Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Favorite Autumn Blogs

It's almost rain, not quite snow, close to sleet.  As I walked Jack, our flat-coated retriever, for our customary hour today, there were plenty of headshakes from  the scant number of Texans driving past me on their post-church treks home.  No doubt they felt intrepid even going out today, as Fort Worth is in the grips of the typical panic ahead of freezing precipitation.  The local rag featured a report where the nice young man from my local Ace Hardware store was interviewed yesterday.  He said there had been a lot of rock salt and some firewood purchased. 

The Canadian in me kicks in at times like these, and dressed in a proper coat, boots and thermal gloves, I felt pretty comfortable, and pride that I could stride through this. Although with Jack, bred for such weather and his energy boundless, a day off isn't optional anyhow.  I grimaced in the drizzle, and he jumped around, wishing in his very blood that he could go find a herd to drive. Although I know in two days we'll be back to t-shirt weather, my three decades in the north mean my bones instinctively decided it's time to hunker down for winter. 

I started with stew on Friday, and yesterday made a pretty fair gumbo ahead of T's trip back in a couple of days, when I plan to reprise it with improvements. He's in California now and in a completely different mode, thinking of a bike ride on a mild day beside Monterey Bay.  The gumbo warmed nicely and went down well with the last of some Sextant Pinot left over from earlier in the week.  There are some wonderful blogs that pair well with this kind of weather, and as I look out across our kitchen table over the resplendant autumn leaves on the street, I'm inspired to look for online comfort through the few weeks of winter in North Texas. 

Food52.  Amanda Hesser, a New York Times food writer who made a cameo appearnace in Julie and Julia, has partnered with her colleague, Merrill Stubbs (who, naturally, lives with her family in Brooklyn) for a wonderful blog that keeps getting better.  This week, you can learn all about brining, should you wish to pursue that for your holiday turkey.  There are great contests for various types of recipes, so it houses all kinds of ideas that are approachable for home cooks.  It's also very appealing in its layout. 

Manger.  Mimi Thorisson pretty much stole your dream life, at least on the face of it.  She and her rugged husband, Oddur, have repaired to a country house in Medoc, France, after living in Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland and Paris. They have a couple of  children, who run attractively in rumpled clothes around the French countryside. They cook a great deal in their stone-floored kitchen, which appears to have pedigree of several centuries. Also, Mimi looks like a Ralph Lauren model.  But she does have 14 dogs, which leads me to believe her life might be quite a bit messier than I would prefer for myself. I have my hands full with one dog. At any rate, it's an absolutely gorgeous blog, as Oddur, a professional photographer, handles all the visuals. And it seems in Medoc to be perpetually overcast and perfect for picking wild mushrooms. No practicality here, but highly aspirational.

Saveur. The online version has excellent recipes, but get this in print if you can.  The children gave me a subscription last year for Christmas, and I am thrilled to see it in the mailbox each month.  The photography is spectacular, and the articles transporting.  Among my favorites this year was one by Toronto author David Sax about the dying art of a real lunch in Buenos Aires.  As the world becomes interconnected, it seems that cities around the world become more alike.  I thought of it when T and I were in Hong Kong last month and we saw the money-shifters increasingly making everything shiny and new. Chanel and salad bars will soon rule no matter how far one flies, it seems, so I have determined we must get to the Paris of Latin America post-haste.  And when it's winter here, it's summer there. 

The Marion House Book.  Emma Reddington parlayed her success on this blog into her dream job of home editor at Canada's Chatelaine magazine.  She writes about design, food, travel and generally beautiful things.  Her restaurant reviews and recipes are great, but my favorite regular installment is the hello, neighbour! bit where she talks her way into houses she sees in her walks around her area streets in West Toronto neighborhood (where many years ago, I used to ride the streetcar on my way to work in the Tip Top Tailors Building from a little basement apartment on Lakeshore Drive in Etobicoke) and it's so neat to see inside these funky spaces.  Here's her latest restaurant review, of Noma in Copenhagen. 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Where Are All the Tiger Moms in Singapore?

If the state of a country's political health can be judged by its food, then Singapore is a great argument for a benevolent dictatorship.  T and I recently spent five days there and, between work commitments for me, we did some pretty great eating.  We'd wandered past a little French place in Chinatown during one of our quick walks, and one night we enjoyed an epic meal at La Maison Fantien.  Owned by the eponymous vineyard in Bordeaux, the food was lovely and the wine better, and the warm and romantic dining room upstairs is housed in a building which is a former and by all appearances a rather grand house back in the day. 

We marveled at the architecture, the flowers, genial nature of  almost everyone we ran across, and thrilled at how orderly and clean the entire city appeared.  But what really captured our hearts were the happy children.  Everywhere we went, we saw smiling kids, with their parents looking on delightedly.  On the subway, we saw a group of middle school girls get on.  They talked quietly and giggled a bit, but there were no loud outbursts and they kept their circle wide to include everyone. 

This was also true in Hong Kong, where we spent a weekend following our Singapore excursion.  All over the city, we saw little kids jumping, running, and generally having a wonderful time.  Late in the afternoon, we stopped at a light behind a father and his daughter, aged about 10.  She was speaking animatedly to him, and he was entirely engaged in conversation with her.  It was clear they completely enjoyed one another's company. It made me so happy to watch the love between these parents and their children, and I thought of the evenings when my kids were young and I failed to turn off my Blackberry.  But then I remembered those that I did, and the books we relished together and music we sang to in the car.  I did enjoy my kids. It just went by so fast.

In restaurants, we saw very young children sitting happily and eating all manner of food.  Like the absence of pain, I'd not noticed the lack of temper tantrums until I went to the restroom at a German place in Kowloon's tourist district by the Harbour.  A child was on the floor, screaming, because his mother had gone for a potty break and he couldn't follow her in.  The father stood by, looking hopeless.  As far as I could tell, they were American. God, I've been there, I thought, and wondered how the parents I'd seen in the last week pulled it off.

Singapore's safe and orderly presentation is largely as a result of a strong government presence in all aspects of the country.  Rob someone and get caught, and you can be caned.  Recently an American woman brought over a million dollars of crystal meth into the country, and she is now sentenced to execution.  They don't fool around, and maybe it trickles down somehow to the toddlers. I liked being there, but was glad I didn't visit as an undergraduate.

Still, the happiness I witnessed stayed with me.  A few days after I got back, I went to Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Fort Worth.  As I walked in, I saw a little girl of about four, walking behind her dad and chatting away.  He was pushing the cart, but might well have been a hundred miles away, staring distractedly ahead and paying his daughter no mind.  Who knows what burden he might have been carrying?  Still, it took everything in me not shake him and to tell him to enjoy every minute.  They are gone before you know it.