Friday, January 29, 2010

Pulling the plug on the Holland Marsh power plant — the battle continues

Written by Avia Eek, Holland Marsh farmer

Monday, January 18, 2010 was a night for small victories for the farmers of the Holland Marsh, the citizens of King Township, and the people of Ontario!

This was the night our Township Council voted unanimously in favour of an interim control by-law. Basically, if upheld by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), it halts the building of the power plant slated to be imposed on the Greenbelt, on agricultural land in the Holland Marsh. This will allow Township staff the opportunity to undertake a study to review land use policies and development standards regarding power generation facilities within our Township. )Currently, there is nothing to this effect in the municipal bylaws). This will allow our municipality to bring itself “up-to-speed” in these changing times.

I believe this will become a provincewide issue that will continue to impact all farmers because municipalities and the province have failed to look at smart planning. Oakville has already passed an interim control by-law for the reasons cited above and it was upheld by the OMB.

As one Councillor put it, “I never would have thought we would ever have to deal with the building of a power plant in the Holland Marsh.”

This statement sums up what people who are familiar with the Holland Marsh have been saying all along during this battle. The Ministry of the Environment required only the most basic environmental assessment — the same assessment that would be given to a small windmill project. To date there are no studies available about any negative impacts that emissions from this type of industry would have on organic/muck soils, which is what the Marsh consists of.

The proponent has been quoted in our local papers saying this bylaw is just “a political move” and that the Township has “broken the law” by implementing it. They see this move as “bad faith” maneuvering, and “there’s no logic to the action”.

Really?? Then, it would appear they are as short-sighted as the provincial managers. I see it as protecting the food supply for the people of Ontario. The only issue showing “no logic” was the decision to put this industry in the Holland Marsh in the first place!

A preliminary hydrological study of the site has been done, independently, which does not favour the proponents’ position. This site is in a floodplain, which goes against a section of the Provincial Policy Statement; and under the Greenbelt Act, no matter how the proponent tries to construe it, a power plant just isn’t compatible with agriculture. The residents of the Holland Marsh/King Township will not benefit in any way. The proponent has stated that agriculture uses electricity, so, therefore, this industry is compatible with this highly productive food growing area. I beg to differ. We are on a different grid and will NOT be using any of the electricity generated by this power plant.

Now, while all of this would appear to be cause for celebration, if our provincial managers want this project to go ahead, it will — wrong location or not! They can override any decision that is made. We can only hope that the powers that be finally realize the importance and value of agriculture to the success of this great nation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Laaaaa! Linda's Tomato Days are back

Time to mark your calendar!

Yup, I've set the date for my annual Tomato Days sale and it will be May 22 and 23, 2010.

I'm starting now to assemble my seed and put it in some kind of order, although with so many different varieties of tomatoes it does sometimes feel like a mind-boggling job.

I have upwards of 700 varieties and, again this year, have a few newbie oldies I have located and am excited about.

Like what? you ask. We already have red, yellow and white peach... and now a pink peach I have found from France. Is this the same as Fuzzy? I don't know,  but don't think so. Time will tell. That is the thrill of the tomato hunt (and capture!) Can't wait to see!

I am also patiently waiting for my Seed Savers Exchange yearbook to see what my friend Bill Minkey is raving about this year. Bill offers hundreds of tomatoes in the yearbook and has sent along some fantastic recommendations to me, like Black brown Boar, Striped Furry Red Hog and Marz Yellow Red Stripe, Works of art, each and every one.

Many of these varieties will be here at my scavenger hunt-type sale. I organize the plants by colour and you need to look, no question about it. Will I be organized enough to get them into alphabetical order? It is my goal! And I'll grow lots more of the ones I sold out of last year: the very popular Costoluto Genovese, Stupice and Federle, which I am also selling seeds for!

I do get busy talking to people, but be patient and we can talk tomatoes.

