Friday, July 30, 2010


It’s been awhile since I wrote here. Now the end of July is upon us, and where did July go? I find myself asking, and others too echo the question. Well it went in an apparently seamless succession of gorgeous days and heat with enough rain for the garden and early ripenings of fruits and vegetables. In other words it disappeared into a summer Eden. How lovely!

I was going to write earlier in the week about a magical full-moon nighttime I had up in Grey County last weekend, watching thin veilings of clouds swirl past the bright moon as I sat on the steps of friends’ wooden house, alone and peaceful, and grateful for it all. But somehow in the rush of getting myself to Montreal and tidying up Burma recipes and whatever other excuses I have, the blogpost didn’t happen.

Montreal? you say. Again? Yes, and with pleasure. I am always happy to see friends there, but this trip was especially to connect with Nancy Jenkins (of Maine and Tuscany) and her daughter Sara, chef-owner of the amazing Porchetta in NYC and about to open another restaurant, equally true Italian, on Seventh St East, sometime in September. I hadn’t seen them for too many years. They were planning to spend four days in Montreal, in “Europe North” as Sara now calls Canada, and I grabbed at the chance to have time with them.

Yes, we talked, and yes we ate, and yes, most of all, we had fun, extra sweet because of the perfect grandchild, as Nancy calls Sara’s son. There was the obligatory-for-new-visitors meal at Au Pied de Cochon (with the obligatory poutine with foie gras, despite the summer heat), and the ditto stop for smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s. (We were there at 10.30 in the morning, a perfect calm time, no crowds, no rush.)

That meal of medium smoked meat sandwich with pickle tided me over until evening, when we had a blow-out Italian feast courtesy Michele Forgione and his team. We ate regional Italian dishes, amazing home-made charcuterie of all kinds,, home-made pastas, a slow-roasted perfect Quebec pig, loaded with delish crackling... You get the drift. Oh and there were nicely chosen Italian wines too, of course. Lesley Chesterman of the Montreal Gazette, a fun dining companion and fine writer, was there and taking notes; do go find her online at to get details; I imagine she’ll tweet them or blog them sometime soon... not sure.

All I can say is that if Michele’s planned restaurant delivers this kind of quality and light touch, it will be packed with happy diners. He’s hoping to open in the next year.

On another food subject, I just recently stumbled into Rachel Lauden’s blog... I am in touch with her on Facebook, but had failed to check out her blog. It’s very interesting, and challenging, since she is a food historian who is a rigorous thinker too, so rather than making sweeping generalisations or indulging in romanticising the past, she’s clear-eyed and lets her curiosity, rather than wishful thinking, lead her. Have a look; I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. (I was snagged by her musings on thin rice doughs, aka ouarka/popiah etc, here

And off food as a focus.... In the last couple of months I have found myself getting too intense from time to time about decision-making and daily life. Today over coffee I talked about it with a friend, who's had a similar struggle with intensity and treating all of life as momentous these last months.

What is this all about? Well perhaps it’s first about an ongoing awareness of the frailties of life, but somehow unfiltered, so that the head gets tied in a knot, fussing about and worrying about not wasting time and opportunity. But this is such a sterile place to be. It takes the brain on round-and-round circles fruitlessly. A mind-clenched stress about details means that we are not free to imagine and enjoy, to have fresh thoughts and appreciate daily pleasures. If your eye is always on a potential future benefit or catastrophe, then it’s not attuned to the now, right?

Well, said another friend, how to get out of this stressful and paralysing feeling that every moment and every decision is momentous? Is it a matter of developing a new regimen? Or what?

My answer so far, and it seems to be working, is that now that I recognise the issue, it’s up to me to let go, that is, whenever I get clenched about a decision or worrying about tomorrow, I remind myself to step back, breathe deeply, smell the flowers, and say, so what? If things go wrong, so what? I can deal with the fall-out of whatever problems arise, and once again, so what?

I’m enjoying this growing sense of freedom. I’m feeling my full wingspan. It’s a joy and is powerful too. Like anyone, I sure can backslide. But I have to say, the lightness of heart I feel each day is growing, and so is the gratitude I feel, to have health and loving friends and family, and each new day to look forward to.


naomi said...

A friend sent me an email commenting on this post, on both the Montreal eating and the thoughts about life and attitudes to it:
"... to read about your pig nosh made my mouth water... I agree that you need to relax the "must-do" muscles of your being and spend time being good to yourself..."
And so do we all!

Kathy Grimshaw said...

I feel very voyeuristic, visiting your blog and reading, so I'd figure I'd 'come out' and make a comment. I hope you don't mind my commenting. It is wonderful getting to know you through your writing. I enjoy your cookbook, 'Hot Sour Salty Sweet.' I often read it when I can steal some private moments away from my boys. I don't just read it for the recipes, but for the photographs and commentary. It takes me away. (There are precious few english language cookbooks here)..

I appreciate that creating such an opus could not be without stresses and a lot of hard work and decision-making. Perhaps that is why your books are such a testament to all that you are looking for in life now.

I am a Canadian foodie, (like you I like to think), but unfortunately not quite as worldly or as articulate. I am currently living in Norway -- not abundant insofar as eastern asian grocery items. The fish here is wonderful but I can only dream of those tiny round Thai eggplants or Laotian 'khai.' For now, my cooking is all about accommodating. I would indulge in more local fare but it is the flavours of the east to which I am truly drawn. "Flavour' here can be salt and pepper, and sometimes cardamom.

But I do enjoy a good sauna now and then. You are right: it does purge one of all the nasty crap that can weigh one down. Norwegians surely are not known for being 'stressed out!'

Anyway, I ramble... Your insights are as inspiring as ever. Your joy in this growing sense of freedom and liberation from weighty and meaningless dread (the worst feeling in the world, no doubt) made me want to cry (a happiness cry... I am at that age where I cry at a lot of things, like telephone ads).

I think I would be disappointed if I were to read that you hadn't already attained some level of nirvana given all your wonderful achievements. I think it is brilliant that you have traveled all over the world, with your children and captured tantalizing bits of culture along with photographs in a number of books. I love what you have done.

What I really wanted to say is that I enjoy your views and your writing very much.