Underthecurrent


The Not So Big Day Out
December 15, 2011, 4:17 am
Filed under: gastronomy, nomadisms

I spent my day off pubcrawling, specifically a fish and chips and Mid event, predominantly in the company of those who get a seniors discount. War horses telling battle stories, about a time when only common sense governed the pubs and taverns.

They tell me about the “mad  postie” who took his chainsaw to the supporting column out front, threatening to cut down the pub. About the owner who would refuse to open after so many days on a bender, having a party for one in the cellar, eventually drawn out by police in search of beer. They talk about women from thirty years ago, and three generations of bar patronage.

We are home before dusk, tipsy on all sides,  and I can’t help feeling I need to reread Bill Bryson and compare notes. 

Advertisements


Buying It.
July 6, 2011, 10:02 am
Filed under: gastronomy, insight | Tags: , ,

Probably the second straight week of rain. We meet it with a food offensive; red wine beef stew, yeasty bread, mushroom leek risotto, trays of muffins, a curry chutney cassarole. The groundwater is full, all the dry rivers bubble after years of drought. We put on our wetsuits and float down the brown sand river on an inner tube. We give in and buy a small heater after the regular temperature in our house dips to being able to see our breath mid-day every day. A big storm two nights ago makes every roof in town leak, we wake up to a steady drip on the bed, move the bed over, go back to sleep. The giant aloes and trees are flush, the birds don’t seem to mind the rain and endless species of all sizes and colours parade across the lawn taking worms without fear. Laundry is infinitely delayed.

HAVING STUFF and NOT

I pretty much have the same amount of stuff I showed up with. I feel compelled to list new stuff which may be annoying so just skip ahead.

Acquisitions: underwear (result of laundry losses, more lost since), long sweater (made here in women empowerment project, birthday cash), skirt (made North, same story), dress (gift), beach bag (gift), two tank tops (one a gift), pair of shorts, handbag, two scarves (gifts), two bracelets (one a gift), flipflops<.

Other than this, I bought a small hairdryer, a brush, two pillows, a wireless modem, and a tiny tent. Also, a small stack of books, mostly used, swapped in and out before I found the library. Everything but the hairbrush and one book will be eventually disposed of.

The stuff remaining feels like the right amount, like life properly edited. These are the things and they are enough, like the accessories collection that comes with a doll. Here is her mug and her towel and her shoes and her hats. And she likes them! Everything! Maybe that’s it – due to the editing, everything I own makes me feel good. Instead of thirty shirts of which five fit well, two shirts that fit very well.

But the human urge to get and own and have stuff doesn’t really subside in the face of this satisfaction. Right. Mine manifests in two ways. One sort of healthy, one sort of bizarre.

The healthy is in the kitchen. Rarely making the same thing twice, compulsively using up and acquiring completely new flavours. Electronic information means nothing available is beyond use, no technique cannot be cross referenced, no ingredient any longer intimidating. There are cheap and cheerful options, mostly in the spice aisle and produce section, and more substantial investment pieces like good cuts of meat and bottles of oil. All of this consumption is, in turn, consumed, and there is room for something new. I easily get the same amount of satisfaction buying interesting groceries as I do buying clothes.

The more bizarre is facilitated by the fact that magazines here more often than not come with free products, generously sized. In the past ten months: press on nails, sunglasses, deoderant, a full tube of whitening toothpaste, makeup remover wipes, gum, eyeliner, coffee, nail polish, a skipping rope, various department store moisturizers, lip balm, full tubes of mascara, serums, and dayplanners. More than one sample is not unknown.

For however much my conspicuous consumption has decreased in the past few years, I am obsessed with Stuff Free in Magazines. This mostly makes no sense. My hypersensitive skin hates the new moisturizers and most cosmetics either don’t work for me or I am too lazy to bother. I think I have spent about ten minutes skipping and I give the coffee samples to LG because they all contain powdered milk.

But perversely I love the tiny bottle of nailpolish the same colour as in the Prada ads, the untested mascara variants, the small vials and potions. The thrill of trying something new, invariably mostly fragrance and promises, without the remorseful purchase hangover and bottle glut.

And, the thing is, if I do like something, a generous sample size is usually enough. I like small packaging, I like portability, and I am always oddly satisfied to empty a package of its product rather than find it two years later still three quarters full.

I recognize that this sample collecting and hoarding behavior is symptomatic of both a consumption oriented culture and probably the innate human desire to gather things. It is not environmentally friendly and most of what is acquired is probably full of questionable chemicals and worse science. I know that I feel like a goon in lip gloss. I know that it means the tiger is not tamed and the model of careful material completeness described above stands in opposition to my desire for whatever Decelor is shilling. I read the hardline stuff out there advocating for dropping all of the consumer culture but I can’t help but wonder if some of us aren’t wired for that, if some of us don’t inevitably get bored, if those people don’t somehow get pleasure from some small thing and what their small thing is.