Looking forward very much to this weekend and finding out what YOUR favourites are!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fort Erie — Niagara's Chinatown

I have a cold.


Sniffles. Sneezes. Nostrils rubbed red from Kleenex and the odd act of desperation — a paper towel.

This is where the young and the hip say TMI. But after the amount of garlic I've eaten in the past couple of days, I should have enough cold-fighting antibacterial properties flowing through me to fend off bugs for the next decade. And I'm certain that if I could smell anything at all, I probably couldn't stand to be around myself.

The reason: my stir-fried broccoli and tofu that I had for supper Thursday night and the leftovers for lunch Friday. The source: Ming Teh, my favourite Chinese restaurant in all of Niagara.

Once a month, I visit with a family friend in Fort Erie and as an occasional treat, I'll have supper at Ming Teh. It was recommended to me about three years ago after I lamented what seemed like a dearth of really good Chinese food in this area.

Turns out, Fort Erie is a hot bed. Who knew? Right along Niagara Boulevard, where Lake Erie takes on the swagger of the Niagara River, there are three palatial Chinese restaurants next door to each other — Ming Teh, Happy Jack's and Ming Wah. Across the street, there are two more. Garrison Road used to have a strip of Chinese dining spots, too, but I've been told with the rise in popularity of Thai food and sushi over the years, it became tough to compete, so they shuttered.

Still, Ming Teh, and I've heard Happy Jack's, are staples. Tried and true. Been there for decades and have a staying power most in the restaurant business would probably envy. The owner and wait staff have remembered me from my first visit three years ago — and there was a good lull between my first time at a Ming Teh table and my followup visit. I'm always asked how life is at the paper and thanked for making the drive from St. Catharines. I'm sure, aside from the food, that's the reason they're still doing what they do.

Over the delicious smells, the Western New York accents waft. A big part of that strip's business comes from just across the Peace Bridge. Ming Teh, it seems, has even been claimed as one of Buffalo's own. The plaque behind the cash register proclaims it best Chinese food in that corner of New York State, according to a reader survey done by one of the local magazines.

Every time I roll up to Ming Teh, I always wonder why — and how — so many Chinese restaurants co-exist together and in Fort Erie of all places. Other than a seedy bar and a strip joint bracketing this micro-Chinatown, there's not much else around and yet, this is the place to come for so many Western New Yorkers. (Even if you don't have another reason to go to Fort Erie, going for the Chinese food is incentive enough to put up with customs or the QEW if you're coming from the other direction).

I asked Thursday and didn't get much insight to my questions. It just is what it is apparently, though Fort Erie has always been an immigrant hub and the first stop for many new Canadians before they are drawn to cities with larger or more diverse ethnic communities, like Hamilton and Toronto.

But as you eat your meal, (I recommend the hot and sour soup and the new pa po chai washed down with a cup of jasmine tea), staring out at the nimble Niagara and the lights of Buffalo, it feels like an escape, like a complete change of scenery for this St. Cathariner.

Too bad I couldn't escape the cold.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Local doesn't always mean quality

There was an interesting but brief article in the magazine Small Farm Canada last month that seems to have people all stirred up, judging by the letters to the editor this month.

The author of the piece put forth the opinion that local growers need to pull up their socks a bit; some of the produce he had bought to support local growers, was in his opinion, substandard and perhaps taking advantage of the "buy local" rage.
Cherries rotting in the bottom of the basket, hidden by blemish-free fruit, lousy sweet corn, rotting apples and pears — yup, I've had all these, too. Buying local is like buying anything else:  Buyer beware all the way.

So I was intrigued by the letters to the editor, primarily from growers who essentially said that we shouldn't expect perfection from local produce and if we want that, we should buy our food from elsewhere. Pardon me? I should think it is okay to cut bruises and bad spots out of my apples and potatoes because it is local?

