QUEST: Best bets for milkshakes and other cool sips

By CINDY DEACHMAN

I scream for ice cream — and hot summer days do too, dontcha know. Hike it up a notch with luscious ice cream drinks: bring on the ice cream sodas, smoothies, shakes, and malted milks. Anything goes! Start with your favourite frozen dessert. The classics, for instance — vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream. Then there’s nougat, peppermint, or peanut butter cup gelato. How about black cherry or sorrel sorbet? (Don’t exclude granitas, ices, frozen yogourt, frozen custard, or the Arab agraz, either, all of which come in innumerable flavours.) Now combine in one way or another with milk, Orange Crush, blueberry green tea smoothie, or mojito with fresh mint and lime. Imagination? You got it!

O.Mag_Zaks_RootBeerFloat_4.30

Zak’s Milkshake. Photo by Christian Lalonde – Photolux Studio.

 

Root Beer Float>>
The ice cream float was invented more than 130 years ago in the United States, likely for outstripping the soda fountain competition. At Zak’s, a 1950s-style diner in the ByWard Market, the classic can be had — root beer with vanilla ice cream, topped perfectly with a maraschino cherry. There’s something so satisfying about ice cream melting into the root beer fizz. Of course, you can order other pop too — orange Fanta and cream soda are popular. Ice creams include chocolate and strawberry. $5.49. Zak’s Diner14 ByWard Market Sq., 613-241-2401.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Elegant salads and splendid mains at new Preston Street resto Salt

By ANNE DESBRISAY
Salt's pierrogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Salt’s pierogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This big corner space of Preston Square has had two fairly short-lived restaurant tenants. The latest is called Salt, and I rather hope it’s third time’s the charm for this one.
Salt is a tall, dark, mod space, divided into bar, dining room, and patio. The design is generically industrial, though the  chandeliers and custom iron work lend lustre. One wall is all windows framed with dark drapes. It overlooks a corner patio with  fire pit, lounge furniture, and a nicely tended vegetable/herb garden in full swing. Another wall introduces a built-in of backlit spirits around a slick electric fireplace. The lounge at the front has a marble bar-top curved around a baby grand piano. The dining room proper is very dark, the walls and ceiling painted black. (Or possibly navy to match the drapes; hard to tell.) Outside the kitchen pass is a handsome shelving unit, loaded with carefully considered bits of culinary nostalgia (an old Joy of Cooking, a few ‘we love the whole pig’ cookbooks, many jarred preserves). It all looks designer-great.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two problems marred my initial enjoyment of the place. One, was the pong of bleach, or some sort of industrial cleaning solution. (Not an unusual whiff at bars and restaurants these days, but a regrettable one: doesn’t whet the appetite.) And two, it was freezing cold. And quite dark. It was a welcome that had me bracing for a middling meal and a final bill that looked like it would be hefty.
The cold was dealt with by a gracious server. The smell faded (or we got used to it). The bill was indeed sizeable, but the food, as it happened, was disconcertingly delicious.
That may have to do with the fact that Salt, which is open 18 hours, seven days a week, has three chefs: Aaron Wong, most recently at Play; Jessica Hendren from Town; and Ryan Edwards, formerly of Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar. Three great restaurants.
The dinner menu is divided into small and large plates, and steaks. The pricing is a bit confusing. Small plates range from $12 to $39; large plates start at $16 and climb to $32.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We began at the bottom, with an elegant salad starring house cured and smoked salmon. On a long plate were three moist piles of the fish on a bed of pea shoots, dill fronds, carrot tops, and spinach, topped with pickled pearl onion, fennel, and jalapeño, injecting a bit of heat. Piped blobs of a luscious avocado mousse lent richness, and oiled caraway toast, crumbled overtop, gave crunch.
And then a dish so rich and good I ordered it again for lunch. (Partly so I could see it enough to photograph.) Billed as ‘pierogi gnocchi,’ these were big, bronzed pillows of gooey smoked potato, seasoned with a whiff of garlic, the soft texture within offset by the crisp out. On top were scattered hunks of blue cheese and strings of caramelized onion, some young arugula leaves, while creme fraiche perked up with pink peppercorns was the moisture beneath.
We loved the dish called “Kraken vs Halibut” and though the name suggests the fish would arrive wrapped in the octopus tentacles, the two elements were kept apart. I’ve had lousy halibut of late. Dry and dull. But this was a splendid finger of the fish, with a powerful sear and soft, moist petals of flesh set on a carpet of minted summer peas. Other successes included the salt brick chicken infused with lemon and bathed in brown butter, and a dry aged 20 ounce striploin for two with choice of sides and sauce.
Salt has a climate-controlled, dry-aging room — the only restaurant in the city with one of those, our server tells us — and their cuts are reported to hang for at least 45 days. This was a very fine steak, the meat musky, grilled to rare, sweet in places, and with a pronounced flavour of ripe cheese.
The one dud came at lunch with a so-whatish bolognese, the fresh pasta overcooked, the basil puree served as a streak on the plate, rather than mixed in where it would have done more good.
The wine list offers lots of bubbles by the glass, which is very good of them, and a generous, well chosen list of reds and whites in two pours. There’s a good craft beer list and though I can’t vouch for the ‘craft cocktails’ the young women chatting up the bartender appeared to be happy with them.
Salt’s a fine addition to an ever more interesting Preston Street.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Large Plates, $16 to $32
345 Preston Street, 613-693-0333 saltottawa.ca

