Bag Lady Redux

Let me tell you about my bags. I have many.

My black knapsack is my go-to bag for any kind of shopping. I bought it for $15 in 2003 in Chinatown during the SARS epidemic, half off because the shop owner was just so delighted that anybody was in his store at all. Nine years later, it’s seen better days – it’s faded, a couple of parts are broken, and I’ve had to reattach the straps a couple of times. I’ve started looking for a replacement because eventually this bag will die, but in the meantime, I use it at least a few times a week for grocery shopping, running books back and forth to the library and pretty much any other situation where I need to carry stuff. It’s stylish and I get many compliments on the ginormous zipper.

Being car-free (I don’t even have a driver’s licence), all of my shopping requires the process of carrying it home, either by foot or TTC, and in addition to the knapsack, I also use a couple of canvas bags. The Hudson’s Bay bag was purchased for $1 in 1991 and has been used at least once a week for the past 21 years. It used to have a mate but the bottom of that one gave out a few years back, so now I use this canvas bag that I got when I ran the food and drink website TasteTO. It’s not as roomy as the Bay bag, but it’s good and sturdy.

Those three bags are the backbone of most of my shopping expeditions, and I almost never use a plastic bag unless I have bought more stuff than will fit in my regular trio. For really big loads, I also have a shopping buggy, but it’s unwieldy and I try to avoid it if I can.

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Hurray! Beaujolais!

beaujolais

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines. It’s the third Thursday in November and wine drinkers will know that means the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau – the first wines of the 2008 season – and the accompanying celebration.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made with the Gamay grape and was first created a hundred years ago in France as a wine to be drunk to celebrate the end of the harvest season. Without the addition of oak barrels and long-term aging, the wines do not have the opportunity to develop more intense characteristics and flavours but tend to be redolent of red fruit and berries – big, juicy and jammy, a wine for gulping rather than sipping, the perfect wine for a party, which is what many people will be doing this weekend with their Beaujolais Nouveau purchases.

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Sunday Sips – Wines of the Greenbelt

greenbeltwineWine is heavy. By the laws of physics, not more so than any other beverage, but since it’s best stored in glass bottles and since many of the world’s wine regions are far away, the environmental footprint created by shipping heavy cases of wine thousands of miles is often unappealing – and unnecessary. Especially since we have our own fantastic wine region within an area surrounding Toronto known as the Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt is a designated and protected area 1.8 million acres in southern Ontario that includes our prime agricultural land, and includes approximately 7400 farms. 90% of Ontario’s 500 grape growers are located in the Greenbelt so it makes sense that those growers, along with the LCBO and the Vintner’s Quality Alliance, would want to spread the word and let customers know that their wine is locally grown.

While Ontario Greenbelt VQA wines are available at the LCBO year round, until August 16th, customers will be able to find these local wines more easily. All Greenbelt wines will sport a bright green hangtag, identifying them as being made from 100% local grapes, and allowing customers to more easily make the choice to support local farmers and vintners.

Participating Ontario Greenbelt VQA Wineries include names like Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, Peller Estates, Chateau des Charmes, Lakeview Cellars and more.

With Greenbelt wineries offering reds, whites and even icewines, this promotion has something for everyone. Plus it allows customers to cut down on their carbon footprint by eschewing imported products, support the local economy and maybe find a new favourite among the many great wines the Greenbelt has to offer.

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Sunday Sips – Pass the Gin

ginhendricksEarlier this month a note from the late Queen Mum to her assistant asking him to “pack the gin” sold at auction for $32,000 US. Dorothy Parker’s relationship with the spirit is more associated with speakeasies and bathtub stills. Originally medicinal in origin when first created in Holland in the 17th century, by the 20th century, gin was a flavourful and unique beverage consumed by sophisticated people, the most notable of them women.

During the 30 Years War, British troops took a liking to the “Dutch courage” and brought it back to Britain with them where distillers continued to sell it for medicinal purposes, and individuals made it at home, with estimates of 1/3 of all homes at the times creating their own gin, which was said to be very bad. The spirit was popular among the poor, including children, and was the cause of rampant addictions and alcoholism. King Charles 1 passed the gin act which regulated producers, created a better quality product and used surplus corn and barley grown by English farmers.

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Sunday Sips – The Wines of Portugal

portwine

My experience with Portuguese wine until a week ago was primarily from my teenage years when a Portuguese family across the street from my parent’s house would make wine every year and would deliver half a dozen jugs of the stuff to our doorstep, at which point my Dad would give the man bushel baskets of tomatoes from our garden.

This exchange was more in the name of neighbourliness than in securing goods of equal value and quality, for even to our untrained palates, the neighbour’s wine was pretty bad. For some reason, I continued to believe that all Portuguese wine was of similar quality and it really wasn’t until I showed up at the Wines of Portugal Trade Tasting at the Fairmont Royal York on June 3rd that I realized I had been missing out.

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Sunday Sips – Twist and Serve

coolers

For the sake of full transparency, I feel compelled to offer the fact that I have not consumed a pre-mixed bottled beverage since my 19th birthday. Someone had the bright idea that we should all have our own 2-litre bottle of kiwi cooler (which we pronounced “kewwwwwllerrr” for some reason) to celebrate my coming of age. After passing out halfway through my own birthday party, I awoke to discover that, like the fuzzy navel before it, kiwi cooler was dead to me.

Which was probably a good thing, and which I did not lament. It was 1987 and we worshipped the Absolut bottle like the good little clubkids that we were.

As the years passed, I watched the “party zone” section of the LCBO grow in size. The colours got brighter, the flavour combinations more unique, and I noted the advent of bottled mixed drinks such as rum and cola with a nod to a good idea but no interest in actually buying or drinking such a thing.

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Turning Apples – and Berries and Peaches and Maple Syrup – Into Wine

blueberrywineI know nothing about regular wine. I spent much of my adult life fighting off allergies that came to a head while I lived in a house with a serious but unknown mold problem. Wine – red or white – killed me. Besides the inevitable headaches (migraines, really), I’d also become slightly anaphylactic – getting stuffed up and uncomfortable.

A relative turned me on to blueberry wine from down east. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia all have wineries that make various styles of blueberry wine, and where the grape-based wines made me all kinds of miserable, it turns out that wine from other fruits does not contain the histamines present in grape wines, and I could drink to my heart’s content.

Except that the availability of fruit wines in the LCBO is minimal with only about a half dozen on offer – mostly dessert wines – and often only seasonally. So when I discovered that the Ontario Wine Society was hosting an event that featured non VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) eligible products, and that most of the offerings were fruit wines, I was happy to fill in for our resident wine expert Sasha Grigorieva and do some sampling myself.

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