Local growers are just as capable of putting beautiful and flavourful produce on their market table as anyone else, and I believe the original article was saying that. Let's call a spade a spade. There is some lousy local food out there. There are growers who sell items that they know are not up to snuff, but believe they can get away with it ... and try. And certainly restauranteurs as well.

All growers have things slip by them. No doubt a slug has been discovered in my greens.
I think it is okay to say we need to work to keep our quality high. Otherwise "local" becomes just another marketing gimmick.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New minister, new hope.

I was a little skeptical at first.

Dare I say even worried when I saw Leona Dombrowsky had been promoted to provincial education minister after a long run at the helm of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

I wasn't Dombrowsky's biggest fan as a reporter. She was accessible, to a point, but her answers to questions often lacked much of anything beyond toeing the party line. I often wondered after getting off the phone with her if she really understood an issue or was just handed a list of talking points before our interview. Sometimes, though, she surprised me with a candid answer and I appreciated her for it. Whether it was her own short-comings in a portfolio that was beyond her or the limitations imposed by an urban-centric government that left me lukewarm about her, I'll never know.

My worry was rooted in seeing that backbencher Carol Mitchell was replacing Dombrowsky. (Guess I should be thankful Steve Peters wasn't making a comeback. Talk about a disappointment after kicking some butt as ag critic in the Harris/Eves years). Not knowing anything about Mitchell at that point, all I could focus on was 'backbencher' — confirmation for me of the importance the province places on our food, farming and ruralites.

I also worried about what this would do to the edible horticulture industry's push for a business risk management, or cost of production insurance, program. A new minister would need to be schooled in the issues. Time is of the essence as fruit and veggie growers, and their partners in the push — pork, veal and beef farmers — hang by a thread, waiting for someone in government to throw them a lifeline.

One day and a google search later, I'm starting to feel a little more optimistic. Mitchell isn't coming into this job blind. From Huron-Bruce, she comes from a rural riding where beef farmers rule. It also made me instantly think of former ag minister, Helen Johns, who also hailed from Huron-Bruce. Talk about a reporter's dream — Johns held monthly teleconferences and called back the same day a reporter asked for comment. She also seemed to be on the ball, until she dropped it with such a loud, unceremonious thud during the Aylmer tainted meat scare.

Mitchell also served as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture. Mind you, it was Peters, but sometimes the best teachers are those who aren't so good at their jobs.

She also got an endorsement from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture president, Bette Jean Crews, in a news release today.

Representing the farming communities in Huron and Bruce counties, Crews feels Mitchell will be well versed on current issues and concerns facing modern agriculture. “We look forward to a smooth transition to the new minister and her staff,” Crews says.
The new minister will face some tough issues right from the outset – Business Risk Management Programs and AgriStability – when she attends the meeting of ministers from the Federal, Provincial and Territorial levels early in February.

So, fingers crossed.

As an aside, I'm also glad to hear the ministers meeting is going ahead despite prorogation. Last I heard, it was spiked, adding to the trepidation local fruit and veggie growers were feeling as March neared and with it, the increase in minimum wage that growers are hoping to recoup from either the marketplace or insurance programs — programs, they were told by Dombrowsky, that they had to sell to Ottawa before she would do anything to help.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reconnecting with an old friend over breakfast

I live for days like today. In fact, Saturday is, hands down, the best day of the week.

So, in honour of my favourite day, a day free of demands other than what my husband, Steve, or I put on ourselves (or don't), we have started a new tradition of starting off the weekend by going out for breakfast.

We've hit up some of the tried and true greasy spoons — the places with the chipped and curled vinyl floor tiles that you're certain are a lawsuit waiting to happen, wobbly tables, tired wait staff and lots of neighbourhood charm. What might be lacking in decor, but certainly not in character, is made up for in a substantial and satisfying omelette or mastered French toast.

Each time, we try to hit somewhere new, supporting the local joints with early bird specials and the everybody's welcome atmosphere.

