Every year we make cookies for the holidays. Hundreds of cookies. New York Magazine ran a recipe for Rainbow Cookies. These are Maria’s favorite and she decided to make them.
Reread that recipe and notice that it’s almost five quarts in volume before you whip the egg whites. Our electric mixer’s bowl is five quarts but holds a bit less (unless your plan is to cover the counter with the top inch or so of the contents of the bowl during mixing). We mixed it in batches, combined the batches by hand for an even product and separated them into thirds for coloring and baking.
It’s a bit of playing around but the result is worth it. The cookies are delicious, just like bakery cookies (maybe better… we used good chocolate from our last trip to Fairway, sometimes the bakery chocolate is waxy).
I’m here for work but I’ve been exploring the city on foot when I have time and the weather permits. Speaking of the local weather, it’s been glorious, unseasonably warm and only a little rain. I take a few snapshots with my “monkey box” one-button digital camera when I remember to bring it, see my Halifax pics.
The best free street map is from the Metro-Transit authority. Links to the pdf of the front and back. Google maps does a serviceable job with its beta of walking directions too. I haven’t bothered to take the bus and find the city fairly walkable.
The food. I don’t have contacts or colleagues here, so I’ve been making the rounds of the nearby restaurants and dining with my dead-tree companions. Very little surprise but other than the pubs, many restaurants are closed on Sunday, at least during the off-season. Here’s what I’ve sampled:
- Star Anise, Vietnamese. Very good, especially considering the reasonable prices. Seems to cater to a lunch crowd, it was nearly empty when I went in. The interior of formica tables and a mix of wooden dining chairs and metal outdoor chairs looks like the owners acquired the place as a fast-food joint. The shrimp soup dumplings in savory broth were very good. The vermicelli with pork and a spring roll was good, the spring roll was very good, the pork cooked a little too dry and the bright fresh flavors I expected a little dim. I’ll go back this week.
- Minato, Korean Japanese. Okay, good food, inexpensive, poor service. I was over by Spring Garden Road considering options and reading the menu for Sushi Nami when two collegiate-looking types also trying to make up their minds about dinner walked by. One remarked that he’s been there a few times and the food was okay but expensive and there is better. I interrupted them and asked for a recommendation and he sent me to Minato. It was busy and while I counted three wait staff, they could barely keep up with the two small floors of tables. The sushi and sashimi was delicious, the miso soup and salad just fair. The service was awful, so bad I’m reluctant to go back and try the Korean dishes.
- Foggy Goggle. Hey, it’s a pub. The name is fun to say and they have some kind of minimal attempt at an aviator theme that’s sort of layered over by the usual pub bric-a-brac. I chose it because they hadn’t cleared out the bar stools and chairs to make room for a mid-week college-age standing room only drinking crowd (like Pogue Fado did, I was also put off by the presence of three imposing bouncers outside and another inside and didn’t stay to have a drink. I’m too old for that) and there was enough light to read my magazine. They have a limited draft beer selection but the pub burger is a treat and the wait staff is attentive.
- Just Us Coffee. Just okay. I ducked in for a snack and a cup of joe in lieu of a late lunch on Saturday. The “dark” coffee was a weak brew, not as good as Second Cup, better than Tim Hortons. The carrot cake was adequate, not too sweet but a little dry. The place was a carnival of employees and their friends and the table by the window has a good view of the passers-by on Barrington St. I’m guessing they make it on their location and politics.
- Stone Street Cafe. Very good, expensive. It was raining so I tried dinner in the restaurant underneath the hotel. It was completely empty other than myself and the waitstaff. The chef came out during my meal to chat, which was a bit of a surprise when I looked up from my magazine and saw him smiling and leaning over toward the table. The local bread and cardamon butter was a treat. The grilled chicken and mushroom soup I began with was very good. The entree of pappardelle was perfectly al dente, the local seafood and salmon, just done, the tomato cream sauce, good but there was a bit too much of it for my taste and hid the flavors of the seafood. I enjoyed the pistachio creme brulee but it was, really, unexceptional.
