Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sweet things and good friends in wine country

Davis and I rarely go on vacation - being poor as churchmice - and we have never gone away with friends. So it was only by a series of semi-miscommunications that we ended up agreeing to go on an icewine tour in Niagara-on-the-Lake with two of our good friends and four of their friends. We left Friday afternoon and drove seven hours from Montreal to the charming and historic little town just south of Toronto. I love love love road trips, love watching the scenery pass by and looking at all the towns and imagining what it would be like to live there and wondering about peoples' lives, and wonder if they wonder about me passing through.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we'd rented a cottage - really a house - with four bedrooms. It was a beautiful house with a sunken living room and spacious kitchen (important when four of the occupants have degrees in dietetics). We visited at least six wineries, all part of the promotion icewine discovery tour that we were on. I'd never had icewine before, and apparently some of these wineries are the largest producers of ice wine in the world.

The first winery we stopped at was Strewn, where they paired a 2004 white vidal icewine with salmon chowder and a biscuit. Icewine is made from grapes that are picked after they have frozen, but because of this, each grape produces very little juice to ferment... as little as one drop of juice per grape. This results in a very concentrated, very sweet and almost syrupy wine - especially with the vidal grapes. It also results in a very expensive drink... between $40 and $100 per bottle - a bottle being about 200 mL. Of course, you can't drink this stuff like you would regular wine - it is a dessert wine, and it is just too concentrated to have more than a small amount. This was one of the few wineries that paired the icewine with a savoury food, which I thought was unfortunate - given how sweet the wine is, I much preferred it this way than with sweet foods - the exception being the next winery, Konzelmann. Here we tried a red icewine made with red cabernet sauvignon grapes - which they poured into a cup made of dark chocolate with shaved chocolate sprinkled over top. It was amazing. We also tried a few other varieties of icewine - a Riesling, which was my favourite kind - and a late harvest vidal, which I thought was better than the regular vidal - less sweet.

The next winery was Hillebrand, which was featuring another vidal icewine with icewine cupcakes! We stayed for quite a while here, doing more tastings and looking through their boutique. There are some amazing local foods for sale here - icewine jellies, icewine tea, pickled spruce buds and fiddleheads, different kinds of infused olive oil and vinegars... it's shocking we didn't leave fat and broke.

We stopped very quickly at Jackson Triggs, which was quite busy but was serving another vidal icewine with a vanilla bean and apricot biscotti. We moved on to Stratus, a special stop since it was not on the regular festival route, but a personal favourite of our friends'. Davis and I agreed - and bought a bottle of their red icewine to have with a nice bar of dark chocolate.

Finally, after seven hours of wining and dining, we made it to our last stop on the tour - Riverview Cellars, which was pairing their icewine with a chocolate fondue fountain.

After another seven hours of driving today, we are back at home with happy bellies and looking forward to our next visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


If you've ever been to the Canadian maritimes (or visited the few branches out west) you may have been to an awesome ice cream parlor called Cows. They have wonderful flavours like Moo York Cheesecake, Cowrispy Crunch, or Smoores as well as funny cow t-shirts that play off pop culture, like Dairy Potter, twudder, and Guitar Heifer. If you're in a city that has a Cows, you should definitely make it a point to stop there. But, this post is not about the shop Cows, but rather the beast that brought it about.

My school originated as an agricultural college, and to this day houses the faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences, along with a couple of other disciplines. We still have a functional experimental and demonstration farm with 150 dairy cows, 1000 chickens, and over 200 pigs. Although I'm majoring in wildlife biology, this semester I'm taking a course in developmental biology and reproduction and as the practical part, we have to learn to artificially inseminate a cow (I'll tell you all about how that's done later) and then in pairs we're assigned a pregnant cow, and we're to follow her pregnancy, document all the events and physiological changes, and be present at and record the birth. This stuff is all right up my alley - I'm not particularly interested in livestock or domestic animals, but I am fascinated by reproductive health and I'd like to one day apply this to wild animals.

