Thursday, 7 November 2013

Eat A Sandwich, Give A Sandwich

I have been putting off going to the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery on Dunlop Street for months now, only because a friend wanted to try it with me and we haven't succeeded in making concrete plans to go there together. I hope she'll forgive me, but I couldn't hold off any longer. My daughter signed up for vocal lessons at the nearby Earthtones music shop on Monday and the timing was just perfect for a bite at the Eatery. Sorry, Della.

It was cold and blustery outside, a wicked wind racing down Bayfield Street headed for the bay, so I definitely needed a coffee, but the menu was a mystery to us as we walked in. After all, how many ways can you make a grilled cheese sandwich? My daughter chose The Classic, your basic grilled cheese on white, which surprised me as she is usually culinarily adventurous. My son picked the new The Club version, and I went for the Dill-icious grilled cheese. While my dining companions chose salad as their sides, I rebelled and got potato chips.

What do I like about the Eatery? It is cosy and warm in several ways. The space is small, a size I would like if I owned my own place, with choices between cosy nooks, ample tables or a window counter with tall chairs ideal for people watching. The music is eclectic as are the homey mismatched china cups and saucers. The food is warm, melty, toasted goodness just like your mum used to make. You can even have that bowl of tomato soup to go with it. Comfort at it's best. 

Take comfort in this too - you can make a difference in the life of another Barrie citizen by participating in the growing Suspended Coffee movement which has come to Barrie via the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery. It is a similar idea to paying for the person behind you in a line up for coffee, popular at Tim Horton's outlets, but in this case the person behind you is in need of your help to buy that coffee. Randy Aylwin, owner of the Eatery, explained that he often sees the same faces outside, those of Barrie's less fortunate citizens, trying to make it through another cold day outdoors until the soup kitchen or shelters open up for a few hours of relief from the elements. He will be taking these suspended hot coffees and sandwiches outside and handing them directly to those who need them the most. I bought 10 suspended coffees on my visit and as Randy added my ticks to the chalk board, he told me that he is actually going to need a bigger chalk board because the word has spread and donations are coming in from all over, many anonymously, more than this little board can reflect - a thought as warming as Randy's sandwiches.

Take a break downtown some time and pop in for lunch at the Grilled Cheese Social Eatery at 53 Dunlop St. E. Food for the body, food for your caring soul. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Jardin du Village

Located in the village of Lafontaine in the northern part of Simcoe County, is a retirement residence called Le Villageois and behind it, a short walk down a gravel lane, you will find the Jardin du Village which is a wonderful 2 acre, multipurpose certified organic garden.

Toiling under some extreme heat conditions, a group of dedicated young gardeners, lead by Andre Chartrand, worked away at the crops as our tour group made our final stop. I was travelling with the media group that day as the Huronia Food Trail prepared for it's launch. Even though our gang of writers and bloggers was riding in air conditioned luxury, we were half melted by the end of the day. I certainly admired these hardy jardiniers.

In this world of GMOs, antibiotics and pesticides, it is refreshing to see edibles grown in a natural way and not dependent on chemicals for the health and vigor of the plant. The Jardin du Village uses practices that are very old and some that are new. By using methods such as soil blending, crop rotation, raised beds, and collecting water, the gardeners can achieve great things naturally. They have learned tricks along the way involving which plants do well beside others. They have even invented their own 'sludge' of natural ingredients that goes a long way in discouraging pests.

The gardeners don't labour alone in their fields. Young francophone day campers are often found here, as are some surprisingly fit seniors from the retirement home, and members of the CSA program giving a few hours of their time. The CSA program ( community supported agriculture) is a wonderful way to try fresh, organic gifts from the land by signing up for a weekly produce box. The program extends from June until October and each box will be a selection of the current harvest for the purchaser's enjoyment. One of our tour group members, radio personality Meg Whitton, is an enthusiastic CSA supporter herself.

As the desire for pure and healthy food grows, so does the interest in organic community gardens like this. Local restaurants have been very smart to pick up on this positive trend and buy their produce from Jardin du Village now as well. The general public can pick up fresh herbs and veggies at the new roadside kiosk located at 333 Lafontaine Rd. West, during summer business hours. When summer rolls around again, you might want to take a drive up to Tiny Township some day and have a tour of Jardin du Village. You might just be inspired to turn even a tiny portion of your yard or balcony into edible garden and you'll find all the tips you need here for keeping it organic.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Chez Vous, Chez Nous B& B

Crazy as it sounds, I want to tell you a little bit about a bed and breakfast where I've never stayed! Just outside of the village of Lafontaine, is the B&B with the French name run by a girl with an Irish surname, who just happens to have a strong English accent. One of the last stops on the Huronia Food Trail is Stephanie Fitzgerald's cozy Chez Vous, Chez Nous B&B, which is very fitting as it would be a fine place to lay your sleepy head after a long day of shopping, touring and dining along the Trail.

Stephanie must have an adventurous spirit. She came to Canada in 2009 with her daughter and took a position as an investor relations manager in Toronto, only to turn in her business suit and buy a B&B in rural north Simcoe County after falling in love with the area while on camping trips. Chez Vous, Chez Nous, which translates to Your House, Our House, has been located in this circa 1830s farmhouse for over 30 years now. The guests sleep in the 7 bedroom extension added on to the original home. Since acquiring to property in 2012, Stephanie has been renovating to make her guests' stays even more pleasant. Ask her to tell you about some of the interesting things she has uncovered while working on this 180 year old structure.

