I'm sitting on the train...in the rain.... heading west, from Montreal back home to Toronto.
I never made it to Grand Manan Island. My friend’s car sprouted serious bearings problems and we got squeezed for time. Instead I had a couple of days in Ottawa, time to see my aunt and my cousin Jennifer, and to swim in the Gatineau River, hurrah! on June 2, almost a record (but not in fact very brave, given the early warmth this spring and the resulting relative kindness of the river’s temperature), as well as to spend good time with my friend Lianne. We talked a lot about our plans for an immersethrough session on Grand Manan in September. After that I had more than twenty-four hours in Montreal. Most of that was spending time with an old friend who is not well, but I also got to Fromentier for the first time, the arguably best bread bakery in Montreal, and to Kouignaman, a charming bakery-cafe.
I wanted to take care of my friend in the short time I was in Montreal, do something to help her feel better or to distract her. Food is a nice tangible offering, so that's where I headed, that and conversation. On the food front, my friend yearned for green vegetables but how best to do that? She has some swallowing issues and also can’t handle strong flavours or acids such lemon or lime juice or vinegar, and avoids most meat. She needs to put on some weight and gain strength. I wanted to make food for her that I could freeze in small batches, so she would have fall-backs on days when she had no-one around to help with cooking etc. I made a simple risotto with chunks of sweet potato and a little mushroom and some sugar peas, for supper. Alongside was a simply poached piece of organic salmon, tender and delish. But that was just one meal, not for pantry loading.
For the longer term I made a large batch of masur dal (easy to freeze and to flavour later but edible as is, with just salt and olive oil) and also a puree, a kind of thick soup, of assorted greens. I made two versions and now realise how forgiving the whole concept is. I started with olive oil in a wide cast-iron skillet, into which went minced garlic and ginger and some onion too. Then I added slices of sweet potato and portobello mushroom and when they were softened a little, in went a lot of chopped arugula, spinach, watercress, and dandelion greens, and some chopped sugar peas. Seasoning was just a little salt and a splash of fish sauce. Once the greens were well cooked (with the addition of a little water or stock), I poured them into her sturdy old osterizer and whizzed the whole thing to a thick gorgeous puree. With the second batch I added a small chopped avocado and whizzed it again.
That magic green puree was delicious, both versions were... (especially eaten over a few slices of slippery tender Shan tofu “noodles”; I made a small batch of “Shan tofu” while I was at it, experimenting a little more with the recipe and discovering how forgiving it is). So don’t worry about proportions when making spring greens puree, just go try your own version. It’s like spring in a bowl. The sweet potato isn’t necessary of course, but its sweetness was a nice little balance with the dandelion greens. You could instead use extra minced onion...
Along with cooking and conversation with friends, this short trip was also a reminder, yet another, to count my blessings. How wonderful to be able to take a train and go to visit friends and family and revisit childhood memories. How wonderful to walk through parts of Montreal that I don’t know well, discovering new places I want to return to.
And now, some hours after I started writing this, I can say, as I sit at midnight in the familiar warmth of my own kitchen, how wonderful to be able to return home...