From the monthly archives: June 2012

Detoxing can be delicious!

Detoxing will change your life. It changed mine. I had actually had never heard of it or made the connection with the health benefits of fasting or purging. In most traditions there is a time when you shed the excess and cleanse, but that was completely alien to my education. What is a detox diet? A detox regime is a period where you reduce toxins to a minimum (gluten, dairy, sugar drugs, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, etc), you eat foods that help you evacuate the toxins (laxative, diuretic, expectorant, tears, etc) and you give your body the necessary elements to re-build your organs that do the dirty work (liver, kidneys, immune system, colon, lungs, bladder, etc.).

When I tell most people what a basic detox requires they can not fathom not smoking, drinking, drinking coffee or eating wheat, dairy or sugar for a week or two. Some people it’s the sugar, others the dairy and others the red meat. Some people do not see the point, while others see it as a death sentence- like taking their reasons to live away. In fact, I would say it is the opposite. It is taking away the crutches, pacifiers and avoidance mechanisms so you can remember what life is really about. Is joy really smoking a cigarette, eating cake or drinking beer? Is that really what life’s about? Are self-destructive rewards really rewards? Isn’t emancipation from the things we are dependent on real happiness? I think it is, but it is much harder to come by than the quick-fix.

When I started giving cooking workshops with the Réseau d’entraide de Verdun in the fall of 2009, I got topic suggestions from my volunteers and one was “Detox Diet”. I decided to take it on. I was very sceptical. The more I researched, however, the more it made sense. Why would I be so sceptical about taking the best care possible of the body for a couple weeks, shipping out accumulated toxins and re-setting habits and re-balancing one’s lifestyle? I thought it was like any other miracle cure or diet, but as I researched on it was simply about giving the system a leg-up.

I gave the workshop in January 2010 right after the excess of the holidays and my decision to quit drinking, smoking and using recreational drugs. My habits that were supposed to be fun had already run their course. Drinking, smoking and drugs had ceased to make me feel better- they made me feel worse.

Baked plantains and hominy- Detoxing can be comforting too!

As I researched, I decided I had accumulated alot of toxicity over the years and if anyone needed a cleaning-out, it was me. After the workshop, I decided to start. I was moody, weak and disconnected the first few days, but something clicked in place after that; I felt a lightness and freedom I had never felt. I had so much energy and people kept telling me how radiant I was. I was working in a kitchen at the time and could see the bondage of cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, soft-drinks and starch on my colleagues. They flayed like puppets in cycles of dependence. Those things kept them in their jobs. They kept them in the adrenaline roller-coaster of the highs and lows of kitchen life. Caffeine and sugar fed their performance and booze cradled their descent. I wanted out. There was a whole world out there and I was waking-up to it. For the first time in a long-time, my brain wasn’t clouded. I can tell you that that’s a great feeling, but it is not the norm, and the change of perspective is jarring. It is at once a feeling of being connected to the universe but estranged from society.

Detoxing almost always borrows inspiration from healthy flavourful dishes from around the world!

Detoxing is aimed at the body, but it clears the mind and one’s life. Once you know how good you can feel- it’s hard to get back on the crazy train. Things become more simple, and all of the substances and elaborate fixations we use to distract ourselves from the things we really don’t like about our lives, our entourage, our jobs, our lovers and home become very apparent. We become attuned to the accumulated excess and neglect of the fundamental things. Detoxing is a reboot that helps put things back in their place.

My first detox got rid of the bloating of years of heavy drinking. I lost 13 lbs in 14 days. My skin cleared-up and I had so much energy, but good energy meant to move and shake in the day and not to burn the candle at night in some insatiable quest for the ultimate sensation, melodrama or ego trip. The good feelings of the detox helped me to break with the other high’s that I had become used to chasing. I had to rebuild my foundations. They had to be built on wellness and healing and not self-destructive rewards.

Less is more- chuck-out the excess and simplify and your body will follow suit!

I felt good about my new discoveries, but they meant a break with everything I knew: my boyfriend of 8 years, the apartment I had been living in, re-working my social circle and leaving the restaurant business. These things all happened. Some of them happened in fluxes of going away and coming back, but I can definitely say that my life has changed. In fact, each spring and fall I detox and each detox marks a new period in my life.

Feeling good, feeling bad, feeling what comes up! It's nice to be awake!

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Giving the low-down in Little Italy

I am overjoyed to announce the launch of Fitz & Follwell’s Flavours of the Main Tour. The tour leaves Chinatown and eats its way up the Main to Jean-Talon Market! It is 5 hours of following in the steps of Montreal’s various cultural communities along the Main and tasting their culinary emblems. The tour weaves history, cultural identity and experience with delicious flavours, aromas and the stories that have been cooked up over the last 100 years on the Main!

Our beautiful Jean-Talon Market

If you haven’t heard of Fitz & Follwell, it was originally called Montreal Cycling Tours and has been in operation for almost 4 years. It was founded by young and swinging entrepreneur Shea Mayer. His laid-back cycling tours are the foundation of the company, but the boon of his company has seen the birth of a slick shop at 115 Mount-Royal W., the sale of chic urban bikes, and more recent tours on foot- including Flavours of the Main. Shea also offers snowshoe tours in the winter.

