Women's Work, Women's Bodies & Returning to Comfort

Depending on how much you buy into the hype and dialogue about Depression 2.0, you may also be considering some of the claims about how the economy affects people.

One thing is certain: men are being affected more than women. Men have experienced a whopping 82% of the job losses thus far. The author of the Slate article I've linked to, Emily Bazelon, has extended this claim to insist that male job losses are affecting relationships. It poses some confusion for the traditional roles of men and women, as well as some opportunities for women in the work force. It's certainly not easy for anyone.

Another belief about economic hardship that pertains to women is that female sex symbols plump out in difficult times. We seek more maternal, substantive and rubenesque body types when the economy is down: Marilyn Munroe, Nigella Lawson, or Scarlet JoHansson. By contrast, in periods of economic stability or excess, we admire thinner women: Twiggy in the sixties, or Kate Moss during the heroine chic of the Nineties.

The psychology behind this thinking is that we seek fertility and certainty in uncertain times and our sex symbols usually stand in contrast to the status quo. As resources are scarce, we value women with more meat. When resources are plentiful, we admire those who show self-restraint.

You can look at the evolution of different women's body types here and decide for yourself where we're headed. One thing is certain: times are tough right now so maybe we all need a little extra comfort food. (Besides, it might be a little sexy.)
Eat some grilled cheese. It makes everything better.

5-Blend Grilled Cheese Sandwich

No, this recipe does not abound in antioxidants. You can get some fiber if you use a nice whole-grain or 12-grain bread and the cheese has lots of calcium and a good amount of fat so you really absorb all the benefits of the calcium. We all know it's high in fat though, so it's not something I would make every day. I almost forgot: there's one more thing it's high in: soul. This recipe is very, very comforting and good for your soul.

2 tbsp of Boursin or Rondelé
2 tbsp of freshly-shredded strong cheddar
2 tbsp of freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 tbsp of freshly-grated mozzarella
2 tbsp of freshly-grated Gruyere
4 slices of 12-grain bread
3-4 tbsp of salted butter

Butter all the sides of the bread. Mix together the bousin with all the cheeses to form somewhat of a paste. Spread paste on 2/4 of the bread slices. Top cheese slices with other bread slices to form sandwiches. Fry in pan with butter until golden brown. Squish bread flat for panini effect. Serve with homemade vegetable soup.

The parmigiano-reggiano and cheddar add lots of flavour to the cheese blend, while the mozzarella and Gruyere lend a melty and deliciously stringy texture. The Boursin adds a herbaceous creaminess to the blend.

The last untouched, sacred ground

I read this article in the New York Times today about advertisers encroaching on every square inch of marketable space... including the human body. I remember the political opposition from students at McGill when Zoom Media began advertising inside bathroom stalls. Some thought it was effective: what else have you got to do but read when you're sitting on the toilet? Others opposed it on the grounds that advertising knew no boundaries.

Is nothing sacred anymore?

I'd like to optimistically argue that food is one thing that has remained sacred. 

Many might disagree with me. It has to be organic! The contemporary food preparations we use are disassociated from the  true origins of those foods, they might argue.

You may be familiar with the poem, A Supermarket in California by the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. In 1955, he wrote about the emergence and absurdity of an all-in-one location to replace the boucherie, boulangerie, fromagerie, poissonnerie, and patisserie. Amidst his surreal experience, he mused, What price bananas?, as if to suggest that bananas are tropical and unnervingly cheap to be sold in non-native America.

Instead of being daunted or unnerved by the grocery store, perhaps it is more important than ever to remember what our vegetables look like in their natural state, maybe to make an effort to grow something or pick something every once in a while. I've been reading Michael Pollens books lately in an effort to educate myself about our food industry. (Did you know almost all processed food in America originates with corn?) I try to eat organic food, but it doesn't work out all the time. It's tricky, expensive, and not always an available option.

I take refuge, nonetheless, in the simple act of cooking. In previous posts, I have referred to the mortar and pestle as the preferred tools to make pesto, and that I like eating chickpeas because they connect me with my ancestors, as they were one of the most anciently cultivated foods.

I don't mean to get too spiritual. However, I believe that the very simple act of cooking, preparing different ingredients to equal something greater than the sum its parts, connects us with our forefathers. Maybe it's not hand-grown or organic or even market-fresh all the time, but that chopping and mixing and cooking meditation is still magical. And it's still something that people have done for centuries before us.

So here is something ancient that I love: tabouleh. As you eat it, feel some cosmic connectivity to your ancestors. (Or just enjoy it because it's delicious and so nutritious.)

