It was the day before Father’s Day and I’d dropped by one of my favourite haunts: The Cookbook Store in downtown T.O.
As usual, I wound up talking shop and kibitzing with Alison Fryer and Jennifer Grange, trusty staff who’ve been my friends for more than 20 years.
Out of one eye, I noticed a short woman with bobbed brown hair and red lipstick chatting animatedly in a European accent.
Suddenly, she turned to me, clasped my hand, exclaimed “You’re Marion Kane!” then added, “I loved your column today about your father. I’m going to make the Swiss Steak.”
Eva (“Ibi”) Gabori is a Hungarian Jewish widow. She had just attended a 100th anniversary gathering at the Yorkville library and was celebrating a personal milestone: 50 years of working there as a librarian.
She’s an avid cook so dishes like cabbage rolls and Hungarian crepes called palascinta quickly peppered our conversation.
It then moved on to Gabori’s firm opinion that I look much better than my column’s photo, her time spent in Auschwitz and the deep love she has for her grown daughter.
She told me she always gives her only offspring a card on Mother’s Day “thanking her for making me a mother.”
At 79, Gabori looks and acts years younger. Her intelligence, curiosity and indomitable spirit had me and others in the store entranced. As she left, I looked around. I wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes.
A couple of weeks later, I was waiting to buy a ticket at my local train station when I noticed two dashing firefighters standing in line.
Since a friend’s recent basement conflagaration, I’d been wondering about fire safety in my home. “Excuse me,” I began tentatively, “do you think I should get a fire extinguisher for my kitchen? Is it necessary?”
“Well, with all the cooking you do, I’d say yes,” was the quick reply from one. It turned out this fellow reads my column regularly and even recalled the one in which I helped cook dinner for 30 at a Toronto firehall.
I tell the above stories for a reason. They are just two among many that illustrate what I’ve loved about my job at this paper for 18 years: the easy, sometimes instant, always warm connection it has helped me forge with all kinds of people through that universal connector and my burning passion – food.
Yes, dear readers, this is my farewell column and please excuse the tear-stains.
Around me, in my home office, are powerful reminders of experiences I’ve shared with you for so long. Hanging on the walls are framed pages from the 11 years I was the Star’s food editor.
There’s TV chef Emeril Lagasse, at the peak of his popularity, sampling bread pudding after we smuggled him into the Test Kitchen at 7 a.m. in 1998.
Two pages show me with the late Julia Child.
In one, I’m big-haired and euphoric sharing wine with my friend and mentor at the kitchen table of my Kensington Market home in 1991.
In 1999, I’m in her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen taking notes as she makes me scrambled eggs. That article includes a sidebar with the headline: Crazed food editor carjacks bag of buns. This incident involved late delivery of croissants intended for Child’s breakfast and a look on Star photographer Richard Lautens’s face that I’ll never forget.
In another feature, I asked three Toronto chefs to create a recipe for Stones rocker Keith Richards’s favourite dish: shepherd’s pie. The band was in town at the time. Keith loved the story and signed my page.
My tale of a three-hour Italian lunch with Sophia Loren almost a decade ago bears the headline: Cooking with Amore. I was covered in self-inflicted pinch marks after that amazing meal.
The Star has given me entrée and a platform to share yarns that range from weird to wonderful and everything in between.
In the early ‘90s. I wrote about New York Mafia cook-turned-informer Joe “Dogs” Iannuzzi who phoned several times from parts unknown to talk about his cookbook while he was in the witness protection plan.
Nine months after 911, I interviewed a teary Michael Lomonaco, former executive chef of Windows on the World, who escaped the terrorist attack by chance, deciding to buy glasses in one of the Twin Towers instead of taking the elevator to work.
On a lighter note, I dressed up in cabbage leaves 15 years ago to illustrate a story about ecology in the kitchen. The year before, I adorned my older daughter Esther and two of her friends in lettuce and carrots for a vegetarian feature called The Young and the Meatless.
Twice, I wrote major articles about Kensington: my beloved neighbourhood of almost 30 years. On a visit to London, I attended my high school reunion and, in a piece entitled Confections of a British Schoolgirl, recalled baking cheesecakes for my French teacher.
All this is a long way from being an interpreter for the U.N. – a dream I had as a university student immersed in languages.
It seems that being a food writer – a career that happened almost by accident in the late 1970s when I began penning restaurant reviews for Toronto Life – has been my natural niche.
It’s given me an excuse to be nosey, which I prefer to call curious, and to gab with others. After all, everybody eats and it’s a rare individual who doesn’t want to share a story about something he or she has eaten or cooked.
That’s how I wound up at Neville’s: the ultimate source in Barbados of puddin’ ‘n’ souse, that country’s national dish, thanks to Heather, the grill chef I befriended at my resort.
Last year, I discovered pig tails: a surprisingly tasty specialty that’s a barbecue/picnic tradition in the region around Stratford where I live. Through the grapevine, a home cook here offered a definitive recipe.
