Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheese, Glorious Cheese!

Artisan cheeses from Souleio, Saskatoon

I spent 2 ½ years in France during my university years and fell in love with cheese – creamy, stinky, hard, soft – I love them all. It was really tough coming home to Saskatoon because, and I show my age, there was NOWHERE to buy good cheese in those days.

A friend and I tried aging some goat cheese once to see if that would improve it. Nope! Of course, the cheap red wine was equally awful – we were young and broke!

The situation has certainly improved over the years, and there are now several places where I can buy good cheese in Saskatoon. But the one that excites me the most is Souleio, so I was really happy to sit down with Cathy Engel and learn more about Souleio’s selection of cheeses.

Intellectual stimulation
Cathy is originally from the United States. As a stay-at-home Mum in small-town Texas, she appreciated the occasional intellectual challenge. She was delighted to start working in a high-end wine store. “I love languages, geography, culture – and all of that’s covered with wine,” she says.

A few years later, the family moved to North Carolina, and Cathy was responsible for the specialty foods at Whole Foods Market. Again, cheese covered the whole gamut – from geography and language to chemistry and biology. Cathy believes that there is always more to learn about cheese. “There’s no ceiling. You simply can’t get bored unless you’ve stopped trying,” she says.

The economic downturn hit the States hard, and Cathy’s husband was out of work. He came up to Saskatchewan for a family wedding, and Cathy encouraged him to job hunt. Architects are in demand in Saskatoon, and his parents had recently retired to Biggar, so Saskatoon was a good fit.

Cathy visited Souleio and immediately felt at home. Once they’d unpacked and settled into their new home, Cathy started working for Souleio where she looks after the cheese, organic and local produce, meats and seafood.

Collaborative decision-making
Choosing cheese is a collaborative process involving the chefs and other staff members. Souleio tries to cover all the different types of cheeses – soft, blue, cheddar, washed rind, gouda – but the soft cheeses sell fast and don’t have good staying power.

Almost 50% of Souleio’s cheeses are Canadian. Most of the cheeses are from small producers, although they also sell some from larger producers as this ensures a wider variety of prices. The top shelf holds the goat and sheep cheeses as some customers are allergic to cow’s milk.

Organic, Canadian cheeses
Souleio was selling three organic, Canadian cheeses when I visited.

La Station de Compton is a fourth-generation dairy farm in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. They sell Comtomme – “the tomme from Compton” – which is made from raw milk from their 50 Holstein dairy cows and ripened for 90 days.

Alpindon is a gruyere-style cheese made by the Kootenay Alpine Cheese Company near Creston, BC. They replenish the soil with composted manure and whey from the dairy, and solar power provides 70% of the cheese plant’s hot water.

Lighthall Tomme is a hard goat cheese from Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company. Fifth Town is the only LEED-certified dairy in Canada. They try to respect the environment in every step of their operation – from solar panels and a wind turbine for energy, to a bio-wetland system for treating whey and waste water, to using recycled or bio plastics for packaging.

No shortage of choices
Several of the Canadian cheese companies are located on the Quebec-Maine border so they come with names like Clandestin and Le Douanier. Clandestin is made by Fromagerie Le Detour, which also makes Grey Owl, a soft goat cheese that avoids the bite of some goat cheeses. Le Douanier is from Fromagerie FritzKaiser.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is from PEI and is made by COWS, the ice cream folks. This is cheddar made the way it would have been made in the day of Anne of Green Gables.

And I have to mention Chateau de Bourgogne, a triple-cream cheese from Burgundy, because it’s one of my all-time favourites. As Cathy says, “They must whip it. It’s so soft and fluffy.”

If you aren’t sure what kind of cheese you like, ask for a sample. Cathy and the other Souleio staff are really helpful and can give you lots of information.

A cheesey friendship
You know that friend who shared my awful goat cheese 30+ years ago? Well, we’re still sharing cheese and conversation, as you can see by the plate of cheeses in the photograph. Thanks, Karen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brent Lloyd, The Simple Chef, Saskatoon

“from grandma’s comfort food to high-end dining”

Brent Lloyd’s first cooking lessons were from his grandmother on the farm near Swift Current. He went on to complete the Professional Cooking Program at SAIT in Calgary and apprenticed at several Calgary restaurants .

