You say “tom-ay-to”, I say “tom-ah-to”, in Spain they say “DUCK!”

I’m looking forward to spending spending part of the Labour Day weekend labouring over tomato sauce….two days (at least), up to our elbows in Tomatoes…but one day, we’ll have to go to the Tomatina festival in Buñol Spain to truly revel from head to toe in Tomato love…..

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Learning how to drink Scotch (or Brandy)

I fell in love with the romantic notion of drinking Scotch long before I fell in love with drinking it.  I struggled through many glasses hoping that I would eventually “gain a taste for it.”  I was frustrated that I didn’t like it more and continued to push through.

My mentor (who helped me learn how to teach people, how to speak and also gave advice on other worldly things) taught me that just because I knew how to drink did not know I knew how to drink Scotch or Brandy.  Imagine that you have never eaten a scotch bonnet pepper, wasabi or a very spicy horseradish.  If you did not know their reputation for being hot would the knowledge of chewing and swallowing be enough experience to guide you safely through the consumption of these things?

Learning how to drink Scotch (or Brandy)

Many people who are new to these bevvies will fire some in a glass and drink it like they are drinking a rum and coke – a big swig that fills the mouth before firing it down the hatch.  Imagine if you tried the same with hot sauce!

I learned an expression this week called “a spiders ass.”  It’s a little crude, but effective.  It describes the amount of scotch you want to enter your mouth when consuming Scotch.  Note that I did not say “sip” – a sip is too large a quantity.  I was shown that I should take such a small amount that I should never have to swallow and just enough that would mix with my saliva and still allow me to speak (imagine doing that with a mouth full of rum and coke!)

Small tastings are still intense – a small bit of hot sauce is still hot after all.  The smaller tastes will actually allow you to taste the contents of your glass in more detail.  Slow and steady wins the race!

A small glass of scotch can take hours to go through.  It’s a process where I slowly marinate my mouth and develop the flavor layer by layer.  It is not entirely uncommon to drink several beer at the same time as I slowly work my way through a glass.  For absolute decadence, I will pour 3-4 very tiny glasses of different Scotches and do a tasting.  I will rarely drink more than an ounce of the finer Scotches in an evening.

In the UK a glass of Scotch is 7/8 of an ounce (compared to North America where 1.25 to 1.5 ounces are common) – the smaller size makes a lot of sense when consuming it in this matter.

Adding ice is generally regarded as disrespect to the glass as it will dilute the taste as  you savor it.  Some argue that it should be neat, others think that a small amount of water is required to open the tastes (more on why in the future).  When I do add water, I do so by putting a single finger under running water and then letting a few drops fall into my glass.

Do some people drink Scotch or Brandy by the bottle and a mouthful at a time?  Of course they do – just as I pile wasabi on my sushi.  But I love the heat of wasabi and am willing to sacrifice the flavor of sushi for it’s heat.  If you haven’t tried these drinks in this manner (remember, you have to be able to talk after inserting the liquid in your mouth), try it and let me know how it goes!

We have reviewed 2 bottles of Scotch at well preserved – both are at the extreme end of flavor (though very different from each other):

Laphroig Quarter Cask (which is very peaty/ earthy and includes free swampland in Scotland) – here.
1991 Lagavulin Distillers Edition (we delved into how to drink Scotch there as well) – verk smoky

A few things I never knew about grapes…

I am finding that I am getting more and more interested in wine.

It’s something that I have found intimidating in my past and something that brings back odd memories of school work (having studied Hospitality and Tourism in the early 90s we had the occaisional wine tasting at 6.30am to reduce liability of the college for people drinking and driving – those tastings were often accompanies with a coffee and a doughnut…igh).  I am recovering from the scars of my youth and still find it an incredibly daunting pursuit – so much to know and so little time…

We did however learn a few things about grapes a few weeks back that I found interesting and thought they may be worth sharing:

A few things I never knew about grapes...

