By Barry Lazar
Fruit pie and ice cream, roast beef with drippings,
A fresh cup of coffee, pots of soup simmering
Onions cooked slowly ‘till they’re caramelizing
These are a few of my favourite things….
I could go on, but you get the picture, and maybe a trace of taste and aroma, too. It is November. It is a lousy month, no matter when I get into it. All it can promise me is rain, slush, snow, more rain, drizzle, grey clouds and endless days of what I officially call oy!ment, the opposite of enjoyment.
I don’t care what the calendar says or the almanac promises. This is Montreal we are talking about. Autumn leaves us by Halloween and the sun won’t break through until December. By that time, Montreal will be pristine, white, glorious and radiant in Christmas colours. At least that is what I hope for. But November, feh! Stay indoors.
And cook. This is a time to play with recipes, to nourish ourselves on comfort foods, to fill the home with the scents of fresh bread, cookies, long-simmering stews, exotic masalas, roasted garlic, cinnamon in apple cider, popcorn, hot chocolate.
This month is an ideal time to experiment, to haul out the cookbooks, search online and try out dishes that I might want to serve during the festive season. This is not a time for despair, even as I look out the window and seriously contemplate buying a one-way ticket to anywhere south. Instead, I consider the only sensible way to deal with what nature annually offers us—indulge.
We lived on salads over the summer. Good for us. By January we will be planning new diets, knowing that the rewards are slim, even if we won’t be.
So, frankly, to heck with all that. Now is the time for favourite things.
Here is something so simple and tasty that I don’t know why I don’t make it more often: popcorn.
We keep an old large pot that we only use for popping corn. It is big enough that I can put in a layer of kernels and get a quart of popped corn without worrying that the lid will be pushed off.
I don’t have a favourite brand. I look for popping corn, often in bulk or health food stores. I want good-sized, relatively fresh, round kernels. I don’t want old, thin kernels that look as if they have been pinched. Thin kernels have less moisture in them and it is the moisture in a kernel that pops it properly.
The pot goes onto the burner, which is turned to high. I can lower the heat if I think that the corn is popping too quickly or risks burning. My nose will tell me that.
When the pot is hot, I add a tablespoon of butter. If you use oil, do not use olive or a flavoured oil unless you really like the taste. A bland peanut or vegetable oil is best. As soon as the butter is melted or the oil starts to shimmer, I add enough popcorn to make just one layer on the bottom of the pot. I shake it a bit so that all the kernels get covered with a bit of oil and then cover the pot. When it starts popping, I regularly shake the pan so that un-popped kernels fall to the bottom.
When the popping has slowed to about one pop every couple of seconds, I remove the pot from the heat. Don’t open it for at least 30 seconds, as there may still be a few kernels about to pop.
Turn the popped corn into a paper-lined basket. This is better than a bowl, as the paper absorbs excess oil. Sprinkle a little salt and whatever flavourings you want (garlic, chili powder, etc.) onto the corn and toss well.
Have the pot ready, without cleaning it, so that it will only take a few minutes to make another batch.