- Opa. Upscale Greek place at Argyle and Blowers. Very busy, several large parties were already seated when I came in before 7pm. It had a good vibe. The bar staff was very attentive. The wait staff, just so-so. I was slightly annoyed that they were reserving the nearly empty patio for groups of three or more and left me at the bar to eat. The food was okay, a little above a New Jersey Greek diner (not much) but more attractively plated. It’s a big cut above the donair (gyro) joints but unless you’re with a sizable group sharing plates or impressed with the wine list and chewing up the atmosphere, it’s really just okay.
- Farmer’s Market on Lower Water Street, Saturday until mid-day. It’s what you expect, an indoor farmer’s market with tasty local foods and regional products. I wish I had a kitchen, so I could have tried the meats and veggies. It all looked good, reminded me of the one we had in Brooklyn. Because I’m travelling internationally with just carry-on bags, I also didn’t buy any of the non- or less-perishable foodstuffs to bring home besides some sweets.
The citadel is the old colonial barracks and fortification. It’s on the highest point in the area then dug in (or built up, I’m not sure) about thirty feet deep. The museum wasn’t open, but I walked around it then through the open grounds and along the pallisade wall. Great view of the city in every direction and at 12 noon each day they fire off a signal cannon.
I strolled the boardwalk on my way to the farmer’s market and Maritime Museum. The docks have a mix of tourist and working ships. In the shallowest parts of the murky green water you can see sea urchins, mussels and (I wish Nate was here) orangish and pink-tinged starfish. There’s no way to get closer, short of falling in, and I couldn’t get any pictures. The Maritime Museum is compact and I spent a couple of hours there. Merlin, a parrot, greets you when you enter (thank Robert Louis Stevenson for that association of bird with pirate) and delighted the kids by talking and whistling. The collection has an astounding number of models, some 520 according to their literature, and present short films on the Halifax explosion (in 1917 a French munitions ship collided with a merchant ship, burned and exploded, devastating the city) and the wreck of the Titanic. Aside from that famous one, the museum has an interesting exhibit on shipwrecks and salvage and notes that there are anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 ship wrecks around Halifax and the Maritimes since its colonial founding.
Spent most of the day in airports. Continental comped anyone on the 2:45 delayed flight who asked for one with a customer appreciation sleeve containing a 10% discount on future travel, a drink ticket and a $14 meal voucher. I had planned to waste four hours making my connection today so it seemed like good deal. A number of passengers missed their connections and found their next flights full or, worse, overbooked, they didn’t think it was much of an offer.
I learned (from a friendly TSA employee) that Continental runs their own inter-terminal shuttles from the secure side of the TSA checkpoint for ticketed passengers making connections. I arrived at the booth five minutes before the next one from Terminal C, near Gate 71, to Terminal A, near Gate 28 and was at Gate 27 in less than ten minutes and without passing through the security check again. Win!
Wandered around downtown Halifax, out to St. Mary’s and Dalhousie and crisscrossed back. It’s more hilly than I expected. There is a strong effort to preserve the old architecture (aside from some oddities like the Scotia Plaza and- I think- the civic arena which were plunked down blocking where the old streets must have run). I forgot my camera but I’ll retrace my steps and take a few snapshots.
Ate at the Wooden Monkey in what I’ve read is it’s new location on 1707 Grafton Street. I saw a recommendation on either yelp or traveladvisor for the old location. Ignore the website. Ignore the owners’ local, organic, save-the-Earth high-mindedness, the earthy turmeric-colored plaster and the menu’s asterisked gluten-free and vegan reminders. Just eat. The food is good. Really good of the, “Wow, you must try a bite of this!” variety. I had the house side salad and the grilled lamb burger with rosemary goat cheese and “roasties”, roasted seasoned potatoes cut slightly finer than home-style fries, with a local Scotch Ale. I forgot to warn them against overcooking the lamb but it still arrived just perfectly done, juicy with the slightest pink in the middle. Excellent meal.
Every Hanukkah I take a go at making potato latkes. My grandmother Sylvia made very good ones but she had no written recipe that I saw, a food grinder attachment for her Kitchenaid mixer, an electric skillet and decades of experience. She also made batches big enough to feed the extended family and ran things like apples and bread into the mix of potato, onion, egg and matzoh meal.
Truth be told, I prefer a more crisp, coarse latke than results from a food mill or pulsing with a food processor so I’ve tinkered with the recipe. This year I think I’ve perfected it. I’ve kept the fiddly traditional assembly steps but used flour instead of matzoh meal, combined multiple “grinds” of potato and used a deep electric skillet. The electric skillet seems to be key. I’ve used flour before (it’s common in French Toast recipes to make them crispy) and the results were good but not perfect. These are perfect.
