Archive for November, 2009

Royal Winter Cows

The Royal Winter Fair came to Toronto a few weeks back – even Prince Charles flew into town for a quick appearance.  Dana and I were the other Royalty that got to visit the fair.

I don`t think I`ve gone to the fair before – if I did it was as a small child.  I grew up in Suburban Toronto and we often went to the Markham fair in the fall.  I have many great memories of our community fair and often looked forward to it.

I remember that the local softball association was auctioning off a cow when I was a teenager.  The cow would be fully butchered and delivered in time for Christmas.  My friend Laura and I bought every ticket we could when they promised us they would call the winner before culling it – our intention was to `save`the animal and keep it somewhere.

I often wonder what we would have done if we had won.  Neither of us ate red meat at the time and we lived in the same subdivision.  In all likelihood Ethics would have given away to practicality and everyone would have gotten meat for Christmas.  Or we would have found a farmer who could have kept it `safe.`

It`s a good memory and funny to think of how much my perspective has changed over the years.

The Royal Winter Fair was awesome – we had a great time and learned lots.  We also got to hang out with some cows (most of whom made milk not meat) and grabbed a few shots.  I love watching cows – especially when meandering in fields but a few posed for us so here they are.


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I have spent a lot of time buying food – it’s something I adore.  I don’t mind spending 2 or 3 hours shopping for a single meal when I have the time (less and less these days).  I thought I had a pretty good idea of the lay of the land, so to speak.  I was shocked to learn something new this week that I should have learned long ago.

Before the big reveal of my epicurean epiphany, perhaps you would like a chance to raise yourself to the challenge and test your own savvy.  Here’s your chance:

What is the most expensive food you can buy in the grocery store (pound for pound of course)?

I would have had many guesses and I’m sure it’s different from grocery store to grocery store.  I would have guessed items like Wagyu beef (at around $80 per pound) would have been in the running – and it’s not even close.

I was surprised to see something retailing for $363.20/ kilogram ($164/ pound).  Would you pay that much for food?  What type of decadence would you expect to get for that price?

I was shocked to realize the price.  I was even more surprised to realize I have bought it before.

A jar of Oregano ($3.62 per jar) is the culprit.  I knew that the dried herb was expensive in a jar but hadn’t realized just how little of the light flakes were contained inside.  The jar was a meager 10 grams.  I knew the price was high – I didn’t realize the weight was so low.

To contrast this price, I also found oregano for $12.90 per kilogram, in bulk.  I bought 25 grams for 32 cents – the cost for 10 grams would have been 13 cents.  What makes this even more confounding is that the bulk version was in the same store as the more expensive alternative.

There is a point to say that cheapest and best dried herbs can be made affordable at home (even in a condo) – there are only so many projects that one can take on at the end of the day.

Paprika was $53/kilo in jars and $11 in bulk.  Pepper was $58 compared to $8.80.  Mustard seeds were $5 compared to $22.  Salt was 50% off in the bulk version.

To put Oregano in perspective, imagine lining up for a happy meal and having two options:

  • Happy Meal served on a plate, $5.50.
  • Happy Meal in a custom bag, $154.47

And keep in mind, both prices are the same Happy meal.

I would love to be in position to grow and dry all of my own herbs – in the mean time I’ll stick to reading prices more carefully.

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I love cookbooks.  I rarely follow recipes.  It’s a contradiction I’m working on resolving but it’s been this way as long as I remember.

We have had the recent privilege of being spoiled on Italian cuisine several times through a friend (who is also a client of Dana’s in the spirit of full disclosure) and my eyes have been opened to an entire cuisine that I thought I knew.  I certainly didn’t qualify as an expert but have surrounded myself with a lot of Italian inspired food in my lifetime (including a 25 day tour of parts of the country) and I can freely admit my ignorance – I had no idea just how diverse different regions were.

These dinners arose a curiosity with me and when I stumbled on a cookbook called “La Cucina” I knew I had to take a look.  It tookmere  seconds to realize I would leave the store with it under my arm.

The cookbook contains 2,000 recipes and no pictures (something I consider a feature in this case).  it’s well-organized and covers the food of Italy by identifying the roots of each recipe.  Local traditions are woven into the book and it feels like reading history as much as it feels like reading  a cookbook.  And there is good reason for this – the book has roots which stretch almost 60 years to a group of people in Milan who decided to preserve the culinary heritage of Italia.  The Italian Academy of Cuisine was born and they maintain this tome today.

The book is designed fabulously.  Red writing tells you that there is a note about the food other than how to cook it and the recipes are straightforward and well explained.

