Sunday, October 11, 2009


Yes, it's true - I am a recalcitrant blogger. It's been ages since I last wrote, but I can assure you I have been thinking lots about posting. So, on that vein, here are the pics I've been wanting to post for months!

Here we have some banana leaf plates - the usual thing used for a plate in South India. Following the lavish wedding in Bangalore, we had a "Homa Puja" at my inlaw's house in Mysore. I was, of course, most interested in breakfast; meals are a perpetual worry for me when travelling, as mealtimes rarely coincide with the rumblings of my tummy. I usually carry a surfeit of granola bars, but on this trip, for some reason, they eluded me (once I was back in Canada I found a stash of them, carefully placed in the outer pocket of one of the suitcases - I could have sworn I looked everywhere!)

The meal was catered - here is a photo of the caterer.

What, you expected him to wear a tuxedo and carry a little white towel? This is India, people! A Brahmin priest, he was quite bemused to have me taking his photo.

The idlis were tasty...but everytime I bit into one, ravenous, my husband called me back to the puja....sigh.

Scrumptious halvah finished off my hasty meal.

Lunch, served later in the day, was lavish. I, however, had to gulp it down too, as we had to get ready for our trip back to Bangalore. So much lovely food - so very little time!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The best thing about visiting a tropical country? Tropical fruit, of course! On this trip I had, alas, missed the peak of the mango season, but there were still plenty of fruits available for me to savour.

One of my favourites is tiny bananas. I am sure there is some proper name for them, and one of these days I will find out what it is, but until then I will call the cute things "tiny bananas" cuz that's what they are.

Tiny bananas are quite unlike the large bananas we get in the grocery store back home. the flavour is tangy and the texture denser. Because they're small, I need to eat 3 or 4 to get my fill and feel like I've properly "had a banana". Luckily they come in big bunches so that's not hard to do.

If you want to try them in Ottawa, visit Sree Fresh Grocery near Carling (of course!) or Thana Grocers on Bank St. Both are Sri Lankan groceries and carry fruit imported from India.

Note the mehndi on my hand - this is left over from the wedding, as is the bouquet of flowers

Back here in Bangalore we are staying with my husband's aunt. She has a sizeable retinue of servants so, one morning when we were out of bananas, I had my husband ask the servant to go get some more. For some reason my husband gave him 100 rupees (about $2.50 Cdn, a sizeable sum) which was far more than the bananas were likely to cost. I thought the servant might make off with the change so I urged my husband to give him a smaller bill. However, he brushed me off.

As I expected, things did go wrong, but not quite in the direction I had anticipated: the servant, honest soul that he was, did use the money for its intended purpose, buying about two kilograms of bananas! Now, much as I love bananas, that's more than even I could eat. Plus, we were leaving that night for Hyderabad. But I guess somehow the bananas got eaten, as when we came back there were only two withered specimens left.

That reminds me, I'm hungry...time for dinner and a post dinnertime banana snack!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


If you've ever been to an Indian wedding, you know just how spectacular it can be. Prior to this
trip to India, I had only been to one Indian wedding - my own. Although it had a "mere" 500
guests, it was plenty lavish enough for me.

But now that I have attended my husband's cousin's wedding (1600 people! 3 days!) I realise just how lavish a "grand" Indian wedding can be. The highlight for me was of course...getting dressed up in a sparkly sari! I know, you're surprised I didn't say it was the food, but really, Indian clothes are so beautiful, and I had a wonderful turquoise and gold sequined sari (courtesy of my generous aunt-in-law). My son also wore a beautiful aqua kurta, bought for him by his great aunt. I love it when our clothes match - so cute!

The food was, of course, also fabulous. If you're wondering how 1600 people get fed over the course of a few hours I have one word - a big dining hall! Unlike a Western wedding which has a formal sit down meal, meals at Indian weddings are eaten throughout the evening. The upper part of the reception hall is for photographing and mingling, then the lower part has the dining hall. Usually there are long tables set up with banana leaves for plates, but this wedding had food stalls which guests would visit with their plates, and then eat standing up.

The variety of food items was staggering: indoors there were North Indian stalls, South Indian stalls, a chaat table, a sweets table, and a table with a quirky display of carved vegetables (including a crocodile made out of bitter melon!). Guests arriving at the wedding received a menu card (which I lost, alas) and a glass of sugarcane juice or lime juice to refresh them.

Ms. Foodie looking dazzling next to the carved fruit and vegetables table

Outside the reception hall there was a series of stalls with varied items like freshly pressed sugarcane juice (likely to cause Delhi belly, but I had to taste it - it was pure heaven!), a chocolate fountain (albeit with Hershey's chocolate syrup and hence not all that tasty), fruit and cheese kebabs (an odd combination, I thought), and pani puri (little fried shells filled with tamarind juice, again a wee bit odd to my taste). Shortly after the reception started I wandered around the outside stalls with my baby to sample the wares. With all the flowers and the sparkling lights on the reception hall, I felt like I was at a carnival! It was really festive and fun, but alas it started raining heavily so the stalls were abandoned a short while later.

Needless to say, trying to eat this glorious food while wearing a heavy sari and running after a rambunctious baby was a little trying. I did manage to get him fed without doing any damage to my sari, but it was only later in the evening that I was able to enjoy my meal in a leisurely manner (my husband took the baby!) and take some photos for you, my dear readers.

If I could remember all the things I ate, I would surely be eligible for some kind of reward. But I can't, so I'll just post the pics of my favourite items. The best part...dessert, of course! Dessert consisted of jilebis and dry fruit burfi. Jilebis are, of course, my favourite Indian sweet, but the dry fruit burfi (burfi is similar to fudge) was new to me. It tasted richly of figs, dates, whole milk and ghee. A little tangy and not cloyingly sweet like most Indian sweets, it was a welcome discovery.
The masala dosai also deserves a shout out. A classic South Indian dish made of fermented rice flour, it is similar to a tangy crepe, and is filled with a curried potato mixture. I have eaten many good masala dosais recently, but these were exquisite. The dosai was nicely crispy and the potato mixture perfectly spiced. On a side note, the servers were delighted to have me taking their photos. I guess they aren't used to getting any attention at these functions!

My only complaint about the food at the wedding? I wish I could have spirited all the dishes home to Canada with me, to be enjoyed at leisure and untainted by jet lag. Then I would have really had my fill. But, that's what Indian weddings are like - chaotic, colourful, busy, and glorious!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

In India

Dear Readers,

I am here to tell you that eating idli and coconut chutney off a banana leaf while a sweet little baby is running around, can wreak havoc on your sequined salwar kamees. Now you can't say you weren't warned!

What am I talking about? Dear readers, I am in India! I came here 2 days ago for a family wedding (my husband's cousin) and have spent the last few days adjusting (fyi, jet lag is even worse when you've got a toddler who won't sleep when you need him to!). Also did some fabulous shopping yesterday with a heap of cash given to me by my darling aunt-in-law!

