Friday, December 24, 2010

Roast Chicken

rIt is tradition to have a roast bird of some sort around the holidays. The only one most people make at other times of the year, is usually chicken. While a very common thing to make, It can also be intimidating for many cooks.

The difficulty is that chicken, to be safe, must be cooked almost to the point of being overdone - there is very little margin for error. To make things more difficult, a chicken has an irregular shape, with a cavity in the middle and the breast and legs cook at different rates. Proper roasting of birds requires technique and I will share it with you. I will give the instructions based on roasting a chicken, but the general technique is similar for most poultry.

Roast Chicken

1 roasting chicken - 2 kg or larger
1 stick butter
salt and pepper
1 apple, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
dried thyme
1/3 cup orange marmalade

Obviously, the first step is to choose a quality chicken. Organic and free range is ideal, but do what your budget allows. If you are cooking for a small group of people, a slightly different suggestion is to use a capon. Capons are male chickens (castrated) and are larger than regular chickens, usually about 3-5 kilos. The bird you will see in the photos is actually a small capon. Some people will tell you to wash chicken before cooking. I don’t think it is completely necessary. If the bird smells a little, it is probably a good idea to give it a rinse, otherwise I wouldn’t bother - this will be in the oven for a long time and will be cooked to a high temperature. If you do wash it, make sure to thoroughly dry it before continuing. One optional thing you can do which may help with carving later on is to remove the wishbone before cooking. This will allow you to easily slice down the entire length of the breast. The wishbone is located just above the neck (opposite side from the cavity). You can make a little slit alongside each part of the bone and scrape along the length of the bone. As long as you just use the tip of your knife this will not damage the cooked meat. It will work best to work with your fingers. Follow each bone up to where they meet and use your fingers to tear meat away from the bone and pull the bone out. It may not come out all in one piece. If it doesn’t, find the remaining piece and pull that out.

Season the bird with salt and pepper on both sides. Toss the apple and lemon with salt, pepper and thyme and put them inside the cavity. This is the only form of stuffing you should be adding to your bird. That instruction goes double for turkey. If you stuff a turkey, there are only two possible results: horribly overcooked and dry breast meat or food poisoning from undercooked stuffing (which will contain undercooked turkey juices). Make your stuffing or dressing in a separate cooking vessel. There are ways to incorporate turkey flavour or drippings without running the risks of directly stuffing the bird. You can stuff small birds and still get a good result, but I personally wouldn’t stuff anything larger than a cornish hen. Melt the butter and brush it all over both sides of the bird. If you want to use a little less butter it can be diluted with a bit of chicken stock. I don’t do this, but my mom does and it works just fine. Place a roasting rack in a foil-lined roasting pan and place the bird breast side down in the pan and put in a 325 degree oven.

After about 20 minutes, remove the bird, flip it over so it is breast side up, and baste this side with butter and put it back in the oven. Don’t worry if there are marks in the skin from the roasting rack - the cooking process will get rid of these indentations. Return it to the oven and cook for 40 -60 minutes, or until almost cooked. It is almost impossible to give you a time frame, as this will depend on the size of the bird. Roasting chickens should take about 1 - 1 ½ hours total, a capon 2-2 ½ hours and a turkey 2 ½ to 4 hours.

The biggest challenge for most cooks is determining when a chicken is cooked. Unlike other meats, undercooking chicken and turkey even a little bit can be dangerous. To me, cutting into a bird (or any other piece of meat) during cooking is an unpardonable offense - do not do this under any circumstances. A common technique is to wiggle the drumstick - if the drumstick moves freely the bird is cooked. The problem is this technique is not accurate enough. The bird may be overcooked or parts of the bird may even not be cooked yet. The best method is to use a meat thermometer. Take the temperature of the breast and the thigh. It should read 160 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the thigh. If the temps are a few degrees below where you want - pull them out anyway - the bird will continue cooking as it rests (by at least 5 degrees). This is also a good way to decide when to glaze. As you will need another 10-20 minutes of high heat cooking, start glazing when the breast reaches 130 degrees. That should give you enough time. Always test the thickest part of the meat in both areas, and be careful not to hit a bone, or an air pocket (especially in the thigh) as that will not give you an accurate reading.

Meanwhile combine the marmalade with remaining butter and warm it up so it remains liquid. Make sure to select a high-quality marmalade, preferably made from Seville oranges and with no ingredients other than oranges, sugar, water and pectin. I actually use kumquat preserves, which is very difficult to find (I only know of one company that produces this). In my family, we always used to use orange marmalade, and that is what I suggest.

Remove the chicken, raise the heat to 400 degrees, flip the bird again, and baste with the marmalade mixture. Return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes or until the skin is nicely caramelized. Then take the chicken out again flip one last time and baste the breast side with the marmalade. Return it for another 5-10 minutes.

When the bird is done, take the chicken out cover it in foil, and rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. The easiest way to carve is to first remove the legs, then remove the breast as two whole pieces, by cutting down alongside the keel bone (the keel bone runs along the middle of the breast) and cut inwards following along the ribcage. The breasts will come off easier if you removed the wishbone beforehand. You can then split the legs into thighs and drumsticks and slice the breasts. Serve chicken, turkey, capon or whatever bird you are cooking with whatever holiday or other sides you want. Throughout the year, I usually eat roast chicken accompanied by baked sweet potatoes. Bake them in the oven just like potatoes (I usually find it helps to give each sweet potato a 5 minute head start in the microwave before foil wrapping them and putting them in the oven).

Enjoy and to all my readers, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Restaurant Review - Griffintown Cafe

This review is of the kind of restaurant you would never know about unless you lived in the neighbourhood or did some serious research. I recently had two meals there, both excellent.

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Griffintown café is a small restaurant in Griffintown, a community just outside of the downtown core that used to be neglected and a little slum-like until recently. A revitalization project is currently underway and there are lots of new condo buildings and property values are rising rapidly. The restaurant itself is a small rustic style establishment that feels exactly right for a neighbourhood restaurant. One little example of the atmosphere is that they serve water in old bourbon bottles and the water glasses are fashioned after bourbon glasses, so it almost feels like you are in a saloon going on a major bender. The cuisine is American Southern style combined with some Latin/Mexican offerings. There is a TINY open kitchen in the corner that would seem unworkable for serving their capacity of about 50 people, but they seem to do a good job, and there is evidently a prep kitchen downstairs. They serve dinner 5 nights a week, lunch Wednesday - Friday, and brunch on the weekends. I found the place in search of a restaurant for a large group of family for a brunch and found some good reviews for their brunches, as well as for their regular menu. On my first visit, I went for a Friday lunch by myself to test them out. While what I had could be considered a burger and fries, it was much more than that, and quite excellent. It was a beef, lamb and duck burger, with fried fingerling potatoes. The burger was amazingly juicy, cooked nicely and the flavour of lamb was certainly evident, something you do not always get in a burger made with combinations of meat. The fries were cooked correctly and appropriately salted. They asked if I wanted ketchup mustard or mayo, but actually brought the requested condiments on the side, which turned out to be a good thing. This was because I had requested ketchup and mustard, my usual for burgers, but I tasted the burger as is first, and it turned out that, not only were the condiments unnecessary, they would have distracted from the flavour of the meat. For dessert, I had a pumpkin cake with a cream cheese creme. It was kind of like a cross between a carrot cake and a spice cake. The sauce was like cream cheese icing you would find on a carrot cake, but thinned out, to the consistency of a custard sauce. Very good. I was impressed so I reserved a table for Sunday brunch. Just note that, for groups of more than 6, brunch reservations can only be made for 10am, when they open.

