Ein prosit!

Oktoberfest beer hall in Bavaria

There’s nothing that says fall more than Oktoberfest.

Each year at this time, I start dreaming of swilling pints of beer from froth-filled glasses, eating warm, freshly-baked pretzels, and singing ein prosit by the hour with newfound friends.

While Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world, most local Oktoberfest celebrations can’t capture the magic and spirit of the authentic German festival, except Canada’s grand celebration in Kitchener-Waterloo.

I’ve been to Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest many times and to the real Oktoberfest in Munchen, Germany. Many people don’t realize that in Germany, Oktoberfest actually kicks off in September. This year it runs from September 17 until October 3 and is expected to attract six million visitors.

In Germany, it is a national celebration with the whole country shutting down or taking vacation to celebrate for two weeks. In Munich, the festival is held on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds with dozens of beer tents, performance stages, carnival rides and attractions to keep festival-goers entertained between pints.

The first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, we arrived at the fairgrounds around 1 p.m. That’s another big difference between Germany and our Oktoberfest celebrations—in Germany, many of the events are in the afternoon, so you start drinking early. We sat down in one of the festival tents and quickly made friends with a group of German men who were visiting from out of town.

Fraulein servers in traditional colourful Bavarian costumes, their biceps bulging out of their costumes, wound their way through the crowded tables, carrying six gigantic beer steins in each hand. On stage an oom pah pah band played polka music. There was lots of toasting, singing and every hour, you’d sing ein prosit, and raise a hearty toast and chug to the cry of Oans, Zwoa, G’suffa! 

Truth be told, I don’t remember how we made it home that night, but I do remember the memories that have lasted a lifetime.

Here are three Oktoberfest celebrations in Ontario to check out:

  • Kingston-Waterloo: on now through to October 15. While the Concordia Club is generally considered the most authentic hall, both the Alpine Club and Transylvania Club provide authentic experiences. Bingeman’s used to be more the draw for the university students in town.
  • Prince Edward County Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1
  • Toronto Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1 at Ontario Place

This week’s #HappyAct is to get your leiderhosen on and raise a toast to fall. Ein prosit!

Lick a beater

Whipped cream on a beater

There is nothing more comforting than doing something that takes you back to your childhood.

One of my favourite childhood memories was when my Mom baked, and called us into the kitchen as she was putting a cake into the oven to lick a beater.

Licking a beater is a bit trickier than you think. You have to wrap your tongue around the curved edges of the beater blades, twisting it like a corkscrew to make sure you lick every last morsel of cake mix or whipping cream on the blades.

When I bake today, it astonishes me that neither of my kids want to lick the beater. But that makes me happy–all the more for me. As they say in the Swinton house, you snooze, you lose.

This week’s #HappyAct is to do something that takes you back to your childhood.

A community success story

Volunteers holding fruit and vegetables in a warehouse
Volunteers Kristine Erdman, France Spence and Anne Newell at Kingston’s Food Redistribution Warehouse

This week I want to tell you about a community success story.

For the past few days, I’ve been working at an amazing facility here in Kingston called the Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The warehouse officially opened its doors in March and has quickly become a critical hub for collecting and redistributing food to those in need in our community.

I was at the warehouse all day on Wednesday. It was a constant hub of activity with trucks delivering entire skids of oranges, fresh berries, bread and other perishable supplies. I watched a truckload of milk being wheeled into their massive industrial freezers, ready to go to places like the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston and other agencies serving meals in the city. On Tuesday nights, they have a “bread group” that collects all the leftover bread from Cobb’s Bread and brings it to the warehouse.

The warehouse was the brainchild of a dedicated group of partners in Kingston which included the City of Kingston, United Way, Kingston Community Health Centres and Lionhearts who recognized the growing risk to food insecurity during the global pandemic.

Warehouse
Kingston’s Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The large white structure on the left with the silver doors is one of their massive freezers.

I talked to Shawn Seargeant, Manager, Operations at Lionhearts when I was there. Lionhearts was founded in Kingston in 2014 by a group of community-minded individuals who wanted to help marginalized people in our community. They started serving 50 meals a day which quickly multiplied to 150 meals a day, then 400 meals a day at four different locations during the pandemic.

