Monthly Archives: May 2013

Family Cooking

This morning my dad e-mailed me saying that he was impressed with the way I can write about cooking, and that there might be hope for him yet. Today, I will deal with the second part of his comments, about his inability to cook.

My dad is a wonderful man, but he is not good at cooking. Before my parents were married, my dad was single for many years. Although he is alleged to have dated other women, since he even recoils at the notion that he dated my mom (they have been happily married for many years), none of these women took it upon themselves to teach him how to cook. This seems wise. One of his friends, however, did. She apparently taught him how to make hamburgers on the weekend, then eat them every day for dinner. With boiled potatoes, and frozen peas thrown in at the last minute. The only way that I could withstand this type of supper would be if I had enough people from church inviting me over for some variety. I think people did do that; but sometimes my dad turned them down.

Ultimately, I am thankful that my  dad taught me how to hammer nails, that part of making a home is opening it up to others (this may have more to do with my mom, come to think of it) and that spending time alone working is an excellent way to pass a day, and not how to make supper.

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Salad Greens: The Gateway Drug

When I first started cooking for myself, I was not as creative as I am now. I ate the same thing every day (ok, I still do that now), but I stuck with what I had grown up with. More-with-Less classics, and a few additions, like spaghetti sauce, lasagna and tuna casserole. I could still go for some hamburger stew from MWL actually. Or maybe some tuna turnovers. Or Pakistani Kima. Mmmm. Come to think of it, the lentil curry I eat all the time is from MWL as well. Suffice it to say, when I began cooking for myself I stuck to foods that are based on ground beef, canned tomatoes, and other canned meats. I have moved beyond this in many ways, but what I have kept with me from those days is the desire to cook good food from scratch. Except now scratch goes one level further. I blame the salad greens.

Salad greens were my gateway into being more selective with regards to my food. I used to buy regular lettuce, then I graduated to baby spinach, then I graduated to the leaves in a box. As I moved further away from a completely nutritious food that serves as the basis for salad to a slightly more nutritious alternative, to one that just takes good, my food changed as well. I moved from MWL to Plenty, and now into the great wide world beyond of expensive cheese, corn tortillas from Mexican tortillerías, and natural peanut butter.

Salad greens represent what I wish my life were, sometimes. With a grad student stipend, they were where these desires ended.

Taco Tour: Penultimate Post

This taco thing is getting out of control. Suddenly everyone is recommending taco books to me, taco maps, taco advice, it’s all quite overwhelming. I will continue to dispense advice because there are few things I enjoy more than giving advice. I have decided to conclude the tour. But, this is the penultimate post as I have yet to find the perfect tacos, and go on a taco crawl. That will happen, Torontonians. Watch out.

I have been to two taco places recently, and decided not to go to a third which made it onto the top 10 best taco places in Toronto. These taco places are judged by someone who appreciates tacos, but does not appreciate taquerías. The first, La Carnita, on College, was fine, if I were judging a restaurant on its ability to be a hipster establishment that serves pretentious tacos, with a side of Mexican beer. The thing is, I have no need to travel so far to find a hipster establishment that serves pretentious food. For tacos, I want the real thing. None of this deep fried avocado over top of rice and beans business. No. Rice, beans, meat, salsa, and possibly avocado. That is how I want a taco. It was fun to make fun of the people sitting beside me who were sure this was an “authentic Mexican restaurant.” No. It was an authentic Toronto hipster restaurant, and it was good at being that.

The second taco place I went to was called Asada Mexican Grill on St Clair West. I would eat there every day if I lived in the neighbourhood (which I don’t), because the tacos arrived quickly, deliciously, cheaply, with all the homemade salsas a person could want. People who live by this restaurant: go there often. It is the Chipotle concept but more Mexican rather than Chipotle flavours. Downsides: no atmosphere and no coffee (gasp).

The third taco place I tried to go to was called Seven Lives. I say tried, because there was no room at the inn. They had such limited seating that I could not sit down, much less sit down with the friends that had come with me. Another hipster taco place that was voted number one by blog TO. But if I were going to go to a ridiculous restaurant in Kensington, I’d rather go to the place that only serves grilled cheese, the place that only does bagels, or El Trompo, for some tacos.