We were a group of 9 people for brunch, all members of my extended family, none of whom live in Montreal. There were at least two other groups in the restaurant which, together with just a couple small tables made a full house for brunch. They feature the standard brunch items like eggs benedict several different ways, french toast, egg plates, sandwiches and salads, as well as some more unique dishes, like crab cakes, an egg dish somewhat like huevos rancheros, that they called huevos divorciados, but with more genuinely Mexican ingredients like avocado and Mexican crema, and a breakfast burger, which was a sausage patty on a bun topped with a fried egg. They make their own bacon in-house, make their own cured salmon (unsmoked) and generally try not to take shortcuts. I ordered the eggs benedict with bacon and goat cheese. Others ordered the benedict with the salmon or with the spinach. The huevos divorciados, the breakfast patty, french toast and the yogurt and granola were also ordered. While I certainly didn’t taste everyone’s plate, it was very obvious that everyone greatly enjoyed the food. The benedict was excellent. The eggs were perfectly cooked and the house-made bacon had perfect flavour. The hollandaise was flavourful and correctly made, though I would have preferred a little more, especially since the english muffins were rather thick. The goat cheese was of good quality and matched well with the bacon. It was served with a small side salad and a form of hash browns, with good flavour. I was also able to taste the house cured salmon. The texture and salt level was perfect, though I would have liked a little more flavour from herbs or citrus, as has been done in other restaurants I have worked in.

The service was very pleasant and rather competent, especially considering there were three large groups at the same time, filling the restaurant. Several in our party requested some additional sides during the course of the meal, and they were delivered quickly. For brunch in Montreal, the price was fairly reasonable, with most brunch dishes in the 10-15 dollar range. Believe me, brunch in Montreal, especially downtown, can easily get a fair bit pricier than this. Lunch prices are comparable with dinner prices a little higher, but with some very interesting dishes. I have not been there for dinner yet, but would certainly like to. They also feature live music in the evenings.

So to summarize, great atmosphere, friendly service, and great food. A hidden gem that deserves to be unearthed.

You will notice that at the bottom of this post I have an "urbanspoon" icon. I have decided to submit my restaurant reviews for listing on the urbanspoon restaurant review website. This site has helped me find restaurants in Washington D.C. and also helped me select this restaurant as well. If approved, the review page for this restaurant will directly link to this post in their blogs section. I plan to do this with other restaurant reviews as well.

Griffintown on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 13, 2010

How To Make A Stew

Stews almost always evoke memories of childhood. The thing is sometimes these memories are good and recall excellent meals, and sometimes they are bad and eating them was seen as a chore, if not even a punishment. I think this is because, although everyone at least tries to make stew, it does actually require some skill to produce well. The making of a stew transforms inexpensive ingredients into a magnificent product with a long period of time and careful cooking. I will give you the general method of how to produce a good stew as well as some guidelines for recipes.

The Meat

A quick rule of thumb - if it makes a good steak, don’t use it for stew. The tender cuts of meat are not only too expensive to use in a stew, many of them do not have enough meaty flavour to make good use of them. The tougher cuts of meat typically are marbled with a fair amount of intramuscular fat and connective tissue that takes a couple of hours of cooking to break down. But when it does break down, the meat becomes very tender and soft. My favourite piece of meat is beef or veal cheek. This can be difficult to find so, when it is not available, I choose either short rib or blade, which is a cut from the shoulder. Chuck or sometimes cross rib are also decent options. Cuts of meat from the hind quarters are often sold as pot roasts or stewing meat, and generally have the term “round” in their name, such as top round, bottom round, eye of round, etc. I generally avoid these cuts, as they are both tough and lean cuts so they are not flavourful enough for stew. Similar rules apply to meats other than beef, but this is what I will focus on as it is the most common. When trimming meat for stew, most people remove all the fat and cartilage from the meat. This is not necessary and it deprives the stew of good flavour.

Silverskin, shown on the back of the cheek here, should be removed, and if the fat is really thick it should trimmed back a little, but most connective tissue will break down and a little bit of fat is a good thing. Then cut the meat in equal size pieces. Smaller pieces will cook faster, but I find the texture personally more pleasing with large pieces. It also makes the browning stage go faster.


Almost any vegetable will work in a stew. Since the meat takes a long time to cook, and because I make stews more often in winter, I tend to use hard, winter vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, squash, turnips, beets or similar hard, dense vegetables. These vegetables should be cut into fairly large chunks so they do not cook too quickly and can be added at the beginning. If most of these vegetables are overcooked it will not be too problematic. It will not have the ideal texture, but should hold together and the flavour will be there. Squash is an exception, as it cooks a little faster and tends to break down into mush. Potatoes can be a good option as well, but they will release a fair amount of starch and also cook a little faster. For these ingredients, the meat will need to be cooking for at least 1 hour before adding these vegetables. Other, quick cooking vegetables need to be added towards the end of the cooking process. Most often I use mushrooms, which I add a half hour before the end of the cooking. You can use any variety of fresh or dried mushrooms. Any other tender vegetables you would want to add, such as peas, corn, beans, etc., should be added in the final stages of cooking, as it is important that they maintain their texture. Other options includes greens such as spinach, collards, swiss chard or Asian greens like bok choy. Collards and similar deep greens should be added with at least 1 hour to go, while spinach just needs to be wilted at the very end. I avoid cabbages as I do not like how they taste with long cooking.


This is a very important step that is often skipped, resulting in weak flavour. When meat is exposed to very high heat, chemical reactions take place that brown the outside of the meat. The process is similar to, but not the same as, caramelization and is called the Maillard Reaction. Some chefs and food “experts” claim that searing meat seals in juices. You should know that this is not true at all. As meat cooks, water will always be expelled from the meat. When high heat searing, you will not see the water because it is evaporating instantly. While searing does not retain more meat juices, the real reason for doing this is that it generates deep flavour than can not be accomplished through stewing alone. The basic rules for searing or browning meat are to keep the heat high, don’t move the meat around in the pan, and don’t crowd the pan. Each piece of meat should only be moved to brown another side of the piece. If the pan gets too dry, add more oil.

An additional step I like to do after browning the meat involves searing parsnips. I often use parsnips in my stews and I find the flavour is much better if they are caramelized. So I cut the parsnips on the bias so there is a lot of surface area and brown them for about 30 seconds per side.

