Wednesday, June 26, 2013

La Campagna: An Italian-Inspired Bed and Breakfast in the Heart of the Prairies

There are times when I’m overwhelmed by life and long to escape to a small, quiet pool of tranquillity. Now, a trip to Greece or Tuscany would fit the bill, but I’ve found something almost as good that is much, much closer to home.

A few weeks ago, I headed east – grain elevators, Ukrainian Orthodox churches and slow-moving farm equipment – this is home. When I arrived in Canora, I phoned ahead to the bed and breakfast where I was planning to stay for the next couple of nights and received directions.

Heading out on the highway, I turned onto a gravel road once I reached Mikado. The road curved past newly-sown fields, descending a hill to a bridge over the Whitesand River. One more leisurely curve, and I arrived at La Campagna Bed and Breakfast.

I was warmly welcomed by Linda and Alfredo and their dog, Waldo, and shown to a large suite on the ground floor of the house. Large windows overlooked the garden with its graceful willow tree and lawns sloping down to the river. There was a four-poster bed, comfortable couches and a pretty bouquet of flowers.

I felt more relaxed already.

Italian Cuisine 
I barely had time to unpack before I was invited upstairs to the kitchen for appetizers and a welcoming glass of prosecco. I particularly enjoyed the bruschetta with the cannellini topping.

Next up was a bowl of Italian mushroom soup with a dollop of cream in the middle. There was baby spinach in the salad and asparagus in the pasta – all fresh from the garden.

Alfredo is Italian so you can rest assured that he makes his own pasta. He uses 30% whole wheat flour because he likes the flavour.

Alfredo is also the organic gardener. There’s a large herb garden along with a huge patch of strawberries, not to mention raspberries, gooseberries and chokecherries. Alfredo is growing five varieties of organic garlic and says that the cloves are so large that they replace 3 or 4 store-bought ones. Dessert was a rich, creamy crème brulée.

Oh, my – a five-course meal made from garden-fresh ingredients and eggs from the neighbour’s chickens.

Breakfast the next morning began with a large plate of fruit. In the summer, guests are encouraged to pick their own berries. I definitely have to return so that I can enjoy sun-warmed strawberries straight from the garden.

I was offered a cooked breakfast both days. The first morning, I had a poached egg on top of spinach and pine nuts with a healthy dollop of olive oil. The next day, I had mushroom frittata and pancakes.

Supper the second evening began with stuffed mushroom caps, followed by risotto, Alfredo’s specialty, and eggplant parmesan.

I certainly wasn’t complaining when I was offered crème brulée again for dessert. Something that good deserves to be enjoyed twice.
Breathe Deeply
In between meals, I read and relaxed in the fresh country air. More energetic folks can bring their canoe or kayaks and build up an appetite on the river.

Linda and Alfredo are fabulous hosts and good listeners with interesting lives and all sorts of stories to tell. You’ll leave La Campagna refreshed and delighted to find a little corner of Italy in eastern Saskatchewan.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 24, 2013

Persian Picnic, June 30 
Saskatoon’s Persian Store is hosting a picnic at 5:30 on Sunday, June 30, at Christ Church Anglican.

Tickets cost $20 and are available at the Persian Store (223-25th Street West).

Saskatoon Local Food Map
The Saskatoon Local Food Map is a visual guide to farms, markets, retailers, restaurants and other businesses within 100 km of Saskatoon that feature food grown within Saskatchewan. The map is designed to strengthen the regional food system.

It’s a work in progress and there are still so many gaps; I encourage you to contribute additional information.

Community Farmers’ Markets 
If you can’t make it to the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, there are other options:

A number of vendors, including Goodlife Greenhouses (heritage tomatoes and other goodies), are in front of London Drugs on 8th Street from 9 to 4 on Tuesdays and Fridays.

St. James’ Farmers’ Market & International Bazaar (just off Broadway) is held year-round from 11 to 6 on Wednesdays.

Warman Farmers’ Market is held from 2 to 6 on Thursdays all summer long in the City Hall parking lot.

