Identifying My Canadian Voice

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I began the journey of blogging in February 2013, with the intention of it being an outlet for writing whatever might be on my mind, and in particular to explore my love of poetry. I never intended to write about food, and I also never considered that writing about food could actually fit well with my objective of sharing, without boundaries, from my soul.

I was intrigued by the Canadian Food Experience Project because I do love food and cooking, but also because of its purpose: to identify a Canadian voice for culinary arts and facilitate a clearer perspective on our culture, via food. I’ve always been intrigued by our Canadian “culture” and am drawn to any initiative that unites people and builds relationships.

It seemed to me, at first, that these CFEP challenges and the resultant writing would be misfit with the rest of my blog. It could even alienate readers that follow my blog mainly for the poetry. What I’ve found instead is that it has been simply a different way of exploring who I am at my core. Some of my monthly posts really got at the foundations of who I am as an extension of my family and my heritage, as well as the food I grew up on. This helped me to recognize the crucial influences in my life. Others were focused on my own creativity as I set about inventing recipes from scratch; something I’ve not done much of. I have realized through a year of focus just how much I relish the process of creating interesting food, and it emphasized how much I really love baking.

My Canadian voice, vis-à-vis food, is no different than my voice as it relates to my other writing and take on life in general. So in this last post of the project, I have defined this voice by means of a few self-identified characteristics that this blog and the CFEP have allowed me to reveal.

My Canadian voice is broadminded and exploratory, multi-dimensional and exciting.

My family is from Hungary and I very much identify with this heritage. I like to experiment with new flavours, spices, ingredients and even lifestyles (i.e.: vegan, raw, etc.). I believe the multi-dimensional nature of our country makes it a fascinating place to live. I have always had friends who themselves, or their families, hailed from distant lands – India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, and so on and have eaten traditional foods from many parts of the world, right here at home. These opportunities to ‘taste the world’ represent the wonderful compendium of flavours that come together to create a diverse and special ‘food nation’ here in Canada. Together with our country’s First Nations, Canadians are fortunate to have a world of culinary possibilities at our fingertips.

My Canadian voice is colourful, loyal and holistic.

I enjoy delicious food but I also enjoy healthy food. I want to make and eat meals that are not only tempting to the eye and satisfying to the palate, but also make the body healthy and strong. Some of my posts have evidenced my love of fresh and wholesome ingredients, which stimulate the senses and nourish body, mind and soul. If these fresh ingredients can be obtained locally and their purchase supports nearby producers in the process, then the benefits are double. When I support dedicated growers nearby, I can even visit their farms and feel confident about the products I’m eating . In season, I can literally create a rainbow on my dinner plate and connect with a greater good in the process.

My Canadian voice is creative and courageous.

I am not afraid to try new things, inside and outside the kitchen. Without the courage to allow ourselves new experiences, even if failure or pain is an option, we do not grow and learn in the same way. We would be denying ourselves rich opportunities to be better, stronger, fuller people. Cooking is both an art and a science. With copious websites and cookbooks out there, the number of available recipes is boundless. To go beyond and create something unique requires creativity. I’ve pushed myself out of my box in order to start from scratch with spontaneous inspiration and a few key ingredients, to create recipes that put smiles on people’s faces. The writing that goes along with my recipes shows a glimpse of who I am, and I’ve tried to be courageous in sharing transparently, as I do with my poetry.

My Canadian voice is open, honest, caring and relational.

In large part, I cook and bake for others. Sharing my baking with family and friends makes me happy; knowing I have brought them joy. It is key element of relationship-building for me, being a natural nurturer and someone who strives to influence others’ lives positively. In all kinds of relationships, my goal is to always be transparent about my values, feelings and priorities, honest in my communication, compassionate and loving in my actions and present and active in helping the relationship flourish. It is also crucial to admit mistakes in order to open yourself up to learning, and this is the same for cooking as for almost anything in life.

I believe that my commitment to this project and all that I have written about has exemplified these characteristics of my voice – things I strive for, even if not always successful. It has taught me that no matter what I am writing about, I must relentlessly pursue the identification and communication of who I am at my core and a life that allows me to live it authentically.

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A final note to cap off this year-long project, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Valerie for challenging Canadian foodies and chefs to contemplate their food identity. She lives her passion so evidently and has created and collected so much enthusiasm, ingenuity and fellowship amongst us in the process.

