled on her swimming cap, so colourful and floral that her head looked like a giant frosted cupcake. She’d leave me on the beach, on a big pink towel under a blue umbrella, to watch her purse and eat a Snickers bar while she did her 45-minute swim. “Don’t talk to strangers,” she’d instruct as she pulled on her swimming goggles and kicked off her sandals. “But if you do, be sure to offer them a stick of gum. And don’t forget – Lipton’s onion soup mix is the secret ingredient to a flavourful brisket.”  (Boom – three more without even trying.)
A jet ski hit Boobie as she was swimming back to the beach one day, even though I have no idea how he hadn’t spotted her elaborate swimming cap. A bunch of people ran into the water after witnessing the accident and helped to carry her ashore while others called 911. But it was too late to save her. Apparently, as the life faded out of her on the powdery white sand, her last words were, “Go to Charlie’s Seafood restaurant on 15th Street. They really give you a nice piece of fish.” And then she gasped and died.
A few months on, it all came down to money and possessions. Boobie was the matriarch of our family; the eldest of four (though her middle brother, my great uncle Stan, had died while fighting in WWII — of Gonorrhea), she was the mother of five, and the doting grandmother to 11. After they divvied up her real estate holdings and stock portfolio, I inherited $62,873.42 from Boobie Bobby Grace, and that inheritance was now resting comfortably in my savings account.
There were no real stipulations as to how the money should be used, but as was Boobie’s way, there were some really good suggestions: “There are three ways I’d like you all to try to use this inheritance,” started Auntie May the executor, as we all gathered in the lawyer’s office to hear the reading of Boobie’s will. “No pressure, but I’ve got some nifty ideas for you all.” Auntie May was reading the will in a spot-on imitation of Boobie Bobby Grace, which I’ll be honest, I was having mixed feelings about. “Use it for education – why not learn a new trade? I’m not saying you should become a metallurgist or anything, but carpentry, locksmithing – you’ll never be without a job if you’ve got one of those under your belt.” True, true, we all nodded in agreement. “Or, use it for travel – maybe you’ll learn some things about yourself along the way. For instance, remember that time I went to northern Norway and went dogsledding? I never knew how much I’d hate dog-sledding.” Hmmm, I thought.  I love to travel. Boobie knew that. Hearing about her adventures had inspired me to create ones of my own, so much so that all of my extra money, every spare cent, usually goes to saving up for my next big trip. And I have always wanted to go to Thailand… “Use it to open up a small business,” Auntie May as Boobie Bobby Grace continued, “Learn to be self sufficient; there’s nothing better than being your own boss, I’ll tell you.” And that she was, and that she loved. I’ll take these final life lessons into consideration when I eventually used Boobie Bobby Grace’s generous inheritance. 
But even though it’s by far the most money I’ve ever seen, it’s now six months on and I haven’t touched a nickel of it. I guess I kind of feel if I don’t spend it, it’s like she’s not really gone. But was Lilly right? Was now the time to use it? Could this $62,873.42 set my life on a brand new course?
“I think it’s sort of a gift from Bobby Grace,” says Lilly, which does make an awful lot of sense. Boobie would have loved giving me this kick-start, and I would have to be sure to make her gift last. I would use it for nothing but furthering myself in a way in which Boobie Bobby Grace would have approved. I could live on my savings from work for rent and day-to-day living for a year, but once Boobie’s inheritance was spent it would likely mean back to the grey grind of Telecorpmedia for me.
I won’t bore you with the details regarding the rest of the night. All I will tell you is that three petite women ended up drinking two bottles of wine and another of pink champagne. We also polished off a pot of my go-to pasta – linguine swirled around marinated artichoke hearts, nicoise olives, red pepper flakes, garlic and oven roasted tomatoes, topped with some chevre, parsley and a mitt-full of toasted pine nuts. Then we got on the Internet and before I knew it, I had put down a deposit for the autumn session of L’Ecole de la Cuisine Française. I was going to train at a traditional French cooking school.
It would seem, if I listened to what Trish and Lilly were blabbering on about, my bliss was being followed. I may have woken up as a data-entry Smurf this morning, but tonight I go to bed on the verge of becoming a chef.
Inheritance (to be used only for school-related costs and materials): $62,873.42