I can imagine that guests here must awaken to the smell of bacon, bird songs and the distinct absence of highway traffic sounds. When they travel to the dining room, they will find themselves in a serene sage green space with lovely antiques throughout. They will be treated to a full English style breakfast made from locally sourced ingredients. On our visit, Stephanie served us mini pancakes with bacon cooked right into them, a favourite with the children who stay there, with local maple syrup for dipping.

Outside there is a long deck with tables, suitable I would think for sitting with a coffee or glass of wine and soaking up the rural landscape. Miles of green farm land surround the B&B, including acres of Fer-Mar potatoes and Stephanie's own personal kitchen garden. I can only imagine how starry the wide open night skies are around here. A lone punching bag hanging from the limb of an old tree caught my eye. Just how stressful is running a B&B anyway? I found it sort of funny and just had to take a picture. Stephanie assures me it is for fitness purposes only!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Legends Of The Phaal: Barrie Foodies Try The World's Hottest Curry!

I wasn't going to try it. No, not me. I was there to observe and take notes and definitely not eat any of the legendarily super hot phaal (pronounced fall) curry being made at Tiffins Curry In A Hurry that day. I am an infant when it comes to high heat foods. I love flavour and spice, but no inferno for me please. Sign me up for mild. As much as I enjoy Indian food, with all its exotic layers of scents and tastes, I was happy that another chef was going to be doing the eating instead of me.

Chef Kent Smith, owner of Michael & Marion's restaurant, on Bayfield St. just around the corner from Tiffins, is a regular diner and one of a growing group of heat lovers who stop in at Tiffins especially for the phaal curry. A while ago, owners Goldie and Kay, realized that people were travelling from Toronto to savour their phaal curry because Tiffins is the only Indian restaurant in all of Canada to offer the dish on their regular menu. Other eateries do phaal curry challenges once in a while, as Tiffins has done in the past as well, but none offer it every day.

I was invited into the tiny kitchen where Chef Kay creates all his flavourful masterpieces. The chef, all decked out in a bright scarlet chef jacket, started with a pan of hot canola oil and the first ingredient that went in was fennel seeds. After they sizzled for a minute or so, he added a tomato and onion mixture which was then flamed in spectacular fashion! All very innocent so far, but Chef Kay did have a handful of face masks just in case at the ready nearby.  Next came a generous ladle of chicken tikka and some cashew sauce and butter. A dollop of whipping cream added smoothness to the mixture. Up until that point, I would have eaten everything in the pan, but now came the source of the heat, a plate of 5 colourful chilies that been lurking to the side, waiting for their chance to turn the dish from vivacious to volcanic! Chef Kay piled the chilies up in the pan and then mixed them through the entire entree. Hello 800,000 to 1 million Scoville heat units!

The chef plated the phaal curry next to a mould of multicoloured basmati rice and garnished it with a clove and 2 chili pods. Who would be afraid of such a pretty platter? Me, that's who! Goldie, Kay's bubbly wife and co-owner of Tiffins Curry In A Hurry, carried the finished phaal dish out to Kent Smith, who was already set up with a glass of ice water and ready to dive into his lunch. My photographer son, Mitchell, snapped some pictures and I watched Kent dine and waited for something to happen. I half expected profuse sweating, gasping for air, rapid chugging of the ice water or perhaps even flames from his hair, but Kent ate away and carried on a conversation as if he was eating a dish of ice cream. I was surprised and possibly a little disappointed that nothing newsworthy occurred. Which leads me to my main question - why is Kent able to withstand the fire of phaal in his mouth and most others, like me, cannot?

Don't expect to find phaal curry on any menu if your travels take you to India. The dish was created in the United Kingdom, where there exists a long history of enjoying Indian food going much farther back than any taste for it here in Canada. The British Empire once extended into South Asia and the curries and tandoori dish recipes came back to Britain along with soldiers and government officials. Somewhere in that history, there were some that desired more and more heat and so phaal (or faal, fahl, paal etc.) curry was born. Chef Kay placed phaal on his original menu, when Tiffins Curry In A Hurry first opened its doors, unaware that he was doing something very unique in Indo-Canadian culinary circles.

As a professional cook, a food lover, a writer and a 30 year Barrie resident, I was really honoured to be asked to come and see this one of a kind meal be created and consumed. I have seen Barrie when it's downtown core had thriving but aging live music venues and bars, along with a selection of burger places and mom and pop family restaurants. Devastating fires and wrecking balls have laid waste many of the fine buildings we once had, but from the ashes new night spots have popped up along with a quickly increasing array of diverse eateries to choose from. Tiffins Curry In A Hurry is housed in a small, but perfectly sized (I think) space in a a 100 plus year old building just steps east of 5 Points. Who would have thought, three decades ago, that a Barrie restaurant would be drawing in customers from around the province with a unique Indian dish?