The food has been stellar - my aunt in law has hired Brahmin chefs (bare-chested, naturally) to cook for all the various events. Yesterday there was an assortment of delicious chopped spiced salads, vegetable curry (a soupy one), rice, and rasam (a very soupy lentil dish for which I have little admiration). This morning, though, has been the best. The ceremonies are starting today at the groom's house (where I am staying) and the chefs have dished up idli (fermented rice cake), coconut chutney, halvah and the requisite tiny cups of South Indian coffee. It's served on a coconut leaf (traditional) in a stainless steel plate (thali). Once I sequestered myself in my room (the marauding baby wouldn't let me eat) I was able to properly appreciate the food. The idli was exquisite - studded with chunks of fresh coconut, curry leaves and spices. The coconut chutney was also delectable. The halvah, made with semolina and lots of ghee, was a revelation, rich with butter and cardamom....oooh...I could eat mountains of it, but I have to save space for the next meal.

And now I have to go bathe my baby! I will post more on my culinary flights while I am here, depending on the time available, and whether the electricity remains constant!

Happy (sambar) dreams to you!

ps. no photos for you cuz my camera is broken! Who - who comes to India with a broken digital camera! Oh I hope they can fix it soon...

Friday, July 24, 2009


We're all familiar with maple syrup - and it's wonderful stuff! But here's a new addition to the breakfast pantheon - birch syrup!

While perusing the wares and Thyme and Again, a local Ottawa catering company, I came across this intriguing product. I was tempted, but it was awfully expensive ($17.50 Cdn for 125 ml, if you really must know!) But then, happily, I remembered that I was going to a wedding shower and the organizer had asked guests to bring "an exotic food item and one inexpensive kitchen gadget" in lieu of the usual wedding shower gifts. So now I had a perfect excuse to buy it! So I got one for my friend...and then I had to get one for myself! (purely for research purposes, you know).

Last weekend I cracked open my bottle of birch syrup, having some old toaster waffles I thought I should dispatch. First I tasted it on a spoon. is tasty and sweet (they've added fructose)...and a little bitter. The taste is woodsy and can really taste the tree in it! The colour is darker than maple syrup, and the reason for the steep price is apparent when you consider that it takes 80-100 litres of birch sap to make this syrup! By contrast, it takes "only" 20-40 litres of sap to make maple syrup!

I like the taste, and I like the fact that it is an exotic Canadian food product (made in Thunder Bay!) The website of the manufacturer ( also lists several interesting looking recipes. I liked one for ricotta birch syrup cake. I have the syrup and I have ricotta so...we will see how it turns out!

Okay, now I have to confess that Thyme and Again is not on Carling Ave, but it is on Wellington St. West, which is close to Richmond Road, which intersects with Carling and...there you go!

Keep on slurping!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Back to (paid) work

Dear Readers,

It's a wonderful time to be living at Carling & Bayshore. The air is full of drifting poplar fluff, the trees are lush and leafy, the golden sunshine warms the skin, and flowers and blossoming trees scent the air. And the bay - oh the bay! Britannia Bay is blue and sparkling, and the white sails of the boats float lazily by, inspiring countless dreams of travels to far away lands...

But my time to enjoy all these delights is down to just a few hours a day as, alas, I am back at my job. Yes, I have been swallowed up into Ottawa's federal bureaucratic infrastructure, and it's back to cubicle land for me. At least the days are long, so my little baby and I are enjoying the playgrounds and parks in the evenings (and are discovering new ones all the time!)

However, my free time is now even more squeezed and my blogging time much reduced (in case you hadn't noticed by the duration between my last few posts!). So I am writing to let you know that my service standards are going down - I will now try to put up a post every two weeks instead of once a week. But fret not - my posts will still have the same rambling charm and feckless disregard for brevity that have characterized my blog up to now.

Keep on munching!

Mr. Pie & BBQ

Moving to a new place is such a disorienting experience. Even if it's an area you know well, it still feels as though everything is seen from a new angle. Zipping down a street in a car gives a far different impression than walking through it slowly with a baby in a stroller. In a new place, every stone, bush and passing pedestrian are notable and demand careful scrutiny; even the cracks in the sidewalk are something to be contemplated. Establishing new signposts and paths take time, and everything feels foreign and mysterious.

It was in this spirit that I found myself gazing upon the red neon sign of "Mr. Pie & BBQ" during the first few days of our residency at Carling & Bayshore. I found the name intriguing - what did it mean? Who was this mysterious Mr. Pie? Who would call himself Mr. Pie? Was he an older man with a white moustache and thick sideburns? Did he walk with a limp? And what about his sidekick BBQ? Was he perhaps a youngish fellow with a shaggy hairdo, faded plaid shirt and ripped jeans? What had brought these two unlikely souls together?

And what kind of shop could it possibly be? A hardware store? Drycleaner? It was open late, so that suggested some nefarious purpose; perhaps a bar or some gang hideout. But then reason reasserted itself; if the store had a nefarious purpose it would not be placed on a busy street with neon signs. So then, it likely served some gastronomic function. Yes, that was it. So it was food related. But what?

After mulling it over I decided it was a Korean BBQ. "Mr. Pie" sounded like an anglicized version of a Korean name and, from a lack of imagination, he had tacked on the BBQ bit to denote his specialty. I was excited. I like Korean food and envisioned bright red kimchi bits, smoke, sizzling meat, and delicate morsels of white rice in a tiny bowl.

After a week or so, when wandering home from a shopping spree at Damas Supermarket, I decided to check out Mr. Pie.

To my extreme disappointment, it turned out to be a shawarma shop! Not another shawarma shop! How boring! How overdone! There was already a shawarma shop up the street - Shawarma Palace - and, as far as I was concerned, that was quite enough for this stretch of Carling. Shawarma Palace has delectable, juicy chicken shawarma, and a good range of side dishes and drinks. It is actually a cousin of the Shawarma Palace on Rideau St, which I have previously mentioned, and is of a similarly high quality. Why did we need another shawarma shop on Carling?

It seemed, however, that this new one was trying to put a different spin on things; on the menu board they showed an assortment of Lebanese pies: beef, spinach, chicken, and cheese (hence the name "Mr. Pie, I concluded). I love Lebanese spinach pies (fatayer) so was mollified that at least I now had a ready source of those. But when I asked the man at the counter for one, I was told that they no longer carried the pies!

So then I got pretty angry. "But why?" I asked. "Your name says "Mr. Pie and BBQ!" "Yeah, I know," he said, "but the pies, they were not selling". So we are going to change the name. Nobody knows what it means. So we are changing it to Shawarma House."

Shawarma House? Boring upon boring! Why not just call it "Shawarma Shawarma" or "Shawarma Blah Blah" and be done with it?

I was sad. The mystery was gone. There was no Korean gentleman dishing up bulgogi or bibimbap. There were no pies. And soon, there would not even be the alluring neon sign left to look upon.

A few weeks later Mr. Pie and BBQ was officially gone, and in its place was a boring red "Shawarma House" sign. I've forgiven the shopkeepers for leading me on, and I have gotten food there a few times (it's only okay - not nearly as good as Shawarma Palace; but then you wouldn't expect a "House" to have as good food as a "Palace", now would you?) but I still mourn the old Mr. Pie & BBQ.

I'm getting over it, though. There are other places to discover, other food shops to explore, and other other foody mysteries to unveil, all along this great avenue called Carling.

A Lebanese pie (not from Mr. Pie and BBQ!) (source:

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Thursday, May 28, 2009


On a cold March day I bundled up my baby, buckled him onto my chest, and headed down Carling Avenue. My destination was Reette’s Foods, a Philipino grocery store located near Carling and Ritchie St. I was in search of ‘coconut bun”, a Philipino white flour treat that I had bought there once before, and for which I had a certain hankering.

