Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

Over the last few years, we’ve slowly been tweaking our family’s dietary habits. I’ve talked a lot about how I’ve learned to cook, and I try to make smart choices when I buy ingredients. This means choosing local and sustainable whenever possible.

So when I heard that one of our family favourite places to eat, SUBWAY® Restaurants, are now sourcing their produce from local Ontario farms, I was happy to join their marketing campaign. What’s not to like when your goals of healthy eating (more fresh veggies!) meets conscientious choices (buy local!) meets fiscal responsibility (affordable meal out for the family) all while making meal time just a little bit easier?

We love SUBWAY® Restaurants for fast, fresh, family-friendly food on the go. The kids like the control of customizing their own subs, and I like the fact that it’s an easy way to get a couple of servings of fresh vegetables in. (You can read more about SUBWAY® Restaurants nutrition FAQs on their site.) My personal fave is a veggie sub on whole wheat with Swiss cheese with a lot (no really, more please, I like a LOT!) of hot sauce. I like the idea that the vegetables are now sourced in Ontario through Burnac Produce, because of the positive environmental aspects (reduced emissions from transporting foods) and because buying local supports jobs and economic activity in the province.  

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Here’s our family tip to make dinner out at SUBWAY® Restaurants even more of a treat: we order footlong subs for the kids, but only eat half of the sub for dinner. The other half gets wrapped up and put in lunches for school the next day. Win-win!

Burnac Produce is now supplying fresh, local veggies to Ontario’s 1,300 SUBWAY® Restaurants:  find a store near you!

#EatFresh!

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Disclosure: This post brought to you by SUBWAY® Restaurants. The content and opinions expressed are that of Postcards from the Mothership.


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We ended up with leeks in our CSA share last autumn. This is not a food I’d ordinarily eat, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. Beloved has long had an affection for potato leek soup, and we conveniently also had potatoes in our share, so I surfed around the internet to get some ideas. I pulled together some inspiration and what I have learned over the last couple of years from Chef Michael Smith, and created my own recipe: potato bacon leek soup.

Potato bacon leek soup (7 of 7)

It’s deliciously easy! This is what you need:

Potato bacon leek soup (1 of 7)

White potatoes (probably any kind of russet or non-baking potato would do), four or five medium ones
One leek, tip cut off and half and half green and white
Stock or broth, about two cups. You can also substitute white wine, or even water, or any combination of the above.
Four or five strips of bacon

Potato bacon leek soup (6 of 7)

And I forgot to add these to the first ingredient photo – they come later!
One or so cups of cream
One or more cups of frozen peas
Salt and pepper

Start with the bacon: cut it into chunks and fry it up in a heavy soup pot. (I heart my dutch oven!)

Potato bacon leek soup (3 of 7)

While the bacon is frying, chop the potatoes into chunks (leave the skin on) and slice the leek lengthwise to rinse between the layers. I read online you are supposed to do this, so I do. Not sure how necessary it is, but I don’t like sand in my soup. Slice the halved, rinsed leeks into 1 cm pieces.

Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the crisped bacon and set aside. Pour off some, or most, or none, of the fat. (Save it for frying up perogies later in the week!)

Potato bacon leek soup (2 of 7)

Toss the leeks into the rendered bacon fat and fry for just a few minutes, until they start to soften.

Potato bacon leek soup (4 of 7)

Toss the potatoes on top, stir to coat with the bacon fat and fry a bit longer. Add salt and pepper liberally.

Potato bacon leek soup (5 of 7)

Add liquid (stock, water, wine, whatever you have on hand) to just cover the works, sprinkle about 1/3 of the cooked bacon back in and bring the works to a steady boil. Simmer long enough for the potatoes to become very soft, at least 20 – 30 minutes. (Pro tip: if you’re late getting started, cut your potatoes into smaller chunks. They soften faster!)

I use an immersion blender to blend the soup, but I’m sure you could carefully do it in a blender or even food processor, or with a very vigourous potato masher, if you don’t mind a chunkier soup. Once it is blended to your taste (we like it thick), pour in the cream and stir well. Give it another few minutes on the heat to warm it back up and season again to taste if necessary. When you are ready to serve, pour in the frozen peas. They’ll instantly thaw AND bring your piping hot soup down to a perfectly slurpable temperature.

