COM0014 – Blog #1: My culinary tour of Toronto, Summer 2019

summerslam

I don’t watch wresting but I can name all these WWE stars! Photo courtesy of http://www.wwe.com

For Christmas last year, my partner and I gave our boys tickets to one of the biggest events in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) calendar – Summer Slam. But we didn’t just get them tickets to the one pay-per-view event – we signed them up for the whole kit and caboodle, which was four (yep 4!) nights of wrestling events. It was going to be all wrestling, all the time… but not for me.

Sure, I enjoy the WWE on a soap opera level, but it’s not one of my favourite things in the world. On the contrary, one of my favourite things in the world is to eat out!

So instead of staying home in Ottawa while all the boys in my house left, I decided to join them on their Toronto adventure, but not for the wrestling activities. When they would head out to the Scotiabank Arena for their daily dose of choke slams and suplexes, I would head out to a different restaurant in a different part of Toronto to eat as many of the things as I could!

I live in a small town outside Ottawa and my kids are not culinary adventurers so this was my summer vacation!

  • I ate at the Irish Embassy on Yonge Street – classic Guinness and pub grub.
  • I ate at Rickshaw Bar on Queen Street – an Indian/Pakistani/African fusion restaurant, which was amazingly fabulous. The head chef escaped from an arranged marriage, and eventually made her way to Toronto. She’s only in her 30s and her “to-be” wedding dress is hung on the wall!
  • I ate at Banjara on Bloor Street West – a decades-only classic Indian restaurant where you could have your own private buffet at your table!
  • I ate at Chula Taberna on Dundas Street East – a Mexican restaurant that featured $5 margaritas and had the most delicious guacamole and burritos.

Yes, I ate it all. At the end of our four days, my boys were very full of wresting and I was very full of food. A win-win for everyone!

Enjoy food as much as I do? Where’s the best place you’ve eaten? What’s your favourite type of food?

 

#Cottoncandygrapes

It all started with Cotton candy grapes. Yes: Cotton. Candy. Grapes. They even have their own hashtag! From Wikipedia: Cotton Candy grapes are a variety of grapes produced in California by Grapery, which became available for consumers to buy in 2011.

These Cotton Candy grapes are from Spain. Photo by me

I didn’t know about them until my wife told me about them a few months ago, but at that time we hadn’t had the chance to get some. They were all gone.

And that’s probably why Costco has them from time to time. They must have done their homework and found that there was hype around them. Or at the very least you figure it out pretty quickly when they fly off the shelf quickly. It’s simply supply and demand.

They are available!!

My wife is on a closed local Facebook Fan group and this morning someone posted that the grapes were available. What followed is an impressive trail of comments and interaction. I found that interesting to witness the power of loyalty and marketing through social media. And that is without Costco having to do anything! Because the post was inside a closed group, Costco probably doesn’t even get stats/metrics on this! Genius.

Screenshot of the post in the closed local Costco facebook group

After a quick research I found out that the grapes had their own hashtag in twitter, many article in Facebook and are easy to find on Google.

Through their team of buyers that does market research, social media team listening and the supply and demand numbers, they must have an incredible amount of data to rely on and determine if they want to bring them back the next year or so. And that, for each individual product!

Obviously not every product has a hype over them, but my question for them would be: “Would Costco pay someone from the public, that brings them tips about a hype in a specific local group, online or offline, allowing them to strategize accordingly?” Like a freelance headhunters would go on to find individuals to fit in specific position in a company for a small commission, maybe? You would become a “Freelance social media listener”. I doubt they would, but maybe we should develop an app for that!

All that to say that after my wife jumped in the wagon, we managed to taste some tonight! They do smell and taste like cotton candy and, both my kids asked to get some in their lunch the next day! Have you tasted them yet?

 

facebook Did you know that Cotton Candy Grapes existed? http://bit.ly/2OYUXBx

twitter How I found out about #Cottoncandygrapes http://bit.ly/2OYUXBx

I’m Thankful for Elastic Waist Bands!

Back when I was younger and a rookie to Thanksgiving dinner I would sit at my grandmas table with the top button of my jeans undone and the zipper halfway down. But now, boy oh boy have I learned the ways. Stretchy, breathable, Lulu leggings with a cute sweater. I still look nice, and I can fit a third piece of pie in without bursting out of the seams of my jeans. Took me long enough to learn. I have years of second helpings to make up for. Gobble till you wobble. Am I right, or am I right?

brookstreetMy family has done Thanksgiving dinner at my grandma’s house for as long as I can remember. When my grandma hit the big 8-0 she decided it was time to hire a catering company. Back in the day there weren’t too many companies that offered pre cooked Turkey dinners. The Brookstreet Hotel was one of the few and so we went with them. We used them for 5 years and each year was very different. There was never any consistency. One year the skins were left on the mashed potatoes, another year they weren’t. One year their carrots were plain, the next they had a maple glaze. It’s hard enough to please 12 people, even harder when things change each year and not necessarily for the best. So after my grandma got diagnosed as a celiac (gluten intolerant) we decided to switch it up because Brookstreet did not offer gluten free options at the time (not sure if they do now…). Turns out, after 5 years of using the same company, many other companies followed the trend and now serve Thanksgiving dinners pre cooked and ready to go.

