Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beach Jazz Festival This Weekend!

The annual Beach Jazz Festival is considered the best street party in Toronto, and it is one of the top 10 jazz festivals in the world. The street party is this weekend, starting tonight - July 21 through Sunday July 24. Queen Street is cordoned off for this event and the bands play at various venues down the road. This festival is a great Beach tradition which residents of the area are very proud of. I lived in the Beach for years, and like many who have lived in this beautiful part of Toronto, still consider it my favourite area of the city. Viva will be experiencing this exciting event this year with renewed joie de vivre ... and we hope that everybody enjoys it as much as we will.

- DJ Gigi

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Live Green Toronto!

Every year, the City of Toronto has environment days on Saturdays hosted by Toronto City Councillors taking turns to invite the entire neighbourhood to an environment-themed party. This is an annual tradition that continues for the entire summer. Having a green street festival is a logical development for the city that prides itself on being the greenest in North America.

Mayor Miller, who was very supportive of green initiatives for the duration of his term leading the City, started a friendly competition with Chicago to see which city could be the most environment-friendly. Gigi has never been to Chicago, but I can certainly vouch for Toronto as far as environmental track record is concerned. There is always room for improvement, but Toronto tries really hard to make sure we live as responsibly as possible.

Today we are visitng the Live Green Toronto street party showcasing more than 100 environment-friendly vendors and also some of Canada's great bands - see the Crash Test Dummies and other performers on the Canadian Tire main stage, free of charge! Yonge Street will be cordoned off between Queen and Dundas for the festival, directly next to the Eaton Centre. Come along and join the fun!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Welcoming Annarosa Berman - New Addition to Viva Staff!

Viva Community Voice is delighted to announce the addition of Annarosa Berman as content contributor. Her area of specialization is art music and she is also a committed animal rights activist and vegetarian, currently working on her third book which is due to appear in about six months. Annarosa will bring fresh content to our site in the areas of music, food, animal rights and other topics of interest. We greatly look forward to what she has in store for us.

Publishing History

Annarosa Berman is a writer and music journalist. After a career as features editor on newspapers in South Africa and New Zealand, she was appointed editor of Fine Music, Sydney’s classical music magazine and guide to radio station 2MBS-FM. After leaving Fine Music she undertook a career as writer and freelance journalist. Annarosa has written on classical music for a wide range of publications and has interviewed local and international musical luminaries across the classical spectrum. She collaborated with Bridget Elliot on The Company We Keep, a behind-the-scenes look at Opera Australia, which was published by Currency Press in 2006. In the same year, her memoir, Sex at 6pm: A personal journey through IVF, was published by New Holland.

Annarosa currently works as writer for Opera Australia.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Aubergine Parmigiana

I promised my wonderful husband this recipe for our July 4 celebration dinner, and I really have to commend him for staying up all night with me and listening to my chatter as I cooked. We listened to music too - click the music tab on our new web site and let me know if you like it! - and we had a great time together while preparing this meal to share with you.

Here is my other signature dish - aubergines of course are also known as eggplants or brinjals; now we all may know what to do with those odd purple things. I have been serving it for more than a quarter century ever since I found it, and you will be amazed at how it was found ... it was declared ultra yummy even by a guest who had told me that he was not fond of aubergines - that was before he ate this.

Eggplant Parmigiana is an Italian classic, and the Mediterranean flavours in this dish are truly stunning - this version is a little bit decadent because the eggplant slices are fried rather than grilled before they are baked, but since we do not eat much saturated fat as vegetarians and extra virgin olive oil is extraordinarily good for you, the extra calories can be happily forgiven on a festive occasion such as this.

2 large firm aubergines (or 4 small to medium ones)
extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 medium sized can of tomato puree (1 - 2 small cans of tomato paste can be substituted since tomato puree is harder to find; adjust the quantities by adding more wine to the sauce if you use the more concentrated form)
salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
.5 - 1 cup red wine
3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1.5 cup dried breadcrumbs
2 organic free-range eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp organic milk
250g grated rennet-free organic mozzarella cheese

Note: soy parmesan works just as well if you are vegan, but make sure it is organic soy if you opt for the vegan version (same goes for your mozzarella) because you do not want GMOs; now we see how hard it is to be truly vegetarian and GMO-free all at the same time.

