April 17, 2010

the blessed, the roadkills and the casse croute

Early. Saturday morning. Too early. Seven am. Did last night's service until 11.30pm which meant no sleep until at least 1. Dreamt that a truck pulled up behind the restaurant and dumped a load of thousands of oysters into the kitchen from the back door. Oysters everywhere. One guy was cleaning them with a huge brush while another beside was madly shucking oysters with me but there was no end to it. Orders from clients just kept on ticking in, over and over, more and more with no reprieve. Then I hear somewhere somebody saying that there is another truck full of different oysters coming. We had to make room.

oysters with sake pearls

1/2 cup of sake + enough sake to cover the pearls
2.5 g of agar agar

1/2 cup of cold vegetable oil (in a container in the fridge)

put the sake in a pan and slowly heat. add the agar agar. Bring to a boil while whisking, reduce heat and cook for one minute. Remove from heat.

remove oil from fridge. fill a dropper with the sake mix and one drop in very cold oil one drop at a time.

strain the pearls from the oil. Rinse under warm water to remove excess oil.

cover the pearl with enough sake which helps retain their flavour.

to serve. open oyster. garnish with a little spoonful of pearls.

I have to drive Michèle to Ottawa from Montréal for a conference she has.

Early. Grey day. A thick fog has swallowed everything. Coffee is not working. The vague outline of trees is spectral. There is a silence to this fog which I covet.

Mechanically I get into the car and we are off. 15 north, highway 40. My attention is enough only to drive. We arrive in Ottawa and I drop her off at her work. Now what? I don`t feel like being in the city. A little introspective...started wondering about food. Already I was hungry, but I started asking questions like what is food really? We all eat for one reason but there seems to be an enormous set of secondary reasons. People have been mentioning comfort food so much lately that one had to wonder. What are people really trying to say about comfort food? That it is good? That it reminds them of their youth? Simplicity? Culture? Something I never heard of when I lived in Italy.

I remembered reading about a monastery in Québec not far from Hawksbury of Greek Orthodox nuns who make some goat and sheep milk cheese. Fuck it. Now or never I thought. Without calling to see if they are open I drive in the general direction. I could use something spiritual. I take the 17 towards Hawksbury. A beautiful drive through Ontario villages and farmland. Full of picturesque sagging wood barns which most of us love. The thing is that we would never buy one, but we realize that they are still being used, perhaps that is their charm, along with the old rusted tractor; that they are not pristine. But then again some people can where socks with innumerable holes in them and could not be bothered. Nonetheless the presence of these barns is something I almost expect. Perhaps as something to invalidate the milk carton picturesque ideal of a farm pure and smiling and simple and clean living. There are few cars on the highway. So many road kills though. Pink insides folded outward like warning signs. Dangerous. With the lack of sleep, such vibrant colours bulging out of all the bellies of this and that creature my eyes tend to fixate on them a little too intensely...behind the wheel is not a good thing. So many still lifes. What is so appealing about these farms? The organization of the pastures? Maybe it is the idea of self sufficiency that is so attractive. I often wonder if we do not realize somewhere that unless we know how to hunt or farm or tend a garden that we are not only removed from surviving but are neurotically subconsciously aware that we are dependent on people that we do not know, on a system that we vaguely trust, but have little choice to expect them to deliver?

Over the Ottawa river, into Québec from Ontario. I become aware of my incredible hunger. I pull into the first place I find, a casse croute. The menu. Hot dog, poutine, hamburger, pizza ghetti and then half a pizza with half a portion of spaghetti with meat sauce with poutine. My hunger is savage but I suddenly wonder who invented this kind of dish? Is it comfort food? Unfortunately it probably is for someone. At this moment I feel nothing comforting about it, nothing of the community I am in, nothing of terroir, suddenly feeling that it is not even food...it is the remnant of a North American system of mass production hopefully coming to its end. I reconsider. Not far to go. I buy some nut bread at a local bakery, tear off a few chunks and race off for the blessed flock. Chemin Staynerville, Montée Wert and then a muddy dirt road. The forest looks wild. Nothing arranged except the power lines feeding some unseen source.

I pull into the drive way, past some open iron gate with the orthodox cross and...well it is not Europe. Perhaps I expected Monte Subasio, or Chartreuse, or Syria. No. Something very new. A house in the distance like any other, only bigger. Nearer, a collection of buildings made to look as if we were on the Mediterranean coast, ersatz middle ages. Oh well. I walk into the boutique with its books, CD's, icons and cheese. I am served by a traditionally black hooded nun with a brilliant smile, the kind of smile which gives one a sort of feeling of relief. The kind of smile that suddenly makes me feel like a fool, like a tourist helped by the fact that everyone in the store is speaking Greek. We talk about their production, how they sold their flock to a neighbour because it was too much work for such a small community, but they still produce their cheese. I buy 3 varieties. More hungry than ever.

I have the cheese for the restaurant. I sit at a picnic table. I pull out the nut bread and cut a piece of Athonite. 100% goat. 6 months old. Nutty. Floral. I try another. Le Bon Berger. 100% goat. Same production date. More floral, like a cheddar maybe with a light taste of annatto. Then the Graviera, sheep's milk. A little over six months old. Delicious. The best by far. A sharper even toasted taste. I finish the bread, saving some cheese for Michèle. I watch the tiny river moving over huge rocks, into the wild looking forest, and the half finished construction of their buildings. Except for the constant agitation of the river there is absolute silence, not the kind of silence there must have been before the big bang or God's grand gesture, but the silence of something inarticulate, the silence of something which needs to be constantly said.

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