I think eventually I will get bored and get a new small thing.



On Making Food and Life Plans
March 24, 2011, 1:03 pm
Filed under: gastronomy, when I grow up

Sometimes I read things where people say they either don’t cook or don’t like to cook and even though I know people are different from one another it sort of baffles. I get not being motivated to cook when it’s freezing and you have no groceries/you live alone/you work too much and the idea of not being able to eat as soon as you get home or the dishes that will result from preparing a meal are deflating. But… to never see something and wonder if you could make it? To never look at beautiful ingredients and imagine how they would look and taste combined? Can. Not. Process.

Martha Stewart was on Oprah a couple of weeks ago. She’s not well known here, I’m not sure the show ever aired. She looks, well, older than she did ten years ago when I used to watch her between high school classes. I tried to explain to LG the impact Martha Stewart had on my life, her North American empire. It’s been years since reading a copy of her magazine or seeing the show, but Martha Stewart was responsible for introducing me to the idea that food preparation was just a series of learnable, simple techniques and a little creativity. The woman instructed on eggs and pastry, and introduced me to the idea of herbs and spices. Not the fifteen-year-old dried out bottles of flavorless dust that my English heritage had bestowed upon me, standing guard upstairs in the cupboards, but living flavours. Martha is not the be all end all, I no longer feel a need to own a library of her instructions, but she was very important in developing my love for food in all ways.
Continue reading



domestic notes
March 15, 2011, 12:36 pm
Filed under: gastronomy, unrelated thoughts | Tags: , ,

We have a resident mongoose. We’ve had him for awhile, long enough for him to get a girlfriend. Sometimes we pitch bones into the backyard bushes and watch him appear minutes later to get a feed. He’s an above average climber and will hoist the bones into the trees and watch us when he eats. Sometimes he gets into our roof at night and bangs around. The general lack of (poisonous!) snakes around our house, thus far, touch wood, may be attributable to a robust mongoose population in this area. Of course, we have named ours (Thembi, which is generally a girl’s name, but whatever, it’s not like we’re able to check out his goods to confirm our suspicions).

It looks like one of the plants sprouting in the herb garden is an invader instead of a herb. The rest of the plants are doing well and at least three varieties of sprouts are thriving, including chives and so much coriander. Harvest for everything but bits of coriander is at least a month off. A small vegetable garden is the next, if constantly delayed, project. Mostly, indecision about where to put it.

Our compost expiriment (i.e. throwing all organic non meat waste in a pile in the backyard where we also put our fire ashes) has been a ridiculous success. The rate the waste degrades has sped up with regular dumping and our garbage is drastically reduced and less, um, pungent. Some of the waste is probably carried away by little animals, but most appears to be breaking down. The egg shells are the slowest to decompose thus far. Throwing coffee grounds and tea leaves on the pile doesn’t appear to affect anything either way. The pile itself has no discerable smell.

Today, thinking about quick pickling some green beans. I love pickles and I would love to just pickle my own vegetables whenever I like or whenever I have an excess. Flipping through a magazine awhile ago, I discovered that pickling isn’t conceptually restricted to the mammoth task I remember my grandmothers undertaking when I was growing up. (Think mason jars, sterilization and vats of mysterious boiling liquid). Pickling can, apparently, be very small scale and doesn’t necessarily involve the intensive sealing process if planning on eating the product quickly. All I know is green beans and pickled peppers are my all time favorite garnishes for ceasars… everyone needs goals.

One other thing. My entire life, I’ve been an injury prone bruiser. Being able to spend what is now almost a year in summer-like conditions with a lot more sunlight, specifically a lot more natural vitamin D, seems to be fixing a lot of things up. I got a bruise last week after literally slamming my leg into the corner of the car door. It’s the first big bruise I’ve had in a long time, and it’s way smaller and less oddly coloured than I would have expected. I don’t mean sunbathing type exposure, which can actually be harmful, but the twenty minutes per day off-peak kind of exposure recommended by some medical sources I am too lazy to find and refer to. The kind you get watering your herb garden, poking around in your compost and walking to get the paper.



Fishing in the Almost-Dark and Making Fried Chicken
March 9, 2011, 9:13 am
Filed under: gastronomy | Tags: , ,

Fried chicken? Success. Take away fried chicken? Redundant. Admittedly, I was nervous about cooking in hot oil, but I dealt with this by using a tin pot instead of a pan, which seemed to keep splatters under control. It worked especially well on a gas stove that throws a lot of consistent heat very quickly. I modified the basic steps that kept popping up in recipes to come up with this:

Need: chicken, flour, milk, egg, spices, oil.

