Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category


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Most everyone who plants a garden plants tomatoes. I’m no different. Each year I’ve put in tomatoes of varying varieties and each year I’m rewarded with the same problem…I’ve grown more than I need. When you try to give them away, friends turn you down with warm thanks and a smile. They have the same problem.

This past summer I outsmarted myself by only cultivating two plants, one a yellow, grape-style and the other a meaty, yellow Carolina Gold. Again, I have more than I need. Needless to say we are including them in just about every meal, which after a while gets a touch boring. So the other night we decided to purge.

My daughter had given us an excellent recipe for Asparagus Pizza. “Why not,” I thought, “swap out the asparagus for grape tomatoes. How difficult could that be?” We got a little creative and added some ingredients of our own. Here’s the recipe.

Make or buy the pizza dough (We buy and roll our own with great results)

  • ½ pound of cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (The real stuff)
  • ½ pound of mozzarella, shredded or cut into small cubes
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • Several grinds black pepper
  • 1 or 2 scallions thinly sliced
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • Prosciutto – 5 or 6 slices diced and lightly fried.
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Basil leaves – about ten, rolled then sliced
  • Black olives – sliced, no pits please
  • Set oven at 450.

Halve tomatoes and get rid of the seeds (which can be messy). All you need is the flesh of the tomato. Toss tomatoes, olive oil, olives, salt, pepper, red pepper and mix gently to coat. Roll or stretch your pizza dough to a 12-inch round. Roll dough on to a corn meal dusted pan. Sprinkle dough with parmigianno, then mozzarella. Pile the tomato mix on top (artfully distributed) and bake 12 to15 minutes or until the edges are browned or cheese is bubbly.

Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with scallions, lemon juice, prosciutto, basil and slice.

Mangia bene!

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 8, 2012 at 3:05 PM


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I’m making wine. It’s not my first time. I’ve been making wine for years. In Toronto, I had the luxury of a basement. Here, in Southampton, there is no basement. Just a narrow laundry room. When you open the door and walk in the odor of fermenting grapes hits you in the face. It takes me back – back to when I was a child living in Sault Ste. Marie.

My grandfather owned a large corner lot not far from the employee entrance to the Algoma Steel Plant. He had enough land to build two houses separated by a courtyard with a big garden plot behind that ran the length of the property. We lived in the corner house that also had a candy store and my uncles’ barbershop. After school I would help out by sweeping the cut hair into a hole in the floor. On weekends I would shine shoes. Once I got caught stealing licorice pipes from the candy store. My uncles told me, ‘next time, just ask.’

Making wine reminds me of my grandfather’s wine cellar. As a child I remember it as a vast underground cave that ran deep under the houses and courtyard, long and cavernous, divided into locked rooms some with stacked barrels, another with a stained wine press, one with sausage, salami, bresaola and prosciutto dangling from racks like cobwebs, a room where shelves filled with jars of fruits, vegetables, jams, sausage in oil, and sugo (tomato sauce) covered the walls. Finally there was the room with a long stainless steel table and a rack of knives, cleavers and grinders, the room where I watched my father, grandfather and uncles turn lifeless carcasses into food for the family.

In the fall, rectangular cases of grapes, dripping juice and followed by fruit flies, where delivered and stacked next to the wine press. Soon the odor of fermenting wine from open barrels filled the underground cavern and seeped upstairs into our house. The smell lasted for weeks and only disappeared when the ‘purple pop’ (as I called it) was racked and sealed in aging barrels. Every week they would draw a sample, taste, shake their heads and hammer the bung back into the barrel. And then, months later, they would open the spigot, draw a glass, taste and smile. A pitcher would then be poured, a salami taken from the rack and sliced, fresh bread was ripped apart and the celebration began. I was allowed a glass of the winter wine mixed with 7Up and then sent upstairs. My grandfather, father and uncles wouldn’t leave that room for quite some time.

So now, in my mind, as my winter wine ferments away my adult imagination recalls those days. The magic of wine making in my house is not the same, though. There is no cavernous, multi-room cellar. My wine ferments in a plastic pail sitting beside the furnace…in my laundry room. Times change.

My Winter Wine ferments in a plastic tub. No gravitas there.

