Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sidney Fairway and international foods

Sheila had an appointment at Salon J in Sidney for a haircut.   While she was in with Jamie, Max and I went into the Sidney Fairway.   I was surprised at the extensive and interesting international food section they have.  Many Fairways have a good Asian food selection and ours at Gorge and Tillicum has a British food section.   What they have in Sidney beyond those is Mexican, Jamaican and Dutch foods.
From Jamaica - Adobo seasonings and guava paste

Chocolate sprinkles for your bread - a Dutch treat

Can these tortillas really be better than the ones I buy?

The containers are glasses, I should have bought
both of them to try them, I have never tried a
real chocolate mole

 I am was impressed to see instant masa available and tortilla presses.  I bought one of the presses and played with it a bit today.  The corn tortillas did not turn out, but I have an idea of what I was doing wrong.  Initially the dough was too dry - the consistency of play dough seems to be where it should be.  I also should have used the cast iron fry pan instead of the non stick pan.
I loved Nutella as kid, this is Dutch version that
is hazelnut and vanilla

From Jamaica, mackerel in tomato sauce

A Dutch version of Nutella

Masterchef Australia - "live" reviewing

So Bernard has downloaded the 3rd season of MasterChef Australia, the vastly superior original to the American version. Twenty Four episodes of cooking madness, we have our entertainment planned for days.

We are mid series right now so we have the serious cooks left and the various personalities have had a chance to shine through - the good and the bad. My favorites are the earnest ones, they take the cooking seriously, they try so hard and are appreciative of the skills of their competitors. They often make the best dishes and have the most true passion for food.

Then there are my least favorite - the whiners. The ones who are always dreading the next challenge, seem to always not like the options they have and think they are the best cooks going. Occasionally they are pretty good, but even then they are obnoxious because they are not nearly as good as they think - and the people around them are usually better than they think. I get tired of hearing how horribly they have been treated and how unfair life is to them. I also find it interesting that the things they think are the worst I think are the interesting bits. These ones also tend to cook variations on some very limited themes and if they have to depart from their theme they are lost and generally fail tragically.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fairway in Sidney - WOW

I am stunned at the international food section at the Fairway in Sidney, more details and pics about that tomorrow, the main thing I wanted to say for tonight is that I bought instant masa and a tortilla press there, a real from Mexico tortilla press.   Time to experiment with my own corn tortillas

Just another small scale farm

I came across Green Girl Gardens when I was doing some reading about the current Peninsula Coop election process.  One of the "girls", Jeanette Sheehy, is running for a position on the board.

View Larger Map

They are one of the many new set of young small scale farmers/gardeners that have come of the food security movement and trying their hand at raising food.   I wish them well and will try out some of their produce if I get a chance, but I suspect they will not last more than a couple of years.

Farming is hard work and produces low returns.   From the late 60s to the early 80s there was a strong back the land movement in BC and in general most of those nouveau farmers did not last.   As one of them told me once "Yeah, I tried growing wheat by hand and doing all the harvesting with a sickle and then threshing it, but in the end my life is simpler not doing that."   The people in their 20s to early 30s coming out of the food security movement are unlikely to last long.  

You can buy their produce at their road side stall at 1133 Mount Newton Cross Road, the Sidney Summer Market, Moss Street Market and the Centennial Square Market.  Having sold at a farmer's market in the past, the volume of production they need to sustain being at three markets is fairly large.  I have no idea how much land they are working and what their scale of production is.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Aubergine Fine Foods 1308 Gladstone

I so rarely get into Fernwood, but I got a chance to do so yesterday and got a chance to see Aubergine Fine Foods at 1308 Gladstone.

It is utterly amazing how much Leon Zetler can fit into his 602 square foot tiny store.   My quick estimate is that he has less than 100 linear feet of shelf space.  

One of the things that really intrigues me is that you can roast coffee to order there.  I am curious to see what that tastes like.  I am also interested to see if I can buy green coffee beans from him so that I can play around with it.

While I was in the store, there was a steady stream of customers.   It was a rare few minutes that there was no one coming up to the till.  Leon has obviously made an impression on the local community.   Fernwood has had no store in the core of the community for as long as I can remember.   He is fulfilling a local corner store need along with supplying foodies.

He is originally from the Western Cape of South Africa and has a selection of South African foods and maintains a database of people interested in knowing about products coming in from there, you can sign up for it by dropping him a line.  He also hosts quarterly South African socials that you can find out about through signing up.

I highly recommend you take the trip to Fernwood and check out the store.

Cornerstone Cafe in Fernwood

I went into the Cornerstone Cafe wanting to like it, the decor is interesting, it seems to attract people hang out and give Fernwood a place to meet each other.   Unfortunately it came up a bit flat.

