Posted in Farm, Healthy, Home Economics, On Location, Opinions & Commentaries

Harvest Moon Reflection

Tonight in Ontario is the Harvest Moon – a signal to past generations that the crop was ready.  I thought it was fitting to reflect (pardon the pun) on my recent trip to Manitoba.

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Months ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Food & Farm trip during harvest time in the prairies.  All expenses paid, yes.  What did they ask of us all participants?  NOTHING.  Yes, I truly mean that.  How they picked us all, I don’t know – the only connection I can figure out was our love of good food!

After settling in to my regular life, I have had a few days to gather my thoughts (and my sleep). I am sure to blog about my specific experiences of a whirlwind 3 days but this summary at least represents the table of contents.

  • I had a quick walk (twice) to The Forks for a few hours in Winnipeg, MB.
  • I met 9 other amazing “foodies” who ranged from Registered Dietitians, chefs, restaurateurs, a food photographer, a news anchor and a travel & food blogger.
  • After a weekend, the titles of these strangers faded away.  The names turned into personalities and the glimpse of everyone’s passion started to come through.
  • Visits to vegetable, bison, honey, beef, grain, bean & canola farms were the main staple of our tour.  It definitely kept us busy & active with the full itinerary.
  • Throughout the tours and conversations with farmers, it became apparent that everyone had their own interest and investment into food.  The questions and comments helped to clear up misunderstandings as well as provide us with many facts and figures we didn’t know.
  • On top of the educational pieces about the agricultural processes and business side of farming, some history was retold.
  • The families and farming community were like Pleasantville.  Yes, I was told that they are regular folk too but, coming from a metropolitan city of London, Ontario – it was like walking INTO history and old fashioned values – everyone was so sweet & nice in EVERY conversation plus hospitable, opening their homes to us (literally)!
  • Farmers really care about sustainability and being stewards of the earth.
  • The food served was out of this world and amazing – ranging from a Pinterest-like party setting in a barn catered by several amazing chefs to my roomie cooking me breakfast (who is an award winning executive chef) and having it ready after my shower (so sweet).
  • The farms were stunning pictures that really captured the essence of how much space Canada has and how beautiful every turn, hill top and valley is.
  • Everyone has a story to tell – Using media (videographers followed us, social media used by guests & farmers ) with so many Canadian farms out there, can help continue the conversation about our food.

My takeaway from a 3 day weekend is that I feel even more passionate for food.  It has sparked new interests, questions and ideas that will last me for years to come.  What I love most is that this experience has now become part of my story and memories.  It will shape my future of food, not just in my career, but personally.  I will share what I’ve learned on my path, because connecting more with our food and health can help us all live a great life. This trip definitely fed my body, but more importantly, my mind and spirit.

 

The most sincerest Thank You goes out to:

  • the Canola Connect team who invited & hosted us,
  • the farmers who were welcoming and asked ANY question we had,
  • the families that showed up to help to host us at their farms (children & adults alike),
  • the other people who toured with me.

 

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Posted in Farm, Fruits, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, Opinions & Commentaries, Product Testing

Product Review: Starfrit Cherry Pitter

Cherries are in full season, but my “season” started months ago.  I undertook a project  with 20 Valley Harvest Farms.  I have been responsible for many things including designing unique recipes that highlight not only cherries, but whole food, local and Canadian ingredients (Professional Home Economists can be a great source for recipe writing!).

So with so many recipes to design, test and re-test I also indirectly tested out several ways to pit cherries for the average consumer.

I first tried home hacks and methods that required only household items.  You can read that post here: Cherry Pitting: Home Hacks on Trial. Even though I am against having too many appliances and gadgets in the kitchen, I went looking for a possible way to get through pitting tons of cherries so I could focus on the recipes (especially when a test completely fails and I need to re-do it fast!).

So I research and find the single, stainless steel cherry pitter.  One was at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $18.99.  I also found the Starfrit Cherry Pitter.  With the option of “6 cherries at once”, I was very interested.  It was plastic so I was a bit hesitant, but with the price tag of $14.99 at my local Canadian Tire, I considered it for 3 weeks.  (Now when you search during the season, a ton more pop up when searching online.)

After buying out of season cherries from Washington (USA), spending tons of money and losing lots of time for the other tasks I needed to complete for 20 Valley Harvest farm promotions, I bit the bullet and pulled out my wallet.