Shawn said the warehouse has been a godsend. They now have the facilities to take in excess food from restaurants and suppliers across the city, store it properly and redistribute it to agencies and programs in our community.

I asked Shawn and a few other people working there if other cities or centres had a warehouse like this. Guelph, with its large agricultural base has something similar, but for the most part Kingston is one of the few cities on the leading edge of solving the problem of food insecurity and providing universal access to food.

Before I left on Friday, I wandered into another section of the 11,000 square foot warehouse and found my friend France sorting vegetables and fruit with two other dedicated volunteers. France told me she loves working at the warehouse a few hours, three times a week—the volunteers there are a big family. I thanked them for making a difference in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to learn more about food insecurity in your community and help be a part of the solution. Here are a few ideas:

  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables in patio containers—donate extra produce to a neighbour, colleague or local charity.
  • Make a food donation to your local food bank. Summer is typically a time when the shelves start to empty out.
  • Build a food lending library in your neighbourhood. Stock it with extra fresh produce, or dried goods, free for the taking.
  • Roll up your sleeves and spend an hour or two working at your local community garden. Most neighbourhood cities have community gardens now that grow and supply fruit and vegetables to local food banks.
  • Support your local farmer’s markets—buy and shop local.
  • Be grateful every day for the food on your table and reduce food waste in your household.

If you’d like to learn more about the incredible work Lionhearts is doing, watch this video…

Making soup is good for the soul

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

Every year when the end of autumn rolls around and the weather gets chilly, I start making soup. There is nothing like a warm bowl of homemade soup to lift one’s spirits. Growing up my mom used to make soup occasionally and I guess it rubbed off on me.

My first attempt at making soup was in the early 1990’s when I was about 25 years old and knew next to nothing about cooking. I made a pot of leek and potato soup which resembled wallpaper paste and I ended up throwing most of it out.

I didn’t attempt soup again until I taught at Alloa Public School in Brampton in the late 1990s. The teachers had a weekly soup club and this is where my soup-making skills really got started. I had to bring a big pot of soup and the pressure was on for it to be delicious. We would share recipes and it was a bright spot every week throughout the winter. Gradually I collected a lot of great soup recipes. Some of them are quick and easy and some of them require a bit more time and preparation, but they all are made with healthy ingredients and are a quick “picker-upper” if you are not feeling well.

For the last 10 years at least I make soup every week. Gary and I have it for dinner at least once a week and I would take it to school for lunch as well. If anyone I know is sick or needs a little TLC, I bring them some soup. I make a different soup each week and by the time I get through all my favourite recipes, winter is mostly in the rear-view mirror.

During these frigid, snowy days why not try your hand at making soup? Here is one of my favourite recipes, thanks to Libby Dawson for sharing it with me.

For the little ones in your life: check out this YouTube video of the children’s folk tale, Stone Soup, proof that soup brings out the best in people.

Sweet Potato Bean Soup – serves 6

1 tbsp. each butter & vegetable oil

½ onion, coarsely chopped

1 rounded tsp. curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & diced

5 c. stock (boiling hot)

19 oz. (540 mL) can white beans (kidney or navy), rinsed & drained

1 tbsp. each balsamic vinegar & maple syrup (both are optional)

Salt & ground pepper

Plain yogurt; chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Heat butter & oil in a large saucepan over med heat. 

Add onion and cook about 5 minutes until soft but not brown. 

Add curry powder; cook while stirring for 1 minute 

Add sweet potatoes; cook for a few minutes

Add hot stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is soft

Add half of the beans. Puree until smooth, and then add the rest of the beans. 

Add vinegar and maple syrup, stir, and serve with yogurt and parsley/coriander on top.

In quest of the best BBQ

BBQ meat on a platter

If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, you’re familiar with the show’s formula of hitting the open road in quest of finding the best greasy spoons and BBQ joints in the southern U.S.

Finding finger-licking good BBQ in Canada is no easy task. In fact, in eastern Ontario, there’s only one contender. To discover the holy grill of BBQ, you need to travel to Muddy’s BBQ pit in Keene, Ontario.

