Mission: Throwing a Going Away Party

DAY 1 of 3 BEFORE DEPARTURE  (one week ago)

STARDATE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 

LOCATION: MONTREAL

MISSION: THROW A GOING-AWAY PARTY

** note: the memory card for my camera corrupted a few days ago, so this text is simply what it is and no pictures to interrupt it… all’s the better. I’ll be writing down all the recipes mentioned later, too **

Today is my last day in Montreal.   So, it’s in this morning, to stare at the unfortunately grey sky and put together the final orchestral movements on the feast I’ve made for my goodbye party tonight, and hope I’ve made enough wonderful things to eat to show them the depth and the field of my love.  A kind of nostalgic and wild cook-off that will, I hope, empty my fridge to bareness.

  • 01. Brine pork shoulder for banh mi sandwiches
  • 02. Marinate firm tofu slices in lemongrass, soy and ginger.  also for banh mi sandwiches.

(the ability to properly cook meat has, I’ve decided, no malevolent characteristics.  It is a gentle sashay away from death.  It is a transformation of death into soul, mobility, and colour.  The ability to cook tofu requires force. and garlic)

And I’ve decided that I don’t find much interest in doing things “one last time,” so my final days have been very normal.  No desire to eat crackly sweet sesame rings from St-Viateur or Fairmount bagel shops.  No need to fill my senses with the carnival of growing things that is the Jean-Talon market.  The mountain is no fun when it’s raining like today, and the museum of contemporary art does call my name, but not out of nostalgia, just interest, and I do not have time.

  • 03. Make a run to buy one tablespoon of ginger.  Put that into gingersnap batter.  Turn (some) gingersnaps into crumb crust for key lime bars.  Frost others with pink strawberry glaze.
  • 04.  Make meringue.

(Despite the implied uniformity of the icebox cookie’s geometrically cylindrical shape, it’s probably this very expectation of perfection that stymies it.  A drop cookie – oatmeal, say – may be as nubbly, off-form and craggily as it wishes, but an ill-shapen icebox cookie is particularly unsatisfying.  That is why I reshape all the ones that require it back into adequately perfect circles before I bake.  Gingerbread rhomboids suck)

I’ve even left my dancing shoes in the closet… I’ve been fading from the after-dark scene in Montreal, and no approaching departure date could really make me want to pretend to like partying with hipsters anymore.  They’re super nice people, but it’s been the same party for seven years, and I’m not fresh out of art school anymore and I don’t do the drugs that they do.  Or any at all these days.

  • 05. Assemble raw ingredients for dips – Hummus, salsa, and avocado-edamame – in correctly sized containers for blending later.  Can’t make too much noise now, the house is still asleep.
  • 06. Finely julienne 2 combined pounds of carrot and daikon.  Pickle them in (yet another) brine.

(Ingredients combined together while still being distinct is one of my favourite phases of food.  It’s the introductory bits of a relationship, the parts where everything’s still exciting as the butter melts the breadcrumbs and the heat of the onions bring the spices out of their shell.  Homogenity can happen later, after the mosaic part.  After the part where i can pluck out certain components if I’ve accidentally fudged up the mix).

It’s not that I don’t love this city.  I adore it.  It’s become a gilded cage, though.  I feel like I’ve eaten it’s fruits (juice dribbling down my chin) and absorbed it’s nature so many times already that the taste has become ordinary, and I’m starving for something it can’t provide.  A re-invention, maybe.

  • 07. Noise OK now.  Make stovetop popcorn.  Make white chocolate (Valrhona white chocolate) crab-apple popcorn with that.  Sweet.

(Using up extremely expensive ingredients on projects that may or may not be worth the quality upgrade is one of the most stripped-down exultory pleasures in life.  This kind of pleasure is only increased when the reason for using the ingredients is to remove it’s added weight from your luggage just before leaving town.  Pure hedonism).

Of course I will be back one day.  Most of the major players in my life live here – the people that I’ve known for so long that I can bare a reasonable amount of guts to them and if my bones or messed-up bits show that’s like, totally OK.  People who have pulled me out of the fire again, and again, and again.  Curiously, in the past few days, I’ve been making time stop when I’m with my friends.  I can see their movements happen as if through glass and in perfect clarity.  It’s never happened before like this.  I think I’m taking mental snapshots.

  • 08. Bake off PB oatmeal raison-chocolate cookies from the freezer.  Don’t forget about the shrimp dumplings in there.

