Browsing: Good Movies and Reads

A Trip to the Beach-Melinda & Robert Blanchard Part 1


For my family and friends who are Islaholics you won’t believe the similarities between Anquilla and Isla Mujeres.  Check out the narrative that begins in Chapter 1:

“From the air Anquilla looked narrow, flat and scrubby, but that was only part of the picture.  In my mind, I saw the real Anquilla: sea grape and crimson flamboyant trees, women steadying pails of water on their heads, sand that might have been poured from a sack of sugar, the terra-cotta flours of the Hotel Mallioujana.  The sunshine alone was enough to make me smile.  Stepping off the plane, I felt the breeze from the east, scented by the hibiscus that grew alongside the terminal.  Those cool currents made the sun seem unthreatening.  Poor Bob, with his fair complexion, would be pink in a matter of minutes.

In Anquilla it is customary to greet everyone with a courtly “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon”.  As we approached the young woman at the immigration counter, we were greedy enough to hope for more.  We’d seen her many times on our visits to the island.  We wanted to be recognized, to be told that we were different from mere tourists-connected.

“Good afternoon”, the young woman said smiling.  “Welcome back”.  Anquilla had begun to cast its spell.

As our taxi made its way westward-slowing for potholes, speed bumps, people, goats-I counted the ways I loved this little island.  Unlike its neighbours, Anquilla (rhymes with vanilla and pronounced Ann-gwilla) had no casinos, no duty-free shopping, and no cruise ships.  Visitors here looked for less not more.  They tended to arrive one or two at a time and not in packs.  Their intentions were simple: to walk on the beach, go snorkeling, read a good book, take a dip in the water.  They’d found a place where handmade signs beckoned them to “Easy Corner Villas”, “Sandy Hill” and “Blowing Point”.  Drawn to this tiny British outpost only sixteen miles long, they appreciated the rhythm, the balmy pace.  Little school girls in handmade uniforms skip along the road, holding hands.

The idyllic life on Anquilla isn’t an illusion manufactured for tourists.  The island’s standard of living is higher than its neighbours’.  No gambling means no gambling problems.  Limited work permits for outsiders ensures plenty of jobs for locals.  This is a country with no taxes, where a dollar earned is an actual dollar.  There is no unemployment, and eighty-five-degree temperatures with sunshine everyday.  Life is good.

There are several world class hotels on the island, all criminally luxurious.  Over the years we have alternated between them, savouring their brands of exquisite tranquility.  One, Cap Juluca, boasts villas with Moroccan-style domes, and bathrooms so vast that they have their own gardens.  Another, Malliouhana, was created -a breathtaking view of the clear turquoise water and is lovingly cared for-by a retired English gentleman whose lifelong dream had been to preside over such a hideaway.  Here life is serene, with little stucco arches, ceiling fans that seem to lull away ones cares, and a breathtaking view of the clear turquoise water from the top of a cliff.”

They end many chapters with one of their own tried and true recipes.  Here’s their entry for Rum Punch:

“We tasted rum punches around the island and worked together to create the perfect mixture.  Some, we agreed, were too sweet and bright red with grenadine.  Others didn’t have the fresh taste we were looking for.  Guava juice, we discovered, was the missing ingredient from most we tried, and freshly squeezed orange juice was a must.  Still, our final recipe was simple.

Combine equal amounts of pineapple juice, quava juice , and Mt. Gray rum.  Add just a dash of grenadine and another of Angostura bitters.  Pour over ice and top with a sprinkle of nutmeg.”

The story continues through the trials and tribulations of opening their own restaurant on the island (a dream that our family has had since we first went to isla Mujeres in 2005). Stay tuned for Part 2.

