Saturday, April 30, 2011

One Night Only!

Yet another Public Service Announcement:

katchor 1 fig. a: Katchor in the wry 1

Tonight, one night only, the inimitable genius* of Ben Katchor, live and in-person, at Drawn & Quarterly!

Katchor, the man Michael Chabon once called "the creator of the last great American comic strip," will be presenting a slide lecture in support of his latest title, The Cardboard Valise. The last time I saw Katchor present a slide lecture here in Montreal, it was at the Cinémathèque, and his performance was a tour de force of deadpan surrealism of such magnitude that it easily made its way onto my list of top ten spoken-word engagements of all time.  It's been about ten years since then, and there it has remained.  So there.

No idea who or what I'm talking about? Here's an example of Katchor's work from Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, the aforementioned "last great American comic strip."

katchor 2 fig. b: Katchor in the wry 2

What does this have to do with food? Apparently everything.

Ben Katchor @ Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard St. W., 279-2224), 7:00 PM, Saturday, April 30, 2011

You can find the event's Facebook page here.


*I try not to use that term liberally, but, what can I say, the guy was a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Get shacked!

The following is a Public Service Announcement:

sugar shack fig. a: inside Cabane à Sucre PDC

If you haven't had the considerable pleasure of visiting Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon this year (or any other year, for that matter), apparently there's still hope. This is the message that came over the wire here at AEB earlier today:


Les demandes de réservations pour la saison 2012 débuterons le 1er décembre 2011….
Mais il y a quelques annulations pour une dernière chance de venir cette année….

Vendredi le 29 Avril, 18hr pour jusqu'à 10 personnes
Samedi le 30 Avril, 11hr30 et 13hr30 jusqu'à 20 personnes
Dimanche le 1er Mai, 11hr30 13hr30 et 17hr30 pour jusqu'à 10 personnes
Jeudi 5 Mai, 20hr30 pour jusqu'à 15 personnes
Vendredi 6 Mai, 18hr et 20hr30 jusqu'à 12 personnes
Samedi 7 Mai, jusqu’à 15 personnes
Dimanche 8 Mai, Fête des mères, 11hr30 et 13hr30…jusqu’à 20 personnes….

La cabane ferme la saison le 8 Mai…alors voici votre dernière chance pour cette année…


L’équipe de la Cabane à Sucre Au pied de Cochon

Still not sure if it's worth it? This is what Team AEB had to report about the PDC Sugar Shack, version 2011:

Our last visit (back in 2009) was so totally mental it was impossible for us to imagine the PDC Sugar Shack crew having any more tricks up their sleeves, but version 2011 was bigger and better. Things started with a barrage of killer appetizers (foie gras-laced pea soup, smoked sturgeon with blini-like mini-ployes, PDC maki rolls, green salad with oreilles de crisse, etc.), followed through with three truly impressive mains (a whole smoked pork shoulder with maple syrup glaze, a whole roasted guinea hen with beer-maple gravy, and a baked lobster omelet), and climaxed with a veritable sugaring-off ceremony (tabletop tire d'érable, a maple glazed tarte tatin, and a chocolate-covered maple-peanut ice cream bombe). This is an 11-course (!) sugar shack experience that's definitely a little more bourgeois than bûcheron, but, man, is it fantastic. Frankly, the only problem is managing to get a reservation. We'd given up hope for 2011 when someone tipped us off that there were actually some openings on Thursdays and Sunday. We sent another email (, made a couple of phone calls, and the next thing we knew, we had a Sunday night reservation. Be persistent. It's worth it.

For reservations, contact:

Keep hope alive.

fig. b: this could be you

Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon, 11382 rang de la Fresnière, St-Benoît de Mirabel, (450) 258-1732 (Mirabel area)


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Masked Marvels

masked marvel fig. a: masked marvel

It started about six weeks ago. Yes, almost exactly six weeks ago. I was in Belgium on business and it was Carnival season.

mmm, sausage fig. b: carnivalesque

For the first few days it appeared to be mostly business as usual, although the train stations were like magnets for the costumed rowdies who descend upon Aalst every year, and, occasionally, you'd catch small glimpses of the carnivalesque elsewhere too.

midnight cowgirl fig. c: Antwerp cowgirl

On Tuesday, March 8--Mardi Gras--I took up an invitation to check out le Carnaval de Binche, a Carnival hotspot of such significance that it's officially been named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. I was pretty excited. I'd been familiar with Binche's mysterious Gilles for some time, and had wanted to experience its Carnival ever since. And, as it turns out, there was much more to the Gilles, and much more to le Carnaval de Binche than I could have possibly imagined. For one thing, Binche's Carnival is not just about the Gilles. While the Gilles have the biggest presence at Binche, and they're clearly the most revered of the revelers, there are a number of other processionals that make their way through the streets of Binche, including the Pierrots, the Peasants, and the Princesses.

