love on route

 
This is not a love post. It’s a pretzel post. Which, really, is almost the same thing. Still, I’m sorry if the title is misleading.

(If it’s love you’re looking for you might want to give this a miss. Unless you love pretzels, in which case I’d definitely say stick around.)

Also, if you love the On Route stops on the 401, it’s possible we’re soul mate material. (People laugh when I use ‘love’ and ‘On Route stops on the 401’ in the same sentence but they are usually people who don’t know that every On Route stop has a secret picnic area.) You heard that right.

The one in Cambridge, for example, backs onto a pioneer church inside which I found an elderly man reading a paperback western. He was there to guard the church and to answer questions about it. The question I asked was whose land was it before the church came along, indigenous-people-wise. He said he’d never thought about that but now that I mentioned it he did remember when he was a boy (because he’s lived in the area all his life) there was an Indian (his word, he’s from that era) who lived somewhere nearby and one day stole a pie that was cooling on a window ledge. The pie-baker was prepared to be outraged except that the next day a piece of fresh meat was left on the same window-ledge. I asked him if he’d ever read Susanna Moodie. He said no but that he’d get his daughter in Guelph to look her up for him.

Most On Route picnic areas aren’t as exciting as elderly men and their memories, but they’re all very lovely, tree’d and quiet and only a few minutes walk from the gas pumps and fast food. They close for the winter sometime in October. But do look for them on your next journey. They’re quite hidden.

But, pretzels, yes. I’m getting around to that.

As if picnic areas, history, and clean bathrooms aren’t enough of a draw, on my last visit to the (Trenton) On Route (en route to Montreal) I discovered Neal Brothers oven-baked pretzels, which I can’t even tell you how they added enormous pleasure to the not-especially-scenic drive to Montreal but lasted through my stay there (because there is plenty to eat in that city besides pretzels) as well as the drive home.

I’ve since found them in my favourite local grocery shop, saving myself a return trip to Trenton.

Feel free to file this under Essential Road Trip Info.

You’re welcome.

 

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thanks for (the) nothing

 

How little do I need in order to have everything? ~ Alix Kates Shulman

The truth is this —  on any given day, even when it seems otherwise, even when the fridge and the cupboards look a little bare, I have enough food in my house that I really don’t have to add a thing. Nobody here is anywhere even close to going hungry. We live in a culture of needing more than we need.

The truth is also that I love farmers’ markets and good bread, an olive bar, fish mongers, cheese shops and the Bulk Barn, but I don’t like a house full of food. What I love more is a house with some food, enough that I can forage, but not so much that I always know ahead of time what I’m going to be eating.

I rarely cook for a crowd anymore so I have this luxury.

Sometimes I don’t shop for weeks, I challenge myself instead to figure out what can be made with whatever’s on hand… a decreasing amount of rice, chickpeas, flour, raisins, walnuts. Right now there’s goat cheese and Coronation grapes, apples, leeks, only one egg but a jar full of pickles. (I love how those tomatoes that need to be eaten turn into the manna of roasted tomato and oh-look-a-few-jalapenos! over a cup-of-cooked-quinoa-I’d-almost-forgotten-about.) And that egg. There are two of us. Will it be shared, scrambled with a bit of recently made pesto, a scraping of cheddar (because, look!! we have just enough)… or deviled and divided in two? Or will we flip a coin to see who gets to have it all to themselves?

I know. It’s a wild ride in my world.

But, honestly, some of my best meals have come from cupboard/fridge foraging. And some seriously cherished memories come from a time when this was a lifestyle not a choice, when I had very little and valued every tea bag, when something like mild euphoria would occur at the discovery there were still two  Digestives left in the packet, when I’d thought there was only one. But we’ve all been some version of there, yes?

Part of me still taps into that lack-inspired euphoria, maybe it’s why I’ve never really embraced shopping in any regular kind of way and why I’m so comfortable with my occasional (and relatively speaking) empty cupboards.

Or maybe I just embrace a certain kind of culinary laziness.

Oh, I’ll buy food this weekend, but not for me and mine. **

I know this is a privilege, this choice to celebrate the abundance by embracing the absence. Not everyone has that choice and so there’s gratitude in equal measure for both the shortage of eggs and that full jar of pickles.

Wherever your own wild ride takes you… happy Thanksgiving.

