What’s bred in the bone
I’m originally from Ottawa, and I currently live not so far away, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Cheese country. Epicentre of true, authentic poutine country. (Poutine curds that are so French they go couic in your mouth instead of squeak? You want St-Albert’s cheese.) My dad was from westward (slightly, anyway) in Smiths Falls, and my mother’s family are from “down home”, i.e. New Waterford, Nova Scotia. My grandfather was, variously, a cheese factory inspector and at times (when he needed the money) a beekeeper. My father grew up hating cheese, although he still loved honey, buying combs of it for me as a kid.
Tip from dentists everywhere: Do not give raw honeycombs to your sugar-addicted six-year-old, who bears your family curse of weak tooth enamel. Be ready to Heimlich when she swallows huge chunks of the wax in bliss.
When I was growing up, my dad did most of the cooking. He had a wood-handled meat fork that had originally come from some relative’s WWII meal kit (WWI, even? it looked just about that old), and he had cast-iron cookware that only Thor could lift, and his taste in food was very, very British. He loved cockaleekie soup, roasts of all kinds, squashy canned peas, Melton Mowbray pies, organ meats, and…
Maybe I’m not doing a good job selling you on the culinary traditions of my family.
My mother was a better cook, when she had the time, and (unlike my dad) she could also bake. Her pie crust is perfect. Her fruitcakes will change your mind about fruitcakes, if you have a willing heart. Her shortbread will make you push the plaid tins away with a shudder. She taught me when I was four years old that yeast is a tiny animal that makes babies if you give it sugar and snuggle it up nice and warm under a dishtowel. She taught me how to crack an egg, how to cream butter and sugar together with that horrible wrist-destroying hand tool, how to make the mother sauces, how to shake hands with a roast bird, how to not murder your vegetables by boiling them alive, how to eat lentils and rice on a student budget, how to make a glorious golden chicken stock, how to do everything. She had an enviable collection of old Gourmet magazines going back years. She couldn’t keep me out of the kitchen as a kid.
My uncle (my mom’s sister’s husband) was Acadian French. A fantastic cook, but we only really hassled him for one recipe, the art of the tourtière.
And then I converted to Judaism. Goodbye, tourtière.
On my own, I learned a lot about Jewish cooking from around the world, Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, how to make a great borscht, and I read Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook cover to cover.
And then I went vegetarian. Goodbye, lots of other stuff.
But I’m still a pretty traditional, old-school kind of cook at heart. My goal here as I find my way through vegetarian cooking is to avoid trendy bullshit, and find some recipes for you that will make your parents go, “Thank God, at least she’s eating well.” The twists and innovations will be gentle, so that you can feed your great-aunt who thinks she hates spices. (You’ll coax her.) The dish you bring to the holiday meal (because you can’t eat the roast) will harmonise peacefully with everything else on the table.
And sometimes I’ll still post weird stuff, who knows. It’s my blog.