Soy is a wonderfully versatile commodity but the crop is at present somewhat exploited by global overproduction and it actually can be harmful if eaten in excessive quantities, for reasons too complex to elucidate here. I will admit that rennet-free parmesan is a tall order but if we eat cheese with rennet in it, we might as well eat milk-fed veal; it defeats the point of going vegetarian. One has to become a bit of a "foodie" and learn to hunt down trustworthy and educated suppliers who can provide quality products. Yes they are expensive; we pay for our principles in this life, sometimes dearly. (Have you hugged a local organic farmer today?)

1. Slice the aubergines into 5 mm thin slices.
2. Beat the eggs with the milk to a smooth mixture.
3. Coat the aubergine slices with flour.
4. Dip the slices in the egg mixture; coat them evenly, you do not want any dry patches of flour on them.
5. Coat the slices evenly in bread crumbs - avoid clumps; this is tricky. At the end of the coating process you will have a huge sticky mess everywhere, but it is fun to do if you have someone adorable to help you. This dish takes a while to do and it is nice if you can talk and drink wine and listen to music while you do the prep work together.
6. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the slices on both sides to an even golden brown consistency.
7. Layer the slices in a casserole dish.
8. Mix the tomato puree, the garlic, dried basil and oregano, salt, pepper and wine in a bowl until it is evenly blended to form a smooth sauce, not too runny.
9. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the eggplant slices.
10. Drizzle the sauce over the mozzarella cheese evenly on all sides.
11. Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over the top of the sauce.
12. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5 and bake for 30 - 45 mins.

Serve with Bocconcini Sidekick salad - a simple Italian salad consisting of mixed greens, sliced tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes, black olives and sliced bocconcini cheese. Toss with a pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

This recipe was adapted from an ancient treasure found on the label of an All Gold tomato puree can in South Africa more than a quarter century ago. Like the chowder, it has been with me ever since and it tastes slightly different every time, depending on the exact balance of the ingredients used. It is always delicious and satisfying - I told my husband it is better than pizza. I once served sizeable quantities of it to a huge party of wonderful people during my student radical days in which I was, as I am now, a committed vegetarian.

My philosophy teacher from Wits U, Vincent Maphai, who later became the head of SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation, the state television service) was at that party - he taught philosophical logic, a subject I love and which has helped me more in life than any other subject I can think of - and so was my favourite theologian, Jeff Zerbst who wrote the horseracing column in the Weekly Mail as Thomas Equinus. Jeff described himself as agnostic and taught all the coffee and cigarette addicts in Senate House Concourse about the difference between atheism and consistent scientific agnosticism: a lesson I would never forget.

Atheism, he explained, is a form of religion in that it is based on an article of faith: the statement that God does not exist. Atheists believe themselves to know this for sure without any actual evidence to prove the non-existence of God; therefore atheism conforms to the definition of a religion - unlike, for example, existentialism or Buddhism (in translation Buddh means "good" so it can be translated simply as "goodism") which are philosophies rather than religions.

I was agnostic myself at the time, simply because I thought that if God had anything to do with apartheid He either could not exist or something else was wrong with what I had been taught. I strongly suspected it was the latter rather than the former, so I could describe my student self as a somewhat reverent agnostic, although we all routinely, and rather irreverently indulged in the habit of mocking all the religions on the face of the planet. We used to sing "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama Rama Soft" in the Concourse - a brand of margarine in SA was called Rama Soft and for some reason this gave infinite rise to hilarity. You had to have been there. We were never above accepting free vegetarian food from orange-clad visitors to campus though, and I was fascinated by the free copy of Bhagavad-Gita that was handed to me in the process ...

The Dutch Reformed church (the institution bearing responsibility in my book for my childish confusion) subsequently discovered to its apparent collective amazement that God never did "vote Nat" as they said. The things that are ascribed to God by human beings are sometimes so outrageous that if I were God, I definitely would pretend not to exist just so I can have a good laugh at their expense instead of having them laugh at me all the time in my apparent absence from their poorly defined excuse for an existence.

