Friday, September 29, 2006

Spices of wife, especially cardamom

As I was cleaning out my spice drawer -- ok, thinking about cleaning out my spice drawer -- I made an ill-advised visit to my computer and happened upon a Blogcrictics posting about the health benefits of spices. Almost shocking to come across an article like this that doesn't mention turmeric.

Of course the king of spices himself must be Michael Ondaatje for his enduringly fragrant poem, The Cinnamon Peeler, featuring another most healthful spice.

The blogger does go on about cardamom though, which I'm definitely in favour of. I love it in kheer and I have a recipe for Cardamom Lime Cheesecake which was an old favourite (- just think of the comprehensive nutritional benefit you get from that one: vitamin C from the limes, calcium from the dairy, protein from the eggs, and eternal life from the cardamom!)
Cardamom Lime Cheesecake (8-10 servings)
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp sugar
1-1/4 c graham crumbs
2 envelopes gelatin
1-1/4 c sugar
1 c milk
grated peel of 3 limes
1-8oz pkg cream cheese
2 c large curd cottage cheese
1/3 c lime juice
1 c whipping cream, whipped
3/4 tsp cardamom
  • Press butter, 1 tbsp sugar and graham crumbs into a 9" springform pan and bake 5 minutes at 350f. Set aside.
  • Combine gelatin and sugar in a double boiler and stir in milk and eggs. Cook over boiling water, stirring until mixture starts to thicken (15 minutes or so). Remove from heat, stir in peel and chill mixture until syrupy.
  • Whirl smooth in a food processor or blender the cream cheese, cottage cheese, lime juice and cardamom. Stir in the gelatin mixture and fold in whipped cream. Pour into springform and chill at least 4 hours.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hazelnuts and poetry reviews

At the Feast of Fields the other weekend, we noticed a bowl of hazelnuts at the Dunsmuir Lodge stand. We paused, we tasted, we tasted again. They were amazing! We asked about them and were told they had been shelled the day before, then blanched in water, dusted with icing sugar and deep fried. Spectacular. Another (get thee behind me Satan) reason I'm so glad I don't own a deep fryer…

I have been reading a book mentioned earlier on this blog, 101 Ways to Sell Poems and was struck by the sections (they are several) to do with reviewing. In my experience writers here spend almost as much time uselessly deploring the state of reviewing as dissing our teeny tiny publishers for not being more powerful marketing machines. This book answers both questions with the suggestion we just get off our duffs and wade in there to help.

Reviewing, as Chris Hamilton-Emery points out, needn't be limited to the already limited space in newspapers. We can be both reviewers and reviewees, and both positions are helpful to our own literary presence. We have the power of the net behind us. Blogs, of course, are good places to air our allegiances to books that impress us (and hey -- what am I doing now?); so are online bookseller review spaces (e.g.; online journals and e-zines, listservs, our own web pages are also good places to do this. And there's nothing to stop us from starting another online reviewing journal anytime we want. Implicit in his discussion is the suggestion not to waste time and newsprint/webspace trashing other writers' works: you do more good by promoting your interests through positive action.

Some of the many remarks I found noteworthy came from the publisher side of Hamilton-Emery's brain, where he addresses that question we get from our publishers: to whom should we send review copies? Hamilton-Emery tells you to stop and think carefully about that one, because it serves nobody's interests to simply send copies to every newspaper and journal around. Profit margins on poetry are low enough, he observes; the last favour you want to do yourself and your publisher is to "flush their profits down the drain [by sending] too many unsolicited review copies to the benighted leagues of literary editors." He urges poets to "Think of all the junk mail you have ever received and how delighted you were in opening it all up and reading it."

He assures us that there is nothing untoward in cultivating reviewers to talk about our books. Other people are already doing this. All you are doing is helping out the journal by focusing their ability to match the right reviewer to the right book, instead of leaving them to wade through the accumulations and randomly assign, let's say, absolutely the wrong book to the wrong reviewer.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

WOTS happening

Spent last weekend across the water in Vancouver, a long way to go for a nine minute reading, but we do what we can to help the cause. Anyway I was lucky to be first and actually get my nine (and I did count 'em) minutes; as too often happens with multiple-reader events, those at the end of the program got squeezed for time. I was appearing with the Poets In Transit gang at the Word on the Street, and what a spectacular day we had for it. I read with Jen Currin, Marya Fiamengo, Kevin Roberts, Gena Thompson and finally Elise Partridge - who graciously but very sadly for us only read two poems. A wonderful thing this PIT program, and, we learned really only in existence thanks to the hard work of poet and anthologist Sandy Shreve, who introduced the event.

My poem as it will appear on better buses near (some of) you. Don't know who is mr grumpy on the left or what he has to do with it all.

Packing them in at the Poet's (sic) Corner (Lynne Truss, where are you?)

The Oolichaners (Hiro Boga and Ron Smith) brace themselves as another mob of book buyers approaches. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd and came away with a gorgeous new cookbook, Just Chicken: 100 Easy Recipes from India by Sharda Pargal.

Lots and lots at WOTS. Cool library building, huh?

Rhonda Batchelor holding the latest - hot, hot, hot! - issue of Malahat Review.

A stylish Heidi Greco stars at the sub-Terrain stand with some local autumn foliage. Next door neighbour Anvil Press had wonderful news about the shockingly good novel Stolen, by Annette Lapointe: she has just been nominated for a Giller Prize.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Garlic prawns and then apple lightning cake

Last night's chow was garlic prawns with orzo, that clever little pasta that imitates rice, with a few zucchini slices and slivers of red pepper so I wouldn't have to make vegetables.

Followed by yet another variation on our dear friend the Lightning Cake, this time featuring a sliced apple topping, sprinkled with juice of half a lemon, about half a cup of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon (I've made it with blueberries and ginger as well - terrific). I ladled into the cake batter about half a cup of raisins - which had wallowed some weeks in leftover hooch - sherry? brandy? who knows - until plump. The result was gooey and crispy and perfect with Udder Guys Ice Cream (maple walnut this time). And it held up well overnight: a delicious breakfast.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Malaspina and banana bread

It seems the Curse of Blogger is upon me once more: I've spent three days trying to post a few more snaps from Feast of Fields but Blogger leads me down the garden path and then just refuses to let it happen. And then I got to the end of today's snappy, entertaining and endlessly erudite posting and Blogger quit on me again. Grrr. So I try once more, from memory.

I read last night at Malaspina College where I was delighted to see a number of my former classmates from Kate Braid's form in poetry course in the audience. One of them, Gabriola Island's own Audrey Keating, did a terrific opening reading, or more accurately recitation. Brave and well delivered.

I was also delighted to receive as part payment for my reading, a hand crafted banana bread from the organiser, the lovely and talented ev nittel. It was wrapped in brown paper and warm from the oven. It was crunchy on top and springy in the middle, laced with chocolate, pebbled with walnuts and scattered with caramelised and chocolate coated almonds. To die for. Or at least to drive to Nanaimo and give a reading for! I will see if I can pry the recipe from her, but I fear she simply has a flair for baking that might not be possible for most of us to duplicate.

In keeping with my latest time-wasting activity (and you need lots of these when you're getting ready to go away for a year!), namely keeping track of which poems I read where, here's the evening's playlist:

White Dresses (from Hour of the Pearl, read in honour of the surprise appearance of my long ago pal and fellow boarding school survivor Pamela!)
Leaving the Refuge (from new manuscript)
Suitcase (from Cartography)
The Thirteenth Fairy Bites Back
The Rhonda Poem, or the Madness of D
Vegetable Kingdom (one for the vegetarians, written at Wired a couple of years back)
Ghost in the Machine (new manuscript)
Hard Cold Realty
London Plane
Ache and Pain
Boston School of Cooking Cookbook (Old Habits / Crosswords)
Another Life to Live at the Edge of the Young and Restless Days of Our Lives (Creating the Country / Crosswords)

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Final feast photos

Wickaninnish Inn's gorgeous tomatoes.

Wonderful Feys & Hobbs caterers came up with these clever sweetcorn soup shots with mushroom tuille.