(We are so lucky that we are all masters of a simple kind of time machine.  And one with very few hazards at that, save freezer burn and the occasional freon leak).

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t make any sense to run around being a tourist in my own city as a way of saying goodbye.  No wonder I’ve been focussing so much more on my blog and the inner world and preparing for this party I’m throwing tonight.  The snapshots – that is, the moments that have impact – we decide where they occur.  Where the stress (both emphasis and challenge) is.  It won’t be a challenge today to fall into grace with my chef’s knife and the soft hues of produce and the smell of ginger and the egg whites.  That is a dance that my Self With No Name understands – it’s a universal language that applies anywhere people are hungry and there is water enough to boil.  Like a turtle, I know I won’t feel scared or hopeless no matter where I go, as long as I’m allowed to cook.

  • 09. Empty the pantry of all chips, cookies, crackers, pretzels and popcorn.  Bowls.
  • 10. Empty fridge of all vegetables, fruits, meat and cheese.  Slice and arrange.
  • 11. Stop to admire the space left behind.

(Do not leave anything behind that can be enjoyed today.  Cavort and frolic in the idea of having no resources left.  I would like a pin made, “I survived 6 days without peanut butter” to be worn proudly at opportune occasions, such as first dates with friends, hiking trips, parties where I know nobody, and in Parisian grocery stores).

The challenge of this party won’t be making the food.  It will be understanding what it means to say goodbye.  I don’t understand it yet.  I think I’m beginning to, but there’s still time left to spend and words to say, and I haven’t seen anyone’s hair from behind for the last time yet.

  • 12. Assemble banh mi sandwiches.  Finishing touches on the table.
  • 13.  Make a nice gin drink with leftover key limes.

(Spending a day preparing a feast has a way of turning the simplicity of a cold apple for dinner into an even more distinct pleasure).

I’m actually in Vietnam already.  The goodbyes have already been made.  The table cleared, rooms vacated, suitcases bursting with breakfast cereals, airports navigated with patience.  Still nursing some jet lag, and not as lonely as I would be if my lover weren’t asleep next to me, here in the cheapest hostel room in Hanoi.  Sometimes, you have to forget that there is anything to miss that isn’t right here beside you.

♥ Enormous love to my friends and family!! ♥

Iranian Breakfast at Byblos Le Petit Café

A long time ago, I had the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had while eating out in Montreal.  I guess these things are a matter of taste, and for such meal with such clear delineations (depending on your location), it can run the gamut of very different styles.  Some people go for classic fry-ups – eggs, pancakes, porkmeats, cheese, potatoes, and whincy awful fruit cups.  Some prefer those old ideas reinvented in complex and delighting ways with accompanyingly more involved tabs at the end of the meal.  Some like to stuff themselves.  Some are happy with a bit of toast and jam and tea.  For myself, I like to linger and use my fingers in the morning.  Eggs are always welcome, as is a vegetarian meal – something simple, but substantial and naturally rich.  I suppose this is somewhat French or Mediterranean in personality, and if this is your kind of brunch, I highly highly recommend Byblos Le Petit Café at 1499 Laurier Est.

For one, it’s affordable.  And who wants sticker shock before any kind of caffeine has set in?  No, it’s relaxing to peruse the menu and get excited about all the sure-to-be-just-exotic-enough options that are perfect for sharing around the table.  It was a long time ago so I don’t remember the exact prices, but everything you see here in this post might have come to less than 23$, and we were splurging on extras like fresh juice and pastries.

For second, it’s delicious.  It’s obvious that they put care into their food, offering a dizzying 25 different homemade preserves to enjoy with the fresh bread basket bursting with lovely carbs like pitas, wholemeal bread and sesame wedges.  We chose a roseflower and orange marmalade and it was tops.  I wish even there was a way to order a sample platter of all the preserves, because they all sounded really special.

The plate of olives, feta, herbs (mint, coriander and dill!), walnuts and pistachios was perfect.  Nothing touched, just quality ingredients full of flavour and perfect for dipping sleepy fingers into and combining with everything else on the table.  That particular breakfast item comes with a bowl of house-made halvah, softer and sweeter than what I’m used to (rich!), but very fresh and loaded with toasted sesame taste.