So last year my dad took it upon himself to find a new catering company. He stumbled upon Next Catering after a minimal amount of searching. You can’t really mess up a turkey dinner so how important is it who cooks it? Very important apparently. It was the WORST Thanksgiving dinner ever. The turkey was dry, the gravy was over salted and the potatoes were so sour they were inedible. The only part of the dinner that was good was the stuffing, the only thing containing gluten that my poor grandma couldn’t enjoy. Now normally we use the same company for Thanksgiving and Christmas but there was not going to be a next for Next catering. So we went back to Brookstreet and had the same mediocre dinner as always.

This year, my dad spent a lot of time looking at all the catering companies available in the Ottawa area. Which one’s offer gluten free, which have great reviews, what makes them stand out above the competition? The companies branding… so to speak. He found out that the National Arts Centre provides this service. Although we have never eaten at the NAC restaurant (le cafe) we have been to many events there and have never been disappointed. He felt pretty confident trusting this company to provide a great dinner since they’ve always provided great experiences.

nac

On the way to my grandmas we swung by the NAC to pick up the dinner. My parents in the front of the car bickering about where to pick it up. My dad, insisting that the instructions said to go to the parking garage, my mom insisting that that couldn’t be right.

So we drive down into the underground parking garage in my dads tinted, black SUV. There are no other cars, all we see is a man in a chefs hat standing next to a tall metallic box and we pull up. My dad rolled down the window, stated our last name and the chef instructed him to pop the trunk. He loaded the back of the car with the goods, closed the trunk, gave the car a tap and we drove off. It was as if we lived in a dystopic society that banned Thanksgiving and we were at some black market, underground catering company. Very strange experience. Definitely did not have high hopes for the meal itself after that ordeal. However… It was amazing! Delicious. General consensus that everything was great. The potatoes were creamy, carrots were cooked and not mushy, turkey was moist *cringe*, such an awful word. But there were no complaints! And the whole thing, minus the stuffing of course, was gluten free! The NAC impresses us once again and I managed to fit three helpings in, thank you elastic waist bands!tgmeme

We will probably use the NAC for Christmas but does anyone have a different go to catering company? Or, has anyone tried the ones we’ve used but had different experiences?

COM0011 – Blog 2 – Optimizing your food blog for Pinteresters

Let me begin by saying that I am not a food blogger, so this is not a post about how to make a lovely culinary blog like my own. I am just a person who cooks and bakes often, and primarily uses links from social streams like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter to find recipes. Thanks to these, I can find a massive selection of food blogs with recipe posts, far outdoing the selection that I can find by using Google alone (the same few sites like AllRecipes.com and Cooks.com are better indexed and always at the top of the results, unfortunately.)

Of these, I feel that Pinterest is the best choice for social recipe perusal, because the social aggregator is,

1. picture-based , so you can scroll through your results by photo, which yield higher conversion than text when it comes to food;

2. Pinterest posts link directly to the post or page of origin; and

3. Is so easy to share to by photo linking that it is a top choice of food bloggers to share their content, and therefore Pinterest’s selection of any given search result is abundant.

This being said, I feel that there could be several key improvements to the blog posts themselves in light of the fact that much of their traffic will be coming from Pinterest and other social media.

Since I am usually standing in my kitchen or at the grocery store when I’m using Pinterest to comb for recipes, I will be accessing it from a mobile device. Thankfully, Pinterest is aware of this and its mobile app has an awesome user interface, so no complaints there. However, once I click on a suitable-looking photo to link to the blog it was posted from, this is where all hell breaks loose. Most food bloggers use lots of high-quality photography to display their culinary prowess, but many take it to the next level and unfortunately it slows the load time on a mobile device to the point of abandonment. I have often been on a post, trying to scroll through forty slow-loading images so that I can simply see the recipe list to make sure I have all the ingredients before I start. Sometimes I stand there swearing and scrolling, but often I just close Pinterest’s browser and go back to its search results so that I can find a link to a different site altogether. If the recipe was posted at the top of the post under the title, I would have only had to scroll that far to find it and it would have increased my likelihood of using it.

Speaking of photography, the photos themselves should be optimized for web, and quite often, they are too big and too numerous. I personally don’t need to view ten similar photos of the same pie taken in impressively high quality, nor a separate photo of EVERY STEP of the cooking process, either. I feel that if the blogger can’t illustrate the whole recipe in 5 photos or less including the feature image, then they need to review their posting strategy.

