Salmon tornados

A few weeks ago Martine and I asked the man who will be our butcher if there are any good poissoneries over here in Longueuil. To my surprise, he recommended the fish counters at the IGA supermarkets. Not only is the fish there good and fresh, he said, but they prepare some interesting fish combinations, often in the form of rolled tournedos. (Tournedos is a French cut of beef tenderloin, but in these crazy days of beef alternatives, the moniker is applied to any puck-shaped piece of protein. Here in language-silly Montreal, the name is sometimes translated into English as “tornadoes.”)

Despite the question of whether or not one should ask one’s butcher about fish, we went to check it out. Indeed, the fish counter at the IGA at Place Longueuil is quite impressive — at least as supermarket fish counters go. And indeed, they had a number of fish combo tournedos on hand, all wrapped and ready to go. We grabbed a couple of nice ones comprised of sole wrapped in some kind of green leaf then wrapped again in salmon and tied together with string. They were each about four or five inches across and an inch thick — perfect for the barbeque!

At home I fired up the grill. I started by roasting a red and a yellow bell pepper and a couple of small portabella mushrooms. In the meantime, Martine was preparing some tomato-basil couscous. Then I put the tournedos on the grill and slapped on a teriyaki-ginger glaze and let it cook for about three or four minutes per side on medium heat.

Salmon Tournedos

It all came together very nicely. The fish was perfectly grilled and glazy on the outside, and pink and moist on the inside. The grilled veggies were sublime, as usual, and the couscous was fluffy and zingy from the addition of a drizzle of pepper oil.

Not bad for an after-work supper slapped together in about 30 minutes!

Why I hate banks (# 87)

I really hate it when people don’t listen. I don’t mind if people disagree with me, or when people point out (and can back up) an error or mistake I’ve made. That’s all part of being a thinking person in a civilized environment. But what I hate is when people simply don’t listen.

I think I get this from being the youngest child in the family. I was always “the baby,” so whatever I said was always dismissed as just kid talk. This infuriated me as a child and downright enraged me as a teenager. It’s only gotten worse.

I recently had a “not listening” experience at a bank. Thank Dog I’m getting a bit mellower these days, because it was only an annoyance, not a blood-boiling mortification like it might have been. Or maybe I was just glad to be away from my desk for a while. It went something like this:

Backstory: Last year I took out an RRSP loan. It was brokered through an investment guy who I work with. All I did was sign a couple of papers and bingo, it was done and a monthly payment magically disappears from my bank account. My plan was to pay the loan off early with the cash from my tax refund.

Last week: I’ve got the money, but I don’t know how to pay off the loan because I don’t even know who the loan is with. I email the broker with questions. He replies, telling me the name of the bank and the loan number. “Just go into any branch with a cheque and the loan number and you can pay it off.”

To confirm the balance, I decide to call the bank’s head office. They have no record of me, and they say that the number I give them is not a loan number (not enough digits). I bounce around from person to person and finally someone says “I think that loan may be through our “irregular” loans program. Call this number…”

I call the number. Bingo! They find my account, confirm the loan number, give me the day’s balance, and say “go to any branch and give them the loan number and this branch number and that’s all you need.”

I get a cashier’s draft for the amount from my bank, and walk up the street to a branch of the bank that has my “irregular” loan. The transaction is as follows:

Teller: May I help you?
Me: (Describes what I want to do.)
Teller: You have to see a loans officer for that. Speak to the receptionist over there.

(Receptionist sets me up with a loans officer.)

Me: (Describes what I want to do.)
L.O.: Certainly. May I have your account card?
Me: I don’t have one. I’m not a client. (Explains again that this is an investment loan brokered through an investment guy.) I have the loan number…
L.O.: (Punches in my name and loan number.) We don’t have a record of you and this doesn’t seem to be a loan number or a branch number.
Me: That’s what they said on the phone this morning, and they gave me the number for another loan department. It was called… uh… “Unusual” loans or “irregular” loans. Something like that. Once I got on the phone with that loans person they found me right away.
L.O.: (Tries again. Tries a few different ways.) I just don’t see you in here anywhere.
Me: Did you try going though “unusual” or “irregular” loans?
L.O.: One moment please. (Goes to speak to a woman in another office.)
L.O.: (Returns.) She’s a manager. She’s been here for 25 years, so if you’re in there she’ll find you.
Manager: (Enters the office.) This doesn’t seem to be a correct loan number or branch number.
Me: (Explains the entire story again, including thing about “irregular” loans.) Do you have a phone directory? I remember most of the phone number for the irregular loans department. Maybe I can find the number and you can call them.
Manager: (Ignores my last request.) Let me try something else. (Retreats.)