Kent finished his phaal curry and was on his way. He headed back up Bayfield St. to continue his work at Michael & Marion's. Before he left, he turned to me and said that the only think that disappointed him was the fact that I hadn't tried it too. Oh oh. Goldie took a teaspoonful of the phaal and some rice and offered it to me. With dares of "C'mon, Mom." from my photographer, I took a tiny bit off the point of the spoon and waited for something terrible to happen. Now all eyes were on me. Slowly the heat spread. I waited for it to get painful but it did not. In a minute, I was afraid I was going to lose my voice. I could only choke out a whisper as I was questioned about how I was feeling. But it got no worse than that and soon Goldie saved me from any possible further increase in heat by handing out the most delightfully cooling house made mango ice cream. I could not possibly do what Chef Kent had done, but I was mightily proud of myself for even trying that little bite, in the name of foodie science and exploration.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dubeau's Farm Fresh Foods

I don't think I had ever been in Perkinsfield before. It is the small francophone village with the deceivingly English name located in Tiny Township. Even Tiny isn't actually tiny, but named after one of Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe's small fluffy dogs! I visited Perkinsfield for the first time in June, when the Huronia Food Trail media tour bus stopped at Dubeau Family Farm at the corner of County Rd. 6 and Tiny Concession 11.

Stepping out and approaching the produce stand, I quickly saw some great deals on potted herbs and vegetables and started to figure out what cash I had brought with me, but just as quickly decided I better not try to juggle too many dirt filled pots on a coach bus.

Under the protective shade of the white canvas covered, aluminium sided produce stand, we started our look around the tables covered with all sorts of fresh and delicious looking fruits and vegetables. Strawberries were in season then and there were some really big ones on sale at Dubeau's that day. It was very appropriate then that we were offered a new twist on the standard (but very welcome) ice cold lemonade that we had been given at several stops along our tour, with a glass of strawberry lemonade. Apparently, it is a Martha Stewart concoction. I found a recipe for this delightful refresher, for anyone who is interested.

Dubeau Family Farm is so much more than a place you can grab a dozen corn on the way back home from the beach. I was expecting the fresh local produce, but I wasn't thinking about pies, jams and pickles all made by co-owner, Mrs. Kim Dubeau, the honey from Innisfil, local eggs or the home grown sunflowers and glads to complete your table. Later in the season, come back for a pumpkin or squash, or even a hay bale or corn stalk to decorate your front porch for fall.

Kim's husband, Dennis Dubeau, the man behind the field work, invited us out onto his land for a mini tour and talk about his 50 acres and what he grows on it. The land stretched to a far off tree line and I was amazed that a couple and 2 teen sons, with only occasional help from extended family, could run such an operation. I have a hard time getting my kids to hang up their back packs! They work hard 7 days a week from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but I did hear that they all go away to Aruba in the winter. Maybe I would get more work out of my kids if I offered them a sunny vacation.

At the time of our tour, the Dubeaus were looking forward to a new venture for this summer - a pick your own tomatoes deal. I wonder how that turned out? I know my own tomato plants went completely crazy during that extreme heat wave we had in July and grew to 5 feet in height. They are now producing lots of juicy red tomatoes. Considering my tomato plants were almost completely neglected, I can only guess that Dennis Dubeau's well tended plants were an overwhelming success. I hope so. This hard working family deserves to do well.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Karma Project

How I love the Karma Project! What started as a little community storefront in 2007, expanded into the space next door and started serving food, and has grown steadily into to so much more. The community garden is at the epicentre of this operation and offers garden plots to local citizens for a mere $20.00 a year, while providing fresh produce for the local women's shelter and more.

As in it's beginnings, the Karma storefront endeavors to offer crafts, jewelry, preserves, produce, art works and herbs that are local, organic and fair trade. The little cafe adjoining it goes one step further with a concept that was new to me - the pay-what-you-wish kitchen. That's right, you pay what you think the meal is worth! I am told that musician, Jon Bon Jovi, runs a similar eatery in New Jersey known as the JBJ Soul Kitchen, where there are also no prices on the menu.

In summer, good things are constantly coming in from the community garden and from local producers, and being snapped up by shoppers, made into meals in the kitchen, stuffed into food boxes, shipped off to Christian Island where no grocery store exists or sold at farmers' markets. And in the midst of all this activity, teaching goes on, or more accurately the re-teaching of once common skills that have been slowly slipping away. How many of us today could successfully grow their own potatoes or know how to make sauerkraut at home? The Karma Project wants to help people to get back to their roots, quite literally.

The face of the Karma Marketplace is Erin Chapelle, a lovely nature's child who exudes warmth and a great passion for what she is doing. She is so busy and so energetic. When she explained all the activities she and the Project were involved in, I thought this woman must dream about Karma at night. She and the Karma Project are a great fit for The Huronia Food Trail.

I haven't seen a full menu for the kitchen side of the Karma Marketplace, but that may be because it changes daily according to what delights come in from the fields and gardens. While our media tour group was there, we munched on a rustic and garlicky dip made from sunflower seeds and surrounded by a rainbow of multi coloured organic carrots. Yet another glass of lemonade was downed by most if not all of us, even though we'd been offered some at a number of previous tour stops, but on a day as hot as that one was, you can never have too much fresh lemonade!

I must admit I hadn't been very aware of these kind of movements until recently. My eyes are being opened to some of the wonderful things that are being done locally, mostly by young people, to promote sharing, growing, teaching, sustaining, and cooking. I have seen snippets of information about places in my own city of Barrie, such as the D.I.Y. and the Unity Market, but I realized I know very little about their mission. I must make it my mission to find out.