Camille's Restaurant presents venison carpaccio.. assembly line seldom looks like this!


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Feasting in Fields

By some miracle I was in a conscious state and near my radio on Friday morning when Paul Vasey offered a chance to win tickets to the sold-out foodie event of the season, Feast of Fields; and by some further miracle I was the lucky, the very very very lucky recipient of a pair of these. Thank you CBC!

So this afternoon Aurelie and I hustled over to join the shockingly long and surprisingly patient queue that had gathered at the Glendale Gardens and Woodland by 1:59 for the 2pm opening, accompanied by our finely honed appetites and a steady sprinkle of rain. But being rookies at this event, we had failed to accessorize with clever little plastic cocktail plates to hold our booty and wineglass and were thus obliged to consume our morsels on the run, one mouthful at a time, as we sprinted and then trailed and then wallowed from tent to tent, running out of adjectives and resorting to whimpering pleasure. How these stall-holders managed to cater for and be delightful to a mob of 700 starved gastronomes is food for thought indeed.

Interesting to see what was being presented (and it was all pretty amazing, and beautiful, and local). Not a huge amount on offer for vegetarians, but we omnivores were well served. Beef and chicken are out; duck, venison and the odd rabbit are in. Salmon never left; ostrich made an appearance, or five. Goat cheese is very big for sweets and savouries.

Some thank yous to... our municipal treasure Zambri's, for the amazing risotto balls spiked with water buffalo meat; Smoken Bones Cookshack for proving we can find real ol' barbecue way up here in the north; Butchart Gardens for providing mini cedar planks and edible flowers with their yummies; 2% Jazz Coffee for the life-affirming honey macchiato. And Dock 503, I worshipped all your offerings: the chanterelle mushroom cannelloni with tomato confiture was to die for, and the sparkling caesar soup with manila clams and spicy yellow beans had me weeping with gratitude. My big regret is being too full to try your smoked sable fish and soybean steamed bun with yuzu sauce. Next lifetime, eh?

A few of the tents sheltering 60 restaurants, wineries and other food producers: the view from the Glendale's heather garden.

Choux Choux Charcuterie: Rhona recommends the rabbit rillettes.

Part of the Aerie's offerings: duck liver lollipops in chopped hazelnuts -- strange, silky and delicious.

Dock 503: Ohhhh that sparkling caesar soup... Hey look, that clam just dived right in!

Butchart's pretty li'l planks. The round green items are spot prawn and smoked salmon purses: too cute!

My favourite flavour-fusion duck dish: duck leg confit with Tiger Blue cheese and bosc pear, from Lure seafood restaurant.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Black Stilting

Susan and the Angels

All kindsa poetry fans...

The official launch of Planet Earth Poetry last night brought forth a monster medley of poetry lovers -- all shapes, sizes and ages -- and some fine musical accompanyment by Flat Lightning (half of which is Rick Van Krugel of Mandolirium). Susan Stenson was on hand selling AIDS Angels to raise money for medical relief to Africa, in lieu of admission charges. And then there were the readings - 20? 30? of them? An alarming number anyway. I thought I might fall in a swoon under the coffee table by the end, but things moved along at a good clip, made merciful by the evening's rules: one poem only, by someone else. Our new hero, Dave Crothal, the owner of the Black Stilt, even read a poem.

Wendy Morton closed the evening with one of my favourite all time poems, Forgetfulness - click that link to find a fabulous animated version by the author, Billy Collins (I understand this is also available as an iPod download - now there's technology I can get behind!)


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Smoked salmon 'n spuds

As my mission to clear out the deep freeze continues, I laid my hand upon a lovely package of alder-smoked sockeye salmon; first I made a moderately successful smoked salmon quiche, and then tried a good smoked salmon gratin. Sort of a cross between scalloped potatoes and fish pie and very good with a simple salad or steamed vegetable side dish.

