Friday, August 27, 2010

Deep tinkering usefully applied

Blended Learning Revisited
John Seely Brown

The idea of tinkering is fascinating! At the Tinkering School, it's founder wanted to create a space for kids to simply figure things out through what our modern society considers dangerous play (but what even my generation considered normal play). I don't necessarily think that play always needs to be dangerous in order to be educative. In essence, the Tinkering School is similar to Montessori's educational model for the preschool ages. Create the opportunities for experiences which cause people to learn through tinkering (or play) that is fueled by curiosity.

For deep tinkering, this model is simply more complex and it is internalised. We learn by doing, testing our thoughts in the real world which is applied philosophy as much as it is engineering, architecture, business, mechanics or social reform. I think the true potential of this approach to education and learning is not only in the creation of knew knowledge by collaboratively deep tinkering our way forward - knowledge such as technological breakthroughs which can often simply be exploited by someone for monetary gain - but in its application to the emphatic building of better communities and societies. In other words, if deep tinkering is the best approach to solving problems, then applying it to social problems such as poverty, environmental degradation and the erosion of community means that we can "play" our way into a better world. Though this is doubtless being done, I don't think it's explicit.

In a book John Seely Brown cowrote - The Power of Pull - the authors develop the ideas of building platforms of knowledge creation. These platforms exist for things such as online gaming and technology development but as far as I know they're lacking in the fields of social development. Theoretically, our government is supposed to be a platform for knowledge creation. Theoretically, our schools are supposed to be platforms for knowledge creation. Theoretically, our workplaces should be platforms for knowledge creations. But the fact of the matter is that they're not. They are rigid and hierarchical. They function on the misconception that elected officials, teachers and bosses are better in some way as those who they're lording over. But this attitude leads us nowhere.

What if our communities collectively created the platforms for interactive knowledge creation which inspire people to deeply tinker on problems relevant to their community?

As far as I know, no mainstream institution is even attempting to do this. In my opinion, the status quo needs to become something which is in constant evolution and in which every single one of us can contribute.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to dismantle our obsession with greener grasses

A reflection inspired by Dan Gilbert’s talk “Dan Gilbert asks, why are we happy?” on

In Dan Gilbert’s talk, he shows us that happiness requires boundaries, limitations. I think it is obvious that our modern culture is not currently in line with this idea. As a case in point, our educational systems encourage youth to strive for limitless opportunities. In essence, we tell youth that any projected future they may dream up can become a reality. If we take Gilbert’s idea into consideration, this way of educating our youth can only lead to unhappiness. Once youth become adults, they still have this ideal in their minds that they can and indeed must reach for the stars, that they must pursue limitless opportunities. Chasing limitless opportunities is obviously a vain enterprise; only failure can result from pursuing something that has no end. As a result of this impossible task we encourage our youth to pursue, we set them up for dissatisfaction. By believing that there are no limits, they can never be satisfied with the simple fact that in life, limits exist: limited knowledge, limited skills, limited possibilities, limited time, limited lifespan, etc.

I believe that this pressure on youth to reach for the limitless is fuelled by the consumerist society we live in. Our public educational system is built to create useful employees who fuel economic growth through ever-increasing consumerism. Though most of us are familiar with the saying that we can’t buy happiness, we still enthusiastically participate in consumerism in a vain attempt to purchase our way to a projected happiness. As an example, a person is dissatisfied with their house. This is encouraged by the media which are constantly telling them that bigger is better; they encourage this person, as well as each and every one of us, to want more then what they currently have. The result is that this person can’t be happy or satisfied with their current house. Though this person convinces themselves that having the larger house will make them happier, the reality is that consumerism is a never-ending cycle of wanting more. If we ignore the earth’s carrying capacity for a moment, we can say that there are no limitations to consumption. It is theoretically possible for anyone to consume without limitations. However, if happiness requires limitations, limitless consumerism can never give us happiness. It is therefore a terrible injustice to educate our youth to become employees whose purpose it is to be active participants in this limitless engine of consumerism.