But this week, we hit an old favourite that we kind of forgot about since moving to St. Kitt's. It's a little ironic, considering this place is in St. Catharines. But when we were Fenwickers, Pelhamites — whatever you call escarpment dwellers — we made a point of going to The Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro on St. Paul West in Western Hill.

Today, we went again and were reminded of why we loved it while wondering how we could forget it. (I think it has something to do with no longer driving past it every day on our way into work.)

The menu is amazing. Pumpkin crepes with whipped cream and maple syrup. Scrambled eggs with goat's cheese, potatoes, and a choice of pork belly (think a really thick slice of bacon only better) or wild board sausage (no Jimmy Dean anywhere on the premises). Eggs Benedict with Brie or a mushroom truffle omelette with goat's cheese, potato and toast for vegetarians like me.

The Bleu Turtle also does lunch, opening for dinner on special occasions, like Valentine's Day. Fifty bucks will get you a spectacular-sounding three-course meal on the big day.

Done up by Chef Robby, who has been known to also whip up culinary delights The Restaurant at Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery, the emphasis is on using Niagara's bounty in his dishes.  The bread is baked daily and he makes his own spreads, sauces, even the mayonnaise.

The coffee gets the thumbs up from my java-loving husband. There's even a local connection to the caffeinated goodness being doled out at The Bleu Turtle.  It comes from Battagli Coffee Roasters in Niagara Falls. I had no idea we had a local coffee roaster. (Hey, I'm a tea girl).

The service is great and so is the setting, inside and out. The Bleu Turtle is relaxing and modern on the inside — a nice juxtaposition to the gritty, aging industrial scene just outside it's front door.

And you don't have to worry about tripping over any floor tiles. They're ceramic, so you're safe. Bleu Turtle Breakfast Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday night with a seed catalogue and CSA dreams

I don't know why I do this to myself.

I've been leafing through a Thompson & Morgan seed catalogue and really, I think I'm just being cruel to myself. Sure, it gets me thinking about my garden. My goodness, I've developed a wish list of seeds that would require a rather large farm to sow. But with my puny, sun-starved swath, this is a classic case of getting my hopes up for nothing.

Still, a girl can dream and so I will order a few packages of the Naga Jolokia pepper — only the hottest pepper in the world, apparently. Every garden should have it.

As you can see, this is why I rely on others to feed me. And, with winter's grip firmly around Niagara, I crave the veggie baskets of summer and my CSA that I get from Linda.

I know I've mused about CSAs (community supported agriculture) in the past and the profound effect being part of one has had on my life, at least when it comes to working some magic in the kitchen.

Dare I say it's also improved my diet as far as my consumption of those "superfoods" that we're always told we should eat more of. I was handed a old story from the New York Times today, called The 11 best foods you aren't eating. The top 3 were some of favourites: beets, cabbage and Swiss chard. (Take that New York Times).

If it weren't for Linda and her regular supply of veggies, granted, the title would be a little truer. I wouldn't be eating beets. But not wanting to toss any of my weekly installments of the food group that makes many noses wrinkle, I ate Linda's beets and discovered I loved them.

I didn't need any convincing with cabbage. Cabbage is the most practical vegetable ever. Cheap. One head makes many meals. Healthy. Yum yum.

As for chard, I was a fan of leafy greens before my CSA days but thanks to Linda, I certainly eat more.

Being a part of a CSA also makes you feel a part of the food production process. You experience the ups and downs the farmer does. Early in the season, the baskets are light, given not much is close to being harvestable. As spring wanes and summer waxes, they get heavier. Then comes root veggie season in the fall. That's when you're building major muscle carrying your basket from pick-up point to car. But last year, with it being so wet, some veggies only made cameos in baskets or were noticeably absent. (Carrots, come back again next year, please).

Risks aside, there are great rewards, which is why I didn't hesitate to become part of another CSA this year. I contributed $200 to Monforte Dairy's Renaissance 2010 project to build a new dairy producing Ontario goat and sheep cheese. And what a selection they do produce when going full throttle. I get a handful of $50 cheese vouchers to cash in each year as a token of thanks for my help with micro-financing an innovative business.

It wasn't a tough sell for several reasons. I can't eat cow's cheese and the soy stuff doesn't cut it. So sheep and goats are my dairy heroes. It's local (OK, Monforte's in Stratford but that's only 176 kilometres from Niagara). It's also exciting to chip in, even if it is only a small amount, to a grassroots, unique plan to get a grassroots, unique food production business up and running.

Doesn't this sound enticing?

Our philosophy is to give everyone and anyone the opportunity to be an agent of change; to have a voice in changing the politics of how quality food is produced, distributed, marketed and sold in Ontario.

CSA subscriptions have raised $340,000 to build a dairy that will be open in March and provide local goat, cow, sheep and horse farmers a place to sell their milk. The province plans to match what's raised through subscription sales. And as a subscriber, I get invited to events called Hootenannies. How fun is that? That's the community part of Community Shared Agriculture.

If you're looking to get to know your food, check out the Ontario CSA Farm Directory, Monforte Dairy, The Niagara Local Food Co-opThe Welland Good Food Box, and of course, my personal favourite, Linda Crago's Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm.

And here's to more Hootenannies!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hope in an envelope

They seemed so insignificant.

Kind of like detritus you'd sweep up and then toss. Unimportant and useless.

But as I sat wrestling with marigold seeds at Linda's kitchen table, trying to count 25 of the delicate, twiggy spores about the size of dried rosemary, I knew what I was sorting to stuff into Tree and Twig seed envelopes was anything but.

Those seeds, and with them, the hundreds of bean seeds with unusual names that make Pinto and Garbanzo seem so pedestrian, are grains of hope packed with another season's promise and optimism. Meals in waiting. Sustenance on stand by. And years of hard work by Linda to save future generations of her vegetables, eventually building up enough of a stockpile to share and sell at Seedy Saturday next month.

My participation as a bean counter started off as a favour to a good friend trying to get organized for an event that means so much to her. But after a demoralizing episode at work that left me with more questions than answers, more tears than resolve, it became catharisis. Fifty Bobis Albenga in this envelope. Fifty negritos in this one. I admired the patterns on some of the beans. Like snowflakes, each was its own unique masterpiece. I imagined what they would eventually grow to become. Would they survive in my garden? I felt like I was part of something bigger, something meaningful.

Perhaps that's the beauty of gardening and, maybe on a larger scale, farming. So much is  left up to chance and yet bad years seem to deter few. There's always the next — another opportunity to try again and get it right.

Two months and 10 days until spring...

Speaking of asking questions, this week, I met with Len Troup, the wise Buddha of local agriculture who doubles as chairman of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers' Marketing Board, and Brenda Lammens, chairwoman of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association.

The meeting was follow-up to the duo's recent efforts to get to the word out about the state of edible horticulture and the blow it will take come the latest minimum wage hike in March. No one disputes the need for a decent hourly wage, but without being able to tack the extra labour expenses on to their produce when it heads to market, it puts growers' livelihood in peril.

In my eight years covering agriculture, I've always encountered a stoicism in the farmers I've met. They might lament a bad year or poor policy, but they always stop short of expressing hopelessness. I can only guess why — maybe each year, with each bloom or sprout in their orchards and fields they see hope and opportunity come to life before them.

But this time,  the guard came down and the vulnerabilities were revealed as Troup and Lammens ultimately preached to converted about why Canadian farmers are important to Canadian consumers.

Though I get it, and the others around the table that day got it, and, I'm sure those reading this blog get it, not everybody understands the significance of their role. While those bean seeds I sorted were sustenance on standby, Troup, Lammens and others like them are the ones who bring them to life and help feed us.