Restaurants: Energy and Excitement
Brent discovered he had a knack for garde manger – transforming leftovers into pâtés, ice into elaborate sculptures, and vegetables into decorations. He still gets excited when he remembers a phone call from Chef Michael Allemeier asking him to work as the garde manger chef for Teatro, one of the top 10 restaurants in Canada at the time.

Brent loved working at Teatro and being part of the team. The average age in the kitchen was 25. “It was a feeding frenzy of knowledge,” says Brent. “There was friendly competition to try and wow the other guys. We’d read up on things and try them out.”

Cooking in a restaurant can be challenging. Brent remembers one occasion when the restaurant he was working in was expecting a group of 25 in addition to the regular lunch service. By 11 am, the supplier hadn’t arrived with the noodles that were a critical part of the dish they were serving. So Brent and another chef made the pasta from scratch.

Family Comes First
16-hour days in a restaurant kitchen don’t leave much time for family and friends. Brent and his wife moved back to Saskatoon a few years ago, and Brent is enjoying the opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad for his two young daughters. “If you’re always working and don’t have a life, you’re robbing yourself,” he says.

Brent worries that cooking is becoming a lost art and feels that it’s important to shop and cook with your kids. He and four-year-old Zoe had made biscuits the previous day, and Brent had invited a woman to bring her child with her to his Spanish cooking class.

The Simple Chef
Being a stay-at-home dad hasn’t stopped Brent from cooking. It has just changed his focus. As The Simple Chef, Brent offers a wide range of cooking classes through Wild Serendipity Foods and the City of Saskatoon.

Brent is very outgoing and enjoys the classes. “It’s fun to teach people something,” he says. “You’re interacting and getting feedback.” His favourite class is Night Out as it’s very open-ended. “It’s more contemporary and can respond to the weather,” says Brent “We’ll cook lentils tonight because it’s so cold.”

Brent also really enjoys in-home catering. You choose the theme, the menu and the budget, and Brent will do the shopping, cooking and clean-up.

Comfort Food with French/Italian Roots
“The more I cook, the more I appreciate really simple foods,” says Brent. Food is a link to who we are or where we’ve been. And it’s very social. When Brent cooks, he is constantly reminded of his grandmother, and he often asks himself, “What would grandma do?” Some of his favourite dishes are risotto, lentil stew, tourtière (a family recipe) and quiche.

More information is available on The Simple Chef’s website. Or give Brent a call at 373-0828.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reds Rule the Wine Horizon

Wine tastings are so much fun as you get the opportunity to compare several different wines. I’m delighted that I’ve been given the opportunity to attend and write about the Reds Rule the Wine Horizon event at 5:30 on Friday, October 1 at TCU Place, Saskatoon. The event is sponsored by Doug Reichel Wine Marketing, and you can purchase tickets from or (306) 975 7770.

There’s an interesting line-up of wines from around the world: Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, Italy, and Canada.

Organic Wines
I did a little online research and was delighted to discover that at least five of the wines are being grown organically. This makes sense to me as winemakers have always valued the connection between the terroir, the place where the grapes are grown, and the taste of the wine.

Melipal is a family-owned winery in the foothills of the Andes. They view their land as a legacy to be passed on to the next generation. They grow green crops (rye, beans, peas) to nourish the soil, don’t use inorganic fertilizers and reuse water for irrigation.

Luis Manino, the Export Director for Bodega Melipal is making his first-ever trip to Saskatchewan for this event. We’ll have an opportunity to taste the Melipal Malbec Reserve 2006 and the Melipal Malbec 2007.

Cape Jaffa Wines is one of only four fully-certified biodynamic vineyards in South Australia. Biodynamic farming is a holistic approach, which includes timing vineyard operations according to the phases of the moon. Perhaps that is why their wine is called La Lune Shiraz.

The Rico Suter Pinotage is also grown organically with thick cover crops that are a haven for birds and insects.