The body copy itself is often too long. While I understand that the blogger is trying to create a community in which their voice and their style can blend with their skills to appeal to their niche audience, I am arriving to their blog from outside their niche and I simply do not care about their voice. I just want to see their spinach dip recipe because the photo on Pinterest looked tasty. I will not read the 500 words of copy introducing the week they’ve been having at the time of posting, nor how much their “hubby” loves this recipe. A short paragraph regarding the blogger’s success with the recipe and detailing any alterations made to it wouldn’t be amiss, but anything more will be scrolled past.

The comments need to be moderated to be useful. Many recipes on larger sites are only as good as their comment thread. On a site like AllRecipes, some recipes are utterly useless if you don’t read the user feedback, as often times the recipe itself is bunk, or an important substitution had to be made by a commenter to render it edible. On smaller blog sites, I have come to notice that half the comments are from the blogger’s community who are trying to show support by commenting things like “This sure looks good, can’t wait to try it”. This is no use to a casual user whatsoever. The commenter’s intention to possibly use the recipe someday is of no value to me. The blogger should reduce or remove comments of this nature, or use a vote-up type system where they can upvote more relevant comments to the top of the thread, such as “I tried this yesterday, and I had to increase the salt, but it worked perfectly”.

In conclusion, I love Pinterest and I love being able to easily connect with food bloggers and their recipes. But with such vast amounts of content available online, any food blogger trying to reach an audience through social media should optimize their posts to make them a bit more user-friendly if they want theirs to stand out from the rest.

Photography of food

Garden Fresh!

We all know we’re supposed to eat fresh vegetables, and lots of them. This is where we get much of our essential nutrients, vitamins and so much disease fighting goodness. BUT, living in Canada makes it a challenge to always have garden fresh vegetables. During the cold months of the year we rely on imported supermarket vegetables to fill this void. And in my opinion, they just don’t measure up.

That is why these golden summer days are so precious. My husband Paul and I have been dabbling with vegetable gardens for as long as we have been married. He religiously hand cultivates the earth each Spring, together we plan gardenand decide what to grow. I always want whatever can be made into soup; squash, onions, tomatoes, peppers, etc. We’ve had many pathetic harvests. We’ve had many crops that were ready to be picked, just to find our dogs feasting on peppers or squash or even a pumpkin or two.

Each year is a learning process. But each year our garden seems to grow, taking up more and more space, and each year we seem to get better at it!

It’s a fact that the fresher the vegetable, the better it tastes, so picking a vegetable from the garden and using it immediately let’s you experience the best possible flavor. Cooking with such vegetables will impart a higher quality to your cooking.

We’ve also found it to be a great way to get our kids involved in eating fresh! They love looking in the garden for fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, whatever! And then eating them!

Think too of the economic benefits of eating vegetables right from your own garden. Not to mention the environmental implications. It’s good sense all around.

veggies

Fresh garden growing and eating just feels right. It makes me feel energized, and healthy. If you are fortunate enough to have the patience, time, energy, and space to plant your own veggie garden, enjoy it.  If not, find your nearest farmer’s market!

How about you?  Do you have your own vegetable garden, or support local farmers?

Big Batch Cooking Made Easy!

Eating healthy takes some effort, there’s no doubt about it. Let’s face it, some days we’re excited and motivated to make a tasty, healthy meal, and other days it’s hard to find the time and energy to do so. It can be tempting to grab something more convenient, with much less nutritional value.

What if we chose one weekend out of the month to shop for healthy ingredients and cook them up in some big batch cooking?  At my house we call it Big Batch Weekend. We devote a few hours to meal preparation so that meals become healthier and more convenient throughout the month. It means making a big batch (or batches) and freezing them in meal-size portions so that we can pull out easy, ready to reheat lunches and dinners. It takes the thinking out of making healthy choices when you need a convenient ready-made meal.

personal cheffing

How about making a big batch of healthy soup, stew, or a casserole for convenient freezing and reheating? Not only will it be a time-saver, but it’s more economical as well. Here are some ideas for big batch cooking and freezing:

Bean dishes
Spaghetti or rice dishes
Lasagna (with meat or vegetables)
Casseroles
Soups
Stews
Stuffed peppers
Meat pies
Meat loaf
Chili (lean beef or chicken)

Here are some tips to remember as you start implementing your regular Big Batch Weekends:

• Choose recipes that are conducive to cooking in large quantity and freezing.stock pot picture
• Have the right containers on hand that are appropriate for the meal size you’ll want later.
• Use containers or bags that are easy to label. Write the date on your frozen food portion. You’ll want to reheat most foods by the third or fourth month at the latest.
• Rotate the placement of foods in the freezer so that you’re eating the oldest ones first. First in, first out.
• Always cool foods properly before freezing to help retain flavor and discourage growth of bacteria. Never leave prepared food at room temperature for longer than two hours.When you defrost, do not leave food at room temperature. This encourages bacteria growth and uneven thawing. Instead, defrost on a tray in the refrigerator or in a microwave on a low power setting.

Here’s hoping this information is helpful in making eating healthy a little easier!

Do you have a favourite recipe for Big Batch Cooking?