2020 was the least exciting year of eating I’ve had in my adult life. I miss restaurants, a lot. I feel terrible admitting it because I know a part of what I miss is being fed by someone else, and I know that the feeling of being “taken care of” is achieved at the expense of others and our planet (rarely is the journey of an ingredient from inception to consumption an ethical one).
But really I miss dining out, less out of a desire to be served, but because it’s an event, a show—the restaurant is a magical place. I’m still dumbfounded by the synchronicity, the timing, the thoughtfulness behind each detail, so easily overlooked by the diner. And because I’m a dreadful cook, I see the final dish—from the choice of ingredients, to the preparation, to the plating—as a work of art.
Toronto’s “best” restaurants are believed to be in the west end, but I’d argue some of the city’s most underrated spots lie in the east. Lake Inez is one of my favourites. Like many restaurants around the world, they’ve pivoted to offering a weekly set menu that diners can prepare and assemble at home. Each new menu is posted on their Instagram mid-week, creating an air of exclusivity that appeals to my elitist Leo tendencies (the allure of it selling out, the exclusivity of not being able to make substitutions).
$125 got us three courses, a bottle of natural wine, and thoughtful touches like witty, illustrated cooking instructions, plus a Spotify playlist and wine bottle candle to set the mood. The act of *discovering* all our takeout goodies instead of being served the final product amidst the bustle of a restaurant was like receiving an unexpected care package instead of an Amazon delivery.
It’s been a year of noticing—from the clutter of our homes to the racism embedded in our institutions—the global pandemic and social upheaval has revealed all that we so easily overlook. It took dining in like I’m dining out for me to be reminded of all the thought that goes into a restaurant experience.
The takeout pivot has thrust the cook into a new role: normally they maintain complete control in executing their vision, now they have to entrust diners with seeing their ideas through. Putting the final touches in the novice hands of an amateur like me is a risk. But I actually believe it makes the food taste better.
In Korean cooking, son-mat is commonly used to describe “hand flavour”; the spirit and intention of the cook (also considered a “mother’s touch”) is believed to be infused into the food (this researcher even studied hand bacteria to prove it). While I’m not sure I buy it, it would explain why we tend to believe certain dishes never compare to our family renditions (“it’s nothing like how my grandma made it”).
My friend and I paused after each bite to share that look, the kind that requires no words—even the most commonplace ingredient tasted *elevated*. I wondered, could it be, that in our current moment of precarity, with chefs and diners more desperate and grateful for each order, the extra labour that went into our food imbued it with more emotion?
Involving us in the production also forces me to consider the chef’s choices; seeing the ingredients separately, I start to understand how they complement each other. I notice the colour and texture of the diced jicama and the tender salmon sashimi before I blanket them in a vibrant green charred poblano oil. Clumsily dolloping the concord grape jelly atop my sloppy pool of tahini almond butter for the accompanying “dad’s cookies,” I gained newfound respect for the act of plating. “How do they plate so beautifully under the pressure of the line, the heat of the hot lamps, the time crunch?” I wondered.
Maybe it was the romantic candle-in-a-wine bottle they provided, or the actual wine (my first glass in months), or the comfort of hearing forgotten favourites like Feist’s “Inside and Out” or Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin about you” stream from their complimentary playlist—but after a couple hours, I felt blissfully content. It was a particular kind of contentment, a feeling that had become increasingly hard to find in the before times, when restaurant hype made eating out a rushed, stressful photoshoot.
That fuzzy feeling after a satisfying meal, when you’ve entered this timeless, boundless space, the rest of the world has faded into the background, and all that exists is you and your company. Your servers have stopped making the rounds to your table and your reservation doesn’t have a time cap. You have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. You’ve lost yourself in conversation. It was the OG joy of dining out.
As I was cleaning up, the larger takeaway from my takeout crystallized—so much is gained when we slow down. Our new ways of living have forced us to see the process behind all the rhythms and structures of society that we normally just accept; to check in with the original intention behind what we do, where we spend our money, what we’ve come to decide we like.
In the before times when I wrote about and photographed restaurants, I wasn’t ignorant to all the work (and exploitation) behind the scenes. But I needed this—to be implicated in the meal—to really feel it, to tap back into what drew me to telling stories about this art form in the first place.
Compound Butter - Late Night Nostalgia: An Ode To My Nightly Banana
Occasionally I have a story come out that I’m actually really excited about…dare I say, proud of? On a whim, I submitted a pitch to this print food mag I admire about my obsession with a banana snack ritual that I’ve gone to unbelievable lengths, all over the world, to make happen every night, for the past decade. You could even argue I’ve risked my life to make it happen. What could possibly fuel such an intense addiction? A deep bond between a mother and daughter, and a longing for a moment when I felt unrequited nostalgia and an odd comfort in the heartbreaking silence between us.
My story was treated with such dignity, we need more mags like this! I’m truly honoured to be in the Comfort Issue of Compound Butter. Pre-order here (but if you’re in Canada, wait a bit for shipping costs to drop!).
Forbes - From Fashion To Flower To Foreplay: Brett Heyman On Flower By Edie Parker’s Move Into Sexual Wellness
Is cannabis actually becoming mainstream? Or is it just when viewed through the wellness lens of CBD’s health benefits? I believe there is still a stigma around THC and smoking. Fashion designer Brett Heyman (known for her signature Edie Parker handbags) agrees—her cannabis accessory line Flower by Edie Parker promotes finding pleasure in the act of smoking… and as of their recent launch of new CBD topicals, having sex too.