Luzon Dulce is a dessert wine from southeast Spain made with Monastrell grapes, which have been grown in the Mediterranean region since at least the 15th century. Luzon is moving towards environmentally-careful land use and already sells an organic red wine.

Women Winemakers
Many of the wines we’ll taste on October 1 are grown by family-owned businesses. And, in at least two cases, the winemakers are women.

Christie Brown, the winemaker for Wild South wines in Marlborough, New Zealand, says that the great thing about winemaking is that no year is the same. We’ll taste the 2009 Pinot Noir.

Anna Hooper is in charge of winemaking at Cape Jaffa.

There is an interesting Facebook page for women winemakers.

Other Wines
Perbruno 2006 comes from a small winery near Pisa, Italy, that limits production in order to increase quality.

Morning Bay is a Canadian winery. The grapes for the 2005 Reserve Merlot are grown on the Osoyoos bench and then aged for two years on Pender Island.

My thanks to Doug Reichel for giving me a pass to the wine tasting. I’m really looking forward to not only tasting the wines but also having a conversation with Luis Manino of Bodega Melipal. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. I’m planning to eat before attending the tasting. It’s so easy to get tipsy otherwise!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Taj Mahal Restaurant, Saskatoon

"20 years of authentic Indian cuisine"

In 1989, the banks refused to lend Rano and Nitu Vasani money to open a restaurant. And the bank manager wasn’t happy when Nitu’s response was to cash in all his RRSPs. “I was 42 years old,” says Nitu. “I wanted to take a chance then when I still could, not wait until I retired.”

And over 20 years later, it’s obvious that the Vasanis made the right decision. The Taj Mahal restaurant has been and continues to be a highly successful restaurant with a loyal clientele.

The couple seems to make a habit of defying convention and beating the odds. Rano and Nitu were next-door neighbours in Nairobi, Kenya. They fell in love and wanted to get married but were forced to elope. “Rano is Sikh, and my family is Gujarati,” explains Nitu. They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on July 31 of this year.

Childhood Cooking Adventures
Rano says that she always wanted to own a restaurant. She started cooking when she was 12 years old. Her parents went shopping, and by the time they came home, she had made three or four dishes. Their initial reaction was horror – what if she had burnt herself! But then they tasted the food, and it was really good, so they changed their minds.

Rano’s family was vegetarian, and she continues to follow her mother’s vegetarian recipes. She developed her own meat and seafood recipes.

Learning on the Job
The Taj Mahal opened its doors in March 1989 on Laurier Drive in a former pub and biker hangout. “The rents were more affordable out there,” says Nitu. They had never owned a restaurant before, so they had a lot to learn. “I was very organized,” Rano says, and that helped a lot.

But they had their moments all the same. The restaurant opened on a Wednesday, and the kitchen staff asked for the weekend off in order to attend a wedding. There were only three or four reservations, so the couple thought they could handle it on their own. But then 30 to 40 more people arrived without a reservation. “It took us over two hours to feed all the people,” says Nitu. “Every half hour, we would send out complimentary appetizers. People were very generous; they knew it was a family-run restaurant.” And some of those people are still coming back to eat 20 years later.

Generational Transitions
The Taj Mahal has seen a great many changes over the years. They moved to Broadway in May 1993 and now have a downtown location in the renovated King George. The new facility is the first one they were able to design from scratch. Their son, Beemal (one of the owners of Sous Chef) designed the kitchen and dining room, while Rano took personal responsibility for the interior design.

The customers have changed as well. Initially, couples would come in with their children. Then those children came in with their dates and, eventually, their wives and husbands. Now they come with their own children. “There’s been a whole cycle of generations,” says Nitu. “It’s very gratifying.”

There have been changes for the Vasanis as well. Rano used to run the kitchen singlehandedly. She is now one of four cooks. “Now, I’m the choreographer,” she explains. “They put on the show.” Rano has standardized the menu and the spiciness of the food in order to ensure consistency and is delighted that customers cannot tell who is cooking because the food is always equally delicious.