The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

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Fresh Inspiration

Spring is here, though in Ottawa it is still cooler than most of us would like it to be. Still, I’m grateful for the sunshine and even the showers that washed away the snow and salt and are bringing us spring flowers. The Byward Market is blooming into its spring/summer look, with farmers beginning to set up their booths. Last week, some delightful fresh herbs could be purchased there.

Spring is a time of brightness, fresh scents and the return of vibrancy. It is a period of renewal, light, life and hope. Springtime lends itself to considering new opportunities and to challenging all that may seem impossible. My move to Ottawa from Vancouver Island occurred around this time nearly four years ago, and I remember how wide I smiled when I saw the beautiful spring bulbs of Parliament Hill. I knew there held some exciting promises for me in my new home; little did I know what the next four years would bring.

This month’s CFEP theme is the Canadian garden. I don’t currently have my own garden, and in fact, I’ve not grown any food plants other than in containers for a few years. I’ve been greatly inspired by family gardens in my life, and I wrote about this in my September post when I reflected on poignant food memories.

As has become habitual for me in this project, I was left considering what I might write about and create, only a couple of days before this post was due. I’m always a bit of a strategic procrastinator: I leave things until late, but not usually because I dread the task or am lazy. On the contrary, I wait until passion and inspiration seize me, and then I run with it.

 
Yesterday, I was reflecting on this month’s theme with a friend, and remarked to him that through this project, I’ve discovered that as much as I truly enjoy cooking, I love baking even more. I really savour the process of creating baked goods for others’ enjoyment. I feel a sort of artistic connection to inventing and designing desserts. I also derive a lot of peace and relaxation from baking in silence; the slow, systematic process of combining ingredients, applying both literal and symbolic warmth to them, and then constructing the final product….Baked Therapy.

 
So, my friend suggested I make lavender shortbread. It was an awesome idea, but I’ve made lavender shortbread and sugar cookies countless times, and lavender isn’t in bloom yet. Nevertheless, his suggestion did stimulate me in the way all good inspiration should: to consider the things I love and derive enjoyment from and to create something beautiful and unique. With his idea as my starting point, I decided that I would in fact use shortbread as my foundation; one of my most favourite treats. I then thought about the container gardening I have done over the last few years, and my primary product: fresh herbs. Finally, I thought excitedly about the approaching summer season and one of nature’s best gifts: fresh berries. All of this, and lots of love, were brought together to make this month’s creation: Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches, the esthetics of which were slightly inspired by a timeless French confection: the Macaron.

 
Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches

 
Fresh Mint Shortbread Cookies

 
~ 1.5 cups butter, softened
~ 1 cup cornstarch
~ 1 cup icing sugar
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 ½ tablespoons fresh mint, very finely chopped

Mix together dry ingredients. Add softened butter and use wooden spoon or hands to combine until smooth. Place in fridge for 30 minutes if you used your hands and the dough is too soft.

 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

 
Roll out dough on smooth, floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. Use small round cookie cutter to cut out circles and place on cookie sheet about an inch apart.

 

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Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until edges/bottoms get just golden. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool completely.

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Strawberry-Mint Filling

(Note: this makes a good quantity of purée, probably about 250ml, which is way more than you need for the recipe. I then freeze it for later use. If you don’t wish to have extra, cut the recipe in half)

 
~ 4 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped
~ 2/3 cup white sugar
~ 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
~ 6 fresh mint leaves (or more if you desire)

 

Place strawberries and mint leaves into food processor. Process until very smooth.

 

Pour purée into medium saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. Heat over low-medium and simmer until purée becomes darker and thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

 

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, either on the counter or in the fridge. May be made a day or two in advance.

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Construction

When cookies and filling are cooled, create sandwiches by placing about a ½-1 teaspoon of filling on top of one cookie and placing another on top. Voilà!

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I cut out my cookies about 1.5 inches wide, which produced about 40 sandwiches.

The finished cookies have such a beautiful, sweet and summery fragrance. I hope these cookies put a little spring in your step. 🙂

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

Local Deliciousness

It’s April. I can’t believe it’s already April. I’m glad it’s April, but my goodness, how time flies.

 
I hate to disappoint or to be unable to follow through on something I’ve committed to. In joining the Canadian Food Experience Project, the task was relatively simple from the start. Every month, tackle a previously established challenge involving a food-related theme, write about it and post a recipe. With a month between challenges, such a task should be very achievable. But, as those who know me can attest to, I often take on too much, which sometimes leaves the simplest tasks to be accomplished at the very last minute. And while I’m pretty adept at multi-tasking and accomplishing said tasks at the last minute, throw a nasty virus my way, and my procrastination-based plan is thoroughly foiled.

