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branch roasted potato wedges and tomato aioli…

branchburger and wedges… pretty sure Meredith Luce took the pic…

(by request for Tom and Jeanne…)

First off – be aware that we at the branch did not hate French fries…  However, when we bought Amanda’s Slip in 2006, there was no fryer, nor was there money for a fryer… and further, our insurance guy made it clear that the minute we put in a fryer, out insurance would go up.  Suffice it to say, there was no money for that either.

This was not, initially, an issue as the branch was not to be a ‘fast food’ joint, our plan was to just skip those types of dishes or pan fry things if we really needed them. AJ from ‘the Slip’ had worked out an elaborate fry system involving his magnificent knife skills, blanching the hand cut fries in ‘well-loved’ oil and a crusty wok with long ago burnt away wooden handle… When the order came in, he finished them with a final flash fry.  The results were kind of amazing, but the process was one of many techniques that, really, only AJ could pull off.

Nicole and I carved out a getaway at some point in the first year… certainly not a full-fledged vacation, but it was at least a night or two in Toronto, where friends of Nicole’s took us to a lovely bistro.  It was one of the few dining experiences outside of our own place we had that year, so as anyone who has ever survived a restaurant launch can tell you, it was definitely memorable. It also helped me get over a personal hump.

We had made a decision early on to use organic and local product wherever possible, and, as a result, I had been dead-set against the branch competing directly with other menus in town. I knew that if we did, as we would always have to spend more for our better quality ingredients, we would also have to charge ‘more’ than the other places for similar portions. In my mind, we would never be able to go head to head on the nebulous concept of ‘perceived value’… So, no nachos, no pizza, and, definitely, no burgers… We were to be an ‘alternative’ experience not another place to try a variation on the few themes that already existed in our village. 

It also meant people had a hard time figuring out what we did do. The people who ‘got’ us, really got us, but most folks just walked by and wondered ‘what the heck is that place?’ Or they presumed the ‘organic’ in our marketing meant ‘health food’ or ‘vegetarian’… We did offer those items, sure, but it was also not our core mission… our core mission was to de-mystify ‘organic’ foods and make them fun, accessible, and crave-able… Instead? Lots of folks categorized us in their heads before they walked through the door, (or didn’t walk through the door, technically…) and we were left, somewhat lonely, in a state of constant questioning and trying to find a new way (short of abandoning our values) to convince folks to give us a try.

So, Toronto.  That trip away was exactly what we needed. Taking a breath in the middle of that crazy year was a blessing in every definition of the word… And the bistro? It was lovely… Not necessarily a “5 star” experience, but that was not the intention. It was definitely in the ‘upscale casual’ range we had been studiously aiming for with our own restaurant, and the food was well presented, and in what was a fairly new practice in this area at the time, farm names even showed up next to some menu items. It was a ‘local’… not a pub, just a respectable, inviting, homey place with good service, good portions, fair prices… And it was PACKED. Oh, and did I mention the burger?

That was the real revelation. Right there in plain sight, no apologies, was a ‘gourmet’ burger. Not my first (we did move here from San Francisco after all) but my first in a while (…keeping in mind that this was well before ‘The Works’ re-wrote the Ottawa script on the potential of this here-to-for humble meal). Where I had previously avoided the idea of ever serving burgers… fries… pizza… this experience helped me re-write the story in my head. Burgers were not a ‘no’ they were an ‘if’.

To clarify… ‘If’ we wanted to do a burger, (or fries, or nachos, or pizza) it had to be like this one… A gourmet burger. It had to be the BEST.

So, that’s what we decided to do, and that’s what we did.

We ground our own local beef (a blend of chuck and striploin) with a ridiculously rich fat to lean ratio… We perfected a spice/seasoning blend for the hand-formed oversized patty… We designed and had an organic bun custom made for us by the local bakery… We shredded veggies and invented a sauce… We even made our own pickles and mustard! When it hit the menu, the branchburger was the most expensive burger in Kemptville (possibly Ottawa) at $9.99 base cost plus toppings (by the time we sold the restaurant it was closer to $20) and for toppings we offered a wild selection of additions including fried egg, house pickled hot peppers… local blue cheese, old cheddar… caramelized onions…

So… fries.

