I have learned a great deal about the food industry over the last year. Over that time, I’ve taken a more proactive approach to cooking for myself following a moderate set of ethical guidelines that I’ve established in accordance to my new knowledge. There were some difficult moments and meals where I blankly ignored what I knew. The summer however has brought on a wealth of new flavors and ingredients that have provided me the means to easily follow a diet that is both more sustainable and healthier.
One issue I face during the year that affects my eating habits is the desire for diversity. In North America, with the annually available products from around the world in the grocery stores, this is not so hard to do. But doing so means sacrificing your appreciation for fresh ingredients. So often, you pick up a fruit or vegetable that has traveled (literally)thousands of miles to be there, was picked before being ripe and was grown on massive industrial farms where artificial fertilizers provided the necessary nutrients for their flavor profile… Fresh produce, in season, from locally sourced farms that practice sustainable agriculture taste vastly different from what we are used to seeing at the grocery store. Over the last weeks I’ve enjoyed a plethora of wonderful foods both colorful and nutritious that have helped me try new things in the kitchen. Much of that experimenting has been simple; fresh produce doesn’t need much work to taste good, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become creative again. I had gotten bored during the winter months and seemed to use produce redundantly, without any attempt at trying new things. Of course, the summer also provides a great deal more to work with.
Here are some dishes I quickly put together over the last 2 weeks that I enjoyed. You’ll find that there are reoccurring ingredients in these dishes… The fresh produce I’ve used the most recently has been green peas, broad beans, carrots, radishes, fresh leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes. Last weekend, at the Jean-Talon market, I learned that the corn season had just started…
Tuesday the 28th of June was a day to be remembered by looking back at the food we ate. It was our first day in NY, and I had planned a host activities; eating, coffee, galleries, and museums. Things didn’t quite go as planned, but our day was fulfilling and very rewarding, especially from a foodie perspective.
It all started off with a breakfast at Pies and Thighs, a southern eatery in Williamsburg. Small and casual the restaurant gives the impression of being in someones small kitchen, where street signs are collected and hung from the walls, where kids and adults have fun with arts and crafts and where a counter of the most delicious and self indulgent looking pastries bring in locals and foreigners from far and wide for copious amounts of eating and pleasure. This is no holds barred eating: you’re not going for its healthy qualities; instead you go because the food in comforting and homey, perfectly executed and delicious.
A bright and sunny day, Carolina and I were eager for some new experiences and Pies n Thighs did not disappoint. My chicken and waffles were one of the best things I’ve ever had. Personally, the secret to a great breakfast is a careful balance of sweet and savory elements, with both enhancing each others qualities and flavors. In this case, the salty element was none other than wonderfully deep fried chicken. Thick and crunchy, the batter wasn’t oily or soggy, and the chicken inside remained juicy and wasn’t too fatty. The blackberry waffles on the other hand were moist and flavorful, with a delicate paper thin crispy layer on the outside providing some textural support for the dough. Thankfully, this dish isn’t to be found in Montreal at the moment, cause it’s a dangerous one…
Carolina’s Hippie Banjo consisted of good cheddar cheese, eggs, avocado, tomatoes, sprouts and mayo on homemade Anadama bread. The sandwich was finished off in a buttered pan, and was a nice mix of decadence and simplicity. The bread was amazing.
Josh’s Chicken Biscuit, a popular item, was a crisp butter pastry with a fried breaded chicken breast and some hot sauce… oh boy. There’s nothing really to be said I guess, but here goes anyway, the pastry was light and dense in the way a good butter pastry is; deceiving you into believing that it’s not as bad for you as it really is, and the chicken was once again moist, and offered the requisite bread crumb crunch. The hot sauce finished it off, with a nice spicy kick, and the result was a heart clogging nightmare of a dish, in the best of ways…
We left more than satisfied and took the subway into town. We had planned on going to the New Museum, but it was closed. We made a stop instead at the Strand Bookstore, a jewel of place for anyone with any interest in reading or/and books. (2 pleasures that are not necessarily associated…) We spent some time perusing and reading the first lines of books we’d heard about, or had already read. I remember reading the first line of a Virginia Woolf book that was beautiful. I wish I remembered what book… Merde! I’ve never read her, but I’ll be buying some of her work next time I’m at a bookstore. Truman Capote once wrote that “From the point of view of ear, Virginia Woolf never wrote a bad sentence…” *The Paris Review.
After buying two Roberto Bolano books, we chose to walk to the High Line, an urban garden built on an old unused freight railroad spur. Almost 2 kilometers long, it weaves its way up the west side of the island, starting in the old meat packing district and going all the way up past 30th street. It’s an amazing example of creative urban planning. With numerous well kept plants and a walkway with benches and view points spread throughout the project, it’s become both a tourist attraction, a place for locals to read and relax, and a new green space in Manhattan.
Before getting there we walked through NYU’s spreading campus, Soho; which is lame as far as I’m concerned, but happened to be on our way; and some amazing townhouses in the lower west side. Somewhere along the way, we had lunch at a semi fancy Mexican restaurant.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name or location of the restaurant, but I do think that it was on Hudson st. The highlight was the Habanero sauce that came with the corn chips. Very spicy, very good. I can’t remember what exactly it was that I ate, but it involved enchiladas covered in an herb and cheese sauce. Carolina’s dish was stuffed with chicken and potatoes, but wasn’t as good as mine…
Afterwords, we enjoyed very good espressos at a small chain called Joe. With 6 locations in NY, this is a good alternative to chain coffee such as Starbucks… The coffee was fruity, with a nice acidic finish an oily texture and “lasting crema”.
