Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Montreal - Mount Royal

This is the first post of a multi-part series about my favourite places in my hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Now that we have beautiful summer weather I have decided to use my days off of work to be a tourist in my own city. The difference is that I already know where most of my favourite places are, though I’m always open to finding new sights and new things to do. Today I will be featuring perhaps my favourite place in the city, Mount Royal.

The city of Montreal is on an island in the middle of the St. Laurence river and Mount Royal is in the centre of the island. In the early years of Montreal, the richest of the rich built homes on the slopes of the mountain and some of these historic buildings are still there to this day. Later, large sections of the mountain were purchased and turned into two very large cemeteries. In the late 19th century, the summit and much of the upper slopes of the mountain were converted into a public park, open to all free of charge. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the most accomplished landscape architect of the day who designed, among other projects, Central Park in New York. It is an amazing natural area with plenty of trails, some paved, some gravel, and some just earthen trails which go deeper into the wooded areas. It is also an oasis that is free of development yet located in the heart of the city. You can get up to the mountain by car or by bus, but my favourite way is to walk up, even from the heart of downtown.

View Larger Map

A quick note on directionals. In Montreal, the directions we refer to as north, south east and west do not correctly correspond to compass points. As far as directions on the mountain are concerned, west is south, east is north, and so on. I will try to describe directions as they are on the map.

Since I live to the west of the mountain(south on the map), I enter the park from that side and will describe it travelling in that direction. The first important location is Beaver Lake. I would say that this is without a doubt my single favourite place in Montreal. My parents were born in Montreal and, when I was growing up, we would travel to Montreal every year to visit my grandmother. Back then, one of our favourite places to go was Beaver Lake. We would drive up and find a bench on the shady side of the lake and just sit and watch the waterfowl and the people walking by. My grandmother has now passed on and this is one of the places where I have memories of spending time with her. But primarily I go there for peaceful tranquillity. This means I normally go during the week and often not in the height of summer, though I was back there recently. My favourite time to be at the lake is in early Spring. I walk up on one of the first days warm enough to spend a few hours outside after a long winter. There is usually snow still on the ground and the ice on the lake is just beginning to break up. That time of year it is usually deserted and very peaceful. Every time I go to the lake, I will slowly walk the entire path around the lake, then find a bench to sit down for a while and just enjoy my environment. A trip to the mountain is unthinkable for me without a stop at Beaver Lake. There are lots of activities there as well. There are paddle boats in the summer and ice skating and tobogganing in the winter.

Another must-see location is the chalet lookout, also called the Kondiaronk Belvedere. This is close to the centre of the park and offers a dramatic panoramic view of downtown Montreal and across the river to the towns on the “South Shore”. You can even see out to La Ronde, the Six Flags amusement park located on Ile Ste.-Helene, site of Expo 67, the global exposition considered to be the watershed moment for Montreal’s emergence as a world-class city. On the way to the chalet is Smith House which is a small cafĂ©, gift shop, and museum with information about Mount Royal.

At the far side of the chalet, there is a downhill path leading to a long staircase. This leads you down the slope to a serpentine path that will eventually end at Peel street, a street that will take you into the heart of downtown. Along the way is a sight I only discovered on my most recent visit, just this week. It is the “Give Peace a Chance” monument, an arrangement of stone slabs that say “Give Peace a Chance” in 40 different languages. It is in fact an art installation created last year in honour of the 40th anniversary of the “bed-in for peace” held by John Lennon and Yoko Ono and their writing of the song “Give Peace a Chance” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal in 1969.

Continuing north past the chalet you approach the summit area. There is very little to mark the actual summit. There is a communication tower in a clearing surrounded by trees, providing no sightlines or photo opportunities. Nearby is the famous metal cross that is lit up at night and defines the mountain’s skyline. A few hundred yards away is the actual summit, though there is not much in the way of markings. From the summit you can follow a trail which will lead you to a staircase where you begin descending the other side of the mountain. At the bottom of the staircase there is a road and parking area that features another scenic lookout. This is the Camilien-Houde overlook and from here you can see off to the east end of the city(actually to the north). The massive object dominating the skyline is the infamous Olympic Stadium, built for the Summer Olympics of 1976, yet already crumbling. The major league baseball team that used to play there left years ago and the football team plays here on the mountain, making the stadium one of the best examples of a white elephant (it even kind of looks like a white elephant!) known to modern construction.

