I am, in terms of family history and genealogy, a bit of a mutt. The name Kirby, derived from Kerr, and meaning “by the Kerr”; Kerr being a copse or wood, arrived in England with the Norman invasion and spread to most parts of England, Scotland and even Ireland. The Kirbys have both English and Irish tartans and crests. As far as I know, my family, way way back, came from northern England, around Yorkshire, but no one in our family has ever traced the tree back that far to say for sure. (There’s also a story that gets told when family members have had a bit too much to drink that links us to pirates but the veracity of this yarn is unproven. Still.. yarr!)
In any case, I spent my youth not really feeling as if I had a “culture” per se. Which was alright growing up in Nova Scotia, since most of us were pasty anglo-saxons who had little clue as to what part of the Isles we came from.
It wasn’t until I was older, and when someone else pointed it out as a positive trait, that I looked to my Nova Scotian upbringing as part of my own “culture”.
Living in Toronto, surrounded by ethnic groups where people kept close ties to the motherland and continued to live within their culture (through religion, food, music and even dress), I felt a little lost. Embracing my Nova Scotian upbringing was a anchor for me in a sea of otherness.
Built in the late 80s, our building, while considered swank in its day, still boasts a shared laundry room. Inside the door of the laundry room is a small counter that serves as a makeshift swap shop. Got old books and magazines? Leave them there. Old dishes, baby clothes, or home decor items? Somebody wants them!
Greg returned from the laundry room this morning and handed me this little pamphlet, published in 1966 by the Canadian Wine Institute, which, as best I can tell, no longer exists.
Now, if you know anything about Canadian wine, you’ll know that it really wasn’t taken seriously until about a decade or so ago. Canadian wine, what little there was of it, was notoriously bad. More amusing is the fact that there are no wineries, regions or specific varietals mentioned at all. The recipes included call for things such as “Canadian sweet or cream sherry” or “Canadian dry white table wine”, never giving the reader a clue as to what they should be looking for when buying said Canadian wine. I’m also a little taken aback by the number of recipes calling for sherry, although that might be the flashbacks to the bottles of “Fine Old Canadian Sherry” my teenaged friends and I consumed on the wharves of the Halifax dockyards in the 80s.
Everybody’s Mad Men crazy this week, and so are we, even when it comes to wine. It probably wasn’t intentional but this past Tuesday’s class at the iYellow Wine School had striking parallels to two of Mad Men’s leading ladies. With a focus on full-figured reds and graceful whites, it’s hard not to offer up comparisons to the characters of Joan and Betty.
Led by sommelier Taylor Thompson, enthusiastic wine students filled the lovely back patio at cafe Taste to try a variety of Ontario wines that were either graceful or full-figured.
The cool and graceful whites included a Trius Brut from Hillebrand Estates Winery, a chardonnay from Flatrock Cellars and a barrel fermented chardonnay from Henry of Pelham. Thompson explained the different processes used for the two chardonnays, explaining how the barrel fermentation created an oaky flavour with notes of honey and a creaminess in the second wine compared to the minerality and buttery flavour of the first.
Reds can be graceful too, though, and a pair of Pinot Noirs from Cave Spring Cellars and Lailey Vineyard Winery were the next to be sampled. The Cave Spring pinot noir was bright and full of strawberry notes, very light in colour whereas the Lailey pinot was darker, with a nose of over-ripe fruit, and an earthy acidity. But on Mad Men, graceful Betty is known for her cold demeanour and to my palate, pinot noir tends to leave me a bit cold as well.
Okay, so it was never a healthy drink. On par with Tang, Sunny D or Kool-Aid, Beep was mostly sugar with some juice thrown in, but for many Nova Scotian kids, it was the beverage of choice.
I haven’t had the stuff since my early 20s. Even after I moved to Toronto, my folks would always buy a carton of Beep for me when I was back in Halifax for a visit. And then one time I forgot about it, or maybe my tastes and attitude had changed and I told them not to bother, I can’t remember.
But when news came down that Farmers Dairy was shutting down production of the lurid orange fruit drink, I think we all heaved a nostalgic sigh for childhood innocence. And started remembering the stuff with fondness.
Southern Ontario’s food community was shocked earlier this week when news came down that dairy farmer Michael Schmidt was acquitted of all 19 charges against him with regards to the production and sale of raw milk. Because of laws created in the early 20th century, it is illegal to sell or give away raw milk in Canada. Milk pasteurization laws were created to protect the health of citizens consuming a product that, left untreated, could contain e.coli, salmonella and other deadly organisms.
It is still illegal to sell or give away raw milk, although it is not illegal to consume the stuff – Schmidt won because the case was really about the constitutionality of his business model, which is to sell shares in a cow (and their output) to private individuals. As “owners” of the cow, they can legally consume the milk from it. Schmidt’s fight was also against Ontario’s quota system, used in the dairy and poultry industries, which strongly favour large-scale farmers. The Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) run the quota system, which can cost farmers as much as $20,000 per cow, and all milk in the system is pooled and pasteurized, and sold through the DFO. Small scale farmers like Schmidt generally cannot afford to pay quota to the DFO, and besides the issues of right to choose and health and safety of the product, Schmidt likely makes more money selling shares of his product than he would by being involved in the DFO’s corporate system.
As would be expected, the DFO is not happy about Schmidt’s recent win, claiming that his system puts public health at risk.
One of Schmidt’s points in his defence (he represented himself in court) was that consumers should have freedom of choice. Food activists will continue to press this point as they begin to put pressure on the government to make raw milk publicly accessible and more widely available for sale. Personally, I think this is a bad idea. While I believe in the right to choose the food you eat, we need to remember that raw milk is a special product that requires considerable care both in how it is created and how it is stored by the consumer.
Every year, I say the same thing; “I’m not gonna go.” And every year, for a variety of reasons I end up going. Last year it was because The English Beat were the featured band on the Thursday “VIP” night. This year, it was because Greg whined at me. But every single year, I come home from Toronto’s Festival of Beer, swearing to never return.
This time I really mean it.
Okay, I understand that corralling thousands of drunken frat boys is a logistical nightmare, but the event has just never seemed to be on the ball. Getting in as media has always been a hassle. In part because they’re hiring rent-a-cops for security and nobody really seems to know what they’re doing but also, logic just seems to escape everyone involved. I’m not asking for a lot here, I’m not pulling a “do you know who I am” thing, all I’m asking for is appropriate signage and for the entrance we’re told to go through to not be a locked gate only to then be told to walk all the way to the other end of the event area to come back through a maze of fencing to pass through security at a spot less than 50 feet from where we started out. You make me walk all the way back to Medieval Times just so I can end up almost back in this very spot, I’m gonna keep heading north and go home.
Le Meridien King Edward
37 King Street East
Afternoon tea for two with all taxes and tip: $65
Afternoon tea often gets categorized as something fussy and old-fashioned. Perhaps it’s the dainty china, or the teeny pastries or even the sandwiches with the crusts cut off. It also has a reputation as being very girly, its origins firmly ensconced in British tradition dating back to 1661 when Catherine of Braganza brought the custom with her from Portugal when she married Charles II.
In modern usage, many places serving afternoon tea have taken to calling it “high tea”, a custom that makes tea aficionados screech with horror. For my part, I make a point of avoiding places that claim to serve “high” tea yet roll out tiered trays of scones and pastries – if you don’t, as a restaurant, even know what meal you’re serving, that doesn’t leave me with any faith that you’ll be able to do it well.
A Social History of Tea
The National Trust
Every afternoon at 3pm, I have a cup of tea. It doesn’t matter the weather or the season, if it’s hot I’ll have it iced, but every afternoon, barring some great calamity, I take a break from my day to have a cup of tea and something sweet.
Tea is one of those things that we sort of take for granted; less popular than coffee, it’s still typical in many homes, particularly in Eastern Canada where I’m from originally. There, harsh orange pekoe tea can sit and stew for hours, with a couple more bags and a top up of water the only acknowledgement that the pot might need dumping or cleaning.
Jane Pettigrew is one of the UK’s tea experts, having run a tea shop for many years and written a number of other books on the subject .
A Social History of Tea traces the importance of tea to Britain from the seventeenth century onward, exploring its arrival in England, its origins and the politics surrounding the commodity. Pettigrew looks at how tea became popular, first with the upper classes, then with the middle classes and the poor.
I am a sucker for a pretty bottle. Marketing folks in the perfume industry know I am not alone, and the bottle design on a new fragrance can make or break the product. Think of Thierry Mugler’s Angel star, or Jean Paul Gaultier’s corset bottle. I am also a sucker for all things pink. So when I walked past an organic food store in my neighbourhood last month, I was instantly drawn to the display of bottles filled with pretty pink liquid.
Except this wasn’t perfume. This was a beverage.
Sence Nectar is made from “rare” Bulgarian roses. It’s essentially rose petal juice, sweetened slightly and available in a regular and “silver” version with 1/3 sugar. Think something of a cross between rose water and a thicker sweetened rose syrup.
Unfortunately, the guy at the health food store was better at selling it than the Sence website, which appears to be geared toward marketing it as a cocktail mix with a variety of drink recipes, and testimonials from bartenders, fashion designers and media. In fact, like rosehips which make great tea, Sence is high in Vitamin C, and is actually quite refreshing, if you’re into flowery flavours.
Fruit wine has long been overlooked when it comes to alcoholic beverages. For most folks, wine equals grapes. The LCBO does little to rectify this situation, with only a handful of fruit wine options available on their shelves. Which is too bad, because Ontario has many great fruit wineries offering wines ranging from dry to super-sweet, made from apples, berries, currants and more.
I had the opportunity to sample a selection of products from Archibald Orchards Estate Winery a couple of nights ago at the Locavore Unconference held at Montgomery’s Inn. In addition to the dinner of baked beans, coleslaw, maple ice cream and fresh baked bread, guests could sample a number of fruit wines from Archibald’s selection.
This fourth-generation farm is now run by grower and winemaker Fred Archibald and his wife Sandy. Many of their fruit wines place regularly in the top 3 at the annual National Fruit Wineries of Canada Competition, with the Spiced Winter Apple and Canadian Maple dessert wines placing Top of Category for 2004.