Archive | July, 2010

Birthdays are for embarrassing friends

31 Jul

It is tradition for me to bake my friend Richard’s birthday cake. After 4 years of silliness, the cake has come full circle, venturing into a parallel universe. The first cake came about after Richard found a ridiculous cake stand in the shape of a triple layer chocolate strawberry cake. After secretly studying the cake stand, I decided to create an edible replica of the cake stand  for his birthday. That was year #1.

cake and cake stand

year 1

Year 2 became a challenge. How could I create something as silly or mind-bending as the cake stand trick? How about a hot mess Barbie cake for a grown man? Why not? (note, store-bought icing would probably have been better visually but I opted for homemade buttercream and shoddy skirt decoration instead.)

Barbie cake

year 2

And then there was the disaster inspired by and a garage sale cotton-ball owl. Surely, one of the ugliest things every to leave my kitchen.

cakewreck owl cake


Year #4, what to do? Last winter I strolled into my local Salvation Army and found the vanilla version of the cake #1. So that’s what I did this year.

While doing a little collection development for the “cookery” section (who, besides a librarian, would use that word in a search?! it’s simply misleadery), I came across a recipe for a  birthday cake on the new (and snazzy) James Beard site. I skipped the buttercream icing in favour of some fresh whipped cream and topped with some Quebec strawberries. (In the background with candles an olive oil orange cake from Nick Malgieri‘s Modern Baker. Yummy and easy to make. See Alex’s previous post on olive oil for best results.)

cake assembly

cake assembly

cake with cake stand 2

year 4

Food in books, #2

30 Jul

From Nora Ephron’s Heartburn (also briefly blogged about here), talking about different potatoes at the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship

“Crisp potatoes require an immense amount of labor […]. All this takes time, and time, as any fool can tell you, is what true romance is about. In fact, one of the main reasons why you must make crisp potatoes in the beginning [of a relationship] is that if you don’t make them in the beginning, you never will. I’m sorry to be so cynical about this, but that’s the truth. [….]

Sometimes, when a loved one announces that he has decided to go on a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-salt diet (thus ruling out the possibility of potatoes, should you have been so inclined), he is signaling that the middle is ending and the end is beginning.

In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. [….] You can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re so blue is that there isn’t anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it’s almost always at the wrong time.”

Food in books, #1

28 Jul

From Holding still for as long as possible, by Zoe Whittall:

“I never followed recipes; baking was mostly science and intuition anyway. If you understood the basics and had a keen sense of pleasure, you were pretty much set. Like with sex.”

Olive oil Analysis See also Fraud Case studies

26 Jul

(that title was a librarian in-joke, btw)

What do you look for when choosing a wine? Normally, you look for a region or a country, a particular name, and/or a type of grape. You would also consider the context: is this going to be a cooking wine, an “evening in front of the TV” wine, or a bottle to bring to a dinner party?

Now, what do you look for when choosing olive oil? That’s right, olive oil, the old staple for cooking, dipping bread, or drizzling on salads or pasta (or, if you are like my friend’s mum, rubbing on your hands before bedtime).


I thought so.

I confess I too was woefully ignorant of the intricacies of olive oil production until recently. In fact, someone discouraged me from writing this post, exclaiming, “But they’ll think you’re stupid!” Be that as it may – as a Digestive Librarians’ Digest blogger, I have a responsibility, nay, a duty, to make sure you are all fully aware of the complexities of olive oil, and of the olive oil industry.

You see, I missed the 2007 New Yorker article that “exposed the underbelly of the global olive oil industry” (thanks to Lora for sending it along after I brought this subject up with her for a blog piece). Apparently, there is widespread fraud involving misleadingly-labelled olive oil: the problem, which is ongoing, involves both misleading origin labels (olive oil labelled Italian when it is not) and misleading product labels (olive oil that is half hazelnut, sunflower, or other oils, or even pressed olive waste).

Ew! If you, like me, are now wondering who is catching up with these olive oil scam fiends, you can check in with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who, according to the Globe and Mail (more on that article later), have caught “several companies importing oil labelled as extra virgin olive oil that was, in fact, blended with 50 per cent sunflower oil.” Observes the New Yorker, the E. U.’s anti-fraud office has set up an olive-oil task force, no less (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks”).