If happiness is the goal of an individual’s life, as I think it should be, how then can we educate so that youth do not have the pressure of being obsessed with greener grasses? How can we educate so that they are satisfied with the path they chose in life? More importantly, how can we educate them so that they chose the path which is most appropriate for them?

For starters, voluntary simplicity – the conscious decision to set reasonable boundaries to our lifestyle – is a must. Each and every one of us who truly desires to be authentically happy needs to be contended with setting boundaries to our consumerism. We should all strive for a life of comfort, not excess. Obviously, everyone’s definition of comfort and excess will be different. I’m positive that the members of the Walton family or other multi-billionaires do not think their lifestyles and business practices are excessive. I think they are. I think a reasonable lifestyle is one that could be enjoyed by all humans without compromising the capacity of our planet to support us. This is a question of solidarity but it is also a question of happiness and limits. It is not possible for everyone in the world to live like a multi-billionaire. However, I believe that it is possible for everyone in the world to live like a lower-middle class North American. This then is my definition of a comfortable life.

If we embrace the idea of voluntary simplicity which leads to a comfortable life, we no longer need a job whose only purpose is to receive a fat paycheque. We no longer need or strive to make $150,000 per year. As a result of this, the career choices we make will not stem from a desire for lots and lots of money but rather something we enjoy doing. It is my fervent belief that in order for anyone to discover what they truly enjoy doing, we must maximise experiences; students, whether they’re manually or cerebrally inclined, must be exposed to as many different experiences as possible. This may involve mathematics, Shakespeare, biology and art class. However, education needs to be more dynamic. We must involve students in the educational process, ask students what they’d enjoy doing. Though the cynic may say that young people only want to sit in front of a screen and play video games, I would beg to differ. We all started out as incredibly curious people; think of the developmental stage in our childhood when we are constantly pestering our parents with the question “Why?” If classes could be something fluid which is forever delving into whatever the students are asking about, we would not have masses of bored teenagers zoning out in class. As it stands, education is the process by which we are discouraged from asking “Why?” Instead, we are told to sit down, be quiet and listen to what others think we should know. Our innate curiosity is murdered by the educational system. This creates the wrong sort of boundaries. We are forced into limiting our curiosity to a handful of academic topics which cannot possibly capture the curiosity of every single human being. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the other monumental problem of different learning styles.

Now one might say that by creating an educational system which nurtures boundless curiosity is contrary to Gilbert’s idea that happiness requires boundaries. Of course, I would argue that these are not contrary ideas at all. You see, the boundaries the current educational system erects on our curiosity inhibits youth from discovering those things for which they have a true passion. I would be the first to admit that this quest for something which truly resonates with who we are is probably one of the hardest things a person can do in their lives. To find that thing which you’re good at and which you enjoy doing is probably the metaphorical equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. Despite this difficulty, I still think that we should all have the opportunity to try and find this needle. This, I believe, cannot be achieved as well as it could in our current model of education. The process of education, of growing into ourselves, needs to be without boundaries since creating boundaries at those stages of our lives leads us into lives which don’t necessarily make us happy. In his talk, Gilbert says that whatever the situation, we eventually convince ourselves that we’re happy. Though this might be true, I don’t think it is fair to educate our youth to adopt consumerist lifestyles whose limitlessness, as previously mentioned, can only lead to unhappiness.

I believe that experiences fuelled by their own curiosity allow students to discover what they enjoy doing. It also makes the classroom dynamic and, let’s be frank, more fun. Students can chose to spend their days on a farm or watching talks about behavioural psychology or dancing or volunteering at the local mortuary. The options for experiences, as compared to the current education system, are boundless. The interesting thing, I think, is that by making education boundless, we encourage students to find their boundaries. I don’t mean to be confusing here. What I mean is that by trying on a bunch of different hats, students can discover their likes and dislikes. They can move forward in a seemingly half hazard way which will eventually lead them into something more specific. For example, my schooling consisted of the traditional elementary, high school and university. However, what I decided to do after this was not what I would call traditional, evident by the fact that nearly everyone in my family thought I was completely out of my mind.

