Take Off Your Pants and Make a Pizza (or How to Get Baked in London)

Installment two from the down and dirty streets of London. Leaving the soul-sucking bleakness of a St. John’s winter and arriving in Vancouver in January is one thing. But a freak heatwave in mid March in Ontario is enough to mess with your hardwiring. I’m not a complete idiot, I get how it works, it’s a big country. Winter’s different everywhere in Canada. And it’s the big fat reason why a rundown crackhouse in Vancouver costs a million dollars but you can still nab a sweet little piece of seaside in Newfoundland without completely selling your soul and the souls of your unborn children. But even Ryan Snoddon would have agreed that this was some pretty crazy shit. We arrived in London on a mild spring evening, after a three week run in Orangeville; a place we all felt right at home mostly because it was bloody effing freezing. But spring rapidly turned into a week and a half of summer. In Hanoi. I tried walking around in jeans on day one of the heatwave and got so angry I had to go home and take a nap. The next day I bought some frozen yogurt and a sundress and I felt a little bit better. I ditched the sneakers for my flip flops, the ones usually reserved for walking around on questionable hotel carpet.

My biggest obstacle that week was cooking in the heat. On arrival in London I made a trip to the grocery store and bought supplies for the next three weeks. Lots of cheap and easies, meat and potatoes, stuff I could toss in the oven and bake with as little fuss as possible. I ate out a lot in London; it’s a great food city. Especially when it’s 28 degrees and you can lounge outside on a patio and drink pints of cold beer. But there was still a ton of food in the fridge and freezer that had to be eaten before we flew back to Newfoundland. So I found myself standing in a hot kitchen on several occasions, roasting something in a 400 degree oven and wondering how the hell people who live in Florida manage to cook anything at all. Or work in bakeries. I think if I lived in a place that was tropical all year round I’d just eat cold food unless someone else was cooking for me.

Karen had some really nice fresh asparagus and a bunch of chicken thighs in the freezer. One 25 degree afternoon I asked her if she was up for being a chicken-asparagus bake guinea pig and she agreed. She was probably in her glee that someone was stupid enough to cook something for supper. She went to take a nap. I put on the sundress I’d been wearing for the past five days and got to work.

Give this a go when it’s winter and turning on the oven doesn’t make you crooked as a tied up bag of sweaty weasels. Trim the tough ends of a bunch of fresh asparagus and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Do the same with some sliced red potatoes. Lightly grease a roasting pan with oil and line the asparagus on the bottom of the pan followed by the potatoes. Toss on a few sprigs of rosemary and some chopped shallots. Finely chop a few cloves of garlic and some rosemary and mix with a tablespoon or so of butter. Rub the butter mixture under the skin of four chicken thighs. Cover the thighs in slices of bacon (hey I’m Paula Deen) and place them on top of everything in the roasting pan and pop into the oven on 350-375 degrees (depending on your oven, this one was super hot and I had to turn everything down to 325 at one point). Bake until potatoes are tender and chicken is cooked through. Try not to overcook like I did. A really tasty easy meal for winter, or a mildly alarming bout of global warming in March.

Last night of the heatwave and we headed out for a few pints after the show. The idea of walking home at night in a t-shirt is still sort of a novelty to me; after nine summers on the Northern Peninsula I always forget what it’s like. It felt like Thailand or something walking home that night, I swear to God. Anyways, when I got back to Executive not-so Suites it was too hot and sticky to live. I was starved, there was garlic naan bread in the fridge and Karen was already in bed. I took off my pants and started to fashion myself a little midnight snack. Homemade pizza is hard to beat. Most times, not really a practical option though. I’m a sucker for those mini pizzas you can throw together in a couple of minutes, like on pita bread or a tortilla or if you’re really going old school, hamburger bun halves. With cut up wieners for toppings. Your mom did it too, don’t even try to deny it. But my favourite quick pizza crust by far is naan bread…the stuff you get at the grocery store that’s ready to go. Try the President’s Choice garlic stuff and you won’t ever look back. Except maybe fondly at wieners and hamburger buns. Use whatever’s in the fridge. I had some really nice farm fresh mozzarella from Covent Garden Market (the other one) and a ton of veggies that needed to be used. No pizza sauce but Karen had a bottle of Ragu and that got it done. I was standing in the kitchen in my underwear and using Ragu. I feel I could most definitely host my own cooking show.