Scoop into serving bowls and sprinkle the reserved bacon on top.

Potato bacon leek soup (7 of 7)

This is the only soup that my kids actively love – most soups and stews are just tolerated. It is ridiculously easy to make, reasonably nutritious and stores well in the fridge for terrific next-day lunches. This may be a soup that we keep eating all year ’round!


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I have been following with interest the story of French’s versus Heinz ketchup. If you’ve missed it, the story so far goes something like this.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 8.26.25 AM

Last year, worlds collided in the condiment aisle when Heinz introduced mustard not too long after French’s introduced ketchup. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than just new product launches, though. If you grew up, as I did, in southern Ontario, you knew that Heinz ketchup was made in Leamington, a small town just outside of Windsor. In 2014, Heinz stopped making ketchup at the Leamington plant, which meant that not only were those factory workers out of work but all the local farms who supplied tomatoes to the plant were devastated as well. This article says Heinz consumed more than HALF of Ontario’s processing tomato crop, and Leamington’s economy was so inextricably bound to Heinz that it was called “Tomato Town.” The Toronto Star reported in May 2014:

This much is certain: Leamington ketchup is done. No longer will 200 bottles of the red stuff roll off the Leamington line every minute. No longer will the plant, which really has played a muscular role in the growth of the global conglomerate, boast of 80 million bottles of ketchup made annually. No longer will Heinz ketchup sport the “Proudly Prepared in Canada” label, the one with the red maple leaf, a claim made since the first bottle of Leamington ketchup was stoppered in 1910.

As a result, that monster-sized rendering of a ketchup bottle on the Oak Street side of the factory, the one with the crowing banner “Home of Canada’s Finest Ketchup,” will have to go. As for the argument over whether the Canadian version is sweeter than the Heinz ketchup made in the U.S. of A. — well, that conversation is over.

Into that giant footprint stepped French’s in January of 2016. French’s started making tomato paste for ketchup at the Highbury Canco plant formerly occupied by Heinz, using local Canadian tomatoes. Then suddenly everyone was talking about French’s ketchup in a social media groundswell after one fellow’s impassioned Facebook post went viral last month. As more and more people shared Brian Fernandez’ post about how he loves French’s because its ketchup is free of preservatives, artificial flavours and high fructose corn syrup, French’s ketchup flew off the store shelves. Each time I visited the grocery store this month, I chuckled to myself seeing the nearly sold-out shelves of French’s ketchup.

It was an easy decision for me as a consumer. Canadian made? Yes please. Inputs produced by Canadian farmers? Yes please. Free from high fructose corn syrup and preservatives? Yes please. I have been a lifelong fan of Heinz ketchup, but it was clear to me which brand I’d be buying from now on.

And so my jaw literally dropped open when I read this morning that Loblaws has said it will no longer carry French’s ketchup.

Loblaws told CBC News it has sold French’s ketchup since 2014, but the particular brand of the condiment was not extremely popular.

“Demand for the product has been consistently low,” a company official wrote in an email. “As a result, we have decided to no longer offer it as part of our regular inventory.”

The article goes on to say that “French’s ketchup stock is still available in some Loblaws stores, but not all.” I can tell you this for sure: I shop at my local Your Independent Grocer with fierce loyalty, and I’ve been a Loblaws customer for decades, but I will go to whatever store I need to in order to stock up on French’s ketchup, and I will never buy another Heinz product.

I hope Loblaws realizes how utterly tone-deaf and ham-fisted their actions appear and retracts this decision. I’m not saying they should exclusively carry one brand or another, but to exclude a brand riding a wave of popular support because it is made locally, supports Canadian farmers AND is more healthy? What were they thinking? I think Beloved put it best: here in Canada, it should not be the President’s Choice, but the Prime Minister’s choice, and the people’s choice. We’ll be a French’s ketchup family from now on.

What do you think? Spring thaw means BBQ season here in Canada: will you be re-thinking what’s on YOUR burgers and dogs from now on?

Edited to add: Dang, I knew the blog was powerful, but I didn’t realize quite how powerful! *wink* The Toronto Star is reporting that Loblaws has relented!

“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers. We will re-stock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product,” said Kevin Groh, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs and communication.

“We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible,” Groh said Tuesday.

