Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trip Back Home 2008



For the last 3 weeks in August we travelled back home - New Brunswick to Ontario and all over - in order to visit family. But being the gourmand that I am, I couldn't help but organise the trip around food as well. So we had a whole whack of places we had to stop. 6000 kms later, I'd eaten through alot of culture. Here goes...

Ottawa Area

My father lives in the Ottawa area and though I've never lived there very long, I still have a few food hotspots to check out every time I go there. The first of these hotspots is Rami's Pizzeria in Rockland. They have an OPP salad there which is to die for (OPP stand for Ontario Provincial Police...yeah my dad's a cop...and if he's a pif than I'm a piglet...I know). It's lettuce with crispy pita chips, tomatoes, red onions, a vinaigrette I haven't gotten the recipe for and what they call garlic sauce. I figured it out this time that they're "garlic sauce" is actually just aioli, garlic mayonaise. It's a great salad from a great little place. Those Lebanese have got a good thing going in the Ottawa area. Their food is great. Maybe Lebanon is the new Italy, culinarily speaking? Who knows...

The second hotspot in the Ottawa area finds itself in the very small town of Navan which is basically just a block around an intersection in the middle of vast stretches of field, the standing sentinals of Ottawa's disgusting urban sprawl. City planning angst aside, Navan is home to Chilly Chiles (http://www.chillychiles.com/). This ingenious little store started from an online venture of selling hot sauce to fuel the hotsauce addiction of its owner. Now, Chilly Chiles has a little store full of hot sauces, salsas, dried chilies, chili paraphernalia, barbecue sauces and other spicy things. To say that I have to hold myself back when I go in there is an understatement. I could go bankrupt in that place. I mean there are hot sauces that you have to sign a waiver before you can buy it. Now that's hot!!!

I've included a picture of the chosen hot sauces. I might give a further break down of them in later postings but for now the picture will have to do. I've also included other picture of my loot which includes Mexican chocolate.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican chocolate, you need to climb out from under your rock. It's this great little puck of quality dark chocolate, sugar, ground almond, cinnamon to which you add heated milk and dark ancho chili powder. This is really good. There might be better versions of Mexican chocolate than Ibarra's but that's what I got. If you know of a better product, please don't be shy. Who's your dealer man?

Here's a picture of the prepare hot chocolate in handmade pottery cups my mother-in-law brought us from Jasper on their Western Canada trip. We got so much free stuff by visiting family it's not even funny. We even inherited an apparently really good surround sound system. Let others buy it new. Second hand is twice as cheap. Especially when it's free. :)


Another Ottawa place we went to was the Courtyard Restaurant on the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa (http://www.courtyardrestaurant.com/). Needless to say, we weren't paying. I enjoyed foie gras for the first time...complete with house-made "Nutella", roasted cherries, and profiteroles. I have to agree with a description I'd previously heard about foie gras that it tastes like meaty butter. The "Nutella" was a bit bland but the presentation and general taste was good. My girlfriend, and half the table, thoroughly enjoyed a cold lobster vichyssoise sitting around a ball of ice cream with a salad of East Coast lobster and watercress. They seemed to really be enjoying their appetizer while I crushed foie gras against my palette trying to really taste the foie gras. Who knows when I'll be eating it again.


For a main course, my father and I had the Kanata elk ranch striploin sous vide, Ciel de Charlevoix Quebec Blue which was undoubtedly the best blue cheese I've ever tasted (move over Roquefort), quinoa which were another great little thing, braised utility greens, and truffle jus. I really like the taste of elk. It's gammy but not dry like bison. Really a great dish. Quality that my money can't buy...especially not in restaurants. This meal was really appreciated though. Hey, it's hard to not enjoy gourmet food when it doesn't happen very often and when it's shared with family.


A final hotspot in Ottawa I visited was this great Italian deli on Bank Street. The goal was to go to Arbour Environmental, a store that has a whole selection of environmental products from composting toilets and biodegradable baby diapers to biodegradable cleaning products and environmentally focused books. I bought 1) Solar Water Heating by Bob Ramlow which is a great little book which really goes in depth about how to heat water for free and 2) The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook by Richard Heinberg which is a good general book that explains how one should prepare for the innevitable day where we will no longer have access to cheap and plentiful oil. I haven't tried any of the recipes but that will come with time.