1) chop up pieces of bone-in chicken so as to make them about half the size of a normal breast, try to keep skin well attached but avoid trimming any excess if it gets a little loose.
2) rinse the chicken pieces, let dry while getting to the rest
3) whisk an egg, some milk and any wet spices (ex. hot sauce) to the consistency of french toast batter. Fattier milk is better to make a custard-like coating that will stick well.
4) blend a substantial amount of flour (1 cup +) with a teaspoon of black pepper, a quarter teaspoon of salt, and whatever other spices seem like a good idea (some say paprika, I went with chili powder and a little mystery meat spice)
5) heat the oil while dredging the chicken well, first in the flour mix then in the egg mix. My attempts at a double coating were not as good as just making the first coat nice and thick. Roll the chicken pieces around a lot. [I cooked about 3 large pieces of chicken, chopped into five pieces, in about 2/3 a cup of oil. Some recipes call for way more, this seems like overkill.]. I had the oil on the highest temperature, but it’s important not to let oil sit at this temperature for very long because it poses an increasing fire risk when the chicken gets in I think.
6) drop the chicken into the oil skin side (if there is one) down. Leave to a golden brown, letting the batter solidify, for a couple of minutes. Flip. Brown more. Light golden brown, firm batter is sufficient – no need to aim for KFC colour yet.
7) turn heat down way low, at least on a gas stove, cover, cook for about half an hour. To me, this seemed crazy, so I kept checking on it, but it was totally fine. I actually switched to a lower level burner during this process. Now, Make some vegetable sides, do some dishes, do not leave oil on a stove alone. Your kitchen will start to smell vaguely like an old school KFC, not in a bad way.

Last: Remove the lid, turn the chicken over in the oil, cook five more minutes until desired level of crispy brownness is reached on the skin. Remove chicken from the oil and let the pieces drain and cool a bit. Let the oil cool in the stove before trying to remove it from the pot.

In the future, I’d like to tweak a spicier version. The batter/oil combo has given rise to all kinds of ideas about what could be gently fried in the future, from wontons to jalapenos. Overall, living somewhere without a wide variety of restaurants has created incentive to just make whatever might normally be picked up, to fulfill the cravings at home. This also means control over the salt, fat and random ingredients that might end up in the food.

Yesterday after dinner we went fishing at the rock pond where we normally snorkle and swim. LG dove around the baited hook to check what the fish were doing. They did not enjoy the sardine bait we had picked out, though they were checking it out, and the wind was ripping by the rocks where I was manning the line, blowing in a storm that would go all night. LG thinks we should get a spear gun to improve our fishing odds. I think we just need to get more tempting bait.



Sidebars
March 1, 2011, 9:43 am
Filed under: gastronomy, nomadisms, popconsumption, voyageur

Recent culinary adventures. It’s a cliche, but recently, sushi rolls. A mild coconut-pumpkin-chicken curry. Fresh mussles pulled from the rocks at low tide, cooked in a white wine lemon sauce, on top of some caper-butter spaghetti. Fresh salsa laced with baby coriander grown in the front yard. Chili con soya faux-carne and spaghetti bolognaise. Poached eggs and herb butter toast for all! A recent favorite is soy-chai quick oatmeal (oats cooked in soymilk with a cardamom pod and cinnamon, warming the milk with the spices in gently before adding the oats). A variation: cardamom, cinnamon, a little bit of late arriving dark chocolate with some chili flakes. Salads involving figs, preserved green figs being the best.

The price of groceries here allows a new level of expirimentation that is hard to justify at home, an average dinner for two with real protien comes in at about $1.50 to $2.50 per person, the most exotic at $3.50. We cook over an open fire about once a week, maybe Friday night.

Spices here are generally inexpensive and accessible, but for whatever reason garlic is very expensive and sub par. Similarly, tomatos are inexpensive but lacking in variety and often in flavor.

There is a secret ban going on against lunch meats, due to general gross chemicals and being overpriced. Okay, German salami (especially wild game salami) remains welcome at any time, but black forest ham and processed turkey breast have been summarily dismissed. There is no need to eat freaky-deaky preserved meats. I know I need to drink more wine while here, enjoy it, but it has been hard to shake the wine snob aversion that developed during college. Talking about, reading about, thinking too much about a bottle of old grapes… eh. But starting at a couple of dollars per bottle, it seems tragic to not test out stuff that also gets exported so when I find myself somewhere else paying far more I can pick out something worth the taxes that will at least be palatable.