Tuition $12,000; Uniforms $125; Knives $340; Small wares such as carrot peeler $55;
Books $400; Black safety shoes $100; Subscription to Cook’s Illustrated: $27. Balance remaining: $49,826.42


(serves 4)

6 oz goat’s milk feta cheese

1 roasted red pepper (fresh or bottled), peeled, drained and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, as well as a bit of its zest

2 tsp. olive oil

few shakes Tabasco

1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

 Mix everything together in a bowl. Sometimes I use a hand blender if I want it extra smooth. It goes great with warm, soft Greek-style pita for ripping and dipping.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Indigestion", the next little bit...

When we left last our protagonist Ruthie, she was here. Let's continue along with the opening pages of "Indigestion: A work of culinary fiction", which is currently on the market again and ready for sale...

At 3 a.m. I wake Keith from an almost alarmingly deep sleep, and tell him I’ve got to get going.
“Why don’t you like me,” he asks in a voice so sad it makes me wince, which surprises me because I’m not a big wincer.
“I do like you,” I say, while mussing his hair and giving him a friendly nose tweak.
“Ouch.” He rubs his nose. “But why don’t you like me like I like you?”
Uh oh. Stop. Think. Got it. “Well,” I explain in my most teacher-like voice. “I think it’s pretty common for one person to like the other more at first.” Phew. Nailed it.
“And why don’t you know enough not to say something like that?” he sighs.
Ouch. Let’s face it; I’m no teacher.
And what Keith doesn't know -- what he couldn’t know -- is that during the night, sometime between 2:10 and 2:55 a.m., I changed my mind about us. I decided that to force something that wasn’t there wouldn’t be fair to either of us.
So we set out into the darkness of a morning yet to come, walking back to my place. Cutting through Trinity Bellwoods Park, I spot a lost red Frisbee, a forgotten vagrant, and an empty jar of Kraft chunky peanut butter. Trees and flowers are starting to wake up, the dewdrops still resting on their sleepy petals. I smell lilac, the intoxicating scent of baking bread, a waft of dog shit. It's quiet and peaceful and I’d fully recommend a 4 a.m. walk through this park to anyone who isn’t afraid of being stabbed. 
As we stroll in awkward silence I make a last ditch effort to talk myself out of ending things with Keith. Look at him Ruthie, I glance over at him, smile, and then look away. Just look at him! I say to myself again, taking another good long look. This time he looks back at me, confused, raising his hands and shoulders “what?" We keep walking. “Look at his cute sandy bed-head, inquisitive brown eyes, open heart, awe-shucks charm, scrawny chicken legs, his…” It’s no use. Like my dad always says, “You can’t kid a kidder, but you can always ask for more coffee.”
And that’s how Keith and I almost became lovers.
Eight months have passed since that last date when I find myself snake-crawling across the industrial carpeting past Keith’s cubicle at Telemediacorp. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
“What are you doing?” he asks, looking equal parts bemused and bored as he catches me mid-crawl. I stand up, brushing off my knees while trying to act like it’s perfectly normal to be caught bellying out of a midtown office tower.
“Wow. You really don’t want to work here anymore,” says Keith.
“No,” I say, flicking an imbedded pebble from my palm. “I really don’t.”
I figured it wouldn’t take Keith long to recognize that he’d be better off without me around the office, even though the movie directory will no doubt suffer, and I even suggest a couple of dating options from the pool of new hires. I particularly like his chances with Christie and Kathy; Christie has the boobs, Kathy has the brains. “I heard them talking about you in the bathroom”, I lie whitely to give him a little confidence boost. “They think you’re cute. Which one will you go for?” I ask while walking down the hall and then pushing that familiar elevator ‘down’ button for the very last time.
