November 30, 2006 § Leave a comment
Now the stress is done,
Will I continue to post
With such frequency?
Um, no. Probably not. But now the pressure is off, I can take more time to compose thoughtful entries— with cruxes of the matter! and action! and the writerly present tense!— Simply put, I can promise that henceforth all entries will be worthy of the term “entry”.
No more grocery lists! Never again!
So say we all.
November 30, 2006 § Leave a comment
Rockingham Ridge Plaza
30 Farnham Gate Rd.
(902) 446 6888
In the grand tradition of terrific Asian restaurants in North America, Milamodo, Halifax’s best sushi restaurant, is located in an unassuming strip mall in Clayton Park. It’s not auspicious, nestled in there with all the Steak ‘n Steins and Golden Arches, but sushi here is an art, aspiring to the levels attained by high-end restaurants in Vancouver and Osaka, Japan.
We arrive on a damp, foggy Wednesday night. The seating policy isn’t immediately clear, but a waitress soon encourages us to choose our own table.
We’re not as comfortable ordering sushi as we are ordering Chinese or Vietnamese food, but I’ve just had a crash course with a sushi expert, so I’m in charge of ordering. One order of maki-sushi generally consists of two pieces, so I order five, with hopes that it will be enough. In addition to our appetizers and one more dish, it is.
My appetizer is the vegetable gyoza (dumplings), and my partner orders the softshell crab, and we’re both pleased withour choices. My dumplings are slightly crispy on the outside, and the filling is a savory mixture of vegetable and tofu. The crab is battered and fried, giving a satisfying crunch with each bite. Its flavor is light and delicate, and together with its sweet-and-briny dipping sauce, makes a fine beginning.
In this setting, I’m perfectly happy to let the chef decide in what order our dishes should come, and as it happens, the last thing ordered arrives first. It’s Tofu Steak, a Chef’s Special. Four pieces of silken tofu, tempura-battered and served in a citrusy-miso marinade. It’s delicious, but it requires some clever chopstickery.
Our sushi follows. Sushi is all about the rice— a special variety of short-grain rice. First in importance is texture: the rice must be just sticky enough to hold itself together, not tacky or pasty. After the rice is cooled to body temperature, it’s seasoned with a combination of rice vinegar, salt, sugar, kombu (a type of sea vegetable), and sometimes sake. While every chef makes his sushi rice with some combination of these ingredients, each recipe is unique to the man behind the sushi bar.
The rice here is lovely. It gives all Milamodo’s offerings a faint sweet-and-tangy background note. The sushi we’ve ordered are Inari, (a nigiri-sushi consisting of a mound of sushi rice surrounded by a sweetened-tofu skin), Ikura (salmon roe crowning a typical nori-wrapped maki-sushi), and Tai (red snapper nigiri-sushi, on another mound of sushi rice). The Ikura is oily and rich, the Tai is smooth, delicate, andfresh, while the Inari works as a foil to the other two. My partner thought that the salmon roe overpowered the other fish.
In Japan, of course, sushi is an art form. The more subtle, elegant, and difficult the dish’s execution, the more valuable and admirable it becomes. All of the senses should be engaged in a good piece of sushi. It’s important to appreciate the chef’s composition. Note the way the salmon roe glisten like tiny jewels on the sushi. Admire how the thin slices of fish are cut to offer a smooth layer of fish, with no bands of fat or muscle. Explore the contrasting textures in your mouth: nubbly rice, chewy nori, smooth fish. A chef spends years apprenticing to learn this art, so enjoy it!
Next is our sashimi, Sake (salmon). These are just pure, silky, slippery slices of fish. We dip them into our soya sauce and savor the taste, so different from either smoked or cooked salmon.
Last to come is our shrimp tempura maki. Maki is a whole roll of maki-sushi, so our order consists of six pieces, and they’re fabulous. The maki is filled with a tempura-fried shrimp, creamy slices of avocado and sushi rice. The flavors and textures complement each other just perfectly, and it’s easily my favorite.
Our dessert is our meal’s first wrong note. We both order bananas tempura, one with green tea ice cream, the other with red bean. The oil our bananas were fried in might have been too old. The bananas aren’t overcooked, but the smell of the oil overpowers. The green tea ice cream is subtle and sweet, with a grassy hint of green tea, while the red bean ice cream is actually studded with red beans. Both ice creams are good, but they don’t rise to the level of the rest of our meal on this occasion
Milamodo is well off the beaten track, and Clayton Park may not be the ideal spot to run a sushi restaurant. But the truth is sushi of this caliber is uncommon in the Maritimes. Five or six tables— plus the sushi bar— were filled while we were there, so this hideaway is no longer a secret, but if you haven’t been yet, try Milamodo when you’re in the mood for something extraordinary, and maybe outside of your comfort zone. Milamodo is truly a diamond in the rough.
November 29, 2006 § Leave a comment
I spotted these just off to the side of a shopping complex in Bridgewater. A buck, his harem of three, and a fawn he found most aggravating.
November 28, 2006 § Leave a comment
While I’m fairly good at identifying flavors in foods, I completely suck at identifying the same scents in wine. It’s as though I’m a completely different person, one without a nose or any experience smelling other things that one should smell in wine.
For example, I really can’t imagine what cherries smell like (that is to say, I can’t develop a smell-memory of actual cherries, though I can develop a surprisingly strong smell-memory of cherry-flavored gum, but I can’t imagine any winemaker aiming for a patently false Bubbalicious nose) which is unfortunate since it’s one of the most common scents that critics (allegedly) find in red wines. I am better at imagining other smells: caramel, wet earth, gasoline, butter, roses, almonds, coffee, vanilla, manure, apples, pears, grass… in fact I believe that I live through my nose more than most people, but I still can’t identify flavors in wine.