The heat wave ended eventually and we had to go back to our winter woolies, trading flip flops for boots when it started to snow. I always thought that St. John’s won for weirdest weather, but I’ve learned my lesson. Didi and I took a little overnight trip to Stratford (the other one) to visit friends on our day off and it was freezing cold. More seasonable for something roasty in the oven for sure. Walking home from the train station in London that afternoon we stopped at the market to eat Thai food and homemade ice cream and pick up some food for a nice supper. I found a butcher shop with all organic meats and bought some gorgeous farmer sausages…I’ve often said in a perfect world I’d love to eat nothing but fish, game, and meat that was happy in its former life. Not always easy on the wallet, but you know, nice to know the cows and pigs got to be silly and roll around in the grass a bit.

Another one-pan wonder from Executive Suites. This turned out to be a meal I’ll make all the time, if I can ever learn to not cook meat within an inch of its life. According to what I hear from pals this is a common worry if you’ve been raised by a NL mother or grandmother (I didn’t eat a steak that wasn’t well done until I was 29). But man, pork’s a different story. Anyways, onwards and upwards, I’ll get there. I chopped up some potatoes and an apple, tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, some finely chopped rosemary and a squeeze of lemon juice. Threw it all in a roasting pan and put the sausages on top.

It’s all a bit of a blur after that…the temperature was too hot and the smoke detectors went off five minutes into the baking time. I spent the next half hour running back and forth from the oven to fanning the smoke detector, one shoulder to my ear to try and block the screeching, one hand fanning with a tea towel and my other hand wearing my winter gloves (no oven mittens). I gave up, took out the sausages and finished them off in a frying pan while the potatoes roasted a bit longer in the oven. Not exactly a one-pan wonder I guess, and things were overcooked and a little burnt around the edges, but mother of God the potatoes were really something else. I’ve heard that potatoes being roasted in duck fat are a big thing in England and I’m guessing that having them roasted in sausage fat might be the next best thing. Although duck fat has a prettier ring to it than sausage fat does. But hey, baby pigeon meat is called squab and people still eat that. Myself, I’ve never eaten squab. I would definitely try it, just to see what happens to a person’s face when I say “I ate a really nice squab there the other day.”

I haven’t cried over breakfast since the time our Newfoundland dog died when I was a kid and Mom eased me into it by telling me over chocolate chip pancakes. I came close the next morning when I ate these potatoes. Try frying them up in a pan with some eggs and eating them like hashbrowns. Something about the tang of the lemon juice and apples all loved up together in the sausage fat. Holy squab.

Absolutely baked in London and home again. Not really home-home, just Newfoundland home for now. No little red kitchen for me til this summer so the kitchen at Shark Cove Suites in Port-aux-Basques will do for now. There’s no can opener here either, but there are deadly moose burgers downstairs at the restaurant and a view of the ocean out the living room window. Off to Halifax this weekend and then back again to brave the Trans Labrador Highway. Hilarious, disastrous food adventures to follow, no doubt detailing flat tires and boil-ups on the side of the road. It’s a good think I kick ass at making bannock.

Spaghetti and Meatballs in the Hood

So I’m pining a little for the Best Western in Orangeville, with its plushy white robes and king size bed. The saltwater pool sure was nice. Especially after a sit in the steam room, or a few minutes in the hot tub. But if I’m really honest, I have to admit that the rooms here at Executive Suites in downtown London (the other one) make me feel like a film star. On the set of Dexter. Or CSI. The lovely waitress across the street at the pub told us she’s pretty sure they have hourly rates here, but hey, everyone needs a cup of tea and a shower once in a while, right? The guys around the corner at the halfway house seem best kind, and two Saturdays ago the front desk assured us that the police had already been called and were on standby for St. Paddy’s Day (turns out things were kinda peaceful here, as most revellers were blowing up news vans and throwing bricks at cops down on Fleming Drive). Lots of un-neutered pit bulls being walked down the street and they sure are cute, especially in their muzzles. Conversations in the parking lot of the Hasty Market next door never fail to entertain. Just a few nights ago Karen and I had a good chuckle when one fellow said to another, “What do you mean, man? I just got rid of all my drugs down the road.” It’s a good, honest, hardworking neighbourhood, you know? In fact our upstairs neighbours work so hard it sounds like they’re laying ceramic tile until 4:30 in the morning. Or maybe they’re playing drunk Twister and stabbing each other while throwing furniture. All I know is that I’m feeling pretty goddamn glamorous right now.

Seriously though, it’s not that bad (why am I so itchy?). We’ve been on the road now for close to two months and I’ve been in a variety of hotel rooms with varying degrees of kitchen. Despite the presence of multiple drug dealers on our corner, London wins for best cooking facilities. Now, the can opener doesn’t really work (but that’s what Didi’s for across the hall) and there’s no cheese grater. I had to go to the Superstore and buy a couple of those disposable foil roasting pans. No wine glasses, no big deal. I can drink wine out of a mug, sure it only reminds me of camping. But there is a big fridge and a working oven, and living near the other side of the tracks made me feel bad-ass enough to make spaghetti and meatballs. I thought briefly about inviting the upstairs neighbours. But I was afraid of getting stabbed.