“I guess I’ll go for Christie,” he mumbles to his Top-Siders as the elevator doors close, propelling me towards freedom.
I bike home then set about preparing a celebratory snack.
Trish and Lilly are also on their way home, walking down College Street when I call to tell them to come over for some bigtime news.
“How big?” asks Lilly, as if she wouldn’t be coming over anyway for free feta dip.
"In-person-big,” I tell her.
“Good big news, or sit down, its bad news, big news?”
Do people really talk like this? “Champagne news big,” I say.
“Champagne, drinking away your sorrows, big, or…” Trish mercifully grabs the phone from Lilly.
“What can we bring?” she asks, knowing that snacks are going to become a full-on dinner. Like always.
 “Just get your asses over here -- maybe bring more hooch if you’ve got it.” I hang up.
Trish and Lilly are my best friends. They live together, I live alone, and we’re all happier that way. We met at McGill and bonded instantly. We had all ended up in Mr. Draker’s film theory class called “Icon, index and symbol” -- I think the point of the class being how they all relate to the central themes in film. All I know is that I wrote a 40-page dissertation on the spiral imagery in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, and got an A.
You know, I’ve got to stop myself here for just one second, because since I casually mentioned that A you probably think I’m one of those super-smart underachievers who went to a great university and then pissed her good fortune away. I think they used to call us slackers. I assure you I’m no slacker. In fact, that was the only A I ever got in my life, which is probably why I found a way to just casually mention it. (Anytime I can work that A into conversation, I do).
I should also mention that even though we recognized each other from Mr. Draker’s class, we didn’t actually become instant best friends until Trish and Lilly happened to show up at my apartment during one of the annual semi-formal wine and cheese parties that my roommates and I were famous for. (They were widely considered the social event of second term. Or so we liked to think.) 
We insisted that everyone get gussied up, no jeans allowed, for instance, and we’d make the place look really nice. We’d clean all the dishes, make the beds, sweep the floors and…well, I guess that was about it, actually. But candles twinkled everywhere, we made sure of that, including around pieces of Ikea mirror (they came four to box) upon which we laid out great hunks of cheese and grapes and dried fruit. We’d stock up on Breton crackers, and buy lots of water crackers too, which nobody really likes, but we knew well enough that they scream “classy”. By this time I was already fairly renowned for my cooking, so I’d also make some nibbles from scratch, like my mushroom cigars  (after I made them that first year people requested them every year after) and a rotating roster of hummus with spiced pita chips and hot spinach balls with mustard dipping sauce. Things like that. And then there was the boxed wine. Boxes and boxes of boxed wine. Hey, we were poor students spending that month’s rent on cheese. Don’t judge us!
As for the rest of the annual ‘do, there were just three rules that had to be followed by our 100 or so guests (it was a really big apartment with high ceilings and hardwood floors in a newly renovated historically significant building on Sherbrooke Avenue so overcrowding wasn’t a problem.) The rules: Bring at least one bottle of wine per person, no beer allowed, and dress semi-formally. We adopted those last two rules in order to put off the local police force, at least four members of which would inevitably show up each year to break up the bash. The first year they showed up they looked around, saw a bunch of well-dressed twenty year-olds swirling wine and snacking upon baked brie and chocolate dipped strawberries, and realizing that this was no ordinary drunken kegger, they asked us to try (“to try”) to keep the noise level down, and then they left.
