Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Cafe Savour

January7

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Café Savour at 956 St. Mary’s Rd. is pretty much what I imagine our little restaurant would look like, if D and  I ever stopped talking about it and actually did it.  From the hand-painted tables, toss cushions, twinkle-lights and turquoise wine glasses to the photos adorning the walls from the places they have traveled together, this place reflects our personal taste and eclectic style.

We could never duplicate the skill level coming out of the kitchen though.  Chef Louise Briskie de Beer’s menu is imaginative and her creations, oh so delectable.  Her partner Faiz de Beer personally takes care of every table himself and his service is attentive, warm and comfortable. They are the only staff in the restaurant so they only open the limited hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.  We imagined them sharing a bottle of wine when the evening was through as they were tackling all of the dirty dishes.

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Their prix fixe menu, offers three courses for $35 or five for $45.  If you are concerned about quantity but want to sample as much as possible, you could follow our lead and order one three course and another five course and share it ll.  As a result, we started with an amuse bouche of house baked breads and dukkah which is a Middle Eastern spice and nut mixture to enhance the tasty breads.  Even though the recipe is a middle-eastern one, they discovered it while travelling in Australia.

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Next up were bowls of piping hot soup, in fact the hottest food I have ever had while dining,  Many soups are “held” for the kitchen’s convenience but Louise must heat small portions up when she receives an order.  I could not decide between my savoury bowl of sausage, mushroom and wild rice and my husband’s of cauliflower, potato and curry.  Bother were perfectly balanced and appealing in their own distinct ways.

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We shared a South African appetizer trio of “Dhaltjie”-spinach and chick pea fritter, “Frikkadel”-masala flavoured tuna patty and Cape Malay spiced samosa.  All were enjoyable and we concluded that we like the fritter the very best.  We also shared a deconstructed and reconstructed Greek salad where the wheels of tomato and cucumber were presented in a tower accompanied by rings of purple onion, green peppers, olives and feta.

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My husband opted for a slow roasted lamb shank smothered in au jus and sweet onions, while I tucked into an unusual eggplant parmigiana that we guessed had been made to order rather than the typical casserole style.

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But wait; there was still dessert to come: a chewy cherry crisp and a decadent chocolate apricot pate.  You might suggest that we would have been exhausted by eating such a quantity but the owners provide the perfect sized tastes of the starters and you are more than satiated with the portion of the entrée.  Every taste from start to finish was divine, made even more so by their reasonably priced wines by the glass.

Cafe Savour on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Savour: enjoy something unhurriedly, to enjoy something with unhurried appreciation“

Love-that is all.

“Where the Sky is Born” by Jeanine Lee Kitchel

January6

I had reserved this book at the library years ago only to find that it had been lost in the circulation system.  I kept holding out hope that it would one day surface and so I did not cancel my reservation for a year or so.  After which, I conceded that it was unlikely that I would ever get to read it.  Then one day near the end of my time on Isla, I was in the lobby of our little villa (3 suites) and I spied it on the shelves of books that other guests have read and left behind instead of lugging home.  I have poured over every word because I have this gift of being transported to anywhere I am reading about (I have to be very careful with my selection of reading material).

The story is so intriguing to me as it is the story of a couple who decide to abandon their hectic life in America and opt instead for the laid back lifestyle of a little fishing village by the name of Puerto Moreles.  The book was published in 2004 and her memoirs of the building of their Mexican home went back as far as 1985.  I am sure life in the Yucatan was different then.  Very different.

This is one of the many reasons why we love the island of Isla Mujeres so much, because it feels as if it grew less quickly than Cancun and Playa de Carmen.  To my delight, Jeanine and her husband loved the island too and had this to say (p 137):

At that time, twenty years ago, the travel agent hadn’t heard of Cancun nor the nearby island of Isla Mujeres, and Paul had to convince her to get out a Mexico map so he could show her the location.  A month later we were on the a Mexicana flight, stopping only at the Cancun airport to catch a cab, then onto Isla Mujeres by boat, known only as the people’s ferry.

