Category Archives: Food & Recipes

A Carnivore Ruminates: Thoughts About Balance

Food. Some eat to live, others live to eat. Either way, it’s the source of life.

The Chinese believe in the Chi of food. Eat food from the place you’re from, and you get Earth-drawn energy to live upon the place you’re in. It’s a circle-of-life thing.

Me, I clearly live to eat. Lately, too indulgently and without balance. Sproing goes the waistline this summer, I’m afraid. And that’s no good.

Living to eat and doing it badly is an ironic way to embrace death. I’m certainly better than I’ve likely ever been as an eater, but it’s a constant act of re-education, and the more I learn and deprogram myself on the white-food-rules upbringing I had, the further I’ve yet to go.

I had a bit of a Twitter spanking as I tongue-in-cheek suggested I get great pleasure from seeing former Vegan/Vegetarian people going back to meat. I explained that it vindicates my belief that vegetarianism and veganism are somewhat unnatural.

Then again, entire cultures, like the Hindu, go their whole lives without food that comes of taking a life.

I get that. But I’m Irish and French. It’s just never gonna happen chez Steff. I mean, really. If we weren’t supposed to eat meat, it wouldn’t be so tasty.

It’s that simple.

But it’s good meat that’s tasty. Meat raised under ethical conditions, raised eating real food, not stuffed with commercial feed, who have access to pastures, live naturally, and are slaughtered compassionately, then processed with care by people who value the product and the life given to provide it.

Give me a steak by a grow-factory, slaughtered en masse without empathy, processed on a conveyor belt, versus a local farm-raised product, slaughtered the old-school way, and hand-trimmed, with both prepared and cooked the same, and I’ll tell you on the first bite which is which. Easy. Done. It’s right there. That je ne sais quoi of having been raised ethically and killed compassionately.

There are lamb in Spain who get walked — WALKED! — on a 650+ kilometre trek across the mountains, feeding on grass as they go, birthing, mating, living like they should, being sight-seers for many weeks before they meet their end. That’s something you taste. Real grass grown from valley to valley, by river and stream, under olive trees and by grapevines. It’s all there in that lamb.

The French believe in terroir and how it applies to not just wine like most people think, but to everything from meat through to oysters. You taste the land that the food comes from. Like where you’re born imprints you, so too does it to the meat and seafood and everything else we consume. Like those Spanish lamb I think would surpass any I’ve ever had.

Yum.

It’s a beautiful thought, that this interconnectivity runs through everything around us, and that we can choose to focus on more seasonal, local produce and it’ll not only be of better quality, but also of better Chi, of better terroir, and even just better for the environment, and ultimately more fulfilling for our soul.

As I reflect on food and what it means to me this week, I know where I’m going wrong with my diet is simply too many carbs and too much meat. I won’t go paleo or Zone or Atkins or any of those faddish diets. I just want to find a balance that works for me — ethically, tastefully, healthily, and financially.

I will never eat what I don’t enjoy, and I’ll never omit things like juicy steaks, cheeses, or other great food-of-love things that transport me when I eat them. Life’s meant to be lived, not survived.

There’s a perfect balance of finding flavour yet eating a diet that makes your body happy, and that’s the balance I’ve lost.

I’ll be eating less meat, less cheese, but when I have them, having far better quality. At the same time, I want to explore vegetarian dishes from around the world, particularly from places where they manage to go entire lives without meat, because clearly they’re doing it properly.

I’ve known people who’ve been extreme vegetarians, who did it balanced as best as one can, but who ultimately returned to the Meat Side when they ran into energy problems when being more active (like a boxer I knew, and a hardcore mountain cyclist). I don’t believe one needs to omit anything completely (except when allergic, obviously) to live an “ethical food” life.

Yet we as a society in the West eat meat to excess and a compromise would be good. I’ll attempt a 50% vegetarian week. I’m sure there’ll be weeks I fail, but I’m probably meat-eatin’ 6 days a week now, if not 7. That ain’t no good.

