Earth Day – Food for Thought

22 04 2009




Happy Earth Day!

April 22nd is designated as Earth Day, a day that was established to celebrate our planet and for us to pause and consider environmental issues affecting us.  With the environment now making headlines on a daily basis, it’s not the novel idea it was 20 or 30 years ago but it’s still a great opportunity to take part in community events to mark the occasion. 

As I state in my philosophy, it is not my goal to be preachy or political.  However, as we take time to reflect on issues affecting our planet, here are a few things you can do to become ‘greener’ while shopping for dinner:

Choose Reusable Bags for Shopping

Most grocery stores are now discouraging customers from using plastic bags by charging for bags or even eliminating plastic altogether in favour of paper.  Luckily, there are stylish options that work even better than plastic.  Most stores sell re-usable bags for about $1 and they usually hold a lot more than a plastic bag.  There are also stylish designs ranging from the famous “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” totes to French market baskets woven from straw.  I purchased a Moroccan-made straw basket a couple of years ago and it’s fantastic.  It can withstand heavy loads and the long handles allow me to carry it over my shoulder.  It holds about as much as three standard plastic bags and is wide enough to fit a baguette without it falling out.  It was fairly expensive (around $35) but I use it almost everyday so it was a worthwhile investment.  If you’re looking to purchase a straw bag, make sure it has a tight weave with no loose or fraying straw.  Ensure that the handles are well anchored and sturdy so you’ll be able to carry heavy loads.


A sturdy straw bag is a stylish alternative to plastic

A sturdy straw bag is a stylish alternative to plastic


Ontario liquor stores no longer give out plastic bags so using a canvas tote makes sense

Ontario liquor stores no longer give out plastic bags so using a canvas tote makes sense


Reduce Packaging

Cooking with fresh produce means using fewer processed ingredients which results in less packaging and waste.  I’m always amazed at the amount of packaging involved with take out and delivery.   Many restaurants use styrofoam or plastic packaging which cannot always be recycled.   By cooking more meals at home, we cut down on this waste.   The good news is that some restaurants, such as the Toronto chain Fresh, are using take-out packaging that breaks down very quickly.  They also encourage diners to be eco-conscious by offering a 15%  discount on take-out orders if you bring your own containers .  


Cooking more at home cuts down on wasteful take-out packaging, some of which cannot be recycled

Cooking more at home cuts down on wasteful take-out packaging, some of which cannot be recycled


Choose Local Seasonal Produce (organic, when possible)

By choosing local and seasonal produce over items transported over thousands of miles means less fuel used, fewer emissions and a smaller carbon footprint.  If you can find locally grown organic items, that’s even better.  As I’ve discussed on many occasions, seasonal food that is freshly picked tastes better than fruit and vegetables that have been transported hundreds of miles and forced to ripen after picking.   Plus, it supports local farmers and the economy.   While I find the current ‘locavore‘ movement a bit extreme, choosing a local producer when possible will usually mean a tastier product.


A farmer's market featuring local produce

A farmer's market featuring local produce


Grow Your Own (or support someone who does)

In an ideal world, we would all have a patch of land we could use to grow all of our own fruits and vegetables (and the time to do so, of course).  For many of us this isn’t realistic but there are options.  Even growing a small pot of herbs or couple of tomatoes in an apartment is a start.  In many areas, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is growing in popularity.  With CSAs, you buy a share in a farm and in return receive a portion of the harvest throughout the growing season. Usually this means a box of produce is delivered weekly to your home or a drop-off depot.  The contents of each box will vary from week to week, depending on what is in season.  

To locate CSA farms in Canada, visit

To find a CSA farm in the United States, check out


A farmer tends to his crops

A farmer tends to his crops


Become Informed

Unfortunately, the issues surrounding food and the environment are complex and at times, seemingly contradictory.  Adding to the confusion,  every region has different standards and practices, not to mention climates.  If you are interested in learning more about where your food comes from, read as much as you can and begin a dialogue with local growers and producers.  Ask questions about growing practices and where your food is coming from.  A top authority on the subject of sustainable eating is  Michael Pollan , author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  His website provides a link to a number of resources for sustainable eating.


Remember, every little bit we can do helps.    Have a great Earth Day 2009!


A market basket brimming with fresh produce

A market basket brimming with fresh produce





Ice Cream

17 04 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream Cone

It’s April 17th and today is The Day.  What is ‘The Day’?, you’re probably asking yourself.  It’s what I call the very first day of the spring season that is truly warm and summery.  The forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius (68 F). The birds are chirping madly with spring excitement and people are flocking outdoors to walk around and enjoy drinks and a bite to eat on patios across the city. Twenty degrees isn’t exactly hot but consider that this was the scene in my garden last week:

Snow on tulips, April 7th, 2009
Snow on tulips, April 7th, 2009

So what better way to celebrate this break in the weather than with an ice cream cone?  When I was a kid, ice cream was my favourite sweet treat.  My grandparents always kept a container in their freezer (usually rum-raisin or pistachio) and no Sunday drive in the country was complete without stopping for a cone.  I still love ice cream and it’s Italian cousin gelato and usually have a couple of containers in the freezer for an easy dessert.  I tend to be partial to rich chocolate or creamy vanilla (boring, I know!) but I also enjoy seasonal flavours such as pumpkin, strawberry and even Guinness and coffee.  