Did you know that the average recipe development cost charged to companies is about $350 PER RECIPE?! It’s not just the time, but the cost of ingredients, appliances and even energy – electricity for stoves, appliances – add to the cost of a recipe to be developed and tested.

Being frugal, I thought I’d attempt the Starfrit one since it was cheaper and the idea of doing 6 cherries at once compared to the traditional, one at a time, made me travel to Canadian Tire.  When I asked, the employee didn’t even know where to find it and she said they must not carry it.  I thanked her and noted her lack of confidence of an obviously, not well requested item.  So I kept searching the aisle for my solution to my “bloody” cherry hell (I mean problem….).  Well, low and behold, after searching inch by inch, there it was… quietly sitting there with no indication of how purposeful it really was.

So home I went, with a lighter wallet and a hope that this weird contraption was going to make my life easier.

So instead of just showing you photos of how it went, I thought I’d use my daughter to film a quick impromptu video of how the Starfrit Cherry Pitter works from beginning to end. ​

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​PHEc Tips to get the most out of this gadget:

  • The fresher the cherries, the more likely the pit will not stay attached to the tiny flap of skin.
  • Not just for pies, it’s a great way to make maraschino cherries for cocktails, garnishes and additions to salads.
  • A great tool if you are also going to dehydrate/dry these into cherraisins (I made up the word and pronounce it “sher-raisins” or “chair-raisins” – which do you prefer?).
  • Store with your canning gear and put away for the season, or with your colander for reminders when washing other fruits, berries and veggies.

Here’s what I think after testing out the Starfrit Cherry Pitter:

Pros

  • Easy to use – It has the same action as a stapler and a child can do it without help.
  • Dishwasher safe – It comes apart to clean all three parts and no handwashing required.
  • Quick – Less work and mess than home hacks, plus this type does 6 cherries at a time!
  • Easier than other pitters – For people that don’t have good hand and finger coordination (Ex: Persons with MS, arthritis, fibromyalgia, advanced or very young ages) – no balancing or strong grip required.
  • Compact – It stores flat with a small locking tab that keeps it flat for storage.
  • Encourages healthy eating – Mr R Ginger ate an entire bowl in 5 minutes when I offered him “some” since they were already pitted.  I’m sure children and everyone in the family will do the same (we never got a chance 😉 ).

Cons

  • Cost is more than home hacks or commercially prepared ones
  • Space – You’ll need to store it somewhere when not in use.

Final Thought:  Yes, I do recommend this item.

IMG_6374If you are picking cherries or making jam or pies, this is a great and healthy alternative to home hacks or commercially prepared with added sugar (10% for those buckets of pitted cherries seasonally available usually).  This became my go to for my recipe testing.  It has held up great under many dishwasher runs, two kids using it and the countless cherries sacrificed for 3 unique recipes designed by Nutrition Bites for 20 Valley Harvest Farms.

I’m not all for new gadgets, or spending money (frugal PHEc here!), but this saved me time and made it easier to enjoy cherries more this season.  I’m happy to have it in my home, and I know next year I will be ready to pull it out.  This cherry pitter is totally worth not looking like a red-handed, mass-murderer during cherry season when you are up for serving delicious pies, tarts, jams, salads and cakes quickly!

 

Note: All opinions are my own.  This was not sponsored by Starfrit and I have not received any compensation or free items to recommend this product.

Posted in Farm, Fruits, Gluten Free, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries

Cherry Pitting: Home Hacks on Trial

Being a Niagara native and having met many people while working as a crop scout, I was fortunate enough to keep some as lifelong friends.  Paula Bryk is one of them.  She is reviving her family farm in Jordan, Ontario also known now as “20 Valley”.

Her farm, 20 Valley Harvest, is undergoing a rebuilding and rebranding of sorts (if speaking in business terms) after withstanding several generations in the same family as well as the loss of her father, who last ran the farm at capacity, a few years back. I have been helping with the farm’s promotions, resource development and social media campaign in the past few months.

Even though cherry season is just past the blossom stage and the immature fruit is starting to appear, I had to buy some ripe but un-local ones.  Gasp!  The reason: recipe development!  It’s one of my favourite things to do (Need help with your farm or food business?…. Nutrition Bites Consulting to the rescue!).

