Eat Local: Kin Kao

Kin Kao

Every neighbourhood has spaces that are just crying out for the right restaurant. Places that have had a history of good tries or also rans. When you live close to one of these rooms, it becomes a local topic of discussion, as everyone shares their ideas for what they hope the next venture will bring.

Which meant that when the paper went up over the windows of a failed sandwich shop near Venables and Commercial, there was a lot of speculation. And when signs followed, announcing a Thai restaurant would occupy the space, locals started to get excited. As the restaurant started to take shape, the care taken with the physical design suggested equally considered food and the neighbourhood started to get impatient.

In February, Kin Kao opened and justified that impatience. They experimented with their menu for the first few weeks. We were a bit apprehensive to go during this period, as my partner has celiac disease and is also vegan, which can be hard to work around. But, they were able to modify some dishes for him beautifully and now there are permanent selections on their menu that are great for vegans and gluten-free folks.

We’ve been back more times than I care to admit, for lunch, dinner, and takeout and we’ve tried a number of dishes across their menus. Omnivore that I am, the red curry with duck is my favourite, but I’ve been happy with every dish I’ve tried. For Kevin, the green curry with tofu has become his go to dish, with the vegetarian Phat Thai running a close second. They’ve also got a very well chosen drinks list, with the beers from local brewers 33 Acres and Strange Fellows making particularly good accompaniments to their meals.

Take out

I have to warn you, though, Kin Kao is not a Drive North secret – people from all around the city are lining up nightly to enjoy the space. It’s worth the wait, but if you live close by, don’t overlook their take out menu. Their food is just as enjoyable at home. And lunch is a particular pleasure, starting out with soup and moving on to satisfying one plate meals. It’s also not quite as hectic, so it makes a good start to a day on the Drive.

Kin Kao is just the right addition to the north side of the Drive. I think it will boost the business for the lesser known gems around Kin Kao, while acting as an anchor to attract more interesting businesses. It’s also another feather in the cap of our neighbourhood, which is attracting excellent iterations of specific cuisines, like the perfect Neopolitan fare at Via Tevere.

On a more selfish note, we’ve wanted a restaurant of this calibre on this side of the Drive for some time now. And it does Thai food better than most places in the city. They’re going to keep seeing a lot of us.

Kin Kao on Urbanspoon

FFWD – Côte d’Azur Cure-All Soup

  My mother’s homemade soup could cure anything but the schism between my sister and me when it came to what starch she should put in it. I loved rice in my soup and my sister preferred noodles. So, often the soup would have both. It would also have whatever needed using up in the refrigerator, along with stewed tomatoes to bring everything together. I loved to make it spicy with black pepper, a trick I learned from my grandfather. My mother couldn’t stand this habit, because she’d spent so much time balancing the flavours.

While her soup was simple in the sense that it was made with whatever was on hand, it was also complex. It developed slowly, simmering on the back of the stove, with many small additions being made along the way.

My adult life doesn’t include a chest freezer full of containers of soup ready to soothe me when I’m sick. Freezer space in my refrigerator is at a premium (I mean, who doesn’t need to keep the bowl of the ice cream maker ready at all times, just in case?), so a quick cure is a blessing.

A garlicky soup that’s ready in little over thirty minutes seems like a promising alternative. So what if it’s also full of cheese and egg yolks, they’re there to fortify you. And you can add chicken stock if you like, which has proven curative clout. Anyway, I think food is best for existential ills and cheesy, eggy, garlicky goodness could jolt me out of even my most pessimistic mood.

I didn’t bother to purée my soup – I thought the thin slices of garlic looked quite pretty and they gave the soup an interesting texture. If I were serving it for company, I probably would purée it for presentation’s sake.

This soup took a long time to make it onto the French Fridays schedule, but I don’t think it will be long before I make it again. It’s simple, but it’s also rich and delicious – well worth using your best ingredients to make it shine. And the half recipe I made left me with three egg whites, so I made a Visitandine. Whatever the soup doesn’t cure, the cake surely will.

Try it for yourself – you can find Dorie’s recipe here.

And you can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Côte d’Azur Cure-All Soup.

FFWD – Marengo As You Like It

Marengo

I don’t like to buy into the idea that there’s anything especially unlucky about Friday the 13th. Our brains make sense of the circumstances that lead up to events by attributing them to luck (good or bad) or fate. We reverse engineer meaning into the car accident that happens on Friday the 13th, though the victims of yesterday and tomorrow’s car crashes would consider themselves just as badly off.

