Friday, May 29, 2009

Little Pleasures From When I Was Little

Article and image courtesy of Amanda

1. licking the egg beaters

2. dipping your finger into the bowl of frosting

3. peanut butter and jam

4. stirring ice cream until it turned to soup

5. drinking chocolate milk through a fat straw

6. salt & vinegar potato chips in a green bowl while watching TV

7. Wink soda

8. salting a dish before tasting

9. pudding from a little tin, which always smashed into my sandwich in my lunchpail and left a little dent behind in the bread

10. chicken fingers

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jamming in California

More about jam, this time from sunny (and foggy) California. Article and images courtesy of Jon.

Heidi and I visited a friend's cabana project north of Yosemite last weekend, and on the way back to SF stopped at a farmstand outside of Oakdale and picked up a few strawberries...about 30 pints worth, to be exact (for only $34 too...tough to beat!). We arrived home around 8:30 in the evening, and were up until midnight making freezer jam with about 3/4 of them. For those unfamiliar, freezer jam is 'jam lite'...less sugar, less cooking time, and somewhat less preserved than traditional jam since there's no proper sterilization process for the containers. Paraphrased from 'How to Cook Everything':

6 cups berries or stone fruit, roughly chopped
1.5 to 2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Crush fruit to release moisture and cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally with mixture at a simmer for 15-30 minutes. Mixture may or may not gel depending on the fruit used. Refrigerate and use within 1-2 weeks, or freeze for up to 1 year.

In our case, these strawberries held so much water that it made a very thin jam...almost a strawberry sauce, perfect for dessert toppings or making agua fresca in addition to a toast accompaniment.

Regardless, the berries themselves were perfect to eat straight...sweet and tart, and very tender. California is ridiculously endowed with great produce, which is one of the reasons it is difficult to contemplate ever leaving once it has sunk its claws into you. Cherries are next, followed by apricots and other stone fruits. During the summer months Heidi and I will often eat over a pound of fresh fruit for breakfast with a slice of bread...making hay while the sun shines, as they say. It's fruity madness.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


This is an oldie but goodie posted way back in 2004 on another obsolete blog. Thought I might give it another spin as berry season is not too far off and jam making is a perennial favourite.


As a city girl I had always bought jam, and since our family had no clue about conserving food (except kimchee) I always regarded jam making as rather mysterious and time consuming. Well, I learned from B's parents that it isn't. Here is a little play by play description of the jam making process at La Pilardière in the ever lovely Loire Valley. Images of actual berry picking in cowfields and private property, thorn bloodied hands, and ensuing downpour not included.

An afternoon's worth of berries are dumped into a huge copper pot (reserved exclusively for jam production), warmed up a little to release juices, then taken off the heat.

Cooled down berries then dumped into a "presse purée", or better known as a food mill in North America, to get rid of the seeds. Grind, grind, grind.

All the juices and desirable pulpy parts of the berries get caught down below into a bowl.

Everybody gets put back into the large copper pot for a second go around on the heat, this time with castor sugar. Since mûres are naturally sweet the ratio is 45% of the total volume of fruit. You adjust accordingly to the type of fruit being prepared, for example more for bitter orange marmalade, less for cherry jams.

Leave this thick concoction to boil (yes, boil. I know some purists out there who say it should just simmer) for 5-10 minutes. By now the kitchen is smelling like all the days of summer have been condensed and compressed into a single pot. I'm thinking jam and petit suisse, jam and scones, jam as a layer in a gâteau, mmmm, jam....

After the plate (in the fridge and jam "grabs" the surface) and the glass test (from the freezer, jam will form a ball immediately) to determine if the jam has set, it is ready to can.

Jars are immediately inverted to create a vacuum space as the jam cools down slightly. They are then set right side up, and voilà, sealed jam. There is no intensive sterilization process in the Duprat household. Apparently the current technique has held up well as hundreds of preserves have been prepared as such, and no one has died of food poisoning, yet...

Nothing left to do but lick the copper pot...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big messy feast

A big delightful ad hoc picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company, Tomales Bay, California. How many different things can one eat as a side to oysters?...

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the plates of others

Article and photo courtesy of Kurt.

I hosted a birthday dinner for a good friend this weekend, and made my first batch of Nems with the help of my sister-in-law. They were unbelievably finicky, but delicious. I quickly learned that I was utterly hopeless at rolling them and she got stuck with the task of assembling over a hundred of the little morsels. A little too much sugar in the water used to soak the wrappers produced strange bubbles in the fryer, and wax paper used instead of parchment to separate layers of them became worryingly sticky. In the end, there was enough wine and good humour to compensate for any kitchen mishaps.

It’s often the same small close-knit group that I hang with, and food always plays a central role at our get togethers. However, tailoring the menu to people’s dietary considerations is something I often find challenging – three versions of nems were required to satisfy just nine people this weekend.

The fish-seafood-eggs variety of vegetarian often requires a separate dish to be prepared, and I have to be careful of tolerance for chillies, or ingredients like coriander that people seem to either adore or abhor. Whether it’s preparing two main courses, or serving key ingredients as ‘condiments’ to be added at the table, the result feels like a compromise to me. One of the greatest pleasures of food is sharing it, and sometimes it no longer feels like sharing when so many variations are involved.