Muddy’s BBQ pit opened up in July 2010, when owner Neil Lorenzen needed a home base for his budding BBQ catering business.

As Neil says, there’s no bad day for BBQ. On a hot summer’s day, you can have a pulled pork sandwich, dripping with flavour and a cold beer. On a cold rainy fall or spring day, you hunker inside, watch football, drink beer and chow down on beef brisket or fall off the bone ribs.

The first time we visited Muddy’s was three or four years ago when Clare was playing hockey regularly in the Peterborough area. It was a cooler November day and the girls were famished after a rowdy game with the local Keene team. We walked into Muddy’s and knew we found our new go-to food joint for weekend road trips.

Muddy's BBQ pit

Since it was a quiet day, they took us around back for a tour of the smokers. They had six to eight smokers going that day full of their signature brisket, pulled pork and ribs. They even smoke their potato salad. My mouth is drooling even thinking about the rich, smoky creamy potato concoction, which is to die for. They said they smoke about 600 lbs a meat a week and are booked every weekend in the summer with catering gigs.

Yes, you gotta love everything about Muddy’s. First, there’s the joint itself. From the road, it looks half barn, half converted garage with a patio and picnic tables out front, and high top wooden bar stools and counters for mowing down on the grub which is served without plates, in wrapped foil.

Then there’s the décor. You’ve got your regular road signs, sports memorabilia, and big screen TVs like you’d find in any sports bar, but just like the BBQ on the grill out back, they take it up a notch with Heinz ketchup punched tin lights hanging from the ceiling, cool stickers slapped on the exposed metal pipes, and signature pig signs.

Inside decor of Muddy's BBQ pit

But the BBQ, oh the BBQ. On your first visit, you have to try the carnivore sampler, a smorgasbord of their favourite signature dishes including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages, and beans. The ribs are definitely my favourite. They are in a word, perfect. Smoky, flavourful, perfectly cooked so the meat does literally fall off the bone (people always say this but it’s never true except at Muddy’s). If you go, make sure you buy some of their signature rub to take home. It’s a staple in our cupboard now for salmon and steak.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a trip to Keene before Muddy’s closes on December 16 for the season. And if you live too far away, feel free to substitute your local BBQ joint. Just know it won’t be the same. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Muddy’s BBQ pit. They’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Muddy's BBQ pit sign

Shop, sip and stroll

My family on Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario

Yesterday, we spent a brilliant sunny September afternoon, shopping, sipping and strolling on Princess Street in Kingston. The city closes the street to traffic one Saturday each month, allowing people and shopkeepers to spill out into the street.

In a society smitten with cars, there is something anti-Uber appealing about being able to wander at will on a street bustling with activity. There were buskers, musicians, people having lunch and cold beer on patios, and lots and lots of dogs! It was just so great to see people out and about again, and feeling their energy.

There aren’t many pure pedestrian streets in Canada, but here are five of my favourite neighbourhoods where you can shop, sip and stroll this fall:

  1. The Distillery district in Toronto: this unique area just east of downtown Toronto is home to 47 Victorian industrial buildings that were once home to the Gooderham & Worts distillery. An eclectic collection of art galleries, restaurants and shops, it’s a great location to while away an afternoon. My favourite time to visit is in December, when it’s transformed into a traditional European Christmas market.
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver: Vancouverites cherish this beloved part of their city which was redeveloped in the 1970’s into a cultural and artistic hub. Stock up on candied salmon and fresh produce at the public Farmer’s Market, and admire the spectacular views of Vancouver’s harbour where you may be lucky enough to spot a seal or whale.
  3. Rue de Petit-Champlain in Quebec City: one of the most historic and prettiest streets in Canada, this thoroughfare is lined with patios and boutiques. We have fond memories of eating al fresco at Le Cochin Dingue during a rainstorm the last time we were there. The servers were so attentive, providing us with blankets and hot drinks to keep us comfortable.
  4. The ByWard Market in Ottawa: One of Canada’s oldest public markets, you can find just about anything you need in this historic area of Ottawa, plus indulge in a Beavertail while you shop. Ottawa is one of the few cities with a true pedestrian mall, Sparks Street, but it’s always been a bit on the sleepy side except during events like Winterlude.
  5. The Forks in Winnipeg, an abandoned railyard located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years. Indigenous peoples traded at The Forks, followed by fur traders and settlers. This dynamic gathering spot is home to live events, a farmer’s market and arts and crafts galleries attracting locals and visitors alike.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make the most of this glorious fall weather and shop, sip and stroll. Enjoy!

