From Apple Jam to Crabapple Jelly

We've been listening to George Harrison's

All Things Must Pass

 a lot recently, including its largely improvisatory Apple Jam sides (

"Out of the Blue"


apple jam

fig. a:  George's Apple Jam

But, when it comes to making tasty jams (or jellies, as the case may be) of our own, we've been singularly focused on crabapples of late.


fig. b:  crabapples

In part, that's because there's nothing quite like crabapple jelly:  that colour, that tartness, that natural set.  Most other jellies are either notoriously finicky, or they're just not nearly as pretty.

But, mainly, it's because we've had access to a particularly fruitful crabapple tree.  When the wild turkeys haven't been shaking it down (literally), we've been free to harvest this tree to our hearts' delight.

crabapple tree

fig. c:  crabapple tree

crabapple harvest

fig. d:  freshly picked crabapples



, Michelle makes large quantities of crabapple jelly to serve with terrines, mousses, and pâtés.  With these crabapples, she makes small batches of jelly to spread on our toast.  Either way, the method is essentially the same.

Crabapple Jelly à la Michelle
Stem, clean and sort through the crabapples, removing any that are rotten.
Place in a medium/large pot, depending on how many apples you have.
Just barely cover with water.  You should be able to press down on them, getting the water to cover them when you do.
Cook for 20-25 minutes at a simmer until your crabapples are falling apart and fragrant.
Pour through a chinois and let drip.*
For every 10 parts juice, add 6-7 parts sugar, depending on the tartness of your crabapples.
Place the juice and sugar in an appropiately sized pot, bring to a simmer, and cook at a simmer until you reach the gel stage.
A drop of liquid should come off the spoon in a sheet rather than a droplet.
Place in sterilized jars and seal according to proper canning procedures. Or simply pour into any clean glass container and let set, then store in the fridge.
* You can also use a jelly bag for this step, but Michelle prefers to use a chinois because it speeds up the process.

And, either way, the results are beautiful--to the eye, and to the palate.


figs. e & f:  crabapple jelly for breakfast

Of course, it pays to have homemade bread on hand to enjoy your jelly with,

pain de campagne

fig. g:  

pain de campagne

but that's another



Act fast:  crabapple season is already in full swing.


Top Ten #55

VT colours
crabapple harvest

1.  Washington County, VT (and environs)

Scan 1

2.  George Harrison,

All Things Must Pass


sample track:  

"Run of the Mill"

seven sisters farm 1
minnesota gothic



4.  Lauren Collins,

"The Spy Who Loved Me,"

The New Yorker

, August 25, 2014


poulet grillé au gingembre


Jack Kerouac, 

On the Road

this way to paradise
we grow 'em bigger!


Cape Cod!

l. ron

8.  Lawrence Wright, 

Going Clear:  Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

9.  This American Life #534,

"A Not-So-Simple Majority"



(2014), dir. Linklater


Minnesota nice!, pt. 1

We had a feeling Minnesota was going to be nice, but we weren't quite prepared for just how lovely it all was:  from the people, to the attractions, to the scenery.

MN sublime fig. a:  sublime

We touched down in Minneapolis and soon got ourselves acquainted with the "City of Lakes."  It really wasn't all that difficult to get our bearings, what with the River and the Grid there to help us.

minneapolis by faribault fig. b:  Mississippi by Faribault

Minneapolis is definitely a breakfast town, all four of our party of Montrealers are breakfast people, and we were only going to be in town for a very brief period of time, so we came roaring out of the gate and immediately hit one of the legends of the local scene:  Al's Breakfast.

Al's is situated in a structure that represents American diner vernacular at its finest.  The counter seats about 15 people, and the queue forms right behind them--until it spills out onto the street, of course. The structure is literally a converted alleyway:  a make-shift roof was assembled over an alley next to a hardware store to transform it into a shed to house additional goods; this space was then rented out and renovated; by the time Al Bergstrom took possession in 1950, it had been operating as a hamburger stand.  The rest is history, but one thing's for sure:  it's a setting befitting the Dinkytown address.

Al's Breakfastfig. c:  Al's Breakfast*

Al's serves an impressive number of breakfast combos, alongside some remarkably tasty diner coffee (served in "bottomless" cups, of course), but one of the things they're most famous for is a dish that's a local obsession:  hash browns.  I say a "dish" because although hash browns in Minneapolis are often served the standard way--as an accompaniment to eggs, or a side order--they're also served in a variety of other ways:  topped or mixed in all kinds of inventive ways.

Al's was friendly, and had character to spare--they also had a very unique way of getting parties of three or more to be seated together (by orchestrating an elaborate form of musical stools), and an unusual way to placing orders (they didn't call them out; the short-order cook would walk the line to eyeball the orders and commit them to memory).  But it wouldn't have meant quite as much if their breakfasts hadn't been outstanding--which they were.

I had my hash browns "straight up"--as an accompaniment to their summer scramble with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella--but they were fantastic:  crispy, cooked through, and actually fully flavoured.  Definitely not the bland, undercooked dreck that passes for hash browns in so many breakfast joints across North America.

After breakfast, we took a stroll through the campus of the University of Minnesota to visit the University Archives with a friend of mine who's a curator there.  (She's also a long-time Al's aficionado, and was kind enough to curate our visit there, too.)  We visited their vaults deep underground, which contain the world's largest collection of Sherlockiana, among many other wondrous things.

sherlockiana fig. d:  Sherlockiana

And, afterwards, we made our way over to the University's Weisman Art Museum to inspect the mysteries of their permanent collection and generally take in the scene.

outside the pedicord apts.
living room fig. e:  lounging

While we were at the Weisman, we also caught a fantastic exhibit of O. Winston Link's photographs of trains, train stations, and train communities along the Norfolk & Western Railway, the last of the steam-engine lines in America.

trains, planes, and automobiles
General Store fig. e:  training days

That night, after a cycle tour of Minneapolis' impressive array of lakes (it is the "City of Lakes," after all), some shopping, some noshing (Midtown Global Market!), and some downtime at our B & B, we headed back across the mighty Mississippi and settled in at Nye's Polonaise Room for dinner and drinks.

1950 appears to have been a particularly momentous year in the history of Minneapolis:  not only was it the birth year of Al's Breakfast, it was also the year Nye's came into being.  But whereas Al's is the humblest of restaurants, more or less squatting a Dinkytown alleyway, Nye's occupies an entire city block, and it does so proudly.

nye's polonaise fig. f:  Nye's Polonaise

Once named The Best Bar in America by no less an authority than Esquire, Nye's actually consists of three connected establishments:  Nye's Bar (which features raucous musical acts nightly, including The World's Most Dangerous Polka Band), Nye's Chopin Dining Room (a banquet hall), and Nye's Polonaise, the heart and soul of the operation.

In spite of its name, the Polish fare at Nye's Polonaise isn't going to win any prizes for continental cuisine, but it is a throwback to a time when a night on the town might very well include a trip to an Eastern European "fine dining" establishment/Cocktail Lounge/Piano Bar, and when restaurants didn't have any qualms about encouraging each and every patron to "eat, drink, and loosen your belt!"

And the experience is priceless--from the old-school service and the Truman-era martinis (vodka, of course), to the gargantuan platters and the classic wedge salads, to the drunken sing-alongs at the piano bar and the portrait of Chopin (their patron saint) that proudly adorns the wall behind it, announcing to all who enter, "This place has class!"

None of us had the necessary credentials to weigh in on whether it's still the Best Bar in America (or ever was), but we loved Nye's Polonaise all the same.

When we looked back on it later that night, we were downright flattered that the songstress at the piano correctly identified us as out-of-towners within seconds of our stepping onto the premises, and promptly started heckling us. We were a little disappointed that she had us pegged for Americans--from Long Island, no less--but she was serenading five or six people at the bar at the time, so maybe we didn't have her full attention.

Then again, maybe she sensed something:  the plates on our rental car did read "New Jersey."

Minnesota addresses (part one):

Al's Breakfast, 413 14th Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 331-9991

Weisman Art Museum, 333 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 625-9494

Midtown Global Market, 920 East Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN

Nye's Polonaise, 112 East Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, (612) 379-2021


* photograph courtesy of Mark Slutsky Photography.

French Connection

While we're still on the topic of Provence and its cuisine...

So, as expected, this summer food magazines were filled with all kinds of tempting recipes for the 2014 barbecue season.  The July issue of Bon Appétit alone contained a full spread on DIY Korean barbecue; an Austin, TX spread featuring an outrageous-looking citrus-brined pork loin and a grilled rib eye recipe; a Middle Eastern/North African spread featuring mint and cumin-spiced lamb chops and Moroccan chicken brochettes; an article on cold smoking; and a guide to making and grilling your own sausages.  Just that single issue was enough to keep someone busy over their barbecue for months--and, trust me, it did.

But the recipe that turned out to be the single biggest revelation of the summer here at AEB--at least when it comes to the thrill of the grill--was a lonely little number accompanying a book review in the June/July 2014 edition of "Fare," the front section of Saveur.

Untitled fig. a:  in print

The book in question was a compendium of more than a century's worth of writing on grilling and grilled foods culled from the pages of The New York Times by Peter Kaminsky.  The Times has been on fire* with their food journalism of late, with a bolder, multimedia-savvy approach that's smart, informative, au courant, and well-designed, and this tome sounds like another play to further establish position within the lucrative food & wine media market.  It's called The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook, and it's as much of a legacy-builder as it is a collection of hits from the Times' recent generation of superstar food writers--it's clearly meant to prove that the Times has been writing about food with insight and passion all along, decades before the advent of modern-day foodie-ism.

