In the last couple of years we have become huge fans of cara cara oranges. Have you tried them? You really should. They have a darker fruit than other navel oranges; fruit that is not sweet (to my taste at least) but without the slightest acidity. It has a deep flavour that is so satisfying. I read that its flavour evokes “cherry, rose petal, orange, and blackberry”. I don’t know about that, but I really love the almost exotic taste.
They are imported oranges of course — at this time of year they are probably from South Africa or Venezuela — and so don’t meet any criteria for local produce. But you have to spoil yourself once in a while, and cara cara oranges are worth it.
In the late 1990s, I spent a lot of time in Bukowski’s, a raucous bar and restaurant at Commercial & Grant that is sorely missed. I went there to drink, to eat, to party, and, just about every week, to shout my poetry above the din of the bar crowd. If your performance could grab attention at Bukowski’s, you were doing really well.
With the likes of RC Weslowski, Shane Koyczan, and Angus (the Svelte Ms Spelt) Adair also performing, I was never the best or the most popular, but I had a wonderful time; and that period of my life was heady and life-affirming and just plain fun.
I am sure my memory has gaps, but it seems to me at this distance that all I ever ate at Bukowski’s was their wonderful patatas bravas, a dish which, when Bukowski’s closed, was lost to me. So it was a joy the other day when I was looking through some food videos on Youtube and came across a patatas bravas recipe from Food Wishes, one of my go-to video chefs.
I made it last night (with some deliciously sauteed chicken) and it was, all modesty aside, just superb: I could eat that sauce with just about anything. More, all those memories of Bukowski’s came flooding back to delight and entertain.
Black puddings are some of my favourite things. Other kinds of blood puddings are okay at a pinch (JNZ’s is particularly fine), but nothing compares to the blood, oatmeal, and beef suet creations born in England. Slices of quickly heated black pudding are the perfect complement to any configuration of the traditional English breakfast, or served between two heavily-buttered pieces of good bread.
Most North Americans shy away from trying this perfect food. Obviously, the list of ingredients will seem unattractive to some. But it is also true that most black puddings are cooked too long and turn into hockey pucks. Thus, even if you are brave enough to try it, it may be horrible and put you off a second attempt.
I was lucky enough to be raised in London where they know how to cook their puddings. And I love them.
Experienced cooks will recognize what I mean when I say that for me, in the context of a fried breakfast, black pudding perform like an anchovy in a beef stew: it dissipates a flavor that complements and embraces all the other flavours and yet almost evaporates under examination; umami, as the Japanese have it.
“according to well-known nutritional oracle MuscleFood (an online shop specialising in lean meats for body builders). A spokesman this week claimed the pudding is becoming so popular with their health-conscious customers that they have declared it ‘a new buzzword in clean eating”, ranking it as a “superfood for 2016’…
“Black pudding is a superfood. Low in carbohydrates, high in protein, filled with essential nutrients. Lancastrian Viagra, I call it.”
Many people will know that several of the most popular “Chinese” dishes served in North American restaurants are in fact American inventions based more or less on Chinese ingredients and techniques. Fewer, perhaps, will know that the same can be said about “Indian” food, with British taste as the instigator.
I learned more than I ever knew before about the origins and development of curry from this wonderful article from NPR.
Growing up in London in the 1950s and 1960s, eating Indian was just becoming a big deal for young experimental palates. They came into fashion a year or so after Chinese had become popular. When I moved to Manchester around 1970 I was wonderfully surprised to discover curried chips as an option in the fish & chip shops.
Whenever I travelled back to the UK since the 1980s, I always knew there would be a decent “curry house” somewhere close to where I was visiting, no matter what part of the country. They were more common in smaller towns and villages than a pub with decent food.
A surprising (to me) tid-bit:
“More than 80 percent of of curry house owners in the UK can trace their roots back to Sylhet, a city in the east of what is now Bangladesh, [Lizzie] Collingham explains in [her book] Curry. Sylhet’s waterways were key to trade during the Raj, hundreds of Sylhetis ended up working on British steamships. “They often had the horrible jobs of working in the engine rooms,” Collingham says. “So quite a lot of them tended to jump ship. They had a tough time finding work in England, and many of them ended up in restaurant kitchens. “Some of these immigrants saved up enough money to then open their own restaurants.”
Group dynamics is a fascinating thing: That percentage of British curry makers from a single Bangladeshi city reminds me that a majority of the Chinese who settled in Vancouver in the 20th century came from a very limited geographic area in China, or so I believe, and a large majority of nail estheticians (manicurists) in western North America are, or were trained by, Vietnamese boat people from California refugee camps. No connection meant other than seeing very specific groups of people fanning out to conquer odd bits of the world.
I am not one for sodas or soft drinks of any kind. In a usual month I drink only tea, water, and the occasional beer. But in the last few weeks I have discovered the inestimable joy of the peach quencher at Timmies.
Don’t want to sound like a jingle or an ad, but it is a great drink — not at all sweet, with a powerful peach flavour, and totally deserving of the name “quencher”.
I know that by summer’s end I will have drunk far more of them than I should. Oh well.
I recently realized that I had become addicted to Twix bars. It has reached the point where I have to consciously stop myself from eating more than one stick a day. This is quite a new thing and I am not sure how it started. However, this new habit reminded me of one of my earlier great loves — the Mars bar, and something I wrote way back in 2008:
“Back in the day, the Mars Bar was the true king of chocolate bars. It took a long time to eat and satisfied every umami receptor that one had. The original Mars was a substantial eat: a thick wall of chocolate that took some biting through encased a vault of the thickest caramel that coated one’s teeth and gums. It was a real treat and the greediest kid couldn’t eat more than one at a sitting.
Yesterday morning I was feeling a low blood sugar moment coming on and I bought a Mars bar to get me through it. First up, the size wasn’t what it should have been. The original Mars bar was a hefty piece of work that filled one’s hand. What I got yesterday was a disappointingly short stick that weighed hardly anything. There was no resistance at all as my teeth bit through the chocolate skin, and the bitten piece just seemed to melt in my mouth. It wasn’t what I expected or wanted.
Looking at the thing in section it was easy to see how thin the chocolate coating was, and how the caramel had been reduced to a slight sliver squeezed into place on a soft whipped mass that filled the bar. It was just terrible!
Kids today, of course, know no better because the old bars just aren’t available for them to compare. They should sue the bar makers, I say. Sue them for taking away one of the great joys of childhood.”
Sam Sifton holds a very high place in the kitchens of the world. He is the brain behind the very popular New York Times Cooking site. His current passion is for what he calls “no recipe” recipes, which do away with exact measurements (Fanny Farmer is screaming “No!”) and fetishizes improvisation. I haven’t read his new book, but I have read Laura Shapiro’s review in the Atlantic and she calls Sifton’s ideas “an exciting, but daunting, invitation to improvise.”
“Conventional recipes that spell out each step are useful, he says, and if you follow them correctly, you’ll arrive at the destination planned for you. But that’s not the only way to get dinner on the table, and here he evokes the great jazz masters who wouldn’t dream of relying on a printed score. Each “no-recipe recipe,” Sifton explains, is “an invitation for you to improvise,” a skill that will turn you into an imaginative, stress-free cook able to wing it through the preparation of any meal.”
She does rather make it sound as if Sifton is onto something new. But …
When I came to Canada in 1978 at the age of 29, I was certainly able to cook for myself; however, boring, predictable, and safe is how I would describe my culinary arts at that time. Back then, before there were entire channels running food shows 24/7, there were a few cooking shows on TV; and the one I was attracted to was James Barber’s Urban Peasant series. It was that show that turned me into a passably good cook.
Barber’s whole method, it seems to me, was based on use what ingredients you have, improvise methods if needed, and make it as simply as possible. Having grasped those basics, I was then able to grab ideas from all over and make some really interesting meals without worrying about dotting i’s and crossing t’s. I’ve been doing that now for forty odd years.
James Barber was a Vancouver original. Sam Sifton should try some of his recipes.