Food with such tradition is exciting to me – preserving of a different kind but preserving nonetheless.  Preserving culture, tradition and recipes passed down through the ages.

The only drawback?  It’s $54 Canadian for the 900+ page encyclopedia.  You can find copies as low as $30 USD on Amazon (I can save you the search here).

I am most excited to pick something and actually follow a recipe – the problem now is the amount of options at my fingertips!

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It’s Friday and a Thanksgiving long weekend for many of you (we’re working in Canada today as our Thanksgiving is in October) and I thought a post on the lighter side was in order.

I was hoping to find some kinetic typing videos of Food, Inc or another food movie – instead I found a recipe that both sings and types itself through its directions.

Any other fun food videos you are seeing out there?

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He’ll be checking his list and checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…  That’s right!  Thomas Keller is coming to Toronto (you weren’t thinking about someone else now were you?

For those who don’t recognize the name, Keller is one of the top chefs in the world.  He owns multiple restaurants including French Laundry (California) and Per Se (New York) which are typically both featured in the top 10 restaurants in the world.   Ad Hoc is a scaled down and more affordable (yet still not cheap – dinner is around $50 a person without beverages) version.

Ad Hoc has an emphasis on casual, community and family style dinner.  It is open 5 days a week (plus brunch) and has a menu which changes daily depending on the season and market offerings.  The menu appears on the website every day.

Here’s Keller giving a small introduction to Per Se and his view of it:

Keller is in Toronto to promote his new cookbook, Ad Hoc at home.  The offering appears to be accessible recipes for many of us who could find some of his previous cookbooks intimidating thought exciting.  He will be interviewed at the Toronto Reference library.  Tickets are $80 and include an autographed copy of the cookbook.  You can buy them by visiting or calling the Cookbook store.

I’ll be in attendance so if you’re there let me know and say hey!

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I’ll admit it was the packaging that stopped me in the aisle – a Canadian Craft Beer with phenomenal packaging stands out from it’s peers.  There are many that are fairly good and others that are even very good – but there are few that are this pretty:

We ran into the fine folks at Beau’s at the Royal Winter Fair.  They had a small booth and were super friendly and we were glad to say hi.  Our friend Margaret had tipped us off that there was a new beer lurking around Toronto and we simply had to try it.  3 days later we were provided with our chance.  We came home from the Royal Winter with two bottles of their Lug Tread Lagered Ale.

The beer is a combination of two styles – it is top fermented like an ale (it uses malted barley which conducts a fast fermentation and typically results in a sweet and full-bodied taste) and then cold-aged like a lager.  The roots of this type of beer trace back to Germany though the beer also reminded me of the Czech Styles of beer (of which a Pilsner is one of the more distinct).

The beer is a golden colour and crisp to drink.  If you`ve not had a crisp beer before and are struggling to imagine what I mean by that, think of club soda.  Club soda is way crisper than any beer I`ve drank but if you`ve had club soda then you know the direction we`re pointing at.

Each of us is entitled to their own taste so my review is relative.  This beer, quite simply, could be the best Ontario Craft Beer I have consumed yet.  It is certainly in my top 5 and is one of the best beers I have tasted all year.

On top of a great product and a great package (and a great website), Beau`s has a great story.  It is a family business that is primarily helmed by a father and son team and their friends.  In a world where so many companies are trying to make themselves look bigger than they are to try to compete with giants, Beau`s is proud to be small and family based.  Part of their corporate philosophy insists that they will always have time for their friends.

Beau`s has been around Eastern Ontario for several years – it is just starting to come west.  Look for the specialty bottle above in Toronto area (and the rest of Central Ontario)  LCBOs in early December before it is replaced in January by a new design.  A great holiday gift that won’t be re-gifted!

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Dana and I have had a lot of discussions about the state of food and the many movements (formal and informal) that are trying to change it  – organic, local, vegan, raw, 100 mile, 250 mile, guerrilla, CSA, non-profit, full-profit, community-based, industrial, pro-food, pro-biotic, genetically modified, antibiotic, antibiotic-free and more.  There are a lot of people trying to solve many confounding problems and opportunities within our current food chain.

There is no shortage of writing, talking, discussing and acting on improving the quality of the food we eat and how we get it, just as there is no shortage of solutions which sometimes compliment and other times contradict each other.  There are a lot of experts and even more claiming to be who share their knowledge, ideas and theories.