While on Bank Street, we stumbled into Lost Marbles (a quirky toy store), Sugar Mountain (a candy heavan where we stocked up on super sour candy for my girlfriend) and the previously mentioned Italian deli. The place was full of quality canned goods, super expensive olive oils (which I had to hold back from buying), fresh deli meats and cheeses, fleur de sel, eggs, coffee, gelato and the piece de resistance olives! All sorts of olives I'd never seen before. Cured olives, fermented olives, bright green olives, regular kalamata olives in oil and on and on. I had to settle on a mixture of fermented black olives, and two other varieties which I can't remember. All I can say is that they were a real treat at my aunts place. Roast beef, cheddar cheese and olives. Can't go wrong with that. Plus I scored some giardiniera and green peppercorns in brine...more on that in a soon to come post.


Oh and by the way, I'd also go bankrupt being close to such sources of delicious food. It's all over in Ottawa. I haven't even gone close to Chinatown yet. And I also got an $80 parking ticket to put a damper on all the fun I was having. Damn meter maids! Ruining perfectly good afternoons.


Ottawa to Kapuskasing


On the 12 hour drive from Ottawa to Kapuskasing I had 2 stops to make. The first was in Earlton at the location of where the Earlton Zoo used to be.


What I didn't know about this place but should have assumed from the giant statue of a bison standing beside the highway during all those trips when I was a kid is that there's a bison ranch here. My parents aren't food people so such a thing would not have really interested them. But now that I know and now that the wonderful people of the former Earlton Zoo have started a small store I will definitely stop every time I drive by.


In the store they had their own bison meat (of which we bought jerky), local elk meat (of which we bought jerky), flour from a local mill (which is great...these seem to be popping up all over the place lately...vive la revolution culinaire!), and all sorts of other regional food products. We also bought pickled quail eggs here. They're really cute and tiny. Taste pretty much like chicken eggs but so much tinier. And tiny is cute where food is concerned.



The second stop on the trip was Kenogami Bridge Inn. My girlfriend had worked on a geological mapping research project there a few years ago and we'd spent the better part of a summer in this little cottage village by the highway. Food-wise, the inn had a little restaurant where they had great wings and Kenogami chips. These are basically just chips like you would find in those grease bags but fresh. And they also had another thing that I love about Northern Ontario...REAL FRIES!!! If you'll permit a little rant here, what the fuck is up with frozen fries?!!! They taste like shit - that grosse grainy texture they get - and are now being served everywhere. I understand that they'll be in chain restaurants. Those bastards make no effort and take up three quarters of the market because of marketing ploys. But all of the other guys. I mean it's a fucking potato! You don't even have to peel it! They sell these really cool machines where you go whack! and voila! you've got fries. Blanch and fry. Easy. Throw away the frozen crap. Real fries should be everywhere.



Kapuskasing a.k.a. Kap



Kap is my hometown. It's where I grew up. It's where my heart is if you want to be sentimental. It might be a crappy dying lumber town to those driving through but Kap is a really beautiful town. And if you know where to go, Kap is a food paradise.


Number on is my grandmother's house. We didn't have time to make any of her traditional French Canadian food but she did treat us to a great steak dinner. No one can cook a skillet steak like she can or so the story goes. Next year I told here we're going to be making ragout (pig trotter stew), six-pates (wild meat with dough), and creton (a pork meat paté). So I guess I'll have to wait till next year to finish this section.


Our must see places in Kap start with Thong La's Restaurant. Unlike other Chinese-Canadian food, I grew up on this stuff, with the children of the owners, and so it's the unchallenged best. Sure they'll give you toast with your meal if you want but that's just some Kap thing. I always take the Szechuan beef. It's a spicy mix of beef, vegetables, an oyster sauce based sauce and grilled noodles. It's something I could probably make at home but I can never make it like Sam, Tan or Gung makes it for me at Thong La's.



Our second place in Kap is Great Northern Pizza. If Thong La's is the unchallenged champion of Chinese-Canadian food, Great Northern Pizza is the unchallenged champion of Canadian style pizza anywhere. What do I mean by Canadian style pizza? It's heavy and a real belly stuffer meal. Not some flimsy waffer with a millimetre of toppings on it (pardon my betrayal Italian pizza). My favourite is the wango tango. I loved this as a kid because of the name - I mean, how cool does wango tango sound when you're 10 - and because it's got a bit of a kick. Well it used to have a kick. Now I even find Tabasco sauce to be sort of bland. Damn endurance. Anywho, the wango tango is pepperoni, ham, salami, bacon, ground beef, green peppers, mushrooms, and hot banana peppers pilled high with mozzarella and tomato on a crispy bottomed and just-thick-enough pizza. Sure it's full of way too many proteins. But it's good. Pizza is not about toppings. It's about texture. And Great Northern Pizza has got it down pat.



