Monday, September 28, 2009

Wellington Rural Romp

It seems like weeks since my boyfriend and I have been able to spend any time together, just the two of us. So, what could be better than jumping in the Jeep and driving all over Wellington County for the third annual Rural Romp.
The romping started bright and early this morning with a trip to the Guelph Farmer's Market. Since I go to the market every Saturday morning, this was just a quick trip to grab the weekly necessities. Many food stuffs are at the end of their season and I was lucky enough to get a couple of large baskets of roma tomatoes. They make a delicious homemade tomato sauce. We visited our new friends at Backyard Bounty, grabbed enough greens for the week, and headed out on the open road. First stop, Mapleton's Organic.
Mapleton's Organic was the furthest away so we thought we'd start there. I love driving in the country in the autumn. The colours are spectacular.

There wasn't much going on at Mapleton's so Alex and I walked around and looked at the animals. We spent some time hanging out with the cows, goats, alpacas and the pig. I really wanted to pick up some yogurt but we had a long day ahead of us, and it was a little early for ice ceam. Unfortunately, we didn't get to talk to the owner of Mapleton's. A reported from Cogeco News was setting up to interview him. I hope to return another day, when time permits a conversation. Mapleton's Fat Free Plain Yogurt is, afterall, my yogurt of choice.

From Mapleton's we headed to Shepherd's Watch 100 Mile Market, where we met Carol. Alex and I had very recently talked about how cool it would be if there was a local market that sold entirely local food stuffs. Here it was, in the heart of Arthur, Ontario.

Shepherd's Watch carries local produce, meats, pastas, grains and artisan cheese and yogurt. They also sell wool products, country photography and hand knitted crafts.
Their market doubles as a cafe where they serve homemade meals made from real farm food. What a great idea!! Carol urged us to visit Lynda at their farm. We purchased two coffees (Fair Trade coffee from Birds and Beans in Toronto), as well as some Bison, Wild Boar and Blueberry sausages. We'll be having them for dinner tonight. We said our goodbyes to Carol and made our way out to Shepherds Watch Farm to meet Lynda.

When we arrived at the farm another couple was just finishing a tour with Lynda so we wandered around and checked out the sheep. They seemed to know no boundaries, wandering freely all over the property. bawling at one another when left alone. Lynda took us on a fantastic tour, introducing us to the fascinating world of sheep farming. I was especially interested in the cheese making process. I will save the details for a blog which will be entirely devoted to Shepherd's Watch. For now, I'll say that we thoroughly enjoyed Lynda's company. She was knowledgeable and friendly and I look forward to writing the blog about their operation soon.

From Shepherd's Watch farm, Alex and I headed down Hwy. 6 toward Cox Creek Cellars. What romp is complete without a little wine tasting? I had never tried Cox Creek wines, let alone visited their cellars. For obvious reasons, a winery is a popular stop on a rural tour. We weren't surprised to see that it was busy when we got there.
After looking over the list of available wines, Alex and I selected a few that we wanted to try. First on the list was Russet Fantasy, an apple wine. It was light and crisp and delicious. In the whites, we also tried Cox Creek White and Peach Symphony. Since we had just bought a large basket of peaches at the Farmers Market earlier that morning, we chose the Peach Symphony to accompany a near future dessert that I had yet to plan.
For the reds, we selected three wines; Oak Barrel Aged Blackberry Wine, Cox Creek Red (made from the Baco Noir Grape) and the Pinot Noir, a Chestnut barrel aged grape wine. Personally, I found the blackberry wine far too sweet for my tastebuds. We chose the Pinot Noir. It was light but flavourful and would make a wonderful accompiament to some future 100 Mile meal. The young lady who served our wine was informativew and sweet. We opted to skip the tour since there were a lot of people there and I prefer a more one-on-one meeting where I can ask a lot of questions without an audience. Alex and I decided that we would return to Cox Creek another day. There will be an entire blog devoted to Cox Creek in the near future.
From Cox Creek we headed to Magda Farm, but on the way the Jeep decided it had had enough of the Romp. Somewhere on Fourth Line, between County Road 22 and 20, it overheated. We found ourselves stuck in the middle of nowhere, cold and hungry, in the pouring rain. Luckily, Magda Farm was literally a 2 minute drive away. We opted to stop there and tour around while the Jeep's engine cooled.
I had very recently sworn off grocery store meat for good. I don't like the idea that I don't know if hormones or antibiotics were used on the animal. I don't know what the animal has been eating and I don't know how it was treated. All of these factors play an important role in the decision making process when it comes to purchasing meat. When we stumbled upon Magda Farm we found everything we were looking for. Vegetarianism, while an easy choice for some, proved to be difficult for Alex and I. We are not afraid to admit that we eat and love eating meat... but not just any meat.

Since we were the last to grace her farm, we had Vera all to ourselves. She took us on a tour of the farm to show us the animals. While we walked she explained their farming methods, some fixed, some experimental. What was clear was her passion. She obviously loves what she does and really cares about the animals well-being. Magda Farm offers eggs from free-range hens, pasture-fed beef, free-run pork, as well as some roasters. The animals are hormone and antibiotic free and their feed is 100% non-GMO. Look for a future spotlight on Magda Farm. Alex and I had a really nice time chatting with Vera, but since the Romp was technically at its end, we purchased some eggs and meat and hit the road.

I'd like to tell you that this story ended happily, but it didn't. Somewhere just past Magda Farm, the Jeep decided that it had had enough of our day of romping and stopped. We had to be towed along the back roads to a mechanic. All in all, it was a wonderful day though. Alex and I met some wonderful people and learned a lot. Yay! for Rural Romp 2009!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homemade Yogurt

Ever get tired of those silly yogurt commercials? You know the ones... the ones that promise all sorts of digestive and weight-loss miracles, while some scantily-clad, flat stomached woman wiggles her hips like Shakira? Right. Yogurt can do all that. And then there's the 'probiotics' craze, which much like the '0 trans fat' craze, has people buying food stuffs that they wouldn't normally buy just because it contains more or less of this new important dicovery. I like to think that I am above these marketing schemes but, alas, I am not. I, too, got caught up in the probiotic craze, with high hopes that my digestive tract would be clean as a whistle. One day, I was carefully reading each yogurt container's list of ingredients while my poor boyfriend leaned against the cart yawning. I must be the most annoying person to live with when I get on a kick. I check and re-check all the ingredients, getting more and more anxious over things I don't even understand. Shopping takes twice as long as it should. And then he wearily asked, "And what exactly are probiotics?" Ummmm. Errrrr. Uhhh. Sigh... "I don't know".
The truth is, what used to be simply yogurt has become pretty complicated over time. The choices seem endless: fruit and flavour added, fat-free, low calorie or no sugar added. Additives include vitamins, omega 3's, probiotics, artificial dyes, preservatives, sweeteners (both natural and artificial), flavour enhancers, thickeners and stabilizers. How do we ever know which one to choose?
The health benefits of yogurt are many, so don't give up on it out of sheer confusion. Yogurt is rich in calcium and promotes excellent colon health, while helping to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The live cultures in yogurt help to increase absorption in calcium, which, in turn, helps prevent osteoporosis. Make sure to read your yogurt label closely if you are buying store bought yogurt. Some yogurts are heat treated, which may increase shelf life, but kills helpful bacteria. Look for the words 'live' or 'active' so that you know the bacteria is living and functional.
Yogurt is rich in protein, B vitamins and essential minerals, and low in carbs. If made from skim milk, yogurt is also low in fat. It is good for those who are lactose intolerant because it contains lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose.
The beneficial bacteria in yogurt may help digestion, but in order for them to work properly, yogurt must be consumed daily. I start every morning off with a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie, sweetened with local honey.
Personally, I got so tired of comparing yogurt labels that I decided to make my own. At least this way I would always know what was in it.
In order to make your own yogurt you need to start of with a good base. You can order starter packs of culture or you can use already made yogurt. I opted for the latter. It took me a while to find the perfect yogurt to use as my base, but I found it. I use Mapleton's Organic Fat Free Plain Yogurt. It is made with 6 live cultures, pasteurized organic skim milk and non-fat dry milk. You can use your own yogurt to start your next batch, but you can only use it once. Starter batches do freeze, however, so if you really wanted to save some money, your first entire batch of yogurt could be devoted to making and freezing starter batches. I am just not that organized or patient. I simply buy yogurt from the Stone Store or somewhere else that sells organic fat-free plain yogurt and take it from there. One container makes about 4 batches, with each batch consisting of six 8 oz containers. Below is the step-by-step process for making your own yogurt at home (taken from the instruction manual for my Waring Pro Yogurt Maker). You can make yogurt without a yogurt maker, but I considered it a life investment.

4 3/4 cups low-fat (2%) milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps dry nonfat milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps plain yogurt

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Once milk reaches 185 F (85 C) and is about to boil, remove from stove and allow to cool to 110 F (45 C). To speed up the cooling process, whisk liquid frequently or place saucepan in ice water.
Once liquid reaches appropriate temperature, whisk in dry milk and the yogurt until ingredients are thoroughly homogenous.
Pour liquid into individual jars. Place jars into the yogurt maker without their lids. Cover the yogurt maker and set for 8 to 10 hours.
When the yogurt maker signals that the yogurt is finished, cover the jars with their lids and store in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pears, pears and more pears...

Oh, how I love Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market! It has become a ritual best enjoyed alone. I say this not because I don't enjoy the company of others, but because I like to take my time. I like to take in the sounds and the smells without distraction, allowing them to inspire creation. I like to get there early. Every Saturday, I walk the entirety of the market, outside and in, before making a single purchase. I don't want to miss a thing. Who's got the best deals this week? Who has the nicest looking produce? Who has something new that I haven't tried before? All of these details are important. Since I decided to preserve as much as possible this year, it is very important not to over or under purchase produce. It is also very important to pay attention to what's in season and what might not be there next week. This is the first time I have done this and I missed certain seasons out of pure ignorance, simply because there are no seasons at the grocery store. I have learned to pay attention to the finer details. The first peaches to appear at the market were like large rocks in a basket. I waited. Same thing for the apples and corn. Strawberry season has long since passed, yet there are still strawberries for sale. I avoid these. During the few weeks that blueberries were in season, I purchased a few 6L baskets and spent a day washing and freezing them. Once you learn to shop in season, food actually gets cheaper. This Saturday was no different than any other. I purchased large quantities of apples, corn, tomatoes and peaches. Luckily, I had my boyfriend there for the first trip. We got the heavy stuff out of the way and then I returned, empty-handed and ready for my ritual.
On the first time round I passed an older gentleman who, in a thick German accent, asked me if I wanted to buy some of his pears. He looked at me so kindly and asked me so sincerely that it was hard to refuse. I asked him about his pears. They were both local and organic and, most surprisingly, dirt cheap. He was selling a giant box of pears for the low low price of $10!!! Since I had already been home with the larger produce and had just returned for the small stuff, I told him that I would have to get him next week. But Helge was only here this week as the pears were in season now. I'm a country livin' bus kid and my house is a good 25 minute walk from the closest bus stop. There was no way I could carry these pears home. He smiled at me, understanding my dilemma. I said my goodbyes and continued with my morning, besides what was I going to do with a giant box of pears? I spent the next 20 minutes justifying the cost of a cab to myself.
I guess you already know what happened next... Of course, I bought the giant box of pears. He tossed in a 4L basket full of pears ready to eat straightaway. I was now in possession of more pears than I had eaten combined in the past 6 years! Oh my! What was I thinking?
Once home, I plunked the box on the floor and sat down to think. I'd can them... or as many of them as possible. Make a soup... freeze some. We'd have pears all winter.
Tip to future preservers: Don't purchase more than you are capable of doing alone!
I spent a good 8 hours preserving that Saturday. Between the apples that were made into apple sauce and peeled, cored, sliced, blanched and frozen, the corn that was shucked, and the tomatoes that were reduced to a thick and zesty sauce, I barely made a dent in the box of pears. By the end of the day, I had a mere 4 500 ml jars of preserved pears. Since then, some have been pawned off on neighbours, disguised as gifts. Some have been eaten in salads and as snacks. Some were made into a delicious soup. The rest are hidden in the pantry, out of sight but never out of mind. Anyone want some pears?
For anyone who is interested in getting their hands on their own $10 giant box of pears, please send me a message. I did get directions to Helge's farm, as well as his phone number.
Here are some of the things that you can do with pears:

For each 1 L jar, select 2 to 3 lb ripe, mature fruit. Harvest pears when full grown. Store in a cool place until ripe but not soft. Wash, peel, halve and core pears. Place in a colour protection solution. Pears may be packing in water, apple or white grape juice, very light or light syrup.
HOT PACK- Prepare syrup and bring to a boil in large stainless steel saucepan. Drain fruit and place one layer at a time in syrup; return to boil or until fruit is heated through. Pack hot fruit into jars and add hot syrup. Repeat for remaining fruit.
Heat process: 500 ml jars - 20 min.; 1 L jars - 25 mins.; 1.5 L jars - 35 mins.
(Taken from the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving)


Roast pear in 350 degree oven for 20 mins. Peel off skin, if desired. Slice.
Fill a salad bowl with mixed greens. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and crumbled blue cheese. Toss and place roasted pear on top. Drizzle with caramel dressing.


