Posted in Home Economics, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries, Special Events

#PHEcProud Project – Day 1

The #PHEcProud Project

Day 1

Join Sandra Venneri of Nutrition Bites every evening at 9pm for 30 days while she shares with you topics on home economics and being a Professional Home Economist.

Click here to view the #PHEcProud Project – Day 1 video on Nutrition Bites’ YouTube channel.

 

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 Healthy, On Location, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries

“Funny things people say to me” Series by Nutrition Bites

Ok, so after knowing Mr R Ginger for almost two years, I have obviously met some of his friends. 

Last night we had an evening out in Kitchener-Waterloo with his childhood buddy we will now call Special K. 

Special K always comes up with funny things to say to people including me. Last night was no different but I thought I’d share it with my readers. 

So he had chips on his kitchen table when we arrived. I was famished after teaching a private child cooking lesson in London and then driving straight away to their place. Mr Ginger opened a bag, and knew they were one of my favourites (Gasp! I do eat chips!!! Don’t be alarmed. Be worried if I’m pretending to only eat vegetables. Moderation people.)

I went to eat some chips. Special K said “You don’t want to eat those!” And proceeded to take the bag away from me. Um, kinda rude but Special K is well ….. Drowning at times. So, with my humour, I never help the matter. 

I told him, “Of course, I do! Why would you think that? Because I’m healthy? Because I work in nutrition?”  

He says…….

….. Get ready for it…….

……. “I thought you only eat hummus and spinach!?”  

I think he was serious. Yes. Yes he was. 

What did I do?

I laughed loudly aloud!

I looked at my Ginger and he smiled and laughed too. 

Hhhhhhhhhuuuuh.   

Hummus and spinach do reside in our fridge and home… but so do other less nutritious foods.
 

Here’s the thing – eating a treat or less nutritious food is not against my nutrition mantra or most others in the nutrition/dietetic field. 

My sensories are just like his. But I wondered then if he put the bowl of fruit out for me?

And even out at Abe Erb, I ordered a freshly made, gourmet chicken burger on a bun, and Special K said “You eat bread now?”    

Gourmet Chicken Burger at Abe Erb in Waterloo

I looked at Mr Ginger and I said, “Now I’m gluten-free?”  I smiled. 

Ahhhhh. I guess everyone wants perfection out of a profession. That being said, do lawyers and cops never speed while driving? Are they not someone to respect because they made a rolling stop or didn’t check their blind spot before changing lanes?

It’s kind of the same idea. 

But we will be enjoying Special K for years to come. He makes us smile, and teaches me what people think about nutrition (and things I can help teach, address and advocate for in my career and blog!). 

 And I’ll be sharing his “hummus and spinach” quotes along with others (confidentiality will be honoured!) of what funny things people say to me about nutrition, food and home economics. 

Enjoy. There is lots more Special to come. 

Posted in Gluten Free, Healthy, Home Economics, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries, Product Testing

Tenota: Product & Service Review

How many memories do you have of a warm beverage and a special event or friend that shared that moment?  It seems like tea and coffee have always been a way to come together, have a conversation, share stories and keep not just our bodies warm on cold nights, but it seems our souls.

I have grown up on tea and coffee since I was a little girl.  On my dad’s knee at the Italian neighbour’s home stealing the milk foam off his cappuccino. And my mom, she brought the English heritage out – but it was black tea  with either milk and sugar or lemon and honey.

There is a reason why there are cafes seemingly on every corner, in every city or town.  They are more the norm than the watering holes, being way more acceptable for all ages and types of social interactions and meetings.  We, as a society here in Canada, usually meet up for a beverage with friends to catch up.  Ahhh, but what happens if you live far away, don’t drive or can’t make your schedules match up?  My friend Kathryn and I, friends from good ol’ University of Guelph but now living a 3 hour drive away, schedule “coffee chats” where we brew our own at home and set up a time to chat.  We also send each other small, sentimental things in the mail that make the other smile and remind her that we care.

So when my friend Allison told me of her family company, Tenota, and wanting my opinion on their product, I first thought, “I want to send one to Kathryn! What a great idea!”: a service sending tea with a personalized note attached, literally! 