I believe that we humans owe God a massive apology for all the garbage in our history and in our oceans and lakes, and that when we eat, the best way to say grace is to think about the wonder of the biodiversity that is still on this planet despite the destructive impact of humans upon it, and to thank God for the versatile soybean, the powerhouse tomato, the awesome aubergine and everything else created for our benefit and enjoyment.

Let's face it: despite the efforts of the Monsanto madmen to "patent" the genetic sequences of our food after messing with the natural patterns in dangerous ways, we humans did not create our food and we have no copyrights to its building blocks; we found it here - it was conveniently here for our consumption before we understood any part of its DNA, almost as if a thoughtful parent had left it here for us to eat.

Halaal food is blessed by saying "Allah uAkbar" (God is gracious) and kosher food is defined by a set of intricate dietary laws that are remarkably scientific in their foundations when we consider that the ancients supposedly did not know any of the things we know about food today, for example the fact that pork carries a very dangerous parasite that is capable of destroying the human brain. Pigs are genetically so close to humans that pork is dangerous for similar reasons as to why we do not eat our colleagues and friends - brain damage is a well-known consequence of that habit. Islamic law forbids pork for the same reason; how did both religious traditions become informed about these things in the absence of the scientific knowledge that is at our disposal today, and what is the source of their information? Of course all meat is dangerous and likely to cause degenerative brain conditions (what passes for "Alzheimer's" in today's medical language is very often the human version of mad cow disease, but big agribusiness does not want you to know that, and for some reason the medical establishment cooperates with other powerful establishments - Gigi does not know why!) ... and so how can a merciful God "allow" such conditions to plague the human race? Why, because it is a lawless race: the consumption of meat causes us to break a fundamental universal spiritual law - "thou shalt not kill." The Bible teaches that the consequence of such lawlessness is physical mortality - but, for those who do not understand or respect spiritual laws it is all a big mystery.

I used to say during my student days that I was vegetarian strictly for compassionate reasons - nothing in particular to do with health. However, health and compassion go hand in hand, and compassion includes passion rather than excluding it as falsely taught by many ascetics who believe in self-denial as a path to understanding.

Gigi does not believe in self-denial or in the virtue of suffering; I believe in embracing the gifts God gave us and achieving understanding by seeking pleasure in a gracious way. Our enjoyment of the things that are given to us by a loving Creator is in fact key to the Creator's own happiness. And there you have it: the meaning of life! (Did I hear someone say like Monsieur Creosote in that meaningful movie ... f* off, I'm full? Gigi giggles ...)

- DJ Gigi

Tomato Corn Chowder

3 large potatoes, finely diced
3 leeks, thinly sliced and finely chopped
3 large carrots, finely diced
3 sticks celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kernels of 6 fresh cobs of corn - remove kernels by slicing off sides
* If using frozen corn, use entire package of up to 1 kg - alternatively, use 3 - 6 cans. Do not drain the can; include the corn water for nutrients but do not use creamed version as we want the kernels to be light and slightly crunchy.
6 medium sized tomatoes - choose heirloom, organic or hothouse
1 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
French vegetable stock - use entire quantity as per previous recipe
500 ml organic half & half (cream with 10% milkfat content)
Kosher salt to taste
Cayenne (red) pepper to taste

1. Saute all the vegetables except the tomatoes and the corn,
together in the olive oil in a large soup stock pot or Dutch oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown. If you do not have leeks, onions will work just fine. Use 1 large onion or up to 3 small to medium ones as onions tend to "disappear" in the cooking process. You can also do both for a slight flavour variation. Leeks look and taste beautiful in the soup though, so do try to find them if at all possible.