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We fell in love with Isla.  Adored North Beach with the shallow, turquoise ocean bumping up onto a white sand beach that stetched seemingly for miles (standard fare for the Mexican Caribbean we were soon to find out) and especially loved Maria’s, a small resort with French restaurant serving excellent cuisine.  Maria had only five rooms to rent, bungalows fit for a tropical highway paradise, with palapa roofs, and a bountiful exterior garden brimming with hibiscus, crotons, and areca palms.  A narrow cement walkway, etched with geckos and tropical flowers, wound its way down to two prized bungalows, close enough to the beach to hear the waves lapping at the shore at night.  Although we’d started out in the less desirable rooms closer to the restaurant, we stayed long enough to nab one of the sought-after bungalows below.  We spent long hour’s on Maria’s lonesome beach, sharing the ocean with her ancient loggerhead sea turtles that swam in the ocean by day and by dusk returned to a funky zapote cage that straddled the sand at the water’s edge.  We hunkered down in Mexican style Adriondack chairs, sun-bathed, talked, napped and dreamed, and I think it was right then and there on Maria’s beach, that we decided somehow we would escape northern winters and city life and life in Mexico.

I “get” Jeannine and so would my siblings and friends who are in love with Isla as well.  By reading this book though, I see that it is not specifically Isla that must have smitten us but the experiences of this laid back time that Isla still has managed to retain (p 7).

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Coco palms were planted in a line all the way up the way down the narrow two lane road.  Mangrove swamps with shallow brown water bumped up to the roadway, a few ducks in attendance.  Lazy dragonflies hovered aimlessly at the waters edge.  No cars passed us, only an ancient bike ambled by a young driver balancing a pot of tortillas on the handle bars.

At el centro my first impression was that of a rustic, unpolished little pueblo with a few shops.  The town square, known as el zocalo in Spanish, lacked foliage, either by design or lack of interest, except for a large almendon, or almond tree, dead centre and a couple of scruffy pinones or pines.  A basketball court, though off to the side, predominated, its backboards lacking hoops and nets.  Several concrete park benches donated by the town fathers lined the pathways.  One or two of the benches needed repair….

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…The handful of locals working that day nodded to us in passing, exchanging smiles and greetings.  Friendly.  No doubt about it, the place was authentic.  No gringos, save us.  We eavesdropped on conversations, thankful they were in Spanish.  Could this be the place we’d been searching for? It had just the right amount of funk.

Giddy, we decided to ground ourselves with a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants before finding Alejandro’s house.  We chose one right on the beach with a large thatched palapa roof .  The waiter dressed all in white, meandered over with menus and asked quietly if we would like something to drink.

“Let’s drink to our good luck,” Paul said. Then he ordered two margaritas….

After a Yucateca style lunch featuring the local cuisine-fresh camarones with garlic for me and pibil chicken, a Mayan specialty with the fowl wrapped in banana leaves for Paul, and zesty lime soup-we sat for a moment on the outdoor terrace and took everything in.  From the tiburonera fishing boats docked nearby to the rustic, neglected beach to the calm that emanated everywhere, this was certainly Mexico.

(page 15)

At night we walked into town along the dark jungle road, slowly becoming accustomed to finding our way without the aid of a flashlight, guided only by the rays of the moon.  In Puerto Moreles we were getting used to the streets, the people, the tempo of life.  We knew when to find the bank open; what day the vegetable vendor set up his stand; what time we could find the sporadic baker selling bread.

We noticed the friendliness of everyone from children playing in the street to taxi drivers to shopkeepers.  We started to become accustomed to the polite nods or the occasional “buenas tardes” from people we didn’t even know.  We were fitting in.

The story is primarily about the years that it took to muddle through all the illogical red tape of securing land in Mexico and the agonizing process of building their precious Casa Maya right on the beach, devastating hurricanes and all.  This too, we know is authentic.

Did they live happily ever after, in their little Casa? Apparently not. I was watching House International recently, which is one of my HGTV addictions and a couple from Edmonton made the adventurous decision to purchase an abandoned villa that was a shell its former self, to restore it to previous grandeur.  The property? Casa Maya.

Kath’s quote: Mi casa es su casa.”

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Love-that is all.