But as their fight meanders on with little sign of the cost of production insurance program they want coming to be — they need Ottawa's help and prorogation has thwarted those plans — and pleas to grocery store chains to offer fair prices for their goods go unanswered, there was some real doubt expressed by two of the most articulate, reasonable people I've encountered in my work.

Here's an excerpt from the story in Friday's Standard.

"We wouldn't need to see a lot of  (price) increase to make a difference," Lammens said. "It comes down to social conscience."

And some soul-searching.

"Do we really matter?

"That's the question a lot of us are asking. Are we important? We're not a big industry. If we went away, there would still be food in grocery stores," Lammens said. "I can't see any solutions immediately."

 Fingers crossed someone can.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Niagara Seedy Saturday

Dreaming of a great garden this year? Well now is the time to dream — isn't that what winter is for?
No place better to dream here in Niagara, and perhaps make that dream garden come true, than the fourth annual Niagara Seedy Saturday.
This year, this wonderfully popular event is being held at Ball's Falls Conservation Area Visitor Centre, Vineland, on Feb. 13th (my Mollie's birthday!!!), from 10-4 p.m.
I have confirmed most of the attendees at this point.

Selling seeds are The Cottage Gardener, Urban Harvest and Tree and Twig (that's me!)
Ann Brown will be back selling her popular sea grass baskets and I am awaiting confirmation from Acorus Restoration (native plantings).
As usual there will be free coffee and tea, but also this year a light lunch by The Wildflower will be available for purchase.

Displays by Garden of Eating (that's Tiffany), the National Farmers Union (yay!), Ecological Farmers Association, Seeds of Diversity and Master Gardeners round out the roster.

The speakers will be Mary Brittain of The Cottage Gardener, who will discuss saving your own seed, Wendy Dunnville, Master Gardener, discussing starting your own seeds, Linda Crago (me), showing a power point tour through an Heirloom Garden (mine), and Tiffany will do a talk on her very worthwhile Garden of Eating — Niagara project, through which hundreds (or is it thousands?) of pounds of fruit, which would otherwise have gone unpicked, was donated to area food banks in 2009. We will also show the short film, USC's "The Story of Food" throughout the day.

There will be a small charge for admission this year, $1 or a donation, to help me cover the cost of the beautiful venue.

BUT of course there will be FREE seeds upon admission, a FREE seed exchange and garden exchange (bring your unwanted gardening magazines, clean pots, etc), FREE coffee, and FREE and wonderful camaraderie! It is really such a great event and I hope to see lots of people there... and bring your friends. Spread the word. Please contact me if you have any questions.

And never stop dreaming!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new year, another crop of resolutions. This time, they're tasty

I try to avoid resolutions. I'm not the gal with the "stick-to-it-iveness" to actually make my resolutions become a way of life.

Three years ago, when I dared to make a resolution, I resolved to get to work earlier. That lasted one day. The next, my desire to sleep those extra five minutes, not surprisingly, won out and continued to do so each day following.

Most years, I aim to make that year better than the previous, with no definite plan, just the mantras of be a better person and do your best at all you do. But then, the busy-ness of life gets in the way and sometimes, I'm forced to accept that things will just have to do. It just is what it is.

This year, though, along with a do-over of the above resolution, I thought I might make a few about something I feel more confident will stick. No surprise, they involve food.

1.) Make Sundays my cooking day again. When I was a single, apartment-dwelling chiquita, this is what I did on Sundays, especially when I was at my most broke. To me, sitting down to a good home-cooked, healthy meal is one of the most satisfying experiences. But I found that the preparation was just as therapeutic as the reward for all my hard work. I used to spend hours upon hours making lunches for the week ahead, mostly to save some coin but in particular after my lunchtime takeout options shrunk considerably when I became a vegetarian. I have so many great veggie chili recipes, for example, and soup is my favourite food. I also have a great stuffed pepper recipe — all good options for labouring over, then freezing and enjoying later. So here's to more culinary Sundays.