“What do you mean, officer?” we would take turns asking, depending on which of us was the least drunk come midnight (which usually wasn’t me), which was when they usually turned up. “There’s no beer here,” my roommate Lisa would explain. “It’s a semi-formal wine and cheese party, see?” at which point we’d all twirl in our mini skirts, giggle, and ask them if they wanted to join the fun. Often enough, they did. (That’s how Shelley met Officer Frank.)
One year Trish and Lilly happened to show up with friends of friends of friends just as the cops were arriving, and the three of us played off of each other at the threshold of my apartment as if we were the Three Stoogettes. That year all of the policemen joined the party. 
“Where have you been all my life?” I remember Trish asking me as the three of us headed out to St. Laurent for the best poutine in the city at 4 o’clock, when the party had finally died.
Almost a decade later, here they are, beautiful Trish with her green eyes and slender but unusually long nose, and Lilly of the raven hair that falls to her bum. One day she’ll get it all cut off. But not yet.
“Here you go bella, a bottle of red and a bottle of white,” Trish hands over a couple of dependable Argentinean labels. “Now what’s this big news?”
“Manager Keith offered me a fulltime job,” I start. Manager Keith was their nickname for Keith. I love that my friends always come up with the least imaginative nicknames yet think they’re a total riot. For instance, sometimes they call me Ruthie C.
“Great,” says Trish, trying to sound upbeat, not realizing that her expressive eyes were betraying her. 
I look at Trish. And I look to Lilly. Then I look down at the table for a good thirty seconds. I rub my palms together. I place them in my lap. I decide against that – I never quite understood what people were meant to do with their hands during bouts of quiet contemplation -- I place them back on the table…
“Oh, for Jesus sakes!” screams Trish.
…And then I speak.
“I turned him down,” I say with a smirk, loving nothing better than milking a juicy story.
“Great!” says Trish, now looking honestly happy.
“And I quit my job,” I say, while casually unscrewing the red.
“Yay!” we all say, as I pour and we all toast to me with full glasses.
“And I’m starting a new life. What do you guys figure I should do?” A sudden jab of remorse catches me off-guard.
“Ruthie,” Lilly cautiously starts. She’s speaking cautiously because as a third year medical resident, she knows she’s fulfilled her obligation as a useful member of society and doesn’t want to seem judgmental.  She’s always so careful about that, which I really appreciate. “You know you were never meant to be what in essence, has turned out to be a glorified temp, right?”
“Go on,” I say. We’re now sitting down on my poofy white couch. I pop a spicy olive into my mouth (I marinated them last night -- they’re a killer match with the Malbec.)
“So let’s think about it; what do you know how to do? What do you like to do? What would you be happy doing every day for the rest of your life?”
“I think the latest catchphrase for it is “following your bliss,” adds Trish, who, by the way, is a very well regarded Web designer who I’d totally recommend.
“I’m coming up blank,” I say. “That’s what you guys are here for. Just tell me what to do.” And what’s this feeling now? Rising panic?
“Ruthie, you already know what to do,” says Trish. “You’re the only girl I know who can take an empty refrigerator and turn it into something decadent. Where others would have been happy with these plump deli olives, you took them home and marinated them with olive oil and rosemary from your garden...”
“You’re forgetting the fresh chilies, slivered garlic and lemon zest,” I thoughtfully remind her.
“Right. While most people invite their friends over for dinner never, you invite yours friends over for dinner always. Your bliss is food.”
Hey, she’s right. I say it out loud to make it true: “My bliss is food.”
And there it was, the delicious epiphany.
“But now what?” I ask my girls.
“Well, what about the inheritance?” Lilly tentatively suggests. “I mean, if you’re ready.”