In small dish, mix caramel sauce, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and black pepper until it tastes sweet, but slightly tart. And, yes, there is a 100 mile recipe for caramel sauce. Here is the link for anyone who is interested:


2 tbsp canola oil
2 cups peeled parsnips, sliced
1 cup peeled carrots, sliced
1 lg. onion, diced and sauteed
4 1/2 cups water
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Toss parsnips and carrots in oil and roast in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until soft. Sautee onions. Add roasted veggies and pear. Add water and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Allow soup to boil continuously for quite some time. Take off heat and puree in batches in a blender. Return to pot and stir.
Serve with crumbled blue cheese on top.
(I added vanilla soy to mine to make it a bit creamier and it tasted wonderfully smooth and rich)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer Greens, the cure to onset Winter Blues

If you're anything like me, the mere thought of a winter without greens leaves you panicked. Don't panic, there is a solution!!

A few weeks ago, I got the idea in my head that maybe I could grow greens at home. Uncertain if this was even possible, I set out to do some research. When starting any new project I always head out to a bookstore to see if they carry something on the subject. On that day I happened upon Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Microgreens first outlines what materials you will need in order to grow greens in the comfort of your own home. Trays, soil, seeds, towels, sprayers, and a pH meter are just a few of the things you will need. I read the book, cover to cover, in one night. My addiction to arugula made me do it!
Next step: purchasing the necessary means to grow greens at home. For this, I spent a good hour on a Saturday afternoon pestering Ryan Hetner at Organic Botanic with a million questions. He patiently answered them, knowledgeably and thoroughly. In the corner of his shop, under rows of grow lights, there were trays of greens (including my prized arugula), living proof that I wasn't just a dreamer. Ryan pointed to different plants, while passing me samples of his greens for tasting. As expected, they were delicious! I promised that I would return after the first of the month, once the boxes in my new country home were all unpacked.
When I returned for my things, I chose 3 packages of seeds; arugula, beets and a spring mix of broccoli, radish, red clover and alfalfa. The seeds are packaged by a company called Mumm's and they are organic. And here lies another 100 mile dilemma; the seeds are packaged in Saskatchewan. I justified buying the seeds because there were no local, organic seeds available for purchase and I will be growing them at home, well within the 100 miles. I am supporting a Canadian organic seed company, as well as a local independent business. Since there are so many criterion to consider here, it is understandable that decisions may be difficult to make. Just do what feels right. As far as I know, there are no 100 mile police out there. I found a PDF online which lists other seed suppliers. If you wish to do further research, here is the link: 
The list does contain a seed company which falls within the 100 miles; Sproutmaster in Elmvale, Ontario. I contacted the owner and asked about the seeds. She told me that the seeds were from all over North America and if I were to include individual seed types, she would happily tell me their origin. Sproutmaster's website is: The email address for Mumm's, should you wish to write them with similar queries, is:
The health benefits of greens cannot be overstated. Arugula, for example, is a readily absorbable source of calcium, iron, manganese, copper and potassium. It is also a good source of vitamins A, C, K and folic acid and it is high in both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. On top of that, arugula is considered to be one of the most potent anti-cancer foods.
I have tried to see how much nutritional value is lost during travel, to no avail. Major fruit and vegetable companies, like Dole, don't provide information on the origins of their products on their website. I have written a letter to them but I don't expect a reply. One can assume that, much like other fruits and vegetables, they are at their nutritional best directly after harvest,and rapidly lose nutritional value soon after. Personally, I like the idea of cutting my greens fresh and consuming them immediately after. I know what kind of soil they were grown in (organic) and that they were not sprayed with chemicals. The pH of my water was tested and modified, allowing for optimum plant growth. The greens I planted mere days ago are happily reaching their little arms to the skies. Every morning they are significantly taller. By the end of this week I will be consuming salad greens that I grew myself. This summer I was buying my greens from Fourfold Farms and Backyard Bounty, both located at the Guelph Farmer's Market. Now I'll be eating them right out of my windowbox. How's that for local?