The ingredients are:
- 5-6 large Russett potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3-4 tbs. flour, possibly more
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Makes about 24 latkes.
In a colander or large strainer, drape a cheese cloth or clean dish towel. In a food processor with the chopping blade installed, pulse 1/3 of the potatoes and the onion until it has the consistency of
apple sauce. Remove and place on the cloth in the strainer over a bowl. Using the medium shredding disk for the food processor (or a box grater), process another third of the potatoes. Repeat with a fine
disk or grater for the last third. Place with the finely ground portion in the cloth and strainer. Rinse the potato mixture with cold water to remove the starch then fold the edges of the cloth over it. Twist the cloth to squeeze out the water and let it stand 30-45 minutes in the strainer. Continue squeezing and twisting the cloth until it stops producing more liquid. Discard the liquid. Unfold the cloth and put the potato mixture in a large bowl. It should be white or very slightly pink. If it is very pink or gray there is too much starch left and should be rinsed and squeezed again. Preheat a half inch of vegetable oil in the skillet to 375 F. Add to the bowl the beaten eggs, 2 tbs. flour and salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt. Mix well. Add additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, until
the mixture looks wet but holds loosely together. Scoop the mixture, about a quarter cup at a time, and form a pancake in the skillet. Fry on each side until golden brown, about three minutes. Do not crowd the skillet. Remove the latkes to paper towels or brown paper to drain and keep warm in the oven.
Everyone who knows roadside dining knows about Jan & Michael Stern’s Roadfood book and [website](http://www.roadfood.com) (though it’s too bad they decided to cash in on the site and make it a subscriber service) and lots of people know about [Chowhound](http://www.chowhound.com) and its unedited forums but this evening I stumbled across [Holly Eats](http://www.hollyeats.com) where food writer Hollister Moore rates low food and regional eats. Check it out.
I’m up in the Toronto area for my employer. I walked around Chinatown and tried the dim sum at Bright Pearl on Spadina.
The place struck me as Toronto’s equivalent to New York’s Golden Unicorn.
Good, cheap and easy to find. Being by myself there
was a limit to how many dishes I could sample: pork shumai topped with
fish eggs, steamed bbq pork bun, baked pork bun, fried shrimp wonton,
beef in sticky rice and spring rolls.
I would have liked to try the mussels, beef and rice steamed in a leaf, and
bbq ribs and bbq chicken but by the time those carts came through I was full.
Everything I ate was fresh, hot and tasty. Flavors tended toward the sweet
which surprised me a little.
I walked around the city. I stopped to take in the exhibits at the R.O.M. The Egyptian antiquities that I missed when they showed at Brooklyn were on display
and then walked back toward Chinatown and Kensington market. Along the way I had coffee at one of the Second Cup cafes that dot the city. I prefer the coffee at Second Cup but the local favorite Tim Horton’s has better sweets.
Kensington market was not what I expected. The groceries, second hand shops, dried fish and barrels of dry goods are cheek to jowl with way too much new
stuff and army-navy and the whole over crowded by trendy lonely
planet types. Maybe it’s better at night. I tried a Jamaican beef patty from a busy shop, but I’m spoiled by the patties sold by Christy’s on Flatbush in Brooklyn, and only finished my ginger beer.
This evening, I went looking for a place recommended by a colleague and
not finding it, found a Dim Sum and Seafood restaurant in a strip mall in
Mississauga off Dixie Road near Dundas named Happy Jade. The number of
Asian families crowding the place and enjoying their meals was a good sign.
I had the soup with chicken, mushroom and vegetable which was hot but not
particularly flavorful and the fried seafood with XO sauce which was very good.
Shrimp, scallops and squid were stir fried with pea pods, celery, green onions
and ginger. The thin, mostly clear, spicy sauce is made with oil infused with chilies, pork fat (and maybe rind), garlic and, I think from the taste, ground dried fish. Nothing was over or under done and sauce was delicious.
The waiter was engaging and when I mentioned I was visiting for work noted
that they are open seven days a week and have dim sum in the morning
(I’ve gone back for dinner again and the hot and sour soup and fried noodles
were very good).