There’ve been a few food adventures before hitting the beauteousness of downtown London. Starting off in Richmond BC was a treat in January. Lots of rain, nothing to shovel, and enough sushi to induce hysteria. We were a bit out of the way at an airport inn, but there was a South Asian market (good mangos!!) and a Vietnamese restaurant down the road so I was happy. A twenty minute walk away from the nearest skytrain station took us to downtown Vancouver, so we couldn’t complain. Even though being on tour makes you really, really good at that.

Cooking was limited to a mini-fridge and stove top in Richmond. Lots of boiled eggs for breakfast and reheated leftovers. I’m a fan of and have mastered the art of the bread and cheese supper, or as I like to call it the “I can’t afford to eat in restaurants because I’m a budget traveller in Europe” diet. It kind of reminds me of being in my twenties and having no money. So I had a few of those in front of Netflix, thinking how great it was for me to be sitting here reliving my twenties. Until I realized I was eating bread and cheese because I still have no money and I’m now in my thirties. So much for nostalgia.

I always marvel at produce on the mainland. Like myself, veggies are not a fan of the North Sydney to Port-aux-Basques ferry crossing. Think about it. Nobody gets off that boat all fresh-faced and cheery. You were kept up all night trying to sleep on the floor or in those awful chairs, but there were drunk people and toddlers (same same) everywhere. You’re crooked, tired and dirty. You need a wash. You get off the boat and have to drive for eight hours. Imagine how the mangos feel. If I got plucked off a tree in sunny Ecuador and had to spend my life in a trailer, on a ferry and then on a shelf at Sobeys I’d be sad and mushy too. Poor mangos. There’s just something about that last leg of the ferry journey to Newfoundland, or the eight hour drive over dirt road to Labrador that defeats the fruit and veg completely. The ataulfos looked a little perkier at the Fruiticana in Richmond. So did the cilantro. I almost peed when I saw the bunches of it, all misty and green, not wilty and slimy or encased in plastic and crying to get out. There’s no in-between with cilantro, you love it or loathe it. I have an altar to it in my house. With little candles and statues of deities. That night in Richmond I made a salad with greens, cilantro and a sweet, buttery ataulfo mango. Dressed it with salt and pepper, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The gods were pleased.

Marinated mini bocconcini. I know!! I didn’t know bocconcini came that size! I didn’t know what I was starting when I bought a container at the Granville Island Market, but someone needs to point me in the direction of them when I get back to St. John’s or shit’s going to get real ugly real fast. Supper/midnight snack after the show that night: bocconcini with citrus marinated olives and a fresh rosemary loaf. I know!! I sound like a pretentious menu in the Napa Valley. I’ve never been, but I bet that’s on a menu somewhere. I got a great salad out of it too; bocconcini with avocado and cherry tomatoes, with the same dressing as before. Didi and I shared the last of the cheese babies in front of Netflix drinking gingerale and watching Everybody’s Fine with Robert Deniro and a box of Kleenex. Seriously, who tries to beat up Robert Deniro and take his heart pills in a bus station?? It’s a good thing the mini-cheeses made me so happy I didn’t completely burst any blood vessels while sobbing. And whoa, I must be some kind of pal. I can’t believe I even shared those.

What better way to celebrate the Superbowl than High Tea at the Fairmont Vancouver? Fancy pantsy, I know, and I was worried that I didn’t have the right shoes. Turns out we didn’t have to change out of our sneakers at the train station (what, like you’ve never) because no one at the hotel was looking down, everyone had their eyes glued to the mounted TVs for the halftime show. We sipped our tea like proper ladies (no sneakers see), ate our curried chicken and cream cheese sandwiches, pastries and scones while watching Madonna dance with her harem. Does harem still mean harem if it’s fellas? The food was unreal. Every single little bite made with what could only be love. The people who made that food had to love their jobs. It all tasted like they were glad they didn’t become doctors or something, you know? Our waiter (huge Madonna fan) told us that the Fairmont was after the Queen’s scone recipe for years, but they were refused every time they asked for it. How does one do that I wonder? Is there a phone number? Or do you have to go through the Governor General? I’m doubtful that the Queen actually makes them herself, I guess she gets her harem to do it for her. But how cool would that be, if she actually made scones? If that shit was on YouTube royal approval ratings would soar. I think it’s something for them to think about. Anyways, the Queen came to Vancouver and she was staying at the Fairmont so the Royal House (Royal Kitchen?) had to give up the recipe because she wanted her scones while she was there. Hence, the Fairmont still has the Queen’s scone recipe and they use it for High Tea! How sneaky and awesome is that? And how many people care who just read this? Anyways, the scones kicked ass. Now if I could just find out what kind of shampoo she uses I’d be set.

We went to the washroom to change back into our sneakers. Hopped back on the skytrain to meet our friend Alan down at Steamworks on the waterfront for a few beers. Several drinks in and we had forgotten how full of pastry we were. I ordered a plate of nachos the size of a preschooler. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Queen’s recipe.

Steamworks is also the name of a gym/sauna/bathhouse for men. I was checking online for directions and guess which website I found first? I was a little confused (they do nachos too??) but figured it out in the end.

On to Orangeville, Ontario and the beloved Best Western. Kitchen facilities were downgraded to a mini-fridge and a microwave. But the hotel was amazing and we fell in love with the theatre there and everyone in it. I wasn’t about to complain about the king size bed and the heated saltwater pool. I lounged around a lot in my Best Western bathrobe and ate cheese and crackers on my bed while watching Turner Classic Movies (I have refrained from eating anything on my bed here at Executive Suites). The chances of me ever being able to afford a room with its very own bathrobe all for me are slim to none, so I soaked up what I could. Whenever I felt sad about not being able to cook I went for a swim and ate jerk chicken. In Orangeville! Jerk chicken! If you ever find yourself there (it’s quite a lovely town) get yourself over to Soulyve on Mill Street for fall off the bone jerk, roti, and the deadliest potato salad this side of my nan’s house.


On to brick-throwing country (downtown London). I feel real bad for the cops here. I should have invited them over for spaghetti and meatballs.

Spaghetti With Bacon Sauce and Meatballs

Bacon sauce:

7 or 8 strips regular bacon
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 28 oz cans chunky ground tomatoes


Oil, for greasing pan
2 pounds 80 percent lean ground beef
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb pasta (I used spaghettini)

For the bacon sauce: Cut the bacon into pieces. Using a big saute pan or skillet that has a cover, cook over medium heat until almost crispy. Don’t drain the fat. Add the onions to the pan. When the onions are almost cooked and start to become translucent, add the garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer on low for about an hour to an hour and a half.

For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 425F. Grease a baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine the beef, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, garlic, eggs and some salt and pepper. Form into 1 to 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Then turnout the oven down to 350F and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Make sure to turn every few minutes to brown on each side.

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Serve the meatballs over the pasta with the bacon sauce on the side. Garnish with additional freshly grated Parmesan.

From the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Made

Ok. So. I’d been craving this recipe ever since I saw it on the Food Network one night back in Richmond. The only thing that made me see past the drug dealers and the weird stains on the walls in London was the fact that I had a kitchen and got to make this. Beau Macmillan cooked it on The Best Thing I Ever Made and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The original recipe calls for bucatini, but pasta in the shape of a long tube just doesn’t do it for me and I love spaghettini more than anything, so use the pasta that makes you the happiest. My meatballs were too dry, but such is the fate of a woman raised on the fear of undercooked meat. I used lean, next time definitely not. And maybe with some pork thrown in as well? In any case, if anyone has any meatball tips, I’d be very, very happy to hear them. Me and red meat love each other dearly but we haven’t quite figured each other out yet. I’ve never cooked a good steak in my life (I effing know, I’m welling up myself a little here), but it’s my goal for the fall and my return to St. John’s. First I have to work on getting a barbecue. And a back door. But I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll never make another marinara sauce without bacon again. I’d make this recipe sans meatballs, and just make the bacon sauce. I don’t need to tell you how good bacon is in a tomato sauce. It’s bacon. Just this on pasta with a nice glass of red might be the best night in ever. It’s so, so simple, there’s no excuse not to try it. Just don’t skimp on good tomatoes. I halved the recipe and only needed one can, so I went organic. If you can get your hands on a can of the real high quality Italian ones, go for it.

I’m missing the little red kitchen dearly chickens, I’m not going to lie. It’s been an exciting couple of months on the road (hey someone’s drunk rapping down on the street as I write this) and I’m steeling myself for another four. That’s a lot of hotel rooms and lot of French fries at Jungle Jim’s. We’re gearing up for a run in Halifax at Neptune Theatre followed by a tour of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. The prospect of sharing Tempting Providence with so many people over so many months thrills me to no end. With that said, I might not be able to complete a new recipe every week, but the posts will keep coming. Not so fast but definitely furious. Hope you’ll all stay tuned. Could be interesting.

Sounds like there’s another drunk stabby-time Twister tournament happening upstairs. But I just heard the cops show up, so there might be some sleep tonight. Time to slip into my hazmat suit and crawl into bed, visions of meatballs dancing in my head. ‘Night all.