But I do embrace the feelings that good fortune brings, even if they are the product of chance. And I have to say that I feel very lucky that when I began thinking about blogging, in order to begin a regular writing practice and to celebrate community wherever I found it, I saw an article that mentioned a blogging group that was just about to begin.

That group was French Fridays with Dorie and now, more than four years later, we’re counting down the last ten recipes in Around My French Table. I’m hopelessly behind, of course, with about twenty recipes in my “catch up” file, but I started this journey on October 1, 2010 – the very first French Friday.

And now we’re in the home stretch, I’m going to try to keep up for the final ten recipes. This week, we’ve got a classic, Veal Marengo. I don’t eat veal, so I used some really beautiful beef, instead.

I quartered the recipe, since M. Kevin was having his favourite vegan, gluten-free pizza for dinner and I’d be eating this alone. Since it was such a small amount, I used cognac in place of wine, with a bit of water. I was also lucky enough to find some beautiful baby cipollini onions, which were perfect in this dish.

I made this in my dutch oven and it worked well, but this recipe is making me wish that I had a good, oven-going skillet with a lid. (I’ve got a great cast iron pan, but it is lidless and a little small, even for a quarter recipe.)

This felt like too indulgently elegant a dish to be eating on my own. In future, I’ll make it for a crowd. On second thought, it was easy enough to make that I may treat myself to another quarter batch again, when I feel in need of a treat. Or, if I want to feel lucky.

You can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Veal Marengo.

Co-ops and the Community Plan

Definition 2

The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly is nearing completion of its process. By early summer it will have presented its recommendations. Then, it will be up to the City to decide how those recommendations will figure into the final community plan.

Tonight, I attended a community consultation by the Assembly that was specifically geared to co-op housing members, a part of the community that can get ignored in the discussions that centre on the needs of owners and renters in our neighbourhood. There are only two members of the Assembly that live in co-op housing, which apparently represents the proportion of co-op residents in Grandview-Woodland. There are twenty-eight Assembly members that own their residences and another eighteen that rent. I don’t know if there is any representation from social housing included amongst the eighteen renters on the Assembly.

We considered six recommendation areas that concern co-op housing: how the expiration of co-op land leases are handled; the loss of Federal support at the end of co-ops’ operating agreements; advocacy for alternative ownership models in the City; supports for co-ops’ viability over the long term; and the potential for co-op housing to be built into new development.

There was also an initial discussion of a definition of co-operative housing. Though there was a wealth of ideas about what co-op housing means for co-op members and the community, we all agreed that it’s a model distinct from social housing, renting, and owning. The City, as it stands, classes co-ops as a form of social housing, which does a disservice to both models, as they serve different needs and provide different benefits. There is absolutely a need for dedicated low-income housing, but there’s an equal need for mixed-income models that provide security of tenure whether a resident’s income increases or decreases. Mixed-income, affordable housing is especially important in a city that’s becoming increasingly unafforable for middle-income and low-income people alike.

I’m looking forward to seeing the end result of the Assembly’s process. All the members I’ve met have been passionate advocates for our neighbourhood, caring deeply about the diversity that Grandview-Woodland encompasses, and working hard to make sure they represent the need to protect this diversity over the course of the next three decades.

At the same time, I was reminded again tonight that the scope of the Assembly’s mandate is narrow, which makes it important that the community makes itself heard outside that process as well as within it. I hope that CHF BC makes its own submissions to the City with regard to neighbourhood plans across Vancouver, and that the Grandview-Woodland Area Council and the Our Community, Our Plan! group continue to lobby the City on behalf of our neighbourhood.

My Corner of the Internet is Getting a Little Dusty

Tree

I have to admit I’m at a low ebb, creatively. You may have noticed it’s been quiet around here, which makes me worry that this blog is starting to resemble the little wooden Christmas tree I saw today, forgotten on a corner.

I’ve got drafts of posts in various stages of completion, a list of recipes I need to catch up on, and another list of posts to write and places to visit. What I’ve been doing instead is reading, reading, reading.

Here are a few of the rabbit holes I’ve fallen down:

How London’s private development has damaged its public space and where it should look for inspiration, instead.

A reminder that drilling down into a genre or author pool can be an important part of reading widely and well. And another that seeing a theme everywhere can be a slippery thing.

Some validation, finally, for my techiness around Starbucks’ take on chai. Then, a disquisition on the chemistry of tea and a proper cuppa.

I’m hoping that there’s a little inspiration lurking amongst all these links I’ve been chasing down, but I also suspect that I need to shake myself out of my usual routines and wander beyond my regular haunts.

And I could use a little inspiration from you, too. What do you do when you need to be shaken out of a creative funk?

The Spring Hermit’s Bookshelf

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So many of my friends across the continent are dealing with a harsh winter, while I’m contemplating planting the first seeds in the garden. I almost wouldn’t mind being snowed in, though – it’s been a long time since I’ve had a snow day and there’s nothing like cooking, baking, reading, and dreaming from a cozy vantage point on an icy world.

Except for doing all that, while also being able to go on long, sunny walks in the fresh spring air. I should just enjoy it before the rains start again, shouldn’t I?

And really, who needs an excuse to hunker down with a good book?

I just finished Vikram Chandra’s Geek Sublime and it was every bit as good as I expected it to be. I love writers who can take seemingly disconnected subject matter and weave the threads together into a greater whole. Chandra’s book explores code, but also colonialism, Indian and Western literatures, writing, and more.

I also have a bookshelf standoff happening between Alice Medrich’s Flavor Flours and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Baking Bible. Actually, the only conflict they’re creating is whether or not I can justify adding two more beautiful books to the groaning shelves of our cookbook bookcase.

Here are some other excellent recent reads:

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner – deceptively small, for such a rich and comprehensive survey of a subject, rather like a magical object in a fairy tale.

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean – for those who dream of architecture and cultural formation, along with the romance of Paris.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – a post-apocalyptic vision that sees more than just dissolution.

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum – a bracing book of essays.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow – copyright from a socially just perspective.

And coming up:

Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 by RF Foster

Moving Targets: Writing With Intent, 1982-2004 by Margaret Atwood

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

After that, I think I should get back outside. So, tell me, what are you reading?

FFWD – Chicken Couscous

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I have an electric wok, which was one of the first presents I got when I moved out of my parents’ home. I have it still and it’s always been a welcome addition to any household I’ve been a part of, save for one.

As I was moving into one of the countless shared apartment situations that make up young adulthood, my roommate seized upon the wok as the funniest object I owned. Apparently, her ex had been given one, and after getting rid of it as quickly as possible, made it into a running joke about déclassé appliances.

Well, maybe there’s no place for an electric wok in the vast suburban kitchens we grew up with, but in the tiny urban apartments of our present, I loved it. I’ve never used it for stir-frying, though it would work perfectly well. For me, it was just the thing for a party.

I loved throwing buffet-style potluck dinners and my stovetop and oven would be full of dishes simmering, stewing, baking, and steaming. The wok would be over on the dining room table, filled with Anne Lindsay’s Moroccan Chicken Stew or a fish stew from the same cookbook, happily simmering unattended.

I used to make the same stew in vast quantities when I was one of the only ones in my university crowd who knew how to cook. It would keep us all going for a week, and when the chicken ran out, I’d sauté cubes of tofu in the same spices and add them to the pot. At the end of the week, if there was any broth left over, I’d use it as the base of a clean-out-the-fridge soup.

This week’s recipe put me in mind of that stew, just as Dorie’s Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine did a few months ago. Her take on these flavours includes harissa, which wasn’t on my radar way back then, but brings a welcome heat. I also enjoyed the turnips in this dish, instead of the sweet potatoes that I’d usually reach for with these spices.

I often add dried apricots or currants to a dish like this, but am out of both, so instead stirred in a small spoonful of apricot jam just before serving. It balanced the flavours almost as well as the fruit would have done. It also added another lovely note to the stew’s aroma, which included hints of saffron, ginger, and cinnamon, too.

Since it was just me eating this dish, I halved the recipe and made couscous to go with it. I’ll still be eating my way through the leftovers for a day or two, which is okay, since the flavour keeps improving with time. I won’t be stretching it out with tofu, though. I think I’ll save that for a vegan version I can eat with Kevin, and serve it with quinoa.

Though I didn’t need it this week, I’m hanging onto my electric wok, in anticipation of gatherings to come. And for the record, I’m also awfully fond of my stand alone steamer.

You can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Chicken Couscous.