I was shaken out of my own ignorance on a recent visit to Grace in the kitchen, a lovely Ottawa store selling everything from dinnerware to espresso makers to soup mix and organic potato chips (you know I spent longest in that last area, don’t you?) They sometimes set up sampling stations for a new product, and a lineup of olive oils and tasty baguette was hard to resist. I casually sampled a bit, and promptly exclaimed, “Wow!” This was no ho-hum oil. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, heavenly. I quickly called over the husband to bear witness. The cashier mentioned that if I liked it, I should tell the guy who makes it, waving his arm at a young man lurking among the Art-is-in bread.

Turns out he was a member of the Fazari family, makers of the olive oil, rated No. 1 for value in Eyewitness Companions Olive Oil. The Fazaris were recently written up in the Globe and Mail, and their representative in Grace in the kitchen (I am so very sorry I now forget his name) patiently and engagingly described the olive oil scams to us, and the process of making real olive oil, without once seeming to talk down to us.

I learned that oil should say “made in Italy,” not “product of Italy;” the latter may mean that the oil comes from elsewhere and is only blended in the country. I learned that different olives taste differently, so you should be aware of what cultivar (variety) is being used (that seems so obvious when you say it, but I wasn’t checking it!)

We were thoroughly scandalised to discover that the oil we regularly buy is a “product of Italy” blend of who knows what; my husband asked about a local well-known Italian grocery chain as a result, wondering if we just shopped there we could steer clear of trouble. Our olive oil guide actually told us that even they carry many blended oils not made in Italy, although he did qualify that by saying they do carry some excellent olive oils. Apparently, the old “shop the perimeter of the grocery store, not the centre aisles” applies here as well: what our Italian grocer puts up at the front in the “fancy pants” section is the good stuff; what he stocks en masse at lower prices in the aisles is crap.

So as not to end on a yucky note,  and as a final treat, here is some eye candy:

Olearia San Giorgio olive oil

Olearia San Giorgio olive oil: lovely clear yellow colour

And as a reminder, here is what the Globe article mentioned to pay attention to when choosing olive oil:

  • Family’s name
  • Country of origin (“made in!”)
  • Cultivars (varieties) used
  • The address of the estate and production (these should be close together; says the Globe, “the sooner a picked olive is milled the better”)
  • Importer’s information
  • Best-before date
  • Lot number; country-of-origin, region-of-origin classification
  • Amount of monounsaturated fat (should be about 75% of total fat content)

Summer Smoothie

25 Jul

by Amanda Halfpenny


summer smoothie

I enjoy nothing more on a hot summer’s day than a cool fruit smoothie. My first experiences making smoothies were inspired by a Moroccan roommate for whom it was normal on a trip to the grocery store to buy at least 15 bananas at once. At first I thought he was absolutely crazy. How could someone possibly attempt to eat so much fruit without it going bad? Yet he would make delicious smoothies on a daily basis and showed me that they can be one of the most effective ways to get your recommended daily fruit servings in one tall glass of refreshing goodness.
Winter smoothies are great because most fruit that is available in the winter like apples and bananas are extremely tasty in smoothie-form. Nothing though compares to the taste and sensation of drinking a fruit smoothie on a hot sunny day in the summer.
This smoothie that I made today was an especially refreshing reward to down after a 45 minute jog in the humid heat of July. I made it with fresh strawberries and raspberries from Nova Scotia, an Ontarian peach, an organic banana from Ecuador and a combination of chocolate soy milk and regular milk. How refreshing!

Check out Amanda’s bio on the Contributors page.

teany treats

24 Jul

Born of a hangover, bred by the lovely Kelly Tisdale and then-boyfriend musician Moby, and comfortably nestled in a sunny nook in New York City’s Lower East Side neighbourhood, teany could be one of the gastronomical highlights of your next trip to Manhattan. It was for me when I visited the city on a whirlwind mother-daughter trip to celebrate the merciful completion of my interminable undergraduate degree in the winter of 2008, just prior to starting library school that fall. And here, my friends, is why.

