Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We are Canadians: Strong and Free




image courtesy of www.pinterest.com

I love my country, and I am very proud to be Canadian.

The horrific events that have happened today in Ottawa, and on Monday in Quebec, has truly been a shock to our country's collective system. Canadians are well aware that we are not immune from terrible events, but the shootings on Parliament Hill, in our nations capital, is so against the Canadian 'way' - if I can call it that, that I, and many, many others are deeply stunned that it actually happened here. Completely shocked.

I worry what this event could do to the country. My hope is that it pulls us together and creates an even stronger, united country. But, I also know that the safe haven in which we have always viewed our home country, has now been irrevocably compromised. Worse, I worry that this event might be used in a way that will challenge the Canadian way of life, our attitudes, our ability to empathize, all of it, in a negative way.

The majority of Canadians know how lucky we are to live in such an amazing country. We know, and we have tried to never take that for granted. If we did, are eyes are wide open now. We will get through this, and more importantly, we will work hard to ensure that this event will not be used as a political, racial, or social weapon to be used against others. In any way.

The events today will not change who we are: the truth north, strong and free.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Observations: sloth day continued


Ok, so I'm adding a few observations to my previous post about sloth day.

1) Exactly whom constitutes an afternoon 'regular' audience for AMC? I mean the commercials alone. In the past hour, I've seen adverts for Passages Malibu (an expensive rehab clinic), car and financial loan shark commercials, terrible fast food schlock and Walmart.

I'll hazard a guess that it might be wealthy, bored, possibly drugged or drunk housewives or husbands who need help, but don't know it yet? It could be college and/or high school students with the same issues as the aforementioned housewives/husbands? Or, maybe it's people that might need money right away, and need to see the adverts to know whom to contact?

Whatever the reason, all demographics mentioned have terrible taste in TV movies (says the man watching Friday the 13th - Jason takes Manhattan).

2) Now that I've written that I'm having a lazy day, all of a sudden I'm pumped and ready with like fifty (ok, slight exaggeration) topics to cover for the blog. What?

3) Lastly, I really miss New York. That absolute crap movie 'Jason Takes Manhattan', is making me want to visit. Oh, I have an idea on what you may be thinking dear reader. It is indeed a very odd, somewhat disturbing connection to make, but there you have it.

It has been a few years (8 years to be exact), so maybe it's time? If I do go, you've read the reason and seen the proof right here. It wasn't the food or culture that pushed me, it was a Friday the 13th movie.

Thanks awful movie for the potential New York visit inspiration!

Oh, and you knew I'd include the movie poster (see below) - you know, just for effect.



image courtesy of www.i-mockery.com

A slothful day keeps the panic at bay




images courtesy of themiracleisaroundthecorner.wordpress.com

Taking a personal break from the world of food is tough, especially when you're life and career is dependant on it. Every once and a while though, there comes a time when stepping away is good for the senses, the mind and yes, the stomach. Or so you tell yourself.

For the past few days (weeks?), I've been vacillating between the panic buttons of "Oh my God, I've written nothing for the blog!" and "Oh my God, I have nothing to say to warrant writing for the blog!" I woke up this morning thinking that I've got to get a grip and calm the hell down, because eventually I'll figure it out. Eventually. In the meantime, perhaps giving the mind a break to regroup is on the agenda. Hello there day of sloth!

We live in a world that doesn't care much for people who 'take breaks'. This is a go get 'em world, and you have to be on your toes all the freaking time. And if you're not doing something, feelings of guilt usually set up shop in your mind.

The truth is, we need breaks. People are creating even more gadgets to make sure we never get a break from life. There are wristbands to monitor you when you sleep. They are apps that tell you what you're eating for breakfast is probably shit, and you need this or that to get you through another 9-10 hours (or more depending on your job) of work.

