There is only one way to describe the voice of Toronto singer, Sophia Perlman – walloping.
She is layered and complex – a beautiful balance of everything it takes to make a voice complete. In this installment of Harlot’s Artists, Sophia indulges us with some of her feelings and memories about food. Meanwhile, I’ll indulge you with lots of videos and this delicious Salmon and Quinoa Summer Roll inspired by one of my favourite Toronto talents.
“Perlman’s approach is all at once soulful, gut-wrenching, funky and provocative.” -Lesley Mitchell-Clarke, Whole Note Magazine
This video from 2008 is all the proof you need:
I’m lucky to have met Sophia at The Rex Hotel almost ten years ago and she is constantly surprising me. From this waifish and unassuming girl comes a voice that explodes with wisdom. I’ve heard her sing classics like Strange Fruit that require a bottomless well of suffering, then flip to the airy Diamond on the Soles of Her Shoes. I’ve even heard her bust out some Bob Marley at a party that silenced the room.
Performing at the Toronto Rhythm Initiative‘s Nina Simone tribute I was floored by Sophia’s version of one of my all time favourite songs, Sinner Man. It was then I was privy to the depths she could go. Like Simone, Sophia possess a power that spills from her openly, honestly and seemingly with no effort at all.
She has worked extensively at the Canadian Children’s Opera Company and OPERAtion Kid’s Outreach with children as young as three. She has worked with close to two thousand elementary aged students in Toronto creating music and opera.
Sophia has a long history with choral work, which makes her at ease collaborating with other singers – my favourite such pairing being PerlHaze with another Toronto powerhouse, Terra Hazelton. There’s no better way to describe these two singers than to say they’re like chocolate and peanut butter – gorgeous on their own, but a revelation together.
(Warning: you may want to grab the tissues before hitting play…)
Sophia’s most recent recording “Alive at Musideum” is packed full of great standards – like one of my faves Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – and some more unexpected tunes, like a killer version of Life on Mars. It also happens to feature her hubby, Adrean Farrugia, a monstrous talent in his own right.
(Note: more on Adrean later – I’m holding back since he is an upcoming featuree in Harlot’s Artists.)
Keep your ears open – Sophia is often playing somewhere in Toronto and the surrounding area, whether on her own or with Adrean, PerlHaze, Toronto Rhythm Initiative, The Vipers, Chuck Jackson or any of the other amazing ensembles and big bands she accompanies.
Just before Christmas Johnny and I had Sophia and Adrean over – with special guest, TO sax player, Chris Gale – for a tapas style tasting dinner. Falling into my old habits, I made waaaay too much food – so much that we quit before the last two courses. Sophia’s love for food of all origins was evident, but more than that, she values above all else the company of friends.
So, let’s talk food!
The Harlot – We know that taste and smell are closely linked to memory, is there a particular dish or aroma that conjures up images of home?
Sophia Perlman – Gefilte fish. Yeah, I know. After making it our house smelled like fish for a week. Adrean has very kindly asked that I don’t make it at home ever again. But we used to make it every year. It makes my arm ache just thinking about the old-school meat grinder. There’s a chocolate cake recipe that was the first thing my parents ever let me loose in the kitchen by myself to make, from a cookbook my great grandma published for my great grandpa’s ad agency just after the second world war. At the time of publishing, certain shortages are were effect. If you can’t find enough sugar…
Is there a snack food from your childhood that holds special nostalgia?
Less an actual food, more a preference for eating a little bit of lots of different things. The way you eat when you walk through a neighbourhood and get an apple. And then a pastry. And then some little tamarind balls. Then one of those Chinese donut things. And then some doubles. Then some dumplings… and because you’re walking the whole time you never really feel FULL so you just kind of keep eating.
Is there a favourite dish at a restaurant you frequent?
Extra spicy butter chicken and or tikka masala from Ghandi or Mother India.
Is there a food or food craze you absolutely can’t stand?
Despite my best efforts, I have never been able to eat olives (although olive oil is a staple of my diet) or dill pickles. After a summer of working at Mendel’s, I’m also pretty suspicious of blue cheese.
