Friday, September 30, 2005

Responds well to orders

pear and almond tartlets
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

A few weeks ago, an old co-worker of mine got in touch with me and asked if I could whip something up as a surprise for his girlfriend's birthday. He was thinking picnic fare: something with fruit which could be easily transported and eaten without utensils. To me, picnic=tarts. It's that simple.

Since the berries were all gone, I went with a fall classic: pear and frangipane. I made individual tartlets which are easier to carry than full-sized tarts, and need no portioning. Plus I got to use my cute little molds!

I poached pear halves in white wine, sugar, lemon peel and vanilla until they were tender. I rolled out my tart dough, filled it with frangipane, to which I added some grated sapote for that extra little something, and place a pear half in the middle. I baked them until the frangipane was golden and the pear was super tender. I glazed them with the leftover poaching liquid and garnished them with lemon thyme from our garden.

We ate one of the "uglier" ones, to test it, of course. It was perfectly fall. There are several pears in season at the moment, including my favourites: Flemish Beauties and Seckel. Now is definitely the time for pears, so take advantage of them before the cranberries take over.

I hope they liked the tartlets, and, yes, I do take orders.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Buy my preserves!

You may have been wondering why I've been a little slow to post lately. It's all because when I haven't been at work, I've been locked in my kitchen making preserves to sell at Puces Pop, Pop Montreal's Indie Fair, coming up this weekend. (Well, OK, I've also been playing with the cats a lot.) I've got plum-honey jam, carrot-cardamom confiture, rhubarb-grapefruit preserve, confiture de lait (a.k.a. dulce de leche), pear-vanilla-bourbon butter, white peach and raspberry preserve, Seville orange maramlade, and l'Autrichienne, an apple-walnut preserve which was a favourite from last year's Christmas gift-giving. There may even be a few jars of Meyer lemon marmalade available (!).

You can stock up on preserves this Saturday and Sunday, October 1st and 2nd, from 11:00-7:00, at the Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal Armory Building, 3721 Henri-Julien (& Pine, or "Avenue des Pins," if you like). There will also be local clothing designers, publishers, and record labels selling their wares.

Of course, if you just want to stop by, taste some of my FREE SAMPLES, and meet me, my sister, and maybe even Anthony, that's cool, too.

For more information on Puces Pop (in case you're wondering, the name refers to marché aux puces, French for flea market), check out their website:

See you there.


Monday, September 26, 2005

On Bees, Honey, and Miels d'Anicet

miel d'automne
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

A couple of weeks ago, Anicet of Miels d'Anicet stopped by Les Chèvres to drop off some of his wares for a Equiterre benefit dinner. Michelle and I both really like our honey, and we're always on the lookout for something interesting or something particularly excellent in the world of honey, but neither of us had ever heard of Les Miels d'Anicet before that day. Michelle came back raving. They'd held a little dégustation of one of Anicet’s honeys right there in the restaurant and Michelle raced back after work to tell me about it. She decided that we needed at least a couple of types of Miels d'Anicet immediately, if not sooner. She knew that there was a health food store next to Jean-Talon Market that stocked their honey, but she wasn't sure if she'd get a chance to go there for a few days. The next day she found them even closer to home, at Kilo, on St.-Viateur.

Anicet is a young man in his early twenties who took over the family beekeeping operation in 1998 and plunged headlong into the art and the trade of beekeeping. Les Miels d'Anicet are 100% organic—their bees travel “pesticide-free, chemical fertilizer-free and GMO-free land”—and they're made with obvious care, but what really sets Anicet's honey apart is the way he approaches the art of apiculture. His philosophy is simple yet radical in this day and age. In short, “bees first.” There’s a deep appreciation of the monumental amount of work done by the bees in order to produce even the smallest amounts of honey at Miels d’Anicet, and the prevailing attitude there is “less is more”: that the best honey will result from respect for the bees, from a lack of human intervention. For this reason, the entire line of Miels d’Anicet is non-pasteurized, and the star of their line is their non-filtered raw honey. Like most other apiaries, Miels d’Anicet offers a number of varietals, but you won’t find clover honey among them. Like everything else about their line, their varietals are thoughtful and intriguing: buckwheat, wild berry, wild mint, their grand cru “select honey,” which is harvested from wild cranberry bushes, and, perhaps most unusual, their entirely non-flower based evergreen honey. What struck us both as being a particularly brilliant innovation, however, was Miels d’Anicet’s selection of seasonal honey: spring, summer, and fall. Michelle came home with a jar of the rich, warm, and full-bodied fall honey and we've been savoring it ever since.

Michelle dreams of keeping bees—after all, The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck is one of her all-time favorite books and one of her most highly prized editions—and although the fullest form of this fantasy involves a country home, she’s also very keen on urban beekeeping. She was ecstatic when we came across the bee hives kept inside Le Jardin du Luxemburg in Paris, bee hives that have been maintained by beekeeping aficionados there for two centuries now so that they can raise bees, produce honey and beeswax, and teach apiculture to others, and she’s talked of setting up some hives on the roof of our apartment building ever since. While my enthusiasm for beekeeping isn’t nearly as strong as Michelle’s (for the moment, at least), I have to admit to being fascinated by the life of the beekeeper, by the rewards of cultivating honey oneself and by the legendary longevity associated with beekeeping in some parts of the world. This fascination grew exponentially last year when I came across the following passage in Alan Davidson’s A Kipper With My Tea: “Scholars who have studied the matter, and who can produce lists of scores of beekeepers who have lived to over a hundred years, believe that a combination of factors is at work—eating honey, consuming with it a certain amount of pollen, and the generally beneficial effects of a calm and productive way of life in a health-promoting environment. Noting that many of the famous centenarians of the Caucasus worked in apiaries, Naum Ioyrish observed that 138-year-old Safar Husein attributed his long life to eating honey and to working in an apiary; while 150-year-old Mahmud Eivazov considered that working in the open air, in his own bee-garden, was the best elixir for longevity.”