Cornerstone Cafe location in 1988
Back in the 1980s I spent a lot of time in Fernwood.   The building the cafe is in was known as the Gladstone Hilton and a very cheap rooming house.  Various friends that were artists or were on the edges of society lived there.  The building was also home to one of my favorite haunts in the city in 1988/89 - Endangered Species Bookstore.  The bookstore was huge and the guy running it was eccentric in a Fernwood way.  It also had a small but very well run cafe in it that served some of the best Thai influenced food I have ever had.

I have lived in Victoria again since 2004 but I am very rarely in Fernwood, there are very few reasons for me to go there.  I may go there more now I have been to Aubergine Fine Foods.

The whole experience at the Cornerstone Cafe was rather hit and miss:

  • Some of the staff were great, some of the staff exuded attitude, bad enough to make me feel unwelcome
  • The coffee was passable but not that much better than even Tim Hortons
  • It was great to see they made their own ice tea, unfortunately is bland and without any depth.  It needed more fragrance - one of the reasons Earl Grey tea makes such a good ice tea - and it did not have the hit of citrus all good ice tea needs.
  • The turkey panini was decent enough, but not at the price.   Turkey tends to be the most boring meat out there when it is used as a sandwich filling.  The panini could have used a better mayo and more cranberry.

I really did want to like the place because it is a project of the Fernwood NRG.   They are the best thing to have happened to Fernwood community and social services in many, many years.  Unfortunately I would only be liking it for charity reasons and not because it was a good eating experience.

Cornerstone Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 16, 2011

Where did the spring go?

The straw mulch is being overwhelmed
by some weeds
I had meant to get a lot more of veggie garden into the ground and even expand it by the start of May, but low and behold we are half way through the month and I still have very little in the ground.

I have managed to plant some rhubarb and two red currants, but the walking onions, a blueberry and another red currant are not yet in the ground.

I may have some lettuce and spinach, but I have not sown the second set yet.

I do not have my peas and beans in the ground yet.

I have prepared about 60 seedling pots but only have about 15 filled.

Radishes, Spinach and Lettuce
I wanted to have a new bed for some tall sunflowers, it is still not underway.

I do not have the time to get it all done!!!!!

I really wanted this year to the year in which most of my produce from June 1st to October 15th would come from my garden

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The birth of a cocktail

Earlier this week we had guests over for dinner to visit with our out of country guests. We had dinner under control and all was well when Bernard, my husband, suggested it was time for margaritas. No Margarita mix. What to do? Make up a cocktail.

Inspiration. I whipped out the Chocolate bitters I had recently bought after trying them at Culinaire in a cocktail whipped up by the Oak Bay Marina restaurant. Borrowing further inspiration from their use of citrus tequila, I grabbed some lemons and zested them. Wanting it not to be sour I added sugar and hot water to dissolve – and realized that I was about to make alcohol spiked lemon water. Pause. Rethink. Dump it in a pot and boil to reduce.

Back to the cocktail shaker. In go the chocolate bitters – which truly taste a lot like bitter chocolate – now what... Simple syrup (kind of) boiling, not that. What goes with chocolate and citrus? Almonds. Yum. Almond flavouring in. Vodka in. Now I am feeling like I have a cocktail on the go.

Grab another lemon. Try to do the cool peel like in a French 75 – get a inch and a quarter long limp string of zest. Close enough, into the bottom of the martini glasses.

Guests are arriving, more glasses. The pressure is building, dinner is almost ready, got to get this thing out.

Hot syrup not okay for a cold cocktail. Ice into the shaker. Bits of zest and pulp floating in the syrup, not good. Strain. Okay. Into the shaker. Shake like the dickens. Into a pitcher with lots more ice. Pour over my poor little lemon peels, add some club soda to dilute the booze a bit. Serve.

Accolades?!?!?! It is a hit. It needs a name. In honour of the visiting 85 year old - who I know from experience can drink me under the table - the “Sabine-tini” is born....

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Masterchef Australia is BACK for season 3!

Sheila and I are just sitting down to watch epsiode #1 of season three of Masterchef Australia.   This is by far the best cooking reality show out there.

  • It is long - I think 85 episodes this year
  • It is really well done and not about bullshit game play.
  • You really get to know the people, and these people are like we are, interested amateur foodies.
  • Gary, George and Matt rock.

I watched Masterchef in the UK in the early 1990s when Lloyd Grossman was the host and had this pouncy drowning in the mid-Atlantic accent.  He really was the best part of the show as the rest of if was pretentious.

I watched Masterchef New Zealand and I did not like the hosts and the whole program had a lot fewer episodes making it less compelling.   The New Zealand format was the identical format used in Masterchef USA and the choice of hosts was not great.  I love Gordon Ramsay on TV when he is doing it in the UK, when he works for FOX he is not himself but a caricature.

The challenges are interesting and compelling, getting to know the people and seeing them grow is interesting.   It is also very well put together, the producer and director are brilliant.

Top Chef is good, but really pales in comparison even though Top Chef has serious chefs.   Iron Chef America is decent but has become stuck in a rut of the same pattern of the episodes.

All I can say is that if you like food and enjoy cooking, you need to watch this show.