What is your go-to bar order?
If someone were putting together the ultimate dinner for you – no limitations – what would it be?
The kind of meal with lots of little courses. I’m a sucker for dim sum and tapas, but I always feel awkward because I end up feeling like I ate more than my share.
Tastes can change dramatically over time – is there a dish or flavour that you love/hate now that you hate/loved as a kid?
Until I was 11 or 12 I was pescetarian. My mum is now mostly vegan. I started eating chicken as a teenager. I didn’t start eating most other meats until I was in college. I now like beef, but unless it’s ground up already, I seem to have a hard time eating any quantity of it. Bacon on the other hand, I could eat myself stupid.
Is there a dish or style of cooking you would like to learn how to master making?
Honestly? I want to learn to make jam and chutney.
As an artist, touring is a way of life. Eating on the road has its challenges whether you are driving through long and barren stretches of road, at the mercy of your promoters/clubs/theatres/billets to feed you, or trying to fit in a quick meal before/after a show. Do you have any go-to foods or tricks you’ve learned?
Touring Europe with a choir as a teenager and staying with billeted families was the beginning of the end of my vegetarianism. I remember trying to explain to my German-only speaking hosts that I didn’t eat meat, trying to pick the chunks of ham out of my “vegetarian” macaroni and cheese. Eventually, I got hungry.
Touring as an adult, I’ve discovered that when I’m on the road, I need to eat breakfast – which you can usually find decent and cheap somewhere, and it saves me from eating yet another Tim Hortons sandwich. For my birthday a few years ago, my mum and dad gave me a blue picnic backpack – the kind that has a little compartment with four of everything for dishes and cutlery. I have learned the value of stopping at a grocery store and prepping food the night before – Terra and I ate a lot of “naked burrito” bowls on our last tour. They were cheap, not messy, and were acceptable to my aforementioned food ADD need for a little of everything.
Similarly, touring takes you to lots of different countries, cities and small towns. What is the most memorable meal you’ve had – good or terrible?
Travelling to India, where I discovered that the trick to eating well is to eat what the people who live there are eating, rather than the food that is generally offered to people who look like they come from somewhere else. When in Rome…
Where in the world you would love to travel to for its culinary offerings.
I want to go to Japan and eat really, really fancy sushi and sashimi the entire time.
If you were forced to have only one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
As long as I had hot sauce, I’m pretty sure I’d be okay with whatever the desert island wanted to throw at me.
If you were hosting your dream dinner party, who would be your ideal three guests?
Adrean, Terra and my oldest friend from highschool, Amy, who ideally would be the one cooking dinner with me, because that’s what we do. The last time we made dinner together, she introduced me to the idea of greenbeans in tomato sauce with meatballs. The time before was an orphan’s Thanksgiving in Vancouver, where I learned to make buttermilk fried chicken. She, like me, grew up in a house where a dinner party’s success was measured by how many people end up hanging out in the kitchen. I can’t tell you what I’d serve ideally, because I love planning a meal with someone else, and the unexpected twists and turns it can take.
Any other food stories you’d like to share?
I thank my lucky stars that I have parents who decided no child of theirs would ever be afraid of food. The challenge of “Clean out the Refrigerator Day”, yielding amazing, if totally improbable results, probably added to my love of improvisation. The memory of Adrean’s terrified look the first time he watched me cooking and pulling my usual “hmm… it needs something. perhaps… orange juice” method of cooking. Then the vindication when he admitted afterwards that it had totally worked.
SALMON QUINOA SUMMER ROLLS
This recipe was inspired by Sophia and her appreciation for grazing through the day. It has that Japanese homage and a spicy sauce. This guy is chock full of veggies and balances the rich oiliness of the fish, the crunch of the cucumbers, the peppery wasabi and arugula and the creamy mayonnaise. It’s decadent, yet light. She can enjoy this coming off a tour, craving something healthy. It’s also gluten free making it a dish she can share with Adrean.