After university, my girlfriend and I moved from Ontario to New Brunswick. I wanted to try my hand at getting a job without having done a degree which clearly states which job I should do (i.e. a nursing degree makes you a nurse; an engineering degree makes you an engineer; etc.). I had done a degree in English literature and philosophy which doesn’t fit into the criteria for most jobs outside of teaching. In the year following university, I bought an apartment building, lost thousands of dollars and sold the damned edifice. I worked as a server and cook in two restaurants. I worked in a microbrewery. I tried countless times to make myself into a writer or poet. I worked in a roadside assistance call centre and in a debt collection agency. I worked as a teller at a bank. I returned to university in business for one semester as I watched the economy collapse while these professors were trying to convince me that the economic practice of limitless growth makes total sense. I then found a job as a youth outreach coordinator with an environmental organisation. In this job, I work with youth environmental groups, trying to give them tools to organise activities or campaigns as well as helping them network with other youth environmental groups. I’ve organised province-wide events. I’ve worked with government people and community based environmental groups. I learnt more useful skills in one year than what I did in four years of university. With this job, all the other ones I mentioned and with some of the other things I did, these are some of the things I’ve learned:
• I cannot be happy with decisions made for monetary reasons;
• Owning and operating a restaurant is not nearly as fun as serving in a restaurant;
• Working in a restaurant kitchen is nothing at all like cooking at home;
• Debt collection agencies are really negative working environments;
• I need to work with people, preferably face-to-face;
• I have the right personality to be an inclusive leader;
• Participatory education is a really interesting topic to explore;
• I am a philosopher (not in a conceited way but in its etymological meaning of being a “lover of knowledge”);
• Taking the moral high ground is really, really hard;
• I love gardening;
• Farmer’s have really crazy work schedules and are lucky if they make enough money to survive;
• I miss Northern Ontario;
• I must get a better paying job, though I like what I’m doing, in order to pay my student debt.

The reason I wrote all of this was to show how much I learnt in a few years of bouncing around, exploring things I thought I might enjoy doing and in the process discovering myself. A result of discovering myself is that I now have a better idea of my boundaries and the boundaries I am willing to accept. I’ve made several mistakes. I’ve been really miserable at times. But ultimately, I have a better idea of what I’m good at and what I enjoy. Yes I’m going to do my teaching degree which I could have done in a year after by bachelor’s degree. However, I have chosen to do my teaching degree because I know that I will enjoy being a teacher. I will also have a much more diverse perspective than most teachers who’ve never been out of the school system. I don’t know if I’ll be a teacher for thirty years. What I do know is that I won’t be a cook, a collection agent or a real estate tycoon.

If people’s educational upbringing allowed their curiosity to explore in order to find what they find most appealing, I believe this would allow people to discover their own boundaries. They would be less likely to imagine greener grasses since they would have been given the opportunity to explore greener grasses – which, more often than not, brings one to the realisation that grass is grass is grass. As a result of an education of boundless exploration and experiences, I believe that people would more easily be satisfied with whatever they chose to do with their lives. By freeing them from the misguided pursuit of more and more money, people’s choice of their place in society could be based on that which most resonates with who they are and not with a lifestyle which is constantly running ahead of them. As more well rounded people, the boundaries to our lives over which we have less control, such as chance and other people, would not be as overwhelming. Therefore, within the boundaries we’ve chosen or have more easily come to terms with, our happiness could be greater. We would be bounded and happy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Healthy Eggs

I know this is a rant but too bad. Above is a picture of a healthy egg from REAL free range chickens (apparently "free range" is a bastardized term used by big producers who only give the hens a few inches more space). These chickens are not fed with GMO corn, they are not raised in a stressful environment and they have access to the outdoors. As a result of this, the yolk of these eggs are a nice deep orangy yellow as compared to the highlighter yellow of yolks from factory farms and supermarkets. As far as nutrition goes, I'm eating healthy eggs. I'm also supporting an ethical treatment of animals instead of treating them as if they're a cog in a mechanical industrial system. Food should not have been part of the industrial revolution and only by being aware of what we're purchasing can we change that.