Kath’s quote: “When treasures are recipes they are less clearly, less distinctly remembered than when they are tangible objects. They evoke however quite as vivid a feeling-that is, to some of use who, considering cooking an art, feel that a way of cooking can produce something that approaches an aesthetic emotion. What more can one say? If one had the choice of again hearing Pachmann play the two Chopin sonatas or dining once more at the Cafe Anglais, which would one choose?”-Alice B. Toklas

Garlic and Sapphires- Ruth Reichl


Yet again, a non-fiction work, that has enthralled me. Entwined with her tales of being the restaurant critic for the New York times, Ruth Reichel recounts where her appreciation of food was born.  Her relationships with her family and the city where she was raised are reminiscent of my own.

If you subsitute the geographical location of Greenhich Village with the North End of Winnipeg, this excerpt could be written of my precious Daddy and me:

“But no matter which route we took, our journeys always ended at the narrow butcher shop on Jones Street, with its sawdust floor and its fine mineral aroma.  The cases were filled with bacon that they smoked themselves, pink and white strips spread out like gorgeous fabric, and a few pretty little lamb chops, red circles of meat clinging to an elegantly long bones and decorated with frilly paper caps.

“Good Morning Jimmy”, my father would say.

And Jimmy would look up and smile and seem delighted to see us.  He’d hand me a slice of salami, or some of the liverwurst he brought down from Yorkville, or sometimes the dried beef that he made when business was slow.  “Fine morning”, he’d say, even if it wasn’t.

“We need a Porterhouse, please”, my father would say.  And Jimmy would reply, “The finest steak there is!” as if the thought had occurred to him for the first time.  Then he would pull open the heavy wooden door, with its slab of a handle, and disappear into the cooler in the back.  When he reappeared he was carrying what looked to me like half a steer, although it was really just the short loins that had been hanging for a few weeks, acquiring a fine patina of age.

Picking up a hacksaw, he’d indicate a cut: “This much?”  And no matter how thick it was, my father always said, “A little thicker, please”.  And Jimmy would nod and cut off a substantial steak, humming as he worked.  When he was done he’d hold up the steak and point to the fine veins of white tracing a pattern through the dense red meat.  “Good marbling”, he said admiringly every week, as if the steak was a special star.  “All the flavours in the fat.  Cut off the fat, you cant tell the difference between beef, pork and lamb.  That’s a fact.  Did you know that?”

Then he’d thump the steak onto the chopping block and begin the ritual of trimming.  First he cut the thick blue-black layer of mold from the outside of the steak, scraping it until the bright red flesh beneath the crust had been revealed.  Then he’d carefully remove a few inches of fat from the edges so that only a creamy white fat remained.  Carefully folding in the little tail end, he’d lay the meat on a piece of pick paper and heave it onto the scale.

“You’re going to have a fine dinner”, he’d say, as if the compliment were to the cook and not the cutter.  “Don’t be afraid of the salt”.

“Thats the secret!” my father always replied, carefully tucking the parcel under his arm.  Waving cheerily, we’d walk out the door.

At home we had another ritual.  Three hours before it was time to eat, my father would jump up from his chair and say, “No point in cooking cold meat”. Together wed go into the kitchen, remove the porterhouse from the refrigerator, carefully unwrap the package, and set the steak on a platter lined with wax paper.  When it had thrown off the chill, Dad would salt it, releasing a small blizzard over the meat.  “The secret to a great steak”, he always said, “is that when you think you have enough salt, you add some more”. ” The other secret:”, he’d say as he got out the big cast iron skillet, “is to heat the pan until it s blazing hot and cook the meat exactly eight minutes on each side”.

“And the final secret”, I’d add, doing my bit, “is the butter”.  My job was to plunk a lump of sweet butter onto the sizzling steak just as my father set it on the platter.

My father carved the steak with long, precise strokes of the knife, carefully separating the sirloin that he and my brother preferred from the tenderloin that my mother favoured.  The bone was mine.