 

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Fiona’s mom has a hissy fit PLUS the recipe for Fee’s fabulous carrot cake

By BARBARA SIBBALD

Westward ho

—   Hi Mom, says Fiona. Just let me put you on speaker phone, I’m in the middle of making a carrot cake*. There. Can you hear me?

—   You’ll never believe what that brother of yours is doing now, says her mother.

—   Is he okay? asks Fiona anxiously.

She spoke to him on Wednesday and he seemed okay, but still…. It’s early days yet.

—   He’s fine, says her mother crisply. I’m the one having a nervous breakdown. He’s moving out west. To Vancouver. To be closer to him.

—   Him? Dad?IMG_4300

—   Of course, Dad. Who else? she says impatiently. For some reason, your Dad phoned out of the blue and two of them had this big kiss and make-up session.

So he did phone, thinks Fiona. He did listen to me. I can’t believe it. Maybe he is changing. Or maybe all we needed to do was talk. He’s the one who opened things up with that damn will.

—   When did he call? she asks.

—   Couple of days ago. And now all of the sudden, Neil’s decided to move to Vancouver. Says it will be a fresh start for him. And get this, the old tightwad actually open his wallet for Neil. Can you believe it?

Good for him, thinks Fiona. He’s finally getting involved in our lives. Luc walks into the kitchen; Fee mouths “Mom” and motions for him to be quiet.

—   I guess you’ll really miss Neil, says Fiona.

—   And the rent, says her mom. Everyone seems concerned about his financial wherewithal, but what about me?

—   Neil couldn’t have paid rent anyway Mom. He’s not working. And if he did stay in Halifax, I don’t think he’d be moving back home. It’s time for him to be on his own.

—   He’s not well enough. You know that, Fiona. He needs his mother.

—   Or is it just the rent you’re worried about?

—   Fee! How can you be so crass? I’m a loving mother.

—   Mom, if you need the money, rent out the downstairs apartment to someone else. A student or someone.

—   The laundry’s down there.

—   So get it moved upstairs. It’s not such a difficult thing, Mom. I think the important thing here is Neil and helping him get better. If he thinks a move….

—   There’s no way that will help him. Leaving behind all his friends and the one person in the world who loves and cares for him the most.

—   You?

—   Yes, me, of course, she snaps.

scrambled-eggs—   Mom, someone’s at the door, Fee lies. I’ll call you back.

She hangs up and begins dialling. Good for Neil, she thinks.

—   Neil’s leaving? Luc says

—   Going out west. Dad’s paying.

—   Wow, that’s a barn-burner.

—   I’m calling Neil, she says, putting the phone back on speaker. They listen to the rings.

—   Hello?

—   Neil? It’s Fee. Luc’s here too on speakerphone.

—   Hey guys. I’m guessing Mom called you, he says.

—   I would have rather have heard it from you, says Fiona.

—   I had to tell her first, Fee. I was going to call you tonight. I’ve been so busy getting everything set up. Packing, shipping stuff, tickets. Dad’s paying for everything. And I know you’re behind it all. He skirted around it, not wanting to share the glory, but you said you talked.

—   I did, but I never expected this!

—   I don’t know what’s gotten into him, says Neil, but he’s really come through. He’s even found a couple of contracts for me with his buddies. Web design for lawyers, but still, it’s a start. And there’s so much more work going on in Vancouver for me: design, apps. All sorts of stuff. More than there ever will be in Halifax.

—   Where are you going to live? asks Fiona.

—   He’s set that up too. Place in Burnaby, near the BCIT, so I can take courses if I want.

—   Or teach them.

—   Ha! As if! Anyway, it’s near stores and the SkyTrain so I’m good to go. I can’t wait.

—   Neil, I haven’t heard you sound this good since…forever! I’m so glad. And what about your psychiatrist, what does she say?

—   She’s a bit worried, says it’s awfully soon. But she’s hooked me up with someone she went to school with, so I have that sorted too. It just seems like this was meant to happen.

—   Except for Mom.

—   Well, yeah, she’s pretty upset. But you know as Dr. C says: I’m not responsible for how she’s feeling.

—   It took me years to realize that, says Fiona. It’s always all about her.