 Obviously, I wouldn’t be the one receiving the tea to taste if I sent one to my dear friend, so Tenota sent me one to try.  (I’ll be sure to send one to Kathryn with the great promo code Tenota provided for me and my followers (keep reading to find it!).)

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I was lucky to receive my foodie gift in the mail quickly.IMG_3404

The rustic and sturdy kraft-paper envelope with printing reminded me of an old fashioned printing press.  First impression: cute, quality and a home-y feel.

Upon opening the envelope, I was greeted with the tenota graphic: (the latin word for tea).  Cute touch.

IMG_3405.JPGte notes te pic

 

I pulled out the card. One side had a cute note saying “Someone sent you a gift!”IMG_3406

And the other side said “Tenota tea notes…. Tea with a message”. The wintery weather and Canada Post handling of home delivery I think played a big part in a tiny bit of smudging…. but honestly it just looked even more rustic and handmade.

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And drum roll for the presentation….IMG_3410.JPG

The personalized note attached to the tea bag was adorable!  It was a note within a card, within a package, with a gift!  Something perfect to send to a best friend far away,  grandma in her retirement home, a sick relative, a pick me up for a new mom or sick colleague.  And honestly, what about the foodies in your life?  I’m thinking of all the people I know who love tea and love receiving gifts in the mail (who doesn’t?)!

The cute pyramid tea bag was definitely an additional highlight as all I can think of is those gourmet teas at Starbucks that I order.  For some reason a 3D tea bag resembling the Egyptian pyramids always makes me feel spoiled and a bit like royalty compared to the run of the mill 2D circle or square normal options.

Taste Test

  
So then came time to taste test “Long Life” tea that came with my Tenota delivery.  I followed the instructions exactly as given on the tea note/tag.

  
The green and white teas were blended with herbal and fruit additions.  The tea was creamy with a definite flavour of pear and a note of spice.  The white tea definitely took the spotlight with the green tea adding a bit of depth.  The orange peel, though minimal in amount, definitely gave a strong but fresh flavour with fennel seed adding a “bite”.  I’m assuming due to the high quality of the product.

I added honey as I was sipping it alone but it would pair well with a sweet or savoury scone. I’m thinking something more of the cranberry variety (with the pear flavour in the tea complimenting the tart berry) yet perhaps a blueberry pie slice would pair well with the orange to balance it out.

One surprising ingredient was the calendula petals.  I don’t think I have ever had them in a tea, so I can’t say that I know what I’m tasting and looking for….. but I’m assuming it added a bit of a light floral taste.

  
That night I was on the run, so I had to leave the last sips in my cup.  Upon my return hours later, I though “Hmmmm I wonder if it would taste great cold?” (PHEc tip: Making iced tea at home can involve gourmet flavours at a minimal cost!)  It was still so flavourful and sweet, that this would be a great blend to send year-round to those iced tea lovers.

All things considered, I’m jealous of Allison’s family company, Tenota.  A simple idea with attention to detail that delivers a delicious tea gift made from quality ingredients, historically reminiscent packaging with a personalized message that would bring warmth to any heart and home in Canada. 

I highly recommend their products as well as this sentimental service to spread cheer and smiles across the miles.  Don’t wait for a special occassion to surprise someone or let them know you are thinking of them.  But if you need an excuse, January is Hot Tea Month and February brings us the day celebrating the most historic sender of notes – St Valentine!

And to help you even more, Tenota is offering a special promo code to my followers!  Visit my Friendly Support page to get the code for 20% off any order at Tenota!

te notes te pic
Te: The latin word for tea.
Posted in Healthy, Home Economics, Kid Friendly, Ontario

Couponing: Kids Can!

So as the fire finally burns bright at the year end, literally…

  
… And a new fresh start is about to begin….

My mind went to coupons tonight. 

After the holiday season, one sees the shopping deals but sometimes also the overdraft in your bank account. 

I love this time of year … And those coupons are great fire starters. The expired ones I mean (and yes I recycle too). 

  
So as my “babies” sleep, I think: “Here’s one of the ways to keep them busy AND saving us money while getting the home stuff reorganized”: The Coupon Sort & Toss. 