You may recall that in my post on chickoos I referred to Sree Fresh Grocery as “unprepossessing.” Well, to call Reette’s Foods unprepossessing would be to pay it a lavish compliment. It is in a small dingy white building with one window boarded up, a weedy maple growing through a crack in the cement, and crumbling steps leading to a barred door. The plain handpainted sign on the building gives no clue as to what kind of foods it sell, and looking at the building you can hardly tell if it is open or abandoned.

Handmade signs in the window list their offerings: goat meat, goat foot, cow foot, king mackerel, tilapia, ox-tail, and so on. For this reason, the first few times I passed by the building I thought it was a butcher’s shop. I am Hindu, so was hardly tempted to step in. While I have no objection to people eating beef, it makes me cringe to see the stuff in its raw form. In fact, I once teased my (Hindu vegetarian) mother in law by telling her I was taking her there to eat (our destination was actually Ceylonta, the Sri Lankan restaurant next door). I think she was horrified to even be standing next to a sign that said “cow foot”!

One day last November, however, I did step in just to see what they sold. To my surprise, it was a well stocked grocery store with a wide array of Asian vegetables, noodles, tinned fruit, lentils, baked goods, candies, and Philipino curry sauces and pastes. And instead of a glass case full of staring red beef parts, all the meats were frozen and discreetly stored in a large freezer. Phewf!

The shopkeeper was a pleasant Philipino lady who was intently watching an evangelical Christian television show when she wasn’t serving customers. The inside of the store was as dingy as the outside, and it had an untidy, disorganized air; but the wealth of exotic food products delighted me (chick peas in syrup! Halo-halo!) I perused all the offerings, recognizing some products I often see at Grace Ottawa, a Philipino-African grocery store downtown.

On this March visit they didn’t have any coconut buns. “My husband will bring some from Toronto next week,” the shopkeeper promised. "Come back next Tuesday." So I had to look for something else to satisfy my sugar fix. There were lots of interesting products there, and, while restraining my baby's little paws from grabbing the glass jars, I also had to restrain myself from buying some weird and wonderful thing that would sit in my cupboards for years before I was forced to throw it away because I had no idea what to do with it. And so I decided to buy some “ube cake”.

Now, I had no idea what ube was, how it’s used, or where it comes from. But, I reasoned, if it’s in a cake it must be safe, right? It’s not like they would make a cake with something scary like, oh I don’t know, beef bone flavouring or ox-tail icing, would they? And anyway, the picture on the package showed a very normal looking small loaf cake in a pleasant shade of purple.

Further poking around the store revealed packets of “ube sauce” with a picture of a purplish tuber on them. From this I surmised that ube is purple yam, which was a relief. While we in the West tend to eat yams and beans in savoury dishes, in Asia they are just as often eaten sweet in buns, ice cream, shaved ice drinks, and many other weird and wonderful combinations.

As is my wont, I cracked open the package and started munching as soon as I was out of the door. It was likely baked in some kind of mold, as the outside was brown, while the inside of the cake was a beautiful purple. The cake had a pleasant aroma with a mild sweet taste and a light and airy texture. My baby liked it too, and munched off a piece as we tromped down Carling Avenue in the cold sunshine. Overall it was a pleasant tea cake that I would certainly try again. After all, how often does one get to eat purple cake?

Well, upon later researching ube on the internet I realised that, if you are Philipino, you get to eat purple cake all the time! To my surprise, googling “ube cake” brought up a multitude of photos of lush purple cakes, resplendent with florid purple icing and interspersed with layers of macapuno (young coconut flesh) cream. Wow! How have I lived so much of my life without eating an ube layer cake? Judging from the number and variety of photos, ube chiffon cake seems to be as common as chocolate cake in the Philipines, and probably more so.

Oooh baby, get me a piece of that ube cake! (source:

Clearly, I need to find a Philipino friend who will make me an ube cake. Or maybe I’ll just head back to Reette’s, chat with the nice shopkeeper, and get all the ingredients there. Just goes to show – don’t let a store’s exterior fool you!

Update on Reette's: on a recent visit I was pleased to see that the weedy maple had been uprooted and the glass had been replaced in the boarded up window. It turns out that the store is under new management and they plan to rename it "R&V Store", with a nice new painted sign with vegetables on it. So now passers by may actully realise that there is a fun grocery store in their midst!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Have you ever crunched into a stalk of fresh sugarcane? If you have, you know how delicious that rush of sugary juice is - fresh and healthy tasting, the best stuff on earth. Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that you'd get a similar rush from sucking on a white sugarcube. Wrong!

White sugar, though so many tasty things are made from it, is bleached and robbed of all its vitamins, nutrients and, yes, flavour. Brown sugar is slightly better, with its more robust flavour, but if you want to eat real sugar, nothing compares to the real stuff - jaggery.

I know you're thinking - awesome name - but what is it? Well, jaggery is the Hindi name for crystallized pure sugar cane juice. That's right - they crush the cane, extract the juice, boil it in big iron pots, pour it into molds where it solidifies and - poof! The finished product is used extensively in Indian cooking (both sweets and savoury items) and in religious rituals (yes, that's how much it's valued).
Jaggery making in India (

And how is white sugar made? Well, after extracting the juice, chemicals (Calcium carbonate, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lime,) are added “to trap particulate matter so it can be filtered out”. Then, “the golden liquid is passed through bone char (activated charcoal made from beef bones), which removes the color left by dissolved impurities.” (Sounds yum, no?)

Finally, “the solution is boiled under pressure, crystallized again, centrifuged and tumbled with a flow of hot air in a granulator, from which the final product emerges.” (source: Chesapeake Baby Journal If sparkling white sugar isn’t a priority for you, and you’re not crazy about the thought of those charred beef bones, you may think that brown sugar is a better choice. Wrong! “Brown sugar is simple white sugar with a bit of molasses added back in, or coloured with caramel.” ( Drat.

So what’s a Hindu foodie like moi to do? Munch off some jaggery of course! Actually, my political stance about white sugar is a recent development. When I wandered into Vaishali Superstore the other day, looking for a sugar hit, I was only curious to be reminded of what jaggery tastes like. It was only while doing research for this blog post that I learned about the dark secret behind the sparkling white stuff..

I first tasted jaggery when my mother in law was here after my baby's birth; she used jaggery in her cooking and, sampling some one day, I was blown away by the flavour. Jaggery comes in cones, loaves, and chunks. So, recently, I bought some chunked jaggery, and tried it as soon as I got home. The flavour was just amazing. As it melted in my mouth I could feel the sunshine and the cane leaves rustling. I tell you, dear reader, it was as flavoursome and satisfying as a piece of fudge.

Curious about this wonderful stuff, I did some research about it on the internet. I discovered that, not only is jaggery an important part of Indian cooking, it is also extolled by Ayurvedic medicine as a cure for respiratory and digestive problems. It contains proteins, minerals and vitamins, is a source of iron, and has a higher iron and copper content than white sugar (naturally, cuz those pesky “impurities” haven’t been filtered out yet). Interesting fact: white sugar is 99.5 percent sucrose while jaggery is 65-85% sucrose.