I think were still a ways off from setting up our bee hives on our roof, but in the meantime we’re very happy to have found Miels d’Anicet’s lovely line of honey. We’ve taken to have a spoonful of the raw honey everyday as a tribute to the great centenarians of the Caucasus and in order to ward off anything that might seek to ail us. We both feel better already.

Les Miels d’Anicet are produced by Api Culture Hautes Laurentides Inc., 111, Rang 2 Gravel, Ferme-Neuve, Quebec, (819) 587-4825, You can find their range of honey at some of your better local health food stores.

PS—If you've already read The Life of the Bee and you’re looking for another classic of apiarian literature, Michelle strongly recommends Edwin Way Teale’s The Golden Throng, not to be confused with Paris Hilton’s sordid, far-from-classic, and decidedly non-apiarian The Golden Thong.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cocoa Locale

Reema and Murad in action
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I have made two trips already to Montreal's newest cake shop, Cocoa Locale. It must be the city's tiniest bakery. It is as cute as a button, sweetly done in pink and brown (one of my favourite combinations). Its selection changes daily: cakes, cookies and tarts of all kind. I must recommend the chocolate cupcake. It is impossibly moist. The spicy brownie also piqued my interest. Next time. I am super-thrilled for the owner, Reema, who has dreamed of having her own bakery since before I can remember. Go and take a look-see. You owe it to yourself.

Cocoa Locale: 4807 ave du Parc, near Villeneuve.


chocolate cupcake
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

"It's better with buckwheat!"

At this point in time I think it's safe to say that we're in love with Birkett Mills. We loved the town of Penn Yan, NY, the town that Birkett Mills calls home. We loved the old mill buildings there, the massive griddle that graces the side of the main building, and the story of Birkett Mills' brief reign as the manufacturer of the world's largest pancake. We love their packaging. We love their Bessie brand Unbleached Pastry Flour and the fantastic crusts it produces [more on this later]. And after this morning's buckwheat pancake feast, it's official, we love Birkett Mills' Puritan Self-Raising Buckwheat Pan Cakes mix, too.

Open up Birkett Mills' Retail Product Catalog and you'll find a two-page spread on "Buckwheat's Best-Kept Secrets." These include "two-pronged protection" against cancer, anti-cholesterol and antioxidant qualities, its status as "the best know grain source of high-quality protein," and its powers as an aid to digestion. Later on in the booklet there's a short capsule on Mark Twain and his disappointment with European cuisine during his 1878 tour, all because--you guessed it!--he "couldn't find the one American staple his homesick taste buds hankered for most...BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES!"

All you really need to know is that Birkett Mills' Puritan Self-Raising Buckwheat Pan Cakes mix is the very best pancake mix (of any kind) we've ever come across, and it's produces one of the very best pancakes I've ever had. I love buckwheat pancakes, but, let's face it, a good buckwheat pancake is about as hard to find as a good pancake, probably even harder. All we had to do was mix 3/4 cup of water with 1 cup of the pancake mix, then "bake" them in a medium-hot pan, and minutes later we had the lightest, most delicious buckwheat pancakes I've ever had. Perfect with maple syrup.

The secret is Birkett Mills' "Pure Stone Ground Old-Fashioned Buckwheat Flour," their perfectly balanced ingredients, and the fact that there's no unnecessary additives. And remember, Birkett Mills has been around since 1797; they've had the time to get their formulas just right.

another satisfied customer
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Birkett Mills' Puritan Self-Raising Buckwheat Pan Cakes mix even passed the toughest test of all: our man Ivan. That's right, they're kid-approved, too. Ivan absolutely loved them. He loved them so much that after he finished his last pancake I thought he might just keep going and knock off his plate, too, just to make sure he got ever last remaining fleck of pancake.

Birkett Mills' Puritan Self-Raising Pan Cakes mix retails for $2.40 for a 2 lb. bag, and $4.45 for a 4 lb. bag (both prices U.S.). Birkett Mills also manufactures "Wolff's" brand kasha products, "Pocono, Heart of Buckwheat" brand 100% buckwheat products, The Birkett Mills Buckwheat Cookbook, "Multex" brand Buckwheat Hull Mulch for your garden, and All Natural Buckwheat Hull Pillows for your bed.

You can contact them via:
1) mail: The Birkett Mills, P.O. Box 440, Penn Yan, NY 14527
2) phone: (315) 536-3311
3) fax: (315) 536-6740
4) internet:


Saturday, September 17, 2005

By the Time We Got to Pittsburgh, pt. 2

Pittsburgh is one of those towns where there's no shortage of good food to be had, but you're not necessarily going to find it in any of the city's "sophisticated" "Continental" restaurants. It's the kind of place you might go to on a quest to find some Slovak church where pirohy are handmade by the thousands, like I did (unsuccessfully, I might add), but, if you're not careful, the locals might very well try to impress you with the ancien regime opulence of a Versailles-like "French" restaurant with a view. Calvin Trillin writes at length on this topic--on how it is not uncommon "for an American city to be vaguely embarrassed" about its local delicacies--in his brilliant, gloriously carnivalesque American Fried. And although things have changed enormously since the early 1970s when his book was first published (I mean, the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, which has done much to promote awareness of American regional cuisines and the world cultures that have profoundly shaped American food culture, came right out and dedicated itself to "the great variety of American foodways" this past summer), you still encounter a resistance to celebrating local specialties when you travel across America from time to time. Personally, I'm much less interested in experiencing "the pinnacle of fine dining" coupled with an "unsurpassed view" of Pittsburgh (or any other city) when I travel, than I am with experiencing something honest and freshly prepared, a dish or a meal that tells you something about the place you’re visiting, in a place that has its loyal denizens. And as Trillin puts it, “What is saddest about a visitor’s sitting in the Continental cuisine palace chewing on what an honest menu would have identified as Frozen Duck à l’Orange Soda Pop is that he is likely to have passed a spectacular restaurant on the way over. Despite the efforts of forward-looking bankers and mad-dog franchisers, there is still great food all over the country, but the struggle to wring information from the locals about where it is served can sometimes leave a traveler too exhausted to eat.” American Fried is testament to the fact that Trillin didn’t let such hurdles keep him from the “true delights” of the American culinary landscape, and Trillin’s subsequent articles and books on food have continued to display this restless passion for locating a region’s true gastronomic vernacular, in America as well as elsewhere (see his wonderful and downright hilarious piece on his pilgrimage to Ecuador for Holy Week in pursuit of fanesca in The New Yorker’s recent food issue [Sept. 5, 2005]) for a taste of Trillin’s food writing at its finest). In much the same spirit, we might not have had a lot of time, and the little that we did have was largely accounted for prior to our arrival, but we’d gotten a couple of Pittsburgh food tips before going, and we definitely weren’t going to leave town without carrying out a couple of investigations.

There’s no question that the most satisfying meal that we had in Pittsburgh, and this is in no way an insult to Pittsburgh’s food scene, was at Essie’s Original Hot Dog, in the heart of the district that surrounds the University of Pittsburgh. I’m sure we could have easily found more elaborate or more daring meals, but all of our wedding-related meals were suitably fancy, with plenty of frills, so we were in the mood for things of a more pedestrian variety.

1960 was a pivotal year for Pittsburgh in some regards. It was the year the Pirates beat the New York Yankees in the World Series in seven games, a victory clinched by a Bill Mazeroski home run in the bottom of the 9th at Forbes Field. It was the year James Blandi opened Le Mont on the top of Mt. Washington, overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, the $1.5 million restaurant with the Louis XIV décor that brought “fine dining” to the Iron City. And it was also the year Sid and Essie Simon opened The Original Hot Dog Shop just a block away from Forbes Field. Originally The Original Hot Dog Shop had a sign that advertised hot dogs and hamburgers (hamburgers, after all, had been on the ascendant ever since the McDonald brothers began to streamline the production process at their San Bernardino carhop), but Sid had spent some 15 years working at The Original Famous Sandwich Shop, the store that had invented the foot-long hot dog back in 1928, and hot dogs and twice-fried French fries became his bread-and-butter.

Things have changed at The Original Hot Dog since 1960—among other things, they now offer pizza, chicken strips, and a selection of beers that numbers in the dozens—but “O” dogs and fries remain the principal attraction. We’d heard that the French fries came in monstrous portions, but we still weren’t prepared for the veritable mountain of fries that made up our “small” order. We couldn’t finish them all—mainly because we had a wedding to go to and we were worried about fitting into our outfits—but The Original Hot Dog’s fries were pretty much ideal, fresh and piping-hot, crisp yet tender. And their dogs? Well, their hot dogs lived up to our high expectations. We tried both an Original and a beautifully charred Super Deluxe Kosher Style Pure Beef Dog, and they were a couple of high-quality numbers, with taut skins that literally burst with flavor when you broke through them. I had my Kosher dog ballpark-style in honor of Mazeroski and the 1960 Pirates, with hot mustard, onions, and a bit of relish. This was a no-nonsense meal in surroundings that were anything but sumptuous, and all the better for it.

polishing off an "O dog"
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

The next day we headed down to The Strip, the old industrial neighborhood to the northeast of downtown Pittsburgh that was also the center of the city’s wholesale produce trade for most of the 20th century. Today the district is undergoing redevelopment and it’s home to a number of ethnic restaurants, groceries, and cafes, as well as other shops and retail spaces. We were looking for a good, honest breakfast and we found one at DeLuca’s, a classic greasy-spoon that advertised that it was “the home of the best breakfast in Pittsburgh” on a sign out front. Again, this was no-nonsense dining, but their home fries were fantastic, made with care and attention (just the way her mother makes them, according to Michelle), and I was overjoyed to see that they had a whole range of egg and sausage combinations on offer, including versions with sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage, and kielbasa, not that Bob Evans-style dreck they serve in most breakfast joints in that part of the world. We had the eggs with kielbasa and the sausage came just the way we were hoping it would: split in half lengthwise, and griddle-fried. I sampled the sweet Italian and the hot Italian sausages, too, thanks to the generosity of my friends J and K, and they were also delicious. Our friends took off to make their way to the airport to catch their respective flights home, but we stuck around for another hour or so, getting a better feel for the neighborhood and stopping in for an espresso before we hit the road. With a few places to choose from—this is an area with a strong Italian presence, after all—we picked the La Prima Espresso Company. It seemed to be the preferred café of the local goodfellas and it had the right ambiance. We sat outside, savored our fine, authentically Continental cappuccinos, and got ourselves ready for the long drive home.

Any regrets? Well, there was that woman selling homemade Southeast Asian sandwiches with freshly grilled meats on Penn, just around the corner from La Prima. We passed her twice--once on the way to DeLuca's, when we were completely fixated on having breakfast, and once on the way back, when we were quite full--and both times she flashed us a smile and a glimpse of her freshly-prepared brochettes. You see, we're a little short on street food here in Montreal (there is none, by law [!]), and the smell of the grilled meat wafting down the street was more than a little tantalizing, and this stand did look like the genuine article... Oh, well, next time.

Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop, 3901 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, (412) 621-1185

DeLuca’s, 2015 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, (412) 566-2195

La Prima Espresso Company, 205 21st St., Pittsburgh, PA, (412) 281-1922

The Sandwich Woman, Penn Ave. just east of 21st, Pittsburgh, PA

Calvin Trillin's American Fried (1974) is included in its entirety in The Tummy Trilogy (1994), along with Alice, Let's Eat (1978), and Third Helpings (1983).


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By the Time We Got to Pittsburgh, pt. 1

We had the occasion to go to Pittsburgh, PA (I'm specifying only because I got asked "Which Pittsburg/h?" twice in the lead-up to our trip) this past weekend. My oldest friend D. was getting married (we've known each other for almost a quarter of a century now), and his bride hails from Pittsburgh. We decided we were going to drive and it soon became apparent that we were going to have to leave on the Thursday in order to get to Pittsburgh in time for my Friday, 2 PM tux fitting (I was in the party). When we started to chart our trip in our Rand-McNally Road Atlas we got excited. We'd been wanting to visit Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY ever since Gourmet profiled their apricots in their July 2003 issue, and Geneva, NY was right along our way. When we realized a stop in Allegany State Park, NY would put us well within striking distance of Pittsburgh, we had just enough of an itinerary for a nice little road trip. We settled on a route that would take us along as many secondary and scenic highways as possible, and early Thursday morning we shipped off.

Red Jacket Orchards is located in Geneva, NY, right near the northern tip of Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes District. We were hoping for at least a view of Red Jacket's orchards and possibly even an orchard tour, but when we found Red Jacket's store it turned out that that was pretty much all there was to view (on such short notice at least). The Red Jacket store is surrounded by a number of orchards located in between big box stores like Wal-Mart and BJ's on the edge of Geneva, and Geneva is still home to the operation, but Red Jacket is now a sprawling, highly decentralized network of orchards and the bulk of their orchard lands are dotted all across the countryside along the western side of Lake Seneca.

At their store you can find all kinds of different produce, preserves, and dry goods from around the region, but the real highlight is Red Jacket's own freshly picked fruit and their line of fruit juices. We knew there wouldn't be any of those famous apricots available because they're now long out-of-season, but we were very excited about Red Jacket's new-crop apples. When we entered we headed straight for the apple juice tasting bar, positioned underneath a row of Oscar-like trophies, and although I'd had Red Jacket Orchards apple juice before, I was really impressed by their Fuji Apple Juice on this occasion. They also had a fruit tasting bar, so we tried a few slices of fruit, but they tasted too good, and we were starting to get over-excited, so we just headed over to the teeming displays of Red Jacket apples and started making our selections. 15 minutes later, we walked out with a big bag of apples, a couple of bottles of Red Jacket Orchards fruit juice, and a slab of local cheddar cheese.

A half an hour after that we sat down at a picnic table alongside Lake Keuka, broke out the apples, the cheese, and our bottle of Joe's Summer Blend (with apples and lemons) and had ourselves a late afternoon snack. All the apples we tried were excellent, but the ones that really wowed us were Red Jacket's Crispins. They were wonderfully crisp (imagine that!) and sweet, with just a little bit of tartness to them, and the faintest hint of spice. Unfortunately, we only bought two Crispins, and we regretted that decision for the rest of the trip. The Crispin is one with the bites taken out of it in the picture below.

In spite of the big box stores on its outskirts, we really liked Geneva. It had a nicely preserved downtown core and some absolutely stunning "summer homes" (the kind you see in places like Saratoga Springs, NY and Newport, RI) gracing the banks of Lake Seneca. The town that charmed us the most, however, was probably Penn Yan. Like Marjoe, the legendary child preacher whose name was created by his parents out of an odd contraction of Mary and Joseph, Penn Yan's name was formed out of a similarly odd contraction of Pennsylvania and Yankee and it attests to the town's origins in the late 18th century. Even before we got into town we liked Penn Yan because we started to see those road signs warning us to look out for buggy traffic, and, sure enough, we started to pass Mennonite farms and even a Mennonite buggy soon afterwards. Penn Yan, too, had a nicely preserved Main Street core, but it wasn't until we got out of the car and walked around a bit that we really fell in love.

Birkett Mills, Penn Yan, NY
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

You see, Penn Yan is home to Birkett Mills ("est. 1797"), a flour mill specializing in buckwheat ("It's better with buckwheat!"). We took a self-guided tour of the lovely mill complex along the river, and studied the massive griddle adorning the side of the main building. It seems Birkett Mills sponsored the creation of a world-record sized pancake back in 1987, and you can get a sense of just how big that world-record buckwheat pancake was if you compare the size of the griddle with the size of the truck positioned next to it. We asked the guy working the counter at the bric-a-brac shop across the street about the event, and he claimed that the amount of batter was so huge that it was mixed in a brand-new, never-been-used-before cement mixer, then poured into the hot griddle which was sitting over a massive bonfire. After hearing that story we decided we had to buy some Birkett Mills flour. We asked if they had a store, got directions, then found our way to Birkett Mill's shop/business headquarters at the other end of Main St. We haven't had a chance to try the pastry flour, kasha, and buckwheat pancake mix that we bought there, but, god, do we love Birkett Mills' packaging.

Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, NY,

Birkett Mills, Penn Yan, NY, (313) 536-3311,


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Revelation 8: Tartine

As you can well imagine, a good part of our San Francisco vacation was spent walking to and from various pastry and chocolate shops in order to find "the best of the Bay." I am notoriously picky when it comes to pastries. Since becoming a professional, I've become even pickier. [Case in point: I have no favourite pastry shop in Montreal. There really aren't any worth speaking of. Thankfully, this will soon change: see note below.] I was lucky that Anthony indulged me as much as he did. We went to some beautiful-looking-but-bad-tasting places, okay-looking-but-horrible-tasting places, and the double-whammy: bad-looking and bad-tasting. Horror of horrors, I was even disappointed by the desserts I got at a couple of the Bay Area's top restaurants. Maybe I just caught them on off nights. Then again, maybe not.