Braising Liquid

When the meat is finished browning, add onions to the same pan and saute the onions until soft. At this point, add garlic and cook for about 1 minute until it is fragrant. If you are adding tomato paste and/or paprika, they should be added next and cooked for 1-2 minutes. Then add another tablespoon of oil and 2 tblsp of flour and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes to cook the rawness out the flour. Then slowly add red wine, stirring to make sure the sauce thickens evenly. Add stock or other liquids, if using, and bring everything to a boil. Any other spices and any dried herbs should be added at this point, as well as salt and pepper. Taste the sauce - it should be well balanced but very powerful. Remember that lots of liquid will be released from the meat and vegetables, which will dilute the sauce. Add the meat back to the stew, along with the longest cooking vegetables, particularly the carrots. If you are using parsnips without browning first, which I do sometimes, add them now as well. Many stewing and braising recipes will tell you cover the food entirely with liquid, or at least 2/3 of the way up. This is not necessary. All that is needed is for everything to be coated with some liquid going up maybe halfway. It will probably seem much too thick but, with the liquid that will be released from the meat, there will be plenty of liquid at the end. Just be careful when bringing the mixture to a boil that you keep mixing and make sure nothing burns or scorches. Once the stew goes in the oven this is no longer a concern.

Cooking and Timing

Bring the stew to a boil, then put in a 275 F oven to cook. Be sure that the cooking pot is oven safe and has a tight-fitting lid. Depending on what meat you used and the size of the pieces, it will take anywhere from 2 - 6 hours, but I have found that most stews I make require about 4 hours of cooking. If you are using vegetables like squash or beets in the stew, add them about 1 hour into the cooking process. At about the 2 hour point, you should check the doneness of the meat for the first time. Press the meat against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. If the meat is hard and rubbery, it is not ready yet. When it is ready, the meat should pull apart with direct pressure from the spoon. When the meat is almost ready, I often add chopped mushrooms. Sometimes it is a good idea to saute the mushrooms first, but I don’t bother. When the meat is done, check the seasoning and add finishing touches. Possibilities include fresh herbs, tender vegetables or liqueur, such as brandy. Some vegetables you add will benefit from different cooking times, which would require careful timing and a knowledge of how much more time the meat will need. For someone just starting out I recommend a very simple version, based on the French classic Boeuf Bourgingnon.

5 lbs stewing meat, trimmed
olive oil
3 onions
1 head garlic
5 carrots, large chunks
1 lb parsnips, cut in large pieces on bias
2 tblsp tomato paste
1 tblsp Hungarian paprika
2 tblsp flour
1 bottle red wine AND 1 tblsp beef stock concentrate
3/4 bottle red wine AND 1 cup beef broth
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
3 bay leaves
½ tsp cayenne
salt and pepper
½ lb mushrooms, quartered
chopped parsley (optional)

Trim meat and cut vegetables. Sear the meat, then parsnips if you want. Add onions, then garlic, then tomato paste and paprika as directed above. Add more oil and flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, then add wine and beef stock. Add the herbs and spices, salt and pepper and taste. Then return the meat to the pan along with the carrots and parsnips. Bring to a boil, put a lid on the pot and put it in a 275 degree oven for about 4 hours or until meat is tender. With ½ hour left in cooking time, add mushrooms. When meat is tender, add chopped parsley, if using, and serve over mashed potatoes.

Now you can see that, start to finish, my stewing method takes a lot of time. That said, I believe this is an excellent dish for entertaining. The reason is almost all the work involved is done hours in advance, leaving you free as a host. Because it is cooked slowly, there is a substantial margin for error, meaning that a little extra time won’t hurt anything, in fact the flavour will probably improve. Of course it tastes amazing the following day, so you could even do much of this a day ahead and just reheat and finish it. This also works fairly well as a pot luck, as it reheats fairly well and only needs one pot. I have probably already said this, but it deserves another mention. The possibilities for variation are endless - in the meat, the vegetables, the liquids and the seasonings.

In future I may post recipes of other stews, or braised meat dishes that I prepare using the same methods. I will most likely refer back to this post, as this is the general method behind many meals.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Multi-Party Politics

Recently, a friend in the United States has expressed frustration with the political situation and has been seeking information about the pros and cons of multi-party government systems. I would like to discuss this issue, with a focus on the US and Canada, about which I know the most, and some discussion of what little I know about some European governments.

The obvious advantage of a 2-party system is that it is easier to get a majority in the legislature, which should make laws easier to pass. It also ensures the country’s leader is endorsed by a majority of the population.

In general however, I believe multi-party systems are a better option. If you do not happen to agree with the position of either party in the United States, you have no options. In Canada there are three parties that run everywhere in the country (and an additional very powerful party in Quebec only) and have significant representation in parliament with a fourth party beginning to emerge with significant vote totals, though they do not yet have any representation in government. As a result, we have not had any one party with majority control since 2004. Despite this, things still get done and they have gotten done with minority governments in the past. In fact, Canada’s most significant piece of legislation was created by a coalition government. This was the Canada Health Act, which guaranteed our universal health care. This measure was promoted by the New Democratic Party (NDP), Canada’s “third party”, which leans to the left and was supported by the larger, centrist, Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. On a side note, I firmly believe Pierre Trudeau was Canada’s best prime minister. In addition to bringing about universal health care, it was during his leadership that Canada received its own constitution, finally achieving complete independence from England. Included in the constitution was the Charter of Rights, which I already posted about some time ago (see the post titled Rights and Freedoms, posted September 29). Trudeau was also a key figure for gay rights in Canada. It was Trudeau that removed homosexuality from the criminal code. In explaining his reasoning, he used a line that has become very famous: “The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”.

The obvious drawback of a multi-party system is the threat of repeated, frequent elections when no majority can be reached. To try to avoid this, coalitions are often formed, as has happened recently with the British government. It seems to be going very well there, as the Conservatives are being tempered by the Liberal Democrats. Then again coalitions can bring their own problems too. An example of this is Israel. In addition to the 2 largest parties, there are numerous small parties with representation in the Knesset, some representing radical elements of society, especially the religious right. To hold power, one of the main parties usually requires coalition support from these fringe groups, and I believe that these compromises hurt possibilities for peace with their neighbours, as these parties tend to insist on growing the settlements and promoting other contentious issues. A method some countries use to get around the issue is to require a minimum percentage of the national vote to be able to get seats in their parliament. Germany is an example of this and Italy has apparently recently done this as part of a plan to reform their notoriously messy political setup.

Part of the blame for Italy’s political troubles derived from the multitude of small political parties that made up their parliament. To get anything done, many behind the scenes deals would have to be made. That would seem to be a recipe for corruption, and that is what they got. Their system also does not have the people directly elect individual representatives but rather vote for parties, a system called proportional representation. When used in a small country like Israel, it is the only way that makes sense, but in larger countries that have distinct regional differences throughout the country, this method poses problems. Germany has used a mix of direct regional representatives with at-large politicians chosen from party lists. Canada and the UK take a different approach, simply choosing all members of parliament individually in their local districts, called ridings. While I believe our system would work a little better with a mixed system, and I would like to see Canada move to some semblance of a mixed proportional system, the current system is a little more similar to what happens in the United States.

This is where the possible benefits of two party systems return. Most elections are understood by the people as a choice between the current governing party and making a change. When there are many small parties, they can split the total vote opposed to the current government, thus ensuring the incumbent wins again, even though a majority of the voters did not want to continue with the status quo. We see a lot of this in Canada. Our current prime minister, conservative Stephen Harper is liked by about 35% of the population, and despised by most of the rest, myself included. However, this opposition is split between the Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party. This scenario often allows the Conservatives to continue to win elections, albeit without a majority of seats (I fully realize there are other dividing issues that influence how votes are split, but this will get me too far off track). Americans seem to prefer a binary, either/or solution. When an exception appeared in 2000, the response was telling. Ralph Nader entered the presidential race as a third-party candidate and did succeed in attracting more votes than a third party candidate ordinarily would. Since the race between the two leaders, Bush and Gore, was so close, even the relatively small number of votes cast for Nader greatly influenced the final results. It is widely believed that Nader’s votes came from people who would otherwise have voted for Gore, allowing Bush to win (of course this analysis sets aside the controversy over electoral college votes and the general weirdness of what happened in Florida). During the next presidential election, in 2004, many people wanted Nader not to run. He ran anyway, but he received far fewer votes this time around. Of course by then it was clear that the American people were divided more or less 50-50, with very strong convictions over which leader to choose. The people clearly did not want a third option that might risk easing the way for the candidate they opposed.

So what options are there for those who might like to have a choice other than the obvious two in the US. Perhaps if a third party can find a way to get candidates elected to the house, it will become genuinely impossible to get any legislation enacted without some form of compromise, something that is generally avoided in the current situation. You would not expect the politicians to be less partisan, as that does not happen even in multi-party systems, but at least the government will have to find some way to incorporate diverse opinions and policies rather than the current obstinacy. But whether the desire for representation is more important for enough Americans than the preference for clear black and white solutions is an open question. Furthermore, there is an attitude among some people that every new idea that comes from outside America, especially from Europe, is evil and dangerous, while the American solutions are always the best. With this in mind, we will probably never see any dramatic changes to the political model there.

Finally, for those of my readers from European countries, I want to say that my research on European governments has been minimal so, if I got things wrong, feel free to let me know. I would also like to know your thoughts on this issue, wherever you may live.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Quick Post - Happy Hanukkah

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. I’ve had a bit of a stressful time with work and in other ways over the last few weeks. There are more posts coming in the next few days, including one that might prove very interesting. In the meantime, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah has begun. While Christmas decorations are ubiquitous, and often verge on the extreme and/or ridiculous, we do not tend to do much of any decoration for Hanukkah. That is why I found this sight quite interesting. Walking down a major street in Montreal yesterday, I saw this van parked and just had to take some pictures. Yes, the menorah is strapped to the roof. I don’t think you can tell from the pictures, but there are light bulbs on the two raised branches, the positions for the first day of Hanukkah. I can only imagine that they are lit at night and light bulbs will be added each night. I wonder what kind of scene this will be next week in the evening. I also wonder how this would affect the handling?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkey Mole

To my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving. In Canada our Thanksgiving is in October, but most of the traditions are the same. Whenever you celebrate, in the aftermath of Turkey Day, there is often the dilemma of what to do with all the leftover turkey. Sandwiches are all well and good but, especially if you have a lot of leftovers, it’s nice to have another meal that tastes nothing like the original. In my family, we would cook 2 large turkeys on Thanksgiving (for 3 of us!), leaving a very large amount of uneaten turkey. We would debone all the leftover turkey and portion it into packages and freeze them. One of the dishes we would make with the turkey was Mole, a Mexican specialty.

Turkey Mole

3 lbs cooked boneless turkey

Mole Paste
1/4 cup peanut oil
½ cup raisins/dried fruit
1/4 cup peanuts
1 cup almonds
3 pasilla chiles
2 ancho chiles
2 guajillo chiles
1 cup chili powder
1/4 cup sesame seed
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
2 ounce melted unsweetened chocolate
1 tblsp molasses
½ tsp cinnamon
salt & pepper

1 tin canned tomatoes or 2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups chicken or turkey stock

2 large onions, diced
1 head garlic, minced
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

flour tortillas
sour cream (optional)

There are many ways to cook this, but I am presenting an adaptation of the recipe my mother made(and still makes), since it the easiest to prepare and is appropriate for the season, as many people have leftover turkey they need to find a use for. There are many ways to make this differently. Sometimes I use fresh raw turkey breast for this, but to do that I need to use a substantially different technique and remove most of the liquid. In the summer, I like to add a variety of fresh produce, including fruit, such as plums or cherries, having these sweet elements take the place of tomato.

There are many ingredients, which may be intimidating, but the technique to make this dish is quite simple and straightforward. Leftover turkey is the best choice for this dish. If you do not have any, simply roast some turkey breast, let it cool, then shred the meat. The specific dried chiles called for may be difficult to find, but many compromises are possible. The most flavourful of the chiles is the pasilla, though the easiest of these to find would probably be anchos, so you may use either one of those alone. Before these chiles were as available, we used to use store-bought chili powder. It seems chili powder is not as good as it used to be, but if you have a brand that you like, it will work well, just use a large quantity and you may want to slightly reduce the amount of cumin and coriander, as chili powder usually contains these spices. One more note. When grinding chiles, I remove the seeds and veins and then taste the powder. This should be quite hot, but if not grind some of the seeds to boost the heat.

Combine all the mole paste ingredients in a food processor and blend until it forms a thick, semi-smooth paste, almost like a soft dough. Set aside.

Saute diced onions until soft, then add garlic and saute 30 seconds more. Add spice paste and cook for a minute or two. This will allow all the flavours to intensify and release. Then add tomatoes and stock. When the paste is incorporated into the liquid, add bread crumbs and allow sauce to thicken. If the sauce is still runny add more bread crumbs. When combined add the turkey. Transfer everything to a casserole or baking dish and bake at 350 degrees until everything is bubbling, about 20-30 minutes. Serve with tortillas and whatever garnishes you like. Salsas, guacamole, sour cream - that sort of thing.
One additional note. The mole in the picture was one I made this summer using a slightly different recipe and a home made salsa that combined corn, heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, poblano peppers and vinegar. The mole from the recipe above will likely be thicker than the one pictured.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being Gay and Jewish - Revisited

Some months ago I wrote about the conflicts present in being both gay and Jewish, especially for those who are Orthodox Jews. I wrote about a statement of principles adopted by a group of Orthodox rabbis that expressed understanding love, and acceptance - to a point - of gay people within the Jewish community. For those of you who haven’t read that post yet, it is from August 19. Since then, I have read a book and seen a movie on this subject which show different side of this issue, which aren’t quite so encouraging.

