Playing Favourites: Blogs I enjoy

On a regular basis, my email inbox is filled with posts from many bloggers that I have followed. These are my current and long-term fave

Getting into the Spirit of Local

  • Rachel’s Table: A Local Food Experiment
    • Rachel is not local to me, but she is serious about what is local to her in Delaware, USA. Rachel posts regularly about discovering local food at markets and restaurants, and recently blogged about the difference between supermarket eggs and organic farm-fresh eggs. I re-blogged that here.

Wit

  • Dooce
    • There are really few wittier or more transparent bloggers out there than Heather Armstrong. If any. She is also a photographer, author, and style maven. All of which you will experience on her blog site.
  • The Pioneer Woman
    • You may be familiar with Ree Drummond from her Food Network show, or have heard about her cookbooks, etc. She does post about some fabulous-looking food, and definitely has some great photography, but what I enjoy most is her rambling wit. In the spirit of transparency, I don’t love all of her posts. I have seen more of her children and pets than I really care to, but in between all of those family photos is the frank good humour of “P-Dub”.

Style

  • The Sartorialist
    • Scott Schuman is an international fashion photographer who shares some of his favourite outfits on his blog site. Models, street style, unexpected combinations of textures and patterns… it’s all there. Prepare to be inspired and perhaps confused.

Random

  • Caffeinated and Random
    • A fellow (though less snobby) coffee lover, Jenny regularly posts a “Coffee of the Day” photo and description, and often blogs twice or even three times a day about food, people, TV shows, style… whatever is exciting to her that day.

Real Food

  • 100 Days of Real Food
    • Lisa is a wife and mother who decided to take her family in the direction of real food. Now, she challenges her many readers to do without sugar or flour or processed foods, in the name of getting healthier. You’ll find recipes and creative real food ideas.

 

 

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spring flowers

Playing Favourites: Spring

spring flowers

I know that sometimes it can be brown and slushy and mucky and muddy, but spring is my favourite season.

All that new growth! Rebirth!

I get excited about new buds on the trees and the narcissus and crocuses and snowdrops poking their little green leaves out of the ground.

Everyone is full of hope for a season of warmth, eager to put winter behind them.

These days, since the weather has been so unseasonably warm, I have caught the “bug” of spring. Perhaps this is not universal to everyone, but for me, the spring “bug” gets under my skin and burrows into my psyche, so that everywhere I look, I see reminders of spring. I smell hints of it. I hear strains of bird song or other sounds that point towards spring.

Even in windowless, basement rooms, I will see the colour of someone’s shirt or catch a whiff of their shampoo and think: “Spring is coming!”

Each morning, I am excited to look for new signs of spring: flowers popping out of the earth, the disappearance of the snow (not difficult this year), the reminder that there are only a few weeks of class left, talk of summer jobs…

Ahhh. There is nothing quite like the smell of a world coming to life again after being covered (at least off and on) with snow and cold for a few months! Do you smell it? Spring!!

cbc logo

Playing Favourites: CBC Radio 1

cbc logo

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to the CBC news at 6:00 every day. Maybe it’s because I have an insatiable curiosity to know what I might be missing in the world. Maybe it’s because I secretly wish to be a national radio news announcer.

Whatever the reason, CBC Radio 1 (2 and 3 are mostly music stations) is my radio station of choice. You can guarantee that, if I’m alone in my car and not listening to an audiobook on my iPhone (through my Bluetooth device) or some new music playlist, CBC is on.

I can get through a day or days without listening, so I know I’m not addicted, but you will rarely catch me listening to any other station. Perhaps I would if I could find a music station that wasn’t annoying or insidious or formulaic. (Yes, I know there are local stations that employ people I know… but really? Do you enjoy them?!)

In my opinion, the best programs are Q, As It Happens, and The Age of Persuasion. But there are lots of other interesting and informative programs that will fill the air waves in your car or home with (in my opinion) higher quality stuff than you can get at the local level or on your average rock station.

If music is what you love, CBC’s Radio 2 and Radio 3 have got you covered. You won’t be stuck listening to “easy listening” or “light rock” tunes ever again!

I know the CBC is not a perfect company (does such a thing even exist?), and they have their issues, but as a public broadcaster, they’re not sponsored by advertisers, so they don’t have to sell their soul to corporations. And your listening experience doesn’t get interrupted by commercials.

Plus, I always feel smarter after listening to a CBC Radio program. I get more interested in relevant issues. I understand more of what it means to be a Canadian.

When something that you enjoy keeps you connected and teaches you things, it’s worthy of “favourite” status. Just sayin’.

Avocado

Playing Favourites: Avocado

Did you know that there are “good fats” that we should be eating?