The Prince Albert Farmers’ Market is held three times a week on Saturdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with different time slots on each day to suit different customers.

Townsite Beer at The Woods
The Woods Ale House is now serving Townsite beer.

Chloe and Cedric brewed with Paddock Wood for a couple of years. They’re now brewing beer at Townsite Brewing in Powell River, BC.

25 Gourmet Veggie Burgers 
Courtney at The Fig Tree blog offers a round-up of 25 Gourmet Veggie Burgers. There is such a variety – from Smoky Beet Burgers to Cauliflower Hummus Burgers with Mint Tzatziki.

Vegetable Broth
Here are some recipes for turning vegetable scraps into flavourful vegetable broth as a base for amazing soups and stews.

Tip: Add mushrooms for heartier, cold-weather dishes

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter or by email (top right corner).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 17, 2013

Three Sisters/Nestor’s Bakery is Expanding 
Three Sisters/Nestor’s Bakery is expanding! Their original location on 20th Street will make all the fancy pastries, custom orders, artisan breads and Ukrainian specialties, while the new location at 2020 Quebec Avenue (formerly the Saskatoon Bakery) will make all the wholesale bread and buns.

They’ll have newer equipment in their new facility, so they’ll be able to provide a better wholesale product, faster and in larger

The Three Sister’s training program for at-risk youth will run full-time out of Nestor’s, and there will now be room for classrooms. Laura is the program’s commercial cooking teacher. The cooking program is part of the Youth Development Corporation’s education and on-the-job training programs for youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system.

Food Truck 
Laura and her employees (recruited through the cooking program) will also be operating a food truck this summer. They’ll be serving fresh sandwiches (roasted turkey, pulled pork, pizza subs, etc.), hot lunches (such as homemade perogies and sausage, chili, lasagna) and pastries. It’s a great opportunity for the students to maintain their connection with Three Sisters and stay on a positive path in their lives.

And, last but not least, Three Sisters/Nestor’s have received a grant from the City to renovate the front of their building on 20th Street so that it will look like it did in the 1930s.

Coffee’s On Emporium
Coffee’s On Emporium, one of Saskatoon’s newest coffee shops at 815A Gray Avenue, Sutherland, is a large, airy space with lots of different food and drink options.

I loved the tall soda glasses (see below), and the chocolate cake was delicious.

Honey Bun Café
The StarPhoenix has an article about the Honey Bun Café that just opened on 2nd Avenue. Jocelyn Armstrong, the owner, says her specialties are stuffed buns (Veggie and Goat Cheese sounds good) and cinnamon buns. She’s serving coffee from Transcend in Edmonton.

The Farmers’ Table
The Farmers’ Table is a group of Saskatchewan farmers who have joined together to sell their products online making monthly deliveries to Regina. They are interested in expanding, so, if you’re a farmer, check out their website and get in touch.

One Degree Organics
Check out One Degree Organics’ website. Their bread, seed and flour products are available at Steep Hill Co-op, Dad’s Organic Market and Nutter’s.

One Degree Organics provides all their source information and showcases all their farmers on their website. The buckwheat in their Ancient Maize Flakes comes from Daybreak Organic Mill, and they buy from at least 4 other Saskatchewan farmers.

Native Seed Savers 
Native farmers and gardeners are working to preserve their agricultural heritage. “'Those seeds are the old ways. They gave our ancestors life for all those years,’ said Frank Alegria, Sr.” 

Feast: An Edible Road Trip 
Two Canadian women are planning a four-month road trip to highlight the best of Canadian food culture. Help support their project financially or follow and share their adventures.

Hustling to Make a Living 
More and more farmers are undertaking side activities (CSAs, corn mazes, goat milk paint) because they can’t make a living from farming. Nobody ever said being a farmer was easy.

Taking it to the Next Level 
Are we taking fine dining to the extreme with deconstructionist cuisine and multi-course meals? Is a 22-course, $225 vegan meal (included wine pairings) the ultimate or overkill (“The opener, a burned avocado puree, was served on a rock the size of a small child's head and was meant to be scraped off with thin, crackerlike pieces of flatbread scattered within the decorative treelike arrangement on the table.”)?