Was I ready?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Indigestion, a work of culinary fiction

Oh, hi everyone. It's been a while. A year or so, in fact. (My oh my, where do the days go?)
I've been pretty busy with this and that and the other so I've let this blog slide, and for that, I apologize. (Sue me.) Today I've finally decided to post again for a few reasons, the main one being that I have to transcribe an hour-long interview so I'm procrastinating like crazy (it's the only part of this biz I absolutely hate.) But if I'm being honest (and I hope I am), the main reason I'm posting is that I want to share something with you. A few pages of my yet-to-be published book, a work of culinary fiction called Indigestion.

Here's the story (in a nutshell) of why I'm sharing the opening pages of my book here. I've got an agent, and she's a great one, too. She sold this book waaay back in 2008, based on the first three chapters. There was even talk of a multi-book deal. Alas, while I was writing away, the bottom fell out of the economy, my publishing house went bankrupt and so my agent went to work selling it again. There were close calls with big American publishers, talk of movie deals, promised contracts, but alas, in 2013 the face of publishing has changed so much so that the rules are fluid. So I've taken back my manuscript and plan to be a shining example (or cautionary tale) of what publishing a book can be 2013.

This is step #1. If you like these opening pages, please share them with your friends in high places. (Warning, there is some smut in the book, but over 25 fab recipes too!) Please comment below or email me your opinion of what you think my next steps should be. If you don't like what you read, that's fine. I get it. (There's no accounting for taste.) But if you do, put out the word and ask for more. I could go the eBook route, serialize it in a magazine or maybe even try my luck with Indiegogo.

We'll just have to wait and see. For now, please enjoy the antics of our heroine Ruthie Cohen (who is not Amy Rosen), in the opening scenes of Indigestion...(Lower the lights...cue Ruthie...)

Chapter One
THE $62,873.42 QUESTION
This story begins with me, Ruthie Cohen, slogging away in an open concept office tower that's a shade of green not found in nature. The building itself: grey, sloped, glass, is the architectural equivalent to a slap in the face, while the people working within it can best be described as Smurfs.
I should talk. I’m just another little blue dude in a toque.
We’re all working at Telecorpmedia on contract for a big-name DVD directory, which they say will be “the authoritative guide to the movies from A-Z, with insight, analysis, plus all of the insider Hollywood dirt!” The thing is, we’re all in Toronto, none of us knows anyone in Los Angeles, and, I’m fairly certain that Greg over there, the one with his finger up his nose, can’t even read.
This week I’m skipping around the letter “S” for the directory.
 “SAY ANYTHING”: This poignant comedy contains an iconic scene in which anti-hero Lloyd stands outside brainy beauty Diane's house holding a boom box blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" with a look of quiet desperation. The best of the 1980s romantic teen comedy genre. Dir: Cameron Crowe. C: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor. 1989; 100 m.
It’s basically data entry, but FYI, I’m the best one at it.
“SPLASH”: A funny love affair between man and mermaid. When the finned wonder flip-flops her way into New York to pursue a love interest, the military, and scientist Eugene Levy, , try to get their hands on her, leading to some fishy business. Dir: Ron Howard. C: Daryl Hannah, Tom Hanks, John Candy, Eugene Levy. 1984; 109 m.
Yep, I’m the best one here, which is probably why Keith has offered me a full-time position. He had called me into his cubicle yesterday to discuss “long term employment” for “an increased wage” and a “free Green Bean coffee card”. I told him I’d sleep on it and let him know tomorrow, which is today.
“SHIRLEY VALENTINE”: So you’re stuck in a rut, so bored that the walls have become your best friends. What do you do? Take off to Greece and reinvent yourself like our heroine, who is immediately wooed by a sexy Greek restaurateur. A sun-baked awakening.” Dir: Lewis Gilbert. C: Pauline Collins, Tom Conti, Julia McKenzie, Joanna Lumley. 1989; 160 m.
Just after 5pm, Keith heads me off at the automatic- locking, glass- encased elevator banks. I had snake-crawled past his desk, not wanting to disappoint him by turning down his job offer.
You see; I had disappointed him before.
It’s kind of awkward to talk about because I in no way come out looking good in this scenario, and as a general rule I like to come out on top in my stories. But here goes.
Keith began flirting with me a couple of months after I started working at Telecorpmedia. He had been carefully sizing me up for weeks, as any type-A who prematurely wears reading glasses, would. In the end he correctly deduced that any girl who loves nothing more than being regaled with a good projectile vomit story, probably wasn’t the same sort of girl who would bring sexual harassment charges up against her boss should he ask her out for ice cream.
I only said yes to that first date because, straight up, I was bored. Let’s face it: I was 27 and in a dead-end job. Not a good motivating factor for anything, particularly a date with someone you probably have no interest in. But in this case, at this moment, it was motivation enough. Besides, I really like premium ice cream. I also happened to be inputting a string of movie blurbs that day, most of which featured awesome inter-office trysts (I was working on the letter “J”) so I was feeling a little randy. Again, not the best motivation for dating someone who still wears Top-Siders, but motivation enough.
Our first date is a safe date: A walk down College Street on a sunny Sunday, ending at The Big Scoop. I order a single scoop of peanut butter and chocolate in a cup, which is by far my favourite. Keith chooses a double scoop of tiger stripe with sprinkles in a waffle cone and I am incredibly turned off. We sit in the sunshine on the neon painted Muskoka chairs assembled in a jumble on the sidewalk out front of the ice cream shop, eating and watching as children use their powerful little tongues to dislodge fresh vanilla scoops onto the hot pavement below. There is crying, there is laughter, there are new couples and old marrieds. Everyone loves ice cream. And everyone loves love. “Maybe that could be me and Keith one day,” I think to myself hopefully, as he leaps to the aid of a little blonde girl whose strawberry milkshake is teetering on the brink.
For our second date, Keith tries showing off his alternative side. He reserves tickets for “Boxhead” a one-man show at a rep theatre on Ossington Street. It’s the kind of theatre that doesn’t have a name, let alone a bathroom.
This is how cool you have to be to go there: You actually have to know about it and know someone, and then be confident enough to know that you won’t have to pee during the entire play. And then you have to know enough to head down a back alley at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, pay your $10 and sit with 49 other people in a square dark room with black risers and try not to cough because the space is so small and silent that you wouldn’t want to disturb the rest of the audience watching the naked man on stage with a cardboard box on his head.
Normally the thoughtful consideration, the weighing of pros and cons that must have gone into organizing such a risqué date would have impressed the pants off of me, just like Boxhead’s. But the way I see it, unless you really like the guy, a date like this one, even with its undeniable moxie factor, usually just ends up being lame.
“What did you think?” Keith nervously asks, following the show.
In other words, four hours later. In other words, worst piece of shit I’ve ever seen.
Poor Keith. He’s visibly shaken. If the play went badly for me, it went doubly so for him. He had a sudden coughing fit around hour three (“First coughing fit of my life,” he later claimed), and by the end of the show he had to pee so badly that he bolted during the climax, missing the part where Boxhead pulls on some white tube socks and starts playing “Blue Moon” on an electric ukulele.
So I decide to be nice. “He had really nice testicles,” I say. “Hardly wrinkly at all.”
For our third date, Keith wisely goes back to playing it safe. We go for mini burgers and cocktails at the rooftop bar at the Kiefer Hotel – really yummy ground sirloin topped with caramelized onions, aged cheddar and a homemade tomato relish hit with grainy mustard and I’m pretty sure, some fresh thyme. Reclining on low-slung couches tossed with Moroccan-themed pillows while drinking frosty mojitos and eating bite-sized burgers under the city stars is enough to put anyone in the mood.
And that’s how I end up at Keith’s apartment.
We drunkenly fool around for hours, even though I tell him right off the bat that sex is out of the question: “Sex is out of the question,” I say while accidentally poking him in the eye (I had been pointing for effect).  So he asks me for a blowjob instead, which is fair enough I suppose, but I’m forced to admit that that’s not in the cards for tonight either. “But I’ll tell you what I will do for you,” I slur, as we stagger onto his futon. “I’ll let you go down on me. That much, I’m willing to concede.” He laughs and tugs at my ponytail and feels me up and then goes down, and, proving that I’m not a total bitch, I finish him off with my left hand.
But I’m no saint either -- I make him sleep on the wet spot.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gone Fishin'

