i love food. on an almost obsessive level. it is one of my absolute favorite things in the world – cooking and eating will always bring cheer regardless of how things have been. it resonates with a deep part of my being in a way that i have a hard time articulating in words. i’m always looking for new ingredients and spices and recipes and methods and tools. and i’ll be sharing my love of food over the summer – tis the season to cook and rejoice! hope you enjoy!
last week i went for dinner with a few girlfriends to celebrate an approaching wedding (not mine!), a sort of pre-marital last huzzah while we’re all still in toronto. we ended up at a magical little place off of college st called olivia’s at 53, well on it’s way in becoming my favourite gem. owned by husband and wife, olivia’s is charming with a sort of honesty to it that you don’t often see – especially on the college strip. it’s in an old vic, restored and intimate, maybe 7 or 8 tables in the main dining room and a few more on both the front and back terrace, and a hidden room downstairs – with stone walls and the barrels aging their in house reds and whites. yes – they are a microwinery – and while i can’t comment on the quality, i’m rather hopeful. we nibbled on forest mushroom crostini and gnocchi with gorgonzola and asparagus, which were extremely tasty, but the highlight was the jazz trio crammed into the small space before the bar – piano, double bass and drums. they were extraordinary, tight, lyrical and spazzy, passion sparking off every note and made all the more rich by the close space. (they play every thursday, and on wednesday’s there’s a cuban jazz band – and no cover :) this is a place that you go with those you love – friends, lovers, siblings, husbands or wives, a place to think about histories past and future… a place to collect moments.
eventually we got around to talking about food and cooking – two of my *favourite* subjects. yes, i love food. and i love cooking for other people – a way of telling them how much i love them. a few years ago i threw a big dinner party for my friends instead of giving gifts – there’s something really sweet in cooking for others and creating an experience that they’ll enjoy and remember. some of it was successful (the paella was killer!) and some of it not (the gnocchi that fused itself into one giant 15lb noodle), but the point, for me at least, was to have a great time and taste amazing things. to create a space or a platform for memories and stories…
when friends have asked where i learned to cook, i have a hard time answering. as strange as this may sound, it seems that i’ve always just sort of known, and my innate curiosity and sense of adventure combine for a search for new food experiences. but going back to the learning – i have a small family. my parents divorced early on, and i have no siblings or cousins. my mother, whom i grew up with, has always been in close contact with my grandmother and her 2 sisters, and as a child there was always a spoon with something tasty on it or a lesson in making or listing ingredients. i was surrounded by women who looked at food as more than just something to eat – it was a way of life. our family came from were hungarian and german farmers, so food, cooking and the act of making something delicious from something simple to feed 10 people became paramount. when i think of this i’m reminded of stories my grandmother would tell me about growing up on the prairies in the depression where homes would share a bay leaf, delivering it from place to place when the meal – usually stews and soups – had been made.
we are three generations of women, and we’re all pretty different. different values, careers, choices, locations… and we sometimes have a hard time relating to each other about what’s happening in our lives and why. and i think because of this, food is our touchstone, the common thread that brings our disparate selves to a shared space. this thread is also what creates our shared history, and allows for the histories of our family to remain… my great-great grandmother who made kiefli and a great aunt who made the best cabbage rolls. we carry our past and present selves through our love of food, and bring them into the future.
to finish this off, here’s a recipe. it comes from some old friends, and wonderful experiences. easy and super tasty.
- 8-10 ancho chiles, soaked until soft, trimmed and cleaned.
- 1lb lean ground lamb (can sub. tvp or it’s fine with just the black beans)
- garlic, onions – finely chopped
- red peppers, tomatoes – chopped
- 1 can black beans, rinsed
- handful cilantro, chopped
- spices: salt and pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, fennel seed, cayenne to taste
- olive oil
- real whipped cream
- vanilla extract
- pomegranate seeds
saute the garlic, onions and lamb with olive oil and spices til brown. drain. add red peppers, tomatoes and black beans, cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. add cilantro, cook for another 5 minutes. remove from heat and let cool. preheat oven to 400C.
when mix is cool enough, carefully fill ancho chilis, tucking the end over to close. place gently in an oiled ceramic baking dish (this part can get a bit messy). drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes.
whip cream and vanilla. add dollop of cream on the peppers with pomegranate seeds. be happy and drink mojitos in accompaniment.