Imma call that a victory. Thanks for listening Loblaws!

Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion only, and does not in any way reflect the opinions of my employer.


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It’s been nearly two years since I first wrote about stalking my culinary hero, Chef Michael Smith. Since then we’ve been to his Flavour Shack in Souris several times, and for my birthday dinner last year we splurged on an incredible family dinner at his new FireWorks restaurant at the Inn at Bay Fortune. And yet, despite our best efforts to meet him in person, Chef Michael himself has managed to evade us.

Until Tuesday, that is! In a delightful and completely unexpected convergence of my day job, my love of photography and my celebrity crush, I had the amazing opportunity to take and tweet photos of Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley (how much do I love that my “boss” is from PEI?!) making soup with Chef Michael Smith at an industry reception hosted by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association. They’re the folks behind the #HalfYourPlate campaign.

I was more than a little anxious the day of the event. I alternated between worrying that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet Chef Michael and worrying that I would in fact get to meet him — but would babble like an idiot. There may be some precedence for the latter. I also worried about forgetting an important piece of gear at home; whether I’d be able to get a clean photo worthy of the subject matter; whether my equipment would fail; whether I could get it right in camera well enough to avoid the need for post-processing; whether there would be too many people in the room and where I should position myself for the best shot; which lens I should use; how I’d be able to get the photo from my camera to my phone to tweet the photo; whether I should use my flash on-camera, off-camera or not at all; whether I would get stuck in traffic on my way to the event and be late or miss it entirely; whether the egg salad I had for lunch would give me food poisoning and render me unable to attend; and, whether Beloved would ever forgive me for meeting Chef Michael without him.

By the time I actually got to the Chateau I was so frazzled that I was relieved to have simply made it to the site intact. I walked into the ballroom and nearly dropped my equipment – he was RIGHT THERE! Surprisingly, there were no heavenly beams shining on him, no chorus of foodies with harps and whisks around him. And after nearly hyperventilating, I was actually able to walk right up and talk to him and say hello, just like a normal human being. And then this happened:

Me and my bestie Chef Michael Smith

He was sweet enough to both indulge my request for a photo and to listen to me babble about our various trips to stalk him visit PEI, my love for the Island and how I credited him almost entirely for me learning to cook in my 40s. To my delight, he said that he took issue with me giving him credit, and that people have been figuring out how to cook food for generations. He said that all he did was give me the confidence to give myself permission to learn, which was a lovely way of framing it. He asked me about the boys and their ages, and told me about his three kids,and we chatted a bit about the Inn at Bay Fortune as well. By that point, I felt like I’d taken more than my share of his time and retreated to a corner of the ballroom to have a wee moment and get my wits about me while preparations for the reception went on around me. Luckily, I had more than an hour before I needed to take my one tweetable photo and my colleagues and I chatted amiably while we waited for the cooking demo with our Minister to begin.

To my immense relief, I was able to nail a couple of great shots and managed to get them out on the corporate Twitter account without incident.

Tweet

By the time the reception wrapped up, it had been a couple of hours of being in the room with Chef Michael and I really thought I’d shown tremendous restraint at not following him around like a puppy dog but kept a respectful and respectable demeanor – and distance. I was packing up my (largely unused) gear when I noticed him chatting with a few people nearby. I had an idea, shrugged it off as ridiculous and insane, and then decided to carpe my diem. When would I ever have an opportunity like this again?

I used my iPhone make a FaceTime connection to Beloved at home and told him to gather up the kids and stand by. Then I took a deep breath and I think I was already blushing when I approached Chef Michael, brandishing my iPhone. The emcee for the evening smiled and me and gestured at my phone, asking “Would you like me to take a picture?”

“Um, no,” I blushed, looking at Chef Michael. “I was wondering if I could trouble you to say hi to my boys?” and I held up the live FaceTime connection. I now know that Chef Michael is not only a passionate advocate for family cooking and a world class chef, but a genuinely lovely person, because he did not miss a beat and immediately leaned in to the screen to say hello to the boys.

“You know,” Chef Michael said to them, “your mom is pretty cool! Now EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!” He went on to say hi to everyone, and to smile and wave as everyone said hello back.

I couldn’t have asked for a better finish for a fun evening. Now not only have I met our culinary hero, but the whole family has as well. And it was one of those rare and delightful situations where someone you’ve been admiring for years turns out to be an even more lovely person than you’d imagined.