** (Update: I’ve been told that an exception must be made for mushrooms. Mushrooms MUST be included in the stuffing. Fortunately the other stuffing ingredients and the chicken were acquired last week.)

things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from somewhere west of Toronto, way west (but not as far as Calgary) (or even Windsor). No idea what’s inside this museum as we didn’t stop, or it wasn’t open, who can remember. What is recalled is the infamous garden at the swanky inn where we stayed (a gift to us from kind souls else we’d never have gone the way of such swankiness). I’d looked forward to staying there mostly because they are known for their enormous vegetable gardens and famously claim almost everything on their menu is seasonal and made with their own produce… but what we saw on the menu didn’t jibe with their marketing schpiel (butternut squash and cauliflower in July for instance). In fact almost everything on the menu was out of season  and when we asked the waiter what was up he got a little jumpy and said he’d check with the kitchen but in fact he never came back to our table. Someone else brought the bill. Later, walking in the infamous gardens of menu mythology, we asked a couple of gardeners where the celery was, and the frisee (two of very few things on the menu that were in season) and were told they didn’t grow celery or frisee and so we mentioned the marketing that spoke of how all this magnificent produce was used in the kitchen. Ha!  they snorted. The garden, it seems is pretty much for show… while rows and rows of produce go unpicked, none of it on the menu. Not a single string bean, not an onion. Even in the face of oodles of evidence, we didn’t want to believe it… a vegetable garden of this size, being used only as a marketing tool??? Nah. Can’t be true. But in the morning, as we set out for a walk, we watched a delivery arrive from a huge commercial vegetable supplier whose name was painted very clearly on the side of the truck.

I wrote a letter to the inn, asking them about this.

Didn’t hear back.

(Summer, 2015)

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

wordless wednesday (aka: instructions for pretzels)

Go to your local market on market day.

Find the pretzel lady. Try not to get there too late. She leaves when she sells out and she sells out often.

Take a minute, make sure you choose the right  pretzel.

Or just grab any of them because they’re all the same for heaven’s sake.

Use the tongs provided.

Pay.

Put pretzel in backpack and take to your desk to eat later.

OR (better idea) eat while walking in the sun.

Last, but most important point:  the instant you realize you’re too far away to  go back for more, kick yourself for buying only one.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

this is not a review: ‘meatless?’, by sarah elton

 
I so enjoyed Meatless? : A Fresh Look at What You Eat…. a book (but also a really lovely, enlightening and important conversation) about eating meat or not eating meat… the choice being ours and the emphasis being on choice. (There is nothing, nothing, nothing judgy or even suggestive of one ‘side’ being righter than the other. It’s merely info.)

The author, Sarah Elton, is a well known food writer. She also eats meat, although she truly understands the ‘other’ side. This, in my view, is the ideal perspective by which to write such a book. Balanced, in other words.

It’s picture book size with loads of gorgeous illustrations by Julie McLaughlin, and tons of easy to digest info. Really the most brilliant tool to start a chat with kids about veggie-ism, before they get their ideas on the schoolyard or to clarify some already-got misconceptions.

A smattering of things of note:

♦ It was Pythagoras that came up with the germ of the idea that became veggie-ism. He felt animals were reincarnated humans.

♦ Why is meat the MAIN part of a meal? And why, in a restaurant, do we order ‘the chicken’ that comes with the lentils and asparagus…. instead of ordering the ‘lentils and asparagus’ that come with chicken?? (This one item is a whole conversation in itself in my world.)

♦ 20 million pigs are killed EACH YEAR in Canada.

♦ 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of meat and dairy. This is more than from cars. (Kids will love the ‘how’ of this one!)

♦ There’s a terrific section on food combos that create complete proteins (for the days you choose not to eat meat). Beans, rice, legumes… nut cheeses. All of which are equally nutritious in terms of protein, but much cheaper. Good for students and families who need to make their food dollars stretch. A few meatless days a week = money saved.

♦ From the section titled ‘Telling Your Friends and Family’, this struck me as a fair warning: “Meat eaters sometimes take offense or react defensively when they hear someone is a vegetarian…”  Equally valid, that veggie people sometimes need to stop preaching. (And this is the best thing about the book…. no defensiveness, no preaching. The message is that there’s no way to be wrong, just misinformed. And that judgment serves no purpose.)

♦ Gallo Pinto is a beans and rice dish that I want to make. The name means spotted rooster.