On Western websites, the words used to define jaggery are telling - "coarse", "unrefined". White sugar on the other hand, is "refined" and "pure", with all its "impurities" removed. This says a great deal about the way white sugar is valued over the natural product.

Now, of course, jaggery is still a simple carbohydrate and so should be eaten in moderation. But wouldn’t you rather eat something full of vitamins and nutrients rather than something that has had all its goodness blasted away by chemical treatments, bleach, centrifuging and beef bones? Icky poo.

So over the next few months I will be experimenting with ways to substitute jaggery for white sugar. I will let you know how I do! Until then, I leave you with one delightful way to use jaggery. It’s tasty and good for a cough, cold or when you need some warming. As per my no-recipe policy, it is short: take a big hunk of ginger and grate it. Take three cups of water and a chunk of jaggery and combine everything in a pot. Boil away until the liquid has reduced by about half. Glug it all off (including the grated ginger). Savour.

Update on the beef bone char issue: I checked the websites of the brand of sugar I am currently using (Redpath) and it says that they do not use animal bones for filtering the sugar. Instead they use cloth filters (and they have photos on the site to prove it). Phewf!

Friday, April 17, 2009


Ah, Miami! Land of sun gods, a vibrant Cuban community, salsa music, sunburnt beaches, hedonism, and palm trees, palm trees, palm trees...

I had less than a day in Miami, but I had great plans for my time there - bask on the dazzling beach, see some art deco hotels on Ocean Drive (and I was staying in one too - lucky me!), visit little Havana, do a little shopping...and eat a meal in a sizzling restaurant, of course! A few years ago I had actually concocted a little fantasy about eating at a restaurant in Miami: it would be somewhere lively and chic. There would be dim lights, waving palm trees, Latin music, and it would be hot, hot, hot. A handsome man (preferably my husband) would give me smouldering glances, and I would be wearing a fabulous dress.

Well, at least the last part was right! As is usual when trying to live out a fantasy, things didn't go quite as planned... I arrived there pooped after the long bus ride, rested with my baby, explored the art deco hotels (wow!) and the beach (double wow!) then got dressed for dinner. It was late by then, around 8:30, and my baby was giving indications he wanted to go to bed. I ignored them (he could sleep in the baby carrier if he needed to) and headed out into the night. I walked past the palm trees, by the jasmine bushes, and marveled at the sight of the art deco hotels by night, glittering with neon lights. Ah, I thought...this is what I came here for.

My hotel had recommended a restaurant and I went there, but it was not as stylish as I wanted. I hopped in a cab and headed off to another one I had seen advertised in a tourist flyer - A Fish Called Avalon (great name!) on Ocean Drive. It turned out to be in the Avalon hotel (makes sense) but it didn't have many people there so I decided to keep walking and explore the other restaurants on the strip. All of them were attached to art deco hotels but my guidebook had warned me not to eat at any of them. Overpriced, overrated, with "carnival style barkers trying to

Ocean Drive in Miami BeachImage by zacklur via Flickr Image by zacklur via Flickr

lure you in with plates of congealed food". True, true, all true. But the energy of this strip is awesome!

Restaurants crowded the sidewalks, people laughed and preened; the neon lights beamed, and the scent of wine and food filled the air. Vintage cars were parked outside of some of them, for show, and tourists and clubkids zipped by in others. And on the other side of all this colour and mayhem? Palm trees swayed along a thin strip of grass, the wind swept over the cool dark beach, and the waves of the empty ocean roared.

I wandered along, trying to decide at which of these carnivals to eat. Finally, my baby decided for me - one of them had Latin music playing and he started to dance and grin in his baby carrier. "Okay", I said, "you convinced me!"

The restaurant was Quinn's at the Park Central Hotel and proved to be a great place to people watch - albeit I spent most of my time watching my baby, as he was running around like a madman. I ordered a strawberry daiquiri for me and a (non-alcoholic) one for him. In between gulps I ran around after him, trying to keep him from hurtlng into the traffic of Ocean Drive, or careening into the pool. Finally my food came - seafood with linguine in a white wine cream sauce. I hoped my baby would settle into his high chair and eat (he likes pasta) but, alas, no such luck. I was desperate to eat as I hadn't had any lunch, so, with him squiggling on my lap, I shovelled forkfuls of linguine into my mouth.

Finally I was able to convince him to try a few noodles, and he simmered down. Phewf! I ate quickly (you have to when you have a kid) and found it very tasty. Big shrimps, plump mussels and...what was that? A lobster claw and half-tail on the shell? Hmm...

In case you ever wondered if it was possible to crack open a lobster claw one-handed, with a baby in your lap, I am here to tell you it is not possible. No, it really cannot be done, though I did spend a few moments pondering if I could.

I like lobster, I really do, so I did manage to pry the tail out of the shell with a quick movement, and eat some of it. But I decided not to even attempt the claw. Better to have the staff do it, and take it back to the hotel to eat. By this point my baby was bored with the noodles, so I had given him a small amount of his strawberry daiquiri to drink. This proved to be a big mistake.

I was munching contentedly (though quickly) on the lobster tail when I suddenly felt something was wrong.

Have you ever had a baby pee on you? I have, and it feels warm and wet. This however, was cold and wet. Yes, that's right. My baby had upended his daiquiri in my lap. He looked as surprised as I did. I sighed.

I want to be a good example to my baby, so I always try to stay composed in front of him, no matter how stressed I get. So, calmly (albeit with another sigh) I mopped up the drink from my expensive silk dress and off his new shirt. This was clearly a signal that dinner was over, so I asked for the cheque and a doggy bag. So I did get my exciting dinner in Miami, but not quite as I had planned!

I paid my bill, glugged off the rest of my drink in the comfort of the lobby (where my baby could run around) and then popped him into his baby carrier. Luckily he fell asleep soon after, so I was able to walk down Ocean Drive by night and peacefully admire the fantastical neon lights of the hotels.

The next morning I enjoyed a complimentary breakfast on the front porch of my hotel, then walked along Ocean Drive to glory in the hotels by day. Then it was time for a quick dip in the ocean before rushing out to the airport for my flight back to Orlando.

In all, I had a few short hours in Miami, but they were memorable. Miami is dazzling!
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Club Med

Two more posts about Florida, dear readers, and then it's back to our regularly scheduled local programming...unless of course I decide to blog about my upcoming trip to New York city! (I leave tomorrow. Hmm...)

After Orlando I visited the Club Med Sandpiper near West Palm Beach. The best way to enjoy Club Med? With a frosty drink in hand, lounging by the pool! During my stay I imbibed many of the concoctions in the bar, and I have to say they were great. I have stayed at other resorts in the Caribbean, and found the drinks all tasted the same - rum and some pink or orange slush. Here they had a variety of alcohols and a variety of tasty juices. My baby got addicted to these drinks too (leading to devastating results in Miami as you shall soon find out) - the non-alcoholic variety, of course!

Mango-strawberry daiquiri slushy - yum!

The meals were also of wonderful quality - everything was fresh and beautiful. For lunch and dinner I enjoyed nice salads, succulent fish with tasty sauces, and a variety of vegetable dishes. I always overreat at buffets, and this one was no exception. And usually I feel stuffed and bloated after them. But here, I ate my fill but felt light and satisfied at the end. Very strange! I think they cook with less oil and fresher ingredients than other places. Yay! The desserts were great too - the first night I went ga-go over them: a meringue pie with chocolate mousse, a chocolate mousse pie, a chocolate mousse cake, and little chocolate mousse tarts.