 
This month’s challenge was to write about a local producer or grower. Again, I found myself a week before the post was due, wondering who I should write about. I immediately came up with an answer and an inspired idea. However, the local grower I wished to interview wasn’t able to honour such a short notice request to visit, and so I had left myself with nothing to write about. And, being quite ill at present, I’m sorry to say I don’t have the energy or creativity to come up with something new and do the leg work involved.

 
I thought about what could inspire me to write and also lead to a fairly low-effort recipe. I considered two of the most important things in my life: my son, and my friends. Both of those ideas also lead me to think about comfort.

 
It seems a lot of my CFEP posts have ended up being sweet, baked recipes, and this month’s is no different. I swear to my readers that I really can cook too, but I suppose in some ways I get a tad more personal enjoyment out of baking and sharing desserts or sweet treats. I’m aware that it’s a bit of a cop-out to use the same key ingredient this month as I did last month, but it fits the bill for both a seasonal, locally produced ingredient and a comfort food: maple syrup. I am also happy to share the local maple producer whose farm we have visited every year since moving to the Ottawa area, and where we have enjoyed many a pancake breakfast and walk amongst the maple trees: http://www.sandroadsugarcamp.com/

 
I have made some wonderful friends since coming to Ottawa. I don’t have a large group of friends, but I have been blessed with a few, very close and trusted friends in my life. I have always believed in quality over quantity, especially as life gets fuller and one can only share time with a finite number of people. One of the key ingredients in a strong and lasting friendship is comfort; the ability to be oneself, authentic, without judgment, and also knowing our friends are truly there for us.

 
This past Saturday, I spent the evening with a wonderful girlfriend, enjoying intimate conversation over beautiful food and wine, and all with great ease. Then, Sunday morning, I was fortunate to spend the morning with another close friend of mine, having breakfast and walking along the Rideau river, watching the spring ice flows. During our walk, I remarked to him just how nice it was to have such a comfortable friendship. Both of these friends left me with a real feeling of contentedness, and I left them with a jar full of the treat described below.

 
The recipe I am sharing this month is one that I would consider comfort food, for a few reasons. First, it is naturally sweet. Second, it is high in good fats. Third it is high in protein and fibre. Fourth, it smells wonderful when baked and fills your home with a hearty, nutty and spicy aroma. Fifth, it can be eaten plain or accompanied by a number of other comfort foods. Sixth, it can be easily shared with friends. And finally, and most importantly, it tastes delicious!

 

This month, I give you my recipe for homemade granola.

 

Notes:
• This recipe is also vegan and gluten-free.
• This recipe can be easily multiplied to make large batches which store well in air-tight containers.
• You can substitute or add other nuts, seeds and dried fruit as desired, but keep the ratio of oats to additional ingredients relatively the same.

 

Maple-Almond-Cranberry Granola

 
2 cups large-flake oats
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8th teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or avocado oil – this worked well in my latest experiment)
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
-Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper.
-Mix dry ingredients in large bowl.
-Mix wet ingredients in small bowl and whisk until well combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well.
-Spread evenly onto cookie sheet.
-Bake until golden brown, approximately 35 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to prevent burning.
-Remove from oven and allow to cool and harden completely.
-Break up into desired size granola. Store in airtight containers or jars.
-Eat plain by the handful, or with milk, yogourt, ice cream, fruit compote, or any other way your creative mind desires!

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

A Canadian Love Affair

Well, this month’s CFEP theme is a loaded one, Valerie!

Of course, I spent many moments considering what I might write about with this theme: ‘A Canadian Love Affair’. I found no shortage of inspiration. I thought about foods inspired by love: the love of my mother, the love of my grandmothers, the love I have for my son, the romantic loves I have had in my life. But, I found myself erring on the side of caution, and favouring harmony.

Without cause for stirring any pots, I can safely talk about my Canadian love affair with a place; a place I have written about before. This is a place I’ll always be in love with and will always miss with my heart and soul, so long as I live at a distance (for good or for a time). That place, perhaps predictably now, is Vancouver Island and the Comox Valley in particular. Never have I visited or lived in a place that so touched me to the core and changed who I was in such multidimensional ways.