Obviously this was not taken from the lookout, but right next to the stadium

At the far end of the lookout parking lot is a hard-to-see spur trail that comes off the road and turns back underneath the overlook. This is my favourite path to descend the east(north) side of the mountain. The paths are not marked here but if you stay on heavily used trails and keep going downhill you should be OK. You should eventually cross the Olmstead trail a wider marked path along the way. The destination is the base of the mountain at the Georges-Etienne Cartier Monument on Parc Avenue. If you do not want to risk these smaller unmarked trails, you can follow Olmstead trail all the way. To get there take the staircase down from the chalet as described above then, instead of going down the serpentine path to Peel street, turn left and follow this path all the way to the monument. There are also smaller trails that come off of Olmstead Trail at various points that also lead there. I could not possibly describe all the possible routes and sites there are to see. The map above was the best I could find to put directly into the post. For more detail I strongly recommend the interactive map at Les Amis De La Montagne. It can be very helpful to orient yourself and make sense of all this. If you do decide to explore the smaller, less marked trails, a GPS can be very useful, since it is hard to get too far lost as long as you are headed in the right general direction.

Amis De La Montagne Interactive Map:

If you think you are going to see all these things at once on a single day outing to the mountain, think again. This place is HUGE so a lot of walking is involved, especially to get to places further from the road. For a one day outing I suggest going to Beaver Lake and the chalet. If you like it and want to come back again, that is the time to start exploring a little more.

Can you tell I really, really like this place? In future posts I will describe some of my other favourite places in Montreal, some famous, some almost unkown.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Great Steak Sauce

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. I really just needed a little break. I am still writing and there are more posts on the way. In the meantime, here’s another recipe. If you get the flavour balance right on this steak sauce, you will never buy A1, HP or any other similar steak sauce again. This was an effort to duplicate the sort of flavours found in these sauces but make it better. It is also another good use for the tamarind from the last recipe I posted.

2-3 small sweet or regular onions (1 really large one should be enough)
1 tblsp olive oil
½ cup red wine
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup molasses
2 ½ tblsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thai fish sauce
1 tblsp tamarind paste
1 tsp beef stock concentrate (see note)
3 tblsp soy sauce
½ cup water
½ tsp each:

cut onions into very fine dice (if you do not have very good knife skills, you could certainly use a food processor) and sweat them in olive oil. When onions are soft, add wine and bring to boil. Add all other ingredients except spices and stir well to be sure pastes are dissolved and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until sauce is a little thicker than ketchup. Add spices and cook for another 5 minutes and let cool. Serve over any kind of steak.


The ingredient you use for meat flavour can be difficult to choose. Right now I am using a paste-like concentrate made from natural ingredients. Other options are stock, or demi-glace, homemade or commercial. If you are using stock you will need at least a half cup and will need to cook the sauce longer to reach the correct consistency. If you use commercial product, be careful of the sodium level of the product and read the label - you want to avoid preservatives and any ingredient that you do not recognize. Please do not use bouillon cubes - you are basically putting an artificially flavoured salt lick into your food. To succeed with this recipe, the most important thing is to taste as you go and be sure that there is a balance of taste. It should taste sweet, sour and savoury.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guinea Style Chicken

Here’s another recipe for you to enjoy. This is a dish that my mother used to make and now I have adapted it and I make it myself. The dish is West African in origin, but we are not! My mom is not quite sure where she got the recipe. The ingredients may seem quite unusual but trust me when I say that this really does work!

3 lbs chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
3 onions, chopped
½ head garlic, minced
about 2 tblsp. Peanut oil
1 tsp paprika
1tblsp tomato paste
2 cups canned tomatoes (or homemade tomato sauce)
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or quality low-sodium store-bought)
1-2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp cayenne or more to taste
salt & pepper
1 cup natural crunchy peanut butter
3 tblsp tamarind paste
2 cups frozen peas