Seeds and Free Coldframe

We've sprung forward in time, the sun is returning, and my green thumb is getting antsy. I wish I had a gigantic greenhouse to plant hundreds of seedlings. Right now, I'm limited to a few dozen which includes 50 tomato sprouts from seeds I collected myself last summer!

In order to get things going, I improvised a coldframe. There were people renovating their windows last fall and so I snagged some old storm windows which would have just gone to the dump. Then, I found an old table in the basement of my apartment. The photo below shows you the result. It was all free and with a few bricks in there to soak up some of the heat, it is making the perfect little coldframe for my young seedlings.

Here is a picture of Black Valentine organic green beans I've planted. Like squashes, bean seedlings are a marvel. They come out of the ground with thick stalks and ready to go bursting into the air. They aren't frail like the arugula seedlings below.
I have also tried to grow some thyme but have found it to be nearly impossible. The seedlings are super frail and die off so quick it's almost not even worth trying to grow them.

Anyways, I'm getting my hands dirty and loving it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ginger and Sage Breakfast Sausage

I have the book: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

I've bought a meat grinder (though I'm still waiting for the sausage stuffing attachment).

I then noticed some pork butt chops at the market. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the two previously mentioned items useful. So one Saturday morning after coming home from the market, I got to work in the kitchen.

Something the authors of Charcuterie stress when grinding meat is to keep the ingredients and the tools cold. This proved to be the most inconvenient part of making sausage since my freezer has limited space. Beyond this however, making sausage from scratch was fun, easy and super cheap!
I'm not going to give away the recipe here but I will say that sage, ginger, garlic and pork go beautifully together. Following the authors' instructions on giving the meat a tacky texture turned out some succulently juicy sausage patties. What's even better is the fact that I had tonnes! If I'd stuffed them into sheep casings - which is what was suggested - I probably could have made between one and two dozen sausages for the price of not even a half dozen.
So far, Charcuterie is all easy and fun. Now all I need is to have a kitchen empty of the crap of roommates...just a few more months...

The finished product which tasted way better than it looks here

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ultimate or Proper Ceasar Salad

What makes a ceasar salad ultimate or proper? Is it the fact that the recipe came from Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Heaven? Or is it attention to detail, the elements of a dish all fully understood, made from scratch and combined in a way that is more inspired by a recipe rather than being the recipe? I think it's a little of both. Ramsay certainly has more imagination and skill than me when it comes to food.

As you know, ceasar salad is very simple: lettuce (the celebrity chef calling for baby gem lettuces but the resourceful me settling with organic romaine), croutons, some sort of bacon, and dressing. The dressing is really the make or break here. That crap they sell in bottles which overpowers everything is NOT ceasar salad dressing; that's what it says on the bottle but they're lying. Real ceasar salad dressing is garlic to taste, Parmesan cheese, eggs, Dijon mustard, lemon, anchovy fillets or paste, and olive oil. The egg and the olive oil make a sort of mayonnaise while the other elements add most of the flavour.

What the recipe called for afterwards was:
- baby gem lettuces (see note above)
- ciabatta loaf to make croutons (I just used some stale bread I had on hand)
- pancetta thinly sliced and crisped (which I replaced with crisped prosciutto)
- soft-poached eggs (no modifications there)
- fresh anchovy fillets (the canned variety was I don't know if I've ever seen a fresh sardine)
- Parmesan cheese shavings (all out unfortunately)

The only thing I added to the salad was pork which I'd thought would be necessary in order to make this salad a meal; it wasn't.

What I find interesting about salads is their versatility. They're fresh, usually healthy, and when done right they're arguably better than a steak dinner. Unfortunately, proper salad, like proper soup, is something people are no longer used to. We've been accustomed to crap imitations which are just as expensive as the real deal. But I don't feel like going off on a rant tonight. Just know that this salad was good and proper. There.

Homemade Crumpets

As far as I can tell, crumpets aren't really a Canadian thing. Maybe it's because I'm not in the least bit British and so don't have an innate appreciation for all things tea time. Now what I'd tasted before were ready made crumpets in a cellophane wrapper and little cardboard brandishing the Union Jack. I enjoyed these in the morning, toasted and covered in honey which would get into all the little holes and absorbed by the sponge-like texture of the crumpet. Like most things, crumpets are a million times better when made at home.