And also? Chef Michael told my kids that their mom is cool. I’ll be milking that one for YEARS!

:)


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You know what food I love on a cold winter weekend? A hearty beef stew. You know what else I love? Thick, salty oven fries that are crispy on the outside and perfect on the inside. In a flash of brilliance, I pulled the two of them together into my new favourite winter-time dinner: stew-tine! (Stou-tine? Probably better than pou-stew, at least!)

Here’s my “recipe,” such as it is. You’ll need:

500g of stewing beef
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 small cooking onion
several garlic cloves
1 cup red wine (optional)
2 cups stock
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
1 turnip
handful of mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
3 – 4 large baking potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
ground pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1 tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup very cold water

Over medium high heat, add canola/veg oil to a dutch oven or stew pot. While the pot and oil heat, cut the stewing beef into small pieces, maybe 2 cm cubes. Toss the the beef in the flour to coat liberally. Brown the beef in the oil. Make sure it browns very well on at least one side – it’s hard for me to be patient and not touch it while it browns!

While the beef is browning, dice the onions and garlic cloves. When the beef is well browned, add the onions and garlic and saute lightly. If the pan is dry, add a touch of the red wine or a bit more oil. Brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan is good!

Chop the carrots, celery, turnip and mushrooms into pieces of similar size to the beef. When the onions are translucent, add the carrots, celery, turnip and mushrooms to the pot with the red wine and/or stock and add enough water to cover the works. Bring to a high boil and use a wooden or plastic spoon to scrape up the browned bits of flour off the bottom of the pot. Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper, reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Ideally, simmer the stew for an hour or so before you start the fries. Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Wash the potatoes but don’t peel them, and cut them into thick slices. I cut them into quarters length and width-wise, then cut each quarter into slices about 1 cm thick. I like to have some skin on each piece. Soak the potato slices for a few minutes, up to 30 mins, in cold water. Drain and dry, and then toss the potato slices with olive oil, salt and optional paprika.

Line a baking sheet (we usually need two for four potato’s worth) with parchment paper and place the potato slices on the parchment paper. Bake for approx 25 mins, until they are toasty brown on the down side. Flip and bake another 10 to 15 mins to taste.

While the oven fries are finishing, if you want to thicken the stew gravy, turn the heat back up and bring the stew back to a boil. Mix the corn starch into the cold water and add gradually to the stew. Finally, just before you serve, add the frozen peas and stir.

Stew-tine

Place a serving of fries on each plate, and ladle the stew on top. If you’re not minding your carbs, serve with extra bread for sopping up the gravy!

The only thing I didn’t love about this was the texture of the gravy when I used corn starch as a thickener. Any recommendations to thicken a stew using options other than corn starch? The flour at the beginning certainly starts the job, but I think when you serve it as stew-tine, you want that extra thickness!

Mad props to Chef Michael Smith for the basics of the oven fries, from his Family Meals cookbook, and for teaching me the basics so I’m now comfortable freestyling in the kitchen!

My dirty little secret is that I love this with ketchup. There is something sublime about really good fries and gravy with ketchup, and having the beef and veg along for the ride justifies it as more than just a sometimes treat!


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Beloved called me at work the other day.

“I feel so lost, so adrift. I’ve lost my rudder and I feel like we’re directionless.” Nope, not an existential crisis – he was upset because it was three days after grocery day and the chalkboard where I faithfully write our weekly meal plan was still blank.

I love my kitchen chalkboard. LOVE IT! It has taken almost all of the stress out of weekday dinners. Not only do I know what’s for dinner every day of the week, but so does the family. It used to drive me bonkers that each boy would wander through whatever room I was in and idly ask, “What’s for dinner?” about three minutes after I’d finished apprising the previous kid of our dinner plans, or that it would be the first thing they’d say when they saw me right after school, occasionally before “hello”. I swear, I’d answer that question eight times in an average afternoon. We have three kids. You do the math. But now, they know – it’s written in chalk for all to see. (They still ask me, though. You can lead a kid to a chalkboard, but apparently you can’t make him read.)

chalkboard

I used to think I hated cooking dinner, until I realized that it was not so much the actual cooking that I hated, but the conceptualizing. So many cosmic tumblers have to fall into place for dinner to occur: you need to be able to pluck the idea out of the vast universe of potential meals, you need to have the ingredients on hand, you need to have the required prep time, and only then can you get on to the business of actually making dinner. The struggle is real.