Another favourite of mine at Great's is their panzorottos. I simply take mine with pepperoni, mozzarella and sauce. But it's so good. The crust is like warm, fresh bread and the inside are all hot and gooey. I'm pretty sure they deepfry it but this is like Santa Claus for me now...it only comes but once a year. So I think my arteries can take it. For now.



Yet another great place to eat in Kap is at my father in law's. His wife is from Hermosillo in Mexico so when she makes Mexican food, it's authentic. Plus the setting is really different cause my father in law works for the lumber company in the bush so he's always at least a hundred kilometers in no man's land with his trailer and three bear dogs (who actually fight with and chase away black bears...though little fuckers they are). His wife accompanies him some times and she did when we were there. So here we all are, in a trailer, in the middle of the bush (by the way middle of the bush in Kap means that if there are only gravel roads leading to a town an hour away so it's real bush), fishing walleye and eating Mexican food. Weird mix, I know. But cool nonetheless.



We ate tortillas with pork soaking in achiote and orange juice, Mexican rice, salsa verde, avocado, refried beans, and freshly made tortillas. I've already went on long enough about fresh tortillas so suffice it to say that I was in heaven. If only I didn't have to keep my hot sauces refrigerated for 2 weeks while we traveled if I opened them, I'd have been burning my tongue with glee. But it was delicious even without a huge kick.


We were also prepared some huevos rancheros one morning. Basically, my step-mother-in-law fried tortillas, prepared fresh salsa, soacked the tortillas in the salsa for a bit, topped them with eggs, refried beans, and the salsa. Now that's a breakfast.


Oh and it turns out that I can eat as spicy as a Mexican. My step-mother-in-law's friend joined us one day with her husband (who was hunting bear with his son) and they took out El Yucateco hot sauce while we ate yet another Mexican feast and they were crying "Ah! Es muy picante!" while I wolfed the stuff down. Ha! Bring the tequila. We're having a fiesta.


Sudbury and Manitoulin Island


Another destination on our map was Sudbury where my mom lives. Though we lived in Sudbury for 4 years, there was really only 1 place we absolutely had to go. That place is Herc's Greek Eatery on Notre Dame.


You'll find the expected here but like pizza, greek food is something that alot of people make but which few people make well. The friendly people at Herc's make Greek food well. Though we lost the photos, I had a pork souvlaki which was beautifully marinated and grilled, wrapped in a soft pita with tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. It sat upon some rice, marinated lemony potatoes, and greek salad which has a really great dressing. Simple. Everyday. But they make it really well. And that's the key isn't it.


From Sudbury we travelled to my mother's camp on Manitoulin Island. Though this popular vacation spot is known for many things, it's the ice cream that I long for. Farquar's ice cream is made from real cream with none of the nasty stuff they make in watery ice creams we find in supermarkets. My favourite is peanut butter flavour that has nice big chuncks of peanut butter through the best chocolate ice cream ever. And the best place to get this creamy delicacy is not on the island but at a trading post which is on the Trans Canada highway just before you turn for Espanola beside the Tim Horton's (like that helps...;). They make their own waffled cones and drop a bit of their homemade fudge in the tip of the cone. Plus they really aren't shy about loading the cones with something like 2 pounds of ice cream. It's great.


Conclusion


Well that's it for the most part. I've left some out, like my meal at Highlander's Pub in Ottawa where I sampled locally microbrewed beer with really delicious bangers and mash or the cholate shop in Kagawong on Manitoulin where they made the absolute best handmade chocolates and where I bought chocolate covered espresso beans which I then fed to my little brother before we left (heehee), but there will be other posts and other trips. All that I know is that this trip not only proved that my neck of the woods has it's worth but that family is crucial to having a nice life. You can have a life of riches or a life of adventure but family connects you to something. Especially when they're still, for the most part, in your hometown. There's a reason why they have all of those cheasy sayings about family and home. Repeating advice and sayings tend to have a very large grain of truth. That's why they persist. Nuff said.

1 comment:

Neil said...

hey i'm from Kap too love the bit about the wango tango my favorite as well!