Slowing Down (or, Helpful Meal Ideas from a Jean Skirt)

Time and food are bedfellows.  And since women have walked away from the stove and into the office, strategies designed to help us manage the interplay of cooking and time have multiplied.  Slow Food, fast food, 30 Minute Meals, Super Fast Dinners Grown on Your Rooftop in Brooklyn, Lunching Entirely On Homemade Pickles – there are a wide variety of options out there, some of which are hopelessly but quaintly unrealistic.

So in the next three posts, we’ll examine ways to couple time and food, and talk about why they make sense. Or not.

I had the very good fortune of being able to attend the Salone de Gusto in Turin Italy, which is a massive yearly celebration held by the Slow Food Movement. I pigged out in a ridiculous way, didn’t even go to see the Shroud, and still have nightmares about how I looked when I tried on a stretchy denim mini-skirt at a boutique just down the street from the convention hall.  The puzzling thing is that I still bought it.

Just a small part of the Salone

But gluttony and subsequent curvaceousness aside, this was a real opportunity to get to know food.  The event is held in a massive convention centre, and there are literally four football fields worth of individual producers offering samples of food they have grown with their own hands.  In another venue, there are days and days of seminars offering education in specific ingredients – you sit around with people from everywhere on earth, but mostly Italy and France, and compare the relative virtues of, for example, small-batch honeys cultivated in different climates.

Honey

There were cheeses so moldy and funky they looked like stuffed animals. Growing, breading, and then deep-frying vegetables seemed to be popular.  And there was pork.  Lots of pork.

(“You maybe ate a little too much pork…” whispered the top button of the denim miniskirt.)

Porschetta!! (“Noooooooooo…said the jeanskirt”)

Mega Parma

Heirloom Apples – Not as popular as Porschetta

The whole idea here is to slow down, to savour each bite, and to celebrate farmers who are doing it right.  It’s about the long-simmered ragu, the artisanal loaf, and taking back food from the factories and chemists.  It’s a truly worthy movement shepherded by a lot of people who care about what you eat. You should attend if you ever have a chance – this year’s event is coming up on October 25th.

Nevertheless, I wonder if it is practical to slow down in a world that’s speeding up like a rocket. I adore the baker with the sourdough starter and I admire the farmer who knows his cows by name.  I just wish, really, that one of them could come over to my house in between my night shifts and tell me what to make for dinner.

(“Salad…lots of salad…”, suggested the denim mini from the Skinny Clothes storage tub under the bed)

Or, Put Your Money Where Someone Else’s Mouth Is…

The first time we went to Vegas, I decided to splurge, and we spent an absurd amount of money on a meal that made me nauseous by its excess.  When I got home, I did a little research, and found out that a family in Africa could eat for four months on the amount I had spent on one meal.  Then I got even more nauseous, and a family in Africa got four months worth of food.

My last post discussed 529 Wellington, where the higher prices are justified by higher quality as compared to other restaurants around.  But when considered on a global/ethical scale, is this sort of expense ever really justifiable? Does anyone need to eat prime beef when there are children clamouring to eat corn?  Looking at the map above, it’s hard to answer ‘yes’ to that question with a clear conscience.

According to the World Food Programme, there are nearly a billion people in the world who go to bed hungry every night, whereas I often go to bed in a anabolic state which is only adding to my waistline. Some of those hungry live in Canada; according to Winnipeg Harvest almost 900 000 Canadians were forced to rely on food banks last year.

That $300 dinner from 529 Wellington?  I could have fed dinner to 2000 refugees through the World Food Programme instead.

Ideally, we would all give up any money that we don’t need to maintain a comfortable life to those less fortunate than ourselves. But the scope of global poverty would indicate that that is not likely to happen … some Winnipeggers subsist on canned food from Giant Tiger, there’s famine in Somalia right now, and precedent would indicate that richer people will continue to spend lavishly on gourmet food.