2 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
1 tsp each sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, honey, kosher salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2 green onions, cut into large chunks
1 bay leaf
2 star anise
water or stock (fish, vegetable or chicken)
350 grams/12 oz skinless salmon filet
1/2 cup quinoa, preferably red or black – but white will do
1 cup water or stock
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp mayo
3 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
1 – 3 tsp wasabi paste
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tsp each fresh grated ginger and garlic
optional: sriracha, to taste
To Assemble Rolls:
1/2 a large carrot, grated
1 bunch of green onions (about 7), white and light green parts only, sliced into matchstick
1/3 of and english cucumber, sliced into matchsticks, seedy centre discarded
a few handfuls of arugula
1 small bunch each cilantro, basil and mint, roughly chopped
a few tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
5-8 rice paper wraps (depending on how thick you want them)
very hot water
Place the filet in a sauce pan. Cover with water/stock and all the poaching ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to cool. Flake into large chunks.
Make your quinoa: Rinse the quinoa for a few minutes under warm water. Place all the quinoa ingredients in a pot or saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature with the lid on.
Make your sauce: Whisk all the ingredients, except the sriracha, in a small bowl. Taste and adjust to your liking.
To assemble: Fill a wide bowl or pie plate with very hot water (you will probably have to replace the water once or twice as it cools). Clean a wooden or bamboo cutting board and surround it will all your veg and herbs, sauce, cooled quinoa, salmon and sesame seeds.
Dip a rice wrapper in the hot water and hold under until pliable, about 45 seconds. Slide out and let the water drip off, transferring it to the cutting board.
As long as you get all the ingredients formed in a log-like shape, a particular order to their stacking doesn’t matter too much. This is how I like to do it:
Begin laying down your ingredients 2″ from the sides and the bottom edge of the circle. Put down some arugula in a line, followed by carrots on top, quinoa (3-4 tsp), a line of sauce, cucumbers, onions, salmon, herbs then sesame seeds.
Fold the bottom over the filling, tightening as you tuck the first roll over, enclosing everything. Fold in the sides and gently roll keeping everything as tight as you can.
Serve right away or cover with a damp towel and refrigerate for a few hours. I sometimes make them the night before and lightly oil an airtight container, laying flat in one row. They are best eaten that day, but they do keep fairly well.
Don’t get frustrated and go slowly, you have lots of extra wrappers, so start again if need be. I like to layer the cucumber in the middle with the onion as they occasionally puncture the paper.
To Serve: add some more tamari and the sriracha to your remaining sauce and serve alongside. Enjoy as an appetizer or as a part of a multi-course meal or buffet, either at room temperature or chilled. As a light meal this goes well with salad and miso-sesame dressing.
ONTARIO WINE PAIRING
The flavours and textures of this summer roll are similar enough to sushi that you could go many ways with pairing. Of course, sake is always a good choice, as is a crisp bubbly like cava. If you’d like to go red, Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are compatible.
My choice here would be a dry, acidic Gewurztraminer. It highlights the peppery wasabi and arugula components, while its oiliness echoes the fatty salmon. Much like Ontario wines, the Gewurtz is often misunderstood. Most people dismiss it as a sweet or dessert-like wine that is only useful in spritzers, if at all. Get over it.
There are so many varieties and ways to enjoy this grape and I implore you not to judge on the basis of one or two cheap bottles you’ve sampled from the LCBO – fuck the LCBO. Ontario does a great job and almost every winery produces something in this family. Often it is blended with another acidic wine like Riesling – also an Ontario specialty.
Gewurztraminer is a fuller bodied wine, up there with Vioner. It is strongly perfumed and exotic with lychee, grapefruit, rose petal and gardenia notes, to name only a few. It is unmistakable. It is temperamental.
Although I have many Ontario favourites for this varietal, my pick for this dish would be Coyote’s Run Estate Winery 2013 Gewurztraminer. It’s spicy and aromatic on the nose with a balanced acidity and has a natural sweetness with trademark oiliness.
Here’s three more joyful treats: