Silvern Voices, revisited


Back in November 2014, I started a novel based on an idea I’d been nursing along since the previous spring. After a long break, I’m revisiting Silvern Voices and will post excerpts here and there as I write.
How a freelance food writer fell into the abyss of working on a horror novel is revealed here.
Previous excerpts may be found here, here, and here.

And a new clip, in which we join the hotel manager in his office as he comes to terms that something is very wrong.

Blundon stood at his office window, looking out over St. John’s harbour. He never got tired of this view, the magnificent spires of the Basilica, the ships tied up along the waterfront. It had changed over the years as bigger buildings like Atlantic Place sprouted up, cruise ships replaced sealing ships, and magnificent spires of the Basilica were overshadowed by the boxy behemoth of the Rooms, which Blundon (and a lot of townies) considered a blight on the landscape.
This morning though, he wasn’t seeing anything. The haunting rumours had long swirled around the hotel, as long as he’d been working there. St. John’s was an old city, a city of ghosts, and there weren’t many buildings of a certain age in town that hadn’t been rumoured to be haunted (and some with probable cause). Blundon was not given to flights of fancy though, and he’d never believed there was anything supernatural about the Constellation. A palpable sense of history, perhaps, a “souls’ footprint” left by past guests, maybe. He could go upstairs at midnight, on the banquet floor, and if he concentrated enough he could hear the laughter, the strains of an orchestra, the tinkling of glasses, of grand functions gone by.
But this was something different. This was the third death in a month, and the local press had jumped on it.
No secret that people died in hotels; suicides of the tormented souls who didn’t want loved ones to be the ones to find them; the odd heart attack from the mattress gymnastics played by older men with their younger diversion, but this, this was nothing that earthly.

Donair leftovers-oh, yes, I went there.


Last January, on the other side of the country and with a craving for the quintessential Halifax street food, I took on the task of figuring out how to make a decent donair at home. (You’ll find that recipe here) Fast forward a year, and city council has contentiously voted the donair as “The Official Food of Halifax”.

That decision, and the process leading up to it, came under fire because, well, Halifax is not exactly an urban utopia in which the biggest problem is how to keep the unicorns from pooping on the streets of gold, but rather issues like economic development, transit, and race relations. It’s a long laundry list that the donair debate had no place on, but there it was.

My interest in the donair is not political, though–I just want to enjoy this street snack for what it is, a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed a couple of times a year.
Recently, I had a few like-minded ladies over for donair sub lunch. Arteries were sufficiently hardened, and the warm glow of acid indigestion spread down our gullets–a truly excellent donair experience.
The next morning I was staring in the fridge, wondering what to have for brunch, when I spotted the leftover donair fixings. (Why do we do that anyway? Stare like something’s going to change as we’re looking, like there’s a magical fridge fairy tucked in the cheese compartment, ready to do your bidding?)

Not enough meat for a “morning after” donair, nor onions, but diced tomatoes, shredded mozzarella and that sickly sweet sauce. What would hold all that together-EGGS! EGGS! Could I? Yes, I sure could, Should I? Well now, that was another question. Did I really need another way to consume what wasn’t all that healthy to begin with?

I take the leftovers and two eggs out of the fridge. This meat is pretty fatty, I remind myself as I slice it into smaller pieces. Of course, so is sausage, as I add it to the hot pan. Well, tomatoes are healthy, I soothe my inner guilt, as I stir them into the meat. Cracking two eggs into a bowl and whisking, I remind myself eggs are just fine, I have no cholesterol problems, shockingly enough but that’s a story for another day. The eggs pour over the heated meat and tomatoes, and as they begin to cook I lift the edges up to let the uncooked egg run underneath. The seasoned meat smells delicious, and as I fold the omelet over and sprinkle the cheese on top to melt, my mouth is watering.

I decide I’ll draw the line at the sauce, that combo of evaporated milk and sugar can’t be good. A vision of hollandaise drifted in front of me, hollandaise, that beautiful pale yellow butter sauce, so beloved by Eggs Benny fans. Butter has a helluva lot more fat than evaporated milk, and I wouldn’t hesitate to ladle on the hollandaise.
By the time the omelette is ready, I’m convinced it’s health food.
It was a thing of beauty.