Coconut is one. Almond butter is another. They’re both pretty delicious.

But my favourite is avocado.

Avocado

Last night, I mashed up an avocado and squeezed some lemon juice into it to use as a sauce on a baked pork chop.

This morning, I cut up an avocado and a tomato and ate them in a bowl with two fried (Gingerich organic) eggs and salt and pepper on top.

I was introduced to avocado when I lived in Mexico. There, avocado is made into guacamole (which we all know and love), blended with peppers and other ingredients into a creamy salsa, sliced and put on sandwiches and hamburgers, blended with thick cream as a sauce for flautas, and so much more.

Avocado finds its way into my salads as well. Its creamy smoothness is a nice counterpart to something like onion or garlic.

A simple and absolutely delicious way to enjoy avocado is to make your own guacamole. You have probably had it at restaurants or purchased the powdered mix at stores, but I’m here to tell you that you should be ashamed of yourself. That is, if you have never tried to make it from scratch, from fresh ingredients, you should be ashamed of yourself. Please disregard this if you don’t even like avocado at all.

To make your own guacamole, you need a handful of ingredients:

guacamole ingredients

I usually use at least 2 avocados. You’ll want to add more if you’re making this for a party.

First, choose avocados that are dark, almost black, in colour, and have some give to them when you squeeze them gently. I would recommend buying avocados at least a day ahead of when you want to make your guacamole, to give the avocados a chance to ripen a bit more. The worst is when you crack open an unripe avocado and realize there’s no way you can mash it with a fork.

Cut the avocados in half, like the one pictured. Remove the pit. Scoop the avocado out of the skin with a spoon and into a bowl large enough to mix all of the ingredients.

Mash the avocado with a fork until any lumps are obliterated.

At this point, I usually add a few dashes of lime juice (or lemon juice if you don’t have lime), a few shakes of salt (I use free-running sea salt), and I press one clove of garlic into the bowl, then mix well. Then, I add finely chopped onion, diced tomato (cut as large or as small as you like. I like it chunky, but others prefer it smooth), and chopped cilantro.

Mix well.

Add more salt and lime juice to taste, and even more garlic if you’re that kind of person. For heat, you could add some finely chopped jalapeño or habanero or other hot pepper.

Et voila! Thick, healthy yummyness that you can dip raw veggies into, spread on a sandwich, put in a quesadilla or taco, eat with tortilla chips… the list goes on.

(photo source) (I didn’t want to make my own guacamole just to take a picture for this post. Sometime in the future I’ll make some and take a picture and put it here. 🙂 )

There are many other ways to use avocado. The sky is the limit!

Here are a few recipes I would like to try:

Wee cuppa

Playing Favourites: Reductionist Americano

Wee cuppa
My wee cuppa java

Contrary to the bold and bright magnet on my fridge, I am not a coffee slut.

I don’t think.

I’m pretty sure what I actually am is a coffee snob.

If you ask Johnathan, he’ll tell you that I’m snobby about a lot of things, but I continue to maintain that I merely have discriminating taste. And, sometimes, I’m a snob.

Coffee is one of those cases.

It’s not that I want to hate sub-par coffees. I have just been ruined for the ordinary.

I blame someone named Dan for introducing me to awesome coffee, back when I lived in Mexico. Then there grew to be a wee gang of us: Dan, Roger, Matt, and I. Not sure why none of the other ladies really got on board. Hmm.

Funny thing is that Dan no longer drinks coffee. Go figure.

Dan et al introduced me to what I like to call “real” coffee: fair trade, organic, freshly-roasted, freshly-ground, strong, French press, and all that good stuff. They introduced me to Cuban coffee. And to Jamaican Blue Mountain. And to Kona coffee, which I believe is the best in the world. Alright, alright, it can share the limelight with Jamaican Blue Mountain.

Thus began my true love affair with “black gold,” and it continues unabated years later.

These days, I find myself unimpressed with most drip-brewed coffees (that’s your regular everyday coffee, if you’re not up on your java terminology). It’s too weak. It doesn’t have enough flavour, enough depth, enough richness. (Told you I was a snob!)

I haven’t used my fancy-schmancy coffee maker for months and months now.

Fancy-schmancy coffee maker
My fancy-schmancy coffee maker (Cuisinart Grind & Brew)

What I am using surprises even me: a cheap espresso maker and a handful of other implements.

Every morning, I grind up a mix of 2/3 decaf and 1/3 “high-test” Coastal Coffee Company (fair trade/direct trade, organic) beans (not “espresso” beans, but usually dark roast beans) until they are very finely ground. I would highly recommend grinding your own coffee beans at home. It’s a cheap, easy way of boosting the flavour and freshness in your cup. You can get a basic grinder for about $10-$15 at your local department store. Mine looks like this.