Anyway, Betsy Andrews' review only features one recipe, but it was one that definitely caught my attention.  The recipe was for poulet grillé au gingembre--grilled chicken with ginger--it was co-authored by those old masters of the Times' '60s, '70s, and '80s heyday, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, and it first appeared in the May 25, 1980 edition.

Andrews was effusive in her praise, but what really caught my eye was that French connection to ginger.  Though it's had a presence in European cuisine since at least the days of the Roman Empire, ginger is a rarity in French cuisine.  Waverley Root, in spite of his name,** is utterly silent on the subject in his magisterial The Food of France.  Ginger is entirely absent from Richard Olney's Simple French Food and his The French Menu Cookbook.  And the rhizome appears only once in Julia Child's two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and then only in a beef recipe that already contains gingerbread as an ingredient.

The only place I'd actually ever noticed ginger in a French cookbook before was in yet another Richard Olney book:  A Provençal Table:  The Exuberant Food and Wine from the Domaine Tempier Vineyard, a.k.a, Lulu's Provençal Table.  There, Olney doesn't make a fuss about it at all, but the recipe in question always intrigued me because it just seemed so unlikely:  "Poulet Rôti au Gingembre, Coudes au Jus" (Roast Chicken with Ginger, Macaroni with Roasting Juices).  "Macaroni & chicken?"  I'd never ever tried it, but it has been near the top of my "to make" list for a long time.  When I spied Claiborne and Franey's recipe my decision was made:  there was no doubt about it, I was finally going to test this Provençal chicken & ginger combo.  I still wasn't sure about its origins (North African?  North African by way of Italy?  Was Lulu's preparation some kind of clue?), but its apparition in Andrews' book review was clearly a sign.

Plus, the recipe is dead simple.  Mysteriously so.  As Andrews puts it, "It worried me at first:  It called simply for grilling 'until the chicken is cooked,' with no specifics as to method or signs of doneness.  And it yielded so little marinade I felt it might starve the bird of flavor."  But, according to her, the results were a classic example of one of those recipes that defies logic, one of those recipes whose process is almost alchemical:  "[When] the chicken was indeed done (a condition I ascertained with the use of a modern-day digital thermometer), how exquisite it was.  Dried thyme and bay leaf and garlic added aromatic flourish.  An abundance of lemon mingled with bristling ginger to stroke the flesh with sweetness and tenderize it to a mouthwatering moistness, abetted by a final drizzle of butter" (!).

And you know what?  I couldn't have agreed more.  I, too, had the feeling that the recipe couldn't possibly work as I prepared it.  And I, too, experienced something magical instead when I cooked the chicken.  The final product looked great, but it tasted a hundred times better--it had a perfect skin, and was literally bursting with flavour.  The ginger was subtle, but present.  And that final blast of butter...  I couldn't believe what I was tasting, and neither could Michelle.

Untitled fig. b:  in real life

Without any further ado...
Poulet grillé au gingembre 
1 2.5-3-lb organic chicken, halved, backbone removed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried thyme, or 1 sprig fresh thyme (with fresh thyme in our garden right now, this has been my preference)
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.  Stir lemon juice, oil, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, and ginger in a bowl.  Add chicken and toss to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2-4 hours. 
Heat a charcoal grill, making sure that your charcoals are evenly spread and of an even height.  Ideally, you want a fire that's medium-hot.  Be patient.  Grill a bunch of vegetables first, if you have to. 
Grill chicken, turning as needed, until slightly charred and cooked through, about 35 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads 165º F.  Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with melted butter.  Tent the chicken with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  This will complete the cooking process and allow the chicken to release its delicious juices into your platter.  Serve and devour. 
Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on appetite and number of side dishes. 
[based very closely on a recipe that co-authored by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey for The New York Times and then adapted slightly by Betsy Andrews for Saveur]
I still haven't tried Lulu's chicken, ginger, and elbow macaroni recipe yet, but I will.  Believe me, I will.  And I haven't fully figured out that French connection to ginger yet, but I like it--I really, really like it. In fact, there have been times recently when I've declared it the very best grilled chicken I've ever tasted.


* Sorry.

**Apologies, once again.

Ail, Ail, Ma'am!

aioli monstre fig. a:  petit aïoli monstre

Tomorrow, Thursday, August 14, 2014, le grand aïoli is back, and this time it's even grander than before.  In fact, it's going to be so huge, so extraordinary, that this time around they're billing it as un aïoli monstre (!).

Once again, this grand aïoli pools together the prodigious talents of the Foodlab, Oenopole, and the Birri Bros.

And once again, this aïoli monstre is inspired by and dedicated to our patron saints of Provençal cuisine:  Lulu Peyraud and Richard Olney.

If you're not exactly clear on the concept, the good folks at Oenopole have summarized it this way:  mange tes légumes et bois du rosé ("eat your vegetables and drink some rosé!").  In other words, all of Birri's most beautiful August vegetables, lovingly prepared by Michelle and Seth and served with generous amounts of Lulu's legendary aïoli, plus all of Oenopole's most delicious rosés.  But I have it on good authority that there will also be Provençal-style shrimp and Atlantic lobster on offer to sweeten the deal even further.

Aïoli Monstre
SAT Foodlab / Labo Culinaire
1201 boulevard St-Laurent
Montreal, QC
Thursday, August 14, 2014
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
rain or shine! (but it's always sunny when a grand aïoli is being served)

Michelle's so excited about this grand aïoli that I heard her say, "You'd be a fool to miss it."  I'm not sure if she meant me personally, or whether she meant "you" more generally.  Either way, I'm not taking any chances.  I know where I'm going to be tomorrow night.


Return of the Raspberry Social!

Yes, the Raspberry Social is coming back!

raspberry social.001 fig. a:  raspberries!

Bigger and badder than ever before, and with a new sense of purpose.

As was the case with last year's blockbuster St-Jean Strawberry Social at Espace Pop, this will be a combination Fruit Social & BBQ Social, featuring the following line-up:
AJ's famous smoky Carolina-style chopped pork sandwich (with all the fixings)
Savouré's wonderful raspberry soda 
Michelle's irresistible trio of raspberries, spongecake, & whipped cream*
BBQ social fig. b:  BBQ !

This time, our Fruit Social & BBQ will be taking place at the Marché des Possibles, beginning at noon on Saturday, July 26, until supplies last.

And this time around all proceeds will go to a cause that's particularly close to our hearts:  the Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary.

Earlier this month, Montreal lost a phenomenal journalist, an ultra-enthusiastic supporter of the arts (and of Montreal's culture more generally), a true gastronome, and as dynamic personality as you are ever likely to encounter.  Many of us lost a great friend, too.

Both Michelle and I had known Ange-Aimée for years,** and she had always been a fan of " endless banquet" and a beloved regular of the Foodlab.  Plus, Ange-Aimée was a devoted member of our Montreal Fruit Socialists community--in fact, just last summer, she brought her CBC mobile equipment to our St-Jean Strawberry & BBQ Social and interviewed Michelle right in front of our location at Espace Pop.  Wouldn't you know it?  Within about 15 minutes, we started getting CBC listeners dropping in to partake in the festivities.  Yet another example of the Power of Radio, and a perfect example of the Ange-Aimée Effect.

Anyway, we miss Ange-Aimée dearly and we're big believers in Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary.  If the bursary reaches $15,000 in donations, it will continue to exist in perpetuity, and it seems fitting that the Ange-Aimée Effect should be allowed to touch the lives of Concordia students (Ange-Aimée's alma mater) for many years to come.

For more information on the Ange-Aimée Woods Memorial Bursary click on this link.

who:  " endless banquet" + Mile End/St-Louis BBQ #1
what:  an afternoon of tasty treats and positive action at a market where anything is possible
where:  Marché des Possibles, 5635 rue St-Dominique (corner of Bernard)
when:  Saturday, July 26, 2014, 12:00 noon till supplies last
why:  because you love barbecue and/or raspberries, and this here's a great cause
how:  just drop on by (with an appetite)


* Last year, someone set a new Fruit Social record by eating four servings in quick succession (all for a great cause!).  Will you be the new Fruit Social Champion?

** In my case, I met Ange-Aimée when she took a crazy course of mine on apocalyptic visions in cinema that I taught at the University of British Columbia in the late '90s, on the eve of Y2K.

Cape Cod Almighty!

Well, Arthur threatened to spoil our glorious return to Cape Cod, but, when the storm had finally passed and the winds had settled, the skies cleared up beautifully and things got back to normal.

cap'n ahab's fig. a:  summer off the Cape

Our 2013 trip to Cape Cod had been such a hit that we were eager to get back and do it all over again.  And because we were there for the same stretch of time, and we'd loved the way our last trip had played out, we were happy to basically replicate our 2013 itinerary.

This meant that there were a few major priorities to our trip:

1.  bookstores, book sales, thrift shops & flea markets

parnassus book service, Cape Cod fig. b:  books al fresco

We probably should commission a custom bumper sticker for our car that reads "I brake for bookstores, book sales, thrift shops, flea markets, particularly promising-looking garage sales, farm stands, pie shops, jam stores, sustainable seafood markets, well-curated wine shops, and discount beverage stores," because we do--we make frequent stops at all these kinds of enterprises, especially when we're on Cape Cod.

We started making such stops almost immediately after we crossed the Sagamore Bridge and began following the 6A (a.k.a., the Old King's Highway) east across the northern edge of the Cape.  These stops included the Parnassus Book Service in Yarmouth Port, which specializes in many things (Americana, Cape Codiana, etc.), but is especially notable for its extensive collection of the work of local legend Edward Gorey.

The most important stop on our Cape Cod Collectibles tour was without a doubt a return visit to the Wellfleet Flea Market,

Wellfleet flea market 2 fig. c:  magic carpets

which takes place on the grounds of the Wellfleet Cinemas drive-in theater, on the very southern edge of town, just north of North Eastham, and a few miles from the center of town.

Wellfleet flea market fig. d:  virtual windows

You've got to head up closer to the screen to get to "the good stuff" (the stuff that's actually old and/or holds real value, as well as the true Cape Cod characters who are selling it).  This is one of our favourite flea markets anywhere, and both times we've visited we've scored plenty of great finds, but our absolute favourite stand is the "Local Folk Art" stand (formerly known as the Cape Recycled Art Project, or C.R.A.P.)

folk art, Wellfleet, MA fig. e:  C.R.A.P.

where we bought the beach plums and the wild apricots last year.  We had a longer conversation with Mike (a.k.a., the Man From C.R.A.P.) this time around, and we thanked for him for his foraged fruit and told him about the preserves we made with them.  Turns out his fruit foraging prowess has earned him the nickname "Beach Plum Mike."  Of course, he didn't have any plums or apricots when we saw him, because it wasn't quite the season, but he did have a lot of whales, mermaids, narwhals, fish, and birds, and his style ranges from American Primitive to Folk Whimsy.  Either way, he's one of the best folk artists I've come across over the years, and we made a point of making some new acquisitions.

wooden whale fig. f:  whale

And you'll be happy to know that our Cape Cod bird instantly befriended our Kamouraska eel.

bird & eel fig. g:  bird & eel

2.  Wellfleet Center

we grow 'em bigger! fig. h:  we grow 'em bigger!

Speaking of whimsy:  there's a fair bit of it in Wellfleet Center, both in the heart of town, and out by the town pier.

wellfleet book sale fig. i:  book nerds

They also know how to put on a great book sale (see #1) in Wellfleet,

Wellfleet book sale find fig. j:  French psychedelia

and you never know what you might find, like this bizarre collection of 52 semi-psychedelic "jumbo-size recipe playing cards" featuring the cuisine of France (?).

Sample recipe card:  the 10 of spades is "Poulet aux Amandes (Chicken in White Wine with Almonds)."

Not clear on the concept?  Here, let me explain:  "Winning luncheons and dinners are in the cards!  Deal from this complete deck of delicious hors d'oeuvres, light luncheon dishes, entrees, vegetables, salads and desserts.  French Recipe Cards are a pack of fun!  Use them for games... as hostess gifts... for party favors."

Wellfleet Market fig. k:  window shopping

The Wellfleet Market is an anchor of the community, and their meat department has provided me with all the quality spare ribs I've required over the last couple of years.  They also know how to decorate their windows.

But our very favourite place in Wellfleet Center is Hatch's, a small operation just off the Town Hall that consists of two halves:  Hatch's Produce, a green grocer, which carries a lot of locally grown fruits and vegetables (in season),

Hatch's produce market fig. l:  Hatch's Produce

and Hatch's Fish Market, which may very well be our favourite place for seafood.

Hatch's fish market, Wellfleet fig. m:  Hatch's Fish Market

We were just blown away by the selection, the freshness, and the affordability of Hatch's seafood last year, and this year we were just as impressed.  Once again, we didn't hold back, and, once again, we treated our hosts to a seafood feast on Sunday night, featuring local littleneck clams, wild shrimp, local scallops, and local flounder.

If you don't have access to a kitchen, you can always just pay a trip to Mac's on the pier.  There you'll find lobster rolls and other types of seafood sandwiches, oysters on the half-shell, and steamed littleneck clams that are worth waiting on.

waiting on the clams fig. n:  waiting for my clams

And when you visit Wellfleet, be sure to pay a trip to one of the stunning local beaches, preferably oceanside (see below).

3.  Ice Cream

The motto of Sundae School, our favourite Cape Cod ice cream shop and soda fountain, is "Don't skip Sundae School," and, believe me, we wouldn't dream of it.  Sundae School in Harwich Port is one of our favourite ice cream shops of all-time, and, for us, Bass River Mud is their showstopper.  Rich coffee ice cream, roasted almonds, chocolate chunks, and fudge swirl--it's a flavor that lives up to its evocative name,

Bass River fig. o:  Bass River estuary

and it's hard for us to imagine a better combination, or a more successful version of this combination.  I meant to take a photograph of it immediately after receiving my cone, but I literally couldn't wait long enough to fire off a shot.  This is what a regular serving of Bass River Mud looks like after it's half eaten.

bass river mud fig. p:  Bass River Mud

4.  Barbecue

Monday in Harwich Port has become our barbecue day.  I pick up a mess of ribs at the Wellfleet Market on Sunday.  I rub them with my special blend

AEB competition rib rub fig. q:  special blend

and let the flavours infuse in the refrigerator overnight.  And on Monday afternoon, between swims, I put the 3-2-1 method to work.  Monday night we have ourselves a good old-fashioned rib-pickin', with all the trimmings, and we wash it all down with bourbon and rye.

5.  Swimming

We go swimming as often as we can.  That's the rule:  get it while you can.

The waters you find off the "tricep" of Cape Cod, facing Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, get pretty nice and warm and the waves tend to be smaller and choppier.

The waters you find off the "forearm" of Cape Cod, facing the ocean, are bracing, but they're also a remarkably beautiful blue-green, the waves tend to be bigger and better-formed, and the dunes that line the coast are often monumental.

this way to paradise fig. r:  this way to paradise

This year, it was Marconi Beach, near Wellfleet, that took our breath away.  But, believe me, every single swim, on both coasts of Cape Cod, was a great swim.

6.  Souvenirs

It's important to commemorate a summer beach vacation with souvenirs.

souvenirs of Cape Cod fig. s:  s is for souvenirs

T-shirts, jam, used books, collectibles, bourbon--whatever it takes.  A trip like this can be such a dream come true, such a wonderful blur, that when you get back home you might find yourself needing tangible evidence that you were actually there.

Our favourite souvenirs are edible ones, and the thing we knew we'd miss the most when we left Cape Cod was the seafood, so we made a point of scooting up to Wellfleet and popping into Hatch's again before we headed back to Montreal.  Once again, we picked up a bunch of local specialties, like shrimp, scallops, and cod (natch), but the treat we were most excited about were our two dozen littleneck clams.  Those Wellfleet littlenecks had been one of the highlights of our trip, and we were determined to extend the good tidings all the way back home.  We weren't exactly sure what we were going to do with them, but on the drive back I had a flash of inspiration:  clam pizza!

So the day after, that's exactly what I did:  I made a couple of clam pies using the Roberta's method.

Once you've got your two pizza doughs ready to be baked...
Clam Pizza 
24 littleneck clams
2 x 125g buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte
parsley, minced
chives, minced
red pepper flakes
reserved clam juice
extra-virgin olive oil
lemon wedges 
Place a pizza stone in your oven, and preheat it as high as your oven will go.  I recommend doing so at least an hour before you plan on baking. 
Wash and scrub your littleneck clams, rinsing them several times.

Untitled fig. t:  raw
Place them in a medium pot with 1/2" of salted water and cover the pot.  Bring the pot to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high, and steam the clams until all the shells have opened.  Generally 6-10 minutes is how long it's going to take, but these super-fresh Wellfleet littlenecks only took about 4 minutes.  The common wisdom is to discard those clams that don't open.  
Scoop the clams into a bowl, 

littleneck clams (cooked) fig. u:  cooked
making sure to reserve the clam broth in the pot. 
When your clams have cooled enough to handle, remove the clam meat from the shells and mince them on a cutting board.  Divide the minced clam meat into two equal portions.   
Slice both portions of mozzarella as thinly as possible and gather together your other ingredients. 
Add about a tablespoon of your clam broth to about two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and stir well.  This will be your drizzling oil.  (Save the rest of the clam broth for another use, like making spaghetti with clam sauce, but make sure to use it while it's still fresh.)
When your oven is ready to go, stretch and form your pizza dough into a 12" round with a properly shaped lip to it.  Spread half your mozzarella slices over your dough, placing the larger pieces closer toward the rim and the smaller pieces closer toward the center.  (Buffalo mozzarella gives off a considerable amount of liquid.  When you're baking a thin-crust, "white" pie like this, you want to try to avoid having liquid pooling in the center as much as possible.) 
Scatter half your clam meat evenly over the pie.  Sprinkle minced parsley, minced chives, and red pepper flakes over top.  Grind some black pepper overtop and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt.  Drizzle the pie with your olive oil/clam broth concoction.  Place it in the oven and bake following the Roberta's method
Remove your pie from the oven when it's baked to perfection and allow it to cool for about a minute.  This will allow the molten cheese to set and make it easier for the pizza to be sliced.  It will also make it easier for the pizza to be eaten, and help you to avoid law suits.
clam pizza 1 fig. v:  clam pie 1
Serve with lemon wedges and encourage your guests to squeeze a little lemon juice over their slices.
clam pizza 2 fig. w:  clam pie 2
Repeat instructions with dough #2.
The AEB Clam Pizza was a tribute to the clam pie we had at Motorino back in April, but it was also a pretty tasty tribute to Wellfleet and Cape Cod.  Those clams were so tender, so briny, so vibrant, it was almost like we'd never left.

Of course, in order to make it possible to bring back edible souvenirs such as these on a road trip such as this, a cooler is essential.  Make sure to buy enough ice to keep everything fresh on the long drive back.

Postscript:  Yes, we miss the towns, the beaches, and the seafood of Cape Cod, but it wouldn't mean quite as much without good friends.  What we really miss most of all is experiencing Cape Cod with our close friends R & MA and the rest of the Harwich Port Crew (you know who you are!)--the beers, wine, and cocktails; the al fresco dining; the beach time; the laughs; the feats of sporting prowess; the dance moves; the trips down Memory Lane; the word play...  OMC!  You guys are awesome!


Triple Threat

gros bbq 1 fig. a:  meat + wine + grill:  any questions?





Boucherie Lawrence


one helluva wine-soaked barbecue

In fact, they're billing this Thursday's event as:

gros bbq 2 fig. b:  gros bbq

In addition to a white from Sébastien Brunet and a red from Le Coste, you can expect grilled pork chops, grilled sausages, and some baller steaks (grilled, of course), along with a whole slew of beautiful vegetable sides, like Michelle's famous minty sweet peas.

Having a hard time picturing it?  It will look kind of like this,

gros bbq fig. c:  très gros bbq

except that there will be greater variation in the meat offerings, a wider selection of vegetables, tastier wines, and a better view.

It all goes down:

Thursday, July 17
Foodlab/Labo Culinaire
1201 boulevard St-Laurent
Montréal, QC
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
rain or shine (but, as of this moment, it looks like SHINE!)


Toronto the Good

Tonto in Toronto 1
Tonto in Toronto 1 fig. a:  Tonto prays for poor Toronto

Poor Toronto.  It's spent decades trying to shake its reputation as "Toronto the Good," a city whose identity was primarily perceived as being strait-laced, upright, and, frankly, uptight--the capital of those dreaded "têtes carrées."  For ages, it's also endured the resentment of the rest of Canada over its wealth, power, and success, and has been ridiculed mercilessly for having the nerve to consider itself the economic and/or cultural capital of the nation.  It's home to an Original Six hockey team that's made its fans suffer since the end of the Original Six era (in spite of the city's wealth and power).  And then there's all that ongoing nonsense with the Mayor's Office.

But, you know what?  I've always thought Toronto is a pretty funky town, with some truly impressive architecture.

toronto canada fig. b:  Toronto the Great

And, regardless of all the haters with their darts and arrows, Toronto just keeps steaming along.  In fact, in many areas (but certainly not all) things have never been better.

Take the city's food culture, for instance.  In this department, from restaurants to bars, to microbreweries, markets, and purveyors of all sorts, the city seems more and more like "Toronto the Great" to me every time I visit.

Tastemakers like David Chang lament the fact that Toronto has "yet to produce any truly world-class restaurants," but I couldn't care less about any of that San Pellegrino business, and what I see is a city that has become remarkably assertive when it comes to food and drink in a very short period of time, a city that's become a true contender.

A recent trip turned up these observations:

Kensington Market

Kensington Market fig. c:  Kensington Market

Seven Lives serves excellent San Diego-style tacos and refreshing agua frescas out of a tiny storefront on Kensington Avenue.  Their signature taco is their Gobernador, and it boldly goes places no taco I've ever had before has gone, combining shrimp, smoked marlin, and cheese into an experience that's both mind-bending and mouth-watering.  It's something about the sweet juiciness of the shrimp, the almost meaty smokiness of the marlin, and the loving caress of the cheese.  If it sounds strange to you, get over it.  The Gobernador is the only taco that Seven Lives has immortalized in paint on their front window, and you can understand why--they know it's a hit.

(Note:  Seven Lives' tacos are overstuffed and an excellent value for the money.  Just one makes for a pretty decent (small) meal.)

Sanagan's Meat Locker, on Baldwin Street, is the best butcher shop/charcuterie I've encountered in Hogtown Canada.  The SML experience is comparable to Fleisher's, and that's high praise in my book.  Their meat is carefully sourced, clearly labeled, and very fairly priced, and their staff is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and friendly.  Their selection of charcuterie is impressive.  And their kitchen is turning out fantastic sandwiches, salads, and other meals-to-go.  They also stock a great selection of locally manufactured fine food products (breads, condiments, etc.).  I picked up a honking, beautifully marbled 12-lb skin-on, bone-in Mennonite pork shoulder for just over $40 on my last day in town and turned it into some divine barbecue the next day, back in Montreal.

Fika is a tastefully appointed Swedish café on Kensington Avenue.  They make a delicious iced coffee with cardamom and mint leaves.

Queen Street West

grand electric 1
grand electric 2 fig. d:  Grand Electric

Grand Electric is another new-school Toronto taco joint that's more of a restaurant (a lot more) and less of a stand than Seven Lives, and that also features a full bar with a stunning selection of bourbons and some pretty great beers (like Negra Modelo).  All my tacos (crispy cauliflower, spicy chicken) were great (they're smaller here than at Seven Lives, so I ordered three), but my absolute favourite was the Baja fish, which was both generous (featuring a large piece of flaky, beautifully deep-fried fish) and ridiculously delicious.

The same folks also run a BBQ joint called Electric Mud, right around the corner on Brock Avenue, but I ran out of time and never made it there.  Next time!

Oyster Boy has been a Toronto institution for over 20 years--first as a supplier/caterer and then as a bricks-and-mortar restaurant (since 2001).  The oysters are plentiful, they come from some of the top oyster producers in Canada and the States, and they're expertly shucked and served with all the condiments one might want.  The rest of the menu is exactly what you're looking for in an oyster shack, and all you could dream of in a seafood restaurant that's so far from the ocean.  Our party split a selection of oysters on the half shell, and I had a salad and an oyster po' boy and I was thrilled.

Chantecler is another Parkdale restaurant (just a couple doors down from Grand Electric) that specializes in Asian lettuce wraps.  I really liked my Pork Special Wrap, with dried oysters, toasty seaweed, and puffed rice, but I absolutely loved my Fancy Wings, which came with fried garlic and shallots, and my Kale Salad, which featured the unlikely combination of oyster mushrooms, apples, and seaweed, but was truly fantastic--the best kale salad I've ever tasted.

I've heard rumours that Chantecler runs a tasting menu operation somewhere behind the scenes of their restaurant--Roberta's-style--but I didn't find out about it until I'd gotten back to Montreal.  Definitely sounds intriguing...

Ossington Avenue

Bar Isabel on College Street, just a block and a half from Ossington, is a highly rated Spanish restaurant that specializes in tapas, wine, and cocktails.  We placed our focus on tapas and bar snacks, and everything we had was exceptional, including the sardines, the boquerones, the patatas bravas, and the grilled asparagus.  I highly recommend eating at the bar, if you're dining solo or if you're a party of two--the staff there were friendly and highly attentive, and it's fun to watch them mix their expertly crafted cocktails.

(Note:  It can be very hard to get a reservation at Bar Isabel because of its reputation and its popularity, but if you show up just before they open, at 6:00 p.m., and there are just one or two of you, you can usually get a seat at the bar.)

If the idea of opening a "Paris, 1900"-style butcher shop* on a gentrified stretch of Ossington in 21st-century Toronto sounds absurd to you, you might scoff at Côte de Boeuf, but it would be a shame if you did, because you'd miss out on some of the city's best meat, cheese, eggs, milk, and other fine foods.  They also make some pretty impressive sandwiches.

Libretto wasn't new to me, and perhaps because of that, I found utterly impossible to miss out on one of their Neapolitan pizza pies.  In fact, I'd just eaten about an hour before and I wasn't even hungry, but it was after 9:00 p.m., and I could see that things had died down inside the restaurant, so I popped in and ordered a pizza-to-go "for later."  Who was I kidding?  I ducked down a side street seconds after picking up my order, and ate half the pizza right there, standing up, pizza box resting on someone's fence.  The other half I saved for later.  One quarter ended up being a midnight snack.  The last quarter was eaten for breakfast.

I guess I just had to make sure their pizzas were as good as I remembered them being.  Don't miss out on their homemade spicy chile oil.


Seven Lives, 69 Kensington Avenue (Kensington Market), (416) 666-6666

Sanagan's Meat Locker, 176 Baldwin Avenue (Kensington Market), (416) 593-9747

Fika, 28 Kensington Avenue (Kensington Market)

Grand Electric, 1330 Queen Street West (Parkdale), (416) 627-3459

Oyster Boy, 872 Queen Street West (Trinity-Bellwoods), (416) 534-3432

Chantecler, 1320 Queen Street West (Parkdale), (416) 628-3586

Bar Isabel, 797 College Street (Little Italy/Ossington), (416) 532-2222

Côte de Boeuf, 130 Ossington Avenue (Little Portugal/Ossington), (416) 532-BEEF

Libretto, 221 Ossington Avenue (Little Portugal/Ossington), (416) 532-8000


*  Actually, I take it back.  Their tagline on their website reads:  "A butcher shop right out of Paris in the 90s.  The 1890s."  I was off by a few years.

Pizza Picnic

Once you've got the hang of that Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe, it can free you up to do all kinds of things.  In fact, your confidence might be such that you find yourself visiting your local restaurant supply store to pick up pizza boxes.  I mean, don't those beautiful almost-pro pies of yours deserve it?

tony's pizza:  zuke! fig. a:  Tony's Pizza:  We deliver!

The Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe is intended to make classic, round Neapolitan pies that are cooked fast in a blistering-hot oven.  But it can just as easily be used to make the kind of pan pizzas that places like Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery specialize in.  In fact, combining the Roberta's method with aspects of Lahey's method results in some truly outstanding pan pizzas.  And there are a number of advantages to this approach for the novice:

1.  you don't need a pizza stone
2.  you don't need a pizza peel
3.  these pizzas can be easier to form
4.  these pizzas tend to have better staying power

"Staying power"?  Yeah, your classic Neapolitan pizza is best eaten fresh out of the oven.  That doesn't mean it won't be tasty later, either at room temperature, or cold out of the refrigerator, but it's at its absolute peak piping-hot, just moments after having been pulled out of that blistering-hot oven.

Your pan pizza, on the other hand, is often just as good when it's at room temperature--especially if you make the kinds of simple, but smart and delicious pizzas Sullivan Street Bakery became famous for.

This, in turn, opens up further possibilities--like pizza picnics!  Get your hands on those pizza boxes and you suddenly have a dish that's (fairly) easily transportable, that's ready to eat and keeps nicely, and that's a real crowd-pleaser.

In fact, all you need is a bottle of rosé, some olives, and a nice salad, and you've got yourself a complete picnic spread.


P1040292 figs. b & c:  Tony's zuke pie

Then all you have to do is round up some of your pizza-loving friends.  You might even want to dust off your old croquet set as an added lure.  If you've got a backyard with a suitable lawn, and you're a real Eighties Revivalist, you can go for that Heathers look.

croquet fig. d:  girls gone wild

Then again, if you're more into that Downton Abbey vibe, choose the lushest, most perfectly manicured park you can find.  Preferably one that lies in front of an actual castle.

And if you want to really challenge your guests, select a park that's got some lush and shady sections, for dining and spectating, surrounding a chewed-up ole dogpatch, like we did.  That's when you discover who the true "magicians of the mallet" are.  Already, by our second match, a number of members of our crew were running off brilliant runs of shots, in spite of the difficult terrain.

P1040294 fig. e:  diamonds in the rough

Anyway, I was so excited by the prospect of a pizza picnic that I baked three different kinds the morning of our Pall Mall Pizza Picnic.  The pizza you see above is our latest coup de coeur:  an unorthodox, but fantastically tasty zucchini and Gruyère pie (the Italian original would be made with Fontina instead).  The photos you see below are a couple of before & after shots of the pan pizza that's been a go-to dish for us for the last few months:  pizza patate or potato pie.


potato pizza figs. f & g:  potato pizza, before & after

Okay, so what exactly is the Lahey Pan Pizza Method?  Well, it looks like this.

Lahey pizza method fig. h:  Jim Lahey demonstrates

It starts with your pizza dough.  You can use Lahey's own recipe from My Bread, or you can use that Roberta's Pizza Dough Recipe--just make sure to use the full "24-hour" version, featuring 18 to 24 hours of slow fermentation time, if you opt for Roberta's Pizza Dough.

Then you need a 13" x 18" sheet pan and some olive oil.

And, finally, you need to carefully stretch the dough across the sheet pan, forming a rectangular shape.  Check out Lahey's technique in the image above.

With just these elements, you're ready to make a minimalist flatbread.  Just drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle it with sea salt, and bake in a pre-heated 500º F oven.

But these element also form the basics for Lahey's topped pies.
Potato Pizza 
1 qt lukewarm water
4 tsp kosher salt
6 to 8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 cup yellow onion, diced
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
fresh rosemary
fresh chives, chopped 
special equipment:  a mandoline, to make the extra-thin potato slices you need for such a pie 
In a medium bowl, combine the water and the salt, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Use a mandoline to slice the potatoes very thin (1/16th of an inch thick), and put the slices directly into the salted water.  Let soak in the brine for 1 1/2 hours (or refrigerate and soak for up to 12 hours), until the slices are wilted and no longer crisp.  Doing so will prevent against your potatoes oxidizing, but, more importantly, it will both salt your potatoes and help leach out the water in the potato slices themselves.  This is an essential step, so don't try to cheat on it. 
When your potato slices are ready, reheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack placed in the center. 
Drain the potatoes in a colander and use your hands to press out as much excess water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  In a medium bowl, toss together the potato slices, onion, pepper, and olive oil. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the potato mixture evenly over the dough, going all the way to the edges of the pan.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and/or the chives. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices. 
Zucchini Pizza 
3 large zucchini, or 6 to 8 medium zucchinis (about 2.5 pounds)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups grated Gruyère
Pizza Dough (use 1/2 of Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough recipe from My Bread, or 1/2 of Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe)
2 to 2 1/2 tbsp homemade bread crumbs 
Use a box grater to grate the zucchini.  In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the zucchini and salt.  Let stand for 15-20 minutes, until the zucchini has wilted and released its water.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500º F, with a rack in the center position. 
Drain the zucchini in a colander, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as possible, then pat dry, using a clean dishtowel or some paper towel.  Salting the zucchini, letting it release its water, draining it, and patting it dry is absolutely essential to the success of this pizza.  Skipping any of these steps will result in a disastrously soggy pizza, so, please, no cheating. 
In a medium bowl, toss together the zucchini and cheese, breaking up any clumps of zucchini, until well mixed. 
Stretch your pizza dough over an oiled 13" x 18" baking sheet as shown in the demo above. 
Spread the zucchini mixture over the dough.  Make sure to put a bit more of the topping around the edges of the pie, as the outside tends to cook more quickly.  Sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs.  These give the pizza both color and texture. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes and check on your pizza.  The topping should be golden brown and the crust should be pulling away from the sides of the baking sheet.  Serve the pizza hot or at room temperature. 
Again, Lahey recommends cutting the pizza into 8 generous slices.  For a picnic, you may want to cut the pizza up into smaller slices.
[both recipes are closely based on recipes that appear in Jim Lahey's My Bread]

The third pizza I made was a mushroom pie, with a combination of standard white mushrooms and some sautéed shiitakes, but I didn't take any photographs, so you're going to have figure that one out for yourself.

The bottom line is that this pan pizza method is easy to master and it turns out some great pies.  It also results in a type of pizza that makes possible the pizza picnic, or a low-stress version of the pizza party. 

Why not just use Jim Lahey's own pizza dough recipe if you're going to use his pan pizza method and recipes?  There's no reason you couldn't--but, if you've already fallen in love with one pizza dough recipe, and it works with this method, why not keep things simple?  In terms of the end result, Lahey's pizza dough recipe involves more flour, more yeast, and less fermentation time, and it turns out a pizza that's delicious but somewhat breadier.  Using Roberta's pizza dough recipe turns out the pizzas you see in the photos above.  It's really up to you.

Either way:  long live the pizza picnic!


DIY Pies

Summer isn't even here yet, but already the summer of 2014 is shaping up to be the Summer of the Pizza.  You see, a few weeks ago I experienced something of a pizza epiphany (the trigger appeared in The New York Times, so I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone), and since then I've been on a tear.

Tony's Pizza! fig. a:  Tony's Pizza!

I'd been messing around with pizza recipes for a few years, and I'd experienced a fair degree of success, but I'd never quite hit on a recipe that felt like The One.  Most of the time I was working with variations on Chad Robertson's pizza basics from Tartine Bread.  I've been baking bread quite seriously for a few years now, and my method is very closely based on Robertson's method, so it made sense to follow his lead when it came to pizza, too.  If you follow the instructions in Tartine Bread, the pizza that results is a sourdough-based pie that's a bit on the rustic side for three reasons:  1) because you're essentially pinching dough from your country bread recipe, which contains 10% whole wheat flour, 90% all-purpose flour, and no 00 flour; 2) because your sourdough starter also contains whole wheat flour; and 3) because Robertson recommends dusting your pizza peel with corn meal to help with the transfer of the pizza to your stone. I like "rustic," and Robertson's method results in pizzas that have nice shape and great rise to them, but, still, even though I played around with the formula, it never felt like The One.

nyt margherita fig. b:  margherita by Falco & Sifton

Then I came across Sam Sifton's collaboration with Anthony Falco in the digital pages of The New York Times back in April.  Sifton wasn't just looking to create good pizza at home, he was aspiring to greatness.  And in order to crack the code, he turned to Falco, the "official pizza czar" at Roberta's, the pizzeria/restaurant/bar/tiki garden/community radio station that's perhaps the defining enterprise and hangout of the Bushwick scene of the last decade.  Roberta's also happens to produce some truly outstanding pizza pies.  What resulted was a manifesto.  After commenting on the sheer amount of pizza consumed in America, then lamenting the fact that so much of that pizza is so poor, Sifton goes ahead and proclaims the arrival of a New Era of DIY Pizza-Making:
Very little pizza is made at home, from scratch. 
I am here to change that.  I am here to say:  You can make pizza at home.  You can make pizza at home that will be the equal of some of the best pizzas available on the planet.  With a minimal amount of planning and practice, you can get good at it, even if you are a relatively novice cook.  [my emphasis]
That's a bold statement worthy of the bold type, but, the thing is, Sifton is just about right.  You can make pizza at home.  You can even make some mighty fine pizzas that are comparable to some of the best pizzas available on the planet.  The only thing you'll likely be missing out on is the effect of baking a pizza fast in a blistering-hot pizza oven that's running somewhere between 700º - 1000º F, especially a wood-fired pizza oven like Roberta's.  But your pizzas will look awesome and you'll be proud to serve them, and, even more importantly, you'll be blown away by just how great your DIY pies taste.  I mean, even your leftover pizza will look and taste great.

leftover pizza  fig. c:  leftover margherita & sausage pizza lunch

As soon as I tried this Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe, it felt like The One.

The secret to the Roberta's recipe is all in the method.  Aside from the 00 flour, the ingredients are as basic as they get.  Sifton urges his readers to make use of a kitchen scale the way real bakers do.  I fully agree, but I've included the volume for the active dry yeast because the amount called for (2 grams) is very small, and my kitchen scale is not particularly trustworthy when it comes to such tiny amounts.  And although the recipe works with a minimum of 3 hours' rising time, it works like a charm and has a great deal more flavour if you start your dough about 24 hours before you plan to make your pizzas.  I've made a few 3-hour, 6-hour, and 8-hour pizzas using this recipe over the last couple of months, but I always get the very best results when I start 20 to 24 hours in advance.  Plan ahead.  What Sifton calls "a little pizza homework" really pays off.

Another one of the reasons that Sifton and Falco's collaboration is such a success, is that the article comes with an accompanying video that's clear and concise and provides a great sense of what the dough should look and feel like at each stage in the process.  Don't miss out on it!

The only specialized pieces of equipment you need to make great pizzas at home are a pizza/baking stone and a pizza peel, but even these aren't 100% essential, and Sifton & Falco suggest some useful cheats.

Anyway, without any further ado:
Roberta's Pizza Dough 
Total time: 20 minutes, plus at least 3 hours of rising time 
153 grams 00 flour
153 grams all-purpose flour
8 grams fine sea salt
2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
4 grams extra-virgin olive oil 
1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. 
2.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes. 
3.  Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.) 
4. Place your baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat your oven at the very highest setting. 
5.  To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. Top and bake. 
6.  Check your pizza after about 3-4 minutes.  Rotate your pizza if necessary.  Total baking time will be approximately 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the nature of your oven.   
Yield: 2 x 12-inch pizzas 
[recipe based very closely on the recipe that appears in "A Little Pizza Homework" by Sam Sifton, The New York Times, April 8, 2014]
When it comes to topping your DIY pies, Sifton is a proponent of simplicity:
Topping a pizza is tender work as well.  You do not want to overload the pie.  Doing so leaves it soggy, no matter the heat of the oven.  
He's absolutely right, and the recipes that accompany his article are all minimalist gems from the Roberta's repertoire:  their margherita; a two-cheese pizza that cleverly riffs on cacio e pepe, the classic Roman pasta dish (think lots of pepper); and the Green & White, which combines a simple mozzarella pizza with fresh greens.

But after you've mastered these, you'll likely feel emboldened and start thinking about experimenting with toppings a little.  This recipe is very amenable to such experimentation.  Just remember to keep it simple when you do.

When I got started on this pizza craze back in April, I started out as simple as they get--mostly margheritas and marinaras.  But as soon as I felt I had the hang of this recipe (and that was pretty much immediately), I tried out some more adventurous combinations that I'd collected over the years--combinations that I'd either experienced firsthand, or that I'd read about.  Like this radicchio & gremolata pizza

radicchio pie fig. d:  radicchio & gremolata pie

that I also read about in The New York Times a few years back.

Or this potato pizza recipe

Untitled fig. e:  potato pie

from Jim "No-knead/Sullivan Street Bakery" Lahey that's been blowing our minds for years.

Or even this breakfast pizza

sausage & egg pizza fig. f:  sausage & egg breakfast pie

that combined a riff on American Flatbread's classic New Vermont Sausage pizza with an homage to Motorino's breakfast/brunch pizzas.

Feeling lucky?  Here's the recipe for the radicchio pie:
Radicchio & Gremolata Pizza 
1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
extra-virgin olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, cored, outer leaves discarded, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 oz mozzarella
1 oz grated Parmesan or aged pecorino 
Mix the parsley, garlic, citrus zests and enough olive oil to make a loose paste.  Add the salt and the black pepper until the flavour is strong and pleasant to the palate.  Let the gremolata sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours. 
Once you've formed your pizza dough, spread half the gremolata on it, before topping it with half the mozzarella and half the Parmesan or pecorino, and, finally, half the radicchio.  This amount of radicchio might look excessive, but, don't worry, it will reduce significantly. 
Bake until the crust is golden and the radicchio is wilted and a bit charred. 
Eat and repeat. 
Yield:  makes enough topping for 2 x 12-inch pizzas.
[based on a recipe that accompanied "The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza" by Oliver Strand, The New York Times, May 18, 2010]
This beautiful pizza may very well have been the winner at a recent pizza party featuring four different types.  It looks amazing and the taste is unbelievable.  The radicchio gets a bit charred and crispy and caramelized on top; then there's a second layer of radicchio that gets sweet and juicy; and, finally,  there's the cheese and the gremolata to bring it all together and really make it sing.  We're talking a serious showstopper here.

Anyway, that Roberta's Pizza Dough recipe is the key.  Especially if you give it the time it needs to ferment properly.  I've never seen a pizza dough that's such a joy to work with.  And the flavour!

Stay tuned for more about potato pizza, and for my sourdough version of Roberta's Pizza Dough (!).

In the meantime:

Long live pizza!


Long live the New Era of DIY Pies!!


Top Ten #54


1.  John Jeremiah Sullivan, "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," The New York Times, April 13, 2014

sample tracks:  Geeshie Wiley, "The Last Kind Words"

Elvie Thomas, "Motherless Child Blues"

butcher shop, NYC

2.  M. Wells Steakhouse, Long Island City, NY

lost in the dream

3.  The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

sample track:  "Red Eyes"

sowing seeds

4.  Le Semeur (2013), dir. Perron

watch the trailer here

iggy pop

5.  Iggy Pop, Lust for Life (Virgin/4 Men With Beards)

sample track:  "Neighborhood Threat"

radicchio pie

6.  Pizza Night in Canada


7.  Motorino, New York, NY

country funk

8.  V/A, Country Funk (Light in the Attic)

sample track:  Link Wray, "Fire and Brimstone"

finding vivian maier

9.  Finding Vivian Maier (2013), dir. Maloof

watch the trailer here

music is painting in the air

10.  Sensations' Fix, Music is Painting in the Air (1974-1977) (RVNG Intl')

sample track:  "Dark Side of Religion"


Spring Break New York, pt. 2

As I was saying...

That charcuterie and wine apéritif I was telling you about was meant to get us primed for dinner that night, but it was also partly strategic--we had a late reservation at M. Wells Steakhouse and we figured showing even just slightly sated might act as an insurance policy.  We had a feeling the experience of eating in this fully reconditioned former body shop/pleasure palace would be jacked up enough without us showing up parched and famished.  We were positive the barrage of temptations would come fast & furious, and we were absolutely right.

butcher shop, NYC fig. a:  meat lover's paradise

Yes, enticement was in the air that night--

every99¢thing fig. b:  hard sell

quite literally, actually, because the perfume of that wood-fired grill began to charm and seduce us from the moment we stepped into the restaurant.

Our chief mechanic that night was our homeboy Étienne (Go, Habs, go!), and it turned out we weren't the only Montrealers in the house that night.  He seated us right next to another table of Canadiens who were already reeling from the gastronomic assault that was being meted (meated?) out to them by the M. Wells kitchen when we showed up.  We took one look at their glazed expressions and promptly explained to Étienne that we'd gotten off to an early start and that we were ready to start in with our wine and victuals without any preliminaries.  In fact, we'd already decided what we wanted.  He took our order, bellowed to the kitchen, "Let the games begin!," and we began to tremble with anticipation.

...A few hours later, we were just a tiny bit stunned, but mostly we were delirious with satisfaction.  The festivities had included the following:
wedge salad with dehydrated ketchup & blue cheese dressing (quite likely the best, and definitely the most inventive, we've ever had) 
a very generous Caesar salad (almost hilariously so) 
stack of super-thin pork chops with anchovy butter (kind of brilliant, totally irresistible) 
truite au bleu (delicate & delicious) 
grilled lobster tail (wood fired, or course) 
t-bone steak (wood-fired, of course) 
pommes aligot (the very cheesiest we've ever experienced--complètement débile!) 
French peas w/ lardons (peas, please) 
& a great bottle of Charly Thevenet Régnié, Grain & Granit (which went beautifully with our food, but also prompted a heated discussion over who's hotter, Charly Thevenet or Brad Pitt?*)
Actually, as we wrapped up our savoury courses, we felt pretty wonderful.  Our strategy seemed to have worked like a charm.  Thing is, we'd forgotten about dessert, but the M. Wells kitchen hadn't forgotten about us.  After all, Michelle is a pastry chef--a known one, even.  Now, it's not like we were going to skip out without sampling their dessert cart--in fact, we had designs on M. Wells' highly touted Paris-Brest, a delicacy we've been fans of for a long time now--but the point is that they never would have let us if we'd tried.  So we ordered our Paris-Brest, and it was excellent, truly excellent.  Beautiful to the eye, a total crowd-pleaser, and a perfect finish to a rather perfect meal.  But that wasn't all...  Because they also sent out a sugar shock-style tarte tatin graced with an enormous slab of foie gras.  And that was what killed us--or, at least, that was what killed me & R, because Michelle & MA wisely decided to forego.  The problem was that this, too, was excellent--and that's how they get you.  You know you should stop, but once that combination of apple, caramel, and foie gras gets its hooks in you, you just don't want to.

All in all, this was one of those meals that you just couldn't stop talking about--later that night, all the next day, and all the following week, too.  We're not even half way through 2014 yet, so the year's still young, but so far that night at M. Wells Steakhouse is the one to beat.

carousel fig. c:  la ronde

Not surprisingly, it took us a while the next day to start thinking about eating again--me & R, especially.  It was gorgeous out, though, and Central Park was just throbbing with springtime energy, so we spent most of the afternoon walking, and gradually those "foie handles" that appeared on my torso overnight seemed to burn off.