The movie was a documentary entitled “Trembling before G-d”. The reference to G-d is because the Orthodox adhere to the law that the name of god cannot be uttered. The Hebrew notation referring directly to God in the Torah is essentially unpronounceable, and when the passages are recited, substitute words are used. This concept, when transferred to English, leads to the use of “G-d”. The movie recounts the story of Gay Orthodox Jews trying to maintain their faith while still accepting themselves as Gay and living a normal life. Many of the religious authorities spoken to in the documentary, while they often expressed sympathy, would not accept that living as a gay person could be anything other than a sin and a violation of Jewish Law (Halakha). One rabbi, who cared and wanted the best for one of his congregants, still advocated change therapies. He had suggested this many years ago and now, when the congregant talked to the rabbi years later after no result from these “therapies” the rabbi could only suggest trying again, or celibacy. Apparently accepting his orientation as a part of who he is was not an option. This is a very different attitude from the statement of principles, but then the movie was made a few years ago, and the statement of principles was put out in 2010. This movie did win some awards when it was originally released and got a lot of attention, and may have even spurred the religious community to get together and begin working on a more acceptable state of affairs, which led to the statement of principles.

I wrote a brief note in my blog when I began reading the book but was waiting to finish the book before I share my thoughts about it. Now I am ready to give my review of this incredible work.
Mourning and Celebration: Jewish, Orthodox and Gay Past & Present by K. David Brody tells the story of Yankl Bradawka, a character conjured by the narrator/author, a gay Jewish man living in Montreal in present day. Yankl lives in 19th Century Poland in a shtetl, a small village generally occupied by the Jewish community. Yankl is a Hasidic Jew, a member of the orthodox community, as is everyone else in his village. The difference is that Yankl is gay. He desires men and has no attraction to women. The book chronicles his search for a way to fulfill his needs while trying to avoid discovery of his inclinations, which no one in his era can acknowledge as anything but unimaginably sinful and abhorrent.

It is difficult to write about the book without having the review turn into a spoiler, as the twists and turns begin early and drive the plot turns later in the book. One thing this book does very well is that it highlights the conflict that still exists today between biblical and religious rules and being who you are. Yankl is a religious scholar and thus is well aware that his religion condemns what he desires. He sees his condition as a curse and prays to God to be able to love women and live like everyone else. But he has also come to realize that when he is with a man, he feels complete and in love and questions how that can be sinful. Of course living in his era and community, it is next to impossible for him to fulfill his needs and he seems destined to a sad and lonely life. He also faces an arranged marriage, something he dreads, and more so when he realizes that he likes his intended bride as a friend but is revolted at the prospect of a romantic engagement.

I don’t recall having as emotional a reaction to any other book I have read than I had to this book. There were a few times when I cried reading this, and many more times when I almost broke down. The first half of the novel was particularly powerful for me, as in those sections I recognized many of the feelings that Yankl was experiencing and have felt those feelings of different and abnormal. Just as the author invented Yankl to place himself in his own family a century ago, I could imagine myself there as well, as some of my grandparents were born in the shtetl maybe a generation or two after the time period of the novel. My coming out experience was very positive because the people I care most about are accepting and understanding. Now I realize how difficult it might have been if I was born in another time. I was also drawn to the character of Yankl’s mother. Here we see a woman who in modern times, would almost certainly have been accepting and supportive. She truly loves her son, and has suspected for some time that something is “wrong”. The times and her worldview simply cannot allow her to conceive that two men could possibly have love for each other and that there are other valid relationships apart from heterosexual ones. But even though she does not understand, her love for her son remains. The author is very skilful in remaining true to the attitudes people would have had at the time but, through several characters, plants the seed of our modern sensibility. The facts they are presented with seem to contradict the established wisdom and at times some of the characters begin to wonder if they might be wrong. They are only passing thoughts, but we can see how we started to get where we are today. Another creative aspect is that, through the people Yankl meets, we are introduced to many faces of modern gay life. We see bisexuality, exploitation, true love, casual physical relationships, despair and suicide and even, very rare at the time, a straight man who is a true friend and not judgmental.

I would highly recommend this book even for those who are not Jewish or gay. Many Yiddish terms are used, as that was the language of the shtetl and a few Yiddish terms are still a part of modern Jewish parlance. However when he uses Yiddish terms or talks about Jewish rituals and practices, he explains them in such a way that there should be no difficulty for a non-Jew to understand. There is also a glossary of terms and the end of the book if something is still not clear. Even though some of the situations described apply more to Jews, most of the experiences would be the same for Christians or anyone else living at that time.

For more information, reviews or to buy the book, visit the author’s website at

I suppose the true lesson of the book is that, while it has only recently been possible to be openly gay, we need to understand that homosexuality did not begin in the 20th century. There have always been gay people, who had to find some way to live their lives as best they could. One way Jews may have had a more difficult time is that, especially in medieval times, Christians had an option that Jews did not: the convent or monastery. While celibacy is certainly not ideal, becoming a priest, monk or nun was at least a way where they could live without being pressured into marrying someone they could not satisfy. It was also considered a noble calling. Jews did not have a similar option. Religious leaders, such as rabbis were expected to marry and have a large family. Celibacy has never had a place in Jewish society, which means there was no escape for anyone with no sexual desire for women.

Despite the history of intolerance, and the reluctance even in modern times of the orthodox Jewish community to be supportive of homosexuality, times are changing and tolerance is building. The author of the book is an Orthodox Jew and is active in his Orthodox congregation. His rabbi supports him fully. He wrote an endorsement that appears at the beginning of the book and the book is sold at the synagogue. And as I have mentioned at other times, other branches of Judaism tend to be more tolerant and gay-friendly.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

Today, November 11, is Remembrance Day in Canada. It commemorates the end of World War I and, by extension, all wars and the sacrifices made by our war veterans. In recent decades Canada has not been known as a country that fights a lot of wars, but Canada has a very distinguished record of service. In the early years, Canada’s army was simply an extension of the British Army, even after independence in 1867. This changed during World War I. Canadian units were assigned many difficult missions and fought in many well known battles, particularly Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. By the time of World War II, Canada was able to declare war separately of their own accord, rather than being automatically entered when Britain was at war. The Canadians were a very important part of the D-Day invasion and were the primary forces involved in the liberation of Holland. Canada was also active in the Korean War. From the 1960's through the 1990's Canada was not involved in any combat operations, but became known as a very active peacekeeping force within the UN, present in many war zones around the world. More recently, Canada has become involved in the war in Afghanistan, once again taking an active combat role.

In addition to my own pictures, in this post I will be using some pictures made available through the Canada Remembers project for the purpose of education and sharing with others. Pictures that came from the website will be identified as such.

Canada’s symbol for Remembrance Day is the poppy, worn pinned to the lapel. The poppy is a reference to World War I and “In Flanders Fields”, a poem written by Canadian battlefield surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He wrote the poem in 1915 at the battle of Ypres, an area commonly known as Flanders. McCrae noted that wild poppies had already started to grow among the newly buried graves of the dead from that battle. Later that year, the poem was published in a British journal and gained instant attention. McCrae died of pneumonia in a military hospital in 1918. Starting in 1922, the Royal Canadian Legion started the poppy campaign to raise money for the legion and Canadian veterans. A major part of this that has kept up to this day is the sale of poppy pins to affix to the lapel, traditionally worn over the heart.