Hey all, thanks for stopping by the National Nosh. I'm taking a break from the blog for the rest of the summer, but will start her back up sometime in the fall.
So long for now, stay cool!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Only the best for Lily

My sister-in-law Deborah makes her eight-month old, the lovely Lily, all of her baby food. I’m super impressed and it looks delicious, but Deborah says she does it because it’s less waste, all-natural, and inexpensive. It also happens to be really nutritious, and since Deborah is a registered Dietitian, she knows what a baby needs for good health. Here are Deborah’s top 5 tips for making homemade baby food.

  1. FRESH IS BEST: Start by using the freshest food available. Use seasonable ingredients where possible, strive for organic but don’t sweat it if conventional produce is all that’s available. “Your kid is better off eating non-organic fruits and vegetables than not eating them at all.” Here’s the  “dirty dozen” that Deborah tries to buy organically since they have the most pesticides. She says frozen fruit and veg are also great if fresh are not available.
  2. BATCH COOKING: Set aside an hour or two to prepare your food in bulk batches and make a variety of items at one time. For instance, Deborah has made zucchini, green beans, sweet potatoes, tofu and pears all in one go. “It may sound like a lot but it means you’re only cooking once every week or so.” Then all you do is portion the various foods out into small containers or ice cube trays, freeze, and defrost and heat as needed.
  3. SALT-FREE: Deborah says now is not the time for added salt and sugar. “Babies should become accustomed to the natural flavours of the foods themselves rather than additives. There’s enough time for them to develop a sophisticated palate later.” That said, some parents do add mild seasonings and spices such as cinnamon, garlic, basil and curry, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
  4. THE RECIPE: Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, then all you need to do is cook them until soft. On the stovetop this means boiling or steaming, and in the microwave, just add a touch of water. Cool, then puree with a blender, hand blender, Magic Bullet or Baby Bullet until very smooth for younger babies, and then build up to coarser textures for older babies. Note: hard fruits, like apples and pears have to be lightly cooked, but soft fruits, like mangos and berries need only be pureed.
  5. BON APPETIT, MON PETITE: Deborah says variety is key. She usually serves Lily three to four different items at one meal. In this photo Lily is eating tofu, butternut squash and zucchini, and for dessert she enjoyed mango and yoghurt. Lily must like her mama’s cooking since I have yet to see spit something out, and she’s the happiest – and healthiest -- baby on the block.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Eat here: Oru

I love, love, the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver: From the ethereal design to the waterfront setting, the luxe rooms and the impeccable service. And now, after eating at Oru, where new chef Darren Brown is kicking some serious Pacific Rim ass, my relationship with the hotel has crossed over into stalker territory. 
Installed a few months ago, Brown retrofitted the kitchen, broke down some walls to make it more transparent (literally and figuratively; for instance, they pickle their own everything and 
are now making their own charcuterie), so if you thought that hotel dining wasn’t for you, think again. The menu is created using almost exclusively local products, which these days, gladly, 
is no big whoop. But food like this? Huge whoopee! This is one of the best meals I’ve had in ages, and for my vegetarian pal, one of the best she's had, ever. 
The best bite of the night was the first one: "North Arm Farms Sunchoke Soup", a velvety veloute of pure roasted sunchokes topped with a truffle foamed milk and cocoa-morel powder. Sounds a bit old school, but tastes like a Ph.D in deliciousness. "Notch Hills Beet Salad", pickled and poached baby beets, beet chutney, chimichurri vinaigrette, and Cabrales blue cheese, was also a tasty local spin on an old favourite, while the Filet Mignon Oscar topped 
with fresh Dungeness crab, was 5-star decadence.

As a side note, when I visit B.C. it takes all the willpower I’ve got not to hole myself up in a dark room with a trove of the amazing local cheeses and wines we can’t get in Ontario. So, imagine the intense joy I felt with the all-local wine matches – from Blue Mountain to Joie, and the all-local artisanal cheeses in the fromage to chariot. (Best idea ever!)
In conclusion, ahem, if you’re lucky enough to visit Vancouver, not only should you stay at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, but you should definitely eat at Oru.
I'm fairly certain you'll like it.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Eating Vegas (and happy Canada Day!)

A few weeks ago many of the world’s celebrated chefs gathered in the 35 C alfresco heat at Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace, part of the sold-out annual culinary weekend where more than 30 events are packed into four days, with some 60 restaurants, 50 chefs and 30 sommeliers snacking, chatting and swilling together. At the Grand Tasting, the biggest and splashiest of the weekend’s events, I positioned myself at the end of the red carpet, where I asked everyone from Nobu Matsuhisa to Gordon Ramsay what their favourite dish is at their own Vegas restaurant -- plus a dish they enjoy at a friend’s Sin City table. Then I feasted on their top picks during a chefs’ grand tour, which ran in the Globe & Mail this week.