  1. The space between the aisles of grapes is as wide as the grapes are tall.  This is needed in order to prevent a row of grapes covering its neighbor with perpetual shade.
  2. Sugars are developed in the grapes by sun interacting with the leaves – photosynthesis is the key to developing the sugars.
  3. Sun on the flesh of the grape (especially in the second half of the season) develops flavors in the fruit.
  4. Grapes are often culled part way through a growing season – farmers have to decide how many grapes to remove in order for the plan to properly develop the remaining grapes.  Exceptional years will have no culling – poor years can result in more than 30% being culled.

I am sure this knowledge is common to many – I found it fascinating.  Do any of you have grape secrets you’d like to share?

Mixed Messages…Local Schmocal

A local grocery giant is running compelling commercials demonstrating their commitment to eating local and persuading people to support local farmers by going to their store and voting with your wallet.

Their definition of local appears to be Canadian.  This is not unique but important to mention for clarity on their delivery.  We live in the second largest country in the world and veggies can travel more than 4,000 kilometers within our borders and still be considered local according to the Nationalist definition.  We published the story of Whitey the long haul trucker (The Real Cost of Food) which is a good compliment to this post.

I went to one of their stores yesterday.  The entrance was filled with Canadian produce.  It was an impressive start.  I started to count the amount of imported produce versus that which was Canadian.  We are in the middle of harvest season and I expected more.

I stopped counting when I got to a count of 117-15.  Imports were almost 10-1 over the local food.

There were more than a dozen types of apples – 2 were from Canada.  Chille, Argentina, France, New Zealand were all there.  There were pears from China, Argentina and South Africa – it took me two passes of the produce section to find Canadian pears but you had to buy them by the 3 liter basket

We are very big proponents of buying consciously – understanding what we buy and choosing who we support.  Sometimes that includes buying food from far away – it’s difficult to make marmalade without citrus after all.  We are not close to 100% organic or local – we are trying to do our part wherever possible.

I am not condemning the store – I don’t know the issues of getting more local food.  Maybe it wasn’t available…  Maybe local farmers are refusing to sell them…  Maybe they are supporting local more than any other big chain and will sell more and more local if people are willing to buy it.  I don’t know the details – I just find myself confused when comparing the reality to the images of the advertisements.

What would you name your fishing boat?

On our recent trip to the maratimes I gathered photos of some of the local fishing boats (boats which are often used for lobster and crab and sometimes for pleasure).

I thought it would be a fun Sunday post to challenge you to come up with a name for your imaginary (or perhaps real) fishing boat.  Many of the ones below are named after family members (my favourite is the first picture which belongs to a family friend named Guy – he is married and has daughters)…

What would you name your fishing boat?

What would you name your fishing boat?

Tonight, I`d have to go with `Joan of Arc.`  For starters, she`s a noble woman.  I know Dana would make a great icon for the boat to match it.  And, after all, it is my Grandmother`s awesome name (technically Jeanne DÀrc – just as was the real Joan).

The Perfect Late Summer Sandwich

My Mother has been eating these for so long that I remember turning my nose up at them in favour of Kraft Dinner.  I`m not entirely sure what I was thinking as a teenager at the best of times – in this case I don`t have the foggiest.

I assure you that this is the most wonderful taste of fall I know.

The Perfect Late Summer Sandwich Vinegar tomato sandwich Tomato Rye Bread Olive Oil Feta Cooking Recipes [Read more...]

What to do with Enoki Mushrooms

The first answer that comes to mind is a very cheeky, `Whatever you want.`  While that`s not far from the truth, it wasn`t all that long ago that I found myself asking the very same question of these diverse clusters on mini-mushrooms (which, because of their size, in variably has me looking for tiny little blue smurfs running in all directions when I chop or place them in a hot frying pan).

What to do with Enoki Mushrooms Mushroom Cooking Recipes

[Read more...]