The omelette was very different from most you might find – incredibly moist, NOT overcooked, and tasting, of, well, egg.  You might wonder why that’s special.  Well, have you noticed how most omelettes taste like browned bits and cheeses and butter and arrive rubbery and cold?  I like them this way.  Warm, oozing, ethereal shmears flecked with blushing tomato, mmmm.

Finally, not to gush (ok, I’m gushing, and it’s worth it, I swears), Byblos, for some reason, has the BEST DAMNED CROISSANT I’VE EVER EATEN, in a bakery, restaurant or otherwise.  Blistered shattering gossamer whorls of butterfat pastry – it arrived hot to the touch and disappeared before cooling off, eaten unadorned and melting on the tongue.  I don’t even like croissants, normally (blasphemy, I know), but maybe I just haven’t had enough good ones, like this. So that’s my favourite breakfast in this city.

The tea is also sharply minty and comes with a mosaic of varied sugar-nuggets, nibbly rock candies in their own right.  It’s a large enough space to accommodate any kind of party, and sunny throughout.  I love Byblos!  I’ll miss it.

BONUS!  A little note about Iranian breakfast (information garnered from Wikipedia, natch): the traditional meal is called either sobhāneh (Persian: صُبحانِه‎) or nāshtāyi (Persian: ناشتايى‎).  It usually comes with a variety of flatbreads, butter, Tabrizi white cheese/paneer, feta cheese, whipped cream sweetened with honey (sarshir), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads.  This is what we had!  Another popular traditional breakfast dish is a complex wheatmeal & lentil porridge served with shredded lamb or turkey, called haleem.  Byblos indeed does offer a simplified version of haleem in the mornings, which I only wish I’d had the stomach-room at the time to try, because it sounds SO much like my thing, being a congee-girl and all, but alas that will have to wait for the next trip.  I hear it’s good there, though.

Byblos Le Petit Cafe on Urbanspoon

Summer Peach Galette: In which ripe fruits jump at my command into a shell of butteriest crust.

Not that it takes much coaching.  Peaches are pretty much designed (to the benefit of us fire-wielding humans) to take like perfection to being transformed by a bit of heat into a pie – the juicy become juicier, or something like that.  Or, in this case, a galette (a kind of lazy pie with only a bottom crust that’s folded up around the fruit in a way that’s rustic and *I* think even more celebratory of the ripened innards). I made it in honour of a good friend dropping by from out of town, and I think it’s becoming a tradition that I bake a peach pie in the midparts of summer, started three years ago when I first moved into this wonderful house that I live in now and will soon be leaving.  There are, usually, no less than seven people under this roof, and I wouldn’t be who I am without these beautiful folks.I always have mouths to feed, and there is usually dessert on the table.  The first peach pie I made here was about a foot tall, a sliceable bucket of sweetened bourbon fruits in a burnished coffin of a shell – I had to use a spring-form cheesecake pan just to fit it all in.  The year after was a Pi Pie and I learned the first-hand way exactly what happens when impatience prevents me from chilling an unbaked dough enough – it does get a little… misshapen and less fantastic to eat.  But no matter!  This year was different.

raw and ready.

This year I figured I would see how fast I could turn a lump of frozen butter and a smudge of salt and sugar into a pie-like device.  This took half an hour maybe?  I even had Amaretto still in the pantry.  Really I hardly touched the fruit at all, just tossing with sugar, cornstarch and liqueur, then arranged onto crushed Amaretti cookies & ground almonds.  It doesn’t mess with the flavour of peach, just enhances.  The crust was shatteringly crisp and flavoursome, and held the fruit beautifully.

Anyway, my lovely friends, this is for you.  Merry August, and shine on like adamantine in the wind.

PS. White beer goes FANTASTIC with this.  Just saying’.

For more photos, check out the Flickr set.

Summer Peach Galette

Adapted, loosely, from Smitten Kitchen‘s adaptation of Alice Water’s Apricot Tart

Serves 8

Crust:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick or 3 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2–inch pieces

Filling:

  • 1 tablespoon ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon amaretti cookies, pulverized — or — 1 extra tablespoon ground almonds plus an extra teaspoon sugar
  • 10 ounces galette dough, rolled into a 14-inch circle and chilled
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds ripe peaches (about 4 large)
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 sliced almonds (optional)
  • Peach or nectarine jam (optional)

Make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large, wide mixing bowl. Cut in six tablespoons of the butter with a pastry blender or two knives, mixing until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Dribble four tablespoons ice water over the mixture, using a rubber spatula to pull the mixture together. Gather the dough into a mound (either in the bowl or on a counter) and gently knead it together, for just a few seconds. If it’s not coming together, add ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until it does. Wrap dough in a flat disc in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, take one disk and let it soften slightly so that it is malleable but still cold. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour before using.