Anyway, to get to the point of this post - in order to be able to handle the cattle for AI, we all had to take a large animal handling course, which basically just involved learning some common sense aspects of barn safety and on the practical side, being able to halter a cow and lead her around the barn and tie her back in her stall. I was quite nervous since I've never been around cows before, and after doing the theory and learning about how easily perturbed they are, I was so worried about making the cow upset! But everything went smoothly, I took my cow (Celine, a Holstein) for a short walk and she was mostly cooperative. We also were able to watch the veterinarian check the cattle for whether or not they were entering estrus... which he does by inserting the ultrasound probe into the cow's rectum, which lies just above the reproductive tract. His equipment was super high-tech - it connects to a pair of goggles (like Geordi's visor!) where you can see the ultrasound.

We also got to visit the calves (sorry for the crappy pictures - I only had my cell phone on me!):

This breed is a Canadienne:

And we observed the milking - accompanied by the barn cats, which get handouts every so often!

I don't know much about cows, but I thought all the different breeds were so interesting! The black-and-white ones are Holsteins, and they are supposed to be quite nice. The pregnant cow we were assigned to follow is named Yonker, and she is a Holstein, but she was impregnated with sperm from an Ayeshire bull, which is red and white, so we might get a little red and white calf! (this isn't Yonker - I didn't get a picture of her, but she is a tank at 1500 lbs - this is just a random Ayeshire cow).

There were also Brown Swiss cows (like the one in the picture below). They are supposedly quite temperamental - we didn't handle any of them.

So, I'm super excited about all this barn stuff - I'm so happy I had the opportunity to learn about these animals and interact with them... an unusual experience for a city girl!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vegan Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

I'm not a vegan. I'm not opposed to veganism, or vegetarianism, but neither do I see anything morally wrong with eating an animal. I am opposed to the mistreatment of food animals - I always buy free-range eggs, meat from small, local farms, and support humane food labeling. But I do like my bbq ribs, my grilled Cajun chicken, my bison steaks, and devilled eggs.

But that is not the point of this post, and I digress. The reason why I ventured into vegan cooking is because I was asked to contribute a couple of items to an on-campus craft fair and bake sale held by Engineers Without Borders back in November. Because McGill's School of Environment is on our campus, there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians (which is ironic, because the farm is also on this campus...) To be vegan-friendly, I looked up a recipe without eggs, butter, or other animal products. I was very happily surprised by how this turned out! It was moist, and flavourful, and Davis has been harassing me to make more ever since.

Vegan Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

2 cups whole raw cranberries (I used frozen, but if available I imagine fresh ones would be lovely!)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
3/8 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
5 tbsp canola oil
2-3 tsp orange zest (I think I might have actually used way more than this... but I'm zesty)
3 tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor or a sharp knife and lots of patients, roughly chop the cranberries until they are about quartered and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.

In a larger bowl, mix the wet ingredients - pumpkin puree, oil, orange zest, and water. In small portions, start adding the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing as little as possible until just combined. Pour the batter into a cake pan - I know the recipe title says loaf, but the recipe calls for a 9-inch round or square cake pan. I used a springform cheesecake pan, and it seemed to work. Someone who reviewed the recipe used a muffin tray. I'm curious to see what would happen if you used a normal loaf pan... an experiment for the future. Oh, and because there's no butter, it might be a good idea to grease your pan. I might have unthinkingly used butter, something I only realized now, two months after the fact. I really hope I didn't.

This should be baked for 45-55 minutes. The recipe suggests removing the cake from the pan relatively soon after taking it out of the oven, or the bottom may get soggy.

Ta da! It was quite a dense loaf, but that could be due to my overstirring. But it was quite good - which I think others agreed with, as they sold out of it!

I also made traditional chocolate and vanilla icing cupcakes, for the non-vegan junk food addicts like myself:

Friday, January 8, 2010

an inki leaf

Way, way back in October, I entered a giveaway by Esque at inki handmade in celebration of her second Etsyversary! I pored over her shop... did I want this beautiful Japanese clutch? Or this charming nautical card set?

Finally though, I found the perfect thing: a gorgeous, hand-stamped linen scarf. I was so excited to receive the delicate little parcel all the way from Switzerland!

The scarf was tied up with a happy little red string and tagged with a linen label with detailed care instructions.

The scarf itself is lovely - surprisingly heavyweight for linen, and the colours are vibrant and I love the leaf motif! (I disliked botany class with a passion, but I don't blame the plants.)

Jasmine approves:

Thanks again to inki for this gorgeous item, and I wish you tons of luck in your third year and every year thereafter!!