 

 

Ringing in the New Year

January3

The roads in Winnipeg are a nightmare-no other way to describe them.  Being close to the restaurant business we know that this made for cancelled reservations and a spike in no shows for businesses on New Year’s Eve.  There was a corresponding peak in people ordering in and picking up, so it is not that Winnipeggers did not want to celebrate with food.  D suggested that because we had spent so much time at home over the holidays, that we dine out but choose a location in our neighbourhood.  It would have been a long walk, but one that we sometimes do in fairer weather.  With reports of Winnipeg being colder than Mars, this was a non-decision, we took a car.  Both of our vehicles have remote starters, an absolute must if you live here and do not own a garage. D’s also has heated seats so we were quite comfortable as far as the temperature was concerned.  Tre Visi, our destination on that evening is on Grosvenor Ave. and is the street which runs perpendicular to ours, a half a block away.  But with both of our vehicles trying to fit into a parking pad edged with ever-growing snow banks, we had to head into the opposite direction to get out of our spot.  This meant that we had a single city block to travel in order to get back to Grosvenor Ave.   D had not even touched the brake when we started to slide and spin.  Thank heavens there were no parked cars and it must have looked as if we were simply pulling a “U” in the middle of the block to park on the opposite side of the street.

Vivid thoughts of amazing food was our focus and our motivation to make the trek that evening and Tre Visi did not disappoint.  We spotted that there were marinated vegetables on their antipasto platter and so we eagerly ordered the board remembering the ones that we loved while traveling in Italy.

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This was our favourite from Cumpa Cosimo, high up on the mountainside in Ravello, Amalfi Coast.  A couple of these were marinated and all served cold.  In Italy, antipasto plates highlight the best of what the region has to offer, sometimes all seafood, others all cheeses, etc.

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Tre Visi’s included paper-thin slices of cured meat, shards of cheese, pickled onions and peppers.  Every taste was a lovely surprize and  when coupled up on fork tines, produced other delectable taste combinations.  We would have appreciated some crostini or baguette to stretch the morsels further, but perhaps that is passé with so many diners avoiding gluten.

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D’s choice was the gnocchi with the pesto cream sauce which he remembered from an earlier visit.  I could see that he was trying to exercise restraint as he speared each fluffy pillow.  Near the end of the time with our plates though, he might have decided that the portion was too generous and that perhaps we should have shared the plate and mixed tastes up with another item.  Next time….

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D could tell that I was torn between my original choice and the special of a rib eye with parmesan French fries.  This is one of the many reasons why I love him: when it was time to order, he asked our delightful server if the chef would provide the fries to accompany our appetizer.  What a guy-he knew that it I was on the cusp of New Year’s resolution time and wanted me to savour one last indulgence.

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In the end I selected the Frutti de Mare which is often my choice.  Tre Visi’s version was as delicious as I have eaten anywhere with plump scallops, fresh shrimp and mussels and easy on the pasta.  The secret was in the sauce which was light with tomatoes but luxurious with what I imagined to be butter.  I supped up the last spots of sauce with my spoon, not wanting to let a dribble go unconsumed.

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We enjoyed the festive ambience of the open room and imagined that some diners would carry on to a New Year’s party while others lived close by and would carefully make their way home.  There was one table of six just over my shoulder who were all Italian and spoke the romantic language throughout our meal which of course really swept us away to meals of times gone by.

Tre Visi Cafe on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people.
So overweight people are now average. Which means you’ve met your New Year’s resolution.”-
Jay Leno

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Love-that is all.

New Year Confessional

January2

I write this in haste.  Not because I have a particularly hectic day; in fact D’s car is in getting a set of winter tires and he has my van, so I cannot go anywhere, anyway.  I scramble to get text onto this page and press “publish” so that I will not change my mind.  I intend to start this new year differently and I require your help.  I need to be accountable to you, my loyal readers.  I believe that you come to this space because even if we have never met in person, you care about me and perhaps even love me.  With love, there is responsibility and I hope that you will encourage me in my journey ahead.

I am almost 59 years old (I know by the photos I post here and my youthful lifestyle, you thought I was much younger, correct? correct?).  I am just on the cusp of menopause which at my late age is something that has me and my doctor, quite mystified.  Her ongoing reassurance has always been that women who are pre-menopausal are healthier than those who have gone through the change.  I have never asked the chemical or biological reasons for this, just took this as a blessing and a reason for my continued good health.  But sure enough, just as one phase of my life is making way for another, health concerns that I have never had before, are now an issue.