Tired after a long day of walking and stimulation we returned to my cousin’s apartment, relaxed and planned our evening…
Amongst a row of industrial buildings is an unassuming facade with a window protected by metal grating, a small wooden bench, an ATM machine, and a door over which a red sign with the name Roberta’s is written. What hides within is one of Brooklyn’s hippest restaurants. Housed in a former garage, Roberta’s, a pizzeria, is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike; with a large outdoor waiting area where drinks can be had, and what appeared to be a radio station booth.
With 2 relatively large rooms, on Tuesday night when the 5 of us went out for dinner, the place was packed and we waited over 1 hour for a table. During that time, we drank, I shared some thoughts about the Quebec separation issue, and we wondered what alternative cities we’d like to live in.
I remember not being that enthusiastic about the pizza toppings they proposed, but the crusts of the pizzas being served had black bubbles of burnt dough exactly the way I like it, and I remained excited about the prospect of biting into a slice of traditionally cooked pizza. We also ordered a plate of charcuteries and cheeses, as well as a salad. Unfortunately, the food was so so. The pizzas were good, with the margherita as our agreed favorite, but there was nothing that distinguished them from other good pizza places I’ve been to to warrant the kind of attention Roberta’s has been getting. The crust was good, but the sauces and toppings were a bit lifeless…
Don’t get me wrong,Roberta’s is a good restaurant, with above above average pizzas and a fantastic atmosphere. They have also initiated a fantastic project whereby they currently grow 20% of their produce in green houses behind the restaurant and in a backyard garden not too far away. This kind of progressive approach to owning a restaurant adds to its charm. The menu changes with the produce available, and as a customer it’s nice to know that some of what your eating comes from, literally, a few meters away. And so, Roberta’s, hidden away amongst poorly used industrial warehouses and garages, in an area yet to be developed, is in some ways a community project as well as an eatery, and through this, they’ve achieved a measure of popularity and appreciation that is deserved. I’d definitely return, but it wouldn’t really be for the food…
Things have been moving along at the same moderate pace on the home-front. We’ve gone back to eating without restrictions, which hasn’t been all that unhealthy. It’s simpler to eat out and I’ve spent less time in the kitchen recently, which is a good thing being that the weather has decided to cooperate in the best of ways recently. Warm, sunny and dry. Never overwhelming. Lovely.
I finished the Pablo Neruda biography by Adam Feinstein and started a university history textbook on Latin America, as well as a Julio Cortazar book entitled “Los Premios”, or, in English, “The winners”. I’m reading it in French though, so I’m actually reading a book called “Les gagnants”!
The textbook is dense and boring but it’s an accurate, researched and as close to objective as can be resource. My plan is to finish it and follow it up with a book I recently found about the fight for aboriginal rights in South America. Sounds interesting. The Julio Cortazar book is what I get to read before going to bed, and occasionally, during the day, when the dense account of 3 centuries of history becomes unbearable.
Anyways, this post is not about books, or reading, or history: it’s about a nice salad and a wonderful day.
A quick recipe: 1.Spinach pasta– In our case, store bought but fresh.
– Boil, rinse, and let it cool down with some extra virgin olive oil 2.Carrots
– Grate. 🙂 3.Red Cabbage
– Thinly slice 4.Parmesan
– Grate. 5.Olive oil and seasoning
That’s it, and you know what, it was great.
Now on to the wonderful day Carolina and I shared on Sunday, when the sun was shinning, the breeze was gentle and the air refreshing.
We woke up early to explore a neighborhood we rarely set foot in called St-Henri. A new coffee roaster, named after the neighborhood, has opened there and I was excited to discover the coffee and space.
The space is simple and elegant; with church pews and cute wooden chairs playing off the charcoal and grey tones of the wall, floor and ceiling. The roaster is one of a new wave of coffee makers popping up around North America. Hip, experimental and passionate, groups of (mostly) younger coffee aficionados are going about producing a mini coffee revolution; establishing an alternative to the large corporate hegemony that developed North America’s love for coffee during the 90s and 2000s. More involved in the roasting and picking of the beans, these artisans are offering exciting new options at small coffee shops around the continent. This is the first one of this kind that I know of in Montreal, and they are slowly developing their coffee. It was better this weekend than when I had tried it some weeks ago at the restaurant I work at. Good to see it improving.
There are a great many more, but these are a few you can look into.
So, on to the Lachine canal. Running through Montreal, weaving an imperfectly parallel line with the St-Lawrence, is a canal that was used for a number of different purposes over the last centuries. It’s an inland waterway, on which you can plan water activities such as kayaking, and which inspired the creation of a 15 kilometer bike path that follows its gentle meandering current. What a joy. I’m ashamed to say that I had never followed the bike path before, but oh-so pleased to know that it is there for my enjoyment. On Sunday, I felt liberated. I swooned over Montreal and it’s many treasures and I rejoiced in my discovery. One must absolutely bike down the Lachine canal on a nice day. Bring some food, a book, a sporting good, whatever, but make it a mission for yourself. You won’t regret it. For those of you from out of town, there are bike and boat rental stations, as well as small restaurants and a harbor near the end of the bike ride where you can relax and enjoy life. aha. It’s also very family friendly.