19 November 2015

From my PR blog: You're an expert. Cool.

Hello all my lovely people.

The other day when I read this Globe and Mail article about how Canadians cook, this exchange leapt out at me:

Calder: Cookbooks, at least in the English tradition, usually came from someone who’d been cooking a long time, so now we get chef cookbooks but you also get a bunch of cookbooks from 22-year-old bloggers, who... 
Hunter: Know nothing. 
Calder: Quite frankly, what’s the palate? Do they know how to write a recipe? Now that every blogger’s got a book I think, where’s the authority? I think we’re missing a sense of authority right now because everybody’s an expert. Everyone’s a photographer, everyone’s a writer, everyone’s a curator.
There's more than an ounce of truth in those words, if my inbox is indication.  It got me thinking of about how it seems everyone is trying to position themselves as an expert, regardless of their actual knowledge or skill.

Every day I receive pitches from publishers, PRs, and marketers telling me about their latest cookery expert, nutrition expert, lifestyle expert, agriculture expert and other experts related (and some not related) to the food industry.  I also get messages directly from unknown experts trying to convince me I should write or tweet about them, let them write for me or recommend them for media interviews, panels and other brand-building exercises.

Unfortunately, many aren't experts.  Yes, they've mastered free, low-barrier publishing and sharing platforms, amassed followers and have a self-published book on Amazon, but these points don't really mean much if these "experts" don't have the chops.  It's as if they bank on being the smartest person in the room when they don't know whom else is here.  It's really as if they're looking for a shortcut to the twinkly rooms of legitimacy and celebrity where champagne flows freely and life is just one big, never ending party with Idris Elba as the DJ.

I jotted some thoughts on my PR blog about what I see as the cult of expertism.  It may help to explain why influencers--including the media--ignore many pitches about experts.

I'm a quill for hire!

18 October 2015

We're in this together: Middle Eastern shepherd's pie

151012 Middle East Shepherd's Pie 4

Tomorrow is election day in Canada. 

It’s been a long campaign. It’s been an aberrantly and abhorrently caustic campaign. 

As we waded through attack ads, endured dog whistles, and sifted through fictions presented as facts, many of us remembered what it was like to be Canadian. 


Not the hawkish, divisive and belligerent archetype some try to frighten and bully us into being, but the humanitarian, inclusive and reserved people we have been and (I believe) still are.

Throughout the past 78 days I saw people hold true to the unspoken but understood simple truth about Canadian society, that Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, addressed at the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium:

Nous sommes ici ensemble.
We’re in this together.

We are our shared experiences and shared emotions.  Our neighbour’s pain is our pain.  Our neighbour’s strength is our strength. Our neighbour’s joy is our joy.  It doesn’t matter what we look like, where our parents or grandparents came from, how we worship, whom we love—or any other artifice of division or classification encoded upon us—we all deserve to live a great Canadian life, in the Canada we hope for. 

As Michael Rowe wrote, in Canada the words “take our country back” are not a right-wing rallying cry of reactionary racism that celebrates and prioritizes white, Christian, heterosexual hegemony.  In Canada, “take our country back” is the cri de coeur for a return to an era when being Canadian meant aspiring to something greater than it currently is.  Something greater than decimating, selling and shedding the entities and endeavours that help to define Canadian culture and identity—the CBC, the Wheat Board, environmental protection of thousands of our rivers and lakes, peacekeeping.

I saw many people take our country back during the campaign period.  People stood up to bullies and called out fibbers.  Religious freedom was defended when peddlers of fear vilified women in veils.  Average people stepped in and sponsored Syrian refugees because the government stepped out and fell down.  Democracy was revived through new and innovative get out the vote programs for marginalised populations.

In their own ways, they were rebuilding our society to one that resembled more closely the Canada we hope for.

In his speech, Nenshi recounted a family devastated by the 2013 Calgary floods. As they sat in their nearly destroyed home, they didn’t focus on what they no longer had.  They focussed on what were about to have: a hot, homemade shepherd’s pie.  One of the relief effort’s thousands of community volunteers cooked and delivered a hot meal to this family.  It was that unspoken but understood simple truth about Canadian society.

So today I offer you a shepherd’s pie in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote.  It’s warm and comforting, and with Middle Eastern flavours, it celebrates the multicultural mosaic that makes our country stronger and better.

Parce que nous sommes ici ensemble.

151012 Middle East Shepherd's Pie 2
Middle-Eastern shepherd’s pie
Yield: Serves 6

For the mashed potatoes:
450g/1lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
55g/60ml/0.25c butter, melted
100ml/a generous 0.33c buttermilk, plus more, if needed

For the filling
Olive oil
450g/1lb ground lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
35g/2Tbsp/30ml tomato paste
1tsp/5ml ground cumin
1tsp/5ml ground allspice
1tsp/5ml ground coriander
1tsp/5ml cinnamon
0.5tsp/2.5ml pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg
50g/75ml/6Tbsp sultanas, plumped in water
0.5c/125ml beef stock, lamb stock, or water
1Tbsp/15ml Worcester sauce
30g/60ml/0.25c toasted pine nuts
1 handful chopped parsley

Make the mashed potatoes in the usual way.  Set aside.