So if the weather is nice in your area, head out for a walk and a get a cone!  I’m working on developing some homemade ice cream and gelato recipes for the summer but in the meantime, you can check out some interesting ice cream recipes such as avocado gelato in addition to more mainstream flavours:

Ice Cream and Gelato Recipes –

If you happen to live in Toronto, here are a few of my favourite places for gelato and ice cream:

Ed’s Real Scoop 

  • Beaches –    2224 Queen Street East, Toronto
  • Leslieville – 920 Queen Street East, Toronto

There are now two locations of this well loved ice cream shop – one in the Beach and a new one in Leslieville.  Ed serves up a variety of flavours including their popular pumpkin ice cream.  Unfortunately it’s only available seasonally so you’ll have to wait until fall to enjoy it but there are plenty of delicious flavours to enjoy throughout the spring and summer.

Greg’s Ice Cream

  • 750 Spadina Avenue (corner Bloor and Spadina) 

Greg’s most famous flavour is the fantastic roasted marshmallow, which many fans claim is in a league of its own.  Visit their website at

Il Gelatiere Artigianale

  • 647 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto

This gelato shop will make you feel like you’re taking a short vacation to Italy.  They offer a variety of flavours so go with a friend and order a couple of scoops each so you can sample as much as possible!

If you can’t get to an ice cream shop, some of my favourite packaged ice creams/gelati include:

Mapleton’s Organics – I particularly enjoy their vanilla – it’s not too sweet and has a creamy, clean vanilla flavour.  

Gelato Fresco – With a wide range of flavours ranging from pumpkin (seasonal) to devil’s chocolate, Gelato Fresco makes some of the best ‘packaged’ gelato around.  Their fruit flavours are very refreshing in the summer.

All of this discussion of ice cream has me craving a cone so I’m heading out to get one and enjoy the nice weather!

Bon Appéit and Enjoy!



Easter Brunch

11 04 2009


Happy Easter to everyone who is celebrating it!  Many families get together for the holidays and what better way to mark the occasion than with a tasty brunch after church or a morning of egg hunting?  

To make things easier, the tarts, jam and maple-dijon glaze can be made in advance. Prep the dry ingredients for the biscuits the night before and mix in the butter and milk just before baking them.  Frozen strawberries can be used for the jam – fresh berries are not quite in season yet in most areas.  However, mangoes are in season right now and make a refreshing addition to the table.


Easter Morning Menu Suggestions

 Leek and Ham Tart OR Swiss Chard Tart

Thick sliced bacon or ham with Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

Fluffy Pancakes with Maple Syrup

Easy Drop Biscuits with Quick Strawberry Jam

Diced fresh Mango

Coffee & Tea

Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

Bon Appétit and Happy Easter!


Ham is a traditional Easter dish - try it with a Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze!


Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

5 04 2009
Thick sliced bacon with a Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

Thick sliced bacon with a Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

Maple syrup season is currently at its peak in Eastern Canada and the United States. It’s perfect timing because maple pairs beautifully with smoked pork dishes such as bacon and ham.  This simple Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze will dress up your Easter ham and make it the centerpiece of your holiday meal.  The glaze is also great with thick sliced bacon, pork roasts, grilled shrimp, chicken, salmon or on sandwiches.  Try it with thick sliced ham and some aged cheddar on multi-grain bread for a fantastic lunch.

A few tips: I used a Canada No. 2 Amber maple syrup produced in Ontario but any quality maple syrup will do as long as it’s the real deal.  Don’t use imitation maple table ‘syrup’ – it won’t have the same flavour.  To make measuring the sticky syrup easier, measure the oil first and use the same teaspoon for the syrup (don’t wash it). The oil residue will keep the syrup from sticking to the measuring spoon.  

Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

Makes about 1/4 cup

  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
  • 7 teaspoons (2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) real maple syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, if you prefer it really spicy!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients until thoroughly combined.  Brush onto your favourite meats, seafood or use on sandwiches or as a dipping sauce.

To make the thick sliced bacon, pictured above:

I purchased a 1-1/2 pound slab of thick sliced side bacon that had already been cooked.  I cut apart the bacon slices and brushed them with the glaze.  I placed the slices overlapping one another in a foil-lined baking dish and baked for 25 to 30 minutes, re-basting the meat every 10 minutes.  

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!


Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze

Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze