Favorite Things: Canal House

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When I first started reading Saveur when it was launched years ago, I was, like everyone else, attracted to the incredibly homey, rich stories and food photography on every page. The editorial approach made me feel as though my writing, and my Lebanese culinary perspective, might be welcome there. I read the magazine with religious dedication, preparing for the day when I would pitch a story to them. Pitch I did…and rejection I got. Until about a year later, when a new editor saw my pitch on file (savers of scraps, those editors), asked me to rewrite it, and published my little story about labne.

One time I came home from work in Chicago and my sister said, “Have you seen the new issue of Saveur? “ No, I said with trepidation. Her question could only mean one thing: something Lebanese was in there, and it wasn’t me who wrote it. Even though I hadn’t been pitching much of anything at that point, I still considered it my domain, even if nobody knew it yet. The story on hummus that month was gorgeously photographed, and I had to admit, decently written. It burned me so badly that I sat on the bed and cried bitterly about my lack of a writing life, then I taped the big Saveur photo of hummus above my desk, just to slap myself into action every time I sat down there.

I think that photo was one among some very big things that inspired me to up and leave my job and head across the country to culinary school. When an outrageously good photographer, Christopher Hirsheimer, leaves her already cool job as executive editor and photographer at Saveur and dreams up what she’d like to do next, she heads out to the country with her friend, Melissa Hamilton, and sets up a little kitchen studio where they meet every day and cook. Then they publish a stunning book of their photos and recipes a few times a year, and call it Canal House after the kitchen along the canal where they cook.

My always-in-the-know friend Beth sent a subscription to Canal House when it first came out to my sister and me a few years ago, and we’ve been fighting over it ever since. As I thumbed through an early edition recently, No. 4 to be precise, I was surprised to see how many of their ideas were also my ideas, and then I wondered if I had been influenced reading this long ago and had assimilated it into my subconscious. Here were apricot preserves and compound butters, along with a berry cobbler that is the best of its kind I have ever made or eaten. You’re going to get it here this week.

Check out Canal House, and maybe sign up for their emails, which consist of a quick yet glorious photo of what they’ve cooked for lunch. No recipe or anything, just the pic, which inspires you and makes you want to run off with your best friend to cook and eat a beautiful lunch.

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  1. Gerald Wakeen says:

    I followed your Labne link, interesting. You bring back memories (again). As a young man I was more interested in the technicalities than the cooking. One day I asked Aunt Doris where “starter” came from. She said her mother gave her some. I asked where her mother got hers. She said her father’s brother’s wife gave mom some. I asked where they got theirs and Doris said something like, I don’t know, everyone has starter.

    Then after she cooled down a bit she asked my dad where the starter came from originally. He thought for a minute and said well you can make your own starter using Junket tablets you know. (In the back of his grocery store were canning supplies and other seldom sold items, Junket tablets were always there but to this day I don’t think dad ever sold any).

    Tell me Maureen what you know about “where starter comes from”. Have you ever heard of Junket tablets?
    Do you use starter when making Mackinaw Island Fudge? 🙂

    Never miss your daily emails, keep up the good work
    best, Jerry

  2. Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

    Maureen, being the artist you are, your work is continually breath-taking. Happy Day!

  3. Antonia Allegra says:

    Two favorite directions in food, Maureen: Your Rose Water and Orange Blossoms and Canal House.
    Isn’t this a beautiful morning? Toni

  4. Beth says:

    You flatter me!!