Is it time to return to an appreciation for simple, modest meals – whether they are vegan, vegetarian or carnivore?

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 10, 2013

Summer Solstice Supper, June 22 
Weczeria is hosting a local dinner on June 22 with proceeds going to the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. Chef Dan Walker will purchase the ingredients in the morning at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market and serve a four-course meal with wine pairings in the evening.

Creekside Orchard
Creekside Orchard is a u-pick apple and cherry orchard near Melfort. Their Café is open from 11-5 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and serves a light lunch (reservations required). They also host dinners with visiting chefs. Chef Jenni will be preparing a dinner on June 15.

La Campagna B & B
I just spent two restful days at La Campagna B & B just outside of Canora. Wonderful Italian cuisine in a tranquil rural setting. I’ll give more details in a future blog post.

Food and Travel
The best holidays combine interesting places with good food. Here are three articles that offer just that:

Five Stops on the California Cheese Trail (including tastings and gourmet meals)

10 of the Best Foodie Walking Tours (Istanbul, London, Hobart, Marseille . . .)

The Global Ale Trail (from Japan to South Africa)

Top Chefs’ Tips on Vegging out Like a Pro 
The greatest vegetable techniques from six of the best North American chefs – and one of the world’s most respected meat authorities (he’s just written a book about cooking vegetables).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says we should be treating vegetables like animal protein: “We need to be roasting them, grilling them, barbecuing them, maybe shaving them, slicing them very fine, playing with them, boldly using herbs and spices to compliment their flavours.”

Other well-known chefs suggest smoking them (smoked broccoli ‘hot dog’), grilling them (grilled radicchio or romaine lettuce) or burning them (endives).

10 Great Vegetarian Recipes 
These are not your traditional vegetarian recipes. Instead, you’ll find Pock-Marked Old Woman’s Tofu, Sally Butcher’s Swooning Imam, Beetroot Bourguignon and Veggie Scotch Eggs.

Vegan Comfort Food
New York Times recommends this recipe for vegan macaroni cheese – it comes complete with chipotle chile and roasted brussel sprouts.

21 Global Initiatives to Reduce Food Waste
From deliberately cooking with “ugly” vegetables to running food donation programs or converting leftovers into compost, there are so many ways to reduce food waste.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Camino: Fair Trade, Organic Chocolate and Sweets

In 1999, three young Ottawa entrepreneurs decided to set up a new business. They had worked overseas and were concerned about the ways in which conventional businesses exploited farmers in many countries around the world. They wanted to provide Canadian consumers with an organic, fairly traded alternative.

Because they had chosen to work with producer co-operatives, they established themselves as a worker co-operative, and La Siembra Co-operative was born with the launch of Canada’s first Fair Trade, organic hot chocolate – Cocoa Camino.

Getting Started
La Siembra’s first year in business was pretty crazy. They were able to source cocoa and sugar for the hot chocolate from two co-operatives in Costa Rica, so they had the raw ingredients. They also had a market as right from the start they were able to supply natural health stores via distributors. But the hot chocolate was being packed in a church basement by volunteers, and they used bicycles to deliver the product to Canada Post to be shipped out across the country.

By the end of their first year, they had sold $44,000 worth of Cocoa Camino and were being asked to provide more products.

The original owners knew they had a good product; however, they were tired from working full time and starting a new business, and they sold La Siembra to second-generation owners. La Siembra would continue to be responsible for sourcing the raw ingredients and marketing the finished product, but they hired a manufacturing company to blend and pack the hot chocolate. They also began to explore ways of diversifying their product offering.

Chocolate Bars 
In 2002, La Siembra launched its first chocolate bars. This took their business to the next level and they grew by 423%, becoming a million dollar company.

“There weren’t many good, organic, fair trade chocolate products at the time, so they were well received,” explains Jennifer Williams, Chief Executive Officer for La Siembra.

La Siembra has continued to increase its range of products. They now offer over 80 different items, including chocolate and candy bars, coffee, chocolate chips, baking chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, and hot chocolate.