The taco crawl will attempt to encompass some of the best of these, some in a new area, and of my own free will I will return to Tenoch, and plan to try this really small Mexican restaurant no one’s ever heard of (except the person who recommended it to me) and I’m not even going to tell you about because I’m hipster like that.

Varenicke

As many of you know, I am going on a taco tour of Toronto. I really enjoy tacos, a lot. But I think there is something to the idea that eating food from other cultures and countries without engaging with said cultures in a meaningful way is simply another manifestation of consumer culture. In other words, eating food from other countries doesn’t make you “cool” or “cross-cultural.” It just means that you, or I, or many people in a city like Toronto, have the means to eat food that they have not cooked, and that many other people in Toronto use their background (or country similar to theirs, that had better brand power) to make a living.

So, in an effort to combat this consumeristic view, I decided to begin cooking the food from my background. Ok who am I kidding, I have no desire to stop my taco tour. I just wanted to eat delicious food that no one will ever cook for me in a Toronto restaurant. Last week I made varenicke (perogies with dry cottage cheese on the inside, traditionally smothered in schmautfatt – I don’t know what that is, but it will clog up the arteries of non-farm workers – in this case a sour cream and butter spread) for the second time in my life. I used light (but not fat free) sour cream and it still turned out quite well, except that mine do not look like the recipe. And although I carry my phone with me everywhere I go, and have become one of those people, I have no photographic evidence to let you agree or disagree. This kind was surprisingly easy to make, no more difficult than baking powder biscuits, but there wasn’t actually all that much dough, so I would double it if I were you. I was also surprised that it made enough for a light-ish meal for 5 people (who also all brought things to the potluck). This is the opposite of most Mennonite cookbooks, where the recipes are enough to feed a large family gathering. My next foray? Moos (dried fruit soup) or rollkuchen (fried delicious dough) that must be served with watermelon. If it’s not raining tomorrow it might be a good day for a picnic.

Annotated Acknowledgments

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I included an acknowledgment section in my dissertation. Since this document will not be read by that many people (I’m saving the good stuff for the book), I will share one page with you. I will use everyone’s initials and leave it up to you to guess who is who.

The first paragraph thanks my advisor, committee members, external and internal/external readers on my dissertation. I also thank the Latin American Studies Coordinator at U of T for making me go to El Paso, among other things. Would the taco tour have begun without this all-important intervention?

The second paragraph is where things get interesting. I thank some people in Toronto and DF (where I almost went this week. But decided to go with the plane ticket I had already purchased). I thank the Casa de los Amigos for being my first home in Mexico City and for introducing me to many interesting people, including ED, who planned my birthday party when I was in Mexico this fall, and PI, with whom I explored the Barranca del Cobre last March. Special thanks to RG, especially for taking me to the anti-awards show for most misogynist ads in Mexico and for the failed trip to El Estanquillo. Thanks also to PF porque ya tú sabes, y por si no [because you already know. And if you don’t], for introducing me to one of my favourite places in Mexico City. I took some great trips in Mexico, to Oaxaca, for a conference this fall, and also spent time with family friends there. To San Cristóbal, which was also pretty great. To Tulum, which made me realize I really don’t like the beach . People I met in each place shaped my experiences and led me to finish the diss. My working group – AA and HM in Toronto – kept me sane and hard at work three afternoons a week from 12-5, with 10 minute breaks on the hour when we didn’t know each other very well, and 15 minute breaks when we did. GCF taught me that Sunday is the day of rest. I decided to take Saturday as well, and cook, clean and get ready for the week. Taking time off is what made writing my dissertation possible. I’ve gotten out of the habit lately and it’s really hampered my progress.

Then I thank my family. I thank my parents, but not other family members who send me encouraging emails or kind words, so I thank them now. I also thank G and B, but not little B, because they are like my family. He can get a shout out on my blog even if he is only a dog. I also thank my friends. ACA for hosting me in Buenos Aires when I decided to backpack without a plan beyond seeing where my mom was born a few years ago, and for telling me that she doesn’t understand how my ideas relate to one another, and that I should explain that for my other readers. AC, for the endless fb chats. Thanks also to PK for the dinner-walks and phone calls. She might be my last and only friend who uses the telephone for what it was meant to do.

As John Donne reminds us, in Meditation XVII “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.