Lorette C. Luzajic

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Eat to Live, Live to Eat

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By Lorette C. Luzajic

My mom’s cookbook collection is vast, spanning centuries of information, and bringing her garden and indeed, the whole globe, right into her kitchen. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find a spiral recipe collection put out as a fundraiser by the ladies of Latvia, or a guide to insect cookery around the world. There is for sure an entire volume on what to do with your Ontario zucchini harvest, a rare English translation of Romany gypsy cookery, and Tony Chachere’s amazing southern American swamp food guide, complete with recipes for raccoon, possum, and gator.

I’m forever sifting through this stunning wealth and jotting down interesting ways to stuff an eggplant, or learning the nutritional content of the oyster and how it got there. I dreamed of having a food library just as vast, but reality was in the way: my tiny urban dwelling, while perfectly adequate, is not a sprawling farmhouse. The kitchen is about three feet by three feet. And so I must be choosy with my cookbooks, to fit them onto the one shelf that they share with my coloured mixing bowls and the coffee maker.

I don’t know the exact science behind the birth of Malcolm Jolley’s Gremolata Magazine, but I bet it’s not that different from me sitting at Mom’s, grazing through her cookery library, washing fresh earth off of the tomato harvest, stirring something simmering and garlicky, and sipping some amazing Niagara wine- from grapes grown across the street. How can we bring this experience into the city? How can we connect the most sacred substance we know of- food- with our newfangled technologies?

Why, with Gremolata dot com, of course: “Our business model is simple. Provide superior content and the ability for people to connect and interact with it. We embrace technology and incorporate it with the traditional values of classic journalism.”

Gremolata is that portal that magically marries modernity to a total emphasis on our local heritage, yet somehow manages to be armchair travel to all corners of the earth. It is a vast library of cookbooks. It is a place to tune in to what’s worth watching on food television. It’s a place to meet the people who grow, prepare, and eat our food. It skims the headlines of the world news, letting us know what we need to about the one topic on which every human being depends entirely. It helps us shop for wine. Yes, there is a time and place for the pages of a cookbook, complete with pumpkin pie stains of past Thanksgivings. Yet the techno-gifts of today’s world are not in competition with these savory saving graces. They can keep us in touch with joy.

Indeed, the five year old web magazine- which as of yesterday evolved into an interactive gathering hub for chefs, writers, relatives and other people who eat – has a very simple and pure soul. Its entire mandate, while dressed opulently in gourmand experiences and contrasting philosophies of what food means, is bare bones basic. “The greatest moments in our day and our life can surround the simplest of pleasures.”

We eat. We drink. We are merry.

What is ‘gremolata?’ Well, technically, it’s a concoction of garlic, parsley, and lemon peel that accompanies a heavy Italian meal such as veal shank. But its meaning transcends its ingredient listing and suggests notions like ‘on the side’ or ‘to go with perfectly’ or ‘a little something extra’ or ‘a morsel.’ The much courser word ‘shmecks’ is a bit off, but not entirely, and the Louisiana “lagniappe” is just about perfect, except the southern ‘little extra’ is not necessarily food, and not necessarily lemon and garlic. Gremolata conjures ‘the simplest of pleasures.’ There’s a vast world of meaning that goes into what we put into our bodies. Our world, our health, our cultures are all dependent on the fact that we need to eat and how we do it. Lucky for us creative humans, we don’t simply run out, grab a bird or a berry, and be done with it. We mix, combine, experiment, and gather together.

Last night hundreds gathered together in celebration of Gremolata’s new direction, which has evolved from a stricter magazine format with scheduled issues to an ever-building and totally interactive portal. The evolution is thanks to our Jolley founder and his colleague James Geneau.  The launch was held at Hart House at the University of Toronto, where the church and academia-architecture was a spirit not lost on me. Upon entering, I surveyed the scene before me, and it was one of total joy. There were food lovers of every ilk, totally relaxed, a sea of garnet wines, and laughter. Gremolata celebrates the heritage of the earth right where we are, and dozens of incredible Ontario food producers were sharing their magic with us.