La Siembra staff with farmers in Peru

Strength in Partnering 
La Siembra partnered with a chocolate bar manufacturing company that had experience sourcing fair trade, organic ingredients and that specialized in consolidating smaller orders from different companies. This meant that La Siembra didn’t need a manufacturing plant or lots of equipment. As a result, they could launch new products without having to restructure their plant or buy new equipment.

Jennifer says that very little chocolate is actually manufactured in Canada as all the fine chocolate comes from Europe. Companies may state that their bars are made in Canada, but they are usually bringing in chocolate manufactured in Europe and molding and packaging it in Canada. There may be a few companies that bring in cocoa beans, but most don’t.*

Over time, the producer co-operatives that La Siembra works with have benefited from fair trade prices and premiums, and an increasing number have started investing in the processing and manufacturing. La Siembra was quick to support in-country manufacturing. The chocolate chips, baking chocolate, chocolate-covered treats, candy bars and brown sugar are now all manufactured in Peru.

Diversification and Branding 
In 2011, La Siembra launched a line of Camino juices. Fair trade juice was one of the top-selling fair trade products in Europe and producer cooperatives were desperately seeking markets for their tropical fruits. Unfortunately, Camino juices were short-lived. Retailers were receptive, but consumers were slow to purchase them.

Consumers have a good understanding of the importance of purchasing fair trade chocolate, but they didn’t understand the importance of purchasing fair trade, organic fruit juice. “We should have anticipated this and done a year-long campaign on why fair trade fruit is important,” says Jennifer. “Our brand didn’t carry us.”

La Siembra realized that they were known for their chocolate products and decided that in future they would focus on sweets and treats. “We might launch a new product – quinoa, for example – in the future, perhaps under a new brand, but this was a year for recouping,” says Jennifer.

La Siembra is currently focussed on two lines of products. The baking line includes chocolate chips, cocoa, sugar and baking chocolate, while the direct consumption line includes hot chocolate and chocolate and candy bars.

In growing their product line, they try to respond to market pressures: “What else can we do that the market is looking for?” They also consider what products people consistently buy and for which they would appreciate a fair trade alternative. They sold chocolate Easter bunnies for the first time this year and will be selling fair trade candy canes and boxed chocolates this coming Christmas.

Future Plans
Jennifer says that Camino is exploring various new product options for the future. Their current cocoa powder is alkalized and there are concerns that this decreases the nutritional value, so they are looking into a natural cocoa powder. They also hope to produce dairy-free hot chocolate and a broader line of seasonal items for Christmas and Easter.

Worker Co-operative
La Siembra currently has 12 staff, 10 of whom are worker-owners. Employees don’t immediately become a worker-owner. They have a minimum of nine months to make sure it’s a good fit and can then apply to become a member. After 14 months they are obliged to apply to become a member.

A three-person board is responsible for governance and oversees the company’s fiduciary and legal responsibilities as well as establishing the company’s long-term vision and mission. The board only includes worker-owners. Senior managers report to the board and cannot sit on it.

“Co-operatives are a challenging model, particularly worker co-ops,” Jennifer says. “We’re a small multinational running a complicated business. It’s increasingly challenging to run such a complex business without a board that has external expertise.

Investing in La Siembra 
La Siembra has always relied on investors who purchase shares in the business and receive dividends in the company profits. The co-operative currently has 110 investors from across Canada with an average investment of $10,000. Investments can be held in RSPs and investors are asked to maintain their investment for at least five years to minimize administrative costs.

Investors are critical to La Siembra’s operations as the co-operative purchases producers’ whole harvest and don’t run a just-in-time inventory. Financing from investors also provides pre-harvest financing for farmers who need an advance prior to harvest and helps to cover the cost of developing and launching new products and expanding into new markets.

La Siembra reports directly to investors. Investors don’t have a voting share, but stakeholder opinions are given serious consideration. Worker-owners also invest in the company.

