Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Friend of the Farm

Alas, today was the last Farmers' Market at Riverdale Farm for 2009. The growing season goes by so quickly. We will miss all of the dedicated vendors who come to sell their wares week after week, and look forward to welcoming them back in Spring. We are truly blessed with the bounty for some of the items available at the market included: honey, elk meat, chocolate, freshly baked breads, cheese, mushrooms, beignets, Belgian Waffles, jerk fish, fresh french fries tossed with sea salt and thyme, empanadas and of course - fresh and fabulous produce. These photos represent but a hint of the fruit and vegetables that can be found at the height of the season.

On the subject of the market and Farm, Bill is a volunteer who spends hours clearing the walking paths around Farm. He arrives via public transportation, makes his way through the neighbourhood, and arrives at the Farm, ready to work. He always has his work gloves, a few hand tools, plastic bags and a knee pad along with him. He has been doing this almost everyday for over for 12 years. The work is backbreaking and ongoing, debris is always accumulating on the paths - regardless of the season. Did I mention that Bill is eighty years old? I ran into him the other day as he was walking back from the Farm towards the bus stop. He told me that he was leaving earlier than he likes to because he had to get back and make dinner for his wife who had recently undergone open heart surgery.

Today was Bill's birthday, he had mentioned that the date was coming up a few weeks ago and I made a note of it in my calendar. I surprised him with a cake today. Not knowing Bill's preferences, or if any of the other people who help out at the Farm kitchen had nut allergies, I went with a carrot cake and a vanilla butter cream icing. As I gathered a few items to take over to the farm, I opened the cupboard where I have kept extraneous birthday party material from kids' parties gone by. I found the perfect hat, and one only; an inverted conical hat printed with a farm scene, complete with a sheep, a cow, a barn and a pig.

It seems that Bill is a habitual kind of man. He enjoys a milky tea served in a mug as he works, and then comes by the canteen for a sandwich and a refill of tea around 12:30. I nabbed him while he was finishing off his lunch, sitting outside at a picnic table on a glorious Fall day. Several of the people who work around the Farm joined in, Tim put the birthday hat on him and and we surprised Bill with a sincere rendition of "Happy Birthday" and the cake. He was very touched. We enjoyed the cake, passed out pieces to a few passersby and when everyone had had enough, I packed it up in a box so that Bill could enjoy the rest at home with his wife. I learned a few more things about Bill today, the most astonishing of which is that he travels one and a half hours on public transportation system to get to the Farm, and the same amount of time to get back! He's eighty, and a volunteer! He says that he enjoys volunteering at the Farm because he grew up in the country - and though there would be volunteering opportunities closer to home - they would not have the special feeling of the farm. He has recently cut back on his volunteering days, down to three to four, from six! When I left the Farm today, Bill was still wearing the hat and getting ready to go back to work. The next time you happen to be at Riverdale Farm and see a spunky octogenarian gentleman with a rake, say "hello" to him, for it could only be Bill.

Thanks to Brian Summers for the market photos, More information on the Farm can be found at

Next up on the blog menu - Halloween!

Friday, October 23, 2009

One, Two, Three Testing

Creatives, or testing, are an exchange of services and a way to become more familiar with potential co-workers, checking them out and ensuring that they are client-friendly. Creatives are also a great way to augment one's portfolio, for the stylist and the photographer. I enjoy working on them time permitting, and if they yield useful material. 

For these photos, Toronto photographer Michael Mahovlich,, contacted me with a few ideas that he wanted to execute.  I have worked with Michael on several shoots, so these shots were all about having fun and focusing on our ideas.  The ice cream image is a compilation, I prepared the "chocolate ice cream" on the cone, complete with a frill at the base of the scoop.  Later, Michael captured a chocolate milk pour and drops, and then put the components together for the final image.  

These tests shots are very much what they appear to be and required minimal post work.  The above shot is of cardamom pot de crème, garnished with pomegranate and pistachio nuts.  It was pomegranate season and we liked the trio of  Middle Eastern flavourings served in a contemporary fashion.  The base of the pot de crème is a crème anglaise and is infused with freshly ground cardamom prior to being baked in a bain marie.          

The white chocolate & lime mousse tartlet was inspired by those beautiful tiny Key Limes which are sold in 500 gr. bags - there must be 15 of them in there!  I came up with a recipe and arrived at the studio with a few variations of the tartlet.  The setting adds context and, more importantly, size perspective to the shot so that the diminutive limes read accordingly.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Verdana: Cheese or Font?

