Monday, August 18, 2014

The arrival of you-know-what and a book launch

There's no ignoring the signs that summer is getting ready to call it quits.

A choir of crickets sings a chorus outside my window. They're competing for the background noise win against the hum of my neighbour's air conditioning unit spewing cacophonous white noise. Felix, the dog from two doors down, adds a well-timed, high-pitched bark that, like a staccato beat, keeps time while the fleeting crescendo and decrescendo of passing cars adds another layer to the soundtrack of summer in north-end St. Catharines.

It's a seasonal anthem on heavy rotation these glorious August nights when temperatures slip to a threshold that ushers us to the nearest window so we can fling it open and surround ourselves with summer's offerings for all our senses.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

From Niagara to Provence with a turn of the page: Review of Provence Food and Wine

Soupe au pistou.

It took me nearly a year to finish reading A Year in Provence.

My chocolate chip cookie-loving boss let me borrow his copy a year ago in May, knowing how much I love food and foraging. He mentioned something about it being a classic and left me to it. I dug in, devouring the first few months of Peter Mayle's sojourn to the south of France every chance I got. I tried hatching my own scheme to be able to call a foreign land home for a year, eating, drinking and living a quaint life.

Then I got busy with the year in Niagara and put the book down, only to come back to it in fits and spurts to help me fulfill my promise of returning it to my boss before my maternity leave started this past February. When I finished reading it, I felt like old Pete and I had been together so long, we needed to talk about dividing our assets when we parted ways.

Then the book Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living ($24.95 Surrey Agate) by François Millo and Viktorija Todorovska arrived on my doorstep and it felt like a reunion. As I cracked the spine to reveal vibrant photos of the place and its food, with recipes to accompany them, I felt myself channel my inner Peter Mayle. And as a new mom who wouldn't be escaping to any foreign land any time soon, I got lost in the pages, rubbing my fingers over their smooth glossiness as my getaway between naps and feedings. Provence Food and Wine is one part travel guide and another part culinary adventure, showcasing the region's different landscapes and their influence upon what can be found on people's plates: hearty, earthy meals in the rugged inland of Haute Provence, such as wild boar stew or fried chanterelles; grilled sardines and bouillabaise in coastal Marseille; barbecued mussels and pumpkin soup with chestnuts in the varied La Côte Varoise; and Niçoise salad or street food like pissaladiere in Nice and the Riviera.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Six made-in-Niagara summer essentials

Sweet Potato Johnny's sweet potato and black bean burger
topped with Niagara Aquaponics sprouts.

If this summer goes by any faster, I may get whiplash.

I always find the August long weekend, just days away, mildly depressing because it means the unofficial end of my favourite season is nigh. Only a few weeks until Labour Day and from there, it just snowballs into you-know-what. Not to sound like a Debbie Downer but I adore summer and the thought of it ending always makes me a little melancholy. I think it's residual dread from my younger days and that looming return to school. It's only been 12 years since I finished university and yet that feeling hangs on, like a stubborn cough after a cold. Totally annoying and unpleasant.

OK, now to conjure the return of the Glass-is-half-full Me. There are still several weeks we usher fall's arrival. So, focusing on that, I bring you a handful of made-in-Niagara summer essentials that have been making the best time of year even better for me. They've become regular features on my plate or in my daily routine and I share them with the thought that if I like them, there's a good chance you will, too.

So without further blathering, here goes:

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Canadian Food Experience Project: Tardiness and taters (in scape pesto)

New potatoes with garlic scape pesto

I'm not always the most confident person but I can confidently say that when it comes to being late, I kick butt, hands down.

My skills at tardiness are unsurpassed. I can get up a half an hour earlier and still be 10 minutes late for work. Want to meet for lunch? Bear with me because I'll be there after our date has started. Throw a baby into the mix and now it's just embarrassing how late I can be. I don't do it to be rude. I'm often just a bad judge of time and how long things take.

In saying all that, I'm really late with this post, which is the last in the Canadian Food Experience Project and it comes equipped with a recipe that may also be a bit late for the season. Alas, it all seems fitting if I'm being honest with who I am, which this post demands.

This final instalment of the Canadian Food Experience Project is supposed to be reflective — how and if we found our Canadian food voices, what we learned. I can say this with certainty: I don't know that I could define Canadian food with any more ease or clarity today than a year ago when this project started. From one region to the next, one province to the next, food is so vastly different and so influenced by every culture that is a part of Canadian society. The Niagara peach is as Canadian as poutine, bannock, maple syrup, cod tongues with scruncheons, Saskatoon berry pie, perogies (I'm thinking of you Glendon, Alta.), pizza, dim sum, fusion — the list goes on. If someone out there has a definite answer to question of what Canadian food is, I'm game to hear it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Getting your seasonal drink on with Market-Fresh Mixology

I love the word muddle.

As a writer, I have it high on my favourite words list. It sounds like its meaning — clouded, confused, unclear — but more melodic and literary.

