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Journalist. Food Writer. Producer.

Pantry And Palate - a centuries old discussion


When it comes to food, it’s hard to say that any food culture is completely isolated from those that surround it, no matter how different the surrounding regions and populations may be. This is something which has become drilled into me in my work as a journalist and food writer. There are questions of colonisation, economics, geography, and so much more.

But when you start digging into these topics, you never know how far back in time or how far in terms of geography you will go. This is what I’ve discovered as I work on finishing my book, tentatively titled, Pantry and Palate. It will explore the history and food of my ancestors, the Acadians of Atlantic Canada, and examine those very qualities.

On my kitchen table is a small collection of little black notebooks. Handwritten notes in perfect cursive fill their tan pages. These are recipes written down by my grandmother, and by my great-great-aunt. But they resemble lists of ingredients, rather than what we would call a recipe today.  For example, a recipe for a Molasses Cake asks for :

1 1/2 cups molasses

1 1/2 tsp soda

1/2 cup of grease

1 cup milk

2 cups flour


That’s it. That’s all that either of these women needed to be able to make and bake this cake. No notes on how or in what order to add the ingredients. Not to mention temperatures or baking times. There was a hard-earned and encyclopedic knowledge behind these recipes, and it was located at the fingertips of these women. These lists were reminders of the necessary ratios necessary to execute a dish. It’s a confidence that most home bakers rarely possess these days, let alone on the scale that most women would have possessed when these notes were written.

And yet these notes are vital in my search for understanding the cookery of my ancestors.  They give me insight into the kind of knowledge that the people who cooked these meals had in their possession, as well as the necessities of cooking. There are variations on most recipes, with names of people long gone. “Zita’s molasses cookies” could be found next to a recipe for a “Golden Cake.” It didn’t take me long to realize that this cake was referring to the flour company that used to exist and distribute its wares in the first few decades of the 20th century, and not to the colour of the cake. That recipe didn’t make it to the book, but it still told me what and how people were cooking, and sharing cooking knowledge. Even the stuff that doesn’t immediately fit the the mold, has a place, somewhere, somehow. It’s all important.

This recipe for Scalloped Cabbage assumes that the home cook knows how to make a white sauce. Luckily, my grandmother had gone to finishing school and knew how to make one without thinking. Today, however, that white sauce would have its own recipe, written underneath.

This recipe for Scalloped Cabbage assumes that the home cook knows how to make a white sauce. Luckily, my grandmother had gone to finishing school and knew how to make one without thinking. Today, however, that white sauce would have its own recipe, written underneath.

There is a recipe for doughnuts, written directly below a recipe for making boudin, or blood sausage. At first glance, this seemed to be a strange, yet arbitrary placement. It wasn’t until I spoke with a few people did I realize that this was no coincidence. Boudin was often made on the same day that pigs were slaughtered, due to the freshness of the main ingredient, pig’s blood. But there was another abundant and fresh ingredient on days of the boucherie, or slaughter. Fat. Creamy, white, pure back fat, perfect for deep frying. Acadians were fans of salted pork fat, as it was a major part of their pantries in the days before refrigeration and supermarkets filled with shelf-stable fats.  But fresh fat could almost be considered a rarity, since boucheries were often only held in the fall. So why not treat yourself to a hot and tasty treat after all that hard work? 

But this is only the beginning of what I found in digging into my ancestry’s culinary past. One of the recipes I found in those same notebooks was for a molasses and cornmeal bread.  Funny enough, I also found a recipe for the same bread in a community cookbook, published by a nearby church group in a neighbouring english community. This community is also populated by descendants of former Loyalists, both black and white. Many of these loyalists came from parts of the American south, where cornmeal is king. My ancestors spoke mostly french, were catholic, and white. Yet here was an english speaking, protestant, and black community, not far from my own, and our pantries and bellies were filled with the same food. Just goes to show that food is food, and good food is contagious. It travels from mouth to mouth, from community to community. It creates dialogues that last centuries and connect cultures.

The first draft of Pantry and Palate is due at the start of next month, and I am furiously finishing recipes, writing up the last of my interviews, and remembering all the little details I wanted to include. This act of writing may be one of solitude, but the recipes and information found within show that when it comes to food, no one is alone.



Out like a lion, in like a well-seasoned lamb.

As someone who makes a living by recording other people’s voices, I am often told, “I sound so different.” No, I think you sound exactly as I know you.

But waking up this morning on this first Monday of the new year, I experienced a bit of that.  I was listening to my local morning show on CBC Radio, and I heard my name being called. It was an interview I had recorded with the host, chatting about food trends and topics for 2016. 

To be honest, I am used to hearing my own voice on the radio. I have recorded, edited, and heard my own voice quite a lot over the past few years, so it doesn’t phase me. Maybe it was because I wasn’t awake, but I listened to myself chatting away with the host, and thought, “I should be doing more of this.”

So that’s my resolution. To tell more stories that I am proud of. Stories like that of the Chen family, and how tofu was more than food, it was a way of life. Stories like that of Alexandra Mansour, and how an immigrant housewife came to change the palate of an entire community of rural Nova Scotians.  Stories that speak close to home, whether home is in Nova Scotia, or 2000 miles away. Like the story I told in Gravy, the Southern Foodways Alliance’s podcast. 


I've already started on things for the new year. New radio pieces. More stories. And most importantly,  I'm working on a book project, one that will take me throughout Atlantic Canada, and through decades of dishes. Dishes likes the ones detailed in these recipe. But more on that later. Stay tuned.

They say years come in like a lamb, and out like a lion. I say this year went out with a roar, but this new one is coming in like a well-seasoned lamb. Tasty, indeed. 


The Value of Story

We used to subscribe to magazines, newspapers, book clubs, and all sorts of things. We paid for these things, and enjoyed what was brought to our doorsteps and mailboxes. We would read, digest, discuss, and even occasionally throw said magazine or book across the room because someone wrote something that incensed us. 

Then the internet came around.

We started getting content for free. But more importantly, the value of said “free” content soon began to reflect the investment that was placed into paying for it. In other words, much of the content began to have next to value. 

And we accepted it because hey, it's free. 

No computers were thrown about, but we did all of a sudden have an abundance of trolls living under bridges. And clickbait. And listicles. 

I'm not interested in free content. I'm interested in good content. I'm a freelancer,and I work hard to get paid. I often joke that I won't get out of bed for less than ten cents a word* but I will tell you that oftentimes the work I am the most proud of is the work that has been paid for by people who work just as hard to pay me. 

We happily pay roughly $5 for a good latte, or a pastry, and seriously, you should pay good money for good food. Nourishment is essential to our lives. 

So is information.  

I am willing to pay so that I can be informed, educated, and inspired. A few sites/magazines/shows have gone to create online funding campaigns to kickstart their careers. They evoke a sense of charity as well as excitement, but those things wane quickly. And once that money is gone, it’s gone. You can’t budget on charity and excitement.

Recently two shows I listen to often started campaigns to get monthly patrons of their shows. CANADALAND, by Jesse Brown is a great show about media, ethics, and broadcasting. I don’t always agree with Jesse - and sometimes even think he’s a bit unnecessarily snarky - but I think he does great work. I don’t mind giving up an extra snack once a month so that he knows, somewhere, a little extra steady funding is coming in.  

Another show I decided to become a patron of was Fugitive Waves, which is part of the Radiotopia. Fugitive Waves is put out by the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. I had the chance to meet the two sisters, and Davia was even kind enough to give me some pointers on some of my own work.

In fact, Radiotopia is in the middle of a campaign to get people to pledge $75,000 to be able to continue to produce good content. And they were able to do it because more and more people believe in and are willing to pay for said content. 

I'm not writing this because I want to say, "Hey I'm a good guy and I do this, humblebrag, et cetera," but because I believe in changing the way we consume media, and the way we value said information. I think that's worth $5 a month. 


*With apologies and thanks to both Linda Evangelista and Melissa Buote for stealing that.

Get out the Gravy

This spring, I had the chance to meet two very lovely people. John T. Edge and Tina Antolini from the Southern Foodways Alliance. The two of them were on cloud nine after having won the James Beard Award for Gravy, their magazine and podcast. 

Tina and started chatting, and soon the idea of telling an Acadian/Cajun story came up.  From that idea came this story, The Cajun Reconnection

The front page of the SFA's website. The photo shown was taken in 1936, of a delegation of Cajuns visiting Nova Scotia. 

The front page of the SFA's website. The photo shown was taken in 1936, of a delegation of Cajuns visiting Nova Scotia. 

Doing the research and interviews for this story has been not only a great experience, but a familial one as well. Talking to the subjects, I kept coming across  more and more intricate Acadian and Cajun connections. This person knew that person, that person was related to this one, and even some of the stories I heard were even connected to Gravy itself.  At one point, Georgette and Rachelle were talking about Tante Sue, a well known patron of Fred's Lounge. 

It's a small world indeed. But this is a big story. Take a listen on the Southern Foodways website, or on iTunes.  You can also listen to it on Gravy's Soundcloud page



Beer and cheese, for one please.

I joked with a friend of mine the other day that less than two years ago, I knew next to nothing about beer. Now I find myself wanting to write about the most minute part of beer-making: the yeast.

A few months ago, I was told about a yeast lab in Ontario called Escarpment Labs. First of all, I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a yeast lab, let alone the role it could play in the lives of brewers. That little tip ended up being a story in The Globe and Mail's Food & Wine section, which you can read here.

Speaking of booze: The Coast, which is Halifax's alt-weekly, recently dedicated it's latest issue to all things wine. Wine and cheese are a perfect pairing, but the question is: what do you pair with what? I asked a few local winemakers for their thoughts. 

Jarry is a new publication that launched this month. The magazine "explores where food and gay culture intersect," according to its website. For the first issue I interviewed Frank Bruni, the New York Times' former food critic. Bruni is also the author of Born Rounda memoir about his life as a gay man and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with food. I was curious to know how Bruni views food today, now that he is no longer bound to a career as a professional eater.

Speaking of relationships and food, Halifax Magazine recently published a first person essay of mine on my own relationship with food, or rather, the cooking of food.  An excerpt:

If you were to come into my kitchen last night, you would have found a lone pot filled with potatoes on the stove. They’ll be for dinner tomorrow.

You see, these days, I am kind of like that pot: alone at the stove. It used to be that I was cooking for more than just myself. For years, I cooked for a significant other, who then became less-than-significant. Then, for about a year, I cooked for a couple of housemates. But about two months ago, my cooking ratios dwindled to focus on one.

You can read the rest, here.