Category — Markets & Food Stores

Best of Season: SH Summer 3

March 9, 2014

Summer…Well, well. Folks, I have to warn you to hold on to your beach hats because I’ve been writing notes to remind myself of all the rad stuff this season has delivered and revealed. Good food, good books, things I wore, songs I listened to. You know, the Big Issues. Links…links…LINKS, kids! Just as I guessed, way back in December when I wrote about spring, summer has been all about sprinklers on the back lawn and barbecues and relentless (bless ‘em) cicadas. We’ve had our share of challenges but I will say that the good stuff was good. Like…

 

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In: Food, From Hannah, Markets & Food Stores, Writing

Made in Melbourne 5

October 19, 2013

When I was 21 I moved to Melbourne, Australia. I had two bags, no job and nowhere to live. It was my big, bold thing. I needed to do something brave at the time, to prove to myself I wasn’t meek or incapable of being independent. I’d finished University, had a rough year, eventually dusted myself off and decided it was time to be gutsy. When I look back at my life and the aspects I am proudest of I can generally run my finger from whatever it is back to that time. The decision to move to Melbourne gave me something important, it’s inadequate to call it “courage” and it’s definitely not been unfailing, but it’s something like that. Sometimes, when I doubt myself, I remember leaving to live in Melbourne and think “Well, I did that.

 

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So it’s with little hesitation that I agree to go back to Melbourne (for pretty much any old reason). A little while ago my friend from Macau – who got me liking good champagne and never fails to make me laugh, what a combo – suggested her and I and our other darling mate now living in Tasmania – who is charmingly pessimistic and endlessly stylish, another great combo – meet up in The Great City. It took us about five minutes to work out a date and agree. It takes me four months to arrange a catch up with a friend across town but in a blink flights were being booked in three different countries. Meant to be; clearly.

 

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Aside from Melbourne being the site of my growing-up-(ish)-ness, which I will always be grateful for, it just happens to be one of the coolest cities in the known universe. Not that I am biased. It’s quirky and fascinating, full of hidden alleyways and street art. The food is outstanding, the people kind and creative, the weather moody. Bars are hidden in the tiniest of places, cafes stuffed into every corner. I love its imperfections, its graffiti, gritty and grimy bits as well as the silvery, sleek places by the river, magnificent fire torches by the casino and elegant terrace houses. People say that it feels European and I guess it gets close to being a European kind of city. Certainly by Australasian standards. Grand old buildings, jangling trams, good town planning. But it’s truly Australian too. How? There’s a kind of confidence to it, a boldness, a deep love of sport (especially this one), loud, squawking birds, the grass dessicated and golden in the summer and backyards smelling of charred meat+spilt beer+sunscreen.

 

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So, my highlights from this particular (whirlwind) trip. My good friends – top of the list. Best food: a soft shell crab souvlaki from Gazi. Holy. Best market: South Melbourne. Best clothes shop: Seed (I got a dark green scarf with cranes on it. Mentioned my scarf obsession lately?!) Best macaron: Green apple from Shocolate. Best place for a cup of tea: Sweet Source, Rathdowne Village (I had linzer torte with my orange pekoe in honour of my friend, Ria Voros) Best book buy: Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester.

 

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This post was not sponsored by the Victorian Tourism Board. It’s just a reflection of my personal love affair with a wonderful place, which happens to house some of my favourite things. And, more significantly, favourite people.

Which city or place was the making of you?

HUGS, Hannah x

In: From Hannah, Markets & Food Stores, Travel

How He Does It: Ryan Zuvich 5

September 15, 2013

Another installment of our How They Do It series! This time we’re getting into the kitchen with a real live chef.

Ryan Zuvich owns and operates Hilltop Bistro in Nanaimo, BC, but DH and I first met him when Ryan was opening his first successful venture in our town: Markt Artisan Deli. We would oggle his cheese selection and drool over his preserves and imported olives. DH had to work his way through all the meat products (oh, hardship). It was a little slice of heaven for us, going there. And then Ryan started to do lunch: deli sandwiches and sides and other goodies. We took Little e there when she was a few weeks old and she slept in her carrier while we had delicious plates of bread, cheese and sausage. Then Ryan started his dinner series, a monthly celebration of food that focused on a theme cuisine: Italian, French, German, Spanish… One big family-style table, course after course, good wine, good conversation. The whole thing was a hit–not just with us, but with customers all over town. Next we heard rumours of a restaurant, and while we mourned the loss of the deli as it was transformed into the Bistro, it’s hard to complain about something this good: Hilltop Bistro is now our favourite place to eat.