I then use a heavy-duty coffee measuring spoon that I got at Starbuck’s to scoop the ground coffee into the part of the espresso maker where the grounds go (highly technical language here). You don’t need any fancy spoons. Any spoon will do.

Part of the brilliance of espresso has to do with tamping the coffee down tightly into a disc. Some fancy-schmancy espresso makers or espresso grinders come with these, but I don’t have one. So I make do with a straight-sided shot glass. True story. It’s fiddly and a touch messy, but it works. I do it over the sink ’cause I always spill grounds over the side.

While my little espresso machine heats its water and spits out a shot or two of “espresso”, I turn the kettle on.

The final product is what I call a Reductionist Americano: roughly equal parts “espresso” and hot water, depending on how strong the brew is that my little machine produces (read: the stronger the better).

When I need a coffee fix away from home, I wish I could just say “reductionist Americano” and know that the barista will understand, but alas! such an official name doesn’t exist yet. So I continue to ask for an Americano with just as much water as espresso and no more.

They don’t always get it right, but 95% of the time, it’s better than a drip coffee any day.

Outlander

Playing Favourites: Fiction genius Diana Gabaldon

If you are a fiction lover that hasn’t yet discovered Diana Gabaldon, you just might die and go to heaven when you do.

A friend of mine introduced me to the Outlander series four or five years ago, and it was one of the kindest and most hazardous things she could have done for me. Thanks, Judy!

Outlander
Outlander (Book 1)

Genius Gabaldon set out to merely experiment with fiction, and so she combined everything in one novel: romance (yes, and sex), mystery, history, mythology, warfare, medicine, time-travel…! Yes, I said time-travel.

The result is pure genius. Sorry, I’m gushing. I’m a bit of a historic fiction whore. Contemporary stuff tends to depress me, while historic stuff, if well-written, can carry me away: a true escapism that is at once delicious and dangerous.

Gabaldon has a rare gift of imbuing characters with so much life that their story goes on and on and on… for 7 going on 8 fat, juicy books now, with no sense that they are reaching the end of their vitality.

From the Scottish highlands to pre-Civil War America to King Louis of France to the America of the 80s, Gabaldon’s storylines span the globe and over two hundred years of history, bringing to life historical characters, languages, and ideologies in a way few history textbooks could. This lady has done her research, and presents it, intertwined with brilliantly-written fiction, in a fascinating storyline I can’t get enough of.

And I’m not alone: thousands of people (okay, mostly women) around the world have become Gabaldon-philes, and I tend to infect those around me from time to time.

She even has a graphic novel that complements the series! Okay, she didn’t do the drawing, but for me, the fact that she has a whole pile of juicy fat novels, a spin-off series, AND a graphic novel is further icing on the cake that is her mastery.

A page from Exile.
A page from Exile.

Enough already. Just go read the dang books! Raid your library (I can pretty much guarantee they’re there). Ask the women you know. Just don’t miss out.

That is, if you’re a historical fiction lover. If not, sorry: this post is not for you.

(A note for those who aren’t used to reading historical novels, but are intrigued: the first book starts a bit slowly, but hang in there and it will all be worth it. I promise!)

Frontera Cab/Sauv Merlot

Playing Favourites: Red Wine

Wine is one of those things my boyfriend thinks I’m a bit snooty about. I maintain that I merely have discriminating taste, about wine and coffee and, well, many other things.

Frontera Cab/Sauv Merlot

I believe that most wine-drinkers would agree that all wines are not the same. Some are too sweet, others are too bitter. Some don’t have enough body or are too sharp, etcetera, etcetera.

While I know all the terms (nose, bouquet, legs), I am NOT one of those people that insists upon aerating and spitting, though if you’ve ever done a proper wine tasting, you’ll understand how that ridiculous-looking behaviour actually does help you truly taste the wine.

Frontera’s Merlot Cabernet/Sauvignon (Chile) is a red wine that pretty much anyone can enjoy. It’s always drinkable, stays fresh longer than some other reds, and is consistently smooth and flavourful.

Okay, that’s enough of the wine babble. Suffice it to say that, if you like red wine, this is one to try.

Did I mention that it’s affordable, too? A 750 mL bottle sells for about $11 at the LCBO. The 1.5 L bottle is about $15.

750 mL and 1.5 L sizes

frye boots 3

Playing Favourites: The Frye Company

frye boots 1

About four years ago, I discovered what I consider to be one of the best shoe companies in North America. I know next to nothing about shoe companies, and I’ve certainly never bought shoes from many good ones, if any, other than this one. The Frye Company.