Check out the Karma Marketplace's Facebook page - there's a lot of great info. and photographs there! And watch the beautifully produced video on this page that really gets their message across.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Works - It Works For Me!

Apologies in advance for the lack of photographs, but our venture into The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro was a last minute decision after a long, hard day of perusing craft displays at Kempenfest under the bright sun! Yes, yes - I should have a phone and/or camera of my own with me at all times, and it may very well come to that soon, but for now I'm resisting 21st century technology as much as a food blogger can. I'm sure The Works won't mind if I borrow a pic or two from their website to showcase their goodies.

We parked our car on Mulcaster St. and walked down to the festival, passing several Dunlop St. eateries and discussing their virtues on the way. My husband, 19 year old son and myself wondered out loud about The Works - we had heard mixed reviews. I said "There's only one way to find out for sure!" A few hours later on, we were definitely ready for something to eat, and there was The Works again so in we went. You will find them just a few paces west of Mulcaster St. on the south side of Dunlop St. E., number 137 in a long narrow space with a lake view at the back. I'm sure my eldest son played a show here once with his metal band during a previous life of this building.

The interior decor is very industrial, with exposed brick, rough wood floors, pipes and gears, corrugated metal and even unusual serving vessels like glass measuring cups for your drinks and tin cake/roast pans instead of plates. Very funky! I understand The Works is a chain restaurant, but I didn't get that feel. Lots of young staff around - I figured it was all hands on deck with Kempenfest in full swing nearby. Our server was Shayla, a super enthusiastic server, definitely in the right job.

And then there's the menu - oh wow! At first glance, it seems complicated. With several dozen burger selections, you might get a little alarmed, but once Shayla gave the 30 second burger course, I was much better. Pick your bun. I took whole wheat. Take note - they have gluten free too. Pick your burger. I'm sure most diners choose ground beef, but there's other choices like chicken, turkey, elk, veggie or even a huge portobello mushroom cap! Then pick your topping either by name or by number. Our son, who considers himself a master barbecued burger chef (and nearly curled up and died trying to find a decent burger on a trip to Scotland last year), chose the juicy lucy, which he told me, between big bites, contained an awesome garlic sauce and a cheesy seeming burger patty. My husband and I both got the teriyaki melt containing teriyaki sauce, sauteed mushrooms and swiss cheese, which begs the question - why have I never thought of putting teriyaki sauce on a burger before??? A new jar will be appearing in my fridge this week.

The food was absolutely delicious. My veggie burger was huge and I was quite stuffed when I left. In fact, I was so stuffed I never ate another thing all day. I was even too full to have any desire to write about it until the next day! Of course, I could have used a bit of self restraint and left a bite or two, but it was too good!
The fries were really good and so was the gravy, which is vegetarian friendly by the way. The pop was refilled often without a word. I saw the apparently famous tower-o-rings go by a few times. It's a tall stack of onion rings on a pole and it instantly reminded me of the old Fisher-Price stacking game for kids. Next time, I might try the poutine which is served in a bucket

So yes, there's only one way to find out if a restaurant is as good or as bad as they say - go and have a bite for yourself. It's only a gamble of a few dollars and an hour of your time. These three gamblers hit the jackpot and will be back I'm sure!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

We Love The Moose!

I remember when Moose Winooski's was the new thing on Bayfield St. That must have been in the mid 1990s, because my eldest son, now 23 years old, celebrated his ninth birth there. It was also one of the few sit down restaurants we dared go to. With a gaggle of 5 kids, we usually chose take out or fast food, so we could make a quick exit when the troops got rowdy, but Moose Winooski's has a nice little corner play area complete with toys and tv. They also use paper table cloths for families, complete with lots of crayons, so the little scribblers can get their art on.

It's probably been a few years since I was in for a meal, even though Moose Winooski's is more or less down the street from me. My kids are mostly grown up, and relatively civilized now. In fact, my youngest son recently did a co-op term as a host there and my middle son has worked in the dish room for the past 2 years. His ball hockey team, the Sky Pirates (don't ask), is mainly comprised of Moose employees and the management is very good at making work schedules that work around the games. As you can see, it's a real neighbourhood business.

Yesterday, we had the great honour of hosting a young Japanese exchange student for the day and were looking for fun things to do in the Barrie area. Taka is from Murayama, Japan, a sister city to Barrie. It's the same city that my daughter had the good fortune to visit last summer on her trip with the Barrie Youth Ambassadors. We started out at the Shanty Bay Go Karts and Mini Putt, followed by the Georgian Mall and then some down time with video games. We decided to top off our day with dinner at a virtual Canadiana hall of fame, Moose Winooski's

We had an absolutely delightful server named Lindy. She was just great, and very patient. I'm sure she had to come back three times to see if we were ready to order. Between indecisiveness, a minor language barrier and being very chatty, we took quite a while! We started with a warm artichoke dip and a platter of nachos and a round of assorted pop. Lindy brought jugs of pop after a while, so it seems the refills are free. Nice!

Appetizers were quickly attacked by the young people and our main entrees weren't long in arriving. Between the 7 of us, we had 2 orders of quesadillas, fish and chips, a Mediterranean wrap,  baked penne pasta, a turkey club sandwich and a chipotle chicken sandwich. We had some special requests - no tomatoes on the chicken sandwich due to allergies, a bread substitution on the turkey club and extra gravy for one of the french fries. All of those were attended to perfectly.

