Monday, April 28, 2014

Pasta A GoGo: The Poet And His Pasta

On my last visit to Pasta A GoGo I was overcome with sentiment upon tasting Robert Bergola's Pappardelle. I’ve never had finer pasta, and as such, I was inspired to compose this Ode. It stems from a reflection educed by taste and flavor, and how simple food at its finest can soupçon the sublime.

Ode to pasta

(In Praise of Robert Bergola and what he creates.)

And with an empty stomach and full eyes do I,
See where it sits upon thine white porcelain surface,
A plate clad in gluten you have become,
Made by one called ‘The pasta guru' by some.

It begins as Eden intended, most humble.
But enter human ingenuity, a force like lightning asunder. 
Behold two ingredients in the form of liquid and powder most unadorned,
two elements joined by chance, or perhaps by way of Keat’s extempore.
One strewn from Prairie stalks, the other from prancing hens,
Joined together to form a doughy mass, a yellow, soft, rounded gem.

Palms white, back and forth action, 
Forcing a merger between flora and fowl.
Rest my sweet ball of dough ye shall rest,
For soon your serenity will give way to pressing, cutting and boiling;
A doomed fate most necessary; the price paid for our toiling. 

Lo, the water boils, what shape shall Robert bestow upon you?
Bring forth the instruments of your craft,
whose wondrous beauty your mechanics will make true.
O my most mighty of glutinous men,
from whom all noodles beyond the mark of delicious do transcend.
create and serve your pasta for me and mine,
in wait we rejoice and sing your skills atop Olympus’ shrine,
so that we might sing aloud of your accolades,
before our eyes give way to hunger’s shade.

But before I have a gogo at this feast within my sight,
Tis only fair, it seems, to reflect in that fleeting moment of delight.
For from the celestial second my fork spins its first silky noodle,
to the ominous end when utensil rests on mine empty plate,
is but a flash in a cook’s pan, and so… my end shall wait.

So let me stare at your beauty and dance with delight,
Let me anticipate with scent your taste, as is my sovereign right.
But most of all, as I pay homage to the skills of one with what I write,
It is Robert’s gift that gives so we may all taste Ataraxia’s light. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Hungry Quebecois

I’m proud of my French heritage and I believe more people should feel the same way. Let me be clear: when I say people, I’m referring specifically to Anglos, Allophones and immigrants who live in Quebec; and by French Heritage, I’m referring to the art and honour of speaking French.
Because us Anglos are labeled as such, we intrinsically take an opposing position-labels have a way of doing that. The notion of opposition within society is always a political, religious, or territorial notion, but it no longer reflects our Provincial majority. It’s an ‘us and them’ mentality the world over, but it doesn’t have to be in Quebec; why? Because we are all French Canadian—Anglos and Allophones included.  And if the recent election is any indication that there might be a hint of goodness and foreword thinking in the majority of our 'home-grown' French Friends, then the English-speaking crowd needs to reciprocate, and the best way to do that is to embrace the French language and Culture. Speak French everywhere you go, cook-up some Quebecois grub once and a while, watch some French television, and most importantly, celebrate St Jean Baptist Day as a proud Quebecer.  I believe doing all these things will bring down the French/English divide, but it's also in our rights, as people who were born in Quebec, to be patriotic about the land from which we hail.  
Some of you will read this as a concession piece, like I’m suggesting you give in to your English or Ethnic ideal and identity; that is not the case, that’s an old and out-dated mentality ill-suited to new lands and fresh-start frontiers. You can embrace more than one identity; American’s do it all the time.  Pride in one’s land will only foster unity between those who live on that land, not because we need to be good neighbours, but because unity can only occur when the fence comes down.
It’s not the immigrant’s fault. The moment Canadian immigrants took that step off the proverbial boat into Quebec, a political and social axe of division swept down and made sure patriotism stayed in the old country. My grandparent’s early days in Quebec were steeped in racism. Strangers in a strange land who incurred a backlash rooted in fear and ignorance; two sentiments still evident in the now defunct Charter of Values. (Sentiments, I might add, that were felt by not only French Canadians, but Anglos alike as well.) I’m Quebec born and of Italian ancestry, but most of my paysans would defiantly exclaim themselves to be Italian, as in, “Me, I’m Italian”, but this is not true, for you my Belle Province dwelling, Italian brethren, are just as French Canadian as Josée Legault.  Your last name pays honour to your ancestry, it doesn't give you the right to mentally pretend you're a citizen in your grandparent's land.
We all need to take French patriotism into our own hands and mouths. We need to remove the two sides of the Quebec equation. Only with an awareness (and desire) that this Province belongs to all of us can we reach equality and disarm the separatist 'us V them' rhetoric. If you were born in Quebec, or are a Canadian citizen and make Quebec your home, then you are a French Canadian: You can be English speaking and still be a Proud French Canadian.  Embrace the culture, put your hands in the soil, speak French and above all, love The Montreal Canadiens! 

Politics aside, this is a food blog and politics and food are sometimes dinner companions. A good way to embrace your French Canadian heritage is to make a trip to a Cabane a Sucre a yearly pilgrimage. It’s a way to get in touch with your Quebec side by way of learning how the first French pilgrims worked the land and ingeniously harvested sap.  And the food at a Cabane a Sucre honours the frugal resourcefulness of our French ancestors, exactly like it does in every part of the world’s historical food story: feve au lards is to the Quebecois what polenta is to Italians. The two restaurants below are a great place to start.

Au Petit Poucet: 1030 Route 117, Val-David (Quebec) J0T 2N0. (819) 322 2246

I love Au Petit Poucet; it's a place for those will big appetites and those not planning to eat the rest of the day.  It's only 45 minutes from Montreal and worth a breakfast run.
Fig,1, The pig says it all. Come hungry.

Fig.2. A fridge stocked with preserves and pies to go.

Fig.3. Quebec is home to the elusive Jackalope

Fig.4. A hearty breakfast not for the faint of heart.

Cabane a Sucre La Petite Cabane de la Cote: 5885, Rte Arthur-Sauve, Mirabel, Qc, J7N 2W4

La Petite Cabane de la Cote is a real, old fashion sugar shack: sticky floors, maple trees as far as the eyes can see, and the unmistakable smell of animal shit in the air, all within a dilapidated, wooden barn structure that shakes unnervingly in the wind. The tablecloths are plastic (as they should be) and the food is Pilgrim-French: pickled beets, chow chow, buckwheat pancakes, fried pork rinds, baked eggs, meat pies, and enough baked beans that will have you Googling every gastroenterologist in Quebec. C'est bon tabarnac!

Fig.5. Preserved food to start

Fig.5. Classic Pea Soup

Fig.6. Classic Baked beans. You keep eating and they'll keep bringing.

Fig.7. Fried pork rinds, or in French, Les orielles de Christ is essentially deep fried bacon fat.

Fig.8. Cook a lot of eggs in a cast iron pan in a hot oven and what you get is this: souffle-like scrabbled eggs.

Fig.9. This is un balle de grand-pere, which translates to, grandpa's ball. I've never tasted an old man's balls, but I doubt it's as sweet and delicious as this doughy ball of goodness.

5885, route Arthur-Sauvé

Mirabel, Qc
J7N 2W4
(514) 990-2708
(450) 258-2467