—   You’re right there. Listen Fee, I’ve got an appointment in twenty minutes, I’ve gotta run.

—   When’s the move? she asks.

—   Week tomorrow.

—   I’m so happy for you, Neil.

—   Thanks Fee. Love you.

—   Love you too, she says and hangs up.

—   I don’t think he’s ever told me that before, she says to Luc.

*Fiona’s favourite carrot cake

 

2 cups stirred, unsifted cake and pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

1 ½ cups canola oil

4 eggs

2 cups peeled, grated carrots

1 ¼ cups drained, crushed pineapple

1 cup chopped pecans

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Place sifter over large bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. Add oil and eggs, beat by hand for 1 minute.
  4. Add carrot, pineapple and nuts; beat to mix.
  5. Grease bottom of a 13×9 inch pan. Line bottom with buttered heavy brown paper.
  6. Pour in batter and bake on centre shelf for 40–50 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched with your fingertip.
  7. Cool and frost

 

Cream cheese frosting

4 ounce light cream cheese

½ cup butter (soft)

2 cups icing sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and beat with hand mixer until smooth.
  2. Spread on cooled cake.
  3. Cut into squares from pan.

 

 

3 Comments

ANNE’S PICK: More of a plea (buzz off!)

By ANNE DESBRISAY

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“And how are our first bites this evening?” Just 30 seconds ago, our server had dropped two plates in front of us.

“Fine, thank you.”

We carry on our conversation.

Three minutes later, she’s back. “Does everything continue to be to your liking?”

Yes, “Thank you,” we say through gritted teeth.

“Excellent. I’ll tell the kitchen.” And off she goes.

Delivered shortly after the next course, my favourite line yet: “And how are our flavours suiting your palate?”— I kid you not. That’s what she said.

It took remarkable restraint not to shoot back: “Actually, dearie, the first bites, the fourth bites, and the eleventh bites are all fair to middling, if you truly want to hear it, though you may read all about it in next week’s column. But if my soup happens to be stone cold or the salad studded with earwigs, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, kindly LEAVE US ALONE.”

When did these maddening quality check rounds become de rigueur in restaurants?

You would think the constant querying smacks of gross insecurity. (Do you like me? And what about now… Do you like me still?) And while service style in modern restaurants tends to be approachable, casual, personal — none of which I have a problem with, nor do I have a problem with a server describing my dish, or asking if there’s anything else I might require before leaving me to tuck in — this constant servility seems faux. More self-seeking than genuine.

Except, may I tell you, at Le Baccara. There, at fine dining room of the Lac Leamy Casino, the disruptive bob-ins were noticeably absent, and the lack of them noted and appreciated.

I would suggest a server at Le Baccara wouldn’t think (a) to interrupt a conversation and an appreciation of the dish, and (b) that the plate that’s just been created and assembled for me would be anything other than marvellous. You might find that arrogant. I think it’s more likely confidence from the kitchen, which in turn generates confidence from the eater.

My Baccara server and server’s assistant dropped by my table many times, quietly pouring wine, refilling water, noticing the house churned butter had been gobbled up and delivering, without a word, another round. I was not left alone. And I could have —  should I have felt the need — voiced a concern. (I didn’t. There were none.)  But at a recent five-course menu degustation, I was not asked, not even once, how were my first bites. And yet the service was attentive and polished, thoughtful and kind.

Which begs the question: when did we start training servers to be so much a part of our meal? Can we please be rid of the constant lickspittle quality assurance check ups?

How’s my meal?

We’ll let you know… buzz off.

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: If only all disruptive colleagues would leave. PLUS summer bounty tomato and basil fusilli

By Barbara Sibbald

Mission accomplished

For the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes, Fiona looks up at the starburst kitchen clock. Where the heck is Luc, she wonders. She considers dialling his cell, but doesn’t want to be a pest. He’s with his buds for their Friday after-work whine-fest; he’ll be home soon enough. Besides, she knows if she phones him, she’ll just blurt out her news. This has to be told in person, she thinks. She palms the tomatoes* on the counter; they’re perfectly ripe, ready for dinner. Everything’s going my way, she thinks. Sweet justice.

She recalls all the angst Lena has brought her, beginning with the undeserved salary hike, the snide digs, the lack of respect. Fiona knows the senior editor’s job inside out, and Lena just isn’t up to it: she’s lost photos, missed deadlines and meetings, pissed off advertisers and freelancers. For months, Fiona’s been regaling Luc with stories about Lena’s incompetence. She’s also told the publisher but, as Luc guessed, he’s been thinking with his little head where Lena was concerned.

Fiona smiles to herself, what the heck she thinks, I don’t have to wait for him. She unscrews the cork on the bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella.

Fiona pours a glass and takes a tentative sip — there’s something not quite right about drinking alone in her mind — when the screen door swings open.

—    Hi ya beautiful, Luc says with a grin.

