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Porto or is it Oporto?

16 Jul

I wanted to share some images that I made while I was in Porto – a quick trip I made during my days in Galicia to visit my good Irish friends O & J. So Porto / Oporto. What’s with that? In English and in Spanish it’s called Oporto and in Portuguese it’s Porto. Somehow this seems strange. I mean wouldn’t Porto have worked for all of us? Ok. I’l stop that rant, because that’s pretty much all I could possibly complain about in this lovely city. It’s so gorgeous, it’s ridiculous. It’s crumbly and old and bright and colourful all at once. And the food isn’t bad either. My two new favourite things are included in the photos below.

One. Pasteis de Nata. Custard tarts that are everywhere. We had them everyday! And now I’ve developed an addiction. How can I make these? Anyone?
Two.Pataniscas de Bacalao. These are yummy cod fritters that seem to be a cross between a fishcake and an onion bhajii. Seriously good.
And of course, we must not forget Port. or as the Portuguese call it Vino Porto. But that’s a whole other story. Enjoy!
PortoCollage ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Galicia: Pulpo do Feira

12 Jul

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-“Market Style”. In my grandmother’s local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it’s amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It’s drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That’s it!) Meaty deliciousness.

Image

Galicia: Te gusta?

10 Jul

I’m back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically – as my relatives remind me often – in Galicia. Which is different.

When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a ‘Farmer’s’ Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma’s chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, “they have more paperwork than we do”.

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was ‘Te gusta?‘” Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. “No me gusta”. We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!

Chic Pique-Nique: Le Dîner en Blanc

31 Aug

Last night I attended an event that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. To say that Dîner en Blanc was this picnic planner’s dream come true would not be an understatement. Dreamy secret location. Check. Elegantly dressed people. Check. French Food and Wine. Picnic Baskets! Check.

Dîner en Blanc Place Setting © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Founded in Paris 22 years ago, Dîner en Blanc happens one night a year. Friends gather together to eat and drink an elegant picnic, all dressed in white in a secret location revealed just hours before the event itself.

The undertaking was not without commitment. In addition to their white outfits, and their picnic, participants bring their own white tables and chairs plus their own proper dishes and glassware. (Proper in this case means china and real glass.)

In Vancouver guests also had the option to buy a prepared dinner from non-other than Top Chef Chef Dale McKay. Now I’m not saying I’m a Top Chef but I was not about to refuse a challenge. The official Dîner en Blanc list of things to bring, read as follows : “A picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and a china dinner service including proper stemware and flatware.” Oh yes. GAME ON!

Three weeks ago, we began to plan. Super G communed with his inner prop master and sprung into action. He found brilliant white chairs at Ikea. A very clever pop-up table at Canadian Tire. We raided my mother’s cupboard for white plates and linen. I dug out a beautiful restaurant-style white tablecloth I have never had occasion to use. And of course we started to put together our outfits and the small details involved.

Dîner en Blanc Decor. Photography © 2012Helena McMurdo

I started thinking about the menu. It had to be French, it had to be practical for transport and plating. In the spirit of the event, and in keeping with my own picnicking philosophy – only elegant and practical containers.  A fabulous buttery Quiche Lorraine – what could be more quintessentially picnicky? For dessert I wanted to be a bit more daring. I came upon the idea of crème caramel – so French – and I decided to do them in small Weck Jars so that I could seal the containers after making them and transport them easily, doing the renversement on the plate at the dinner for the final pièce de résistance. (These are the things that make me happy!)

Dîner en Blanc Food Prep. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

Cooking was much more fun than shopping and after trying on what seemed to be every white piece of white clothing in the Lower Mainland, almost going snow blind from the experience, I finally settled on my outfit. Now back to the food.

Paté was a must and so a trip to Oyama Sausages was in order where decided on a  smooth and creamy Paté de Cognac and a more rustic Paté de Campagne. We also picked up an amazing Saucisson Sec. Trés bon.

Finally the finishing table touches, the flowers, glassware, and a few tiny chocolates for ápres dîner and of course the baguette were assembled. The task of packing began. It was important to be self-sufficient and compact in our kit as we would be arriving to the picnic (as per the rules) en masse and by public transit carrying everything with us.

Picnic Set for Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Super G slung the pop-up table over his shoulder and carried the two chairs and I rigged up a little trolley for my basket. I had a smaller bag for breakables which I carried with me and finally a small hand-held basket with the flowers. It was time to dress up and get out there!

We had been told to be at the Main Street Skytrain Station at 6pm. We arrived and promptly saw a few other people in white. Gradually a larger group assembled. We met our table leader and checked in. It was all very organized and efficient. We were given drinks tickets for our purchased wine so we could collect it quickly when we arrived at the dinner location.  There was a bit of waiting around but the sun was shining and none minded. It was a pleasure to simply soak up the scene.