Burgers, let’s face it, need fries. But we still didn’t have a fryer. We considered AJ’s method… but without his special skills, it would have been a challenge… Then Nicole remembered ‘Cato’s’ (‘Cato’s Never Closes!’) a 24 hour diner in Oakland, our old stomping grounds… Cato’s did not have a fryer either, which, given the business model, could certainly have been an enormous problem… a problem they solved with giant, golden, garlicky roasted potato wedges.  In our Oakland years, we both had come to regularly crave this big basket of salty carb-a-licious-ness… often bypassing many other perfectly snack-able stops on our way to get there. After her revelation, we both knew that if we could figure out the formula, we could certainly have a worthy side for our most excellent burger.  Add another splash of that sauce we invented for the burger (roasted tomato aioli) and a signature dish that endured the full decade of our ownership was born.  

So without further ado…

BRANCH ROASTED POTATO WEDGES WITH TOMATO AIOLI:

Potatoes:

1-2 large or 2-3 medium potatoes (about 1 pound), cleaned and cut into long wedges, about 1-inch (2-3 cm) per side (we mostly used starchy russet potatoes for the best results)

1 generous tablespoon vegetable oil (we used refined sunflower or canola)

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons paprika

Salt and black pepper to taste (Nicole says kosher salt, but as I remember we used a blend of coarse and fine sea salt… It was probably kosher…)

Aioli:

1/2 cup roasted tomatoes (we used ripe tomatoes or scraps, oil, salt and pepper and roasted them on racks fitted over sheet trays at about 300 F for an hour or two until leathery) or reconstituted sundried tomatoes (pour over boiling water and rest until soft, drain well)

3 egg yolks

½ lemon, juice

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon chili flake

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt

2-3 cups vegetable oil

Method:

Potatoes:

Line a sheet pan with parchment (not waxed) paper and preheat the oven to 375 F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the potato wedges, oil, and spices together until quite well coated.  Feel free to add a pinch more oil at this stage if it seems dry… there should be enough oil for the spices to adhere completely to the wedges.

Lay out the wedges, skin side down, on the lined tray (…important step for even roasting.)

Transfer to the oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy outside and just soft in the middle. Rotate the tray once during the cooking.  (Oven times and temps may vary, and some wedges may need to be removed from the edges earlier than the full cooking time if the oven has any hot spots…)

Aioli:

Use a food processor fitted with a chopping blade and a pour-though spout on top for best results.

Squeeze out the tomatoes a bit, reserve juice. They should be soft enough to blend but not wet.

Combine the tomatoes, egg yolks, lemon, garlic, mustard, vinegar, chili flake, and salt in the processor and blend until smooth.  Do not allow the mixture to get hot, if it does, refrigerate briefly before adding oil.

The amount of salt is dependent on your taste, and also the amount of salt in the tomatoes – if using sundried tomatoes, be aware that some varieties are very salty, and that the softening process will remove some, but not all of the salt, taste as you go for best results.

While the processor is running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until the mayonnaise is fully formed. The amount of oil will vary depending on your preferences, with the finished product, but 3 yolks should be enough to bind all three cups of oil.  If the aioli is too thick, add a bit of the reserved juice from the tomatoes or water.

Serve the potatoes hot – If you make them ahead, reheat in a 350 F oven for 8-10 minutes.

The aioli is pretty good on a burger too, or so I’ve heard…

Burn

(Bruce Enloe, June 2020)

Do I want to burn it all down? Of course I do
I am already drinking black acrid smoke from the fire
Blinking back tears stinging cheeks with the toxic hot air of protest
Racing with red mobs bleeding through streets, stealing
Metallic taste stabbing my tongue and my teeth

Do I want to burn it all down? Of course I do
I have seen the bottom, dark and lifeless
Bent rebar rubble, smouldering black
Charred and dead, dark plastic airplane fuel peeling off bodies
Piled in trenches, twisted, rigor morted
Skies raining flame-throwing hailstorms and hate
on a Tuesday

Do I want to Burn it all down? Of course I do
I wanted it first and I wanted it harder
With every bulging appendage of my
Bloated fat body burdened by this diet of only the finest white shit
Our father’s poison prayer promising:
‘us… over them’
‘us… over them’
‘us… over them’
And so on forever

Do I want to burn it all down? Of course I do
But some sick fucking monster has already killed me, and I’m dead from blows struck at the base my bloodline
Before I could choose to be born

Do I want to burn it all down? Of course I do
But it’s already burned and I’m nothing but ashes
Smudged on a window obscuring a scene of something beyond this, elusive and organized, ordered and clean
I wonder what else is up next on TV?

