Author Archives: Eric L

Lunchtime Crunchtime

 

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

There’s been this strange economizing thing that’s come over me in the past few weeks – since my return from London, I suspect. I actually have found that the mantra my mate Marie used, “Credit crunch – packed lunch!” seems to have gotten stuck into my conciousness and the result is that rather than popping out for something to eat at lunchtime, I’ve been scouring my cupboards in the morning.

Trying to discover what strange and odd bits and pieces I can cobble together into something resembling a meal has become a bit of a daily habit. This particular day, cold yet sunny, I’d just had my organic box delivery with persimmons but I’d not had the opportunity to do much else with the rest of the lot. Leftover heels of bread from my weekly bake (another credit-crunch-worthy endeavour – keeps better and tastes far superior to any regular old plastic bagged loaf) with a tin of bargain-priced sardines in a mustard sauce. Quick toast of the bread, remove the spines from the fish, a quick mash on toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and lunch is had.

Quick note on the sardines… I never NEVER in my life suspected that I might be one of those people who actually willingly eat these little guys. I’d hated the thought of eating them – to me they were simply a treat for the cat! Until I moved overseas and my friend showed me the error of my ways. Remove the spines if you must, as I do, and the texture is simply lovely. Light and without any of the suspected fishy smell or overtly sea-like undertones. Its actually quite mild, a bit like tuna in that respect. If you’re a lady, you may decide that crunching the bones is a good source of calcium but I cannot in any good conscience recommend it. Oh, and a good Gourmet magazine to read is always a welcome companion.

Be careful what you wish for…

I really should heed my own advice so readily given to others; had I done so I might have made things a little easier for myself. The problem is this: I’ve become a food writing snob. Yes, I know, I’m a bit of a snob on my best days, This, however, is different.

In one of my very first food writing classes we were asked to categorize what we felt was good food writing. And when we’d bantered enough the professor finally clued us in to what is the difference between food writing excellence and food blabbing. Food blabbing, she said, focusses around the “me”; “I did this…” or “We went there…” without any kind of point or purpose. Conversely, Food Writing is GREAT WRITING with food merely the subject. If the writing is poor, the editing shoddy and the subject outdated – why bother wasting time to read it?

Wow.

I suddenly started to look to what makes food writing so interesting and good and what makes a bad piece REALLY bad. And I’ve realized that most of the writers that I enjoy reading (particularly with food as a subject) are GREAT WRITERS. Never mind what they write about – the subject has become irrelevant to me in many regards. Primarily, I’m interested in the writing. Gourmet, Food Arts, Everyday Food, MSL, Saveur – all excellent examples of outstanding food writing. Bon Appetit? Rachel Ray Everyday? No so much. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion but there are standards – clearly defined and logical standards that can be used to determine the quality of the writing.

Having said that, I’ve been asked recently how I feel about certain other food blogs out there. More and more bloggers are brokering book deals, others have published a book already and others are asked to participate in various magazine roundup type articles, sample products etc. Sometimes the quality is there but for the most part, frankly, I can’t be bothered now reading what they have to say. Its self-indulgent blathering – not food writing. Muffin Top is not only meeting these standards of excellent writing, educational and timely in delivery but for the most part exceeds my own grasp of language and structure and certainly, interest.

I hold myself, now, to the same standard. If I cannot say something newsworthy, educational or at least damn well written – I won’t say it at all. I’ve raised the bar for myself and I only hope that I can leap over it.

A return to sorted

There’s a great big huge gap since I last posted and I’m just now realizing how much I’ve missed it. Thanks to Christine and Connie’s insistance that I make a larger effort to share where I am and where I’ve been, I’ve been seriously considering what it is I have to say. I’ve discovered that its a lot, actually. There’s a lot to say about who I am now, what I’ve been through and how much my view of food, blogging and “food blogging” has changed.

Right, up to speed… I’ve been enrolled in the part-time culinary training program at George Brown College here in Toronto since September last year. I’ve also managed to move from my old design agency to a new one – with a massive boost in both responsibility and payscale along the way. Its been a challenge to try and manage these substantial life changes – not to mention some family issues, squeezing in a holiday to Mexico, several trips to L.A., Quebec City and San Francisco (where Christine and I finally – FINALLY – met in real life!). The one thing that has remained somewhat constant is that I’ve missed writing but felt as though I had nothing of any consequence to say – nothing of substance to contribute. I certainly kept in touch with my fellow MuffinToppers and other blogs of interest for their continued excellent reportage of things both small and grand but there was no passion left in my heart to even attempt to bring my literary skills into focus.

Things have changed. I’ve finally got something to say! About things grand and small, attitudes and beliefs, tastes and samples. At college I’ve gotten through Food Theory – Basic, Food Theory – Advanced, Nutrition and Communications for Hospitality and I find myself now taking a slight detour for the summer. My new course, Food Writing Level 1 isn’t part of my chef training program but rather a landmark “Food and the Media” certificate program (don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on this one soon enough… Keep your tongs in your crock, we’ll get to that). How ironic that the thing that brought me back to writing is… writing!

I guess this is something that every writer discovers at some point or another: if all else fails to get to writing; write something. Anything. By getting my literary mojo on for class and the required writing assignments, I’ve become interested in my voice again. I really do have something to say and finally, I’m not afraid to say it. By turns, I can and will most likely be controversial, aggressive, sweet, inquisitive, compassionate, fearless and benevolent. What I can no longer afford to be is quiet. A return of sorts to myself is where I am – and what comes next might be fun. Stay tuned for the ride.

S’Mac!

The past weekend in New York was a whirlwind of planes, taxis, walking for umpteen hours and finally crashing out in a low-star hotel in Soho. My partner and I, along with a very good friend, took a little weekend trip to celebrate my upcoming birthday (which is actually today, for those who wish to know :-)

None of this would have been worthwhile without some kind of goal – a purpose, a mission, a raison d’etre – and mine was to EAT. This was to be the first of, hopefully, many pilgrimages to NYC – the gastronomic capital of the East Coast (with San Francisco being the West Coast equivalent, natch).

Our first refueling stop in the East Village (after trolling through the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy – more on that later) was S’MAC – run by Sarita Ekya and her husband Caesar. Sarita, an expat Canadian, opened the macaroni and cheese destination earlier this year to a rainy opening night – and crowds that ran around the block. The day we were there Sarita and her staff treated us to excellent service, amazingly friendly smiles and the time that is not normally taken by proprietors to share the experience with their patrons.

All for good reason! At S’MAC you can order one of about 20 different macaroni and cheese dishes ranging from Cajun to All-American to Indian styled; if you don’t find one to your liking? Make your own! Order from one of three sizes ranging from Nosh (a hearty serving for one) to Major Munch to Mongo (family sized, surely).

My friend Caterina had the Cajun with andouille sausage, peppers, cheese and a great topping of breadcrumbs (for, really, what is mac and cheese without breadcrumbs?) My partner made his own with parsley and bacon whilst I went for the rosemary/andouille sausage combo.

Not only is the dish amazingly tasty but served in a portion sized cast iron skillet that helps keep the entire dish warm till you’re finished is just too cute for words.

The space itself is creative, orange and yellow splashes enliven the exposed brick and the tiny open kitchen lets you see right to the heart of the operation. No reheating only going on here; sauce, noodles and fillings are combined a la minute and topped (or not, your choice) before being hit with the heat of the salamander to crisp up the topping.

With our bellies full of amazing mac and cheese and a beautifully warm welcome from Sarita (and a promise to stay in touch), we headed out into the warm New York autumn, fueled for what ended up being a marathon 200 block trek uptown and back. More on that to come (along with my dinner at Babbo!)