Sweet Apple Plum Tea steeping in teany tea pot

teany tea #69: Sweet Apple Plum

First off, teany revolves around tea; 98 varieties, to be exact. Suffering from hangovers and bemoaning the lack of proper local establishments serving comforting tea and rich food to aid in recovery, Moby and Kelly decided to open their very own tea shop in May 2002. While the teas and tisanes are lovely served hot, the cold tea concoctions offer an interesting departure from tradition for those who are so inclined. These include the Teany Antioxidant Cooler (with a base of white tea), the Peach and Tea Milkshake (with chai tea), and the Lavender Lemonade. We tried tea #69: Sweet Apple Plum and found it to be the perfect balance of tart and sweet thanks to the mix of hibiscus and apple.

Second, teany welcomes everyone with a menu that appeals to a wide range of tastes, while catering specifically to vegetarians and vegans. This placed it at the top of my list of NYC vegetarian/vegan must-eats that also included Cafe Blossom and Angelica Kitchen. Teany snackers can indulge in tea sandwiches, scones and petit fours (bite-sized desserts) alongside their tea, while hungrier visitors can opt for heartier fare ranging from the Cashew Butter Sandwich to the Asian Vegetable and Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce. Tea even makes its way into the food, as with the green tea-infused jasmine rice.

Third, teany is tiny. I’ve already shared my adoration for things in miniature, so there’s no need for me to belabour the point, but I do think it necessary to mention this aspect of teany’s charm. It’s in the name and it reinforces the shop’s low-key, local, neighbourhood appeal. The mini vases of flowers placed on the tables and the tea lights tucked into small holes carved in the shop’s brick wall complete a decor that already radiates warmth thanks to large south-facing windows.

Fourth, there’s the neighbourhood itself. A visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum had endeared me to the area on a previous trip with my Liberal Arts program in college back in 2000, and further exploration this time around revealed an abundance of foodie delights (Guss’ Pickles! The Doughnut Plant!) alongside the Lower East Side’s historic appeal and friendly inhabitants. Staff inquired after our visit and a handsome fellow diner (complete with newsboy cap) indulged my interest in teany’s origins by explaining that Kelly had taken over sole ownership of the cafe in recent years.

teany spread: apricot scone, chili, sweet apple plum tea, grilled cheese with ploughman's pickles

teany spread: apricot scone, chili, sweet apple plum tea, grilled cheese with ploughman's pickles

Last, and certainly not least considering the authorship of this blog, teany has a companion book. Yes! You read that right! Get it at your local library! It’s a gem that conveys the eclectic spirit of the place through an enticing blend of humourous anecdotes, tea-inspired musings, and delicious recipes. Read it cover to cover, refer to recipes as needed, or flip to a favourite feature when you need a quick pick-me-up; my favourites include “Comrade Moby’s Revisionist Prehistory of Teany”, “Lulu’s Tea Party” (a photospread of teany’s youngest regular enjoying a tea party with her friends real and stuffed while discussing “the pernicious lack of transparency in the operations of the international monetary fund” and dancing to the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK), and “T.” (a poem by teany regular Dimitri Ehrlich). As for the recipes, I’ve found a perfect potluck offering in the Avocado, Beat, and Mango salad with Blood Orange Tea Vinaigrette (aka Dish of Bliss).

Oh, and did I mention teany’s mascots, two tea robots purchased at an outsider art fair? Enough said.

; I’ve found a perfect potluck companion in the avocado, beat, and mango salad with blood orange tea vinaigrette (aka dish of bliss) and am eager to try the Indian dishes,

DigLibDig on (stuff your) Facebook

20 Jul

Please come by and give us a like, post some pictures of food, and consider writing for us.

Digestive Librarians’ Digest now on Facebook

Share your information. Share your food.

Pouding chômeur

Pouding chômeur, a Quebec sugar shack favourite

Lobster tales 2 : Sfogliatella

18 Jul

Sfogliatella, lobster tails from Patisserie Alati-Caserta

Sfogliatella / lobster tails from Patisserie Alati-Caserta

Lobster season continues.  The pastry pictured above is an Italian favourite. Sfogliatella translates to many leaves, or many layers. This pastry also goes by the name of code di argosta – meaning lobster tail.