Am I an asshole? Two thousand hungry refugees say ‘yes’. Is this an indelible stain on my karma? Quite possibly.  Am I alone? No.  Can I still feed dinner to two thousand hungry refugees?  Why, yes, actually, I can.

Next time you decide treat yourself to some luxury, put some money where someone else’s mouth is too.  Say grace around your posh table and give thanks for all that you have.  Then follow it up by giving to one of these tremendous organizations:

Winnipeg Harvest

Main Street Project

World Food Programme

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is…

Here’s my two cents on 529 Wellington:

Without a doubt,  it is the toniest steakhouse in Winnipeg.  An steak will set you back around $40, and since all the sides are à la carte, you’re looking at around $140 per head for a full steak dinner (including appetizer, entree, dessert, wine, tax, tip), or, fourteen thousand cents.

But I don’t think they’re trying to rip anyone off, as evidenced by their very reasonable lunch prices.  The French Onion soup is a complete meal for $9.00; for that you get a swirl of slow-cooked onions hiding under a thick raft of cheese and croutons, topped table side with port.  Or, you can get a Cajun Chicken Caesar for $15.00, which is only three dollars more than what you would pay at Applebees, but easily three times the quality.  The lunch sandwiches and burgers are uncomplicated, tasty, and appropriately priced.

529 Wellington

So what are you paying for when you drop $300 on a dinner for two at 529 Wellington?  Well, prime beef for one – the higher price is reflected in the aging and the marbling.  You’re also paying for an on-site wine expert, meticulously sourced ingredients, the attention of knowledgeable waitstaff, and the pleasure of sitting in a lavishly restored 1912 mansion. You don’t have to raise your voice to have a conversation with your fellow diners, which in my aging mind is always worth a few bucks.

Apart from bovine indulgences, 529 Wellington offers a top-notch seafood selection.  You can say ‘hi’ to your lobster before it hits the pot.  The shrimp cocktail is on steroids, and the same shrimp sauteed in garlic parsley butter is swoon-worthy. I was underwhelmed on one visit by my Ahi Tuna – when you’re serving only a naked, seared chunk of tuna on a plate, the seasoning has to be right.  On a recent visit to the mercifully relaxing lounge we indulged in a farm-fresh tomato mozzarella salad, along with poutine with foie gras. I paid doubly for that meal – once with my Visa, and again when I looked at my ass in the mirror the next morning.

Are these restaurants for everyone, every time? No, definitely not.  I usually feel a little nauseous when the bill comes. And I must mention that there are Winnipeg restaurants like Segovia and Deseo where you will get an equally excellent meal in a refined environment, but for half the price.

So is it reasonable for any restaurant to charge $300 for dinner?  Maybe, if the price is justified by the quality. Like with anything else, if you’re going to ask a diner to put their money where there mouth is, you better do so too.

529 Wellington on Urbanspoon

Gettin’ Cheggy Wit’ It

Put the ‘Ch’ in ‘Cheggy’

Imagine you are sitting in an orchard in the Garden of Eden, nibbling on plump mahogany cherries which for some reason have been beamed up from British Columbia.  Suddenly, a chasm opens at your feet and starts venting sulfurous gas.

Are you enjoying the cherries still?  I thought not. Did the combination of stone fruit and egg aromas prompt you to create a new word? Yes? Then you, my friend, have just got cheggy wit’ it.

Na na na na nana na.

Such was my experience with cherry clafoutis.

Inspired by summer, I bought way more produce than we could reasonably eat, and soon after I was confronted by a pound of BC cherries on the verge of wastage.  What better way to use them than in a clafoutis, I thought.  Since none of my cookbooks contained a recipe, I printed one off of Epicurious and got out the flour.

When I was pouring the batter over the pitted cherries, a little cherub on my shoulder said, “Gee, this looks awfully thin.”. But I ignored her.

