Here we are again talking all things Sarah Slean
… and food and music and art and philosophy and the human condition and cognitive thinking and poetry and Canada and other stuff…
I usually like to start these features with a few words about the artist and why they inspire me. This time, I’ll let Sarah do that.
In a recent interview, when asked how she’d describe herself in one word she said:
Most people when asked such a question respond with words like grateful, dedicated or passionate (a word I loathe, btw). Wonderment has an entirely different quality – those other words are something you wear, but wonderment is a state you in.
I love language – the nuances are intoxicating!
For me, that is a big part of Sarah’s charm – her deep appreciation and honouring of words.
Why all the hubbub about language, you ask? Watch any interview with Sarah and you’ll see her delightful ability to search out captivating ways to describe the seemingly indescribable.
She is, after all, a published poet and avid reader.
Now you’re talkin’!
I have often pondered the connection between language and wine – their mutual fluidity and organic nature. Both are something of a treasure to me.
I’m not surprised to see they chose to put her words on a bottle of Chardonnay – sweet almonds, orange blossom, ginger, vanilla ice cream, butterscotch, fresh fruit salad and oak – creamy, earthy, slightly exotic and robust. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like SS to me.
I may be reading too much into this, but I can geek out on wine for hours!
I hear Beauty crying in her sleep
So I bend for one more kiss
All our tears will turn and twist
We make bliss to end all bliss
And all time
Baby your wish is my wish
And I have only this
From now on
Baby — your wish is my wish
Keep on running to the dawn
Running to the door…
Keep on running to the dawn
- excerpt from “Your Wish is My Wish”
Since we last checked in, the Toronto diva (without a hint of divaness), has revamped her website, played with heaps of Canadian Symphonies and is working on a new and mysterious project. Whatever form it may take will be far from your typical album.
When a multi-talented artist like Sarah dreams up a project (and these ideas are sometimes literally born from her dreams), they tend to straddle disciplines. This new work in progress has her team promising no different.
“Sarah is working on music, writing and visual art for the upcoming – well, what shall we call it? – offering? It certainly won’t just be ‘an album’ – snore. 😉”
In part one of my feature we touched on her most recent album, “Land & Sea“. Her double album opened up amazing collaborations with some of this country’s best classical music talents. Instead of seeking out airplay and listener ship by embracing the mainstream, she returns to her love of orchestral music.
It takes balls to chose honesty over record sales – a decision that has clearly resonated with fans and critics alike. How can you not want to pay tribute to such souls?
In a 2014 interview with Matt Schichter, Sarah discusses her music, but talk swiftly turns to the human brain, cognitive thinking, philosophy and Canadian history.
She is endlessly enchanted and enchanting.
When explaining the double album format she recalls how the songs naturally gravitated into two camps:
LAND – the visceral, the separate ego (or as she puts it, “I am Sarah Slean with a whole bunch of ID in my pocket that can confirm that fact”), and this is how I experience the world.
SEA – the beautiful moment of realization that all of humanity is one phenomenon, separate consciousness isn’t the whole story, a spiritual connection one can’t put into words.
Obsessed with the brain and neuroscience, her contemplation of our place in this world and the otherworldly is evident in her music.
“It is almost transcendental to be aware of one’s brain working, the sensation of comprehension, of concentration, absorption… Endlessly fascinating to me! And ‘wonder’ is the engine of great art, in my view.”
– Sarah Slean, from a 2016 interview by Heidi Stock for A Journal Of Musical Things
Sarah is also funny. She has a hearty laugh, goofy nature and doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Growing up together through those stormy and glorious middle years, we found lots of ways to entertain ourselves – none of them centred around TV or computers. Not surprisingly, many of them involved music.
I made her sit for hours at the piano trying to teach me to harmonize. We wore out Blue Rodeo’s “Try”, Sarah Mclaughlin and Les Miz – the Tori Amos song “China” is still burned into my brain.
We also wore out hundreds of rolls of toilet paper making flowy costumes and painting our faces like CATS, relishing in T.S. Eliot’s poetry. (Sorry Mrs. Slean, I may owe you a few hundred dollars worth of paper products).
My thoughts turn to those precious moments when you’re doing something you love, suddenly finding yourself tapped into that deeper universe. Just watch anyone doing what truly drives them – their whole physical being shifts.
As intellectual as Sarah is, she is equally acknowledging that art can simply be a source of entertainment. Music should take you to new places, but it’s ok to belt out Justin Bieber lyrics into a hairbrush.
Be curious, be insightful, but have fun.
I have very limited musical talents, but this is how I approach food: it can be transporting, it can be silly and it will inevitably be a disaster, but it’s all good.
LET’S TALK FOOD!
The Harlot: Do you have any favorite restaurants or cuisines?
Sarah: I love cuisine that favours rice – Asian, Mediterranean/Lebanese, Indian…
What is your favourite dish to make for yourself or guests?
I confess I’m a terrible cook! Working on it slowly but surely. I made a roast chicken with vegetables once, and that turned out great. Pretty hard to mess it up. Other than that, I eat pretty plainly.
What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Butter. MMMMMM Butter. But if Julia Child says it’s ok, how can it be bad?
If someone were putting together the ultimate dinner for you – no limitations – what would it be?
Light, bright salad to start, then fish with steamed dark greens, fluffy roast potatoes and butter, a small cheese course (as the French do) and then some dark chocolate with peppermint tea or decaf espresso. Heaven!
Tastes can change dramatically over time – is there a dish or flavour that you love/hate now that you hate/loved as a kid?
Hated olives, love them now… also thought coffee tasted and smelled awful. I find it intoxicating now!
Is there a dish or style of cooking you would like to learn how to master making?
I would love to learn to cook all the basic Mediterranean dishes – it’s such fresh and simple cooking – not too heavy on sauces and procedures… I like simple best.
If you were forced to have only one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Oh my God – what kind of crazy punishment is this? Who would think of such an unfortunate state of affairs?! 😉 I would say something well rounded like the fish dinner described above. My appetite and tastes change with the seasons, so if one was permitted to tweak slightly, that would be ideal.
If you were throwing your dream dinner party, who would be your ideal three guests and what would you serve to them?
Interesting question! I would want Sam Harris there, just because he’s a rock star of intellectuals in my mind – also Jim Jarmusch for his wild creativity and penetrating insights into literature… Joanna Macy would be a nice addition to the mix. Or maybe some of my other favourite women thinkers – Amanda Palmer, Tori Amos, Elizabeth May, Annie Lennox? Oh! And if he were alive – Joseph Campbell. My GUY.
I’d have it catered to avoid embarrassment.
Is there a favourite dish you have that someone close to you makes?
My grandmother’s broccoli casserole with bread crumbs and cheese is to die for. My mom makes it every Christmas. I’m drooling right now thinking about it.
PS (I am currently obsessed with Curtis Stone’s simple and comforting Chicken and Broccoli Casserole).
Thanks again, Sarah, we eagerly await the new project!
Until then, here is her very first hit and perennial favourite among young and aspiring songstresses.
TUNA PROVENCAL with BLACK KALE & CAPER BUTTER POTATOES
I originally wanted to make a simple fish en papillote (steamed in parchment). It’s very French, very simple and very impressive as you pierce the paper shell and the fragrant steam escapes revealing a perfectly flaky fish on tender veg. There are lots of great recipes out there, so I went another way.
Sarah’s time in Paris and love of Mediterranean flavours led me to this idea for a Provence style seared Tuna. You can prepare it all in one dish yet it is anything but simple in its end result.
Rich tuna perched upon wine-simmered Mediterranean vegetables, surrounded by gently steamed black kale, draped with some tender crisp asparagus.
This little beauty can be made for one or two or more and served family style.
Side with some saffron rice or as I do here with buttery potatoes. I went a little heavy on the butter, but you can go olive oil instead to make it a truly heart healthy dinner.
Bon Appetit! xo
2 tuna steaks, approx. 200 – 250 grams each
a few pats unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/4 fennel bulb, finely chopped
a couple sprigs fresh thyme
1 beefsteak tomato, chopped
4 kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 cup dry white wine
6 asparagus stalks, trimmed
1 small head of black kale, chopped
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
serve with lemon wedges
- Take tuna from the fridge, pat dry and coat in 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Allow to come to room temperature.
- Place a 10 – 12″ pan (cast iron if you have it), over super high heat. Add 1 tsp olive oil. Sear very quickly on each side – approx. 15 – 30 secs. Remove right away.
