postcards from toronto


Toronto has not been my home for a long time, but it is still my Heimat.

For anyone who starts to learn German at first sight the language resembles a beast. It is a beast with multiple heads that demands that one always thinks very hard and very seriously about what one is about to say. A simple sentence becomes a riddle due to the four German cases and a very specific way of ordering words. Conjugated verbs sometimes end sentences and at first a native English speaker might see such a verb as misplaced in the sentence. Verbs also often appear before any mention of a person. At first is is complicated, but after a while (or a few years) of memorizing verb forms and plural endings it turns out that the language isn't a beast at all. It is just incredibly specific. It has many words that are foreign to English and Heimat is one of them.

It has been eight years since I have lived in Toronto, but that does not make it any less my Heimat

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breakfast: the early summer edition


Oh breakfast. Where would I be without you? You certainly make me a better person.

 This is something that Marion Cunningham recognized. In fact, she loved breakfast so much that she wrote The Breakfast Book which is one of the few cookbooks that I actually own. The pages wear smears of butter and coffee stains here and there. For me this is a very important book. 

In the introduction she wrote: "The deeper reason that breakfast inspires me is that we have become so busy maintaining our lives in the working world that we often find ourselves sharing the same home with strangers. . . . I'm hoping that breakfast, with its easy, wholesome honesty, will be an opportunity to be with and share oneself with friends and family. There is no greater inducement to conversation than sitting around a table and sharing a good meal. Gathering at the table for breakfast allows us to weave our lives with others - and that should be a daily pleasure." (xi-xii). Even if breakfast often becomes all the lovelier when shared I also see it as an opportunity to just be. It is satisfying to feel taken care of and even more so when you feel that you are taking care of yourself. Sitting down to a breakfast prepared with honesty and good ingredients alongside maybe a glass of freshly squeeze juice or a cup of good coffee (Marion Cunningham loved coffee and was known to order it at restaurants when others were drinking champagne) can be an opportunity to treat yourself well. It is an opportunity to to just be and to eat and to enjoy and to maybe read the newspaper or a new book or to listen to a favourite radio program or song. 

 

She also wrote that "[b]reakfast has remained pure amid all the food trends with their stylish dishes and chic ingredients. The honest simplicity of breakfast is so captivating. The most delicious breakfasts usually derive from the humblest of ingredients (money alone does not buy good food)." (xi). It is hard to not deeply admire a woman who loves breakfast this much and who writes about it with such little pretense. 



Last Monday I baked her cinnamon rolls and on Wednesday she died. It is nice to know that a person lives on through their writing and through their recipes. Thank you Marion Cunningham for such a delicious recipe and thank you for encouraging people to enjoy breakfast more often with others.


This is some of what I have been eating for breakfast as of late. As the city has gotten hotter my coffee has gotten colder. And these past few days when Europe has gotten colder my oven has gotten hotter.


breakfast: the early summer edition


cold-brewed iced coffee using this technique

eggs (sunny-side up), roasted potatoes, mountain cheese, cherries and grilled tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and thyme

potatoes roasted with red onion, garlic, butter, olive oil and thyme

a bowl of fruit, boiled eggs and croissants

a warm corn tortilla with smashed avocado, cilantro, lime juice, chili and sea salt

huevos rancheros with black beans, cashew cream and sliced avocado

breakfast buffet at Chez Madame in Malmo 

baguette with rhubarb-beer jam

bircher muesli with spiced strawberry sauce

quinoa, almonds, dried figs, chamomile and honey

a bowl of fruit topped with granola and bee pollen

iced coffee and Marion Cunningham's cinnamon rolls

roasted peaches with maple syrup with yogurt and pistachios


* * * *  


Tomorrow morning I'll probably go for a quick smoothie with Swiss chard, coconut water and a fresh peach (a favourite smoothie as of late, although not always a very photogenic one) as I'm off to the airport to catch a flight home to Canada. Oh Canada. It is my home and it is my native land, but it has been two years since we last saw each other. I am certainly ready to be reunited with what sounds like the tropical climate of Southern Ontario, peaches n' cream corn and lakes that are big enough to feel like oceans. 