Authentic Indian Cuisine
Very soon after they opened the restaurant, they had a phone call from a party of five. The customer explained that one of their friends didn’t like Indian food and asked if the restaurant would prepare an alternate dish for him. Rano and Nitu refused. “We didn’t want to water it down for the North American population,” says Rano. “We wanted to offer authentic Indian cuisine. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

The party of five decided to come to the restaurant anyway. When Nitu came out a little later to check in with them, the man was clearly enjoying it. “He realized what he had been missing by refusing to try Indian food,” says Nitu.

Food is a Science
Rano is very serious about providing healthy food and a balanced diet. She takes care to ensure that each of the meals on the menu has a balance of protein, starch, dairy and vegetables.

“The food in some Indian restaurants can taste very generic,” says Rano, “because they use the same base for everything. Here, each dish tastes very different.” Rano also prides herself on knowing how to cook seafood well. “It’s finicky,” she explains. “It mustn’t be overcooked or undercooked. If it’s not done right, people don’t enjoy it.”

Almost all the food is prepared from scratch on the premises. They use dried chickpeas and cook the saag and paneer from scratch. The ice cream is made by Prairie Sun Orchard, but they use the Taj’s own recipes.

Moving On
It has been a busy 20 years, and Rano and Nitu are looking forward to handing the restaurant over to their children once the new location is well established. They would like more time to travel and more time for themselves. The couple has a property in Mexico (“The closest food to Indian is Mexican,” says Rano.) and would like to visit South America.

But customers have nothing to fear. The Vasanis have established a solid foundation and a clear template for future generations to follow. The Taj Mahal will continue to delight Saskatoon with its authentic Indian cuisine for many years to come – thank goodness!

Note: The Taj Mahal is located in the renovated King George Hotel near the corner of 2nd Avenue and 23rd Street. Call 978-2227 to make a reservation.

The photographs are of a vegetarian meal that a friend and I enjoyed recently.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wild Serendipity Foods - Michelle Zimmer, Saskatoon

“Solve problems like an engineer – and don’t have a Plan B”

Michelle Zimmer is the owner of Wild Serendipity Foods in Saskatoon. She has always loved to cook, but obtaining a degree in Engineering absorbed every waking second. For a number of years, cooking was delegated to second place.

However, after working as an engineer in British Columbia for a few years, cooking and recipe collecting, which had been a serious hobby, turned into an obsession. “I felt a desperation to do anything with food,” says Michelle.

Michelle walked into a high-end restaurant in Victoria and begged the chef to hire her. That was the start of a very busy summer. She was an engineer by day and plating and serving in the restaurant at night – “fancy squiggly things – really cool.” But one summer was enough. “Working in a line kitchen is totally crazy,” says Michelle. “You have to be an adrenalin junkie.”

Michelle thought of setting up a high-end dessert bar as desserts can be prepared in advanced and it’s not as crazy. But she had student loans, and the costs were so high in Victoria.

Establishing a Business
In 2004, Michelle and her husband moved back to Saskatoon. She started teaching community association cooking classes. “We’d cook and eat together,” says Michelle. “It gave me energy.”

She also decided to start selling sushi at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Michelle got the go ahead from the Farmers’ Market and immediately quit her engineering job. And then she got another phone call from the Market. The public health regulations had changed; she would need a commercial kitchen.

Renting kitchen space would cost too much. Instead, Michelle took the plunge, signed a five-year lease and transformed a bicycle shop in a residential shopping mall into a commercial kitchen.

Streamlining the Business
It was a huge risk, but it has paid off. Initially, Michelle had six different business streams in order to make ends meet. They included the Farmers’ Market, corporate catering, children’s birthday parties, cooking classes, and business office lunches.

As her sales picked up at the Farmers’ Market, Michelle cut out most of the other streams. Birthday parties and business lunches were the first to go. Then she sold her catering business. “I used the problem solving skills I’d developed as an engineer,” explains Michelle. “I looked at the different streams in terms of time and stress.”

Four other chefs now use the commercial kitchen, so Michelle doesn’t have to work as hard to pay the rent.

Michelle also streamlined the products she offered for sale at the Farmers’ Market. At first, she sold a wide variety – from scones to sushi to ready-made meals. The scones were wildly popular. Michelle started out selling a couple of dozen a week – she now sells 750 a week during the peak summer season. Other products were less successful. They required too much work, and there were too many leftovers. Michelle now sticks to scones, soup and a few other products that can be frozen if they don’t sell.

Labour of Love
It has taken Michelle five years to earn a reasonable income, and it remains a labour of love. “It’s so much work,” says Michelle. “If you don’t love it, you’ll never stick with it.” But she has no regrets and will advise her children to figure out what they love and how to make money doing it. “I would really regret it if health or life issues stopped me from following my dream,” she says.

Michelle’s second piece of advice is to believe that you will succeed. “If you go into it with a Plan B,” says Michelle, “You are subconsciously thinking you will fail.”

Michelle says that the model for her business is Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, an investment banker who became a cook specializing in granola, soups and scones. Following a similar path, Michelle hopes to eventually move back to British Columbia and open a bed and breakfast with a small storefront and coffee bar. I hope it works out – but not too fast – she’s a valuable part of Saskatoon’s foodie culture.

Note: I am writing a second article about Wild Serendipity Foods for the Saskatoon Farmers' Market newsletter. You can receive an electronic copy by emailing

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gail Hall, Edmonton - Part Two: Supporting the Local Food Culture

“It would be wonderful if everyone spent 10% of their food dollars locally”

Gail Hall, Seasoned Solutions, has been in the food business for 25 years (see Part One: Culinary Entrepreneur), and she is passionate about local food. She welcomes public speaking engagements in order to reach more people and to talk to them about the importance of eating local.

Gail wants to help people understand the connection between what they eat and how they feel. “What we put in our mouths is so important,” she says. “When food was pure, we didn’t have to think about it. But we can no longer trust the food industry.”

Supporting local food is not only a healthier personal choice – it’s also healthier for the local economy. “It would be wonderful if everyone spent 10% of their food dollars locally,” says Gail.

Culinary Tours: Combining Food and Culture
Gail’s appreciation for the relationship between food and culture has grown as she has travelled around the world.

Gail’s husband suggested that she start offering culinary tours because he recognized that, if Gail wanted to travel, she would have to build it into her business. Gail’s first tour was in 1995 when she took a group of 25 people to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Gail has since led tours to Louisiana, Seattle, New York, Italy and New Zealand and many other places. In March 2011 she will lead a food and wine tour through Chile and Argentina.

Gail’s tours explore local food from the ground up. The trip to South America will include an empanada cooking class, making wine in Colchagua Valley, a farmers’ market in Santiago and an Argentinean barbecue. The group will also soak up the atmosphere and culture with tango in Buenos Aires and visits to farms and ranches.

For Gail, the tours have been an eye opener to the close relationship between food, environment and culture. The unbelievable ice cream in New Zealand was thanks to the climate because cows could graze outdoors all year round. Observing parmesan cheese and prosciutto being aged naturally through salt and air was a reminder of the importance of slow food and respect for tradition. In New York, she recognized the value of retail to go, giving customers the option of buying gourmet food and reheating it at home.

“The tours make people think about their own food culture,” says Gail. “They have a better understanding of how hard producers work to get food to the table.”

Slow Food
As a result of her support for local food producers, Gail has become an active member of Slow Food Edmonton, the local chapter of an international movement that began in Italy in 1986. The international Slow Food website explains that,

Slow Food is good, clean and fair food. We believe that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process.

The Slow Food Movement is now active in 132 countries and has a worldwide membership of over 100,000. The Edmonton convivium (chapter) has about 80 members. They hold a variety of events, including an upcoming dairy farm field trip, and their website provides a local good food guide. The group also hosts a book club with the option of reading either a book of fiction or non-fiction before each meeting.

More than 5,000 representatives of Slow Food will meet in Turin, Italy, in October for the international Terra Madre conference that is held biannually in conjunction with the Salone del Gusto food fair.

Gail will be attending Terra Madre, and I’m looking forward to talking with her when she returns home to find out more about the state of the slow food movement internationally.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gail Hall, Edmonton - Part One: Culinary Entrepreneur

“There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Prairies.”

I am planning a short holiday in Edmonton in October and was doing some internet research to identify local food businesses to visit. I came across Gail Hall’s website and realized she had years of experience and would be a great source of information. As she will be away in October when I’m in Edmonton, we had a telephone conversation.

Today’s blog post looks at Gail’s business experience. Tomorrow’s post will explore Gail’s ideas around food and culture and supporting the local economy.Follow Your Passion
“You have to follow your passion,” says Gail Hall. “I worked for the government in Ontario and Alberta. I did it well, but I didn’t realize that you should love what you do.” Gail’s husband reminded her that she loves cooking, feeding people and having friends over and urged her to change careers.
In 1985, Gail quit her well-paid government job and started Gourmet Goodies catering company. The company grew exponentially. Within three years there were 12 employees, and by 2003 there were 65. Operating out of an 8,000 square-foot building, it was a one-stop operation looking after every aspect of catering – from decorating to dishes.

Moving On – Cooking Classes and Culinary Tours
After 18 years, Gail was becoming really exhausted, so she sold her company and worked for a local décor store for 18 months. But she wanted to get back to food.

Seasoned Solutions, Gail’s current business, combines cooking classes, culinary tours and speaking engagements. Gail and her husband bought a condo in a historic loft building in downtown Edmonton. The area along Jasper, 104 Street and beside City Hall has had a facelift, bringing new life to its historic buildings. It’s also the home of the City Market Downtown, Edmonton’s oldest market that has been in operation for over a century.

Gail realized that the location offered her the perfect setting for her cooking classes. The group could shop at the Market for seasonal ingredients and then cook and eat together in her loft. Gail also offers classes for private or corporate groups.

Opportunities for Entrepreneurs
Gail is eager to share her experience in establishing a business with entrepreneurs who are just getting started. Her advice is to follow your passion, and then figure out your niche, identifying what product you will provide that is different from what is already out there.

Gail emphasizes the importance of customer service. When Gail started Gourmet Goodies, nobody asked customers what they wanted. She reversed that by deliberately asking them want kind of an event they wanted and how much they were willing to pay. “Building a relationship with your clientele is critical,” says Gail, “as people feel so disconnected.”

Gail advises entrepreneurs to constantly review and update their goals. She also emphasizes that running a business is multi-facetted and includes doing, marketing and managing. “You have to hire people or delegate the stuff you can’t do well,” says Gail.

Gail obviously enjoys being an entrepreneur and is optimistic about the future. “There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Prairies,” she says. “There’s less competition than in Toronto.”

See Also: Gail Hall, Edmonton - Part Two: Supporting the Local Food Culture

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saskatoon Farmers' Market: September Newsletter

If you shop at a Farmers’ Market on a regular basis, you get to know the farmers and producers who you buy from every week. They’re friends, and you miss them if they are absent. But you never have the opportunity to sit down and visit with them.

I have received a short-term contract from the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market to lay the groundwork for a Friends of the Farmers’ Market association. My goal over the next few months is to build stronger ties with as many Market-goers as possible by sharing “inside” information about the Market vendors.

I’m the lucky one who will sit down and visit with the farmers and producers in order to share their story.

I’m posting photographs and information, recipes, new products, farm news, on Facebook. And I’ve started a newsletter to provide Market-goers with more in-depth information about the vendors.

The first issue of the newsletter (see attached) has articles about Mistik Acres (an additional blog posting is here), an article about Michael Henderson and Jordan Regier of La Plaine Trail Produce, who just started selling at the Market this year, and an article about Cava Cuisine and Nina, their marketing manager, who just arrived from Finland in June.

I encourage you to follow the Market on Facebook and to email the Market at in order to receive email bulletins and copies of future newsletters. Thank you – and I hope to see you at the Market!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Food Mentor, Saskatoon

Giving People the Tools and Skills to Make Healthy Food Choices

Cathy Langdon enjoys food. In fact, she’s been selling homemade cheesecake and focaccia bread at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market for the past few years. But she’s also aware of how many people struggle with their weight. “It’s really hard,” she says. “You have to make a conscious decision to eat healthily.”

Cathy is a Registered Dietitian with a university degree and 14 years of experience. After taking some time off to raise her children, she is now returning to her work in nutrition and has established The Food Mentor to help people achieve a healthy weight.

Cathy doesn’t offer a quick fix, because she says that diets and food plans just don’t work in the long run. “It’s very difficult to lose weight unless you change your habits,” Cathy explains. We don’t just eat because we’re hungry. 80-85% of why we eat is based on learned habits, food triggers and emotional eating.

Our environment makes it even more difficult to eat sensibly. There are cup holders in our cars, food on offer everywhere we go – even hardware stores, and we sit in front of computer screens instead of doing physical labour.

Changing our Eating Habits
Cathy is aware that it takes a long time to change your eating habits and that nobody else can do the work for you. As a result, the Food Mentor offers a combination of group programs and individual counselling in order to provide a long-term, cost-effective approach.

The Food Mentor offers programs for women, men, couples and parents. The women’s program includes an eight-week group program with hands-on activities and real-life scenarios to help participants identify their personal food triggers. Homework will consist of taking one or two of those behaviours and switching them from a food to a non-food form of nurturing. Participants will also be offered an individual counselling session and will be able to attend classes on a drop-in basis for six months following their program in order to receive ongoing support and accountability.

Cathy emphasizes that her program isn’t for everyone. It won’t be a simple matter of following a menu or only eating certain foods. Instead, participants will be asked to identify their food triggers and change their behaviour. “I want clients to come out of this with enough food and behaviour knowledge to make their own choices,” says Cathy. It requires individual effort, but the result will hopefully be a healthy weight for life.

Raising Healthy Children
Cathy becomes especially passionate when she talks about helping children to develop a healthy relationship with food. Cathy says that Ellyn Satter is the “guru for feeding kids.” Cathy has followed her advice in raising her own children (ages 8, 11 and 14) and really believes it works.

Cathy plans to offer three different workshops for parents of children ages 6 and under, 7-12 and teenagers. The workshops will help parents to establish stress-free mealtimes and to ensure that their children eat nutritious food. “There is a division of responsibilities,” explains Cathy. Parents have the knowledge to choose healthy, age-appropriate food and snacks and to offer it on a consistent schedule. Within those parameters, the children are responsible for choosing what and how much they want to eat. “If you start bribing or forcing kids to eat, you’re setting up negative feelings about food.”

The Food Mentor
Cathy is both knowledgeable and compassionate. As she explains on her website, “My approach is to walk with you as your advisor, coach and support person as we work together to empower you with knowledge, techniques and tools to address what you eat as well as why you eat so that you can change your relationship with food and achieve long term lasting weight loss.”

It sounds like a winning combination, and I wish Cathy and her participants well as they journey together.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mistik Acres, Saskatchewan

 A Flower Farm on the Prairies

Nestled among the wheat fields and tree-filled gullies just east of Alvena, Saskatchewan is a farm with a difference – a flower farm. Mistik Acres is the home of Joanne and Pat Halter, and it’s a wonderful place to spend a day, particularly if you’re a photographer (see slideshow at end).

A few sunflowers are visible as we park beside the house, but not very many, and I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed. Never fear! Joanne leads us off to the left, and we begin a long, winding tour of the garden patches.

There is a tangle of flowers and vegetables of all shapes, sizes and colours. I immediately fall in love with the cheerful sunflowers, but there are so many other flowers as well – sweet peas, snapdragons, borage, sea holly, strawflowers, asters, dahlias – and the list goes on and on. A rocky patch has a snug coat of sedum; a row of leeks shelters beside a row of sunflowers; and there are tomatoes, squash and corn amidst the flowers.

The Florists’ Friend
Joanne and Pat sell their flowers, plants and vegetables at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, but they also sell their flowers to a number of Saskatoon florists. “The florists are trying to sell more local flowers,” says Joanne. “They are always excited when we drive up with a truck full of flowers. They come running to see what we’ve brought them this week.”

