• Strip Mall Gems: Don Marco’s Italian Eatery

    A pasta dish at Don Marco's Italian Eatery in Welland.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    It’s wise to listen to your lawyer.

    Wiser, still, if he happens to be a friend with impeccable taste in food. I couldn’t help but think I was being led astray, though, when Ross Macfarlane, lawyer, friend and bon vivant, suggested I meet him for lunch at Don Marco’s Italian Eatery in Welland.

    And I wasn’t sure whether to blame him or my GPS while driving through a residential neighbourhood in Welland’s east end, past a high school, an elementary school, and brown-brick bungalow after brown-brick bungalow. Where the heck was I going?

    That’s when Don Marco’s appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in a small plaza, neighbouring a convenience store at Wellington and Lincoln streets.

    If the eggplant Parmesan was as good as Ross promised, I had arrived at the epitome of a strip mall gem: that place you’d never know existed until driving past en route to somewhere else, then making note to stop in someday.

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    Category Food Finds

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  • Chef John Ash, a sandwich, and his mentors

    Chef John Ash at IFBC 2016. (It's a much better picture if you click on it).

    He’s been called the father of Wine Country Cuisine. Chef John Ash might just be the inspiration for the panini press, too.

    Turns out, the storied culinarian from Sonoma County who introduced the concept of cooking with local, seasonal produce and pairing it with wines from that region has a knack for making great sandwiches — by sitting on them.

    It was a talent he discovered while visiting with M.F.K. Fisher, the first lady of food writing, who made him get comfy on a lunch she prepared. His buns were the finishing touch on what would become the most memorable sammie he’s likely ever eaten.

    The woman who could make a semi-colon appetizing knew the magic that the body heat and weight of a grown man could work. But the soft centre of her muffuletta belied her own unyielding ways with her protege, Ash.

    The man, certainly no myth, but a legend, recently dished on the people who inspired him in his career, causing him to give up copywriting for the kitchen. He was the keynote speaker at the International Food Bloggers Conference in Sacramento last month, and set the tone for a weekend of professional development that was nothing short of inspiring.

    Mentors was his theme and we all know his by name: Julia Child, Fisher, and Wendell Berry. They’re people who inspire us with their work, if not in person like they did with Ash.

    I recorded his address, keener that I am, and dubbed it Episode 4 of Grub: A Podcast about Food.

    Have a listen, a laugh, and a flash of insight and inspiration provided by one the greatest people to ever hoist a spatula. And feel free to drop me a line with a note about the people who you hold up as mentors and muses. I owe a lot of credit to many for kindling something in me to do what I do, so let’s trade stories.

    In the meantime, enjoy the sound waves on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud and PodBean.

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    Category Beyond Niagara

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  • Garden City Food Co-op fundraiser enters final stretch

    The Garden City Food Co-op is nearing the end of its capital campaign and is at risk of falling short.

    My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    Sandy Middleton envies other neighbourhoods in St. Catharines.

    They all have something her downtown community doesn’t: a full-service, professional grocery store.

    That means when she needs a can of tomatoes to make supper, she has to get in her car and try her luck with traffic on Geneva Street, Fourth Avenue or through Old Glen Ridge to get to a store that sells what she needs.

    She’d much rather walk or bike, both possibilities if there was something closer to home.

    “I believe in a smaller footprint,” Middleton said. “Downtown St. Catharines should be no different (than other neighbourhoods).”

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    Category Food Security

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  • Grub: A Podcast about Food digs into stir-fry techniques

    I learned how to make stir-fry in Grade 7 home ec class. Technically, it was family studies class. That’s what they called it back then for whatever reason.

    A life skills class by any other name is still a life skills class, and in the more than 25 years since walking into that kitchen at Stanley Park Senior Public School in Kitchener, I’ve never forgotten what I was told about how to make a stir-fry.

    Heat oil in a wok. Add your protein. When it’s mostly cooked, add your hardest vegetables — the carrots, broccoli stems and cauliflowers of the world. Then add the next hardest until you get to the softest; those that need the least amount of time cook. Douse with sauce, serve on rice and voila, you have dinner. Or something.

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    Category Beyond Niagara

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