2. During step 1, prepare the tomatoes as follows. Fill a stainless steel bowl or pot with boiled water and let the tomatoes sit in them until their peels start falling off. Then lift them carefully out of the hot water and let them cool down. Peel the skins off the tomatoes. I have been known to skip this step and simply to chop the tomatoes, which works fine but some people object to the tomato skins so the correct way is to remove the skins by blanching as described. Do not let them sit for too long though or they will get soggy. After they are blanched, chop them into small pieces. The original recipe said to remove the pulp as well for similar reasons since some folks object to the seeds - I do not do that as the pulp is nutritious and there is no need to discard it in fact; it gets absorbed in the soup and no-one notices the seeds.

3. Add the stock, chopped tomatoes and corn kernels and bring to a boil. Simmer on medium heat for about half an hour.

4. Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste. Cayenne pepper is very hot - use only a small pinch for flavour. The original recipe said to use white pepper; I use cayenne (red) because it goes beautifully with cream and has a unique flavour. Also, freshly ground black pepper works just as well, so just use what you have or experiment with different flavours.

You can add about 1 tbsp of kosher salt for such a large pot of soup, but be sure to measure conservatively and adjust very carefully by adding very small amounts at a time if you increase the amount. Also bear in mind the quantity of salt you have in your stock when you season your soup.

Serve with fresh home-baked bread and organic butter - no margarine if you can help it; that stuff is just plain evil. Gigi will tell you about that another day - the things they do to canola should not be done to canola or any other self-respecting crop. (Good luck finding margarine made from non-GMO canola or soy - if you know of a brand, please let me know.) Olivina is made (partially) with olive oil so go for that if you must. Read ingredient lists. Not only vegetarians but all consumers are well advised to be aware of the things that are in our food. It seems redundant to say this, but a lot of people trust the things we purchase in supermarkets and we really should not trust big agribusiness at all. Gigi would feel bad if you invested all the time and energy to make a beautiful organic meal like this, having taken the trouble to purchase all your veggies at the organic market and then had it ruined with GM canola in the margarine on your bread - it is worth doing every part of it right.

To me, if I am going to put it in my mouth it had better be good - as a fairly advanced almost-yogi I am virtually capable of existing without food, so if I do eat, I believe that I should honour my body by what I eat. We only have one body each, and one planet to live on.

The tomato corn chowder keeps really well - keep it in the fridge of course, unless you are like another environmentalist I know, who does not believe in fridges and uses snow instead ... I would put a smiley but you know we are very serious here, kidding you not - this would only be possible in Canada and not in the summer for most of us! At our farmhouse on the moon we have no problem because it is usually quite chilly outside anyway, on the moon. (It is not for naught that our main family vehicle is called The Iceman.) The soup will last even for a week and the flavour only improves as it sits. You can also freeze it if you want to keep some to hand for special occasions; it freezes well and tastes fine on the re-heat. This is one of the great advantages of vegetarian food; it is economical to make and it keeps much longer than meat-based recipes.

- DJ Gigi

French Vegetable Stock

1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
1 large turnip, cubed
3 large carrots, sliced
3 large potatoes, cubed
6 celery sticks with leaves, chopped
6 sprigs parsley
6 dried laurel leaves
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper corns (whole)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Bouquet garni - a little bag of herbs which is like a tea bag with herbs inside

Note: If you do not have a bouquet garni, you can add any combination of the standard herbs to taste, either fresh or dried. I add about a teaspoonful of each, but it really is up to you. You can subtly alter the flavour of the soup by changing the combination of herbs depending on what you have available. The chowder always tastes delicious, and always slightly different depending how you flavoured it.

If you add the dried herbs instead of the bouquet, the stock will be delicately flecked with little bits of greenery but that in no wise detracts from the pretty result at the end. If they are fresh herbs you can throw in the sprigs whole because the nutrients are extracted through cooking and it is probably better not to chop them. The more we chop and process foods the more nutrients are removed in the process, so for the stock part you can chop the veggies in bite-sized pieces, they do not have to be finely diced or sliced. Also bear in mind that it gets poured through a colander in the end to separate the veggies from the stock water, so the herbs will slip through but not much else.

You can really use any of your favourite dried herbs, but I tend to avoid strongly flavoured ones such as fennel. All of the following work well, and do not worry if you do not have them all. The outcome is always good with this stock. Good choices:

Dried parsley (especially if you do not have fresh parsley sprigs)

1. In a large soup stock pot or Dutch oven as they are sometimes called, heat the olive oil (careful not to overheat) and add the garlic and onions first, sautéing them until lightly browned.
2. Add the chopped carrots, turnips, potatoes and celery. Save the celery leaves to add at the same time as the parsley sprigs and herbs.
3. Sautée the vegetables for about 15 - 20 minutes until lightly browned. I sometimes use leeks instead of onions, or I use them both if I have extra leeks. Leeks are schleppy because they have to be washed very carefully, they tend to hide bits of earth between their layers of leaves but they are a very nice onion alternative and they also double up their flavours as they are one of the ingredients in the chowder itself.
4. Fill the pot all the way to the top with cold water - please use filtered water, it is worth it. Leave about 2 inches’ worth of room at the top, because when the stock goes to a rolling boil it will splatter over the top if the pot is too full.
5. Add the parsley sprigs, celery and laurel leaves, bouquet of herbs, salt and peppercorns. It is not necessary to add a lot of salt as you will adjust the seasoning of the soup itself at the end of the process. Adding salt helps bring water to a boil faster, and I find that about a tablespoon of salt is enough in a stock pot this size. It is always better to start with too little salt than with too much.
6. Turn to high heat and bring the stock to a rolling boil.
7. When it reaches boiling point the stock will bubble vigorously, so turn back to medium heat and let it simmer evenly for 2 - 3 hours. The heat should not be too low; you should still see small bubbles.
8. When done, let the stock cool down completely before separating the vegetables. The flavours and nutrients will continue to be absorbed in the water and it is safer for the cook to work with tepid or cold stock during the pouring process separating the veggies from the stock water. If you are making your soup the following day, the stock can happily sit in the fridge overnight with the vegetables still inside.
9. When cooled down, take a second stock pot of equal size and pour the stock through a colander into the pot, catching the vegetables in the colander. The original recipe says "discard the vegetables" but please do not throw them in the garbage - compost them instead, the earth loves them but the garbage does not.

Environmental Note: Food waste should never be put in the garbage but always composted; this is by reason of the fact that food waste in landfills causes a terrible amount of methane which is more damaging to the earth’s ozone layer than even the output of cars. This environmental fact makes it very difficult to live in an earth-friendly fashion if you eat meat at all, because of course meat and bones cannot be composted unless your city has a sophisticated organic waste recycling program such as the one we have in Toronto - and even that program has problems because we produce more than we have the capacity to compost with the facilities we have.

Some people say the stock veggies are still good enough to be eaten even though we know that this length of boiling takes most of the nutrients out of the veggies and into the water. The British, and also our grandmothers in South Africa, used to cook veggies for a very long time - this has no point as the water takes out almost all the nutrients from most veggies if you boil them for longer than 20 minutes. Same goes for flavour. Your stock will be extremely nutritious and flavourful but the veggies not so much, although they always still look good. If someone thinks of something brilliant to do with them, please let me know. I just don't like the word "discard" where it pertains to food, and many people who have seen the stock veggies have remarked that they still look good enough to eat. We do not use them in the soup itself, because we use fresh finely chopped veggies duplicating some of what we used in the stock, instead and we cook them only for a short time before adding them to the soup. This makes for a magnificent concentrated flavour and maximizes the nutritional value.

Now your stock is ready to make a stunning array of amazing soups from scratch; not only the corn chowder but many other soups. You can make just about any soup with this. Where recipes say use chicken stock for a vegetable soup, you can always use this magnificent stock for a vegetarian version of the same recipe. Vegetarians should be very careful in restaurants about ordering vegetable soup because 99% of the time it is made with chicken stock; I always ask the restaurant what kind of stock they have used, even for the mushroom soup. Most of the time they tell me the truth. (I can tell when people are lying, but that is not a skill that is easy to cultivate.) The veggie stock can of course also replace meat stock in vegetarian versions of any number of recipes other than soup. And I daresay you can float matzoh balls in it.

I shall post the corn chowder recipe right after these messages.