By late afternoon, it was time to head back to Montreal, but by then my appetite had returned, I was in the mood for one last food adventure before we left the Big Apple, and I still had a number of places on my hit list that we hadn't managed to fit in to our itinerary.  That's when I remembered how easy it had been to scoot down 2nd Avenue from Midtown the day before.  And that's when I decided we were going to motor on down to Motorino for a couple of last-minute pizza pies.  I had a hankering for a clam pie, and we'd never ever tried Motorino's East Village location (though we had been there way back when, when it was still Una Pizza Napoletana).  So we zipped down to the East Village, and--wouldn't you know it?--there was a parking spot waiting for us directly in front.  The pizza gods were smiling on us.

the lord works in mysterious ways fig. d:  AEB mobile unit @ Motorino

We took a look at the menu, but we'd already decided.

Untitled fig. e:  Motorino menu

One clam pie and one margherita.

Untitled fig. f:  pizza perfection

The margherita was phenomenal, but that clam pie was the stuff of dreams:  cherrystone clams, fior di latte, oreganata butter, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon.  That final squeeze of lemon is what really takes things over the top, but the entire ensemble is enlightened.  Plus, their pies are so tender, so full of savor, so perfectly baked.  What a treat!

We watched the bicycle delivery guys take off with one pizza after another, and tried to imagine living in a town where such insanely good pizza is not only readily available, it can be delivered to your door (!).

Half an hour later we were crossing the George Washington Bridge with a couple of slices of leftover Motorino pizza, some M. Wells steak sandwiches (made with leftovers from our t-bone), and a whole lotta Italian specialty items.

M. Wells Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent St., Long Island City, NY, (718) 786-9060,

Motorino, 349 E. 12th St., New York, NY, (212) 777-2644


* Answer:  they're both pretty hot, but Channing Tatum's got 'em both beat on dance moves.

Spring Break New York, pt 1

While others might make their way to Daytona Beach or St. Pete for Spring Break, in search of sun, sand, and sin, we headed to New York, in search of, well, spring (that would be nice), sun (that would make things even better),

Untitled fig. a:  the gang's all here

and fine dining (always important).  And good wine.  And specialty foods, especially Italian.  And, last, but not least, some quality social time with our friends R & MA.

Turns out, we picked the right weekend.  It was downright warm, with plenty of sunshine, all weekend long.  And, apparently, it was the first time New York had had such nice weather since 2013.  It sure seemed like it.  It felt like the entire city was out on the streets and in the parks, taking it all in.  And the first signs of spring started to appear on the landscape.

Untitled fig. b:  spring comes to Manhattan


Sullivan Street Bakery still bakes some fine flatbreads, and when you're heading to East 57th via the Henry Hudson Parkway, it makes an easy stop.  We picked up three different kinds this time, but our favourite was the potato pie once again.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant remains one of New York's great dining rooms and one of our favourite places for seafood & beer--plus, the service is always classic.  All it took was a few dozen oysters, some clams casino, a smoked fish platter, a couple of pan roasts, and a few cold ones to make us forget we'd ever been on the road that day.

We'd been to the Chelsea Market plenty of times back in the day, but it turns out we'd never been to the elaborate food court version of the Chelsea Market.  The Chelsea Market claims that its shops, restaurants, and stalls attract somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 to 6 million visitors every year to its repurposed and reconditioned former National Biscuit Company factory location, and, having visited on a busy Saturday afternoon, I don't doubt that figure.  It felt like a teeming hive in there, but at least there was just cause for those throngs:  there were definitely a lot of tempting treats to be had.  But we already had lunch plans in the works, so we put the blinders on and focused our attention on two places:  Buon Italia and The Lobster Place.

Buon Italia had a great selection of Italian specialty items, but what we liked about it the most was its no-frills approach and its reasonable prices.  Actually, that's not true--what we liked about it the very most was its Sardinian pane carasatu.  And its Easter displays, like its marzipan fruits (and mushrooms).

fruit platter fig. c:  Easter treats

We had to keep our purchases at The Lobster Place to a minimum, because it was early in the day and it was going to be hours before we returned to our accommodations.  So all we got, really, were a few cans of Spanish canned anchovies, but the place was driving us nuts because this was the very best, freshest, most beautiful selection of seafood we'd seen since Cape Cod.  If the circumstances would have been different, we would have gone to town.

Michelle has had to listen to me wax poetic about Umami Burger for a few years now, and L.A. has proven elusive since then, so when I read that they'd opened up shop in New York City, we decided to make a visit a priority.  Man, am I ever glad that we did.  I didn't love the location as much as the Hollywood one, but the burgers--three Originals and one green chile-laced Hatch burger--sure tasted good.  And the fried pickles and onion rings were pretty choice, too.  Our entire party was hugely impressed.  In fact, I had to physically restrain Michelle to keep her from ordering a second Original burger (parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house ketchup) "for dessert."  That, my friends, is the power of umami.

Flatiron Building, Summer, New York, 1947/1948, Rudy Burckhardt fig. d:  Flatiron District

Later that same afternoon we found ourselves inside that multi-ring circus that is Eataly, just off Madison Square Park and right across the street from the Flatiron Building (you can see there in the photograph above, off to the right).  I thought I'd never been there before, but, as it turns out, I had:  I was in that very same location over a decade earlier for a wedding, back when it was an event space.  With the drinks flowing, a red-hot band on stage, and some dirty dancing on the floor, that wedding had been a pretty crazy occasion, but, I dare say, Eataly on a Saturday afternoon is even crazier.  The gelato line alone was about half a mile long.  Elsewhere, the store had the feel of a department store on Christmas Eve:  pure mayhem.  But, once again, if you hung in there and kept your wits about you, there were amazing finds to be had:  more pane carasatu, anchovy juice, artisanal mostardas, and every style of pasta imaginable, including a number of different kinds of our favourite, corzetti.  We were seriously tempted by the notion of having a late-afternoon snack at Il Pesce, the in-house seafood restaurant that's under the oversight of Dave Pasternack.  And the charcuterie section was pretty tantalizing, too--voracious diners were downing beautiful platters of cheese and cold cuts with their wine.  In the end, we decided to replicate the charcuterie section back in the comfort and splendour of R & MA's apartment--so I picked up some mortadella, some prosciutto, some salumi al finocchio, and a selection of cheeses and we were off!

To be continued...

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 W. 47th Street, NYC, (212) 265-5580

Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, NYC, (212) 490-6650

The Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue, NYC

Umami Burger, 432 6th Avenue (a.k.a., Avenue of the Americas), NYC, (212) 677-8626

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, NYC, (212) 229-2560


Sowing Seeds

kamou style fig. a:  Kamouraska style

You might remember a couple of posts having to do with Kamouraska, that fabled region of the Bas-Saint-Laurent, that we posted back in 2012.  One having to do with a late-summer weekend getaway?  The other having to do with eel hunting in early autumn?  Not ringing any bells?  Suffering from a case of memory loss?  Well, you can get reacquainted with our adventures here and here.

In any case, both trips were long-awaited pilgrimages of a sort--pilgrimages to la Société des plantes to visit our friend and permaculture hero, Patrice Fortier, who's been a recurring character in the pages of " endless banquet" since 2004 (!).

For years, we talked about going out to visit Fortier in the height of season to see the gardens of la Société des plantes in full bloom.  For years, we never made it out there, and had to rely on Patrice's occasional visits to Montreal to sell his phenomenal produce (first, in a series of guerrilla-style street sales; then in a number of different venues, from bike stores to wine importation houses; and, finally, directly to restaurants like Toqué and the Foodlab) and to pay social calls to sustain and nourish our relationship.  But now that we've gotten un p'tit goût de Kamou, we're hooked.

The physical splendour of Kamouraska is already something to behold.  And the same goes for the poetry, the abundance, and the passion of la Société des plantes.  But it's the spirit of the region that really makes it magical, and la Société des plantes--as a place, as a developing project, and as a labour of love--truly is a perfect embodiment of that spirit.

kamou style 2
sowing seeds figs. b & c:  permaculture

It's hard to fully capture the splendour of Kamouraska in words and photos.  And it can be equally challenging to fully express the beauty of la Société des plantes.  But, lucky for you, now there's a film about Patrice and la Société des plantes that does a fantastic job of doing both.  It's called Le Semeur (a.k.a., The Sower), it was directed by Julie Perron, it's received acclaimed at les Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM), the Berlin Film Festival, and, most recently, the DOXA festival in Vancouver and Hot Docs in Toronto, and it's playing at Cinéma eXcentris here in Montreal this week.*

le semeur fig. d:  Le Semeur

And we're maybe a little biased (after all, not only are we good friends with Patrice, but we just happened to chance upon the shooting of one of the film's principal scenes on our first visit, so we have a bit of a history with Le Semeur), but it truly is a beautiful film, one that wisely kept the focus primarily on Kamouraska, one that really provided a lot of space for Patrice's irrepressible personality to shine, and one that fully grasped the artisanal, artistic, and folkloric aspects of the project, as well as the dedication that's made it all possible.

PF carrotes fig. e:  the art of food

Want to get a sense of what Le Semeur looks, sounds, and feels like?  You can check out the trailer here.

Want to order some of Patrice's heirloom seeds?  You can find them online here.

Bon cinéma et bonne dégustation!


* French only.  There is a subtitled, English-language version, however.  If that version gets released here in Montreal, we'll let you know.

Kitchn Tour: Foodlab

TheKitchn's in-depth profile of Michelle continues with a tour of the Foodlab.

the kitchn tour Foodlab fig. a:  Foodlab Kitchn

The thing is, TheKitchn doesn't typically cover restaurants.  They're very much focused on home kitchens and home cooking.  But they were interested in how the Foodlab works with homestyle cuisine, and they were especially interested in how Michelle's philosophy and her practice extends from home to the workplace, and from the workplace back into the home.

The photographs are lovely, and they were taken last fall, so you can see Seth & Michelle and rest of the gang working busily on their Provence menu.  All I could think of was warmth, and al fresco dining, and rosé, and it felt pretty good.

Thank you, TheKitchn!


Kitchn Tour: AEB HQ, rev. ed.

We've provided you with plenty of glimpses before, of course.

the kitchn tour AEB fig. a:  AEB Kitchn 1

But have you ever wondered what an outsider's perspective on our beloved AEB headquarters would look like?  Well, here's your chance, because the good people at TheKitchn have posted an extensive tour + an interview with Michelle in this week's editions, as part of their ongoing Cook's Kitchen series.

Michelle dishes on a wide variety of topics--minimalist tastes, maximalist collecting, baking, home cooking, epic dinner parties, etc.--and TheKitchn's camera-eye examines our kitchen and dining room to see what secrets they may hold.  You can find the whole she-bang right here.

iron skillets fig. b:  AEB Kitchn 2

And if you find yourself with lingering questions about our collection of cast-iron, well, those get answered here.


Greens Revolution

Labo Culinaire (a.k.a. Foodlab) made it into the pages of Bon Appétit last month!

They appeared in the RSVP section of the magazine, where readers write in asking Bon Appétit to lobby on their behalf and get a restaurant's heretofore secret recipe, because Elizabeth Munsell, of Boston, MA, did just that--she was curious about a dish she'd had at Foodlab last summer.

She wrote:
Dear Bon Appétit
The sautéed greens at Labo Culinaire in Montreal were the highlight of our vacation.
These were the greens she had in mind,

sauteed greens w: labneh fig. a:  sautéed greens with labneh

they appeared as part of Foodlab's Jerusalem menu last summer, and I fully understand Ms. Munsell's interest.  They were seriously delicious--a key part of Foodlab's Greens Revolution Summer--and a total crowd-pleaser, and I, too, have been curious about the recipe ever since.  So, thank you, Elizabeth Munsell, and thank you, Bon Appétit!  You made Seth and Michelle very happy, and you made me happy, too.  You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to get a recipe from a chef, even when you live with one.

If you're having a hard time figuring out what's going on in the photograph above.  The greens are wilted with garlic.  There's a dollop of labneh on top, which has been drizzled with olive oil.  And the ensemble has been topped with toasted pine nuts, fried shallots, and lemon zest.  Sounds good, right?

The brilliant thing about this dish is that it's great year-round:  it's just as good with winter greens as it is with summer greens.  It would be great right now as a Lenten dish; but it would also be delicious with an Easter lamb.  Serve it alongside grilled meats and seafood all summer long, or as part of a meze-style meal.  You get the idea...

And it's not difficult to make.  It's really all about the balance of flavours, and, for me, it's the fried shallots that really make it (although the pine nuts and the lemon zest are killer touches, too).
Sautéed Greens with Labneh and Pine Nuts 
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced into rings and separated
1/2 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb hardy greens, ribs and stems removed if necessary, leaves torn
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup labneh 
Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Toast nuts on a baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes.  Let cool. 
Combine shallots and vegetable oil in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until shallots are golden, 8-10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-line plate and season with salt. 
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add greens in batches, tossing to wilt slightly before adding more, about 2 minutes.  Add lemon juice and toss; season assertively with salt and pepper. 
Serve greens with a dollop of labneh; top with lemon zest, shallots, nuts, and a drizzle of olive oil. 
Serves 4.
Bring on the Greens Revolution!


Top Ten #53


guadeloupean duo

Dark Glow

1.  The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974), La Soufrière (1977), and The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984), all directed by Werner Herzog, plus Herzog on Herzog, ed. Paul Cronin

2.  Destroyer, Il Motore, February 7, 2014

3.  Grand Budapest Hotel birthday dinner, featuring Hungarian goulash, Hungarian home fries, roasted carrots, salad, sausage, cheese, and Sour Cherry Torte

do the charleston

4.  sweet memories of  Charleston


5.  Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky)

sample track:  "Amps, Drugs, Harmonium"

6.  the pleasures of cucina povera

7.  Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (Viking)


8.  The Incredible String Band, Earthspan (Reprise)

sample track:  "Sunday Song"

9.  ongoing experiments with whole wheat and rye

the clock

10.  The Clock (2010), dir. Marclay, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal


Poor Man's Carbonara

I was too young and dumb to realize it at the time, but years ago something momentous happened in the kitchen of Freak Nation, a big, old Northern Virginia house I shared with three other twenty-year-olds like myself.   They say necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes hunger can be, too.  You see, one evening after work, driven by a fierce appetite and an extreme economy of means, John quite spontaneously invented cucina povera right there in our test kitchen.

boyz 2 men fig. a:  J & R:  top chefs

I remember Rex and I walked into the kitchen and asked "what's cookin'?" and John rather proudly showed us his latest creation.  It didn't really smell like much, and it just looked like a gleamin', steamin' heap of plain pasta, so we asked him, "What do you call it?"  "Pepper Pasta," he told us--basically, spaghetti, butter, and black pepper, or "Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper."  Rex and I literally couldn't stop laughing at the time--we still laugh about it just about every time we see each other--but, really, who's laughing now?  Because, you know, John may have just been in early-'90s-postgraduate-bachelor mode, cooking the cheapest, quickest thing he could think of, but he was onto something.

"Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper" may not have been a thing (although, who knows, it probably is--cacio e pepe certainly is, and burro e pepe sounds like it could be a tasty dish), but cucina povera is as real as it gets.

What is cucina povera?  Well, it's pretty much what it sounds like:  it's Italian for "the cuisine of poverty," "poor food," or "peasants' food."  In other words, it's the term that's often used to describe Italy's most basic, honest, and elemental dishes.  And it's a good thing to know about, because most of the dishes that fall under this category are both simple and tasty, and they're also meat-free.  In fact, with Lent upon us, this is really a great time of year for such dishes.

Michelle and I have a bit of a thing for these kinds of recipes from around the world.  One of our favourite discoveries from a few years ago, back when the subprime mortgages market collapsed and the global economy teetered on the edge, was a recipe that we found in George Lang's The Cuisine of Hungary that seemed ideal for the times.  It was called Caraway Soup, and it basically consisted of water, salt, and toasted caraway seeds.*  Sounds ludicrous, but it was actually pretty satisfying, and if you bourg-ed it up a little with some chicken broth instead of water and some croutons, it was downright delicious.

Anyway, we're still firm believers in such recipes, and our favourite recent cucina povera recipe is a pasta dish that's really not that much more involved than John's Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper.  This one comes from David Tanis's One Good Dish:  The Pleasures of a Simple Meal, it's called Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs and Pepper, and it's an unbelievably simple weekday stunner.  In fact, Tanis comes right out and states the following:  "For me, this frugal pasta dish ranks among the best things to eat.  It has the same appeal as pasta alla carbonara--and it satisfies even without the pancetta, cheese, and eggs."  And, you know, I think he's right--on both counts.

The secret, in my opinion, has to do with three things:  crushed red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and using hand-torn bread crumbs whenever possible.  It's these three ingredients that really elevate this dish.

What are the details?

Well, let's just stay you have a day-old leftover baguette end kicking around one day...

leftover baguette fig. b:  stale baguette

Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs and Pepper 
A 4-inch length of stale dry baguette or a few slices of dry old French bread
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp coarsely crushed fennel seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 pound spaghetti
a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese for grating (optional, but highly recommended) 
With a serrated knife, saw the baguette into thin slices.  Crumble the bread with your fingers, which will produce a nice mixture of coarse and fine crumbs. 
Untitled fig. c:  hand-torn bread crumbs
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumbs and let them fry gently and slowly take on color, stirring occasionally.  When they are golden and crisp, add the garlic and the fennel seeds and cook for a minute or so.  Season the crumbs generously with salt and pepper, and add a bold amount (up to your discretion) of crushed red pepper flakes as well.  Remove from the heat. 
Cook the pasta in boiling well-salted water until just al dente.  Drain and toss with the bread crumb mixture.  Drizzle a little more oil.  Add grated cheese to taste, if you wish. 
Serves 1.
[recipe borrowed almost verbatim from David Tanis's One Good Dish
spaghetti with bread crumbs fig. d:  one damn good dish

I'd made Spaghetti and Bread Crumbs recipes like this before, but this is the very best version I've ever encountered.  For me, the crushed fennel seeds are the genius touch.  Use sweet Italian fennel seeds, if you can get your hands on them, or, my favourite, Lucknow fennel, for a somewhat more exotic finish.

You might think Tanis is exaggerating about this dish, but he really isn't.  Few dishes are as dead easy, or as satisfying.


* Okay, okay--I'm exaggerating a little.  The dish was actually called Caraway Soup with Garlic Croutons, and it involved a simple roux, an egg, and some butter, in addition to those garlicky croutons, but Lang noted:
In most Hungarian families, when the housewife has to make ends meet, the egg would be eliminated and lard would be used instead of butter.  This is a perfect example of the Hungarian talent for making a delicious dish out of meager ingredients.