Saffron Rice
2 cups rice
4 cups water
pinch of salt
pinch of saffron threads

Cut each chicken breast in half through the bone (a cleaver is essential for this) and brown them in a pot large enough to cook the entire dish. Do not overcrowd the pan, there needs to be space around each piece of chicken. Brown in batches until all the chicken is browned (not cooked through) and set aside. Add onions to same pan. Sweat the onions, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. When onions are almost cooked add garlic and cook a few seconds until the odour is released. Add paprika and tomato paste and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to simmer. Add rosemary, cayenne, salt and pepper, then add chicken back to pan, along with any juices. Stir to make sure all chicken is covered in sauce and simmer until chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes
Meanwhile, combine rice and almost all water in a pot and steep the saffron threads in a small bit of hot water until the colour comes out, then add it all to the rice. Bring rice, covered, to a boil then immediately bring down to a very low simmer. This is much easier with a gas stove. If you have electric, have another burner preheated on low and transfer the pot when it reaches a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes then turn heat off and let sit for 10 minutes longer.
When chicken is cooked add peanut butter and tamarind and mix until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Add frozen peas, bring back to simmer and serve with saffron rice.

A note on the pic. Your rice will probably look more yellow than this. When I made it, I did not take the time to steep the saffron so the colour is not uniform.

Extra Notes:
First a note about buying chicken. When possible, avoid ordinary supermarket chicken. First, because they are water-chilled, you are paying for water and more importantly there is a much greater risk of salmonella contamination than when chicken is air-chilled. Second, the cheapest chickens are so priced because they are raised in truly horrible conditions. They live jammed together, are fed food of questionable origin and are more prone to diseases. There is a very good TV special hosted by Jamie Oliver where he exposes the practices of chicken farmers. Finally, higher quality chickens tend to have better flavour. Obviously, free-range organic is the best choice but can be pricey. A decent compromise would be to buy chickens that are fed 100% vegetable grain. Another budget option can be Kosher chicken. The chickens have to meet higher standards of health and, because the process of Koshering involves soaking the chicken in a salt solution, the meat is more flavourful. Just be sure to use a little less salt if you use this chicken.

The cayenne is very important in this dish. Peanut butter is a tricky ingredient to combine with tomatoes and the heat of cayenne is important for this to work. If you can’t handle spicy food, don’t make this dish. When you add the cayenne, taste the sauce and you should feel a medium-strong chili burn.

Tamarind is probably an unusual ingredient for many people. It can be found in any Asian grocery, either as a liquid concentrate or in a package of paste, either with or without seeds. If you have a paste with seeds you will need to loosen the paste with a small amount of hot water and mash the mixture through a sieve. The other forms can be added straight in. There is really no substitute for tamarind but if for some reason you cannot find it, adding some sour ingredient will get you close. Lemon juice would probably be the most acceptable.

The amounts of many of these ingredients are not tested. I don’t measure when I make this so I have done my best to approximate the amounts I use. The best advice is to taste and when it tastes good to you, then its right! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Who Is a Cook?

It is often said that those who work in professional kitchens are a breed apart and I concur. Some reasons for this are quite obvious. The work conditions alone are rather taxing. You are working for 8-10 hours (sometimes longer) standing up 100% of the time in a very hot kitchen directly in front of very hot stoves . The pay is quite low, unless you are an executive chef for a rather wealthy owner/corporation. There is no acceptable pace other than “faster” and inability to live up to these standards typically is cause for dismissal, or at least demotion. In addition to these obvious differences to jobs in the real world, there are other factors that make kitchen work unique. Due in part to the harsh work conditions, the tone of conversation in kitchens is very coarse and sexually charged (obviously in a heterosexual direction). Almost everyone works on weekends and quite often on holidays as well, since these are the times when restaurants are the busiest. Many chefs are very harsh and run their kitchens somewhere between a military camp and a despotic dictatorship. So why would anyone enter this line of work? Two reasons. One reason is not quite as true as it used to be but does still apply: people enter the business because they have no other productive options or do not feel at ease in a normal work environment. It used to be the only qualification needed to work in a kitchen is to show up and follow the chef’s instructions. Also, many forms of deviant and semi-criminal behaviour were tolerated as long as those aforementioned conditions were met. These circumstances meant that people who had few marketable skills or had unsavoury personal habits would still be valued members of a kitchen staff. It was certainly not glamorous back then but preferable to welfare or jail. The other reason is the more obvious one - a genuine passion for food and cooking. The desire to feed people and have them enjoy what you give them, combined with the rush you get from coping with very difficult conditions and producing great food that will wow the diner, yet producing it by the dozens or hundreds of portions in a matter of minutes.