Anyway, over and over again, Anthony had to put up with my oftentimes catty comments about those desserts that didn't make the cut. In fact, it's quite possible that I have some kind of strange, pastry-related form of Tourette's. One place we went to gave me a sample of their chocolates and upon trying one, without thinking, I exclaimed: "These are terrible. Next!" You should have seen the look on poor Anthony's face.

Also on my hitlist were all those "olde tyme" confectionery shops that claimed to have handmade candies, but were all vintage show without any vintage substance. I'm not sure whether Wacky Packs were ever handmade, but I sure laughed when I saw a whole stack of them at one shop.

By far and away, the best chocolate shop we tried was Recchiuti's at the Ferry Terminal (and we did try many other SF mainstays). Their chocolate was the best, their fillings were subtle with great texture, and their vanilla marshmallow was the best I've ever had. Don't get me started on their chocolate-covered fleur de sel caramels. Let's just say they rated 100%. Maybe 110%. In fact, we even staged our own caramels taste-test while we were at the Ferry Terminal, and Recchiuti's caramels blew everyone else's out of the, uh, water.

My favourite pastry shop was Tartine. As far as I'm concerned, they knocked the competition out cold. At least once a day, I would say, "You know, we could go to Tartine..." Morning, noon, and night. We tried their amazing morning bun--candied orange peel and cinnamon-- and their excellent croissants, walnut bread, mexican wedding cakes, coconut macaroons, walnut cookies, chocolate croissants, and buttermilk scones, and, as pictured above, a lovely lemon tart. Perfect. Their cakes were the best-looking, and I can only assume best-tasting, since I didn't buy one. Their bread was amazing, and only available after 4:00 p.m. I respect businesses who call the shots. When you're making the kind of high-calibre loaves Tartine is making, the people listen. The line-ups are regularly down the block. I just wish we had something like Tartine in Montreal!*

Acme Bread Company's breads are the best I found in San Francisco, and they are availble all day(!). Many retail stores carry their bread, but it's always best to go to the source. The owner used to bake bread at Chez Panisse and it shows. It is truly exceptional bread.

Recchiuti's, One Ferry Building, shop 30, San Francisco,

Tartine, 600 Guerrero Street at 18th San Francisco,

Acme Bread Company, One Ferry Building, shop 15, San Francisco or 1601 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley


* Hope is on the horizon. My friend Reema is opening a cake shop this Sunday! Go and find out what we've all been missing:Cocoa Locale 4807 Parc Ave., Montreal, Tues-Sun, 11-6ish. Good luck, Reema!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

August in New York*

Yonah Schimmel's (NYC)
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Coast to coast, San Francisco to New York, in just a matter of weeks? Don’t get too excited. We haven’t become one of those unbelievably jet-set food blogs yet (although we are just about to head off to Pittsburgh for the weekend in search of a wedding, an "O dog," and Slovak pirohy). Truth be told, we made it back from our Bay Area vacation and I had the opportunity to housesit a friend’s place in Queens for a week or so, and I really needed to spend some time in New York in order to do some non-food related research. That’s it. That’s all there is to the story. New York being New York, though, I was damned if I wasn’t going to sneak in a bit of culinary research “after hours.” As you’ll see, this time around my food tourism was concentrated on the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side, two districts that used to be diametric opposites, but are rapidly becoming more and more alike (especially if one remembers that the Upper East Side, too, had a past as a notorious home to ethnic enclaves of all stripes).

Il Vagabondo (NYC) I
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Il Vagabondo (NYC) II
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Il Vagabondo

R & M took me here a few years back when I was in town for a weekend on my way back to Montreal from Europe and points east. I remember it was early August and it was hot as sin and at one point during that visit I had a cabdriver who said he’d immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico some 25 years earlier, and he’d always toughed it out and managed to get through those steamy New York summers without an air conditioner (he was from Puerto Rico, after all), but that that summer (it must have been 1999) had finally broken him. He’d caved in and bought himself his first window unit. I thought of that cabdriver this time around. I just missed the 100+ weather that hit the region earlier in the month, but it was still awfully muggy as I made my way around town, and the air caught in the subway made the tunnels feel like furnace rooms. Anyway, like I said, I celebrated my August in New York with a trip to Il Vagabondo, and I was really excited about it because I’ve been telling stories about this place for years now: apocryphal tales about Il Vagabondo’s status as a haunt of the disco glitterati during the late ‘70s, firsthand accounts of the excellent Italian food they serve up, but especially stories about the bocce ball court housed inside the restaurant. This was no cheap gimmick, either. Apparently, the restaurant had been built around a pre-existing bocce ball court; this place was almost as serious about its bocce ball it was about its food (if you don't believe me, check out the list of rules and regulations above). Well, the bocce ball court is still there and Il Vagabondo still makes delicious food. We had a nice bottle of Sangiovese, a truly enormous spread that included Caesar Salad, pasta as our primi piatti, and a selection of their meat dishes, including what R considers to be the definitive "veal Parm," and an excellent chicken cooked in a wine sauce and served with sausages. I hadn’t seen R & M in a while; we watched the action on the bocce court and caught up.

Khyber Grill (NYC)
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Khyber Grill

A few nights later I hooked up with R & M again and they took me to their favorite Indian restaurant of the moment. We postponed our visit until the Sunday night because the maître d’hotel had been away on vacation back in India and was due back in that weekend. As valued regulars, R & M receive VIP treatment when they pay a visit to Khyber Grill, and the maître d’ is apparently particularly attentive, not to mention a true character. Unfortunately, the man we’d come to see in action was still away, but we still got treated like royalty. Khyber Grill specializes in New Indian the likes of which we’ve yet to see in Montreal. It’s a first-class establishment: the dining room is plushly appointed, there’s a nice bar at the front of the restaurant, the kitchen is state of the art and open to view, and the chef who mans it has put together a menu that is very interesting indeed. The best appetizer we had was a Goan pan-seared scallops dish served in a potato nest and adorned with a mint and coriander chutney. Michelle had the opportunity to go to India on a business trip a couple of years ago and came back raving about the Goan fish dishes she’d had; I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to try some Goan scallops. The scallops themselves were heavenly, my only quibble was that the nest wasn’t nearly as tasty (or as edible, for that matter) as it should have been. Our mains included a delicious Chicken Vindaloo, a fantastic Spinach Kofte dish, and some wonderfully buttery black lentils. There’s a reason people are crazy about this place. It may not have received the hype that some of the city’s other New Indian restaurants have, but Khyber Grill's kitchen is outstanding, and that's all that really matters.

Yonah Schimmel’s

A year and a half ago (March 4, 2004, to be exact, according to my notebook), Michelle and I spent a day doing a nosher’s walking tour of the Lower East Side, where we hit everything from old classics like Kossar’s (which we found wasn’t living up to its past glories), Russ and Daughters, and Gus’s Pickles, to newbies like the Doughnut Plant. One of our main stops along this pilgrimage of sorts was Yonah Schimmel’s knishery. I was working not far from the knishery this time around, and I liked Yonah Schimmel’s knishes so much the last time, I made a point of going back for another one of their mushroom-potato beauts. I was sad to see that the price on their old-fashioned egg creams seemed to have shot up, but nothing else seemed to have changed too much (it's definitely one of those time-warp establishments, like Wilensky's here in Montreal), and their knishes are still just as tasty and filling as ever.

Il Laboratorio del Gelato

My last day in town was a Sunday, and the temperature had really started to creep up again. Earlier that day I’d been reading my friend J’s 2004 special edition of The Art of Eating on New York City, and I came across a write-up on Il Laboratorio. I remembered that M had told me about their gelatos and how good they are just a few days earlier, and with things shaping up for a steamy afternoon, I made a mental note to try and find their storefront. Il Laboratorio is yet another one of the slick new restaurants, bars, galleries, and retail spaces that have utterly transformed the Lower East Side. In the case of Il Laboratorio, its part in this transformation is particularly stark: it’s right next to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, on a block that just over a decade ago was still very much a part of the district’s archaic garment district. H and I got there just before closing time and ordered a small cup to split, opting for a chocolate and vanilla combo to see how Il Laboratorio handled the basics. The verdict: pricey, but excellent. It went down easy on a muggy Sunday afternoon.

#1 Dumpling House (NYC)
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

#1 Dumpling House

Since we discovered #1 Dumpling House purely by accident a few years back, I’ve found it impossible to go to New York without paying them a visit. We were just wandering around Chinatown one night, grabbing snacks here and there, when we passed #1 Dumpling House and decided to give them a try (back then they didn't have the flashy facade/awning combo that they've got now). We ordered dumplings, naturally, and they were very good and very cheap (although not as cheap as the 99¢ place just down the street), but then we started to see some other interesting dishes pass by. We studied other people’s orders, asked a few questions, and then ended up with our first “sesame pancake with beef.” Thinly sliced beef, garnished with marinated vegetables and fresh coriander, and stuffed inside a freshly steamed sesame encrusted pancake—in terms of short order “street food,” it really doesn’t get much better than this (and each sandwich will only set you back $1.50!). If you look very closely at the picture above, you’ll see a New York Times article about Marcella Hazan and her passion for #1 Dumpling House. You see, we’re not the only ones who go nuts over #1 Dumpling House and their northern Chinese delicacies.

How’s that for an eclectic list?

Il Vagabondo, 351 East 62nd St., New York City, (212) 832-9221

Khyber Grill, 230 East 58th St., New York City, (212) 339-0090

Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery, 137 East Houston St., New York City, (212) 477-2858

Il Laboratorio del Gelato, 95 Orchard St., New York City, (212) 343-9922

#1 Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge St., New York City, (212) 625-8008


*(doesn't quite have the same ring as "Paris in April," but then it's a lot more fun than "August in Paris")

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Yet another reason to go to the market

Jacob's cattle beans I
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Aren't they beautiful? They're called Jacob's cattle beans and they've got a great flavor, too. Beans are among those things that most people have never tasted properly. The overwhelming majority of people eat their beans out of a can. Then there are those who actually take the trouble to cook dried beans. Finally, there's that tiny minority that cooks fresh beans in season or that dries their own beans. I'm not going to claim that we're part of that last group, but we've done a pretty good job this summer of taking advantage of the fresh legumes at Jean Talon Market as they've come in season.

Jacob's cattle beans II
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Case in point: the Jacob's cattle beans that Michelle picked up on Saturday and that I used to make a Mediterranean French bean salad. I shelled the beans and then simmered them in a light broth (carrots and garlic, mostly) for about 30 minutes. I thought they'd take about 10-15 minutes (these were fresh beans, after all), but they were still a bit tough at that point, so I gave them another 10-15 and they became nice and tender. I then placed them in a bowl and marinated them with some minced red onion, some garlic, some tomatoes, some basil leaves cut into strips, and a vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar. I gave them about 15-30 minutes so that the flavors would begin to mingle, then placed a healthy amount of the bean salad on top of a bed of arugula. For the crowning touch, I took a little high-quality tuna packed in olive oil, drained it, and placed in on top.

That's it. As our friend Chef Tell used to say: "Very simple, very easy." Delicious, too.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Labour Day, 2005, pt. 1

55 pounds of tomatoes
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

The harvest season makes you do crazy things. You feel the pressure that comes from huge bushels of fruits and vegetables bursting with ripeness and priced to move. Cucumbers, peppers, beans, eggplants,

eggplants, Jean Talon Market
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

and tomatoes all weigh heavy on my mind.

this year's crop of tomatoes
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

You can see why from the photos above.

After days of trying to track down a ride to the market (bikes were not going to cut with the quantities we were envisioning), my sister came through and made today's labour possible.

Last year, we made about 6 litres of tomato sauce, which went pretty fast. I remember saving the last jar for a long while, waiting for the right occasion to finish the batch. I think it made it into February. This year we decided we had to "go big." The most we'd ever made was when we converted 25 pounds of tomatoes into sauce one Labour Day a few years ago. Those were some of the most phenomenal tomatoes ever. We found them at a farmer's roadside stand in Lanaudière, just to the north of Montreal, and they were so ripe we had to drive home as quickly as possible so that we wouldn't lose them en route. In the end, there wasn't a bad one in the box, and, we'd gotten the whole bunch for a mere $5.00. Ridiculous, but true.

This time around we picked up 55 pounds (!) of roma tomatoes. They weren't quite as perfect as those tomatoes from Lanaudière, but they were pretty nice and they only set us back $12.00. At first we were going to get the $7.00 box, but then we decided, "Why mess around?" We thought this box was going to make tons. Well, it made 13 litres, but is that really enough for the long winter ahead? I mean, in Montreal you never know. What if we wound up having one of those 6-month winters? We're already talking about going back next week for round two. After all, it only took us about 3 hours to convert those tomatoes into the best sauce you've ever tasted.

Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Our fresh tomato sauce has always been tasty (how can you go wrong?), but this time it tastes even better and it looks super "pro," too, because we finally got a proper food mill to crush our blanched tomatoes, and remove their skins and seeds.

What we did:
We washed and blanched 55 pounds of romas. We passed them through a food mill to extract as much juice and pulp as possible, while discarding the skins and seeds. We bought two bulbs of the best garlic we could find, pressed it, and sauteed it in olive oil. We added the tomatoes, some salt and pepper, and some herbes de Provence, stewed the mixture for about an hour, skimming off any impurities. Then we canned our sauce with a sprig of basil and a sprig of oregano in each jar.

Guess what we had for dinner tonight? Yep, we had a bit of sauce left over after we canned those 13 litres, and it was just enough for a dinner for two. Perfect.

Do yourself a favor. Make your own sauce. Now is the time. The markets are waiting for you.


Labour Day, 2005, pt. 2

One last word on making your own tomato sauce in Montreal:

If you don't have a food mill but you're interested in getting one, the best source is Dante Inc. in Little Italy, just around the corner from Jean Talon Market. Not only do they have an excellent selection of food mills in all sizes and styles, but the staff there are friendly, very knowledgeable, and generous with what they know. They'll even throw in "Elena et Maria's" directions on preparing and canning tomatoes free of charge.

Dante Inc., 6851 St-Dominique (corner of Dante), (514) 271-2057

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Revelation 7: Point Reyes Station

We saw a lot of beautiful places in the short time we were in Northern California, but there's no question that one of our favorites was Point Reyes Station in Western Marin County, just north of San Francisco. I'd been in the area many times before, but I'm not sure I'd ever set foot in Point Reyes Station until this trip. The first time we went there was the same Saturday that we went to Copia, and when we were done in Napa we made a quick stop in Sonoma for lunch, then decided to make our way back to SF slowly by taking a long detour through Petaluma and then Marin County. It was a gorgeous afternoon and the rolling hills and the ranches that dotted them were particularly picturesque. It had been really hot in Napa and Sonoma counties, so it felt really good to be heading towards the ocean and the cool breezes that were coming from the west. Michelle became smitten with Marin County quite quickly--she loved the winding roads, the beautiful trees, and the cute little farmhouses we kept passing. Then we hit Point Reyes Station, and she fell in love. It's attractive, it's got a wonderful little Main Street that cuts through the center of it, it's a hub for a thriving local organic farming community, it's got a perfect blend of rural seclusion and big-city sophistication, and it's a food lovers' paradise. We liked Point Reyes Station so much we ended up going there twice.

The darling of the local scene (or the sweetheart of the rodeo, as the case may be) is without a doubt Cowgirl Creamery, one of a number of Northern California small cheesemakers that have revitalized cheese production in the region. Inside a refurbished barn just off the main drag, the fine people at Cowgirl Creamery produce an impressive array of cheeses using organic milk from the nearby Straus Family Dairy. These include their heavenly and completely irresistible triple-cream "Mt. Tam," their signature cheese. They also sell an excellent selection of cheese from around the world, including Neal's Yard Dairy's phenomenal line of British cheeses (check out their website at and you'll find an excellent "library of cheese" they've compiled, too).

Our other favorite Point Reyes Station stops were the two markets just down the street. Toby's Feed Barn is a combination organic market--featuring only Marin County organic produce--general store, and (you guessed it) feed barn that sells everything from candy to pet food to t-shirts to livestock fee (including bales of hay for the local farmers and ranchers). We got some excellent local apples and some of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I've ever had there. Just a couple of storefronts down is the Palace Market, which was opened about a decade after Point Reyes Station was founded back in the 1870s as a whistlestop for the narrow-gauge North Pacific Coast Railway. Today it's more or less a small supermarket, but, oh!, what a supermarket. Lots of organics, a great-looking deli counter, and just check out the comprehensive wine selection--and the decor--in the photo above. We also noted that they had about 12 bourbons for sale (which means that their bourbon selection is about 12 times as good as any of the SAQs [Société d'Alcools du Québec] here in Montreal).