*

Since leaving, I have had a disproportionate number of people say things like “it’s great you are following your heart!” or something along those lines. This always feels sort of odd, maybe because it gives an outside perspective on expat life that is easy to forget about. First, life here does not feel overly foreign to me, for whatever reason. I get considerably more culture shock when I visit the United States than I do coming here; though this wasn’t always the case, it was a reality by the time I came back this time. Second, living here wasn’t exactly some lifelong dream or fantasy, it was just something I decided to do, the same way someone else moves from one big city to another. What I consider a ‘normal’ move, though, is more like 20,000 km than 500 km these days, I guess. I decided to do this the same way I’ve decided to do everything else in my life, from picking my second degree to picking my university, it just seemed like an attractive obvious opportunity… so I took it. Third, living abroad for a few years is almost a rite of passage for someone my age from a similar socio-economic background here; emigrating completely is another popular standard. A large number of young people here also date, or end up married to, foreigners. It’s how we do.

Anyways, it should be stated, for the record: I did not hop off the plane, wind rustling my scarf, declaring a new era had arrived.

*

[At the moment, in limited internet capacities, loving The Hairpin. Reading it is like a flashback to the dawn of the internet when I realized that there were other sarcastic, funny, feminist women out there just waiting to be found if I could make it out of the backwoods. The era before writing was generated on a schedule, for ad revenue, but was instead painstakingly html’d and put out there because people felt like they had something they couldn’t not say. Double negative, imperative. It also reminds me that one of the first things I will do if I wind up living in a big city again is to connect with the feminist community because it’s full of smart funny chicks.]



cooking & booking
May 10, 2010, 4:29 am
Filed under: gastronomy, nomadisms, voyageur

I can actually feel how good that last layover may be, already. Imagine it. Taste it.

I’ll leave New York at 11 pm and try to sleep for most of the 13 hours. There will be a couple hours layover time before the next 11 1/2 hour leg. Finally, familiar territory. Morning coffee at a familiar chain, browsing my favorite newsstand, waiting a few hours for a short commuter flight that will take me to L.G. and the only airport that always feels like I’m coming home.

NYC is mostly a visit of convenience. It began as a one night layover waiting for shoulder season and turned into a family holiday. I’m more than content to shuttle between Broadway shows and Central Park with my parents, especially when I’ll be otherwise homeless and can crash in their conveniently located hotel room that will be much nicer than whatever budget dorm I was going to suss out. My mom is excited and planning.

For my last trip home, Canada Day Weekend, I’m going by train. My days of North American bus trips over three hours may be done. It’s been a minute since a good train trip and the idea of rolling along these fields as a sort of goodbye, for awhile, is pleasing.

All of this goes a long way towards breaking up the monotony. Being a student for so long, I’m best at four months and done by eight.

*

The lentils with bacon were outstanding. I ended up dumping the lentils into some miso onion soup I’d made yesterday for a hard, fast boil. Meanwhile, I started to fry the bacon. When it began to turn clear, I added roughly sliced carrots and more onions, cooking until the onions were clear. In retrospect, there could have been more carrots and – sacrément! – less bacon (the French inflection being in honor of the French lentils themselves and the great service done to elevate the lentil). I was working with about 100 grams to two cups of lentils and a cup of carrots and onions, maybe a third of a cup of white miso.

Anyways, when the bacon and vegetables were ready, I added them to the watered down onion soup lentil mixture and simmered the whole thing for just over an hour. All the liquid was just gone when I checked and the bacon (well, the fat mostly) made the lentils soft and delicious. It’s actually better cooled, the whole thing is the stuff of memories and was incredibly easy.

Miso and onions (fry in a little oil and then deglaze the pot bottom with water or wine) by far make the best “stock”. I’m less satisfied with the white miso than the thick dark brown stuff I’d had my hands on last summer, but the same effect is possible. The key seems to be taste testing and not adding too much or too little – mostly because it’s salty stuff. I like to get the miso mixing into the onions before deglazing but I’m not really sure it makes a difference. I’ve had a lot of carnivorous guys declare this “the best soup I’ve ever had.”

Yesterday, portabellas were ridiculously on sale, I think they must have overstocked. I had a grilled portabella panini last night (with sundried tomatos, two year Quebec cheddar, a running favorite right now for value/flavor, and olive tapenade I’m trying to use up now that I’m cream cheese free). I clearly need to work on my mushrooms, as it was edible but not satisfying. I suspect the remaining portabellas are destined for a little pasta this week as I take another run at mushrooms.

Discovered one of the groceries is stocking really good strawberry gelato tubes. It’s been surprisingly easy to let ice cream go, but the craving for something rich and frozen remains. The little bit of lemon juice make these a current favorite, followed by the cupcakes down the street with their slightly salty buttercream icing…