Throwback Thursday

Success at last!

I’ve made several attempts over the past decade to make one of the easiest deserts possible: Gelo ri Muluni or Watermelon Jelly. For some reason this simple favourite that every Sicilian mama from Trepani to Syracusa whips with ease has always eluded me. But it looks like I finally nailed it.

The recipe I used is not quite the same as the one I first attempted in 2010 but there are as many small variants as there are households in Sicily. Some use jasmine flowers, others cloves, some put the pistachios in the jelly and scatter the chocolate on top, some do the reserve.

That first attempt was not a failure of the chef but of seasonality. You can read about it below.

Willy Or Won't He

When I look over recent postings I realize that I really have become obsessed with food. But it is so difficult to live here and not be. And though many of the things I once regarded as exotic have now become everyday I am constantly discovering new tastes and ways of preparing things.

And once again I stress the seasonality of things – Kaki are now back in the market, those great orange, squishy balls of custardy goodness that I will gorge myself on until late October. And just last week watermelon or anguria season was here and I discovered a wonderful Sicilian desert while having tea with my friend Simonetta and our Ballet magazine publisher Alfio. We had stopped in at Dagnino, the place to go for Sicilian sweets and goodies. As we cast our gaze over the incredible array of cannoli, cassati, biscotti and torte my eye…

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The Great Supply Shock of 2020

No faithful reader I am not talking of the run on toilet paper that began the lockdown in March of this year, or the sudden dearth of flour on the shelves in April, or even the gaping maws where boxes of pasta once proudly stood in May. I speak of the absence in our markets, since June, of …. Marmite!

Courtesy of Paul Venter on Wikipedia.

There is not a single gram of Marmite to be had here on the Island. And according to news reports not so much as an ounce of the unappetizing, brown, gooey extract of yeast is to be found in grocery stores in much of the known world.

The fallout from COVID-19 has spread to the spread, as it where. The manufacturer announced back in late June that they could no longer produced large jars of the disgusting controversial sticky paste.

“Why?” you ask.

Well in the late 19th century German scientist Justus von Liebig discovered that brewer’s yeast could be concentrated, bottled and eaten. And thus Marmite was born! It was a good use of a by-product which otherwise would be thrown away. It IS also rich in vitamin B complex and was valued as a healthy supplement in rations during the First Great War.

“Skip the history lesson! What has that to do with the shortage?”

Aren’t you just the impatient one. You may have noticed that in most places bars, pubs, and restaurants were forced to close. As a result there is less of a demand for the nectar of the hop-yards.

“And … ?”

… and with brewers slowing down or stopping production the required by-product, brewer’s yeast, is in short supply. So the manufacturer has cut back on production and only putting out 125g jars. And despite assurances that “most grocery stores will have a supply ….” the pradellas at the altars of Marmite throughout the universe are oft-times bare and bereft.

The descriptive adjectives I have applied to Marmite in previous paragraphs would suggest I am not a fan of the goop spread. Well spotted faithful reader! I’m not! However over at Glen and Friends there was a great Stew and Stout recipe that I wanted to try this weekend. It includes the addition of two tablespoons of Marmite to give it a punch of umami. Apparently Glen adds it to his shepherd’s pie, meat loaves et al and I thought it would be worth a try. It was not to be – my supermarket Sherpa (Laurent) found that there was none to be had.*

Sidebar: It is interesting to note that on Amazon.ca I could get two 125g jars for only $37.17 or $18.50 each. Strangely on at least two other sites a 125g jar was showing, when available, at $5.36. Supply-demand economics at work?

*By the way the stew turned out excellent even without the Marmite.

The word for November 10th is:
Yeast /yēst/: [noun]
1.1 A microscopic fungus consisting of single oval cells that reproduce by budding, and are capable of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
1.2 A grayish-yellow preparation of yeast obtained chiefly from fermented beer, used as a fermenting agent, to raise bread dough, and as a food supplement.
1.3 Any unicellular fungus that reproduces vegetatively by budding or fission, including forms such as candida that can cause disease.
Old English, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gist and German Gischt ‘froth, yeast’, from an Indo-European root shared by Greek zein ‘to boil’.



Throwback Thursday – Food Glorious Food

Sadly I do seem to have run out of Gratuitous videos of the Hounds from Hell for real. And things around here are rather routine these days with nothing of great excitement taking place. So when in doubt, as so many of us have recently, I turn to the comfort of food.

With the advent of summer – I’ve been assured we will get something resembling summer at some point – it’s time for a bit lighter fare. The less time spent in the kitchen the better so I thought I’d share a recipe from this date (July 9) in 2009.