As we drove south towards San Francisco, we passed a boarded-up old farmhouse about 10 miles out of town. It didn't take long (about 1/8th of a second, actually) for Michelle to decide that this was the fix-me-up-special that we were looking for. It was cute, it was somewhat secluded, it was only 45 minutes or so from San Francisco, and, best of all, it was just outside of Point Reyes Station. It was also boarded up and abandoned. She didn't stop talking about that place for days.

When we got back to Montreal a number of people asked us, "So, are you guys thinking of moving to California?" Must have been something about the way were telling our vacation tales.

Cowgirl Creamery, 80 Fourth Street, Point Reyes Station, CA, (415) 663-9335

Toby's Feed Barn, 11250 Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station, CA, (415) 663-1223

Palace Market, 10300 Hwy 1, Point Reyes Station, CA (415) 663-1016


Friday, September 02, 2005

Revelation 6: dim sum and other treats in the Richmond

As indicated by our choice of image when we announced our (then) upcoming trip to San Francisco back in late July, we arrived in the Port of Saint Francis hell-bent on having Chinese food as much as possible while we were there, and some good dim sum at least once. Even though Montreal's Chinatown has a long history, it's pretty hard to find truly exceptional Chinese food these days in Montreal, and truly exceptional dim sum is even harder to come by. When we go to places like Toronto and New York, we try to make up for all the Chinese cuisine we've been missing. You can imagine just how excited we were as we looked forward to visiting some of San Francisco's excellent Chinese restaurants. We had Chinese food a few times that trip (mostly in the form of snacks and light meals), and we were fortunate enough to have dim sum twice.

We knew our stay in the San Francisco Bay Area was going to be fairly short, so we didn't waste any time. We suggested to Karina that we should go out for dim sum on our first Sunday in town and asked if she had any recommendations. Karina mentioned that her best dim sum experiences over the last few years had been in the Richmond district not in Chinatown, we we decided we'd head to that area. She'd been wanting to try Mayflower because she'd heard it was one of the standouts in that neighborhood, but she hadn't gone there yet, so that was where we went.

Mayflower doesn't have those dim sum carts I grew up loving, they bring their various dishes around on large trays, but they've got quite a large staff for a medium-sized restaurant, and the dishes come out at a furious pace. We got seated at a corner table and this ended up being a lucky break, because we were the closest table to the kitchen and each dish arrived to us freshly prepared and piping hot. In the tradition of the massive, 2-3 hour feasts I remember having at our favorite dim sum palaces when I was a kid (Asia Garden was the one I remember most fondly), we settled in and started to order plates of whatever caught our fancy. Everything we had was really tasty, but the biggest crowd-pleasers were the seafood and pork dumplings, the shrimp rolls, the pan-fried whole prawns, and the crowning touch--the plate we waited all morning for--the steamed BBQ pork buns, with actual hunks of shredded pork stuffed inside. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of greens dishes pass by our table, and two of my favorite dishes were the pea shoots and the seaweed salad. We ate like kings and queens that Sunday at Mayflower, and the bill still managed to be ridiculously affordable ($12 each). I was reminded of a story my dad used to tell about a business trip he made to Vancouver where he and about a dozen of his colleagues ate dim sum for hours and the grand total came to a whopping $25. Of course, that was 1972.

Exactly one week later, we wound up back in Chinatown and it was a particularly chilly and blustery afternoon. The fog had rolled in early that day and the winds were whipping up off the bay. We were looking to warm ourselves up again and we thought, "What better way than with a little dim sum?" We sniffed around Chinatown for a while, but Karina hadn't had dim sum in Chinatown proper for quite some time and she wasn't sure where to go. When we didn't find anything that looked too appealing, we decided to head back to the Richmond. I'd read some rave reviews of a place called Ton Kiang, and Karina had only the highest praise for their dim sum. Enough said. Half an hour later, we were seated and staring at Ton Kiang's impressive menu.

Ton Kiang specializes in two things: dim sum and Hakka cuisine, with seafood being the focus in both cases. Dim sum we all know about, but Ton Kiang was said to have some of the freshest available in San Francisco. Hakka cuisine I knew very little about. The Hakka are a nomadic tribe that live in China. They have a cuisine that is unique to their culture, but brings together elements of several different Chinese regional cuisines. I'd read that Ton Kiang's Hakka-style steamed salt chicken was to die for. We ordered the chicken and when it arrived it turned out that we'd had the exact same dish a week earlier at Mayflower (or so we thought). The steamed salt chicken is a half a chicken that comes chopped into strips, bones and all. The Cantonese version we had at Mayflower was served cold, with a pungent garlic sauce, and although I quite liked it, it was definitely the only dish we had that day that got mixed reviews. The version we had at Ton Kiang was superior in every way. It was hot, it tasted fresher, the chicken meat was more flavorful, and the garlic-ginger sauce that came with it was a subtler accompaniment. Fantastic. But it was Ton Kiang's dim sum that stole the show. I've had excellent dim sum over the years, but I think this was the best. Ton Kiang had a stunning array of dumplings, and these were the loveliest, most delicate, most delicious ones I've had the pleasure of having. Their shrimp dumplings alone came in at least half a dozen different variations (the ones we had came complete with juicy and tender whole shrimp, not shrimp paste). My favorites were the ones pictured above, the shrimp dumplings with pea tips.

Karina says that she was at Ton Kiang once for a wedding reception and that it was completely outrageous. They had the whole second floor to themselves, the kitchen kept sending out round after round of perfectly prepared dishes, and everything she tried was superb. She was particularly fond of some of their whole fish dishes. Next time I'm in San Francisco, I'm rustling together the biggest group I can find and I'm heading directly to Ton Kiang.

Mayflower, 6255 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA, (415) 387-8338

Ton Kiang, 5821 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA, (415) 752-4440