Brown the lamb and remove from pan, leaving any fat in the pan. Sweat the onions, celery and carrots in the lamb fat. Add the garlic and stir until the air is perfumed with its scent. Remove the veg from the pan.  Add some olive oil and fry the tomato paste until it deepens in colour.  Return the sweated veg to the pan and add the cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir for about a minute before returning the meat to the pan.  Tumble in the sultanas and stir well.

Add stock and enough water to cover the mixture.  Pour in the Worcestershire sauce.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Let boil for a few minutes before slowing the hob to a simmer and let blip (uncovered) until a thick sauce clings to the meat. 

While the mixture reduces, preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Add the nuts and work through the parsley.  Balance flavours to taste.

Tip the mixture into an ovenproof pan or dish.  Top with the mashed potatoes.  Fluff and style the potatoes in the usual way, so as to create as many opportunities for browned, crunchy bits. Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake until the potatoes are burnished to satisfaction.

Let cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

  • Instead of lamb, used minced beef (or a combination of the two).
  • Almonds can be substituted for pine nuts.
  • Use the raisins’ plumping water when cooking the meat mixture as it will add some of the raisins’ sweetness to the dish.
  • If you're lucky to have celery with its leaves, mince those leaves and stir through with the parsley.

I'm a quill for hire!

05 October 2015

Worts and all: Beer with the Culinary Historians of Canada

Kitchener-Waterloo's 180-year brewery history is dotted with legendary names.  George Rebscher started Canada's first lager brewery in what is now downtown Kitchener.  David Kuntz's brewery became Carling-Kuntz, then Carling, then Carling-O'Keefe and finally Labatt's.  Jim Brickman is credited with not just founding Ontario's first craft brewery but triggering the Canadian craft brewing renaissance.

This tradition continues today in our start-up city.  In amongst the several hundred app-building, drone-designing and whoseywhozzits-making tech startups, a new group of small brewers set up shop.  I think this is why our Waterloo Region Museum set up an exhibition that celebrates our fizzy and worty nature.

The Culinary Historians of Canada came out to catch the exhibition, partake in some Waterloo County fare, and tour one or newer breweries, Block Three. I recently became a member of the CHC and joined them for the day--and I'm glad I did as I got to meet and hang out with some lovely people who are keenly interested in Canadian foodways.

Of course, my camera came in tow, which was put away during lunch (yes, I did).  Sorry: no pics of the cream of tomato soup with mushrooms and peas, mixed greens salad with orange-saffron dressing, glazed Atlantic salmon, schnitzel with sauerkraut, chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and Swiss, penne with chèvre, Dutch apple pie or triple chocolate mousse cake.  Maybe next time.

From Beer! The Exhibit
The Regional Museum is one of my favourite spaces in Waterloo Region. It's multicoloured exterior always makes me smile, and I'm usually there for an event hosted by an awesome organization. We've got a good team who puts together thoughtful exhibitions, and this one is no different.   They informed us about how beer is made, and our local brewing history, including The Heuther, The Brick, Kuntz and Carling, as well as Block Three, Abe Erb, Waterloo Brewing and others.  There were displays of the various styles (ales, porters, stouts, wheat, &c) and societal happenings such as the Victorian beer saloon, prohibition, and KW Oktoberfest.  They also gave space to The Empty Shoes Project.

History of Beer Timeline  Water+Malt+Hops+Yeast=Beer  Heuther merchandise

 Illuminated Beer Bottle Wall Wall of brewery merchandise in beer casks

Prohibition Victorian beer saloon 

Kuntz Brewery items Kuntz & Carling merchandise

KW Oktoberfest Wagon Empty Shoes Project

From Block Three:
Block Three is one of those cool spaces tucked into an unassuming building.  Open the door and you find yourself in a publet.  A tiny little pub, where everything on offer is brewed on-site and the selection changes every week. After gliding by the merchandise counter where you can buy jugfulls of beer, soaps that look like beer, or branded coasters or T-shirts  (yes, a bright pink one came home with me), is the pub.  On the back wall, behind he bar a chalkboard lists what's available on tap or by the bottle, and a case of hand-thrown clay cups line shelves, ready for their owners' next visit. Those of us of a certain age think we've entered a bit of a time warp as there's a proper old-school record player spinning vintage vinyl, along with a collection of board games available to be played. There were four beers available for sampling: King Street Saison (available year-round), Jane Blonde, Blocktoberfest, and (my favourite of the four) Frankenstout.  For those in Ontario, but not near St. Jacobs, the Saison is available in the LCBO. We stepped into the brewery where they had a number of fermenters on the go, and tucked into a corner was a special order for a local high tech company.

Little sample snoots of Block Three beers Block Three's record player Special bottling for a client

At the publet Where the regulars keep their glasses

Block Three's barrel "Things" Block Three fermentation tanks

I'm a quill for hire!