Chip truck on Granville Island
Granville Island, Vancouver
Pirate ship in Vancouver harbour
You can watch pirate ships go by from the island!
Even old smokestacks become a work of art on the island

My top ten favourite patios in Eastern Ontario

Family and friends at the Amadeus patio in Kingston
With our friends Gary and Jill on the Amadeus patio

Throughout COVID, outdoor dining has been a lifesaver, both for small restaurateurs trying to keep afloat, but also for those of us desperate for a meal out.

There’s nothing like sitting outside on a warm summer’s eve, enjoying a drink or delicious food with friends or family on a patio. One of the many charms of Kingston is its plethora of patios, including its quaint interior courtyard patios, hidden away from the bustling crowds and its streetside tables where you can watch all the action.

Here’s my list of top ten Kingston patios to visit before summer’s out:

  1. Chez Piggy: still the quintessential indoor courtyard patio in Kingston, you feel like you are in a bistro in France while enjoying the very best in fine dining
  2. The Toucan: great food and bench style seating makes it easy to strike up a conversation with people nearby
  3. Woodenheads: still a favourite of mine for their delicious wood-fired pizza and Pollo Stagione salad, plus their interior courtyard is a cool oasis on a hot day
  4. Lone Star’s Margaritaville: come for the salsa, Corona, tunes and good times vibe
  5. The Battery Bistro at Fort Henry: perched high on Fort Henry hill, with spectacular views of the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and downtown Kingston, one of my favourite places to have a cocktail
  6. The Wharf and Feather Waterfront Patio Bar: recently rebranded, the waterfront patio at the downtown Holiday Inn offers great views of the ferries and tour boats in the inner harbor and gastro pub fare
  7. Kingston Brew Pub: sit on the covered verandah out front or venture into the inside courtyard to enjoy home brew at Kingston’s first brew pub—this place will always have a special place in my heart as a fun gathering spot
  8. Amadeus: we met our good friends Jill and Gary here at the end of July. With hanging vines and greenery and multi-levels, you can get your oom-pah-pah on and fill of German fare
  9. Jack Astors: normally, I try to avoid chains, but you really can’t beat Jack Astor’s spectacular rooftop patio overlooking market square and Lake Ontario
  10. Not in Kingston, but definitely worth the trip is The Cove in Westport. Owner Seamus Cowan recently expanded the patio behind his popular inn and spot for live music. You can see waterviews from both sides and you’ll dig the cool stage Seamus built out of cedar rails to showcase the local talent.

This week’s #HappyAct is to dine al fresco at one of the many beautiful outdoor patios in your region.

Bonus patio: Did you know you can dine on the patio at Casa Loma in Toronto? It’s called The Gardens at Casa Loma, but hurry, it closes in early September. You can make a reservation on line on OpenTable.

Chez Piggy patio
Chez Piggy patio
Patio at Casa Loma

The World’s Best Butter Tart

Deep-fried butter tart and regular butter tart

It’s time to set the record straight on a hotly debated topic: who has the best butter tart in Ontario.

Many regions in Ontario and Quebec claim to be home to the world’s best butter tart, but the scientific proof (the crumbs on my shirt) are all the evidence I need we do right here in eastern Ontario.

And you can find them in the tiny hamlet of Inverary, north of Kingston at Mrs. Garrett’s Bake Shop.

Joyce Garrett and her family have been serving up homemade butter tarts, pies, bread and cookies for more than 30 years. Her bake shop is one of those local gems visitors are desperate to discover, and residents cherish.

What makes her butter tarts the best is the perfect mix of mouthwatering pastry and the amount of rich gooey filling in the deep shell. Mrs. Garrett doesn’t know the meaning of the word skimp.

