Friday, June 18, 2010

Just the other day

I'm sitting in a diner and they're playing diner music in the background: ooh-maw-maw-mama-ooh-maw-maw.... It's a tired cliché, like the only reason people visit diners anymore is to relive the 1950's. I'm sure half of Flo's Diner's clientele was born after 1965 and our memories of diner culture come from watching Happy Days, not from living the real thing. It's Thursday afternoon, and Flo's is empty except for me and the waiters. They mill about in their matching black slacks and blue T-shirts, refilling ketchup bottles and restocking napkin dispensers, or whatever it is that diner waiters do when there's a lull. I'm in the corner by the window that overlooks the street from the second floor reading my book and drinking tea. A dust-filled fan oscillates, blowing air on me from across the room.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hummus for everyone!

I came across this article in today's New York Times, reminding me that I long ago promised the ladies at my sister's bridal shower to post my recipe for hummus. (Sorry!) The article, chronicling the increase in popularity of hummus for Americans over the last decade or so, highlights the basic principle of this middle eastern spread: anything goes. Making hummus is not a science. There is no exact recipe. As the matriarch to the Holy Land hummus-making enterprise Mrs. Wadi suggests, it's "eat, eat, eat, taste, taste, taste." If it's a dip that tastes good and has chick peas somewhere in the ingredients list, you can call it hummus.

I've been making hummus for a while now and my method is fairly straight-forward. Unfortunately, using a food processor for this recipe is non-negotiable. Blenders, whether hand-held or standing types, are more frustrating than this simple recipe is worth. If you like eating, however, I recommend investing in a food processor. Aside from the toaster and tea kettle, it's the one kitchen gadget I consistently use.

Makes approx. 2 cups

1 can (14 oz.) chickpeas, drained
1/4 c tahini (sesame seed) paste
1 tiny piece of garlic (about 1/2 a small clove)
juice of 1 lemon (1/4 c from bottle)
1 tsp cumin powder (optional, but tastes good)
salt to taste
cayenne for heat, if desired

In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas, tahini and garlic until a coarse paste. Add lemon juice and cumin keep pulsing. Add small amounts of water to the mixture, about 1 Tbsp at a time and pulse until the hummus has a smooth creamy texture. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I remember November

I remember November when I was eight: the sky getting dark earlier every evening, waking up before sunrise and eating breakfast while it was still night. In November, my mother would start making Christmas cake. She would take my sister and me to Nutcracker Sweet, the bulk dry goods store where she would buy candied peels, green and red cherries, Thompson and Sultana raisins and sliced almonds. She used her huge aluminum canning pot, big enough to bathe a toddler in, to hold all of the fruitcake ingredients. I remember her working the mixture with the long handled wooden spoon she would use to mix bread dough. She would turn over the fruits and nuts like she was mixing cement, resting the pot on a dining room chair so she could reach inside. Once they had been baked, I remember wrapping the cakes in aluminum foil, though not before dousing them with rum or brandy. She would put the stacks of cakes in the cold cellar, the small room in the basement that was originally used to store coal, with its hanging lightbulb and cinderblock walls. Mom kept everything she made in the cold cellar: every flavour of jam and jelly you could think of, plus the cakes. I remember my dad coveting the fruitcake once Christmas rolled around: cutting pieces for himself to go with his coffee and balancing the sticky slices on the rim of his mug.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I remember sorrel

I've been living on grilled cheese and tuna lately and obsessing over my art. The result is not much to add to this blogaroo in the way of insights and inspirations regarding all things culinary: I'm only entering my kitchen out of necessity. However, in the movie in my mind, I'm seeing the calendar pages flip away in a clichéd "time is passing" montage, so I'm here. Fortunately, I came up with a structure to at least get me writing.

My favourite book on writing remains Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. She applies her Buddhist philosophy to writing: as meditation means showing up to sit down, writing practice means showing up to the page and moving the pen. (There was a time when I put this book on reserve at the library, waited for my turn, read it, returned it and put my name on the reserve list again. This would have me re-reading Wild Mind every six weeks or so for over a year.) One of my favourite exercises is "I remember". It's very simple. Start a timed writing session (five to 10 minutes) with the words "I remember..." and let 'er rip. Whatever comes to mind, write it down. Be specific.

So, for lack of anything else to write, I'll do a five-minute "I remember":

I remember the taste of sorrel. My parents had a backyard vegetable garden at our house on Castle Knock Road. The plot was rectangular, located behind our garage and beside our cement paver patio. I remember being given the green silky leaves and told to eat them. Perhaps this was my father who gave them to me, but I can't recall. The leaves tasted sour, not repellent, but curious, and I couldn't decide if I liked them. My mother used the sorrel leaves for dinner that night. She cooked them gently in cream and served them with a pork cutlet. They had lost their bite and were a bit phlegmy, but the flavour was mellow, green and slightly sour. I recall the addition of sorrel to our meal as an event, an unusual occurrence, and surely I don't remember another time it was served. It was summer and hot, and we ate our dinner on the back patio accompanied by wasps that my father would smash with the pancake turner until he finally snapped it in two. Then, he used his bare hands, clapping the wasps between his palms so fast they would fall dead on the table.