les gilles fig. d: masked marvels

My first sighting of the Gilles lived up to expectations. This is the most highly publicized vision of le Carnaval de Binche--the one you see most commonly in guidebooks and on websites. What I didn't know, was that the distinctive masks are still handcrafted out of wax by one single artisanal mask-maker, that they're handed down from generation to generation, and, though many of Binche's Carnival customs date back to ancient times, this particular design dates back to the 19th century, and was modeled after Napoleon III, whose bourgeois-imperial style it was meant to parody.

binche 1 fig. e: men with clogs

I also didn't realize that one of the reasons le Carnaval de Binche is so "intangible," is that it's essentially mute. The Gilles utter nary a word the whole day long, but the elaborate ceremonies are far from silent--they're accompanied by the sound of drumming and the constant, repetitive rhythm of the Gilles' clogging--the better to roust the the forces of springtime.


binche 2 figs. f & g: Gilles with oranges

And, finally, I had no idea that after lunch the Gilles return with their masks removed, bearing elaborate plumed headdresses (this time modeled after Meso-American costumes that apparently left quite an impression on Renaissance-era minds), and that when they do, they also come loaded down with oranges. Blood oranges.

The oranges serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, they're used to express a little healthy iconoclasm. The Gilles became notorious for using their oranges to smash windows in the bourgeois central districts of Binche. These days, the windows of Binche are largely boarded up or otherwise protected in anticipation of Mardi Gras, but that doesn't stop the younger Gilles from launching oranges with full force against buildings, spraying the crowds with blood orange juice, and making people shriek. On the other hand, they're offered as a gift. The overwhelming majority of the oranges are gently tossed into the crowds so that people can collect them intact.

binche 3

binche 4 figs. h & i: orange luggage

Either way--whether the Gilles intend to launch them violently, or toss them carefully--the blood oranges are hauled through the streets in attractive carriers. The Gilles use wicker hampers. The Peasants (les Paysans) use stylin' hand-tooled leather satchels. And hundreds and hundreds of extra oranges are carried by friends and family members in huge (and not particularly attractive) backpacks and duffel bags.

blood oranges 3 fig. j: on the street

While the festivities last all day, and long into the night, the orange ceremony lasts just a couple of hours in the late afternoon. Still, you have plenty of occasion to eat some of your prizes on premises. And if you've got good hands, and you're smart enough to bring a bag, you can easily go home with a few dozen. Which is exactly what we did.

blood oranges 1

blood oranges 2 figs. k & l: at home

We had them plain. We had them juiced. We had them in salad. We ate a lot of blood oranges over the next few days.

And when I got back to Montreal a week later, I was still hooked. So I started right up again with the blood oranges, this time with Michelle. Here in Montreal, I haven't been able to find the small Spanish ones that were featured at Binche (probably because the Carnaval cleaned them out), but, for a while there, there were plenty of blood oranges from California. The ones we like the most, though, are the ones from Sicily (the ones that come in the lovely wrappers with the masks on them, like the one you see up top). And those are still very much around, if you visit your better green grocers (we recommend Chez Nino, at Jean-Talon Market).

Again, we'll take blood oranges any way we can get them. We really can't get enough of their warm, rounded notes, and, besides, when they're gone, they're gone. But probably our favorite way of having them is in the form of suprêmes, in salad, with fennel.

blood orange suprêmes fig. m: suprêmes by Michelle

Not sure how to cut a blood orange (or any other citrus fruit, for that matter) into suprêmes? Here's a helpful how-to video, featuring the lovely and talented Michelle:

Now that you've prepared your suprêmes, here's a slightly modified recipe for a blood orange & fennel salad from good ole Mario Batali. After all, if you can't trust a self-proclaimed "fennel-holic," who can you trust?

batali's blood oranges fig. n: blood oranges by batali

Blood Orange, Fennel, and Pecorino Salad

2 large round fennel bulbs, trimmed (make sure to save several fennel fronds)
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large blood oranges, preferably Sicilian
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
hard pecorino cheese, such as sardo or toscano, for shaving

Using a mandoline (carefully), shave the fennel crosswise into slices 1/3 of an inch thick. Place in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice and olive oil. Add the blood orange segments and fennel fronds and toss gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the fennel salad on four individual plates. Shave the pecorino in long shards over each plate. Serve.