Anyway, I’ve been nursing a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for about two and a half hours now (it’s not my favorite, I must say, particularly since my wine-writer husband cheerfully describes its characteristics as “a combination of gooseberries and cat piss”) and I could have sworn I just caught a hint of tuna. Lovely.
In other news, Richard finally found the perfect gift for my uncle whose name Richard received for the family gift exchange. My uncle’s a difficult man to shop for; the only hobbies he has that I know of is building antique cars through mail-order kits and constructing rock walls. A large hunk of granite, however polished, isn’t a very warm gift, and I absolutely refuse to purchase a subscription to a car magazine, so I was at a loss, and I only had four days left to choose something.
So, we were at the Picton Castle* Shop, looking for something for my brother, when we came upon what may be the perfect holiday gift: a ceremonial brain fork from Fiji, where brains were once eaten in ceremonies, (but are now just eaten symbolically? The clerk wasn’t very clear on the details, but I must admit I was not very concerned. This one is new, either way.)
*The Picton Castle is a tall ship that functions as a training vessel: you pay $10,000 and they teach you to sail over the course of a 6-week voyage. They collect items at different ports of call throughout South America and the Pacific Rim, and then have sale days when they come in to North American ports. Their stuff is always cool and incredibly cheap. Today I saw this fantastic piece from Bali: a 3×4 solid-wood carving of a jungle scene (marvelous craftsmanship, considering the artist must be self-trained), all framed in another wood and priced at $1200. Just beautiful. But I’d be pretty happy getting a brain fork, instead.
November 27, 2006 § Leave a comment
For eight months in 2002 I shared an apartment in a house that belonged to an elderly woman— an aunt of one of Richard’s brothers-in-law— whom we’ll call Aunt Theresa. She was already in her eighties then, but still dynamic and independent. A bright, intelligent woman with a few health problems and a great number of Very Firm Opinions on a great number of topics. Apparently she’d been very grating in her younger days, but I find assertive older women charming, so we got along well, and after I moved out I often saw her at family parties and such.
Aunt Theresa had a very full life, was married to an well-regarded university professor, had a far-reaching career, loved her family, nieces and nephews, but never had children of her own. She was 86 when she died, and didn’t look a day over 70, despite having smoked for most of her life.
She died in September, and last week her nephew (and partial executor of her will) received a note addressed to his mother who’s in Chicago with her daughter following the death of her younger sister— everyone thought it would be best if she didn’t have to see the affects distributed and the home put on the market. He normally looks after her but this letter, it seemed unusual, so he contacted the man who turned out to be a baby that Aunt Theresa had given up for adoption, sometime in the late 1930s, I assume.
I find this story interesting on many levels. First of all, this man— who now lives in Europe— has testified before The UN on matters of adoption confidentiality because he had such trouble getting the authorities to release information to him. He was also a nearly a butterbox baby— on his adoption form were the words “we have grave concerns… as we firmly believe this child to be stupid”. I also find it compelling that Aunt Theresa was so deeply affected by reproductive decisions when there were no choices, and kept her secret to her grave. But most interesting of all is the fact that this son of hers is an opera singer… because one of Aunt Theresa’s younger brothers was one of Canada’s greatest operatic tenors.
November 26, 2006 § Leave a comment
Two Dessert Disasters:
1) The small almond pear cakes burned, which led to my only minor breakdown. After which I removed the (Muscat-poached) pears from the dead cakes, rinsed them off, and put them aside for a second try, executed while my sisters-in-law cleaned up the (which still burned around the edges and lost structural integrity… word to the wise: don’t trust Gourmet. But they were delicious.
2) In the meantime, our apparently-suicidal caramel pumpkin pie magically leapt two feet straight down from its secure footing on air purifier to the floor in the living room. I admit, I screamed when I saw it slumped there on the floor all cracked and smeared, with a little of its filling oozing out. But my pastry is very sturdy, so the crust didn’t crack, so Richard smooshed it back into place, then I smoothed over some extra filling. So all’s well that ends well, and all that.
So. We had three of Richard’s sisters here, plus two husbands, one new boyfriend, and my favorite niece. It was crowded and warm, but lots of fun, AND one of the sisters bought us a dishwasher, king of all the gifts in giftdom.
Precious beyond words, I know, but we were punch-drunk when we composed it last night, so think no less of me. Without further ado, I present: today’s menu.
Parmesan Crackers (caraway garlic & rosemary anise seed)
Crackers with Cheese and Smoked Salmon
Crackers with Goat’s Cheese and a Selection of Jellies
Chickory-Fennel Salad with Sweet Cider Dressing
Pickled Beets with Sour Cream
Brussels Sprouts Roasted with Mushrooms & Crunchy Shallots
Root Vegetables aux Gratin
Glazed Carrots a la Lorraine
Spice-Roasted Grain-Fed Turkey with Allspice Gravy
Chestnut, Prune & Pancetta Stuffing
Riz au Robert
Deux Sauces au Canneberges (Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish and Cranberry, Apple & Walnut Conserve)
Caramel Pumpkin Pie
Small Pear & Almond Cakes
Surprise au ma Soeur
I’m sorry, Internet, I know this has been a crappy posting week, but I have a great story for tomorrow; a family drama operatic in scope… and I know the players!
November 25, 2006 § Leave a comment
The fierce sensation
Of onion fumes in my eye
Makes me weep with pain.
Crunch! Snap! The grinding
of my vertabraes against
each other: listen.
Brussels sprouts, mushrooms,
Crispy shallow-fried shallots.
Flavors mingle here.
Oh, angry chestnut
Come forth from your fuzzy home
With greater ease, please.
No cuts, nor burns, nay!
Free of sudden injury,
All prep work complete.