I am now medicated for high blood pressure and my doctor is keeping close eye on my cholesterol.  I know what I need to do to get these things into check-it is pretty simple, really.  I need to be more active and make good decisions with my diet.  (So why just now, did I almost consume that thick piece of banana bread left over from the holidays instead of pouring out a small bowl of whole grain cereal?)  The only answers I can think of, is that I am careless and lazy; that I eat as a response but not based on rational thought.  I have wholesome food in my house.  I have the luxury of time to prepare it.  So, why can’t I make good choices?

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I have decided to focus on all that I love: my husband, our children and our gorgeous grandbaby.  I will soon be on Isla Mujeres where I wear a bathing suit and pareo from morning until sundown, I will spend the summer at our little cottage where I love to walk the beach from end to end, I need to chose a Mother-of-the-Bride dress for later this year, D and I want to take long hikes and stroll through Europe again in the next year or so.  These are my incentives, my motivation.

I have already made some positive steps: the salt shaker has come off our table, I have reduced the salt added to my recipes, I have eliminated coffee and drink only decafe. I have reduced my alcohol consumption in quantity and frequency.  I walk twice a day but I turn back when our old dog has done his business, instead of walking as far as I had intended.  The frigid temperatures are my excuse but this too is hogwash as I have the warmest clothes that money can by.  I love Zumba and have a set of cds that I should be working out to but I have been lazy with this too, and need to set aside time each day to really get my heart pumping.

I have pulled out my two favourite Bonnie Stern Cookbooks: “Heart Smart Cooking“,”Heart Smart Cooking for Family and Friends” and one new one: “The Heart-Smart Diabetes Kitchen“.  I intend to cook my way through the pages of these three (Julie & Julia style).  Tonight: Salmon Fillets in Rice Paper Wrappers with Peanut Dipping Sauce and a Carrot Salad with Moroccan Dressing.  High in vitamins A, B6 and B12, low in carbs, calories and fat.  I will report back on the taste.

I wanted to share all of this with you, just in case you happen to be in the same place as me.  Send me an email if you are: kathryne@mediachef.ca and we can hold hands and do this together.

Kath’s quote: “When you smiled you had my undivided attention.  When you laughed you had my urge to laugh with you.  When you cried you had my urge to hold you.  When you said you loved me, you had my heart forever.” Brandi Snyder

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Love-that is all.

Monticchio

December31

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Whenever I walk by Monticchio Ristorante Italiano (684 Osborne St.), I do a double take, retrace my steps and gaze inside.  I have never been sure of what goes on inside because the banners of the other businesses are displayed more prominently and the restaurant name across the building awnings has faded in the sun.  On this day, with a light snow fall that the wind had not yet dispersed, the letters were completely camouflaged.  But, now that I have been inside and know the delights within, I will never forget their locale.

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I was hosting a dinner party that evening and had decided to pull out some of my Italian vegetarian recipes, so I let my lunch companion make the decisions as to what we would share.  Had I tried to avoid duplicating tastes, who knows what we would have ended up eating?

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We started with their house salad which was dotted with shavings of cheese and Italian ham.  The tomatoes were meaty and the dressing a perfect complement to all ingredients-with a pungent acidic taste of vinegar, a fine olive oil and what I always assumed was my secret ingredient: a pinch of sugar.   

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Our “main” was selected with the help of our server who is a part of the Di Fonte family, who have owned the restaurant for the past eight years.  She recommended that we share a pizza that is not listed on the lunch menu.  As my lunch mate picked up a slice, I grabbed my knife and fork.  When she commented, I had to admit that I was afraid that if I ate the amazing smelling pizza without utensils, my share would be completely gone before she finished her next sentence.  It was so tasty, I had to muster a great deal of restraint.  The crust was wafer thin and yet flaky and buttery.  Our sever described it simply as ”Pesto” on our bill and this is how it appears on their dinner menu.  In addition to the sauce of basil, pine nuts and parmesan, the pie was topped with sun-dried tomato, feta and chicken.  I often select a version similar to this and even make it often at home, but this rendition was truly stellar and expertly prepared. 

There was another ingredient that I just could not name but discovered what it was later in our conversation with our server.  She told us that her brother-in-law was recruited to be the chef.  They had tried to teach other staff to fulfil this role but they could not find a person who understood what it meant to “cook with love.”

Monticchio Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”-John Ruskin

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Love-that is all.

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