Make the galette: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a pizza stone, if you have one, on a lower rack. Toss the ground almonds, flour, one tablespoon of the sugar, and pulverized amaretti (or mix of extra ground almonds and sugar) together.

Remove the prerolled dough from the refrigerator or freezer and sprinkle the almond mixture evenly over the pastry, leaving a 1 1/2 to 2-inch border uncoated. Cut peaches in half, removing pits, then each half into thirds (you’ll get six wedges per nectarine). Toss the peaches in a bowl with the amaretto liqueur and cornstarch.  Arrange the fruit, skin-side-down, in concentric circles on the dough, making a single layer of snugly touching pieces, leaving the border bare. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the sugar evenly over the fruit.

While rotating the tart, fold the border of exposed dough up and over itself at regular intervals, crimping and pushing it up against the fruit. Pinch or trim off any excess dough. (Make sure there are no breaks that will let juices leak.) Brush the border with melted butter, and sprinkle it with two tablespoons sugar.

Bake in the lower third of the oven (preferably on a pizza stone) for about 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is well browned and its edges are slightly caramelized. If you wish, sprinkle sliced almonds over the galette 15 minutes before the baking time ends, so they get toasty and extra-crisp. As soon as the galette is out of the oven, use a large metal spatula to slide it onto a cooling rack, to keep it from getting soggy. Let cool for 20 minutes. If you want to glaze the tart, brush the fruit lightly with a little warmed peach (or nectarine, if you have it) jam. Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or with plain yogurt.

Do ahead: This galette keeps at room temperature for at least two days, and even longer in the fridge. The unbaked dough, wrapped in plastic, will keep in the freezer for a few weeks, the fridge for a day or more. Rolled-out dough may be frozen and used the next day.

Tachido, home of the gorilla and the glutenless sandwich

tchotchke – (Yiddish) an inexpensive showy trinket

 Origin: 

1965–70, Americanism ;  < Yiddish tshatshke  < Polish czaczko bibelot, knickknack

(now obsolete; compare modern cacko  withsame sense, orig. dial.); of expressive orig.

chachkatsatsketshatshke

collectablecollectible – things considered to be worth collecting (not necessarily valuable or antique)
Going for a sandwich on a rather flingy whim didn’t necessarily prepare me for the requisite mile end arty-collage space that I should have seen coming.  I’ve only lived here in this neighbourhood for how long?  (Galleries are actually a place to get pizza, I’m pretty sure).  True to form, Tachido is home to a mass mural from the same people who decorated l’Espace Go, to our latent osmotically gained hipster-vibe delight, and even more knick-knacked curios lit up with fairy lights all over the tiny sandwich shop – the new resto on Parc street, but already proving to be a laid back hangout for randoms of all types.  Laid back randoms, anyway.
But dear, sweetie, how was the food?  Tachido serves food, right?  Mexican kinda sandwiches, involving the usual suspects of black beans, pork, chicken, cheeses, guac and hot sauces, AND gluten free options, if that’s something you care about.  They have fresh juices (agua fresca), of which a melon kind we partook.  I liked it, but I’m a sucker for melon anything, and it kinda pink-efied the meal a bit and I don’t care if it’s winter, I’ll refreshen up anytime!
We got some cheap sandwiches, a pulled pork torta sandwich on fresh housemade bread, and a huitlacoche (mushroom, corn and cheese) quesadilla, also housemade.  A little deal for the side is a hot pot of spicy black bean sauce/soup and a couple of hot sauces in red and green for about 3$, and I pretty much insist that you add this onto the order.  Reasoning for this is that while the food is fresh, hot, healthy and inexpensive, it isn’t outlandishly… shall we say, flavourful.  A shot of the saucy sides fixes that up okay.
They serve beer and cocktails (margaritas!), and get coffee from Toi, Moi & Cafe up the street, which probably means that there is at least a decent selection of brew (I haven’t been there in years but I remember a dizzying array).  They also have homemade pastries, and if I’d known that at the time I’d be just that much closer to being entirely made of sugar than I am now.  They’re probably good, judging by the bread (which is good, really).
+ points for the decor
+ points for the vegetarian/gluten-free/kid friendliness of it all
– points for normal tasting food (replace the mozza-type cheese with some real face-punching salty queso, and THEN we’d be talking!)
+ it’s such a family-run place – we talked to the guy running the show that day and he explained to some depth his brother’s toy-and-oddity fascination
+ Tacorama Fridays after 9pm!  I can only imagine the joy of that.  Woah, hey, dudes, now we have TWO late night taco places in the mile end!  Sweet.

