April, twenty-fifteen

My intention is to post this sort of piece at the end of every month for the next year, a way of pausing, looking back and capturing the fundamental quality of each calendar flip via the literature, film, television, music and various flavours I consumed.

April was: sun-drenched.

- Beach vacations call for beach reads and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train was just the page turner for my recent trip to Florida.

- Speaking of Florida, after I returned from the sunshine state, we watched Bloodline (available on Netflix), mostly because I wasn't ready to leave.

- On my birthday we went to see The Age of Adaline and though it was far from perfect (what's up with that awkward narration?), Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, and the stunning costume design all made it a very enjoyable watch.

- I'm half-way done A Complicated Kindness (old news?) but I'd have recommended it to you after only a few pages.

- Julia Turshen is living the dream. Or rather: my dream. Not only is she a fantastic, celebrated food writer, she had her wedding reception at one of my favourite restaurants in New York. Hear her story on Design Matters.

- This chicken tastes like spring.


Rhubarb Crisp

We all have our places. Our preferred settings or our favourite nooks, our choice towns and cities. These are the places we feel most at home or maybe even least: it's hard to deny the allure of the completely new and unfamiliar. Whatever the feeling or reason, we choose: this place over that.

We do it online too. It's so vast, this rambling, rumbling, constantly re-generating, organized mess of a space, we have to choose just to cope! We pick our favourite sites and our go-to people: writers and bloggers and points-of-view we prefer. I like to think of my choice websites as actual places, settings with unique vibes and scenery, locales I can visit. They each have addresses, after all.

One of my favourite online spots is The New Potato. I don't visit often. Once every week or so, if that. But when I do, I'm always happy to be there. Mostly, I look forward to their interviews. They sit down with celebrities, tastemakers, writers and editors, and ask them about food. My favourite interview question is always: From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

I love reading the responses but I love even more fantasizing about my own ideal food day. What would I eat if I could eat anything and everything for 24 hours? No surprise: my answers, below, involve a bit of travel. Food is such an expression of place it makes sense that our favourite foods would be tied closely to our favourite destinations.
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

Breakfast would be a pain au chocolat and an espresso from my favourite bakery in Paris. Alexandre and I discovered this little hole-in-the-wall bakery years ago on our first trip to France together. It doesn't look like anything special from the outside but the pastries are the best I've ever had. They serve the espresso in little plastic cups (everything here is to-go) and they always, always give us packets of sugar for our coffee even though we assure them again and again we don't need it. I often walk around Paris with sugar packets in my purse.

We like to eat our pastries and drink our coffee on a lonely bench around the corner from the bakery. It's quiet and peaceful, a perfect way to start the day.

Lunch would definitely be a lobster roll made with the freshest Nova Scotia lobster. I like my mom's recipe best: just a little mayo, lemon, chives, salt and pepper. Serve it in a hot-dog bun, fried in butter until crisp and golden. I'd have a glass of good white wine with the roll and maybe some mixed greens.

For an afternoon snack I'd want a Dark and Stormy (ginger beer, rum, lime) and a handful of chips. I love kettle chips. They're my one guilty pleasure.

Dinner would involve travelling to Italy. Nothing would be better than this Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Orange, my favourite pasta dish of all time, prepared by a great Italian cook. I'd want some grilled vegetables on the side and plenty of red wine to wash it all down.

Dessert would be simple: my Rhubarb Crisp with Maple-Walnut ice cream (recipe below).
Rhubarb Crisp
It was my birthday on Sunday and if any day should be an "ideal food day," it's your birthday. Instead of cake this year, I made this beloved crisp for dessert. Rhubarb isn't in season here yet but I used the last of my frozen rhubarb from 2014. This crisp is sweet, tart and buttery: all the best things.

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (that's 1/2 cup or 1 stick in total), divided

4 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, salt and 6 tablespoons of butter (cut into 1-inch pieces) in a large bowl. Work butter into dry ingredients with your hands until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, orange juice, brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour into an 8-inch square baking dish and dot with remaining two tablespoons of butter. Top with crumble mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes, until top is golden brown and the rhubarb is bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

This crisp is best when it's served with ice cream. Maple-walnut or plain vanilla will do the trick. 


The Sunshine State

Take a vacation. A simple thought, really. Or at least it should be. But if you, like me, write freelance-anything under occupation, then you, like me, probably tend to put off the actual vacating. You think about where you’d like to go, what you’d like to do when you get there, how good it would be to have seven days off in a row, but you never actually go or do or have. Right? I’m not alone in this, right?

It’s hard to pack up and leave work when it’s up to you to make work happen. When you’re your own boss and turning down a project equals turning down money. Not to mention, the warped logic we develop as freelancers: I get days off! we tell ourselves. Days when there are no projects and I’m looking/waiting/hoping for the next one. But no, those aren’t vacation days, not really, not at all.

I took a vacation at the beginning of April and it was golden! Seven days off in a row in a place that’s warm and sunny and trimmed with beaches and ocean views. And wow, did it do me some good. I don’t think I realised just how cooped up I was feeling until I was able to get away for a bit. This winter was long and cold and brutal, and as I know I’ve mentioned on here before, my hibernation instinct kicked in more than ever and kept me home most days. A change of scenery and a change of pace were a welcome shock to the system. I swam in the ocean twice every day and I ate good food and got a tan. I came back totally refreshed, a new woman.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate. Don’t put off. Pack a small bag, pick out a good book, and take a vacation.

Here are some photos from my week in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. When I was a kid, I used to come here every year to visit my grandparents. It’s a place filled with meaning and sentiment for me. It felt good to return after many years away.

Indian Rocks Beach, FL.
 My childhood best friend Lindsay and I used to go on vacation together every year. This year, by chance, our trips overlapped by one day. Such a happy coincidence!
 Lunch at the Dunedin Brewery with George and Mom.
 Sunset on Indian Rocks Beach.
JD's Oyster Bar, an old favourite. Cheap beer and the best Chicago-style oysters in the world.
 Clearwater Beach, FL.
 Last day on the beach.