This will be my last Open Kitchen post as food editor of Reader’s Digest. It’s post number 196. I’ve been blogging here for three years, and it has been a labour of love.
I’ve been looking through the archives and feeling extremely grateful to have met so many creative, passionate and warm people doing inspiring things in the world of food–especially in Canada, which became my adopted country last month.
For this last post, I’ve put together a Top Ten of stories that hold extra-special memories. (There were 27 on the shortlist, by the way, and narrowing it down was torture):
1. Foodstock: On a bitterly cold, wet and windy day in October 2011, 30,000 people turned up to eat food made by around 100 Canadian chefs in a muddy field. They were protesting a proposed megaquarry, which would pollute an entire community’s drinking water and destroy a vast swathe of farmland. Thirteen months on–and a lot more protesting later–the megaquarry project was canned. I cried for joy on hearing the news.
2. Perfect Eggs from the Flawed Farm: I made soft-boiled eggs and soldiers with the Shepherd family that same month. Christen and Trevor and their children run a farm therapy program that has kids from a local group home fostering injured and exhausted hens, rescued from factory farms. They were very special people.
3. Black cake: My close friend Debbie made her first ever black cake, after a four-month-long fruit-soaking process, which created a lot of empty liquor bottles. It all ended in a best-case-scenario: Deb’s mother examining the finished cake on the wire rack with a serious expression, then turning to her 34-year-old daughter and saying “You did good, Kid.”
4. DIY Dog Treats: My dogs, Cracker and Mash, pretty much lost their minds the day I made them tomato-ketchup-glazed chicken-liver cookies. My friend Aube Giroux caught their agony and ecstasy on film as we teased them with the finished goods.
5. Oh, Canada!: Last summer I crossed Canada on a four-day train ride, eating all kinds of regional dishes along the way. It was a dream come true, which ended in more happy tears.
6. Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen: Meeting my culinary heroine was another pinch-yourself experience. This is not in the actual write-up, but Nigella made me blush at the end of our interview by saying I had nice legs. It was a career highlight.
7. Very Merry Cookie Party: I don’t get to see my teenaged nephews enough, as they live in the UK. So we had a day-long, cookie-making party to speed up the bonding process one Christmas. At the very end, the youngest one, Alex, entertained me as I washed dishes, by setting fire to stuff in the garden. (Just a phase).
8. Rajma Chawal: I had been long-distance surprise-dumped an hour before I was scheduled to meet Vikram Vij’s wife, Meeru Dhalwala. Well technically, my voicemail had. I didn’t actually mention that I was feeling like my heart had been kicked across a football field and splattered against a wall, but Meeru somehow ended up being extremely comforting anyway. She was such a sweet, maternal person. We chatted for two hours solid, as we stirred pots of spiced kidney beans, and I left feeling like the world was still a good place.
9. A Taste of Ireland: The Burren: My visit to St Tola’s Organic Goat Farm went from fun to amazing, when the lady goat I was photographing suddenly stood up and gave birth. The cuddling opportunities at that place were unparalleled.
10. Lamb on a Spit: My friend Milena took me to a backyard lamb roast with her extended family of Greek origin. From the toddlers to the great grandmother, not one of those Doumourases could last five minutes without breaking into dance. They were so welcoming, and made such good food, that by the end of the day, I was plotting my own adoption.
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As well as loving every moment of researching stories, I’ve loved chatting with the online visitors who left comments at Open Kitchen. It was utterly thrilling the first time I saw a comment pop up without the name of my sister or a close friend attached.
Last week Open Kitchen took gold for best blog at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards. This was another huge thrill. I felt so happy knowing that my blog, in this incarnation, would come to an end on a high note.
I’m in the process of setting up an independent version of Open Kitchen now, with a fresh design, to continue telling the stories of chefs, farmers, artisans, home cooks and food activists from Canada and beyond. There will be a ton of contests and giveaways too, as well as new features like printable recipes and subscription options. It goes live on December 1 at: valsopenkitchen.com. Please bookmark the link, and let’s meet again there!
OK, time to go now–for real!
A big thank you from Toronto to the Reader’s Digest web team over in Montreal for your enthusiasm, support and social-media shout outs.
And heartfelt thanks to every visitor to Open Kitchen, who has taken the time to read the stories and try the recipes here. In the words of Julia Child: “People who love to eat are the best people.”