Summer in Almonte

 Gazpacho Soup

cherry tomatoes, English cucumber, celery, white or yellow onion, red or green pepper

flat parsley, basil, Cilantro, dried Oregano, garlic, Maldon salt, ground black pepper

Clamato juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice

Ciabatta toast points fried in olive oil smothered with goat’s milk cheese

The first time I recall having drunk Gazpacho soup was around 1976 when I frequented a casual restaurant in the By Ward Market in Ottawa called the Bohemian.  Although the chef was reputedly Japanese, his repertoire was largely Greek and Mediterranean.  His Gazpacho soup was almost famous among the denizens of that part of the City.  Of course the soup was served in the summer when the temperatures regularly soared to what was then the high-eighties (equivalent to 32℃).

In 1976 I had just moved to Almonte to begin practicing law with Galligan & Sheffield. My kitchen skills were sadly lacking.  For some reason I asked the Chef at the Bohemian for his gazpacho recipe (something I realize now in retrospect was a bold request) but he gleefully conceded (though I think with a caveat to keep it to myself).  I have long since lost his handwritten instructions and ingredients but with some guesswork (and the help of the internet) I have been able to reassemble what I believe is either close to the Bohemian recipe or at least close enough for my liking.

Generally speaking I like raw vegetables; and mostly the same vegetables.  Occasionally I dally in asparagus, spaghetti squash, sweet potato and turnip; but my preference is always the stuff that can be eaten raw (tomatoes, green or red pepper, celery, onion, and cucumber).  Many of those ingredients are common to spaghetti sauces (or what I later initiated as “Caribbean Pasta”) and Greek salad (with the addition of feta cheese, ripe olives and pickled peppers). The spice additives to which I am accustomed are also repetitive but the main essentials are always olive oil, red or white wine vinegar (or lemon juice) and Maldon salt. Niceties like Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco are strictly refinements.

In keeping with my Mediterranean inclination I welcome a dense baguette with butter or olive oil as an accompaniment, perhaps complemented with goat’s milk cheese. Most of my own meals end with fresh fruit (not especially because it is healthful but because it is easy) though it is not beneath me to have something sinfully sweet if available or provided.

After I met Dr. FF (who later became my physician) my culinary knowledge took a palpable leap forward. This was not because I specifically practiced more in the kitchen but rather because I watched him perform when dining together either chez moi or chez lui. He was unquestionably of that order of renaissance man who had acquired profound knowledge and proficiency in more than one field. Cooking was a serious hobby of his and one which I subsequently discovered was shared by many of his long-standing friends who occasionally visited from abroad. It therefore surprised me to discover that, when it was my turn to reciprocate a meal at my home, Dr. F actually liked what I had prepared. I will concede that my frozen vodka martinis or snappy Sidecar cocktails may have given me an unfair advantage.

One evening in particular resonates with fond memories. It was a summer dining invitation at our place on Laura Crescent in Almonte. It was likely a Saturday (because I was still working for a living).  It had been a beautifully clear, hot summer day and we accordingly set the large patio table under the umbrella. Although I can’t recall the main course (which I suspect was nothing more enterprising than barbecued filet mignon), the starter was Gazpacho soup. Because we were only four (my physician, his lady Elizabeth Wood and us) we spared nothing in terms of laying the table.  There were Bartlett print placemats, Crown Derby bone china, French crystal stemware and Birks sterling silver flatware. Likely I had put out every other imaginable trinket, silver salt cellars and pepper mills, silver candlesticks, linen napkins, Waterford crystal condiment bowls, etc. The quality of the booze would also have reflected the high standards to which my physician was accustomed  at least with one exception.  The oddity was that, because I was serving Gazpacho soup, I had put out Dry Sack Sherry (with the appropriate crystal stemware naturally) poured from a crystal decanter with a sterling silver collar. While Sherry is notoriously inexpensive, its rich bouquet and delicate flavour render it unsurpassable I find for a clear or cold soup.

My physician and his lady had, as was their wont, bicycled to our place for dinner that evening. Because their hike home would entail at least an hour’s cycle, they took their leave fairly promptly after our dinner and before the sun had completely set.  The intelligence we obtained the following day was that my physician suffered a flat tyre several miles from his destination.  His lady rode in the dark for the rest of the way to collect an automobile for the recovery mission. While that was hardly a welcome end to the evening I was assured that the Gazpacho soup was a success (as was the rest of the meal apparently though my memory for whatever reason is scant except for the soup).

My physician and I share a fondness for raw, primitively cut vegetables.  There are some who prefer to have my soup put through a blender before consumption but I have learned to rise above that indignity.

This evening we are re-enacting somewhat the same agenda as our meal with my physician, though just the two of us this time. Today was another exceedingly sultry day.  The late afternoon sunshine has created a hazy sky upon us. I only thought about doing the Gazpacho soup earlier today so I had to collect the ingredients and of course labour at the kitchen counter for over an hour to make it. All reports have been good, especially the fried toast points with goat’s milk cheese.  We’re having a interlude from table at the moment as the filet mignon is being prepared with fingerling potatoes and a side-sauce of scallions, Dijon mustard, garlic and celery.

This narrative about a summer dinner in Almonte would be incomplete without an account of our morning cycle to the Farmers Market in the parking lot next to the Elizabeth Kelly Library. We were specifically prompted to go to the Market today because of the news that the Almonte Lions Club was selling home-baked goods (pies, muffins, cinnamon buns and butter tarts) today and for the next couple of weeks. Let me assure you that we were not disappointed!  The buns and tarts are divine! The dough and pastry are superb! We have Lions Reg Gamble and Marina Johnson to thank for that expediency though in the interests of restraint I am wary about enquiring for the name of the baker!

Although it may not bear directly on Gazpacho soup or even food for that matter, I would be remiss not to mention the names of several others whom we encountered at the Farmers Market this morning. Jack Hinton temporarily put me off sticky buns and butter tarts when he remarked that I had put on weight.  His lady, Glennis Harwig, kindly sought to cushion Jack’s commitment to truth but we ended by agreeing that things just don’t fit that well anymore.  Marilyn and Claus Linnenbruegger were in attendance on their bicycles (having by then already completed in excess of 40 kms). Janet Rintoul and her beau, Ian (or as I prefer, “Bertram”) Paige were as usual marketing Ian’s stunning and substantial pottery (several pieces of which we have owned for years and continue to enjoy). I caught a glimpse of Mayor Shaun McLaughlin seated under a shady tree, chatting with others.  Sarah Lalonde was as always a fixture at the Market. Councillor Jill McCubbin and her beau George Yaremchuk were also passing through, border Collie in tow. To reunite with the food theme, I must acknowledge that the there was a very popular table of Syrian prepared foods.  In addition there were kiosks with fresh honey, baked goods and plants, as well as a Master Gardener offering to answer pertinent questions. I mention these matters because it was only last evening that I spoke with Edith Cody-Rice of The Millstone editorial fame about the many advantages of living in Almonte.

Sidecar

The first iconic Cointreau cocktail, the Sidecar, traces its heritage back to 1920s London. A perfect balance between Cointreau, Cognac, and lemon, the Sidecar is a classic that has endured generation after generation. The final touch of a sugared rim provides a perfect balance of sweet and sour.

1 1/2 oz Rémy Martin VSOP cognac
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Wet rim with lemon and press into sugar.
Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.