Monday, 23 June 2014

Got Any Dip For That?

Last week, I took a trip to Midland for the Ontario's Best Butter Tart Festival with my volunteer taste testers in tow. I was born with the unfortunate lack of any kind of sweet tooth, but lucky for me, I have some very supportive family members willing to take one for the team. My husband and son stood in long lines to get their sample tarts, then had to endure a barrage of questions from me - is it runny? How's the pastry? Do you detect any particular spices? Then there were photos to be taken before even one bite was to be had. Brave, brave men are these unsung heroes of food tasting!

When they were nearly sugared out, the boys stopped at one last booth for a final tart. I had stopped in front of it, attracted by the bright yellow display, signature colour of Mad Michael's Restaurant & Bakery, located in nearby Wyebridge, Ontario. I was explaining to my team how I had once had the pleasure of visiting Mad Michael's on a media tour, when a woman in the crowd asked if I had eaten there. I told her that I had only sampled their home made lemonade that day, but I hope to have a meal there one day. As the woman behind the sunglasses offered her recommendations of Mad Michael's, I began to think that the voice sounded somewhat familiar and that the stranger in the sea of 25,000 festival goers might be someone that I had met previously somewhere.

Taking a risk, I stopped her mid sentence with "Do you sell Epicure Spices?"  She tilted her head and smiled. "Yes, I do." Then it finally hit me that I had met her on at least two occasions before at my friend Candy's home in Phelpston. She told me that she was holding another spice party there that coming Monday, and I replied. "I know. I'm going!"

When Monday arrived, I headed to Phelpston, the quietest of rural villages about 15 minutes north of Barrie, and went to Candy's house where Epicure spice representative and fellow tart festival attendee, Julie Laurin, had set up some delicious displays. I love home parties, but only the ones that sell food related items, because ... well ... samples to eat! Unless, winter storms, illness or work get in the way, I never turn down an invitation to one of these fun get togethers.

I must call it by it's proper name, Epicure Selections. The spices and dip mixes are always the first things that come to mind when I think of Epicure, but the company is so much more I have come to find out. Founder, Sylvie Rochette, was a young mother living in British Columbia, when she started growing her own herbs and flavourings to better feed her children in this world of artificial food ingredients. Her hobby grew into a booth at a farmers' market, which turned into a bigger venture first called Victorian Epicure Inc. Once the company began to do tasting parties and take on independent consultants, it spread across Canada quickly. Women were quick to appreciate Sylvie's twin goals "As a working mother, I longed to spend more time with my young family and provide them with delicious, nutritious meals that were quick and easy to prepare and not loaded with unhealthy ingredients."

Julie is a great sales rep. She never talks for very long, just gives a bit about the company's roots and an overview of what's new in the catalogue, any specials or changes to the products, because she knows girls just wanna eat! The dining room table is a colourful and inviting display, with a dazzling assortment of products on view - loose leaf teas, salad dressing mixes, dip mixes, dry rubs, mustards, sauces, and gadgets. The outer circle is ringed with small cups of many of the dry mixes combined with mayonnaise and sour cream, labelled and ready for the tasting. Big bowls of pretzels, cucumbers and carrots are nearby, ready for the dipping. A sweet version of the cheese ball has been mixed up and is surrounded by thin slices of green apple.

The kitchen is a busy spot too. Candy's own Epicure collection lines a wall near the stove, where it remains full time, she tells me. There is a tray with chicken breast pieces, all seasoned differently, ready for nibbling, as well as one of bruschetta and another with 3 oil based bread dippers.

So many yummy dips! Who doesn't love a good dip? I have a theory just about anything tastes good with dip. I tried so many of them and I couldn't decide which one I liked best. So I tried them all again ... and again! Epicure has nearly 30 fabulous spice blends, out of which I have tried 3 Onion, Chipotle Bacon Cheddar, French Onion, Lemon Dilly, Summer Berry Fruit and French Onion to name a few.

Julie offered to put the kettle on if anyone wanted to try one of the several teas on the table, but the evening was warm and most everyone opted for the cool citrusy punch that Candy had made. But the fragrance of the loose leaf teas was incredible. To twist the lid off a jar and take a sniff, was to float to heaven. Coco Vanilla White Tea, Creme de la Creme Earl Grey and Decaf Yoga Chai - intoxicating!

A dozen women grazed and chatted, and Julie answered questions about things like gluten free items (all Epicure products are gf now) and sugar and sodium issues, while the products pretty much sold themselves. In time, a line up ladies clutching catalogues and credit cards formed at Julie's make shift office at the end of Candy's kitchen counter. What did I buy? Actually, mindful of my budget, I intended not to buy anything but just snack and socialize. In the end, I decided on a couple of items for one of my budding chefs at home. My middle son is another champion volunteer eater, mostly when it comes to meat entrees, and a hobby cook with an expanding repertoire of dishes he can cook. So I ordered a silicone waffle mold for the oven and a jar of Epicure Burger Spice containing onion, garlic, red bell pepper, sea salt, black pepper, herbs and spices and nothing unpronounceable.

I am looking forward to receiving my order. When Candy delivers it, we can perhaps have a coffee and a visit. I am looking forward to trying out the new gadget and spice mix and seeing the young cook find some new excitement in the kitchen. I am definitely looking forward to the next Epicure party!

*Bottom 2 photos courtesy of