She smiles at him.

—   Had a few, have you? she asks.

—   One of the joys of taking the bus. In addition to the diesel fumes, he says. Hey how about a kiss?

She puts her hands on his chest and gives him a big smooch.

—   Where’s Gavin? he asks.

—   Gone to the movies with Andrew, then for a sleepover. Hey, I’ve got news, she says. Glass of Amarone?

—   We were saving that — this must be some news.

—   Oh, yeah, she says, pouring the wine. Guess who stormed out in a huff today?

—   Uh, that would be Lena.IMG_4300

—   Bingo!

—   That is good news, he says. Here’s to clearer sailing.

They clink glasses and kiss.

—   So what was the final straw?

—   Remember I told you how she forgot to send that feature for fact checking? The one that blasted a new condo developer for shoddy work? Well, it turns out there were a couple of errors. Nothing really earth-shaking, but the developer got his lawyer to send a letter, rattling Richard’s chains. So he calls Lena into his office — raised eyebrows all around — and we hear voices, but we can’t make out what they’re saying. Then Lena comes storming out, big red face and grabs her purse and heads out. I ask her what’s up and she just glares at me. Not a word. Then Richard calls me into his office, tells me he’s dismissed her for incompetence. But I know there’s more to it than that.

—   How do you know?

—   Lena called me later in the afternoon, asking if I’d pack up her cubicle and meet her at Bridgehead. So I get there and she’s in a complete rage. How dare he, blah, blah, blah. What shocked me most was her lack of self-awareness. She actually thinks we’re friends. Finally she tells me that she and Richard were an item, but she broke up with him last week.

—   I knew it! says Luc.

—   Yeah, you sure called that one. Now she’s got this thing going with some foreign affairs guy. High up. But she won’t say who it is. He’s probably married too. And she thinks Richard fired her as a revenge thing, which may be partly true.

—   Knowing Richard.

—   Yeah, it’s not out of character. But I think mostly he did it to placate the developer — and his lawyer. That and a big apology, usually does the trick when people start rattling chains.

—   Peyton Place, I’m telling you!

—   End result though, she’s gone and I’m a happy camper. Now I can hire my own senior editor. I already told Richard that I want to be in charge of the hiring, and he can be part of the process. He’s cool with that.

—   Which is the way it should be anyway. For editorial.

—   Precisely.

—   Well, here’s to a happier workplace, he says raising his champagne flute. 

scrambled-eggs*Fiona’s fusilli with fresh tomatoes and olives

Serves six

½ pound mozzarella

4 large, very ripe tomatoes

3 ounces black olives, cured in oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

pinch of sugar

salt and fresh pepper to taste

1 ½ pounds fusilli

 

  1. Cut mozzarella into one-quarter-inch cubes
  2. Immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Peel and cut into small pieces.
  3. Pit the olives and coarsely chop.
  4. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except pasta.
  5. Cook the pasta al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain well toss with tomato mixture.
  6. Cover with a towel to let the mozzarella soften/melt.
  7. Serve with a green salad and a Pinot Noir.

 

TRENDS: Jalapeños make for a fiery hot summer

By SHAWNA WAGMAN

The 2013-2014 edition of Ottawa Magazine’s Eating & Drinking Guide is a food lover’s bible for everything local, with 80+ pages of restaurant, wine, food shop, and kitchen store recommendations. Look for it on newsstands or order it here

Photo by Giula Doyle

Café My House’s Jalapeño Mojito Photo by Giula Doyle

The recent craze over Sriracha hot sauce is evidence that spicy flavours are indeed hot. Fans of the put-it-on-everything condiment may not realize that the most popular brand used by North Americans is actually made with red jalapeños. In Ottawa, the humble green jalapeño is the pepper of choice. Art Is In Bakery ignited a passion for the flavour and relatively unaggressive heat of the pepper with its cheddar, chive, and jalapeño bread. Thanks to greater acceptance of spice in general and the instant addictive quality of dishes made with hot peppers, we’re happy to see that more chefs are willing to play with fire.

Café My House’s Jalapeño Mojito
When Briana Kim was preparing to re-launch her vegan-friendly and (mostly) gluten-free café in Hintonburg back in April, she decided to incorporate fresh homemade jalapeño-cucumber juice into a fun new cocktail. She came up with the jalapeño mojito, made by mixing the sweet and spicy elixer with muddled mint, gin, and celery bitters. The cool zip of the cucumber and mint contrasts with the kick of jalapeño to create a taste sensation that’s as warming as it is cooling. The smart, seasonal cocktail is part of a changing menu that is sure to attract and intrigue the new neighbourhood’s tastemakers.
Cafe My House, 1015 Wellington St. W., 613-733-0707