Several minutes pass, during which I give more bits of personal information — shouted over the divider between offices. All avenues seem to go nowhere.

Me: (To L.O.). If I could just remember that number…
L.O.: (Shrugs.)
Manager: Got it! We couldn’t find you because this is what we call an “irregular” loan. It’s handled by the people who deal with things like car loans and investment loans.
Me: Oh really? Imagine that…

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Dyer to U.S.: It’s not always about you

Gwynne Dyer, the impatient Canadian journalist who is sometimes a blow-hard, and sometimes an astute analyst, writes an interesting view of terrorism and al-Qaeda in the Toronto Star:

What major American public figure will stand up and say that the U.S. and its values are not really under attack; that the country and its troops are actually just being used as pawns in somebody else’s strategy?

It’s not a new perspective — I’ve even postulated that one a few times myself. But it’s good to see such reminders pop up now and again amid the wash of “they’re out to get us” paranoia that the U.S. administration and the American corporate war-for-profit industry encourage. I just wish Dyer would be a bit less sure of himself — as a journalist he should at least acknowledge that he is speculating. There can be a difference between how something appears to be and how it is, and it behooves a journalist to remember the difference between a belief and a fact.

A sandwich to live for…

I don’t really understand the expression that something is “to die for.” Forget that! If something is really good, it’s worth living for!

I live for the simple pleasures in life, which include, among other things, the joy of fresh seasonal eating. Yesterday, for example, I made a couple of tomato sandwiches (one for me, one for Martine). This is one of my summertime favorites, for a reason I will tell in a future post. Usually my ultimate summer tomato sandwiches don’t make an appearance until August, when the local crop is at its tastiest, but I managed to find some local hot-house tomatoes that were almost as good as the out-doorsy ones, so I went for it.

The trick is to let the tomato do the talking. Don’t over-embellish it with fluffy froo-froos and strong-tasting this and that. Let the tomato be the star of the show, with a few simple supporting players, as follows:

The Bread
It must be toasted. Choose a nice easily-toastable bread such as a country-style miche or a nice whole-wheat loaf. Don’t use dark pumpernickel or similar untoastable breads (those are great for other things, but not for the ultimate tomato sandwich).

The Tomato
Only a fresh, red, plump tomato will do. Forget about those perfect-looking tomatoes you see “on the vine” in the grocery stores. Those are a modified breed that were created to look good and to ship without getting damaged. Their flavour is not brilliant. They’re acceptable in winter, when there is nothing else available, but to buy those in summer is like going to a restaurant in Bordeaux and ordering a bottle of wine from Argentina.*   Also, the tomato should be room-temperature, not cold from the fridge. One good-sized tomato will make two sandwiches.

The Supporting Players
A bit of mayonnaise is essential. You can use a “light” mayo if you prefer, but only if it is Hellman’s or Kraft (other light mayos are awful). Never use an “ultra-light” mayonnaise, as it is essentially just corn starch and water. Salt and pepper are essential, and the pepper must be freshly-ground. Ideally, the salt is something coarse, like fleur de sel. Basil is important, but don’t over-do it — this isn’t a pesto sandwich. Use no more than two medium leaves (chopped up) per sandwich. Finally, add one crisp piece of lettuce (the lettuce is there for a contrasting texture, so if your lettuce isn’t crisp, don’t bother with it).

The Secret Ingredient
Four drops of good-quality balsamic vinegar, carefully applied, can elevate this sandwich to gastronomic levels beyond expectation. Don’t drown it — seriously, just four drops per sandwich.

To recap:

– Toast the bread
– Slice the tomato
– Mayo the toast
– Layer the sliced tomato on the toast
– Season with salt and pepper, and chopped basil
– Carefully apply four drops of balsamic vinegar
– Add one piece of crisp lettuce.
– Top with second piece of mayo’ed toast, and slice on the diagonal.

Serve outdoors, with a chilled glass of rosé. Mmmm, summery goodness!

* Yes, there are many fine wines from Argentina, and when you are in Argentina you should drink them. But when you’re in Bordeaux, order a Bordeaux!