Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Garlic Festival 2011: 'If they don't like the smell they're not good people''

Last weekend I spent an aromatic Saturday at the 5th annual Stratford Garlic Festival, one of the definite highlights on our city's culinary calendar.

Along with learning about garlic and all of its fabled history and wondrous medicinal properties, I had a mission: to search among the festival's 100+ vendors to find the craziest thing anyone there had made using garlic!

Local organic garlic farmer and festival founder Warren Ham of August's Harvest farm (that's not him above but that guy definitely shares his spirit) started the day off by presenting an interesting overview of the history of Allium Sativum, which originated in Kazakhstan and migrated to pretty much every great food culture throughout the world (trivia tidbit: people in Korea on average eat 50 lbs. of garlic per year, compared to 3 lbs. in Canada!). When a member of the audience expressed a desire to enjoy the flavour and health benefits of "the stinking rose" but not its aromatic properties, Farmer Ham set her straight, "If people don't like the smell of garlic, they're not good people."

Well, this festival was full of good people seeking to enjoy garlic in all its forms (including this family above, who were sharing their homemade bruschetta mix). And when I say 'all' its forms, I mean 'all' its forms... there were definitely some creative uses of this poignant ingredient as vendors pushed the envelope of what can be done with garlic. Let my mission begin!

I spent some time helping out Shawn Hartwell of Simple. Fish and Chips who was serving up his always-popular lobster rolls with garlic butter (the same filling I'd overindulged in for the "Me versus the Mammoth Lobster Sandwich" blog post last year) along with the Roasted Garlic and Potato Soup he was serving back at the Soup's On fundraiser in December (he used 20 lbs of garlic to make this batch, and assured people "It'll definitely keep the vampires away... and anyone you don't like").

Paul Finkelstein and this year's students from his Stratford Northwestern high school Culinary Arts program (aka the Screaming Avocado crew) were vending bruschetta and local goat's cheese to raise funds for their upcoming food adventure to Cuba (look for a blog post in November - I'm tagging along on that one!).

But let's move on to the whackier creations. The vendors at Jenny's Peanut Brittle were serving their crackin' Garlic Peanut Brittle (originally created for the Garlic Festival, but so good it's available all the time at Jenn & Larry's Brittle & Shakes on York St.).

For lunch I had the Garlic Fries with Cheese and Pickle being served by a Mennonite couple. I actually loved the tempura-style deep fried battered garlic, which was crispy on the outside but had a melt-in-your-mouth cooked garlic centre. 

This dude definitely won the award for best hat.

Nudge-Nudge Here's The Fudge were selling bars and squares of their sweet-and-savoury Roasted Garlic Fudge.

These gents were in the festive spirit as they handed out Garlic Shooters (minced garlic with soda water and lemon juice). I slammed one back and was instantly cured of all potential ailments for at least a year.

But the winner of this year's Craziest Garlic Creation was actually the trophy being proudly held by my son Fisher (above). It's not Garlic Ice Cream (but that was there too!). It's Garlic-Egg-Salad-In-A-Cone, which was being scooped up by the Egg Farmers!

These Folks Got Some Junk In the Trunk
I had a great day at the Garlic Festival, and went home with a pound of Siberian Garlic - some to eat but I'll save some cloves to grow myself! This year's expanded two day event was bigger and better - and stinkier - than ever!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Savour Stratford Gets 86'd!

Last week I returned to my old stomping grounds along Queen St. W. in Toronto to attend a fun premier of the 2011 Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (it's coming up on September 24th and 25th!) at The Drake Hotel

Every Monday night Toronto food writer Ivy "Don't-Call-Me-Blogger" Knight hosts a hip event at The Drake known as 86'd Mondays where food lovers and industry folks are invited to enjoy her flavour-of-the-week, often while drinking profusely. [Did you know... to be "86'd" means to be involuntarily thrown-out and banned from a bar?]
Back in the day, Lisa and I used to live right across the street from The Drake. Circa 2000 it definitely wasn't a place where you could get killer sushi on a Monday night while hobnobbing with Toronto food insiders. Before it was completely renovated The Drake's street level bar used to be called "The Stardust Lounge". There was a 250 pound bench-press bar near the back with a sign over it that read "If you can bench this weight you get a free beer". There were also some pretty wild freak-out karaoke nights (I dug up a few Polaroids from Lisa's birthday in 2001 [above] - don't worry that's not our real hair).

The Drake's come a LONG way since back then [who hasn't?]. I was stoked to return to this old haunt to celebrate Ontario's primo food festival!
Shawn Hartwell of Simple Fish and Chips has been one of Stratford's 2011 summertime food heroes (above, he's also been killing it regularly in Toronto with his all-sustainable fish and seafood creations at events like the Food Truck Eats at the Distillery District and the Conscious Food Festival at Old Fort York). Shawn brought along his own serving bar and set up shop at The Drake's front window looking out over Queen W.

He served up a series of mouthwatering morsels: oysters poached in a Perth-County-pork-broth served on the half-shell; braised duck over a nest of phyllo pastry (above); and zucchini rolls with goat's cheese (also above, a la Prince Albert with the tip-ring of beet-pickled turnip).

Ivy introduced Savour Stratford's founder and champion Danielle Brodhaden, who told the crowd about what they could expect at this year's Festival. Then they got a taste of things to come, accompanied by beer from Stratford Brewing Company (served by 86'd's favourite farmer, our very own Mark Lass) and wine from Chateau des Charmes.

There is loads to look forward to at this year's Savour Stratford Festival. I'm going to be where I like to be - right in the thick of it all! I'm co-hosting the kick-off Pass It On style open-air cooking class with Paul Finkelstein on the morning of Saturday, September 24. Then we're both immediately high-tailing it over to the downtown Market Square's outdoor Culinary Theatre where we'll be co-hosting the first ever Chef Challenge Smackdown, which will be judged by Chuck Hughes of Food Network Canada's Chuck's Day Off along with the editor of Best Health Magazine. I've been growing beautiful greens for the Return of the Living Salad Bar, which will be available for public grazing throughout the festival at the Monforte Dairy Kids Tent.

The legend is true: I made the decision to move to Stratford after I heard how amazing Savour Stratford was in 2009. 2010 did not disappoint - but 2011 promises to be the best yet! Some of the ticketed events I plan to hit will be selling out soon, so visit the all-new website to book your spot, especially for "Chuck's Night Out" at the Stonemaiden Inn on Friday September 23rd and Breakfast with Connie on Sunday morning at the Stratford Country Club (that's Connie de Sousa of Charcut in Calgary, finalist from Top Chef Canada).

When I asked Ivy Knight if she was coming to this year's Savour Stratford festival, she assured me: 

"I'm going to tear Stratford a new one."

That's the spirit.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hangin' with the Homies: Soiled Reputation's CSA

In my most recent post about the phenomenal "Salute to Stratford" BBQ feast I attended at Langdon Hall I singled-out Soiled Reputation Farm's Antony "The Manic Organic" John as the host with the most: he spent half the evening serving-up incredible dishes made with the gorgeous, colourful veggies he grew at his farm, then the other half of the evening saw him wowing the crowd with his vocal stylings. The post before that one was all about the amazing Slow Food Pork Party which was held downtown alongside the Sunday Market, where Antony took a break from vending at the always-busy Soiled Reputation market stand he tends every week with his wife Tina to sing a couple of tunes. He's a singer, an artist, a lover of birds, a hater of wind turbines and...

Delivery Dude!
That's right, Antony personally delivers a special selection of incredibly fresh and flavourful food to Soiled Reputation's Community Supported Agriculture clients every week. He endearingly refers to the 40 or so households who sign up for the weekly deliveries as his "Homies". One of the regular stops he makes on his Friday delivery route is at the house of my local-food-lovin' in-laws, who look forward every week to seeing what's included in the door-side cooler drop-spot, which is always different and never disappointing. They were away this past weekend, which meant that my family got to intercept their CSA installment - right in the middle of prime-time growing season!
Little did Antony know, a Fire Monster (aka Fisher) was waiting by the cooler to ambush him. He vanquished him of one of the few charentais melons in the van - a true seasonal trophy!
Although the produce the homies get changes from week to week, one thing they can always expect is a bag with a week's worth of Soiled Reputation's fabled organic greens mix.
Antony showed Fisher the bag of heirloom tomatoes included in the delivery - our little foodie-in-training was impressed by these colourful emblems of fine summertime eating!
The entire CSA delivery was full of gorgeous food, most of which was grown at Soiled Reputation farm outside of Sebringville (just above five minutes away from where we live in Stratford). Going clockwise, we received the aforementioned melon and bag of greens, a bunch of vibrant Swiss chard, a fresh baked loaf of organic sourdough bread from Chef Neil Baxter of Rundles, the technicolour heirloom tomatoes, a bagful of astonishingly fresh shiitake mushrooms from Weth mushrooms in Goderich, and a healthy baggie of haricort vert (they're just too delicate and tender to call 'green beans').

Antony is a great cook and the CSA delivery often includes some recipes he recommends for using some of the less familiar ingredients he cultivates on his extremely diverse farm (remember I spent a day working there last year?). This time there were no recipes, which was OK because I was really into the idea of treating the CSA delivery like a Black Box Cooking challenge - that evening I created a meal featuring a little bit of absolutely everything that Antony brought us!
The fresh baked crusty bread and heirloom tomatoes were made for each other, inspiring the composition of a classic summer bruschetta. The harmonious mix of bitterness, spiciness and coolness in Soiled Reputation's gourmet greens needed no alteration or accompaniment, and were served all on their own. The trick to making Swiss chard rolls is to cut out the stems of the brightly coloured greens, blanch them for a minute in boiling hot water, and then plunge them into ice water before rolling them them up; I filled them with a creamy shiitake mushroom and haricort risotto. Finally, the Fire Monster's melon bounty, which as Antony had suggested tasted kind of like a combination between a cantaloupe and banana, was cut into wedges and served with a scoop of ice cream.

Unlike some CSAs Soiled Reputation does not require you to pay in advance for a whole year of deliveries, and clients are given the chance to customize their orders (for example by getting them either weekly or once every other Friday, or by substituting the bread or mushrooms for another preference). Whatever you choose, after experiencing last week's installment it's pretty clear that it doesn't get much better than Soiled Reputation when it comes to CSA subscriptions - it's all grown with exceptional care and hand-delivered by the man himself!