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Hot Cold Cold Corn

Vivian Howard, the chef and star of A Chef’s Life on PBS wrote in her cookbook, Deep Run Roots: “Ground corn distinguishes the food of the Americas from that of the rest of the world”. It turns out down in America they make hooch from it too.

The Dave Rawlings Machine….

Flatt and Scruggs

The Osbourne Brothers with String Bean

 

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So nice to be right here….

With all of 45’s shenanigans south of the border, I was thinking how happy I am to be living right here in Canada.

Here’s Mendelson Joe performing The Canada Song. Back in the 80s when I was living in a storefront studio on Ossington Ave here in Toronto, he used to live up the street and could often be seen and heard playing music on his front stoop. Mr. Joe was hard to miss. He usually wore paint-covered coveralls cut off into shorts, because he’s a painter as well as a musician.

 

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Eagle in Long Branch?

This afternoon, I was out walking the dogs and on the way back saw a huge bird of prey swoop behind our house and land up on our roof. It stayed there for a moment then flew to a nearby tree a couple houses to the south. It was an enormous bird, way bigger than for instance the red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks which are fairly common around here. I ran into the house to grab my camera, but by the time I got back outside it had flown from the tree back toward our backyard. I went out back and saw it swoop again along Twenty Fifth Street.

Comparing what I saw to pictures on the internet and in my bird books, and keeping in mind the size of the thing, my guess is it is a juvenile bald eagle (head had not turned white).

3 or 4 of our neighbours saw it as well. Has anyone else seen this beast around the neighbourhood? This has been a banner year for bunnies around here and I don’t doubt the available food  may be what has attracted it.

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At the Vice

Growing up,  one of the major events of the spring in our house was the opening of trout season. At some point during my university days I pretty much gave up the ritual of chasing trout, but in the early 90s, along with my friend East Texas Red, I embraced fly fishing with serious enthusiasm. Over the years we fished all over the place, including down in Pennsylvania, as well as the mountain west – Alberta and BC, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Yellowstone. Many of our adventures in the west were with our friend Ken, who took us to many fantastic places over the course of a number of trips. On my own, I’ve also made a number of trips to the Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

In more recent years, I haven’t been nearly so obsessive about the whole thing. It’s been more difficult for me to travel west, and locally I’ve been getting out just a few times each season. Last year I did manage to get in a few delightful days fishing the Driftless area of Wisconsin. Lovely little streams there and plenty of trout too.

At the beginning of May, East Texas Red and I are planning to meet down in Pennsylvania for a few days chasing trout in the mountains in the North-Central part of the state. He lives in Ottawa these days and for each of us it’s about a 6 hour drive to get down there.

My selection of trout flies needs to be bolstered for this trip, so today I sat down at the vice and tied a bunch of flies.

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Down-wing Usual

When the Hendricksons emerge in early season, my go-to flies are Usuals and soft-hackles. I tie the Usuals in both up-wing and down-wing styles, with a trailing shuck made from a carpet fibre material to replicate the emerging Hendrickson nymph becoming a dun, or adult fly. These flies sit in the surface film and they are trout ice cream.

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Up-wing Usual

The first Usuals I fished with came from Fran Betters‘ shop down on the West Branch of the Ausable River in NY. I went down there after reading about this famous stream in Ray Bergman’s epic book, Trout. Betters’ Usuals were more impressionistic flies than the ones I tie. The shuck and the wing were both made from the crinkly fur on snowshoe hare feet. His wings were longish, tied up-wing and forward, and he used red-orange thread.

I’ve tightened up the pattern some, but still leave the flies somewhat impressionistic. I tie them with body colours to match a few different mayflies, but they are also an excellent pattern for opportunistic trout.

There was a time I was pretty fast when it came to tying flies. These days I’m not nearly so fast, and that has a lot to do with simply not doing it so much. Today I tied up some Usuals,  and a few soft-hackles for Hendricksons, some bigger soft-hackles and a couple hair-wing dun flies in case March Brown mayflies have started when we’re down there. Next time I sit down at the vice I’ll tie more of the same selection and some blue-wing olives in a couple different sizes. Between these and what I currently have in my boxes, I should have what I need to the trip and some other outings closer to home.