There’s one thing I can’t argue. That’s the issue that raising meat, farm or factory, creates a lot of methane, which is hugely responsible for global warming. If the world went vegetarian tomorrow and commercial meat production ended, we’d probably see a drastic difference in climate change quickly. This is true. Irrefutable.

So, mandate methane capture and conversion. Let’s solve that problem. Let’s have our cake steak and eat it too.

Because, to me, every cow is sacred, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it salted and grilled.

Summertime Booze Recipes: Dish’n’Dazzle

The "Staves & Stones" drink. That sage is amazing in this bevvy. Picture by Cathy Browne! Thanks, Cathy.

Here we go, yo! Just in time for the long weekend. These are recipes for some amazing drinks we got to taste from some of the city’s best bartenders, at the the really great BC Hospitality Foundation’s Dish’n’Dazzle last Friday.

The restaurant’s food choices may have had too much seafood for this landlubber, but they knocked me out with the tasty beverages.

Thank you to Dana for giving me the permission to share these recipes with you. The sponsors of this portion of D’n’D event were Skyy Vodka & Gibson’s Finest Whiskey, so it was nice to attend a wine event with a little kick on the side. Whoo!

What’s neat about these cocktails is that they all include something South American — Chile, or its neighbouring countries. It’s nice to see how traditional bitters/ingredients like Amargo Chuncho can really pack a different wow.

My favourite two were the Afternoon Delight and the Staves and Stones, oh, and the Sangria Blanco. Heck, they were all super-good.

I was put off making one of these drinks because the mixologist was being so fancy when putting it together that it looks like crazy hard work. Now the recipe makes it sound ridiculously easy. I wonder if mixologists learn all the tricks to making drinks look like rocket science and serious work. But, hey, now, the recipe’s reduced to 2 lines. How hard can this be? You know?

Hey, I know: Party at your place, Saturday at 5. Bring the mix! We’ll find out!

Want to make a larger “punch” size of these? Go for it. Multiply! MmMm! Bottoms up, kids!

Afternoon Delight
by Evelyn Chick of UVA Wine Bar

*Steff’s favourite! Nummy-nummy-mm!

Featuring: Cointreau, Chilean Chardonnay, Lemon, Black Pepper, Coriander, Thai Basil, Ginger, Celery Bitters.

  • 1.5 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Chilean Chardonnay
  • 5 oz Fresh Lemon
  • 5 oz Black Pepper and Coriander Syrup
  • 1 leaf Thai Basil
  • 2 slices Fresh Ginger
  • 3 dashes Celery Bitters

Place ginger in a Collins glass and muddle gently. Dice basil and place in glass. Add all other ingredients and top with ice. Stir thoroughly.

Continue reading

Dazzled by The Wines of Chile!

I was very fortunate to have received a couple of tickets to last week’s Dish’n’Dazzle event at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.

Here’s the complete low-down, good and bad.

Dish’n’Dazzle is the BC Hospitality Foundation’s big wine-and-food fundraiser. The Foundation is used by folks in the hospitality industry who have medical emergencies that can be crippling financially but aren’t insured adequately, if at all. It’s a really fantastic charity, if you know what it’s like to face constant rehab or medical costs.

This was a fantastic event with quite a few restaurants making tasting plates that were paired with a Chilean wine palate. The wines were all Chilean, a fantastic range of easy-drinking high-value wines all the way to unlikely splurges topping $70 a bottle.

Bonus was the cocktail room, where everything had at least a smidge of something Chilean in the mix. There was a lemon drink that tasted like a summer afternoon in heaven. I wish I had the details on it, but I was a little busy drinking that night to be making notes beyond “BUY THIS” on my tasting booklet. My god, a restaurant, cocktail name, AND recipe? Too much to ask of me! A print-out of the recipe would’ve been divine!