Note: Batali's original recipe calls for 1 cup of pomegranate seeds, but we haven't been adding them because it's not the season and the recipe is just great without them. Also, we sometimes replace the lemon juice with an equal amount of blood orange juice, if we have extra on hand. And, lastly, if you want to forego the pecorino--go ahead. The salad's just dandy with just oranges, fennel, olive oil, juice, salt and pepper.

[recipe based closely on a recipe from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano]

While we're at it, and there's still plenty of good citrus around, here's another orange recipe, albeit one that calls for conventional oranges, not blood oranges. It comes from a story on Sicily in the most recent issue of Saveur.

marinated olives fig. o: for oranges & olives

Oliva con Rosemarino e Aranci

1 orange
1 lb dry-cured black olives
1 large sprig rosemary, stemmed and roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash the orange thoroughly, then dry it. Using a vegetable peeler or microplaner, remove the zest from the orange, taking care to peel as little of the pith as possible. Chop the zest and transfer to a medium bowl. Juice the orange and add the juice, the olives, the rosemary, and the pepper to the bowl. Toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour to marinate before serving.

[recipe from Saveur #136, March 2011]

And now that Lent is nearly over and Easter is just about here: both recipes would make an excellent addition to your Easter table. In fact, they'd go extraordinarily well with any kind of Mediterranean-style Pascal lamb.


p.s. Many thanks to Obits for having dropped by and jammed a little while we cooked.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blood, Bones, Butter, and You!

BBB fig. a: BBB redux

Intrigued by our recent post about Gabrielle Hamilton's vivid, unflinching Blood, Bones, and Butter? Still don't have a copy of your own? Interested in meeting Gabrielle Hamilton in person? Here's your chance, Montreal.

On May 2nd, Gabrielle Hamilton will be at Appetite for Books, here in Montreal, to promote Blood, Bones, and Butter. She'll be giving a talk about her book, her life, her cuisine, and her restaurant, Prune, and the price of admission ($45) includes hors d'oeuvres (by Hamilton herself? I'm not sure...), a glass of wine, and a copy of the book (!).

You can get all the details here, on Appetite for Books' website.

And if you need a sneak peek, remember to check out Hamilton's wonderful, poignant "The Lamb Roast" in The New Yorker.

who: Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune (NYC), author
what: Blood, Bones, and Butter book tour
where: Appetite for Books, 388 Victoria Ave., Montreal, 369-2002
when: Monday, May 2, 2011, 6:30 PM


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NY Fried Chicken Tripleheader

We didn't really plan this one out. It just sorta happened. Three new-school New York fried chicken meals in under 24 hours.

1. Hill Country Chicken

We were on our way to meet a friend for bbq at Hill Country, when we happened to pass Hill Country's latest venture: Hill Country Chicken. We had a few minutes to spare, and, yeah, we were just about to chow down on some serious brisket, smoked sausage, ribs, green bean casserole, baked beans (with burnt ends), and a whole whack of other sides, but, hey, there's always room for an extra piece of fried chicken, right? And the good folks at Hill Country were all too happy to sell us just a couple drumsticks, one made according to each of their house recipes--Hill Country Classic or Mama El's--so we sat down for a minute and dug into our pre-bbq fried chicken mini-sampler.

hill country chicken fig. a: a tale of two chickens

On the right, you see the Hill Country Classic style, which comes skin-on and double-dredged in a traditional flour-based mixture. On the left, you see the Mama El's style, which comes skinless and dredged in a cracker crumb mixture.

hill country gnawing fig. b: whole lotta gnawing 1

We went in thinking we were definitely going to be Hill Country Classic people, but we actually preferred the Mama El's style. Both were tasty and juicy, but somehow the lighter touch on the Mama El's let the spices shine through a little more brightly.

The vibe? Hill Country (the original) is already about as themed ("CENTRAL TEXAS!") as I can possibly handle. Hill Country Chicken is essentially a themed ("DOWNHOME!"), upscale fast food joint that specializes in tasty, high-quality fried chicken and some handsome-looking pies. I couldn't see myself going there a lot (for one thing, it's really, really BRIGHT!), but they know how to fry up a chicken.

2. Pies 'n' Thighs

There was a lot less serendipity involved when it came to Pies 'n' Thighs. We pretty much targeted the place. I'd been to the old Pies 'n' Thighs years ago, but Michelle had never had the pleasure. We were very curious about their new location, and, after the previous night's fried chicken snack, we had a hankering for some more fried chicken--this time, by the box. And Pies 'n' Thighs was all too happy to oblige.

fried chicken box! fig. c: fried chicken box!