Alas, by the dessert stage, my baby had lost patience with eating and just wanted to play. So I took my desserts "to go" (they generously provided paper plates for this purpose) and later that night I tucked into them after my baby had fallen asleep. With a juicy novel (set in Miami's South Beach, no less!) I was all set for some late night decadence. But by the third chocolate mousse dessert I had to say - too much chocolate mousse! (never thought it could happen to me). Okay, so there was a lack of creativity that night, but other meals had a diverse array of delectable treats.

Here's a sample from lunch on day 3 - tiny little lemon meringue tarts, florentine cakes dipped in chocolate, lemon square, choco frosted cupcake and cheesecake.

What is it about tiny desserts that makes them so enticing to eat?

Up close and personal with a lemon meringue tartlet

Breakfasts were also sublime, with fresh fruit, delicious omelettes to order, pancakes, french toast, bacon, and all the other breakfast staples. They had icky table syrup for the pancakes (no maple syrup, alas) but they also had some charming preserves with tiny strawberries thatI found entrancing. I also enjoyed the stewed prunes they had - I know many people despise prunes (a la Virginia Woolf!), but I actually like their tangy taste and squishy texture.

It was a bit rough managing the dining hall alone with my baby; pushing a stroller and balancing a plate is a bit tough when you only have two hands. It was easier if I used my baby carrier (two free hands!) but he didn't have the patience to sit for long, so I had to eat quickly. Still, things were okay the first 3 days. By the last day, however, he refused to sit still for any meal at all, and I really had to wolf down my food if I was to get any nourishment at all!

Overall, though, it was a wonderful visit and I recommend going there if you have the chance. Save me a mojito!

Wish I was swimming here right now...

Coming soon...Miami!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Floribbean Cuisine

Dear Foodies,

I had a great time on my Florida trip and, contrary to my expectations, I actually had some good culinary adventures! I had read in the guidebooks about "Floribbean cuisine" - a blend of Floridian and Caribbean flavours and cooking styles, and hoped I might come across some in my travels. Floribbean combines Caribbean tastes and flavours with the lighter cooking styles of Florida. For example, it eschews deep fried, lardy, starchy Latino delights in favour of steaming, sauteeing, fresh fruits and vegetables, citrus, spice, and other flavours fresh and nice.

My first food adventure came soon after my arrival in Orlando. I checked into my hotel, felt delighted that it was so nice and had such wonderful landscaping (palm trees! oleanders! hibiscus!), and then went in search of food. Due to my late night packing and the rigours of travelling with a young child I had a headache, my eyes burned and I was achingly tired. I just wanted to eat some lunch and collapse into bed. I hoped that my baby would concur with this plan and take a nap too...

As my taxi pulled into the hotel I had seen a restaurant right beside it - Pollos Mario. Pollos means chicken in Spanish, and there was an appetizing smell of barbeque in the air, so I had a hunch I had stumbled onto something good. "Comida tipica Latinoamericana" (dishes typical of Latin America) proclaimed the menu. That suited me just fine. I had expected a Disney-like homogeneity throughout Orlando, forgetting that the Hispanic influence in Florida is just as strong as ol' Walt's tentacles - if a bit more dispersed.

The waitress spoke to me in Spanish, which tickled me, because I can speak it a bit, and also because I love being mistaken for a "local" (when I was in Cuba, people kept asking me if I was from Mexico; they knew I wasn't Cuban because I wasn't wearing neon lycra!) The restaurant had the feel of a ranch house courtyard with tiled floor, a plastic orange tree in the centre, and lanterns on the booths. Photo taken from a "Chow Hound" review of the restaurant - Orlando Sentinel website

The menu had pictures, which I love, so instead of ordering the barbequed chicken which had smelt so appetizing, I decided to order a dish of sauteed red snapper, because it looked so beautiful. I was spending two nights in Orlando, so I reasoned that I could have chicken the next night.

I ordered guanabana (soursop) juice with high hopes (Azteca restaurant in Ottawa used to have amazing guanabana juice) but this one turned out to be just a sweet tasteless slushie. When the fish arrived, though, it made up for all shortcomings. It looked outstanding!

"Wow!" I said, dazzled by the sight: on a large oval platter rested a whole red snapper. To the north of the fish (which really deserved its own time zone, it was so large) was a pile of halved redskin potatoes. To the west of the potatoes poked out some yucca spears; to the south, several halved plantains ruled supreme - starchy and ponderous. The entire terrain was bathed in a thick yellow sauce studded with chopped tomatoes and cilantro. Colour, shape, form, and aroma all abounded on my plate. Oh, what a sight!

I regretted that I hadn't brought my camera to record this beautiful dish, but I was too pooped to go and get it. Plus, it would have been a pity to let this feast get cold! So I decided to just dig in and enjoy. First, though, I buckled my baby into the colourful high chair and gave him rice, sauce and a little fish. He happily gobbled it up, but refused the other starches.

The serving plate was too crowded to eat off, and I hadn't been given any other plate, so I cleared some space on the rice platter and put sauce and some fish on it. I was sure it couldn't taste as good as it looked, but...oh dear reader, it was!

The fish was tender, the rice perfectly cooked, and the sauce...well, it was what a sauce is meant to be. Thick, flavourful, fragrant...chunks of tomato offering up some texture, it was a perfect complement to the fish. I ate hurriedly at first - I was so hungry! Later, when my hunger was sated I lingered over each mouthful, trying to identify the flavours. Saffron? Maybe. Onion? Certainly. But apart from that I really couldn't tell. So I stopped wondering and just gave myself up to enjoying the food.

Dear reader, I ate half the fish! I also ate a goodly portion of the yucca, potato and plantain. The potato was tender and delicious, but I wasn't so crazy about the yucca or the plantain. Perhaps it is my Anglo roots, but I have to say that I am not a fan of yucca. If you have ever bitten into a wax apple, that's what yucca tastes like. Plantain is more ponderous than yucca, and again perhaps an acquired taste.

I really should have stopped eating after the fish (an insipid salad had preceded my meal, so I really was overfull by now) but the desert menu looked so tantalizing - not because it had the usual cheesecake/chocolate cake offerings, but because of the special Latin American dishes it offered - flan and higos con queso (figs with fresh cheese)! I was really full to bursting but I had to try the figs with cheese - what a cool combination!

At this juncture, though, the waitress brought me my bill! "Uh, no" I said, feeling outraged. Was this was her way of saying that I had eaten too much? "I still want to order dessert."

She shrugged. "Oh."

"Figs and cheese!" I proclaimed. "And a cup of tea too!"

She shrugged again.

I was irritated but decided to ignore it. The waitresses, all slender, doe-eyed damsels in white shirts and tight white pants, didn't seem to speak English very well, and hadn't even come by to ask me how my meal was (a big minus in my books).

The figs and cheese came in a tall sundae dish - 5 figs and 3 slices of cheese. The figs were small, plump things that had clearly spent the greater part of their lives suspended in a jar of sugar syrup. The cheese was salty and crumbly, strongly resembling Indian paneer, and was a perfect counter balance to the the sweetness of the figs. The tea was hot and flavourful. A nice finish to the meal!

I really was stuffed, so after tasting one fig and eating a small piece of cheese, I decided to take a short break and go to the bathroom. Upon my return, I was startled to find the table cleared off. No figs, no cheese, no tea, no mess of napkins and plates - even the bill had disappeared!

"Uh, excuse me," I said, chasing down a waitress. "My dessert - it was taken away!" She shrugged and disappeared. My waitress came and I explained to her what had happened. She looked disinterested, but eventually the busboy appeared and brought me a new dish of dessert and cup of tea. But, there were only two figs and two pieces of cheese in it!

"Uh, excuse me," I said. "Four figs!"

"No!" He replied. "Two!" and then ran away.

I was perplexed. Clearly, he didn't speak English, so there was probably no point in insisting on getting the extra figs. And maybe there weren't any more in the jar. Anyway, I really was stuffed, so I decided to let it go.

After this incident, I started to feel rather unwelcome in the restaurant. Perhaps they really wanted me to leave?

Defiantly, I sat there, stuffing figs into the spare corners of my tummy and sipping my hot tea. Finally, I really couldn't eat anymore, so decided I was finished.

Some more brouhaha resulted over paying the bill (I was using a credit card) so I felt really irked when I left the restaurant. The food had been delicious, and the waitress hadn't charged me for the tea (due to the confusion over the premature clearing away of my desert) but I was still displeased with the service and decided not to return the next night. Anyway, I had enough fish, rice and tubers to make another full meal.

So, there you have it, a review of Pollos Mario on South Blossom Drive in Orlando, Florida. Delicious food, terrible service - you can decide for yourself if you want to go (and, of course, I recommend that you do!). It wasn't Floribbean cuisine, per se (Colombian, the desk clerk at the hotel later informed me) but it did bear the hallmarks of Floribbean food, and was far removed from anything I would find in Ottawa, so I was well satisfied with my first meal in Florida.

Next up - food adventures at Disneyland!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Disney Food

Our first morning in Orlando started off sunny and a bit cool. The verdant tropical foliage around the hotel, however, reassured me that I was far, far away from Ottawa!

My hotel, the Baymont Inn and Suites, offered a continental breakfast, of which I intended to partake fully. However, it featured a plethora of white flour products - French toast, danishes, waffles, bagels, and sugary cereals. There were some healthier options - apples, instant oatmeal and raisin bran cereal, but I eat these regularly at home, so I wanted to try the more appealing sugary items. Alas, they left me feeling gluggy, so I vowed to eat the healthier stuff the next day.

The view from my breakfast table

I swiped an apple and some yoghurt for a midmorning snack. I considered taking a bagel and peanut butter for lunch, but I planned to go to a sit down restaurant in Disneyland (hopefully during my baby's nap!) so I didn't bother. Then it was on to Disney's Animal Kingdom and my rendezvous with the giraffes, hippoos, and rhinos!

Needless to say, I wasn't expecting great food - or even interesting food - from Disneyland. And that was good, cuz there wasn't any there! The food stalls all had really cool names and exteriors, but the offerings were plain ol' middle America - 'burgs and fries, chips and chocolate cake. I had read about a good restaurant in the "Africa" section, but I couldn't find it, so ended up eating - guess what? - a bagel and a cherry turnover for lunch! Oh well. I bought these at a really neat food stall housed in an old building shipped over from Tanzania and reassembled in Orlando!

The bagel was predictable, but the turnover was surprisingly tasty and flaky, albeit with the usual canned cherry pie filling. I did later find the restaurant - Tuskers - and it promised a lavish buffet with African flavours - all housed in a building made to resemble the interior of an African marketplace. By then I was full, however, so I just sniffed it in appreciation.

Later in the day I had some fresh cut fruit and ice cream, to cope with the heat. My baby enjoyed the fruit, and the prices were not too bad, so I was reasonably content with my Disneyland food experience (oh, and the animals and rest of the place were Grreeeeat!!)

Regal lion roaming a deserted Indian palace

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Key Lime pie?

Dear Foodies,

I am off for parts unknown! Ms. Foodie and her little baby will be heading to the heaving metropolis of Orlando, then along the coast of Florida for a week of well deserved R&R. I had hoped to post a culinary story before my departure, but my organizational skills are not what they could be, so this evening I was forced to do packing instead of writing (boo hoo!)

Upon my return I shall regale you with tales of the fine Floridian food items (conch fritters! key lime pie! stale potato chips!) I will undoubtedly enjoy on my trip.

Hope you enjoy the pallid Ottawa sun!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Belgian Chocolates

A plate full of joy

Like everybody in the world, I love chocolate. Like every foodie in the world, I only eat the best!

I grew up eating those junky chocolate bars (more aptly called "candy bars" for the limited amount of real cocoa in them) from the corner store. Oh sure, they were tasty, but when I grew up and discovered there were chocolate bars out there with real chocolate in them, well, needless to say, I started turning my nose up at Mr. Big and his girlfriend Sweet Marie.

"Artisan chocolate" as these better quality bars are sometimes called, have less sugar and fewer fillers in them than the candy bars of my youth. What they lack in soy lecithin, glycerol, calcium chloride and modified palm oil, they make up for, what's it called again? Oh yes, cocoa!

My favourite gourmet chocolate bars are those that have exotic flavours in them. Dolfin of Belgium makes very cool bars with cinnamon, pink peppercorns, and even Earl Grey tea! My favourite is - hold your breath - masala!

Hello gorgeous!

Needless to say, these exotic flavours are not available at your local convenience store, so when I left work for maternity leave, and left behind the gourmet food emporium which was my cafeteria, I was a bit concerned. Where would I get my chocolate fix now?

I visited those old chocolate standbys, Godiva, Laura Secord, and even Louise's Belgian Chocolates in Bell's Corners. Yet somehow, none of these chocolates satisfied me. They were too sweet, sometimes stale, and the fillings were all so banal. And Lindt chocolate, that gourmet Swiss chocolate company which has expanded wildly and become a staple in every North American retail outlet, has never been a favourite of mine.

To my surprise, a most unlikely source came to my rescue - Shopper's Drug Mart! As you may know, a shiny new Shopper's recently opened up right next to the Coliseum Movie Theatre. I visited it last spring shortly after its opening, and ogled the enticing sale items: canisters of Easter eggs for super cheap, picture frames, plush toys, baby bibs (they have a wonderful baby section!), scarlet nail polish, chips, hairspray... all the staples of a well stocked drug store (on a side note, I made a trip there once with a visitor from India. He was shocked to see all the grocery and beauty items. Apparently, in India, drug stores only sell pharmaceuticals. Now what's the point of that?!)

As I have mentioned before, I visit Shopper's regularly for their extensive grocery section. Well, it turns out they have a superlative chocolate selection too! At Christmas the place really exploded with chocolate. They had the usual drugstore offerings - Whitman's, Hershey's (which taste like sand, in my opinion), Ganong, Pot of Gold...and then I saw a sweetly wrapped package of truffles that looked different.

The chocolates were, variously, white, dark and milk chocolate, and each one was prettily decorated: one with a red poinsettia, the other with ribbon and a bow like a Christmas present; one had a little pine tree on it, the other a snowflake. Le Chocolat was the name of the brand, and the box said they were premium Belgian chocolate. Well, I thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I went home and cracked them open. Ooh, was this ever a gain! The fillings were fresh - both flavour-wise and quality-wise. Brownies, ganache, coffee, toffee, marzipan and pralines, maraschino and florentines - these chocolates had them all! Dear reader, I intended to save them for my upcoming Christmas party because they didn't have any more at the store but....well, you know how these things happen!