Smoked Salmon & Potato Gratin
2lb/1kg starchy potatoes (e.g. russets, Yukon Gold or King Edward)
8oz/250g smoked salmon, flaked or diced
1 tbsp drained capers
1 cup light cream
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dijon or wholegrain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tbsp butter
  • Preheat the oven to 350f.
  • Peel the potatoes and slice very thinly, dry with a cloth and use one third of them to cover a well buttered baking dish. Season.
  • Scatter half the salmon and capers on top. Repeat.
  • Cover with the rest of the potatoes and season again.
  • Mix the cream with the cornstarch, garlic and mustard and pour over the potatoes.
  • Grate nutmeg over the top and dot with butter.
  • Cover and bake for 1 hour; then bake uncovered another ½ hour or so, until the potatoes are tender, golden brown and bubbling. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving
Fish, to taste right, must swim 3 times: in water, in butter and in wine.
-- Polish Proverb


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Food in poetry

Here's a funny thing, from a year ago. As a National Poetry Day project last year, the Poetry Book Society had set up a food page allowing you to search poems by ingredient (or browse by author or title). How wonderful is that??

Here's another funny thing. My mother loooooved parsley. She had trees of the stuff all over the balcony and it adorned, nay, festooned all our meals. I wonder if she ever saw this tribute ditty?
Parsley, parsley everywhere
Let me have my victuals bare.
--Ogden Nash

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chocolate+Chestnut Boulestin, and Nigel's Cheese+Onion Tart

I've been talking at very long distance with Clodagh about various food matters, and she sent me a recipe she'd seen in the Guardian not so long ago, for Chestnut Chocolate Boulestin, with the advice that you warm the dish before attempting to coat it with caramel as otherwise it will solidify where poured. I am not sure we can even get tinned chestnuts in this corner of the world, but it might be worth looking. It sounds like a worthwhile venture: a truly serious chocolate pudding for grown-ups. If anyone else tries it or works out good variations, let us know.

We also embarked on a discussion about an amazing looking recipe from Nigel Slater's sacred text Appetite: a Cheese and Onion Tart, made with puff pastry.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Torriano Time

A long-running small independent poetry series in London, Torriano Poets, is running its second ever poetry competition (proceeds to the Torriano Meeting House Support Fund). Here are the details:

First Prize £250 Second Prize £150 Third £75. The winning poets, first, second and third, will be offered feature readings at the adjudication celebrations on Sunday, 4th February 2007 at Torriano Meeting House, 99 Torriano Avenue, Kentish Town, London NW5 2RX United Kingdom.

= Poems up to a maximum of 40 lines each to be typed on a single side of A4 paper
= A separate sheet of A4 should contain the titles of poems, name, land and e-mail addresses and phone number of entrant
= Entry fees: £3 One poem, £5 for Two, £10 for Five. Cheques payable to Torriano Support Fund

Anna Adams, Leah Fritz & Peter Phillips (poems will be read by all three adjudicators)

Diana Baggs, 1 Havelock Road,Walmer, Deal, Kent CT14 7TE United Kingdom

Tel: +44-(0)1304 372914 or email:

12th November 2006. Winners will be notified by 7th Jan 2007. The winning poems will also be featured in Brittle Star magazine.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Plum Wonderful

Ooh, even better than Lightning Cake - but not as good a name - is Dutch Plum Cake which I found in my mother's 1955 edition of Good Housekeeping, a book in even worse physical condition than the Boston cookbook. This one has silver duct tape on the spine and crumbling pages. Luckily someone else has copied out the recipe for me. I didn't make the vanilla sauce; it was lovely warm and on its own, or with ice cream. And a good way for me to use up a little of my personal warehouse of home made jams and jellies!

I've been enjoying a blast of end-of-summer reading. A wonderfully easy and useful book on my table just now is 101 Ways to Make Poems Sell, by Chris Hamilton-Emery, a poet himself as well as the publishing director of an excellent UK press, Salt Publishing. In a neat demonstration of zeitgeist, it's appeared at the same time as Wendy Morton's memoir about the poet as self-promoter, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Hamilton-Emery's book gives some incredibly useful background on the poetry publishing industry (if that is the word for this labour of love) and a host of well-organized and practical suggestions for poets and publishers alike to get this slowest of all selling genres out into the world.