A Crash Course on Grapes

Whether it’s at the Fairmont, the Playhouse, or the W2, these wine events are absolutely fantastic if you’re a junior vino appreciator, like myself.

Hobbled by a single-life budget while living in one of the world’s more expensive cities in a recession, I seldom spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine, but I certainly LOVE a beautiful bottle. A recent BC Burrowing Owl Merlot from 2007 left me weak at the knees, for instance. Going back to a value wine’s tough after that, but a girl’s got to pay the rent — and when I need value, it’s usually to Chile I turn.

So, this kind of event lets me try all those amazing $20-30 wines that I actually think are fantastic and would love to start collecting soon.

Ironically, it’s also at these events that I get try so many expensive wines and realize that, personally, I don’t find that most of the flavour profile differences between, say, a $40 bottle and a $60 bottle are often worth the jump in price.

Our Favourite Vino

In fact, my favourite wine in that whole room was, shockingly, a white wine under $20. It was a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Hacienda Araucano, from the Lolol valley. The winemaker is the global big-producer Francois Lurton, with vineyards in France, Argentina, Chile, Portugal, and Spain. Since Lurton’s site sucks for information, it’s almost impossible to find a product page on this wine, sadly, so it’s not being well-marketed just yet, too new, but…

The Reserva de la Hacienda Sauvignon Blanc, the star of the show, is produced using the best grape varieties brought from the French regions of Loire and Bordeaux, and is described by the company as having “an intense aroma that combines tropical fruits, citruses and ‘minerality’”. The combination of micro climates (concentrated atmospheric zones with climates that differ from the surrounding areas) in which the vineyards are located, and the sea mists that arrive due to its proximity to the sea, allow for the production of an excellent range of high-quality red and white wines such as their Sauvignon Blanc.

(from I Love Chile.)

My friend and I so loved the Sauvignon Blanc, not yet in stores here, that we’re scheming to order a case (from Diamond Estates in Canada)between us.

You know what? It’s not shocking such a great wine can be had at a budget-friendly price. Chilean wine is fantastic for value prices. A $10 wine from Chile can really surprise you. (At $13.99, Carmen’s Gewurtztraminer also blew us away, but is also a specialty find, so, an easier-to-find value wine I enjoyed, but red, is the Vina Maipo Reserve Carmenere at $12.99).

It’s Fun, Not Stuffy

The above-mentioned wine we covet, but we tasted the 2011 vintage. Yummy!

My friend laughed at me for my winetasting strategies — I’d walk to every table and ask the reps present “What’s the wine that best represents you?” or “What’s the wine I have to try?” It’d always put them on the spot, and sometimes they’d give me the most expensive wine, but usually they’d give me the one they loved best of their line. It’s working for me, at least.

The night was a great opportunity to small-talk with people who really know their products, and a real learning opportunity.

There are a few such wine events in Vancouver each year, and they’re really worth saving your money for and getting out to experience.

I’m really trying to learn more about wine, trying to drink less frequently so I splurge more for “experience” wines I pair properly with food when I have the time to cook extravagantly. For me, it was all about the wine, but I was hoping to learn more about food-pairing strategies too.

The Food Wasn’t Chilean, Though

Unfortunately, I think the restaurants involved really could have offered more variety than mostly seafood, and thought more about the traditional Chilean food for the wines that were showcased.

There was no chicken, lamb, pork, or, what Chile’s famous for, beef! — it was all fish, mostly salmon (which I didn’t realize is one of Chile’s top exports) save for one muskox carpaccio… which doesn’t really scream “Chile” to me. Neither do cake-pops, I’m afraid, or Toasted-Marshmallow-on-a-stick. I was just surprised at the disconnect between a lot of those dishes and what one thinks of for Chilean wines.

Aside from the lack of Chilean influence found, I’m also not a seafood or even a dessert fan, so that aspect really disappointed me. I wish more restaurants would realize that not everyone likes seafood. I was left without eating as much as I should, and that’s never good when one’s consuming vast quantities of truly tasty grapes.