A good friend of mine, who happens to be full-throttle food enthusiast herself, passed this website onto to me. What a good time! I played this game for quite a while, and it really is quite addictive - easily justified as one can claim that cheese research is being done! This game would easily lend itself to a dinner-party cheese course scenario... the possibilities are certainly there. Give it a try and see for yourselves how many cheese names and fonts there are in the world.
If you are a competitive type, consider doing research prior to playing. For fun, I checked out my 2006 edition of "The Oxford Companion to Food" by Alan Davidson, to see what it had to say on the matter. Some of the more interesting, and less technical tid-bits include the following:
In 1962, Charles de Gaulle was credited for famously quipping, "How can you govern a country that has 324 varieties of cheese?" to Winston Churchill.
Nowadays, the French cheese count lies somewhere between 450 and 750 varieties.
The worldwide guestimate for cheese varieties is now in the 1500 range, not counting the many nameless types made by small producers, see below.
The cheese with the highest milk-fat content is of course French - the gorgeous Brillat-Savarin which rings in at a whopping 75%*! (*Note: I believe that the European method of measuring milk-fat (MF) is different than that used in North America. The European method yields a much higher percentage, double in fact, than the North American. This could, however, be the answer to the "French Paradox" and the "super-size" of people on our side of the pond. To be further investigated.)
In 1840, a group of Somerset farmers presented a 567 kg (1,250 lb) wheel of cheddar to Queen Victoria as a wedding present.
A hundred and twenty four years later, Wisconsin dairy farmers set out to create the biggest cheddar ever, and it weighed in at 15,190 kg (34,591 lb)!

Cheese is actually one of the oldest of man-made foods dating back to the prehistoric beginning of herding. Cave drawings, found in the Libyan Sahara and dating back to 5000 B.C., depict what appears to be cheese making. Cheese has even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs as an after-life snack.

A few of my personal favorite cheese memories yield from France. My husband and I were once in Bordeaux, staying in an unmemorable one-star hotel. We had reservations for transportation, but preferred to wing it for food and hotels. Across the street from the hotel, we stumbled upon a hip little restaurant with a "Baud & Millet" recommendation sticker in the window. There were various price-levels of prix-fixe menus and all included a visit to the cheese cave located in the cellar. The vaulted ceiling cave was carved out of limestone, had a water drip to maintain humidity and had three levels of shelves - all lined with cheese. I just found the link! It has been a few years since we were there, however, if you happen to be Bordeaux - you must go, and on an empty stomach.
On another trip, we were in Corsica enjoying a meal in a restaurant. I complimented the owner on the cheese and asked its name. "Madame, c'est du fromage!" was the response, and pursuing the question only resulted in the same answer. I speak French, so language was not the issue. I rather think that the cheese was one of those nameless products that is made and enjoyed locally.

The above photo was a creative collaboration with photographer Michael Kohn,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Thanksgiving found us in the heart of Northumberland County, one and a half hours east of Toronto, amongst good friends and three beautiful country properties.  The weather cooperated and the colours put on a great show. Photographer Brian Summers,, was up early to capture this shot of a horse in the pasture.  
We were at friends' on Saturday night, enjoyed a meal of lasagna and singing our hearts out to music from the sixties, seventies and eighties, all accompanied by a very competent and talented acoustic guitar player.

The big Thanksgiving feast itself was planned a week prior, a list was drawn up and tasks and dishes assigned. The meal was to be a sit-down event for some 26 people using china, stemware, cutlery, in a decked out barn complete with a stage, lighting, decor and a sound system.  Seven groups of people contributed to the grand event, and the menu included: shrimp ceviche, chipotle-spiced squash soup, roasted acorn squash, brown-butter mashed potatoes with herbs, salads, a baked potato soufflé and a lovely selection of breads.  A friend who lives out there volunteered to "do" the stuffed turkey. He found a 27 lb. free-range farm bird and did it justice by using a combination stove-top steaming and oven roasting method.  We made a jus-gravy and served the turkey with a cranberry salsa*.  Dessert included pumpkin pie, sweet potatoe pie, apple strudel and carrot cake with cardamom cream (see "Sugar & Spice" posting for recipe).  
One of the food contributions that we brought out was a cranberry salsa, made with organic cranberries purchased at the Riverdale Farmers' Market, The berries come from Iroquois Cranberries, and are gathered in the Cranberry Capital of Ontario - Bala. The open-air market will be on for only a few more weeks, as it closes at the end of October.  It is held every Tuesday, from 3pm to  7pm.  I used one pound in the salsa and froze the other.  Cranberries freeze unbelievably well, as they are a natural for IQF (individual quick frozen) and do not clump together.  I received the following recipe when I purchased the berries at the market; I prefer to tone down the sugar content. 

4 cups, (1 lb) fresh or frozen cranberries
1  to 1 1/2 cups sugar (to taste)
2 limes, zested and juiced 
Process in a food processor, let sit one hour prior to serving.  Keeps in a fridge for up to ten days, and freezes well.

In between the soup course and the main feast, the eleven children who were present dug up wigs and clothing from the dress-up trunk and put on a dance / fashion and acrobatics show! Having a stage and a sound system in the barn brings out the performer in everyone. Yeeha! The dinner and show was the weekend highlight for our two older children, but for our youngest it was going horseback riding for the first time and bareback to boot!  Our dog is still exhausted by all of the outdoor activity, and the fact that she deservedly got kicked by the resident dwarf donkey.  Needless to say, a grand time was had by all, and we are very thankful for good friends, good health and family.     