I am not an expert in any movement though I am a passionate observer.  Dana and I spend a lot of time discussing food, the current state of our society as it relates to food and examine our own behaviors within the food system.  We are far from perfect and have a lot of things we continue to work on to improve our personal impact on the food systems around us.  We are in no place to stand on a pedestal and are conscious of that.  But I do read many posts which simply end by pointing out the problems with our current situation without providing practical solutions and wish more would help us start to solve our current problems today.

Consciousness is a theme of who we are and what we try to achieve with the time we invest here.  The primary goal is to raise our own awareness to the choices we make and we hope this may be of interest to others.  I do feel that if no one read these postings that I would continue to write daily at this point in my life – it is, pun intended, a way for me to chew on my own food for thought.

A story from Food, Inc still haunts me.  A young family in the U.S. demonstrates that eating well is too expensive for many – that McDonald`s is a cheaper alternative, especially when people don`t have time or much money to cook.

It`s an argument I`ve heard from people in all financial brackets.  Good food is either too expensive, too labor intensive, people don`t know how to cook or it`s just not worth the time.

It`s also a very sensitive topic.  I was involved in the food movement in 1995 when my Member of Provincial Parliament (David Tsubouchi, who was the social services minister and making drastic cuts to our welfare system) left most of the entire province (and country) in shock and, frankly, disgust when he suggested that poor people should haggle on the price of dented cans of tuna to get them for 69 cents.  He added insult to many when he created a menu for `poor people`that included pasta though he cut out the sauce as unnecessary (and out of budget).  His suggested menu further criticism when the menu was compared to the one in our prison system and uncovered that local inmates would eat better and more healthy.

We have recently been discussing that some of the solutions for these complex problems are very expensive in their current forms.  I saw organic red peppers from $7.99 per pound today – and that`s a single example.

We`ve been very fortunate (and had some luck to boot) in our careers.  We are grateful to have options available to us that were not available only a few years ago and we try to remain conscious of that.  It appears, to me, that some of the solutions that we see are leaving many behind ($8 peppers certainly leave us in their dust :)).  Farmers Markets (something I am a massive fan of) can, in some cases, cater exclusively to high income brackets.

Certainly there must be a middle ground between selling food to the highest bidder and shoving off others to the crumbs left behind.

We are going to challenge ourselves to try to provide a solution to a real problem – wholesome recipes which are economical and accessible for everyone.  We will be posting every Tuesday for the next several months on recipes that we think may help everyone extend their food budget while producing exceptional meals.  We are not trying to simply make easy, cheap food.  The intent is not to replace expensive ingredients with cheaper fillers or eat but to make great meals and show that they can be affordable and easy to make.  These may not be everyday meals for everyone – where possible alternatives will be provided to alter the cost (sometimes lowering the price, other times allowing you to raise it as you wish).

Here`s our guiding principles:

  1. Meals must taste good enough to feed to my Grandmother.  I may add hot peppers since she won`t eat all of it but she`s my baseline for quality control.
  2. Meals will cost around $5 per portion – $7 per portion is the absolute limit (based on the approximate price).  This is not merely about saving money – it`s about eating fantastic food while being conscious of the price.  We will provide ways to adjust the recipe to make it more economical where possible.  Prices are, like us, in Canadian dollars.
  3. Portions will be generous – I am around 200 pounds and my healthy appetite will count as a portion.
  4. Portion cost will include leftovers.  If additional ingredients are added to create something new with the leftovers, these costs must also be factored in.  I.E. a chicken dinner that feed four and becomes a soup which has 4 portions will count as 8 total portions and all ingredients for both dishes will be considered part of the cost.
  5. Prices will include the cost of any food prepared for the meal, including waste.  Unused portions that are used for other meals (i.e. unused parts of a block of cheese) will not be counted.
  6. All efforts will be made to accurately cost and measure things that can be done reasonably.  Guesstimates for things like salt and pepper and other spices are permitted.
  7. Good food cheap takes time.  For those without `free`time to cook, consider making this a family activity – kids that help cook are more likely to eat and experiment in the kitchen.  Many recipes can be made ahead or doubled to freeze a future dinner with minimal additional work.
  8. I am not a chef or dietitian.  There will be an effort to include healthy options which taste great.  The posts are as much to stimulate thought and provide ideas than to be taken as instruction from an expert.  Gourmet is a relative term in this case (as is cheap).
  9. We will include tips that are reusable beyond a single recipe.
  10. We welcome and encourage comments and ideas which can help everyone learn more from each other on eating well and on a budget.

The first post is next Tuesday – we hope you`ll come along!

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