There's exercise we should do but never get to, thus feeling guilty about it. There's the last email you'd like to ignore but can't, because it could be important and we feel personally, and more than likely professionally, pressured aka guilty for not answering it. Turns out to be another advertisement for printing cartridges.

It never ends. No breaks plus guilt, guilt, guilt. It's like the Catholic church has taken over the mindset of the world. Trust me, they own guilt.



image courtesy of www.thedigitalistas.com

To be able to wake up and decide one morning that you'll be damned if you're going to do a thing today,well that's a luxury that should never be taken for granted. It also never happens for most people. I know plenty of friends and family who couldn't fathom the idea of not being active somehow, even if they had the time to do it. To not be active is a form of weakness. I understand that, but today, I've decided not to follow that mode of thinking.

Now admittedly I have had a few 'do nothing' days in my life. Ok, a lot. I am well aware of how "do nothing" is viewed by family, friends and/or strangers, but nonetheless, I'm putting it out there. I will enjoy it, but I'll add that it's tinged with a slight bit of guilt. See? the boy can leave Catholicism, but it never leaves the boy.

Screw it. Panic over deadlines can wait. I've got leftover Argentinian short ribs, mash potatoes and greens, and a brownie that won't eat itself for lunch today. There's a horror marathon on AMC that's begging me to watch it. It's the entire Friday the 13th series today, and it really does get progressively worse as the sequels continue - I can't believe this freaked me out in the 80s!

It's my do nothing day, and it's going to be gross.

I mean good. Once I finish this post of course.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The 'Chef Pose' - is that all there is?




images courtesy of cookfearless.com and www.pinterest.com

You know exactly what I'm talking about. See the images above if you need reminding.

The pose. That pose. The arms folded, with or without tattoos showing. Smile, or maybe not. Maybe go for an angry or bored look, or both. Wear the full regalia of chef whites, or not, but definitely something that indicates that you are, indeed, a chef. Then do the pose. The same pose, over and over again.

So this is it. I am making a simple request, possibly heading into plea territory, to all the guilty parties and it's this. Please stop 'the pose'. Please.

Now before I go on, it must be said that both men and women in the industry are guilty of the aforementioned atrocities. There is nothing but full equality in this post. Also note, that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women in our industry. It's tough and we know it, but those picture poses say cheese rather than tough, or is that just me?

Of course, I am well aware that this is a ridiculous issue to get upset about, but there you go. Humans can sometimes be ridiculous creatures. I also know that I'm heading into somewhat controversial territory, talking about how to look in pictures now that I've admitted to a modelling past, and can recognize (and scarily perfect) a contrived pose when I see it. But, it's getting ugly now.

So listen up my fellow upcoming chefs and cooks. It's ok to fight back and break the chef pose chain!

Yes, you can appear as natural to your personality as possible, unless of course you (admittedly) take terrible pictures. If that is the case, then, and only then, should help be welcomed with open arms. Note that I used the words 'open arms'.

Brandishing a cleaver does not convey trust or knowledge to the general public. I have no idea who started that trend, but it doesn't and you shouldn't. You don't convey authority leering at the camera. You do it by cooking your ass off. The rest is just posturing, and you know this.

So trust me when I say stop. Please. I'll even start the process of trying a new pose, just to see if it catches on. Look!



image courtesy of www.angelfire.com

Better?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tips to handle cooking failures



images courtesy of kitchenvignettes.blogspot.com and thinkprimed.com

Julia Child reportedly said that she never apologizes for her cooking failures. I always wondered if that quote might have been taken out of context, because I know damn well as a cook - professional or just mucking about, you care if you fail. A lot.

It matters that the dish you make is a success. So, I made a list of ways you can cope for all those times a dish you created might have flopped like a caught fish on the bottom of a boat. Although there is no way to take back your mistakes, there are ways to handle it like the cooking pro I know you are.