My Wine Cellar - a cold room under the stairs.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

January 8, 2012 at 3:37 PM


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For the last few years I’ve had great success cultivating garlic. Cloves for my first planting came from Smith’s Apple Orchard. Grow local they say.

They were big, white cloves that produced rich green curly scapes in early summer. We learned how to use them in salads, soups, sauces, toppings, and pastas and how to cook with them. Then in mid-July we took our first harvest. We were rewarded with big fat bulbs whose colour went from white in some to a light purple in others. Some were saved for the next planting. Some went to friends and family.

Each fall we would till and fertilized the small bed, planting two rows, then four last year. Each summer the results were the same.

Until this summer. The buds were not as big as before. So we delved into farmer’s lore and decided to rotate our crop, moving the planting to another side of the garden. After laying down a layer of mulch we considered our work done until spring.

Today I just happened to walk behind the garden shed to discover that my garlic garden had been attacked. Holes had been dug along the edges. Earth was piled here and there on top of the mulch. The garlic patch was under attack. Now there are really only two creatures that can dig like that…raccoons and skunks. I know this because I watched them destroy my lawn a few years back when we had an infestation of grubs.

Alas, this is a sad state of affairs. Who knows how many cloves they managed to gobble up? Who knows if they will be back? Who knows how to keep them away?

We can only hope that the now frozen ground will be deterrent enough.
I can’t help smile, though, at the thought of a raccoon reeking of garlic. Or even worse, how lethal these skunk raiders must be. They can spray you or unleash their garlic breath on you…deadly at both ends. Just another reason to avoid these poachers if you catch them in the act.

Skunks and Racoons? One or both are doing damage to my garlic bed

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

December 7, 2011 at 4:47 PM


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If you’re looking to have breakfast in Wiarton on a Sunday morning around 9:00 AM…forget it. Nothing is open. The streets are empty. Wiarton Willie’s hometown is still asleep. So we made our way to the Timmy’s on main street for a Breakfast Sandwich.

The parking lot was full with cars, trucks, motorcycles and camper-trailers. The drive-thru line-up was bumper to bumper all the way to the street. In one corner of the parking lot, a group of seniors sat in a circle, lawn chairs beside their RVs, enjoying an outdoor brunch.

Obviously we weren’t the only ones needing our morning coffee. That was confirmed when we couldn’t get to the door – people were lined up outside waiting to get in…a usual occurrence with small-town Timmys’ that occupy prime highway real estate. When you’re the only game in town – what else can a traveler expect? Who’s complaining, though?

But, it wasn’t the lineup that surprised…more the people in it.

One in particular, a young guy, tall, lean with a shaved head drew our immediate attention. He was bare foot, naked from the waist up and from the waist down he was constantly pulling up his belt-less, too big for his thin, wasted body, jeans. His Joe Boxer underwear was in full view. You could say he was doing his best Marky Mark impersonation, but he just didn’t have the build to go with it. A cigarette dangled from his lips. And he sneered as he took great pleasure in all the stares he was getting. He was tattooed front and back with large faux Hell’s Angels eagles, skulls, daggers and whatnot. He was cocky bordering on belligerent until an OPP officer walked in. The cop just wanted coffee but he saw that he needed to straighten this young man out.

A conversation ensued; actually it was a mild confrontation, or a quiet lesson in decorum and the finer points of fashion.

Those in line began to smile. The boy left. At first he paced up and down outside looking in the window at his girlfriend. Then pulling up his pants one more time he went and sat in his car.

The officer looked straight ahead. There was just the slightest hint of a smile on his face.

Sunday morning entertainment at Timmy’s – no cover – no minimum.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

July 24, 2011 at 5:21 PM


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Sunset at the harbour mouth, Southampton.

There was a time when you couldn’t get on an elevator without the all-pervasive presence of some innocuous music playing somewhere behind your head. You were forced to listen to sugary, non-imaginative arrangements of popular standards and top 40 songs. It was called Musack and it came at you relentlessly in malls, offices, the dentist’s chair, airports just about every public place you can think of. There was no escape. After a while it turned into a non-descript din you became use to…white noise.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed that Musack has morphed into something bigger, with much more variety, louder and so much more annoying. The Internet is partially to blame, as are those who generate their own tailor-made ‘mix-tapes’ for their places of business – particularly restaurants.

Restaurateurs are under the impression that I like to listen to their choice of music while dining. They seem to think that my meal will be more enjoyable if their ‘mix’ is played loudly. To make sure my dining experience is further refined they place speakers everywhere and then direct me to a table directly beneath them.

A restaurant is not a dance club. I don’t need to ‘feel’ the bass. I don’t care to bob my head to today’s ‘hits.’ Gangsta Rap is not my thing. Country & Western is not for me. Loud, annoying music does not make a meal enjoyable. It is intrusive. It gets in the way of conversation.

At the point when the server comes and asks, “Is everything to your liking?” I usually say “NO, turn the *&^%%%##### music down!!!”

Why not just play harmless ‘New Age’ nonsense. Jazz Fusion would be nice. So would simple Classical favourites. The Internet has all kinds of non-invasive music to choose from. Or, maybe just don’t play anything at all.

The natural background sounds of the restaurant would be fine with me. Let the establishment generate it own sound – let its own room tone become white noise.

That’s all you really need.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 24, 2010 at 1:16 PM

My Poor But Resilient Rosemary

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It is said that a Rosemary plant can suffer from too much attention rather than too little. It is also said that Rosmarinus officinalis doesn’t need endless sunshine and a Mediterranean climate to grow successfully. All you need, it is said, is sun, good drainage and good air circulation.

Mind you none of this takes into consideration the fact that some of us live in a four season climate. And come the dead days of November, when the temperature starts to dip below 30 degrees F., a lot of folk just give up and let the frost do what it will with Rosemary.

But, not I. I try, year after year, to save her from the cold. And not always with any great success.

When I lived in temperate Toronto there were a couple of times when I managed to keep her alive through winter, only to watch her wither and die indoors the following year. They say, when you bring Rosemary indoors, she needs 6 to 8 hours of full sun…if you can’t provide, then artificial lights may be necessary. Heat apparently, is not as important as sunlight. Then with the threat of powdery mildew, aphids and spider mites, it can be a little tricky to keep Rosemary happy inside…to say the least. It is a challenge…always.

Last year I tried and failed again.

This winter, N suggested Rosemary spend time beside Hibiscus in the afternoon light of the patio doors. We watered sparingly and sprayed faithfully. We watched it flower. N clipped for a constant supply of fresh culinary seasoning. I loved to run my hands through her branches and breath in her refreshing, fragrant, almost minty odor.

Happily April arrived with a welcome warmth. And she is back outside where she belongs. Rosemary made it through.

She is a little worse for the experience. Not as full and lush as when we took her in from the cold. If fact she is half of what she was. Nonetheless she has a full summer ahead of her to recover and grow strong for next winter’s indoor season.

Those who delve into this sort of thing claim Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory. It has been used as a symbol for remembrance as well. Ophelia in Hamlet, iv. 5. says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

Here’s hoping our Rosemary remembers how much she was cared for this past winter and keeps that memory alive next time we bring her in from the cold.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

April 7, 2010 at 3:33 PM

Baking Biscotti & The Path to Enlightenment

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I never imagined that I would one day become a baker of biscotti. But, here I am, well into my leisure years, contemplating recipes, the merits of flour (whole wheat, preshifted, unbleached or enriched), whole or slivered almonds and the wisdom of adding brandy when it isn’t called for, among other things. As I was to learn through trial and error – all of it is important to one degree or another.

It is a process that soothes your mind. As is the Zen of prep, the organization of ingredients, the creative measurement of amounts, whether the butter and sugar blend properly and the dough is worked (not overworked) just so. One, over time, develops a personal touch for all of this. The process becomes part of you. One learns not to ignore past mistakes. The mistakes become markers along the way. And the way leads to enlightenment.

Sound a little much? Perhaps so. Still, if you consider baking biscotti an exercise in relaxation, a short continuum in which the cares of the world and your everyday life are sublimated to a simple purpose, then perhaps not. After all, ingredients never come together exactly the same every time. There is always a minute variance. So consider the concentration required, the attention needed to make sure your biscotti don’t burn because you can’t trust your oven. In the second baking, you are forced to focus on timing because you want just the right amount of toasting on either side.

There is karma in the baking of biscotti. You alone are responsible for their success or failure. It is the sum of your feelings brought to bear in the baking of a simple biscuit. A time when you taste again all that is simple in life.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

February 20, 2010 at 8:40 PM