The fried chicken only comes in one style at Pies 'n' Thighs: delicious! No, seriously, their style is in the "classic" vein, but our friends at P 'n' T have a most unconventional way of achieving this style: dry rub, brine, rinse, plain flour dredge, fry.

more gnawing fig. d: whole lotta gnawing 2

The overall effect is fantastic: the bird is juicy, it's packed with flavor, it has a satisfying amount of crust, but the crust is wispy enough to give the impression of being light. That's a good thing, because their box is super-generous, and you're going to want to eat it all. It also means that you shouldn't have any difficulties putting away their tasty biscuit. And it may just mean that you'll actually have just enough room for a slice of one of their killer pies. May we recommend the deep-dish apple pie with cheddar? You will not be disappointed.

fresh apple pie fig. e: the sign says it all

Want to learn to make fried chicken the Pies 'n' Thighs way? Check out their appearance on The Martha Stewart Show's "comfort food show," where they appeared alongside Luke Perry (?).

3. Terroir

These are our kind of people. Their wine selection is wonderfully/maniacally curated, they're crazy (literally) about Rieslings, they know how to make the joint jump, and when it comes time to raise money for Japanese earthquake & tsunami relief, they serve up portions of yummy Yoshi Fried Chicken, a Japanese fried chicken recipe devised by Yoshi, one of their cooks.

That's what I call KFC: Karmic Fried Chicken.

Check 'em out!

Fried Chicken 411:

Hill Country Chicken, 1123 Broadway (Corner of 25th), New York, NY, (212) 257-6446

Pies 'n' Thighs, 166 S.4th Street (@Driggs), Brooklyn, NY, (347) 529-6090 for deliveries

Terroir, 413 E. 12th St., New York, NY (no phone)


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Zurück!, rev. ed.

kaffeklatsch 2 fig. a: Kaffeeklatsch 2

That's right. Kaffeeklatsch is back.

You'll find all your favorite Central and Eastern European pastries (Apple strudel! Linzer cookies!), a few new treats (Dobos torte! Chestnut truffles!), phenomenal filtered coffee by Anthony Benda and the rest of our friends at Café Myriade, and the Old World charm of Laloux in the afternoon.

café central detail fig. b: kaffeekultur

All you've got to do is bring your sweet selves and some peppery anecdotes and we're off! (No top hats or petticoats required).

Still not 100% clear on the concept? Check out this recent write-up in the Montreal Gazette.

Want to see what Kaffeeklatsch 1 looked like? You can find AEB's post-klatsch coverage here.

Got the picture?

Kaffeeklatsch 2
pastries: Team Laloux
coffees: Team Myriade
sounds: DJ Der Kommisar
time:  Sunday, April 17, 2:00 - 5:00 PM
place:  Laloux, 250 ave. des Pins E.

Kaffeeklatsch: putting the Vienne back in Viennoiseries...

See you there!


p.s. I think it's safe to say that Kaffeeklatsch 1 generated a fair bit of enthusiasm. 150 people showed up to partake in the festivities. Articles were written. And Michelle received lots of positive feedback. You never know with these things, but, this time, it seemed like she'd really struck a nerve. In fact, just today, she even received some fan mail. The real deal--the kind that actually comes through the mail (!).

kaffeeklatsch kard fig. c: kaffeeklatsch kard

The card (and accompanying letter) was written in the most elegant script (unmistakably Central European), and it spoke of childhood in Vienna and fond memories of time spent in pastry shops, of Kaisergugelhupf, Vienna Gugelhupf, Punschtorte, Haselnußtorte, Zimtsterne, Erdbeer-Topfenknödel, and numerous other Viennese specialties.

Michelle was already "majorly psyched" about this week's kaffeeklatsch. When she came home with that card, she was walking on air.

Come see what all the commotion is about.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Blood, Bones, and Butter, Metal Mountains, etc.

the lamb roast fig. a: the lamb roast

We'd been itching to check out Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune for years. People we trusted kept urging us to go, and we'd heard nothing but the most enthusiastic reviews. Then we started to catch wind of a new book by Hamilton--not a cookbook, but a memoir. And then her story "The Lamb Roast" appeared in the January 17, 2011 issue of The New Yorker--a little foretaste of the book, now officially titled Blood, Bones, and Butter and slated for release in March--and that sealed the deal. The next thing you knew, Michelle was talking a lot about extravagant outdoor roasts--lamb and goat roasts, mostly. The next thing you knew, Prune had become a #1 priority.