“You are allowed to enjoy yourself, you are allowed to get high, you are allowed to have sex with yourself or someone else. Especially now, what are we waiting for? Life is so dark,” Heyman told me in our interview.
What I didn’t publish was our conversation about alcohol vs. weed.
“Alcohol is all about numbing yourself, that’s the point, to feel nothing. Cannabis is a study in sensations, everything feels better,” Heyman said. “I think people are still afraid of cannabis. But the truth of the matter is, cannabis is just so much better for you than alcohol.”
Forbes - Valentine’s Day Gift Guide: The Best Skincare For Stress Relief
Did you know the skin is the largest organ in the body? It makes sense then that it’s where we wear our stress, but that it’s also a smart entry point for delivering stress relief to the body.
For some people it’s the calming ritual of a skincare routine, for me it’s quick fixes, like rubbing on essential oils or muscle-soothing creams. I’ve tried a LOT of stress- and pain-relieving products. I swear by Saje’s Stress Release essential oil blend and Kalaya’s 6x Pain Relief formula. I also just discovered Ottawa-based Bushbalm and can’t wait to try their new hair trimmer.
No, Women on Food isn’t a cookbook (contrary to popular assumption that women in food writers are always writing recipes). Charlotte Druckman has compiled interviews, illustrations and essays from 115 of the food world’s best writers, chefs and critics (think, Samin Nosrat, Priya Krishna, Carla Hall). The collection tackles an impressive breadth of complicated racial and gender issues all way remaining entertaining and non-preachy.
🥔 If you like chips, this one’s for you. “[In quarantine] all our neuroses and habits are under the microscope,” writes Sam Anderson. “And so I watch myself eating chips.”
🍝 People are eating up videos of recipe hacks (think, Uh Oh Spaghetti Os pies), but why do we like watching cooking clips (like Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos) anyway? (I’ll admit, I was totally starstruck visiting the Tasty studio on my first day at Buzzfeed).
🍵What does bubble tea reveal about Asian American culture? What was once “pearls of leisure” for young immigrants, is now “a snacky sanctuary of belonging, an Instagram-friendly accessory for a new generation of upwardly mobile Asian kids,” writes Jiayang Fan.
“Assimilation is an impossible process of pouring oneself into another while holding onto a sense of self. It is tricky to judge from the outside a transformation that largely takes place within.”
❄️ Winter reminds us we took the indoors for granted. “If a friend was running late, you might, buy the luxury of warmth. Now there is no choice but to stand on a street corner in a slush pile and feel increasingly annoyed.”
🍔 What does dude food (picture, giant stacked burgers but also high-protein greek yogurt) say about our culture? He embodies the fear of gender contamination (when “consumers resist buying products aimed at another gender”). I’m devouring every interview with Emily Contois on her latest book Diners, Dudes, and Diets.
🥬 Wait, scientists have taught spinach how to send emails?
👃 COVID-19 can do a number on our sense of smell, causing coffee to smell like rubber and poop to smell like flowers. What does this mean for chefs whose work relies on their noses?
🥪 And what do people who lose their sense of smell due to COVID eat in a day?
🌯 Why do fast-casual restaurants get a pass on cultural appropriation (think, barbacoa on Chipotle’s menu)? Jenny Dorsey calls for accountability. “We must examine who has the power to force the process of adaptation and assimilation for profit.”
🌱 A lengthy but worth it piece on the romanticization of “fresh,””natural,” slow food.“ “If we romanticize the past, we may miss the fact that it is the modern industrial economy that allows us to savor traditional, natural foods,” writes Rachel Laudan.
Eight storytellers and two film shorts speak to these “unique times” in La Cocina’s Voice From The Kitchen—it’s educational and eye-opening and delightful all at the same time.
I loved Noah Cho dissecting his mixed Asian heritage by comparing Korean mandu dumplings to Polish pierogis. One of my fave journalists Jia Tolentino interviews Aileen Suzara on the importance of canned meat to Filipinos.
But the standout is this powerful performance from Lauren Whitehead.
“My favourite documentary is about anorexics and bulimics who need coaches and therapists to help them eat cupcakes. I admire their sadness, the dedication of it. I’m too hungry to die. We’re in the kitchen arguing over who’s more patronizing the boy who knows a pizza can be cut into six equal slices or the girl who needs to now that her three slices were still less than half.”
Are you like me and have a freezer stacked with Halo Top ice cream? A single pint is designed to be equivalent to one serving of regular ice cream and has marketing like “Stop when you hit the bottom” and “No bowl, no regrets,” tapping into American’s love for binging. This episode of High Maintenance gets into it.
But Halo Top also speaks to a larger straight white dude culture obsessed with biohacking. Wait, what is biohacking? “The attempt to manipulate your brain and body in order to optimize performance. [It implies] this idea that there is something not right with your body and if you eat the right things at the right time, you’ll feel like you’re in this optimal state,” says co-host Aubrey Gordon.
Critical of body positive lingo in marketing, they suggest our food culture is not, actually, becoming more accepting at all. Gordon says sarcastically, “It’s not about dieting, it’s about wellness; it’s not about restriction, it’s about empowerment… so that you can restrict if you choose to.”
Gordon’s advice? “Eat what you want but don’t conflate marketing with nutritional information.”