The Donair Omelette

The Donair Omelette

But do they tickle on the way down?


Kicking off my New Year’s blogging with a very old ingredient in some very old cuisines.

I feed my dog Jack chicken feet as part of his raw diet, and I’ve been doing it so long I don’t think anything of it. (He prefers them frozen, like little feetsicles.)
It’s while watching a friend’s reaction as Jack crunches away on his treat (a little horror mixed with revulsion) that I’m reminded the poultry paws, in many countries, would never go to the dogs, as it were.

Indeed, as Canadian restaurants are enjoying a menu renaissance of offal, organ meat, and other secondary animal parts, chicken feet remain off the radar. We’ve had the luxury of picking and choosing only certain cuts from our farm animals, while casting off the unwanted, unsightly, bits. While that’s changed with the resurgence of “nose-to-tail” eating, there’s still no sign of feet.
You have to look to less prosperous cultures (I’m speaking in generalities here), ones less wasteful by necessity, to see what can be done with chicken feet.

Eastern Europe, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and East Asia all have countries where you can find dishes involving chicken feet. Due to the high amount of cartilage, many tiny bones, and lack of meat, chicken feet are typically stewed and used to flavour soups. There are health benefits to eating the feet and while claims run from more youthful complexions to longer life, it is true that the feet are a source of collagen and glucosamine, believed to benefit joint health.

The gelatinous texture and aforementioned tiny bones don’t make for an appealing mouthfeel (maybe that’s why Jack likes his frozen?), but one of these days I’m going to get around to cooking some for myself. Human grade chicken feet can be found in Chinese markets, and in many grocery stores in larger centres where there’s likely to be a population of folks for whom they’re part of their native cuisine.

I found a few interesting recipes (linked below), and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve either had chicken feet before, or if you do try out one of these, or just want to share your experiences with putting the (chicken’s) foot in your mouth.

Jamaica Travel & Culture provides a Chicken Foot Stew recipe here.

Check out Serious Eats for a dim sum classic, Phoenix Claws, here.

And over at Foodthinkers, a Mexican-style Fried Chicken Food recipe here.

Through the Eyes of a Child

I’ve been taking a brief hiatus from this blog while I ponder its future direction, but I had to share this entry from a blog I follow. My Window on God’s World is written by a friend of mine who happens to be a minister. As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t consider myself spiritual, and nor do I have much faith in God (although I envy those with faith). But Catherine’s writing resonates with me, likely because of her frequent themes of feeding the body as well as the soul. This piece of hers is my favourite, and brilliant. I don’t even have the words to describe why, but it makes my heart swell. Truly, it’s food for thought.

My Window on God's World

HPIM0557_editedBright, brown eyes peeked over the communion table at me as I finished placing multiple breads on it shortly before the service started on World Wide Communion Sunday. “Is that the bread we made yesterday?” he asked with wonder and awe in his voice. 

I was newly ordained and eager to share all I had learned in my education and training; and full of ideas for bringing the gospel to life in our time and place. I shared a ‘Breads of the Peoples’ communion liturgy with my Session and proposed an all-ages bread baking day. We could get to know each other in a setting that required participation and hands on involvement, reflect on how bread was central to both body and soul, get to know each other and begin to create shared memories and bonds that I hoped would deepen over time. My Session agreed and we set the…

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Just Peachy


I’ve been working on a writing project that’s taking more time than I expected, and so have neglected my blog, which I promised myself I wouldn’t do but hey, the road to hell paved with good intentions and all that…
Joyce, the bringer of good things, came by with some local peaches that she’d bottled. Peaches are one of those fruits that must be eaten at the peak of their ripeness, when the kitchen fills with their perfume–about a split second before the fruit flies arrive.
I’m not a fan of fresh peaches eaten out of hand though, I don’t care for the fuzzy texture of the outside, but I do love bottled peaches.
Peaches and blueberries make a delicious combination; my friend Claire makes an amazing peach-blueberry pie with a streusel topping that I must get the recipe for. Claire, are you reading this? Send me that recipe!
Peach shortcake? Sure! I use my favourite cream scone recipe (here)
I’ll leave you with this recipe for Peaches & Cream cake*, and I’d love to hear what recipes you think are peachy keen.

Peaches & Cream Cake

Makes 1 9” cake

1-2 teaspoons butter or margarine
1-2 teaspoons flour

For the cake:

6 large eggs room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

3 cups heavy (35%) cream, whipped
1 /4 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 /2 cup peach schnapps
2-3 cups bottled sliced peaches

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the tube pan with butter, then dust with flour, shaking off excess.

For the cake:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and sugar, beating on high until light in colour. Beat in vanilla, salt and flour, making sure to scrape down sides of bowl as you mix.
Pour batter into tube pan, and bake until cake springs back with touched and toothpick comes out clean when inserted, 30-40 minutes.
Loosen edges of cake; remove from pan and let cook on wire racks.

For the filling:
Whip the cream until firm but not stiff, and whisk in icing sugar and vanilla.

To assemble the cake:
Using a serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally so that you end up with four layers. If you have a steady hand, dental floss can be pulled through the cake the make the layers quite easily.
Place bottom layer on a plate, brush with schnapps, and spread with 1 /3 cream filling. Add second layer. Brush with schnapps, spread with 1 /2 the sliced peaches. Add the third layer, brush with schnapps, and spread with 1 /3 cream filling. Top with last layer, brush with schnapps, and layer remaining peach slices.
Using a cake spatula, cover the sides of the cake with the remainder of the cream filling.

*This cake is a riff off the Bakeapple Lakka cake in my cookbook “A Real Newfoundland Scoff”

True story: Poppin’ Caps

I thought I was going to die that night. That long, lonely stretch of highway between the airport and home seemed especially desolate in mid-winter’s chill; small white wooden crosses scattered roadside serving as silent sentinels, reminders that some didn’t make it home.
With freezing temperatures and the chance of black ice, I was completely focused on the road, traveling well below the speed limit, and watching for the deer that occasionally leapt out. On the left, just across the median, I could see the moon shining on Miller Lake’s icy surface. On the right, up the embankment, the silhouette of the trees against the inky sky.
I had just passed my exit sign, and was starting to relax, when I heard the first shot–an ear-splitting crack that ruptured the silence and ignited nerve endings. Before I had time to react, a rapid-fire pop, pop, popping. I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t figure out what was happening–who was shooting at me? And where from? Were they deer jackers? Was it some kind of sick joke? Jumbled thoughts flashed through my mind. I forced my attention back to the road, not daring to look to the side, just trying to get off the highway, white-knuckling the SUV’s steering wheel and feeling my shoulders pull together with tension. Turning off the highway, leaving the shots behind, I pulled on to the shoulder to take a deep breath. Prying my fingers from the wheel, feeling my heartbeat starting to slow, and then, again–another deafening bang, right beside me. I ducked down below the window level, covering my head as the volley continued. It seemed like hours, but was only seconds before the popping slowed, til finally, silence.
Again the thoughts filled my head so fast I could hardly process them, and finally a bit of reasoning and sense began to prevail. If someone had been shooting at me, they couldn’t have caught up and done it again, there’s no side road, and the shoulder where I pulled over was well lit. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, surely.
By now my hands had stopped shaking and I slowly got out of the truck. I looked around, somewhat composed, and began to check: tires, okay. Windows, okay. Bumper, okay. I lifted up the truck’s rear gate and the dome light revealed the truth.

I had been terrorized by root beer. A case of pop, left in the back of the truck, had frozen and refrozen, and the “gunshots” were the tops of the cans blowing off. Now the barrage of “artillery” was slowly melting down the back seat, the sides, the cargo floor. I set about clearing most of the slush out before it melted too much, weak with relief and laughing at my own foolishness (oh come on, you would’ve thought the same!)

I was unloading groceries the other night, and brought everything inside except a case of root beer. As I unpacked the food and put it away, I thought that the pop would be fine til the next day–and then I remembered this story, and despite the fact it is summer, I went out and brought in the pop. No need to take unnecessary chances.

Aside from gastrointestinal issues, have you ever had cause to think your food was trying to kill you?