Their products, in my limited experience, are expertly made by hand, in such a way that you will never doubt their quality. One glance can tell you that their worksmanship and materials are among the best.

In March of 1863, a man named John A. Frye opened a small shop in Marlboro, Massachusetts. His goal was to make practical shoes for working people. Many of the people that went west across the frontier of America wore his boots.

Frye Shoe Company

Mr. Frye passed his skill and passion for good-quality footwear down through his children and grandchildren, so that the Frye name began to be known for durable and beautiful shoes.

Soldiers and pilots in World War II wore Frye boots, including General Patton himself (or at least, that’s what The Frye Company website says).

To this day, many of the Frye designs are based on the styles that made the company famous.

From the Frye website: ‘ In 1975 the Frye Company donated a pair of CAMPUS™ boots to the Smithsonian Institution, in our nation’s capital, as a representation of the era.’

And to think I had no idea of the history of this company when I stumbled across them a few years ago and fell in love with their Fiona boot.

meet the fionas

Here are the Fionas and I, on the day we met (aka the day they came in the mail) (PLEASE ignore the mess. I didn’t realize I’d be sharing this photo publicly when I took it). –>

They were so shiny back then!

The Fionas have gone with me to many an event and occasion. They’re just perfect for so many situations!

About two years ago, I found a pair of cognac-coloured Frye platform mary janes at Winner’s.

Naturally, they were a fraction of the cost of what they could be new. Naturally, I bought them, even though every time I wear them people think I look taller than my boyfriend. I don’t care – they’re Fryes!!

I dare you to try NOT falling in love with the smooth leather, the classic styles, the buttery lining, the vintage-look buckles… I could go on.

One of  the best things is that, because Frye has been around forever, they can be found on eBay and in used clothing stores. So: keep your eyes open for the famous Frye logo, and don’t shy away from buying some. Frye shoes are an investment that will keep you stylishly shod for years to come.

frye boots 3

Playing Favourites: Coastal Coffee Company

*List of retailers updated March 16, 2012. Stay tuned for a few more being announced soon!

To introduce what I hope will be a new series appearing every Monday, Playing Favourites, I have chosen what is a relatively new favourite in a category that will always be on top of my list, coffee. Coastal Coffee Company coffee, to be precise.

Coastal Coffee Company

This local company is owned by a childhood friend, Ben, who was raised in the tradition of organic farming, so it was only natural for him to find a passion that incorporated those values.

Meet Ben and his wife Bri:

Owners of Coastal Coffee Company

A few years in the making, Coastal Coffee Company started with a popcorn popper and some green beans, in Ben’s garage in a small town on the coast of Lake Huron in Ontario. Friends and family began to ask Ben to roast batches for them, and so Ben began producing bags of locally-roasted beans.

Today, Ben has a small but beautiful roasting machine that he imported, not without aggravation, from Turkey, and a new shed in his backyard pretty much completely devoted to roasting coffee beans.

I have stopped buying coffee roasted anywhere else, partly because I believe it’s important to buy local, but mostly because Ben’s coffee is delicious!

This is what I drank today:

Nicaraguan Cafe Diego

In the last year, Coastal Coffee Co. has begun to sell beans in several nearby towns (Goderich, Exeter, Clinton, Grand Bend, Bayfield, etc.), in locally-owned stores and at farmer’s markets. You can find these tasty beans at the following locations:

And, you can enjoy delicious food and Coastal Coffee in your cup at Eddington’s of Exeter restaurant.

If you’re not going to be near any of these locations but would REALLY like to try my favourite coffee, let me know and I’ll pick some up for you. Of course, this only really makes sense if it’s feasible that I could deliver it. No, I won’t be road-tripping to other provinces or countries anytime soon. Sorry. But perhaps Ben does shipping!
You can also find Coastal Coffee at local events such as the Zurich Bean Festival and the county-wide culinary festival Taste of Huron, among others.

If you’re a coffee-drinker, consider giving up over-processed, pre-ground, imported cheap coffee in exchange for fair-trade or direct-trade organic, locally-roasted beans. They’re better for you, better for our community, and better for coffee growers.

Coastal Coffee table at outdoor event

Learn more about the “Fair Trade” certification and why it’s important: http://www.5min.com/Video/Learn-About-Fair-Trade-Coffee-517049684

“Like” Coastal Coffee Company on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coastal-Coffee-Company-Roasted-on-Ontarios-West-Coast/180368545350175

For more information or to make a custom order, email Ben at coastalcoffeecompany@gmail.com.