- Alternately: in a small side pan – sear off the tuna at the end as you are finishing the veg for an even rarer steak.
- Turn the heat down to medium and add some butter and a tsp of oil. Toss in the shallot, garlic, red pepper, fennel, thyme and season with a little salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Turn down the heat if it is browning too quickly. Add the tomatoes, olives and capers, stirring until the tomatoes begin to break down a little.
- Pour in the wine. Allow to simmer and reduce to about half.
- Make a little well in the middle and lay down your asparagus. Cook to al dente, a couple of minutes or until bright green. Remove asparagus to the side.
- Push all your tomato mix into the centre making a moat around the outside, some liquid should seep into that space. Lay the kale around the perimetre and steam the greens until they just begin to wilt, turning once.
- Drizzle everything with balsamic and sprinkle over some salt and pepper.
- Arrange the asparagus across and nestle the tuna steaks in the middle, topping each with a little butter. Serve family style with lemon wedges and potatoes or rice.
BUTTERY CAPER POTATOES
500 grams fingerling or new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
a few sprigs fresh thyme
a few good pinches kosher salt
1/8 – 1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Place a large cast iron pan (or rimmed sheet) on the middle rack and allow to get very hot.
- Toss potatoes, garlic and thyme into a medium pot. Cover with cold water and season with a good amount of salt. Place uncovered over high heat and bring to a boil cooking until they are easily pierced with a fork. Drain in a colander and allow to steam until very dry, reserving the garlic and removing some thyme leaves, discarding the stalks.
- Once your potatoes are nice and dry (the drier they are, the crispier they’ll get), remove your pan from the oven and dot with half the butter. Being very careful of spatter, toss in the potatoes and reserved thyme, season with salt and coat with the butter as it melts.
- Return to the oven shaking and turning every so often until fluffy and brown, about 40 – 50 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and toss with remaining butter. Serve right from the pan or transfer to a platter. Chop up the reserved garlic. Season potatoes further if needed and sprinkle over the capers and garlic.
ONTARIO WINE PAIRING
Tuna is such a treat! The versatility of this recipe and its ingredients allow you to go red, rose or white. Tomatoes, peppers, olives, asparagus, thyme and all those Provence ingredients scream rose, most dry whites are wonderful, as are some lighter reds like gamay and pinot noir – maybe chilled a couple minutes.
Last weekend we discovered a gem in Niagara – Kew Vineyards.
Niagara’s Bench has some stunning vistas and offers a little more drama than Niagara on the Lake. Kew offers up unique wines and impeccable customer service.
Located on a 160 year old estate, the classic farmhouse feel mixes with a newer casual sophistication. Wooden floors and whitewashed touches are updated with outdoor South Beach style lounging areas, as well as bistro sets and picnic tables. Buses won’t be running here, so the serene quiet is in tact.
After being greeted by Lauren, we purused their tasting menu. Possibly one of the most enchanting features is that they conduct your tasting on the patio or lawn or anywhere you choose to laze. It’s impossible not to stay for a very affordable cheese plate and a glass of any of their vintages, including sparkling.
For this pairing I am choosing my favourite – 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.
“Gooseberry, lime, citrus and a small hint of grass provide a great nose to this full bodied wine. On the palate, grapefruit and a hint of lemon zest prevail. The mineral notes in this wine are a true expression of the terroir. The wine displays a soft approach and a long warm finish.”
This vintage has a full and confident body that finishes bone dry. It has a slight bitter earthiness that lends contrast and sophistication.
I also want to share a few words on a wine only produced by Kew and a must try when you visit: 2013 Marsanne. Made with 88% Marsanne and 12% Viognier it combines two classic white wine grapes from France’s Rhône Valley. They are planted in warmer climate areas which is why we don’t see them in Ontario, but with a little love, they seem to be thriving.
I’m so glad it is! This guy has beautiful creamy notes, caramel, brown sugar, and nutmeg as well as some upfront acidity from mangoes, pomegranate and peach. A more complex alternative to a chardonnay.
Give it a whirl – or swirl!.. sorry, I had to.
Thanks, Kew – can’t wait to visit again!
I’d like to leave you with this – maybe my favourite track I stumbled upon during these writings. A breathtaking song often performed and often ruined. I have rarely – if ever – heard it done quite so perfectly.
Thank you Sarah for capturing the complexities and curiosities of humanity.