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Visitors

The Partners and I were ready for our evening walk. Leashes on. Pockets loaded up with poo-bags and dog treats. I opened the front wood door and saw a face looking in, a cat face. This was a black and white cat, a spitting image of our Ladybug, except this cat had all 4 legs and Bug is one leg short. When the cat saw me it took off east along the side of the house. It was then I noticed another movement. This cat had a friend. At this point they were at the back of the property so I didn’t get a good look at visitor cat #2 as they hopped the fence and took off.

On the way back from our walk we stopped to chat with one of our neighbours. He had a story to tell about a visitor too. The previous night, sometime after 11, he was out walking his two dogs and on the way back saw a coyote out in front of our houses. This doesn’t really surprise me. Another of our neighbours works shifts and has seen coyotes on our street at night in the past. I also saw one a couple years ago trotting toward me on Lake Promenade while I was out with the Newfs. It turned north up Twenty Fifth but by the time I got to the corner the coyote had disappeared. Another time the dogs and I were followed out of the filtration plant grounds by a curious young coyote.

Coyotes are not the only wildlife around here. This has been a banner year for bunnies and many mornings we see them when we’re out and about with the Partners. George mostly ignores them, but Ruby wants to give chase.

We’ve had possums around in the past, but I haven’t seen one in a couple years. We’re at the northern end of their range. Once a possum showed up on our back deck, hissing at the dogs. What a strange critter.

Back before they tore down Nick’s place to the south of us, there was a groundhog living on that property. I don’t know where it’s gone since the construction, but the whole network of holes has long been destroyed now. I imagine Mr. Groundhog has found a more hospitable yard to take up residence in.

I haven’t seen any deer right here in the neighbourhood but a few years ago I saw 4 of them feeding at the edge of the woods on the old arsenal lands near the foot of Dixie Rd. I don’t know if they are still around – there has been some construction activity right where I saw the deer – but the forest itself has been more or less undisturbed. I like to imagine they are still there.

Add to this various hawks and owls, and a host of resident and migratory songbirds. And over in Sam Smith Park there is a very active beaver family working on taking down any trees that dare to grow out on the yacht club peninsula. You can see the lodge extending out into the harbour on the north side of the peninsula.

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Hop Scop Blues

It’s true there have been a few food posts around these parts lately, but fear not, this joint ain’t becoming the food network or anything like that. I was just surfing around the YouTube before bed, and stumbled upon this delightful video by Meredith Axelrod and some players from Seattle performing the New Orleans Hop Scop Blues. Check out her channel. It’s called meredithanthraxelrod and it is full of gems.

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Corn Chowder on 27th Street

I made a pot of corn chowder last night for our dinner. I’ve always loved corn soups. The most memorable corn chowder for us was on a visit  to Chicago when our friend Stagg and his family took us to Ditka’s for dinner. The whole meal was excellent but we both remember the corn chowder above all. I just took a quick look at their menu and it looks like they no longer serve it.

My corn chowder is quite a bit different than the one we had at Ditka’s That one was quite thick and on the sweet side. Mine is not so thick, and as well it is very savoury and pretty spicy too. Both good, just different.

I started off the way you might begin making any number of Cajun-type dishes, by sauteing onions, peppers and celery in half oil, half butter, except I added jalapenos along with green peppers. I added salt and pepper and plenty of Herbes de Provence while it cooked. After a couple minutes I added a couple cloves of garlic chopped up. I don’t add the garlic right at the beginning because I want to make sure it doesn’t brown and turn harsh. After a few minutes I added some flour and stirred it all around for a few minutes to cook the flour, making a roux.

There’s an old rule that works: add cold stock to hot roux to avoid lumps – so that’s what I did. I happened to have some stock in the fridge. I stirred it around for a bit, then added lots of frozen corn. In August I would have used ears of fresh Ontario corn, but the corn you can buy in our grocery stores in March isn’t up to much, and I think frozen corn is plenty better.

I let the pot simmer for a while while I watched some Go commentary on YouTube. Finally, when I decided it was ready, there was only one thing left to do. I removed about a third of the soup and pureed it with a hand blender, then added it back to the pot. I do this with some other soups as well. I like to have some chunkiness to the chowder but pureeing part of it helps thicken it. I think it’s normal to add some cream at this point – and that would have been delicious – but for everyday cooking I forgo heavy cream and I like my chowder just fine without.

While I was making dinner I wasn’t thinking of writing about it, so I failed to take any photos, but I can tell you it looked just like corn chowder, nothing too exciting there. I can also tell you it was really tasty. The jalapenos add some heat without being overpowering and the Herbes de Provence  make the chowder savoury and irresistible.

There are lots of ways to vary this soup. One would be to use all sweet peppers instead of the jalapenos. You could also change up the seasoning. If I made this when I had fresh herbs growing in the yard, I would absolutely have used them. I bet this would be really good with some seafood too. I didn’t dry any wild mushrooms last season, but I can see lobster mushrooms – which retain good texture – being an excellent addition. When I’m cooking, I usually change things up depending on what I have on hand and what I feel like. I have a restless imagination so I’m not so good at following recipes and making things the same way each time. Besides, it’s much more fun to make cooking an adventure.

 

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A kitchen gadget I’ll actually use

I like to cook, but I do so without very many gadgets. We have a small kitchen and there isn’t a lot of room for stuff we don’t use all the time. Much to the surprise of most people who notice, we don’t even have a microwave. Somewhere downstairs we have various processors, mixers and blenders that don’t get a lot of use. I figure it takes more time to clean one of those things than it saves me to use it. In spite of all this I went and bought a kitchen gadget.

We were in Paris Ontario the other day visiting friends and there on the kitchen table was what I learned was a fat separator. I learned this because it intrigued me so I asked, “hey what’s this item?”. -1.jpgBeing a kitchen gadget dummy, I had no idea such a thing existed. I regularly make braises, and typically, when whatever I’m braising is ready, I take it out of the pot, then skim off the fat from the top as best I can with a spoon before reducing the braising liquid to make a sauce. This clever gadget pours off from the bottom, so it’s easy to separate out the fat by just pouring off the liquid, leaving the fat at the bottom.

I expect there are folks experienced in the ways of kitchen junk who are mildly amused that I’m so taken with this miracle of modern technology. You must be thinking, this is Canada in the 21st Century. Everybody knows about fat separators. Well, not me. Not until now.

I do have a couple other interesting kitchen tools here at 27th Street though. For instance, I inherited my Uncle Harold’s chef’s knife.

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Harold Knapik’s chef’s knife

Harold, my dad’s big brother, was a remarkable guy. He was an accomplished chef, good enough that he wrote articles in Gourmet magazine, was featured in LOOK Magazine, and wrote a cookbook in the early 70s called Haute Cuisine Without Help. He was an accomplished musician, who wrote a book on Counterpoint as well as a symphony. He was friends with Alice Toklas and Man Ray and many more of the artists kicking around Paris after the 2nd war. Harold was also a spy, but that’s another story. Somehow or another, after the death of Harold and his wife Virginia, I ended up with his chef’s knife, a fantastic catalog of the work of the Italian painter Enrico Baj and a gorgeous watercolour brush.

The other really notable kitchen tool we have is an ulu, which was given to Tuffy P during one of her visits to the Canadian Arctic. It makes an excellent pizza cutter.

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Tuffy P’s ulu

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Is it….a bear?

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We were walking the partners the other evening when a woman walked toward us. She stopped a dozen feet away, a look of shock and awe on her face. She looked at Georgie and looked back at us. Is it…..a bear?

Another day, a guy slowed his car down to a stop, opened his window and shouted out, “It’s illegal to be walking a bear on a leash.” Right. Thanks for that.

Of course, since we live with Newfs, we’re used to the obvious fact that they’re big beasts.

A typical encounter on the street:

OMG he’s big.
I look at George like I never noticed before. You’re right, he is!
You must have a big house OR You’re food bill sure must be high.
What kind of dog is he? OR Is he a St. Bernard?
They’re Newfs, I say.
I didn’t think they came in brown.
Yes, they’re not supposed to be brown, I say. We don’t tell him though. He thinks he’s black.

 

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Will the puppy get that big? So far, growing is her best thing.