Canadians’ love affair with this quintessential Canuck pastry goes back centuries. According to local foodlore, young French settlers coming to Canada had to improvise and use local ingredients for their pies and pastries. Since maple syrup was aplenty in Canada, the butter tart was born.

Last summer, Mrs. Garrett’s made headline news for the summer’s taste sensation: deep-fried butter tarts.

Dave and I finally tried our first deep-friend butter tart last week. It was yummy, but why mess with perfection?

Midland has a massive butter tart festival in June and the Kawarthas Northumberland region northeast of Toronto even has a Buttertarts tour, complete with 50 stops at local eateries and bakeries.

You won’t find Mrs. Garrett’s at either of these two places. No, to savour the world’s best butter tart, you’ll have to make the trip to Kingston this summer for the ultimate butter tart experience.

Looking for more foodie recommendations in eastern Ontario? Read my post, The finer things in life to see my top picks for bread, wine, cheese, ice cream and more.

Five easy peasey no pot meals

Pork tenderloin on the BBQ

I’m almost afraid to say it in case we jinx it, but summer may finally be here.

When the skies turn robin egg blue and the days become wonderfully warm, the last thing you want to be doing is spending your time cooking and cleaning up indoors.

It’s this time of the year, I turn to my easy peasey no pot meals. Here are my top five favourites. Most of these are quick and easy on the BBQ.

  1. Naan pizza: a great go-to for get togethers, especially with kids. Let your guests build their own pizza using Naan bread and their own base and toppings. My favourite base is my famous garlic scape pesto
  2. Pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables, potatoes and naan bread
  3. Grilled chicken fajitas on the BBQ with onions and peppers, lettuce, salsa and cheese
  4. BBQ hamburgers, sausages and corn with garlic butter and a fresh green salad
  5. Leftover Mexican bowls: have leftover rice in the fridge? Layer it with fried onions and peppers, black beans and frozen corn, salsa and a chipotle sauce made of mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, garlic and Mexican spices

This week’s #HappyAct is to make a simple summertime dish. What’s your favourite breezy summertime meal? Leave a comment.

Treat yourself to a decadent donut

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

If you are like me, then you’ll remember how a donut used to be such a treat when we were young.

In high school, it was fun to drop by Donut Man on Lakeshore Road in Port Credit for a donut, and how many times have you ever stopped in for a coffee and donut at Tim Hortons? But the quality of Tim Horton donuts has taken a nosedive since they are no longer baked fresh on the premises.  Eating a Tim’s donut became a disappointing experience and I stopped buying them.

Plus when you get to a certain age eating a donut becomes a big deal because it settles around your middle like a …. well, like a donut!

Thank goodness 2020 is not a complete washout due to the rising popularity of gourmet donut shops. I had the pleasure of visiting Sunshine Doughnuts in Burlington, Ontario on one of the bright, sunshiny days we had recently.

It is a delightful walk through the downtown and the décor is colourful and happy, like a frosted confection. Donuts are made fresh each day in all kinds of exciting flavours and designs, with lots of yummy fillings. I tried a classic apple fritter. It was enormous and so delicious, with soft, chewy dough, bits of real apple, and a sugary coating. If not for Covid, I would have been licking my fingers. I don’t know how many calories were in that donut and I don’t care, it was worth every calorie!

Speaking of donuts, Melbourne Australia has just come out of one of the strictest Covid lockdowns in the world after 111 days. On October 26, 2020 they declared their first “double donut day” with 0 new cases and 0 deaths. They are now at their 11th day of double donuts – woo hoo! I am so happy that my friends and relatives in the state of Victoria are able to resume their normal lives after such a long period of severe restrictions.

The choice of donuts as a symbol of their happiness makes perfect sense.

If you love a sweet treat and maybe want to reward yourself some time, indulge in a gourmet donut. Guaranteed to lift your spirits in the sweetest way!

Thanks to Jill Yokoyama for guest blogging this week. To learn more about how donuts became Australia’s symbol of hope in the fight against Covid, check out this story from The Guardian newspaper. What’s your favourite donut shop? Leave a comment!