While lots of the SFL crowd are over in Italy, I'm back at base (it's Iain here). I'd dearly like to have gone to the Salone, but having just got back from North America (I left London four weeks ago), I couldn't really disappear again. The boss would like me to work some time when there's an R in the month!
The bulk of my time away was spent in Toronto, Québec City, and Syracuse, and all the places in between on a great loop, just about touching the Atlantic coast in Maine on the way round. So what sort of Slow things, Food things, or Slow Food things did I do?
First up, I managed to catch the farmers' market in the blockhouse extension, across the road from the main St Lawrence Market in Toronto. Despite the grim surroundings (a bit like being in a disused RAF station), the farmers were in good heart and enthusiastic, even after nine hours on the stalls (it opens at five in the morning!). Good meats, cheeses, veg, etc., although I couldn't buy much, since we were to be crossing the border into Maine, and the Agriculture boys and girls of the Department of Homeland Security are pretty hot on making sure no foreign food infiltrates the United States. There seems to be a great deal of cheese-related activity in Ontario and (particularly) Québec. The main market with its permanent stalls includes some good local produce, alongside the sorts of also-ran stalls we'd find in town markets like Coventry's, or Chesterfield's.
On to Québec City, which seems to be in the midst of a beer renaissance. We tracked down La Barberie, a new microbrewery in the gently seedy Rue Saint Roch on the other side of the elevated freeway from the reconditioned Gare du Palais. They offer beer at the brewery tap, but there is no concession to marketing whatsoever. Between us, we chose a wheat beer with honey and citrus (blanche au miel et aux agrumes), a blackberry wheat (blanche de mûres), and a strong red beer (rousse forte). The blackberry was pleasant but the taste was a bit of a will-o'-the-wisp, but the honey-citrus wheat was outstanding. An excellent balance between the dry wheat, the sweet honey, and the sharp citrus tang. This would be great with scallops or clams, or with a grilled chicken sandwich. The red beer came in at 9%, and would need one of the local cheddarish cheeses or an ashet pie to accompany it: solo, it was just a nice strong beer. I was amazed at the culinary links with 1950s Glasgow: perhaps siting the butcher's shop at the foot of Quebec Drive was no coincidence on the part of the East Kilbride Development Corporation.
The eating-out scene in QC is very lively and varied, though we were put off many of the restaurants by their employment of what I decided to call "menu hookers" (prostituées gourmandes) outside to entice you in. We determined very quickly (like, within thirty seconds of leaving our hotel) to avoid any place which precluded a measured assessment of the menu without such oppression. We ended up with some nice cuisine bourgeoise and a sumptuous meal revolving around game (deer and caribou).
On our route through New England, we discovered that the history mural at the Ben and Jerry Experience stopped curiously short of the eponymous ice-cream men's peace treaty with Unilever. But the pumpkin cheesecake flavour was still a nice way to have elevenses.
We've been coming to Skaneateles NY for ten years now, and that's even longer than Bill and Hillary. It's still a really civilised spot, though we were disillusioned this time by the torpor of self-satisfaction which has descended on the main eating-places in the centre of the village (all owned by the same person). The food's good, but we no longer need menus: they are unchanged in five years. So we had one meal each at the Pasta Garage, the Bluewater Grill, and Kabuki, which thinks of itself as "pan-Asian" but is really no more than Pacific Rim Asian. In the village (which has lost its good health-food outlet to another gifte shoppe), the food excitement topped out at a visit to the burger bar (which has expanded and is now brighter and much more welcoming): alongside the usual range of burgers (using very good local Black Angus beef), Johnny Angel now has an exotic list of elk, ostrich, wild duck and so on. The duckburger was excellent, as was the bisonburger, though the Yuengling lager was not complimented by the clear plastic disposable glass.
Which made the news from Elderberry Pond all the better. This family farm has had a small sales barn for some time, selling their own produce and other local goods. By degrees, the Legos have embraced sustainable agriculture, and now they are showcasing their organic produce in a fine new restaurant which they have built next door to the farmhouse. It's four miles out of Skaneateles, and not much farther from Auburn, Weedsport and Syracuse, and it's great news. Fine casual dining - just what it says on the tin. Nor have they made the classic mistake of sacrificing a balanced menu on the altar of "all grown here". From sea scallops to papaya, the bounty is firmly centred in rural New York but draws from beyond. With New England beers and (not quite enough) Finger Lakes NY wines on the list, this is a great example of local pride with global acknowledgements.
Next morning, we had a Slow Food breakfast in the little book-and-coffee-shop in Skaneateles: Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, who is trying to raise a convivium for Syracuse, came along for some great Slow talk. Her foodblog is well worth catching (I must have a go at replicating that chimichurri dish from Fork in Philadelphia). It was a most enjoyable start to the day, and once again Slow Food brings people together. She's now gone away to think of possible events, including one centring on the big new product in the area - garlic. Suddenly, among the apple and dairy farms, and the inevitable maize, garlic is growing. Indeed, the whole roasted head of (home-grown) garlic the previous night at Elderberry Pond was as smooth and silky as a good ice-cream.
The Finger Lakes area has had a burgeoning wine industry for the past thirty years, and we visited a few which were new to us. One of these belongs to Nancy Battistella, the leader of SF Fingerlakes, based in Ithaca NY. Unfortunately, I couldn't pre-book a meeting with her, so we talked on the telephone between the winery and the house. Equally unfortunately, the dead hand of bureaucracy hit hard: the winery was open at ten, but alcohol cannot be dispensed in Tompkins County on a Sunday before noon, and Six Mile Creek had to comply, so no tasting. Oddly, down in the city centre, the Ithaca Farmers' Market had stalls which offered tastings of wine from just down the lake, and at 1113 (unless the boundary with the Central Time Zone now runs down Aurora Street). Business is tough upstate, and municipal Holy Willies are not helping.
I look forward to more Slow Food contact with Jennifer and Nancy.
Of the rest of the trip, I'd only mention Le Sélect - a little piece of le 7e in Toronto. Despite being sited round the back of the newspaper plant, it's only three minutes' walk from the Spadina streetcars, and it's a real gem. Ah! Le lapin! Les fromages!
But now I'm back in London ("not-Ontario", as we kept having to qualify our provenance), ready for SFL's winter of activities.