Do I want to burn it all down? Of course I do
Pass me the matches, pass me the gas
Pass me the kindling and then

Later… after…

Pass me the hammer, the nails, and three boards — pine, cypress, and cedar
And please… this time, let’s try to make damn sure that dirty white bastard stays dead.

Starting Over

Hi y’all — I feel like giving all of you a hug right now and this song is probably the closest I can get…

Starting Over

It’s so easy to cling to your tired old notions.
As you bob on a ring, out in an ocean—
That’s full of the proof, that you were wrong all along—
And when you start to sink, and when it’s all gone—
Don’t be afraid, it’s not the end,
You’re just starting over…


You tie a small string, to everything
So you can reel it back in, you won’t lose it again…
But it still gets away, because nothing is real—
It’s just what we’ve, agreed to believe…
Don’t be afraid, it’s not the end
You’re just staring over…

The Time Machine — home recorded Kid’s Music for fun

So over the course of the last several years I wrote a few kid’s songs and I’ve decided to release them here in ‘demo’ form (for fun) because I can’t seem to get around to finishing them… and, honestly, the quirky demos have kinda grown on me over time.

Maybe your kids will enjoy them as much as mine does… 🙂 Hearts and love to all…

#1 all time greatest hit?

Having tunes out in the world doing their own thing is a strange feeling…

Thanks to the wonders of the digital age, from time to time I am able to check in on what is happening with all of these little nuggets of myself (aka “songs”) I’ve sent out into the world. Must admit that it turns out that I’m not a great predictor of… well… anything? Some songs I felt would be well loved and travel far have run out of steam a few inches out of the gate… and some songs I thought were a silly, tossed-out ‘just for fun’ tunes have become cornerstones of my catalogue… (Jerry the Christmas Robot anyone?)

To be fair there are definitely not any crowds clamoring for my next utterance, these are just observations based on my extremely limited trickle of analytic digital feedback statistics…

And to be clear, I am incredibly grateful for every listen that every single person gives me… Music… songwriting specifically, is my passion; every time someone out there encourages me to spend another second on it by listening to any one my songs to the end, I am deeply heartened, it is as if you are giving me permission to keep doing it. So thank you.

Anyway, I thought I’d dash off a note today because of something specific I have noticed and am admittedly touched and surprised by… the enduring and consistent listens given to “Late Fight” the second track on Unseasonably Cool, my second album with The Burning Sensations, my big fun group of best pals that recorded a couple of albums with me a few years ago…

My appreciation for this song in particular still having a little traction after all this time is doubly rewarding because it is not a ‘tossed-off’ quickie like some others that have done ok for me over the years; it is decidedly not silly, it wasn’t easy to write, and I am very proud of the lyrics, and the story is from a deep and honest place… (must mention that I am also still consistently knocked out by the band’s over the top performances and by Ben Mullin and Brad Turcotte’s excellent production…)

I often tell the story on stage of this song’s origin… and I thought maybe I would share it here in print in recognition of it’s enduring (if modest) “success”…

The story really begins at the end of my first marriage… My wife and I lived during our year together in a small house on the back half of her grandparent’s ranch property along a bit of highway frontage not far from the college in my home town. The home had been built when they bought the ranch, long before our time there, and was a firm, solid structure, if small and easy to outgrow. It had been their ‘starter home’ and now it was ours. We carved a lot out of the corner of the pasture with cedar posts and wire fencing for our dogs…

We felt we had it all, a mow-able lawn, a porch, a comfortable home with wide plank wooden floors and a gravel driveway… There were some fruit trees and the horses would wander over from the barn from time to time seeking the windfall…

But we didn’t. We were young… troubled… and, ultimately, probably just simply mistaken. We married because it felt like the next logical move, and when the reality set in, it was probably not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’.