- DJ Gigi

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gigi Dishes on Dishes

Home cooking is very important to me and my husband. Because we are veggie and we know that most restaurants do not source ingredients carefully enough to guarantee vegetarians a meal in good conscience, I prepare most of our meals myself in the kitchen next to the music studio. I love to cook while listening to music and I have some signature dishes which I am sharing with you tonight.

The Spiners are very environmentally aware as our tweetership knows. We try to be as green as possible - nothing to do with the green-eyed monster and everything to do with loving the planet and treating Mother Earth as she deserves to be treated: with respect and due consideration. We light candles for a romantic meal and I even hand wash our dishes to save energy.

My husband has the most gorgeous hands in creation - I probably should not mention this because now all his groupies are going to notice that again and start freaking out about it and wanting his hands on their bodies too (which he won’t do - they can carry on dreaming and as we always say, there is no profit in destroying anyone’s fantasies) but, it is a fact. He wants to help me with the dishes but I hide them from him because I just can’t bear to see those sexy hands of his in dish water. Call me a tradishionalist if you wish - that is just how I am: to me, dishes are not for superheroes and even though it is superheroic of my husband to insist on helping out, it is my habit to close the kitchen door discreetly after a romantic meal, and to sneak back into it in the early hours of the morning when I am sure he is soundly asleep. You never know, he might be pretending to be asleep too, but it works for us - he lets me be a control freak about certain things without officially noticing that I am one. I have always been a night owl, and dishes are a great way to get drowsy. He is the only man who has never scolded me about keeping musician time. He knows I do the oddest things at the oddest hours and it makes me happy to be like that because that is just how I am. He lets me be myself and that is one of the great reasons why I love him so much, other than the fact that he is the sexiest husband in the Universe.

My signature first course is my tomato corn chowder which I, after much agonizing, have decided to share with our loyal tweetership, fans and friends. As for my enemies, this is not the kind of soup you can slap together in a few minutes or pretend to serve by opening a can, and besides, they prefer junk food, so I do not believe there is any danger that they will try to copy my soup. Besides, if they do, it would be a good thing because they might actually manage to find someone of their own to eat with, thereby leaving me and my husband in peace. If they could actually learn to put a decent meal together, their chances of finding the man of their own dreams instead of dreaming in perpetuity about my man, would increase exponentially.

The tomato corn chowder is originally from the Sunset Vegetarian recipe book - Gigi always gives credit where credit is due - and I have adapted it slightly over the years. I have it memorized and it has been my signature soup since my student days. This soup is very nutritious and satisfying even by itself, especially with home-baked bread (yes, I do that too) and as a first course when I combine it with my other signature dish, the aubergine parmigiana, even meat eaters who do not usually look twice at an eggplant have said that they did not miss the meat course at all. The ingredients are in season for the summer right up to harvest time so they can be sourced locally and of course it stands to reason that I buy organic.

The tomato corn chowder and all my other soups are made with a French vegetable stock. The secret of the soup is that the flavours from the stock double up with the tiny cubes of fresh hand-cut veggies and corn kernels - I do not use cans or frozen corn unless I am in a really big hurry.

First of all, I will share with you the stock which forms the basis of the soup, and then the soup recipe itself, followed by the main course and side salad for my festive meal. The stock alone takes about three hours to prepare as there is a lot of cutting and chopping involved, and then it cooks for about two hours to extract all the flavours and nutrients, so this is the kind of meal you could spend a whole weekend preparing while chatting to your lover and doing the food prep together - yes, that part is allowed for the handsome hands to do, but I am even happier if he just holds my back and breathes on my shoulder.

The stock and the soup both benefit from being kept overnight as this gives an opportunity for the flavours to blend magnificently and for the soup to become even tastier. I usually make a huge pot of this soup and it makes for many tasty lunches to share with our helpers at the studio as well. Yes, when you work for us, we feed you home-cooked food. Some have been known to love working on these musical adventures so much that they have refused to go home at the end of the business day and I have to reassure them that there will be more work - and more soup - the following day. We know this is totally not how it’s done here, but a) it works for us and b) who says we are here? We are everywhere and always with you.

- DJ Gigi