Indeed, I experienced heartbreak and love there, but it’s not the love of a man and a woman I’m speaking of in this post. I’m communicating the love of nature’s miracles; of glacial peaks, ocean straights, the expanse of pacific coast beaches and year-round temperate weather. I’m speaking of the love of a brief commute along a dyke road with outstanding views few have been fortunate to experience. I’m sharing my fondness of the sincere smiles of friendly people welcoming conversation with a stranger. I’m imparting my love affair with a turn-of-the-century house in what used to be a bustling mining town; a home that exuded the love and relationships of almost a dozen decades of life, boasting hand-made kitchen cabinets made from local lumber, and a back porch with views of the nearby mountains. I’m conveying the beauty of spotting deer resting in residential flower gardens, and getting so close you can almost touch them. And, I’m connecting you to my fondness of living a 4 hour drive from Tofino, one of the most majestic places in Canada that arguably competes on a world stage for beauty.
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Deer on Road

Having grown up in the Toronto area, I wasn’t much exposed to Native Canadian culture. British Columbia is rich with native culture and on Vancouver Island, this is intensified by a large population of Native Canadians. The Island abounds with Native arts and culture and even food. This culture became even more significant when I married a man who was part Native Canadian and had a son. Although my son is only about 1/16 Native, it’s still a part of who he is (and boy was that wonderfully evident in his appearance when he was born with a head full of thick black hair and gorgeous olive-toned skin).

So, as a tribute to the place that holds my heart in its warm, salty hands, and to the originating cultures of this country, this month I’m making Bannock. And, since fresh bread is one of my absolute favourite foods, this month’s challenge was again both meaningful and pleasing to my taste buds and belly and hopefully yours, too.

Bannock is a simple flatbread, which I’ve discovered is actually found in varieties across the world. The type of bannock I was interested in learning more about was Native Canadian bannock. It was customarily cooked over an open fire, and still is in some cases today. Although some recipes do call for oven baking, most modern ones I came across ask for deep frying. Some of my readings indicated that cornmeal was one of the main flours originally used, but today’s recipes typically employ all-purpose flour. There are many variations and recipes out there, savory and sweet. I turned to my sister-in-law Jocelyn, and asked for her recipe, tried and true. My technique was a little different than hers, but it turned out simply delicious. And, although I opted to stray from my often influential Hungarian roots for this month’s post, there exists a very similar Hungarian food called Lángos, so making this bread had me reminiscing about my childhood foods once more.

Native Canadian Bannock (Fried)

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.5-2 cups cold water
Raisins or currants, if desired. (I opted to keep mine savory – if you’d like a sweeter bread, add 1-2 tsp sugar with the dry ingredients as well)
Vegetable oil appropriate for deep frying

Directions

Combine dry ingredients well in a large bowl. Whisk in water slowly, to make a pasty batter. You can add enough water to be reminiscent of thick pancake batter if you’re looking for larger, flatbread-like results. Or, add less water for more of a fritter-type preparation.

Heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan until a small amount of batter dropped into pan begins to bubble vigorously. Drop batter by tablespoonful (or larger if desired) into the hot oil, and fry until golden on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Can be eaten as an accompaniment to soup or stew, as a snack with jam and crème fraiche, or on its own!

Note: Like most deep-fried breads, these really do not keep fresh long, so they should be eaten right away and preferably warm.

Many different recipes can be found online, with origination in different Native communities.

Enjoy!

Two preparations:

You could make these flatter and larger
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fritter-style
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

Harvesting Warmth

Truth be told, this month’s Canadian Food Experience Project creation was a last-minute decision. My life, at present, is in a state of immense change and these changes happen to have created an inordinate amount of busyness. I was travelling for work earlier this week, and on Wednesday the 6th, I suddenly realized my post was due the next day. &%*$!

So, my creation and post may not hold the same amount of emotion and memoirs as is customary for my writing, and certainly I didn’t put the same level of advanced thought and planning into this one. But, as I rode the train home on Wednesday night, I knew one thing for sure: my food creation had to arouse a feeling of warmth in me and in those I would be feeding.

I love autumn. It is a time of year when many marvelous things happen outside our homes. I wrote a poem called Autumn Symphony about the beauty of fall a few weeks back, because for me, autumn is a deeply evocative time. In Ontario, we see an incredible kaleidoscope of colour that paints the leaves of the trees amazing hues of orange, red and yellow. And, as plants die off, the scent emitted reminds me of roasted winter vegetables. The air becomes crisp, but is not yet uncomfortably cold, and so a brisk walk doesn’t require heavy outdoor clothing and is so enlivening. Despite the fact that autumn is often themed a season of death and decay, I find it to be exhilarating and beautiful, because plants or their component parts must die off to leave room for magnificent new growth, come spring. Similarly, it is at a time in my life when painful and challenging change is occurring, that I hold onto great hope that the difficulties will give way to great joy, opportunity and beauty.

