As long as everything is apple-based, we’re fine

Next week is the 16th edition of Pointe à Callière’s 18th Century Public Market in the Place Royale in Old Montreal.
Markets are enjoying a renaissance in Montreal, it seems, and there’s a growing number of truly local, seasonal markets. Of course, we have our big, wonderful, stalwarts, like the Atwater market (walking distance from home) and the Jean Talon market, but it’s interesting to see that in many neighbourhoods, tiny local markets are springing up. Most are weekly or even monthly, and most are only open from May to September, but it’s nice to see.
In places like our borough of Verdun, for instance, lower incomes usually mean a vicious circle of low quality produce – people cannot afford high-end supermarket prices, so we end up with low-end supermarkets, which naturally stock the second or third-grade produce, not to mention the cheap junk food. More calories, fewer dollars – this is how low-income families end up not eating well.
So local markets, stocking local, seasonal produce, offer cheap, good food. Yay!
Now, the downside to this is that we’re in Quebec. This is not a political statement, it is a geographical statement. The sad fact is, there isn’t much fresh local produce for at least four months of the year, unless we count apples (which apparently, and weirdly, grow year-round).
We love the idea of eating local, but we’re also committed to our weekly menu strategy – every Saturday, while we sip coffee and read our electronic paper, we plan the supper menu for the week, then compile the grocery list based on that menu. This means we only buy what we need for the week, rather than getting to the end of the week and regretfully chucking what was once a really lovely fresh vegetable.
So my quandary with the local market idea was that the menu-based shopping list means NOT being seduced by the prettiest vegetables, but knowing ahead of time what we need – but local means that what we need isn’t necessarily on hand…
Then I found SOS Cuisine, one of a few sites that list what’s available when, according to the growing and harvesting season. The SOS Cuisine site has the added advantage of links to recipes for all the produce, as well as a ‘forecast’ of what’s going to be in season over the next three weeks.
Tada! Now we can check out what’s likely to be on offer at the local market, plan the menu accordingly, and prepare our list as usual. We’ll try not to be too smug 🙂

Of penne, Parmesan and planes

Tonight, supper is Jamie Oliver’s Penne Arrabiata, which, I think, epitomizes Jamie’s nakedness: good, simple, food. Preparing this dish is really no harder than opening a jar of prepared sauce, as long as you know how to chop an onion (although I have to admit I am not impressed with the actual writing of the recipe – it’s not clear whether or not the tomatoes are meant to be drained (assume no, given 25-30 minutes of simmering), and the order of the ingredients does not match the order of instructions. Mind you, I spent today discussing how to grade essays with my colleagues, so it is remotely possible that I am hypercritical at the moment).
While the sauce simmers and the penne al dentes, I’m taking a few minutes for some blogging directly from the kitchen – which kind of brings me to my point.
It was while I was planing the Parmesan that it occurred to me that (a) I rarely discuss kitchen equipment, if ever, and (b) this is because my kitchen is perfect. I have cooked in other kitchens, and I have decided that one’s kitchen is an incredibly personal space. No one else’s kitchen really satisfies me – there’s always some key tool missing, or some organizational decision that leaves me baffled. But in my kitchen, every thing I need is there, in the place it most logically belongs. I even designed the actual space – our house is over 100 years old, and the original layout of the kitchen was, frankly, ridiculous. So around the same time that Robert (son #2) came along, we invested what seemed like an astronomical amount of money in the kitchen – and it’s truly perfect.
I assume that people who don’t cook, or who do, but reluctantly or resentfully, don’t have the same relationship with their kitchens. My kitchen is, I think, more intimate a space for me than my home office or my bedroom (certain moments naturally excepted). It makes me a little anxious to have other people cooking in my kitchen. It really grates on my nerves when certain husbands who shall remain nameless play the wrong kind of music in the kitchen.
Part of what makes my kitchen so perfect is that I am, it must be said, (probably) over-equipped. The Parmesan? Once upon a time, we used pre-grated Parmesan (oh the shame – yes, it was K-word brand). Now, in my perfect kitchen, our penne will be topped with freshly planed Parmesan, thanks to my microplane grater. I have two knife blocks, because that’s how many knives I have – and most of those are Henkels. I have a big microwave – big enough that it required a custom-built cabinet. Ditto the fridge – which has a bottom-mount freezer, another of my must-haves.
I could go on and on (and you may feel I already have). Suffice it to say that I love my kitchen, as a cooking space and as a living space.
Now it’s your turn – what makes your kitchen your kitchen?

Creamy Macaroni Salad

adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites
While we try to vary our menu from week to week, there are, of course, a few family favourites that recur pretty frequently – lasagne, Dr. T’s very excellent pizza, and the chili posted below. These, and a few other stalwarts, show up every two or three weeks without fail.
The other regular item on the menu is the macaroni & cheese, which Colin now makes pretty much all by himself (see? Having kids can pay off!). We have this mac & cheese every week, usually with a couple of very good friends and some trashy TV. It is a good, good thing.
This past week, however, temperatures hit the mid-thirties, and coupled with our traditional high humidity, the weather just wasn’t good mac & cheese weather, no matter how amazing the mac & cheese. My very smart friend, and frequent attendee of the weekly mac & cheese night, Aurora, suggested pasta salad instead – so Colin went looking, and found this recipe in the Moosewood Low-Fat Favourites (which, incidentally, I strongly recommend. TONS of great recipes, mostly vegetarian (Moosewood has apparently decided that fish are vegetables), and reasonably easy on the diet.). We made a few modifications, and ended up with a salad that was unanimously lauded:

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