My fish and chips were really good. Seafood is the only meat I eat now, as I mostly follow a vegetarian diet. I order fish and chips quite often when dining out, and I am frequently underwhelmed by my meal. I wasn't expecting a restaurant that is known for it's ribs and wings to make a good fish and chips, but I was pleasantly surprised. The fish portion was large, soft, flavourful and perfectly golden.

It's no wonder that Moose Winooski's has been around a while now, when so many others have tried and failed to keep an eatery afloat. The Moose, as the regulars and employees call it, is the perfect package - fun atmosphere, family friendly, awesome food, superb service, community oriented, ideal for watching sports and being a shrine of all things Canadian, a destination in itself for foreign visitors.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Le Maitre D' Where Cultures Blend

Nothing was more welcome that hot day to our group of sidewalk weary, half melted writers and bloggers than the ice cold lemonade offered at a number of our tour stops. Inside Le Maitre D', a large bee skep shaped vessel filled with chilled lemonade was again the first order of business. We were pretty appreciative of their air conditioning too!

Located at 106 Main St. in Penetanguishene, Le Maitre D' is a fairly new, rather upscale dining establishment located in a building that has housed a series of restaurants over the years. They refer to themselves as being a "personal, neighbourhood style restaurant". I think a family would be happy to gather there and I also believe it would be a suitable location for a special occasion too. An 8 seat private dining room is also available for bookings.

The owner is Dave Brunelle, a true son of Penetanguishene, with very deep roots in the area drawing from French Canadian and Metis ancestry going back at least 4 generations. An experienced businessman, he has dreamed of opening a place like this. His grandfather was a fisherman and his grandmother was a cook of some renown, making feasts for her large family, church functions and community events. The family was involved in farming, hunting and producing maple syrup as well. Dave can bring all of these influences and experiences together under one roof at Le Maitre D'.

And what to eat? The menu is a nice size - not over extensive and not so small as to offer too few choices. Servers in black and white offered an array of sample sized menu items for our approval and we nibbled on tiny tarte au sucre (brown sugar pie), tourtiere (savoury pork and beef pie), tartare de coregone fumee (smoked white fish) and traditional aboriginal people's bannock. I must say that I couldn't get enough of the smoked white fish and have to confess that I had several tastes of that particular menu item, just to be sure!
I understand that the bannock has become a little bit of a local sensation because of it's inclusion on the Sunday brunch menu where it is featured in the cleverly named eggs bannodict.

Dave is another member of the Huronia Food Trail who is a great believer in obtaining his ingredients locally whenever he can. All his fish, including the smoked fish, comes from Lepage Fishery in Pentetanguishene which fishes the fresh waters of Georgian Bay. Fellow Trail members become suppliers too when Eco Huronie provides organic vegetables and the Karma Marketplace keeps Le Maitre D' stocked up on chutney, ketchup and jam.

Diners can savour the fresh and delicious cuisine while listening to the sound of local French Canadian music in the background. Once a month, these local artists preform live at Le Maitre D'. Be sure to have a look at the works by area artists on the walls, as well as the historical photographs of old Penetanguishene. Wines and beers from near and far are on offer to make your evening complete. In the words of the well crafted press release I received, "Because so much of what we do is authentic to the area, from recipes, tastes, entertainment, art, and its ownership, Le Maitre D' stands alone."

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Harris Family Farm

Martha Harris strode across the front lawn of her century farm, when she saw our tour bus approaching, and waved eagerly at us, much as John Williams had when we arrived at his farm a few hours earlier. A large 19th century farm house, from the days of 10 children families, stood behind her and was surrounded by huge shady trees. Up the lane way, past a sheep filled enclosure, was a well maintained barn probably of a similar vintage to the house. What was built by the sweat and hard labour of men in the 1800s, is still being appreciated and well used today, which is something I love to see.

Martha was joined by her sister, Beth, and they explained that their younger brother, Robert, was somewhere about, but I got the feeling that he would prefer to toil in the background rather than meet nearly three dozen media types and their cameras! Martha gave us a talk about their operation which includes farm fresh produce, maple syrup, lop eared rabbits and the cornerstone of their business which is grass fed lamb.

I am from the very rural west coast of Scotland and my male ancestors were almost all shepherds in days gone by and a few cousins still farm sheep today. Visiting the Harris Family Farm took me back to my native Argyllshire just a little bit. Later on, I asked my father, a former shepherd himself, if he had heard of the Katadihn sheep that the Harrises keep and I was surprised that he had not. It seems that it is a fairly recent breed, only arising in the 1950s when a farmer in Maine, U.S.A. crossed a breed from the Virgin Islands with his own flock, to create a hardy, fertile, good eating, wool-less animal.

I had never heard of hair sheep before. It seems that they grow a heavy coat for the winter and then shed it naturally in the spring, just like a dog would, with none of the work or expense of shearing a fleece. Since the Harris family has no interest in wool and is focused solely on producing quality lamb products, this is an ideal breed for them. In fact, no wool means less lanolin, which in turn means less fat and cholesterol in the meat. The Katadihn sheep have other bonuses too such as year round breeding and twin lambs are very common, even triplets and quadruplets are not unheard of.

Under the protective shade of some willow trees, I found a pen full of gorgeous French lop eared rabbits. Someone in the group mentioned that they were also for food and I had a brief Peta moment where thoughts of facilitating an escape from Alcatraz crossed my mind. I didn't do it of course, but I felt sorry for them. It turned out that the earlier report of bunny burgers was erroneous and that the lops here are being kept for sale as pets or for exhibiting. Whew!

The Harris Family Farm has 2 separate gardens that I saw. The one to the right of the house, beside their newly built produce stand, is more of farmer's field with rows of bright green garlic plants, peas in full flower and other assorted vegetables, all straight and well weeded. Next to the house, on the left hand side, is a lovely mixed herb and flower garden with a circular centre garden with what looked like either melon or squash plants. Beth Harris, chief gardener for the family operation, freely combines herbs and flowering plants in the same beds and it looks terrific. I'm not sure why I thought they needed to be separate before, but I can tell you that I now pair them up together and will from now on.

You can visit Martha, Beth and Robert (if you can find him) at the farm from June until October. You can contact tech savvy Martha anytime through their website , by email, or through Facebook or Twitter - she's got it all going on! They are young and energetic, but yet old fashioned perhaps and wise beyond their years when they proudly say "Our family is proud to carry on the farming tradition, in which shared knowledge, hard work ethic, and love for the land and animals have been passed down from generation to generation." I don't believe we are related, but I am pleased to share the name Harris with you!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Ciboulette et Cie

Well, it's 34 degrees celsius outside today, so I decided it would be a great day to write a little bit on the computer in the basement. Apparently, it's the hottest day recorded yet in the city of Barrie. This scorcher of a day is not unlike the June day when I accompanied the Huronia Food Trail media tour on it's rounds of the north end of Simcoe County. Thank goodness for air conditioned coach buses ... and basements!

One of our stops was the simple and lovely Ciboulette et Cie (Chive and Company, in English) located at 248 King St. in Midland. We stepped into a beehive of activity - customers lined up to pay for their goodies, others choosing still, servers serving and cooks cooking - and in walked 30 writers and food bloggers. The shop is current, yet vintage. Set in a long, narrow Victorian era shop, Ciboulette et Cie has the exposed structure and barn board accents you might find in a loft. There are signs overhead to direct you to where you want to be, whether it be coffee and pastries or the take out counter, and something I've never seen before - a store map.

We were waved to the back of the shop where we were introduced to the chef and owner, a seemingly young, dark haired French gentleman, Andre Sanche. A true Midland son, I thought to myself. I was surprised to learn that Andre actually hails from a francophone community much farther north, the small city of Elliot Lake, Ontario. "My husband is from Elliot Lake." I shared. "I like him already!" replied the youthful chef.

Andre is very enthusiastic about what he does. His shop offers home style meals and baked goods to eat now, eat later or stock up your freezer. He has gone to great lengths to partner with his fellow Huronia Food Trail members and others to cook with the most fresh, in-season and local ingredients that he can get his hands on. He even goes beyond food items and sources his staff aprons, wall decor and floral arrangements from local producers as well.

It's a great little place to nose around in. It reminds me a little of a smaller version of the Mariposa Market in Orillia. You can get an entree for your supper tonight, some preserves, maybe some fresh produce, don't forget some dessert and even the dinnerware to serve it on, all under this one roof.

Don't go to Midland without stopping into Ciboulette et Cie. Lucky Midland residents - they can drop in every day! It's the next best thing to cooking dinner from scratch using your own garden produce, but on a day like this I would prefer to stay out of both my kitchen and my garden! Let Andre take care of dinner tonight. Merci, chef!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Bite At Midway Diner

What do you say that hasn't already been said about a restaurant featured just this week on the front page of the Barrie Advance, and who's walls are peppered with framed newspaper articles from the past? Not just local papers have proclaimed its virtues, the Toronto Sun has seen fit to write some kind words too, it seems. The Midway Diner on Bradford St. must be doing something very, very well to have such praise heaped upon it. There's only one way to find out what!

My family likes to eat. Any excuse will do. "Whew, that was a hard morning of garage sales! Let's go eat!" That's a very common one with my husband and youngest son. I mean they just saved a bunch of money buying things we didn't need anyway, so better celebrate with a breakfast out somewhere! I was actually shocked this weekend when they came home to get me before their chow down, saying "We're going to the Midway Diner so you can write about it." Wow, I smell a new excuse forming - going out to eat so Mom has something to blog about. I'm okay with that.

Apparently, Midway has been dishing up meals in this location for over 50 years now. I'm thinking this must be the current Barrie record for restaurant longevity. Can anyone top that? I'd love to hear about it. The building itself housed a shop, McGowan's General Store back into the 1930s, as shown in this fabulous old photograph courtesy of Sean McGowan, a member of the superb Facebook group 'If You Grew Up In Barrie ... You Remember ...' If you love old Barrie, as I do, you must check it out!

Now, as my teen son put it, the exterior looks a little 'sketchy', but that's only paint and it appears that some money has been spent on the interior, so don't be put off by the outside. The dining room is open and uncluttered, decorated in black and white tiles, painted in sky blue and bright yellow. Choose a booth, a table or slide onto a stool by the counter. Check out all the old head shots of long ago Hollywood stars on the walls. With my sub standard eyesight, I thought I glimpsed a nice photo of Elizabeth Taylor, but my husband corrected me - it was Tim Curry in drag. I think I need to change eye doctors.

A very friendly server brought us menus and offered us drinks. Based on recent newspaper photos I've seen, our waiter might even have been co-owner Matt Jones? My husband and son ordered their usual standard breakfasts, but were thrown a curve ball when offered a choice of home fried potatoes or fried mashed with onions. The son stuck to the tried and true, but Ron and I ventured into new territory and went with the mashed. So 2 bacon and eggs were ordered and a spinach and feta omelette for me.

The dining room buzzed with conversation. Servers moved in between tables chatting away as they worked and the atmosphere was more like having a meal at a relative's house than a restaurant. "Where's the rest of your kiddos?" one server asked of an obviously regular regular. I was also struck by how stress free all the employees looked. Some places, everyone looks frazzled and overworked, but not here, even though the restaurant was quite full during the time we were there.

Our food arrived and it looked great. Eggs cooked perfectly all around. Fried mashed was excellent! And our son's home fries were just like the kind you make at home in a frying pan. Everything was very tasty and our coffees were warmed up regularly. Our Saturday breakfast at the Midway dinner was a quality, well made meal and we went away happy with that.

Midway doesn't need much improvement. Maybe a can of paint, but I'm sure that's on the 'to do' list, and perhaps a debit machine as my husband prefers his handy dandy bank card over cash any day. I can certainly see why the regulars keep coming and I know for a fact that some are at least third generation diners, possibly more. The secrets to running a long term successful business are few, I would say - do something very well and just keep doing it.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Midland Cultural Centre

Ahneen, bienvenue and welcome. Those are the three words thoughtfully incorporated into the logo of the Midland Cultural Centre, making all visitors feel at home in the languages of  the Ojibwe, the French and the English who were the first people in the area, in that exact order, and their descendants remain and thrive today.

An old movie theatre, the Roxy, once stood on this spot at the corner of King and Elizabeth Streets and was torn down to make way for this new modern structure. Coming from Barrie, where many grand old buildings frequently lose fights with the wrecking ball, I can understand if more than a few long time Midlanders were sad to see old Roxy go, but at least they can be proud that a beautiful piece of architecture grew up in it's place. The light and airy central atrium has a delightful cafe christened Cafe Roxy, a nice nod to the old moving picture house.

You can feel the newness when you walk inside. Everything is so contemporary, sleek, clean and open. Plenty of high windows let in plenty of sunlight. Small tables and chairs dot the atrium floor, and on this day a handful of people were enjoying a coffee with friends and puzzling over the sudden arrival of 30 camera happy tour members. Well, they picked a good time to be there, as the servers soon brought out trays of little sweets for us to sample and the customers soon found themselves offered unexpected goodies too. The little rhubarb cake that I ate was drizzled with tiny stripes of white icing. Very in season and very tasty!

Now this isn't your grandmother's coffee shop! You can choose from a pretty decent selection of wine or beer here too. I had no idea that wine was produced in Collingwood. I also learned that Collingwood made wine is available at the Midland Cultural Centre. Very nice. I think I would enjoy doing some people watching through the big glass window, while sipping on a chilled glass of wine and enjoying a slice of the mushroom shallot rosemary and brie quiche that I saw in the display case.

Cafe Roxy isn't all that the Midland Cultural Centre offers, not by a mile. The Rotary Hall can handle many kinds of events from business functions and trade shows to concerts and wedding receptions. The cuisine at both the Roxy Cafe and Rotary Hall are overseen by executive chef, Ivars Rasa, who had the very well respected Midland restaurant, The Library, until coming on board the Midland Cultural Centre project in 2010. He is well known for creating exciting and elegant dishes, using as much local produce as he can and working with various budget types. Chef Ivars utilizes ingredients from some of his fellow Huronia Food Trail members, including Williams Farm and Eco Huronie.

Big city looks, small town feel. That's what you'll find at the Midland Cultural Centre. The amenities and the foods on offer are world class, but you won't feel outclassed - you'll feel at home and very comfortable. Keep up the good work, Chef Ivars and staff!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Now Departing For The Explorers Cafe!

Located up a short lane way at 345 King St. in Midland, sits the aptly named Explorers Cafe. Owners Rob and Jennifer Reader are mismatched in size alone, as the tiny woman and the tall bear of a man are long time world travelers and lovers of both good food and Midland. At one time they led tours of the Arctic, Antarctic and other exotic locales and were even married on a Russian trawler, off the Antarctic coast by it's captain. Rob joked "I'm not sure if I got married or joined the Soviet Navy!"

We entered the cafe to a grand welcome. Rob and Jennifer greeted us warmly and pointed us to the bar where we could have a glass of red or white wine, part of their collection of 250 different wines. Spread out on a table were gifts of t-shirts, pens and sample menus for those of us on the tour. As we waited for some delectable food samples to arrive, the couple told us about some of the more prominent decorative features in the restaurant. I'm sure every item in there has a fascinating tale behind it.

This massive wooden shark began as a fallen tree in the Guelph area and made it's way to the Explorer's Cafe when it's creator came to town to do the blue tile compass inlaid in the centre of the bar floor. You can even set your own compass by it - it's true north! Look for the giant hand made quilt on the wall, decorated in all sorts of polar themes, even some of the stitches are in penguin shapes, made as a wedding gift by Rob's aunt.

