It’s been a grey flannel January in Toronto. Still, there are small things that make it better. Here are a few from right now:
My building has a hot water heating system. There are three cast-iron radiators in my apartment. Through the summer there was an expensive upgrade to the system. Now, the radiators are too hot for my cat to lounge on. The heat it generates is nice — right behind a wood stove or fireplace. I keep my hat and gloves on it so the first few minutes outside are extra warm. I do the same thing with my inside clothes before I go out for a walk. Putting on something toasty when my body temperature has dropped and I’m sweaty is nice. So is a warm towel after a bath. I wish it had a bread warmer.
Homemade strawberry jam in local organic yogurt makes me believe January is as good as early June. My appreciation is sharper in the winter because every market isn’t selling gorgeous Île d’Orléans strawberries.
“The first thing I remember tasting and then wanting to taste again is the grayish-pink fuzz my grandmother skimmed from a spitting kettle of strawberry jam.”
Until recently, I had a top-five desert island book list that includes A Fine Balance and All The Light We Cannot See. Now, it’s a top-six list because I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead. No surprise she won the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is exquisite. I pay attention to her structure and technique. I’m not alone in saying the story makes my heart ache. Ezra Klein perfectly expresses the experience of reading it in the introduction to this interview with her. She is powerfully empathetic to opioid addicts and talks a lot of sense, including about the benefits of harm reduction.
Japanese sweet potatoes. The simmered, sweet soy-saturated shards served as banchan — Gamja Jorim — makes me wish I could make the short subway ride to Tofu Village. I’m still searching for a restaurant replacement.
Alice Choi put me on to baking the sweet potatoes. The dense golden flesh is a good lunch after a cold walk. I dip them warm into a mayonnaise sauce. Here are two I like (the second is my favourite):
Kimchi mayo — mayonnaise, finely chopped kimchi and green onion, and Korean red chili pepper flakes.
Goma mayo — mayonnaise, Goma sauce (bought at Sanko on Queen St. W.), finely chopped garlic and ginger, toasted sesame seeds, and sesame oil.
The plum, rose and apricot tints that spread like watercolours in the sky on my late afternoon walks along the Humber River. I stopped in my tracks last week when a pack of coyotes started howling and yipping in the near distance. They had the frenzied sound of feasting.
One of the benefits of writing 'today' is that I listen to a lot of music in a week. This song came to me through a reel on Instagram. There's a lot of depth in the sound — long live De La Soul. It's another feel-good dance song.
During the pandemic, I read Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking from cover to cover as a writing exercise. I was looking at the words and the structure and punctuation. After a while, I could see her hand. The intimacy was a pleasure. I collected three-to-five-word phrases while reading, saving them in a document that is 25 pages long. I was thinking about poetry but know nothing about the form. I don't know if what follows is proper, but it was fun to create. And to see our words mingle is a thrill.
My dad’s cast-iron Dutch oven is
“a fat comfortable-looking pot”
with a charcoal surface buffed to a patent leather sheen
“nothing cooked in it could possibly go wrong.”
A Fibonacci sequence of use
from two generations of braises, soups and stews
“imparting a very special flavour”
beginning with a glug-glug of oil or “a nut of butter.”
The ghost of his onions sizzles with mine, along with “a suspicion of garlic
fine-tuning the heat dial until the bubbles reverberate at the right pitch
and cirrus cloud steam rises from the crescent moon gap between pot and lid
the “rich aromas of slow cooking” are a signal to set the table.
When cooking, let the bean’s character bloom. Be generous with the flavourings and amplify the ingredients in the final recipe. This batch of navy beans was destined for an Italian-inspired dish.
Carrots with a bit of their tops, cooking onions in their golden skin, a head of garlic halved horizontally, celery stalks, Campari tomatoes on their pungent, vegetal stalks, Italian parsley, thyme, and rosemary tied in a bundle, bay leaves, a shard of kombu for umami.
Soak the beans in lots of cold water overnight. Drain and discard the soaking liquid. Put the beans in a pot and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to a boil and skim the foam off the surface. When the foam subsides, add the flavouring ingredients. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim as needed and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until tender — the age of the beans determines the cooking time.
Turn the heat off and season liberally with salt. Leave the beans to cool completely in the cooking liquid.
Remove and discard the flavouring ingredients. Store in their liquid. The beans freeze beautifully.
Would you please consider subscribing to ‘today’ or sharing it on social media?
Look at the smiles in that concert hall. I’d love to be in that crowd. What a message to leave an audience with. It’s the energy to take into 2024.
I adore you!
 David, Elizabeth. French Country Cooking. Illustrated ed. (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1987). p. 49
 Ibid., p. 25
 Ibid., p. 48
 Ibid., p. 65
 Ibid., p. 117
 Ibid., p. 103
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