I should have put my hand in there for scale. They’re monsters and these 2 fed 6 people. The outside is a flaky layered pastry and the inside is filled with a creamy ricotta that has strong hints of citrus and vanilla.  The bakery that makes these, Patisserie Alati-Caserta , is in the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy. They also make cannoli, cookies, intricate marzipan fruits, special Easter pastries, almond cake, and spumoni ice cream. The Calderone family has been running the business since 1968. If, for whatever reason, I stop  librarianing you will find me at the door of this bakery begging for a job.

A lot of what I know of my Italian heritage is about food. I don’t speak the language, although I am trying to teach myself Italian using free podcasts and books . I’ll let you know how that goes when I actually have to use it and I’m prepared to use the same line I use when people ask me how I learned French. To quote Manuel of Fawlty Towers “I learned it from a book”.

Fridays are for foodies (chez moi)

18 Jul

Tofu with spinach and red pepper, in home-made peanut sauce

I work alternate Saturdays, which means I have the Fridays prior to those days off work. This makes for a strange schedule that often confounds attempts to plan weekend getaways, and will likely prove to be even more irritating when more humans are added into the family mix one day. In the meantime, I secretly quite love my Fridays off. They are all mine, to do with as I please, and the most recent one was an example of a more or less perfect day (well, a massage and a butler would have made it utterly perfect, but, well, let’s be realistic).

One of my favourite things to do on a Friday off is cook something elaborate or try a new recipe. I often find myself thinking how sad it is that our frantically busy world more or less prevents anyone from eating properly, or slowly, or truly enjoying the act of cooking a meal on a regular basis. [In the interests of full disclosure, I also work two evenings a week, which really messes with dinner hour]. Fridays off are my chance to push the pause button for a measly 24 hours and re-capture the fun of cooking.

I wasn’t raised in an family of elaborate home cookers. My mother has some fabulous family recipes that she has shared with me, and some of my earliest memories are of helping her bake. During my school years, however, both my parents worked: I remember my father as the more improvisational, “forget measuring” kind of cook. He seemed to relish the chance to play in the kitchen, although he rarely had the time for it. Perhaps I got my love of food from him, since he loved many foods passionately even though his diet was restricted by medication and illness. Despite being under strict orders to avoid salt, I remember him spiriting me away for a plate of fries at a diner once on vacation, with strict orders “not to tell your mother;” I often wonder if this salty taboo explains my tendencies towards savoury over sweet. My mother says I certainly got the habit of drinking a glass of something (in my case, wine; in my father’s case, sherry) while watching over a pot on the stove from him. After his death, the rest of my childhood and youth is a blur of school lunches, harried dinners before my mom’s meetings, interspersed with mother-daughter pizza nights I treasured and the occasional delicious home-made chocolate chip square.

I only came to truly love cooking, however, and to be comfortable enough to experiment with it, in university, via a friend who first introduced me to brie, coffee made in a French press, and sun-dried tomatoes.

In many ways, I still live the life my mother lived (as sure a sign as any that I truly admire her passion and love of her chosen vocation): harried dinners before or after meetings and packed lunches to work (high school tuna salad sandwiches replaced with salad and fruit). Food doesn’t always come first, and it’s sort of tragic, I think, that with the way our weekday world structures itself, there is little room for devotion to a particular meal.

Potato salad

On alternate Fridays, however, food does come first in our house. This past Friday, after a leisurely breakfast and coffee over a novel, I planned my dinner (a mix of tried-and-true potato salad my mother used to make for me, and a new Asian-inspired tofu and veggie stir-fry, since the husband was pining for Asian food). I combined a long jog with a trip to the grocery store, spent the afternoon relaxing and cooking, to have dinner on the table when my tired husband came home.

I would probably get bored with a stay-at-home life on a regular basis, and I am admittedly a workaholic who is devoted to her professional life. Alternate Fridays, however, to be a lady of leisure who shops for the evening’s dinner and meets her husband at the door, are a gift, an homage to an earlier, less busy time, when dinner hour was sacred and meals were prepared with care.

The hidden side of your fruit

18 Jul

This is entirely random, but somehow utterly fascinating.

I just can’t help imagining the conversation that resulted in this blog:

“Hey, dude, let’s stick that watermelon in the MRI machine, eh? Heh heh.”

That being said, the view of an artichoke is nothing less than miraculous.