Tabouleh: A Marriage of Wonderful Things

1 cup of bulgur wheat
1 cup of boiling water
1 bouillion cube (optional: chicken, beef or veggie- your choice)
4 firm vine tomatoes, cubed
2 cups of Italian parseley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh mint
1 Vidalia onion, chopped finely
2 lemons' juices & rinds
2 tsp salt
generous freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Bring water to a boil. Pour over bulgur and bouillion. Set aside and let rest for 20 minutes or so. Combine onion and tomatoes. Toss in parseley and mint. Add the lemon rind.

When the wheat has absorbed all the water, squeeze out excess or place in a sieve to drain. Combine wheat with vegetables. Pour olive oil and lemon juice over the mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Coquille D'oeuf et Techniques Mixtes

I went to the AGO this weekend and got that itchy, inspired feeling. This is partly due to:
  1. being around genius creativity
  2. being around lovers of genius creativity
  3. that hopefulness that occurs in the pre-Spring
One of the pieces that stood out in my mind was a series of seven eggs by Walter Trier, the famous illustrator and satirist called Coquille D'oeuf et Techniques Mixtes (1938-1946). Translation: egg shell and mixed technique. Each of the egg shells were constructed in the likeness of a famous character. They included Albert Einstein, Gandhi, and Harry S. Truman.

I found the egg sculptures so charming that my mind naturally wandered to The Egg itself. To hold an egg in your hand has a pleasantness about it: smooth shape, matte shell and surprising weight. The ergonomics of its configuration are so perfect that they inspired the entire aesthetic behind Nigella Lawson's line of cookware.

There has been great debate about the value and nutrition of eggs: whether they raise cholesterol or not, whether we should limit our intake.

Eggs are a terrific source of protein, containing all amino acids required by the human body. They contain all B vitamins, A, as well as some D and E. Eggs have iodine, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, calcium and iron. You would be hard-pressed to find a more nutritionally dense and perfect food.

Early studies on eggs and diet indicated that they raised bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and should thus be avoided by those who were watching their cholesterol intake. More recent studies have indicated that they raise the body's good (HDL) cholesterol levels in proportion to the bad (LDL) so the effect of egg consumption on the body's cholesterol is benign.

I like to think about food philosophically, as much as I care about the science behind it.

When I think about what an egg is- particularly one that has been fed organic vegetable feed and laid by a hen who roams happily outdoors- I wonder how it could fail to be nutritious. A compact and dense concentration of the nutrients for life to form: seems like an ok snack to me.

Mark Bittman, of the New York Times wrote, about mastering the omelet this week in his blog. He tries the technique explicitly laid out by Julia Child, flicking his wrist with just the right motion.

Perhaps in time I will have the patience for omelets, but, in the meantime, I have discovered the frittata for my lazy ways.  Start it on the stove top then throw it under the broiler to see it puff up beautifully. Boom! It's ready and perfectly-set every time.

Herbaceous Frittata

4 shallots, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of olive oil (sometimes I use bacon fat for flavor, your choice)

Preheat your oven to the broiler setting. Make sure the rack is set high to the top for pending broiling activity. Sauté shallots in a large skillet over medium heat until they soften and become translucent.

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh tarragon, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of fresh basil, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of whipping cream (milk will do if you prefer)
2 tablespoons of freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 tablespoons of freshly-grated aged white cheddar
1 garlic clove, minced
6 eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine the herbs, garlic and cheeses with the beaten eggs. Season mixture with salt and pepper. 

Pour mixture into the skillet with the shallots and stir about with a rubber spatula so shallots are evenly integrated. Cook for 4 minutes or until the bottom of the mixture has set.

Place the skillet in the oven. Cook for 4 minutes or until the frittata is gently browned and fluffy. Remove from oven. (Careful with the handle!) Slide frittata out of skillet. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Cut into 6 pieces. Serve.

Fritattas are also delicious served cold. If you have leftovers, they make excellent lunches and taste delicious in wraps with salsa. Enjoy!


Happy Valentine's Day!

A recent article in The Economist made me reminiscent about my time spent in the Basse-Normandie region of France, in a small town called L'Aigle. 

The article outlines a recent and disturbing trend in France. The nation of the traditional slow, savored lunch is succumbing to faster meal options. Most notable of these is the sandwich. Apparently, the French ate 50 million more sandwiches in 2007 than they did in 2008. Boutique sandwich shops are cropping up all over the country. Young office works remain at their desks more and more.