I was lucky to attend last fall’s Taste of Chile, where those doing the food had everything from empanadas to whole roast of pig, and the food knocked me out. It was truly varied but what I expected to see at an event meant to showcase Chilean wines — like this was meant to also be. I think last fall’s Taste of Chile spoke to the soul of Chilean food, and was a tribute to what the country offered. I was pretty sick at the time I went, and never did blog about it, but the event blew me away.

So, it’s interesting that I’ve had two amazing Chilean winetasting events, and while knowing what I know from the last one at W2 & thinking the Dish’n’Dazzle restaurants could have offered Chilean-inspired dishes, I gotta say: One thing that REALLY knocked me out were the amazing Mushroom Croquettes from Yew. I went back for two more. And then another! But, you know, French, not Chilean. Tasty as hell, though. Perfectly crisp and not a bit of grease. The coriander-crusted salmon with tomatillo puree from The Salmon House was fantastic as well, even if I don’t love fish.

My Last Words

Finally, I’m a pretty savvy web person, so I’m surprised at how tricky it was to find information on Dish’n’Dazzle this time. The BC Hospitality Foundation doesn’t even list it on its events page, a major oversight by the organization. I hope it has a more obvious home webpage next time around, because, even if the food wasn’t to MY tastes, I know my friend, a big fish fan, absolutely loved the offerings, and value-for-experience, start-to-finish, the event’s really something worth attending if you ever get the chance, and it goes to a fantastic cause. Great service, generous hospitality at every table, and a wide variety worth exploring.

You ought to consider these large tastings a chance to really learn about all kinds of wine. It’s a crash course in Everything Tasty-Grapey, and something every wine-lover needs to experience at least once, whether it’s the annual Wine Festival or gala events like this. Usually priced between $40 and $100, it’s great value for the money at any price-point, and if you throw a few tastings of wines you might never afford, sometimes up to $150 a bottle, you can really experience a tasting journey unlike anything anyone else can offer you. Go for it.

Enter Villain: Nemesis, AKA The Stairs

Today I conquered that which I’ve avoided since June: My Nemesis, The Stairs.

I did 21 floors, with 22 steps each, in under 20 minutes. It’s a great start back! Remember: Pneumonia recovery — my first full week with actual cardio!

While not a specifically-prescribed exercise in my new fitness routine, the stairs are a necessary evil, and will likely figure prominently for me in the coming months. The stairs do some amazing things for my body, but it’s imperative that I use exact technique, or Bad Things can happen — and fast!

But good things can happen, and fast, too!

For example, I’ve noticed a terrific change in my body already, from less than a week with my trainer, Nik from Le Physique, in that my legs are already balancing their strength out. By that I mean how my outer thighs are ridiculously developed from cycling so much, so long, and they get so tight it screws up my lower back and right hip.

Knowing this about me, Nik’s assigned two particular exercises that are crazy-good to do for my knees, glutes, and thighs, now I’m already seeing new tone on my inner thighs, and feeling less pressure on my tailbone! It’s been five days! (The exercises: Ball-leg curls with a balance ball, and wall-sits.)

I’ve been foolishly stubborn and proud of having achieved so much fitness-wise since 2007 on my own, without training and guidance, but I’m realizing how much my body needs the minor corrections in technique and new routines targeting specific muscles.

Fact is, every time I become competent in one muscle group, my body overcompensates in another, in a bad way. Aches, pains, et cetera, it seems might be more avoidable than I realized.

Another thing that’s quickly resonated with me is the food/activity journal that Nik assigned me.

I’ve tracked calories before, but never the emotional fallout of my choices and actions/lack of action, and it’s illuminating.

I thought I’d be more wowed by how certain dietary choices physically felt in my body, but instead I’m noticing all the emotional comments. The biggest one: Shame.

Every time I don’t do what I know I can, or know I should, I find myself recording feedback laced with guilt and shame.

