Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ravi Shankar (& Anoushka), Caffe Artigiano & Chicken Shwarma

These were the 3 highlights of this past weekend's Vancouver trip. The purpose of the trip was the Ravi & Anoushka Shankar concert on May 16th at the Orpheum. More about that later.....

Chicken shwarma (I got the plate, this time, not the sandwich) is always a mandatory meal whenever we go back to Vancouver (which was home for about 9 years). The restaurant is called the Falafel King - there's one on Davie (@ Thurlow) & one on Denman. The portions are generous, to say the least - the plate pictured here, which included about 2/3 lb of grilled chicken with sauce, hummus, parsley salad & bread, was less than $7. Beyond highly recommended, if you're ever in the neighbourhood.

Caffe Artigiano is a relatively new, Vancouver coffee chain that has probably the best coffee in the world. I discovered it a couple years ago, while walking up Hornby one morning to the nearest Starbucks from the Hotel Vancouver. I walked by this coffee shop that was lined up out the door - I wondered, "what the...?" and kept walking. When i got to Starbucks, it was virtually empty. I realized that something was amiss - what was with this new coffee shop? So, of course, I set out to investigate.

When I walked in to the store, it actually looked like some little cafe you'd stumble upon in Italy, complete with arches & ornate finishes. As I made my way up in line, it was obvious that the bustle was de rigueur here. I ordered a cappuccino & grabbed an available seat. The first thing you notice is the latte art atop the foam - this was one of the first cafes to do this on regular basis. There are beautifully framed pictures on the wall of all the designs they have created. At last, I took a sip. Now, for those of you that know me, I have been a dedicated Starbucks advocate for some fifteen odd years - the location of my condo in Vancouver was not so coincidentally located 1/2 a block from a Starbucks.

I digress - back to the sip.........it was pure heaven. Rich, smooth, with a lovely caramel-like finish. Honestly, it put Starbucks to shame (I'm sorry Howard Schultz - I still love you & all you've done, but I must speak the truth).......to shame!! I was instantly in love, quickly dismissing the initial guilt I felt about even walking into a non-Starbucks establishment.

If you talk to people in Vancouver, Caffe Artigiano is now seen as the 'mecca' for coffee. Their little local chain is quickly growing, even across provinces now. With Starbucks cancelling their lease for the location on Stonebridge Blvd (a few blocks from where I live), I am hoping, praying........even considering bribing them to come to Saskatoon. It's not out of the realm of possibility - this is 'Saska-Boom' after all! We will see.

Onto the true purpose of the trip, the concert (and yes, George, we came to Vancouver to see Ravi, not Raffi :). The evening began with a lovely meal at the Sitar restaurant (I know, how fitting........I think everyone in there was also going to the concert afterwards). Once we entered the Orpheum (one of the last ornate theatres of its kind, by the way - you are in awe of it) a frenzy of anxious concert-goers were everywhere, many (both white & brown) sporting traditional Indian attire. When you walked into the concert hall, the aroma of incense filled the air.

The first half of the concert (the first 1/3rd, actually) was Anoushka, the tabla player (the famous Tanmoy Bose) and flutist Ravichandra Kular. You were immediately drawn in by Anoushka's skill on the sitar & her beauty. At one point, she admitted that she 'loves to play fast', which drew laughter from the crowd. After about 30 minutes, there was an intermission.

When we went back in, they were setting up the center podium for 'the old guy', I heard someone from behind jokingly say. When Ravi came out, he was greeted with a huge round of applause & a standing ovation. He comes across as so humble, he quickly beckoned the crowd to be seated. He is definitely old - he is 89, in fact. I wonder how many 89 year olds could sit down & perform like that for about an hour & a half (!), let alone stand up without assistance, no less. At this point, there was only Ravi, Anoushka & Tanmoy, the tabla player. As good as the first 3rd of the concert was, it immediately rose to a whole new level. Ravi & Anoushka playing together was absolutely captivating, & tabla was like nothing I've ever heard. Ravi completely controlled, in conductor-like fashion, the performance, and the audience. At one point, the tabla player went off on a solo that rose to a furious tempo. The audience couldn't help but burst into applause, but was quickly quieted by Ravi, who motioned for them to listen, not applaud.

After about 40 minutes or so, the awareness that you were in a concert hall, attending a performance, slipped away into a dreamlike state. I will never forget that feeling - a calm euphoria, that you knew would eventually come to an end, but a moment you wished go on forever.......... But, of course, it did, and after a couple of standing ovations & seeing Anoushka cry (I can only imagine over the reality that this would be one of their last performances together), we left the theatre with a sense that we had witnessed something of immense importance. I feel so blessed to have experienced it.

All in all, it was a memorable trip. Vancouver is still the city that makes my heart ache for it whenever I return. I'll make it back out that way eventually............

Wild Serendipity Foods

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another Season of Cooking Classes Comes to an End

This week marked the end of my scheduled classes for the season, although I'm still booked up for a couple months for custom cooking classes. This past week I ran the African class, where we prepared a dish from North, East, South & West Africa. We also attempted a 'replica' injera, the sour-ish, crepelike thin pancake bread used as the eating vessel for the wonderful curries. It is a replica recipe because true injera is made from 'teff' flour.

Teff is a tiny, millet-like (or maybe just a tiny millet grain?) grain, not grown in North Amercia. It is mixed into a batter & allowed to ferment, thus, giving it its characteristic sour flavour. It is cooked up like a crepe, yielding a soft, spongy thin pancake. The replica, although similar in appearance, tasted nothing like the true injera (surprised?); we used whole wheat/rye flour mixed with unbleached flour, with baking soda as the leavening. I had previously made a Nalysnyky recipe where the texture of the crepe was very similar to injera, & it had used baking powder as the leavening. So, for the 2nd class, I thought it would better to use b. powder, & use a little buttermilk in place of the liquid (club soda). Baking is truly chemistry - it turns out the presence of eggs was critical in the Nalysnyky recipe, which I did not use for the Injera. Let's just say...........culinary disaster. I quickly whipped up the original version & we finally had some injera to eat!

Anyway, the injera moment, & the 1st occurence of a married couple each cutting themselves (& bleeding) within about 10 minutes of each other, marked the highlights of the last class.

I've already got the Fall's class listings sketched out (sorry, no hints!). Because the classes have been filling up so rapidly, I will be offering less types of classes, but with more sessions of each class to sign up for.

The other difference you will see is that the classes will be prepaid electronically upon registration. If people are unable to attend a class that they've registered for, an alternate person could be sent in their place, or they could place their name on another class list.

So, with that, thank you to everyone who attended my classes this past year - I truly enjoy doing them, & your feedback and many repeated attendances always reassure me that I have chosen the right path in my life! :) I look forward to seeing you all again in the Fall. Come by my stall & say 'hi' if you're at the Market over the summer!

Michelle Zimmer
Wild SerendipityFoods