• Last of the Strip Mall Gems: Readers’ Choices

    A spread at Hibachi Café 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 is my final instalment in the series and includes readers’ choices.

    It was about a year ago at this time that I walked into a burrito joint in a Niagara Falls strip mall, looking for lunch.

    I was there on chef Michael Olson’s recommendation and held out high hopes for my sweet potato wrap at a place that was nothing if not intriguing. It was Don Wong’s Mexican Asian Food Mart.

    How could I not be curious?

    As I waited for my order, I learned that owners Cyndi Wong-Lorenzo and Attilio Lorenzo had only been open three weeks. They moved to the region from Toronto, beckoned by a pace of life more meandering than big-city maniacal.

    Niagara Falls, where Lorenzo grew up, promised to be the perfect place to raise the couple’s own family. Their new takeout venture, a more multicultural riff on what they were doing in Toronto, would enable them to do it.

    As I took my first few bites of burrito, filled with generous pieces of sweet potato and splotches of guacamole, I wondered how many people were like these two, pinning their hopes on a shoebox space in those bastions of mundane urban architecture we call The Strip Mall.

    And how many of us just drive by, thinking ‘One day I’ll stop in’ or ‘I wonder if that place is any good?’

    My strip mall gems series was born at that moment.

    This past year, I stretched my freelancer’s bank balance and my waistline to tell the stories of some of Niagara’s dining treasures; some fancy, some no frills.

    They were stories of chefs trading in round-the-clock jobs in other people’s kitchens to put their own stamp on breakfast and lunch, and have time at night for their families.

    They were tales of people with plum day jobs packing them in to take a chance on a dream. Of new Canadians who longed for a taste of home and when they couldn’t find it, invited us to their tables to share their experiences and become part of their new communities through food.

    Read the rest of the story

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  • Peach Tree
  • Workhorses: Turnip-Apple Ravioli with Miso-Brown Butter Sauce

    This post was sponsored by the Ontario Apple Growers (OAG). What does that mean? I was paid to develop this recipe for Turnip-Apple Ravioli with Miso-Brown Butter Sauce. The recipe and story I’ve told below are my own, without input or editing by OAG.

    I don’t think I’m being bold by stating turnips don’t have the same cachet as, say, kale.

    Really, when was the last time you made a beeline for the humble root vegetable at the grocery store? If you answered, ‘Just the other day, in fact,’ then you and I need to hang out.

    I love turnip. I don’t buy them nearly enough but I do sing their praises often. They’re lovely to look at, for one, with their two-tone purple and cream complexions. Baby bunch turnips, those pure white orbs against verdant greens, are stunning, too.

    Then there’s that taste, with hints of radish and mustard kept in check by the odd apple note. Oh, and turnips are budget friendly, going for less than a dollar a pound in most places.

    Are you feeling me yet on the turnip?

    They’re also incredibly adaptable. They lend themselves to all kinds of flavour pairings from simple, comforting ones to more exotic. Really, the turnip is like the workhorse of the vegetable world.

    Continue reading

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  • Peach Tree
  • Abundance: Creamy Potato and Kohlrabi Soup with Spicy Brown Butter

    I officially marked the start of week seven as a phlegm bot yesterday.

    This isn’t an anniversary I want to mark or even acknowledge with a passing thought, yet I can’t help but wonder where the hell my immune system went with no telling when it will return.

    It’s been the winter of my discontent with illness. It started with pneumonia, morphed into a sinus cold that lasted longer than its predecessor, and later a cough that came on so strong at times, it made me throw up. All of this was followed by a fresh set of symptoms this week. They came on the moment I felt confident I was at the very tip of the tail end of all this sickness.

    It’s been nothing short of demoralizing. I make a point of trying to live well. I get nine hours of sleep a night and clock my seven to 10 fruits and veg every day.

    Continue reading

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  • Spreading hope: The Southridge Jam Co.

    This story originally appeared in Edible Toronto magazine, Winter 2017. Other than the main photo, all images were supplied by Southridge Jam Co.

    A sweet scent spills from the kitchen at Southridge Community Church in Vineland, Ontario, and it’s unmistakably that of Concord grapes and sugar joining forces to make jelly.

    For Scott Cronkwright, the aroma is much more than a preserve-in-the-making. It’s a smell that triggers happy memories from days long past and, especially, hope for days – and years – ahead.

    Cronkwright is one of about a dozen people who make up the current cohort of The Southridge Jam Co., a small-batch-preserves operation launched earlier this year to support homelessness programs, including a shelter that is run out of the St. Catharines location of Southridge Community Church.

    As the guy stirring the pot, measuring sugar, or doing whatever job is required of him to turn grapes into peanut butter’s soulmate, Cronkwright relishes the scent wrapping itself around him, sticking to his clothes, his hair, his skin. “The smell completely envelops me,” the 55-year-old says. “It takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. It takes me back to my childhood. Every jam that we produce has this incredible memory generating from it.”

    But it’s what happened between those moments playing kitchen assistant to his grandmother as a boy and January 2016 that ultimately led him to a church kitchen to make jam. Cronkwright is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. He grew up to work a mixed bag of entertainment, writing, and restaurant jobs, got married, and had children. And for nearly half of his adult life, he existed as a “functioning opiate addict.” Continue reading

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