This trip actually changed my mind about Vegas. I had been a couple of times before, and wasn’t a fan. Too much of too much – people with gallon-sized colourful frozen drinks strung around their necks, other people chained to the one-armed bandits for days -- the whole thing just rubbed me the wrong way.
But as I learned, it needn’t be so. Book a nice hotel – I highly recommend the new Cosmopolitan (it’s super cool, has great restaurants, clubs and swimming pools, and it's the only hotel on the Strip whose rooms have private terraces), go for a couple of nice meals, read by the pool, take a swim, do some light shopping, and you’ve got yourself a really enjoyable weekend. 
That said, you know where I think the restaurants are even better than in Vegas? Canada! And with the fireworks, swimming, hot weather and good grub, this long weekend has been almost Vegas-like, and mighty enjoyable too.
Happy 145th B-day, Canada.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A refreshing new beverage

I don't usually write about new products because I think it would encourage others to send weird crap to my house. But let it be known that alcohol, chocolate and flowers are always welcome!
That said, if we never tried anything new, how would I have discovered the majesty that is the Ritz Bits? Or the haunting allure of Lindt 70% extra dark? The seasonal satisfaction of a Cadbury egg, a great new take on a favourite cereal, or a new brand of popcorn?
On that note, say hello to this summer's new thirst quencher. It's crisp, it's icy, sort of sweet, more than a little apple-y, and you know something, Alexander Keith's Original Cider pairs well with hot-weather foods, from raw oysters, tacos and grilled fish, to burgers and chicken.
Best of all, the best way to enjoy it is to grab a pint glass, load it with ice, then fill it to the rim with the cider so that it's so ice cold that you can barely hold it.
Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spar for the Spurtle

I'm still relatively new to the wonders of the spurtle, as evidenced here, but what I'm not new to is oatmeal, and action-packed culinary competitions.  
Lucky for me -- and us -- Bob’s Red Mill has just kicked off its annual Spar for the Spurtle 2 Oatmeal Recipe Contest which invites home cooks and professional chefs alike to submit videos demonstrating a unique recipe that makes use of Bob’s Red Mill’s Steel Cut Oats. 

From the entries, three finalists will be flown to Portland, Ore. to compete in a live cook-off, and the winner of the cook-off will receive an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Scotland, including $2,500 in cash, to help represent team Bob’s Red Mill in the 19th Annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship.

The submission deadline is July 20, 2012. For more info, check the press release here. Or, check out the  contest website.  
I want to enter. Anyone have any winning oatmeal ideas for me? Seriously.  

P.S. I just read the rules. Only open to U.S. citizens over the age of 18. Damn it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Is the pantry the new freezer?

There's something I've been thinking about lately, what I see as a recent seismic shift in the kitchen: Is the Pantry the New Freezer?

Remember how back in the roaring 1980s everyone was investing in big side-by-side refrigerator-freezers? It was the heyday of the new generation of frozen convenience foods, from Haagen Dazs and Tofutti to Pizza Pockets and Lean Cuisine. Seen as a step up from post-war TV dinners, the new frozen foods were seemingly of a higher quality while also being more nutritious and still as convenient as pulling back a corner of plastic film on a plastic tray and microwaving it for four minutes. (Little did we know about trans-fats, leaching plastics, and high sodium back then.)

Fast-forward to the mid 2000s. From being located up top to moving to the side, suddenly new refrigerators were being engineered with the freezers down below. (I just bought a Jenn-Air like this, myself.) Full of annoying partitions and baskets, they barely hold a damn thing. But here's my theory on why this poor industrial design is actually good news for food….

Basically, we're no longer relying on the freezer to feed us. We're going to the greengrocer, farmer's market and supermarket more often. In other words, we're cooking fresh food, and just need a few basic pantry items to round out our dishes. So long freezer, hello fresh chicken, veggies and secret seasonings!

At the same time, pantry items have improved greatly over the years. Think about it: Red lentils + canned San Marzanos + quality spices + fresh onion and garlic = quick, delicious dahl. Plus basmati = my favourite workaday meal. Split peas + organic Tetra stock + Bay leaf + marrow bones or ham hock = a penny-pinching soup for the ages.

I’ve got a million of them -- and you probably do too. So take a look at that pantry again, for the very first time.