I haven’t made it in several years but given that some really lovely tomatoes are currently on the market and tuna in olive oil was on sale this week it may just make it’s way onto a menu this coming week.

Willy Or Won't He

Some how or other I never got around to posting this – and given the Saint’s name day how could I have forgotten. Anyway better late et al. And it was a great, though sadly our last, evening with Yves, Rolando, Joe and Peter. That’s the way of life in the foreign service as people move around from post to post.

Well yes we are – tonight as we say goodbye to two of our colleagues at dinner – we are starting with tuna salad. But not just any old Tuna Salad. Back in March when I was in Barcelona I had THE TUNA SALAD! It was around 1400 and we were heading up to the Gaudi Parco Guell. The old tummy was suggesting that food was in order but the pickings for sustenance were a bit scarce in the area – a sandwich shop appeared to be the…

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This, That, And the Other Thing

It’s been a strange week. My brain was teaming with ideas of things to write about and the Drafts folder is overflowing with well-intentioned entries, however the fingers just wouldn’t do their thing on the keyboard. It seemed that every time I sat down to write something there was very little will (pun intended). Hopefully that has begun to change as here I am typing at record speed. I recall an impressed passenger once remarking that I was a “fast typist” – what they didn’t know was half of it was backspacing to make corrections.

A WALK ALONG THE BEACH

On Monday we decided to go up to Brackley Beach on the North Shore for a short ride. It is in the centre section of Prince Edward Island National Park – a 60 kilometre ribbon along the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. After several days of bright sunshine it had turned cloudy (though the sun was to break out about five minutes after we left the beach.) The Gulf was the stillest I’ve seen it which was a bit of a disappointment. There is nothing quite like the waves coming to shore on a windy day. Even during the summer it is not crowded but as witness here there were no more than 10-12 people in the entire stretch. Notice that our famous red sand is everywhere including on our boots when we left.

Yes We have Some Bananas

Hmm… that doesn’t sound right does it? But facts are facts, and despite what Pierre Polievre says you can’t have opinions about facts: we do have bananas. Or rather did earlier in the week when I decided to make a batch of banana muffins using a recipe from Preppy Kitchen. John Kanell has a love of baking with a website and YouTube channel devoted to deserts and savouries. I’m not a big follower but I – and Laurent – do enjoy his banana muffins. To be fair I haven’t tried any of his other recipes but found this one quite by accident.

Ten minutes in at 350ºF oven and these bananas are ready for the Muffin Man

The problem with the bananas I had on hand last week was that they were still not ripe enough for bread or muffins. You need them to be almost ready for the garbage bin and these were several days away from that sorrowful state. But fear not! John has a solution. You want overripe, ready to return to earth, bananas for your bread or muffins – not a problem. Simply preheat your oven to 350ºf, put the bananas on a baking tray, pop them in for about 10 minutes and la-viola: blackened ripe bananas just right for moist, tender, tasty muffins. The first time I made them I forgot the yogourt and can’t say that I noticed a difference when I included it the second time but hey it can’t hurt.

And since we’re started off incorrectly quoting Frank Silver and Irving Cohen’s 1923 hit – it was #1 on the hit parade for 5 weeks folks – Yes We Have No Bananas! how about we gather round Pete Wendling at the virtual player piano and give it a go?

Name that Beast!

While going through my drawers – yeah, yeah I know: snicker, snicker – this week I came across a t-shirt that I bought on our trip to Vietnam the year I began this blog. I had forgotten that I had it. It’s very good cotton and the design – machine embroidered – is rather cute. The problem is I’m having trouble identifying the animal the little flautist is astride. Any guesses?

A left click will take you to closer look at this rather startling little creature? Any ideas?

And how about you? I’m sure at least one of my two readers have been cleaning out that closet, dresser, under the bed box or Fibber McGee* cupboard. Have you come across anything forgotten hidden “treasure”?

We Make Do! Pretty Well I’d Say

As many of you know it was Laurent’s birthday on Tuesday and as many of us are doing at this time it was a bit of a “make-do” day. But nonetheless it was a day of celebration.

A close look reveals that the candles indicate 94 – I didn’t have a 6 so as with many things these days we had to “make-do”.

He received greetings from so many of you that it made the day a special one. The morning began with a pot of yellow tulips left at our door by our friends Patricia and Bruce; Magdalene and Glen, both exceptional and noted music teachers and pianists, sent him a video of a four-hands version of Happy Birthday; we shared virtual before-dinner drinks and chat with our friends Pico and Don; phone calls from our beloved Rick and John and so many others. And the iPhone equivalent of “You Got Mail” rang constantly throughout the day. Though the day wasn’t the usual birthday celebration – no mariachi band or fireworks – through our good fortune with modern communication it was a special one. Thanks to everyone.

The word for March 29 is:
Communicate /kəˈmyo͞onəˌkāt/: [verb]
To share or exchange information, news, or ideas.
To pass on (an infectious disease) to another person or animal.
To share a common door between two rooms.
To receive Holy Communion.
Early 16th century from Latin communicat– ‘shared’, from the verb communicare, from communis.
Those first two definitions hold a sense of irony in this day and age.


Food! Glorious Food!

The first TV chef – Philip Harben doesn’t seem pleased with the results of whatever it is he’s cooking.

The first known cooking show on television was broadcast by the BBC on June 12, 1946. In a ten minute black and white segment chef Philip Harben showed on to make Lobster vol-au-vents. His programme “Cookery” aired regularly for the next five years. Rationing was still enforced up until 1954 and often during his early programmes he used his own ration allotment on air. He was to appear in single-episodes specials and several cooking series until 1964.

Two months later in the United States, on August 30, James Beard launched his 15 minute “I Love to Eat” for NBC sponsored by Borden’s Dairy. Beard shared the screen with Elsie the Cow until May of 1947. Beard’s recipes proved so complex that for the last few months on air it was expanded to 30 minutes.

And so began the television cooking show: the faintly bizarre Fanny Cradock on the BBC, Graham Kerr who found God in the closet of his hotel room in Ottawa, Delia Smith who built an cookery empire in the UK as indeed did Martha Stewart in America before she ended up in jail, the jovial Two Fat Ladies, foul-mouthed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, and of course the giant (in more ways than one) doyenne of them all Julia Child doing a Myrel Streep impersonation. As it had been on radio, television was awash with chefs.

I still have my copy of Pasquale’s first cookbook.

Two of my favourites were Madhur Jaffrey with her Indian and Far Eastern cookery and Pasquale Carpino who serenaded us with opera as he prepared good traditional Italian fare. Pasquale always had his cup of coffee (good strong red or sometimes white coffee!!!) at hand and as he burst into his favourite aria would say: If you sing to the food, then it will come out good. I used his cookbook for years as a source of quick and healthy Italian cooking. I met him once at Ottawa Airport and when I told him how much I loved his show I got a big hug and a kiss on either cheek. I’d like to think that Pasquale approved of the things I attempted to cook when we lived in Rome.

These days internet cooking sites seem to be popping up like truffles under oak trees in the Dordogne. All the popular chefs have their YouTube channel or website and reruns of The French Chef and the Galloping Gourmet can be seen with the click of a mouse. And the homegrown cooking sites have taken over the internet like, Elizabeth my friend at the local farmers’ market tells me, tarragon will do to your garden. These days on the ‘net you can learn to cook everything from Tudor banquets to “hearty soup to give out at the kitchen door to the poor of the parish”. The Townsends look at cooking and life in the American colonies prior to and during that pesky Revolutionary War; English Heritage has the rather twee – though if she took off her glasses and let down her hair the no doubt vixenish – Mrs Crocombe and other staff telling us about the life in the kitchen and gardens of Audley End manor; and Stéphane at French Cooking Academy does some fun hit and miss French country cooking. Unfortunately there are also more than a Baker’s dozen of “kitchen hack” sites that show you how to cook “Crêpes Suzettes in a Coke bottle using a propane torch” or other nonsense that is just stupid or at times bloody dangerous. Ann Reardon, an Australian food scientist, does her best to expose these fakes on her How To Cook That programme. What is frightening is that the “recipes” on hack sites often have 1/2m clicks and someone like Anne tops off at 147k for her debunking. Once again P. T. Barnum is proven right.

Here at Maison Beaulieu-Hobbs we have three particular favourite Internet cooking sites that we never miss an update on. And, all thinks being equal and the Hillsborough don’t rise, I’ll share them with you later in the week.

The word for March 3rd is:
hack /hak/ /hæk/: [noun/verb/phrasal verb]
From the West Germanic: Old English haccian – to cut to pieces
Okay this one had at least 16 definitions as a noun; 7 as a verb or phrasal verb. It can apply to rough cutting, butchering, computers, facilitating tasks, taxi cabs, horses (both as a good and bad thing), anger, being idle, a dull writer, someone doing a dull task or the task itself, horseback riding, and a term in falconry. I’m going for the later: hack – a board on which a hawk’s meat is laid; at hack – (of a young hawk) given partial liberty but not yet allowed to hunt for itself.