I have a special connection to John McCrae. My hometown is Guelph, Ontario - the same place where McCrae was born and raised. His home is currently a museum, the McCrae House at 108 Water St., Guelph, affiliated with the Guelph Civic Museum. The McCrae House features memorabilia personal to McCrae and general war-related items. For three years of elementary school, I attended John McCrae Public School, located 2 blocks from the McCrae house. For remembrance day, the students would go to the McCrae House and take part in the ceremonies held there. We all memorized “In Flanders Fields”, which is recited at many Canadian remembrance day ceremonies.

Today I attended the remembrance day ceremony held on the grounds of McGill University in Montreal. Normally, such services are held at the city’s war memorial, known as the cenotaph. Currently, the park where it is located, Place Du Canada, is being renovated, so the ceremonies are being held on the McGill campus, inside the main gates known as the Roddick Gates. In a way, it is very appropriate, as John McCrae studied and later taught medicine at McGill before joining the army upon the outbreak of World War I. The ceremonies always occur in the late morning, leading up to the official commemoration of the end of the war at 11am, when a minute of silence is observed. Shots were fired, and many veterans and other dignitaries laid wreaths in front of a large cross erected to stand in for a cenotaph, where wreaths are usually laid on Remembrance Day. The event was quite well attended with a good mix of military veterans in uniform and civilians of all ages. There were school groups and a large number of young people - most likely university students as this was taking place on the McGill campus. With the size of the venue and number of people present it was hard to get good photos but I was able to get a few decent shots.

For more information about the role played by Canada’s military and more about John McCrae, visit the department of Veteran’s Affairs Canada at

Finally, I personally would like to thank the veterans and those who died serving our country. For those of you from other countries who may have served in your own nation’s military, I would like to extend my respect and admiration for the sacrifice you have made.

In closing, I present the full text of “In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

- John McCrae

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Restaurant Review - Ferreira Cafe

I realize that when I wrote restaurant reviews from my trip to Washington they were very well received and I enjoyed them as well. Up until now I have not done any reviews of restaurants in my home of Montreal. The reason is that, since I do not reveal my real name and I work in the industry, the reader would have no way of knowing whether I am actually promoting the restaurant I work for. However, there are so many wonderful restaurants here that I would like to share my opinions. Since I have no plans at present to disclose where I am actually working I have decided on the following protocol: I will not review any restaurant where I currently work or have worked in the past. With that out of the way, I will move on with my first review.

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This week, my mom was in town for a visit and we ate at Café Ferreira, an upscale Portuguese restaurant on Peel Street in downtown Montreal. I had eaten at Ferreira once before I moved to Montreal, five years ago. I was very impressed then, though I don’t fully remember what I ate, just that it was beautifully prepared and very busy (I had to have my meal at the bar).

Five years later, they are still packed pretty much all the time. We went on a Wednesday night, typically not a very busy night and they had no tables available (we did not have a reservation) and like the last time, they had space at the bar. I was skeptical about not having any tables as the restaurants was only about half full when we arrived, at about 6. However, within 20 minutes every single seat was full and shortly after that, all the seats at the bar were also occupied by diners (good thing we came early). Obviously reservations are a must just about any time.

The menu emphasizes fish and seafood, though apparently the chef is also renowned for his skill with grilled and roasted meats as well. I began with pan seared octopus with potato puree and my mom had the caldo verde, a traditional Portuguese kale soup. The octopus was perfectly cooked and amazingly tender, even the smaller thinner pieces of tentacles, a sign of great skill as octopus becomes tough and rubbery if even slightly overcooked. The potato puree had bits of cilantro inside, which served as a form of palate cleanser. Unfortunately the potato came out cold. I believe it was intended to be served warm rather than hot, but as we did have a bit of a wait, it may have been sitting a while. The soup was very nice, but the star of that dish was the small amount of Portuguese sausage that garnished the soup. Not sure if it was chorizo or linguica or some other sausage (I’m not as familiar with the different sausages as I should be) but the depth of flavour was amazing.

For mains, we both had fish and we both shared each dish. The two items we ordered were salt cod with caramelized onions and potato puree, and fresh black cod with porcini mushrooms and a port reduction. Black cod is also sometimes known by the names of Butterfish or Sablefish; it is very common in the Pacific Northwest. I was obviously inspired to try the salt cod because of my recent experiments with cooking it myself, about which I posted. The salt cod was prepared beautifully, with no discernable saltiness remaining. The fish, onions, potatoes and a light tomato sauce on top contributed to making a very comforting dish. A few olives of garnish added a little saltiness back in the dish, which I felt was a good choice. But the black cod was probably the better dish, as it was phenomenal. The cod was perfectly cooked, moist and almost creamy inside. The porcini mushrooms were a perfect match with the mild cod and the port sauce tied everything together. One note - my mother was not quite as impressed with the salt cod as I was, but primarily because she began by tasting the black cod dish, which was a much stronger flavour, while I did the opposite.

For dessert, I chose a warm fig tart with sweet potato ice cream and my mom had an almond tart with pear sorbet (it was listed on the menu as a poached pear). We also each had a glass of tawny port with dessert. The fig tart was amazing, with an intense taste of figs, and it also had some very tasty slices of dried fig with it. The ice cream was very good and complemented the tart. The almond tart was very good, though the pear sorbet could have had a more intense flavour.

The service was very pleasant, especially considering we were waited on by the bartender, who was obviously quite busy running the bar as well as serving all the dining customers at the bar. We did have to wait a while between courses, to the point where it became very noticeable. Still it was a very busy night, so the kitchen probably was somewhat backed up. At least the quality remained good.

One warning about this restaurant. Be prepared to drop quite a lot of money - the prices are very high. Most of the main courses are over $30CAD with some dishes over $40. I can understand why however. They use high end ingredients and where they don’t - as in the salt cod dish - the price is substantially lower. Also the portions are generous, so they are not gouging you with those high prices - it is simply what it costs to get this much food of this caliber. The wine list offers primarily Portuguese wines with several available by the glass. The wines can also get expensive but I find this is the case many places in Montreal. They are also open for lunch Monday to Friday and have a late night menu as well. Despite a few small mistakes, I very highly recommend this restaurant - if you can afford it.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saints and Sins

I would like to draw attention to a large event taking place today in Washington, D.C. - the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, organized by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. While this may seem to be merely a humourous stunt, it actually carries a serious message: that people, especially in the US, need to understand they are being manipulated by the powers that be. Stewart and Colbert use humour to illustrate how messed up government has gotten and how the moderates are being ignored in favour of radicals.


Many of the blogs I am reading draw attention to Catholic priests that have abused children. Recently there have been events in Montreal that have caused me to look at this issue from a slightly different angle. I am a little hesitant venturing into such topics as I am not Catholic and in some ways my knowledge is lacking, but I certainly have plenty of opinions and will rely on those.