2.) Avoiding chain restaurants if I do eat out. This is something I do anyway so I know it's a resolution that I'll succeed at. I ate at a chain restaurant the night before my wedding in August — it was big, an easy place for people to meet and I figured it had enough of a variety on the menu to keep everyone relatively satisfied. But otherwise, I avoid chains like the plague. I find them overpriced for what I do get and the food isn't that good. Ever see that episode of Marketplace where Wendy Mesley exposes how many calories are in that Montana's veggie burger? Or how a person gets more than the required daily caloric intake from one trough of pasta at Boston Pizza? That sealed the deal for me, even though I was already unconvinced of the chain restaurant's merits.

There are some amazing local, independent restaurants around here. It was my birthday last week and my husband, Steve, took me to the Stone Road Grille in Niagara-on-the-Lake where I had carmelized shallot and ricotta gnocchi with chantrelle mushrooms, autumn squash, braised greens and a sage brown butter sauce. It was delicious. And even that's an understatement. The flavours were warm, unexpected — no tomato sauce to be found near this gnocchi — and creative. The service was also fabulous and in no way pretentious. We don't eat out much but when we do, we try to make it a treat and take in all the culinary delights unique to Niagara. Treadwell's, the Wildflower, the Keefer Mansion, Inn on the Twenty and the Spotted Calf are all places I've had good experiences and there are so many more on the list that I want to try when time and the wallet allow: the Niagara Culinary Institute, August, Tony DeLuca's place in Niagara-on-the-Lake for fine dining. LaScala for Italian is another place I've always been curious about and need to make a point of trying this year.

Even when I need something cheap and cheerful, there are no shortages. I love Joe Feta's when I'm hungry for Greek. The veggie Dolmades dinner is my favourite. Pho Dau Bo for Vietnamese — it's simple, inexpensive and the papaya shakes and free green tea rock. The Noodle House on St. Paul Street has the best Thai green curry. It's got delicious kick with its lemongrass, coconut milk and natural spice. It's also only $9.95 and a huge portion. The service is also exceptionally friendly.

When I do eat out for lunch, a common stop for me is to see my friend Tony, who I affectionately refer to as my Lebanese man. He and his wife, Amira, make the most delicious lentil soup at their Lebanese restaurant, Tonami, next to Market Square in St. Catharines.

3.) To occasionally go splits on wine from the Opimium Society with my mom and not feel guilty. I diligently head to the VQA section of the LCBO every time I'm in there. I love looking at all the wines — the Glendale superstore is an awesome place to browse when it's not the week before Christmas. Niagara has such amazing offerings and it's something that I feel we as residents of the region and province should relish — and drink! But after my trip to Europe this fall, where I sampled the wines from the various regions I visited, I really fell for some Alsatian rieslings. I was obedient when it came to customs, (I'm a bad liar) and only brought home two bottles of wine, one of which I cracked at Christmas. It was beautiful and while my palette is not sophisticated enough to tell you about peach on the nose, citrus in the finish, or vice versa, the colour was a wonderful gold and it went down the hatchet with ease. The taste was divine. So when my mom, also a staunch supporter of VQA in BC and Ontario, offered to share her Opimium Society catalogues after a friend got her a membership for her birthday, I decided why not? I don't know when I'll get back to Strasbourg or Colmar and I don't know if I can wait until then for more of that region's riesling.

4.) Eat more dessert. As a bit of a penny pincher, I usually skip dessert. Heck, I feel like I've won in the lottery if I go home with doggy bag. Lunch for the next day! Two meals for the price of one! Hurrah! So aside from dessert having been perceived as a bit of a frill, there sometimes isn't room for it. But in those occasions where there is, I'm not going to deny myself. When I had the seasonal fruit sorbets at the Stone Road Grille, all of which were homemade, I knew I had been denying myself something great by refusing dessert menus in the past. Who knows? One day, I might even just skip dinner and go straight for the sweets. I'll keep you posted.
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