El Camino’s Tongue Taco
Matthew Carmichael once believed the ox-tongue taco would never fly. But it quickly became his most popular taco — behind the fish — at El Camino. “I was flabbergasted,” he says. “I’m so happy people have embraced it.” As for the jalapeños on top that accompany thinly sliced radish, basil, and avocado, he says buying them by the jar was never an option. He gets better flavour and texture by pickling them himself with a classic brine. That tasty liquid gets used again in other recipes.
El Camino, 380 Elgin St., 613-422-2800

Fraser Café’s Albacore Tuna with Jalapeño Poppers
While fresh albacore tuna is often treated delicately, as in sushi and sashimi, it stands up magnificently to powerful partners (think wasabi). Ross Fraser played with this dynamic when creating this appetizer at his café. He pairs lightly grilled tuna topped with olive oil, lime juice, and coriander with a hot-from-the-fryer jalapeño popper. The peppers are split and filled with scallion cream cheese before being breaded with a cornmeal-flour mix and sent to the fryer. Fresh tomato salsa and sliced green apple balance the heat.
Fraser Cafe, 7 Springfield Rd., 613-749-1444

Relish Food Truck S’Mac N Cheese
Parked on the University of Ottawa campus, Paul Bergeron’s gourmet food truck shakes up the classic student meal. His signature S’mac n cheese — named for its lip-smacking quality — has become one of his most popular dishes. Forget the reheated crusty baking dish — every S’mac is made to order. Real béchamel sauce is stirred together with elbow pasta, old cheddar, and tomato. Next come chipotle sauce, crispy onions, herbs, and a little buttermilk dressing. A tiny dice of crisp fresh jalapeño is the culinary kicker.
Relish Food Truck, Copernicus Street and University Boulevard, 613-266-0538

Spread Delivers’ “The Mexican” Sandwich
Julie Harrison says she’s a sucker for raw thinly sliced jalapeños — it’s a love affair that began with a plate of pupusas at a Salvadoran joint. Pickling these peppers has become another passion. For her sandwich delivery business, she wanted to capture the flavours of Mexico between two slices of potato bread from Nat’s Bread Company. Fresh pickled jalapeños play a starring role alongside queso fresco, a white Mexican cheese, and chunky salsa roja with a handful of fresh coriander. Not enough heat for you? She puts chili in her chocolate brownies too.
Spread Delivers, 613-860-3636

 

 

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Introducing Fiazza Fresh Fired

By  ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

A few weeks back I had come to the ByWard Market with my son to pay our respects to Domus Café. He had celebrated a thirteenth birthday there, along with another family feast to mark a university graduation. We noted the massive ‘For Lease’ sign, and we shook our heads and we sighed. We cupped our hands around our eyes and peered through the windows into the empty space. Then we smelled pizza — and I spied a face that was familiar to me, delivering the pizza to an outdoor table. So we crossed the street.

The last time I saw Luigi he was handing me a rabbit. A very nice stew, as I recall. I still have the 2003 review of the dish. That was at (the late) Zibibbo Restaurant on Somerset Street, owned by Luigi Meliambro.

I liked the short-lived Zibibbo; I liked its second floor lounge (TheCamarilloBrilloUpstairs) but the place closed ten years ago, and Luigi moved on. To Kanata, I believe. And then across the river. Friends in Chelsea and Wakefield were Friday night regulars at his pizza joint, Cheezy Luigi’s, though I’d never had the pleasure.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meliambro has moved back to Ottawa now, and has a new venture. Pizza, fired in one of those crazy-hot ovens in something like 140 seconds. The pies are created to order, assembly line style (a la Subway) while you wait. Fiazza Fresh Fired is found on Murray Street in the spot where Pecco’s bike shop used to be.

It works like this: you queue up, read a lot, and hem and haw while the kids in their Fiazza Fresh Fired T’s and food service gloves wait patiently for instructions. You may order one of the dozen suggested combinations, or you create your own based on a lengthy list of toppings. There are two bases — regular and gluten free. The sauce, we are told, is made with (the lionized) San Marzano tomatoes. There are seven cheese options, including blue, feta, goat cheese, fior di latte, or the house blend. All cheeses, we are told, are locally sourced. Toppings come in two categories — the traditional (mostly vegetable, at $1.25 each) and specialty (mostly meat, along with organic mushrooms). The “After Fired” options — fresh basil, chilli flakes, oregano, evoo drizzle — are on the house. Once you’ve placed your order, you can watch them load it on and fire it up, or sit down and have it delivered.

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KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Is it ever too late to make amends? PLUS comforting apple cake

Conciliation

By Barbara Sibbald

IMG_4300

—   What about me? Fiona asks her dad.

—   Do you think I neglected you too? he asks.

—   Let’s sit down a minute. The dishes can wait. Would you like some Glenmorangie? Or Bowmore?

—   How about another wee piece of that apple cake*, says her dad. It’s really delicious.

