• St. Catharines dining scene mushrooms with Bolete

    Andrew McLeod of Bolete.

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

    My husband and I have a deal that he golfs and I forage.

    It’s worked out well for our marriage. So a few years ago when the opportunity arose to go mushroom hunting, I happily donned my Wellies and he his spikes.

    I returned with a haul of wild oyster mushrooms and the most beautiful ash bolete. I felt like the most clichéd kid in a candy store, or food geek in a forest.

    I also felt myself waver as I dumped my mushrooms onto my kitchen counter to make quiche.

    “What if my guide was having a bad day?” I worried as I brushed the dirt off that bolete. “Nah, surely he got this right,” I convinced myself as I pushed aside all thoughts of winning a Darwin Award — an honour no human wants.

    Still, I chopped slowly. Every twinge I felt in my gut for days after eating that mushroom pie prompted a mental edit of my final wishes.

    A few years later, Niagara chef Andrew McLeod found himself in a forest with a friend and their children, hours away from anything resembling civilization. His friend noticed something peeking from the ground under a tree.

    It was a bolete. At least he thought it was. A thorough scouring of their field guide and many questions asked of the Google gods left them fairly certain this was no evil, poisonous twin. They cooked it up and ate it, not sharing with their kids, just in case.

    So how did these stories end? McLeod went on to open a long-awaited restaurant in downtown St. Catharines named after that mushroom, and I lived to write a story about it. Lucky for you, especially because of Bolete, the restaurant.

    Read the rest of the story

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  • Sopa de Ajo: Cold medicine in a bowl

    The recipe for Sopa de Ajo in this post is an updated version of one posted previously to this site.

    My cat Louie has to go to a cardiologist.

    I don’t blame you if you guffawed at that, chortled, snorted or simply smiled. I’m convinced that’s just a fancy way of saying “Really expensive vet.”

    But my boy is sick. He had a cardiac event over the holidays and lost so much weight I could feel the sharp edges of his spine. He was far from his curious and engaged self. We need to figure out what exactly happened to a guy I’ve dubbed my editor since freelancing full-time.

    Louie, who literally showed up on our doorstep — I looked out the back door eight years and saw his big grey noggin and tenuous look — often joins me at the kitchen table during my workday writing sessions. He’ll curl up on the chair next to mine or he’ll sleep in my lap as I type.

    Continue reading

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  • Bakery a gluten-free haven in St. Catharines

    Jennifer Kuzyk of Edible Options, a gluten-free bakery in St. Catharines.

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

    Jennifer Kuzyk’s eyes glistened as she put the final flourishes on a chocolate cake.

    It was stunning in its decadence — a beautiful mess of Toblerone, Turtles, popcorn, Kisses, 24 carat gold leaf and a Curly Wurly that took it from mere baked good to art.

    But that’s not what made the owner of Edible Options emotional.

    It was the trio of women at a nearby table in Kuzyk’s St. Catharines bakery that overwhelmed her. They were gabbing over coffee, sharing stories and treats in the shop that Kuzyk built.

    “I pinch myself when I think about what’s happening behind me. People are in my space, enjoying my baking. It’s like a dream,” Kuzyk said as she looked skyward in an effort to dam the tears. “They chose to come here instead of Starbucks. That’s pretty cool.”

    As a writer, I get it — the soul-baring and soul-bearing work of creating something for others to enjoy. And when they do enjoy it, it’s a relief that tricks you into wanting to do it again.

    Still, Kuzyk’s unfiltered emotion caught me off guard. If anyone could convince people to buck mass-produced treats from one of the world’s most popular coffee chains, it’s Kuzyk.

    The woman is formidable, not just for her cake decorating prowess but because of her tenacity in building a successful certified gluten-free bakery that, unless you asked, you’d never know eschewed that most reviled wheat protein.

    Read the rest of the story

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  • Grape Expectations: Meet fruit scout Michael Kauzlaric

    Michael Kauzlaric of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

    An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It also keeps fruit scout Michael Kauzlaric at work.

    Kauzlaric travels the world on behalf of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, looking for the next big thing in fruit for farmers to grow and for everyone to eat.

    In the latest episode of Grub, he dishes on finding great fruit and determining whether we should make room for it in Canadian orchards and grocery stores. He’s got his eye on new (to these parts) varieties of apples, pears and table grapes.

    Vineland is a testing site for six new varieties of green and blue table grapes to grow locally. I sampled three when I interviewed Kauzlaric last fall. I’d invite them into my kitchen — and belly — anytime. They were lively with flavour unlike those woody orbs from faraway places.

    I also sampled different varieties of Pink Lady apples that Kauzlaric is growing at Vineland. My fingers are crossed one of them proves itself perfect for Ontario’s growing seasons. I love me a Pink Lady. I’d love her even more if she were from around here.

    Another Cut from Grub

    The previous episode of Grub is about terroir in beef, in case you missed it. Niagara chef Michael Olson and Marty Carpenter from the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence discuss the sense of place in steak. It’s an unexpected subject for a vegetarian me, but the influence of the natural elements on flavour fascinates me. I need to do an episode on terroir in tofu some day, if only because I’m a huge fan of alliteration.

    Happy listening!

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