The Larousse Gastronomique describes clafoutis as, “A dessert from the Limousin region of France, consisting of black cherries arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a fairly thick batter.”  I see.  My clafoutis had the taste and texture of cherry scrambled eggs.  Refusing to admit the defeat, we picked cherries off the top for a few minutes, but eventually we just started laughing and invented a new word.

On further review, it seems that the recipe called for more eggs and way less flour than in the textbook version of the dessert.

The take home message?  Never, ever, trust your summer fruit to Google search. Na na na na nana na.

Zolli’s Chuck Truck: Coming Soon

Precursor to Zolli's Chuck Truck?

In April 2012, I intend to fit some wagon wheels onto a Winnebago and roll Zolli’s Chuck Truck into action.  I’ll cruise around Winnipeg, with the sun-bleached skull of some sort of antlered creature affixed to the spot on the back where the spare tire usually goes.  I’ve always had romantic notions about the chuck wagon, that original food truck of the prairies, so why not start my own? Some days I’ll wear a cowgirl hat, and on days when I’m feeling especially jaunty, I’ll put my hair into pigtails with ribbons. I’ll fit my obese cat with a vest and get him to ride in the passenger seat as a sort of out-of-place mascot.

As confident as I am in my concept, I figured that it would be only prudent to research the competition. Street food is a well entrenched cultural phenomenon across the world, particularly in India and Southeast Asia. Not far behind are North American cities such as San Francisco and New York, where twitter-fiends stalk their favourite trucks across the boroughs.

But in Winnipeg, not so much. You won’t have any trouble finding a hot dog cart, but as recently lamented by Bartley Kives in the Free Press, original and interesting Winnipeg street-food options are few and far between. Some blame the suffocation of city by-laws, others the cold weather.  It’s probably a bit of both, combined with the fact that our downtown doesn’t support the same kind of residential population as in other large cities.

Bison Smokies - A Winnipeg Twist

So as part of my recognizance, I took a stroll down Broadway, dodging a man in a worrisome amount of cammo and crossing my fingers as I walked under some scaffolding erected by ‘Altered State Scaffolding’.  I settled on a Banh Mi from JT Spring rolls, which wasn’t really a classic Banh Mi, but could be described as a very tasty pork sandwich.

Tasty Pork Sandwich from JT Spring Rolls

I figure the main competition for my chuck truck will come from El Torrito (@ElTorrito1), the new cooked-to-order taco truck usually parked outside the Hydro Building on Portage for lunch and on Henderson across from the Dairy Queen for dinner. I loved their Chorizo Dog – the meat was pleasingly light in texture and deftly dressed with a zippy tomatillo salsa and coriander.  I had mixed feelings on the tacos – the meat was tender and perfectly seasoned. But by the time I was done the chorizo dog and ready to move on to the tacos, their juices had made the corn tortilla soggy, and they broke apart all over the plate when I picked them up. The napkin was outmatched.  My overall impression was that the filling and the shell were a bit at odds with one another – my mouth was full of the taste of tortilla in a way that overshadowed the meat and salsa. When I had similar tacos in San Francisco’s Mission District, they placed a generous amount of filling on a double layer of tortilla, and now I know why.  El Torrito might be well served by a similar approach.  On the whole, though, anyone willing to serve tomatillo salsa on the sidewalk is a hero in my books.

El Torrito's El Grande Special

Just as anyone choosing a baby name goes through the various permutations of Grade 6 bully humour that might eventually cost them a lot in psychologist bills, I have been thinking about the name for my food truck. Will someone with a can of spray paint add an ‘Up’ prefix? What will that mean in terms of touch-up paint costs and my overall profit margin?

Maybe I should pick a different concept?  The Dehli Deli?  Dosas, Samosas, and More? How about The Flatbread Truck?

Nah, I’ll stick with chuckwagon theme. I’ve always wanted to wear cowboy boots to work. I’ll be parked outside the museum at lunch and the Palomino Club from midnight until 2AM.  Anyone know where I might be able to pick up some wagon wheels?

El Torrito Taco Truck on Urbanspoon