I enjoyed them. I enjoyed them very much. And the best part was how nicely they were decorated! I went back and tried some of their other offerings - chocolate bars with two flavours (white & milk with strawberries, caramel with caramel cups and toffee chips) and liked all of them. At Valentine's the chocolates had heart and pink & white themes. I can't wait to see what they do for Easter!

Egyptian hieroglyph for happiness: a woman eating chocolate

And as for the guests at my Christmas party, who didn't get to eat those nicely decorated chocolates? Well, don't weep for them, dear reader. I went back to Shoppers the day before my party (not safe to keep chocolates in my house any longer than that!) and got a perfectly good ballotin of Shopper's Drug Mart Belgian chocolates. They weren't as pretty as the others, but they were fresh and delicious, which just goes to show what I said all along. Shopper's Drug Mart is a great place to go for chocolates!

Now, let me go raid my cupboard and see if any of the chocos from these pictures are still

Keep on munching!
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Monday, March 9, 2009

Kidney beans

Now isn't this a lovely looking repast? I had it for lunch one day and was thoroughly satisfied with myself.

The kidney beans are from "Brazilian Beans and Rice" which I had made the night before. I got this super fast and super tasty recipe from a baby care book. The author recognized that with a new baby, one needs healthy, fast recipes - and this one really fits the bill. Accompanying my beans are some Greek pita, buttered, from Damas Supermarket, and cucumbers and tomatoes sprinkled with pepper. I usually cut my cucumber in rounds but I was feeling daring that day so I cut it into sticks.

I grew up eating kidney beans in chili - and only this way! Since then my culinary repertoire has increased, and I now eat them in rajma masala (kidney bean curry) and this recipe. For me, kidney beans are comfort food - so soft and tasty, so quick to cook; the red skins concealing a flaky white interior. I'm sure sometime soon kidney beans will become the next big diet craze, with scientists extolling their anti-oxidant, pre and/or probiotic properties, and some other kind of blah blah. Until then I will just enjoy them cuz they're tasty!

I swore I wouldn't give you any recipes on this blog, but since this one is so fast and so easy, I will relent. Here you go: chop one small onion and two cloves of garlic. Sauté in 1 tb olive oil til soft. Add a big pinch of dried thyme, 2 tsp ground cumin, and 1 tsp chili powder. Fry a few minutes. Add 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and one can of kidney beans (540 ml), along with the liquid from the can. Add pepper and salt to taste. Boil until the liquid reduces and becomes thick. Add a handful of chopped coriander and serve over rice. Yummy and convenient, even if you don't have a baby!

Speaking of babies, mine is sick so this is all the blog post you'll be getting from me. My little angel has a cold and is restive. Pray for me that he doesn't keep me up all night, or else tomorrow's dinner won't be anywhere near as fancy as this!


Monday, March 2, 2009


January 2, 2002: it was my first day in India, after an absence of 17 years, and I was taking a stroll down a dusty New Delhi street with my aunt and two of my cousins. I had dreamed of visiting India for so long, and now it was actually happening! It was a wonderful feeling.

Walking around the neighborhood, I marvelled at the gaudy Hindu temple, the monkeys in the bougainvillea bushes, and the elephant doing yardwork. We reached a commercial area with a few shops. They were all closed as it was New Year's, but a lone fruit and vegetable seller had set up a roadside stand. I wandered over to take a look. There were bananas, oranges, carrots, onions...the usual kitchen staples.

But then my eye was caught by something special. They looked like small round dusty potatoes, but I knew better...

"Chickoos!" I squealed to my cousin. "Oh, Sita, look, it's chickoos!"

Yes, dear reader. I hadn't seen a chickoo fruit for over seventeen years - not since I had lived in Malaysia. I hadn't tasted one, smelled one - not even thought of one, until I saw them sitting serenely on this New Delhi vendor's wooden cart.

I scooped some up, paid for them with my cousin's rupees, and hustled them home for a bite. Once home I pressed their flesh carefully. It yielded slightly. They were round and unblemished, no untoward wrinkles or sagginess to their skin. Not much scent to them, but that was normal. Their sweet charms were all locked away inside.

I got a knife and peeled one carefully. Then, I took a bite. Sweetness filled my mouth, and then my tongue encountered a seed. I pulled it out and admired it. It was a small, black, flat and shiny thing. I cracked open the rest of the chickoo - it separated neatly into segments, like a Terry's milk chocolate orange. I then removed the rest of the seeds so I could munch on in an unimpeded fashion. It was great.

A chickoo has a delicate, delicious flavour. Its flesh has a rough brown sugary texture, and it has a sweet smell. I'm told they make a delicious milkshake, but I am yet to try one. Perhaps on my next trip to India?

Until then I shall have to be content with whatever specimens I can glean from my local Sri Lankan grocer. Yes, dear reader! Chickoos are available in my corner of Ottawa!

Although they're shipped from India, I have never seen one in an Indian grocery store here. I have, however, seen them for sale in two Sri Lankan groceries in Ottawa. Perhaps Sri Lankan-Canadians crave them more? The first time I saw them in Ottawa was at Thana Stores on Bank St. I bought about a dozen and generously gave some to my mother. She also hadn't tasted them for nearly seventeen years, not since we lived in Malaysia.

Upon moving to Carling Avenue, I was delighted to discover that Sree Fresh Market, a Sri Lankan grocery on Oakley Avenue, just off Carling, also sells chickoos. The first time I entered the store I wasn't expecting much. It has an unprepossessing exterior, with a handmade sign in the window, and a desolate air. Inside, my first impression wasn't much better: dim lighting, dusty crowded shelves, cracked tile floors and a variety of produce displayed in dirty styrofoam crates.

But as I got to know the store, I came to appreciate it better. There is a good assortment of produce, it is generally quite fresh, and all the staples of Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine are available: fresh curry leaves, chilies, Chinese eggplants, pumpkin, onions, banana buds, plantains, and a variety of fruit. In addition to my chickoos, one of the more interesting things I saw there one day were some purple carrots. Yes, purple! I had seen some of these in India, on an itinerant vendor's cart as he tootled around my aunt and uncle's neighborhood in Delhi, but not since then.

"Wow, purple carrots!" I commented to the shopkeeper.

"Yes," he said. "They are from India."

"Really?" I asked. "But why would you ship carrots from India? Aren't there lots of carrots here?"

"Yes," he replied. "And they cost much less. These carrots are $6.99 a pound, whereas these other carrots (he pointed to some ordinary orange ones) are $1.99 a pound."

"So, why...?

"Some people are willing to pay extra for the Indian ones. They say the flavour is different from Canadian ones."

That was interesting. I can understand paying extra for produce that can't be grown here, but to buy something just because the taste is different is quite amazing, to my mind. But then again, my husband has often said that the onions and tomatoes here in Canada have more water in them, and that's why our masalas never taste as good...

Well, I can't see myself buying the purple carrots anytime soon, but I will keep buying my luscious chickoos there! I hope you try them too!