The economic crisis, and thus, reactionary decline in three-course bistro eating has been cited as the cause for thousands of restaurants to go out of business.

It's such a shame.

Lunchtime was my favourite time of day when I was in France. We got two-and-a-half hours off school and the whole family would meet at home. My surrogate mother, Anne, would make delicious, wholesome meals like stuffed artichokes and fresh green pea soup. We would eat four or five courses, always accompanied by a requisite baguette and an assortment of local cheeses. And wine. There would always be wine.

It was simply heavenly.

In countries like France and Germany, lunch has traditionally been the dominant meal of the day, while dinner is lighter and more basic. This meal arrangement has always made sense to me, as it gives your metabolism lots of time to break down the heavier meal - instead of sleeping on it!

I hope it gets reincarnated.

In the meantime, here is a lovely stuffed artichoke recipe to make as an starter or a side for a North American slow dinner.

Stuffed Artichokes

4 large-sized artichokes

1 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 cup of freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 anchovy fillets, chopped finely (optional, but live a little!)
1 egg
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped finely

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 lemon

Cut off the artichoke stems. Peel and chop stems then set aside in a bowl. Add egg, bread crumbs and parmigiano-reggiano. The consistency should feel like a cohesive paste. If it needs more moisture, you can always add a little olive oil.

To prep the artichokes, trim off a small portion of the top of each artichoke and cut off the sharp top of each leaf. Wash and dry each artichoke and crack leaves open for filling.

Stuff filling in between the leaves of the artichokes. Place them in a dutch oven with 3 inches of water in the bottom and throw in the lemon halve. Make sure not to affect the filling. If you pack them tightly then they won't risk tipping over.

Drizzle olive oil on top of artichokes. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Lower heat to a simmer and keep pot partially covered. Cook for an additional 45-60 minutes or until leaves are tender.

Artichokes are done when the leaves can pull off easily. 

Oh yes, and they are renowned aphrodisiacs, so enjoy them with someone you love for a Valentine's Day feast!

No More Sundried Tomato and Pesto!

Don't get me wrong, it's not that there is anything wrong with it, but, in the late nineties, everywhere you went, it seemed like everything had sun-dried tomato and pesto in it: sandwiches, pasta, pizza.

I like sundried tomatoes just fine, and I adore pesto, but I vehemently disagree with the incessant pairing. I find the flavors too demanding, too competitive. Those two ingredients together, combined with a poorly-executed, jarred pesto is almost enough to put me off pesto altogether. Almost...

When pesto is done right, it becomes a thing of true beauty. I went through a short phase of pesto perfection which included the research and purchase of a mortar and pestle. The word pesto, after all, comes from the same origin as pestle with an emphasis on pounding and crushing. It is not enough to simply pound and then crush, these two actions must take place simultaneously for a successful pesto.

This being said, a food processor or magic bullet is not an option. Although making the sauce fresh will always rival jarred or other store-bought varieties, you will get the best results with a little old-fashioned sweat and a mortar and pestle.

Many say that the very best pesto comes from Genoa, Italy. The superior taste is attributed to the quality of the soil in the Ligurian region, which produces the most fragrant basil. We can't all go to Genoa, but, suffice to say, quality ingredients count when you are producing pesto. I insist that you use the best ingredients you can find and you will notice the superior results.

It's also one of those lovely, rustic practices like that of making bread, that link us to our forefathers. There is a lovely serenity in that connectivity.

Bearing that in mind, once you have mastered the traditional version, pesto can be created using different nuts and greens: try walnut and cilantro, or almond and watercress. The hard cheese can be altered as well. Instead of the traditional parmigiano-reggiano, try pecorino romano. The possibilities for new combinations are endless!

Traditional Pesto alla Genovese

pinch of kosher salt
3 cloves of garlic
large handful of basil

Place the salt in the mortar and add the garlic, breaking and mashing it into the salt until it breaks down into a paste. Next, add the basil working in 3-4 small batches. Bruise the leaves against the coarse salt and garlic mixture. If needed add a touch more salt to help break it down.

a small handful of pine nuts (toasted for best flavor)
2/3 cup of freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
3 tbsp of high-quality, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil

Add the pine nuts, working in 2-3 batches, pounding and crushing it into the paste. Do the same with the hard cheese, but exercise restraint. Many a pesto has been ruined by an American palette insisting that more is always better with when it comes to cheese! Finally, cover the entire mixture in olive oil.

Enjoy spread on toast, as a pizza sauce and as a pasta sauce. (When using as a pasta sauce, toss in some of the pasta cooking water to help the pasta bind with the sauce and create a silky texture.