What Shea has going on is great, and I have had the privilege of being aboard this forward-gliding yet un-conventional ship since last November. Shea had the idea of a food tour of the Main with a focus on the cultural communities. He enlisted the help of historian Leah Blythe and through the trick of fate and a little bird named Eric Hanson I was recommended for the gastronomic design.

Caffe Italia- historical metting place of lone Italian immigrants

Shea and I plugged through the legal stuff and I attacked a full-time 4 week collection of data, testimony, food-sample cataloguing… and tasting of course! I interviewed some 50 businesses to survey what was feasible, pertinent, and to get a bird’s eye view so we could craft the most delicious tour in terms of food and anecdotes. I taped many of the interviews, typed-out the results, profiled the businesses, collected food history, anecdotes, did research, and visited museum archives. I also spent hours and hours in Nathalie Cooke‘s old Mcgill Institute for the Study of Canada office reading her food history, food theory and gastronomy books to get more tools to use to analyze food and one’s experience of it. Nathalie is now Mc Gill’s associate Provost. I also had great help from Andrée Levesque, a feminist and worker historian who helped me to understand the realities of brothels until the 1930’s in the old Red Light. She also documented “Red on the Main” and introduced me to Eva Circé-Côté who has become an inspiration to me. (I recomend Andrée’s book Eva Circé-Côté: Libre penseuse 1871- 1949.) Velma Candyass and Ethel Bruneau also helped me to get an idea of what the Red Light looked like back in Montréal’s “Las Vegas days,” helping me to visualize the ambiance and different people hard at work there. Susan Semenak, who wrote The Market Chronicles even gave me her favourites and re-iterated the points it is essential to drive home about the street, the Jean-Talon Market and Montreal food.

Café Cleopatra's- Montreal's first modern strip club opened in 1976

I enjoyed the experience more than I can express in words. I met wonderful people that inspired me with their dedication, growth and unwavering passion for what they do. I learned so much, and this was the experience that seemed to be the missing link between my honours degree in Canadian Studies and my DEP in Professional Cooking. The experience also brought me down some emotional alleyways, like the interview with Mr. Chin that does dragon candy, as I’ve known his son Philippe for many years. George, the owner of Wing’s, toured me through Chinatown, describing it in the 1970’s, giving me the in-depth history of Wing’s and Chinatown. Angelo Perusko of Charcuterie Hongrois spent 2 hours telling me how he got from Communist Croatia to where he is now. Elena Faita from Quaincallerie Dante graced me with her philosophy of generosity, diligence and humility and reminded me that “Recessions are a push. You have to push on and innovate and define yourself and take risks. People get discouraged right away and want things to drop in their platter. It doesn’t come on a silver platter.” Sharon Wilensky from Wilensky’s wiped some tears as she spoke of a regular client who had died recently. Irwin Schlafman, owner of Fairmount Bagel let me in on the family history loops that have been repeating…and that he’s a vegan! Frank the general manager of Schwartz’s even took an hour out of his day to give me some juicy melt in your mouth tid-bits and history about Schwartz.

Angelo Perusko- volubile owner of Charcuterie Hongrois

The investigation also reminded me of working at Chinatown Bar during my university party years, working at El Centro Gallego and the Spanish hospitality I have received in the culinary world as well as my long history with the Portuguese, my love for their food, and the love of food of the Italians that I witnessed during my cooking internship in Italy, at St-Pius Culinary institute and in the Italian restaurants I worked in. These communities have directly affected my personal, professional and culinary life over the years.

Mr. Chin who makes Dragon's beard candy in Chinatown

I was able to contest to the tightness, simplicity and un-pretentiousness of the food products that have kept people coming back for decades in Montreal. There are so many special things to taste. We really struggled to keep it tight and there were shops that we had to axe.

Cannolis from Alati-Caserta

Leah did wonderful work on the history of the different cultural communities, helping to explain how settlement along the main took place and why people came to Montreal and settled where they did. She painted a great portrait of the lives of different communities at different periods. After blending our efforts, I am very proud to present the results. We have built a great working dynamic of hand feeding hand-picked story, history and food samples. Our styles are complimentary- hers more poised and dealing in larger trends, whereas I help people to get into the microcosm of each shop in an- eh hmmm- intense presentation-style. I am who I am….

Leo and the blooming tea at My Cup of Tea in Chinatown

Tours are offered 7 days a week. They are $99 and worth every penny. They are a great way for a visitor to see the best food places in Montreal and get a feel for how Montreal has evolved to where it is, but the tour is just as good for the Montrealer who wants to learn about the cultural landscape of their own city and about the people they have been buying food from since they can remember! Come and enjoy an extended lunch of learning, story and local gourmandise! The tour is 5 hours long or it is possible to do two and a half hour tours ($69) or or two two hour and 45 min tours with break in the middle ($119). (There is a discount for people 17 and under.) You will have Leah as a charming historical companion, me as a gastronomic and entrepreneurial companion, or both of us!

Come visit the main through a different angle: the backways and close-up. It's the Main like you've never seen it.

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