♦ There is a small section on animal welfare, the reality of factory farms,  overcrowded stalls, pens, and feedlots, and animals that can barely move.

And before everyone starts wringing their hands about how the wee ones mustn’t be traumatized by the truth and that surely it’s better they believe ‘meat’ has nothing to do with animals… that, instead, it arrives by pelicans, already saran-wrapped at Costco or delivered with pickles in a burger under golden arches… and that the animals that are used to create such happy ‘bargain food’ have indeed lived sunny lives… let’s remind ourselves that country children grow up knowing where meat comes from and they somehow manage to understand, and survive the info..

Tell kids the hard truth about unethical meat farming, I say. And, harder still, tell ourselves while we’re at it.

Like Elton, I’m a meat eater, though it’s not a huge part of my diet and I can easily go a week without missing it or even noticing that I haven’t eaten any. I’m not a vegetarian but I do care about where my meat comes from. I care about how the animal lived and died and I care about its food source. I care about over-production and over-consumption and waste and I continue to hope that the big players, the golden arches, the chicken purveyors and bacon mongers, will one day insist their meat suppliers follow more humane practices because, mostly, I care about responsible farming practices. I hope, too, that maybe some of us will consider the effects of supporting the alternative. And given that information, we make our choices.

That’s really what this book is about… the idea of informed choices.

Meatless? : A Fresh Look at What You Eat  can be ordered online at Hunter Street Books.

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what we talk about when we talk about restaurants

 
Dear Restaurant with a Cute and Unusual Name:

I was thinking of writing you a letter to say what I thought of my experience at lunch but I got side-tracked into wondering what your cute and unusual name might mean…

Perhaps it means… “An attractive establishment with plenty of staff and at least one server who does not know what beans are in the Sweet Italian Soup with Beans but who will check because it’s No Problem and returns with a proud declaration of ‘white’ and when I say ‘navy?’ he says yes even though when the soup comes they are not navy, they are possibly lima…. although, like the server, I am not a connoisseur of all and sundry beans.”

Or could it by chance mean “tepid soup that arrives many many minutes after ordering, with only an asthmatic whisper of cheese (pecorino) and too little Sweet Italian Sausage.” 

Or a reference to this, how when I ask the server if he’s found out about the pizza he forgets to find out and (many many minutes later) tells me he will do so now because until now the kitchen has been too busy but it’s No Problem and perhaps things have slowed down.” 

Maybe it means “a cook that cannot be asked about pizza while s/he is ladelling soup.”

It might  of course be meant to describe “how only after my not-even-close-to-being-warm, indeterminately bean’d soup is eaten, does my server deliver the glass of water I was offered when I  first sat down.”

Or does it mean this: “three water glasses mysteriously left on my table after the hostess cleared the excess cutlery and plates. Or a reference to the hostess herself , a young woman who, on my arrival, said I could sit anywhere I like, and when I said Oh how lovely, a window would be great! she led me to the end of the room and pointed to a tiny table tucked into a windowless corner and which almost touched the table of the only other people in the room and when I made a face she said You don’t like this table? and I said well another would be better and so I chose a table by a window where I would not be touching neighbouring diners and when I asked the hostess if she knew what the soup of the day was she said she did not and reminded me that she was a hostess.”

Then again, perhaps your cute name simply refers to “how when the bill comes, long long minutes (too many long minutes) after I ask for it, and a passing bartender asks if she can help and I say well I’d like to pay my bill and she says No Problem, she says she’ll take care of it and when ten minutes later I am now pacing in front of my table as I have a class starting in mere moments no one can find my server or the bartender and so I explain the situation to the hostess and when the server finally shows up he casually places the change from my twenty-dollar bill on the table and says sorry for the wait.”

On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me if the name is meant to describe “the tone in which he says this, like he’s been ‘told’ I’m annoyed rather than any kind of sincere apology.”

Also, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that it refers to“the way that I, for the first time in a very very long time, possibly ever, scoop all of the change, bills and coins, into my pocket and leave the bill folder empty and wide open.”

Or “the look on the server’s face when I do it.”

If the restaurant’s cute and unusual name means any of the above, then it is a well suited name indeed. And things are going perfectly to plan.

Sincerely,

The single at the window seat who will bring a sandwich next time she has a class in your vicinity.

Alphabet_soupPhoto by: wikicommons