Bloody Beloved Beet Root

I was recently asked how the food in Australia differs from that in Canada. My response was that Australians put a great emphasis on natural and organic foods, oh, and one other thing: they put beet root on their burgers.

How strange the conventions of food customs are! I expect a burger to come with tomato, onion and lettuce, served with ketchup, mustard and relish on the side. Where the heck did this beet root come from? 

It shows up in dips, salads and juices also so there is no doubting that it is more prominent in Australian cuisine generally, but how did it become such a staple that it shows up on a burger from McDonalds?

The beet has been shown to lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease and certain cancers, particularly colon cancer. It has also demonstrated lowering inflammation and reducing incidences of birth defects.

What I love about beets is their alarming color, the same goriness that used to frighten me as a child. As we have now learned with food, any whole food that has an intense color is plentiful in certain nutrients. And nothing is more intense than the staining crimson of a beet! I particularly love when beets are combined with creamy or white foods to produce a sensational pink color. Stay tuned in future posts for my mother's famous rosolje recipe (for those with an adventurous or Baltic/ Scandinavian palette.)

Delicious Roasted Beet Salad

1/2 cup of walnuts
2 tsp olive oil
pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine walnuts with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat nuts. Spread on baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until toasted. Set aside to cool.

6 medium-sized beets, trimmed and washed
3 shallots, thinly sliced

Wrap beets individually and place on a baking sheet with a lip. Bake at 350ºF until tender, about an hour and a half. Let cool for 20-25 minutes then peel the beets by holding them under running water and rubbing off the skins. (Wear rubber gloves to avoid stained hands!)

Cut beets into wedges and place in a mixing bowl with shallots. 

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2-3 pinches of salt
pinch of sugar (or a squirt of honey)
fresh ground black pepper

Combine dressing ingredients. Taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour over beets and shallots and toss. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

1/2 pound of baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
3 oz of fresh goat cheese, crumbled

To plate, place beet-shallot mixture atop beds of spinach. Crumble goat cheese and walnuts on top. Savour deliciousness. Revel at pink-colored beauty as salad is consumed.

Witch's Brew

I used to love going over to my grandparents' house when I was little because they would let me make witch's brew from the contents of the pantry. It always wound up looking and smelling the same, but it was fun to imagine I might accidently invent something extraordinary.

These days I still make witch's brew, but it serves a more practical purpose: to mend coughs and colds.

It always begins with ginger, another one of those anciently cultivated whole foods (like my beloved garbanzo bean.) Ginger's potent heat provides anti-nauseant, analgesic, antibacterial, and antipyretic qualities to the ailing body, in addition to aiding with digestive motility. It also increases the production of saliva due to its sialagogue nature. It can even combat flatulence with its carminative benefits.

Is there anything that ginger can't do?

When I have a cold, I combine ginger alongside garlic and lemon to form a foul-tasting, but effective brew. Naturally, this is not the drink to consume before a first date! When I'm feeling under the weather though, I swear by this remedy.

Garlic is supposed to aid in the prevention of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cancer. There are even discussions about it assisting in diabetes management and acting as a blood thinner like aspirin.

When you have a nasty cough or cold, garlic acts as an expectorant to break down the build up of mucus in your throat, sinuses and lungs. Like ginger, it is an antibiotic.

The most important feature of garlic, however, is that which it is most famous for: its potent smell. Garlic has potent sulfur in it which gets metabolized by the body and forms allyl methyl sulfide. AMS is unable to be digested so it gets passed through the blood and eventually makes its way to the lungs and skin where it is released. In the process of making your skin and breath stink, garlic removes toxins, bacterias and other nasties from your body.

Lastly, the tart lemon adds some extra vitamin C to the brew. It's acidity helps to clear the mucus from the throat and it is also antibacterial because of its low PH. It increases the metabolism and helps to cleanse out the poor liver.


Witches' Brew for Sick Little Witches

6-8 inches of ginger (honestly, the more the merrier)
1/2 head of garlic (or 5-6 cloves)
4 cups of water
1 lemon
honey (to taste)

Slice the ginger and garlic into thin pieces and toss into a pot with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Add lemon peel. Simmer 5 more minutes. Add all the juice of the lemon and squeeze honey into individual mugs. Enjoy! ( Well, perhaps enjoy is not the word. It will taste terrible, but it will fix you!)

Note: if you have access to a sauna or steam room, you can speed up the process of the antibiotics and get that allyl methyl sulfide through your system faster so you don't smell like a garlic factory.

Get well soon!