And until recently, I thought it was merely a sweeter sounding synonym for all those words. It wasn't until I cracked a copy of Market-Fresh Mixology: Cocktails for Every Season ($19.95 Agate Surrey) that I learned it was a bona fide bartending term and a necessary step in the making of some swoon-worthy libations.

But then you are reading the blog of someone whose limited cocktail knowledge was gleaned while stocking shelves at Pier 1 Imports in university. It was during that time that I mastered the difference between a highball and old fashioned glass while honing my gift for convincing people that they'd also need a snazzy set of seasonal swizzle sticks to go with their glassware purchases.

What can I say? I'm a beer girl. My drinks of choice are simple in part because my knowledge of mixology has been limited to staid vodka and tonics. But having a copy of Market-Fresh Mixology, written by master mixologist Bridget Albert with Mary Barranco, makes me look like a mistress of the mixed drink. It's filled with dozens of seasonal drink recipes that are not only approachable but make me want to forgo the beer altogether.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Coming back

A rough outline of one of the chapters in Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of
the Peninsula's Bounty.

It's been a long time, hasn't it?

I have to apologize for my absence. It's not that I'm no longer interested in being here. No, not at all. In fact, I look forward to being here a lot more again now that my manuscript is done.

I have to say, when the last word was typed, it was a little anticlimactic. With each word I wrote that brought me closer to the end, I had visions of throwing the monstrous pile of papers, notebooks and books on my desk into the air and dancing a jig on top of them when they landed. But considering it was 2 a.m. and everyone else in the house was asleep when I had no more to write, I didn't think it would be appreciated.

Actually, I didn't have the energy. So I just stared at the screen, expecting some euphoric feeling to overtake me but nope. It wasn't exhilaration that I felt either. I felt panic.

There is a vulnerability to writing 43,000 words about something that you adore, as I adore Niagara food and farming. This isn't my usual 600-word news story that's here today and forgotten tomorrow. I feel as though my credibility as a writer and as a champion of all things edible and Niagara — and the people producing them — is on the line. What if people hate it? Worse yet, what if no one reads it? What if this is the only book I ever write? I worry about that because I really want to write more. I've wanted to be an author since I was a child and I have so many ideas.

I know people could love it, too, and that's what I hope, of course.

My soul feels laid bare with this project. I'm not sure that feeling will have subsided by the time my book comes out in the fall, though I look forward to holding it in my hands, to seeing the cover, the words on the pages, to breathing deeply the smell of the ink and paper, and the sweat and tears that went into every moment I devoted to this nearly year-long work.

I will feel as though I have given birth again, my second labour in the same year.

Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula's Bounty is due out this fall. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw that it was already listed on Amazon for advanced sales back in May. The words weren't even finished when I discovered it. And every time I've looked at it since (yes, I did go to Amazon while writing and call it up to see it, just to keep me going), it still didn't feel real.

If you are interested, though, please check it out. If you do decide to buy a copy, know that I am grateful. I hope more than anything that my love for Niagara will be apparent with every turn of the page. We have amazing people here doing some really inspiring things with food. What's not to love, really?

To coincide with the upcoming release, my Eating Niagara column will be running twice monthly in all the Niagara dailies this summer. I look forward to getting out and meeting more people doing important work in local food and farming. Perhaps I'll have the fodder for a sequel soon enough.

Mostly, though, I look forward to coming back to this space, my creative outlet, and sharing food stories again, like the reviews in the works on two recipe collections that are welcome additions on what's becoming an overflowing pantry shelf. Or my last two —and long overdue — instalments of the Canadian Food Experience Project, and all the other inspiration that I know I'll find in the weeks and months ahead.

I've missed you guys and I promise I won't go so long without saying hello again.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Canadian Food Experience Project: Five garden weeds to put on your plate

My garden is barely a postage stamp.

Right now, it's mostly a barren swath of soil, home to a clematis that keeps hitting the snooze button and some early rising rhubarb that's up but barely at 'em.

I love it, though, for the gifts that it provides. Sure, I feel grateful when the herbs and vegetables I plant each year grow and thrive and reward me weeks and months later for what little effort I put into their upkeep.

It's the surprise gifts that I love more, though. The ones I don't plant.

The weeds.

Yes, what other gardeners despise and work out the day's frustrations by pulling, I take delight in letting grow. I don't fret about these herbaceous squatters competing for sunlight and nutrients with those perennials who have seniority in my plot or any annuals who lease prime real estate for a season. The reason is simple. Most of the weeds in my tiny plot are edible, packing a health kick and more flavour than some of those invited guests we go to great lengths to make comfortable. I'm looking at you green leaf lettuce.

Ever since the province imposed a cosmetic pesticide ban in 2008, lawns and gardens everywhere have become virtual salad bars. They're filled with roots, leaves and blooms that had been all but banished from existence by those poison-carting tanker trucks that homeowners once hired to spray them into oblivion. And for that we should be grateful. 

As some food security advocates lobby for insect farming to feed the world, I say we should eat more weeds. Looking outside my back door, they're plentiful and effortless to grow, so why not take advantage of what's on offer? Here are five common garden weeds that we should be putting on our plates instead of the compost heap:

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