Category Archives: Local Food Finds

Unexpected Urban Forage

A number of recipes I’ve been eying in the past few weeks call for juniper berries and though they are common in many European dishes, they aren’t common to North American cooking. Nor are they common on our grocery store shelves.

What is common here though are the juniper bushes on which they grow and as I was walking back to work at lunch today, I found myself staring at a berry-laden juniper right next to the city bus transitway! At first glace, they appeared to be the young green ones that are not useable but closer inspection revealed some mature blue berries ready for harvest. Since I had an armload of stuff, was limited for time and was getting a few odd looks from passers-by, I limited my harvest to a small handful. I’ll go back when it’s not so busy and do a more thorough job. Then I’ll dry them on a windowsill for a few weeks and put them in a jar for future use.

I’ll have a few more urban harvest possibilities in coming weeks – rose hips (for jam), crab apples (spiced and preserved in jars, or jelly) and then there’s the street where black walnuts rain onto the road in the fall. There’s the puffball mushroom growing in the yard … if it survives the foot traffic. The tomatoes discovered recently at the back of the yard, sprouted from one of last year’s wayward tomatoes. And who knows what else?!

I love that there are little nuggets of goodness out there, just waiting for those who take the time to seek them out or just plain see that they’re there. There’s something immensely satisfying in harvesting these gifts of nature.

Red Fife – Found It!

I’ve played around with bread-making here and there over the last few years and done a fair amount of research on different flours. In the course of some web browsing I stumbled onto the topic of Red Fife wheat:

Bought to Canada by David Fife, of Peterborough, in 1842, it became the main spring wheat variety grown in Canada and the northern U.S. for decades. It was gradually displaced, however, as “new and improved” wheat varieties came onto the market and has only recently been re-introduced. In the past few years, Red Fife flour has been discovered and embraced by the artisan bread world for the fantastic flavour and deep golden-red crust it produces.

Intrigued, I tried to source some locally about a year ago and came up empty-handed. Then, while researching something entirely different last week, I discovered a Red Fife wheat grower only a stone’s-throw past the 100-mile ‘local’ definition, discovered also that the grower stone-mills it into flour, found out that Westboro’s newly-relocated Natural Food Pantry, just blocks away, had it … and here it is!

Heritage organic flour from CIPM, Madoc, Ontario

I think what pleased me most in finding this flour was discovering that it’s grown and milled just outside the small town of Madoc, Ontario, where my grandmother lived all her life and where I spent almost every summer of my childhood.

A bit more hunting netted a promising recipe for Red Fife whole wheat bread that uses two different pre-ferments (a la Peter Reinhart) for the dough and a flower pot as a sort of ‘brick oven’ to bake the bread.

Now I just need to buy a terra cotta flower pot* and find time in the next few weeks to give it a go!

*OK, I know, there’s the wood-fired brick oven I built in the back garden but winter has arrived here and although I cooked outside in it that first winter, I’m just not that stoic at this point. The best I can say is maybe …

Westboro & Hunt Club Food Finds!

I love it when I stumble upon new food stores in our fair city so this was a really good week as I have two of them to report on – one really is new and the other, while a few months old, is new to me!

First, my new neighbourhood find –

We were driving home after work one evening this week along Richmond Road and when we spied a sign saying ‘The Piggy Market’ we just had to turn around and investigate.

Turns out the place, which bills itself as a local food delicatessen, is actually located at 400 Winston Avenue. Winston is one of those closed streets running north off Richmond but the store is almost right at the corner, making it highly visible (and accessible) from Richmond Road.

The first thing we noticed through the window from the street was a large rotisserie full of chickens. The second, when we opened the door, was the wonderful aroma! These are not your average supermarket chickens – they’re brined first and the birds are seasoned differently on each day of the week.

They also produce their own in-house smoked charcuterie products from heritage breeds of pork.

Rounding things out are a nice selection of Ontario cheeses from Black River, Fifth Town and Back Forty, along with Cochrane’s milk, Art is In bread and other locally produced items.

The guy in charge was an owner, I think – really nice and very happy to talk about their products, their mandate and their vision. We were really just there for a look but came out with a small pack of applewood smoked bacon, sliced to order, and a loaf of Art is In bread. What I didn’t realize it at the time, and was pleased to discover at home (from the label) is that it comes from the Tamworth breed, which is considered one of the best for bacon – bonus!

Now comes the hard part – I really like the store, I really like their selection of goods, I really like their philosophy, I really like the guy I spoke with … but I did not enjoy the bacon. I wish I could say otherwise and perhaps it’s just my personal tastes, however, it was not highly flavoured enough and seemed to cook up quicker than the bacon I’m used to, ending up overdone and very dry. Disappointing.

So far, my bacon of choice still comes from the meat counter at the Fresh Produce store on Carling Ave. Just their regular stuff, but sometimes the double-smoked if I feel like treating myself.

The Art is In bread, on the other hand, was delicious, and it’s great to know where I can get it here at my end of Richmond Road.

I do plan to go back to the Piggy Market. I want to support local small business and this is exactly the type of place I’d like to see succeed! I plan to try some other things but also plan to share my view with them.

Too often, customers don’t speak up when things could be better, especially in a small neighbourhood place. But those are the places that benefit most from sincere – and honest – customer feedback.

Which brings me to my other concern – price. Many in our neighbourhood have larger disposable incomes than do I and I suppose I classify as a skin-flint on occasion. But I wonder just how often enough people will be able or willing to pay that much more than Superstore prices, no matter how superior or local a product may be …

Regardless, I do recommend the Piggy Market – if you’re nearby, stop in, check it out and, most important, let them know what you think.

Now for a completely different food experience – T & T, the new Asian superstore that opened this week at the corner of Hunt Club and Riverside – wow!

This is a whole new experience for Ottawa shoppers. I dropped in on Friday at lunchtime, two days after their debut, and was blown away by the selection. Not just the stock on the grocery shelves, but the amazing sushi selection and dim sum counter – fantastic!

I’m not very experienced in the art of Asian cooking but this place may tempt me to try it more often. It was a zoo while I was there but, interestingly, staff and customers alike were really pleasant and happy, and the long lines and wait times at the cash were not irritating at all because the waiting shoppers were happily conversing with each other (and more than once I overheard “so, what do you do with this?!”).

So totally different from the typical Loblaws experience.

I’d give it a big thumbs-up except for one thing: they sell shark fins.

A few weeks earlier this would have gone right under my radar but I recently watched the documentary film ‘Sharkwater’ – what an eye-opener!

I strongly encourage everyone to see this film.

What’s being done in our oceans is barbaric and criminal – not to mention the likelihood that it could have vastly negative and irreversible repercussions for our planet and its people in years to come.

I have feared and disliked sharks for years, however, this documentary accomplishes its goal – it is impossible not to come away with a whole new understanding and way of thinking about our oceans, their importance and of our ignorance and misconceptions.

See it!

Anyway, back to T & T – recommended, despite the shark fins. (I’m trying to think of an effective way to convince them to ditch them – I don’t think a boycot is it.)

And if you go, a tip – entry for most people will be from Hunt Club but the exit, except to turn right (east) onto Hunt Club, is at the other end of the parking lot, onto Riverside – no left turns onto Hunt Club!

Happy shopping and, if you visit either place, let me know what you think!