This job has been a two-way street and my exploits often elicited help from you. There’s the Latvian cookbook a reader sent when I wrote that my mother, a holocaust refugee from that country, was seeking a recipe for a certain apple tart.
A woman sent me her mother’s cake pan after I bemoaned the fact that Nigella Lawson called for this impossible-to-find vintage size for her Chocolate Fruitcake.
I’ve had a big response when I addressed political issues, in particular columns about underprivileged Torontonians. My columns about food banks, hostel cooks, day-care meals, bread-bakers at an east-end church and the young man at a downtown drop-in who makes delectable devilled eggs have touched your hearts.
So dear readers, please keep in touch. You can contact me via my web site: www.marionkane.com and check out a blog I’ll soon be launching. There’s also my recent book: a collection of Star columns and recipes called Dish (Whitecap; $24.95).
Meanwhile, I plan to perfect a plum cake I’ve been working on, a return to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market for the ultimate apple fritter, and to travel.
I’ll watch local chef Mark McEwan’s show The Heat and Brit bad boy Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on TV, cook from books by Tyler Florence, Jamie Oliver and Bonnie Stern, refer constantly to www.epicurious.com, use my kitchen bible The New Best Recipe (America’s Test Kitchen; $43.95) and finish reading The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola.
Wherever I am, I’ll be sleuthing, savouring and preparing food. I’ll do my best to buy local (preferably organic), use cloth bags to shop and break bread with kindred souls — starting with my new friend Eva Gabori.
Here are three dishes from my column that make a great dinner party menu. As Julia Child used to say: Bon appetit!
Fresh Pea Soup
From Barefoot Contessa at Home (Potter; $45) by Ina Garten. You must use flavourful peas. I recommend frozen President’s Choice Small Sweet Peas or fresh peas straight from the vine. I’ve served this hot, at room temperature and cold.
2 tbsp butter
2 cups chopped leek, white and green parts (1 large or 2 small leeks)
1 cup chopped onion
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
5 cups freshly shelled or frozen small sweet peas
½ to 2⁄3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
1 to 2 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup crème fraiche or plain yogurt
½ cup chopped fresh chives, optional
Heat butter over medium-low heat in large saucepan. Add leek and onion; cook 7 to 10 minutes or until onion is soft. Add stock. Increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Add peas. Reduce heat to low; simmer 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. (Frozen peas will only take 3 minutes.) Remove from heat; add mint, salt and pepper.
Puree soup in batches in blender or using hand blender. Serve with dollop of crème fraiche; sprinkle with chives, if using. Taste; adjust seasoning.
Makes about 6 servings.
Chicken Marsala with Mustard and Mascarpone
From Giada’s Family Dinners (Potter; $43) by Giada de Laurentiis. Serve over fettucine or creamy mashed potatoes.
1½ lb/750g boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
¾ cup chopped onion
1lb/500g cremini, brown or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 cup dry marsala wine
8 oz/250g tub mascarpone cheese
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley plus extra sprigs for garnish
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
In large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add chicken; cook, turning once or twice, until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes in all. Transfer to plate.
Reduce heat to medium. Add butter and onion to skillet; cook, stirring, until onion is soft, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook, stirring, until mushrooms are soft and juices evaporate, about 12 minutes. Add marsala; cook until reduced, about 4 minutes. Stir in mascarpone and mustard. Taste; adjust seasoning.
Slice browned chicken crosswise into ½-inch slices. Add to sauce in skillet; cook over medium-low heat until cooked through, about 2 minutes. (If sauce is too thick, add a little water or chicken stock.) Stir in 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
To serve, mound noodles on plates, top with chicken and sauce. Sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and a parsley sprig or two.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Rich Stout Cake
This black-as-coal, deep-flavoured cake is from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes (KC; $29.95). Use bottled stout (e.g. Guinness), not canned. This calls for a 330-mL bottle of Guinness and 1⁄3 cup more – so just drink the rest!
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups stout or Guinness (330 mL bottle + 1⁄3 cup)
1 cup good quality cocoa powder
5 oz/150g dark chocolate, grated
Icing sugar for dusting, optional
Preheat oven to 350F.
Butter 9-inch/23-cm springform pan; line bottom with parchment or waxed paper.
With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Gradually add eggs; beat until light and creamy.
In bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda.
In another bowl or large measuring cup, combine stout (allow head to settle) and cocoa; stir in grated chocolate.
Add flour and stout mixtures alternately to batter, stirring after each addition, until combined. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake on middle shelf of oven about 1 hour or until tester inserted into centre comes out clean. Cool on wire rack in pan about 10 minutes; remove rim. When completely cool, dust with icing sugar, if using. Serve with softly whipped cream or vanilla yogurt and fresh berries, a little applesauce or raspberry puree.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.