The recipe I used came from

Though I thought the whole thing would be difficult, it wasn't. To prove that it wasn't difficult, I totally ignored the whole greased crumpet ring thing - going instead with the ever so versatile free form - and I am usually useless as pastries. These crumpets turned out great. They were easy to prepare, easy to cook, had the perfect texture and absorbed the honey I spooned over them.

Now I all need is tea, cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches. Oh and a tea set.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Guillons de canard

What do you get as a bi-product of rendering fat from duck skin? Crispy bits of duck skin. What do you do then? Why you add a bit of duck meat, onion, salt and pepper, put the whole in a terrine mold, bake and eat as you would creton. This invention of my favourite charcutier is smooth textured and has a taste which reminds me of pork rinds though a million times more sophisticated. This is the breakfast of champions and those unafraid of cardiac arrest for sure.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Dumpling Squash

Before my local, organic farmer closed shop for the season, I bought some winter squashes from her. This was back in September. One of the squashes was my beloved sweet dumpling squash. As the name would suggest, this squash is not of the savory sort but could almost qualify as desert if you baked it into a pie or muffins. However, even roasted it's terribly delicious.

The fact that I'm writing this in February about a food item I bought in September is amazing for me. This is what seasonal eating is all about. I can't say I'm the best spokesperson for eating within the season but I'm easing my way into it since I believe that in order to move away from the globalised system of food we currently rely on, it's essential for people to make these sort of changes in their diets. The more people eat local, organic food in season, the more we will support our communities and fight the modern monsters of industrial agriculture, monoculture, pesticide use, homogenization of food and the disastrous impacts that moving all that food has on the environment.

So sweet dumpling squash in winter. Asparagus in the spring. Tomatoes in late summer. It's all very logical.

Gahan House's Honey Brown Ale

On our trip to PEI before the holidays I took the opportunity to purchase some beer from Gahan House, the island's microbrewery. Sir John A's (as in John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister and a key player in the establishment of our 1867 Confederation which just so happened to having been signed in Charlottetown) Honey Wheat Ale is a great example of this sort of beer; light, slightly sweet with a pleasant roasted grain taste. In order to properly test the valour of this beer, I would have to have a taste test with Gahan House taking on Sleeman's variety of the same type of beer. In my opinion, the microbrewery's version should be better than Sleeman's mass produced variety. If it isn't, something's wrong. I'll keep you posted.

John A. in bronze on a bench in Charlottetown. Canada rocks!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Duck Prosciutto

So for Christmas I got something I really, really wanted: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book is all about prosciutto, pancetta, sausage (fresh and dried), bacon, pâtés, smoking, etc. etc. etc. I've already read the whole thing from front to back and have recently purchased my very own manual meat grinder. For my first stab at the fine art of charcuterie, I wanted something simple, something I wouldn't totally mess up and that wouldn't cost me a fortune. When it comes to artisinal food making, I like baby steps. It's like bread. There's a learning curve there and it's no use trying to overrun it.

So I decided to go with something cured. Curing is simply leaving something in salt long enough that some liquid is extracted and the salt penetrates the meat in order to stop any harmful bacteria from forming (or something like that). Above is a photo of duck aiguillettes which is the tenderloin of the magret which is the breast of a duck raised for foie gras. I decided to go with the smaller aiguillettes first because they're cheaper and smaller which means that there's less chance that I'll mess things up. Or so I thought.

My charcutier friend at the market told me that 1 or 2 hours would be fine for curing the meat. However, this being my first venture into the world of charcuteries, I left the aiguillettes in kosher salt for about 4 hours (the recipe in the abovementioned book calls for magrets and 24 hours). After this, I rinsed the aiguillettes and patted them dry. I then wrapped them in cheesecloth and strung them up. Now the ideal location for hanging drying duck meat is a cool (8 to 15 degrees Celcius), humid place. The only part in my apartment that sort of fit the bill is the drafty window in the dining room. So up went the aiguillettes, my roommates looking on and wondering what in the world I was doing...I didn't tell them.