—   I’m glad you like it, says Fiona. She decides not to mention that it’s her mother’s recipe.

She sets the plate in front of him.

—   Thanks, he says, taking up his fork. So, do you think I neglected you too?

—   It was a bit different for me, says Fiona. I was in my last year of high school when you left, so I was ready to go anyway. Though I did have to listen to Mom complaining about you for six months or so. She was such a mess when you left. She just couldn’t accept any responsibility.

—   And do you see her role?

—   Sure, I do now, in hindsight. But at the time, it was all pretty bitter and she didn’t hold back with me — probably because I was older than Neil and I was her daughter. She talked about everything: your sex life, your drinking, your flirting. All of it. I had to hate you. That was the choice she gave me: hate you or hate her. And since I was living with her at the time, I had to take her side. Besides, she was so pitiful.

—   And now? What do you think of her now?

—   She’d drive a saint to drink! She’s so negative. And it’s quite incredible how self-centred she is. You know, when Neil tried to commit suicide, all she could think about was getting to her bridge club. Oh and the cost of the taxi.

—   And what do you think of me?

—   I don’t really know you that well. I mean, I was surprised that you even did the dishes.

—   We really haven’t had much to do with each other for what, 25 years?

—   Yeah, she says.

There is a long pause. What am I supposed to say now? wonders Fiona. That he was a crappy father? That I’ll never forgive him? Her dad swirls his scotch.

—    And what about Gavin? he asks, obviously anxious to change the topic as well. You’d like him in the will too?

—   I don’t know about the will, I expect you’ll live a long time, but we could use some help with his education fund. We’ve saved a bit, but we bought the house and Gavin will have tuition, books…. It’s all really expensive now, not like when Neil and I were in school. Plus, if he goes to another city and needs living expenses…. Well, we won’t have enough. I’d hate to see him graduate with debt.

—   It would be nicer if he graduated with a little nest egg to get him started.

—   Well, that would be ideal. There are sometimes a lot of expenses after university: a car, moving, all that. But I’m more concerned about university itself.

—   And how much will Gavin contribute?

—   He’s already got summer work and he’s only fourteen. He’s got something lined up at the corner store, stacking shelves and cleaning and stuff. Plus he’s got a regular Saturday night gig, babysitting a little boy around the corner. That kid adores Gavin, and he’s so sweet with him.

—   Well, so long as he’s putting in some money too. You always did. I think it works out better when the kid is investing too.

—   Yeah. People appreciate things more when they have to contribute.

The thought of Lorelei’s lay-about kids flashes through Fiona’s mind, but she opts not to say anything. No sense in antagonizing Dad.

—   Don’t worry about Gavin, Dad. He’s a hard worker, a straight-A student. He doesn’t know what he wants to study yet, but I’m sure he’ll want to get his undergrad at least.

—   And what do you think I should do about Lorelei’s kids?

Ah, so he’s asking.

scrambled-eggs—   I’m not saying you should shut them out, says Fiona, cautiously, but if Lorelei stands to get the bulk of your estate, and if it’s well invested, there shouldn’t be a problem.

—   That’s not the way she sees it, he says in a soft voice.

Fiona glances at his profile, taking in the flapping jowls and pouches under his eyes. When did he get so old? she wonders. Lorelei’s really doing a number on him.

—   Maybe you could sit down with an accountant or a mediator and hash it out, she says. Find something that’s fair for everyone.

—   I like the mediation model, he says, suddenly brisk and professional, losing a decade in five words.

—   I wish mediation had been more mainstream when I was practicing full time. It can save so much time — court time and lawyer time. Plus money.

—   And it removes the emotional stuff. It’s logical and fair, says Fiona, but she wonders: is he truly going to stick up for Neil?

—   Do you agree that Neil needs your help? she asks.

—   Yes, yes, I know that living with his mom wouldn’t be healthy for him. It certainly wasn’t for me!

He chuckles, then catches himself, perhaps realizing that making fun of Fiona’s mother might offend her. He glances at Fiona: she’s grinning at him. He smiles at her.

—    And I’d really love to be able to help Gavin, too, he says. He’s my only grandchild, after all, and I haven’t actually spent much time with him.

No time, thinks Fiona, but she bites her tongue. He pauses.

—   That’s one of the things about getting old: all the regrets, a lifetime of regrets come home to pummel your heart.

—   Well, here’s your chance to do something about it, says Fiona.

—   And it’s because of you. Your courage in writing that letter and trying to put things right. Thank you, Fiona.

She pats his hand.

—   You’re welcome, Dad.

 

*Apple cake with hot caramel sauce

½ cup pecans

5 medium apples, to yield 1 ½ cups chopped (use firm applies like Northern Spy or McIntosh)

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup flour

 

Caramel sauce:

½ cup butter

1 cup light brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup evaporated milk

 

Garnish:

Whipped cream

Fresh unpeeled apple slices

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Place pecans in food processor and process until fine (or finely chop).
  3. Peel, core and quarter apples. Place in food processor and process until medium (or chop).
  4. Place butter in large bowl, add sugar and beat by hand or with mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until blended. Add soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and mix quickly. Add the flour and just blend, then fold in the apples and nuts.
  5. Pour mixture into greased 9-inch-round cake pan and bake 30 minutes (or until the top springs back when touched). Cool slightly. Centre may sink a bit, but don’t worry.
  6. Make the caramel sauce: melt butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. In a bowl, stir mixture with a whisk. Remove from heat, add vanilla and milk. Stir with whisk.
  7. Serve: Cut the cake into eight wedges. Ladle a large spoonful of hot sauce on to each wedge. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and two apple slices.

 

Note: The sauce can be made ahead of time and reheated over hot water. A refrigerated cake will keep for a week.

 

LUNCH PICK: Build a DiVino’s lunch — divine!

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

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Cauliflower and carrot soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

To celebrate their first year as new owners of DiVino Wine Studio, sommelier
Eric Diotte and chef Christian Lepore built a little sidewalk patio. The grand al fresco opening was Saturday. I stopped in for lunch on Friday, during the final flourish of construction mayhem, and got to witness the fun and the fretting while sipping an unoaked South Bay Chardonnay from Huff Estates.

I was here for the Build a DiVino Lunch! special — any antipasto and any primo for $22. I chose the cauliflower and carrot soup to start, sweetened with loop-de-loops of a sticky sweet balsamic reduction, and with a flash fried basil leaf — which limped up instantly when plunged into the pool. It was a fine bowl with good vegetable flavour, thickened with potato — creamless/flourless. Which meant I could splurge on a wildly rich second course.

House-made fettucine. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

House-made fettucine. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

This was a bowl of house-made fettuccine, perfectly cooked to al dente, swirled in a crisp bacon (lovely) and egg custard enriched with avocado, which turned the sauce khaki green and very creamy. It was a dish that startled at first —  the avocado, such a strong presence — and then one that grew on me. And though I remain unconvinced of the pleasures of hot avocado, of this dish — matched with the Huff chardonnay — I am quite convinced.

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Dessert wasn’t part of the deal, but I was told it was straight out of the salamander — a cool maple custard in a wee mug, with a rosemary infused meringue foam. A leaf of rosemary had been candied to crown the bruléed top. Very sweet to look at; very sweet to eat.

I trust the patio got finished and the launch party was a great success.

Congratulations to Diotte and Lepore on their first anniversary.

Cost: $22, plus $10 for dessert

DeVino’s 225 Preston Street, 613-221-9760

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Fiona tackles her father’s priorities. PLUS The definitive roast chicken dinner

  1. Father knows least

Fiona’s father fills the sink with hot soapy water, eschewing her offer to use Luc’s rubber gloves. She was astounded when he’d insisted on washing the dishes. Since when has he done household chores? she wonders. The possibility that maybe she doesn’t know him very well enters her conscience.

—   Great dinner, Fiona, her father says. I love a roast chicken. It’s been eons.

Doesn’t Lorelei cook? she thinks. Then checks herself for having such a politically incorrect thought.

—   I’m glad you liked it, Dad. It’s one of Gavin’s favs, too. Did you notice how he makes a well in his mashed potatoes and fills it with gravy? He used to call it a volcano when he was little, and he’d pour the gravy in it until it overflowed! It’s so cute that he still does it.

—   He’s at that half-way stage, one foot in adolescence, one in childhood, says her father. He’s a very nice boy. So like you at that age: studious, serious.

He begins washing the glasses then rinsing them under steaming water.

—   I’m glad we have this time, just the two of us, he says. Although it’s not good that Luc has to work in the evenings. Still, it gives us the chance to talk about that letter you sent.

—   About your will.

—   Yes. It was nicely written by the way. Believe me, I’ve seen lots of these.

—   Writing is my profession, says Fiona.

scrambled-eggsNo need to mention the mediator’s help, she thinks.

—   Yes. Well, I talked it over with Lorelei, because of course she’s affected the most. We had quite the discussion.

He pauses in his washing, turns the tap off and faces Fiona.

—   Actually, we had a big blow out over it. The upshot is that it’s not just about her; she wants to be able to look after her children too, which is understandable. But as I pointed out to her, they have their own father. They aren’t my kids, so I feel my responsibility is limited in that regard.

Fiona’s heart quickens, seems to expand to fill her chest. Her kids! What about us! she thinks. Is he leaving us a legacy of bitterness? She can’t look him in the eye, and concentrates instead on drying a wine glass.

—   She has how many kids? Fiona asks with an effort at calmness. Ask simple questions to buy time, she thinks.