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crème Brulée

Ahh, cream - crème, is there anything better?  What a great and versatile dessert substance: crème caramel, crème anglaise, crème brulée, pots de crème - and the list goes on.  The French certainly have it right, one can even buy prepared crème anglaise and crème brulée in the most mundane of Parisian grocery stores!  A friend of mine, who happens to be French, gave me her very large ice cream maker when she moved to a smaller house.  It cannot be stored in any position but level, therefore it sits on my counter year-round, taking up a great deal of space. To justify its presence, I feel the need to make ice cream and sorbets frequently - and my kids love it.  

The base that I use for ice cream is basically a crème anglaise.
1 liter of cream (18% M.F. or there abouts)
1 cup white sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
6 egg yolks

Combine the cream, sugar, and vanilla and heat until boiling.  Remove from heat, let cool a few minutes and wisk in the egg yolks one at a time.  Return to medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.  Remove vanilla pod, scraping the seeds into the mixture.  This mixture can be used as an ice-cream base, set in ramekins in a bain-marie for crème brulée, or pots de crème.  For crème caramel, make a caramel from sugar and water and pour into ramekins or a mold and let harden before adding the cream base - then bake in a bain-marie until set.     

Food and beverage photographer Michael Kohn,, contacted me recently - he wanted to create some crème brulées shots.  We came up with the above photos,  a selection of just-the-right-amount size ramekins; and an unctuous spoonful complete with caramel shards, a raspberry and a hint of mint.  I used the crème anglaise base in order to make these brulées.

Sugar & Spice and Fair Trade Nice

The word was out from Transfair Canada, the non-profit Ottawa based organization which promotes Fair Trade Certified products, that they were looking for content.  More specifically, they were looking for recipes that use as much Fair Trade Certified products as possible.  Into the kitchen I went to whip up some creations  which would incorporate the necessary components, and then off to Michael Kohn's studio to photograph them,
We collaborated on two entries, Spiced Plum Torte and Chocolate Garam Masala Cookies.

Fair Trade crops typically came from Africa and South America, where low market prices for produce and a high dependency on unscrupulous intermediaries entrenched farming families and local economies in a cycles of poverty.  Working with aid organizations, the producers laid the foundation for a trading system that ensured a fair price for their produce and a direct road to markets and the Fair Trade System was created.  Products include: Cane Sugar, muscovado sugar, icing sugar, dutch-processed or natural cocoa, molasses, vanilla,  semi-sweet chocolate chips, chocolate wafers (milk, bittersweet, semi-sweet), cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black tea, green tea, coffee,  black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, mint, chamomile, fair trade ice cream, bananas, grapes, and oranges. New products are being added and include: rice, quinoa, flowers, wine, cotton and sport balls.
Using Fair Trade Certified products ensures that the farmers are receiving a just price for their products, consumers are guaranteed that their purchases are truly benefiting producers and workers.  For more information, visit the website at, and when look for the Fair Trade Certified logo.  
The following recipes use a lot of spice.  For maximum strength and spice-hit, I highly recommend grinding your own in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder. 


This is a fast, impressive and versatile dessert.  We have made it not only with plums but with pears, apricots, nectarines and wild blueberries and the results have always been delicious.  The torte can be served warm or at room temperature.  


¾ cup granulated cane sugar, divided, keeping 1 tablespoon aside

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup un-bleached all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

pinch sea-salt

12 Italian plums, halved and pitted

Icing sugar for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the granulated cane sugar less 1 tablespoon, butter and vanilla.

Add the flour, spice, eggs and salt until the batter is well mixed.

Place batter in a 9” spring-form or other deep removable-bottom pan.  Place all of the fruit skin side down and cover the surface and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon of granulated cane sugar.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. Makes 8 servings


1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons brown cane sugar or Muscovado sugar, or raw cane sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Mix the ingredients and whip until thick, soft folds appear.

(Hint: for best infusion, mix the ingredients the day before and whip just before serving.)



1 cup granulated cane sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for rolling.

1 large egg

¾ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup corn syrup

2 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 1/8 teaspoons ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 ¾ cups un-bleached all-purpose flour, sifted

½ cup cocoa, Dutch-processed or natural, sifted


Using an electric stand mixer and a paddle attachment, combine the 1 cup of cane sugar, the egg, oil, corn syrup, spices and salt, until evenly blended. Add the flour and cocoa and mix until fully incorporated.  Remove the dough from the bowl, scrape down the sides, place dough in a reusable container and chill for at least one hour.


Preheat oven to 350 F.  Prepare cookie sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Place the two tablespoons of cane sugar in to a small bowl, adding more if necessary.

Using a half-tablespoon measure, shape the dough into balls or half-spheres and roll them into the cane sugar.  Place twenty evenly spaced sugared dough shapes on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 11-12 minutes.  Makes approximately 60 cookies.