The story begins very far away from sexual abuse. It is the story of Frère André, a well-known priest from Montreal who was canonized earlier this month in the Vatican as Saint André, the second saint to be born in Canada. Frère André grew up as a child of little means or evident ability in a large family. Eventually he joined the church and found employment as a doorman at a Catholic school. Then he started to become known for having “healing hands”.

At this point, I would like to interrupt the story to editorialize somewhat. I do not really believe in this concept of healing from religious laying on of hands, just like I do not believe in the “miracles” that are required as qualification for sainthood. I feel the belief in these abilities promotes the practice of medical quackery and unresearched patent medicine. These practices harm more people than they heal. While in most cases laying on of hands probably won’t do any harm, it lends credence to practices that may.

Frère André did not take any credit for the healing of his “patients”; he attributed all power to his patron saint, Saint Joseph. In fact, Frère André’s legacy to Montreal bears the name of Saint Joseph. Andre raised money throughout the Catholic community to build a shrine to his patron, the St. Joseph’s Oratory, a truly magnificent structure near Mount Royal that is one of the city’s best known landmarks. In fact, in the Monopoly world edition game, the picture chosen to represent Montreal (which occupies the Boardwalk space) is of the Oratory.

As I said, Frère André became Saint André this month and, this weekend, there will be a mass held to honour Saint André. There is a huge number of faithful expected to attend, and it will be held at Olympic Stadium.

There is a group of survivors of clerical sexual abuse that have asked the Catholic church leaders of Montreal to divert the admission fee of five dollars apiece to benefit those who have suffered at the hands of Catholic priests. There is a debate over whether the Church should agree with this. First, it should be pointed out that Frère André was NEVER, in any way, accused or even suspected of ANY inappropriate conduct and was never in a position where he might have been complicit with hiding the misdeeds of others. As far as anyone knows, he has nothing to do with this issue other than being a symbol of the Catholic Church. The group promoting this concept acknowledge this and want to stress that they are NOT protesting the mass, they simply would like attendees to make a contribution. As of now, the church is refusing this request.

I think the survivor group has a great idea. I have heard some argue that doing this is tantamount to absolving the church officials of the responsibility of providing restitution and putting the burden on parishioners who should not be blamed for what happened. My opinion is that giving a contribution is something every Catholic, and in fact, any caring person, should do. It acknowledges every person’s personal responsibility to make things right and do the “Christian” thing and it does NOT absolve the Church itself of any wrongdoing or responsibility to make restitution. We are now aware of the problem and should do what we can to make the situation better. The same rule should apply to the church itself, which did more harm in this matter and thus should do even more to make up for their sins. They certainly should take some initiative as a current civil law case illustrates how far behind Quebec is in dealing with the issue of sexual abuse.

A recent decision by Canada’s Supreme Court has called into question a part of Quebec’s Civil Code, the rules relating to lawsuits, as opposed to criminal cases. In criminal cases and in civil cases elsewhere in Canada, there is no statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse - as it is acknowledged that many victims take years to be able to tell anyone and to seek justice. In Quebec however, there is still a time limit of 3 years to launch a civil lawsuit for damages related to sexual abuse. The case recently considered concerns a woman who was abused by a priest as a child and, over two decades later, sought damages. When it happened she did tell her parents, but when they confronted the church, the priest was simply moved to another diocese and the family was urged not to press charges. The priest involved pled guilty to criminal charges and is currently in jail, but the victim is also seeking civil damages. The Supreme Court ruled that the Quebec courts should not have dismissed the claim based on a time limitation without giving an opportunity for the claimant to explain the delay. The lawsuit will now go forward to trial. Oh and, by the way, the pedophile priest’s sentence for sexual abuse that occurred multiple times over at least two years, was 18 months in jail. There have been so many cases of sexual abuse of children in the last few years where the punishments seem to be far too lenient given the damage caused. In a well known case in Canada, former youth hockey coach Graham James was convicted of sexual abuse of his players, served a short sentence and, when new accusations were raised by other hockey players, it was revealed he had been granted a pardon, wiping his criminal record clean, and had moved to Mexico. Fortunately he did return to Canada last week, and was arrested on new charges stemming from the recent allegations. I could go on, but it will get me too depressed and I think you get the idea.

P.S. I just read on Twinny's blog that his grandfather passed away on Friday. Please leave him your condolences and best wishes on his blog. Love and Hugs to Twinny and to all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cream Curry Chicken

Before I get to the recipe, I would like to draw your attention to a couple new links I have added. First is a new blog just started this month. Twinny’s Hideout offers a little bit of everything, some music, tech news, economics and probably more in the future. Everyone check it out. Second, the It Gets Better Project has grown substantially recently. In an effort to prevent gay teen suicides, there are youtube videos from all kinds of people, including President Obama, telling teens that “It Gets Better”. I’m very impressed at how many contributions they have received and hope it will do something.


This is one of my personal favourite recipes. It is another childhood memory and one of my favourite meals as a kid. It is so delicious and also quite easy to make. The techniques are not complicated and there are only six ingredients. That being said, this is in no way a healthy recipe. The dominant ingredients here are butter and cream, so don’t eat this too often. But with the weather getting colder, it is the perfect time for a rich, warming and comforting meal. As it will not take long to tell you how to make this, I will add a few lessons in ingredients and technique along the way.

Cream Curry Chicken

1.3 kg. Chicken breasts, bone in
2 lbs onions, sliced
large pinch salt
1 ½ sticks butter
2 cups cream
3 tblsp curry powder
1/3 cup brandy

Split chicken breasts in half. Melt butter in a large pot on medium-low heat. When melted, add curry powder and stir in. Add chicken and coat in curry butter, then add onions and salt. Stir carefully and cook covered for about 20 minutes. This is a French technique that is quite old, and not much used. It is called fondue, from the french for melted (not to be confused with cheese fondue), as the onions are sort of being “melted” into liquid. Another thing happening is that the chicken is slowly poaching in fat. By this point only the outside surface of the chicken should be starting to cook and the onions should be softening.

Add cream and brandy and increase heat to medium. Simmer until chicken is fully cooked, another 15-20 minutes. Then remove all chicken from the pot and set aside. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the pot, transfer to a food processor. Blend until pureed. Meanwhile, increase heat to high and reduce the liquid in the pot by at least half. When reduced, return pureed onions and chicken to pan, return to a boil. What is happening here is something of an imitation of Indian technique, having the cooked onions thicken the curry broth. Serve with saffron rice (see Guinea Style Chicken recipe, posted July 20)

Because there are so few ingredients, the quality of each ingredient is very important. I have already said plenty about chicken in other posts. The key for the onions is to make sure you use enough of them. Onions are mostly water and will cook down dramatically. The sharpness of the onion is all you have to cut the extreme richness of this recipe. Sweet onions are unnecessary - cooking onions are perfect for this. For cream and butter, I always try to buy organic, despite the expense and difficulty. I am concerned about hormones and other stuff that is fed to cattle. These things show up in the animals’ milk, and dissolve readily in fat. Also, I find the taste to be enormously better. Therefore, the higher the amount of milk fat present, the more important it is for that dairy to be organic. Unfortunately, items high in milk fat are very difficult to find as an organic option. Butter can often be found in health food stores, but organic heavy cream is very difficult to find. It seems organic food producers are under the impression that people who eat organic only want health food. Another reason I try to find organic cream is because conventionally produced cream has tons of preservatives, thickeners and additives in it, which I would rather not have.

I love Indian food and blend my own spices to produce curries. However for this recipe, I only use store-bought curry powder. This dish, while it has a curry taste to it, is in no way Indian. This dish actually uses French technique and is from a time when English curry powder was the only form of curry known to western cuisine. I use a British brand, Sharwoods hot.

For brandy, the key is to find a balance between good flavour and reasonable price. For this reason, it is often good to look for a non-French brandy as you will pay more for equivalent quality for a French brandy. I prefer Spanish Brandy from Jerez, the region that also produces Sherry. However, in Quebec it is almost impossible to find any brandy that is not from France, so I have found a V.S.O.P. Brandy that is not too expensive but has good flavour.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My Montreal - Montreal Botanical Gardens

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Another of my favourite places in Montreal is the Botanical Gardens. I would go there constantly except that it is in the East end, very far from my home and there is an entrance fee. It is more than worth it. The Garden is huge, encompassing 72 hectares and includes an exhibition greenhouse, over 30 themed gardens and a 40 hectare arboretum. It is quite easy to get to: the metro (subway) is the best way to get there. Take the green line from downtown to Pie-IX station. The entrance to the garden is one block from the metro station. You can also drive. There is pay parking near the main entrance at 4101 Sherbrooke St. E., east of Pie IX boulevard. It is directly across the street from Olympic Park and Olympic Stadium, Montreal’s infamous white elephant of a stadium.

The garden was established in the 1930's by Brother Marie-Victorin, a professor of botany at the Universite de Montreal. The building of the garden, begun in 1931, was conceived in part as a make-work project for many people left unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. It was delayed by political squabbles but was eventually opened in 1939. The Arboretum was added in 1970 and some of my favourite parts of the garden, like the Chinese and Japanese gardens, were built even more recently. The most recent addition was a First Nations Garden, opened in August, 2001.

The garden is open year-round, but the price of admission varies by the season. From May 15 - November 1 entry is $16.50 CAD for adults (less for Quebec residents), dropping to $14 CAD for the winter months. There are discount prices for children, students and seniors. However, during the winter, the outdoor gardens can be entered free of charge. You only have to pay to enter the exhibition greenhouses. You may be wondering: but why would anyone want to visit an outdoor garden in the middle of a Canadian winter? Well that would explain why it is free of charge. But entry to the garden area remains free until May 15, and winter generally ends well before that. In fact, I really enjoy visiting the garden in the early spring. To be sure, nothing much is in bloom in April and sometimes the trails can be rather muddy or even still have some snow on the ground, if it is a shady area. Towards the end of April, some plants in the Alpine Garden begin to flower, and throughout the off season, I notice that people like to use the main, paved, paths as a jogging route. The one not-to-be-missed event during the winter is the Butterflies Are Free exhibit in the main Exhibition Greenhouse, which typically runs from mid February until late April every year. They have all kinds of impressive butterflies and moths from around the world on display.

If I were to discuss all the places to visit at the garden, as I did with Mount Royal, this post would go on forever. Instead I will focus most of my attention on three of my personal favourite areas of the garden: the arboretum, the Chinese Garden and the exhibition greenhouses. These locales are very different and showcase the wide variety of forms the various gardens can take. The arboretum represents the garden at its most natural. While it is organized by species of trees, it really feels like a forest. Much of it is also quite a distance from the busy roads that surround the garden, making it a very quiet and peaceful place. If you want to explore the arboretum, you will need to do a lot of walking. It is the furthest section from the main entrance. However, if you only want to visit the arboretum, it might be more practical to enter at the north entrance on Rosemont Boulevard. From the main entrance, there is a tram that runs every 20 minutes that circles around the entire garden. I prefer not to take this tram, as I prefer to do as much walking as possible when I am there. This is because I know I do not get as much exercise as I should and walking is one of the few forms of exercise I enjoy. You may also see some wildlife. There is a pond with plenty of waterfowl, and I have personally seen foxes, in addition to other more common urban wildlife in various places in the arboretum.

In contrast to the natural feel of the arboretum, is the organized and carefully ordered construction of the Chinese Garden. There are many structures here, including a pavilion, a courtyard, ponds, bridges and footpaths. It was built in 1991 and designed after a style of garden that was popular in China during the Ming Dynasty. An interesting note is that all the buildings and structures were manufactured in China, taken apart and shipped to Montreal to be reassembled.

One of the must-see events at the Chinese Garden is the lantern festival that takes place every fall. Thousands of handmade paper lanterns are made every year for the festival by artisans in China and are shipped to Montreal in time for the festival. Lanterns that actually look like lanterns are strung up in massive numbers along every footpath. Larger lanterns depict people, animals and structures and are in keeping with each year’s theme. They are positioned at various places throughout the garden, with the most impressive display placed on pontoons in the main water feature. During the festival, the garden’s hours are extended until 9pm. The reason is the garden is normally not open after dark but, to get the full effect of the lanterns, it is best to see them in darkness. Actually, I prefer to go in the late afternoon and see other parts of the garden, as well as the lanterns in the Chinese garden in daylight, then go back to the Chinese Garden when it gets dark. During the festival, they sell tea and moon cakes, a pastry filled with lotus bean paste.

Another must-visit location is exhibition greenhouses. There are several greenhouses each with different collections. There are tropical plants, tropical food plants, orchids and ferns. There are also greenhouses for desert plants, which also includes an area where the garden’s various bonsai and similar dwarf plants are housed during the winter. Those plants are displayed in several of the outdoor gardens in the summer. Finally there is the Main Exhibition Greenhouse, which typically hosts temporary exhibits. For instance, the butterfly exhibition mentioned earlier is housed there. Also in October, they hold the Great Pumpkin Ball, where the greenhouse is filled with painted pumpkins, mostly submitted from local schools.

The other gardens are also very much worth visiting. My favorites include the Japanese Garden, the First Nations Garden - consisting of a hardwood and softwood forest and an arctic plants garden, the aquatic gardens featuring lotus and water lilies and other species, the rose garden, the alpine garden featuring plants from the world’s mountainous areas, the flowery brook and the lilacs. The exhibition gardens are interesting too, some of which feature food plants, medicinal plants, and even a display of toxic plants.

Obviously some of these gardens are better to visit at certain times of the year. Lilacs bloom in May, the flowery brook is best in early summer, the roses in late summer, etc. Another place to visit within the botanical garden is the Insectarium. It displays and celebrates the world of insects and other bugs. They have lots of educational stuff that really appeals to kids. Unfortunately this summer the Insectarium was closed due to strike action from city employees. This situation closed the Insectarium and the Biodome, another of my favourite places located in the Olympic Park. This job action has recently ended and the Insectarium is now open just in time for Halloween (a good time to go see creepy crawlies) and the Biodome will reopen in December, once some renovations are completed.