—   Three. And they don’t really seem very capable of looking after themselves. Two went all artsy, but they don’t really have the talent, which has to be supremely disappointing to them. One’s a chronically unemployed actor and the other does weird digital photography — which costs a fortune to produce, what with the fancy computers and programs and giclée reproductions and all — and it never sells. I mean who’d buy something that can be endlessly reproduced?

He holds up his soapy hand.

—   Don’t get me started.

—   And the third? Fiona asks.

—   He’s a perennial student. Thirty-three and still working on his doctorate — nine years now. And of course the funding has long since dried up.

—   And you’re supporting all three? Fiona asks, thinking of all the years she and Luc saved for the house, all the compromises they made.

He shrugs.

—   To some degree. Mostly Lorelei takes care of them. She makes a decent salary teaching, and even if she has to take early retirement because of her arthritis, she’ll still have a good pension.

—   So, what’s the problem?

—   She’s worried that after I’m gone her pension won’t cover everything, propping them up financially, plus her own living expenses and travel and whatnot. I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem, that there would be plenty. Then it emerged that what she’s really worried about is what will happen to them later, after she dies. She wants to make sure they’re well taken care of.

—   And so her kids take priority over yours? says Fiona bluntly.IMG_4300

He pauses.

—   It’s not that simple, Fee.

—   Isn’t it? she asks, meeting his eyes. It seems pretty straightforward. You have a son who is mentally ill, who can’t support himself. And it’s not like he chose this. Like he wanted to be an actor, but failed, or a visual artist. He’s ill. Right now he’s living in a temporary half-way kind of house, but he’s only allowed to stay six months. That’s not long enough. And if he doesn’t get financial help he’s going to wind up living with Mom again, which would definitely set him back. He’s so isolated there. And I know him, he’ll just fall back into old habits.

—   If it’s so dire, why hasn’t he said anything to me? her father asks.

—   He’s not comfortable doing that. He doesn’t think you care.

—   I do care.

—   Well, look at it from his vantage point Dad. From mine too, come to think of it, she adds quickly. We get the annual phone call at Christmas and a cheque in the mail. That’s it. No call on our birthdays even. And it’s been like that practically since you left.

—   I had Neil out one summer.

—   Yeah, and you left him alone in your apartment all day while you were working and half the night while you out with Lorelei. Some fun for a fifteen-year-old.

He shrugs.

—   I can’t be responsible for entertaining him, he says defensively.

—   No, maybe not. Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge, she says. The fact is he needs you now.

—   You have to look at this from my perspective too, Fiona. Your mother didn’t exactly make it easy for me to see you. I was just the money machine. I was given one week a year with Neil. That’s it. And then that ended.

—   You’re the one who moved across the country, says Fiona.

—   Yes, I did. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have seen him more often. I offered to fly him out so many times and she always said no. She wouldn’t even put him on the phone so I could ask him if he wanted to visit. I admit I could have done better that one summer. I blew it, okay. Is that what you want to hear?

—   I don’t need to hear it, says Fiona. It’s Neil you should talk to.

—   And what about you? he asks.

 

*The definitive roast chicken dinner

Serves 6

 

Five pound roasting chicken (free range)

Salt and pepper

1 lemon, cut in quarters

½ onion, peeled and cut in thirds

Handful parsley, washed

6 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

8 potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup butter

¼ cup (or more) milk

1 chicken bouillon cube

flour to thicken

 

  1. Take bird out of fridge two hours ahead of time. Get to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 °F.
  3. Wash inside cavity, pull out excess fat and other stuff. Dry inside.
  4. Shake salt and pepper inside cavity. Stuff with lemon, onion and parsley. Fold pinion (small part of wing) under the bird and tie legs loosely with cotton string (not plastic!).
  5. Insert thermometer in thigh.
  6. Position in a roasting pan and roast 15 minutes (turn fan on high; there will be smoke!).
  7. Meanwhile, parboil the parsnips and carrots for five minutes.
  8. Turn oven heat down to 400 °F. Add potatoes and carrots around the bird.
  9. Roast bird until thermometer reads 160 to 180 degrees.
  10. When the bird is nearly done, cover potatoes with water in large pot, bring to boil. Add salt and cook until tender. Drain, retaining water, and mash with butter and milk.
  11. Move the bird from the pan to a platter, cover with tea towel and let rest 20 minutes.
  12. Turn off oven. Put vegetables in an oven-proof dish and place in the oven.
  13.  To make gravy, drain fat out of roasting pan, keeping 2 or 3 tablespoons. Place roasting pan on stove, over medium-low heat. Scrap edges of pan, add crumbled bouillon cube and flour to thicken. Cook thick paste a minute or so. Gradually whisk in potato water. If the gravy is lumpy, strain it in a sieve. No one needs to know!
  14.  Carve chicken, serve with parsnips and carrots, mashed potatoes and a green vegetable or salad. Pass gravy at the table.