Friday, September 25, 2009

Going Solo

I vividly recall my first ever food styling experience, I was second assistant to L.A. based styling maven Judy Peck-Prindle.  It was a five-day TV commercial shoot in the greater Toronto area, a different location every day - and I loved it.
A little while later, the same production company called and asked me if I would assist on another shoot.  Great! I was thrilled - a call-back.  A second phone call from them informed me that I was not going to be the assistant but the stylist.  Ahhh!!  I panicked, I fretted, I spontaneously woke up every hour on the hour afraid that I would oversleep my 5 a.m. alarm. Call-time was 6 a.m., we were going to be shooting under two bridges in downtown Toronto in March, and I was six months pregnant.  My "kitchen" was the interior of a cube van, setup with some fold-out tables, a microwave oven and access to water.  I got to work organizing and preparing the food for the shoot.  My nervousness subsided as the day progressed and we got the necessary shots for the commercial.  My fear of being the weakest link in the chain was all for naught.  It was a fantastic learning experience and, best of all, the TV commercial went to air!  This is "Moving Day", produced by Radke Films of Toronto.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Relish & Pickles

Simultaneous feelings of  relief, fatigue and elation wash over me.  During the past few days, I have made thirteen jars of Bread & Butter pickles, eleven jars of the very popular "Family Relish" and eight jars of Dill Pickles.  The pickling process was an autumn ritual in my house as a child, and I enjoy the tradition of it still.  Though the above mentioned quantities are not overly-ambitious, one has to keep in mind that all of the vegetables are lovingly hand chopped, and that our three children have not grasped the concept of family in the name "Family Relish".  Hopefully, one year not too long from now, we will be preparing all together, as I did with my siblings and parents.  In the meantime, it is a fabulous relish, and certainly well worth making - either by oneself or with a group.
The recipe for the "Family Relish" comes from my mother's cookbook, and it is a keeper.     
2 kg ripe tomatoes
20 sweet red & green peppers (in total), seeded & chopped
5 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup pickling salt
1 hot pepper, seeded and chopped
1 recipe mustard dressing*

1) Peel the tomatoes, squeeze to remove juice and seeds, and chop.
2) Combine sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes, and salt and refrigerate over night.
3) Drain well, add hot pepper and mustard dressing, stir over moderate heat until mixture boils.
4) Simmer until thickened, 10-20 minutes, stirring frequently.
5) Bottle in sterilized jars.  After placing the snap lids and screw bands, I placed the jars in a canning pot water bath with 2" of water above them for 15 minutes. 

Mustard Dressing
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup mustard (dry)
1/2 tbsp. tumeric
1 cup water
4 cups white vinegar
1 tbsp. celery seed
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. pickling spice

1) Combine dry ingredients until fully mixed, add water, making a smooth paste.
2) Heat vinegar with spices, simmer 10 minutes, strain and discard spices.
3) Stir vinegar into mustard paste, return to heat, stir until mixture comes to a boil.

Variation:  a quick mustard dressing solution is substituting 6 oz. of prepared mustard for the dry mustard, turmeric and spices.

The next self assignment pertains to Fair Trade ingredients, to be continued.

Monday, September 21, 2009



As of this evening it will be officially autumn.  I love all of the seasons, each one brings a wealth of colour, taste and aroma to the table.  The notion of autumn makes me look forward to warming dishes made with different kinds of squash, apples, pears and nuts.  There is nothing better than a hike in the woods on a brisk fall day with a bright blue sky overhead, gorgeous and brightly coloured leaves on the trees - followed of course by a savoury fall feast.  Weather-wise, we are still enjoying unprecedented warmth, and my desire for the warming comfort food will increase as the temperature drops.    

I grew up in the Montreal area, and together with my family we would go to the Atwater Market to procure the ingredients for our traditional  "family relish".  We called it such as the entire family was involved in the preparation, it took all weekend to prepare and our parents would inevitably stay up late on Sunday to finish off the last of the canning.  My recollections include every available piece of crockery being called into action for the brining of the vegetables, and I am sure that we did use the bathtub one year as well.  We made a lot of relish seeing how we all loved to eat the relish, and so did our friends.      

In the meantime, I will celebrate the first day of autumn by making pickles.  The recipe is one that I kept from grade eight home-ec class with Mrs. McHarg.  I enjoyed it back then as much as my friends and family enjoy it now.

Mrs. McHarg's Bread & Butter Pickles

4 cups small cucumbers
2 cups thinly sliced onion
2 medium green peppers, diced
2 tbsp coarse pickling salt

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 tbsp mixed pickling spice

Directions:  scrub cucumbers (do not peel).  Slice thinly, 1/8".  Combine sliced cucumbers, onions, peppers and salt.  Cover in let stand in a not-reactive bowl for 12 hours.  Drain well. Combine sugar, vinegar and pickling spice in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Add drained vegetables and return to a boil.  Pack into hot, sterilized jars making sure to cover the vegetables with the hot syrup.  Seal, and can in boiling water.  Yield: 3 pints.

The attached photo was taken at the Riverdale Farm Farmers' Market, held every Tuesday from mid-May to the end of October from 3 - 7pm,, by photographer Brian Summers,