What a difference in 30 hours with Norman Hardie’s grapes

We spent the weekend of August 22nd-24th camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Our trip included what is now a mandatory visit to Norman Hardie and his vineyard.  This is a magical place to me and one that is a very rare treat today – a chance to visit an amazing vineyard and meet the people who make the wine with their hearts and souls.  There is a small, charming team that comes together to make the magic that they do and a visit will put you in direct contact with the people and their passions that make your wine.

Norm and his team are as intoxicating as their product and have become fast friends of ours.

Though I know what I like, I will openly admit to not being a wine expert.  Allow me to share some expert opinions of the wines (these focus on his newest release which though many of his past, including the County Pinot Noir are also very well received):

“Norman Hardie Finds Perfection by Blending Two Ontario Regions”
- Christopher Waters, editor of Vines Magazine (this review was in Kingston Life and you can see it here)

“A recent trip to Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs) located on the north shore of Lake Ontario about 2-2.5 hours from Toronto…One wine in particular that I was especially blown away by was Norman Hardie Winery 2007 Cuvée L Pinot Noir.”
- Sarah Goddard, certified sommelier (her article is here)

“****½”, “recently added – most viewed, rated the best”
- Ontario Wine Review (here)

“Norman Hardie Cuve L Pinot Noir 2007 (60% Beamsville fruit, 40% PEC; hence its VQA Ontario designation): Deep ruby color; minerally, black cherry bouquet; elegant, well balanced, firmly structured and bursting with youthful charm. Tastes like a Pommard in a warm year. A lovely glass of wine (91+).”
- Tony Aspler (30 year professional wine writer; article here)

A visit to this winery is a lesson in passion, a treat to the tastes and a place to ask questions and learn.  In my experience it is rare to get close to the art of what is being produced.

We visited the winery on Saturday and bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  Both bottles were to be paired with a hearty meal and a campfire.

Norm insisted we borrowed a set of proper glasses and we promised to return them on the way home.  We wandered into the rows of grapes (with his permission and guidance) to take photos of what we saw around 11am Saturday morning.  We had to walk almost half way across the field to find some grapes starting to turn and the initial photos are below.

What a difference in 30 hours with Norman Hardies grapes

What a difference in 30 hours with Norman Hardies grapes

We returned around 4:00pm the next day.  We were greeted with great excitement – it was like we had arrived on Christmas day.  The fields turned a magical corner between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.  We walked 10-15 yards before finding a massive difference in what we had seen the day before.  The grapes are starting to turn en masse.  Look at the difference between the pictures above (which took a lot of hunting for) and the ones below (which were in abundance).

30 hours can be a world of time when we slow down to take each moment in – these fields clearly understand that…  I’m still learning that lesson.

A decision will soon be made to cull some of the field to ensure they get optimal fruit and flavor.  Norm is hoping for long sunny days for the rest of summer -and we’re hoping with him!

More info on the winery and Norm can be found in one of our earlier posts here.

Perfectly Ugly (are we really this vain?)

Our truck veered off the road around 4:30 PM on a sunny Friday afternoon.  The feeling of dirt under wheel is a familiar and welcome memory and I remember simply feeling good about being back in the country.

We had pulled over to visit a small farmers stand.  It was our third stop for food – I was being picky and had refused to buy anything from the first two stops (which turned out to be resellers – basically grocery stores in disguise).  I was looking to buy direct from the person who grew it and I was willing to wait.  I should have been able to figure out that the first two were reselling – they had massive selections and this small stand had about 4 things.  I am still learning that when things are this fresh that I don’t need 30 options.  4 items are plenty when each has been pulled from the field that day.

I knew we were on the right track as I passed two gentlemen standing to the side who were talking about tomato blight and the fact that it was everywhere this year.

We were greeted by an older Scottish woman.  She was very sweet and took pride in her offerings and we knew we had found what we were looking for.  She had corn, tomatoes, onions and a few other veggies.  The tomatoes were being offered by the half dozen – too many for 2 days of camping and only Dana and I.

“Can we buy only 2 or 3?  I don’t want to waste any.”