Here's what you can do:

1. Laugh. The easiest and frankly, the best way to handle a cooking nightmare. Laugh. You know you will make it again, and succeed. So is it really the end of the world that your soufflé didn't rise? Well, yes, but laugh about it anyway.

2. Cry or Yell. A big one. Yes, you can admit defeat and yes, you can shed a few tears that something you took hours to make was a disaster. You may do this silently, or you can scream or swear. Another option is to go full out nuts. Do all the previously mentioned emotions, and add in punching a pillow or bag. Then, dry your face, bandage your hand, come back to earth, laugh (*Tip number one is first for a reason) and move on. You'll feel so much better.

3. Ignore. Well, this is a tough one. It's hard to ignore mistakes. It's hard not to think about something you took the time to create that did not go the way you intended. Ignoring it means not acknowledging your mistake. If you can honestly do that, I would personally love to meet you and read your tips and secrets to handling mess. Or, tell you to quit fooling yourself and learn to laugh about it.

4. Anthony Bourdain-it. Watch him and learn from him. He personifies someone who really looks like he couldn't give a shit what you think when he messes up, but looks are deceiving. That image probably took years of self-confidence to build, but lurking behind it you know he has the capacity to crumble, and then laugh about it. Maybe. When I mess up, I think of him and what he'd do to handle it. His reactions to things just make me think there are bigger things in the world to deal with than a stupid chicken dish that was way too dry to be edible. It works. Then I laugh.

Cooking is nutty for nutty people. There are a lot of rules and regulations in place designed to make sure a raw item turns out good, if not great, and won't make you sick. You'd have to be insane to want to dedicate the time to make sure what you make follows the rules to the letter, and most people in this business are happily certifiable. Me too.

But, being responsible to make something tasty, and ensure people don't get sick or worse on what you make is like being placed and left in a pressure-cooker. I've said it before and I'll say it again - cooking is not easy. Allowances for the occasional failure is fine, but when it does happen, try to keep tip number one in mind. Your failure will be memorable, whether you like it or not, so you gotta learn to laugh about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Grab the powder for God's sake! A food tale of stock and self-forgiveness




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images courtesy of www.kudoskitchenbyrenee.com and wikihow.com

We've heard it many, many times. It's been preached endlessly by food "experts", chefs, nutritionists, all of them screaming from the TV, online or the newspaper not to buy store-bought stock. "A travesty to real cooking," they scream. "Not real," they yell. "A sodium time bomb," they warn. All true. All very, very true, but yet there's one problem with these warnings. Isn't it somewhat elitist to assume that everyone has the tools, or means to make homemade stock?

Back in my culinary school days, I learned to hone my chopping skills to make stock and all sorts of dishes. I chopped my way through gardens of onions, carrots, celery - the basic mirepoix for making stock. The cut could have been brunoise, if you want to be precise. Paysanne, if you want to be fancy. Or, an irregular, rough chop which is usually perfect for making stock. I quickly got used to perfecting these and other varying chopping methods every class. After a while, it just become part of the routine.

Last weekend, I was making a dish that called for stock. I didn't have any fresh stock on hand, so I reached into the very back of my pantry for something I hadn't seen or used in years. Ready-made stock, just add water. As I said, it hasn't seen the light of day in almost five years, but I knew it would be still be as viable today as it was when I first bought it. That's a little scary to realize, but it's amazing how you can sometimes train your mind to overlook just about anything.

Yes, I could have thawed a few frozen chicken bones from my freezer. I could have pulled out the onions, carrots and celery and started chopping away to make my own stock. God knows it's been drilled into me, but yet, this little thing called laziness, and "want-it-now" syndrome sort of crept in and prompted me to cheat.

I could still feel the sweat on my upper lip as I ripped the seal open, and poured the yellow contents into a bowl. Maybe it was the sweat, or maybe it was the steam from the kettle, either way, as I poured the water over the insta-stock, the professional culinary years were raging inside me, questioning what the hell was I doing, when I knew exactly what to do and how long it would take for me to make a 'real' stock. Yet, still I poured and stirred, pretending not to know what I knew I was doing.

I remember a chef telling me in school that he was actually a fan of bouillon cubes. Trust me, I was shocked too. I asked him if he was serious and he said he totally was. He added that it's not exactly a secret for some Chefs to cheat a little when it comes to making stocks or sauces. It's like knowing you can make boeufe bourguignon at home, but grabbing a Big Mac instead. You do it because you can.

Understand that I am absolutely an advocate for making your own stock. Beef, chicken, vegetable, definitely take the time to make it. It enhances your dishes with a serious, non-manufactured flavour. You know exactly what's in it because you made it yourself, and really, it doesn't take as long as you think it would to boil some bones and veg together.

But, if you don't have any on hand and you really need it, I say buy the insta-stock, you know - in case of 'emergency'. Just be sure sure to put in the far back corner of your pantry. Not to hide of course - good heavens no, but simply for safe-keeping.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's in your fridge?




image courtesy of design-engine.com

Food writers, bloggers, usually anyone in the food industry, love to talk about food. It's our life and there is no escaping it. That's a great thing. But sometimes our excitement about what we eat and go on to tell others to eat may not exactly match what could be found, or hidden, in our home refrigerators.

We can certainly talk or write a good game when it comes to the deliciousness or perils of eating. We write, for example, about the absolute best places in the world for chicken. I found another answer to that question today after reading an article about the La Bresse region in France. This region raises some of the tastiest chicken in the world. The writer did his job because I found myself not only salivating about the chicken, but also looking online to find out the cost of flying to the Bresse region of France to sample it.

After realizing how crazy - and expensive, that would be, I talked myself off the ledge and decided to make life easier by popping out to The Healthy Butcher - a local Toronto Organic butcher shop, buy a locally raised chicken and roast it myself for dinner.

That was the plan.

Instead, I got somewhat sidetracked while purchasing some milk at the grocery and bought this.

photo by Stephen Wilson

Are you thinking that looks like a package of tea sandwiches? Well if you are, you'd be right. How the thought of eating chicken in France changed to buying sandwiches you'd normally find at a church bazarre is one of those things that make up the crazy world - well, my crazy world, of food.

Now I've stated ad nauseam on this blog my love for all things food. Yet, the tea sandwiches are a gentle reminder to me, that despite my worldly ambitions of talking exotic, amazing food, sometimes reality doesn't quite add up to the ambition.

It also got me thinking about the contents in my fridge and what I like to eat in the comfort of my home. I recall an issue of The New York Times magazine that featured a photo set of what can be found in some of the top American chefs home refrigerators. Read about it here. From practically nothing to some serious gourmet ingredients, it was a fascinating look into what the people who cook yours and my food in some of the most sought after restaurants in the world, eat at home.

The article inspired me to do the same thing, so I took a picture of what's inside my fridge.



photo by Stephen Wilson

Despite outing myself about my love of tea sandwiches which you can see on the upper shelf, this is what you might typically find in my fridge. A few containers with leftovers, some milk, eggs, maybe even a bit of rocket salad. Please note that there is bacon, it's just hidden in one of the compartments. I think the fridge is kind of sparse. Actually, now that I've really looked at the photograph, it could stand a good cleaning too.

Ever since I took the photo, that old saying 'you are what you eat' keeps popping into my brain. If that's true, then I guess I'm secretly an 80 year old grandmother who loves tiny tea sandwiches with the crust cut off. You really do learn something new about yourself every day.

Take a peek inside your fridge and ask yourself, is that who I am? You'll be surprised at the answer. Or not at all.

*Blog redesign update. I've been thinking a great deal about the blog and future content ever since I made the announcement about changing the blog. Turns out, it's not quite as smooth as I thought it would be. Still, it's coming along - albeit slowly. Patience grasshopper, he must constantly tell himself, patience.