Some of the 20 Valley Harvest Facebook posts include educating the public on the  nutrition, preparation and uses of cherries.  One deterring issue with fresh cherries is having to pit them for most recipes.  Many people buy the tart (sour) and sometimes the sweet ones already pitted in pails.  (Nutrition note: they are usually sweetened with added sugar! Check the labels!).

Others that purchase cherries in large quantities might splurge the average $15 – 20 cost of a hand-held cherry pitter.

Being a frugal PHEc, I found some “hacks” on the good ol’ internet to pit cherries without buying a one-use item or processed and less healthy options.

So I put them to the test as I was developing a recipe (you’ll have to stay tuned to 20 Valley Harvest & Nutrition Bites websites for the recipe reveal in June).

I enlisted by youngest daughter to help.  Not a good idea.  Every hack failed. (So it’s not as easy as “Even a kid can do it!”…)

Hours after the initial attempt, I decided to try them for myself.  Here’s how the home hacks brought havoc to the cherries:

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  1. Chopstick & Beer Bottle
  2. Straw & Beer Bottle
  3. Paperclips – regular and plastic coated

The Chopstick & Beer Bottle method was the winner!  It still didn’t work perfectly though.  With softer cherries, the pit sometimes stays attached to the flesh.  A second attempt aiming at the pit and flesh usually gets it off into the bottle.  It’s not as clean as the video makes it out to be, but it definitely saves your hands from looking like you are a mass murderer.


The Straw & Beer Bottle method works well with harder straws or thicker ones (the wide smoothie or frapuccino ones).  I used cute party ones made out of paper and food-safe ink from Presidents Choice.


These worked well for about 6-8 cherries but then started to collapse and fold with the repeated pressure and moisture.  Tip: It’s still a great way to do it but you will need several straws as they begin to bend and break under the “pitting pressure”.

The Paperclip method did not work at all.  I’m assuming we needed hard/firmer cherries as well as perhaps the video showed a different cherry variety than I had purchased. We used two different kinds of paper clips (regular and plastic coated) to make sure, but it was a complete fail and made a huge mess.

So if you are attempting to pit a whole bunch of cherries this season (be sure to make a trip to 20 Valley Harvest Pick Your Own or Market Stand!), I suggest the Chopstick & Beer Bottle method – easiest and cleanest hands down!

Cherries spray their colourful sweetness with almost any pitter you use – home hack or store bought!  So don’t forget to NOT wear your favourite clothes when cherry pitting.  Actually, if you can do it – set up a mini kitchen outside during the summer season.  I do a lot of prep work outside on a table beside my BBQ in the summer.  Also, if you are of age, cherry pitting is also a good excuse to have a beer on the patio before you get to work.  It’s in the name of saving money and reducing your added sugar intake (pitted cherries in pails), right?  Well, you can try convincing people you (or someone else) a beer is a necessary tool in order to bake and cook with cherries.

Don’t drink or know someone who does?  You could always snatch a soda pop bottle instead (but I’m definitely not going to be encouraging more added sugar…).

Happy summer season in Ontario!  Enjoy the harvests, support local farmers, grow your own when you can and get cooking with cherries!  Use my advice on cherry hacks and it won’t be “the pits” anymore!

Posted in Farm, Fruits, Healthy, Home Economics, Local, On Location, Ontario

Quality Frugal Food Tip: Want “Seconds” or “Thirds” in Fresh Fruit?

On my gourmet Southwestern Ontario trip this past weekend (one day to be a blog post, hopefully soon), we stopped at Delhaven Orchards in Blenheim, Ontario near Lake Erie. We were blessed with a $25 gift certificate, and honestly it was crazy how much fruit we had to buy to spend it!  (Farmers stands and markets are where it’s at for buying fresh produce for cheap!). 

So what did we buy?


An 11-litre peach basket filled with “seconds” apricots (for $12 – no taxes ever on fresh fruit and veggies by the way in Canada) plus a whole bunch of apples, some peaches and plums (they are fully in season in Ontario right now so fill up your baskets and cars!). In comparison, “firsts” apricots were $4 or so for a quart (the average one pound countainer for strawberries).

And what are seconds?
They are the fruit and veggies that don’t look “perfect” in our eyes – smaller, some marks, or even sometimes under-ripe or over-ripe.