She looked sad at first – and then her face lit up.  She wandered away for a moment and came back with 3 field tomatoes that were as big as any I’ve seen.

Perfectly Ugly (are we really this vain?)

“All of these have blemishes – I’m sorry but it’s all I’ve got other than the ones in the basket.  My husband wanted to throw them out because no one will buy tomatoes like these.”  I committed to 3.  Our grand total for tomatoes was $1 (we spent an additional $2.50 on a red onion and 6 corn).

They were some of the best we’ve had this year.

I couldn’t believe that people would skip over tomatoes like the one above.  I have done some reading on message boards since and it does appear that many would see a blemish as a fatal flaw in the selection process.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but a surprise to me – perhaps one mans treasure is another mans garbage after all!

If all tomatoes looked perfect, there would likely be a price to pay – waste, potential taste and other trade-offs.  Are we really this picky?  Do we really insist on “perfection?”  Do we really want beauty over substance?  (OK, I’ll admit the last is a little melodramatic :))

Camping in Prince Edward County and cooking corn on a campfire

We are so very fortunate – that is both the big giant “we” that the webiverse contains and the little tiny “we” that is Dana and I.  In the context of this post I can only share the details of the “micro-we”… ‘)

Dana and I have now been to Prince Edward County 3 times this summer with a fourth trip planned in September and I’m sure the surprises of fall and early winter will see us return.  We had a lovely weekend that was centered around camping in Sandbanks Provincial Park and eating/ drinking locally.

Camping in Prince Edward County and cooking corn on a campfire

Prince Edward County is a 2-2.5 hour drive east of Toronto.  It captures the essence of Island living combined with a superb environment that is ripe with agriculture, horticulture, vineyard and culture.  There is also a lot of water, outdoor activity, sandy beaches and great characters.  It has become one of our favorite places to be.

A typical venture to the county, for us, includes an important piece of luggage: the empty cooler.  We buy produce, meat and veggies locally (as well as wine and, often, beer) and aim to indulge in the feeling of eating as local as is possible without growing it yourself.  We recognize the double-standard we are creating in that we are driving to the food and if it were coming to us it would be more fuel efficient and less than local but this is a conscious illusion and one which brings us great pleasure.  It also leaves us wanting more and perhaps the day will come that the drive is much closer.

On Friday night we purchased our first meal – 6 corn, 3 monster tomatoes (more on them in a day or two) and a gorgeous purple onion.  The total cost (paid direct to farmer) was $3.50.

We ate corn on Friday and Saturday night as I experimented with different ways to cook them directly over the campfire (something new for me).  I thought I had placed the fresh cobs (husks on) onto the fire a little early as plenty of flame was still sneaking through the grill:

Camping in Prince Edward County and cooking corn on a campfire

When cooking with a campfire, one typically attempts to have a lot of coal with little flame, similar to this:

Hunger got the best of us though and we let the heat do it’s magical thing, making sure that the husks did not burn completely through.  The husks protected the inner sweetness and, essentially allowed the corn to steam within it’s protective outer layer:

Trial and error showed that fresh corn can take as much heat as a fire can throw at it.  There was no need to soak it, wrap it or be overly protective from the fire.  We watched closely and let it cook until almost all of the husk had burned away which produced a wonderful smoky-flavor while retaining the moist POP that only fresh corn can provide.  To think of all the years that we boiled water in our screaming hot houses – we could have been cooking it on the bbq with less work and less heat.

Saturday night was the better of the two – if only because of the 2 bottles of wine we purchased from Norm Hardie (who insisted, as friends, that we borrow a pair of Riedel wine glasses for the campfire pairing).  We’ll share more about Norm and the 2009 crop in the coming days.

Altogether a wonderful weekend away for the two of us!

For more info on Prince Edward County, check out the Taste Trail and the upcoming TASTE! event (a one-day event that generally sells out in advance).  let us know if you`re going out and we`ll send you some places to see (this offer INCLUDES those of you we don`t know of course :) – the more the merrier).