After 4 days, the aiguillettes were hard as a rock. As you can see above, they were done though they weren't the rich, soft texture of prosciutto but rather the chewy texture of jerky. And oh my god were they ever salty. A white crust of salt had coated the exterior of the aiguillettes which I scraped off thus making the duck edible.

Though I did leave the aiguillettes in the salt too long to start with and didn't use a thick enough piece of meat, I now feel confident in moving onto the full magret. Through the salt the rich taste of the duck came shining through. It was really a decent first taste at the potential of my charcuterie skills.

So next stop, real duck prosciutto and then fresh morning sausage with ginger and sage. Oh yeah!

P.S. Michael Ruhlman, the co-author of Charcuterie, maintains a pretty shnazzy blog at Check it out.

Honey Art

local honey + bubbles = pretty

Unpasteurized Milk From My Own Cow

Google it: Ontario farmer not guilty of selling raw milk.

That's right. If you buy a share in a cow - as I've recently done - you technically own the cow. You therefore do not buy milk from the farmer but rather pay for room and board and maintenance of your cow. Not only is this a great way of running a farm (just one of many possible forms of Community Supported Agriculture in which the cooperative community takes the risk instead of just the farmer) it has earned me some raw milk.

I'm not a health expert. All I know is that anything raw is usually better than pasteurized or otherwise heated or cooked. The milk is basically still alive; enzymes, bacteria and all.

If you stumble upon the CBC article of the abovementioned Ontario farmer, you might come across this quote: "health officials and the province's milk marketing board, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, have argued that raw milk isn't fit for widespread distribution". I don't know about this particular farmer but really, wake up people! Widespread distribution of any agricultural product isn't the proper way of doing things. Raising 500 heads of cattle for milk in stressed environments with buzzing machines and no access to the outdoors is far worse than 5 Jersey cows living on a family farm and supplying a small number of community members.

I say fuck industrial agriculture! Support a farmer and your community! It's the only way to undo the destrutive practices of faceless corporations, the relevant ones here (Monsanto et compagnie) who destroy whole ecosystems, have declared all out war on biodiversity and give us crap unsustainable food which relies on a crap unsustainable system. I'm all worked up...


There are two things which I know for certain are wonderful: 1) my girlfriend and 2) pork belly in all it's forms. Though it seems to be something of a fad in the world of haute cuisine for the working man, I simply love trying something new. While at the market with my girlfriend I saw some unsmoked, uncured pork belly in my favourite meat purveyor's fridge. I said, with a giddy smile on my face, "Is that pork belly?" He said yes. I said "I'll take it!"

Pork belly, for the uninitiated, is the cut of pork with which one makes bacon. I first tasted it at Lot 30 (see previous post) and loved it. It's full of fat and oh-my-god deliciousness. In the hands of my girlfriend, it was marinated in soya sauce, rice wine vinegar, lots of brown sugar and garlic. Popped into the a low oven for a few hours, the whole thing became a chewy and sweet treat that's not as fatty as you'd think. In particular, something in the simple marinade and this particular cut of pork tasted authentically Asian. I can't describe it. You'll have to try.

We served it simply with white basmati rice and steamed veggies tossed in a quick soya sauce, a dap of sesame oil and a bit of oyster sauce. If it weren't for the risk of my arteries clogging up, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life and be a very happy man.


Lot 30, Charlottetown and Poached Salmon Niçoise

Just before the holidays, I proposed to my girlfriend. Though it really hasn't changed anything, we are now engaged. I took her to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. For any of my fellow Canadians and even those interested in visiting Canada, you have to visit Charlottetown. Not only did people look at you and say hi when you crossed them in the street, but they smiled! This is a big deal. Charlottetown and PEI in general was full of great, kind people with beautiful scenery. If we weren't moving back to Ontario in the fall, I'd be moving to PEI.