The weekly meal plan takes all of that thinking and planning of the arsenic hours when you’re hungry and tired and cranky (YMMV, but I know I am all of those things between 4 and 6 pm on a weeknight) and puts them into a happier Saturday morning context surrounded by coffee and breathing space, and possibly rainbow-farting unicorns.

Hand in hand with the chalkboard comes the shopping list. I actually enjoy my Saturday morning meal and grocery planning ritual. About 20 minutes before I go out grocery shopping, I sit down with a coffee, a piece of paper, and my PC Plus points app. (I love PC points!) I start my list with things that are featured on the app for points that I would likely buy anyway, and sometimes I add a meal idea or two based on featured ingredients. Then I flesh out six or seven meals based on a big list of “things we like to eat” that’s stuck on the fridge with a magnet. Sometimes if I’m feeling inspired (or lacking inspiration) I’ll flip through my collection of Chef Michael Smith cookbooks, and if I’m really desperate I’ll peruse my Pinterest recipe boards (I have one for ideas to try and one for things that I know will work.) I fill in a shopping list based on what I’ll need to make those things, plus a quick scan of what I need to replenish in the fridge and cupboards. This always gives me a reasonably robust shopping list, and while I don’t religiously stick to my list, it does a pretty good job of getting what we need for the week without too many impulse buys or food that goes to waste.

As soon as I get home from the grocery store, I fill in the chalkboard with the week’s meals. I need to fill it in right away, as I find myself glancing to the corner frequently as I put the groceries away (or, more likely, as Beloved puts the groceries away) and making decisions about what goes into the fridge and what gets frozen for later consumption. Stuff heavy on fresh meat generally gets put into the rotation early in the week because I am a little unreliable when it comes to taking stuff out of the freezer – but the chalkboard helps with that, too.

I thought when I first started planning meals like this that I’d come up against my own fickleness (“but how can I be sure on Saturday that I’ll feel like tacos on Tuesday?”) but that really hasn’t been an issue. Sometimes we have pasta on Monday instead of Wednesday, and my ideas for Thursday or Friday tend to be a little more nebulous and based more on pantry staples than fresh food, so if we are going to go rogue and grab a take-out family platter from our favourite shawarma place instead, it’s likely to be on one of these nights. But I’d say we stick to the plan more than 80 per cent of the time.

I might have laughed at this “system” a few years ago but I rely on it now, and there are hella less dinner-time meltdowns since chalkboard arrived to save our sanity and guide us through the chaos. Clearly Beloved likes it, too, and I had to laugh when my brother and his family visited a few months ago and I noticed that someone had helpfully crossed off each of the meals we had already eaten during his visit.

Do you do this sort of planning? Could a chalkboard save your sanity, too?


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Photo of the day: Avocado toast

26 August 2015 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

It always tickles me when the various streams in my life converge and diverge. A while ago, someone on Facebook made a passing mention of avocado toast. Specifically, avocado mashed with fresh lime juice and sea salt on toast. I’m pretty sure I drooled, and I can tell you for sure that I tried it […]

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How to manage your CSA share (alternate title: Learning to love the chard)

10 June 2015 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

I am pretty excited that our community supported agriculture (CSA) share will start arriving soon. We’ve signed up for a half share, which means we get a massive load of fresh, local organic veggies every two weeks from June through October. I laughed when I saw a recent post on Apartment Therapy with tips about […]

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In which she makes solid progress in her health and weight goals

6 June 2015 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

Two months ago, on Easter Sunday, I pulled my FitBit back out of the drawer, where it had been taking a brief break from my wrist. I’ve missed my 10,000 steps per day goal only seven out of the 61 days since then. I’m pretty pleased with that! I’ve really been working on overcoming my […]

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Is fruit juice bad for kids?

19 May 2015 Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

This is timely. I was just thinking about writing a blog post about kids and their drink choices when I came across this article in the Ottawa Citizen about how fruit juice may be dropped from Canada’s food guide as a healthy choice. The article illustrates two sides of the argument: on one hand, fruit […]

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