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.

View Larger Map
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.

Ferreira Café on Urbanspoon