Here’s how you can do what we do:

  1. Grab all the coupons you have and put them in a big pile on the floor or in the centre of a table. 
  2. Label 3 large Ziploc bags: Food, Household Supplies, Restaurants & Shopping, Use ASAP. 
  3. Label 1 extra envelope or cardboard box “Expired…. Recycle”. 
  4. Have each kid scavenge and sort each coupon by this list:
  • Is it expired? Yes –> Expired Box;  No –> Continue 
  • Is it going to expire in 30 days? Yes –> “Use ASAP” baggie/ envelope. ; No –> Continue
  • Which category does it belong to? Food?   Household Supplies?   Restaurants & Shopping?

DONE!!!

This can be made into many “games”: 

  • Several kids can do it together as a sorting race
  • Find the highest worth coupon
  • Find the healthiest coupon and compare/debate
  • Make a healthy meal using only coupon items (and they have to be willing to eat it …. Because you can have it for dinner that week!)
  • (Do you have an idea? List it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!)

They can do it while I might be busy with something but we can still be together in the same room and chat. 
The “Use ASAP” coupons are a great way to pair with sales and flyers ( Don’t forget to use the Flipp app!). 

They are also a way to get stocked up on a few items, or help you to buy items to donate to a food bank or food cupboard in your area. 

Here in London, CANada we even have some lovely ladies that started Coupons for Hunger that you can donate the coupons to instead. 

Plan parts of your meals with coupons to save money. 

I’ve also written another article on couponing, published by the Ontario Home Economics Association. Read it for more tips on couponing. 

Posted in Home Economics, Local, On Location, Ontario, Opinions & Commentaries, Recipes, Special Events

I went to a Food Fight and won!

I was invited to participate in the Arts & Cookery Bank’s Food Fight this summer when I poked my head into their amazing heritage and social enterprise site in West Lorne, ON. (See my previous post on the tour I received.)

IMG_0504It was really a push outside my box.  Not the black box that contained the secret ingredients.  The comfort zone I had remained in.  I was asked by Coupons for Hunger to compete in a salsa competition at the Covent Garden Market the previous year.  Being a single mom, I turned down the opportunity. I usually never back down from a challenge, but after a few years of not fitting myself into any specific niche or exact career in food and nutrition, I had less than optimal confidence at the time.   It was a regret I had – I could have taken the girls along (they love these sorts of things!

So, I said yes this time.  I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and when given second chances – TAKE THEM!  Out of my shy box and into the black box I dove!

The experience was a whirlwind.  Days leading up to the anxiety increased: Would my product flop? Would my friend bail on me at the last minute?  Would I embarrass myself in front of the judges including Emily Richards, fellow P.H.Ec.?

But honestly the day came, and I was happy to just do it.  I was conquering my fears of failure and doing what I normally do: give it my best effort and have fun.  It’s not like I was doing brain surgery and someone’s life was at stake!  It was just food. And I love food, cooking and adventures! So what’s the worst that could happen? I was going to get messy and lose.  Ah well, I’ve had worse happen to me. And wasn’t West Lorne far away from London and Niagara – who would know? Except maybe my twitter followers because I tweeted it.  But who really follows me anyways? But if you are looking, you can follow me here 😉IMG_0693

So we got to the place around 6:40pm.  The first of that round of teams to arrive.  We grabbed a few pics to remember our experience.  We waited, and tried to figure out any hints.  We discussed options based on what we knew:

  • It was to focus on local ingredients but give it a new twist
  • It was to be part of the product development for a signature line of preserves for sustainability at the Arts & Cookery Bank (great idea, like YOU in London, ON)
  • It would possibly use what was in season (being near Lake Erie – I thought tomatoes, blueberries, honey)

7 pm came and we were allowed to enter the kitchen.

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But then we walked in, donned our aprons and each team was given a different black box – so no cheating off others’ ideas! We were allowed to use other ingredients around the Cookery Kitchen – onions, garlic, peppers, gooseberries, strawberries, fresh herbs, carrots, tomatoes.

I opened up the box and we had:

  1. Ground Tumeric
  2. Fresh Ginger
  3. Local Honey

I got so excited and my friend was less than impressed.  I used those ingredients all the time, her hardly ever!