After an active day outdoors, perhaps a vigorous hike amongst those exquisite fall colours, there is nothing like curling up by a fire with a good book or even better, with great company. A hot glass of mulled apple cider, four bare feet under a wool blanket and a tender embrace all make hearts and souls warm, too. These are some of the things I think of when I imagine an ideal autumn day.

When thoughts then turn to fall food and the harvest in Ontario, there are a few products I think of: apples, root vegetables, and squash of various kinds. However, there is one squash that particularly speaks of autumn to me, and that is the pumpkin: those jolly, brightly coloured, rotund squash which all North American children fondly associate with Hallowe’en. They come in so many shapes and sizes and with lovely variation and character. I love the diversity of uses for pumpkins: from roasting, to pie, to soup and even delicious spiced, roasted pumpkin seeds. As a child, I used to eat the raw pumpkin flesh when we carved our Hallowe’en pumpkins. There is something very special about waltzing through a pumpkin patch to pick your very own, unique specimen amongst hundreds.

So, when I thought about this month’s challenge, I knew I had to include pumpkin. What’s more, I was certain the recipe I chose to create had to invoke a sense of warmth and richness. I first thought of pumpkin soup, but I make soups a lot and thought I would challenge myself with something different. I considered pumpkin ice cream, but realized it wouldn’t quite capture the warmth I was going for. And then it hit me – crème brûlée! And so, this month, I chose to roast some lovely pie pumpkins, but rather than make pie, I made spiced pumpkin crème brûlée. I feel it turned out well, and those I shared it with certainly seemed to enjoy it. This was especially true for my exuberant 2 year old son, Elijah, who practically licked his ramekin clean and then emphatically, asked for more. An excellent critique indeed!

    Spiced Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Ingredients:

• 1 medium pie pumpkin or enough to make 1 ½ cups puree once baked
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
• 2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
• 8 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Directions:

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

• Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the guts. (Reserve seeds to roast later if desired!)

• Set cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 45 minutes or until fork tender (but not overly soft)

• Remove skin from baked pumpkin and put flesh into a blender or food processor. Process until the purée is smooth. If your particular pumpkin is quite dry and isn’t processing properly, add some water, a tablespoon at a time, to assist. Be careful to only add what is necessary to get it puréed, as you do not want your purée to contain too much water.

• In a large bowl, combine pumpkin purée, vanilla, and spices; set aside.

• In small saucepan, heat cream until steaming.

• Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with granulated sugar.

• Slowly and gradually whisk in cream so as not to cook yolks. Whisk this mixture into pumpkin mixture.

• Place eight 175ml ramekins in a large pan with sides. Pour custard mixture evenly into ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the pan that it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.

• Bake in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the edges are set but the center still jiggles slightly.

• Remove from water and let cool on wire racks.

• Cover and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can make these ahead and refrigerate for up to 2 days, covered.

• When ready to serve, remove custard cups from fridge about an hour before serving to warm to at or near room temperature.

• Sprinkle with brown sugar (lumps removed), and use brûlée torch to gently heat sugar until it bubbles and turns dark amber. If you don’t have a torch, you can carefully broil on the top rack of your oven until the sugar turns this same dark amber colour.

The colour and flavour of the resulting dessert is enough to make anyone feel like they’re receiving a big warm hug. Enjoy!

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Note: After separating all those eggs, you’ll have 8 egg whites leftover. Of course there are many uses for them, but I opted to make some simple meringue cookies as well.

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

My Canadian Food Hero

A colleague and fellow blogger inadvertently inspired me to learn about Valerie Lugonja and the Canadian Food Experience Project. I was intrigued to read about the challenge to Canadian foodies and bloggers alike, and although food is not normally a subject of my blogging, it has certainly influenced my life in many important ways. This aside, I too have taken up the challenge to write a post on the 7th day of each month, as set out by Valerie. Please visit the foregoing link to learn more about her desire to showcase the Canadian food identity through the individual experiences of any Canadian who is impassioned to share theirs.

This month’s challenge is to write about a Canadian Food Hero. I realize I am 3 days late, but since I only learned about this project on the 8th, this will have to do for this month.