So why am I doing this? Definitely more the second reason that the first - I have a University education and could have gone into other fields, although I did decide to enter the culinary field after my original plans to go to graduate school were not successful. I can state without hesitation that I cook because I love food and I love working with food. In fact when tasting something exceptionally good, I feel something close to a sexual turn-on. Lest this sound like a bizarre perversion on my part, I have since found out from some of my colleagues that this is definitely not unknown among cooks and chefs who are known to get “culinary boners” (figuratively, I assume!) On further consideration, I don’t believe this is restricted to culinary professionals. Cooking magazines and TV shows present food in ways that is remarkably similar to how pornography is presented, complete with airbrushing, touch-ups, moaning and oohs and aahs. And diners (for some reason more women than men) may describe particularly flavourful food as “orgasmic”. And of course, who can forget the famous fake orgasm scene in “When Harry met Sally” when Meg Ryan’s amazing demonstration of a fake orgasm in a diner prompts the old lady at the next table to tell the waitress “I’ll have what she’s having”! So obviously, there is a fairly deep connection between food and sex, which also may help in part to explain the usually crude and raunchy atmosphere in professional kitchens.

This deep association between food and sex serves as another explanation for the sexually charged tone of kitchen conversation described earlier. This can make for a difficult environment for a homosexual in a kitchen. Since most of the cooks are straight, the banter is heterosexual in tone and frequently tends toward the homophobic. And I do feel a little uncomfortable with this, since I am still in the process of coming to terms with my sexual identity and since I keep quiet about sexual matters. However, I do seem to be noticing there is more tolerance beneath the surface of intolerance. When I have actually talked seriously with other cooks about these matters, they are in fact quite tolerant. Part of this is because many cooks are sensation-seekers and, even though they are straight, some have experimented in the past and, when they are deal with someone who is gay, they are more tolerant than you would expect from the idle banter. Also, in many restaurants I have worked in, a large number of male waitstaff happen to be gay (I’m sure many have theories that rely on stereotypes but I’m truly not sure why this is).

So what was this post about anyway? Oh, right, it was about who is a professional cook. Or is it about food and sex? Maybe about gays in the kitchen? Well, it may not be the most cohesive of posts, I think it does show the importance of food and cooking in my life. Expect to see more ramblings about kitchen life.


While I’m on the topic of homosexuality(sort of), I would like to take a brief diversion to draw attention to some recent events relating to gay rights, some good some bad. First the negative. The State of Hawaii in the United States had finally passed a bill through both state houses to legalize civil unions but it was vetoed by the governor, who stalled the maximum time allowed by law until congress was on summer recess and could not return to override the veto, which might have been possible as the vote was close to the needed supermajority. The governor instead favours civil unions be decided by popular vote, which will likely create a situation similar to Proposition 8 in California which used hate to overturn law. Rights for minorities should never be decided by popular vote, which only takes majority rule into account and not legal principles that ensures all are served. Hawaii has an election for a new governor in November and hopefully the voters will go back to the Democrats who are more in tune with Hawaiian attitudes and values. Contrast this with Argentina, which has just legalized gay marriage, the first Latin American country to do so. Finally in some more trivial gay news, the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy for ice hockey, won by the Chicago Blackhawks, was carried in Chicago’s gay pride parade in late June. It was carried by Blackhawks player Brent Sopel during his appointed day to spend with the trophy as he wishes. He chose the pride parade in honour of Brendan Burke, the son of Brian Burke, the manager of one of Sopel’s former teams. Brendan, a college hockey player, died in a car accident last year, not long after coming out, something very difficult for athletes in team sports. This was the first pride parade for the 117-year-old trophy, the most revered trophy in professional sports, but it is not all that unusual, as the Cup has a history of being brought to many different places.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The New Freakshows

In a post a while back, I made some comments relating to the popularity of reality television and how I thought our society had become more voyeuristic. I received a comment on that post which, in addition to other great points, made the claim that human nature has really always been this way. The more I think about this idea, the more I see the probable truth in it.

There is a common saying that if we do not remember our history we are doomed to repeat it. While this is usually meant as a warning, it illustrates the point that historical trends often present themselves in cycles, unless society changes in some fundamental way. If voyeurism is indeed an essential human trait, this would explain why reality TV has more longevity than other previous fads in the entertainment world. But it would also mean that we should be able to find some other manifestation of this voyeuristic trend in our past as well as our present. I think the source can be found if we look at a particular segment of the reality TV world, namely the medical and the addiction-related shows. The medical shows typically focus on bizarre medical conditions that require highly complicated surgical interventions. The addiction show s follow the lives of people living with addictions or mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have not watched these shows extensively because the very idea of these shows is to gawk at people who have a genuine medical or psychological problem that makes their lives very difficult, and I find this idea repugnant. Yet there is a phenomenon from the past that is remarkably similar to these shows - circus sideshows or “freakshows”. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, travelling circuses were very popular, the best known of which was probably Barnum & Bailey. In addition to the acrobats, clowns and animals, most of these circuses had a sideshow, typically consisting of individuals who had some form of physical abnormality, such as the “fat man” or “bearded lady” or the “siamese twins”. Unlike other circus performers these “freaks” (definitely not a politically correct term but it is the term used most often during that time) didn’t actually do anything - they just stood around and were watched by people who would “marvel” at them, meaning stare at them.

These sideshows were very popular in the first half of the 20th century. In the postwar era there were fewer travelling circuses and “freakshows” tended to be less prominent. My guess is that this might have had something to do with advancing technology that provided other forms of entertainment that were more readily available (primarily the TV). There was also some increased awareness of the exploitive nature of the sideshows. I don’t know when the sideshows stopped, but it was several decades ago (my guess is 60's, maybe 70's - perhaps someone has more accurate knowledge of this). In today’s more politically correct times, we outwardly applaud this development as we consider it cruel to ridicule or even just stare at a fellow human’s peculiarity (even this term may offend some - see how hard it is to be PC?). Still, are we really as progressive in this regard as we pretend to be?

Now we get back to reality television. Is it really so different to stare at the bearded lady or the midget as to watch a TV show about the horribly cluttered home of a “hoarder” or about the inexplicable repetitive behaviours of someone who suffers from OCD? Now the makers of these shows claim that the purpose of these shows is to enlighten the world about the people living with these unusual situations, so we can all be more understanding. I don’t buy it. We have had actual informational shows about addiction, mental illness and similar topics for years, and they usually consist mainly of medical experts giving interviews, facts and figures, and other features without broad entertainment value. They provide genuine information; the only thing they are missing is the visceral thrill of seeing the “freaks” in their “natural habitat”, which the new breed of shows excel at.

Some shows have taken this idea even further and have essentially taken the freak show and put it on TV. There are shows about the excessively obese, the tallest people and shortest people. There is also a show about people trying to break world records, which often involve some physical contortion or use of a particular condition. These are all classic elements of the circus sideshows of old with not much changed except it is now on television.

Taking these points into consideration, we can see that these reality shows really are just a new manifestation of a voyeuristic desire which now does seem to be a part of human nature. Many of us may claim to be offended by the exploitive nature of the sideshows of old and now the reality TV shows, but these things clearly would not exist if people did not enjoy watching these displays of the unusual. While there are some reality shows that I do watch, I personally do not watch any of these shows but I know people who do. Hopefully some day we can evolve a little more as a society and actually progress beyond the need stare at people who are a bit different. Unfortunately I think this is a bit Utopian; I don't see this happening anytime soon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Day Off Work

Normally it would not be my intention to write blog entries about what I did today - I leave that to other bloggers. I prefer to talk about issues and miscellany that comes to mind. Several such pieces of blog material came to me a couple days ago and they seemed to me to be vaguely connected. It just so happens that their commonalities lie in how my day went on Tuesday. So, here we go. Another new experiment today is that I will be adding pictures to this post. I’m not sure I will do this very much but this piece seemed to warrant them.

I generally go to sleep in the wee hours of the morning and wake up about midday (this schedule changes when I work morning shifts, though this rarely happens more than twice a week). So I woke up midday, got ready for the day and in the afternoon, watched the World Cup Semifinal between the Netherlands and Uruguay. Great match, and the Netherlands may have what it takes to win it all - one more game to go. Yesterday in the other semi-final, Spain defeated Germany 1-0, setting up a Netherlands - Spain final. For the last several years, both the Netherlands and Spain have entered the World Cup with great promise only to fizzle out in the early stages. This time, one of these teams will finally win it all for the first time ever. I sensed that the Netherlands might make it all the way when they won every game out of their group. I like the Dutch style of play while I found the Spain - Germany game very dull until the final 30 minutes and, since my home country is not competitive, I have to find other countries to support. Hopefully one day Canada will field a decent squad but for now, our team is very weak. They exit very early in qualifying and the best soccer player Canada has produced plays for England (Owen Hargreaves). The situation is a little baffling since soccer is very popular as a youth sport at the grassroots level and has been for many years now, yet there is no improvement in the national team and there are not many Canadians going to play for top-level teams in Europe. Now with the expanding MLS there may be hope. Toronto has a team and Montreal will be entering the league in 2012.

After the game, I went downtown. It was the last day of the Montreal Jazz Festival and the closing show was something I wanted to see. The last three days (including Tuesday) have been extremely hot and humid (34 degrees C, 42 with the humidity) so it felt like walking through soup. The theme of the closing concert was Mardi Gras in Montreal, so the event began with a parade through the downtown to the festival site. Here I noticed a huge difference between this parade and the Canada Day parade I attended last week that followed much the same route. First of all, there were far more people at this parade. At the end of the parade, there were so many people the sidewalks and the plaza behind it were completely impassible. All along the route the crowd was at least three or four deep. The other big difference was that the marchers and the floats were far more impressive. Some were even transported from New Orleans for this event. Last week, I blamed lack of public financing for the shabbiness of the Canada Day event, but the Mardi Gras parade is almost all privately funded through ticket sales to indoor shows and concession sales outdoors. So it seems the real answer is that Quebecers don’t seem to care about Canada Day enough to attend or support the parade.

After the parade the concert began. The first performer was Zachary Richard. The most interesting thing about the performance was that he played the zydeco. A zydeco is similar to an accordion and is very popular in New Orleans music. What I find fascinating is that the crowd really seemed to enjoy this, including me. At the same time, accordion music is considered very unpopular and I personally do not care for it. How is it that two similar instruments generate very different audience impressions when played? The only answer I can think of would be that the zydeco has become part of the signature sound of New Orleans so people recognize and appreciate this music. Also, the accordion is often played at a slower pacing than the zydeco and faster paced music tends to be more popular than slower music.

There was one other happening worthy of note. The opening act, Trombone Shorty, was very popular with the crowd and, when the headliner, New Orleans legend Alan Toussaint, came on, many people left. I do not recall going to a concert where people came only to see the opening act and not the headliner. It may be somewhat of a generational thing, since the opening act was in a more modern style and may have had more appeal to contemporary tastes. My own opinion was that they were both excellent and Mr. Toussaint deserved a larger crowd than he ended up receiving (though there was still a very large crowd). This is not really a complaint or castigation, I simply found this to be interesting and am not attaching any judgments to this. I suppose this is what the entire post was about. It was just an interesting day, without any big issues to think about but rather a few smaller ones.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki

First a quick update: a couple posts ago I said I wasn’t worried about finding another job quickly. Indeed less than a week later I do have a new job, and a better and higher paying one than my previous job that abruptly ended with the closure of the restaurant.

This is the first installment of what may become a regular feature on my blog. I will be posting recipes every one or two weeks, probably on the weekends (this one is coming a little later due to my focus on securing my new job this weekend). I am still deciding whether to keep the recipes sprinkled through this blog or put them in a separate linked blog. If anyone has suggestions about this or has an original recipe to share (ie. NOT from a published cookbook), let me know. As Canada Day was last week and July 4 was yesterday, it is a good time for burgers. While this may be more complicated than just opening a package, it is still a rather easy recipe and I’m sure you’ll find the flavour is well worth the effort.

For the burgers:
3 lbs ground lamb
½ onion, chopped very fine (can use food processor)
½- 1/3 cup feta cheese, cut in small cubes
1 tsp dried mint
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
2 eggs
1/4 cup chickpea flour (can be found at bulk food or health food stores)
grated zest from 1 lemon
pinch of salt, a few grinds fresh ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Your hands are the best tools for this. Form into patties of 1/4 lb each. This will be easier if you keep your hands wet.