Part of the reason I feel this way is undoubtedly from my upbringing. There were no special requests at our dinner table, and no question that we would clean our plates as children. When invited somewhere we ate what our hosts prepared, or at the very least tried it. Being a good eater was part of being a good child, and food played a role in our moral upbringing either wrongly or rightly so.

Of course, food never made any of us sick, so our parents never had to accommodate us for legitimate health reasons. I can’t imagine what it would be like to fear food in this way. I do have to be careful with some white wines, champagnes, and bottle-fermented beers as they can provoke an intense asthmatic episode in me. Needless to say, this is easy for me to manage – it’s not like there’s a champagne drinking fountain at work.

Health considerations I respect and accommodate, but I really have a hard time with what we might call ‘picky’ eaters (see armchair Freudian analysis above). I had a guest this weekend that eats so few things, that she lists ‘candy’ among the four staples of her diet. On the flip-side, I have another friend that makes a conscious effort to revisit foods once a year to see if she’s changed her mind about them. I find it laudable – she’s come ‘round to cheeses, olives, and other pleasurable foods that she had previously written off.

How do the rest of you feel about the concept of ‘picky’?

How do you manage your own food sensitivities and intolerances or those of others?

Do we pass judgement on people based on what passes their lips?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

All growed up

Article courtesy of Amanda. You can find the full article here.

Growing up, I ate a combination of meat-starch-vegetable meals, leftovers supplemented with potato puffs and tinned peas, and always salad. My mother began working outside the home when I was ten, and my brother and I were assigned nightly chores. She would leave notes reminding us to preheat the oven and take the chicken out to thaw, which we would often forget then have to fake it that "of course we took it out in time! It must've been extra frozen!" My favourite tasks were making
Shake-n-Bake, which I considered my own private masterpiece, and monitoring the crockpot of stew, imitating my mom's technique for spearing a hunk of beef and pinching to test its tenderness.

Now, my mother watches me cook, marvelling that she has no idea where I picked up these skills. I remember watching her brine cucumbers from a neighbour's vegetable patch, and making apple sauce to last a winter of lunches, and I remind her that she taught me how to level a measuring cup, to battle lumpy gravy with a fork and determination, to improvise "buttermilk" by squeezing lemons into 2%.

The exciting part of childhood cooking was feeling like I was in charge, basking in compliments as I passed a plate. Certainly, I was showing off, but it also made me happy that I had something to share, something only I could make. Now, girlfriends and I host weekend suppers where we pick a kitchen skill one of us has and the others want to learn, and spend the evening basting in smells wafting from the stove. There is satisfaction in serving a complex meal, one that could have gone awry at any turn, and which features at least one thing my guests have never had before. My tastes have come a long way from fries and chicken fingers to cooking by season and buying shares in a local CSA farm. The way I eat is informed by a longing for something other than what is right in front of me, and an appreciation for things close to home.

I befriended Juliana when we were fourteen and living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We judged the city unsophisticated and dreamed of moving to France, where we would meet stylish men and eat delectable things. One day we were brought down a peg by our Home Ec teacher, who assured us that was not how one pronounced "Cannes" and that Winnipeg was one of the most diverse cities we could hope to live in. While that, perhaps, overstated what the prairies had to offer two starry-eyed girls, our teacher wasn't wrong about the large immigrant community and the foods that were available as a result.

Juliana's parents emigrated from Korea in the early 1970s, settling in Winnipeg and raising two children on a combination of Korean recipes and processed foods from the supermarket. "My mom tried her best to balance what she already knew about cooking and the Western world. It wouldn't be unusual to go days just eating meatloaf, rice and kimchi. Or, rice, beef stroganoff and salad."

In a revision of our grade nine daydream, Juliana moved to San Francisco where she found herself immersed in high-end foodie culture, and where she met Bernard. After prolonged wooing via slow-cooked dinners, they married and moved to Paris, living for months with only a hotplate and mini-fridge. Juliana emailed me photographs of the pajeon she invented to meet the limitations of her tiny stove while taking advantage of the excellent local market; delicate Korean pancakes mirroring dinners her mother fixed in Manitoba. Eventually, the apartment gained a small oven, but unlike sprawling North American kitchens, cramped Paris demanded a relearning of culinary habits. "The compact oven goes with the compact fridge, which goes with our very compact apartment and our compact lives."

Are these kitchen skills and passion for the old-fashioned a sign that we're moving away from industrial processing, which has had a strangle-hold on our dinner tables for decades, and toward being able to feed ourselves from scratch? Or, is this another "fad diet", merely trendy and short-lived? Probably, the answer lies somewhere in between. There will always be a cycle of learning and relearning, coming to appreciate what traditions represent and the role we each play in maintaining a diverse and delicious food supply. And, once you master a simple pot pie, it seems unlikely you'll decide, "Forget this, I think I'll just switch back to the frozen stuff!"