While they piled their plates like civilized people I’d bring the bone up to my face until the aroma-animal and mineral, dirt and rock-was flooding my senses.  Then I’d bite into the meat, soft and chewy at the same time, rolling it around in my mouth.  It was juicy, powerful, primal, and I’d take another bit and another.  The meat closest to the bone was smooth as satin, and sweet.  It tasted like nothing else on earth, and I would gnaw happily until the bone was stripped naked and my face was covered with a satisfying layer of grease.”

Ruth Reichl has other works on non-fiction on my “must-read” list but this was a very good place to start.


Too Much Tuscan Sun


I have just completed reading another piece of non-fiction entitled Too Much Tuscan Sun-Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide by Dario Castagno with Robert Rodi.

Dario is a native Tuscan and in this recounting he recalls some of his more remarkable clients.  This chapter in entitled Intervello-the Dutch.  Here is an excerpt.  I don’t know what I was more enthralled with-the detailed accounting of the dishes and wines or the Dutch’s capacity to consume them with relish.

For lunch we stopped at Foscos place.  He sat us under the shade of a large oak and served us a sumptuous meal composed of Tuscan appetizers, tagliatelle in wild boar sauce, ribolitta, an abundant tray of mixed, grilled meats, gigantic forentina steaks, and stewed rabbit with olives-all of which the group washed down with the most expensive vintage Brunellos.  Afterward, when they complained of needing sugar, Fosco brought out a tasting of his best sweets (cooked cream, tiramisu, homemade jam tarts) and some different types of vin santo and sweet sparkling wine.

We had no sooner got on the road than we found ourselves stopping at the bar in Viagliagli where, for digestive purposes, we had a tasting of various grappas and amari.

By the time we finished, it was almost time for dinner, so we moved from the bar to the adjacent restaurant and started again from the beginning-porcini mushroom appetizers, polenta served in hare sauce, and crepes stuffed with white truffles, followed by casseroled guinea fowl, wild boar, and still more desserts-everything accompanied by bottles of Chianti Classico, Nobile de Montepulciano, and fortified wines for dessert.  Toward midnight, unsteady on my feet, I accompanied the happy group back to their hotel, where Han proposed some grappa nightcaps.  I fled in terror….

The next day.  Mario came to greet us himself, holding a wicker basket filled with porcini and ovolo mushrooms, and with a wink told us that in just a few moments a friend of his would arrive with some truffles hed just unearthed.  No sooner had he said this than the friend entered the garden with his truffle-sniffing dog close behind.  Under our very noses he unrolled a white paper wrapping to reveal a bounty of the precious tubers.  As soon as they were freed from their confinement, they released their uncanny aroma, making our mouths water.

Mario put them to good use for us, whipping up a series of black and white truffle sauces on homemade sliced bread, followed by a raw mushroom salad, taglierini with truffles, tagliatelle with porcini, steak fiorentina for Han, gigantic grilled pecorino cheeses and homemade honey ice cream.  At close to five in the afternoon, when with tremendous difficulty we managed to stand, I counted twelve empty bottles of Brunello, two of Moscadello, and one of grappa.

Kaths quote: “Presently, we were aware of an odour gradually coming towards us, something musky, fiery, savoury, mysterious, — a hot drowsy smell, that lulls the senses, and yet enflames them, — the truffles were coming.”-William Makepeace Thackeray

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On Rue Tatin


I just recently finished a wonderful non-fiction book entitled On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis about a young family who takes on the dream of renovating a historic home on an ancient little street in Louviers, France.

I loved her writing style and her honest recounting of their wonderful and sometimes trying adventure.  Most of all, I appreciated her relationship with food.  This is an excerpt from earlier in her journey:

That year and all through college I cooked whenever I had free time.  When I wasn’t cooking I was reading about it, planning my next meal, designing my next dinner party.  After earning a degree in communications and working at newspapers and in public relations, it dawned on me I could incorporate food into my professional life, which is what lead me to La Varenne.  I wanted to be a food writer, but first I had to learn how to cook.

So here I was in 1980 in a two-hundred-year-old building in Paris, near the Place de Invalides, basking in the world`s best butter; the fattest, most pungent pink garlic; spinach whose leaves were so firm and meaty that they stood up on the table instead of lying flat; brown eggs whose yellow yolks tasted as rich as they looked.

I thought that I knew good apples, fragrant strawberries, juicy pears.  But never had I tasted the likes of the fraises des bois I had on a tart at la Varenne, and the pears I sniffed made me want to fold them into cakes, slather them with chocolate, poach them in fragrant herbs and spices.

The food was so whole.  Chickens came with the head, feet and pinfeather, and so did the pigeons and quail; the fish looked at me with big, dreamy eyes as I took them from the cooler; the lettuce still had soil clinging to it.

Once my onerous receptionist stint was finished I moved to washing dishes at food demonstrations, a job I much preferred.  At least I was in contact with food.  I lived in a blessed cloud of ecstasy about food, the flavours, the techniques I was learning.  I jumped at the chance to run errands at the market, the cheese shop, the bakery.  When I wasn’t at La Varenne I took jobs cooking for embassy families, catering bar mitzvahs, making canapes for special occasions.  Anything to be with food.  Whenever I could I went to spend the day at a bakery or patisserie, often getting up at 1 am and arriving when the baker did, so I missed nothing and could still get to work on time.

Kath’s quote: “France has found a unique way of controlling its unwanted critter population. They have done this by giving unwanted animals like snails, pigeons, and frogs fancy names, thus transforming common backyard pests into expensive delicacies. These are then served to gullible tourists, who will eat anything they can’t pronounce.”-Chris Harris

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And the winner is….


For as long as I can remember I have been watching the Academy Awards (with the exception of 1 year when I gave TV up for Lent).  The first time I clearly remember rooting for someone was when Julie Andrews was nominated for the Sound of Music.  Kind of ironic that Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) won his first Academy Award last night.  I don’t recall food being a part of those evenings back then, just the thrill of being permitted to stay up past my usual bedtime.

The Oscars have been a part of the family that D and I have created for over 25 years.  We were remembering last night when our eldest was little and we woke her up to watch the Best Song Category when The Little Mermaid was nominated some 20 years ago.

We were pretty well informed for the festivities last night, having seen 3 of 5 performances in each of the acting categories and 4 of the Best Picture nominations. Daughter #3 was over early so that we could watch all of the red carpet festivities.  I have some major philosophic issues with the entire parade and yet I guiltily watch anyway and declare my own oohs and aahs.

D makes things very special in our house as far as food is concerned.  Since I typically prepare and serve his favourites for Superbowl, he reciprocates for the Oscars.  Last night was no exception.  Instead of sitting around the dining room table for our mandatory Sunday dinner, we enjoy little plates in the living room.

Last evening started with these peel and eat shrimp.  They were actually crunchy (and yes I did remember to peel them) because D knows how to time their cooking perfectly and then immediately plunges them into an ice water bath.

Next up were vegetable dumplings served with hoisin sauce for dipping.

And then this crown of curry chicken chunks with raisins, dried cranberries, apple and walnuts.  D is so resourceful that he made enough to send home with three of the kids for lunches this week.

Lastly (as far as entrees were concerned), he served blackened tenderloin strips.  I had accidentally pulled three certified Angus beef tenderloins from the freezer when I was making stew on Friday.  D saved them from the stew pot to quickly sear them in butter, tarragon and a variety of other spices for last evening.

As far as Oscars go, the program seemed to flow quite nicely as did the wine and rum and mango cocktails.  We’ve got some more movie watching to do-with The Artist and Hugo next on our lists.

Kath’s quote: “Cooks are in some ways very much like actors; they must be fit and strong, since acting and cooking are two of the most exacting professions. They must be blessed – or cursed, whichever way you care to look at it – with what is called the artistic temperament, which means that if they are to act or cook at all well, it cannot be for duds or dummies.”-Andre Simon (1877-1970)

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