Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“One” Mint Julep

From May to October each year, it’s mint julep season at my house, to the delight of us all.
The original meaning of “julep” was a medicinal cocktail of sorts, combining various healing herbs, plants, aromatics and fruits. Those of you reading from back home are already familiar with the mint julep (or your DNA is); those of you here in Montreal are surely familiar with the Gibeau Orange Julep restaurant, whose foamy, fresh-squeezed orange juice gives the restaurant its name.
Mint juleps are indeed powerful medicine. They are served in little metal cups made of silver, pewter or aluminium which keep them delightfully cold.
A julep’s deliciousness can surprise some drinkers, even those who hold their liquor well, causing them to need a restorative nap on the couch before they can stagger into the taxi home.

An old friend said it well after his first sip of mint juleps. “Why are these cups so small? Because these are dangerous. I feel like I want to drink a whole pitcher of them, and then pass out in a lawn chair in the sun.”

I have also seen people drink me under the table with my mint juleps, walking out the door at the end of the night on their own two steady feet, and it’s never the ones you’d think. As they say in Spanish, “Los que no corren, vuelan.” (Those who don’t run, fly instead).

Recently, I came across a tune in one of my yellowed old jazz books called “One Mint Julep.”

I wondered to myself, has anyone ever had just ONE mint julep… and not counting the bucket at a Kentucky Derby Bucket Party (where dinner is served from big tin buckets – a bucket of juleps, a bucket of fried chicken, a bucket of potato salad…)

I Googled it the next day, and learned that Ray Charles is one of the artists who has recorded it. How ever did I miss this song? The lyrics tell the story of a man who invited a woman back to his place and all he had to offer was mint juleps… “One mint julep was the cause of it all… I’m done drinking whiskey, ’cause I’ve got six extra children now from getting frisky!”

For those days when I actually need to accomplish something, I also make a version without whiskey – I substitute chilled Yogi Ginger Tea for the bourbon.

My recipe is unconventional, and I’m sure purist bartenders would disapprove, the ones who write long, pissed-off diatribes about martinis and Manhattans and how many drops of Angostura bitters on the Webtender forums. It would be all like, “You’re supposed to muddle the mint… superfine sugar… Kentucky bourbon….”

The thing is, I think my rogue juleps really taste better than the purist juleps with all the muddling and the fancy liquor and powdered sugar. The flavour is smoother and they go down easier. Several roomfuls of people who don't remember the great time we had after a pitcher of juleps would surely agree with me, if their memories would only permit.

I make a cross between simple syrup and “sweet tea” (Southern for iced tea) using mint, Demerara sugar and a touch of ginger. This can be kept in the fridge, which makes the julep colder. It also makes them quicker to make. The infusion, because it tastes more like sweet tea, somehow makes it taste more Southern to me. The Demerara sugar is not overly sweet though, and is evocative of the darker sugars used in Southern cooking like molasses and brown sugar.
My first choice of bourbon is Wild Turkey for its smokiness, but since it's nearly impossible to get in Quebec, I most often use Jack Daniels. (technically "Tennessee sipping whiskey," for the Webtender sticklers out there.)

Mint Julep Syrup
One bunch mint leaves
1½ litres water
1½ cups Demerara sugar
A little peel from a ginger root (keep your peel when you cube ginger forother recipes)
Cut the bottom of the bunch of mint leaves and place them in a large, deep saucepan. (Reserve the pretty tops of the stems for the juleps themselves). Cover with sugar (and ginger root, if using) then water. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let steep for 4-6 hours. Strain and keep in the refrigerator. (Theoretically, this will keep for about a month in the refrigerator).
To serve, take a sprig of mint and gently rub it around the bottom of the julep cup to release its aroma. Place in the bottom of the julep cup, or float it on top of the drink.
Fill the cup 1/3 of the way with bourbon or iced Yogi Tea, 1/3 of the way with syrup and fill the rest of the way with ice.

