Work With What You’ve Got

Farmer’s market fresh! One thing about summertime trips to the market is that (in the words of my grandfather), your eyes can be bigger than your belly. That’s sort of what happened with the basket of fresh peaches we picked up on Tuesday. To be more specific, it was our capacity to consume them before they hit their tipping point. We’re surrounded by overripe fruit, and so there are peaches in every meal. To top it off, we had a surfeit of cheese, left with us by some departing guests. What to do?

When I have a host of items that need to be used, one of my first thoughts is always salad. It’s a go-to when vegetables are in season. This one started with a vinaigrette of homemade red wine vinegar, canola oil, and Kozlik’s Balsamic Fig and Date mustard – in equal proportions. I mixed this in a large bowl, and then began adding veg – greens from the balcony garden, cucumbers, radish, and celery – but use whatever you have, like in this Kitchen Sink Salad. Then I topped it off with some walnuts, sliced peaches, and crumbled Stilton. If you’re a vegan, omit the cheese or use some chopped smoked tofu instead.

Even though I bought too many, I never get tired of too many peaches. We love them, and all the other seasonal bounty, so I’m grateful to be able to have many delicious ideas to use them up.

Meal Planning 101

Just last week I was talking about meal plans, and how we need to give ourselves room to deviate, in order to accommodate fresh, local food. I stand by that. But the vast majority of the time, a meal plan will make your life a whole lot easier. By investing time once a week (or a couple of times a month, or monthly, to coincide with payday), you can plan meals that are healthier and easy to prepare. Think about what’s in season and buy local produce. Consider the specials, but limit your packaged and September Foodprepared foods. (Here’s my label primer so you can see why).

“What’s for Dinner?”

Even if you make most of the meals and shop for yourself, a meal plan can make it easier to shop. If you’ve got kids, a partner, a busy schedule, or weeknight commitments, it can help you map out the days when you need easier meals, versus those where you can spend a little more time. It will let you figure out how to incorporate things that are in your cupboards. It can also save you a lot of money, especially if you cook in batches that can be used for lunches or incorporated in multiple dishes throughout the week. Lastly, if your partner, your kids, your nanny, your roommates, or others share the cooking, a handy list on the fridge means you won’t always have to be thinking about (and answering), “What’s for Dinner?”

 Ready to Plan? Here’s what you’ll need, and some tools you can use…

  1. The household calendar for the week (You have one of those, right? It’s a one-stop calendar that lets you see everyone’s activities. If you don’t, maybe that should be this week’s activity).
  2. A quick inventory of what food you already have in the house. Look in your fridge, your cupboards, and your freezer – wherever you store your food. If you can’t find anything in there, make time to organize. Throw out anything expired. Write it down in three categories:
    1. Freezer
    2. Fresh and can spoil (produce, eggs, milk)
    3. Refrigerated or in the cupboard with a long shelf/fridge life
  3. Something to write the meal plan on. The easiest is to start by planning dinners, and this can be a simple sheet of paper, or a calendar. I like to track calories, so I’ve looked at apps like Paprika, software like Mastercook, as well as fitness apps like My Fitness Pal. Each of these has advantages, but what I know is this: You’re more likely to manage your calories, fibre, sugars, fat and salt well if you plan in advance (just like exercise) than if you try and log as you go. Over time I’ve developed a spreadsheet that works well for me.
  4. Get your laptop or a couple of good recipe books like How to Cook Everything VegetarianSave with Jamie; you might like an all-purpose website like Cooking Light.
  5. Start by choosing meals that include things you have in the house. Think about your dietary goals (Are you a vegan? Do you need a celiac/gluten-free diet? Or perhaps you’re just counting calories?) Make sure you consider what’s important, in advance. For our house, we rely on label reading for fibre and other nutrients; calories are what I count to maintain a healthy weight.

Now, make a plan for each day until the next payday or shopping day. Shopping only once per payday, with a midweek check on perishables, will keep you on track, save time, and mean you don’t spend every trip home from work with a mad side-trip to the grocery store. If one of your fresh foods needs to be used sooner, switch up the days so you don’t waste. Write it down and post it where everyone in the house can see it.

A simple plan for a week look something like this:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Breakfast Peanut Butter and Banana Toast Smoothie Poached Egg w avocado on sourdough Smoothie Cheese and fruit Smoothie Peach Muffins
Lunch Pear and walnut salad Tuna melt Monday leftovers Tuesday leftovers Wednesday leftovers Kitchen Sink Salad Lunch out
Dinner Pork tenderloin w winter slaw and boiled potatoes Celery and leek Gratin Carrot and chickpea soup Pork and mushroom stir fry with brown rice Pasta with Marinara and Kale Grilled Salmon Steaks with boiled potato and steamed broccoli Dinner with Friends

You can see we often try and cook once, use twice during the week – it saves money, time, and effort, and gives us a much more interesting and nutritious lunch than fast food or a sandwich. If someone is away at dinnertime, we can freeze their portion to make a nice lunch for another day, or incorporate it into soup or salad.

Happy, healthy eating!

Eating Canadian…

Canadian FlagHappy 149th birthday, Canada!

As an advocate of home cooking as an alternative to unhealthy, over-salted, sugar-laden processed foods, I also love local fare. There are real advantages to eating food from as close to its source as possible. So I do my best to grow food, pick or buy food that’s in season, and support my local farmers. There is, however, another side to the coin. We’re in Canada.

Being Canadian means that the food growing season is very short. Depending on your location, having a farmer’s market is an option for only a few months, or you had better learn to like cabbage, potatoes, and turnip. Heck, even those quintessentially Canadian winter vegetables are frequently imported by major grocery chains from as far away as Texas and California. And that’s not our only challenge.

We have the great good fortune here in Canada to be what we describe as a mosaic, rather than a melting pot. People flock here from all over the world for an opportunity to live in an accepting, expansive, amazing country. When they get here, we welcome them, and their cultures, and that includes their food. Feta and falafel, tofu and tangerines, wasabi and watermelon have all made appearances on our household menu.

So here’s our compromise: We don’t grow coffee, but I’m not prepared to give it up, so I buy it, and look for fair trade. I’ll lean toward a local roaster over a multinational if I can. Figs, dates, and other foods that are prominent in my neighbourhood because we have a huge population of new Canadians…great. I’m in. I support farmer’s markets where and when I have access. Oranges? Florida’s marginally closer than California, but either way I’ll keep eating oranges. If there is locally-produced couscous, farro, tofu or even feta, I’ll give it a preferential position in my (reusable) grocery bag. Wine, for me, has no boundaries.

I avoid products that should be available year-round in my supermarket (sorry Texas carrots and Washington apples, you’re not coming home with me). Lastly, there’s the budget. As much as possible, I will pay extra for the privilege of eating food that’s grown in my home province, even though that is an unfair result of our grocery chains supporting the industrial food complex. But if push comes to shove and the unprocessed fresh or frozen food I can afford isn’t as local as I’d like, it still beats something from a can, box, or jar. I can live with myself.

Have a happy Canada Day, all, and eat well, wherever you are. We’ll be enjoying a seasonal, local treat homemade with all-Canadian ingredients: strawberry shortcake.

Good Habits Die Hard!


For the first day in what seems like ages, we aren’t getting our exercise by chucking hundreds of kilos of snow and ice around. But all that “necessary exercise” has made us feel fitter and more able to push ourselves during our regular workouts, as we return to normal. Not only that, but local spring veg (albeit indoor-grown) are making an appearance to give us hope. This morning, homemade whole grain bread topped with local cream cheese, sliced tomato and cucumber, a poached egg, and a little chipotle powder to wake up the taste buds.

Thanks to Denise MacLean pottery for making the beautiful mug!

It isn't easy eating green (in winter)

…I was going to end that title with “in the frozen northland”, but in fact, relatively speaking, we are in the south of our country. However it is most decidedly winter, and that can make local a challenge. Fortunately there is nearly always a hydroponic/greenhouse grower of greens – or a friendly windowsill.

Top a big batch of greens with a simple vinaigrette of mustard, olive oil, maple syrup and cider vinegar. Sprinkle with sliced apples, walnuts, raisins, feta, and…eat up!


A Different Kind of Breakfast Grill…


It’s the rainy Monday of a long weekend and we’ll be working to prep for the coming week. Something with a multitude of flavours should inspire us. We started with four slices of homemade whole wheat bread – nutty and tasty. We dipped these in a mixture of egg and milk (2 medium eggs and about half a cup or 125ml of 1% milk in our case). Our electric grill/griddle has both smooth and rippled plates so we heated it up with one of each in place. French toast on the flat side, and tasty local plums on the ridgy one. They might stick a little, but the flavour is fantastic.

Topped with a little maple syrup from our friends down the road at Acadian Maple Products, this was a sweet start to the day.

To our Nova Scotian friends, happy Natal Day. Happy Simcoe Day, Ontario….and for all of you celebrating some sort of holiday Monday, have a safe, fun holiday, however you spend it.

Griddle Me This!

It all started with a trip to the market yesterday, where we bought some delicious-looking bacon from Sweet Williams…


The great thing about really nice bacon (instead of cheap, mass-produced bacon) is that there is a lot of flavour in a single, beautiful slice. Paired with some hot mustard, tomato, and egg…you have the makings of a tasty breakfast.


Make the egg runny, or not, as is your taste. Assemble and enjoy.


Serendipity Dinner

In an effort to use up last year’s batch of canned tomatoes before the new ones are ripe, we made a huge pot of marinara on the weekend. Some has gone to the freezer, but the mother of all sauces is so versatile, it’s getting used in all kinds of dishes. Yesterday, pizza toast for lunch. Then on a stroll to Plank Road for a chicken breast big enough for two, we spotted these luscious two-colour egg noodles. They went perfectly with the chicken…which we cooked in a 400F oven for about 40 minutes. Here’s what was in the pot: 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, 1 carrot and one yellow bell pepper, diced. Five large white mushrooms, quartered. 1 cup/250ml of marinara. Cover and bake.


Stacking Up to be a Great Day


How to start the day? Perhaps like this! For two, begin by poaching two fresh, large eggs. Meanwhile, toast a whole wheat English muffin.

Spread some of Kozlik’s Dijon by Anton on each muffin half. Top this with some Char Pastrami from Hooked. Next, a thick slice of fresh yellow tomato and a basil leaf from the garden. Finish the stack with the soft poached egg and a sprinkling of paprika. Serve with a cup of Prince of Darkness coffee…we got ours at Better Bulk on the Danforth. You’ll wake up your mouth!

I'm Hot and Cold on this Lunch!

On Wednesday we had a very interesting lunch. It started as a recipe from Cooking Light, except we didn’t use any of the same ingredients. Theirs called for Serrano Ham, Manchego, sourdough bread and arugula. Instead, our quick trip in the rain and wind to Plank Road yielded multigrain bread, prosciutto, and Crotonese cheese. All good, nonetheless. On the bottom, a piece of toasted multigrain was spread with grainy mustard and just a little mayo. On top of this, the ham, and a grating of cheese. All that was heated under the broiler, then topped with some mizuna picked from our garden, a sliced apple, and a little grainy mustard vinaigrette (using Triple C from Kozlik’s).