Waiting for Dîner en Blanc. ©2012 Helena McMurdo

With our leader heading the posse, we all hopped on the sky train to our mystery location. At this point we knew only that we’d be going to the Burrard Skytrain Station in the heart of downtown Vancouver but we still did now know our final destination. It was quite a laugh to see the looks on peoples faces as the hundred or so of us piled onto the train, all in white and with all our accessories.On the way to Vancouver Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

From the Burrard Station we set off on foot and found our groups number growing as other groups from other areas converged on this point. It gradually became clear where we were headed, the home of the Olympic Torch, Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre. At the edge of downtown, on the water, it has a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains – a simply stunning, iconic location.

Without delay we found our designated spot, all organized and directed by our table leader Evelyn, and promptly set up our tables. Everywhere people were doing the same and it was wonderful to see the creativity in table settings and outfits alike.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver. © 2012

To the sweet and beautiful music of Josh aka that-guy-who-sings-La-Vie-en-Rose-at-Granville-Island we dined, shared each other’s food and watched the sun go down.

Dîner en Blanc Celebration. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

The entire menu went down a treat and to my great happiness the crème caramel turned out of its dish perfectly.

By this time it was dark, and time for sparklers! We were each handed a sparkler and at 9:35, 1200 people lit them together creating a beautiful glowing mass which signalled the kick off of the dancing. Les Noces Gitanes from Paris, played a sort of new type of Gypsy Kings thing with the odd riff on Ukranian dancing music. It was great! The party had just begun.

Vancouver Dîner En Blanc Night. ©2012Helena McMurdo

Galician Queimada

25 Oct

Well it makes sense I guess. The season of Hallowe’en is upon us. So at a recent family dinner when my mother suggested we do a Queimada, who were we to argue? After all it is not every day your mother encourages you to set fire to some high grade alcohol and summon the spirits from on high. Is it?

Reading the Conjuro

A Queimada is a Galician tradition from Spain, which involves burning a Galician version of aguardiente called Orujo to ward off evil spirits and bring in the good spirits of those who have gone before to share in the ritual as friends. It was not necessarily done at Hallowe’en but as the Gallegos are Celts after all, I’m sure they would approve. In fact there is a saying which goes along the lines of ‘any excuse is a good one for a Queimada’.

For best results, the alcohol is heated first before being poured into a a shallow clay bowl with oranges slices, coffee beans and cloves. A spoon with sugar is introduced into the bowl to gather some alcohol and then lit on fire and introduced once more into the alcohol to set the mixture alight.

From then on, all present at the table take turns to stir the Queimada while the Conjuro or spell is read aloud. This is your typical bubble, bubble, toil and trouble stuff…beginning with:

Owls, barn owls, toads and witches.

Demons, goblins and devils,

spirits of the misty vales.

Near the end, we arrive at the main point:

And when this beverage

goes down our throats,

we will be freed of the evil

of our soul and of any bewitchment.

Powerful stuff! Evil of our soul? Bewitchment? Ok perhaps a bit dramatic. But I can’t help but smile at the next part:

Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,

to you I make this call:

if it’s true that you have more power

than people,

here and now, make the spirits

of the friends who are outside,

take part with us in this Queimada.

That sounds harmless enough! Enjoyable even. Even if you are not inclined to believe in evil spirits, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying a Queimada. The resultant mixture, having burned off a great deal of the alcohol is sweet and smooth and delicious. Happy Hallowe’en!

Fish are the ones that swim, right?

16 Sep

For anyone who watched Gilligan’s Island, the words “three-hour tour”, do not instill confidence. Yet on the day before my sister’s wedding we found ourselves in North Lake Harbour, PEI  at McNeill’s Tuna Fishing, about to embark on just that. Continue reading

Got a tall ship that needs fixing?

2 Sep

As the first British Colonial settlement in Nova Scotia, outside Halifax, Lunenberg dates back to 1753. If like many Canadian children, you ate the odd fish finger or two, you may be interested to know that this is also where Captain Highliner hangs out. Continue reading

Finding Delicious on Nova Scotia’s South Shore

31 Aug

After two days in Halifax, we took the well known journey along the South Shore and did the drive along route 333 to Peggy’s Cove winding our way around the coast on the 329 and then the #3 to Lunenberg. This is a stunning drive along some spectacular coastline dotted by pretty little fishing villages.

Peggy’s Cove. Yes,it’s a postcard stop that no self-respecting Canadian can pass and stop we did. Continue reading

Historic Halifax

30 Aug

When my sister decided to get married in Prince Edward Island, my entire family was delighted to be able to finally visit the Maritimes and we booked our trip so we could also spend a few days in Nova Scotia.  First stop, Halifax. Continue reading

Beef & Guinness Stew with Irish Brown Bread

17 Mar

So if I haven’t mentioned it before, I lived in Ireland for close to 9 years and in that time became a great lover of all things Irish, with the cuisine being no exception. So in honour of St. Patrick’s day, I’m treating myself to some hearty Irish goodness inspired by my great friends in Ireland. Continue reading

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