Dahlias, zinnias and strawflowers are popular with the florists as the blooms last longer. The florists say that Joanne’s lilies are more vibrant than the ones from the coast. Popular accent flowers are bells of Ireland, queen anne’s lace, tansy, yarrow and frosted-explosion grass (looks like miniature fireworks).

“I do a lot of research,” says Joanne, “and I peruse the seed catalogues. There is always something new, and the florists are eager to give it a try.” One of this year’s stars is a chocolate-coloured dahlia.
Peonies are also popular. The Halters cut them at the bud stage, bundle them in groups of 10, wrap them in newspaper and store them in a cooler where they can be kept for up to a month. “Lots of brides want peonies in their bouquets,” explains Joanne, “so the florists are really happy to have our blooms, which arrive after the peonies from British Columbia. We can store up to 1200 peony stems in the cooler at a time.”

Local Flowers for Locavores
Canada “imports huge numbers of cut flowers, with more than $50 million in imports from Colombia alone,” explains Paul Hanley in an August 12, 2008 article for The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon). They are heavily sprayed to kill pests, and they are exempt from regulations limiting pesticide residues.

“Colombia's flower farms use casual labourers who have no job security. Seventy per cent are women who earn just 60 cents an hour and work up to 60 hours a week, often without full overtime pay, before special occasions like Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.

"By many accounts, these workers suffer from a myriad of health problems linked to exposure to pesticide cocktails that are applied frequently. They are sometimes forced to enter greenhouses only one or two hours after they are sprayed with toxic pesticides.”

By way of contrast, the Halters use absolutely no chemicals to grow their flowers, and they are happy to share their harvest with the local deer, squirrels and chipmunks. I know which flowers I would rather buy.

The following Saskatoon florists stock flowers from Mistik Acres:
     Bill’s House of Flowers
     Heaven Scent Flowers
     Little Shop of Flowers
     Lorraine’s Flowers
     Jane’s Floral Dreams
     Flowers by Fred

If you would like to learn more about Mistik Acres, sign up for the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market newsletter, which will include another article about the farm, by emailing or follow the Market on Facebook. In addition, you can subscribe to the Mistik Acres’ blog.
Mistik Acres

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Be Bold: Add Power Words to Your Resume and Cover Letters

When you apply for a job or a contract, you have to rely on written words to express your education, experience and personality. So it’s really important to choose the right words.

And yet, it’s tough to market ourselves, and we tend to underplay our abilities. I have to push myself to say, “I’m a good writer,” rather than wording it more carefully as “I’ve been told I’m a good writer” or “I enjoy writing.”

I recently helped my sister with her resume and a couple of cover letters, and I realized the importance of using “power words” – words that express energy and ability and personality. Here are a few examples based on my sister’s cover letters.

Lesson #1: Clearly outline what you have to offer.
     Good: “I look forward to contributing my skills to maximize the success of your organization.”
     Better: “My passion for ___, combined with a wealth of practical experience in ___ and ___, will strengthen your organization’s mission to provide world-class training and community leadership.”

Lesson #2: Express energy and confidence.
     Good: “Experience in coordinating logistical aspects of functions”
     Better: “Ease and confidence in coordinating all aspects of event scheduling and facilitation”

Lesson #3: Include words that the employer has used in the job ad or on their website.
     Good: “A team player who excels at collaborating and strategizing to achieve success”
     Better: “A team player who excels at initiating and contributing to successful project management” (the   ad specifically asked for project management skills)

Lesson #4: Focus on meeting the employer’s needs.
     Good: “I hope to meet with you soon to discuss my application further.”
     Better: “I look forward to meeting with you very soon to better understand your needs.”

Lesson #5: Express self confidence.    
     Good: “I hope to meet with you”
     Better: “I look forward to meeting with you”

For more help in writing successful resumes and cover letters, see:
     Writing a Killer Resume
     Resumes: Identifying and Describing Your Talents
     Resumes: Position Yourself for your Dream Job
     5 Tips for Eye-Catching Resume Cover Letters
     Resume + Portfolio = Success
     Want a job? What do you have to offer?