We did not make it easy on ourselves… We had the kinds of fights that stretched out over days and weeks, and I must confess that we were not kind to each other. There was anger and bitterness. We were not good at this.

In time it became clear to me that she had taken up criticism as a primary pastime, so I responded in kind by taking up lying. At the time, it seemed like a path of least resistance, I was presenting her with the facsimile of the person she seemed to want me to be… but in hindsight, it (my lying) became the singular problem that could not be overcome…

And so we split up. I was angry, I was sad, but mostly, if I’m honest? I was relieved. We parted paths and I went ahead and took along a couple of handfuls of that anger and the sadness with me for a long time after that… They were like padding under my armor… the first layer of numbness between me and the world to come.

It took a couple more tries but eventually, I think, I got the relationship thing figured out a little better, left my hometown, moved away…

And then, many years on, as one does when a bit older, I came home for visit. During that visit, on a drive to another place, I took a route that seemed familiar and after a bit, I realized that it was our old road… The frontage… the stretch of road where we had set up house…

By the time I realized where I was I had passed the address and on whim I turned back. It was an impulse, natural I guess, to see how the old house had held up… I felt I must have missed it because I couldn’t find it on the second pass… So I stopped where my body told me too. Where the house was.

And it was there… somewhere… back in the woods. Some number of decades had passed, and by my reckoning, I was the first visitor to the spot since we had moved out. Trees growing up through the gravel, through the house… a dense wood and the outline of a house in it’s midst.

As I tell my audiences, once I saw that I realized that if I could not find a song in that scene, then I should probably hang up my songwriting hat for good…

But I did not find it right away, that came later. It came after a phone call… Not with her but with another estranged love… Songs sometimes take a winding path… It came after self examination, self honesty, and after a little bit of forgiveness. It is difficult to remove the padding and keep on the armor… So it came after a little bit of vulnerability and exposure to the elements as well.

And a bit more came after a walk under the trees in the fall one day, when I was shocked into open, vulnerable consciousness by the beauty of the leaves in their full plumage, moments before they fell to the ground, soon to fade away forever. Beauty, loss… that old saw.

And finally it came in full when someone told me to write it. All those pieces must have kicked around for months before Lynn Miles popped into the CBC studio one day and challenged local songwriters to run with lyric scrap “the desperation of a late night phone call…” that scrap of hers became the thread that could finish sewing the quilt of the song into a piece, and I finally finished it in full the next day (thanks Lynn!)

I look at my ‘stats’ every week or two for Spotify, Apple Music and Bandcamp, and this song seems to have a life of its own. I’m not sure who picked it up or why but every time I check, it is out there being played somewhere, a few times per day, per week… It adds up over time. Over time it has become my personal “all time #1 greatest hit” (he said with a wink)…. I like to think that it’s because of the story… the universal nature of it’s message about love, loss, mourning and acceptance… And I’m also pretty sure the ripping guitar solo plays a pretty important role as well (thanks Ben!)

But either way, I am incredibly grateful you folks are out there and that you are still listening. Every single time you do…

Re-united and it feels so… Burning? ;-)

Thought folks following the blog would appreciate a couple of pics from the Burning Sensations impromptu ‘reunion’ last Sunday in Kemptville… Sure it was only 6 of the possible 8… 9… 14…(?) members, but it was the first time so many of us played together in a couple of years anyway… It was a joy to take the old truck out for a spin, warm up the tires, blow out the injectors and see how it felt at the wheel. I can’t speak for everyone; but I loved it!

Big thanks to Mark Ettinger, Jay Williams, Doug Hendry, Tom Graham, and Shawn Yakimovich for a big new addition to the Burning Sensations memory file… (Also enjoyed some musical participation from Katie Nolan/Heroic Mad Peasants, Greg Kelly, Mary Moore, Peter Johnson, Herb Cloutier, Anne Lyon and Gord Hartley… All in all, a pretty darn fun and cool afternoon…)

Doug, me, Shawn, Mark, Jay
Tom (slacking off… 😉 ) Doug, me, Shawn, Mark, Jay’s hand…
Gord, Anne, me…
Katie and Shawn!
Anne watching the ‘Madness’ 😉

Great fun… Must admit that I’m seriously considering changing the band name to “We Should Really Do This More Often”