(In turn, the launch also honoured The Stop Community Food Centre. The Stop is a sustainable ‘food bank’ and education project that grows and gives real food, engaging those who need their services in learning and social involvement. A dazzling 100 percent of food used by the Food Stop comes from local farming. It was worth going just to learn about this amazing place, because I confess with embarrassment that I have never heard of it. It’s not that long ago since I’ve used food bank services, and I always lamented how the crappiest of the crud is what was donated for the poor. The Stop thinks outside the can, and though I would never shun the generosity of an emergency meal, a project like this can help people in a whole different way than just the critical need today. Please visit www.thestop.org to learn more about this incredible food centre.)

The Gremolata experience yesterday was like an edible re-enactment of Thanksgiving- the real one, where we are thankful for our food, not the one where we steal it from those generous enough to share. Is there anyone who does not secretly loath Christmas, preferring Thanksgiving? It’s all the good stuff of the holiday- food, family, and heritage- and none of that consumerist gift crap and heinous mall music. While I once enjoyed Hark the Herald Angels sing as much as anyone did the first forty-eight renditions they heard, I could happily go the rest of my years without ever, ever humming Deck the Halls or White Christmas against my will again. The meals aren’t that far off- turkey, cranberries, and at my house both red and white sauerkraut. I always loved the insignia of Thanksgiving, even if our kindly kindergarten teachers did leave a few massacre details out of the friendly Indian stories. I loved the idea of sitting with a feathered chief, learning how to get the eggplants and corn and pumpkins out of the earth and into the cornucopia!

The autumn harvest couldn’t be a better time for the Gremolata launch, because in its essence, the ‘magazine’ is all about Thanksgiving, all year long. Food and family. Local harvest. Global traditions. Gremolata.com is a cornucopia of friends sharing food.

Some of the food we shared last night caused me to run out of adjectives. Divine, inspiring, succulent, spectacular, delicious, intriguing, bold, charismatic….

This summer, Caplansky’s opened a deli menu at The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton Street, Toronto). Last night they shared what was by far the best-smoked meat I have ever put into my mouth. Ditto for their crisp, salty pickles. I’ll be making a trek across town on a regular basis for this stuff- possibly even today!

Now, pickles are one of my favourite weaknesses. And so I stopped by Forbes Wild Foods to try something weird- pickled milkweed. WOW! Forbes Wild Foods (www.wildfoods.ca) is as local as you can get. Our ‘ancestors ate wild crafted foods’ that grow freely in their habitats, and ‘do not need watering, fertilizing, cultivation, or spraying.’ What, you mean you just go outside and pick stuff that’s there and eat it? Yes, exactly. Forbes harvests the foods by hand and only uses items that are in abundant supply from Mama Nature! So, what does that mean- dandelions? This imaginative food source sells fifteen or more types of dried wild mushrooms. How about wild rose petal syrup, or birch syrup? Fiddleheads, daisy capers, cloudberry compote…this is seriously radical stuff, taking the meaning of ‘all natural’ down to its purest essence. Why not try one of their gift baskets this Thanksgiving or Christmas?

Soiled Reputation offered ‘temptations from the garden.’ I indulged in about seven types of heirloom tomatoes- purple ones! You can read more about Malcolm Jolley’s visit to this awesome farm (http://gremolata.com/Articles/322-Soiled-in-Stratford-Antony-John-and-Friends.aspx). They grow vegetables throughout the winter, making ‘local produce’ possible all year long.

Finally, I can’t depart without mentioning the Arvinda’s line of spice rubs and seasonings. The most horrible part of going gluten-free- besides, of course, living without beer- was the surprise presence of gluten in nearly every spice mix on the market. While I’m quite adept at mixing my own spices, when you’re trying out other cultures, you can’t just assume your Canadian hand is as skilled as the ones that have made it since time began. For example, Creole or Cajun spice blends were a staple of my chicken making for years, and now I miss them. Arvinda’s impressive line of curry and masala mixtures is entirely gluten-free with no additives! They are totally affordable, and available widely (Sobey’s, for example, or check in with them at www.arvindas.com. The cook in a rush is not always a lazy cook, and even if we’re pressed for time, we deserve to enjoy and serve a delicious menu. I’ll have one of each of these blends on hand from now on for those hasty but tasty occasions.

Of course you will all gather with me from now on, to share and experience food the Gremolata way. (In case you didn’t know, I’m the Gremolata Spice Girl! Don’t miss my column, introducing the history, magic and flavour of one spice at a time.) If you’re new to Gremolata, you can be sure your life is about to get richer, more abundant, more connected to the earth, and to others. Yum!


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