In Charlottetown, we ate at Lot 30 The atmosphere was great, with a television over the bar where you could see a live feed of what was going on in the kitchen's plating table...a great idea! The service was also fantastic though I wouldn't expect anything less from Charlottetown. As for the food, it was good. I particularly liked the fact that we took the tasting menu and they didn't give us a choice of what we wanted; they just said, "Is there anything you don't want?" to which my girlfriend said offal (to my dismay). They then presented us with a five course meal where every dish was a surprise. Though the food was good, I found that at times the dishes were overly complicated by too many sauces. The dishes felt like they were competing against themselves; they felt aggressive and lacked the simplicity which is, in my opinion, what higher class restaurants should strive for. I was unsatisfied. Just not thoroughly impressed.

When we arrived back home, I had prepared a little 3 course meal of my own. As is the case when I cook for myself, I tend to make too much. Therefore, when preparing a 3 course meal, it is not useful to have heaping plates full of food; one dish just ruins it for the others. Well anyways, after a whole day of preparation, my first course rolled out. It was Gordon Ramsay's "poached salmon niçoise with boiled quail's eggs". I decided to skip the egg. Despite this, the result was amazing. I love tiny potatoes in cold salads. I don't know what it is about them that just get to me. This salad was composed of boiled small potatoes, blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes, black olives, thinly sliced shallots, all tossed in a basic vinaigrette (olive oil and white wine vinegar) and topped with salmon poached in fish stock, thyme, basil, lemon, and lemon grass. This salad was simple, elegant and delicious. Next time I'll do the egg. I'm sure it would make things even more delightful.

The following coarse was not so much of a hit. First mistake, the previous salad was really big. Secondly, the beans. The recipe is from Cook with Jamie and called "grilled fillet steak with the creamiest white beans and leeks". Being a purist or slow food dude or some other pompous foodie title I could give myself, I thought of doing things the "right" way and not getting lima beans from a can but rather buying them drying and cooking them the good-old-fashioned-way. I don't think I've ever had any luck with dried beans. They never fully cook. Maybe it's because I'm too used to the texture of canned beans but I guess I'll never know.

Anyways, the recipe goes something like this: sweat leeks, thyme and garlic in olive oil and butter; dump in some wine, bring to a boil, add CAN of lima beans along with some water; simmer; add parsley, crème fraîche and olive oil; meanwhile, grill or pan fry steak to desired doneness; serve with a lemon for squeezing. This is a simple enough recipe with nicely matched flavours. Next time, however, I'll go with the can. My bad.

Finally, to round out what I'd planned to be a delicate yet delicious dinner, I served cooked custard ramekins which the French cookbook calls "petits pots de crème". If you can swing custard, there is nothing simpler and more beautiful in the world. It's light and sweet and rich. Just lovely. Here's the recipe.

Petits pots de crème

410ml (1 and two-third cups) milk
1 vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
1 egg
one-third cup caster (superfine) sugar

1. Preheat oven to 140. Put milk in a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in two lengthways, scrape out the seeds and add the pod and seeds to the milk (or be a cheap cheater and give a little squirt of vanilla extract). Bring the milk just to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, egg and sugar. Strain the boiling milk over the egg mixture and stir well. Skim off the surface to remove any foam.

3. Ladle into one-and-a-half cup ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Pour enough hot water into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custards are firm to the touch. Leave the ramekins on a wire rack to cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Catching up

It's been almost 2 months since my last blog entry. The holiday season, the New Year and a whole slew of details of my daily life have gone by un-journaled. I sometimes wonder about those people in the past who wrote about the daily occurances of their lives as if to make sure that if one day they became a world renowned personality, that future scholars would have material. But I guess any form of journal keeping - blogs included - are a narcissistic practice. I would argue that, in general, people care about the day to day occurances of only a handful of other people. The shallow ones care about those of celebrities or themselves. Most care about those of family and friends.

Above is a photo of one of the cookies we made for the holidays. I called them "The Peanut Butter People" and they'd been attacked by the "Peanut Butter Cup Army". Yes, fun times. The other cookies we made were the shortbread cookies out of Cook with Jamie (awesome!), some pecan balls in which we'd spooned jam, and chocolate macaroons which kept oozing Eagle Brand. Also for the holidays, I'd prepared some tourtières (minced pork meat in a pie crust to which I'd added mirepoix and wine - not to the delight of my family's palate). Anywho, that's the holidays. Onwards!