The story was about a lamb roast, yes. More specifically, it was about an elaborate lamb roast her eccentric set-designer father threw for friends and family on their sprawling property in rural Pennsylvania, an undertaking inspired by "a photograph torn from a magazine of two Yugoslav men roasting a lamb over a pit." But, really, it was about so much more. And although there was a certain nostalgia to Hamilton's story--the "sexy black cat-eye eyeliner" fashioned after '60s icons like Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren that her mother wore; the pre-McMansion innocence of the Pennsylvania/New Jersey landscape; the insouciance of riding untethered in the back of a pickup truck; the traditional family-owned butcher shop in the days before "artisanal," "organic," and "free-range"--this was a tale of heartbreak, or, perhaps more accurately, a tale of innocence lost.  Either way, there was a lot there that the two of us could relate to--the artistic milieu, the barbecue, and the "meadow filled with people and fireflies and laughter," the freedoms of childhood in the '60s and '70s and the Led Zep--and it got us pretty excited about the impending release of Blood, Bones, and Butter, not to mention a Prune pilgrimage.

Near the end of March, we decided to make a last-minute trip to New York for Michelle's birthday. It was Saturday morning, the day before we were scheduled to leave, and we were brainstorming about things we wanted to do while we were there. We knew we wanted to be in the East Village on Sunday night--there was a concert there that night that we wanted to catch. "The concert's at 8:00. Should we eat before? Where should we go?" "I know," Michelle exclaimed, "Prune!" Yeah, right. As if... But we did want to eat early. Hmmm... Nothing to lose from calling, right? So we did. And sure enough they were booked up. But then the woman on the other line revealed a little secret.

"How many are you?"


"We always keep a table for two open for walk-ins, and you can't reserve the seats at the bar."

We liked where she was going with this.

"We open at 5:30. If you show up right at 5:30, I can pretty much guarantee you'll get seated--either at a table or at the bar."

"Pretty much guarantee..."? Perfect. We'd make sure to be there right a 5:30.

It worked like a charm. We showed up at 5:15, and by 5:30 we were seated at a very small, very cozy table in the very small, very cozy space that is Prune. The Velvet Underground's Loaded was roaring over the stereo. The room was filled with a golden, late-afternoon light. We couldn't have been happier. We took a quick look at the menu to get our bearings, ordered a bottle of Frappato on the recommendation of our waitress, and made our final deliberations.

prune 3 fig. b: wine

Prune's menu is simple, elemental, and ever so tempting. We wanted to try everything, but settled on just a few choices.

Marrow bones to begin with.

prune 1 fig. c: bones

(Hamilton describing her mother's kitchen: "Her burnt-orange Le Creuset pots and casseroles, scuffed and blackened, were always filled with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones that she was stewing or braising on the back three burners.")

Then a grilled lamb chop with skordalia, a whole grilled striped bass stuffed with fennel and herbs,

prune 2 fig. d: fish

and leeks vinaigrette with mimosaed eggs (again, just like Hamilton's mom used to make).

We felt so good after that meal, we strutted out of Prune and into a surprisingly warm early-spring evening in the East Village. And twenty minutes later we were immersed in the psych-folk sounds of Metal Mountains.

2/3 metal mountains fig. e: 2/3 metal mountains

A couple of hours after that, we found ourselves at Rai Rai Ken again,

chez rai rai ken fig. f: inside Rai Rai Ken

not so much because we were hungry, but because we were in New York, and the night was young.

We ate a lot of great things while we were in New York, but the simple elegance of that meal at Prune was particularly memorable. I'd even go so far as to say that it left Michelle positively Prune-obsessed. Maybe a little too Prune-obsessed.

You see, I had it on good authority that she had a copy of Blood, Bones, and Butter in her future. But she was so Prune-obsessed that she wanted it now. My feigned indifference must have tipped her off, because she really started pressing buttons.

"I really want to read Blood, Bones, and Butter. Should I buy it right now? Should I order it? What do you think? Should I get it now? I should get it now."

I've gotten pretty good at withstanding these barrages, but this time I crumbled. "No, probably best to hold off on that one, honey."

Wouldn't you know it? The pressing of buttons subsided. And, sure enough, Michelle got her copy of Blood, Bones, and Butter a couple of days later.

She made quick work of it. Almost as quick as that meal at Prune. For a couple of days, there it was, sitting on her bedside table.

boris, blood, bones, butter fig. g: blood, bones, butter, boris

And then it was gone. The verdict? Particularly memorable.

Now it's on my bedside table.

Prune, 54 East 1st St., # 1, New York, NY, (212) 677-6221

For more about Blood, Bones, and Butter, check out Hamilton's book-related website.


* Apparently, there were many of these elaborate affairs, including an exotic Moroccan party, a "Valentine's Day Lovers' Dinner that featured a swan motif prominently because, as her father explained, "Swans mate for life," and a Russian Winter Ball styled after the ice palace scene from Doctor Zhivago (naturally).