Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Delicious Revolution Rocks Barrie

I buy a lot of frozen pizzas and chicken fingers. There! I said it. My secret is out. Ironically, those  purchases are mostly the result of my busy life as a full time cook who produces endless healthy, from scratch meals for low income people, and my part time endeavor writing about said healthy food! Well, how do you like that? Hopefully, that little confession of mine makes you feel just a little bit better about your own less-than-perfect shopping/dining habits, but you and I can do better. Yes, we can.

Real food is the best food. We all know that. The days of Beaver Cleaver's mother baking (non-bagged) cookies in her high heels and pearls are long gone, but we can try, little by little, to reclaim some of the lost skills of our grandmothers and re-introduce some wholesome foods back into our kitchens. Plant a little veggie garden - even a tomato plant in a balcony pot. Make a one dish casserole - Heaven knows there are enough online instructional videos for those! Shop more often at a local organics/health food store, farmers market, farmer, or simply spend more time in the meat, dairy and produce areas of your grocery store, leaving those highly processed foods in the centre aisles alone for a bit. Easier said than done, but I'm working on it!

It's not that we don't want to eat healthy food - we really do! Life often gets in the way of eating the good foods that we need for that healthy life. Lucky for us in Barrie, there is a growing movement by some smart-minded local businesses towards creating healthy convenience foods. Many of these small producers are also offering delivery services. I met a few of them at the recent Food Revolution Day event at Barrie's Southshore Centre.

Whoa, back up a minute, what on Earth is Food Revolution Day? The movement, started by chef Jamie Oliver, aims to tackle some very important issues facing our food supply - good food education, access to nutritious food, food waste, sustainability of our supply, cooking as a life skill and supporting ethically produced foods. Food Revolution Day is held worldwide every year in May and as Jamie Oliver puts it, "Food Revolution Day is an opportunity to shout about good foods, get inspired to cook great food from scratch and be empowered to help change the global obesity crisis ... "

Cool. So what do we do now? I recommend baby steps - educate yourself, make small gradual changes for the better and most of all, be good to yourself. You and your family deserve to eat good things and be healthy. We know that time is always in short supply, so here is a welcome and radical concept - healthy fast food. It really does exist and you can get it in three (soon to be four) locations of AvocoBar in Barrie. curiousnibbler.blogspot.ca/avocobar-new-kid-on-block

Start your day off right, or snack time, or anytime  really, with the non-GMO, preservative free, hand made in small batches goodness of Not Yer Granny's Granola, created right here in Barrie. I have met the ever effervescent Fran Kruse before and watched her and her husband, Mark, work their magic as they create their tasty wares with the funky names - maple me happy, hello orange, pumpkin pizzazz and javanola mojo. curiousnibbler.blogspot.ca/confessions-of-granola-convert

I was very inspired by 2 young entrepreneurial sisters, Grace and Madeleine Dufault, of Y.U.M. (Your Ultimate Meals), who produce fresh baking, salads in jars and many other delights for sale online or at the Barrie Farmers Market.  Equally impressive was another young one, the teen son of Earth's Emporia's owner, who spent his entire day happily helping other vendors with their heavy loads, then bravely stepped up to the microphone to speak about healthy eating.

I also re-met two new faves of mine, from the recent Savour The Flavours Show, Chris of Momma Mari's Dressings and Sauces and Ally of Rabbit Food Bakery & Deli. I bought a bottle of Sneaky Momma barbecue sauce from Chris and we are really enjoying it with our barbecued foods at home. The sun dried tomato almond cheeze that I purchased from Ally called to me incessantly from the fridge and was eaten by me in one sitting. Sorry but it was damned good! curiousnibbler.blogspot.ca/the-curious-nibbler-returns-to-food-show

From my seat at the welcome table, I had a great view of Barrie's Garden Centre's lovely green display. My own small veggie garden at home is sitting empty right now waiting for me to get planting my pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, lettuce and eggplants. I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty! There is a great feeling of satisfaction that comes from growing your own food from seed/seedling to something that can be eaten. Maybe challenge yourself to grow one small thing this summer, be it a pot of chives or planter of cherry tomatoes, that you can use in a meal later on.

Bring a little of the Food Revolution into your own kitchen and treat yourself the way should be treated. Be kind to your body, your family and this little blue planet. Viva la revoluci√≥n!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

7 Reasons Why I Love Lakeview Gardens

My deepest apologies to preteen boys. When I look back at my grade eight school year, I recall a lot of rather loud and rude guys. Sure, we girls were no models of elegance ourselves, but when I remember all the burping, cat calls and off-colour remarks from my male classmates, one oasis of civilized behavior stands out. Solid as a rock, always friendly and polite, never dragged into popularity contests or other muck. That was Rob. Carrying forth these positive traits, Rob Radcliffe is a successful business man today as part of Lakeview Gardens, the beautiful garden centre located in Innisfil, Ontario.

Recently, I made my second visit to Lakeview Gardens. I needed a Mothers Day gift for my mum and I was eager to take a behind the scenes peek at the greenhouse operations on their annual spring preview tour. Rob led the tour himself and when I left, I was thoroughly educated, energized for my own gardening and supplied with a collection of gorgeous and colourful garden flowers. Let me tell you some of the reasons why I am the newest big fan of Lakeview Gardens.

1. Bugs. Yes, bugs. I love to buy a few big baskets of flowers for my garden planters but I do not love chemicals. Without pesticides, I take a risk that the plants that I purchase with my hard earned money might be gobbled up by nasty creepy-crawlies. The Radcliffes employ swirskii mites, predatory good bugs that protect the plants in a natural way.

2. LG is a family biz. Since 1979, not too long after those eighth grade glory days, the Radcliffe family has called the nearly 3 acre property at 1712 Killarney Beach Road home. Rob's father, a Yorkshire born and trained horticulture specialist, is Stephen Radcliffe. In 1986, when previous business partnerships ended, Stephen partnered with his wife, the bubbly Gaynor Radcliffe that you will surely meet at the garden centre entrance. He also partnered with Rob at that time. Thirty years later, Rob's wife, Rosemarie, grown children, including  son Andrew, and other extended family members are vital parts of the team.

3. Everything is done by hand. Three generations of tireless workers, basically half a dozen people, hand seed 10,000 flats of annuals and vegetables. Every one of those flats contains 48 plants. Impressed yet? They also do 4,300 hanging baskets and an astounding 45,000 assorted pots from 4 inches up to 2 gallon sizes. These plants are also hand watered. Suddenly, my own gardening chores seem minuscule.

4. Bees. I love bees. We all should because without them, there is no food for any of us. If I wasn't such a chicken (bee stings - ouch), I think I would enjoy keeping bees of my own. However, I will leave that to the experts, the Radcliffes, who keep a few hives and produce some local honey for sale. Did you know that you must leave at least one third of the honey behind for the bees to eat over winter? These hungry little guys eat a lot too - between 40 and 60 lbs. of honey!

5. Parking is terrible. Actually, that is a good thing! There is a small lot and plenty of concession road to stop along, so who needs a vast car lot when precious ground can be used for so many other purposes? Believe me, the ground is well used. Lakeview Gardens has more than 26,500 square feet of greenhouse space and even the narrow patches of soil between the greenhouses gets tilled up for more planting space. No fertile corner is wasted!

6. Much more than a garden centre. Yes, you can drop by the garden centre from 9 -5 from Monday to Saturday, and pick up your flowers and veggie plants, but so much more than is going on than meets the eye. Lakeview Gardens has contracts to supply large customers such as cemeteries and military bases with flowers. You will also find Radcliffes, and their fresh produce, at 3 different farmers markets including the one in Bradford. How do they do it? Cloning or some sort of magic can be the only reasonable answer.

7. The Royal treatment. I have saved the best for last. Once Gaynor Radcliffe has learned your name, she will remember it and always call you by it. Any family member will carry your purchases up to the front cash for you and keep them off to the side until you are ready to leave. After that, you will be pleasantly surprised when your newly bought plants are carried out to your car. I challenge you to find that kind of treatment at any of the big garden centres.

Mrs. R, you did something right and you still are!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Curious Nibbler Returns to the Food Show

That Sunday was cool and rainy with a Scottish mist rolling over the green hills of Tangle Creek Golf & Country Club. Never mind the dismal weather because all the action was indoors, where the Savour The Flavours Food and Drink Show was in full swing. Obviously, nobody told the golfers this because they teed off, one after the other, oblivious to the wet conditions. They can have their game. I will have mine!

Warm and cozy inside the club house, live acoustic guitar music, good smells, a bustling crowd of eager munchers and friendly greeters were waiting at the reception desk. Now this is my kind of day at the golf course!

I was accompanied by my husband and two of my sons, all of whom were immediately drawn to the first beer display that met their eyes. Side Launch Brewing Company, out of Collingwood, was offering up samples of their wares and the boys all tasted their Pale Ale, which promises to be balanced in the malt and hops department. This is a brew made in the traditional way, so their rep suggested it be consumed within a few months since it was unfiltered and free from preservatives. With a hot Canadian summer coming up, I can't think that many of their beers will languish too long in any fridges,

Okay, beer is nice but where are the munchables? Ah there we go - Cross Wind Farm had some nice samples of aged cheddar to try. I took a small square on a toothpick and immediately realized that this was not the cheddar I was expecting. Cross Wind is a goat milk operation. Sometimes goat cheese is rather strong, at least to my palate, but this was not. Different yes, but not overbearing. What I really enjoyed was their artisan chevre, which is a fluffy cream-cheese-like product available in many flavours. I tried the creamy dill - the fresh dill flavour sang out and once again, no strong goat taste.

There were a number of barbecue vendors at Savour The Flavours and I managed to visit Momma Mari, or at least her friendly and enthusiastic son, Christopher Marinakos. This Orillia based family has been dabbling in dressings and sauces since 1974 and have products in all kinds of local shops and markets. I asked Christopher for a sample suited to my self described infantile (too many heat receptors!) palate and he suggested the Sweet Momma. Mmmm a lot like Diana Sauce. To which Christopher added "But better."

I spent a fair bit of time chatting with the lovely young lady behind the Rabbit Food Bakery & Deli table. I was very intrigued to find the term vegan (as all of her products are) combined with the word deli, which makes me picture a glass case full of sliced meats and various sausages. She had a colourful display of wonderful little nut cheezes with lots of flavours to sample. I tried sundried tomato and cranberry - so good! When I tracked down the boys again, I steered them over to Rabbit Food. I introduced them as my cavemen, (sorry, guys!) and encouraged them to give the vegan fare a go. They were particularly impressed with her potato salad with vegan mayonnaise and her cheeze sauce that goes great on nachos or burgers.

Zing Zang is a well made and well named product. This company produces very flavourful drink mixes including caesar, margarita and pina colada and I can certainly see where the zing comes in. I was happy to try all three and I would say that all are fantastic. I could see my sister and I, and a bottle of that margarita mix, having a very nice little time beside her pool this summer.

Birch syrup is going to be the next big thing. We all know about maple syrup but why should the maple get all the glory with so many other potentially tappable trees growing in our forests? Napoleon's chef, Don Cruickshank, had a small bottle of it beside his barbecue last year and that was the first time I had ever heard mention of it. One year later, I found an entire booth dedicated to the educating, sampling and selling of birch syrup and its by-products. The Canadian Birch Company is leading the way with its Manitoba based business. I am not much of a sweet tooth, but the syrup was good and I can imagine myself using it for some nice barbecued blackened salmon √† la Chef Cruikshank. 

Such a crowd around Superior Meats! This company is not new and their products are available practically everywhere, but folks sure were keen to line up and try their samples. I considered passing by but a small card with the words English Smoked Wildwood Cheddar Cheese kept me firmly rooted in place until I got my reward - a small but flavour packed taste of cheese gold. 

Ripe Juicery has been in my favourite neighbourhood, Downtown Barrie, for a while now but I have not yet been in to visit. Lucky for me, Ripe had a tasting booth at the Savour The Flavours Show this year. Tiny cups of vibrantly coloured liquids were laid out on a wooden board. I just had to try them all. You will not believe this number, but 3 - 6 pounds of fresh produce go into every 500 ml bottle of Ripe juice! I sampled green (cucumber, kale, lemon, parsley, pineapple and romaine), then orange (mainly carrots and oranges) and lastly the brilliantly purple sweet beet. I have never liked beets, (too earthy for me), so this last drink was not my thing, which proves how authentically beety this fresh concoction really was. 

It was still drizzling away when we left. We decided to finish off our nibbling with a visit to Smoke's Poutinerie, one of several food trucks stationed outside the Tangle Creek clubhouse. Mmmmm fresh hot fries, cheese curds covered in steaming gravy on a cool day - why not?!

And so all of the flavours of 2016 were well savoured. Definitely looking forward to what 2017 might bring!