Last week, I went to the dentist for my first cleaning in about two years. I won’t get too into how absolutely outrageous it is that our teeth are considered a luxury you only get to take care of when you’re gainfully employed (if you’re lucky enough to even have benefits) rather than an integral part of your health, but anyway, I was anticipating the worst. Thankfully I had no serious issues to report, and as a reward for making the appointment (and for not crying during it), we went out to dinner at Farina a Legna. We’ve ordered takeout from them consistently during the pandemic, but haven’t eaten in since shortly after their opening in 2019.
Although I still miss the creativity of the pizza place that used to occupy that space (Il Castello), I do love it for its homey kitchen feel, kind staff, delicious food, and adorable bottled cocktails (see the above photo). We had a mixed green salad with pear, fennel, and candied walnuts, and a prosciutto arugula pizza, and had a lovely time catching snippets of neighbouring tables’ conversations— aside from the masks it felt almost like pre-pandemic times. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see paper menus on the table when we sat down! Nothing against the simplicity and versatility of the QR code version, but for whatever reason, I do find it more difficult to focus on an online menu.
In other local news, my favourite North Shore brewery, Beere, celebrated its 4th anniversary last Saturday, so we went down to check it out. Everyone got a little paper bucket of popcorn and a bag of goodies with the chance for a prize— Jeff and I each got a gift card to use at the brewery in the future. Although it was rainy and gross, their patio heaters and 3-sided tent made it feel cozy instead of dreary (I was warm enough to take off my hat and coat). And while we reminisced about visiting the brewery on their opening weekend when they had only four beers to try, we got to enjoy the presence of other patrons’ dogs (a consistent Beere feature). I’ll probably be there again on Halloween, because I’ve heard they’re having a costume contest… for dogs.
The incredible levels of rain we’ve been getting lately (not to mention the windstorm) has meant that it’s decidedly soup weather. I had planned to make a black bean soup, but realized halfway through the day I’d forgotten to soak the beans. I was sure I’d be able to do it in the instant pot, though, and this Smitten Kitchen recipe proved me right. I mostly went with the ingredients in the Veganomicon recipe I’d chosen originally— similar enough in spirit but with a bunch more vegetables— and added some smoked and hot paprika to approximate the flavour of chipotles in adobo (I was out) from Deb’s version.
I also noticed that although the instant pot recipe has you adding salt at the end, there is no reason not to add it before cooking: the idea that beans don’t cook properly if you add salt is an old wives’ tale! If your beans don’t cook properly, it’s due to the water not being hot enough during cooking, or because they’re too old. And there is really no way to get the same depth of flavour by salting food at the end instead of the beginning. I also cooked for 10 minutes longer than specified because I wanted to blend the soup fully; I simply cannot abide a partially blended soup. Overall I was thrilled with the results— a smoky, spicy, hearty bean soup in just over an hour, instead of several hours cooking beans on the stovetop. I served it with some sour cream mixed with lime and feta on top, and a quesadilla for dipping.
Later in the week I roasted one of the two butternut squash our garden plant produced and made it into soup, curried squash with coconut milk and pear. This was another non-recipe soup, just beginning with carrot, celery, and onion fried in oil, with the addition of ginger, garlic, and curry powder before adding the liquids with the pear and squash. I added the pear mostly because I had so many ripe ones that needed using, but it’s a lovely addition for a little extra substance and sweetness that complements the squash (otherwise, a dash of maple syrup is often added to bring out the flavour in squash dishes). We ate this with slices of fresh sourdough, and a little sour cream and aleppo pepper on top. The velvety texture of squash soup is really like no other.
I was a bit overzealous when buying my produce bin this week, and after it arrived I was overwhelmed by feelings of “oh god, how will I use all of this?” One of the items was a beautiful bulb of fennel still with all the fronds attached, but I’m never really sure what to do with fennel other than slice it for salad or use it in stock. I remembered someone telling me ages ago about a grilled cheese with roasted fennel that they loved, so I decided to do that: slicing the bulb into wedges and tossing with oil and salt. At the same time, I also wrapped some beets in foil to cook and dice for a side salad.
In the salad I used red kale leaves, crushed between my hands to soften them, citrus vinaigrette, pistachios, and chopped mint, dill, and some of the fennel fronds. Normally I’d add feta to a beet salad as well, but since I was serving it with a cheese sandwich, I figured that’d be overkill. Once roasted, the fennel caramelizes at the edges and the flavour is mellowed, marrying well with the cheese and lots of ground pepper. The sandwich was delicious— I used aged cheddar, grated over both sides to help keep the fennel from falling out, but I’m sure gruyère or emmenthaler would be very nice too. I personally love beet salad and find it very satisfying to eat, but if you don’t care for beets, this set of ingredients would still be good with diced apple, or roasted squash.
Also this week, to use up my multitude of ripe pears and some of the bowl full of remaining green tomatoes from the garden, I canned five jars of pear and green tomato chutney. I don’t think it’ll be quite as good as my usual apple chutney, but after discovering both my remaining jars of that had broken seals, I’m willing to settle. And I had a pound of brussels sprouts to use, so I made my version of the Six Seasons brussels sprouts gratin again, adding aged balsamic vinegar and wedges of potato to the original recipe. There’s nothing like taking nice, healthy vegetables, dousing them in enough dairy and prosciutto to kill a Victorian child, and calling it dinner. If I spend $30 at the grocery store buying two normal-sized pieces of cheese, I’m damned well getting my money’s worth.
I read this piece by Jenna Mahale for Bitch, about social media’s current fascination with TikTok/YouTube sensation Emily Mariko. People feel satisfied watching her neatly organize her produce in containers in the fridge, soothed watching her prep food in her gleaming, modern kitchen, and validated to see her using white rice or full-fat mayo in her cooking. While she has been praised for her unfancy, realistic attitude towards eating, the article examines what makes lifestyle influencing so pernicious: namely, that it necessarily preys on the insecurities of everyday people about their own lives.
We may watch videos like hers and feel wistful or guilty about not having it “together” enough to have a fridge full of beautifully chopped produce or dozens of matching glass storage containers, or even to make our own lunches. But we must remember that Mariko, as with nearly all hugely successful influencers, creates her appealingly organized food content as a job, not in addition to one. As the author points out,
“We might all have time to make a rotating menu of dessert-inspired overnight oats each week if prep time counted as billable hours and contributed to the fortification of a successful online brand.”
It’s also worth noting that Mariko herself is young, thin, and able-bodied: why is it that the girl of the moment, whom people have apparently chosen for her “refreshingly realistic” food content, looks so much like all the “wellness” influencers that came before her? Would people be as receptive to her squeezing kewpie mayo on top of her rice if her body existed outside the spectrum of what is considered acceptable on a societal level? I think we know the answer.
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, so donations I can use towards cookbooks or future treats are much appreciated. I hope you all have a fun, safe, and treat-filled Halloween— please enjoy this spooky galette.