Sweet (chickoo) dreams to you!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Turkish un Helvasi

Always on the lookout for new things to tickle my tastebuds, one day I bought some “Turkish un Helvasi” at Damas Supermarket. On that day, the baklava looked fresh and scrumptious, but I was trying to avoid sweets so, instead of buying something that I knew I would love (and gobble down), I decided to try something new and see if I liked it.

Soft oval shaped balls of a light brown colour, they sat demurely on a Styrofoam plate, covered with plastic wrap. “What is it?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Uh, it is like halvah”, he said.

I associate Middle Eastern halvah with the sesame paste sweet that comes in round plastic boxes, but I was willing to give this new sweet a try. Unable to wait til I got home, I cracked open the package as soon as I left the store, and popped one in my mouth. It was soft, sweet, and floury. Perhaps a hint of sesame paste? But not very memorable. I have to say, I was underwhelmed.

When I got home I googled “Turkish un Helvasi” to see what the ingredients were. As I guessed, the main ingredient was flour. Butter, sugar and water are also used. No sesame.

A simple dessert, that nonetheless requires patience and a lot of stirring, it is made in Turkey for funerals and religious days. It’s usually made with nuts, but mine was nutless. Apparently, in Turkey there are three main kinds of halvah: tahini (sesame paste) halvah, which is usually bought; semolina halvah, and this wheat flour halvah. These last two kinds are usually made at home.

In India, one gets different kinds of halvah: gajjar ka halwa, made with grated carrots and condensed milk, and another kind of halvah whose name I don’t know – a glowing orange jelly with pistachios in it that is oh so tasty when it is eaten fresh.

Of the Turkish halvahs I think I prefer the sesame paste one, as it tastes much better. Turkish un helvasi was interesting for a try, but won’t make it into my usual shopping repertoire. That's okay, though; the pursuit of gastronomic delights is an art, not a science. From the realm of science, however, we can take heart in considering Edison's proclamation upon trying to invent the lightbulb: "I have not failed one thousand times, I have discovered one thousand methods that did not work!"

Keep on munching!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Salmon (Happy Valentine's Day!)

Dear readers,

Valentine's Day is coming up! I have always loved pink and hearts, so this is my favourite holiday! To celebrate this year, I will be going to a special Valentine's Day party at the playgroup I often attend. Everybody brings special food - the kind that's fit for kids, you know! So that means there will be lots of decorated sugar cookies, cupcakes, cake, and so on.

I love my sweets (especially when they are decorated with pink frosting!!) but I decided to do something a little different for my food item; I am calling them "Wild at Heart Salmon sandwiches"! (it's wild Alaskan salmon, or at least so the tin claims). Cute, eh? I used a heart-shaped cookie cutter and cut little white bread hearts out of each slice to make my pretty sandwiches. It wasn't as easy as it sounds - the bread was soft and delicate as tissue paper (and about as nutritious!)

The Carling Avenue connection? The mayonnaise is from Damas Middle Eastern store and the bread is from the shiny new Shopper's Drug Mart on Carling Ave. Surprisingly, for a drugstore, they have a good grocery section, with bacon, organic pasta, and gourmet choco-hazelnut spread. And the best part is, they're open 'til midnight!

I mixed the salmon with coriander, onion and lots of mayonnaise (that's why those commercially made salmon sandwiches taste so good - lots of fat!). Dill would have tasted sensational, but they are still very tasty with the onion and coriander.

So there I was at 10:30 pm, cutting little hearts out of white bread - I wonder how many other moms were up late at night making Valentine's Day treats for school parties tomorrow? Ah, it is well and truly happening - I am a mom!

Now, I just wonder if those kiddies tomorrow will like salmon...

Enjoy your Valentine's Day!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Is there a sweet anywhere that is stranger looking than a jilebi? I don’t think so.

And yet, this crisp orange delicacy, deep fried, dropped into hot syrup, designed to explode in your mouth and release rivulets of rose-scented liquid, is my favourite Indian sweet.

My earliest memory of jilebis comes from when I was a child visiting New Delhi. Our bearer went to the market and brought back a small paper bag of jilebis for our tea. The bag was soaked in syrup and looked unappetizing, but the jilebis were fresh and sensational.

In Ottawa I had fresh jilebis once - at the Indian High Commissioner’s Independence Day garden party. They had hired a person to make fresh jilebis on the spot! I recall that I was wearing a pink and white outfit with cute pink suede sandals. It is a mark of my love for these sweets that when my jilebi dribbled syrup onto my pink shoes, I didn’t mind a bit!

What makes jilebis so special? I think it is their unique construction. It seems like a recipe a child would dream up: take some neon-orange batter, make squiggly shapes with it in hot oil, remove the fritter from the fat, and dip it in hot syrup. Through some alchemy, the squiggles become hollow inside. When dipped in the syrup, the tubes fill up with the liquid. Biting into them – ah, a taste sensation!

I tried making jilebis once, and it is not as easy as it looks. I made them from a mix, and the results were disappointing to say the least. They came out golden, not orange (need more food colouring!), the tubes were too thin and, worst of all, when I bit into them, my mouth filled with oil, not syrup. Blech.

When I visit Indian food stores, there is habitually a tray of jilebis placed tantalizingly by the cash register. I know they won’t be good, but sometimes I give in and buy a small piece. How do they taste? Let me give you a hint: the jilebis sold in the stores are not made in Ottawa. I asked the shopkeeper at Vaishali and she told me they are shipped here from shops in Toronto in large cases. She keeps them in the fridge and brings them out a tray at a time, over a period of a few weeks! The results, while not exactly blech, are not quite stellar either. The sugar syrup crystallizes, they lose their crispness and become rubbery. Oh well.

The desirable qualities of a jilebi, as you can tell by now, are: crispness, sweetness, glossy appearance (okay, I hadn’t mentioned that yet), and overall quality. But don’t take my word for it. Apparently, researchers at the Department of Sensory Science in the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India, have done tests to determine this. Who knew? Undesirable attributes are: porous, and heated oil taste. They concluded that “Crispness of jilebi had high positive correlation with OQ and texture (shear value).” You see, I knew there was something special about those jilebis.

But enough of the science behind jilebis. I know you are really wondering - what was my best jilebi? Ah, friends, my very favourite jilebi experience came at my wedding! I got married in Mysore, India, in a lavish and colourful celebration organized entirely by my wonderful inlaws. Unlike weddings in the West where the bride (and occasionally, the groom) agonizes over chair covers, centrepieces, the song list, and intricacies of wedding favours, all I had to do was show up. My inlaws sent me a list of the menu for the wedding, but I didn't know what any of the items were (wobattu? majige houley?) so I just gaily agreed to all of the suggested items.

One menu item I did ask for was a wedding cake. Alas, that was difficult to arrange, so I asked for something that I had had in my mind for a long time...

"Could we", I asked my fiance, "have somebody at the wedding making fresh jilebis?"

"Of course!" he agreed. "Now is the time to satisfy all of your food fantasies!"

Woo hoo! You see, I had to marry this man!

And how were the jilebis? Dear reader, they were amazing. Instead of vegetable oil, they fried the jilebis in ghee. Instead of sugar syrup they used honey (special - for a wedding!), and you could tell they had been made with extra special care. The jilebi maker sat on an elevated perch and dripped and drizzled all night long. I only got to eat one jilebi, but I can remember just how delicious it was!

It was a sweet way to start a marriage!