It’s been fun and fascinating to watch this part of Ryan’s career evolve and take off. We’re thrilled to be able to introduce him and his experience crafting delicious and artful food!

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First off, how did you come to be in the restaurant/cooking business?

Once upon a time I applied for a serving position at an up-and-coming restaurant. They promptly hired me as dishwasher. A trip across Canada and a few trips around Europe later, and here we are.

What about your work brings you the most joy?

Joy/satisfaction comes at the end of any day when everything was executed to the best of our collective abilities without one misstep. It’s elusive.

Who is your biggest supporter / cheerleader and why?

My biggest supporter is my wife. A close second would be my family. None of what I do would be possible without them.

What do you enjoy least about your work?

Negative people. Some people just like to complain. It’s hard with something as personal as food. It’s frustrating to send out a dish that’s been developed over months, that we know is good, and have someone compare it to the quality of a box restaurant or greasy spoon and complain about the price. Fortunately, that seldom happens.

What do you have to sacrifice or compromise in order to do the work you do?

As I get older I’m learning to sacrifice less. Though throughout my career I’ve sacrificed everything from relationships to my personal health all in the pursuit of being better.

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When did you know you wanted to do the work you do?

I wasn’t certain until my move from dishwasher to cook. Restaurants have a very social atmosphere and when everyone clicks and works towards a common goal it’s a special thing. A team sport basically. I was sold.

What do you still hope to achieve in your field? Secret dreams!

My biggest fault and greatest asset is my ambition. I feel like I’m at the tip of this huge world of food and wine. My not-so-secret hopes are more restaurants, different concepts, books, teaching, and more.

What quality do you think is the most important for a person to be successful in your field?

Passion. You have to love cooking at an obsessive level to stay, let alone excel, in this industry.

How do you juggle the work you do with your other demands or responsibilities?

“Juggling” is appropriate. Systematic prioritization. I write a list starting with the most important and cross reference that against the things that take the longest, and go. It’s satisfying when I finish a list, although most days it carries over.

Which book(s) made a big impact on your life? Why?

Too many to list, but career wise: Larousse Gastronomic, On Food and Cooking by Harold Magee. Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This. All these at different times and because they mark turning points in my understanding of food.

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Who would be on your dream dinner guest list?

It would have to include Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller, Hervé This, Harold Magee, Rene Redzepi…  I think they all have dinner together already though–they just haven’t got back to me with an invitation yet…

The best meal of your life was….?

I’ve been fortunate to have had some pretty exceptional meals, but a simple one that stands out is a pâté a friend and I made one afternoon while doing recipe development. It was amazing with fresh bread, mustard and a bottle of Chardonnay.

What is the most important non-food thing in your kitchen?

My knives. Without them I’d just be smashing things with my hands.

Sum up your life right now in three words.

Work in progress.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Have patience.

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Thank you, Ryan, for participating in our How They Do It series!

If you want to read more about Ryan’s great work, look  here and here. And if you’re on Vancouver Island, or will be sometime soon (a goal that should be on everyone’s list), drop by Hilltop Bistro. You can tell them Ria sent you. 🙂

XO

Ria

 

In: Food, How She (or he) Does It, Interviews, Markets & Food Stores

Research 6

August 7, 2013

I love a good bit of research. I’m a geek–it comes naturally. Much of the time I rely on the old interweb, but that’s often not enough. Like that novel idea set in Bali and requiring intimate knowledge of the beaches, cuisine and how it feels to be a carefree, willfully-unemployed loafer. Right. But one of the WIPs filling my head at the moment is set in Pemberton, BC, a stunning valley about 40 minutes north of Whistler (itself an hour and a half north of Vancouver). DH wanted to get some mountain biking in on the Whistler trails, so it worked out perfectly that Little e and I drove into the setting of my novel and poked around a bit.

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I’ve been inspired by this place for a long time. When I was in high school I worked for a few wonderful, crazy weeks at a horse ranch at one end of the valley and loved every minute of it. The muddy Lillooet River winding through grassy fields and thick stands of alder, cutting wide sandbars where we’d race the horses and sometimes scare a black bear or two back into the undergrowth. The way the flood plain stretches evenly and then suddenly stops as the mountains rise up on all sides. The late summer fires we’d see glowing on the shoulders of the mountains, smoke blowing to us faintly on the wind. It was an impossibly romantic place to me then, and still is, in the same way that first love can’t be tainted.

