Oh dear. It’s been a while, sorry for that. I’m not sure if this is a cold, or pneumonia, but whatever poxy my adorable son has inflicted upon me is kicking my ass all over the street. My coughing got bad enough over the weekend that I seemed to have done something to my ribs. I think next on the block, this condition will increase my balding by 73% and render me mute. My wife can only dream….. Anyway, what have we missed in the past two weeks? Gladly, not too much. Or a whole lot, depending on your point of view.
I try not to be too political
Unless you follow me on facebook. Then it’s open season. But here, I try to keep my posts moderate, with the occasional political jab thrown in. But let’s forget that for a paragraph. The Mega-Quarry was stopped! This is huge news. For one thing, it was very likely going to have a very serious impact on water in and around the GTA. As beer is over 90% water, and it’s nearly always locally sourced, we should celebrate this. Furthermore, this was a truly grassroots movement, that snowballed, and included involvement from many people directly and indirectly involved in craft brewing. This can become a standard to draw people to other causes. It’s rare to see a huge corporation pushed down by a community-driven protest. Congratulations to all involved. Score one for the good guys.
Say it Frenchy, say chowda
Let me tell you, if you want to win my adoration here’s a good way to start: Invite me to an event where 12 local chefs prepared their own take on a clam chowder, pair each one with a beer, and let me go mad. Host it at the Royal York and you win. You just win. That’s what the 2012 Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown was.
The evening was an awesome night of fundraising, great soup and beer, and education about Ocean Wise, with a healthy dose of competition too.
“Each participating chef battled for our overarching goal: saving our oceans by encouraging event guests and the community to choose sustainable Ocean Wise options every time they look for seafood,” said Robin Poirier, Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Toronto representative. “They demonstrated that sustainable seafood is not only good for our oceans, but great tasting as well. We honour their commitment to fight the biggest threat to our oceans – overfishing.”
And who was the winner? Well, the celebrity judges (Anthony Walsh, Corporate Executive Chef and Partner, Oliver and Bonacini Restaurants; Carl Heinrich, Partner/Executive Chef, Richmond Station & Top Chef Canada Season 2 Winner; Rebecca LeHeup, Executive Director, Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance; Jamie Kennedy, Owner/Executive Chef, Jamie Kennedy Kitchens; Micah Donovan, The Food Jammers) picked a lovely offering from Chef Albert Ponzo from my alma mater Le Select Bistro (couldn’t help but feel immense pride for that). It was a wonderfully robust soup, with added depth from lovely smoked sausage and heaps of delicate chunks of clam.
The people’s choice award went to Chef Richard Baksh of Earl’s Kitchen and Bar. His Manilla clam chowder was lovely and featured sturgeon in the mix of seafood.
And what were my picks? Well, there is the potential for homer-ism here, but I was particularly fond of both Paddy McMurray’s (Starfish/Ceili Cottage) chowder as well as the offering from Hooked Inc. Paddy’s was classic comfort food, though the addition of dulse powder added a marvelous layer of salty ocean goodness. That he also had some of his amazing hand-cut chips, dusted in sea salt and more dulse powder certainly helped. Hooked’s chowder was creamy and sweet, and included a fresh shucked oyster, which was a pleasant surprise. The cliche, of course, is the real winner was our Oceans, as Ocean Wise works to encourage sustainable fishing practices. Cliche, maybe, but true.
The beers for the evening were from the Creemore/Rickard’s/Granville Island portfolio of Molson-Coors. There was a wonderful Thai Red Curry Clam Chowder paired with Kellerbeir that was just an incredible pairing, with earthy notes from both complimenting each-other, and the Kellerbeir’s nicely hopped presence keeping up with the heat from the curry paste.
An excellent evening, and one I was super-happy to be able to attend. It’s a yearly do, so plan on attending next year. Good soup and beer for a good cause. It would be hard to do better for a night out.
A special kind of sick mind
This isn’t for everybody. But I discovered a game and if you have a somewhat sick/dirty sense of humour, you’ll love it. It’s a bit like Apples to Apples, but rated R. Occasionally X. It’s called Cards Against Humanity, and I love it for two reasons: One, it makes me laugh like mad. Two, it’s distributed under a Creative Commons license, which means you can download and print the cards yourself, and use and adapt them however you like, as long as you don’t sell them. You can also buy nicely printed and boxed versions on the website, as well as expansion packs. They have also just released a holiday expansion pack on a “pay what you want” model. Like the Radiohead album. From the site:
Unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.
The game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a Black Card, and everyone else answers with their funniest White Card.
This is the perfect (adult) game for an evening out drinking beers, or an evening in drinking beers. You could also substitute beer with wine, spirits, etc. Consider this my Christmas gift to you.
So I attended a community clean-up in Harbord Village and the Annex. I was there, as it was sponsored by Creemore, but I was asked to go as a real live journalist. In the process, I got to interview Matthew Fuller (Creemore Brewmaster Gord Fuller’s son), as well as Adam Vaughan and Olivia Chow. It was a pretty big deal for me, and I was pretty happy with the results. Check them out here: The Live Blog and The Editorial.
Getting out there
So you’re reading this right now, and that is awesome. In the past few years I’ve managed to grow this blog to a place that generates around 4000 unique visits per month, from over 70 countries (since I started keeping track of that type of thing). I enjoyed a year of doing beer talks with Fred on the Edge. I’ve been so thankful for all the support everybody has given me. And it’s been that support that has allowed me to gain even a little more reach. This past weekend, I got to do an interview with an awesome guy, Drew Marshall, on his talk-radio show. Drew is the host of Canada’s most-listened-to spiritual talk radio show. As a fellow of faith, Drew had me on to talk about beer, and also how I got to where I am. It was a great, slightly nervous time (the bit was live). When the clip is posted online, I’ll post it here. I also had a pretty major break-through this weekend, as Huffington Post featured my post on Beer and Boobs on the Canadian site. I was actually on the front page (the realist in me is insisting on pointing out it was “below the fold”) for about two days over the weekend. Future posts with not regionally-specific content will likely show up there, which I’m also hugely proud of. But, as cheesy as this might sound, I wouldn’t have gotten there without everybody who reads my posts here. Thanks!
They grow up before you know it
Hey, big brewers, how are sales going? Oh yeah, going to DOUBLE your capacity in one fell swoop anytime soon? Didn’t think so.
Okay, to be fair, that’s a totally insane argument, and my apologies to all my friends at big breweries. We’re talking about a difference in scale that is huge. BUT, Bellwoods Brewery, one of my favourite places to take in a beer, is growing! Many people know that they have been selling their incredible beer at the brewpub, as well as in a few lucky bars around the city. They’ve been garnering awards and support through contests and events like cask days. And they’ve even been selling bottles in their retail space, but there’s been an ongoing problem. They simply couldn’t make enough beer. Mainly because of fermentation space. Well don’t you worry about that.
Behind where they’ve been hosting their pop-up retail events (which I managed to get to last weekend. Mmmmm, Monogamy Bravo…..), they have a large pad poured to host five new fermentors, and a bright tank. In the not too distant future, expect to see the retail store keeping regular hours. Expect to see me there a lot.
Most people probably haven’t been in that back space, but let me tell you, it’s a tight squeeze. It looks less tight in that picture above. I wanted a sequence of the tank being lifted anyway, but if I had needed to leave, I wouldn’t have been able too. There was nearly no clearance. Those installers are magicians.
This has nearly nothing to do with beer, but I posted some pictures of me making this year’s Christmas Pudding, and got some requests. So okay, here’s the deal: Christmas Pudding is one of those things; people either were raised with it, and adore it, or never really ate it, and can’t imagine what the big fuss is. Trust me, it’s worth the fuss. And I wasn’t raised with it. My recipe is (apparently) from a Georgian-vintage book. I can’t verify that, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s delicious and just amazing. And worth the seven hours of steaming. Below is the recipe and the method, as well as some notes. Sorry about the mixed measures, the gram-measures were adapted from a combination of imperial and obsolete measures (a dish, anyone?)