There are a few people who came to mind as I contemplated who my food hero was; my mother, my grandmother, and others. Food has played a powerful role in my life, from early childhood through to now and beyond and I’ve had many memorable and sometimes intense food experiences. I love to savour food of all kinds and would suggest I’m quite adventurous as an adult. Attitudes about food were significantly shaped by my family’s European ideals in both positive and negative ways. Nonetheless, there is one person who stood out to me as a true hero, and this post is dedicated to her.

I eat mostly vegetarian, often vegan and purposefully healthily. I don’t deny myself the occasional opportunity to indulge in something meaty, rich and fatty because I still have an undeniable craving for such indulgence at times, but have also found ways to still feel I enjoy incredible taste experiences without those foods. I don’t believe in imbalance and complete denial, so moderation is key for me to maintain my wholesome habits the rest of the time. Given my love of tasty but nutritious food, I knew immediately that my food hero had to be someone who not only creates delicious and aesthetically gorgeous food, but also develops dishes that are nourishing and employ a broad range of nutritious and natural ingredients. So, with that determined, it was obvious. My local food hero is Julia Graham.

Julia is a neighbor, friend, wife and mother, teacher, community supporter, and on the list goes. She and her husband have raised two of the most charming, well-mannered and bright young ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You will often see Julia out for a run, or a ride on her baby-blue cruiser bike with her red and white polka-dotted helmet; this playfulness is indicative of her wonderful spirit, equally played out in her food. With a preference for vegetarian and vegan foods, Julia’s friends and family also know her for the ‘meatless Mondays” in her home, to which I’m sure her husband Scott has grown to love over time (right, Scott?). If you visit their home, there is almost always something new in the oven or on the stove; I’ve never tasted anything Julia prepared that didn’t taste amazing. And when we are fortunate enough to have one of her girls show up at our door with the surplus of a recent catering menu, we excitedly accept!

Julia, a trained chef, owned her own catering company for seven years before going on to become a teacher. Julia has taught culinary arts to high school students for the last eight years and is beloved by her pupils and fellow teachers. I’ve never been in her classroom, but her reputation precedes her; she imparts her passion for high quality, healthy ingredients and beautiful food on her young apprentices.

Julia continues to cater in her “spare time”, putting together creative and uniquely tailored meals for small and large groups alike. Most notably, she is a beacon in the community as she volunteers her time and expertise to cater large charitable events on a regular basis, where she invites her current and past students to join on the team. This includes an annual, very large fundraising event where she and her large, young crew create an authentic and raved-about East Indian meal for several hundred guests. Julia’s heart for local and distant causes is evident, as is her passion for local and fair trade ingredients. You might get to see Julia out on her bike, proudly wearing her Fair Trade t-shirt on Fair Trade Karma day.

Last year, the Maxville Farmer’s Market needed a new volunteer coordinator. Julia stepped up to the plate, and local residents have seen the market flourish beyond imagination. For a small town of about 800 residents, the market abounds with fresh, local and often organic and unique produce. I even learned about bag cultivating my own oyster mushrooms, something I plan to do after my vacation. In addition, you’ll find locally raised meat, locally roasted fair-trade coffee, homemade and authentic Thai food, incredible baked goods, vegan specialties, crafts and more. Much of the community turns up on Friday afternoon, and through her zeal and community contacts, Julia has single-handedly grown our market into something to be very proud of.

This past year, Julia was moved to a different local high school and it was a very emotional time for her, her family, her students and friends. After much deliberation and exploration, Julia made a very brave decision: to resign from her teaching position at the end of the academic year and pursue her long-borne dream to open her own restaurant. In October, Julia will celebrate the grand opening of her much anticipated and carefully designed establishment, the Quirky Carrot Café. The Quirky Carrot will not only be a high end café in the heart of Alexandria, Ontario, but also a cooking school and catering company. I, for one, cannot wait to regularly enjoy an undoubtedly delectable, locally sourced meal and (finally) an excellent cup of coffee in town.

Julia’s boldness, confidence, grace and inner (and outer) beauty inspire me. She has strived for and grasped her dream, and will now bless the entire community with her wisdom and mastery of healthful, beautiful and scrumptious cooking, created with the most nutritious and local ingredients available to her. I have no doubt she will bring unique and intriguing elements and recipes to us all, and will be exceptionally successful. She certainly has my support.

http://www.thequirkycarrot.ca

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