Friday, July 16, 2010

La plume de la pute... du frère de mon oncle: Linguistic hilarity around our house

Some days it seems like the more fluent Fred and I get at English and French over the years, the funnier our mistakes and quirks are.
Fred’s English comprehension is astonishing – our friend Josh gave him a gift of English slang flash cards one Christmas, and he ended up using it to teach Josh and me. He already knew most of them!

So it’s unusual for him not to find the right word. Last night, we discovered a small vocabulary gap, which I found hilarious.
Fred: “My mother’s sister…”
Me: “Your aunt…”
Fred: “Yeah, that.”

Later, in the same conversation:
Fred: “Michel’s brother’s son…”
Me: “His nephew.”
Fred: “Or that.”
Me: “Were you daydreaming during the family chapter in English class?”
Fred: “I just didn’t care about that shit.”
Me: “At that age, you just wanted to understand rock songs and play American video games.”
Fred: “Yeah!”

I guess Fred did the right thing to marry into a Southern family. In the South, because people know everyone else in small towns, it’s common to hear people talk about their “brother’s wife's cousin.” Maybe because of this, I just never really noticed the lack of “aunt, uncle, niece, nephew” until last night.

I make different kinds of hilarious mistakes because I’m more of a writer than a talker. I have a special gift for mispronouncing a word, using another similar-sounding word, or randomly happening upon an unfortunate metaphor that implies an embarrassing sexual connotation, turning my earnest, thoughtful sentence into a 360-degree, red-faced conversation stopper.

(Funnily enough, this special gift has also turned up when I’m conversing with people from England or Ireland – and yes, I do know better than to mention South Carolina’s state dance, “the shag.” )

For example, I was recently at a friend's house, and several of us were in the kitchen drinking wine, doing a little vegetable chopping and skewering as we got ready to grill kebabs. Alex was making us some guacamole, and it was really starting to look amazing. He was chopping a few red onions, limes ready to squeeze, and I said, "Il va être excellent, ton guacamole." (Your guacamole is going to be excellent. )
Alex replied, "C'est quand même toi qui fait les meilleures trempettes, je me rappelle toujours des petits plats que tu apportais aux partys à Katimavik."(You make the best dips though, I still remember the food you used to bring to parties at Katimavik).
Please note that at this point, the conversation is so mild and food-oriented that it could be broadcast on a lifestyle channel.
Then, I said, "C'est vrai que je suis la reine de la petite trempette."
All the guys in the room (Fred, Alex and Pascal, whom I had JUST MET) burst into laughter. Rather than saying that I was the queen of making dips, I said that I was an easy lay. Literally – literally – I proclaimed myself the “Queen of Quickies.”

Fred’s very favourite of this type of mistake is the time I pronounced “massothérapeute” as “massothérapute.”
That made the word for “massage therapist” sound like a person who gives a “massage with benefits,” since “pute” means “whore.”

In fact, I was telling him about the most innocent of chair massages from an earth motherly massage therapist named Nathalie, so I didn’t understand the confused look on his face, but when he corrected me and explained it, we both laughed until tears rolled down our faces.

As funny as these linguistic mishaps are, they serve an even greater purpose in our marriage than providing comic relief: They make us work hard at saying exactly what we mean.

We communicate very consciously and carefully at the times that we disagree, partly because we've seen what kind of unexpected twists and turns a simple sentence can take. This can certainly be true when couples speak the same language, too, and monolingual couples often think it must be much more difficult for Fred and me when we disagree or need to clear the air.
I think, though, that it may actually be easier for us because of the habits we've developed over the years of clarifying, reflecting (restating what the person has just said), asking questions and not taking any word or phrase at face value.

As a bonus (even though sometimes there's clearly no stopping me) I have my own trusted audience who has kept me from saying things like "massothérapute" more times than not!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rawsome! Exploring living foods

An untimely spill into my laptop keyboard has delayed my posting about the recipes I’ve been experimenting with this spring.
My brilliant husband somehow managed to resuscitate my laptop, and while he performed that miracle, I just spent more time having fun in the kitchen! I’ve made sure to take a few photos of the most delectable looking (and tasting!) dishes.
As I mentioned in my last post about Sirocco Sandwiches, I have been trying out a number of vegan and raw vegan dishes this year for a number of reasons.
My biggest interest in having a repertoire of raw vegan recipes is that raw food is extremely cooling to the body. I have had tremendous difficulty tolerating the heat since earliest childhood – it was one of the top three reasons I left South Carolina!
(For those of you reading back home who think of Montreal as an eternal nuclear winter, tbe summertime can be as oppressive as it is in Columbia – it was in the 90s this weekend and plenty humid).
Two acupuncturists have encouraged me to use cooling foods to help dial down my inner thermostat – raw fruits and vegetables, citrus, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, chard, kale and millet – and it really helps!
So, when I learned our fabulous raw vegan restaurant, Crudessence, offered a number of cooking classes, I decided to sign up for one called, “Traditional Dishes Revisited,” where we learned to make raw-food versions of classic main dishes like lasagne, quiche, couscous and shepherd’s pie.
Being able to make Crudessence quiche (pictured above at left) at home is worth the cost of the course several times over. Their quiche is a nut and vegetable mousse thickened with agar agar poured over a crust of coconut oil, crushed nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, and topped with parsley and julienned raw vegetables, and is quite simply to die for.
Another of my favourite dishes at Crudessence is their Living Sushi. It’s actually quite easy to make and a great way to begin making sushi. With Living Sushi, you don’t even have to make sushi rice – you just grate or food-process a neutral-tasting white vegetable to use as “rice.” A lot of people use cauliflower; some people use jicama, which can be rather hard to find in Montreal. I like to use daikon root, which is really cheap, authentically Asian, and can easily be grated right onto the nori.
If you have never rolled sushi, but in your past you have ever rolled anything else, do not be at all intimidated by rolling sushi. Rolling skills are completely transversal.
If you have never rolled anything at all, just watch people do it a couple of times on Youtube, and then have at it! Mistakes will still taste good, and you will find your way, I promise!
You can make nori rolls without a sushi mat, but it’s really great for tightening everything up. Get the kind with one smooth side and one ridged side.
Place the ridged side down and place a nori sheet on it rough side up. The smooth side of the nori sheet is the outside of the roll.
I julienne some bell pepper, carrot, zucchini and thinly slice an avocado. I put the avocado at the edge closest to me, place straight rows of julienned vegetables above it, and grate daikon over the remaining 5/6 of the nori sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch at the end to moisten with water and seal the roll.
Before I roll it up, I sprinkle sesame seeds all over the veggies. I enjoy it with wasabi and a little bowl of the ultimate raw food condiment, Namu Shoya, an unpasteurized soy sauce that is tangy, a little fizzy and much more flavourful than the stuff in those little Kikkomann bottles.
Living Sushi platters are beautiful showstoppers and will thrill people on sight. When my upstairs neighbour saw the first plate of Living Sushi I ever made (pictured above at top) she enthusiastically invited herself over for a sushi night!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sirocco Sandwiches

This is the first of several recipes I want to post on my blog this spring. The winter has been full of culinary explorations, and among other things, this Southern-fried girl has been playing around with a whole bunch of vegan and raw vegan recipes. This is partly because I want to have more healthful recipes in my repertoire, partly because I love trying new things, and partly because dairy products have gotten so damn expensive! Could I not, at least sometimes and for certain recipes, be making my own almond milk and nut cheese as needed to spend money more wisely and reduce waste?

Even more importantly, could cutting back on dairy over the long term possibly improve the horrible, unrelenting, allergies and asthma I’ve had all winter, with a good nasty head cold in autumn and spring each to sandwich the whole thing together?

(This hasn’t happened yet, but reduction in terms of the waste factor and The Explanation* factor have been significant.)

I’ve also wanted to just eat more vegetables of all kinds, both for their deliciousness and health benefits. In particular, I noticed the past two winters that I had insane cravings for spinach, cooked and raw – spinach salad, spinach wrap, spinach soufflé, saag paneer and aloo saag, spanakopita, spinach soup, spinach quiche… wanting spinach every day, Bubba Gump-style.

So I decided to get a good blender and make the first meal of the day a smoothie – especially green smoothies!

Since January, other than the respiratory woes, I’m feeling a lot better and more energetic and my skin looks glowy. And I’m having a blast in the kitchen.

Of course, I’m as hedonistic as ever and my obsession with recreating restaurant dishes remains alive and well.

The recipe I have to share today is inspired by a sandwich at Aux Vivres, a vegan restaurant in Montreal cherished even by meat eaters. Everything there is divine, but my favorite thing is their Sirocco sandwich, a heavenly blend of hummus, tapenade, roasted eggplant and lettuce rolled into one of their enormous homemade whole-wheat chapatis.

Of course at home, I use spinach instead of lettuce, as to me lettuce is just useless chewing (few nutrients, no taste, mostly water, give me a Perrier instead).

Sirocco sandwiches are the best road food I’ve found yet. I took some on Greyhound in February to visit Marie in Boston for a long weekend and made enough to have some on the return trip, too. They were just as good on the trip home! I can’t wait to take some on a picnic. If you want to make a whole bunch at once, just roll them up and pop them in a Tupperware. They’ll keep for about five days in the fridge.

For this sandwich to be Aux Vivres quality, the hummus, tapenade and chapati would be homemade and you would roast your own red peppers. Feel free to experiment with any and all of these options. As a roll your own quickie sandwich, though, it’s very damn good.

* The Explanation: When I buy cheese, only to come home and unwrap the many layers of plastic to find that it has gone over and smells faintly of ammonia, and I take it back, and the grocer looks at me piteously, with my Anglo-Celtic face, and explains to me in a patronizing tone that “cheese is supposed to smell,” and I explain to him in a patronizing tone that “I am married to a Frenchman, who tells me the smell of ammonia means the cheese is no longer fit for human consumption,” and after we repeat our respective positions a couple of more times, he reluctantly concedes, I wait for 15-20 minutes for someone to fill out a paper on the incident that I must also complete and sign, and my money is finally refunded.

Easy Sirocco Sandwiches

Sirocco Eggplant (recipe below)

Tapenade (or substitute homemade black olive puree)


Roasted red pepper

Spinach or mixed greens

The best whole-grain tortillas, chapatis or other thin flatbread you can find (I use Kamut Azim, for those of you in Montreal)

At the bottom of the tortilla, spread a tablespoon of hummus. Spoon about a teaspoon of tapenade just above it. Top that with a few thin slices of roasted red pepper and 6-7 Sirocco Eggplant cubes. Top with a generous handful of greens and Roll Her Up!

If you don’t know how to roll a wrap, don’t worry! The packet of tortillas has a handy step-by-step diagram. Only the meanest, cheapest tortilla makers don’t include this act of kindness on their packaging, and you’re not buying their crap for this sandwich anyway.

Sirocco Eggplant

1 small eggplant or 3 small Japanese eggplant

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1½ tablespoons olive oil

Optional – Mediterranean herb blend such as Italian, Greek or Herbes de Provence

Dice eggplant into 1-inch cubes. (If not using Japanese eggplant, sprinkle cubes liberally with salt, wrap in paper towels and leave for 2 hours to remove bitterness. Rinse well and drain before proceeding.)

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic for a minute or so. Add eggplant and toss well to coat with olive oil. Pour in enough water to cover with a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, until eggplant is translucent, drain, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Keep in fridge for up to three weeks. Makes enough for about two tortilla packets’ worth of sandwiches. Can also be frozen and thawed in the fridge.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pay it forward: A handcrafted gift

Many of you know that I'm totally addicted to needlecrafts and candle and soap-making. So I am participating in a beautiful Pay It Forward project that I learned about on one of my favourite blogs, it's all yoga, baby:

What I will do:

  • I will make a handmade gift for the first three people who comment on this post
  • It doesn't matter how near or far you are -- I'll mail it anywhere!
  • I technically have 365 days to do this
  • What it will be and when it will arrive will be a total surprise

The catch for gift-receivers:

  • You must have a blog to participate
  • Before or after you comment here, you must do a write up of the pay it forward on your space and keep the “Good Karma” flowin’

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An American in Montreal

Welcome! I'm a transplanted Southerner in Montréal whose harp therapy career takes her around the world and back again. In this blog, I will share my thoughts and impressions of my adopted city, as well as more important things like recipes, especially soul food recipes. You can eat any ethnic cuisine you may fancy in Montreal (and believe me I do!) but I cook all my old favorites from home on a regular basis.
My New Year's Eves are a bit less wild than they were in my 20s, as I know I'll need plenty of time to make all the traditional Southern New Year's Day foods, so I usually just plan for it, get up and go to New Year's Mass and get my first pray of the year on, then come home and fry, simmer and bake.
I can't tell you how thrilled I was to discover collard greens at the Chinese grocery after about two years in Montreal! God bless the Chinese, they come through for me again and again and again. From okra to fried soft-shell crabs, I keep finding delicious foods I thought I'd said goodbye to when I left South Carolina.
This is my collards recipe, which I use to make Hopping John for New Year's. Hopping John is what we eat to have money and luck all year long. It's collards, rice and black-eyed peas (I just add more water to cook the dried blackeyed peas and rice when I make Hopping John. Also, I use wild rice to make it extra nutritious and flavorful!)

Collard Greens
Serves 4 to 6
1 bunch collard greens, washed, stems discarded and chopped
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus more water as needed for cooking
1/4 cup vinegar
2 sugar cubes
2 teaspoons hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 bacon strips or one slice ham (optional)
Combine bouillon, vinegar, sugar cubes, hot sauce and ham or bacon (if using) in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil. Add collard greens and add more water as needed to cover. Reduce heat to medium and cook for two to three hours, or until greens are dark green. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning as needed. Collards should be a blend between sweet, sour and spicy. Serve hot.

Collards go well with:
Grits (salt and pepper grits, cheese grits, shrimp and grits)
Pork and ham dishes
Potato dishes
Your favorite Southern fried dish (chicken, fish, shrimp, okra, eggplant, zucchini, squash, green tomatoes)

Another fantastic recipe, though this one is very right brained. I know I'm going to sound like somebody's absent-minded mama when I give it to you, but I'll do my best. This is to make the most incredible batter for frying all the Southern fried dishes mentioned above. I use it the most for green tomatoes (one of Fred's favourite dishes) and okra. It is unbelievably light and crispy, has great flavor and a smooth, satiny finish. It is wonderful for fried fish and shrimp, too.
You dredge whatever it is you want to fry in a plate of flour and put it on another plate. Take the leftover flour and pour it into a bowl. Then, pour in some beer (about a quarter of a cup at a time) and beat it with a whisk. It will foam, and then you'll start getting a batter. Repeat until your batter is the consistency of pancake batter. If you have too much beer and it's watery, just add more flour. If it's too thick, add more beer. Add some salt, pepper, and a little Cajun seasoning if you like. Now you are ready to start frying. I usually have at least one more beer ready in addition to the beer for the batter; it helps me stay relaxed while I'm frying.
Heat your oil (corn, peanut and canola are all good to use) to about 350 degrees. This is about medium or medium-high heat. Do not overheat your oil. When you put your hand over it, it should feel like an oven that you're about to bake bread in, not a kiln that you're about to bake pottery in.
Dip your fry bits into the batter and drop them in the hot oil. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan. Watch them carefully and turn regularly to check that everything is getting all golden on all sides. When they're ready, drain on paper towels. You can serve immediately or keep warm in the oven on 200 degrees for up to 30 minutes if you have any other business that needs tending to before dinnertime.