Happy summer!

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apricot & feta salad

Summer employs a few messengers to let us know that it is on its way. One starts to see denim cut-offs  and coffee served with lots of ice and extra milk. Then it becomes hard to find a table on your neighbourhood patio or in your local Biergarten as meals and drinks move outdoors. Clothes become lighter and drinks become colder. Some signs whisper rumours of summer and others shout out confirmation. These messengers let us know that summer is on its way or that summer - with all of its hand baggage and checked luggage - has officially arrived. Asparagus and strawberries tell us that summer is just around the corner. Apricots tell us that it is here. 

I admit that it took me years to become excited about apricots. I was usually distracted by a different stone fruit that also arrives in early summer: cherries. For years I was too busy eating as many cherries as I possibly could to really notice apricots. Sure, I ate a few here and there, but the first thing I would buy at the market would always be cherries. A kilo of cherries would find their way comfortably into my basket and I might buy an apricot or two to eat on the way home. That's it. I guess it is a classic tale. The shiny red fruit stole the attention. And then the other stone fruits would arrive. Peaches and nectarines - being significantly larger than apricots - would follow the path of the cherries and steal the show. 

Last year I was in Basel for a few days. After tiring myself out with contemporary art and walking, I decided to take a much needed ice cream break. When contemplating the available flavours I noticed that there was a special summer offer of apricot sorbet with rosemary. Apricots with rosemary? Yes please. I guess it took one of my favourite herbs to get me to really notice apricots. Forget peaches or cherries, apricots finally stood out to me. The combination was memorable to say the least. 


This summer apricots have found a place in my kitchen. I have baked them in pie with fresh thyme and a crust made with rye and wheat beer. I have roasted them in the oven with a little maple syrup and have eaten them with yogurt. Before the season is over I have plans to add them to a roast chicken with either lavender or rosemary and a spoonful or two of honey. As my apricot obsession progressed I discovered that together with feta cheese they make a lovely summer salad. Light and refreshing but still flavourful, the apricots make the salad sweet and the feta makes it salty. And what more does one want from a summer salad?


Apricot & Feta Salad

serves 2


ingredients

a few handfuls of lettuce or salad greens of your choice 
4-6 fresh apricots, quartered (about 2-3 per person depending on size)
feta cheese, crumbled, to taste


for the dressing


1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp maple syrup
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about a scant tbsp
sea salt
pepper
a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, finely sliced 


Wash the lettuce or salad greens well and then spin to dry. 

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Alternatively, mix them together in a jar, seal and then shake well until everything is combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

On two plates assemble the greens and top with the quartered apricots and crumbled feta. Drizzle with dressing.


Guten!

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first comes food then comes love


Just over a month ago I was in Napoli eating margarita pizza at Da Michele. Just a few minutes ago I finished eating a plate of homemade ravioli stuffed with pear and pecornio romano and dressed with browned butter and sage. And in a handful of hours I will be in a classroom learning how to count and, once I've mastered my numbers, how to say my phone number in Italian. Between counting and the phone number my Italian class will take a break for a two hour lunch at an Italian restaurant, obviously.

I guess it is a love affair, but it is a love affair that took a very long time to develop. It took a few trips to Italy. The first few trips I had many terrible, terrible meals and then on my third time to Rome a waiter twirled my plate of cacio e pepe with a spoon at the table at Felice a Testaccio and thus transformed a pile of spaghetti and some cheese into what is best described as heaven. With just the twirl of a spoon, I finally began to lust after Italy. The lust turned to love because of a trip to India. It is just like Joni Mitchell sang. I didn't know just how much I loved pasta, I really mean love, until I was eating curry everyday. On the plane from Mumbai to Munich I made a list of all of the pasta dishes I was going to make once I was back in my kitchen: penne puttanesca, cacio e peppe, spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, pasta con pesto (okay I admit, sun-dried tomato pesto just because I am not usually too traditional in my cooking), pappardelle with duck ragu, sweet potato gnocchi with browned butter and sage, sweet potato and mascarpone ravioli, gnocchi with mango, blue cheese and bacon . . . 

So I really like pasta which basically means that I have a big food crush on Italy. This food crush is so big that I am learning Italian. I might still be learning how to count, but I assure you that my knowledge of food related vocabulary is already quite impressive. The souvenirs I brought back from my trip to Naples and my appetite for pasta are the only flashcards I really need to learn this language.

Souvenirs from Napoli & the Amalfi Coast 

dried porcini mushrooms, canned cherry tomatoes, honey, anchovies, penne and spaghetti made from kamut flour, lemons from the Amafli Coast, lemon biscuits and virgin olive oil (which is better for cooking at a high heat than extra virgin olive oil, but is so incredibly hard to find in Germany)

* * * * 

Buon fine settimana!

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oeufs en cocotte with tarragon


This summer I am learning that my thumb may be greener than I had thought. Herbs, lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini are slowly taking over my balcony. Some plants are beginning to get between me and the view, but any obstruction is well worth it as it is a mere consequence of the pleasures of growing something from a seed. And the pleasures of not killing it - a rut that I just could not get out of for a very long time.


I am growing all of the usual suspects - the herbs that used to overcrowd the tiny shelf in my kitchen and that feature heavily in my cooking: basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage. I am also growing herbs that previously I cooked with less often: chervil and tarragon. I find that the best way to get to know a herb is to buy a good-sized bundle or plant, taste the herb directly off the stem and then keep it within arm's reach while cooking so that you throw it into whatever you're making to get a sense of what foods it loves and what foods masks its own flavour.

I was always slightly unsure of tarragon because of its anise flavour. Licorise and its whole extended faimly represent one of the few tastes that I have never liked. Licorice candies, no thanks. Sambuca, pastis, or ouzo? No, I'll  pass thank you. But then I got rather obsessed with a vegetable that made me reconsider anise: fennel. I'll still pass on any anise flavoured drink or candy, but I have made peace with its vegetable and herb relatives.


Oeufs en Cocotte is a very simple way to cook eggs, yet despite its simplicity it still retains some elegance. Creme fraiche adds some creamy luxury and together with the eggs it is the perfect background, neutral yet rich, for fresh tarragon and lots of it. Oeufs en Cocotte - translated directly as Chick Eggs, but better translated as eggs in pots - are similar to baked eggs (also known as shirred eggs). The difference is that baked eggs are just baked directly in the oven and oeufs en cocotte are baked in a water bath.


This recipe serves 2, but it is easy to half it to serve 1 or to double it to serve 4 (or even more if you want to serve it to a crowd). Because I am always on the lookout for new breakfasts, I like to eat oeufs en cocotte for the first meal of the day. However, they also make a nice lunch served with a green salad or even an appetizer before dinner.


You can also add vegetables such as tomatoes or spinach, some butter or olive oil, some ham or bacon, or a bit of cheese, but for me sometimes all a dish truly needs is some creme fraiche and tarragon. Extras are always nice, but never necessary. 

 
Oeufs en Cocotte with Tarragon


serves 2


ingredients


2 eggs, preferably organic
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt 
pepper
2-4 tbsp creme fraiche 
a generous amount of fresh tarragon 

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C / gas mark 4.


Mix together the creme fraiche, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Dollop half or a full tablespoon (depending on how much your prefer) into the bottom of each ramekin or an ovenproof teacup and then add some tarragon. Break an egg into each ramekin and then top with a second tablespoon (or as much as your prefer) of creme fraiche. Season with a tad more salt, pepper and nutmeg.


Place the ramekins into a baking dish and then into the oven. Pour hot water into the dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

Bake until the eggs are set, about 15-18 minutes (the former if you prefer runnier eggs and the latter if you want them a bit firmer). Remove from the oven and top with a generous amount of fresh tarragon. Serve immediately with crusty bread for dipping.


Guten!

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