There are high standards for canning companies – so usually the biggest ones go to the processing facilities because they can get bigger slices (but then pack it in cans and lots of added sugar and “syrup” – always buy fresh if you can, or packed in water only).  There is usually NOT bugs inside, and they can be SO much cheaper than “firsts”.   Thirds exist too, but many are discarded or in a case like apples – might be made into a cidre or something that uses the fruit or vegetable but it is processed to a point so it doesn’t look physically like the same thing.  It could still be a natural product, just perhaps not the full, whole food/fruit/veggie.

Watch this little video I made:


(Also found on my YouTube Channel)

So don’t forget to look for deals everywhere but don’t judge a fruit just by the outside. Even peaches don’t have to be red to be the sweetest and juiciest. That depends on each variety, just like apples!

So enjoy seconds and thirds just like you would silver or bronze. Working hard for your money doesn’t mean you have to have the gold standard – you might just be paying for looks, not taste or nutrition.

PS – Those eating solely organic know that imperfect and sometimes downright ugly still tastes good. Nature is not always perfect to us, but that’s because how we view things. Literally sometimes.

Posted in Farm, Fruits, Healthy, Kid Friendly, On Location

Pick your own berries? Yes, please.

The little one won the
The little one won the “biggest berry” pick.

So our family tradition is to go to a local pick your own strawberry farm (Heeman’s in Thorndale, ON) the day after school is done for the summer.  This year, we had a late start and went around 4 pm to pick.  We saw an old friend that worked the Pick Your Own (or #PYO ) and walked instead of waiting for the tractor and wagon ride.

The memory capture - quick shot and on to picking.  No selfie stick and short arms make a stiff neck ;)
The memory capture – quick shot and on to picking. No selfie stick and short arms make a stiff neck 😉
The end of the pic.  Sticky and still sweet.
The end of the adventure in front of the PYO barn at Heeman’s.

There the pickings were slim.  It turns out our nasty winter left some of the strawberry plant roots, a little worse for wear.  So that might have been the last day for picking!  We were so lucky!  We got assigned to our row, and the lessons began. So many questions from the girls even though we have done this for years.  Every year, there is a different level of questions or different people to interact with.  It’s nice because it gives us the outdoors, the fresh air, and fruits (literally) of our labour.  Quality time and no electronics (which I limit to 60 minutes a day for each child anyways – it works, try it!). So we got our strawberries back to the super clean barn.  They weighed them ($2.25/pound) and the price tag – $47 and some.  Yes, myself and two children (8 & 11) picked about 21 pounds of strawberries in less than an hour.

The girls showing off their "biggest pick" and our bounty.
The girls showing off their “biggest pick” and our bounty.

What does one do with that many strawberries?  We delivered some to a friend.  One more delivery still has to be made.  And that night we brought more to a neighbour having an epicure party (their fruit dip mixes are delish!).  Still there was way to many to eat fresh (we pick them at very ripe, as they taste the best and are super sweet then) even for my strawberry monster (the 8 year old).  The plan, as always is to “jam” and to freeze whatever is left if I’m waiting for blueberry and raspberry season (which usually comes later in July & August).

So for an adventure, lessons in life, some free child labour (kidding!), and a tractor/wagon ride – plus tons of fresh produce at a fraction of a price (who says healthy, fresh and local is expensive?) the answer is simple:

Get picking your own fruits & veggies.

Cheap food plus:

  • Physical activity for the whole family
  • Entertainment that is cheap and you get a prize worth more than a dollar or stale popcorn
  • Nature and fresh air
  • Sharing with friends and family (community & social support), or a local food bank – yes they take it!
  • Do some home cooking to get sweet & stick, and
  • Enjoy your work and memories for months to come (preserve laughs and food).
Before the actual picking began.  Notice the amount of people and Heeman staff (orange tshirt) were always around.
Before the actual picking began. Notice the amount of people and Heeman staff (orange tshirt) were always around.

So when raspberry or blueberry season comes, grab a friend or the family, and you will be berry, I mean very, happy that you did.  It’s always a new experience, even if you have done it times before.  If not, the staff are always so willing to help – so just ask.  There is a first time for everything for everyone. (Or just comment below and I will help!)

Smile :)
Smile 🙂