For Tzatziki
1 tub balkan or other plain, unsweetened yogurt left to drain in cheesecloth for 2 hours or 1 tub greek yogurt (other yogurts have to have the excess water removed before using, but greek yogurt is thicker and does not need this extra step)
½ cucumber, shredded, squeezed to remove as much water as possible
½ clove garlic, finely grated (can use the full clove if you really like garlic)

Stir cucumber and garlic into yogurt, add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least ½ hour to let the flavours combine.

Cook burgers either on the grill, or in a cast iron pan, for about 5-7 minutes per side (it may work better in the pan. The extra fat in lamb might cause too many flare-ups on a barbeque). Serve in a pita with tzatziki, tomatoes, and greens (I like watercress). It does not need cheese as there is already feta inside the burger.

Additional Notes: If you cannot find chickpea flour, you can use fine Italian-style breadcrumbs, but the texture will be a little different. If you do not want to go through the extra effort of making the tzatziki there are very good ready-made tzatzikis in the deli section of most supermarkets. If you would like to do extra work, you could pit and chop some kalamata olives in the food processor with olive oil to form a basic tapenade and use this as an additional topping.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Canada Day!

Today, July 1, is Canada Day, the anniversary of the founding of Canada back in 1867. This 143rd birthday for Canada is indeed special. It has been a very eventful year for the country, and now is the time to celebrate Canada and all things Canadian. The highlight of the year so far has certainly been the Vancouver Olympic Games in February. The entire country revealed an enthusiasm and a level of patriotism previously not expressed as well all cheered on our athletes and welcomed the world. The performances fueled this pride, as Canada finished with 14 gold medals, the most for any country in a single Winter Games. The most important of all these medals was the last one, when the men’s Hockey team defeated the United States in overtime to win the gold.

There are parades and celebrations taking place across the country, with the biggest taking place in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. The official ceremonies, which I saw on television, drew a huge crowd, especially since Queen Elizabeth II, officially our sovereign, is on a royal visit to Canada and was in attendance for the event. I realize there are many Canadians as well as citizens of other Commonwealth countries who do not agree with the idea of keeping the monarchy, but I believe that it is good for the country. It gives us a sense of our place in history and is a reminder of tradition in a quickly evolving society.

While the special events in Ottawa were obviously the big draw, one would still expect the events in Montreal, one of Canada’s biggest cities, to still be impressive. Alas, this was not the case. I did attend the Canada Day parade today but was greatly disappointed. First, the crowds were very thin and rather quiet the entire length of the parade route. Many of the participants were not well organized at all, some consisting solely of someone driving a car with small Canadian flags taped to the side and a banner with the name of some organization. I found it very sad, as I have heard that the parade used to be very well attended and quite impressive in years past. Unfortunately at present, the parade receives little government funding and no political leaders, either from Montreal or elsewhere, attend. It is my opinion that this disinterest stems from the political situation in Quebec.

This stems from a separatist movement that has held a great degree of popularity in the province since the mid-1970's when the Parti Quebecois, whose goal is for Quebec to separate from Canada, rose to power in the Provincial Government. Since then, two referendums have been held about Quebec sovereignty, both defeated though the last one in 1995 was very close. Although the current Government is nominally federalist, they are attempting to pander to the francophone majority by heavily restricting the use of English and demanding governmental powers normally reserved for federal control. There is also another holiday, Fete St. Jean-Baptiste or Fete Nationale, which is held one week prior on June 24 that is more popular among the francophone majority in Quebec and draws away much of the attention. As I was originally preparing this post, I wrote a substantial piece about how I believe Canada Day is being diminished and ignored in Quebec and what this has to do with linguistic divisions and other issues, but on review, I found that version to be very harsh and intolerant, as well as too negative in tone for such a joyous day. Instead I decided to wait until today and rewrite from scratch. This way I was able to convey the pride and happiness inherent in Canada Day and to give the holiday its due.

Montreal is still not devoid of Canada Day cheer. As I post this, the fireworks display should be under way at the old port of Montreal, an event which is well attended. Happy Canada Day! Joyeux Fete du Canada!