We were also told we had to make an edible paste and 4 litres of the product!  What???!!! They told us they didn’t want a jam.  It had to spread using a knife, not a spoon.  Oh my!!!  This threw I think all three teams for a loop.  Oh and did I mention we had 3 hours to complete the entire task – ideas to product completed and in jars!? Glad I’m an energetic person that is a “planner” and very organized.

So we came up with a plan to do roasted peppers and make a chutney-like spread.  We asked the other teams if we could take all the 10-12 peppers in the basket. They were good with that and so away we went.

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Working as a team with a friend was different.  We both cook daily AND teach nutrition and cooking, but have never done it together!  And did I tell you that we are both Italian decent?  (Of course we were louder than the other groups and using our hands a lot more to talk 😉 Don’t pretend you weren’t thinking it! It’s true and we are culturally proud!)  She roasted the peppers on the gas grill and I began the recipe development.  I tried three tiny batches because we had super limited ingredients to make 4 litres – every piece of pepper was worth their weight in gold!  In turn we worked pretty good together, considering we have our own style and personality.

I’m a ginger lover (yes Mr. R. Ginger can attest to that in both ways 😉 ) and my friend is not.  So that meant that I had to reduce the ginger until she was not completely disagreeing with the amounts I added.  Other than that, I reduced the sweetness of honey as well – that natural sweetener really packs a punch!  Tumeric is a very easy spice to use and it’s difficult to really add way too much.  But it does stain everything yellow – so watch your apron, tea towels, finger nails and skin!

We struggled with making 4 litres and added more onions, carrots and gooseberries to the mix at times.  We used an immersion blender to blend some of the chopped roasted peppers to make a spread consistency and left some for a chunky “edible paste” – definitely not the norm.  The other two groups used the standard corn starch thickening method to try get their product to a consistency.  Hats off to the Sweets Bakery ladies who got gooseberries as a main ingredient.  They did make it LOOK good – like a bakery product with a kind of “whipped cream” topping!

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Looking a little exhausted but task completed!


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We didn’t want to change the taste so we committed to having less than 4 litres and keeping the taste better.  My idea for the product jars was to add carrot ribbons to be a part of a garnish of sorts (DYK: a “garnish” technically HAS to be edible) and make it even more visually appealing.  Topped that with parsley leaves and voila, our finished product:

Honey Ginger Roasted Pepper Spread

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We packaged them up and then found three other jars we were supposed to fill!  So we got a spoon out and started robbing Peter to pay Paul.  We made the timeline with a completed EDIBLE product!  Success!

Funny or interesting things that were part of our experience:

  • Blood, sweat and tears were put into this product development: She cut her finger (yes, even veterans do it!), we were sweating buckets and running around a lot, and I had to chop onions and cried a few tears
  • My carrot ribbons were taken as “scrap” and whisked away to be thrown out
  • We had a clean up crew that was fantastic – and now I realize why “chefs” are so lucky – they never clean up after themselves – Professional Home Economists, we do because who else it going to at home?  I was spoiled to get to use endless dishes! A big THANK YOU to those wonderful volunteers!

We had a great time doing it and all our hard work paid off:  we won the business category under my Nutrition Bites Consulting business!  We were not in attendance, but Grace made sure to hold on to our gift bags/prizes.  We received two cookbooks from the judges Jill Wilcox from Jill’s Table in London, ON and Emily Richards new cookbook coming out in the fall.  We also enjoyed Forrat’s chocolates and other kitchen stuff including an awesome heavy duty Foodland Ontario apron as well.  I’m sorry we missed out on the final event that Saturday, including Fresh Air Media’s Andrew Campbell, who is an educated young farmer in the area who is a great public speaker and media host.

The best part of the entire experience: I survived a personal and public challenge and am better for it.  And it had to do with food.  When can things ever go wrong from pushing your limits?  It definitely made me more confident in my abilities, even though deep down I know that I shouldn’t really be that hard on myself.  I learned to have faith in what I know is there, but the world might not know yet.

Hello World, I’m out of the box now and happy to face my next challenge!

The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.
The swag, the kitchen, the product and the home ec brains behind the winning product.
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.