- 450g dried mixed fruit (use golden raisins/sultanas, raisins, currants, dried berries)
- 25 g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
- 1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- Grated zest and juice ½ large orange and ½ lemon
- 4 tbsp brandy, plus a little extra for soaking at the end
- 55 g self-raising flour, sifted
- 1 level tsp ground mixed spice (I use allspice, clove and nutmeg in roughly equal portions)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 110 g shredded suet, or frozen shredded butter or coconut oil (vegetarian option)
- 110g soft, dark brown sugar
- 110 g white fresh bread crumbs
- 25 g whole shelled almonds, roughly chopped
- 2 large eggs
In a large non-reactive bowl, place the dried fruits, candied peel, apple, orange and lemon juice, and cover with brandy. The recipe only calls for 4 tbsp of brandy, which undoubtedly is because it was such a valuable commodity in the 1800s. Given that you can buy a litre of St-Remy for about $30, just cover the contents, and watch them, as they soak it up, you might need to add more. Cover with something, and leave it overnight, at least. The booze will keep everything safe and sanitary, but if you’re worried, chuck it in the fridge.
When you’re ready, lightly grease a 2 ½ pint (1.4 liter) pudding basin. Stir together the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon in a very large mixing bowl. Add the suet, sugar, lemon and orange zest, bread crumbs and nuts and stir again until all the ingredients are well mixed. Finally drain the marinaded dried fruits (reserve the liquid, but leave a few tbsp in the mix) and stir in. Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl then stir quickly into the dry ingredients. The mixture should have a fairly soft consistency. Now is the time to gather the family to take turns in stirring, making a wish and adding a few coins or good-luck charms (obviously, make sure whatever you’re adding is wrapped well, or properly sanitized. I actually omit this step). Spoon the mixture into the greased pudding basin, gently pressing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, then a layer of aluminum foil and tie securely with string (my pudding mold has a lid, so I only use parchment). Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 7 hours. Make sure you check the water level frequently so it never boils dry. I use either a cooling rack or a canning lid to keep the mold off the bottom of the pot, as I don’t have one of those metal steamer dealies. I keep a pot of water simmering, to top-up the water, as it boils down. The pudding should be a deep brown color when cooked. Remove the pudding from the steamer, cool completely. Remove the paper, prick the pudding with a skewer and pour in the reseved barndy from the marinating dried fruit. Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and retie with string. Store in a cool dry place until Christmas day. Check periodically; if it looks like it’s drying out, add more booze. On Christmas day reheat the pudding by steaming again for about an hour. Serve with Hard Sauce (see below), Brandy Butter or custard. Left over Christmas pudding can be reheated by wrapping tightly in aluminum foil and heating through in a hot oven.
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 225g icing sugar
- 5 tbsp brandy
Place the soft butter into a large bowl. Beat with a whisk until light and creamy. Add the icing sugar and beat again until all the sugar is incorporated. Add the brandy or Cognac to taste and stir well. If you add too much brandy the mixture may “break”. Don’t worry. Just add more icing sugar until the mixture binds back together. Spoon the hard sauce into a serving dish, cover and store in the fridge until required.
Check out the ingredients of the pudding. There’s 13. This is apparently because you have one ingredient each, for Jesus and the 12 disciples. This is some Christian dessert. I actually make a double batch of this, because we serve one pudding on Christmas, and keep the second for Easter. Who knew eating could be such a religious experience?
Traditionally, when you turn the pudding (once reheated) out of it’s mold, you stick a sprig of holly, ideally fruited, in the top. Then you douse it in more brandy. The heat from the pudding should start vapourizing the alcohol, at which point you set fire to it, using a BBQ lighter or equivalent. Seriously. I don’t recommend this, as it’s hella dangerous. Mind you, I do it every time I serve it. Just make sure you’re comfortable igniting alcohol, and have an extinguisher to hand. And know that I told you not to.
Serve it with the hard sauce, and a snifter of brandy, and have yourself a merry little Christmas (or Tuesday, if you don’t dig on the Christmas thing).
Oh, and if you’re trying to be really authentic, you’re meant to make it on “Stir-up” Sunday (usually the last weekend in November), which is the last Sunday in the Christian Calendar, which starts on the first Sunday of Advent. In the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer, the collect for the day begins: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;“. Ah, a double-entendre from 1549! Even if you’re not an Anglican, it’s a good time to do it, as a) it gets dessert for Christmas sorted out well ahead of the big day and b) gives you a month to try to get it to absorb the maximum amount of Brandy. The good news, you could, in theory, prepare it and never let it cool, simply turn it out and serve it. But I would suggest at least a week or two soaking in booze. So you have plenty of time!