The Explorers juxtapose the far away with the nearby, as they try as much as they can to keep it local when sourcing their cooking ingredients. The first colourful tray to depart the kitchen was a board showcasing one of their 100 mile meals - the can-con or canard confit. Don't worry, I wasn't exactly clear on what a confit was either! As the Explorers' menu puts it so well, it is local duck leg brined and slow roasted in liquid gold (duck fat). This was served on cracker like roasted potatoes and topped with a cranberry gastrique. A gastrique is essentially a sauce reduction based on sugar and vinegar with any flavour or addition you prefer, in this case cranberries from the Wahta First Nation in Muskoka.

The can-con canapes disappeared in no time and a second tray followed. Next, a new flavour offering appeared in the form of lamb meatballs on a flat bread. They too were neat and colourful and had the same tendency to disappear quickly as the duck had. As a vegetarian, I don't eat these foods myself, but it's not difficult to tell how delicious they are when you're surrounded by writers and food critics gobbling them up non stop!

The menu is a riot. I love the humorous names for the food items - a direct reflection of the obvious love of fun in the owners, Jennifer and Rob. Why not try the 'quiche me' or perhaps 'the biggun' (2 huge certified Angus beef patties)? I like the 'flat stanley' one - a naan bread creation of the day. I'm also intrigued by 'a passage through india', which is a culinary road trip through the sub-continent, featuring a curry of the day, basmati rice, naan and raita. I had to look up raita too, folks! It is a yogurt based condiment, with additions of cumin, coriander and other spices plus vegetables such as cucumber. Sounds nice.

It seems that you can take a world tour with just a short drive to Midland. Your eyes will explore the continents before your food even arrives and your ears might hear a tall tale or two, while the sounds of international music plays in the background. No need to pack anything but your appetite!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Madness on Highway 93

"Our next stop is Mad Michael's and believe me, he really is mad ... but in a good way." Those were the words of Sandra, our hostess and guide for the media day tour of the Huronia Food Trail, as she started to shepherd us onto the bus again. I was certainly intrigued by that statement and curious to see exactly how mad Mad Michael might be.

In the very centre of the village of Wyebridge, on the river's edge, sits a converted general store and post office, now clad in the brightest yellow siding you can imagine, trimmed with white and blue. The potted flowers out front are hot pink. Several very yellow signs proclaim Mad Michael very loudly. Even if you don't stop in, you've certainly seen it. You cannot miss Mad Michael's, which I'm sure is the whole idea, and there's nothing crazy about that!

Normally closed on Mondays, Mad Michael and Mrs. Mad Michael (as she called herself) made a special exception and opened up briefly just for us. The picture snapping began immediately, but it was really difficult to know which way to point your camera - there were so many fascinating things to look at. What began as a twig furniture business, lead to a restaurant completely decorated in all types of very cool rustic tables, chairs, benches and stands, some with interesting additions like old style snow shoes. Our eyes struggled to take in the glorious mish mash of antiques, hand crafts, preserves, decorative glassware and baked goods.

Soon all eyes and cameras (and hands!) were on the home made butter tarts waiting for us. Apparently they had been entered in the recent Midland Butter Tart Festival. Another welcome sight on this hottest of days, was a table covered in large wine glasses filled with cold lemonade and unsweetened iced tea.

I love trivia and I enjoyed Mrs. Mad Michael's little bits of information passed out here and there. A pluot is a hybrid between a plum and an apricot and the Mad couple makes and sells a jam made from it. They also sell pickled watermelon rind because Michael just knew there had to be a way to use the rinds rather than throwing them away. He hates wasting anything. Carrot marmalade? It seems it was very popular during the citrus deprived depression era and was made a lot in the 1930s. The Mads make that too.

But don't think for a moment that you've seen it all if you've seen the restaurant. Oh no, there's plenty more! Step outside onto a lovely sunken patio furnished with more of Mad Michael's handiwork. Next to it, might be the maddest thing I did hear about Michael. His wife said he looked at 2 rows of mature cedar trees one day and announced that he was going to build a tree house in there and that tree house was going to contain a smoker. And so there it is - a narrow screened in kitchen with a custom made meat smoker with rotating shelves that can hold 100 lbs. each.

You might think this is madness too, but you will certainly appreciate his efforts - Michael makes all his own condiments. No Heinz  here. From ketchup, relish and barbecue sauce to sauerkraut and rubs, it is all made in house.

A walk around the property takes you along a river side nature trail, where you duck under branches and pass an upside down tree that will reportedly be a medusa carving one day. There is a raised herb garden next to a huge tepee where evening bonfires are often held. You will see a collection of antique vehicles.  Next door is a house that had a previous life as an Orange Lodge and later town hall, and today still has 3 jail cells in the basement. When you arrive back at the tree house, you'll find that Michael also has a custom built adobe oven behind it. "What do you use that for?" someone asked. I think it's a bit of a novelty item, but Michael says you can bake a full sized pizza in in in 45 seconds! "Most of the time we're too late." he added. I wondered how hot this oven gets, so I asked Michael on the way out. 750 degrees. Wow!

We only had a short time at Mad Michael's, but it felt like a day's adventure. This quirky little spot on the convergence of Highway 93 and the Wye River is certainly worth a longer look. I can hardly imagine what I could learn, taste and see if I could spend an hour or two here. If Mad Michael is mad because he gets wild ideas and acts upon most of them, I would say that more businesses could use a little of this kind of madness.