Tachido on Urbanspoon

****** SPECIAL BREAKING EDIT/UPDATE !!!!!!!!!!
OMG.
So, you know how I ordered a huitlacoche quesadilla?  I knew it was a mushroom.  I didn’t know it was also called CORN SMUT!
*dies laughing*
oh, that’s awesome.

South Indian vegetarian lusciousness at Maison Indian Curry

A long time ago, in a curryshop far, far away, I was tucked warm and cozy with the boyfriend and extended family eating spicy goo and dipping all kinds of flatbreads into it.  I think the only reason I hadn’t thought to mention such a good dinner until now was perhaps knowing how vivid it remained in my mind, and thus preserved until such time as Bubble Tea warranted a warming burst of cumin-laden air.    WhOOOOSH!

Having heard good things about Maison Indian Curry, we braved the considerable sunday night (!) lineup and worked up a good hunger for the north AND south indian food that awaited.  For yes, they do offer alternatives to the relentless parade of butter chicken and tikka masala!  There are dosas and sambars, idli and fenugreek and lentils, coconut and tamarind and rice, oh my!

It was a rather vegetarian meal this time, it being impossible to ignore the multi-page spread of vegetable dishes that all sounded pretty unique.  It was hard to choose just a few, but samosas are a must in our city-wide quest to find the perfect one, so we started with these gems served with creamy minty sauce and tangy tamarind.  Passably delicious, if that makes any sense in samosa-talk.  A reasonable size, too.

Actually, I need to talk about something IMPORTANT (haha ok).  I am looking for a specific kind of samosa here in Montreal.  Imagine if you will, a filling that is mostly whole toasted spices, cooked down greens, a few peas and even fewer potatoes, with a noticeable sour taste, and in a perfect world, available in baked format as well as fried.  I know I can get them in Ottawa, but has anyone tasted a samosa like that here?  It would be amazing to find.  ~ Signed, carb-lovin’ mango hot sauce usin’ nommer ^^;;

We also started with a Chana Puri plate, with comes with fried breadstuffs that can be tenderly ripped into chunks and used to scoop up what I’ve heard is an incredibly authentic chickpea curry.  Absolutely addictive, light and rich at the same time, and the garlicky yogurt on the side makes for a transporting combo.  Please order this!!

Another specialty of the Maison is the dosa, which comes – huge as a battleship – a crispy footlong carapace stuffed with a choice of tandoori chicken, hot masala potatoes, or regular potatoes.  Alas, I wanted this to be amazing so badly, having heard such good things about it, but ultimately it suffered from non-integrated oddly yellow chicken inside, and a dosa itself that tasted like the crispy bits on the side of grilled cheese sandwich.  Not necessarily bad, but not half as good as some that I’ve made at home, even.  It was all much improved by dipping things in the accompanying soup and coconut-ty sauce, but even that was kind of awkward to coordinate.  The veggie version is probably better, I do suspect.

Vegetables also stole the show as the mains rolled in, with the okra (the OKRA, people!) winning the little crown as “tastiest thing nestled in an ornate metal vessel on the table,” it was scraped clean before long.  The lamb vindaloo was only succulent and complex in comparison, and the eggplant goo (as well as rhyming with “vindaloo,”  aw cute) was a rich slather best saved for non-dieting months, albeit really delish on naan bread.

Oh yeah, the naan was average.  Good though.  Just thought I’d mention.

While not as spicy as some, and having only decent samosa and naan, what Maison Indian Curry DOES have is a delightful sour taste to it’s food, and a fresh, multi-layered and varied palette.  A haven for vegetarians!  And with more south Indian dishes on the menu, a place to return to for more interesting options than the usual Punjab fare.  (The prices are also comparatively good for the neighbourhood… that is to say, cheap).

Maison Indian Curry on Citeeze

Maison Indian Curry on Urbanspoon