Cocoa farmers in Peru

Making a Profit 
Two factors have played a key role in La Siembra’s success. First of all, they have a strong distribution system and their products are now in over 3,000 retail stores. Secondly, outsourcing production has meant that they could focus on growing products and didn’t have to keep upgrading their factory.

There has been a downside to their model as well. Their product goes through many different parties, each of whom take a share of the proceeds, so La Siembra’s profit margin is tight, particularly as they try to keep the consumer price reasonable. Despite their success, the company currently has a deficit.

“We grew so fast and had to expand so fast that we couldn’t maintain our original profitability,” Jennifer explains. “The owner of another mission-based business recently told me that it took them 14 years to be sustainably profitable. I wish I’d had that perspective sooner. In order to balance mission, sustainability and ethics, your business needs that long-term perspective.” Jennifer says that the company should be profitable from this point forward as the scale of their operations is advancing them beyond the break-even model.

Find a Store
Camino products are available at the following Saskatoon retail stores:
Dad’s Organic Market
Herbs ‘n Health Foodport
Sangster’s Health Centres
Steep Hill Food Co-op
Ten Thousand Villages
The Better Good

*One of the exceptions is Beanpod Chocolate in Fernie, BC. Their website states that they are the only Bean-To-Bar company in Canada that makes chocolate the traditional way. The website also states that they believe in ethical business practices, “shake the hands” of their farmers, and adhere to stringent environmental and sustainable practices.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 3, 2013

Sun and Suds, June 13 
The tenants at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market are once again pairing their food with Paddock Wood beers at 6 pm on June 13. Tickets for Sun and Suds are $35 and are available from Garlic Guru, Riverbend Plantation or Wild Cuisine & Catering.

Kaleidoscope Gardens 
Kaleidoscope Gardens is back at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Their first Saturday market will be June 8, and they’ll be located opposite Wild Serendipity Foods. They have burgundy, white and yellow Swiss chard as well as spinach, sorrel and chives. They have planted 10 varieties of Asian and Italian eggplants which should start to be available in late July.

Louis’ Loft 
Browsers’ in the Memorial Union building on campus has been renovated and renamed. Louis’ Loft will serve fresh baking from Wild Serendipity Foods and Museo and fair trade coffees.

Wilson’s Greenhouse
 Three Sisters/Nestor’s Bakery will have a market stall at Wilson’s Greenhouse from 9 am to 2 pm on Saturdays.

Java in Southwest Saskatchewan
Go Here Destinations lists the top 5 coffee shops in southwest Saskatchewan.

The Importance of Markets 
Barcelona has 40 markets that supply the majority of all fruit, fish and vegetables purchased in the city. The markets are used more by disadvantaged groups than by wealthy populations. Barcelona residents rank their public markets as the second most valuable public service after libraries.

Prince Charles Speaks Out 
Prince Charles speaks out on cheap food and our global food production system:

“Charles said the drive to make food cheaper for consumers and to earn companies bigger profits was sucking real value out of the food production system – value that was critical to its sustainability. 

“He said: “I am talking here about obvious things like the vitality of the soil and local ecosystems, the quality and availability of fresh water and so on, but also about less obvious things, like local employment and people's health. It is, as I fear you know only too well, a complex business. 

"The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a 'drive to the bottom', which I am afraid is taking the farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying shortcuts.” 

What is “Local” Food? 
Good news. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has expanded its definition of “local” food. It used to be within 50 kilometres, but the new interim policy includes food produced in the same province in which it’s sold as well as food sold across the provincial border so long as it’s within 50 kilometres.

Urban Agriculture
Will Allen’s three-acre farm in a disadvantaged area of Milwaukee feeds 10,000 people.

Spring Greens … Weeds
Don’t be too quick to dig up the weeds in your garden. You may find some that make excellent salads.

Pimm’s Cup Popsicles 
If you’re an anglophile, be sure to look at this recipe for Pimm’s Cup Popsicles.

Photographs: Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. I also post regular profiles of culinary entrepreneurs, new restaurants and new food products.

You can follow Wanderlust and Words on Facebook, Twitter, or by email (top right corner).