But about this research. There are farms growing all kinds of crops (and making delicious things with them), and Little e and I can never resist stopping in when we pass a sign for one. I’m curious how young people, a farm, a river and a hot summer in the valley would all mix.

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A Story.

One day, Little e and her mother went to North Arm Farm. They went there for research purposes and took a lot of photos of the scenery, livestock and buildings. It was way too much fun for research. (Or maybe that’s just the best kind.)

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Then they discovered the farm had u-pick blueberries. They decided to take a research break.

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Little e enjoyed holding the bucket, but didn’t much like putting berries in it. She specialised in hand-to-mouth blueberry picking.

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The romanticism of this place is so strong, it astounds me. Maybe my partiality to bucolic-meets-wilderness is to blame. Maybe it’s the adolescent fantasies that were strengthened all those years ago when I was a city slicker ranch hand. I’m guessing there are troves of stories, big and small in the Pemberton I see. The one in my mind and the one that’s really there.

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XO

Ria

 

 

In: From Ria, Markets & Food Stores, Travel, Writing

In Search of Stories 6

April 24, 2013

I’ve just gotten back from a mini road trip. DH went into the backcountry with a ski buddy and Little e and I took a drive to Victoria to visit friends. Given the horrific events in the news over the past week, I thought it would be good to do something restorative.  On the drive down, as my wee sidekick slept in her car seat and Raffi sang about getting together, I thought about what makes road trips fun. For me, it’s several things. Good times with friends, of course, and seeing new places, but beyond that, it’s the little narratives. Little stories that happen instantaneously on the side of the road, or in a sign or restaurant window, that give a sense of the macrocosm I live in and sometimes forget about. The thing that connects us, but that we often ignore for the finer details of our own lives.

Oh, and also good food. What’s a road trip without good food?

Our first stop was Cowichan Bay, and steps from the car was this tangle of driftwood and flowers with a political message. Every piece arranged by hand and with purpose. The kind of art that some people find a big mess, others naturally stunning. Was this a group project, or the work of a single artist? Thousands of people walk by this every year; I wonder what varied reactions it gets, whether it starts discussions between the onlookers. The best art does.

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Then Little e and I walked around Cowichan Bay together, me snapping photos and her smelling flowers by exhaling on them. We met Molly by the museum. She was gracious enough to be in one of the photographs. She’s still a pup and earning her sea legs by living on a boat. This was her first trip to dry land in a few days. I love the interactions between dogs, dog owners and kids. Little e is enamoured with dogs and I’m so grateful when people take the time to  stop and let her love their pets. There’s always a story–name, breed, quirks, favourite place to be scratched. Sometimes it feels like our days are going from one dog encounter to the next, and that’s okay with me.

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Next, I had to duck into True Grain Bakery, which mills its own grains, of course, and also makes excellent Eccles cakes. I’ll admit, Eccles cakes have never before inspired me. I guess I was always entranced by more flashy, icing- or fruit-covered things. This time I bought one. Little e and I shared it. We are sold. Bonus: I looked it up, and this pastry has a nice little history. I love it when food has history.

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Later, in Victoria, in an area where the city surrounds farm land on all sides like it’s protecting it (which sometimes it isn’t), my friend told us the story of the hobby farm five minutes from her house, which has been there forever, now run by a friendly old couple who likely get up at about the same early hour as me, except they’re tending sheep and chickens (I’m just making sure the toddler has some kind of supervision). You can buy a dozen fresh eggs by ringing the farmer’s “egg selling” doorbell and handing them four dollars (petting the cat while you wait for them to answer). And on Easter Sunday, my friend walked her dog beside the farm’s sheep field and saw a minutes-old lamb stagger up from under its mother, umbilical cord still attached. Here is the same lamb a few weeks fluffier. Don’t lambs look so fresh? Maybe it’s the contrast with the older, um, woolier adults.

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And finally. I don’t know why a lost duck mattered more to me than a lost dog or cat, but at that moment, I really wanted to look for him. Maybe because it was unexpected, maybe because I have a soft spot for Muscovies. This is my favourite story of the trip, and I think that’s because it requires the observer to finish the story, and how they do so says a lot about them. The glint in his eye makes me think he knows his way home, but wants to have an adventure first. He may also have some ninja moves up his…wing. I’m going to go with that.

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Hope you come across some good stories this week.

XO

Ria

 

In: Food, From Ria, Markets & Food Stores, Writing