I’m a recovering Catholic, of course I feel shame for everything — but the question is, why keep doing the behaviour that creates the guilt and shame in the first place? Why perpetuate the cycle?

I know, it’s not rocket science that I should feel badly after eating badly, but there’s something about seeing it on paper —  CAUSE = EFFECT — when it comes to recording three glasses of wine or my choice to eat slider burgers with a fried egg for breakfast.

It’s that original “WTF” moment where you just can’t fathom the logic behind those choices. Why? Why? Why?

Somehow “but it tastes good” isn’t swallowed so easily when one realizes the rest of the day is spent with a faint whiff of failure lingering around.

Fortunately, this is part of the process. It’s part of the accountability factor that leads to success. Obviously the accountability isn’t there at the beginning; that’s why change is happening in the first place, right?

I know, in a couple weeks, I’m gonna love the way the new strength is feeling, I’ll love the power I feel I have, and I’ll have something I didn’t have two weeks ago — the pride of really accomplishing life change through serious, deliberate effort.

Then, the price becomes too high to screw my accomplishment up with wrong choices or not accommodating those choices through additional workouts or juggling my day’s food.

Then, the body becomes its own reminder that eating well is imperative — how you feel already is the motivation for keeping the feeling alive. It’s a self-sustaining experience, if you’re doing fitness right, I’ve found.

The process has begun. It’s kind of awesome.

Tomorrow, I get a day pass to get the hell out of the city and rediscover nature in the Valley. I’m really glad I’m feeling healthier already, because I’ve earned the day away.

On tap? Hiking. More fitness, but also more reward for me, on every level.

Le Physique is in Leg-And-Boot Square, in Vancouver’s False Creek. Nik Yamanaka is co-owner, and was the BCRPA Personal Trainer of the Year for 2008. Le Physique tailors a program to meet your abilities, goals, and lifestyle. They can’t do the work for you, but they can tell you the tweaks that will help you meet your best performance and give you the mental tools and simple practices that might help you attain the success you need. You can listen to Nik talking about training in this radio interview here. You can follow her/them on Twitter, too, by clicking here.

Yet Another Reason You Should Buy a Vibrator

I don’t have much of a garden — three tomato plants and four basils — but I’m deeply attached to the bounty and willing to put in the work.

Basil, well, that’s easy enough. Wait until June, plant, water often, eat often, be happy.

Tomatoes? Good god. Apparently they need pollinators! One thing we apartment-dwellers on the slopes of major cities don’t get enough of is pollinators. Apparently bees think apartments are for the birds. Continue reading

The Weekend Sexipe: Steff’s Chorizo & Chevre Frittata

I love making great breakfasts for lovers, but really relish making them for myself. Life’s too short to only use your A-game for others, so this has become something I’ve really come to love making for lil’ ol’ deserving me.

Because I’ve sometimes lived a sheltered life, breakfast-wise, I somehow never had my first frittata until this year. Now I’m in love. I had gone out of my way to try a brekkie at the much-vaunted (but far overpriced) Avenue Grille, and figured $9 for eggs and bacon was a fucking joke, so I might as well go big-ticket and order the special they had. Which was a $12 version of this frittata, but I pack mine with far more ingredients, and love the rich and intense flavours from upping the caramelized onions and chorizo.

Anyone I’ve served my version of the Avenue’s Chorizo & Chevre Frittata to always has seconds.

This’ll keep overnight and warms up very nicely, if you want to make it for your single self, or
shares nicely for two healthy appetites. I’ll usually do it in a larger 13″ saute pan for two people and increase all the veggies by half and the eggs to five, so I can have leftovers for me the next day, ‘cos this thing is a bit of a labour of love to have as a one-off meal. :)

Also, I make extra onions and peppers and store them for use either in other meals, or save them for the next weekend and cut the prep time in half. I’ll be including all my little tricks below. Continue reading