by Barry Lazar
The theme of this issue is either housing related or, as we are approaching Halloween, something scary. From the Flavourguy’s perspective, however, they are the same.
Let’s start with the home. Nothing says home ownership like renovation. Ours is limited to the kitchen. We started in the spring, shortly after we noticed that our quarter-century-old gas stove had a slow leak, that the oven door wasn’t closing properly and that the knobs no longer had markings. The stove was telling us it was time to go to that great compactor, somewhere out there. “It’s OK folks, you can dump me now.”
After years of contemplation, hoarding IKEA catalogues, dropping over to Sears and culling newspaper inserts (“no down payment, months to pay”) we figured out what we wanted and took the plunge. Spring is a good time for plunging. Spring evokes upward movement and optimism.
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We entered the season with lots of hope, plenty of time and completely unrealistic expectations. Now, it is fall.
I am aware that fall is synonymous with descent. This is not a pleasant feeling. One looks for a soft landing, for completion, for the fall to end.
But in the world of kitchen renos, the end may not be there. The nights grow cooler as we eat on the balcony, the dining room overflows with parts of the kitchen that have not found their way back. Spring gave us hope. Fall laughs in our faces. It is a scary world.
In the spring, we contacted contractors. We figured that this job would be easy. We didn’t need Mike Holmes—Mike Kitchen would be fine, if we could find him. We didn’t want to gut the kitchen, we just wanted to improve what we had. But in the reno biz, a job with no guts isn’t worth the glory. We were told that the job was too small or that the season was already too busy.
“Plan for a two-week disruption,” the pros told us. Cook in the dining room. You can move the fridge and a hot plate in there.”
“Two weeks,” I thought. “We can be better organized than that!” Five months later, we’re still working on it.
Oh, it will be beautiful.
The stove was hauled out and a new gas range moved in. We now have a dishwasher that actually washes dishes instead of an over-priced mobile storage container that we would push over to the sink and hook up to the faucet. The shelving and cupboards are stripped, refinished and stacked in the corner.
Until everything is back in place, we are letting friends know that we are into open concept. It sounds good. We’re expecting the family over for our annual Chanukah party in December. That’s plenty of time, Mike, right? For Halloween, I’m thinking of inviting the neighbourhood kids in.
“Trick or treat?” I have both.
Autumn is a time to slow down, to enjoy the harvest and put something tasty away. A Provençal ratatouille is a fall-flavoured dish that freezes well.
In a large pot, slowly sautée a few medium-size onions, as much garlic as you like and a couple of French shallots (the ones that look like small onions) in a half cup of good olive oil. Cover the pot. You want them to soften, not brown.
Add a few thinly sliced red and yellow peppers, a firm, peeled and sliced eggplant and a couple of peeled and sliced zucchinis. Add a can of tomatoes or prepare three or four large fresh ones by dropping them briefly into boiling water so that the skin breaks away and you can peel it off.
Let everything come to a simmer and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add your favourite herbs (oregano, thyme, and bay leaf are all good) and a crushed, small, dried chilli pepper if you want a little bite. Let everything simmer covered for an hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning. I like to add a few drops of good balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of red wine.
Let it cook slowly for a little longer. If it is watery, remove the cover for the last half hour to reduce the dish or thicken it with tomato paste.